§ LORD NEWTON (on behalf of LORD HAMILTON OF DALZELL) rose to ask His Majesty's Government what steps have been taken by the Minister of Health to ensure consideration being given to the recommendations contained in the Interim Report of the Departmental Committee on Smoke and Noxious Vapours Abatement by local authorities or other bodies or persons carrying out housing schemes with the assistance of a Government subsidy.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hamilton is unable to be present this afternoon, and as I am considerably more concerned in this Question than he is himself he has authorised 697 me to appropriate it. I should like to explain why it appears on the Paper. In 1914, owing to the continual efforts of public-spirited bodies and individuals interested in the subject, and partly to a Bill which I introduced into this House, a Committee was set up in order to investigate the whole question. That Committee sat for some months when its proceedings were naturally interrupted by the war. At the beginning of the present year the Committee was reappointed, and I was requested to act as chairman.
§ I do not want to go into the whole question, but every one who has studied it is aware that half the smoke, or approximately half, with which we are afflicted in this country is produced by domestic houses and chimneys; and there is no legislation which touches the question of domestic smoke at all. It was quite obvious that the present is a unique opportunity for dealing with this grievance in view of the enormous number of houses now being constructed throughout the country, largely subsidised by the Government. In these circumstances it seems only natural that the Government should have power to enforce, if they so choose, certain restrictions with the idea of abating the evil.
§ In view of the necessity of doing something to combat this evil the Committee of which I was chairman was requested to furnish an Interim Report. We did so during the past summer, and we made certain recommendations which were highly approved of by all the experts and those people who have concerned themselves with the question. These recommendations, in our opinion, would not have caused any extra expenditure, would have abated the nuisance, and, what is equally important, would have saved the consumption of raw fuel. We further recommended that where it was feasible sanction should be withheld from these new houses unless our recommendations were complied with, except, of course, in places where there was manifest inconvenience in so doing.
§ My complaint is that practically no attention whatever has been paid to the recommendations we made. These new buildings, as any one can see, are all being constructed on the old wasteful extravagant system of heating; and as for our recommendations, when I made inquiries from the people responsible for the erection of these houses they stared at me in amaze- 698 ment and asked me what I meant. They had never heard that the question was under consideration at all. One would naturally have supposed that the recommendations and the Report itself would have been sent to the housing authorities throughout the country. That was not done. What was done was as follows. Following the pushing and extravagant habit which prevails in many Government Departments the Ministry of Health maintains what is called a Publicity Section—a section presumably which exists for the purpose of booming the Ministry whenever an opportunity arises. Part of the activities of this so-called Publicity Section apparently consists in producing a dismal journal called Housing, which I should think nobody takes any interest in and which finds its way into the waste-paper basket. It contained in one of its numbers an emasculated and abbreviated report of our Interim Report, without any comments upon it whatever, and without any intimation that it was an official Report. One would rather like to know what this particularly unattractive journal costs the taxpayer, because I am convinced from what I have seen of it that it must be produced at a loss and that nobody ever pays any attention to it.
§ I am also informed that, in addition to putting this section of the Report in the journal, so-called voluntary speakers on behalf of the Ministry were requested to allude to it in their addresses. Who, I should like to know, are these voluntary speakers? There appear to be a horde of so-called voluntary speakers who go about the country extolling the virtues of the Ministry of Health, and for my part I decline to believe that it is done for nothing. I do not believe that there are any altruistic windbags in the country who would go about to sing the praises of the Ministry or the Minister of Health unless they got some return, either in the form of pay, or out-of-pocket allowances, or something of the kind. If my noble friend is able to do so, I confess I should like to be enlightened on the subject of the so-called voluntary speakers, and to hear what they cost.
§ It is very easy to make too much of a grievance of this character, and I hope that it will not be taken that because I have drawn attention to it I am animated by any spirit of wounded vanity. I can assure the House that that is not my 699 sentiment at all. What I submit is that if a Minister appoints a Committee for the purpose of advising him the least he can do is to read the Report and to express an opinion upon it. If he disagrees with it, well and good; there is an end of the whole thing. But if he agrees with it, then it seems to me that it is quite clear he ought to call the attention of the authorities concerned to it in a proper way.
§ This Committee of which I spoke is, of course, an unpaid Committee. It consists of scientific people, Government officials, and others whose time is fully occupied, with the exception of myself, and I am the only person upon it who is, so to speak, a person of leisure. We have examined a very large number of witnesses. I should think that we must have accumulated sufficient evidence to fill a Blue-book about a couple of inches thick. We conducted a number of local investigations in industrial districts which do not by any stretch of imagination come within the character of pleasure resorts. We do this partly at our own expense and although, as I said, we are unpaid, yet it is quite plain to me that we must be costing a certain amount of money. If there is one thing to which I take objection at the present moment it is spending money unnecessarily. Although we are unpaid it necessarily follows we must be costing quite an appreciable amount of money, because we cannot sit to examine witnesses, and print, without incurring some expense. I am a little doubtful whether it is worth while going on incurring this expense if no notice is going to be taken of our work, and I submit to my noble friend who is representing the Ministry of Health that if we are to go on and to produce what I hope may be a useful Report, he ought to be able to give me some assurance that this particular recommendation will be brought to the notice of the authorities concerned, and that if it is approved by the Minister steps will be taken if possible to carry it out.
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
My Lords, I am quite certain that none of us who have a very long acquaintanceship with my noble friend in this House would dream for a moment that any of his adverse criticisms come from what he calls personal vanity. First of all, it is quite true that he and his friends have undertaken this work without any salary. I believe that there is no one in this House who has done 700 more public work in the last few years without any remuneration whatever than my noble friend who asked this Question. I beg him to be fully assured that the labours of himself and his colleagues are in no way under-rated by the Ministry of Health. They have performed—and the Minister of Health sincerely hopes they will continue to perform—work which is very much appreciated and of a most helpful description. These are matters of education and of insistence, and the very fact that he has brought this Question before your Lordships this afternoon will, I think, be productive of increased value to the suggestions the Committee have made.
I think I shall be able to show my noble friend that he is not quite correct in saying that no attention has been paid to the recommendations which he and his Committee have made. He was rather hard upon our little newspaper, which I hope to show him is more widely circulated than he appears to think it is. I may add that while the Minister is very grateful indeed to my noble friend and his colleagues for the work they did last summer on their Committee, one does not lose sight of the fact that this work was carried out by them during the time of the so-called holiday. My noble friend's Interim Report was issued, I think, on June 1; but before this issue, by means of our journal (which is a fortnightly journal taken, I may inform your Lordships, by all housing authorities and large numbers of persons and bodies interested in housing), the attention of all housing authorities was called to the unsatisfactory nature of coal heating, urging the advantage of heating by other means. Then, on the issue of the Report, the attention of the local authorities was again directed to it by further articles, and the Report was summarised and its recommendations set out. In later numbers particulars were given, illustrated by detailed plans of heating, hot-water supply, gas fires designed to reduce smoke, and so on; and again the Housing Commissioners of the Ministry of Health were instructed that where gas is obtainable coal fires should be reduced to a minimum, and confined, if possible, to the living rooms, gas cookers being installed and gas fires being provided in various rooms. I may add that this practice is in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee on Smoke Abatement. Appropriate methods for the use of gas have been discussed with the Gas Association, 701 and specifications agreed upon have been brought to the notice of the local authorities.
Arrangements have been made—and this, I think, meets one point in my noble friend's speech—for the erection of sample huts at Acton as demonstrations of particular methods of construction, and in a number of them methods of heating avoiding the creation of smoke are being installed. The Ministry require, in connection with housing schemes submitted to them, that the question of reducing smoke shall be really considered, and two important schemes—here, again, I think this meets my noble friend's point—are being carried out. Central hot water supply is in these cases being installed. One is a scheme at Manchester of 2,700 houses, and the other at Salford of 700 houses. The Department believe—and if I am not too sanguine I hope to convince my noble friend of this—that their journal Housing is a really useful means for diffusing information as well as for giving advice and diagrams.
In addition, instructions are given to all the Housing Commissioners to bear in mind the recommendations of my noble friend's Committee. Further—and I hope my noble friend will appreciate this—a special Memorandum has been issued, or shortly will be issued, to the local authorities bearing directly on the Report. I do not say that all these methods, some of them new, are instigated entirely by the Report of my noble friend; at the same time I think it is fair to say that they are endorsed by his Report, and will be reinforced by it. I hope, at any rate, that my noble friend will see that while the Government really appreciate the efforts and energy of himself and his Committee, they are doing their utmost to make practical use of the many suggestions that he has made.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, may I, as a member of a local authority interested in housing, say that up to this moment I have never heard of the newspaper Housing, and on obtaining a view of it just now I was surprised to find that there was only a small condensed report of the valuable findings of my noble friend Lord Newton's Committee. Having regard to the panegyric which my noble friend the Lord Chamberlain has given to that Report—and very properly so—and to the great 702 efforts of the Chairman of the Committee, it is indeed surprising that in Housing, if it is a Paper with such a very large circulation as the Lord Chamberlain states, a full reproduction was not given of the Committee's report. It would have been very interesting if the noble Viscount had told your Lordships what the cost is of this paper. He said that it had a very large circulation, but he omitted to give us the cost of it. I notice that the cost to each subscribef is 8s.; it would be interesting to know to what extent the public relieve the taxpayer of this expenditure. It is too much in these days, now that the war is over, to allow Ministers to have these newspapers, which are used to a large extent to report their own speeches and the doings of their own Ministries, and which afford a further inducement to add to that ever-increasing number of officials of which the country is complaining. It would have been very much better had we received an assurance that the Report of the Committee had been taken notice of by the various authorities. As a member of a local authority, I can say that so far as we are concerned we know nothing about it and it is a dead letter.
My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend for his reply, but I must confess that I cannot pretend to consider it satisfactory. I do not much care in what form the recommendations go to the local authorities provided it is impressed upon them by the Ministry that the recommendations should be carried out. Nothing will make me believe that by sending round a journal of this kind and by asking speakers to mention the matter vaguely in their addresses you will do any good. I understood my noble friend to say that the Ministry was going to take some steps to direct the attention of the housing authorities to this Report. If that is so, that will be satisfactory to me. But can he definitely assure me that this is going to be done?
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
What I said was that a special Memorandum has been or will be circulated to the housing authorities bearing directly on the Report.
§ LORD NEWTON
If my noble friend will promise us that it will be done at once, I shall be satisfied for the time being. But I sincerely hope that he will not waste any 703 time over it, because the Report has been out for several months and a great many houses must be finished.
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
I will communicate my noble friend's views to the Department, and I think I can assure him that it shall be done as he desires.