HC Deb 20 March 1917 vol 92 cc719-23

Notwithstanding anything in the principal Act. there shall, within twelve months after the passing of this Act, or within three months after the termination of the War, whichever shall be the earlier, be set up in the City of London and in each Metropolitan borough a district committee; and the London County Council shall, for this purpose, submit to the Statutory Committee any necessary amendment of, or addition to, the scheme made under the principal Act for the County of London: Provided that for this purpose the Minister of Pensions shall be satisfied that arrangements are made so that the existing organisation of the local committee for London is not unduly disturbed.—[Sir G. Touche.]

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move "That the Clause be read a second time."

This Clause is a variation of the Clause which I moved in Committee for the purpose of setting up district committees for the Metropolitan boroughs and the City of London. The position of the boroughs in this matter has been generally recognised. It has also been recognised that the alteration which involves the setting up of these committees presents a great many difficulties. In the Committee stage the War Pensions Minister suggested that the spirit of the Clause should be accepted, and he authorised my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley to suggest that the advocates of district committees should meet the representatives of the London War Pensions Committee, and endeavour to agree on a Clause to be put down on the Report stage. On that understanding I withdrew the Clause which I moved in Committee. Since then we have met in conference. We found that agreement was not so easy. We came to an understanding on certain general lines. There was general recognition that there should be ample time to allow of negotiations for making any changes in the organisation and to allow borough councils, taking a large part in the work, to become better acquainted with it, and in particular that on the termination of the War changes would have to be made, and it was desirable to provide for these changes being made at no distant date. The question of the changes to take place on the termination of the War is one of the most important questions connected with what is now proposed. A great many of the voluntary workers are giving their services for the war period. They are working under high pressure. They will not be able to continue indefinitely, and many of them will probably fall off at the termination of the War. The nature of the work will also very largely change at the termination of the War. Therefore, it is desirable to proceed to establish the committee on a more permanent basis.

The representatives of the borough councils at this conference expressed every desire to avail themselves of the services and experience of the voluntary workers whose services have boon of such great value. As a result we came to a provisional agreement last night. The terms of that agreement are set forth in this Clause. Substantially they are that the district committees should come into operation twelve months after the passing of the Act, or three months after the termination of the War, whichever should be the shorter period. That was accepted by the representatives of the borough councils and of the City of London, and it was to be submitted to-day to the London War Pensions Committee. I now understand that that committee desire some modification of what we thought was practically agreed on. Instead of the period which is set forth in the Clause they want the district committees to be established within six months after the termination of the War. That, of course, is a very substantial alteration. I cannot say that I think that effect is quite given to the spirit of the Clause as originally moved. It is a great disappointment that this further change has been suggested, and I should like to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for South Paddington has to say on the subject. But, subject to that, and to the views of the Pensions Minister, I and those who are associated with me, have no alternative but to accept this Amendment, if an agreed clause must be reached. With the time limit even as modified, I venture to think it would have the effect of enabling the intention of the original Act to be carried out eventually, though not so soon as the borough councils would have wished. It was clearly intended that the borough councils should have these district committees, and I earnestly hope that even in the amended form this Clause, if accepted by the Pensions Committee, will serve to remove what is a real grievance, and that it will close a controversy with good will on all sides, and will stimulate the interests of the borough councils which hitherto were rather chilled and snubbed in this matter, and will evoke from them a newer and keener and more active cooperation in this important work.


In seconding this new Clause, I wish merely to say that at this time it is unnecessary to argue the relative merits of district committees as distinct from local committees, but the City of London Corporation feel very strongly on this point, and while we are anxious to hear what the London County Council say in the matter, we do feel that we cannot let it go unchallenged. I hope, therefore, that the Pensions Minister will see his way to make, if not this concession, at least the concession in this sense. We are not standing out for actually the number of months mentioned in the Amendment. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is the principle for which we are contending, and that we are quite willing to concede the details. We want it to be distinctly understood that the City of London Corporation feel that they have a very real grievance in this matter, and that they want it put right. We hope, therefore, that the London County Council will see our aspect of it as well as their own, and support us in our contention.


I am not able to speak on behalf of the London County Council, tout only on behalf of the London War Pensions Committee. I was informed, however, by the Parliamentary agent of the London County Council that the Parliamentary Committee of that body met this afternoon and considered whether the Clause proposed by my hon. Friend opposite ought to be placed before the council before it is finally debated. Up to the present there has been no opportunity for the London County Council to be consulted, and the Parliamentary Committee do not feel that they can come to a decision themselves, without examination of the matter by the London County Council, and before the Minister of Pensions has finally decided to accept that Clause. The London War Pensions Committee met this afternoon and decided that they were willing to fall in with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend and that the spirit of this Amendment moved by my hon. Friend should be accepted: The London War Pensions Committee are willing to agree to a Clause being inserted fixing six months after the War as the time within which this committee should be set up. They considered carefully the Clause which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington has on the Paper, but they are unwilling to agree to that. Their reason is: No one can tell what the position will be twelve months hence. The War may still be raging, and the difficulties connected with the change may be greater instead of less. On the other hand, when the War terminates, a good deal of the work which calls for the services of a large number of voluntary workers will grow less or cease, and the appropriate time will have come to set up district committees to deal with the more permanent work connected with pensions and the case of disabled men. and remembering the rather uncertain duration of the War. They appreciate the desire for a definite period rather than depend on the uncertain duration of the War. No one can say which period will be the shorter, but it is certain that if it is prolonged the difficulty of finding volunteer workers will be an ever-increasing factor. Therefore I should be prepared to accept the Clause submitted by my hon. Friend, provided if he accepts certain words which would make it read as follows: "Notwithstanding anything in the principal Act, there shall, within six months after the termination of the War, be set up in the City of London and each Metropolitan borough a district committee," and then the rest of the hon. Member's Clause would stand as it is. I feel bound to point out that the London County Council, which is the body that made the existing scheme, has a right to be consulted. It has not been consulted, and I do not know what the Amendment may be, but it might be dealt with in another place. I entirely reciprocate what was said by the hon. Member for Islington, namely, that we should make sure of the good will of the borough councils in carrying out this work.


The suggestion that the term of twelve months should be dropped is one on which we may arrive at a friendly settlement. I submit that if twelve months were allowed to remain, and we inserted six months instead of three months after the termination of the War, we might have ground for a satisfactory settlement—twelve months from the date of the passing of the Bill, and not sooner than six months after the termination of the War, would give a reasonable time. I would, therefore, submit to the Minister of Pensions that he might accept the suggestion which I make, and which I venture to press upon him, and the matter might be further considered and dealt with in another place. The great object is to obtain a really friendly settlement, so that the whole difficulty may be removed.


I think we are approaching a friendly settlement, and that we may be congratulated on that fact. I am willing to fall in with the suggestion of the hon. Member opposite, but I would ask him to defer the matter for the present and withdraw his Amendment and allow the county council, who, I believe, are to meet on Monday to consider the subject. I hope my hon. Friend will fall in with that suggestion.


I have had no opportunity of consulting those associated with me in this Amendment, but I realise from what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman that it would be well to withdraw it, and I certainly fall in with the suggestion he has made.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.