Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £2,602,227, 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, 1940, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of Health for Scotland; including grants, a grant in aid and other expenses in connection with housing, certain grants to local authorities, etc., grant in aid of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, grants in aid in respect of National Health Insurance benefits, etc.; certain expenses in connection with Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions, and other services."—[Note: £1,410,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
On a previous occasion Scottish Members of Parliament earned the admiration of their English and Welsh friends by instituting a self-denying ordinance in the matter of the length of their speeches. I understand that to-day, while we have no hard-and-fast rule, we shall attempt to allow as many Members as possible to join in the Debate and for that reason make our speeches short; but I must claim a special dispensation in opening the Debate, for last year when we had an ordinance and I tried to adhere to it and keep my speech within 20 minutes, I was criticised, and perhaps fairly criticised, for being too sketchy in my presentation of the Estimates. While I cannot hope to cover the whole ground in my talk, because the work of my Department is so varied, I shall ask the leave of the Committee to take a little longer than 20 minutes.
Let me deal first with the figures. Again this year the amount asked for the work of the Department is increased. The net increase is a sum of over £270,000 and that brings up the total Estimate to over £4,000,000. Housing accounts for the greater part of the increase, but hon. 1144 Members will have observed that among the other items showing increases are the maternity services, the Highlands and Islands Medical Services, and several others which I shall mention later. Items that show the more important decreases come under the head of National Health Insurance, and these decreases are due partly to a windfall from the Navy, Army and Air Force Insurance Fund and in greater measure to the lower rate of sickness among the general insured population in 1938. There is a new item this year, namely, the grants to local authorities for cancer treatment—the beginning of what I hope will be an effective aid in the fight against this disease.
Before I discuss the health services generally there is one point on which I shall say a word. Hon. Members will realise that the Department of Health for Scotland, like many other Government Departments, is working at high pressure on emergency work. The Scottish Departments are all affected to a greater or less extent by this emergency work, but none more so than the Department of Health. While the Agriculture Department and the Education Department also have duties of a special nature to perform just now, the Health Department is especially called on for very heavy work in connection with emergency preparations. This emergency work, the Civil Defence work of the Department, includes the organisation of the emergency hospital service, nursing, dental and other personnel, the approval of first-aid posts and ambulance schemes made by local authorities, the evacuation scheme and the provision of camps. The Estimate for that work is not before us to-day and so I cannot discuss it in detail and shall merely give an indication of its scope. There will be coming before the House Supplementary Estimates of upwards of £2,000,000 for that special work in the Department of Health alone. Salaries have increased by some £24,000, and part of that increase is due to emergency work.
I ask hon. Members to remember that background of high pressure on emergency work in relation to the normal work which we are also carrying on. I would not like to put a percentage on the time which the officials of the Department spend on emergency work, but it is a high percentage. That is true of 1145 local authorities as well. I think, however, that the Committee would wish this to be a review of the normal peace-time work of the Department in improving the health and social conditions of the Scottish people. I want, in passing, to assure hon. Members that the Civil Defence work is being pressed forward with speed and thoroughness. It is involving heavy burdens on the local authorities and their staffs and I want to say how grateful I am for the splendid way in which the local authorities have responded to the special demand which has been made upon them. But these burdens are being made easier to carry because of the ready and enthusiastic co-operation of the various voluntary organisations. I say in all sincerity that in Scotland there is nothing wrong in the spirit of the people in answering this very heavy call upon them.
I have said that we must set the fact of this pressure alongside the usual facts and figures by which in these Debates we endeavour to assess the work of the Department. On no previous occasion has that pressure been anything like so great. Our work in the Department is directed to an endeavour to improve the social conditions of Scotland and to bring more security against sickness and other hazards. Let me give one or two figures to illustrate certain trends. There can be no doubt now that our health and other social services are returning a substantial dividend in the form of improved health standards for the people generally. I do not suggest that we have not still a long way to go or that the rate of improvement is as fast as I should like to see it. Nevertheless those who are accustomed to painting the picture as black as black can be ought occasionally to be shown the brighter side of it and to be told that even in these difficult times there are many trends which are not unsatisfactory.
The general death rate, the infant death rate and the tuberculosis death rate for last year, as shown in the report of the Department, were all the lowest recorded in Scotland. Our infant death rate I still regard as too high. In Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen it is now less than half what it was at the beginning of the century. The rate in Glasgow has been reduced from 121 in 1910 to 87 in 1938. Some may say that that is 1146 not as low as the rate in some parts of England, and I agree, but none the less we must bear in mind that the problem is yielding to the treatment which is being applied. In Glasgow alone, which is indeed a great part of our problem, the rate has been reduced from 121 to 87. These reduced death rates do not mean, as in some quarters it was at one time feared they might mean, that the weaklings were being helped to survive and that in consequence the racial stock would be weakened. That is not the fact. Our school health records show that in height and weight and general vitality the children at different ages are better physically than their predecessors. In Glasgow the boys of 13 are 7½ 1b. heavier and two inches taller than the boys examined in 1920; the girls are 9 lb. heavier and two inches taller. That is a cheering fact, and shows that in spite of all the difficulties and the need for improving housing conditions the physical standard of our children has improved. I was proud the other day when I heard that the high physical standard of the militiamen who came up for medical examination was as general in Scotland as in England and Wales. We should look at these facts and take from them the cheer that is our due.
Other evidence presented by the Department points in the same direction, but I need hardly assure the Committee that this all-round improvement does not justify complacency. It must be an encouragement to continued effort, and that is how I regard it. I want to mention one or two Measures which Parliament has authorised to strengthen and extend our health services. First, there is the Maternity Services Act, which Parliament passed in 1937. The initial difficulties are now being overcome and the Act is being brought into operation in different parts of Scotland. Schemes under the Act are in operation in the areas of 14 local authorities, another nine schemes have been approved and are to come into operation shortly, and the schemes of the 30 remaining local authorities are being considered. Many of these are at an advanced stage. We look to those schemes to reinforce our efforts to reduce maternal mortality and to improve generally the health services for mothers and children.
Mr. West wood
Are these mainly schemes that are approved merely, or are 1147 they schemes that are working as a result of an arrangement come to with the medical profession?
§ Mr. Colville
As hon. Members know, a difficulty has been the reaching of an agreement with the medical profession in certain areas. The schemes I have mentioned are in fact in operation.
§ Mr. Colville
It has been spoken of in this House before. There was a disagreement as to the rates which should be paid, but that is being overcome and I hope will be completely overcome as a result of friendly negotiations. We must take the medical profession with us and get their wholehearted co-operation. I do not want to say anything here that will exacerbate feeling. The figures for last year show that the maternity rate was 4.9, not quite as good as the figure of 4.8 in 1937, but still the second lowest figure in our records. I should like to see the percentage moving the other way, and I hope that the schemes now coming into operation will soon begin to tell.
There is another Act I must mention, the Population (Statistics) Act. We are looking to that Act to provide us with material necessary for study of the vital problem of population trends. Hon. Members know how important this matter is in nearly all branches of our administration. It affects all our social planning—our schools, the provision of social services for different classes and age groups and so on. We must know exactly these trends if we are to plan correctly. I have to make an announcement of special interest to hon. Members. It is that the population of Scotland has now passed the 5,000,000 mark. That is according to the provisional estimate of the Registrar-General for Scotland. Of course, the estimate is subject to revision. Only an actual census can give us complete and accurate figures, but, according to our estimate, the population has reached the 5,000,000 mark. I am not going to analyse the parts of the country that show an increase and those which show a decrease in population. That would be a subject for a whole speech. In these days, when there is general talk of a decline in Scotland it should be remembered that we have 1148 passed this important milestone. [Interuption.] An hon. Member asks me where all these people have come from. A number of English people have set up residence in Scotland or have taken up business or employment there. It is a drift which I, for one, would do nothing to discourage.
Size of population is not everything, but the quality of the population, its age-grouping, and so on, are very important to us. For instance, we think that the increasing number of old people partly explains the increased incidence of cancer. This is one of the stubborn problems with which we have to deal in Scotland, and one reason advanced for it is that people are living longer. Parliament in May passed the Cancer Act. I hope very shortly to issue a preliminary circular to local authorities on the Cancer Act, but the full operation of the Act will depend upon exact knowledge, among other things, of the existing facilities in Scotland and what developments are desirable and where. For that purpose, I have set up an advisory committee and I hope to have its report soon. The report will be of great assistance in bringing the Act into full operation.
Workers in this field have been inspired by success which has taken place in related fields. I can give the Committee some idea of those technicalities with, of course, the help of my Department. Last year there was recognition of the therapeutic value of the sulphanilamide compounds which open up new vistas in the treatment of certain diseases that have for a long time been the active concern of health authorities. These compounds have had a very marked success against puerperal fever, which is one of the main causes of maternal death, and there seems good promise in them that a means has been found of controlling not only that scourge but the scourge of pneumonia. I hope, now that research has come to our aid, that we may be able to use new scientific methods to grapple with some of the subtle problems with which we have had to deal, including those of maternal mortality.
I would just like to refer to the Highlands and Islands medical service. Neither Lowlander nor Highlander will deny the excellence of that service. It was established just before the War, and it now 1149 requires £106,000 this year, which is two-and-a-half times the amount originally voted. The amount last year was £96,000. The work done by this service is very valuable in the Highlands and Islands. I am glad that £10,000 more is to go into this fund. The two principal reasons for the increase are that it is wanted for assistance towards the cost of a general hospital at Lerwick, and for additions to the general hospital at Stornoway in Lewis. These two hospitals are essential links in the chain of medical services, comprising doctors, nurses, hospitals and specialists, that now serve the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I think hon. Members who know the area will agree that it is admirably served. I should like to mention the air-ambulance service between the Western Isles and the Renfrew Air Port. It continues to prove a boon in urgent cases. In 1938 36 patients were transported by air to hospital at Glasgow under the grant-assisted schemes of the county councils of Argyll and Inverness. This is a type of health service which I should like to see developed and extended wherever possible. The swift and easy flight in the aeroplane as compared with the long journey from the Islands to hospital in the old days, may very well make all the difference between life and death in urgent cases.
In regard to the hospital services of Scotland generally I can say that progress is being made. A great deal of emergency work is done in the hospitals, but there are still deficiencies. Schemes for repairing those deficiencies are under way in several areas, and include a large new general and maternity hospital, a new fever hospital in Lanarkshire and schemes for co-operation among local authorities in other parts of Scotland for new and extended hospital services. In this, as in some other branches of the public service, the grants available under the Special Areas legislation have been of considerable help.
Now I would say a word about National Health Insurance. The number of persons, apart from juvenile contributors, coming within the scope of this scheme increased last year by nearly 200,000. The contribution income for full insurance increased by £34,000, bringing it to £2,913,000. On the other hand, the expenditure on cash benefits per head declined from 4.89d. in 1937 to 4.40d. in 1150 1938. That increase in numbers and income reflects the improved industrial position in Scotland. The decline in expenditure on cash benefits reflects a lower sickness rate. Those are both gratifying trends, due to the improved industrial position. The average cost was the lowest since 1934. I am glad to say that Scotland shares in the drop in unemployment to the extent of 22,000. Irrespective of party we are all glad that there has been this improvement in Scotland. We have not always shared in improvements, for other reasons, but I am glad that we are getting our share now and I hope that it will be reflected in the figures in time to come.
§ Mr. Colville
Per head of the insured population. It would be dangerous to build too much upon this improvement. Our old enemy influenza has been busy during the middle of the winter months of 1939 and sickness expenditure has been increased accordingly. An idea of the scope of this scheme may be gathered from the fact that the total amount paid out in benefits amounted in 1938 to over £3,500,000. Under the related scheme of contributory pensions, a sum of £8,500,000 a year is paid out in Scotland in the form of pensions and allowances. The voluntary pensions scheme completed its first year on 3rd January, 1939, and so far some 41,200 persons have been admitted.
Now let us turn to milk. I would say a word about our various milk schemes. Good progress has been made in the efforts to improve the quality of milk in Scotland. A point of special interest is that nearly half the liquid milk consumed in Scotland is the produce of graded herds. It was less than a quarter the previous year. The schemes for the supply of milk at reduced prices to children attending school have been continued, and there is a new scheme for milk at reduced prices to nursing and expectant mothers and children under five years of age. The intention of this scheme is that one pint of milk a day free, or at a price not exceeding 2d. a pint, should be supplied. I have brought this scheme to the notice of local authorities and the reception has been favourable. Proposals by Glasgow to give effect to the scheme have been approved and several other areas have 1151 submitted draft proposals. Others are formulating them.
In order to give a complete picture of the activity of the Department I must deal with the biggest social problem of Scotland, that of housing. I have always said since I had anything to do with the work of the Scottish Departments that housing is our greatest problem. In some areas of Scotland I see that it is yielding to treatment, but in other areas the difficulty is almost as great as ever. Local authorities last year completed 19,160 houses. That is the highest number of houses built in any year by the local authorities of Scotland and that alone is matter for congratulation. Last year was in some ways a difficult year. Owing to Defence demands there were many new issues to be faced, and the fact that local authorities were able to build a record number of houses in that year should not be lost sight of; praise is due to them to that extent. The number completed in the previous year was 13,341. Hon. Members will see that local authorities had therefore increased by 43 per cent. their building of working-class houses between 1937 and 1938.
§ Mr. Colville
I am just coming to the number under construction now, in order to show that there will be a steady improvement from now on. The hon. Member knows that various factors have held up the building of houses. During 1938, private enterprise built 6,900 houses, making a total of some 26,666 for the year, the highest figure ever recorded.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that 6,900 working-class houses were built by private enterprise? Does the figure exclude those which were not built for the working class?
§ Mr. Colville
I am speaking of the working-class type comparable with houses built by local authorities for that purpose. I am sorry to say that that effort is not general. It is rather localised in the eastern areas round about Edinburgh. The 6,900 are working-class houses as we know them.
§ Mr. Colville
A considerable number of the houses are being built to let, in the schemes in the Edinburgh area. I quite recognise that from the working man's point of view the fact that houses are to let is of primary importance.
§ Sir John Train
Are there any owner-occupied houses in that figure and, if so, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us the proportion of owner-occupied and the proportion of those built to let?
§ Mr. Colville
I do not think I can give my hon. Friend those proportions. Perhaps at the end of the Debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State may be able to handle those figures. I know from experience that a fair proportion are to let besides those which become the property of a man by instalments. The point that I am putting is that the total was some 26,000 for last year.
§ Mr. Colville
I am going to speak about some of the areas where these houses are, but if I went over the whole of Scotland giving details I should be talking until Eleven o'Clock. The rate of completion has been more than maintained in 1939. During the first five months of the year, local authorities completed 8,160 houses. That compares with 7,341 in the corresponding five months of 1938. That is quite an improvement. If this output is maintained, last year's record ought to be exceeded in 1939. At 31st May this year 26,600 houses were under construction and 8,800 were awaiting commencement, making a total of 35,400 in hand. I have no doubt that those given as awaiting commencement at 31st May have been mostly started by now. The improved rate of progress has been made possible by an increase in the available supply of skilled labour and materials. The effect of the agreement reached in 1937 through the Joint Consultative Committee of the Building Trades is now being felt. That agreement provided, among other things, for increasing the ratio of apprentices to journeymen in the trades where there was a shortage. That housing has shared in the increased supply of operatives is shown by the fact that the number of bricklayers engaged on local authorities' schemes rose from 2,637 in December, 1936, to 3,810 in December, 1938, and 1153 the number of joiners from 2,220 to 4,058 in the same period. Therefore, there is a gratifying improvement in the number of these tradesmen coming into the work of the local authorities on housing schemes.
Mr. Max ton
The right hon. Gentleman says that an agreement was made in 1937 to increase the number of apprentices, and then he says the number of skilled people in the building trade two years later has increased by 1,000. Obviously it could not be additional apprentices since 1937, because they would not have completed their apprenticeship until 1938. How has the increase come about?
§ Mr. Colville
The figure includes apprentices working. I think that is correct, but if I have made a slip, I will correct it later in the Debate. Coupled with this increase in the labour supply, there has been, on the whole, an adequate supply of building materials. Occasionally there are local delays through late deliveries, but there has been no complaint of any general shortage of materials for some time now. Despite the many difficulties that have had to be faced, much has been achieved. Since 1919 a total of 313,000 working-class houses have been built by local authorities and private enterprise in Scotland. That is to say, one working-class house to every four in Scotland is of post-war construction, with all modern conveniences. Inroads are being made into slum clearance and overcrowding. Local authorities have dealt with a total of 73,000unfit houses, from which 330,000 persons have been rehoused, and in. addition, since 1st April, 1936, 43,000 families have been rehoused from overcrowded accommodation.
So far so good. But I do not want to fall into an easy optimism, because we have slum areas where still very great progress is required. We still need in Scotland some 230,000 additional houses to clear the slums and overcrowding. In Glasgow alone about 60,000 are needed. There was a question on the Order Paper to-day that was not reached asking the present rate of housing progress in Glasgow, and if my remembrance of the figure is correct, the anticipation of the corporation is that they will build some 3,000 houses this year. That is an improvement on last year and on the year before, but, as hon. Members will see, it will take 1154 20 years at that rate to meet the deficiency.
§ Mr. Colville
That is taken into account. What we are doing now, even if better than we have done in the past, is not good enough, and difficulties are looming ahead. As I said earlier, the Defence programme is making very heavy demands on the building industry in Scotland, and it is against this background—and here I come to a point which has been the subject of Parliamentary questions lately—of a clamant need for 230,000 houses to clear the slums and overcrowding, which is so inadequately being met, that we must consider the proposals that have recently been renewed for reconditioning and the provision of houses for general purposes, for young couples and so on. It is a demand which is strongly put forward, but I have to consider it in relation to the general problem. I told hon. Members, when the subject was last discussed in this House, in November, on the Housing Bill, that I do not seek to minimise the case for reconditioning. I am aware too of the demand for accommodation, particularly for young married couples, and I showed my sympathy with that demand by certain administrative changes which I made. I have already indicated to local authorities that they might allocate to such couples a proportion up to one-third of the existing houses falling vacant each year. Whether they do that or not depends on how they have been able to meet the demand for slum clearance and overcrowding. I cannot at present promise to introduce legislation on these points. Apart from the fact that housing subsidies as a whole were only recently renewed and in certain cases substantially increased, any enlargement of the field of subsidised building at this moment would, with the present difficulties about the supply of labour, merely result in the slowing down of work under the Slum Clearance and Overcrowding Acts. At the same time, I am arranging to meet representatives of 1155 the Convention of Royal Burghs in Edinburgh, on 14th July, to hear their views of the whole subject, and I shall, of course, carefully consider what they say.
As hon. Members know, the policy of building by alternative methods, mainly timber and poured concrete, was adopted as one of the measures to solve the problem of shortage of materials and labour. These alternative methods are a supplement to, and are not intended to supersede, the traditional methods or to cut into their maximum capacity. The housingposition in Scotland is such as to remove any danger of that kind. The danger at the moment is all the other way. Those who employ the traditional methods were a little doubtful and suspicious of our experiments with timber and poured concrete, in case they would cut into their livelihood, but, as I see it, there is no such danger in Scotland. The local authorities and the Scottish Special Housing Association have placed contracts for 3,195 timber houses. They have also placed contracts for 3,896 poured concrete houses. The rate at which the houses are completed, should, in the ordinary course, accelerate rapidly now, and we might in ordinary circumstances anticipate rapid progress in the Special Housing Association's programme of about 33,500 houses by alternative methods.
§ Mr. Colville
Yes, Sir. The trouble is that the circumstances are not ordinary. There is an abnormal demand for timber, for example, and for joiners for the building of school camps, emergency hospitals, and camps for the Militia. There is some risk of a shortage of joiners and of timber. I am carefully watching the situation. It has not become acute up to now in our timber housing programme, but I can see a possible difficulty there. On the question of the supplies of timber, I am in touch with the Board of Trade and the suppliers and with the building industry on the question of labour supply and doing all that is possible to plan ahead. The Committee will remember that as a result of the passing of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, the Association were authorised to build 1156 a number of demonstration housing schemes outside the Special Areas. The Committee will also remember that previously they confined their operations to the Special Areas and that last year we enabled them to build in any part of Scotland, and I would like to report some progress there. The association have made offers to 25 county councils and 53 town councils to build a total of some 8,000 houses in their districts—demonstration houses. Of these, 3,550 have been offered to the four cities, namely, Glasgow, 1,750, Dundee 800, and Edinburgh and Aberdeen 500 each.
§ Mr. Colville
Within the last month, I think. Endeavours are being made to spread the remaining houses widely over the country, and they have been offered to authorities as far apart as Lerwick in the North and Dumfries and Jedburgh in the South.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Can my right hon. Friend recall what are the conditions under which those houses are offered to the burghs?
§ Mr. Colville
There is no charge to the burghs at all. They are built entirely by the Housing Association, so that from the point of view of the local authorities they are indeed quite a useful assistance to their housing programmes. They are to demonstrate in the particular area the use of alternative materials, and no charge falls on the local authorities.
Mr. West wood
Does it assist the local authorities to meet the normal development of the population? Is it not merely an addition to the local authorities' programme to deal with overcrowding and the unfit houses?
Mr. West wood
Would it not have been advisable, in the interests of housing success in Scotland, to remove that condition and enable something to be done to deal with the normal development of the population in each area?
§ Mr. Colville
I will bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. The difficulty is that still the great problem of overcrowding remains. Up to date the association's offer has been accepted by 1157 nine authorities, covering 1,730 houses as follows: Edinburgh has accepted 500 houses, Dundee 800, Dumfries 60, Camp-beltown 35, Prestonpans 20, Tranent 20, Stranraer 20, West Lothian County 250, and East Lothian County 25. Ten other authorities have indicated their willingness to accept the association's offer.
§ Mr. Colville
I do not know, but my anxiety is that it should be accepted at once. I should make it clear that these houses are to be built by the association for demonstration purposes. They will, of course, make a contribution towards the local housing needs, but the local authorities' duty of providing the houses needed will continue. The point is that the association will help those authorities which are also helping themselves.
§ Mr. Westwood
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, can he tell the Committee whether, in the construction of these houses and of the 3,896 poured concrete houses, they are erecting wooden windows or iron frame windows, particularly in view of the fact that, from information that I have, none of the iron or steel windows can be made in Scotland by private work?
§ Mr. Colville
I think perhaps the hon. Member might leave that point to be answered later in the Debate. Hon. Members will recall the time that was taken up last year in the discussion of high building costs and the need for additional subsidies. Specific action has since been taken on both points. Following the Debate on the subject, I appointed the Committee on Scottish Building Costs:To inquire and report as to the reasons for the increase in the cost of building working-class houses in Scotland.The Committee submitted their report in March, when it was published. They classify the causes of the increased building costs under three major heads, namely:
Figures which the Committee quote show that the average tender costs of houses of all types and sizes rose from £282 at the end of 1934 to £436 at the end of 1938, and they allocate this increase in the proportion of 50 per cent. for increases in building costs, that is to say materials, wages and profits, and 50 per cent. for the improvement in the standard of house provided—improved finish, a larger proportion of big houses and of cottages, and extra floor area. The Committee conclude that the weight of evidence submitted to them shows clearly that the increase is the cumulative result of many factors, most of which, if taken singly, would not be of much significance, and their investigations have not confirmed the view that the rise in housing costs is mainly attributable to a ramp in price
- (i) The overloaded market, with the attendant rise in the cost of both labour and materials.
- (ii) The improvement in the standard of house provided.
- (iii) The lack of efficient organisation.
The Joint Consultative Committee of the Building Trades have been asked to consider the comments of the Committee on Scottish Building Costs with regard to maladjustment between the different trades, which are stated to be disproportionately manned in relation to each other over the country as a whole. They have also been asked to consider the question of a further increase in the supply of building labour, the maintenance of an even flow of building contracts, and the lack of co-ordination between the different trades engaged on housing schemes, all of which matters have a bearing on building costs. I have also asked the three associations of local authorities to furnish me with their observations on what the committee say in their report with regard to the standardisation of fittings, the question of the bulk purchases of material, and the use by neighbouring authorities of the same type plans to secure keen tender prices. I shall consider what further action should be taken on the report when I have received replies from the Joint Consultative Committee and the associations of local authorities on the various points. I should like to take this opportunity of publicly expressing my thanks to Mr. James Barr, the chairman, and the other members of the Scottish Building Costs Committee, for the comprehensive and illuminating survey which 1159 they made of the causes of the rise in building costs, and for the work which they put in.
§ Mr. Stephen
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the committee were not asked to inquire into the dearness of houses in Scotland as compared with England? I raised this matter last year in the Debate, and thought it would have been referred to the committee. Would not the right hon. Gentleman now, in addition to the questions which have been put to this committee, ask them to compare the respective figures for Scotland and England, and the reasons why houses are so much more expensive to build in Scotland?
§ Mr. Colville
It was within the general cope of the committee to make what inquiries they thought necessary for the purposes of their report. If I thought that any purpose would be served at this date by looking into that matter, I should not hesitate to do so, and I shall certainly bear it in mind. I did not lay it down that the committee should not examine the relationship between costs in Scotland and in England, but I wanted them to report as early as possible, and such an investigation might have entailed considerable delay.
§ Mr. Stephen
The terms of reference did not definitely include that matter, and possibly the right hon. Gentleman's Committee thought that it would not help, but it is the fact that in England they have been able to get the houses, and one reason for that is that they have been cheaper than in Scotland.
§ Mr. Colville
As the hon. Member knows, there are a number of reasons why house-building in England has been more rapid than in Scotland, but if I followed that up I should keep the Committee too long. I will bear the problem in mind.
With regard to the question of subsidies, the demand for higher housing subsidies which was made during the Debate last year was met in the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act passed in December. That Act, which improves the rate of subsidy, has been generally well received and has been operated by the local authorities. As regards rural housing, two Acts were passed last year 1160 for the improvement of rural housing conditions. The first provided special grants for new houses to meet the needs of the agricultural population, and under this Act every county council but one has adopted a scheme for the assistance of private owners in the building of new houses. In addition, county councils are at present making surveys of their districts to enable them to form schemes for the building of houses themselves in those localities where they are needed. The other Act continued the grants available for the reconstruction and improvement of existing houses. Under these powers, about 29,000 houses have been reconstructed in Scotland.
I think I have been able to show that, in the matter of housing in Scotland, the past year has not been an idle one, either in the matter of legislation or in the matter of administration. We have been urging and assisting local authorities with varying degrees of success in their problems. In 1938, a record number of houses was constructed, and the trend in the early months of 1939 was still in an upward direction.
In the matter of town planning, we were slow in Scotland to start, but, having found a good thing, we are applying ourselves to this work with vigour. Last year the area of land under planning control was nearly doubled. At the end of May this year, the area under control was further substantially increased to over 1,800,000 acres, or more than three times what it was at the end of 1937. We can look forward to a further advance this year, and within a comparatively short time fully three-quarters of the land in Scotland that is likely to be developed or redeveloped, including nearly the whole of the industrial belt will be under planning control.
I have been able to cover, in the time at my disposal, only a part of the work of the Department, but the Debate will provide opportunities for raising many questions. The work of the Department of Health is generally appreciated by the people of Scotland, irrespective of party. As in past years, I have no doubt that in this year's Debate the criticisms that may be made will be concerned less with what is being done than with something more which hon. Members may consider should be done. I welcome such criticisms, but I would ask hon. Members to keep in 1161 mind the very abnormal conditions under which central and local government is working to-day. It is not the least of the evils of the present state of international tension that we have to divide our minds and to divert our energies to so large an extent from the constructive work of peace. But I submit that the Department of Health has made, and is making, a notable contribution to the health and happiness and well-being of our people, and the fact that we have been able, in these difficult times, not only to maintain but to extend the services for which the Department is responsible in Scotland, is no small tribute to the resource of our nation.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Johnston
In the last analysis, the great test of the success or failure of the efforts of our Health Department in Scotland must be found in the physical condition of our people. Do they eat more? Do they eat more food of better quality? Do they live longer. Do they live healthier? These factors we can measure year by year and decade by decade. Judging by these tests and standards, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that our efforts have not been in vain. We arc improving, and, while there is a great deal to criticise and there are many changes still which ought to take place, no good purpose is served nationally by crying "stinking fish" at every effort we make. It is less than 100 years since a sanitary report was made by Lord Playfair on Buckingham Palace, which, if it were published today, would result in a closing order being made. Scurvy has gone. It is true that Townshend's army at Kut had to surrender because of scurvy, but scurvy has gone as a disease among our people. Typhoid has gone as have infantile diarrhoea and smallpox; and even rheumatism, which killed Burns at 37, does not affect us now on an average at such an early age. People live 15 years longer, on an average, than they did half a century ago. We eat food of better quality due perhaps to refrigeration, and I would repeat the plea I have made to the right hon. Gentleman to consider urging local authorities to provide small refrigerators in many of our new housing schemes. In my view a refrigerator will be one of the necessities of the future— as great a necessity in every home as a separate water-closet. We eat better, 1162 owing, perhaps, to sanitation and better water supply, perhaps in part to American devices in canning fruit and the preparation of fruit juices, and even, it may be in part, to milk bars. We are changing our diet, and eat food of better quality.
But, when that has been said, we must recollect that there are great differences in clinical tests, and we need not be so simple as the Minister of Labour, who cries whoopee so gleefully when he gets figures of the results of the militiamen's examination on entering the Army. He gets figures showing that 92 per cent. of the young militiamen are fit, and he thinks all is well, but it all depends upon the clinical tests in these examinations. I was with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour), the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) and others a fortnight ago at Stirling Castle, examining the medical records of the young men who had joined in the ordinary way in the ranks of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and beyond all doubt these young fellows, in their first 16 weeks in the Army, added on an average 9 lbs. to their weight. I say nothing about their educational standard; I will say something later about the number of illiterates in Scotland; but that they added 9 lbs. to their weight on an average is an undoubted fact. Indeed, there were extreme cases where they had added a stone and a half to their weight in 16 weeks.These figures indicate that there is an insufficiency of food, and a wrong kind of feeding, outside, and we shall have to pay more attention to that.
The Scottish Health Services report said that our figures were disquieting compared with the Welsh and English figures, and I think that that epithet is justified. The rejection rate was 35 per cent. for recruits for the Royal Air Force. We have appalling National Health Insurance figures. While it is true that they are better than they were last year, they still show 417,000 cases of sickness and incapacity in Scotland in the course of the year, and 31,000 of our insured population were out of work for a whole year because of sickness. There must be a tremendous avoidable sickness and suffering in the ranks of old age pensioners. Everybody knows that the allowance of 10s. a week is insufficient and that nobody can live on it, and everybody knows that these amounts have to be supplemented in thousands of cases from public assist- 1163 ance sources. We get the borough of Coatbridge requiring to levy its ratepayers over is. in the £ to make good the deficiencies in the nutritional standards of old age pensioners. That gives some idea of the picture of the suffering which must be inevitable on a large scale all over the country. Certainly Coatbridge is our worst, but we have Airdrie with over 11and Hamilton with 11d. In England they beat us hands down on this. Merthyr Tydfil has actually to levy a rate of 3s. 4½ in the £ to supplement the necessities of its old age pensioners. With these figures before us we may at least guess that there is a tremendous amount of suffering and under-nourishment among the aged sections of our population.
I come for a moment to another source of under-nourishment which is not so obvious. It is a matter which I raised in this House a year ago, and to which I beg again to direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention. Over a year ago there was published a report by the Council for Art and Industry on the furnishing of the working-class home. It is one of the most remarkable documents I have ever seen published by the Stationery Office. It is a remarkable economic and artistic document. Here is a committee which is unanimous that, paying trade union wages, they can furnish a home at £52 10s., and they have done it. We know that this can be done, and we are all aware of the practice that is common in our land to-day of taking thousands of poor people out of the slum dwellings and giving them the key to the four- or five-apartment house and leaving them there to furnish their homes as they choose, not caring two-pence what happens as long as they pay the rent. We know that they are hardly in these homes before they have to get furniture on the hire-purchase system, which is the most costly method of getting it, and we know that there are many cases where they can furnish only one room and provide one bed, and where all the family congregate in that one room to sleep. We know that their bed is often taken from them because of their inability to pay the weekly or monthly charges, and we know that they have to take the payments out of the stomachs of their children.
1164 We had one test in Cardiff where every house in the municipal schemes was tested, and we got 15 per cent. of these houses without any liquid milk going into them in the course of a year. We know also that something pretty similar is happening in large areas of our public housing schemes. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider and strengthen the circular which he sent out, I think in 1936, to the local authorities in Scotland telling them that they have powers under the Act of 1925 to provide furnishings and fittings for all the homes, urging them in the national interest to do it and urging them to buy in bulk. The recommendation of this committee is that you should buy in bulk and that the £52 cash price for furnishing a home can be steadily reduced if you buy in bulk. If you urge the local authorities to do that, my view is that we shall have a vastly better standard of health in our new housing schemes. What I am proposing is nothing very revolutionary. The Prime Minister's own town of Birmingham has gone to great lengths in what it provides. I find that it provides chests of drawers, oval mirrors, kitchen tables, Windsor armchairs, adjustable armchairs, and so on.
§ Mr. Johnston
Yes, I think so. Birmingham has gone further in this direction than any city council with which I am acquainted, but there are other councils which have made, at any rate, a beginning in this matter. There are places like Leeds and Chesterfield, and there are also places in Scotland.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee whether any increase is made in the rent to include these extra facilities?
§ Mr. Johnston
I am coming to that in a moment. In some cases they provide these things free. Glasgow provides certain things free. In other cases there is a charge made weekly, without interest, to meet the cost, and I am happy to say that in Birmingham the report is, after experience of some years, that they have not lost a farthing. That is also the case 1165 in Stirling County. I believe it is also the case in Kilsyth, where they have lost nothing at all. In Kilsyth they supply one bedstead to each room if the tenant desires. They are provided free. In other cases spring mattresses, sheets of felt and pillows are provided, and the total charge is 1s. a week for 38 weeks, and there is no charge for interest or collection. All I am insisting upon is this: It is rendering vain half our housing effort, so far as public health is concerned, if we simply give these people a key to the door and leave them thereafter to the mercy of hire-purchase firms who charge almost inevitably very high prices to cover risks and collecting, and so on. We know that these people have to take these charges out of their stomachs, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to take what steps are open to him to impress upon the Scottish local authorities the fact that they have these powers and that it need not cost them anyhing to better the health conditions of their people by exercising them. The people themselves would reap almost incalculable benefits by a wide development of this municipal supply system.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee if the Co-operative Wholesale Society provide this furniture for £52 on the hire-purchase system?
§ Mr. Johnston
The Co-operative Wholesale Society offered the Council for Art and Industry to fit up a house at £52 10s., and they have done it. The Council for Art and Industry got all the manufacturers' associations together, and. they have all agreed to provide these commodities through retailers at £52 10s., and the committee have added that if you buy in bulk you get them very much cheaper than that. In the rural parts of Scotland there is work to be done almost beyond description. In Wigtownshire, where we are trying to evacuate children, there is neither sufficient water nor sanitation. I have a report here from the Rev. Mr. Shearer, of Kirkmaiden, who says:At present 70 per cent. of the houses in my parish have no form of sanitation, neither outside nor inside, wet or dry. Twenty per cent. have erected dry water closets for themselves. Only two houses out of 400 have been brought up to the standard required by the Acts.1166 I hope that the Under-Secretary, when he comes to reply, will be able to say that steps will be taken by the Department to impress upon the county of Wig-town the necessity of fulfilling its obligations under the Housing Acts.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Allan Chapman
If I do not follow the subject matter of the interesting speech which we have just heard, I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous, because I want to concentrate on the purely housing aspect of the Debate. I found the right hon. Gentleman's speech most instructive and, at the beginning, generous. I think the whole Committee enjoyed it.
I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on achieving a record in the output of houses in Scotland, despite the extremely difficult emergency conditions under which we are living—conditions during which there has been a great demand on man-power, materials and finance. I was pleased to hear of the vigorous way in which my right hon. Friend has attacked the question of alternative types of houses. I trust that he will continue to press this. I am a little uncertain how far to turn on the butter for my right hon. Friend, and how far to turn on the guns. I propose to try a little of each. After all, my right hon. Friend himself has stressed how far we are from our goal. It was only on 21st February, 1935, that the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the late Sir Godfrey Collins, who is still remembered affectionately in this House, said that well within five years all the slum property in Scotland should be a thing of the past and the families so displaced moved to better homes. At that time over one-third of the population of Scotland were living more than two to a room, and 750,000 were living more than three to a room. In June, 1938, my right hon. Friend informed me that we required 250,000 houses for slum clearance and overcrowding, and, as the result of a series of questions, I learned that 300,000 houses were without separate water-closets and 400,000 houses without baths. If we could have details of what progress has been made under those two headings of sanitation since then, the Committee would be interested.
Four years have passed since the statement of the late Sir Godfrey Collins 1167 to which I have referred. I put a series of questions this afternoon to measure progress and, as a result I learned that during these four years we have achieved 23 per cent. of our programme— 56,705 houses. Although I think my right hon. Friend was able to point out that requirements were now 230,000, he qualified that by saying that there were other general needs which had to be considered. If we take these into account then 250,000 is a fair constant of our housing needs. Making allowances for what has been achieved since 1935, we still need from 173,295 to 193,295 houses —and they are not going to be put up before the five years end. I realise that that five-year period set an ideal of achievement; but it is seldom given to us to achieve our ideals. Neither do I minimise what has been done in dealing with a most difficult problem.
The population of Scotland is some 5,000,000. One-quarter of that population is concentrated in the small area in and around Glasgow. If I refer to Glasgow, it is in no carping spirit. Here you have the greatest and most difficult housing problem in the British Isles. If the Glasgow housing problem is solved, there is no excuse for any other city or town not being able to solve theirs. Success or failure of Glasgow's housing schemes affects those in constituencies and boroughs in the immediate neighbourhood. I do not minimise the immense difficulties that Glasgow has to face; but I suggest that there is something wrong, in view of the figures I received this afternoon in answer to questions and later inquiries. In 1935 it was estimated that Glasgow required 65,000 new houses—61,000 for slum clearance and 4,000 for general needs. At the end of May this year, they had built 7,472 houses, or only 12 per cent. of their needs, while Scotland as a whole had built 23 per cent. of her needs. There is a serious disparity between these two figures. Whereas in Scotland as a whole the local authorities are building 10 houses per thousand of population, Glasgow is building only six per thousand of population. But what struck me most was the information I got as to the rate of building at the present time in Glasgow. I was cheered up on hearing from my right hon. Friend that Glasgow hopes to pass the 3,000 mark of completed houses during 1939, 1168 but my information is that in the first five months of 1939 Glasgow has built only 858 houses.
§ Mr. Chapman
I am referring to completed houses. In the first five months of 1939 Glasgow has completed 858. I presume there will be a great rush of completed houses between now and the end of the year to reach the point which has been suggested.
§ Mr. Chapman
Yes, answers to questions which prompted further inquiries. This is in some aspects a national question. Does the difficulty relate to labour or to the difficulty of obtaining sites or of obtaining the materials? I hope we shall be told.
The Under-Secretary of State in the Debates on the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill set us the high ideal of turning out 35,000 houses a year for seven years for the whole of Scotland. We have got the figure up to 19,000, but there is still a considerable way to go. In Lanarkshire we require 16,000 houses; but it will be 16 or 17 years before the people of Lanarkshire are properly housed. I shall be very glad if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will inform us exactly what the Scottish Housing Association is doing. I understood him to say, when we were discussing the Housing (Financial Provisions) Bill, that the association hoped to build 20,000 houses inside, and 8,500 houses outside, the Special Areas, in addition to 5,000 houses already approved by the old Special Areas Housing Association. Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that the figure at present is 1,750?
There is one point that I should like to bring to my right hon. Friend's notice. It is a case that was brought to my attention as I entered the House to-day, and I do not suppose that it is an isolated case. It relates to boys who go south over the Border to the Ministry of Labour training centres, in order to become bricklayers. When their course is over, they manage to get employment in the South, but when they come home they are unable to do so. I should like the Under- 1169 Secretary to tell the Committee whether there is any real difficulty about that. Many boys are anxious to become skilled in a trade, but it is very discouraging if, when they have trained, they cannot get a job on returning home.
§ Mr. Chapman
Trainees. I could give my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary particulars if he wants them.
If I have given my right hon. Friend the guns rather than the butter over housing, it is not because I wish to minimise what he has achieved in face of great difficulties, but I still think we are not tackling the problem on a broad enough front. We have still to face things like reconditioning, and to review our rating system; we have to encourage people to make use of the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act, and, above all, to get private enterprise going. Private enterprise has made a striking contribution in the South. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) last year drew attention to the fact that in England private enterprise had built 74,000 houses for letting to the working class, whereas in Scotland the number was just over 1,000. I have made inquiries, and find that, although the number built for letting has risen, it is still under 1,500. That is a negligible quantity.
There are one or two other points I wish to put, but, like some other hon. Members, I am in danger of exceeding my time. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I would like to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend a case which I believe to be symptomatic of the feeling among many of our people. He may have seen in the "Glasgow Herald" a report regarding the seizure of some new dwellings in Blantyre. Four men in my division occupied houses, which were very nearly ready for occupation, in contravention of the Trespass (Scotland) Act, 1865. Of course, they were apprehended, and when they were brought before the court an agent on behalf of the four accused pointed out that the offence was committed more as a protest than anything else. One man had been applying for a house for the last 10 years, and the other three had been doing so for approximately five years, each without success. 1170 The accused were now willing to give an undertaking that the attempt would not be repeated. The sheriff imposed a fine of 10s. or five days' imprisonment, and a month was allowed for payment. I cite that case because I am convinced that those men did not set out to break the law. This was an expression and an act of exasperation. When someone has been trying to get a house for 10 years, it is not surprising if he does things of that sort.
I could tell the Committee of a case of a man with a wife and four children all of whom are living in a tent in a back garden in my division, after having shifted from pillar to post. As soon as I knew I telegraphed the county council who are doing their best. I sincerely believe that the county council, which has a tremendous task, and the Scottish Office are doing their best in housing matters but their task is gigantic and urgent.
I would remind my hon. Friend that he has received, as I have received recently, a resolution from the Town Council of the Royal Burgh of Ruther-glen, which brings home yet one more aspect of this housing problem. The resolution reads:That the Town Council is of opinion that a well-balanced housing programme should include provision for the erection of houses for occupation by tenants who do not come within the scope of the provisions of the Housing Acts relating to slum clearance or overcrowding, and they strongly urge the Government to make a subsidy available for that purpose; and that copies of this Resolution be forwarded to the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Department of Health, and the Member of Parliament for Rutherglen.I mention the resolution for this reason. I believe that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will agree with me that there is a rising feeling amongst those whose houses are above the slum clearance limit and whose houses will come into that category in the course of a few years. They are getting restive that there seems to be no provision made for them under the existing Housing Acts so that they can get the houses they want. My right hon. Friend should note this as a growing discontent.
I conclude as I began. Leaving the guns, I come back to the butter and say to my right hon. Friend that, despite all the criticisms he will hear this afternoon, he can take confidence in the fact that he has established a record in the number of 1171 houses completed in a single year in Scotland. If I have emphasised what remains to be done rather than what has been achieved, it is because of my impatience with the intolerable conditions under which so many of my fellow-citizens are living at the present time.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirk wood
I have not listened to this Debate with any great pleasure, and I do not think that the report that has been submitted by the Secretary of State for Scotland is a very cheering one. It is the usual sort of report which we have received from every Secretary of State for Scotland who has sat on that bench ever since I came to this House. I am anxious to be as nice to everybody as possible, but I must face the facts. I am sent here to state the conditions of Scotland as I see them, and the position is not that all is well, as has been represented. The Secretary of State tried to qualify that, but the picture should not be represented as a beautiful one. The right hon. Gentleman possesses information which indicates that there are conditions in Scotland which are a disgrace to Christianity. According to his own statement, 230,000 houses are still required for slum clearance and overcrowding alone. When this agitation was started just after the War the number of houses required was what it is now, roughly, 250,000. If any improvement has been made in different parts of our native land it has been because of the activities of the Socialist movement. The Secretary of State smiles, but proof is to be found in the fact that most has been done in the industrial belt of Scotland where we have got the pull. What about the conditions in rural Scotland to-day? What about the report we got from Wigtownshire?
§ Mr. Kirkwood
The finest rehousing scheme in Britain is to be found in Glasgow adjoining where I live, where the City of Glasgow has housed 30,000 people, and where there is no public house or pawnshop, and there is only one policeman. They have proved up to the hilt that the housing of people along those lines is a considerable asset to the city. Glasgow is not as bad as some folks would try to make out. It is endeavouring to get over the housing 1172 problem. I wish that the Secretary of State for Scotland was as anxious as Glasgow to get over it. When Earl Baldwin was Prime Minister he came to see the conditions in Lowland Scotland, after which a grant of an extra £1 was given. If the Secretary of State for Scotland would make up his mind, the officials at the Scottish Office would be capable of tackling this problem, but it requires money. The housing problem, as I have said time and again in this House, has to be tackled in the same way as the making of munitions. There is no other way. If anything has proved private enterprise to be a failure, it is the housing of the people of this country.
The Secretary of State stated to-day that the infantile death rate in my native city of Glasgow in 1910 was 121, and that in 1938 it was down to 87. The excessive death rate is to be found in the working-class parts of Glasgow, and not in the well-to-do parts. That is not because well-to-do mothers are better than working-class mothers. The latter are not given a dog's chance of rearing their children properly. The death rate of children in Glasgow is alarming compared with that in the City of Birmingham. Birmingham has never had to contend with unemployment to the extent to which it has existed in the west of Scotland, where the housing conditions have also contributed to the higher death rate. It has been mentioned that the children attending elementary schools were 7½ lb. heavier and 2 inches taller in 1938 than was the case in 1920. I should like to have figures along these lines relating to Dumbarton and Clyde-bank. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) mentioned that some of the ordinary Army recruits increased in weight by as much as 14 lb. in 16 weeks, the suggestion being that it was due to better feeding. But that does not infer that working-class mothers are not feeding their sons as well as are the mothers of the middle class.
The report of a medical officer of health in the south of Scotland stated that many of the children were reared on tea and bread, but such a statement ought to be withdrawn. The impression is created that working-class women do not know how to cook and that other individuals are required to come and instruct 1173 our girls in the working-class districts how to prepare a decent meal. That is pure presumption on their part. It is our lasses who cook their meals. To maintain a soldier costs £1 a day all-in, and they are improved in physique because the money is there and is used to feed, clothe, and shelter them properly. That is the whole secret. Give the working class proper housing conditions and a decent wage and working-class mothers will buy the proper food. They would not desire to buy margarine if they could afford to buy butter; they do not desire to rear their children on tea and bread. If they do, it is because they have not the wherewithal to buy anything else. If we were not the descendants of a very hardy and intelligent race we should have been wiped out long ago.
I do not know whether this matter is within the purview of the health report, but some time ago we had the report of an investigation into tuberculosis, housing and schools in Wales. It was a staggering report, but I am satisfied that if the Secretary of State set about investigating along the same lines in Scotland he would not find anything upon which to congratulate himself. The conditions are as bad in Scotland and in England as they are in Wales. Nobody would be more pleased to shake the Secretary of State by the hand than I, irrespective of any party feeling, if he would make a determined attack on the housing conditions and the poverty conditions of Scotland, conditions which need not be. We have appealed from these benches; some of us have been appealing for more than 30 years, drawing attention to what is going on. The best blood of the British Empire is being destroyed, it is gong to waste, before our eyes, and then we are told by those who think they have all the brains, all the intelligence and all the statesmanship, that nothing can be done because it means money. Of course it means money, and the money, we have always maintained, is there. An individual asked me where the money was to come from, and I said that if there was a war looming on the horizon to-morrow there would be thousands of millions of pounds available to defend ourselves from an unknown foe.
Here we are faced with a known foe which is murdering the children of the working classes. I can take you to my 1174 own constituency and show you people who are living in hellish conditions. You are asking these folk to defend the British Empire. They say to me, "Do you want us to go and fight for these conditions?" I say certainly not. It would be a good thing if Germany would come over here and drop a bomb on Burnside in Dumbarton and blow it to smithereens if we could only get the women and children out of the place first. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the House of Commons?"] I do not want the House of Commons blown up; I think it is very essential. The British House of Commons is one of the best institutions in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the Lords."] I do not know why I should be dragged on to that topic. I hope that English Members will gather round Scottish Members and support us in order that in our time we may get something done. I have been able to do very little since I came here; there are still as many houses wanted to-day as on the day I came. I cannot get away from that fact. Poverty is still rampant in the midst of plenty. We said the same thing to the Labour Government about putting people into better houses; it was only making the conditions harder; they had to starve to pay the rent. I am sure that, irrespective of party, Scotsmen are all united on the importance that something has got to be done.
I have no desire to occupy any more time of the Committee, but something must be done regarding the Highlands of Scotland. It is a tragedy. Large parts of the Highlands are being left practically derelict, and every year I visit the Highlands I find the conditions are getting worse and worse, bracken crawling up the hillside and overwhelming what was once tillable soil. That is what is going on. I want the Secretary of State to do something. He knows that I am in earnest and would support him against the Cabinet in order to get something done for our country in our day and generation, and not leave it to somebody else to come along later on and do what we should have done in our time.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Captain W. T. Shaw
Our attention has been directed to foreign affairs so much of late that it is pleasant that this afternoon we can give some attention to Scottish affairs. I was very interested in 1175 what the Secretary of State said about the increase in the population and particularly about the number of Englishmen who are going north of the Border. I hope that more English Members will make use of the educational facilities afforded by a journey across the Border; we could do with more of them. In one respect I was disappointed with the speech of the Secretary of State. He said very little about the housing conditions in rural Scotland. He spoke for about 54 minutes, and devoted only four seconds to the housing conditions of rural Scotland, which, I think, are very bad indeed. In 1937 we passed an Act called the Agricultural Population (Scotland) Act, but I seem to notice that in the Estimates for 1939 we have only expended about £160. I know that the Act has only just started to operate, but I should like to know from the Under-Secretary of State when he replies whether the Act has, in fact, been stillborn. We have been told that since the War one in four of the working-class houses in Scotland has been renewed. I should like to know what proportion of the houses in rural areas has been renewed. It is a fact that the speeding up of building in rural areas has been very much slower than in the urban areas, and I think that something should be done to improve conditions in the rural areas.
§ Captain Shaw
I know, but I want to know how many houses have been built under that Act. There is also the question of reconditioned houses, and I should like to know how many houses have been reconditioned under the 1935 Act. Very likely the slowness in working the Act is due to the want of facilities for water supply in many of these areas. It has been stated that it is essential something should be done to provide water in many of the rural areas of Scotland, and if you look at the election manifesto of 1935 you will see that our leaders said that something would be done to help to provide rural districts with water supply. We are getting nearer another General Election, which will take place before long, and I hope that before then that promise will be redeemed.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
I listened with great interest to the speech of the Secretary of State this afternoon, and I am very sorry indeed that I was called out before he finished. I left with very great reluctance, and I am sure that I express the opinion of the Committee when I say that we are glad indeed he gave us such a comprehensive speech. It is important that we should have a full statement on the Estimates from the Secretary of State. I propose to confine myself to three subjects.
The first is the general question of public health. I am sure that no one will demur to the Secretary of State's congratulations to Scotland on the improvement in public health, on the fact that the general death rate, the infantile death rate and the tuberculosis death rate, are the lowest on record. The maternity death rate is the lowest except that of last year, and it is only slightly above that. Nevertheless, we are all equally impressed, as I am sure the Secretary of State is impressed, with the fact that there is an immense amount of leeway to be made up. Infantile mortality is still 70 per thousand as compared with 53 in England and Wales, and, while the other rates still compare unfavourably with those of England, we must be thoughtful and vigilant in considering what action can be taken to make up the leeway.
There are three points in relation to public health which I want to mention. First, I should like to say a few words about my native Highlands. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) speak up for the Highlands, as he very often does, for he is one of our most faithful champions in the House. I was the more glad because, besides the hon. Member for Kinross and Western Perth (Mr. Snadden), I am the only representative of Highland constituencies present at this Debate. I must therefore take this opportunity of speaking on one or two questions affecting the Highlands. The Secretary of State was right when he said that we are fortunate in having the Highlands and Islands Medical Service. I am very glad that the Estimate for that service is being raised by £10,000; but that is not enough. This great service won high praise from the Departmental Committee on Scottish Health Services. The committee pointed 1177 to it as a model and exemplar of all that a State-aided medical service should be; but they also pointed out that its task and the task of the Highland local authorities was greater than they could perform because of the low rateable values prevailing in the Highlands, and they urged that special assistance should be given. The Committee recommended that a special grant of £50,000 a year should be made in aid of statutory health services in the Highlands and Islands. Since that time, increasing burdens have been thrown upon the Highland local authorities on the one hand, while, on the other hand, the principal industries on which the Highlands depend, agriculture and fishing, have reached even lower depths of depression than prevailed at the time when the committee reported. Therefore, a grant of £50,000 towards the statutory health services in the Highlands and Islands is even more urgently required now than it was when the Committee reported. I ask the Undersecretary of State, when he replies, to answer particularly the question whether the grant is to be given, whether a decision has yet been reached, and whether that recommendation of the Committee is to be carried out.
Still on the question of public health, let me refer again to the leeway that has to be made up. First of all, in the Highlands we need a special grant. Secondly, when I seek for some of the causes for which our public health statistics are worse than those of other countries, I look to Appendix 15 of the report of the Department of Health for last year, in which is given a summary of the inspections of school children. It is evident from a glance at that table that one of the worst aspects of the health of school children in Scotland is the condition of their teeth. The report shows that 56.5 per cent. of the school children have from one to four teeth decayed. In Aberdeen, Glasgow and some of the counties of Scotland, more than two-thirds of the children have from one to four teeth decayed. It is shown that 14.5 per cent. have five or more teeth decayed, and in Banffshire 35.6 per cent.—more than one-third of the children inspected— have more than five teeth decayed. These decayed teeth are the seed-beds of ill-health in future. I suggest to the Secretary of State that the question of dental health needs to be vigorously tackled and 1178 that greater provision ought to be made for the inspection and cure of these bad teeth.
The third important cause of bad health in Scotland is bad nutrition. It is very disappointing to read what the report says about the difficulties encountered with regard to the milk scheme, and the difficulties in the way of children taking advantage of the facilities available to them. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give an assurance that the Government are determined to overcome those difficulties and to increase the consumption of milk as much as possible. The fourth reason for our bad health statistics brings me to the second subject on which I wish to address the Committee. It is housing.
Undoubtedly the housing progress is disappointing. It is natural that the Secretary of State should say—but it does not carry us very far—that the 19,160 houses built last year was the highest number built in any year, and was a 40 per cent. improvement on the previous year. But the previous year was a very bad year. The significant thing which strikes me is that the number of houses built last year was only 346 more than in 1935. When one thinks of all the legislation that has been passed since then, and all the conferences that have been. held in Scotland, it does seem rather disappointing that there is an improvement on the figure for 1935 of only 346.
§ Mr. Colville
The point I wanted to bring out was that the improvement on the previous year, which was a very bad year, was gratifying in that some of the factors which made the previous year a bad one were still prevailing, and therefore, the 40 per cent. improvement was gratifying in itself.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to create a quarrel about the use of this particular figure, or to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman was misleading the Committee. I did not in the least intend to do that. However, the fact remains that, when one looks into the figures and considers that after all the efforts that have been made by Parliament, the local authorities, the Secretary of State and his Department, there were only 346 more houses built than in 1935, it is a rather disappointing result. Indeed, when the hon. Member for Ruther- 1179 glen (Mr. Chapman) was at pains to say that everybody was doing his best, that nobody could do more than the Secretary of State was doing, that nobody could do more than the Department was doing, or more than the local authorities were doing, I could not help thinking that was rather a pessimistic view to take. If we can give a little impetus to the Government and the Department to-day, they may be able to make greater progress in future than has been made in the past. I should not be fair to the Secretary of State if I did not add that he indicated to-day that he hopes to achieve a figure of 26,000 in the present year.
§ Mr. Colville
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the figure for last year of 26,000 took in the houses built by private enterprise as well as by the local authorities. I have not given an estimate of what we hope will be built by the local authorities, although I have in mind what I hope the figure may be.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I do not want to press the right hon. Gentleman on that point. I hope there will be a greatly improved figure in the present year. I wish to refer to one point that was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Forfar (Captain Shaw), on which I hope the Under-Secretary will enlarge in his reply on the Debate, namely, the effect of the Agricultural Population (Scotland) Act and the Housing (Rural Workers) Act on housing in rural areas. It is perhaps a little early to tell what the effect will be, for these Acts have not had much time to operate, but if the Under-Secretary could give an indication of what progress is being made, it would be of great interest to the people in the rural districts of Scotland. It seems to me that the progress is very slow. I will mention one or two cases in my own constituency. In Helmsdale, 12 houses were available and there were 40 applications. In Wick, a new R.A.F. aerodrome is being built, and I understand that 80 families are coming to Wick in connection with the aerodrome, for whom no provision is being made, although one would have thought it would have been made by the Air Ministry. That really does present a very difficult problem about which the Provost of Wick was speaking to me only a day or two ago. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider 1180 these very difficult cases, and see that the provision of houses is pushed on in the small burghs and rural areas.
The main point in regard to housing that I want to make this year, as last year, is the provision of houses for young married couples. The Association of County Councils, the Convention of Royal Burghs and the local authorities are all pressing this point very hard. The only provision that is being made now is that where the house in which they are living is overcrowded, the married couple have a claim for another house, and are put into perhaps another old house from which some other family has been decanted into a new house. That is not enough. This decanting process is too slow. It discourages these young people when they do not get a new house in which to start their married life, but some old house which may be, and in many cases is, a poor type of house. Moreover, the whole thing is very uncertain. Surely, it cannot be expected that these young people will marry and live with their families in overcrowded conditions in the hope—by no means the certainty—that eventually they may receive better accommodation. I urge the Secretary of State to consider whether some scheme cannot be devised whereby houses can be built for these young married couples, for it will aggravate the condition of rural depopulation in the Highlands of Scotland if the young married people find that they cannot get houses in their own counties when they want them.
I come lastly to the question of water supplies. There has been a long campaign for better water supplies in the rural districts of Scotland. At last, at the General Election, the Government published an election manifesto containing a paragraph with reference to Scotland in which they promised that the provision of water supplies and drainage would be the subject of special care and attention especially in sparsely populated districts. But we are still at the stage at which the Government are talking of these schemes, appointing committees to consider them and consulting the local authorities, and in no case that I know of is there any county in Scotland, certainly in the Highlands of Scotland which is in touch with the Department of Health on the details of a concrete scheme for regional water 1181 supplies. I am not saying that nothing has been done. The Secretary of State, and successive Secretaries of State, have been very sympathetic and shown an interest in specially hard cases that have been brought to their notice by some of us and in some cases there has been a water supply for some little village or township; but all over the Highlands, in my own constituency and I believe in other rural districts, there are families, villages and townships which lack what the Department of Health itself has described as a cardinal necessity of public health. Here again, the Association of County Councils, the Convention of Royal Burghs, and innumerable local authorities have joined in the campaign. We have been fortified, too, by a report of the Highlands Sub-Committee of the Scottish Economic Committee, which referred to this as one of the important aspects of Highland reconstruction, I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us what the Government intend to do about this part of the report. It is not that I think the report should be dealt with piecemeal. I hope we shall have an opportunity of hearing what is the policy of the Secretary of State on the whole range of that report, but in this Debate I can speak only of that part which refers to housing and to water supply. The report emphasises the vital importance of a better water supply in the interests of local people who, in many cases, have to walk long distances to get water, which is often filthy and full of insects.
Consider also the effect on the tourist traffic. I get letters from people from the South who visit my constituency as tourists, and who are shocked at the conditions which they find and the lack of water in the country districts. We ought to have regional schemes in the Scottish counties and abolish the local district water rates which are, in some cases, as high as 6s. in the £ and even higher. Even the most prosperous counties in Scotland get grants of 75 per cent. for the reconstruction of roads. Surely, we ought to be able to get 90 per cent. grants for such a cardinal necessity of public health as water. Last year we were told that a Departmental Committee had been set up to study the problem and that the local authorities had been asked for reports and were to be taken into con- 1182 sultation. How is the work of that committee progressing and when will its report be published? I would also ask the Under-Secretary whether he can give us any particulars of the reports made by local authorities, and whether he will be able to let us know the results of the consultations with the local authorities. If any of us put down a question before Parliament rises at the end of this month, or next month or whenever it may be, will he be able to tell us what progress is being made with plans for regional water supplies? My time is up and my last word will be to impress upon the Secretary of State the necessity for prompt action to enable people living in the country districts of Scotland to enjoy the blessings of an ample supply of pure water.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
The Secretary of State has given us what I would term a very gloomy report. I am not taking the report at its face value. I am taking account of a number of things which were very lightly glided over by the right hon. Gentleman and of the fact that certain conclusions which he drew, were not justified by the statement presented here. We all agree that most Secretaries of State are very genial as individuals, but we are not here to discuss that to-day. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) was Secretary of State for Scotland, I interviewed him two or three times and he was very genial but geniality was all I ever got out of him. That does not apply only to Tory Secretaries of State but to Liberal and Labour Secretaries of State as well. They are all alike.
I wish to deal with the facts of the report and with some of the tragedies which are being enacted in the life of the people of Scotland. I could forgive any Government or any local authority for many things, if they could only solve the housing problem. But the Government of this country cannot protect the people from the effects of war, and they cannot protect the people from the effects of peace. Millions die in war and millions die during periods of peace. It is no use making the excuse that the energies of the State are being used to-day to construct war machines for an emergency. Since 1918, when the late War was adjourned, 1183 this problem has been living with us. Tens of thousands of homes have been wrecked and hundreds of thousands of children have been done to death by the economic system under which we live. Housing is a question of poverty. The man who has money to build or buy a house has no problem. The problem exists only for the person who has no money to build or buy a house, and who is dependent on the State and private enterprise to provide him with a dwelling.
As to alternative methods of building I do not care how you provide houses, whether they are made of concrete, or brick, or blocks, or timber or steel. I am not concerned, at this stage, about the lifetime of the house. I am mainly concerned with giving the people who have no dwellings to-day a place to live in now, with some measure of comfort and decency. Every Government and every local authority share in the responsibility for the failure to provide houses. I hear from time to time about the need for underground shelters. I am not concerned about underground shelters. I want above-ground habitable dwellings for the people, and ask the Secretary of State to say what he intends to do to deal with the present housing situation which is so serious. He has given figures which show that, in Glasgow, even with the housing construction this year, according to the modest estimate which he made —and with which I disagree as one who knows something about housing in Glasgow—it would take 25 to 30 years to solve the housing problem and meet the city's requirements. Even then that would not deal completely with the wastage. That is a serious state of affairs.
If we are going into war between now and the end of August, as most people seem to think, there will be a stoppage of house-building because the whole energies of the State will then be directed to constructing death-dealing weapons. It is an amazing thing that when the possessions of the rich are in danger we can get a Ministry of Supply and the organisation of raw material, machinery and labour, but when the lives of the working-class are in danger from bad housing there is no mobilisation for the purpose of providing the necessary accommodation for them. Thousands of 1184 millions of pounds can be thrown together to defend the bond-holding interests of the rich, but a poor mouth is always made when we plead for homes for the working people and we are told about the great increases of taxation which would be required to meet the needs of the people.
To show that there is no exaggeration in my statement about the present conditions in Glasgow, let me give some figures supplied by the right hon. Gentleman himself some time ago. These all relate to single-apartment houses. In Glasgow there are 6,617 houses with two and a half persons to the apartment: 6,694 with three to the apartment; 2,523 with three and a half to the apartment; 2,027 with four to the apartment; 868 with four and a half to the apartment; 791 with five to the apartment; 567 with five and a half to the apartment; 296 with six to the apartment. Do hon. Members realise what that means—296 with six persons to the apartment, and children under 10 are not counted? There are 92 with seven to the apartment; 15 with eight to the apartment, and 10 with nine to the apartment. Last week a young man of 36 or 37 years of age in my own division, told me that he had had a claim in for four years with the Glasgow Corporation for a house. The birth of a child was expected next month and then there will be 10 people in a single apartment house in that case. Can any human being conceive a worse state of affairs than that? There are two cases mentioned in this report of 10 people in a single apartment with no bath, no lavatory accommodation, just a sink and a cold water tap. There is a case of father and mother, and eight children, the eldest of whom is 16. living under those conditions. That is a scandalous state of affairs. There is in this report a statement to the effect that 257 cases of tuberculosis have occurred in one-apartment houses. There were 190 cases where children were suffering from tuberculosis and the single-apartment was overcrowded.
I have been in these houses and I wish that some artist would paint a picture of the conditions and hang it up in the Lobby and let Secretaries of State who come and go, see there a representation of the living conditions of the people in those areas. Members here congratulate the Secretary of State on the work that he has done. I could not honestly con- 1185 gratulate the Secretary of State or the Department or the local authorities while conditions of that kind are rampant. Bad housing destroys the happiness of young couples. They go into rooms, often with a mother-in-law, and a mother-in-law in many cases is a bigger menace than Hitler. The children are born in rooms and these people are driven from one set of rooms to another, and ordered about, and very often cannot get a home at all. There are people with four or five children who have never had a house of their own. What marriage could happily survive conditions of that description? Is there any opportunity there for happiness and romance, for cleanliness or morality?
When I see cases time and again in the courts and I hear the condemnation of individuals, I often wonder what vicious environment they have sprung from; and I say to the Secretary of State that, so far as he is responsible, both he and his office have been a failure in providing housing accommodation in Scotland. The economic system which he defends is largely responsible for that failure. We used to have a song during the War, and if I were permitted I would sing it to the Committee:Fight for the land sharks, toiler;They own the land.Fight for your kind employer;You are his hand.Slay for your pious landlord, till your life is spent.While you raise your deadly rifle, he will raise your rent.The landlords and capitalists who have been on the local councils and have occupied benches in this House are responsible for the degradation of the people. They have extracted untold wealth which the workers have created, and they have refused to give them in return even what they give to their cattle, a decent proper place in which to live. I am demanding that the Secretary of State for Scotland should appoint a Minister of Supply to mobilise the whole of the forces of Scotland with a view to providing houses for the people. That ought to be the insistent cry of every individual because we cannot go on complacently while these tens of thousands of tragedies are being enacted in our midst.
Yes, I am prepared to do that. Shortly after I came to the House I introduced a Bill to provide a sum of £500,000,000 to set up a national housing department to get on with the job. I said then, and I say again, that if I were given the powers of housing dictator in Scotland I could solve the housing problem in less than ten years or give up my life, so confident am I that this can be done. All the arrangements for building houses can be mobilised. We hear the excuse that it is a tremendous job. It is not a tremendous job. When it comes to defending the interests of the capitalist class, it can be done because you are serious minded about it. The risk is great and the effect of the disaster in war would be a tremendous thing to the ruling classes, and therefore they face up to it with courage and ability and with the necessary energy.
If the right hon. Gentleman were anxious to solve the housing problem it could be solved in a short space of time. The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Chapman) told us, what the late Sir Godfrey Collins told us in 1936, that in five years we can clear away the whole of the slums of Scotland. He must have known that was not true. The present Secretary of State knows that with the methods he is employing to-day he will not solve the problem in 25 years. There is not the will in the Government to solve it as it could be solved. I am challenging them to do something more. I am not interested from a mere party point of view. If the Government will do the job I will hand out the bouquets. I am not so narrow that I would grudgingly give a bouquet to an opponent who will do the job. I am not concerned about who does it. But up till now they have all played with the problem.
Then we see a rise in costs from £286 to £400 and £500 because of the building ring. If you send out a schedule of baths, sinks, rainwater pipes, ranges or grates to six or eight merchants, you will get the same prices quoted to a penny. The ring of merchants and manufacturers is operating and they are seizing the nation by the throat, and every additional pound or two of subsidy which is given goes to the building ring and not to the local authorities and those who are trying to build houses. If you want to deal drastically with the problem you would put the ring, as Hitler has put it in 1187 Germany, at the service of the State, and limit its dividends, as Hitler has, to 6 per cent., and say to it that everything over that amount must go in improved conditions for the workers or in cheaper housing.
There is only one disease in life and that is poverty. Most of the other diseases spring from poverty. We were told today something about the increase in weight of children and so forth. Dr. Wilson, of Manchester, told us many years ago that if he were allowed to take the ages and weights of children he could tell to what class they belonged. He put them into four categories—the child of the labouring class, the child of the tradesman, the child of the shopkeeper, and the child of the middle-class. He found that the child of the working class of 13 was only equal to the child of the middle-class of nine. He took 120 children out to the outskirts of the City into the open air. They were called mentally defective or backward children. He put them for six months in camps with good food, good medical attention and good physical exercise, and in six months time 80 per cent. of the children had been restored to normal. That shows the tremendous effect of the slum environment, of the evil dwellings and of the overcrowded homes of the children. There are children who rise in the morning in these houses after sleeping on boxes which they push under the bed. I was in a house six months ago in which I saw three shelves constructed on the bed. The father and mother slept in the centre and the children on the top and underneath because they had no other place in which to sleep.
The children rise in the morning in the evil conditions such as we read of in the "Thetis" submarine disaster. We read of how the men succumbed to the evil atmosphere. While not so extreme, that is typical of the conditions in which these children rise in the morning—unslept, un-rested, going to school unable to take advantage of the education, and stunted in mind and body. Nothing is too drastic to solve this problem. I say it can be solved. It is not being solved now. It is not being tackled in a proper way with the mobilisation of all the forces in Scotland. With the money and material and with the energy and driving force of a man who is determined 1188 to get the job done, we can clear these evil dens out of Scotland and give men, women and children a chance to live as they have never lived before.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
The Secretary of State said that the question of housing was the chief social problem in Scotland, and that has been emphasised by the number of speeches in which reference has been made to the housing question. In fact, this Debate has centred almost entirely round this question. It is not difficult to define the nature of the problem because when one reads the reports or listens to my right hon. Friend and learns that nearly 250,000 houses are required in Scotland merely to replace people who are overcrowded or who have to be removed from slum areas, no one with imagination can fail to picture something of the real problem of the poorer classes who are in such a position. Therefore I do not propose to waste time in emphasising what has been said. Cases have been given by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) and by the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Chapman). The problem is there and the question is how are we to face it? The hon. Member for Dumbarton said we must face it as Scotsmen. The problem does call for an effort all along the line by all of us to see in what way it can be solved. In searching for a solution we must consider every possible remedy.
The first remedy which I should like to mention is that of doing what we can to recondition present housing. The hon. Member for Dumbarton referred to the fact that in 1919 250,000 houses were needed and that that is the position today. I think that if the great number of houses which could have been reconditioned then had been reconditioned, there would have been an improvement in the figures. The Secretary of State must know that he has the Committee solidly behind him in anything he can do to increase the grants for the reconditioning of houses. Another problem is that of building houses by private enterprise. It is true that all these are not houses to let, but I know that in Edinburgh a great many of the houses that have been built by private enterprise are let to members of the working class. The 1189 figures show what a substantial contribution can be made in this way. From 1935 onwards the number has averaged 2,400. Last year there were 2,375 built in Edinburgh by private enterprise, a large proportion of which were for the working class.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
I made inquiries and I was told that the rent was very close to that charged for corporation houses. We want to see every method tried, and, while encouraging private enterprise, to encourage the building of corporation houses also. I am not by any means satisfied, but the figures for Edinburgh do show a substantial improvement. A great deal has been said about not being content with the figures as they are, but I think we can congratulate ourselves when any improvement is made. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend what is the position with regard to private enterprise building in other cities in Scotland and whether more might be done for the whole of Scotland along the lines that have been tried with a large measure of success in Edinburgh. I should like to know how the figures for Edinburgh compare with the figures for other cities in Scotland.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Perhaps the Secretary: of State could let us know also how Edinburgh compares with Scotland generally.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
I should like to know the figures, because this does seem one way in which we can get something done. In the whole of Scotland there were 6,904 houses of five apartments or less—
§ Mr. Colville
Was the hon. and learned Member asking me for the figures of houses built by private enterprise in the Edinburgh district as compared with Scotland generally?
§ Mr. Buchanan
And can you let us know how housing in Edinburgh stands as compared with other cities?
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
I read in the report that the number of houses that were reconstructed or improved in 1938 was 2,646, compared with 2,568 in 1937. The proportion of increase is much less than the proportion of increase in the number of houses built, and that gives force to my submission that the reconditioning of houses ought to be assisted. The hon. Member for Shettleston seemed to suggest that all that was required was money. I do not suggest that money does not help, but there are many other problems connected with the housing question. There is the problem of labour. A great deal has been done to assist the provision of labour, for which, as a Scotsman, I am grateful, but I think we ought to get together more and go not only into the question of money to be obtained from the Government but into the question of persuading municipal authorities to do more and also to encourage the private builder. Last, but not least, we should try to make arrangements for using to the best advantage the labour that is available.
So much for housing. Another matter on which I should like to say a word concerns the camps which are to be used in case of emergency but which have a permanent value in peace-time. One of the camps has been set up at West Linton and seven have been promised for Scotland. I should like to congratulate the Government on this step. People are encouraged to find that we can utilise some of the provisions which are necessary for Defence purposes for their benefit in peacetime. But while congratulating the Government on what they have done so far I would express the hope that it is only a beginning, and that we may see more of these camps. They will serve a useful purpose if there are air raids as a clearing station for children, and will in time of peace make a valuable contribution to the health of the people of Scotland.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Hunter
I was pleased to hear what the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) said at the beginning of this Debate. He pictured the great advance which has been made in the health and the general standards of the people of Scotland during the past half century, and I think it was very wise of him to do that, but those who have followed have led us to believe, or would lead others 1191 to believe, that Scotland, instead of advancing, as it has been advancing, is slowly but surely falling back. I think public opinion is in advance of the Scottish Office and the Department of Health, and so are the burghs in Scotland, and if they had a freer hand I am confident they could solve a great many of these housing questions without much difficulty. It was a good report which the Secretary of State was able to submit but it was in many respects disappointing to me. While we ought to welcome the advance it is not right that we should be content with the position in which we find ourselves. There are ample statutory provisions under which progress can be made in dealing with overcrowding and slum clearance, but not a single step is being taken to provide the houses required for the normal advance in population.
The work of slum clearance is being carried out with vigour and success, but a point to be remembered is that in many of those slum houses there are two overcrowded families, and a local authority has to build two houses in order to provide for the occupants of one slum dwelling. That is probably why the number of houses we require to-day is exactly the same as it is said to have been during the four years in which I have had the honour of being in this House. Although we are providing many houses we seem to be making no advance at all. Grants should be made available for the erection of houses to meet the normal growth of the population, more especially for young married persons and for those who would marry if they could get a house. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) lay stress on that point, and I will give an illustration from the city which is part of the constituency which I represent.
Although Perth has a record second to that of no other large burgh in Scotland for the number of houses erected and for the manner in which it is dealing with this problem, there are at the moment 1,815 applications for houses before the town council, and no fewer than 645 are from young couples newly married. An analysis of the figures shows: Couples staying in furnished rooms with no family, 334; couples in furnished rooms with a family, 311; applications from occupants of slum houses, 260; applica- 1192 tions from those who wish for houses with modern requirements, 490; applications from those living outside the town while working in the town, 150; applications from those who wish to get married if they can get a house, 160; applications from elderly people wanting smaller houses, no. It will be seen that there are 645 young married couples living in furnished rooms. A proportion of those cases may be dealt with under the overcrowding provision, but it does seem rather illogical that two young persons wishing to get married can only get a house in the first instance by going to live with their parents or in furnished rooms and then invoking the aid of the law relating to overcrowding. Surely it would be more satisfactory for them to start off with a house of their own.
Complaint is made that the lives of some of these young people are being wrecked because they have not houses to themselves. One young man pleaded for a house on the ground that his young wife had told him that if he did not get one she would leave him, because she could not get on with her mother-in-law. I think that is not an isolated case. Then there was a young couple living in furnished rooms who said that whenever a baby arrived they were told to get out, and they had no house to go to. Quarrels also start over the difficulty of getting houses. I know of two young ladies who were engaged. The fiance of one of them through influence or in some way or other had got a house, and immediately the other one went to her fiance and quarrelled with him because she said he had not been so active about getting a house.
Every local authority, without exception, strongly desires powers to recondition houses. There is no doubt that public opinion is solid on that point. I need hardly remind the Secretary of State that "A stitch in time saves nine." It is a very sage proverb. A comparatively small expenditure upon introducing water closets, baths and a few other modern conveniences will make an old house as good as new. Local authorities have power to order some of those improvements to be made, but in most cases they find that the owners have no money to spare, and that nothing can be done except to allow the houses to drift into becoming slum property. I recall the 1193 case of one elderly lady, 80 years of age, whose sole source of income was the rent from some slum property. The town, council had no desire to see her deprived of her independent position and allowed the property to remain until she passed away, but when it came into the hands of her heirs they found themselves in the same position, and ultimately the property had to be demolished.
How can the reconditioning of these houses be achieved? One way would be for local authorities to purchase old property which has not yet fallen into the condition of slum property at a valuation to be placed upon it by the Department concerned, and then get a small grant in order to recondition it. Another way would be to give local authorities power to lend money to the owners of the property, the loan to be repaid with interest within a prescribed number of years. If it should happen that there were mortgages on the property that could not be done, but in such a case I think the owner would be glad to sell at a very low price in order to get rid of what must be to him not an asset but a serious liability. The Department of Health must think about the welfare of the young men and women who are the potential fathers and mothers of the future. They have given concessions to local authorities to aid old folks in getting better houses, but that is entirely wrong, because most of the old folks wish to remain in their present homes. It sems wrong to put old folks into modern homes and young ones into old homes. It is turning nature upside down. The younger generation should be provided with the most modern type of houses, with all modern conveniences, because only in that way can we make it certain that the health and strength of the Scottish race will be maintained.
I was glad to hear that the Secretary of State proposes to meet representatives of the Convention of Royal Burghs on the 14th of this month. I was disappointed when he added that he did not see any hope at the moment of legislation for young people or to give local authorities power to erect houses otherwise than in connection with slum clearance or overcrowding conditions. I hope he will change his mind. I am not here to apportion the blame between the Treasury and the Scottish Office, but there is someone standing in the way of progress. As far 1194 as it has gone, the Scottish Office has done well, but it must consider the question of providing funds to get houses for the growing population, especially for the young couples. If that is done, the Secretary of State may be sure that he has behind him solid, not only the Scottish Members of the House but every city, burgh and county council. He can do a great deal, and if the expression of opinion in this House or elsewhere can help him, we are anxious to do all we can. We hope he will not cease pressing the Treasury and pointing out that Scotland is not going to develop in the way it could and will be developed until the housing problem is solved.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mrs. Hardie
I hope the Scottish Office will never spend public money in taking over old and derelict property to patch it up and try to make it what is considered good enough for the workers. I hope they will go on providing up-to-date houses for all who require them. I want to deal particularly with the question of health. We are all grateful to know that the infant death rate is falling, but I think the Secretary of State will agree that it is too high. It is the more tragic because we know that in districts where the conditions are good, the people are comfortably off and there are good houses, it is fairly low. Unfortunately, I suppose we cannot yet look forward to the time when no babies will die even under the best conditions, but in Glasgow the average rate is 87 per 1,000 and in some parts of the City it is under 30, while in the poorer districts, where the housing conditions are bad, in some of the wards we have a rate of over 100. That proves that the bulk of it is due to poverty and bad housing conditions, and is preventable. That is a terrible reflection on a wealthy nation, as we are, that year after year we still allow this slaughter of babies. Where you have a high infant death rate you have a terrible amount of preventable sickness amongst those that survive. They never grow up strong and healthy and able to fight the battle of life.
We regret to see that the maternal mortality rate has slightly gone up. I do not mean this to be unkind, but the Secretary of State said it had gone up from 4.8 to 4.9—" nothing to mention." What occurred to me was, "just a few more women's lives." I am not saying it in a 1195 nasty way, but we are apt to think of statistics as statistics, and forget that there are human beings behind them. It means that a few more women lost their lives, and often they are young women leaving children behind them.
§ Mr. Colville
I was anxious not to leave any impression that I was dealing with the matter callously. I said I was sorry that a small percentage increase had taken place, but I hoped that legislation that had been passed for the purpose of helping maternity work would make for an improvement in the near future, and I explained some of the difficulties of getting the work under that legislation going.
§ Mrs. Hardie
I quite understand that there was no callousness meant but it is a serious thing, though the figures may appear to be small. With regard to maternity institutions, housing conditions are so bad that many of the homes are quite unsuitable for babies to be brought into the world, but I still believe that, where home conditions are good, there is no reason why women should not have their babies at home, and I believe most Scottish women feel that way. But the bulk of the people are not living under those conditions. A good many babies are born in the kitchen bed, with all the surroundings that obtain there. I am sure that has a lot to do with the high death rate. We learn from the report that there are only 1,430 beds provided in public maternity institutions. A few others are provided in voluntary institutions, but that does not amount to very much. That is totally inadequate. We ought to have far more, in order that a larger number of women should be encouraged to go to institutions.
When we come to the question of school children, there again there is a great difference. I was on a school board many years ago, about 1898 and onwards, and I knew the prevalence of rickets and the terrible plight of the children in Glasgow. It was during that period that we started the feeding of school children. Rickets is pretty well stamped out now owing to giving the children milk and food. Many of them are still living in bad housing conditions, so it is not only due to that. They now have better food, and so rickets is not the terrible scourge that it was then, but we still find that there is a good deal 1196 of bad health in the schools. I notice that there is a great prevalence of skin diseases, and I do not know why teeth should be so much worse than in England. I believe those defects are largely due to defective diet. No doubt skin diseases are due to a great extent to the fact that the bulk of the children do not get enough fruit and greenstuff, and that also applies to teeth. The only thing that seems to be suggested is that the children should be taught to brush their teeth. I know how beneficial that is, but a lot of the bad teeth is due to the fact that masses of the poorer people cannot provide the proper food that the children should get. There is too much starchy stuff, because they cannot afford the necessary greens, fruit and other nourishing food. It is not enough to provide dentists to stop teeth. You want to build the children up, and then you will not have this large amount of skin disease and bad teeth, and all the rest of it.
With regard to malnutrition, I do not like the classification. You get in the report the classifications "good," "fair" and "bad." What is "fair"? If a child is not properly nourished, it is surely "bad." There are 60 per cent. classified as "good" and "fair," and so on, and very few are "bad" and "very bad." If you cannot see that the child is properly nourished it is "bad," and something ought to be done to bring it up to the proper standard. These problems are largely poverty problems. The people do not earn enough to provide the food and shelter that the children require. The Secretary of State spoke about the fall in the number of cases of tuberculosis. The conditions are still very far from being satisfactory. The fall has been from 74 per 100,000 to 69. That looks very satisfactory but, if we realise the large numbers of young people still suffering from the disease we cannot feel too satisfied about the conditions, especially when we realise that the disease is one which strikes at young people and that the highest death rate is between the ages of 15 and 25. Think of the tragedy of the young lad or young girl stricken down at the very time when they should be at their happiest and healthiest. Over 3,685 people died, in addition to many who have practically lost their youth and are struggling along in a very defective state. The real cause, again, is bad housing and bad working conditions, because 1197 the conditions in which many people carry on their work ruin their health, and very often they work too hard and earn such low wages that they do not get sufficient nourishment. The Secretary of State congratulated himself that so few militiamen were turned down because of bad health. No one is more pleased to know that than I am, but the Unemployment Assistance Board states that 22 per cent. of the young unemployed lads who wanted to go to training centres could not be passed as medically fit, and a number of them would, of course, come from Scotland. In the report Glasgow is singled out as an illustration of the bad health of young women. They say:The low standard of health and energy amongst some of the young applicants to the Board is a cause for anxiety, and the prevalence of minor defects concerned with eyes and teeth raises once again the difficult question of medical treatment for unemployed persons. In large cities like Liverpool and Glasgow the standard of employability amongst the large group of unemployed girls falls very low.Altogether you have a not very reassuring picture of the state of health among the young men, and particularly among the young women, in Scotland. It is admitted that institutional accommodation for cases of tuberculosis is insufficient and in some cases very unsatisfactory. The least you could do with those who are suffering from this disease is to see that they get the best possible treatment so as to give them a chance of recovering.
My next point relates to the conditions of health of the insured population. We are told that there is a tremendous amount of sickness among the insured population. The latest report for this year is not yet issued, but the Department have been kind enough to give us a few figures which will appear in the report. We are told that for the year ended 19th July, 1938, there were 417,000 separate cases, 31,000 of them incapable of work throughout the entire year. A large proportion of those cases were young people. There is the report of an inquiry which was set up into chronic cases. I have been waiting to get a copy of that report to find out of what it consists. We learn, from the short mention of it which is made, that 23,736 cases were dealt with. Of course some investigations are yet to take place. No action seems to have been taken to deal 1198 with sickness and incapacity among the insured population. Nothing has been done; they have been left to be dealt with under the usual health insurance.
Take the question of rheumatism. A large number of people are ill for more than half the year from this terrible, crippling disease. We know to-day that the new and up-to-date treatment for rheumatism is by clinics, baths, massage, electrical treatment and all that kind of thing. Nothing of that kind is provided for the insured population. They are simply left to the ordinary practitioner, who may give them a bottle of something. No definite attempt is being made to treat this disease on modern lines. We discover that the rheumatism rate is higher in certain industrial areas and occupations. We ought to have clinics and to give the insured population the up-to-date treatment which would do such a lot to remedy rheumatism. People work too long hours; their home conditions are not what they ought to be. Taking occupations, the largest number of sufferers from rheumatism were among miners.
I noticed that a Question was asked in the House regarding some experiment in Durham, where some kind of clinical treatment is being given to miners. Why have we to wait for welfare schemes or to see what the result of the experiment in Durham will be? Why cannot we go ahead nationally to provide clinical treatment, with baths and all the rest of it, which we already know will benefit these people? Rheumatism is caused among young people by their being worked too hard. The cure for them is rest and proper food. These are questions with which the Secretary of State might deal in a more drastic way than has been done in the past. There is a great need for the extension of enlightened health services and for an improvement in housing conditions. A great deal also has to be done in improving working conditions, shortening hours and seeing that people get a bigger return for their labour— which does not come under the right hon. Gentleman's Department. In addition to pushing on with improvements in housing conditions, I hope he will see whether something cannot be done for the young people.
The tragedy is that some of these young people are not so bad when they leave school, but between the ages of 15 1199 and 25 they contract these various diseases. I am convinced that the reason is that many of them live under poor conditions and are not able to carry on with the work that they are asked to do. Often there is unemployment in their homes, in which a rigorous means test is applied. The result is that these young people do not get the nourishment that they need. The Minister of Labour will tell us that enough is left with which to provide food; that may be so, but I am referring particularly to the young women, amongst whom the tuberculosis figure has not fallen to any great extent between the ages of 15 and 25. There have been certain improvements in wages and conditions of employment, but we are not getting the results that we ought to get. I believe that is due to the fact that other members of their families are unemployed and that the means test is applied and leaves very little to these young women. The Minister of Labour may say that it leaves enough for food, but these girls have to go out to shops, offices and factories and they have to be well dressed. Every young woman wants to make herself as attractive as possible. If she cannot otherwise get a dress or her hair "permed," or whatever it may be, she will go without her food. Young people have a right to these things. I am not blaming the young woman; I would have done exactly the same myself.
Those are the conditions under which most of the people have to live. We have nothing to be proud of in Scotland. My colleague talks about the land of the free, but I never forget that it is Scottish people who inflict these terrible conditions upon other Scottish people. I worked for 15 or 16 years for a Scottish employer, and I do not think you will find anything worse on the face of the earth than a Scottish employer. Our housing conditions are due to neglect by Scottish local authorities in the past. When houses could have been built at economic rents the matter was neglected and left to private enterprise. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will see what he can do to improve the health of the people of Scotland.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Anyone who has listened to this Debate, and particularly to the interesting and knowledgeable 1200 speech of the hon. Member for Spring-burn (Mrs. Hardie) must come to the conclusion that the title "Health" is a very comprehensive one, as it affects Scotland. The more one examines the matter the more extensive it seems to become. The Department of Health embraces almost every branch of Scottish life, urban and rural, industrial and agricultural, personal and communal, domestic and the life controlled by local authorities. Almost every function that one performs in every general walk of life is affected by this Department. All the things that interest us, health, education, sanitation, transport, housing and so on, are here. And I should add it is almost impossible to consider any of these problems without at some point examining the system by which the health services are administered. Later on I want to say a word or two on this topic.
My right hon. Friend started off quite fairly, as was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston), by reciting some of the advances that had been made. To compare Scotland to-day with the Scotland of 50 years ago is to see an immense change. No one has described it in more graphic terms than the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). I glory with my right hon. Friend in the fact that we have improved; but, with it all, with all the last year's work which my right hon. Friend properly recited to us, what position have we reached in Scotland? Here is a problem to which Members of Parliament must find an answer. Look at the position, after all that has been done. Has poverty been removed from Scotland? Has ill-health disappeared? Is the waste of human and material resources ended? Are our social and economic conditions to-day such as we, as Scotsmen, can be proud of? Unfortunately, the answer to all those questions is definitely and emphatically "No." The more we examine the position the more definite that negative becomes. Poverty is still there, as the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) pointed out. One-fifth of the population are so poor that they scrimp themselves of the very necessities of life. Ill-health is still there. The report of the Committee of Health spoke ofa large mass of sickness and physical defects of many kinds.1201 We have heard to-day that of every 1,000 babies born 70 die before they are a year old; of every 100 houses, 23 are overcrowded, and 66,000 families still dwell in homes condemned as utterly unfit for human habitation. On account of lack of water we have most shocking conditions in our rural districts. I see some of these houses almost every time I go to my constituency. I read in the reports of the county councils presented to the Scottish Office:The bulk of the rural population still depend for water supply on wells, springs and burns, primitive sources of supply unprotected for the most part from contamination. Every drop of water has to be carried often for the most part a mile.I have seen it: no water inside the houses; old women, mothers and children having to walk 100 yards to the nearest lavatory and that no more than a dry closet. The waste of human life and health continues in Scotland, despite all that we arc doing. If once we could appreciate the position it would make us all stagger from the very thought.
That is not all. The recuperative blood of the nation that once circulated through its farms and fishing villages and that coursed through Highland glens, is drying up. One in every six of the insured population of Scotland is unemployed and is drawing the dole. What is wrong? It is very necessary that we should answer that question. The hon. Member for Shettleston blamed what he called the economic system. Scottish Nationalists blame the present form of Government. To my mind, neither of those answers is satisfactory. Scotland is living under the same system, is governed by the same Government, as England, and yet conditions in England are very much better. Unemployment in England is one-third less than in Scotland, overcrowding in England is four-fifths less, infantile mortality is many points less. Why is that? There is nothing about England in the way of natural conditions that should account for that amazing improvement upon our conditions. England was not always in advance of Scotland in these matters. Forty years ago its infantile mortality rate was 151 per 1,000 births, while ours was only 120. To-day, as a result of persistent action, the English rate has been reduced by 93 points, ours by only 50. Scotland lags 1202 behind in the race for health, for better housing, and for better employment.
I wish I had time to develop this matter. It is baffling to me that we should be in the rear in regard to these matters. Our climate has nothing very much wrong with it, our workmen have been described as among the best in the world, we have medical officers and medical services than which none are better in England or anywhere alse, we have local councillors who are as anxious and as able to perform their work as are the London County Council, and yet, for some reason, we lag behind. Partly, I know, we have inherited these awful conditions. My right hon. Friend and his predecessors in the last 10 or 20 years, are to be pitied—they have inherited housing conditions such as no English Minister of Health has ever known. It would have taken a giant, a miracle, to have removed those conditions within any brief period. But, making all allowances, I am forced to the conclusion that one of the causes, and may be the chief cause, for Scotland lagging behind in this race for health is to be found in the inefficiency of our Scottish administrative system.
I will try to explain what I mean. It is no good blaming the local authorities and saying to them, "You ought to build more houses," though I myself would blame the Corporation of Glasgow. I do not think any blame can be too great for a corporation which admits that 60,000 houses are needed and which builds only 3,000 per annum. But it is no good blaming them entirely. They have their difficulties, their rates are high enough already, and they do not want to add to them.
So much greater then the blame. I do not think either that it is much good blaming the industry of the country. It seems to me that the present condition of Scotland and the constitution of its government are such that we are entitled to look to the Scottish Office for leadership, direction, and drive to make up for what is lacking elsewhere in the country and that that leadership is not now forthcoming. Of course, I need hardly say that I do not criticise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. No personal reflection enters into it at all. I 1203 am criticising a system of government. My right hon. Friend has told us to-day of the emergency work which he and his officers have had to perform. One knows about it, and one is amazed at the energy which they have put into their work. One knows of civil servants in the Scottish Office working until all hours of the night, day after day. That is perfectly true, but is that to be the answer to Scotland's demand for still better conditions? Last year there were built 19,000 houses.
§ Mr. Westwood
It is not correct to say that 19,100 houses were built last year. The right hon. Gentleman said that they were completed last year, though some of them were started three years ago.
§ Mr. Colville
Yes, I made that plain. They were completed during the year, and in answer to a question, I repeated the word "completed." In addition, there were some 6,000 and more private enterprise houses, or a total of about 26,000 completed in the year.
Let us put it at the round figure of 19,000. I am trying to get at the atmosphere in which we stand, the scope of the task with which we are confronted. Last year the local authorities produced 19,000 houses, but we need a quarter of a million. It is no use saying there were really 23,000 or 25,000 houses completed. We should be dealing in terms of 50,000 or 70,000 houses per annum. Is it to be Scotland's lot that not until 1952 are we to look for an end of slums and overcrowded conditions? I submit these facts as an indication that an entirely new conception must be taken of the scope and character of the Scottish Office.
Here is my right hon. Friend, responsible as a Departmental Minister for all that happens with regard to Scotland— practically all. He is overburdened with the work of at least four or five different Departments, so overburdened, I imagine, that he cannot possibly find the time to sit back, as he would desire to do, and think of the big problem of Scotland. My right hon. Friend is a Departmental Minister multiplied by four. At the same time, he is regarded by Scotland as its Prime Minister. Scotsmen look to him to deal with all matters affecting the life of Scotland. The doubling of the role of Scottish Prime 1204 Minister and Departmental Head is quite impossible to perform, and as a result my right hon. Friend, like all his predecessors, is left to go through his official life never reaching anywhere, never attaining the performance, the achievement, that he himself would desire and indeed ought to reach. So it happens that one Scottish Secretary after another, finding his task impossible, or giving up hope of succeeding, throws up his office. I discovered the other day that the average term of office of the Scottish Secretary is no more than 14 months. My right hon. Friend has been there for 15 months.
§ Mr. Chapman
The hon. Member said that Scottish Secretaries of State have thrown up their office. Can he give an instance?
Perhaps I am putting it too crudely, but the right hon. Gentle man knows what I mean. If I were hedged in by impossible conditions, un able to achieve what I desired to achieve, I would accept, no doubt, some other office where there seemed to be greater opportunities for doing that which I would like to do for my country. We desire much greater things for our country. They can never be done until the Scottish Office is so reorganised that the Secretary of State, whoever he may be, is provided with further assistance in this House and in his Ministry so that he may take thought of the wider needs of Scotland, passing on to juniors the detailed work with which he is over burdened at the present time. I am not a Scottish Nationalist, but when I look at the Scottish Office and see the slow pace at which we are moving, when I see the awful conditions that are still to be found in our country, in the Highlands, in the lowland towns, and in the rural areas, I do not wonder that a man sometimes tends to be a Nationalist and asks for anything other than it is. I do not think there is any need for Scottish Home Rule, but if my right hon. Friend would take a suggestion from me, as a friend, I would urge that the time has come for a committee of inquiry to be set up to examine the whole system of Scottish government. Till that time has come—
§ Mr. Colville
My hon. Friend must remember the committee under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the 1205 Member for the Pollok Division of Glasgow (Sir J. Gilmour).
I am aware of that committee, but what I want is an inquiry into what the Secretary of State does, what his office permits him to do, how he is circumscribed in his duties. I put that suggestion seriously to him, in the belief that by so doing Scotland may yet reach, in our lifetime, some higher standard of living.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Henderson
I have listened nearly all the afternoon to this Debate, and I have heard rehearsed on every bench the evils that afflict the country from which we come. I want to get back to the practical side of the house-building industry in Scotland, through which most of these evils spring, and I want to begin by disagreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), because I am not one who desires any kind of a house for the working-class people of Scotland. I demand what the working-class people of Scotland are entitled to—good houses. Therefore, I am going, as I did a year ago, to discuss in a practical way the houses that are being built in our country now, and I want to begin by saying to the Undersecretary of State—and it has been stated already from different benches—that the 19,000 houses built in 1938 are simply the arrears arising from the lack of building in 1936 and 1937, as the Department's report proves, so that we are not willing to give the Department a great amount of credit for the 1938 results. On page 22 of the report dealing with slum clearance, there is a statement to the effect that 74 more houses were dealt with in 1938 than in 1937, and I would ask the Undersecretary to turn to Appendix No. 2, on page 178, and explain, if he possibly can, how it is that we have had 74 more houses from slum clearance schemes in 1938 than in 1937, when in the table on page 178 it is stated that in 1936 there were 12,187 slum clearance schemes, in 1937 there were 3,505, and in 1938 there were 650. It is quite possible that with the 650 schemes you might be able to clear away more old property and re-house more people, but I would like the Under-Secretary to explain what has actually occurred from that point of view.
1206 Now may I ask the Committee to look at the present position from the point of view of the alternative methods of building and their cost? I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman last week, and he gave me this reply, that a timber house—and I do not care who attempts to reply, because what I am saying now I know to be true—costs £458. A timber house, which is put down to-day as costing £458, could not be made comparable with a brick house, which now costs £466. If a timber house is wanted of the standard of a brick house, it is necessary to spend from £100 to £130 to bring it up to that standard. There is only a difference of £ between the cost of a timber-built house and a brick-built house. An hour or so ago I was talking with a colleague of mine. He used to disagree with me on this question of timber houses, but he now tells me that I was perfectly right. He went down into the country and examined timber houses that had been completed only three months, and they were well on the way to what I described last year as the making of shanty towns in Scotland.
Then we have what in my opinion is the worst of all, that is to say, the poured concrete house. I see opposite to me a very eminent engineer, and I should think he will agree with me on this subject. The price of the poured concrete house is £515, or nearly £50 more than the brick-built house. I want to ask the Under-Secretary whether any regulation is issued by the Department to the local authorities who accept these poured concrete houses from the company or association that builds them, to the effect that no tenant should be allowed to occupy a poured concrete house until six months after its conclusion. No matter what fires you put into a poured concrete house at the back end of the year in Scotland, you could not get it dry. It is, in fact, a barometer. Of all the housing abominations that could be given to our people to dwell in, it is the worst. It costs £515, and a comfortable brick house costs £466.
We are told in the report that brick houses cannot be obtained because of the shortage of labour. I said last year, and I say it again, that whatever trade is responsible for keeping the working class of Scotland from obtaining good houses is as much to blame as any Secretary of State for Scotland could be. I am a 1207 member of the building trades operatives' association; I am a carpenter by trade, but I am opposed to the building of timber houses. Only the best of houses, in my opinion, are good enough for Scottish working people, and I maintain that the building trades operatives, if they so de sired, could find a method by which labour could be supplied for building the best class of houses in Scotland. But what has happened? Scotland was the home of the mason, and Scotland sent masons to every country in the world. Now, how ever, you could take all the masons in Scotland in one liner—
§ Mr. Henderson
That is worse. If it is not possible to use the plentiful supply— I think I am right in using that expression—of stone that there is in Scotland to-day, why could not that valuable stone be used in conjunction with brick? It would certainly produce finer houses from the point of view of appearance, and it would case the trouble due to the shortage of bricklayers.
§ Mr. Henderson
I agree; they are all gone. I have been told by a very eminent builder, who is a Member of this House, that what is happening now is that a lad comes to him, he engages him as an apprentice, but after five years the lad goes and he just has to train another.
§ Mr. Henderson
Here, in England. That is the reason for the shortage of bricklayers. Reference has been made to the City of Glasgow, but it must be remembered that Glasgow is the very centre of armament production, and the bricklayers are going where they get the higest pay, which is outside the building trade. Therefore, Glasgow is in a hopeless position. If any place is suffering for want of bricklayers, it is the City of Glasgow, and it is grossly unfair to make an attack upon the City of Glasgow under those conditions. But, while Glasgow has been struggling to produce houses, it 1208 refuses to have either timber houses or poured concrete houses. There is no record of that in the report. It is true that the association in question has grown up in Lanarkshire, and I hope it will remain in Lanarkshire building its timber houses and its poured concrete houses. I hope it will never get a hold in the City of Glasgow. It is possible that a time will come in Scotland when those who are refusing to find a scheme that will solve the problem will, because of these timber houses and poured concrete houses, which can be erected by semi-skilled labour, find themselves without a job. I ask the Under-Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman to make another appeal to the operatives. It is possible to do all the building that can be carried through if they will refrain from taking the attitude that, so long as their men are employed, nothing else matters. That is rather a disgraceful attitude, and I hope an attempt will be made to get some new effort from the building trades operatives that will allow more men to be put on the job and decent houses to be built for Scotland.
§ 7.55 P.m.
I am very glad to have the opportunity of intervening in this, if I may so express it, very practical Debate which is being conducted by Scottish Members, and also of following the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. T. Henderson), who has made such a practical plea that we should once again utilise, at all events in building our houses, some of the stone which we have in such large quantities in Scotland. I fully sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman said about the lamentable disappearance of the stonemasons. My hon. Friend who interrupted him said that they had vanished, and I am sorry to think that that is almost an accurate statement of the case. We have had speeches dealing with both the great subjects that are down for discussion this evening, namely, the health services and housing conditions in Scotland. The hon. Lady the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) gave us a most excellent speech, showing very practical knowledge of many aspects of the health problem in Scotland. I myself should like to make a few remarks about three points connected with the housing problem. I think they have all been touched upon already, but that is no reason why I, coming from a different 1209 part of the Northern Kingdom, should not say a little about them as well.
First, with regard to the eloquent plea that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) as to the growing scandal, as I would call it, of the lack of suitable housing accommodation for young married couples and those who wish soon to get married. I feel a little diffident in embarking on this subject, because I might myself be charged with remissness so far as marriage is concerned. [Interruption.] I am delighted that my hon. Friend thinks I am still young enough to be included in the category of young men wishing to marry. Without having had practical experience, I know how this scandal is developing in Scotland, not merely in the great centres, but also in the small burghs throughout the land. During the last few weeks I have had half-a-dozen representations from young married men about the terrible conditions under which they are forced to live as the result of their not being able to find suitable housing accommodation for themselves. Not merely are the conditions impossible as regards overcrowding, but, as this sort of thing goes on and develops even more, it is bound to result in the evils which must arise from family friction in these very bad conditions. In addition to the personal representations I have had from constituents of mine, a question was addressed to me only three weeks ago, at a public meeting which I addressed at Stranraer, by a member of the town council, who impressed upon me the necessity of doing my duty by bringing this problem to the notice of the Scottish Office, and I am endeavouring to do that now. Since then I have had communications from the burghs of Kirkcudbright, Wigtown and Stranraer in my constituency, enclosing copies of two resolutions which the Convention of Royal Burghs, at its recent assembly in Scotland, recommended the various burghs to forward to the Scottish Office, dealing with the need for making possible additional revenue for the reconditioning of houses where reconditioning is a practical policy.
I think it was the hon. Lady the "Member for Springburn who expressed grave doubts as to whether money spent on reconditioning would be a profitable thing, but we are all agreed about the second resolution, that the Scottish Office should 1210 have impressed upon it that the local authorities are unable to provide houses for newly-married couples at the rate they ought to do. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, when he comes to reply, will have something to say on this all-important document. I also want to say something about the question of rural housing. Being a Member for an agricultural constituency I have the opportunity of coming into contact with the housing problem as it confronts the worker in the town and in the rural area. I cannot claim to have the knowledge which some hon. and right hon. Members above the Gangway have of the evils of the housing conditions, but I can assure them that I have in proportion similar knowledge to theirs.
Both the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) referred to conditions which exist in a district in one patch of my own constituency, namely, the parish of Kirk-maiden which includes the most southerly point in Scotland. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling, when he spoke so eloquently, did not think that I am unaware of the conditions which exist there. I know very well indeed—he is a personal friend of mine—the minister of the parish whose letter they have both had in their possession. As I have lived all my life in that constituency I think I can claim to know something about it and to be as fully alive to the position as the right hon. Gentleman. Further, I am quite sure that if the right hon. Gentleman were to search his own division, which is somewhat similar to mine, containing large tracts of agricultural land, he would find some very bad conditions in his housing.
§ Mr. Westwood
Is the hon. Member actually attempting to defend in this House the conditions which were referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston).
No, we all condemn them. I should think that the right hon. Gentleman would resent it very much if I were to paint a very gloomy picture of the conditions, but he has suggested that I was ignorant of the facts.
§ Mr. Westwood
I am not saying that the right hon. Gentleman thought that the hon. Member was ignorant of the facts. He can rest assuror$—and I think I am 1211 speaking for my right hon. Friend as well—that I would not resent any criticism which the hon. Gentleman might like to make of housing conditions in my constituency, if they were bad.
The Debate has shown that we all realise the conditions, and are all determined that as speedily as possible they shall come to an end. I have no wish to be in any way disrespectful to the right hon. Gentleman. We are all united on the question of the bad conditions of housing in the rural areas. In a Debate like this, from whatever part of the Committee we rise to speak, it is our duty to impress upon the Scottish Office the necessity of being up and doing in these matters. Not that they have not done so. I know of what some of the town councils in my own area have done. It is no fault of theirs that they are unable to provide houses for the young married couples in the quick way that they would like to do. We hear a great deal of the sins of omission, but we do not hear very much about what has been done by many people, landlords and others, who are responsible for the housing of the rural workers. I wish to be absolutely fair and I am not in any way making excuses for those who have not done their duty, but in the last five years I have had only £100 put into my pocket from rents, and £20 a year is quite a common sum for a landlord to put into his own pocket. That means, of course, that all the money received from rents goes back into improvements. I am not complaining, but I ask the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) to take a comprehensive view of the picture and remember the good that has been accomplished.
The hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) spoke about the intention of the Scottish Office to erect in various parts of Scotland seven holiday camps, which would be used for housing the evacuated children if a war emergency should arise. I am in communication with the Scottish Office at the present time regarding a communication which has been forwarded to me from the borough of Dalbeattie recommending that in their area, which is scheduled as an invulnerable area, in other words a part of Great Britain where one can expect to be reasonably immune from air raids, the Scottish Office should 1212 consider erecting a holiday camp. As we are considered to be so very safe I would suggest that the Scottish Office should consider more than one camp in this area, which possesses great health-giving properties and scenes of great beauty. We have an extensive coast-board, and inland much of the country provides sites admirably suitable for erecting holiday camps. I hope that my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary, may have something to say about this question of holiday camps when he comes to reply. I cannot expect a specific answer to the point I have raised but I hope that he will be encouraging in what he has to say.
I remember the Minister of Health, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking of housing at a public ceremony, and of the terrible conditions which then existed and still exist, saying, "There is muckle to do." I know that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee realise this. The shadow of possible war hangs over us, but that does not mean that we have not to be as vigilant about our domestic concerns as ever. The housing problem is certainly one of those. Long ago one of the greatest leaders the Conservative party ever had, Benjamin Disraeli, said that the first consideration of the Government should be the welfare of the people. It should be the first consideration not only of Ministers but of every Member of this House. Bismarck followed on the same lines. I know that we have not much good to say about the present regime in Germany, but so far as their domestic economy is concerned those responsible for the Executive have seen to it that the housing of their people is one of their first concerns. In this country we who are making all these preparations for any eventuality in which one day we may find ourselves, have to see to it that along with the exacting demands which are being made upon us we endeavour as best we can to place our people in favourable housing conditions.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Leonard
I should like to say a word about housing, without entering into any arguments about it. There has been a statement to-day comparing the position of housing in the present years as against the past years. I should like to make the suggestion that that attitude is not a proper one to take, because the 1213 houses of to-day are not comparable with those which have been built in previous years. I am pleased to note that the Department accepted my suggestion that in future statistics they should not content themselves with columns dealing with houses but should also have a column dealing with apartments. Not only is that important, but the question of capacity is important when you are comparing what has been done to-day with what has been done previously. On page 25 of the Department's report there is this statement:According to our calculation the 19,160 houses completed in 1938 were equivalent to an output of 25,550 houses of the pre-1935 standard.Therefore, counting houses alone, it does not give a proper view of the amount of work involved. I want to refer to the nutrition part of the report and to the advance which has been made in regard to weight and height of boys and girls in Scotland. There again, however, I suggest that it would be very enlightening if the Department could make an investigation into the changes in height and weight which take place in boys and girls according to whether they live in one-, two-, or three-apartment houses. The British Medical Association a number of years ago performed a great service in showing quite conclusively that the incidence of air to those young lives is one of the most important factors in their growth and weight. The experts who went into the matter were quite specific that the change in height and weight was due to the fact that they had air to breathe in their homes. I should like to see a further survey, if possible, covering the height and weight of children, and I should like to see it sectionalised in respect to the one, two and three-apartment houses. With regard to the health of militiamen, I do not think any statisticians are needed to give us guidance. All that is necessary is to go through the working-class districts of any town in Scotland, and one can see quite clearly that the boys and girls in those congested districts are not the boys and girls they should be; they are not the boys and girls they would have been if they had been brought up in any other part of the town. That guidance from the eye is as important, in my opinion, as any statistics. I should have expected to find that there had been some great advance in 1214 the machinery for dealing with dental defects, in view of the importance attached to it in the 3938 report. But the report shows that only 29 per cent. of the children examined had sound teeth, while 56.74 per cent. had one to four teeth decayed, and 14.52 per cent. had five or more teeth decayed. The suggestion contained in the report is that the education of the children and their parents in dental hygiene is still very incomplete. I am not prepared to say that such education is not important, but I do lend support to the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) that the question of dental hygiene is less important than that of attending to expectant mothers and their dietary, in order to lay the basis of the teeth formation of the child. I notice that there were 97 dental officers last year, and that there are 97 this year. It is true that there are fewer part-time dental officers and more full-time officers; but last year there was a suggestion that some of the full-time officers did not give all their time to dental work, but did other work besides. I wonder whether all the 72 whole-time officers now are attending to nothing else but the requirements of dentistry in Scotland.
It is appalling to read in an appendix to the report that, while there are 2,000 children per dentist in some parts, the number is increased to 20,000 children per dentist in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The school medical service in England provides for one whole-time dentist to about 6,000 children. The Department would be well advised to act on the suggestion in their own report, that conditions in respect of this type of work are not satisfactory. Pressure should be exerted to see that the matter is attended to much more effectively than it has been up to the present. We have come through a few months of national emergency, and all the experts who come along and give their advice about the emergency find that their advice is acted upon. For years highly placed experts have been advising on nutritional questions in Scotland, and very little action has been taken on their reports. When we are spending money upon what is termed national security, Scotland should receive a greater amount than it is receiving at present for nutrition. Especially at a time when we are giving aid, and rightly, to other dis- 1215 tressed countries, there is no excuse for shutting our eyes to the need of our own citizens.
This is an age of abundance. Even if there is poverty, there is no shortage of food. It is rather amusing to read the terms of the Immature Sea Fish Order, which lays down that if a person on holiday, when fishing off the end of the pier, catches a fish, and, on measuring it, finds that it is not of the proper length, he has to put it back into the sea. It is paradoxical that if the fish then reaches maturity and is again caught, and on being put on the market it injures the price which may be charged for fish, it can be taken back and dumped into the sea again. Nor is fish the only commodity that I have in mind. The action of the Department in relation to their authorities over the supply of milk has been commended, but milk is not everything. There is the question of fruit and green vegetables. The people of my division have to take the cast-offs of the shops and present them in the form of salads. That should not be necessary.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) has in the past made reference to the question whether we need to be looking for new industries. The old industries have still a big field to supply, in Scotland and elsewhere. With regard to housing, why should we not encourage the production of refrigerators, and make them an essential part of the fittings of houses, especially in tenement buildings, which do not provide proper facilities for the storage of food? In hundreds of houses in St. Rollox there are no places to put food except on the tables, and that is where the food has to remain. The cost of small refrigerators could be reduced to £5 or £6, and that would be a great saving to the people living in those dwellings. Waste in a poverty-stricken house should not be condoned in any circumstances.
I would like to see the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary take unto themselves a standard of nutrition that has been laid before them by the International Committee of the League of Nations. The diet of the children of this country should be brought up to this standard, and the agricultural policy should be framed so as to produce sufficient food to enable that standard to 1216 be attained, and the extension of the work of public authorities in the distribution of food should be one of the main objectives.
There are one or two other points upon which I want to touch. There is the question of the possibility of evacuation. I am pleased to note that the local authorities have been asked to provide details, and I am informed that action has now been taken by the Department which makes the matter complete. But that still leaves the question of the many people who have to remain in the tenements of Glasgow, and I trust that this problem is being discussed and that further attention will be given to the evacuation of these people.
My final point deals with milk The Glasgow Corporation a year or so ago, presented a Bill asking for the compulsory pasteurisation of milk because of the conditions in the homes and the general aspects of life in Glasgow. It was presented as a Private Bill, but it was withdrawn by the Glasgow Corporation on the assurance given by the Government that they contemplated bringing in a new Milk Bill which would provide for machinery such as the Bill of the Glasgow Corporation aimed at. That new Bill has been presented. I do not know that it is the one that was contemplated, but it does, not touch this question at all. I shall be very grateful to the Under-Secretary if, in his reply, he can find time to say something as to why, in view of the promise given to Glasgow, this important need of the city with regard to pasteurisation was not attended to, and that he will be able to say that it is proposed to give them the power they so much need.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore
It is not my custom to intervene in any Debate in which I have not heard all the speeches, but, unfortunately, on this occasion it was not possible for me to be here, and therefore I hope that hon. Members will forgive any repetitive requests that I may make to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have read those parts of the report which are of peculiar interest to me, and, on the whole, I think that it is encouraging, except in one respect, which has been touched on already many times today, and that is, the question of housing. 1217 I have repeatedly spoken in this House on housing, and I am still faced with the question that constantly faces every Scottish Member. Why is it that we lag so constantly behind England in this matter of housing? We have a Parliament that means well, a Minister who means very well, and local authorities who mean well, and I believe that we have a public opinion that is solidly behind any efforts we make, and which also means well. Why, therefore, in spite of all this support and the enthusiasm, which, I believe, exists to try to rehouse the people of Scotland as they should be rehoused, does it seem to be impossible to make the progress that we want?
I know that there are difficulties. There are the difficulties of obtaining sites adjacent to the places of employment, of obtaining land by compulsory powers and of getting enforced demolition before alternative accommodation has been provided. But all these are difficulties of timing and of method, and are easily overcome provided the administration from the Scottish Office is sufficiently determined. There is, however, the difficulty of building costs. We all know that when building costs were fixed, the cost of materials was lower, and we know that possibly the reason is the tremendous armament programme which has been undertaken; but whatever the reason subsidies or grants must be brought into more immediate relation to building costs. We are spending at the present time something like £2,000,000,000 upon armaments, but what is the use of spending all this money upon weapons of war— ships, tanks, and guns—unless you can, at the same time, and concurrently, provide alert minds and active bodies to operate these weapons?
Good health and happy conditions of housing provide one of the main methods by which we can provide healthy bodies and healthy minds as well. I am particularly interested in the fact that we have heard in the last few days that something like 93 per cent. of the militiamen have passed the medical test, and I wonder just how that has come to be, because a great number of these boys must have been brought up in conditions which did not particularly subscribe to good health. It occurs to me that possibly the medical treatment and skill which have been available for so many of our 1218 young people for the last 15 or 20 years may have had a considerable amount to do with it, but there is something more. Although the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) may not agree with me, I think that milk has undoubtedly had a great deal to do in bringing about this state of affairs. Milk has become more systematised and publicised as a method of building up body and brain, and for that reason I was particularly sorry that the Financial Secretary to the War Office stated in this House to-day that it was not the intention of the Government to have milk bars in the new Militia camps. The Militia camp for the whole of the Militia of Scot land has been built in my constituency. When I was passing there last week I thought to myself that in a few weeks' time there would be thousands upon thousands of young men and boys, many of them still in an adolescent stage, whose bodies would be capable of receiving great sustenance by good food, open air, and, in my opinion, milk. I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will not reconsider the question of ensuring that in all these Militia camps, and especially at this very big Militia camp—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir R. W. Smith)
I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot discuss the question of Militia camps on this Vote.
§ Mr. Johnston
Is it not perfectly within the power of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland to assist in the supply of milk in any part of Scotland, and to do it through local authorities or otherwise, and I suggest that you should consider allowing the hon. and gallant Gentleman to proceed with his remarks in this connection?
§ Mr. Johnston
But the Secretary of State for Scotland can take any steps that he feels to be necessary in the interests of public health to aid the distribution and better sale of milk, and I suggest that you should permit, within limits, the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) to proceed.
The supply of milk to Militia camps is an Army 1219 question, and it is not possible to deal with this matter through the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I allowed the hon. and gallant Member to make use of the illustration up to a certain point, but we cannot consider the whole question of the supply of milk to Militia camps, which is a question for the War Office.
§ Sir T. Moore
I accept your Ruling, and I shall not labour the point any more except to say that this camp, as well as other camps, will now be the permanent home of successive numbers of these young men, there will be a permanent population in these camps, and it seems to me that it is the duty of the local authority and the Secretary of State to see that they have the kind of sustenance which builds strong and healthy bodies, which is one of the chief ideals for which the Militia Act has been passed. I should like to stress the importance of the question of subsidies and grants for houses which are at present being built. From all I can gather, the £2 10s. grant under the 1930 Act has not proved sufficient, in view of the fact that the grant was fixed at a time when building costs were lower. Also the £6 15s. subsidy under the 1935 Act does not seem to have worked out as the Minister hoped, and I think it would be advisable to reconsider these two sums which were fixed when costs were considerably lower than they are now.
I would like to reinforce what has been said about some statutory encouragement being given to the building of houses for a class of people not affected by slum clearance or overcrowding legislation, that is, young people who want to get married. There are some rather pathetic cases in my own constituency. They do not want to be forced to live under conditions which may be described as a sin just because there is no housing accommodation for them, and they have no desire to have children until they are in a financial position to support them. I think the Secretary of State should give some financial encouragement to the erection of two-roomed houses for these people, and also for those elderly couples 1220 whose families have grown up. A young craftsman from one of the towns in my constituency wrote telling me that he was ashamed to go home at the week-end and see the conditions under which his family have to live; he was ashamed to undress before his sister of 17 years of age. They all have to live in one room. If the people of this country realised the conditions they would say, "Tax us further, demand anything you like as long as our fellow human beings are relieved from these miserable conditions." And that is not an isolated case; there are many more who have to live under the same conditions.
I suggest that a somewhat less cumbrous process should be arranged for the acquiring of land. We have heard from some people who are not, perhaps, so sympathetic as one would like, something about the slum mind, that if you have a slum mind it is no good to put that slum mind into new houses because you will only be creating slums over again. Whose fault is it that there is a slum mind? It is our fault, and, therefore, it is our responsibility to cure that slum mind. The only way it can be cured is by education and giving an opportunity to the slum mind to be taken out and put in better and more wholesome accommodation. I hope, also, that something will be done in connection with miners' cottages which are at the moment a scar on our countryside. The long dreary lines of houses which were, no doubt, erected by the big ironmasters and coal-owners many years ago for foreign cheap labour, are now occupied by Scotsmen, and the best thing that can happen to those houses is that they should be pulled down altogether, and even tents and timber houses should be erected in order to get away from the squalid conditions which now obtain. We have the skilled workmen, the eager tenants, public opinion, and a Secretary of State with one of the most sympathetic minds that has ever been found on the Front Bench. With the co-operation of all these aids surely we can raise the standard of housing in Scotland.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
When the Secretary of State for Scotland presents the Estimates which are under discussion to-day he is not faced with an easy task on account of 1221 the multiplicity of the subjects which are dealt with and the many difficulties associated with the administration of the Board of Health, which is so intimately connected with so many aspects of our national health system. We are right to-day in complimenting the Secretary of State upon the things which have been done, but he has studiously avoided dealing with the things which ought to have been done and which it was quite possible to deal with under the existing laws. The report with which we are dealing enables us to discuss almost every aspect of administration under the Department of Health. The task of the Secretary of State is made quite easy because he has an efficient staff behind him in the Department of Health and, therefore, through this House I think we are entitled to compliment the staff on the report which we are discussing to-day, which makes it so easy to follow the administrative work of the Department, and also to make what I hope will be useful criticisms on the methods which have been adopted.
The Secretary of State dealt with this comprehensive report under eight headings. I propose to deal only with two, and to make some brief reference to one or two others. Special emphasis has been laid on the fact that the departmental work has been made exceedingly onerous and difficult during the past year by the large amount of emergency work which has been caused by the international situation and the work what it is absolutely necessary should be done because of the threat of an attack from an enemy. One of the points made was that Civil Defence work had been pressed forward by local authorities. I wish every local authority had given anxious thought and consideration to the problem, and had dealt with it with energy and enthusiasm, but I am afraid that cannot be said to have been the case. I know local authorities in Scotland who have not faced their responsibilities in the matter of providing protection for the citizens in their own areas in the case of an outbreak of war.
We were told that the health services in Scotland are paying a good dividend. That is true. We ought not to be so niggardly in providing money for those services, for money wisely spent either on preserving or restoring the health of the community undoubtedly gives to the State 1222 a good dividend by providing it with healthy people better able and more willing to carry out those duties which are part of the ordinary life of the citizen. It was also emphasised that hospitals are included in the general improvement which took place in Scottish health administration. Before concluding my remarks, I shall deal especially with the question of hospitals and the need for a really effective organisation in this connection, not merely for peace-time purposes, but because of the desperate international situation, although, of course, there would be many peace-time advantages resulting from a really effective organisation.
The problem of housing has been dealt with by most, if not all, of the hon. Members who have spoken. I think it would be true to say that, despite the fact that 19,160 houses were completed last year, the Secretary of State himself is not satisfied with that progress. The problem is so great, the housing conditions are so intolerable and indefensible, that even if we reached the figure of 25,000, which I think was the ideal set up for the purpose of trying to deal with the housing problem, we could not be satisfied, seeing that so many thousands of our people arc living in conditions that are a disgrace to civilisation, conditions for which no one can take credit and towards the removal of which, both in the rural and urban areas, every possible effort should be directed. We were told that 19,160 houses were completed last year. We have received some indication of the number of houses for which estimates have been accepted and which are either in course of construction or for which plans have been approved.
It would give us some indication of the progress that is likely to be made in 1939 if we could be given some estimate of the number of houses which it is expected will be completed in 1939. From the limited knowledge which I have of local administration, I know that, in a place which I could name, for at least three years in succession houses have reappeared in the estimatesas being houses under construction. If we took as actual figures the figures of houses under construction that appear each year in the Department's report, there is no doubt in my mind that we should have practically solved the housing problem by this time. 1223 In the case which I have in mind, a housing scheme was started almost three years ago, and the houses that were approved of have not yet been completed. There is a special point that I want to raise in dealing with the problem of housing. Several hon. Members have referred to the need for grants to be paid for the reconstruction of existing houses. I am rather afraid that many local authorities do not realise the power which they have under Acts already in existence. A special reference is made on page 21 of the report to a power which the local authorities have, but which I am sure not all of them, and perhaps even not the majority of them, realise they have. That paragraph reads:In 1938 the Department approved proposals under Section 35 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, for the reconstruction or improvement by local authorities of 76 dwellings belonging to themselves, with the aid of grants under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. Since the Act of 1935 was passed, the Department have approved proposals for the reconstruction of a total of 135 dwellings in this category, of which the reconstruction of 64 has been completedI think that the attention of local authorities should be specially drawn to the power which they have under that Act. It may be said that the Act does not allow them to reconstruct or improve privately-owned property, but there is no reason why they should not do as the local authority I have in mind did. They had the power—and to the best of my knowledge the Department have placed no obstruction in their way—-to acquire existing property that is well constructed, but has no modern conveniences. The town council which I have in mind bought 12 houses which were perhaps better property than is being built to-day under municipal schemes, but which had no modern conveniences. At very little cost, it will be possible to turn those 12 houses into three blocks of four and make really modern dwellings of them. Under the section of the Act to which I have referred, it is competent for the town council to reconstruct those houses under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act and to make application for a grant, and there is nothing that will keep the Department from giving the grant, provided that, when constructed, the houses are let to people in a similar economic position to agricultural labourers.
1224 Here is a glorious opportunity for the reconstruction, not of derelict property, but of well-constructed property, and for putting in the houses all that is required to bring them up to modern standards. Such houses, in the case I have in mind, are available for the old people and, if necessary, for the young people who are desirous of getting decent, modem houses instead of the old houses which they have only a limited chance of getting at the present time. In this case, the town council was able to purchase these three blocks of property at a maximum of seven years' purchase price based on the rental which was being paid for the property at that time. It was a good business proposition, and I think the same sort of thing could be done in many other parts of Scotland. Again, I would emphasise the need for drawing the attention of local authorities to this power which they have.
§ Mr. McGovern
Am I to understand that the hon. Member is advocating that old property should be bought at a seven year valuation? Is he aware that such a valuation in the case of most of the tenements in Glasgow, which have a rental of, say, £100, would amount to £700 for property which, when new, cost only £1,000?
§ Mr. Westwood
I am not advocating that at all. It is within the competence of the local authorities themselves to determine whether the property is reasonable. I am not using the word "reconstruction" in its widest sense, but in a limited sense. No external reconstruction is necs-sary. All that is required is the installation of a hot water system and a little internal reconstruction. I am speaking of the large burghs and not of the city of Glasgow, but some of the houses in those burghs can be adapted in various ways and the little porch at the entrance from the street can be used for lavatory accommodation. These are well-built houses and in various ways can be brought up to modern standards. I am not suggesting, however, that the Glasgow Corporation should waste money in buying property which could not be reconstructed on the lines I have suggested.
§ Mr. Westwood
The property to which I am referring is about 35 years old and 1225 it is well constructed of stone. It is far better constructed and will have a longer life than some of the municipal dwellings which are being erected at present. In connection with overcrowding, it is clear that the Department is not satisfied with the progress which is being made and that dissatisfaction is shared by the Secretary of State and by every Member of the House. The Act dealing with this problem has been on the Statute Book for four years and only the burghs of Old Meldrum, Bonnyrigg and Lasswade, Ellon and Cupar, the district of Kennoway in the county of Fife, the Dysart Ward of Kirkcaldy and South Queensferry have been able to satisfy the Department that they have successfully overcome the problem of overcrowding.
§ Mr. West wood
If I have missed out any, perhaps they will have the satisfaction of being mentioned later by the Secretary of State as being among the 13 authorities who have tried to tackle this problem and have partially succeeded in dealing with it. But something more and better ought to be done by local authorities in Scotland and I hope that when we discuss this report next year we shall find that further progress has been made in this respect. I wish to make a special reference to the question of water supplies, partly because of the possibility of an emergency. In the first place I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the Department for their courtesy in providing me with a very good and useful statement of the work which has already been done in this respect. I must say, however, that what has been done scarcely satisfies all the requirements for dealing with this problem. We are faced with the possibility of a grave emergency and every effort should be made by every local authority in Scotland to see that the various water supply systems are connected. In many instances, these connections could be made at little cost. To-day, if a bomb were to fall upon a particular water system, it might mean chaos in that area of supply, but if there was a system of connecting up different systems, two or more bombs would have to hit their targets before the water could be completely cut off
§ Mr. Westwood
There is a brief reference to it, but I am not satisfied with the progress which is being made and I hope that the Department will press on with the necessary arrangements. If we had had these water supplies connected during the year of drought, the results would have repaid the expenditure of the local authorities, and I need not emphasise the value of such a system in case of emergency. In connection with our Defence plans would like to hear something about hospital arrangements in Scotland. Last week in the "Times" there appeared two very important statements, one a letter written by some leading medical man in London and the other an editorial upon this subject. The letter dated 29th June states:We are convinced that the present unsatisfactory state of preparedness is due to the lack of direction by a responsible authority. There is at present no person charged with effective responsibility for the whole of the London area and decisions even of a minor character require reference to various officials at the Ministry of Health and elsewhere.Are we facing that problem in the right way in Scotland? The report deals with emergency hospital arrangements and I would like to know whether the Department are advising local authorities to acquire a number of ambulances of the type of the splendid ambulance which has been prepared by one of the large bus companies. Secondly, I would like to know whether at the Department there is someone directly responsible for hospital organisation in Scotland to meet any emergency that may arise in the unfortunate event of war.
There are many other points with which I should like to deal, but my time is drawing to a close. I would point out that it is now two years since the Maternity Act was placed on the Statute Book and as yet only a limited number of authorities have put forward their full scheme. There is a tremendous lag in dealing with this and other problems. In some districts medical men have not helped the local authorities to deal with this problem, and despite the fact that negotiations were carried through with the central authority of the medical bodies, local branches have created all kinds of difficulties. The lives of our womenfolk are involved in this matter, and it is time that we were engaged, with the medical profession and the hospital authorities in 1227 dealing with it. We have not yet provided an adequate number of beds to deal with maternity cases in. Scotland. I understand that we have only 800 beds to deal with 88,000 maternity cases. I hope we shall soon have some extension of the hospital services. One thing I would say in conclusion is that, no matter what we do, all our efforts will be useless unless we provide adequate food and decent habitations for our people. Unless we provide them with the clothing that we can produce in abundance for our people, unless we organise our hospital services and make provision for all that they require, we shall never attain that ideal of a health service of Scotland that we are entitled to and that we are striving for.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I do not think that any hon. Member of this Committee will quarrel with the last sentence of the speech of the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), but it is not upon that subject that I want to dwell. I would rather call the attention of the Committee to something that he said about the maintenance of water supplies in times of emergency. It is true that this question is referred to in the report, and the recommendation is there made that local authorities would be "well advised "—that is the term used—to have such connections made where they are practicable, although in normal circumstances water would not be transferred from one system to another. The question I want to ask the Secretary of State, in the hope that the Under-Secretary may give the Committe some information in his reply, is whether anything more has been done since this recommendation that local authorities would be well advised to make such connections, because this question is so important that we want a very strong direction from the Department of Health in order that local authorities may now, if they have not already done so, be making these preparations for an emergency.
There are other ways in which our country can be prepared, and the Committee will be pleased, I am sure, with the steps which have been taken and which are detailed in the last chapter of this very interesting report, to make our country ready to face an emergency which we all hope may never eventuate. I ventured to interrupt—and I was sorry 1228 to do so—the most interesting speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston)because I genuinely wanted a little more information about his desire—a desire which I am sure will be shared by all Members of this Committee—that when we provide houses for the urban population we should, it possible, be able to provide them with certain essentials of life. He mentioned the provision of furniture, and he and the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) mentioned refrigerators. It seems to me that we must look upon these matters in the sombre light of the dangers with which we are surrounded, for in consequence of those dangers it is very difficult indeed 'to obtain money from the Treasury for such things as these. In the circumstances of the existing financial stringency the test must be whether those services—furniture, refrigerators and so on—are economically self-supporting. There is a question of priority in these matters. It seems to me that priority at the moment must be given to the things which make our country safe, and then to the building of the houses that we so much need, and after that let us get on with the other things.
Many hon. Members have; referred to the question of housing, and I only intervened in this Debate to make some remarks on the rural aspect of that subject. I think we in Scotland can congratulate ourselves that our legislation is in advance of English legislation in that by the terms of the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, which received the Royal Assent last year, it is possible now for us to obtain grants for new houses for rural workers in addition to the powers which were contained in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act for reconditioning existing houses. That Act of 1938 has, it seems to me, one main defect, and that is that grants can only he obtained by private individuals in respect of houses which are to replace those which are unfit. I think the exact wording of the Act is that houses "which, being unfit for human habitation and not capable at a reasonable expense of being rendered so fit" are to be demolished or closed. That does seem to me to be a grave defect, because the first step is the condemnation of the house. Not by this means can private enterprise help to make up the very real shortage of houses for rural workers.
1229 Of course any change in that respect would involve new legislation, but I think the second suggestion that I have to make would not. I want to urge the Secretary of State to do what he can to promote uniformity between county and county in the drawing up of the schemes under the Act to which I have referred. I have found that in one county, the name of which I will not give, it is possible to obtain a grant for reconditioning or, in the case of the most recent Act, for rebuilding houses on much easier terms than it is in the neighbouring county- I would urge the Secretary of State to examine these county schemes, not to see where they can be tightened up, but to see where they can be widened to permit the building of houses in far greater numbers. What we have been trying to do is to build rural houses by town standards, and I think that is a mistake, not because we do not want to put good houses in rural districts, but because if we insist too much upon bringing those houses up to town standards we shall make the expense in these days of high building costs impossibly high for many people who otherwise would like to make these improvements.
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate otherwise I would have provided myself with some data which I think might have interested this Committee. I have in many cases been taking advantage of the facilities offered by these Acts to improve the houses on the estate with which I am connected and I have found that in many small and irritating and and seemingly unnecessary ways lairds are having to spend a lot of money in order to comply with rather unreasonable and unnecessary regulations. There was one case in which, by having the height of the treads and risers of the stairs just half an inch less than is laid down in the regulations, it would have been possible to save something like £35. By having those stairs a little steeper the width of the house could have been narrower and the roof and everything would have been cheaper. I am not saying that the stairs would have been made too steep, because they would have conformed to the by-laws of many local authorities in England which I have taken the pains to look up. That is one example of a rather unnecessary waste of money—£35 on a little thing like that. I could give other examples of regulations dealing with the height of ceilings, and so on, laid down not in the 1230 Act of Parliament but in the county scheme. I ask the Secretary of State to examine these county schemes to see whether (something cannot be done to cheapen the requirements, because I know for a fact that in many cases lairds who want to do what they can to improve housing standards on their estates are unable to do it on account of the expense in which it involves them. If we could make things easier for them we should do much to solve the difficulty of housing rural workers.
I was glad to see in the Report a reference to the splendid initiative of Mr. Russell of the Burn in providing for a competition among the architects of Scotland in drawing up plans for cottages for rural workers. I was glad to see that during the year which this Report covers 3,800 applications were made for these plans. I have armed myself with a set of the plans and have found them very useful, and I was pleased to see the reference to them made in the Report. By getting the cheapest kind of building, in these ways and by encouraging people to build without insisting upon unnecessary things, much can be done for the housing of rural workers in Scotland.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
We have listened to a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), but I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will not consider some of the proposals which he has put before him. He complimented Scotland on having an Act for rural housing which was superior to the English Act, but went on to argue in favour of the Scottish standard of housing being reduced to astandard which he has seen somewhere in England. I hope the Secretary of State will not seek to reduce housing standards in the rural areas of Scotland. I remember the discussions in Committee upon the Act which provides houses for the agricultural population in Scotland and those who are in a similar economic situation, and a considerable amount of attention was given to the question of water supplies. Water supplies in the rural areas have formed a considerable part of our discussion this afternoon and it would be interesting to know from the Under-Secretary, when he replies, the number of houses which have been erected or which it is proposed to 1231 erect under that particular Act. The Government attached a great deal of importance to that Act, and we should like to know whether anything has been accomplished under it. Many of us prophesied that little would be done in the rural areas because of the difficulties of water supplies, and argued that before it was placed on the Statute Book a comprehensive system of water supplies for the rural areas ought to have been secured. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us whether the Department have yet had any schemes for the building of houses under that particular Act in the more outlying areas.
§ Mr. Watson
Yes, the Act of last year for the housing of the agricultural population. Many hon. Members have referred to the conditions in their constituencies, and I should like to refer to some conditions in mine. It may seem rather extraordinary, but I should like to compliment the Secretary of State for Scotland on being a fairly decent property owner. He has not had many compliments this afternoon—he has had a number, but he did not get many from the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) —and I should like to pay him a little compliment for something he has done in my area. Some months ago there was a rather alarming situation at Rosyth owing to the reopening of the dockyard. More than 400 tenants in Rosyth were served with notices to vacate their houses, and it looked as though there would be a very serious housing situation. I want to compliment the Secretary of State on the part he has played in easing the situation. It is a remarkable thing that, despite the fact that those notices were served some months ago, no tenant has been evicted from his house. I do not think there is a prospect of many being evicted from the Rosyth housing scheme, and for that situation the Secretary of State is entitled to some gratitude.
The houses are supposed to be owned by the Scottish National Housing Company, but that company is simply a piece of camouflage for certain Government Departments. The Department of Health in Edinburgh has a direct control over the Scottish National Housing Company, 1232 and the Department of Health is simply a shield for the Admiralty. The Admiralty have the first claim on those houses, and they were acting within their rights when they asked the Scottish National Housing Company to serve notices on the tenants. It is true that the tenants received with the notices a nicely-phrased letter to tell them they could apply for monthly lets instead of the yearly lets which had existed in Rosyth up to that time. I am pleased to say that all the tenants in the Rosyth houses took the opportunity to sign the missive for monthly lets. With the exception of some tenants who left after the notice had been served, no tenant has been evicted from his house.
I also want to pay a little compliment to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, because I have found him a perfect gentleman so far as this problem is concerned. The fact that tenants have not been evicted up to this time is due to the Secretary of State, the Civil Lord, and the Dunfermline Town Council, who have played a very large part in getting us out of that difficulty. Fortunately, the Dunfermline Town Council were building a large number of new houses on the outskirts of Rosyth and tenants are being, or will be, removed during the next few weeks into these new houses as they are completed, and great credit is due to the Town Council, the Civil Lord and the Secretary of State for getting us out of that difficulty. But while that is the situation at Rosyth, there are other parts of my constituency which are not in the same fortunate position. The area that I live in, for instance, has a difficulty which is not unknown in mining areas. We have the greatest difficulty in finding suitable sites. There is continual undermining going on with the consequent wrecking of houses, and in many cases houses which have not long been erected are wrecked. The local authority have the greatest difficulty in getting suitable sites.
The Department of Health very rightly tries to insist upon safe sites for houses, but they are faced with a situation which requires exceptional treatment. A little Measure has been passed dealing with mining subsidence and proposing to give some little compensation to owners whose property has been damaged, but I am pretty certain that very little benefit will 1233 come to the great bulk of owners of private houses in these areas from that Act of Parliament. It has been pared down during its passage through the House, and I believe very little more than the name of the Measure remains to be placed on the Statute Book. At least I will not hold out any prospect of very much compensation coming to property owners in my area as the result of that Measure.
The Secretary of State has a very considerable area to cover and many Departments to look after and the problems of the Highlands and Islands, as well as the problems in the area that I have been describing. In the Highlands he has peculiar difficulties to face. The hon. Member who preceded me told us about the difficulties of the landowners and farmers in providing suitable housing accommodation for their workers. He can cheer up. There are good times coming for the farmers and for the landlords. We have been giving them subsidies in almost every direction, and in the hon. Member's own area, where there are oats and barley growers, there is a good time coming for them. We are busily engaged in passing through Committee upstairs a Measure which is going to bring prosperity to oats and barley growers, so the hon. Member need not be very much depressed. Farmers and landowners who may be responsible for providing houses for their workers will ere long be in a position to provide all the accommodation that their workers will require. Evidently the Government has made up its mind that prosperity has to come to the agricultural industry. I am not sure that it will come to the worker, but there is a good deal for the farmer and landowners and they may be able to meet, to a large extent, the difficulty outlined by the hon. Member.
I want to compliment the Secretary of State on his report. It is true, as he said, that there is a general improvement in health conditions but, as he also pointed out, much remains to be done. I hope he will take a lesson from the little experience that he has had in connection with Rosyth housing, because the Scottish National Housing Company is going to build new houses—as a matter of fact it has started to build them—at Rosyth. There will be very little difficulty about that. He did not want to go to the Treasury and ask for more money, but 1234 there were other means by which money could be got and the work has been speedily undertaken. The corporation's plans have been taken up by the Housing Company and without any delay at all new houses are to be erected. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman do that in other parts of Scotland? I suppose it is the difficulty of getting the money. If the Treasury would only give him the money he would provide the houses. All of us would welcome the day if houses could be provided as speedily for the rest of Scotland as he has undertaken to provide them to meet the difficulties at Rosyth. At any rate, the Secretary of State has much to do, despite his efforts during the past 12 months.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
As I have listened to the Debate I have wondered where was the matter of congratulation to the Secretary of State for Scotland. As I look through the report I find that the Scottish housing position is anything but a matter for congratulation. The position in Glasgow is very bad indeed. I am informed—I would like the Secretary of State to tell me whether the information is correct—that there are 70,000 applications for houses in the hands of the housing committee of the Glasgow Corporation, and that the list has been suspended for three months because the corporation are not willing to take any further names. I want him to give us some information with regard to the number of applications that have been made for houses in Glasgow during each of the last five years, and the number of those applications which have been successful. I put down a question to the right hon. Gentleman on those lines and he told me that the information was not available. I received complaints from constituents that they have had their names down for years and that when they go to find out about it they discover that the list has been lost and the housing department do not know. Their application seems to have gone amiss. I want information of the records that are kept of applications and how people are being treated in respect of their applications.
The second point I wish to put to the Minister concerns the provision of houses for people who present a medical certificate and who have possibly been in one of the city hospitals and are faced with 1235 the prospect of having to go back to a slum house. In such a case it would be only a matter of months before they would be in the same position again, because of the dreadful housing conditions. I received a letter to-day about one of these cases and I have taken up the case with the Secretary of State. He has informed me that in view of the medical certificate the house was to have been provided at an early date. I now learn that the scheme under which the house was to have been provided—the Berry Knowes scheme, Cardonald—has been suspended for the time being because the contractor who was responsible has gone into liquidation. There is no saying when the scheme will be started again. Consequently, the woman concerned is in hospital at the present moment and has nowhere to go when she comes out. She expected to go out of hospital into a house. I will give the Secretary of State the letter afterwards, and I hope that he will see that a house is immediately provided in this case for this woman so that she will have a chance of health and strength.
§ Mr. Stephen
Yes, Sir, and I will give the Minister the further letter. I would ask him whether the medical officer of health should not have first claim upon houses when he thinks that they are necessary for the health of a family in the city. Ought he not to have definite control over the director of housing with regard to the allocation of houses for people who are in such a state of sickness that a decent house is necessary for them? I would like the right hon. Gentleman to look into this matter of whether the medical officer of health should not be the final housing authority in such circumstances.
I have been looking into the financial account. I find that the 1919 Act provided 27,874 houses at a cost to the Exchequer of £15,772,264. I find that all the schemes since 1919 have provided 218,958 houses which have cost the Exchequer only £12,541,729. So that 10 times the number of houses have cost the Exchequer about £3,000,000 less. I wonder whether one of the reasons why houses are not being provided more rapidly is that the Exchequer is not pro- 1236 viding sufficient money to assist the local authorities. I believe that in Glasgow the local authority is afraid of skying the rates if they go in for the development of a housing scheme. Immediately after the War and all the expenditure upon it, 27,000 houses cost about £15,000,000, and yet after all these years and all the time for recovery, the total Exchequer grant has been only £12,500,000. The right hon. Gentleman has to give us an answer to these extraordinary figures. Evidently, in 1919 the Treasury were far more concerned about housing the people and giving the money for it than is the case to-day.
Now I want to refer to the Poor Law. In the report it is stated that 40 per cent. of the total poor in Scotland are in Glasgow. This is the biggest city in Scotland, with the most tremendous wealth production in the country, yet despite all this capacity for wealth production 40 per cent. of the total poor of the country are located there. The report states that in 1938 the provision for the able-bodied poor was £350,496 and that the comparative figure for 1934 was £2,398,938. The statement is made:These figures illustrate the extent to which local authorities have been relieved by the operation of the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934.I would ask the Secretary of State whether, in the report, account has been taken of the contribution that has to be made by local authorities to the Unemployment Assistance Board, because when the State took over this responsibility the local authorities were asked to make an annual contribution. Does the figure of £350,496 include the contribution for the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed which is made by the contribution that has to be made by the National Exchequer in that connection? I hope that when he replies the Minister will be able to clear up that point. As it stands, it seems to me to leave things somewhat doubtful.
In connection with Poor Law and housing it has been pointed out that when a person in Glasgow is in sick poor and has 7s. 6d. a week from National Health Insurance, that 7s. 6d., according to the Statute, should not come into the consideration in assessing the needs of that sick person. In Glasgow the practice is that if that person asks for clothing or boots and is in receipt of 7s. 6d. a week 1237 from National Health Insurance he is supposed to get the clothes and the boots out of the 7s. 6d. I do not think that is right and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will put a stop to it. On a previous occasion a predecessor of the Under-Secretary, the late Mr. Skelton, stopped Greenock acting illegally with regard to the 7s. 6d. I hope that in this case people will get their clothing and boots when they need them, irrespective of the 7s. 6d. on the National Health Insurance. I hope that the Minister will make an inquiry into that matter.
The next point that I want to make is in connection with that part of the report which deals with pensions. I have not heard much to-day about pensions, but I see nothing in the report as to whether the Department is making any inquiry into the health and the conditions of the widows and also the old persons who are living on the 10s. a week pension. I wonder whether the Minister would not agree to have a committee of inquiry into the way in which so many of these people are living. Last year we got a committee to inquire into the claims of spinsters in regard to pensions at 55. I do not think that committee reported very satisfactorily, but at least there was some inquiry, and I believe the circumstances of the old age pensioner at the present time are such that a Government that had real concern for the wellbeing of the people would do something to help these people. It is only fair that I should say that in Glasgow there has been a development in the Crookston homes for old people, and I think a tribute should be paid to those homes which have been instituted by the Glasgow Corporation. One of my constituents has become the occupier of one of those cottages and is full of enthusiasm for the comfort and happiness that he and his wife will enjoy in this home. I went to see them, and I think it is well that tribute should be paid to this great new experiment. I hope there will be a development of the provision of homes for old people in this way, with a certain amount of communal life and all the opportunities that it gives to the old people.
The question of the provision of houses for young married people is also a question in regard to which there must be a general amount of sympathy in this Committee. It is very important that young 1238 people should have the opportunity of starting life in a decent house, and I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that if this housing question were tackled properly, as the question of providing for the needs of the nation in the face of the enemy from without has been tackled, the money would be found, the labour would be found, and the problem would be solved. If only the Government were prepared to apply the same enthusiasm and imagination as they have applied in connection with their rearmament plans, I am confident that the people in my division would have a much greater hope of a decent house in which to live. The one thing that stands out in the report is the problem of poverty. It is that problem that is responsible for these wretched housing conditions.
One thing more. I notice in the nutrition paragraphs that there is a certain amount of discomfort because there is the tendency in schools for the children to stop taking milk. Various explanations are given, and I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would not try an experiment in some district of providing milk free to all the children who want it. Let him do away with the small fee, try it out in a school here or there, see what the percentage is, and compare it with the numbers given in the report. I am quite convinced that so many of the excuses which are given are the natural excuses that children would give and that they do not like milk because they cannot get the halfpenny. I know it from my own experience in an elementary school and from my knowledge of the child mind, and I give no credence at all to most of the explanations that are given in this connection. I ask the Minister to try it out somewhere as an experiment.
When the right hon. Gentleman spoke with such complacency about 7½ lb. being gained by the boy of 13 in the Glasgow school, I would ask him to remember also that the report points out that there has been a corresponding improvement in all the other social grades as well, and that the children in the East end of Giasgow are still so much smaller and so much less well nourished than the children in the West end. Is it not a funny thing, is it not a curious thing, that the small children live in the East end, that the 1239 small and badly nourished children all seem to get into the East end and that the well grown children get into the West end? Yet the explanation of it is not so very mysterious. It is because in the East end you have the people who are living in poverty, just as you get, in the West end, the people who never know what poverty means. When it comes to providing Militia, you get the militiamen from the East end. I hope the day is coming when there will be a new spirit, a new imagination, in the Scottish Office and that the East end of our great cities will have social justice and money spent upon it in order that these people may have a square deal in life.
§ 9.53 P.m.
§ Sir Murdoch MacDonald
Probably there has seldom been in this House such unanimity in regard to any one subject as there has been throughout the Debate to-day in saying that the people of our country must be better housed than they are to-day and that housing must proceed at a greater rate than it has done. The Secretary of State represents the collective views of Members of Parliament. The Government represent the House of Commons, and when the House of Commons disagrees with the Government, they have to retire and give place to some other Government that will be more in accord with the general feeling of the House. To-night the general feeling of the Members is that far greater progress must be made with housing than has hitherto been made. I therefore have to say to myself, Why is it that housing is not proceeding at the rate at which it ought to proceed? As I see it, the Secretary of State for Scotland is very willing and indeed anxious that housing should proceed. I do not believe for a moment that through the work of his Department in passing schemes submitted to them there is any undue delay. There must be some other regulating factor. I have heard it suggested to-night that the contribution that is made is not sufficient, that the £6 15s. is not a large enough sum to allow housing to proceed at a proper rate. I do not believe that that is really the true answer. I agree that it may be a part of the answer, and, as far as I am concerned, if it is shown that the grant is not sufficient, then I shall be prepared to support any movement to press the Government to give a 1240 greater sum, so that adequate housing may be provided for the people.
I remember that last year the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) spoke on this identical problem, pointing out clearly and concisely the terrible conditions in Glasgow, which, after all, as far as Soctland is concerned, is the major problem. He showed how badly people were housed, and I felt moved to ask myself whether the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Glasgow Corporation should not get into touch with the trade unions and see whether it was pot something in connection with them that was retarding the progress of housing. I really believe there is something in that. The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. T. Henderson), in the Debate to-night, mentioned that there are practically no bricklayers free in Scotland at the present moment. He also spoke about stone masops, and, knowing something about masonry, I deeply regret that stone houses are not being built more in Scotland than they are to-day. The hon. Member, in answer to a query from this side, said that the masons have left Scotland to go to England, but I doubt whether that is the real explanation. The real explanation must be that young men have not been entering either the bricklayer's or the stonemason's trade in sufficient numbers to allow of proper progress being made with our housing.
The hon. Member said that he himself was a carpenter by trade, and, as such, he was bound to know a good deal about the circumstances of that trade. He deprecated very strongly the building of wooden houses, and I, like him, should be very sorry, as a matter of principle, to see a vast number of wooden houses built in Scotland, if we could possibly get, preferably, stone houses, or, in default of stone houses, brick houses. We ought not to adopt timber houses until we have exhausted the possibilities in regard to workmen, of getting the other two classes. I hope, therefore, that to-night, when the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary replies, he will say what negotiations have taken place with the trade unions and others in order that additional men may be put into the service of the various trades, so that sufficient houses may be built, because, undoubtedly, nothing like as many houses are being built to-day as are needed. Last year the hon. Member for Gorbals pointed out that in Glasgow 1241 they were not building any more new houses than would equal the number required to replace old houses which were falling into disuse. That is a terrible state of affairs, and I hope the Secretary of State will be able to tell us to-night what negotiations have been taking place in order to remedy it.
§ Mr. Colville
If my hon. Friend will forgive me for interrupting him, I would point out to him that I said there had been negotiations on that very subject, and that, as a result, the number of bricklayers engaged on local authorities' schemes had risen from 2,637 in December, 1936, to 3,810 in December, 1938, while the number of joiners in the same period had increased from 2,220 to 4,058. Therefore, that question has been fully kept in mind, and it will be followed up.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
It is very pleasing to know that, and I hope that in the coming year we shall see, as a consequence, a large increase in the number of houses built. But even the figures which the Secretary of State has just mentioned do not seem to me to be quite sufficient to meet the pressing demand for houses in Scotland. I sympathise with everyone who is living in either slum conditions or overcrowded conditions. The plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) for the young married people must appeal to every Member of the House. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to push forward with this housing problem at a far greater rate than is indicated by the figures he has just quoted to me.
The hon. Member for Tradeston also mentioned concrete houses, and he referred to someone on this side who might have some little knowledge in regard to concrete. I think I have some little knowledge with respect to that particular matter, and I would deprecate the building of concrete houses if it could possibly be avoided. It is quite true that they ought to be kept vacant for quite a time after they are built, until they have become thoroughly dry, but, apart from that, the ordinary colour of cement concrete is not pleasing, and it is extremely difficult to make a concrete house of pleasing exterior. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will continue to press for the building of stone houses first in Scotland, if that is at all possible, and, if not, for brick houses.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
In the few minutes at my disposal I should like to direct attention to the complacency, not to say self-satisfaction, that has been expressed with regard to the health and physical well-being of the Scottish people. I do not know how anyone can discuss such a subject without shame. Of course, it may be possible to provide figures to show that there has been an improvement in the physical well-being of the people, and that there have been improvements in sanitation and in various other directions, but, if any hon. Member will seriously consider the question of physical or cultural improvement in relation to the advance in productive forces, the advance of medical science, and the advance of culture in general, he will find that the advance in Scotland is far behind the general advance in these matters. It is shameful, when you compare the character of production 50 years ago and the state of science and culture 50 years ago, to find that such terrible conditions exist in Scotland. It is not sufficient to say that an improvement can be seen here and there. If the matter is examined from the point of view of the improvement in production, scientific knowledge, culture and general advance, it will be seen that in Scotland we are not holding our own, and that the capitalist system is destroying more quickly than we can build.
There has been a pamphlet published recently by Mr. Ferguson, a well known Glasgow Communist, entitled "Scotland." I wish every Member of the Committee would get a copy and read it. It is a terrible indictment of what is happening in Scotland, in area after area and industry after industry. There has been much said about housing to-day. I agree with everything that has been said. Not only have you it in the cities but in the rural areas. I went to my constituency on Sunday, and a friend who came in from the rural areas said to me, "There are housing conditions out there that I am certain people in this country would never believe existed. The water is seeping all the time through the roof, in every part of the house rat holes are to be seen in the walls and rats are running in and out, there is sewage running in front of the house."
I want to direct the attention of the Secretary of State to another matter which 1243 is just as important, and that is rents. In every one of the housing schemes in Scotland there are families who have to go on short rations because of the high rents they have to pay. The Governments policy is to increase rents by cutting down the operation of the Rent Restriction Acts. We can see the effect of this from what happened in Stepney last week, where the same patience and tolerance was not shown to tenants as is shown to the Japanese at Tientsin. In every part of the country the question of rents is a burning question with masses of working-class men and women the main part of whose budget has to be expended in rent. We want to see houses for all—for the young married couples and the elderly people—but at rents that are within reasonable reach of the poorest family.
I would have liked to have dealt with the general industrial situation. The right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) referred to subsidies for shipping and the fact that they can be used in such a way as to carry out in the shipping industry what has been taking place in other industries. We have discussed many times the transfer of industries from Scotland to England which has left whole areas desolate. You may have a situation in which, because of the shipping subsidies, the whole of the Clyde shipping may be ruined. This process of the transfer of industry from Scotland must be stopped. You can stand on the mountain side in Scotland and look across the wide spreading valleys—-you will not see more beautiful country anywhere. But the one thing you will find wherever you go in the Highland hills is an almost complete absence of people. They have been driven out of the country. You will find them in the far places of the world, or in the cities lined up for public assistance, or in the queues at the Employment Exchanges, but in these valleys there is scarcely anyone to be seen. They are all desolate and deserted; where the clansmen used to live. This must be dealt with. Questions of rents and the industrial centres, housing for young married couples, care and attention for the old folk, these must be dealt with. The question of the Highlands and Islands and the report submitted by the economic committee must be taken up. All these 1244 things are clamouring for attention. Scotland is suffering from industrial mal nutrition, from agricultural malnutrition, from depopulation. Monopoly capitalism has played havoc with Scotland. There can be no question of tributes for this Minister any more than any other. Only by getting rid of Ministers such as there are in this Government—
The Temporary Chairman (Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward)
I think the hon. Member is getting rather wide of the Vote we are discussing.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I was just going to conclude. If we are going to renew life in Scotland, populate the desolate valleys, and bring back that splendid manhood and womanhood it will be necessary to get a Government of the working class that understands the problem, and is not concerned with rent and profits but is concerned with the well-being of men and women. When we get such a Government we will solve the problems that confront us in Scotland.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers
My feelings have been very mixed as I have heard some of the contributions to this Debate, which I think everyone will agree has been very interesting. In much of the atmosphere in which I have found myself the feeling that has predominated in me has been one of shame—shame that the country from which we come should have such sores, such rags to exhibit to those who listen to these Debates. When I wondered in what way we could apply an effective remedy for the condition in which we find Scotland to-day I thought that no one had boldly stated what might be done in a comprehensive way. Until we have the opportunity of threshing out these matters for ourselves, taking time over them—not simply one day allotted to us among the mass of other business in this House—until we have the opportunity in Scotland of looking after our own Scottish affairs, we cannot expect to alter the conditions in which our people are living.
That was particularly in my mind when I listened to the doleful speech of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) who recited all the difficulties but said nothing in the way of constructive proposals to deal with the position. It is 1245 regrettable that such conditions should still exist in Scotland. I am glad the Secretary of State is not complacent about the position, but, as his speech proves, realises only too well that there is much to be done. In regard to housing, the position of Glasgow has been very much to the fore. There seems to be on the part of many Members an implied criticism of the Labour majority in the Glasgow town council. The bad housing conditions in that vast city are simply a monument to past mismanagement. I believe that those in charge of affairs in Glasgow are as eager as anyone in this House can be to get rid of those bad housing conditions, which are such a disgrace to the second city in Scotland. [Interruption.] Glasgow says it is the second city of the Empire, but there is another city in Scotland which considers itself first in our country.
I want to clear up a question arising out of the Debate on last year's Estimate. On 20th July last year, I pointed out that the county council of Fife was casting an aspersion on those belonging to my calling—the clerks, and the railway clerks in particular—by saying that they were not members of the working-class, and were not eligible for the special house rent conditions provided for the working-class in the county. Ever since then, I have been following the matter up with the Scottish Office, and I think it very regrettable indeed—to use mild language —that the point has not yet been cleared up between the Scottish Office and the county council of Fife. I hope that very soon the Scottish Office will use its authority, and declare that the county council is not justified in describing railway clerks as not being entitled to working-class conditions in respect of rents of council houses. I hope it will be possible for the under-Secretary to give me some reply to-night on this question, which has been before his Department for nearly 12 months.
Housing, of course, has been the principal matter with which we have concerned ourselves to-day. A number of Members have referred to the proposition put forward by the Convention of Royal Burghs as to the desirability of favourable consideration being given by the Government to subsidies for reconditioning houses and the provision of houses on a more adequate scale for aged people, 1246 single persons and young married couples. The Secretary of State said that on the 14th of this month he will be meeting representatives of the Convention of Royal Burghs, and I hoped that he might have, been able to give us some better indication of the attitude he will take. He indicated, of course, that he has to keep in mind that there are still 230,000 houses required in Scotland for slum clearance and overcrowding. We agree with that, but the time has come when we should no longer be compelling young married couples to serve a period of penance and purgatory with their "in-laws" after they get married before they can become entitled to consideration for a council house. I urge that most earnestly upon the right hon. Gentleman.
In his speech the right hon. Gentleman made reference to the development of maternity services, which do not seem to be developing rapidly enough. I hope that this is a matter which will have his attention and that it will be pressed forward by him. There is something almost disgraceful in the fact that in Scotland, with an annual birth rate last year of 88,000, we had only 800 beds for maternity purposes provided by local authorities, and an additional 630 beds provided in voluntary hospitals, a total of 1,430 beds. The matter is one that will brook no delay. It is necessary, if we are to save the mothers, and the children them-selves, that more rapid development shall take place in the provision of maternity services, especially in hospitals, where the mothers can properly be cared for and the children be given a better opportunity of surviving.
The right hon. Gentleman made another reference to the extreme pressure upon his various Departments during the past year owing to the calls of Civil De-fence. We agree that that has meant a very great deal, and I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has taken into account this fact, which is perhaps a little outside his own province, but which bears upon the work that his Departments have to do, and indirectly upon the health services that may be provided and the developments that may take place under the aegis of local authorities. It is the provision of the necessary equipment for De-fence services by the local authorities. I have in mind particularly two small burghs in my constituency—the Burgh of 1247 Bo'ness and the Burgh of South Queens-ferry—which are vulnerable areas which feel that the expense which they are called upon to bear is so great that they can hardly stand up to it. I am certain that this will have extreme repercussions upon other work that they ought to do and which comes within the purview of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will keep in mind the necessity for urging upon the Cabinet that the greatest possible measure of support ought to be given to the local authorities in order to enable them to carry out the work that is necessary, so that it may not hinder or hamper the other work which this Debate to-day has proved to be absolutely necessary in Scotland. Although my remarks come at the end of this Debate, I am not seeking in any way to regard them as anything in the way of a winding-up speech. They must necessarily be sketchy and perhaps rather inadequate and hurried because of the fact that I want the Under-Secretary of State to have a proper opportunity of replying.
The question of town planning was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, and he indicated that we had started too late.
§ Mr. Mathers
The City of Edinburgh is a standing refutation of that statement. Edinburgh is noted throughout the world as a good town-planned city in part of its area. That was done at the beginning of the latter part of the last century, and it is a standing example as to how to town plan. The regrettable thing is that in the rush for profit the system under which we live has dictated that a much less adequate standard should be proceeded with, and the result has been chaos and slumdom, and the huddling tenement system which we have in Edinburgh as well as in other towns in Scotland.
I want to make this point—it has to do with housing, and may come under the heading of rural houses—I want to plead with the Secretary of State for the preservation of the small communities which exist in Scotland at the present time. In many cases small villages and hamlets are in process of being wiped out of existence. There is a very great deal of affection for these places in the minds of those who are still inhabiting them, and who have lived 1248 in them for many years and brought up their families there. I am also certain that in the far parts of the Empire there are those who turn their minds back with great affection to the small rural hamlets and villages in which they were born and bred. There is too great a tendency to-day to wipe out these areas, to demolish the houses and huddle people together in bigger areas. I want the urge to preserve these places to come from the Secretary of State to the county authorities and to make it possible for their being maintained in existence and not brushed aside by the pressure of the desire for cheapness in the way of providing the necessary amenities which would bring them up to date.
It is definitely a health matter to speak of the Coal Mines Refuse (Scotland) Act which is now on the Statute Book, an Act which gives to local authorities an opportunity of dealing with these burning pit heaps in a proper way. I want to ask what is the policy of the Scottish Office in this regard? Are they prepared in the interests of the health of the people affected by the noxious fumes which come from these burning bings to support local authorities and enable them to deal with this outstanding menace to the health of the people. I hope we shall have something from the Under-Secretary of State on that particular matter, indicating to us and to the local authorities who desire to use the provisions of that Act that they will have the full support of the Department.
I will only mention one matter more. The outstanding problem which we are discussing to-day is the poverty of the people of Scotland. Here is one outstanding example of that fact, that on 6th April this year the Secretary of State for Scotland in reply to a question put by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) was able to show that in Scotland at that date there were 46,797 old age pensioners having their incomes augmented from Poor Law funds. That is a stigma against Scotland. It is a potent source of malnutrition, poverty, ill health and unsatisfactory conditions. It is something which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State cannot but be convinced he ought to attend to. I hope that, as a result of the Debate that has taken place to-night, any possible idea of satisfaction with the small progress that was made last year compared with 1249 the year before will be completely dismissed from the minds of the right hon. Gentleman and those associated with him in the Scottish Office, and that we may look forward to even greater activity and greater efforts being made to bring Scotland up to a better standard than it has ever occupied.
§ 10.31 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
I think the Committee will agree that, after the great diversity of points that have been raised in the Debate, it will be necessary for me, in replying, to make some selection, but, in accordance with the practice which my right hon. Friend observes on these occasions, any questions which have been asked or suggestions made which we do not have time to deal with in the Debate will be dealt with by communicating with the hon. Members who have raised the points. I think it would perhaps be convenient to the Committee if I addressed myself first to some of the questions which are not directly related to the principal theme of the Debate—the housing problem.
I would like to begin by replying to the rather urgent questions about the organisation of hospitals that were put to me by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood). He asked whether there existed properly coordinated plans for the organisation of a casualty hospital service in Scotland in the event of war, and the answer is "Yes." The hon. Member will probably like to know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State propose, at a very early date, to lay before Parliament a White Paper which will give a comprehensive statement of the arrangements made in Scotland as well as in England. My right hon. Friend will also issue, at the beginning of next week, to all hospitals in Scotland which will play an integral part in the emergency hospital service a statement showing the particular role they will be expected to play—and I know they will play it very willingly if the need should unhappily arise—and it will state the approximate numbers of beds which they will be expected to set free for casualties, the ways in which it is contemplated that these beds will be freed, the probable number of patients to be sent home, and the number to be transferred to the institutions to which 1250 patients will be transferred from the hospitals. I think the hon. Member will find that the White Paper, together with the memoranda issued by the Defence Division of the Department of Health which was set up last year, will constitute an answer to the very reasonable inquiry which he made.
I must not neglect to deal with another rather different question which was put to me just now, as a sort of hangover from last year, by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), about railway clerks. I think he is probably aware that the Department of Health did take some steps to further his own views on this subject. The present position is that we are taking legal advice to see what the legal position is and whether local authorities can be obliged by law to treat railway clerks in the way which the hon. Member contemplates. In view of the fact that we are taking legal advice I am afraid that I cannot at present say anything further on the subject or give the hon. Member any reason to expect that that legal advice will necessarily be favourable to his own point of view.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is that advice being taken in connection with railway clerks only, or in connection with other classes as well?
I think it will be obtained very soon, but I cannot say anything in anticipation of what it may be. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) asked questions about water supplies, about dental treatment and also about the Highland medical services. As he reminded me, he brought forward this point about water supplies last year. When I replied to him, I said that a committee of the Association of County Councils had been constituted to keep in touch with the Department of Health on this subject, and that they were expected to furnish us with a practical statement of what they really wanted and the kind of scheme which they thought would be necessary in their areas, together with the probable cost, and a statement of their rateable resources. The right hon. 1251 Baronet wanted to know whether they had yet given any information of this kind. I also said then, I think, that in the last resort the question was really one of finance and that in all probability, to provide a piped water supply to all houses, or even to a majority of houses in the Highlands, or in remote districts, would be very expensive, and that the cost must be considered in relation to other demands from all quarters on the Exchequer.
With regard to the information supplied by this committee, I fear the right hon. Baronet will be disappointed to learn that when the local authorities got down to it, they found, apparently, that the practical details of the schemes were very difficult to prepare and we have not yet received much information from them. There is one item which may illustrate the expensiveness of supplying water to districts of that kind. The Inverness County Council made a survey of those parts of the Outer Islands which are within their area, and according to the estimate of their engineers the cost of supplying water, not to all the inhabitants but to a reasonable majority of the inhabitants of North and South Uist and Harris, would amount to £250,000. I suppose you could, possibly, buy the islands for less than that sum. I speak without any expert knowledge of engineering, but it seems to me almost certain that it would be impossible to supply every house in the Highlands with piped water, unless at an expense which would amount to very many times the value of the houses themselves. Of course this question is not one which concerns Scotland alone. There are many areas in England whose needs in some ways are perhaps even more acute. As I say, it is a question of finance, and while we have naturally every wish to do what we can to improve water supplies, the Department has no funds at its disposal to spend on this object, and I should not be candid if I told the right hon. Baronet that there was any great likelihood of obtaining a large sum of money for this purpose in the near future.
In regard to his question about the special grant for the Highland medical services, my right hon. Friend has never felt justified in asking for the annual sum proposed in the report on the Health Services to which he referred, but, as he will 1252 see from these Estimates, increases have been obtained for a fairly large number of small objects, and the amount of grant payable this year shows an increase of £10,000 on the corresponding figure for last year, having risen from £96,000 to £106,000. With regard to dental services, the Department's medical officer is at present engaged in making a survey of the school dental conditions throughout the whole of Scotland, with a view to making recommendations as to the improvement of those services. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), following up the health statistics which my right hon. Friend had given for Glasgow, was very anxious that we should supply him with similar figures for his own constituency- I can promise the hon. Member to ascertain the comparative infant death-rate figures for Dumbarton County and Clydebank respectively, and I will send them to him; and I will also see whether it is possible to get the other comparative statistics he asks for about height and weight, similar to the figures given by the Glasgow medical officer of health, but such measurements will not necessarily have been recorded in his own area.
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) put a question about the sum payable by local authorities in respect of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I think he will probably remember that two or three years ago that contribution was entirely abolished. They do not now pay anything to the Unemployment Assistance Board in respect of the able-bodied poor whom the Unemployment Assistance Board took over on the second appointed day. The hon. Member also wanted an answer to a Question which he put on the Paper this afternoon, but which unfortunately was not reached, about the number of applications which have been received by the Housing Committee of the Corporation of Glasgow from his own constituency. I am afraid that the information on that point is not available, because the corporation have no complete records of the number of applications for houses and the number of people re-housed prior to the 1st January, 1935, and from that date onwards their records only give the information for the city as a whole. All the information I can give is for the city as a whole, and that will be sent to the hon. Member. Over the last seven years the number of applications received was 1253 73,201, and the number of families re-housed 28,732.
Yes, I could read them out, but it is rather a long list. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) and some other hon. Members wanted some information about the camps and how we are proceeding with the work under the Camps Act. We first asked the Valuation Office of the Inland Revenue to suggest sites which satisfied all the necessary conditions, and a very large number of sites were inspected. Sites for two camps to be built in the Edinburgh region have already been acquired by the Association, and negotiations for acquiring three sites selected for camps for the Glasgow area are proceeding with the owners. A site for Dundee has also now been selected. The Edinburgh ones are at Broomlee, West Linton, which the Association has purchased, and at Middleton Hall, which is to be leased by the Association from the Corporation of Edinburgh. Of the three Glasgow sites provisionally selected one is at Aberfoyle, Perthshire, and the other two in Lanarkshire. At Dundee a possible site in contemplation is at Belmont Castle, near the village of Meigle, about 13 miles from the City.
May I come for a few minutes to the speech of the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston), who opened for the Opposition? If he will allow me to say so, he gave us a very helpful speech, containing many instructive suggestions. He wanted to know about the arrangements for furniture. We fully appreciate the need for securing that tenants who are transferred to new houses are able to obtain furniture on easy terms to enable them to make adequate use of the accommodation provided, and we have, as he knows, drawn the attention of the local authorities to their power under the Housing Acts to supply furniture for the houses which they build. Several authorities supply beds and bedding for their tenants, and a few supply other articles of furniture, such as cupboards, chest of drawers, and linoleum floor-covering. The question of supplying essential furniture has lately been considered by the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee, who have just reported 1254 on the subject of house management. The committee's report is now with the printers and will be published very soon. In it they suggest that freer use should be made by local authorities of their statutory powers to provide furniture for tenants who need it, and the question of again drawing the attention of local authorities to this matter will be kept in view when my right hon. Friend considers what action should be taken on the Committee's report.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the position in Wigtownshire. I think I can say in general that it is a county which has peculiar difficulties in the way of getting water, and it is not an area where anybody could reasonably expect that all the houses could rapidly be brought up to a very high standard, but I think the complaint drawn against the County Council is rather that they have not tried to achieve the minimum of decency which they might get in existing circumstances. While no doubt the County Council have met with difficulties in regard to water and drainage, the information we have shows that a very great deal of housing work has yet to be undertaken, and my right hon. Friend has arranged for an inspector to visit the county to-morrow, 5th July, to investigate complaints that have been made.
I have not really enough time left to deal as I would wish with the very numerous questions asked on and criticisms made of the progress of our housing schemes. It is natural that nearly every Member should have spoken on one aspect or another of this problem, because probably the principal reason why our vital statistics are worse than in some other parts of the county is due to bad housing more than anything else, and a great deal of the ill-health and disease which we have to deal with through our health services would be avoided altogether if we had better housing conditions. My right hon. Friend gave the figures of houses built last year, which were a record, and the Committee will see from the report that since 1930 some 71,000 slum houses have been dealt with, and since the overcrowding survey was taken at the beginning of 1936 about 43,000 families have been removed from overcrowded houses which were not unfit.
1255 My right hon. Friend has never claimed to take satisfaction in these figures, al though it would perhaps be legitimate for a Minister who has to explain and defend housing policy to dwell on the fact that within the last six or seven years we have removed and replaced more slum houses than were dealt with in the previous 60 years and we have doubled the rate of housing progress which prevailed not many years ago. My right hon. Friend has never taken that line, and the reason is that, although we have achieved a great increase in housing progress, it is his desire to double that rate—
§ Sir E. Findlay
It may be his desire but the Treasury decide the problem. He may desire to do a lot but I have no feeling that the Treasury will give any more money to Scotland.
My right hon. Friend is less anxious than anyone in the House to take any satisfaction in the progress that has been made, considerable though it is, because we do not want to say anything which might give anyone in Scotland the impression that there is any reason for relaxation of their efforts. Most Members who have referred to the housing problem have dwelt rather particularly on the Glasgow position. That is not altogether typical of Scotland as a whole. The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. T. Henderson) asked why in the total Scottish figures for this year the proportion of slum clearance houses was so much less compared with the number of overcrowded houses from which families have been removed. The answer is that there are a very large number of small or medium-sized burghs which have got on very well with their housing problems, which have more or less finished the worst slum clearance work and are now able to concentrate on overcrowding.
I want rather to deal with the Glasgow position because Glasgow contains such a very large part of the population of Scot land. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said that, according to his calculations at the present estimated rate of 3,000 houses a year it would take 25 years to solve the Glasgow housing problem. I should put it higher than that, because the rate of normal wastage is, I believe, something like 2,000—
Yes, the hon. Member did say that. If you allow for the normal wastage it would, I think, take something like 60 years. I had a meeting with the Glasgow Corporation on 17th March at which they informed me that it was their intention to build 23,200 houses in the next four years, 1939–43 inclusive. I represented to them—
§ Mr. Maxton
Does the Minister think that he will be able to conclude his speech in time for me to move a reduction of the Estimate?
I have done by best, and the Committee have been good enough to allow me a little longer than the scheduled time for other Members; but I still want to deal with certain other matters.
§ Mr. Maxton
May I take it that the Minister will not pursue the unprecedented course of talking out his own Estimate?
I am afraid that as a result of this interruption I have hardly time now to say a few sentences about Glasgow. I represented to the Corporation that the figure, although a very great improvement on the rate for the last few years, was not really half sufficient, because they needed 10,000 houses a year to solve their problem in a reasonable period of time. The latest estimate from Glasgow is that they will build 27,000 houses in the next four years. Even that figure is hardly a satisfactory rate of progress. I am convinced that in order to achieve a satisfactory rate of progress the Glasgow Corporation will have to go in, on a really big scale, for alternative methods of construction, not instead of brick-building but in addition to brick-building.
I would say to the hon. Member for Tradeston that I know he has strong views on this subject, but that it is my duty flatly to contradict him. I do not think it is the case that timber houses are inferior to other kinds. Only recently we sent one of our inspectors from the Department of Health to see what timber houses had so far been completed and inhabited. The inspector reported that practically without exception tenants were 1257 delighted with the type of house and the accommodation and convenience provided. The remarks in favour of those houses, of which the inspector quotes a number, were repeated over and over again until it became almost monotonous. Some of the tenants had removed from ordinary houses. One or two stated that they liked timber houses better than their former brick houses. The inspector came upon only one tenant who complained with regard to the arrangements. I think Glasgow has decided, not yet on timber houses, but upon 1,100 concrete houses. There are many more points into which I should very much like to have entered, but in view of the fact that it is now nearly Eleven o'Clock perhaps the Committee will forgive me for not having dealt as fully as I wished with this very interesting topic.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.1258
§ Mr. Maxton
On a point of Order. Just before you came to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, we had been doing business which presumably has been reported to you. My point is that the Debate was continued after Eleven o'clock without disposing of an Amendment that was before the Committee. I put it to you that it is a breach of the Rules of this House, for which you, Sir, are responsible, to continue a Debate in this House on any day after Eleven o'clock.
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot interfere with what took place in this House in Committee. It would be entirely contrary to my duty.