HC Deb 20 March 1917 vol 92 cc106-42

Notwithstanding anything in Subsection (4) of Section two of the principal Act and without prejudice to the powers thereunder, a separate local committee may, if the Minister of Pensions so determine, after consultation with the county council, be established under the principal Act for any borough or urban district having a population of less than fifty thousand and not less than twenty thousand the council of which so desires, so, however, that such local committee shall not exercise the functions of a local committee set forth in paragraph (f) of Section four of the principal Act, but those functions shall continue to be exercised as respects the borough or urban district by the local committee for the county in which the borough or urban district is situate, except so far as such functions may be delegated by the local committee of the county to the local committee of the borough or urban district.


I beg to move to leave cut the words "after consultation with the county council."

This point was raised on the Second Reading with regard to the necessity of the Pensions Minister having to consult the county council under the powers of the Bill. We recognise, at once, that of course the Pensions Minister must take into account all the various interests involved; but we object to the introduction into an Act of Parliament of a provision that would fetter his action in dealing with this important question. There is no doubt whatever that Parliament has expressed its desire that the powers of the authorities who administer this Act shall be extended to the smaller urban authorities. We welcome the proposal of the Government, but at the same time we think it is not a question of generosity, as my hon. and learned Friend suggested the other day in dealing with this matter; we think it is quite unnecessary, and there- fore, while disclaiming any want of courtesy to the county councils, I venture to submit this Amendment.


I should like to explain in a very few words why this proposal of my hon. Friend is not only unnecessary but is unfair. At the present time the county council, without asking for it, has had put upon it, by Act of Parliament, through the Statutory Committee, the duty of carrying out the appointment of local committees and of finding, as it has to do, a considerable proportion of the expenses. This Bill has been brought in with the cordial acquiescence of the county councils to authorise the Minister of Pensions to form committees in certain parts of the county boroughs or urban districts for certain purposes under the Act. We have not the smallest objection to my right hon. Friend or his successors having the power, but we do say that it would be obviously unfair that the powers should be exercised without the county councils having the opportunity of explaining how they have tried to do their duty and how the arrangements which they have been obliged to make will be effected by the cutting out of certain areas. Does the hon. Member intend that county councils shall not be consulted or shall be consulted? If he thinks that they ought to be consulted, why on earth cannot that power be put into the Act of Parliament as a permanent guarantee?

7.0 P.M.

I should have liked to see what the position would have been if the case had been reversed. Supposing a Bill had been brought into the House authorising the President of the Local Government Board to take away from the urban districts and small boroughs certain powers they were discharging and giving them to the county councils. Every representative of small boroughs, every Member of this House in whose constituency there are urban districts or small boroughs would have been here from the beginning to the end of the Debate to say what an outrage it was to take away these powers without giving them a guarantee in the Act of Parliament that they would have a hearing and would be consulted before they were mulcted of their powers. I should have been one of the first to support that, and the county councils themselves would have supported it, because the rule is very simple, very clear, and very fair, that if a Minister of the Crown or a Government Department is authorised to alter the powers of any local authorities, small or large, those authorities ought to have a right by Statute to be heard before it is done. The county councils support this Bill in certain cases where the limited autonomy offered in this measure would be rightly used. But the county councils have already made their arrangements, and they have made them with small towns as centres for pensions administration with an area all round them. If you take away the small towns, which may be quite right, the county councils have therefore to make new arrangements for the districts around them. Therefore, it is obvious that the county council ought to be heard and ought to be consulted. My hon. Friend admits that, but will not have it in an Act of Parliament. Why? He is not afraid of it being acted on, if you put it in the Act. I say it ought to be in any Act of Parliament whenever you interfere with a local authority, whether county council or district council, by administrative Act, or by Government Department, and that the local authority concerned should have a guarantee in the Act that they will be heard on the question, in order that the matter may be properly discussed, and in order that the consequential arrangements may be made as smoothly as possible and without friction and with mutual good will. I hope that the House will not accept this Amendment, and that the Government will adhere to the original form, and I can assure them they will not find on behalf of the county councils anything but the wish to meet their wishes and to promote the harmonious working of the Act in all parts of the country.


The Association of Urban District Councils has asked me to press very strongly for this Amendment. I am not in any way attacking the county councils, so ably championed by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Adkins). At the same time I do not want to disguise that there is a certain feeling between the urban district councils and the county councils with regard to this War Pensions Bill. A great many people imagine the urban council to be a very small and insignificant body. In my Division there are two urban district councils, each of which has a population of over 70,000, which is, I imagine, rather bigger than that of some county councils. To say that the Pensions Minister has got to consult the County Council of Middlesex before he can deal with great bodies like those urban councils to which I have referred, is very foolish.


At the present time, under the Act of Parliament, the County Council of Middlesex has been obliged to make arrangements for pensions administration in those very urban districts that the hon. and gallant Member so brilliantly represents, and surely they ought to be consulted before consequential arrangements are made.


There is no reason why the Pensions Minister should not consult the county councils, if he wants to. He can consult anybody he likes, but why should that be put in an Act of Parliament? What we ought to have, if words are necessary, I should imagine should be something like this: "Consult all parties concerned." What we do object to as urban councils is a provision that it shall and must consult county councils before taking any steps. I do on behalf of the association, at any rate, press very strongly for this Amendment.


I cannot understand why the Pensions Minister should be so coy in not accepting this Amendment. I have never known any Minister in this House refuse a little more power and in fact the more power they get the more they welcome it. Why is it he is opposing this very little proposal? It only means that he will have a perfectly free hand to consult whomsoever he pleases, and will not be fettered by these words, which would compel him, whether he liked it or not, to consult the county councils. I wonder where is the "hidden hand," what are the dark forces at work that force the Pensions Minister, who I am perfectly certain from my knowledge of Ministers, ranging over many years, would like to have his hands free—who is it, I ask, who is pulling against him? I believe I see the dark forces. I have every regard and respect for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins). I have known him ever since I became a Member, and honoured him and admired him, but there is one thing about him which I must say detracts from his otherwise excellent character and position. He has got a bee in his bonnet for the county councils, and if you but mention county councils my hon. and learned Friend loses his old and pristine judgment. I believe my hon. and learned Friend as a member of the Statutory Committee has been an enemy to these small boroughs


The last time the hon. Member said that I pointed out that it had no basis of fact, and I repeat now that it is entirely opposite to the line I have taken on that Committee from the very beginning.


I accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's assurance, if he says that, but then I cannot understand why he is such an advocate of county councils in this House for this provision against the Amendment. The Pensions Minister, on the Second Reading the other day, said that l was wrong in my statement as to what he had said last year on the 8th August. I think I convinced my right hon. Friend that at all events it was not I who had made a mistake, and that it was the OFFICIAL REPORT, if it was anyone. If the Pensions Minister does not choose to correct the OFFICIAL REPORT he cannot blame people for quoting what he did say in August last, when he had more freedom and less responsibility than he now has. The statement which appeared then was that he said that there had been 207 applications from small boroughs before the Statutory Committee, and that of those something like fifty applications had been granted. He corrected that figure on the Second Reading, and said there had been 158 applicants and that something like fifty had been granted.


The hon. and learned Gentleman must remember that under that Act, unlike this, there was no power to give a separate committee, except under special circumstances.


I agree, but I have not said anything to show that I did not understand that. I mentioned that on second Reading, and if my hon. and learned Friend wishes I can repeat the speech. I am dealing now with what the Pensions Minister said on Second Reading. He said that two-thirds of the applications from these small bodies had been refused. I venture to say, in spite of what my hon. and learned Friend has said, that the real reason why a great number of those were rejected was because the county councils were hostile to them, and now you are going to add to the megalomania about the county councils by putting them into the Bill as the only people mentioned to be consulted. My hon. and learned Friend says that there were special reasons required in those cases before a separate committee could be set up. I agree, but in a case for my own Constituency every special circumstance was questioned, and in a far greater degree than from any other borough in Lancashire or Yorkshire, of which the Pensions Minister was so proud. Yet we could not persuade either the Statutory Committee or anybody else to give this elemental justice. The special circumstances were these: The first was that there must be a great number of people who had enlisted. I pointed out that more people had enlisted from this one town in my Constituency than any town with its population in the Kingdom. The second special circumstance was that there must have been something like a great disaster to the people who had enlisted from the particular town. I pointed out that one battalion from this peace in my Constituency had lost three-fourths of its numbers at Suvla Bay. Another special circumstance, we were told by the Statutory Committee, was that it ought to be an industrial town in an agricultural area. That is exactly the point of my Constituency. Another special circumstance was that it should be near the corner of a large county, and that is exactly the case with it. Though we urged these special circumstances upon the Statutory Committee, and though we made out a convincing case, we could not get a little elementary justice, because the county council was opposed to it.

We are told now that the county council is to be the authority consulted. If you do consult the county councils these local committees will never be set up as this House desires. I am perfectly willing to leave the matter in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Pensions Minister. He is a fair-minded man, he will do justice, he will consider the interests involved, and will give due weight to them. If you consult the county councils they will say, "What is the good of consulting us if you do not listen to our advice?" That is the reason why I urge my right hon. Friend not to listen to the blandishments of my hon. and learned Friend the hon. and learned Member for Middleton, or indeed listen to his Friends. I notice he has come nearer to my right hon. Friend, he is afraid my right hon. Friend's sense of fairness has been touched by what I have said, but I am perfectly certain my right hon. Friend is not going to be intimidated by the august presence which comes nearer and nearer, like a moving mountain. If my right hon. Friend will do justice in this case, the first thing he ought to do is to leave himself free and unfettered in this matter, and not allow himself to be bullied or cajoled by the county councils and their emissaries in this House, but to do justice in the small boroughs which have been hitherto seeking in vain for justice.


My hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken appears in a new role for him, if he is now going in for the autocracy of Ministers. The Clause does leave the Minister absolutely unfettered in connection with this matter, and it is the Minister of Pensions who determines the question. Therefore it lies entirely upon him. If we do appeal to justice we must regard the justice of the parties interested. I think the parties interested are undoubtedly those to whom this House confided the management of those local committees during the months that the Act has been in operation, and I think it is due to them, if alterations are made by a subsequent Act. to give them the opportunity of offering their advice in connection with the matter in response to an appeal from the Minister of Pensions. I think the Government are right in inserting these words, and that it is only fair that the county councils who have been working out this question should be consulted in connection with the new arrangement. I can assure the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Williams) that there will be no reluctance on the part of the county councils to carry out this new Clause, because it differs entirely from past enactments. Hitherto we were tied round with extremely difficult conditions under the old Act, and we were not able to con-criminate between the claims of different districts. If we gave to one we had to give to all. Now the matter is to be regarded in a new light, and I hope that the Government will adhere to their first intentions in this matter and not yield to the appeals which have been made to them.


I am wondering why the friends of the county councils are so excited and heated over this matter. They tell us they are fully prepared to give every facility for carrying out this Clause, and to meet the requirements of the urban councils, but if that is the case, why do they want to be bolstered up by this statutory enactment? Those of us who have had some experience have an idea why. This is not the first time that we have had a fight between the urban councils and the county councils, and some of us have urban councils that are larger than some of the boroughs in our counties, and many of us are aware that when they want to get full statutory powers to work and to get some concession from a Minister they do not care to be put by Statute under the control of the county councils. That a Minister should consult every authority before he decides on a policy is quite right, and nobody objects to that, but why he should be compelled by Act of Parliament to consult the county councils I cannot see at all. There is no justification for such a power. I do not say that county councils could use much influence against the existing Minister of Pensions, but you might have some weaker Minister in office, and a county council that did not want a new local committee set up might come along, and he might say, "I have only got to consult you; I have all the power of finally deciding." What then will be their argument? They will say, "Then why are we so definitely referred to in this Clause, if we are only to be a consultative body? It means that we are a consultative body, and that you having learned our opinion, are to follow it out." I do not see any reason why these words should be put in a Clause of this description. The county councils know they will receive all the consideration to which they are entitled from the Minister of Pensions, but they have failed to demonstrate why they should have this statutory power.


I support this Amendment. I see no use in these words, and I agree entirely with the arguments that have been presented against them. Subject to these words, we have got a Minister responsible to Parliament. and he will make such inquiries as he thinks fit. The hon. Member for Middleton (Sir W. R. Adkins) reminded us that the words in the old Act were "special circumstances," but I listened to his speech, and what was his own plea? It was "special circumstances" from first to last. It was that the county council, might have made other arrangements. Now that we have got rid of these special circumstances, I think we should get rid of these words, which have absolutely no meaning and are valueless for all purposes. I therefore ask the Minister to delete these words and to leave the Clause so that he will not be fettered by this provision in an Act of Parliament.

Mr. W. T. WlLSON

I am convinced that in the interests of the Minister himself it would not be wise to leave these words in, and I say that, for the dignity of his office, he ought to agree to take these words out. I want to ask whether the representatives of the county councils, taking them in bulk, are favourable to the smaller constituencies, like the urban councils, having the power to appoint a committee. In my opinion the recommendations of the county councils will, in nineteen cases out of twenty, be against giving the local authorities this power. [An HON. MEMBER:"NO, no!"] It is all very well for hon. Members to say "No, no," but I know what the response of county councils has been where there are local committees now, and where the local committees wanted to get working men on, and I have not the least confidence so far as these matters are concerned in the county councils. I therefore hope that the light hon. Gentleman will agree to the deletion of these words.


I am between the devil and the deep sea in this matter. I can assure hon. Members, at all events, that the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir W. E. Adkins) had no voice in the terms of this Bill. So far as I am aware, the Bill was drawn up before he saw it, and it is only within the last week or two that, in common with all other hon. Members, the hon. Member has seen the Bill at all. The words are here, and they are here for an obvious reason. They are not meant to give the county councils a veto over the Minister of Pensions. The Minister of Pensions is charged in this Bill to consult the county councils. Everybody agrees that that is a reasonable thing to do, and I have not heard a single argument against it. It is not as if we were setting up a new authority. It has been said by some of those who have urged this on me that when authorities are set up throughout the country, the county councils have not been consulted. That may be so, but we are not here setting up a new thing; we are dealing with a thing that is a year old. The county councils have, under the terms of the 1915 Act, already set up local committees, sub-committees, district committees, and so on, and to tear a place out of a county now would be to dislocate the organisation which has been set up by the county councils. That is the simple and obvious reason for the inclusion of these words in the Bill, and there have not been any mischievous machinations by the hon. Member for Middleton or by anybody else connected with the county councils. The whole thing was done inside the Pensions Department without any consultation with the county councils.

Something has been said about the character of the county councils, and that they are not favourable to the local committees at all. I do not think that has any bearing on this matter, and so far as my experience has gone on the Statutory Committee I do not remember any aversion on the part of the county councils to labour representation. On the contrary, it has been the other way round. Workmen have beep put on the county council local committees, and the workmen have been found unable to attend those committees. [An Hon. MEMBER:"YOU are bound to put them on."] We are bound to put some on, but, as I say, the setting up of these committees by the county councils has been done under the Statutory Committee, and we have not found that objection to labour representatives going on. I have heard these heated arguments this evening, but I have not heard any valid reason why these words should come out, and if there may be a lingering suspicion that county councils are not all they ought to be, from the labour point of view or from any other point of view, let me remind hon. Gentlemen that as a matter of fact the County Councils Pensions Committee will be the persons consulted. I am assuming that the ordinary county council has got the ordinary common sense. They have had a county scheme operating for a year, and a district desires to be cut out. The county council would at once consult the pensions committee, and that is so obvious a thing to do that I refuse to believe the county council would not do it. The pensions committee consists of all classes, including at least one-fifth of labour men and some women, and if that is not sufficient to get the opinion of which hon. Members speak. I cannot understand the argument. As I say, I have not heard any valid argument sufficient to induce me to take these words out.


I do not think the Minister of Pensions has made his position good. After all, the Minister ought to be in these cases, surely, the referee, to whom these bodies that cannot get their committees should have the right to appeal, and if they have not that right of appeal without it being made first of all compulsory that my right hon. Friend should consult the county councils, then it obviously does tie his hands, and that seems to be the valid reason that he says he has not yet heard why these words should be taken out. Take the case of my hon. Friend who represents the Borough of Llanelly. Llanelly's case may be good or it may be bad, but they are very determined to have, if they can secure it, a specific committee for that borough. That borough can by this Clause appeal to my right hon. Friend, and I have sufficient confidence in him to believe that he would weigh the pros and cons of that particular application, and say whether or not in his deliberate judgment it ought to have the committee. But this Act of Parliament compels my right hon. Friend, before he acts in the matter, to consult with the county council—that is to say, he cannot come to a decision unless he has fulfilled this statutory function which is imposed upon him by Act of Parliament. It is quite true, as many hon. Members have said, that he would never dream of coming to a decision without consulting the county council. I dare say he would go further than that, and would consult a great many interests in that particular portion of Wales before he came to a decision. I do not think the Pensions Minister has any right, through an Act of Parliament, to tie himself and his successors—if any—in the administration of pensions to consultation with the county council.

Look at what might happen. Let me put this case to my right hon. Friend. I do not think it an impossible case to arise. Supposing you get a recalcitrant county council which was not particularly keen in carrying out this part of its public work. There are county and borough councils and public bodies who are not wishful to do some kinds of work. Supposing in such a borough or county there is the necessity to deal with disabled soldiers for any purpose at all, would these disabled men have to suffer a disadvantage because the county council would not move in regard to them? Take the case of sparsely populated counties, about which we have heard so much to-day. Suppose in Ireland or in Scotland, say, the county council does not provide sufficiently for the people in the county to get at the provision which is made for them by the new Royal Warrant, and other provisions which may subsequently come. Suppose they do not do that: has anybody to have the right to go to the Pensions Minister and to see that the scheme of pensions is properly administered? This puts a specific barrier—it may or may not operate—in an Act of Parliament between any borough, or any small town that wants a committee getting that committee, unless and until my right hon. Friend has consulted the county council. That is a ridiculous position. I think my right hon. Friend, if he had been below the Gangway beside my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton, would have agreed with him. It is an absolutely ridiculous position for the Minister to get himself into. I hope, for the purpose of freeing his hands, for the purpose of not having it put into statutory form, that he may be biassed by the county council he is compelled to consult, that my right hon. Friend will take this out of the Act of Parliament, and that he will allow the county council or any other public body to approach him through the legitimate channels now open to them.

This matter will be challenged by some of us if my hon. Friend does not go to a Division. It is an unheard-of thing that in an Act of Parliament a Minister's hands should be tied in this way. There is no precedent for it. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board are all interested in carrying this Bill through the House. They can speak again in this Debate. Can they give us a single precedent in legislation where a Minister of the Crown is compelled to consult an inferior public body before he comes to a decision? There is no such precedent. As there is

no such precedent in legislation—if there is I do not know it—I should like to know what it is that is urging this thing through. The House plight not to come to a decision without being fully informed of the reason. If there is not a precedent for a Minister consulting another public body, then there is some specific reason for this being put in. There is no reason alleged why the county council or any other public body should not approach my hon. Friend just the same as any of his colleagues here in this House of Commons. I therefore appeal to him that if he has not heard any valid reason before, that in the few remarks I have made he will find that reason and will change his mind: otherwise, I am afraid we shall have to go to a Division, and, if we are beaten now, fight this matter again on the Report stage.

Sir G. RADFORD: My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh has advanced arguments of considerable length and extraordinary tenuity. It is to be regretted that after having contributed so much utility and wisdom to this Debate he should have spun it out so thin on the present occasion. The argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions as to his reasons for consulting the county council on occasion is that there are already in existence committees appointed by the county council. That seems to me to be quite convincing. I cannot for my part see that any harm is likely to come of it. It is suggested that the right hon. Gentleman is likely to be too much influenced by the particular county council; but he has not sworn "to love, honour, and obey" any county council! He is under an obligation to hear the representatives of the county council on a matter which concerns them and their constituents, and then to come to his own decision. I hope there will be no occasion to divide on this matter, and that my hon. Friends opposite will be satisfied with the information given to them on this rather trivial question.

Question put. "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 34; Noes, 59.

Division No. 17.] AYES. [7.38 p.m.
Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D. Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark) Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N. Blake, Sir Francis Douglas
Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling Barnett, Captain R. W. Boscawen, Sir A. S. T. Griffith-
Ashley, W. W. Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs) Boyton, James
Baird, John Lawrence Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc, E.) Brace, Rt. Hon. William
Baldwin, Stanley Bathurst, Capt. Charles (Wilts, Wilton) Bridgeman, William Clive
Brookes, Warwick Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.) Palmer, Godfrey Mark
Broughton, Urban Hanlon Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) Parker, James (Halifax)
Brunner, John F. L. Henderson, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Durham) Perkins, Walter Frank
Bryce, J. Annan Henry, Sir Charles Peto, Basil Edward
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Hewins, William Albert Samuel Philipps, Maj.-Gen. Ivor (Southampton)
Clyde, J. Avon Higham, John Sharp Pollock, Ernest Murray
Cochrane, Cecil Algernon Hills, John Waller Pratt, J. W.
Collins, Sir W. (Derby) Hinds, John Primrose, Hon. Neil James
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Hodge, Rt. Hon. John Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Radford, Sir George Heynes
Croft, Lieut.-Col. Henry Page Hughes, Spencer Leigh Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Dairymple, Hon. H. H. Hume-Williams, W. E. Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth) Illingworth, Herbert H. Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Johnston, Christopher N. Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Tyneslde)
Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Robinson, Sidney
Denniss, E. R. B. Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Runclman, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dewsbury)
Dickinson, Rt. Hon. W. H. Jones, Rt Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe) Rutherford, Watson (L'rpool, W. Derby)
Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney) Salter, Arthur Clavell
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Law, Rt Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle) Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Elverston, Sir Harold Levy, Sir Maurice Shaw, Hon. A.
Fell, Arthur Lewis, RE Hen. John Herbert Shortt, Edward
Finney, Samuel Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury) Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton)
Fisher, Rt. Hon. H. A. L. Lonsdale, Sir John Brown lee Spear, Sir John Ward
Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes M'Callum, Sir John M. Steel-Maitland, A. D.
Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue Mackinder, Halford J. Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)
Fletcher, John Samuel Macmaster, Donald Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)
Forster, Henry William M'Micking Major Gilbert Tickler, T. G.
Foster, Philip Staveley McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's) Teyon, Captain George Clement
Gardner, Ernest Macpherson, James Ian Watt, Henry A.
Gibbs, Col. George Abraham Maicolm, Ian Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas
Gilbert, J. D. Mallalieu, Frederick William Williams, Col Sir Robert (Dorset. W.)
Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred Marks, Sir George Croydon Wilson-Fox, Henry
Greig, Colonel J. W. Millar, James Duncan Winfrey. Sir Richard
Gretton, John Mond. Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred M. Wing, Thomas Edward
Guinness, Hon. Rupert (Essex, S.E.) Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert Yate, Colonel C. E.
Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William Neville, Reginald J. N. Young, William (Perthshire, East)
Hanson, Charles Augustin Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)
Hardy, Rt Hon. Laurence Nield. Herbert TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds) Ormsby-Gore. Hon. William Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr. Beck.
Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.)
Arnold, Sydney Horne, Edgar O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Baker. Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.) Hudson, Walter O'Donnell, Thomas
Boland, John Plus Jowett, Frederick William O'Dowd, John
Boyle. Daniel (Mayo, North) Joyce, Michael O'Shaughnessy, P. J.
Burdett-Coutts, W. Keating, Matthew O'Shee, James John
Burns. Rt. Hon. John Kiley, James Daniel- Outhwaite, R. L.
Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)
Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth) Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West) Pringle, William M. R.
Condon, Thomas Joseph Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury) Reddy, Michael
Cosgrave, James Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas Rowlands, James
Crumley, Patrick Lundon, Thomas Sealy, Lt-Col. Sir C. H. (Mansfield)
Dillon, John McGhee, Richard Sheehy, David
Donelan, Captain A. MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South) Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)
Doris, William Mason, David M. (Coventry) Snowden, Philip
Duffy, William J. Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Touche, Sir George Alexander
Fitzpatrick, John Lalor Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix) Whitty, Patrick Joseph
Goldstone, Frank Molloy, Michael Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Hackett, John Newman. John R. P.
Hazleton, Richard Nolan, Joseph TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Helme, Sir Norval Watson Nugent, J. D. (College Green) Hogge and Mr. Llewelyn Williams.
Henderson, John M. (Aberdeen, W.) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)

Question put, and agreed to.


I beg to move, after the word "Act"["be established under the principal Act for any borough"], to insert the words "for the City of London and any Metropolitan borough and."

I move this Amendment on behalf of the Noble Lord the Member for South Kensington (Lord Claud Hamilton). The object of the Amendment is quite clear. It is to enable any or all of the Metropolitan boroughs who desire it to have the right of looking after their citizens when they are broken in health, subject, of course, to the permission—if I may use that term—of the Minister of Pensions. I have had an opportunity of reading the Debates which took place in this House on the introduction of the first Pensions Bill, and I find there expressed the intention of the Government of that time that the Metropolitan boroughs should have, as have other boroughs in the county, the right of district committees. An attempt was made to remove that right, but the Minister in charge of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) resisted that proposal, and said: Such it proposal as suggested would be most unpopular, not only with the Metropolitan boroughs, but with the wives and widows of those for whose advantage the committees were being set up. That clearly shows that when the Bill of 1915 was before this House it was the intention that the Metropolian boroughs should be placed in the same position as the other boroughs throughout the country; but when that Bill became law those boroughs were not to be found in the Bill, and, as a consequence, the power of nominating these committees was left to the county council, and thereby the borough councils were not permitted to appoint or take control. There may be very good reasons why the county council should have this power, and knowing the ability of many distinguished Members in this House who are on the county council, if those gentlemen were prepared to work these committees, I would be somewhat reluctant to intervene. But what has happened? Sub-committees have been appointed by the county council for the Metropolitan boroughs, and I have before me a list of the committees whom they have set up for the borough of Stepney, a great industrial district. The county council evidently had some difficulty in finding people to undertake this work. I have before me a list of one of these committees. They have appointed a lady from Westminster, another lady from Blackheath, another lady from Rushey, from Westminster, another lady from Hampstead, another lady from Kensington, and another lady from Marylebone. They have appointed a gentleman from Woolwich, another gentleman from Kensington, and another gentleman from Bow. Can you imagine that in a great working-class district it is not possible to find more suitable people than the people who have been selected? I have no objection, and I do not want to complain in the slightest of the good people who have, no doubt at considerable sacrifice and considerable cost to themselves, gone down to that borough and done the best they could, but we venture to think locally that we could do it quite as well and very much better.

This Amendment would give us the opportunity of looking after the interests of our own people. It was my duty and my privilege, at the time of the recruiting scheme, at the request of the Powers-that-Be, as mayor of the borough, to undertake the organisation of that work. We called our townsmen to their duty to fight for their country. It is now my painful duty, as chairman of the tribunal, to call our citizens together and to compel them to-go and fight for their country. But when they come back, broken in health, that is a time when the Powers-that-Be consider we are not capable, or are not fit, to safeguard the interests of those people. Surely that is a proposal that could not be defended or justified for a moment, and that is one of the reasons why we feel locally so grieved at the action which has deprived us of our rights to safeguard and look after our own citizens when they come back. I am told the question will be raised that since the local committees have been set up and are working, why disturb them? We have been told that they are doing their work, and are doing it well. Let us see how it works out. The other day I was consulted on behalf of a discharged soldier who is receiving 4s. 6d. a week from Chelsea. He found himself unable to continue the light employment upon which he was engaged, and the 4s. 6d. and the few shillings he was able to earn were not sufficient. It was therefore suggested that he should apply to the committee. It took us some time to find out where this local committee was located, but eventually it was found, and the man was sent there. He was told to come back on another day between ten and twelve. He got there on the appointed day at ten o'clock, and waited in a queue till twelve. He was then told that no more cases could be seen that day, and that he must come back another day. The result was that the man decided he would not come back and waste any more time, but that he would rather put up with the few shillings he earned and the four shillings and sixpence. That is how it works out. Surely it would be much better that the local authorities at their town's building should have the control-of the work, and the duty and responsibility of looking after their own citizens. That is the place that sent them to the Army, and that is the place where they should apply when they want assistance, and where they can feel that the corporation and members of the council would be there to look after their interests.

There is one other point which, I think, should not be overlooked. The places from which the sub-committees come, as I have already shown, are all places in and around London, except the borough itself. Why should it not be possible for such a man as I have mentioned to apply in the evening, so that he would not be compelled to lose the few shillings he is able to earn? I am afraid it is impossible with these good folks who come from all districts in far-away places, but there should be no difficulty in that being arranged locally, if permission is given to the council themselves to organise the work in the way I think it should be. There is only one reason, I think, that will be brought forward, and that is, Do not disturb the present committee. That is an argument which I noticed was used very largely when it was proposed to set up these committees, namely, that there were already committees doing this work, and why disturb them? Nevertheless, the House, in its wisdom, decided to set up new committees. These sub-committees have been appointed eight or nine months, and there is no serious reason in my judgment why they should not be superseded by a responsible local committee. On behalf of my borough I can promise any of those good friends who are now working in the district that they will receive every opportunity of continuing their labour, and we should only be too glad if a certain number would remain and assist. But I do maintain in all sincerity that the duty of looking after these men is a local matter, and should be left to the local people, and any suggestion that these men would suffer by being transferred to a local committee is one that cannot be maintained for a moment.


I desire to second this Amendment, which is a permissive and not a compulsory Amendment, and which goes to restore the former intention of this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Kiley) stated that an Amendment cutting out the Metropolitan boroughs in this matter was moved in Committee on the main Bill, and was not accepted. The same Amendment was moved again on Report, and also was not accepted. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel read the statement which my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board made in the Debate in Committee, but I should like to read to the Committee also his statement made in discussion on the same Amendment on Report. He said: I have been in communication with several members of the London County Council, and I am more than ever strengthened in my view that each Metropolitan borough should have the option of setting up a committee of its own…While having every desire to meet the wishes of the London County Council, I cannot say that I think that the Metropolitan boroughs should give way on this occasion, but I think that they ought to be consulted, and that each should be allowed a separate sub-committee for the very important work with which they are entrusted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1915. col. 879. Vol. LxxIII.] 8.0 P.M.

The House was of the same opinion, but, unfortunately, the wording of the Clause was left in rather a vague way, and so the matter remained unsettled. The London County Council and the Statutory Pensions Committee joined in making a scheme which left out all mention of the Metropolitan boroughs, and ignored them altogether. Worse than this, the present Bill confers upon boroughs having a population less than 50,000 but not less than 20,000 the right to form a committee, and at the same time ignores the Metropolitan boroughs altogether, which seems to me to be a very extraordinary action. I do not know exactly what line the Pensions Minister will take upon this matter, but, on the 8th of this month, in reply to a deputation on the subject, he said he could not defend the present position in London, the scheme in force was intended to be temporary in its character, and when it was competent for the local authorities to take over the work they ought to do so. He further stated that local or district committees should be appointed in each Metropolitan borough. I think we have ample grounds for urging that the Metropolitan boroughs should be recognised in this important matter. The hon. Member for Whitechapel has related the difficulty which people interested have now in finding the existing sub-committees at home, difficulties arising out of the very curious arrangement of the days when they receive visitors, and the uncertainty in the minds of people where they are to be found. If they had a committee on the local authority there would never be any such difficulty. I am told that even now people constantly go to the offices of the borough council in order to make inquiries about their pensions, and they have to be sent to another habitat, and it is very uncertain whether they will find what they want. I would urge the claim of the Metropolitan boroughs to some power in respect of this important matter of pensions. We have placed on them all sorts of work in connection with the War. There are the War Tribunals, War Savings Committees, War Loan Committees, and many other forms of activity. The work is done with a great deal of enthusiasm, and these people have rendered great service to the State. But I do claim that in such local matters the local authorities are really closer to the population than a Statutory Committee; they know the people better, they have better means of obtaining information, and I think it is a rather extraordinary thing that the claims of the Metropolitan boroughs in this matter should have been ignored in the way they have been.


I do not intend to make a speech either for or against the Amendment. I shall leave that to my right hon. Friend in the charge of the Bill. But both hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the Amendment have quoted me as holding the opinions that they are putting forward, and as having urged them when the original Bill setting up these committees was before this House. They say I urged that the Metropolitan boroughs should be allowed separate local committees. I did nothing of the kind, and the hon. Members have misconstrued what I said. There was no demand made from any part of the House at the time that the Metropolitan boroughs should have separate local committees, and it was never contemplated by any single Member that it should be asked for. The question which arose at that time was whether the Metropolitan boroughs should have separate district committees—a different thing altogether. I was in charge at that time, and I took the line that the arguments were very well balanced each way. I said I did not think the Metropolitan boroughs would ultimately be satisfied unless they were allowed separate district committees, and some day or other that point would have to be decided. But I wish to explain to the House quite clearly that nothing I ever said can possibly be urged as an argument for giving the Metropolitan boroughs local committees, and nothing I ever said can be quoted in favour of that.


As I am chairman of the committee which my hon. Friends propose to disestablish—incidentally relieving me of a great deal of hard work—I ought perhaps to state the very strong objections which exist to their proposal. It is quite clear from their speeches that they do not realise what they propose to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) seemed to think that the adoption of the Amendment would simply restore a former decision. But that decision, as my right hon. Friend who has just spoken has pointed out, was in favour of setting up district committees, whereas this is a proposal to set up local committees. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment seemed to think that one great object to be secured was that the borough councils should have the care of disabled men when they come back. With all respect, they would have no such power. The proposal is to set up a separate local committee for every Metropolitan borough, and the effect of that would be to deprive the London Committee of all its powers except one, the care of the disabled soldier. The London Committee would be left high and dry, and it would have less jurisdiction than the local committee of any other county. If there was good and sufficient reason for that proposal no one would object. After all, good administration only has to be considered, and not the feelings of the London Committee, if they have any, nor the desire of the borough councils for jurisdiction.

I must point out that Clause 3 of the Bill is quite inapplicable to London. The object of Clause 3 is to enable the Pensions Minister to take a town out of the area of a county committee, say, to take the city of Winchester out of the county of Hampshire. But it is obviously quite a different proposal to suggest that the Minister should have the power—I cannot imagine him using it—to take away from a county committee the whole of its area. Yet that is the proposal of the Amendment. I venture to suggest that the onus of proving the desirability of such a very remarkable proceeding rests upon those who propose it. What does this proposal mean? It means scrapping the whole of the existing machinery which is doing the work. The London committees will go. The forty-six local sub-committees will go. The officials of these sub-committees, many of them earnest workers, will cease to hold office. The band of workers they have gathered around them will in large measure be dispersed. And what is to be set up in their place? Twenty-nine new local committees, which will be composed largely of people without any previous experience of the work, and they will have to get together an organisation of their own capable of doing the work.


My hon. Friend has ignored something which was said by the hon. Member for Whitechapel, and which is more formally stated in the the paper issued by the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, to the effect that in forming these Metropolitan borough committees they would be only too glad to incorporate the people who have been working with the existing committees.


I will deal with that presently. I question, in the first instance, whether it is desirable to cut down the powers of the central committee as proposed, and secondly, whether it is practicable to take down the whole machine and reassemble its parts, or such as can be collected together, to form an entirely new machine. I wish to say that, in my opinion, it is a distinct advantage to have a central London committee supervising and co-ordinating the whole of the work, gaining experience over a large area, and helping the local committees in the whole of London—and it can help them by making representations to Government Departments and other authorities with a force which could not be commanded by committees representing a much smaller area. Let me deal with the work which must be done locally. It is now being performed by forty-six local sub-committees appointed not by the London County Council, but by the London War Pensions Committee. On all these sub-committees there are experienced workers—some of them, it is true come in from outside districts—and each of them have labour representatives.


Appointed by the Pensions Committee.


Yes; on these sub-committees there are two or more labour representatives, and on most there are borough council representatives. Five borough councils, however, have refused to appoint local representatives, but the London committee are not to blame for that. If this Amendment is carried the work will have to be carried on by twenty-nine local committees, largely composed of people with no previous experience. I am quite convinced my hon. Friends do not realise the enormous volume of work which has to be transacted, or the time and experience required. Borough councillors seem to think it is only a question of two or three committee meetings a week, and a paid clerk. But committee meetings are only a small part of the work, and I have here some extracts from a letter showing the actual work of one of these sub-committees. I should say it is typical of all the committees. It is stated that the committee meets fortnightly and has a sub-committee which meets three times a week, but they have four office days of from six to ten hours work. There are over eighty workers, of whom thirty have been on the work since 1914. Three of the committee work the whole time on the four days, and they put in a considerable additional amount of overtime. During the last four weeks they have dealt with 172 new applications and 230 old cases, and they have received 782 letters and written 734. On whom does the burden of all this office work fall? We have borough councillors on the majority of these committees, but they will admit that they are much too busy to see to the heavy work in the office. Therefore, the real burden of the work falls upon a number of patriotic citizens, some of them men but most of them women, who have gathered around them a band of devoted workers. If these were ordinary times when borough councils and their staffs would be supposed to have some spare time and workers were plentiful. I should not ask who is going to do this work in the future; but I do ask now, Have town clerks time to undertake this piece of reorganisation as well as all the ordinary work in the committee rooms It is notorious that town clerks and their depleted staffs are fully occupied not only with local, but with national work, and if I read the signs of the times rightly, they are likely to have further national tasks placed upon them. In Islington the town clerk and the borough treasurer have been undertaking official duties in connection with these local committees, and they have had to resign their offices because they could not spare the time to do the work.

Who is to carry on the work in these committee rooms? My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) referred to the circular issued by the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, and they say that then-appears to be an impression that if the borough councils were given these powers they would at once dispense with the services of members of the existing subcommittees who have interested themselves in voluntary work which specially fits them in the administration of the principal Act. They say that they are ready to avail themselves of the experience of these ladies and gentlemen. I do not doubt that for a moment, but I would ask, Are the same people to go on doing this work in the committee rooms in the future, and, if so, have they been consulted in this matter, have they been asked whether they are willing to go on with this work under the new conditions? I have tried to ascertain the views of the people who are really doing this work, and I think they are the people who are most entitled to the consideration of this House. Many of them are doing that work now without reward and with very little praise. I have ascertained the views of some of the most experienced organisers from all parts of London—north, south, east, and west--of all classes, and I find that they deprecate in the strongest way any change in the administrative machinery at the present time. Practically what they say is this: "What you are proposing is to give us a new master who will have his work to learn. At present we are serving under the London Committee, which, after nine months' experience, knows its work, which has as its honorary organiser a lady who knows this work from A to Z, and who is always ready to help with her advice." They also point out that every change means loss of workers, and they say that at the present time they have great difficulty in keeping their workers together, many of whom are attracted by other forms of National Service, and they only continue doing this voluntary work because, having done it so long, they do not like to leave it. If the whole thing is now to be turned over to the borough councils we shall lose a large number of these workers, and we cannot take the responsibility of the work.

These are difficulties which cannot be ignored. I am aware that they apply to any change of administrative machinery, but more especially to the revolution which my hon. Friend is now proposing, which is one to scrap the whole of the existing machinery without in the least considering what is to be put in its place. Before a change of this kind is carried out this problem should be examined, not from the point of view of claims to jurisdiction, but as a practical business pro- position. The borough councils have not done that. If I look at this Report to which the hon. Member for Westminster has referred, I do not see one single sentence which shows that they realise the enormous amount of work to be done. I spoke to a town clerk the other day, and asked him whether he had ever been in one of the committee rooms in his borough and studied what the work was, and he said "No." I think that is the reason why the borough councils have entirely underrated the volume of the work which has to be done. I am extremely anxious that the borough councils should not nurse a grievance in this matter. I have always been a strong supporter of borough councils and their jurisdiction, and I gave evidence in favour of the creation of borough councils before the Royal Commission at a time when it was not at all a popular thing to advocate that policy, and I took part in framing the Act of Parliament which created those councils. Consequently, I am extremely anxious, on public and personal grounds, that they should not nurse a grievance in this matter. I think that instead of doing the rash act which is now proposed the borough councils should come to grips with this subject, and go into it closely, and either satisfy themselves that there are obstacles in the way of a change of administration at the present moment or else show that those obstacles can be removed. What is of the greatest importance is continuity of the administration, and that is the only thing that the London Committee cares about. We have nothing to gain by having local sub-committees as compared with district committees. What we have to consider is preserving the continuity of the administration, and we owe this to those for whom we have to work, namely, our soldiers and sailors, and their wives and dependants.


The subject before us is one which has attracted very great interest, and as I had the honour of presiding at the conference of those representing public authorities I rise to support the Amendment which is now before the House. I may point out that in respect to the granting of autonomous powers to Metropolitan boroughs, this is the only opportunity for any future establishment of such bodies, and if this opportunity is allowed to pass, then the Minister of Pensions cannot in the future, unless a special Act is passed, deal with this subject. Arising out of the gathering to which I alluded, a deputation waited upon the right hon. Gentleman who preceded the Minister for Pensions, and laid before him the views that are now before the House. I had the honour of introducing a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman who is charged with the carrying out of this Bill, and we pressed upon him the very important necessity of granting to the public authorities representing local interests—

The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)

I understand that this Amendment refers solely to London, and I gather from the remarks which the hon. Member is making that he is dealing generally with the question of boroughs.


It is quite correct that the meeting to which I alluded did include the wider scheme, but we centred upon this point which I was venturing to put before the Minister of Pensions. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to suggest that there should be a conference of those interested, and I think it would be well if the Government would accept this Amendment, because the full responsibility rests with the Minister of Pensions to exercise his discretion, and he could deal with each Metropolitan borough on its merits. We recognise the value of the work that has been done hitherto, and we wish in no sense whatever to depreciate it, but on the broad principle of local authorities dealing with local affairs we do press that the Metropolitan boroughs should have the right, which is given the local authorities throughout the country, to manage their local affairs under this Bill. We would further press upon the right hon. Gentleman to look into the working of the present Act and to see how far the work has been done by these large committees and how far it really centres itself in the inquiries made by sub-committees. These sub-committees may be very small in number, but, as we well know, in the larger bodies very frequently a great amount of responsibility for the decision is left with the sub-committees and their reports are accepted. I venture to think that the House ought to accept this Amendment and make it possible where and when it is thought desirable to carry this arrangement through.


The Amendment raises an important question of local administration in the Metropolis in regard to this new and important service, and, although not a London Member at the present time, I have sat for a Metropolitan constituency and have taken some interest in local administration. The problem, I take it, is whether this new national service should, in the ease of the Metropolis,. be administered centrally, rather than locally, through the Metropolitan borough councils. I confess that on many occasions on questions of local administration in London I have not always seen eye to eye with my hon. Friend the Member for South Paddington (Mr. H. P. Harris), but on this occasion I find myself in complete agreement with him, and, incidentally, may I say that I have had an opportunity of making myself acquainted with some of the administrative work of the London Local Pensions Committee over which he so ably presides, and I have satisfied myself of the thorough efficiency of the work done. The question I ask myself in regard to a matter of this kind is whether it will make for efficiency of administration to supersede the present system of one local pensions committee for the county of London, with some forty-six sub-committees working under it, and divide up the work now so well done amongst twenty-nine local committees, following the outline of the borough council areas. I confess that my dominating principles in such matters of administration are to make as far as practicable for unification and equalisation of burden. In neither respect does the Amendment before the Committee mark any substantial progress; in fact, the reverse.

After all, there is to be a local charge under this Act to the extent of a moiety of the expenses of working and administering the bountiful supplier coming from the new Royal Warrant, and the rating in London, as is notorious, varies from something like 6s. 7d. in the City of London to 11s. 5d. in Poplar. If these borough councils are to be the local pensions authorities, I apprehend that the cost in regard to a moiety will fall upon the local rates, and that will not make in the direction of the equalisation of burden for such administrative purposes. I cannot help thinking that in this national service, locally administered and hitherto in voluntary hands, the work and experience of those who have been connected with the voluntary work in the past should be utilised as far as possible and practicable. I understand that has been done in regard to the sub-committees which work under the local pensions committee, over which the hon. Member for South Paddington presides, and to supersede them by a newly-appointed personnel, corresponding to the borough council areas, I venture to think would constitute a great dislocation of work which is already being done with great insight and experience by self-sacrificing voluntary workers, and would not make, in my opinion, for efficiency, whilst it would tend to render unequal the burden of a moiety of the cost. On the whole, therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not listen to the re presentations made to him on behalf of those who spoke so ably for the Metropolitan borough councils, but that in this particular service he will regard London as one and keep the administration of the National Pensions under a committee working for the whole of London with suitable sub-committees, possibly arranged on the basis of borough council areas, or with district committees if that is thought feasible in the future, and not supersede too rapidly the voluntary agencies which have done the work so well prior to the Government tardily recognising its responsibility in the matter.


The speech just made by the hon. Gentleman, together with the speech made by the hon. Member for South Paddington (Mr. IT. P. Harris) relieves me from making any lengthy observations, because I agree absolutely with what they have said in regard to the very great services of these voluntary workers who are now doing the work and also in regard to the principle of the unity of London in this matter. I was quoted by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) as having said that in my opinion local committees should be set up for London. I do not know from where he quoted, but I can assure him that I said no such thing, and on the very first opportunity, when I was told that I had been reported to have said so—it was in my room about a fortnight ago—I pointed out that I made no such statement. I know what I did say, and I will repeat it. Under the 1015 Act the County Council of London, in common with all other county councils, had a right to adopt either one or other of the to Sub-sections of Clause 2 of that Act. They could have either set up district committees under Sub-section (4) or as they have done, they could have set up sub-committees under Sub-section (7). I said that I believed that the Act of 1915 contemplated each of the Metropolitan boroughs having a district committee of its own, and I repeat that. I have said nothing different from that anywhere. Therefore, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have been misquoted.


I said nothing different from that.


Oh, yes, certainly; you read out from a document that I had stated somewhere that cach of the Metropolitan boroughs should have a local committee. There is all the difference in the world between a local committee and a district committee. A local committee is a separate entity or authority acting under the Act. A district committee is really a sub-committee of a county scheme. I think, and I have always thought, that it was the intention of the Act that the Metropolitan boroughs should each have a district committee, that being quite consistent. with the further idea of the London County Council acting for London as one unit. The London County Council, in its wisdom, thought it best to carry out this scheme of sub-committees in contradistinction to district committees. Therefore what has happened is that they have had continued help from those people who had so much experience in doing this work. Those people are still doing the work. I am not going to express an opinion whether or not it would be done better by the borough councils ultimately, but I have been round the committee rooms of some of the bodies now doing the work from time to time, and have found them filled with disinterested men and women who, I believe, are doing the work, with no axe, of their own to grind, and who are doing it solely in the interests of the soldiers and sailors and their dependants. Therefore I would suggest to the hon. Member for Whitechapel and others who have spoken that we must have regard to that fact. The carrying on of the work in the most efficient manner possible in the interests of the soldiers and sailors must be the chief consideration in our minds. Is this the best time to make any disturbance at all? The hon. Gentleman thinks it is the only time. It is not for me to suggest to hon. Members who have supported this Amendment what other Members have done in regard to other Amendments. They occupy far stronger ground in a demand for district committees than they do in asking for local committees. As has been pointed out by the hon. Member for South Paddington (Mr. H. P. Harris), London is altogether peculiar. If you take away the Metropolitan borough areas and give them all local committees, then you are taking the ground from under the very feet of the county council. You might occupy stronger ground in regard to district committees. The main consideration at the present is to carry on the work with the least possible disturbance. Nobody with any sense of responsibility and with knowledge of the London situation would suggest for a moment that some drastic alteration should be made in the present arrangement. It is because of that that I feel sure the hon. Member will not press this Amendment to a Division. I would urge one other reason. We have just got a new Warrant, which increases the work of these local committees, therefore this time would be the worst of all times to press an Amendment of this sort, which would have the effect of dislocating the work of the London County Council's War Pensions Committee, and might have the effect, if adopted, of scattering all these local workers. The hon. Member for Whitechapel seemed to assume that if the borough councils were given local committees they would rope in all these voluntary workers who are now on the ground. Well, they must have a word to say in regard to that. I am afraid that that assumption will not be borne out by the facts, and that very likely many of these people, being deprived of their leader, with whom they have been accustomed to work during the last year or two, will say, "We are not going to work under some new machinery of which we know nothing, and we will not do the work." That is another reason why I hope this Amendment will not be pressed, whatever may happen in regard to any other Amendment,

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move to leave out the words "and not less than twenty thousand."

So far from being an unimportant Amendment, this is one to which the Urban District Councils Association attach the greatest importance. I have no particular axe to grind for myself in moving this Amendment, but I have in my Constituency two urban districts with over 70,000 population and a third with well over 20,000 population. The urban districts object to this limitation to 20,000 as being an implied limitation of the words in the Act of 1915. If hon. Members will look at Section 2 of that Act, they will see that Sub-section (1) reads:

"For the purpose of assisting the Statutory Committee in the execution of their duties, a local committee shall be established for every county and county borough, and for every borough or urban district having a population of not less than fifty thousand the council of which so desires, and for any other borough or urban district for which the Statutory Committee, on the application of the council thereof, considers it desirable that, having regard to the special circumstances of the case, a separate local committee should be established."

Hon. Members will see that there is nothing there about a 20,000 population, and in fact, no limitation at all, but that if it is so desired a separate local committee shall be established with the leave of the central committee. The Minister of Pensions and the Committee will see that this 20,0000 limitation will rule out a great number of quite important county towns who would like to have, and who ought to have, a separate local committee with its limited powers. You might get a population of just under 20,000, or an important locality which desires to have a local committee, but simply because it is just under the 20,000 limit it will not be able to get one. I know that the Association of District Councils had an interview with the Minister for Pensions and that this is one of the points they impressed most strongly upon him. They wanted this limitation of 20,00 taken out of the Bill. I imagine the argument they put before him was something like this, that the local authorities, speaking through the local tribunals, had had the job of sending men to the front, and therefore the local authorities would like to have through local committees the honour of looking after these same men when they came back from the War. That is surely a very strong argument. They want to have this, to my mind, rather arbitrary and almost absurd limitation of 20,000 taken away. Surely what we want in this and the other Bills which are before the House is more decentralisation. Here in London we have this great mass of busy officials, bureaucrats as we call them, all tumbling over one another, whereas in the country we have a lot of people who want to do work of this sort and cannot get it. We have too much centralisation here in London, and we want some of the work taken out from London and put in the country districts, where it can be as well or even better done. What I have said about London applies, I am sorry to say, to the majority of the county councils themselves. They have so much work there that a county council official now is as much a red-tape bureaucrat as anyone in those great London offices. We want, therefore, to get our work decentralised, and that is one of the chief reasons why urban district councils are so anxious to be allowed to have these local committees set up in districts where the population is less than 20.000. I therefore most earnestly appeal to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to accept this Amendment and allow a district which does not quiet reach a population of 20,000 to set up local committees if it so desires.


Those of us who have large county constituencies with large areas in them, with urban councils of a very influential character and great interests at stake, do not quite come within the figure of 20,000. I cannot see why this figure should be put in. Surely the Pensions Minister, with the statutory power he now has of consulting county councils, would be able to get all the information requisite on purpose not to grant and set up a committee if he did not think a particular area was sufficiently important to have it. But why should it be prevented from setting up a committee in an area where there is a good deal of local life, a good deal of voluntary energy, a desire on the part of the people to look after their own close at home, and where, as in many cases, the county council is a very long way away from the locality? I could give illustrations where it is another realm altogether, the county town being much nearer to the next county. I ask sincerely that the Minister in charge will consider the advisability of removing that qualification. It gives him the power, if he desires, of setting up this local committee, and I am sure it would be of interest and benefit if it was done in many cases. Many of these places will, in themselves, in a short period of time, be over the 20,000. Many of them are going up to the border. There is nothing in this to help you to set up a committee when there is one set up on the larger scale. It will be said, "We cannot break the area that the committee now has on purpose to give it to these other committees." I sincerely trust we may get this very small concession.


I should like the hon. and gallant Gentleman to tell us exactly how we stand in this matter, because I understand that my own Constituency, which really consists of small councils under the county authority, already has committees under the county council arrangement which exactly coincide with the general scope of this Bill, and, if that is so, I rather doubt the advisability of complicating it, because now, in the county of Durham, after a good deal of trouble, we have organised the whole of the county under the county council and we are getting uniformity of management, and I rather imagine that if you introduced an Amendment such as this we shall not have that uniformity of management, but shall have everyone running on their own, which will not be so beneficial to the recipients as the Mover of the Amendment seems to suppose.


I am sorry I cannot accede to the request of my hon. and gallant Friend. There has been a great demand on the part of boroughs under 50,000 to have separate local committees. The Statutory Committee grants-them wherever they find special circumstances. Now, as the agitation has continued, and there is good ground in some cases for giving them separate local committees, we have taken powers in the Bill to do so where the Pensions Minister thinks right in the case of towns between 20,000 and 50,000,"and I think that is a very fair compromise. But if you ask us to go below 20,000, I must really ask my hon. and gallant Friend where he proposes to draw the line. He says, supposing a place is just under 20,000. But supposing a place is just under 10,000. Wherever you draw the line you will have the same difficulty. The hon. Member (Mr. Rowlands) said that places now under 20,000 might grow to 20,000 in the next year or two, but after it becomes 20,000 it would be perfectly possible for the Minister of Pensions to grant a separate local committee in the way desired.


Do you not take the Census figures? Even if a place is 20,000 now you would not give it a committee.


I think it is actual population, but I will inquire. In reply to the hon. Member (Mr. Wing), he really puts the matter quite clearly. You would judge from the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend (Major Newman) that where you have a county committee the whole thing is administered centrally by the officials of the county council and there was no kind of local administration at all. That is not the case. No county pensions committee administers a scheme for the county by means of its central officials. They have either district committees or sub-committees, and the whole county is organised on a decentralised local basis. In so far as the Pensions Minister may grant separate local committees under this Clause he will upset the county schemes, and he would upset them a great deal more if he were to give separate committees to places with populations below 20,000.


He need not do so unless he wants. It is within his discretion.


I agree, but I think a line ought to be drawn. Let me call attention to another point which I think has been overlooked. These small towns are now the centres of administrative work in an area which extends outside their municipal boundaries, and they are the necessary centres. You cannot administer a county if you take all the towns out of it. You would leave it like a cake without any plums in it. You must have a natural centre, and it would be reducing the importance of these towns if by giving separate local committees they were confined to their own borough boundaries, whereas at the present time they are administering either as local or district committees in an area including the town and a considerable distance of country outside. Nothing in this Clause takes away the present right that these places have got under the original Act which set up the Statutory Committee and the local committees of obtaining separate local committees if the Statutory Committee are convinced there are special circumstances. We do not derogate from their present rights in the least. I think the Committee will see that we have done our very utmost at the expense really of upsetting the county schemes to meet the wishes of these smaller boroughs. However, we feel we must draw the line somewhere, and I think 20,000 is the proper figure. We have precedents for that both in the Insurance Act and in the case of old age pensions and other measures, where the minimum of 20,000 has been fixed.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, after the word "thousand"["not less than twenty thousand"], to insert the words "or for any combination of boroughs or urban districts."

I regret that by oversight, I neglected to put this Amendment down on the Paper. I mentioned the matter some time ago to the Pensions Minister, and be promised that he would think it over. It may be a new point to the hon. and gallant Baronet, but it is an extremely simple one, and I think the Amendment might be accepted by the Government. The suggestion is that where there are adjoining districts which practically run into each other and where the combined population would be over 20,000 you might then set up a joint committee. There would be no power for any of these districts to secure a committee for itself, but what would happen would be that these combined urban districts, or in some cases it might be a combination of a borough and an urban district, would have the right to go to the Pensions Minister and ask for power to have an independent committee for their combined area. There are a great many districts in this country where you have separate urban authorities and yet you have practically one community—that is to say, you have perhaps two or three districts which run into each other, and which are to all intents and purposes one community, although they continue under the authority of different councils. In these circumstances, wherever the county council have set up district committees, they have, as a rule, already amalgamated, and just as you have now given the power to urban districts which have populations of over 20,000 to have their own committees independent of the county councils, I think it is not unreasonable that a combined area which might have a population of 50,000 or even more should have the same right to go to the Minister of Pensions and T ask for the power to have an independent committee. There could be no injury to the general scheme if this permission were granted. I hope I have said enough to induce my hon. and gallant Friend to give consideration to my proposal if he thinks I have made out a primâ facie case. I recognise his difficulty in being suddenly faced with this proposal, and if he will be good enough to give me some assurance that he will think the matter over between now and the Report stage I should be perfectly satisfied.

9.0 P.M.


I can assure my hon. Friend that any proposal he makes will always have the careful consideration of the Pensions Minister and myself. We do not see the necessity for this Amendment at the present time. If you get what my hon. Friend calls contiguous areas, with a population of 40,000 or 50,000, I should have thought that if they were unwilling to combine for the purposes of local government they would be equally unwilling to combine for the purpose of pensions. Generally, you find there is very acute local feeling between these different places. I am not prepared to accept the Amendment at the present moment, but I will think it over between now and the Report stage. Perhaps I might here clear up a point which was raised a few minutes ago by the hon. Member. In the case of districts with populations of under 20,000 I was asked whether we should take the census population or the actual population? I said that I would inquire, but I thought it would be the actual population. I find that my contention was quite right, and that the Statutory Committee now has the power to take the actual population, irrespective of the census figures.


I am very glad that that point has been cleared up, because my hon. and gallant Friend knows that in the case of the Education Act the only authorities which are autonomous are the authorities with a population of 20,000. I assumed that this precedent followed in other legislation would be followed in this, and I am glad of his assurance. Before withdrawing my Amendment I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his promise to consider the matter before the Report stage. I think he will find on inquiry that a great many districts which are unwilling to combine for all purposes, because there are certain local circumstances, perhaps the possession of gasworks or undertakings of that kind, are not only quite willing to combine for the purpose of pensions but are already so combined under the county councils. All I am asking is that a committee of that kind, covering a fairly large population, ought to have the same power to go to the Minister of Pensions as any other separate district. I will withdraw my Amendment now, by leave, and put it down on the Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words,

"Provided that where such functions are not so delegated to the local committee of a borough or urban district contributions of such amounts as may be agreed on or in default of agreement may be determined by the Local Government Board shall be paid by the local committee of the borough or urban district towards the administrative expenses of the local committee of the county in respect of the exercise of such functions within the borough or urban district, and such contributions shall for the purposes of this Act be treated as part of the administrative expenses of the local committee or urban district."

This Amendment is intended to meet the point that was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, as to the allocation of expenses between county and borough councils in cases where the local committee of a borough under this Clause has not got full powers. The only effect is this. A local committee may be formed under this Clause with limited functions whose administrative expenses would be paid for out of the borough rate, but inasmuch as its functions are limited, part of its duties would be performed by the county committee and it would not be paying anything to the county for this purpose. Therefore it is proposed to make a contribution towards the county for this part of its duty. If my right hon. Friend desires we will take the views of some county and borough experts so as to make perfectly certain that this is the best way of dealing with the matter.

Amendment agreed to.

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