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Housing

Volume 148: debated on Wednesday 9 November 1921

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Type A Houses (Tenders)

29.

asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the figures showing that the tender prices for building houses of type A submitted to his predecessor for the month of March were on the average £128 less than the figures for the previous month, he has now considered the statement of the Director-General of Housing, as reported in the Press of 19th July, to the effect that until his predecessor, as Minister, left office, prices were soaring higher and higher almost weekly; and what action he proposes to take in connection with the issue of this statement by an officer of his Department?

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. The particular statement of the Director-General of Housing to which my right hon. Friend alludes proved to be incorrect in the light of fuller information afterwards at his disposal. I would, however, observe that the average price for class A houses in approved lump sum tenders submitted in December, 1920, was £823; in March, 1921, £693; in June, 1921, £687; and in September, 1921, £596. The total number of these houses in approved tenders up to March, 1921, was 36,166, and up to September, 1921, 37,942. The policy of limiting construction, accepted by my right hon. Friend before leaving office but subsequently so strongly criticised by him, certainly contributed to bring down prices, but it remains true that one main cause of inflation of prices was his action in approving contracts for a large number of this and other types of houses at very high prices far in advance of the facilities available at the time for construction. I think the statements of the Director-General have been broadly correct, though this particular statement was not so, and I do not pro- pose to take any further action in regard to a gentleman who is in an honorary capacity rendering service of great value to the State.

In view of the fact that this gentleman has been in the Department for a considerable time, and has had access to the figures, which show that the reduction in the time of his predecessor was much greater than at any time since, do I understand from that answer that the right hon. Gentleman seeks either to excuse or justify the issue by an officer of his Department of a grossly false statement?

If my right hon. Friend reads my answer he will see that I admit, that this statement was made by the Director-General—who has not been in the Department for a considerable time—and that the statement was incorrect. I have admitted that, and I do not see what further action my right hon. Friend asks me to take. I certainly do not propose to take any.

Why was this gentleman, who is, I presume, a civil servant, able to make this public statement? Is he not bound by the same rules as other civil servants?

I have pointed out that the Director-General is acting in an honorary capacity, and is not a civil servant. He is giving his very valuable services for nothing at all in order to assist me to secure economies in housing, and he has been extremely successful in doing so.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that this gentleman could have ascertained the facts inside of five minutes by going to the Finance Branch; and am I to understand from the further remarks of the right hon. Gentleman that he, in any way, seeks to excuse this false statement?

I have already given an answer to that. I do not excuse the statement. I said the statement was incorrect. It is admittedly incorrect, and I do not see what more I can say in the matter. I am entirely justified in refusing to take any further action or to give up the great services which this gentleman is rendering to the State, even if he has made some incorrect statement about the right hon. Gentleman.

Ilford Scheme

30.

asked the Minister of Health when it is proposed to build on the foundations of the 410 houses already laid on the site of the City of London housing scheme at Ilford on amended plans?

No suggestions for the use of the site in question have yet been submitted to me, and I do not propose to take any action at present.

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the waste involved in this, that houses are needed and that men require work?

I do not consider there is any waste. The foundations of the houses are not taking any harm, and it will be possible to put up the houses at a cheaper rate in a short time.

Rural Areas

33.

asked the Minister of Health whether in rural areas where there are any number of unemployed in the building trades he will consider applications for housing schemes where houses are still needed?

So far as I can do so, having regard to the limitations of the Government programme and the needs of urban areas, I shall be prepared to consider applications for the erection of houses in rural areas where the need for them is established and the existence of serious unemployment in the skilled building trades is proved.

Voluntary Hospitals (Grants)

31.

asked the Minister of Health whether, under the terms of his Departmental Paper 1,402, giving the terms of appointment of the Voluntary Hospitals Commission, the announcement that after the first emergency grant further grants will be only made against fresh money raised by the hospitals, means that they cannot reckon, for the purposes of obtaining assistance, any ordinary revenue which they may receive in the current years; and whether, since this condition would prejudicially affect the poorer hospitals, which have practically tapped all sources of income and which now see, at all events for the present, no further new sources of revenue in sight, he will, in the interests of these poorer hospitals, investigate the operation of this condition?

The amount by which the income of a hospital for 1921 exceeds the income for 1920 will be reckoned as new money for the purpose of calculating the grant. In cases where the hospitals of a given area agree to combine for this purpose, their aggregate income can be made the basis for calculating new money. As regards the second part of the question, I understand that King Edward's Fund are proposing to confer with the London hospitals as to the best method of raising their share of the anticipated deficit on the year's working.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how much of this money will be distributed this year; is he aware that this grant was made to meet an immediate necessity; and can he say that the money will not be spread over, at any rate, two years?

I should want notice of the first part of the hon. Member's question. The money will be allocated as soon as practicable, and, I hope, very shortly.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is a fact that the Charing Cross Hospital is entirely self-supporting by good administration?

Scarlet Fever And Diphtheria (London)

30.

asked the Minister of Health whether his attention has been called to the increase of scarlet fever and diphtheria cases in London; whether his Department has taken any action in order to control the spread of these diseases; if so, will he state in what way; can he state the number of cases now under treatment in hospitals; and if there is a sufficient number of hospital places for all sufferers if the epidemics spread further?

The answer to tae first part of the question is in the affirmative. The answer to the second part is that I have appointed a special Office Committee with medical representation of the London County Council and the Metropolitan Asylums Board. There are at present 6,192 cases of scarlet fever and 2,996 cases of diphtheria under treatment in the hospitals of the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The Board's accommodation is limited to approximately 9,500 beds, but it is hoped that the arrangements which have now been made will meet the needs of the situation.