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Commons Chamber

Volume 233: debated on Thursday 19 December 1929

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House Of Commons

Thursday, 19th December, 1929.

The House met at a Quarter before Three of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.

Private Business

Standing Orders (Private Business),—

Standing Order 33 read, and amended, in line 67, by leaving out "1901," and inserting "1929," instead thereof.

Standing Order 35A read, and amended, in line 11, by leaving out the words "registered under the Companies Act, 1862, or the Companies Consolidation Act, 1908," and inserting the words "within the meaning of the Companies Act, 1929," instead thereof.

Standing Order 63 read, and amended, in line 3, by leaving out the words "formed or registered under the Companies Act, 1862, or the Companies Consolidation Act, 1908," and inserting the words "whether a Company within the meaning of the Companies Act, 1929," instead thereof; and in line 11, by leaving out the words "formed or registered under the Companies Act, 1862, or the Companies Consolidation Act, 1908," and inserting the words "within the meaning of the Companies Act, 1929," instead thereof.

Standing Order 65 read, and amended, in line 5, by leaving out the words "formed or registered under the Companies Act, 1862, or the Companies Consolidation Act, 1908," and inserting the words "whether a Company within the meaning of the Companies Act, 1929," instead thereof; and in line 25, by leaving out the words "formed or registered under the Companies Act, 1862, or the Companies Consolidation Act, 1908," and inserting the words "within the meaning of the Companies Act, 1929," instead thereof.—[ The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Astley Ainslie Institution Order Confirmation Bill,

Read the Third time, and passed.

Ministry of Health Provisional Order (Bradford Extension) Bill,

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Unemployment

Disputed Claims

1.

asked the Minister of Labour the number of disputed claims to unemployment benefit which were referred to the umpire by the insurance officer or others for the four weeks ended to the last convenient date; and can she say whether there are any figures that will show the number of cases at the present time that await decision?

During the four weeks ended 30th November, 1929, 1,674 disputed claims were referred to the umpire for decision. The number of cases awaiting decision on the 13th December was 948. This number includes cases referred between 30th November and 13th December.

Can the right hon. Lady say whether the umpire's decision is always circulated to the Employment Exchange?

Statistics

6.

asked the Minister of Labour how the numbers of unemployed to-day compare with those when the Government took office?

The number of persons on the registers of Employment Exchanges in Great Britain on 9th December was 196,700 more than on 10th June.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that during the last three years, taking the period for the middle of November to the middle of December, the figures have steadily fallen week by week; and how does she explain the figures of the last few weeks?

I think the hon. and gallant Member is slightly in error. I have an answer here to another ques- tion giving the figures for comparative dates for the last two years, and the rise has been quite normal on the first Monday in December of each year.

Trade Unions And Employers' Organisations

16.

asked the Minister of Labour whether she proposes to recommend to the different trade unions receiving requests from employers to provide labour that they should notify to the Employment Exchanges concerned all such applications with the object of ensuring that the Exchanges are familiar with the state of the local labour market?

It will be my object to secure close co-operation in this matter between the Employment Exchanges and the trade unions and employers' organisations, and I will take the hon. Member's suggestion into consideration in this connection.

May I ask whether the right hon. Lady intends to issue regulations in this matter, and, if so, whether they will be published?

The regulations will be circulated. They fall into two categories. There are those regulations which are purely concerned with the internal working of the machine. They are not public documents, and are not published. There are certain other regulations which will be published.

Would it not be well for the unemployed persons to know of these instructions so that they may be familiar with the conditions?

Exchange Accommodation, Belper

18.

asked the Minister of Labour if she is aware of the nature of the building used as the Employment Exchange at Belper, the whole of the staff having to work in one room and, in addition, unemployed men and women having to sign on here; and whether she intends to provide more suitable premises?

I will cause inquiries to be made, and will communicate direct with my hon. Friend as soon as possible.

May I ask if the right hon. Lady is aware that this temporary office, which is merely one small room, has no less than seven persons working in it, and that, on an average, between 500 and 600 sign on there every week?

Five-Day Working Week

2.

asked the Minister of Labour whether she has any information regarding the extent to which the five-day working week is in operation in British industry; and, if so, whether she can state the approximate number of workers affected?

It is known that, a number of firms have adopted a, five-day working week, but I have no complete record of them, nor of the number of workers involved.

May I ask whether there is any intention of ascertaining the effect of this five-day week?

It would mean a great deal of investigation which I do not propose to undertake at the moment.

Washington Hours Convention

7.

asked the Minister of Labour when she will introduce a Bill for the regulation of hours in industry which will make it possible for His Majesty's Government to ratify the Washington Convention?

10.

asked the Minister of Labour whether she has received a resolution passed at a meeting of the Plymouth and District Trades Council calling upon the Government to hasten the ratification of the Washington Hours, Convention; and what is the present position?

I have received the resolution referred to. The Hours of Industrial Employment Bill is in course of preparation, but I cannot yet give a date for its introduction.

Industrial Disputes

11.

asked the Minister of Labour how many days have been lost owing to industrial disputes in the last six months as compared with the same period in 1928?

The number of working days lost through industrial disputes reported as having been in progress in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the six months June-November, 1929, was approximately 7,510,000, of which 6,600,000 were lost in the cotton dispute of July-August. The corresponding total for the six months, June-November, 1928, was about 890,000. Small disputes involving less than 10 workpeople or lasting less than one working day are not included in these figures.

Would it be correct to say that the days lost during the last six months is approximately eight times that which it was for the same period last year?

Does it not prove that we were a better Government than hon. Members opposite?

Trade Boards Act

Inspection

14.

asked the Minister of Labour what steps the Government propose to take to bring about the more effective observance of decisions of Trade Boards respecting hours and wages?

The question of inspection in Trade Board trades is receiving constant attention, and by improved methods resulting in snore effective use of the inspecting staff, the amount of inspection is being progressively increased.

Factories, Wolverhampton

15.

asked the Minister of Labour if she is aware of the wages and conditions existing in certain factories in Wolverhampton where female labour is employed; that these workers are not organised; and will she consider the advisability of extending the scope of an existing Trade Board to cover these cases or setting up a new one?

No specific information is before me. Perhaps the hon. Member will let me have any particulars in his possession about the low wages and unsatisfactory conditions to which he refers.

Tradesmen's Carriers (Ice Cream Sales)

21.

asked the Minister of Labour whether she will consider extending the provisions of the existing Trade Boards to the employment of persons engaged in selling ice cream from tradesmen's carriers; and, if not, will she consider bringing such employment within the scope of any new Trade Board that may be set up?

This question will be examined as part of the general question of applying the Trade Boards Acts to the catering trade.

Aliens (Russians)

20.

asked the Minister of Labour how many permits have been granted since 1st June, 1929, to nationals of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to undertake respectively permanent and temporary employment in this country; and for employment in what occupations have permits been granted?

I am endeavouring to obtain these particulars, and if they can be got without excessive labour, I will send them to the hon. Member.

Flour And Bread Prices

23.

asked the Minister of Labour whether she can give the figures of the cost of flour and the cost of the 4 lb. loaf in Great Britain in November, 1929, together with comparable figures for France?

As the reply is somewhat long, I will, if I may, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

May I ask whether the right hon. Lady can account for the fact that the loaf in France is so much cheaper although the price of flour is so much higher?

It is rather a long reply. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member had better read it.

Following is the reply:

In Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the average retail prices charged to working-class purchasers for flour and bread at 30th November, as shown by the information collected for the purpose of the official cost-of-living index figures, were 1s. 4d. per 7 lbs. of flour, and 9d. per 4 lbs. of bread. Corresponding averages for France are not available. It is understood that in Paris the price of white bread at the end of November was 1.95 francs per kilo., equivalent, at current rates of exchange, to nearly 7d. per 4 lbs., but I cannot say whether these figures are on a comparable basis with the figures quoted for Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Prisoners (Flogging)

24.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what States, being members of the Commission Penitentionaire Internationale, have abolished flogging in prisons?

26.

asked the Home Secretary whether any States which are members of the Commission Penitentionaire International, having abolished flogging from their penal code, have found it necessary to reintroduce this form of punishment during the past 10 years?

My right hon. Friend has not the information desired but he understands that the Bureau of the Commission is about to issue a questionnaire to all its members on various points of prison administration, including flogging, and no doubt the replies will enable questions to be answered at some future time.

Can the Under-Secretary give me any idea when that information with be available?

Industrial Diseases (Paintspraying)

25.

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware of the harmful effects of paint-spraying, both on the operators of machines for that purpose and also on others working in the vicinity of the operation; and whether he will consider introducing legislation for the purpose of safeguarding the health of such workers?

Paint-spraying is not necessarily harmful—it depends on the nature of the paint and the circumstances in which it is used, and so far as the Department is aware, any cases where there is risk to health can be, and are being, effectively dealt with under the powers conferred by the Factory and Lead Paint Acts. If, however, my hon. Friend will furnish him with particulars of the cases he has in mind, my right hon. Friend will be glad to consider them and make any further inquiry necessary.

Has the hon. Gentleman had any representations made to him regarding this type of work?

Is it not a fact that, if the workmen carry out the regulations of the Department, there is no danger at all?

Shop Hours Act

27.

asked the Home Secretary the number of prosecutions instituted under the Shop Hours Acts for non-compliance during the last 12 months to the latest available dates; and the number of convictions?

Only annual returns are received, and the latest available figures therefore are for the year 1928. The total number of persons proceeded against in England and Wales during 1928 for offences against the Shops Acts was 2,998, and of these, 2,344 were convicted and fined.

Vaccination (Exemption, Neath)

28.

asked the Home Secretary the number of applications made at the Neath police court by parents for exemption from vaccination for their children during the last 12 months to the latest available date?

I am not in a position to give this information. Records of such matters are not kept either at this court or as a general rule at other petty sessional courts.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the practice that operates in this particular district, and that parents, if they desire to exercise their rights under the law, and to get exemption from vaccination for their children, are compelled to apply to the police court, and the application has to be made by the father?

Licensing Law (Royal Commission)

31.

asked the Home Secretary whether any new appointment has been made to the Royal Commission on Licensing to fill the existing vacancy?

Is the delay not due to the fact that everyone thinks it is waste of time to serve on this Commission?

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into consideration the appointment of a Welsh representative to the vacancy?

I can only say that my right hon. Friend will take into consideration all relevant facts.

Local Government (Incorporation Petitions)

32.

asked the Home Secretary whether he can now state the position with regard to those petitions of incorporation which have been before the Privy Council for some considerable time?

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council will at an early date communicate his decision to the petitioners indicated in my hon. Friend's question.

Police

Non-County Boroughs

33.

asked the Home Secretary how many non-county boroughs have their own police forces in England and Wales; and bow many such police forces have been amalgamated during the past five years with the police force for the county within which the borough is situated?

The answer to the first part of the question is 49 and to the second, two. In addition there is one case where a county force and a city force have been placed under the command of the same chief constable.

Chief Constable, Nottingham (Appointment)

34.

asked the Home Secretary in which sense he has exercised his authority in regard to the appointment of a chief constable for Nottingham?

Can the hon. Gentleman say when a decision is likely to be reached, and what the present position is in Nottingham?

I am unable to make any statement regarding those two supplementary questions.

Passenger Vehicles (Unsplinterable Glass)

36.

asked the Home Secretary whether he will consider taking steps to make it compulsory for all hackney carriages and other vehicles plying for hire to be fitted with unsplinterable glass?

The jurisdiction of my right hon. Friend in this matter is limited to London. He has considered it in consultation with the Commissioner of Police: he is afraid that it is not practicable at present to enforce the use of unsplinterable glass in public service vehicles generally on account of the cost, but the matter will not be lost sight of.

Stag Hunting

37.

asked the Home Secretary whether he will take an early opportunity of introducing legislation to prohibit the practice of stag hunting?

38.

asked the Home Secretary whether he proposes to introduce legislation to stop stag hunting?

I am afraid that I cannot add anything to the reply which was given on the 15th July last, that it is not possible for the Government to take up this subject at the present time.

In view of the great flood of indignation which has been aroused by certain recent incidents, details of which I am afraid I am not allowed to give to the House, will the hon. Gentleman reconsider that decision, remembering that those who practise these cruelties will be greatly encouraged by an unsympathetic answer?

Will the hon. Gentleman bring before the Home Secretary the necessity of giving facilities for discussion of the Motion which stands upon the Order Paper in the name of six Members of this House, asking that a Select Committee may be set up to inquire into stag hunting?

I shall communicate to my right hon. Friend the nature of the two supplementary questions.

If a Bill is introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule, will the Home Office assist its passage?

Education

Nursery Schools

39.

asked the President of the Board of Education how many new nursery schools have been approved by the Board during the previous 12 months; and can he state what is the Board's present policy with regard to the provision of further nursery schools?

Fourteen new nursery schools have been approved by the Board since 1st November, 1928. With regard to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I would refer him to the Circular recently issued by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and myself, of which I am sending him a copy.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there are any applications before the Board now?

51.

asked the President of the Board of Education whether by way of supplement to Circular 1,405 and for the information of local education authorities, he will issue a Return showing, as far as possible, the initial and maintenance cost per head of nursery schools already recognised and an estimate of the initial and maintenance cost of the larger nursery schools which the Board are now prepared to recognise?

The initial cost of schools already recognised cannot in many cases be given, as a number of them are voluntary schools for which the Board have no information as to the initial cost and in other cases the schools were established in existing buildings. With regard to the cost of maintenance of the new schools, I am afraid that any estimate which I could give at the present time would not be very reliable. I will, however, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT information as to the initial cost of schools recently established or proposed, together with a statement of the cost of maintaining the schools already recognised.

Following is the information:

NURSERY SCHOOLS-INITIAL COST.
Name of School.Cost of Buildings.No. of places.Cos per place.

Recognised Schools.

££s.
Sheffield, Denby Street.3,610100360
Walthamstow3,590150240

Proposed Schools.

Bradford, Bierley3,940105380
Leeds, Hunslet3,788105360
London, Bethnal Green.3,9631502610
London, Stepney4,222150280
West Ham, Abbey4,905120410
West Ham, Rosetta Road.4,416120370

NURSERY SCHOOLS—COST OF MAINTENANCE IN 1928–29
Name of School.Average number of children in attendance.Net Maintenance Cost per child in attendance.
1. L.E.A.£s.d.
Birmingham—
Dartmouth Street271400
Summer Lane6715180
Bradford—
Lilycroft Council412442
Princeville Council4225141
St. Anne's Roman Catholic651685
Wapping Road2316141
Derby—Wright Street67131711
Leeds—Hunslet3514159
London—Deptford, R. McMillan (Stowage951478
Manchester—Mather Training College3621152
Scarborough—Friarage329135
Sheffield—Denby Street612737
Total59117165
2. Non-L.E.A.
Birmingham—Selly Oak381535
Bristol—Rosemary Street459130
Darlington—George Dent7110188
London—
Deptford, Goldsmiths' College (27–28)191788
St.Pancras, Rachel McMillan1281285
Kensington, Notting Hill5820310
Hampstead, Kilburn, Union Jack153418
Lambeth, West Norwood, Rommany2818175
Poplar, Bow, The Children's House242028
St. Pancras, The Jellicoe3318150
St. Pancras, The Mary Ward Settlement1919190
St. Pancras, Somers Town39171711
Southwark, Blackfriars, Women's University Settlement Manchester—1416139
Manchester—
Ardwick261500
Collyhurst35171011
Salford—Hulma Street502458
Total6421627
Total L.E.A. and Non-L.E.A.1,233161810

Schools (Hot Water Supply)

40.

asked the President of the Board of Education what steps his Department has taken during the last three years to see that hot water for washing, especially in winter months, has been laid on in all elementary and particularly infants' schools?

I cannot give my hon. Friend precise figures, but I can assure him that the Board fully recognise the desirability of a supply of hot water, especially in infants' schools, and it is their practice to suggest that a supply should be provided in all cases where this appears reasonably practicable.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in many of these schools there is hot water for heating purposes, but none for washing, and will he suggest that schemes be adopted for linking up the two systems?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are still many schools which have not even a proper supply of cold water?

School-Leaving Age (Maintenance Allowances)

41.

asked the President of the Board of Education whether he can make a statement as to maintenance grants in connection with raising the school age?

44.

asked the President of the Board of Education whether he can make any statements as to his proposals for providing maintenance allowance when the proposal to raise the school age comes into operation and whether they will be on the basis of a flat rate or whether the rates will vary according to family needs or according to area?

The Bill for raising the school-leaving age was introduced last Tuesday and is now in the hands of Members, and, as the House will observe, it contains provisions for maintenance allowances in respect of the children affected by the raising of the school age, and for the payment of Exchequer grant in respect of the local authorities' expenditure on such allowances. The conditions governing the award of maintenance allowances by the local education authorities and the payment of grant by the Exchequer will following the normal course, form the subject of regulations which will he made by the Board under the provisions of Section 118 of the Education Act, and these regulations will be framed in accordance with the decisions to which the Government have come on the subject and which I am about to explain to the House.

The Government, guided largely by the expressions of opinion which they have received from representative associations of local education authorities, and with a view to bringing the method of awarding the new allowances into line with the principles on which awards are at present made to selected children attending central and secondary schools, have decided that the new maintenance allowances should be related to the actual needs of the children and their parents. I propose to ask the representatives of the local education authorities to assist me by forming a committee to recommend scales of need and a simple procedure for determining eligibility. In every case in which the prescribed conditions are satisfied it will be the duty of the local education authority to pay the maintenance allowance as a matter of course.

With regard to the Exchequer contribution the Government have decided that the State should pay grant at the unusually high rate of 60 per cent, on allowances not exceeding five shillings a week. The initial cost of these allowances may be estimated at about £3,000,000 a year, of which the Exchequer will bear £1,800,000. Taking the extra charge for education and the cost of maintenance allowances together, the total cost of the Government's proposals will be about five and a half million pounds a year, of which the Exchequer will pay about four millions or over 70 per cent. Both the form and the amount of the maintenance allowances will be provisional and subject to revision after the experience of five years. In conclusion, I ought to make it clear that the Bill has been introduced at the present time for the guidance of local education authorities and that the legislative programme of the Government is so full that no date can at present be suggested for the Second Reading. It is, however, the determination of the Government to pass it before Christmas, 1930.

I wish to put two questions arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's answer. First, what is to happen in the case of maintenance allowances in excess of 5s., because I understand the Government grant of 60 per cent. is confined to allowances below 5s. a week. Secondly, in view of the fact that under the Bill these regulations, though only draft regulations, carry for the first time in such regulations a statutory obligation on the local authorities, will the right hon. Gentleman see that the House has an opportunity of discussing them before they are put into force?

I cannot answer the second question without further consideration. That point will arise on the terms of the Bill. With regard to the first question, the proposed Government grant will be applicable to maintenance allowances up to 5s.

But not higher? In the case of higher allowances, is no grant at all to be allowed?

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply mean that there is going to be a means test? Secondly, does it also mean that the rates of allowances will vary according to the areas?

I have said that I am asking the local authorities to help me by the appointment of a committee to decide details of that kind.

What the country wants to be made clear is this—are these maintenance allowances to be universal, applying to the children of all parents, or are they only to apply to some?

I thought I made it quite clear that they would be related to the actual needs of the children.

In view of the very strong resistance that was put up to any means test in another case, on what ground do the Government propose to apply a means test in this case?

Will these maintenance grants be paid to the parents or the children?

I thought it was quite obvious that they would be paid to the parents.

Are we to understand that the size of the maintenance grant is to be at the discretion of the local education authority?

No. I have said that I am going to ask the representatives of the local authorities to advise as to the method of payment and the amount.

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House as to whether the local education authorities have already accepted responsibility for the principle of this inquisition into means?

The representatives of the local authorities have themselves suggested that there should be some such arrangement.

The Secretary of State for Scotland will reply to questions relating to Scotland.

In his calculations, has the right hon. Gentleman considered what will be saved in unemployment benefit as a result of this step?

Arising out of the Minister's original answer, I wish to put two questions: First, will the maintenance allowance be available only for children of from 14 to 15 years, or will it be available, at the discretion of the local authority, for younger children? Secondly, supposing two local authorities differ, one holding that a parent is in need if his means are £250 per annum, and the other that a parent is not in need unless his income is less than £100 per annum, how is it to be decided which is the right interpretation?

I think, perhaps, it would be wiser if we left the matter until hon. Members have been able to read my reply. Both questions put by the hon. Lady are answered by that reply.

50.

asked the President of the Board of Education if he is aware that resolutions have been passed or statements made recently by the Shropshire County Education Committee, the Wiltshire Education Committee, the Dorset Education Committee and the Jarrow Education Committee to the effect that it will not be possible to carry out the raising of the school age effectively in those districts by the date fixed by him; and, seeing that this policy will result in compelling children to attend classes overcrowded and insufficiently staffed, he will consider its postponement?

I am aware that some of these authorities have expressed a doubt as to their ability to provide a full scheme of reorganisation by April, 1931. But, as I have previously stated, I am not prepared to postpone the date on this account.

Are we therefore to understand that the right hon. Gentleman is in favour of compelling children to attend classes that are overcrowded and insufficiently staffed?

Certainly not. I am not prepared, because the machine may not be absolutely perfect in all cases, to defer the advantage which the raising of the school age is going to be for 400,000 children.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that so far as the county of Dorset, which is mentioned in the question, is concerned, the carrying out of his proposals will mean an increase in the county rate of something between 6d. and 8d. in the £?

I have not gone into the proposals of Dorset County yet, but I understand that they have put forward in many respects a quite satisfactory scheme.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that more and more such resolutions are being passed every day?

School Buildings (Defects)

42.

asked the President of the Board of Education whether His Majesty's inspectors have been instructed to report in detail upon any defect in structure, lighting, heating, water supply, or sanitary arrangements of all schools which they visit; and, if not, whether it is his intention to issue such an instruction?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the economy campaign, they were instructed not to report on these matters; and has he cancelled such instructions?

Secondary School Teachers (Training)

43.

asked the President of the Board of Education if he has had under consideration the making of a regulation requiring all new entrants to the teaching profession in secondary schools to have undergone a course of training of not less than 12 months' duration?

Conveyance Of Children (Grant)

52.

asked the President of the Board of Education whether, under the Elementary Education Amending Regulations, No. 6, of 1929, he will recognise for the purposes of grant, at the rate of 50 per cent., expenditure to meet outlay on the conveyance of children to senior schools necessitated by reorganisation?

It is not proposed to increase the rate of grant payable in respect of expenditure of this nature.

London Naval Conference

45.

asked the Prime Minister what would be the reduction in British cruiser tonnage as compared with that now actually in commission if the proposals made on behalf of the British Government before or at the recent Washington Conference were adopted as the basis of British-American parity; what would be the corresponding figures if the lowest American figure proposed were accepted; and what would be the total saving in Naval Estimates in the first year after the scheme came into operation in each case?

I have been asked to reply. In view of the impending London Naval Conference I do not consider it advisable to make any statement on the tonnages and figures referred to by my hon. Friend.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that discussion in this House and the formation of public opinion on these vital matters should be possible; or are we to be kept entirely in the dark, until something has been done of which the House disapproves?

My hon. Friend must recognise that we have been in touch for six months, in negotiation upon these matters, and we are in a better position to judge on that point.

Is it the case that, if the British proposals are accepted as a basis of parity, the effect will be that the Americans will disarm by substantially increasing their cruiser tonnage?

That supplementary question shows the wisdom of my previous answer—

Does it not also show the need to supply some of this information to Members of Parliament? Why should Ministers keep it all to themselves?

Why should the forthcoming Naval Conference preclude the right hon. Gentleman from answering the questions which are being put to him?

I think it has often been said from this Box, in regard to previous Conferences, that there are questions which it would be wiser to leave unanswered, until the negotiations are complete. That is the view I hold and the view to which I adhere.

How does the right hon. Gentleman make his present attitude fit in with his previous views on secret diplomacy?

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister, if he can now give the House any information regarding the arrangements for the forthcoming Five-Power Conference?

The first public plenary meeting of the Conference will be held in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords on the morning of the 21st January. His Majesty the King has graciously consented to open the Conference and to deliver the opening address. The second plenary meeting of the Conference, and all subsequent meetings, will be held at St. James's Palace, which the King has placed at the disposal of His Majesty's Government for the duration of the Conference. All questions relating to the subsequent procedure of the Conference, and the holding of further public meetings, will be left for discussion by the Conference itself.

46.

asked the Prime Minister whether any indication of an official or semi-official nature has been received from the American or any other Government participating in the Five-Power Conference that they would be prepared to view favourably a scheme for the substantial reduction of battleship strength immediately or at a defined future date; and whether any proposals with this end in view have been made by the British Government to any of the other interested Powers?

I have been asked to reply. The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. As regards the second part, it was stated in the invitations extended by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom on 7th October last to the Governments of France, Italy, Japan and the United States that it would be desirable for the Conference to consider inter alia the battleship replacement programmes provided for in the Washington Treaty of 1922, with the view to diminishing the amount of replacement construction implied under that instrument.

Forestry Commission

47.

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the growing national importance of the work of the Forestry Commission, whether he will consider the appointment of a Minister directly responsible for the work of national afforestation to this House?

My right hon. Friend has asked me to reply. The constitutional status of the Commission has recently been under consideration. It is found that the present arrangements work satisfactorily, and it is not proposed to make any changes.

The question is quite correctly asked of the Prime Minister, but he is not able to be present to-day.

Is it not a fact that great dissatisfaction was expressed in the last Parliament at the difficulty of getting answers to questions about forestry matters, and that this dissatisfaction was voiced particularly by the party now in office?

Trade Barriers (Government Policy)

49.

asked the Prime Minister whether it remains the policy of the Government to pursue a policy of freer trade between all nations in the world?

I have been asked to reply. It is certainly part of the policy of His Majesty's Government to do everything in their power to secure a reduction in trade barriers, and it was in pursuance of that policy that at the last meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations I put forward a proposal for a conference early next year to examine the possibility of concluding a tariff truce with a view to subsequent negotiations leading to reduced duties.

Am I to understand that the Government are not in sympathy with the latest food taxing crusade?

There is no doubt that not only on our side but also, I think, in all parts of the House there is opposition to anything resembling food taxes.

No, that is exactly what it does not mean. It means if we secure agreement under a convention of this kind that at all events the existing tariffs will not be increased, but I made it perfectly plain that the whole object is, within that framework, to press for an agreement for the reduction of tariffs.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman entirely oppose the subsidising of dumping coal abroad?

Housing

Slum Clearance

53.

asked the Minister of Health if it is the policy of the Government drastically to deal with the slum problem; what new schemes, if any, have been initiated by the Government since it took office; and what is the estimated cost of those schemes?

As to the first part of the question, I would ask the hon. Member to await the proposals for legislation which I hope shortly to be in a position to submit. With regard to the last part, the Government do not initiate schemes of the kind. Six such schemes have been submitted by local authorities since the present Government took office, the total cost of which is estimated by those local authorities at approximately £511,000.

Is that all that the right hon. Gentleman can contribute towards fulfilling a definite election pledge?

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman has held up a large number of slum clearance schemes, and will he make a move as soon as possible?

It is true that because of decisions in the past impediments have been put in the way of slum clearance schemes being carried into effect, but I hope to be able to deal with that at a very early date.

Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to circulate an outline of his scheme well in advance of the time when it is likely to be discussed—before the millennium?

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that it will be discussed long before the millennium, and that he should have very good time to consider the Bill.

Does not the Rents Restriction Act hold up a good many of these schemes?

Exchequer Grants

60.

asked the Minister of Health if he will consider lending money, at a low rate of interest, to local authorities who are anxious to build houses; and if there is any intention to increase Government grants for this purpose?

The policy of the Government is to give assistance to local authorities in the provision of houses by means of direct Exchequer subsidy payable out of voted moneys, and not by the means suggested by the hon. Member. The amount of grant payable to local authorities was fully considered in connection with the Housing (Revision of Contributions) Act of the present Session.

What interest is charged by the Exchequer to the local authorities for these grants?

No question of rate of interest arises at all. The grants are payable per house built; the money is handed over, and there is no question of interest.

Has the Minister considered the use for this purpose of the money in the Post Office, which is contributed at a low rate of interest?

Caravans

62.

asked the Minister of Health whether he has received from local authorities in different parts of the country copies of resolutions adopted by them drawing his attention to the difficulties experienced by them with regard to caravans and other temporary dwellings; and whether, having regard to the doubt which apparently exists in the minds of the members and officials of these councils as to the powers which they possess for dealing with such dwellings, he will consider the advisability of issuing a memorandum indicating what these powers exactly are?

Yes, Sir, I have received resolutions and have had a memorandum prepared, of which I am sending copies to each of the local authorities who have passed the resolution, and to the several associations of local authorities. I will send the hon. Member a copy.

The memorandum is simply an explanation of the law and the powers of local authorities, without any expression of opinion at all.

Have the local authorities sufficient powers to go into this matter, or will it be necessary to have further legislation?

No, I think that local authorities have quite adequate powers to deal with this problem if they choose to exercise them.

Swilly, Devonport

64.

asked the Minister of Health whether his attention has been drawn to the bad condition of council houses at Swilly, Devonport, and the danger to public health involved; and what action his Department proposes to take?

Early in 1926 attention was drawn to the condition of certain council houses in this area. The houses were inspected by one of my officers and steps were taken by the Council to remedy the defects complained of. I have received no further complaint in the matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that recently there has been a recurrence of this trouble, and that there is great suffering by the tenants, and will he look into it?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Corporation are not looking after that property to the best of their ability?

I understand that the earlier cause of complaint was dealt with by local authorities, and I have heard no complaint since.

Town Planning (Developed Areas)

66.

asked the Minister of Health whether his attention has been called to the development of certain properties in the West End such as the sites of Grosvenor House and Devonshire House, Westminster, and Hereford Gardens, near Marble Arch, whereby large new populations are housed without regard to the traffic capacity of the serving streets; and when he proposes to introduce legislation to enable developed areas to be re-planned and the population to the acre limited?

I am aware generally of the type of development to which the hon. and gallant Member refers. I hope in due course to introduce legislation for extending town planning powers to developed areas.

Will that legislation be included in the housing legislation which the hon. Gentleman is going to introduce?

As the hon. and gallant Members is no doubt aware, housing and town planning legislation are now separated into two bodies of Statutes.

Sites (Cost)

70.

asked the Minister of Health if he can give the average price per acre of land purchased by local authorities for housing schemes since 1919, and the annual rateable value of the same land immediately preceding purchase?

According to the information available in my Department the average price paid for housing sites is approximately £200 per acre. I regret that the desired particulars of the rateable value, preceding purchase, of the land in question are not available.

Local Authorities (Legal Liabilities)

55.

asked the Minister of Health whether he intends to introduce any proposals to Parliament with regard to the communications he has received from certain corporations or other bodies with regard to the legal liabilities that have been recently incurred by them?

I understand the right hon. Member to refer to the four local authorities affected by the failure of Corporation and General Securities, Ltd. I have been in communication with the authorities in question, but I have not been asked to introduce legislation with regard to their legal liabilities, nor do I contemplate such legislation. I may say, however, that one of the authorities is promoting a private Bill for the purpose of spreading the burden of their loss over a period of years.

Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to indicate roughly what is the total loss incurred by the four corporations concerned?

I could not, without notice. The case of Wakefield is the local authority which was hit hardest, and there the sum involved was rather over £300,000.

Is there any question in any of these cases of the personal liability of any members of the corporation?

Poor Law (Necessitous Areas)

56.

asked the Minister of Health whether he has any new proposals for assisting the necessitous areas this winter; and, with regard to the deputation recently received by him from the National Executive Committee on Necessitous Areas, which asked that the cost of relieving the able-bodied unemployed should be made a national charge, will he say what reply he made?

As regards the first part of the question, I am not at present in a position to make any statement on the matter. As regards the second part, I understand that a report of the proceedings is being prepared by the committee, who will no doubt send the right hon. Gentleman a copy at his request.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think he had better at once state the answer to the first part of the question, whether he has any new proposals for assisting necessitous areas this winter? Unless he is able to make a statement now, they will not know quite how he proposes to deal with them, and perhaps he will indicate what reply he has to make on the matter?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House exactly what he told the National Executive Committee on Necessitous Areas and whether he is really prepared to do anything for them within a reasonable period?

I have already told the right hon. Gentleman, if he is so anxious to get this information, that, if he will write to that Committee, they will supply him with a copy of my answer.

There was no secrecy about it, as I am informed that a verbatim note was taken and is to be published.

Did not the right hon. Gentleman inform this deputation that he was unable to do anything for them, and ask them to come to him at some later date, in the next year?

Public Health

Mental Institutions (Accommodation)

58.

asked the Minister of Health what action he is taking to provide suitable accommodation and care for the many cases of mentally deficient children who have been recommended for institutional treatment by mental deficiency committees, but who are not receiving it?

I am aware of the existing inadequacy of institutional accommodation for mental defectives, both adults and juveniles, and local authorities are being urged to carry out their statutory duty to provide institutional accommodation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many hundreds, and possibly thousands, of mentally deficient children who are in lunatic asylums, and very often where they should not be?

That is a condition which I know exists in many areas, and I am doing my best to persuade local authorities to make provision.

Has the right hon. Gentleman no powers where persuasion fails? If not, will he take steps to secure such powers?

59.

asked the Minister of Health what action he is taking or intends to take to prevent the present overcrowding of public mental hospitals?

Though there is a shortage of accommodation in public mental hospitals, there are relatively few cases of serious overcrowding. The position has already received my attention. Approval has been given to certain proposals for extending mental hospital accommodation, and others are under consideration. It is anticipated that these extensions will largely meet the present shortage; and further alleviation of the position may result from the survey of institutional accommodation which may become available under the Local Government Act.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many mental hospitals in the home counties where the patients are sleeping on the floor, and that certain authorities in the home and other counties are reluctant to develop fresh institutions owing to alleged financial stringency?

As regards the first part of the question, I do not know the particular cases which the hon. Member has in mind. As regards the second part of the question, it is perfectly—

On a point of Order. May I call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the difficulties which we have on this side owing to the habit of Ministers of turning round to their own supporters?

It is my question. If the right hon. Gentleman speaks to the other side of the House, it is difficult for us to hear on this side.

Is it not the duty of Ministers to address the Chair?

As regards the second part of the question, it is true that a number of local authorities—

A number of local authorities have been reluctant to undertake expenditure on mental hospitals, but I have recently appointed a committee with a view to reducing the cost of these institutions; local authorities are now being pressed to exercise their duties, and I hope that within a reasonable time there will be adequate accommodation for mental cases.

We cannot hear the right hon. Gentleman at this end of the House. Is it in order for a Minister to face both ways?

We have had so many points of Order that we had better get on with the questions?

Committees

61.

asked the Minister of Health whether he will furnish a list of advisory or other committees which have been set up by the Ministry of Health in connection with the administration of National Health Insurance or of public health generally since the commencement of the year 1925; and whether he will indicate on which of these committees provision has been made for the inclusion of members from Wales, including Monmouthshire, and the number of such members on each committee?

With the hon. Member's permission, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement of the facts for which he asks in the first part of the question. I am not in a position to reply specifically to the second part of the question, since I am advised that in many instances it has not been considered relevant to the object for which the committee was set up to inquire whether all or any of the members could be considered to belong to particular parts of Great Britain.

Is it not true that, in spite of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman will not give an answer, the general effect is that that part of the scheme since the formation of the Ministry of Health, has been a dead letter?

Following is the statement:

List of Committees set up by the Ministry of Health in connection with the administration of national health insur-

ance or public health generally since the commencement of the year 1925:

  • Committee on Post Graduate Medical Education.
  • Committee on Vaccination.
  • Dental Benefit Joint Committee—which has now been replaced by the Dental Benefit Council.
  • Advisory Committee under Therapeutic Substances Act, 1925.
  • Medical Advisory Committee on Decennial Revision of International List of Causes of Death.
  • Committee on the Optical Practitioners (Registration) Bill.
  • Advisory Committee under Article 41 of Medical Benefit Regulations, 1928.
  • Committee on Ethyl Petrol.
  • Committee on Training and Employment of Midwives.
  • Committee on Maternity Mortality.
  • Pharmaceutical Distribution Committee under Article 25 of Medical Benefit Regulations, 1928.
  • Joint Advisory Committee on Pollution of Rivers and Streams.
  • Advisory Committee on the Definition of Drugs for the purposes of Medical Benefit under the National Health Insurance Acts.

Refuse Disposal

67.

asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the menace to the health of the rapidly growing communities on the Thames-side areas in Essex, he will take steps to prevent the further dumping of refuse by outside authorities in these areas?

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the replies given on the 7th November to a number of questions regarding the disposal of the refuse of London.

Is the Minister aware that these are breding places of millions of rats, and that the fumes and stench are perfectly horrible and a menace to the health of the whole district; and cannot he take steps in his Department to stop it?

—and that is why a committee was appointed consisting of representatives of all the London authorities. As have explained in the House, the work of that committee was suspended by the lamented death of Sir John Gatti, but they are meeting again, and I hope to have their report in the next few months.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman always falling back on his predecessors?

Blind Wrlfare (Grants)

68.

asked the Minister of Health whether in view of the fact that, under the Local Government Act, 1929, grants to voluntary associations for the blind will as from 1st April next be paid by the local authorities and that hitherto these grants have been paid half-yearly in arrear, he will state what arrangements have been made to ensure that any voluntary association for the blind which may find it necessary to close down on 31st March next will receive the balance of grant earned by it for the year 1929–30 which will then be outstanding under the arrangement hitherto in force?

I do not anticipate that these circumstances will arise in the case of any of these associations, but should such a case occur, I should be prepared to consider whether the facts justified a further payment to the association.

Surrey County Council (Loans For Drainage)

63.

asked the Minister of Health if he has received a Report on the inquiries held by his Department into the applications for loans by the Surrey County Council for the drainage of the valleys of the Rivers Thames and Wey; if he has yet reached a decision on the applications; if so, when it was communicated to the Surrey County Council; and, if not, when he expects to be able to communicate his decision?