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Clause 29—(Power Of Local Authorities To Provide Board And Laundry Facilities)

Volume 467: debated on Wednesday 13 July 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 24, line 38, after "facilities," to insert "and services."

This Amendment has been incorporated in order to clear up a point which was discussed on Committee as to whether or not provision of laundry facilities included the provision of laundry services where such were desired. This is now made absolutely clear.

This Amendment undoubtedly broadens the scope of the Clause, and I trust it means that the Government will later accept our Amendment to make sure that these facilities and services are subject to reasonable accounting provisions. It is a little difficult to discuss the matter here, because, as we have said, to give a fair crack of the whip we believe that the facilities provided by local authorities for such things as laundries should not succeed in knocking out legitimate businesses, which are now being conducted by private enterprise. We hope there will not be any kind of slipshod accounting. We feel that the well-established laundry businesses might be knocked out while the local authority was making up its mind as to whether these facilities or services were going to pay or not.

We have an Amendment on the Paper to meet this point, and it will come up later. The Lord Advocate, on the Committee stage, indicated that the word "facilities" covered "services," and, consequently, these words carry out the original intention of the Bill. They simply clarify words which had been set down in the original form of the Clause. It is desired that whatever legislation we pass should be clear, and, therefore, we would not demur at the inclusion of these words for clarification. But the danger to legitimate businesses is increased by the construction which is now being placed on this Clause. We shall have to raise that matter later, when we come to it in the appropriate part of the Bill.

I am not at all happy about this Amendment. My recollection of the discussion upstairs was that several different versions were given of what was intended, and I was never clear at the very end of it what the Secretary of State had in mind by the original wording, still less by this new wording. The right hon. Gentleman did say, if I remember rightly, that it was not his idea that local authorities would set themselves up in competition with privately-operated laundries. Is that still the view of the Secretary of State?

I agree that the position can be reasonably safeguarded by the major Amendment which is coming, but I do not feel that is the whole core of the Amendment. Is it the intention that these laundry facilities or services may be developed as a competing business with the ordinary laundry facilities provided by private firms? I do not believe that is in the Secretary of State's mind, but I wish there were words to make that clearer. I would not deny the desirability of getting facilities to take the load of washing off housewives with large families, and those who are working and who have other things to do, but that can be done by the provision of the necessities for washing and some staff to do the job on some method of payment. Is it the intention of the Secretary of State that this service should be confined to people of a definite housing scheme who find these facilities are not readily available?

I do not know whether this is the appropriate time to make this intervention, but I would be glad to receive an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman, similar to that which he gave in Committee upstairs, when we discussed this matter at some length. As the right hon. Gentleman will remember, he read a letter which indicated that he would not be prepared to sanction any subsidy being given to any State or municipal laundry which would place them in a better position than a local commercial laundry.

He also said, that no State or municipal laundry would be started in any area which was sufficiently catered for by a commercial laundry. I cannot imagine why that has not yet been included as a statutory provision in the Bill, but if the Secretary of State is unwilling to do that the best we can then hope for is a definite assurance by him or by the Lord Advocate on this point.

I think there is no need to repeat what my right hon. Friend said in Committee. It is on record. There is no question of any subsidy being given in respect of these services; it was pointed out in Committee that the limit of this scheme is outlined in the Clause because it only provides that services of this nature would be available in those cases where the local authority have the statutory duty to provide housing accommodation. There is, therefore, no question of the setting-up of general municipal laundries. What we do wish, and what I understood the view of the whole Committee was, is that we should have not only laundry facilities available for the people but the local authority should be empowered to employ persons to do the work, particularly for those people who, either by virtue of their age or the nature of their employment, would wish someone to do that work for them.

Accordingly, we are giving that power to the local authority, and I think there is nothing objectionable in that Clause as amended. While it may be that it was not necessary to include these words, to remove any doubt whatsoever, they have been included. On the point raised by the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), in reference to the question of accountancy, we will deal with that if and when the question arises.

I think we might get on rather faster tonight if the right hon. Gentleman, when he is replying, could make matters perfectly clear. It may be he had not got it in his mind, but it seems to me, if my recollection is correct, that what we were told in Committee was that in no cases did the right hon. Gentleman intend to set up laundry services where these services were already provided. I think that was perfectly clear. When an hon. Member asks for a reaffirmation of that assurance I think it will help to speed up our business if that could be given categorically, without any chance of misunderstanding whatsoever.

There is no intention to use this Clause for those purposes. It may be that in the formation of new communities in the new housing schemes no private person can afford to go there to deal with laundry services. Therefore, from the point of view of public health, it would be in the public interest that some such service as this should be provided. Of course, it does not necessarily follow that the local authority will itself provide the services. It may be more convenient for it to make arrangements with a laundry on some sort of agreed basis.

As I mentioned in Committee, local laundry proprietors will keep their eyes open as to what local authorities are doing. They have power to raise this matter should local authorities attempt something which seems to them to be wrong.

Does that mean that progressive and enlightened local authorities will, in the face of competition from launderers, be prevented from giving these laundry facilities?

It is not for me to say whether there must be co-operative or private or public laundries to do the job. It is a matter for each local authority to decide in its own case.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 24, line 42, after "facilities," insert "or services."—[ Mr. Woodburn.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in the Standing Committee and on re-committal), considered.