§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £543,980, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Local Government Board." [NOTE: £250,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
This Vote has been put down at the request of a group of Mem- 1731 bers who are to a very large extent experts in the work of the tribunals that have been set up in connection with the Military Service Acts. They are desirous of discussing the new code of Regulations which have been framed by the Local Government Board and are specially anxious to discuss two or three of those Regulations. I think there will be an opportunity in the course of the evening for a separate Debate on that particular matter which appertains to the Local Government Board Vote. The Local Government Board Vote has not been discussed in this House for two years, and this is the only opportunity which is afforded to the Committee of surveying the whole administrative policy of that great Department. In the Press lately fault has been found with me on the ground that I have not given the House of Commons an opportunity of discussing such matters as the housing policy which has been initiated by the Department over which I have the honour to preside. That Department has launched in connection with the local authorities a housing policy which I admit is both extensive and expensive. I am well aware that many hon. Members are intensely interested in the question of housing and they would welcome some opportunity of discussing the policy which has been adumbrated in the circulars of the Local Government Board. I am conscious also that there are other questions connected with the Local Government Board which are of immense interest to all those who look forward to a policy of reconstruction after the War. The whole policy of health, for instance, is a matter which has excited a very great deal of public attention not only as to what is being done at the present moment, but what is possible to be done when the House of Commons has time to give attention to the subject. I informed the House yesterday that so far as regards certain of the new Regulations I should be guided to a very large extent by the opinion expressed in the House of Commons, and I think it would be fitting to reserve anything I have to say on the question of the new Regulations as affecting the tribunals and those who have been called up under the new Military Service Acts until I have heard the expressions of opinion of those who are entitled to take a special interest in this question and who hold very distinct and pronounced views on the question.
1732 I will commence my speech by saying something on the question of housing. The Local Government Board is the central Government Department for dealing with questions relating to housing. The whole housing problem very naturally occupies a large portion of the attention of any President of the Local Government Board. Both my predecessors took a deep interest, in the question. My immediate predecessor, Lord Rhondda, set up an Advisory Committee to study the problem of housing after the War, and that Committee has been very active in probing and searching the whole of this very difficult problem. What is the situation with which we shall be confronted after the War? As everyone knows, at this moment there is an immense shortage of houses: there was an immense shortage before the War. During the War it has been almost impossible to build houses for anybody, especially for the working: classes. Very few houses have been built. A few groups of houses have been built in various munition areas, but speaking generally the whole work of building working men's dwellings has been suspended, with the result that whatever shortage there was before the War there is a still greater shortage now. That shortage has been increased every year. It has been impossible to do anything in the way of building during the War. Materials, as we all know, are exceedingly difficult to get and labour is also a very difficult matter. But while it is extraordinarily difficult to add to our houses during the War we must all acknowledge that we ought to be making preparations at the present time for starting housing operations immediately after the War. Unless we do make those preparations in time and make them in detail we shall arrive at a period after the War when no agency will be prepared to build houses for the working classes. There are three possible alternatives. There is the alternative of waiting to see whether private enterprise will build these houses for the working classes. It is common knowledge that something like 95 per cent. of the houses of the working classes have been built by private enterprise.
What will be the position so far as private enterprise is concerned Private enterprise very naturally builds for profit. What will be the cost of building houses after the War? We do not know exactly, but it will be, I believe, 1733 prohibitive, and no profit can be derived from building, looking to the rents which the working classes are likely to be able or willing to pay. What the price of money will be, nobody knows, but it must be very high. The difficulty of obtaining materials will be very great. Labour will not be willing, I think, to take a lower wage than that which labour obtained, at all events, before the War, and I see nothing to entice the private builder on to the ground which he has already left. I have discussed this question with groups of private builders, and I have received no encouragement whatever from them to suppose that the private builder is going to build any dwellings for the working classes after the War unless they obtain that substantial financial assistance which the Government has now promised the local authorities. There is the second alternative that the State should do what the State has done at Woolwich and what the State has done, to a certain extent, at one or two other places—that the State should be the builder. I, for one, cannot recommend the State to undertake for the first time in its history the obligation of housing the working classes, or, indeed, of housing the community. I think the State is a very expensive builder, and, while the State can, of course, here and there, successfully put up houses in connection with munition works, shipyards and so forth, I say the State has not got the machinery, and I do not think it can devise the machinery, by which it can turn itself into the general builder for the working classes, and still less for the community.
If it were to attempt to do so it would at once have to enter into negotiations with all the local authorities, because obviously you cannot have a house, or you cannot have a row of houses anyhow, without thinking of water supply and drainage, of tramways and locomotion generally, of schools and matters of that kind, and therefore, if any Government should at any time be induced to take upon itself the general obligation of housing the working classes, it must be prepared to set up machinery by which it can enter into a kind of partnership with the local authorities in all matters regarding the drainage, water supply, schools, locomotion, etc. Therefore the Government, having well considered this question, came to the conclusion that, so far as starting housing after the War was 1734 concerned, so far as setting the machinery in motion was concerned, there was no other course open to it except to enter into partnership with the local authorities. That policy was embodied in two circulars which I issued from the Local Government Board. There was the circular of the 18th July, 3917. That circular invited the local authorities to answer a certain number of questions, the most important of which was to inform the Local Government Board what number of working-class dwellings were required now and what number would probably be required after the War, and as to whether they would be willing, if substantial financial assistance were afforded them, to enter immediately after the War upon a plan for building houses for the working classes.
§ Mr. FISHER
A similar circular was issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland. That circular led to replies from the local authorities, in which they stated what they were prepared to do for housing. The replies indicated the probable need of some 300,000 houses, of which some 900 local authorities indicated their willingness to provide some 150,000, and informed us that something, but not much, must be expected from private enterprise.
§ Mr. FISHER
Bather more than two-thirds replied. I have not got the exact figures, but in replying a little later I will give them.
§ Mr. FISHER
In that sense. That was a very favourable reply, because recollect all the local authorities got in that circular was a promise of substantial financial assistance. Well, substantial financial assistance may have a great latitude of meaning. That circular was followed up by a circular of the 18th of March, which was issued, I need hardly say, with the authority of the War Cabinet. It explained to the local authorities exactly what the partnership means, and this is what it does mean. The main terms offered by the State to local authorities are these that the local authority should select its land. It need 1735 not necessarily secure that land at the present moment; it can obtain option to purchase over the land. It should then frame an estimate of what the probable cost of erecting houses on that land will be and an estimate of what the probable rent will be which they might expect to derive from those houses over a course, say of seven years. The Treasury, that is the Government, then agree to find 75 per cent. of the estimated deficit on the annual balance-sheet of these houses. At the end of seven years that the houses are to be valued, and so far as there is an excess—in all probability there would be excess—of the debt remaining outstanding for loan purposes after the valuation, the Government would find 75 per cent. of that excess, leaving 25 per cent. of the deficit on the estimated balance-sheet for seven years, and 25 per cent. of the deficit resulting from the valuation of the house at the end of the seven-years' period, to be borne by the ratepayers. It was indicated to the local authorities that the 25 per cent. would not in the main cost them more than a Id. rate, but it was pointed out that that 25 per cent. might in some cases cost more than a Id. rate, and a further concession was then made by the Treasury that where it was, perhaps, an agricultural area, very heavily rated, or where there were special circumstances of poverty in connection with that area, if the 25 per cent. amounted to more than the product of a Id. rate, then the Local Government Board might, if they thought fit, increase the Exchequer contribution so as to reduce the charge on the local authority to the equivalent of a 1d. rate.
I have taken a great interest in this matter. I do not think there is any subject that I care more for. I do think this is an exceedingly generous and tempting offer to the local authority. No such offer anyway has ever been made before, and I cannot help thinking that any local authority that looks at it and regards it from the point of view that it may get some hundreds of thousands of houses put up for the districts where it is notorious that overcrowding is almost inhuman at present, that local authority will say, We are more than justified in embarking upon this adventure if it will not cost more than a 1d. rate. Why, look what the local authority is going to get! How important it is to the industries of that local area that there should be reasonably decent houses for all those who help 1736 to turn its industries into profitable industries, and that their land will, after all, be covered with houses on which they will be able to put a rate. What indirect advantages to the community may not be derived from the fact that when peace and contentment reign, they largely do reign because of the excellence of the housing of the working classes! These things ought to have weight with the local authorities, and I believe are going to have weight with the local authorities. At any rate there is every reason to be encouraged at present by the way local authorities have met this offer. Now, supposing a local authority puts forward a plan, how far is that plan to be scrutinised by the Government, which finds so much of the money for erecting the houses, or is going to find so much of the money? The plan will be scrutinised by the Local Government Board from the point of view of the whole lay-out of these houses, and we have indicated to the local authorities that in any plans which maybe formulated we shall expect, if it is an urban district, not more than twelve houses shall be put to the acre; and if it is a rural district, not more than eight houses to the acre, and we shall have our own inspectors, who will inspect the plans and general lay-out of the houses. We are giving a very great deal of trouble to this matter. We have brought into this scheme the Royal Institute of British Architects, who are offering valuable prizes for designs all over the country for workmen's dwellings.
We have set up a variety of committees. I have set them up in conjunction sometimes with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Reconstruction to go into every phase of this housing question. There is a Committee presided over by my right hon. Friend for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Sir Tudor Walters), which is very soon going to give us a Report on the erection of houses from the point of view of economy and dispatch in building. He and his Committee are examining very carefully the whole question of standardising materials. Then my right hon. Friend the Minister for Reconstruction has a Committee sitting also on materials, but from a rather wider point of view. Then there is a Committee sitting under the presidency of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board for examining bow far present by-laws are an obstacle in the way of building working men's dwellings, 1737 and generally to advise as to by-laws. There is also a very important Committee which is going to be set up to deal with the question of housing banks, and that leads me to another portion of this subject. A good many ask, "What are you going to do for the private builders? You have entered into a partnership with the local authorities, are you going to drive the private builders right out of the field?" That question was very carefully examined by the Committee of which I am myself the chairman.
§ Mr. FISHER
I do not think that they are likely to be driven out of the field; but that question has also been very carefully considered by a Committee on which public utility societies are strongly represented. Whether, however, it be public utility societies or private builders, let us ask ourselves this question, Can they expect to have the same favourable terms as those promised to the local authorities? What is the whole basis of the policy of this partnership between the Government and the local authorities? It is the expectation of a certain loss on the basis of the partnership. Could we go into any partnership of that kind with public utility societies or croups of private builders, or with single private builders, with the expectation of a certain loss? Some of the private builders ask, "Why do you not give us the same substantial financial assistance which you offer to the local authorities?" My reply was, "Those local authorities are not going to make any profit, that there must be a loss, and that they share that with the Government. Are you a group of private builders, or is any private builder, going to enter into an enterprise with the prospect of a certain loss?" Of course they are not. Therefore, while I am very far from saying that no assistance can be given to public utility societies, or groups of private builders, or single private builders, I think any such assistance must be in a very different form from that which is given to the local authorities.
§ Mr. FISHER
I may indicate one or two forms which it will take. After all, it is useless to propose any practical scheme unless that practical scheme is accepted by 1738 the House of Commons. If it is really to be a substantial financial Grant to the private builder in order to erect houses at a profit by using that Grant, I have yet to learn that this House of Commons, or any House of Commons, is likely to look upon that with any favour. Still, short of that, and apart from it, money will be very difficult to procure after the War. It may be consonant with the desire of the House of Commons that the public utility societies should get money at the current rate at which the Treasury can borrow, and at which it is lent to the local authorities. The Treasury is not disposed to lend money to the local authorities at a lower rate than at which the Treasury itself borrows. I do not express approval or disapproval, but it is a possible proposition that there could be facilities given to private builders in the country or towns that is, to reputable builders who are willing to submit their lay-out to the supervision of the Government Department—in order that it may be seen that they are likely to put up houses of good quality at reasonable rents with money borrowed at the rate of interest on which money is lent to the local authorities. But here, again, there is going to be extraordinary difficulty after the War as regards materials for the erection of housing accommodation, particularly as regards timber. There, again, I express neither approval nor disapproval; but, after all, there must be priority after the War in all these matters, and it is quite possible that the House of Commons might be willing to give the same priority to the utility societies and to groups of builders that they propose to give to the local authorities. As regards standardised materials, for my own part I have long thought that standardised materials, where we are going to put up, we hope, 300,000 houses within twelve months or a little more, could possibly be turned out by large factories, which at that time would not be used for shell making. Those standard materials would be turned out more cheaply, and might be placed at the disposal of public utility societies or private builders, or others, which would help towards the solution of this extremely difficult problem.
I think I have indicated to hon. Members, in what I have said, that I have given some thought to this question. Apart from the question of money, and its being lent at the rate at which the Treasury can borrow it, the actual making of a free 1739 grant to any builder, either in the country or town, is a point which I think the House will admit is one of extraordinary difficulty and one that will have to be very carefully examined. As regards the private builder, I can only say that I invite the House to give that matter very serious attention in connection with the whole of this housing problem. I am convinced that if we are to put up hundreds and thousands of houses, in two or three years after the War, sufficient and ample for the working classes, we must use not only the local authorities, but also the services of public utility societies, and the services of private builders. I think I have said enough to show that every phase of this problem is being deeply examined by people who are much concerned for the future as regards housing, and I myself earnestly desire to place before the House of Commons practical proposals for the solution of this extraordinarily difficult but, at the same time, interesting problem.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what has been the response from the local authorities since the letter was sent? Do the replies indicate that they are satisfied with the proposals put before them?
§ Mr. FISHER
The first circular merely said that there would be substantial assistance; and, in regard to the circular of the 18th March, although replies to it have arrived, I have not yet examined them at all closely. All I can say is that, considering the first circular, which mentioned substantial financial assistance, met with an extremely favourable response, I cannot but think that the circular of the 18th March is also likely to be met with favourable replies.
§ Mr. FISHER
I have seen that reply, and that is the one authority that does not think 75 per cent. at all enough, and wants the whole of the money.
§ Mr. FISHER
I think that was the one substantial ground on which they found fault. Though there were many other grounds, I think the substantial ground on which Bradford found fault was that 1740 the Government was not finding the whole of the money for something like 10,000 houses.
§ Sir C. HENRY
Who is to have control of the rentals—the local authority or will the Treasury have control?
§ Mr. FISHER
The local authorities make out a balance-sheet, which, on one side, contains an estimate of what rentals can be obtained for the houses, and that will be made by the local authority in consultation with the Local Government Board. I am also asked how they arrive at the estimate. In regard to that it is necessary, I think, in fixing the rent, that they should look to what rents are or can be obtained for similar houses in the locality that are occupied by people similar to those for whom these new houses are intended. The houses taken for comparison are houses in first-class condition, and that is the best standard by which to fix rents.
§ Mr. FISHER
Certainly; the wages paid in the district will be taken into consideration, and the rent will be fixed at a figure which prospective occupants can reasonably be expected to pay. [An HON. MEMBER: "Does that apply to Ireland and Scotland?"] I do not deal with Ireland or Scotland. I am speaking as representing the Local Government Board for England and Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland no doubt will have something to say about Scotland, and I believe he has sent out a similar circular dealing with the same problem. I know that there will be local authorities who will be imbued with the idea that this, scheme is not sufficiently generous from the financial point of view. I hold the opposite opinion. I think this scheme is one of very remarkable generosity, one which no Government before has proposed, or either this Treasury or the Treasury of any Government in the world.
§ Mr. FISHER
It is difficult to say what will be the cost of a scheme under which we are erecting houses to be let at an economic rent. It should be recollected 1741 that we will be building these houses after the War, when the cost of materials will be very much greater than was the case before the War, and the sum is going to be a substantial one.
§ Sir J. BOYTON
Do you really intend to provide housing accommodation for the poorer working classes, or for the superior artisans, clerks, and other classes?
§ Mr. FISHER
We intend to provide a house which contains living room, scullery, parlour, and three bedrooms. That is the best kind of house we intend to supply. It is intended to provide houses which are well-built and laid out, and which will be regarded as moderate and suitable for working men's dwellings.
§ Mr. FISHER
That is one of the questions that we addressed to the local authorities, and the replies indicate that they thought there would be no difficulty as regards acquisition of land. I have been a little surprised at the answer to that question. Very few of them have indicated that they are likely to have any difficulty as regards acquiring land, but I may say that again has been under the consideration of a Committee, and if the powers under the Act are not sufficient to obtain land at a reasonable rate, other powers will have to be given.
§ Sir W. COLLINS
Do these proposals relate to rehousing in the case of clearance schemes and old buildings, or only to new housing schemes?
§ Mr. FISHER
These proposals are made only with reference to new dwellings, but I hope that the work of remodelling dwellings and the work generally known as clearing slum areas will be actively renewed when the War is over, and when money can be obtained for it. My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that we should like to make a good many demolition orders now which we dare not make, because there is no place where people we might turn out could lay their heads at the present moment.
I pass from the question of housing to the kindred subject of health, although I think the House will agree with me that housing is the most important branch of this whole subject. We are all aware that there has been for some time a movement for bringing all these health activities of the various Departments under one Department and under one Minister. For 1742 myself, I am strongly in favour of that proposal, so long as it is acknowledged that you cannot divorce health and health policy from the whole policy of housing and sanitation, and that you cannot deprive local elected bodies of the public health activities which are growing day by day under the pressure of public opinion. I freely acknowledge that when we come to address ourselves to this great question of the public health activities for which various State Departments are responsible, it is not sufficient merely to amalgamate certain Departments that now deal with various sides of the health question. We shall have to look to the local areas, we shall have to consider whether in some cases these local areas are not too small, and whether in some cases the functions ought not to be spread over larger areas and larger units instead of the present small areas and small units. All these questions will have to be considered at the proper time, but while we are considering this future policy of public health as a matter really for which the Government must some day find time—it clearly cannot do so at the present critical time and under the present congested state of things—do not let it be supposed that there is any stagnation even at the present time in health activities either on the part of the local authorities or the Local Government Board.
There is a progressive evolution going on in all health questions, even during the troublous times through which the country is passing, and with the depleted staffs which are left to deal with them; witness all that has been done in connection with maternity and child welfare, venereal disease, tuberculosis, the medical care of the poor, and the care of the blind. A few figures might be interesting to the House in connection with maternity and infant welfare. Health visitors were first started in 1890. In 1914 there were only 600 health visitors, but in 1918 there are more than 2,000 health visitors. The majority of them give the whole of their time to that work. Of course, many more will be needed when this War is over, and I am convinced that one of the best channels into which the many splendid women now doing such magnificent work in connection with our soldiers and our sailors can flow when the War is over will be this channel of doing the same thing for the civil population that they have been doing for the military and naval population. Of maternity and infant welfare centres, the 1743 first of which was started in 1906, there are now more than 1,100, rather more than half of which are conducted by the local authorities and rather less than half by voluntary societies.
Then as to midwifery. I am sure that the House will agree with me that there is nothing more important than to extend the midwifery service, but owing to many causes we are short of midwives in the country at the present time, and for my own part I think we can hardly expect largely to increase the number of mid-wives until we raise their status and raise the wretched salaries with which they have to support life at the present moment, notwithstanding the delicate and trying duties they have to perform. I should like to see this reform accomplished, and the object we have in our mind is to have midwifery services everywhere. I would like to see the time when a competent midwife is available for every woman who needs her help, for one of the great things we are all thinking about is the reconstruction period after the War, when we shall have to replace the terrible losses we are suffering on the battlefield. But the result of our work under war conditions is shown in the fact that in 1910 midwives attended half the births of the country, while now, in 1918, midwives attend three-quarters of the births of the country. The work of the whole of our maternity services is shown in these figures, that whereas the death rate among infants was 150 per 1,000 up to 1900, the death rate among infants is now 100 per 1,000, which is a distinct improvement.
There are other important figures I would like to give the House relating to midwives and births, despite the difficulty of securing an adequate number of mid-wives. In the ten years from 1897 to 1906 one mother died in childbirth for every 228 births; in the last ten years one mother has died in childbirth for every 260 births, so that there is a distinct improvement in these figures. I have been very anxious since I have been President of the Local Government Board to extend our powers as regards the whole of this work, which is annually growing, as will be seen by the figures of expenditure. The expenditure incurred on this work in the last three years by local authorities has been £96,000, £169,000, and £279,000 respectively, while the expenditure of voluntary agencies during the last 1744 three years has been £40,000, £50,000, and £70,000 respectively. Those are approximate figures.
§ Mr. FISHER
I think I see my hon. Friend's point. What he really asks, as I understand it, is whether that expenditure indicates the same amount of work, having regard to the decreased purchasing value of the sovereign. I am afraid that is a question which requires some care in answering it. I should say it does not represent the full value of the money spent as compared with normal conditions, but what is the exact proportion of loss that we have had to suffer owing to the fall in value of the sovereign is a matter for careful inquiry, and I will consider that point. But the Treasury have extended quite lately the objects on which Grant can be paid, and the Grant is now available for lying-in homes, crèches, day nurseries, and the provision of food and milk for expectant and nursing mothers and young children, as well as convalescent homes for nursing mothers and young children, and other objects. The money is available for all these things, now chiefly carried out by voluntary associations, because unfortunately the local authorities have not the legal power to do many things they ought and want to do, and the Government cannot find time for certain little Bills to be introduced into this House. I know we have the Maternity and Infant Welfare Bill giving to the local authorities powers for spending money on the lying-in-homes, Crèches, etc. I am well aware that there is an expectation that there should be a still larger Bill dealing with the Ministry of Health, but if we have not time even for small measures, it would seem that there may not be time for larger measures.
If I may take another subject and take it very shortly, I would like to deal with venereal disease. The House will recollect that under the Regulations of 1916 all county councils and county boroughs councils were required to submit free schemes for diagnosis and treatment of venereal disease. They responded admirably to that requirement notwithstanding the extraordinary difficulty in which the hospitals are placed at the present time. Schemes submitted by 121 local authorities out of 145 have been approved by the Board covering a population of 32,500,000, 1745 and 181 treatment centres are already at work serving a population which amounts approximately to 30,000,000. In London treatment centres were opened on the 1st of January, 1917, and there were during the first year 16,020 cases treated at those centres. Altogether there is evidence that these treatment centres are being resorted to, as it is the desire they should be resorted to—that treatment of the most modern kind is being offered and is being very gratefully accepted by those who unfortunately have contracted this disease. It is too soon to ask whether we are satisfied with the results, and I have alluded to the extraordinary difficulties in which the hospitals are placed owing to the shortage of doctors, while in addition there is a shortage of Salvarsan and things of that kind. But I say that the general way in which response has been made by the local authorities to these Regulations is most encouraging, and I believe that the House is pursuing the right policy in offering men and women this sure form of treatment, administered in every way with the utmost confidential securities, so that people have no excuse for not going to get themselves cured, or for going to those who do not cure, but to whom they are often driven by the fear of publicity. The Grant paid by the Board during the financial year 1917–18 amounted to £84,483, and for the current year it is expected to amount to £250,000. That represents, of course, only 75 per cent. of the expenditure, as the State provides that percentage of the expenditure to which the local authorities commit themselves.
I must, before I leave the domain of public health, say one word on a subject which is very dear to my heart, and, I am sure, to the hearts of all of us, and that is, the question of the blind. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board in 1914 set up a Committee to inquire into the condition and welfare of the blind, and he very kindly asked me to undertake the chairman ship of that Committee. That Committee, in due course, reported, and I was able to hand the Report to myself, having in the interval become President of the Local Government Board. Naturally, I take a very great interest in the subject. Now, for the first time, the State is going to do for the blind what it should have done many years ago. It is going to make special provision for them. It is going to see that there is some supervision of their general education and general mainten- 1746 ance. I set up a special Departmental Committee in the Local Government Board, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr. Walsh) very kindly undertook the chairmanship of it. That Committee has already done some most useful and practical work. The first thing was to establish a complete register of all the blind in this country, a thing that should have been done long ago. Of course, we cannot do much as regards workshops—which is the crux of the whole position—during the War, but we can at least see that under the now Education Bill everything possible is done for the blind in regard to education. I want this country to be the country to which everybody will come in order to study the best methods of treating the blind. Of course, philanthropical effort, much as it has done and is continuing to do, cannot do everything, and I am quite certain that what is wanted is supervision over all the great agencies that exist for the blind. Co-operation, too, is needed. It is necessary to fill up the gaps. We want to establish workshops for the blind, to help them to sell their goods at a profit in what I admit is a limited market, and for those who cannot work, even when you have trained them, it is necessary to provide an adequate pension. That is all in process of being done.
Much work has been thrown on my Department in connection with the Representation of the People Act. The registration of electors in this country is now to be thrown on public officials, and the registration will have to be supervised by the Local Government Board. Already, I need hardly say, we are face to face with many difficulties. I understand that several questions are going to be raised in this House on this subject. The House must really be patient. The difficulties are tremendous. There are difficulties in connection with the supply of paper, with printing, with labour, and in obtaining skilled canvassers, and these difficulties have been enormously increased by the last Military Service Act. I had hoped that we should be able to produce the register by the 1st October, but my hopes are fading day by day. There are very many difficulties in the way, and unless some miracle is performed I see very little prospect of the register being completed with anything approaching accuracy, and in such a way that the desire of everyone that our soldiers and sailors shall not only have a vote, but shall also have an opportunity of voting 1747 may be realised. I feel there is very little chance of that happening by the 1st October. But the fact that I take a somewhat doleful view of it will not prevent me from stimulating the registration authorities to do their level best—and the printers as well. We have done one good thing. We have got the Stationery Office to come to our aid. It is going to make the contracts for the registration officers. It is going to ascertain what amount of printing and material will be required, and it will give any assistance that it can in order to speed up the process of completing the register. Questions, I understand, are to be asked on this matter in the course of the Debate, and I will, therefore, say nothing more now upon it.
I have only one other subject to deal with, and it is my own Department, the staff of which has been sadly depleted since the commencement of the War. I claim for the existing staff that, while an enormous amount of extra work has been imposed upon them, that work has been done to the satisfaction of the House of Commons and of the country. In 1914 there were 510 men of military age in the Department. Now there are only 167, and 65 of these have been either rejected or discharged. Of the remaining 102 only two are in Grade 1 and only nine in Grade 2.
§ Mr. FISHER
Up to forty-one. Those who have joined up—and they joined up willingly—have done splendid service for their country. Thirty-three have been killed or wounded, and almost as many of them have obtained military honours on one field or another. I claim for the Department over which I preside that it has shown as great a spirit of patriotism and self-denial in this respect as any other section of the community, and that those who have remained behind have discharged their responsible and increased duties in the most admirable manner. This great Department of State has neither slumbered nor slept. It has not only performed its normal functions, but it has raised into activity many of the latent powers of our local authorities, and it has directed those latent powers into channels which have been of immense advantage to the State. I think I may make one further claim, and say that we 1748 are endeavouring to lay a solid foundation for those great works of reconstruction to which so much importance will attach after the War, and that when the time comes we shall bend our energies to the task, not of taking life, but of providing that security and that progress so necessary for our national existence.
§ Mr. ALBION RICHARDSON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I wish to invite the attention of the Committee for a short time to the Regulations issued in the last few days by the Local Government Board under the Military Service Act. I make no apology for doing so, because they affect the rights and liberties of thousands of our fellow citizens in two vital respects. They deprive men up to fifty years of age of the rights which were given to their sons and to all who came before the tribunals under preceding Military Service Acts; and, further, they violate a pledge given by the Government on the strength of which certain Amendments were withdrawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton in the discussions on the Military Service Act recently passed by this House. The two important matters I complain of are these: In the first case, the applicant is deprived of his full right of appeal from the decision of the local tribunal, and, in the second place, is deprived of any sort of professional assistance in taking his case before the tribunal, while the Crown reserves to itself the right of being represented by fully qualified legal gentlemen who are sent down by the War Office to assist the National Service representative. I should like to justify what I have said with regard to the failure of the Government to fulfil the undertaking given by the Home Secretary. May I recall to the mind of this Committee what occurred on 15th April? Clause I was being discussed. That was the Clause of the Bill which, as originally drafted, enabled the Government by Regulation to sweep away every ground of exemption. We put down an Amendment for the purpose of restricting that very wide power, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, with that candour which he always displays, in order to satisfy the Committee, said they were not going to exercise these powers to their fullest extent. Perhaps I had better read you his words:It is not the intention of the Government to allow the applicants a right of appeal from the 1749 local tribunal to the Appeal Tribunal, except by leave of the local tribunal, while at the same time the Minister of National Service will retain the right of appeal from the local tribunal to the Appeal Tribunal.After a very long discussion, in which the view was unanimously expressed by everyone who spoke that this was most unfair and without any precedent in the whole history of the administration of our law, the Home Secretary got up and gave this pledge on behalf of the Government. He said:The only object of the proposal to limit the right of appeal was to diminish delay. I feel, however, the force of the argument used in favour of giving a right of appeal as much to one side as to the other. As a lawyer, and I am afraid rather an old lawyer now, I have a prejudice in favour of that view.… I propose, with the consent of my colleagues, to extend it to both sides."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th April, col. 104.]The Committee understood, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board understood, that that was a pledge to give the full right of appeal to both sides which up to that time was enjoyed by the National Service representative, and in reply to a question I put down two days ago, in which I complained that that full right of appeal had not been preserved in these Regulations, my right hon. Friend said:I cannot admit that the new Regulations deprive applicants of the full right of appeal from the decision of the local tribunals.Then in answer to a supplementary question, he said:I still think my view is correct that the full rights of appeal are embodied in the Regulations. That, however, will be a matter for debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1918, cols. 1393–94]There can be no controversy as to the meaning of that. I inquired whether the pledge had been fulfilled by the Regulations which have been circulated. This question of the right of appeal involves a consideration of four paragraphs in the Regulations. The first of these is 38 (2), which limits the period of exemption given by the tribunal to six months—that is the maximum period. Then Regulation 27—and this is a new one—says thatAn application by or on behalf of a man for the renewal or variation of a certificate shall not be entertained, unless leave to apply has been granted by the tribunal which decided the application on which the certificate was granted.5.0 P.M.
The two paragraphs that follow arc not material, but it goes on:The decision of the tribunal granting or refusing leave under these Regulations shall be final.1750 Then if you look at 24 (1), that describes the method of applying for a renewal. Application must be made in the prescribed form, and when it is granted it must be treated as the application for renewal. Paragraph 44 is an important paragraph which deal with the right of appeal:Any person aggrieved by a decision of the local tribunal and the National Service representative …may, as hereinafter provided, appeal against the decision of the local tribunal to the Appeal Tribunal for the area, or such other Appeal Tribunal as may in any particular case or class of cases be prescribed.The notice of appeal must be given within two days. The local tribunal is deprived of the power it had before of extending the time if there was some sufficient cause accepted by the National Service representative. Then paragraph (3) says:The decisions in respect of which an appeal may be made shall not include any decision of the local tribunal, which in these Regulations is expressed to be final.Inasmuch as the light to apply for renewal is to be final, if the application is refused it follows that no appeal lies from the refusal. I think the most convenient form in which I can lay before the Committee what I suggest is the result of these Regulations to which I have referred is to give three concrete examples. The first case is that of a man who applies for exemption, and the chairman says, "Three months exemption." If he is an intelligent man—and we will take the intelligent men first—who has read these Regulations, he will ask, "Have I leave to appeal for renewal?" The chairman will reply, "I cannot say that. You must apply on the prescribed form." The man goes and gets the form, and by the time the appeal is heard the two days he had under the original application are gone, and he is shut out from appeal. His only course is to lodge his application in any case, not knowing whether it will be renewed, within the two days. In the case of another man who comes before the tribunal perhaps his only knowledge is from the unfortunate experiences of his sons. He may have three months' exemption, and may think that he has the right of renewal unless it is otherwise provided by an Order. I can give a case of men who have come out believing that the three months' exemption carried with it a right to apply for renewal, that right not having been prohibited by any Order. The man is in this position, that no plea 1751 of ignorance of the Regulations or of having been misled by statements into the belief that he had a full right to appeal would help him, because the local tribunal have no jurisdiction to extend it by a single day, however great may be the inadvertence in the particular case.
There is a still stronger case which I think shows more clearly still that the pledge to give a full right of appeal has not been carried out by these Regulations. Take the case of a tribunal that gives six months' exemption. That is the maximum they can give. In that case a man has no right to appeal at all, even within a few days. He only has a right to appeal from a decision if he is aggrieved. He cannot say he is aggrieved by a decision which is the maximum period that the tribunal can grant. His grievance is that he is not allowed to apply for a renewal, but on that there is no appeal; he is debarred. I could give a case where a man has six months and is debarred in terms from making any application to the Appeal Tribunal for leave to appeal. I have put the Committee in possession of that point, and I hope they will note it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Most unfair!"] It is true he has under the Regulations an appeal for the six months, but the answer is that he is not aggrieved by it. The third instance, which is a little astonishing, is that in Regulation 27, which only applies to an application for renewal by the man. The National Service representative may apply for certificates to be curtailed in period without leave at all, but the man must get leave. There is no right of appeal if leave is refused to the man, but if the Military Service representative fails in his effort to curtail the period he has a full right to appeal to the tribunal. That is placing him in the position which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to place him in in the original suggestion he made, but which was afterwards withdrawn. I would sum up my criticisms on this point on the right of appeal by saying that the right of appeal where exemption is granted for six months is abolished, and in the second place the right of the man is taken away while the full right of the National Service representative is preserved in regard to varying the period of exemption. All I can say is that if the Government really declare that they are advised that I am wrong in my construction of these Regulations and that they really do give the right of appeal the man 1752 had before, I do beg them to make that clear in the Regulations. I would like to read an extract from a case that was reported quite recently while the last Military Service Acts were before the House in which a comment was made by Mr. Justice Darling, who has had unrivalled experience in these cases. I think he has dealt with nearly every case in the Divisional Courts. He said in regard to the language of that statute—that is the Military Service Acts—thathe hoped that the Man-power Bill which was now before Parliament would be couched in terms less embarrassing to the Courts and to the public, who had the right to understand what they were being subjected to.I think that expression of opinion as to the difficulty in construing the Acts that have already been passed should make us a little careful that these Acts are in terms not only clear to lawyers and the courts of law but intelligible to the man in the street, who will have to construe them under the new Regulations without the professional assistance which he at the present time receives. Apart, however, from the undertaking which was given I would base my appeal to the Government on the ground of expediency. I have sat for more than two years as chairman of one of the divisions of the London Appeal Tribunal in this matter, and I speak from my own experience. Looking at the figures, I find that in 50 per cent. of the cases that have come before us we have varied or reversed the order of the tribunal in favour of the man. It is not, therefore, a mere formality to have this right of appeal. It is a right which strikes at the very root of the statutory right provided under the first Military Service Act for the men who became subject to compulsory service. What I do suggest is that the easiest way of dealing with the matter is to preserve the previous system which everyone understands, and with which every local tribunal in the country is familiar. It is understood by the men themselves, and it will avoid the great difficulties which will be constantly recurring if these Regulations are persisted in. If the Government cannot go as far as that— [HON. MEMBERS: "They will!"] —I would invite them to give every man the right of coming before the Appeal Tribunal for leave to appeal, even if it is only a written application, so that the man shall not be shut out from coming before the Appeal Tribunal, which can very well decide whether the appeal is a frivolous one. To leave that to be decided 1753 by the local tribunal in the way I have described is not carrying out the views of the House, nor is it in accord with public opinion.
I turn for a few moments to the other Regulation which I think is a mistake. It stands on a different ground because there was nothing said about it during the discussions in Committee, and I make no criticism of the Government for not having fulfilled an undertaking. It is depriving the man of professional assistance, and is to be found in Regulation 12 (2):A party to an application shall not be professionally represented before the tribunal, but the tribunal may, in their discretion, if they are of opinion that the applicant is unable adequately to present his case, permit him to be represented by a relative, or other person—mark the words "other person"—not being a professional representative.The justification of this is delay. It is said that legal assistance delays an application, and that it is highly important at the present stage, with the imperative necessity for getting men for the Army, that no delay should ensue. I have no reason to suppose that the experience of other chairmen varies from my own. My colleagues in London quite agree with the view that legal assistance, so far from delaying proceedings, has expedited them. It has been of the very greatest assistance to us in the Appeal Tribunals. We could not have done our work in the time with the thoroughness, and giving the satisfaction which I think the tribunals have given on the whole, without it. Coming down to details, you get a man unrepresented, without, a solicitor or counsel, who has not got his case up, and does not know what the tribunal wants to hear. He has, perhaps, left at home all the documents relevant to the particular matters likely to arise in the course of the the proceeding, the witnesses are not there, and the real points of the case are not brought out. Such a man usually deals with a number of matters wholly irrelevant to the inquiry, and in such cases as that the chairman of the tribunal becomes his counsel. I always try to put myself in the position of the counsel of the man, and try to devote myself with the same vigilance to protecting him as I should show if I were his counsel. But that is not a burden you can put on every chairman sixty times a day in sixty different places. They could 1754 not do it. It is all very well when it arises occasionally. The practised solicitors who appear before us, far from delaying proceedings, are so busy that they are anxious to get through the cases. In many cases they open by saying, "There is nothing in these considerations which have been put in; the whole point lies here," and in two or three minutes the whole point is laid before the tribunal.
I desire to pay my tribute not only to my own professional Bar, but also to the solicitors who practise before us in London. They have been of the greatest assistance to us, and we owe a large measure of success in the tribunal to the loyalty with which, not only to their clients but to the State, they have conducted the work with which they have been entrusted. One of the odd parts of this Regulation—I think the oddest—is that, while it says that it delays proceedings to employ counsel, yet is says it does not delay proceeding to employ another person. [An HON. MEMBER: "Your grandmother!"] So that to employ a solicitor who has been struck off the rolls is not to delay proceedings, but to employ a reputable solicitor is. By what process of thought that conclusion was reached I cannot understand, but perhaps my right hon. Friend will enlighten the Committee. The sort of advocate that would be got before a tribunal would be the ex solicitor, the paid lecturer for the No-Conscription Fellowship, who will always be most anxious to assist the applicant—for nothing, of course! There will be no evidence that any consideration passes, and he will do it for love of his fellow-man, and you may be sure he will not give very much assistance to the smooth working of the tribunals, his whole object being to destroy and defeat them as far as possible. I do not see why under this Regulation that class should not get a very large practice.
I would point out again that the hardship, and, I think, the main injustice, of such a Regulation as this is that the State, through the National Service Department, has the right of being represented by a fully-qualified lawyer. If all the National Service representatives who attend tribunals were of the order of the National Service representative that we have had the good fortune to have during the last two years—because he has been, not only fair to the Department he represents, but most fair to the man who is before him, and most anxious that every 1755 fact in the man's favour should be brought out—if you could guarantee such a National Service representative as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockton, I should be quite content that the applicant should not be represented. But we know that is not the case, and, therefore, it is highly essential in the interests of justice that this Regulation should be amended in the sense I have advocated.
There is another aspect of this matter to which I would also invite the attention of the Government. I know of no other instance, with the exception of one, in the whole administration of our law from the earliest times in which a man, whose liberty is in peril, has been deprived of the right of being represented by counsel before the tribunal that has to decide his case. The one exception was the old barbarous rule of the Common Law, which deprived a man indicted for felony of the right of counsel, except on points of law. It was on that system in one assize that there were probably more judicial murders committed than ever since that law has been repealed. It was under that system that Jeffreys and Scroggs flourished. Without such a system such judges could not have sat on the bench or maintained their position for a single week, and it was clear that the Crown in those days was not concerned in getting the truth but in getting a conviction, and that without delay. In the more humane and enlightened age that followed the Revolution that great stain upon the spirit of British justice and upon the administration of our law was removed, and men are now entitled in every Court to be represented by counsel. I-put it to the Committee, having given by Statute the right to the humblest criminal charged with crime to be represented by his chosen advocate in a Court of law, are we to deprive the man who goes, not into a criminal Court, but before a civil tribunal, to assert a right conferred upon him by Statute, of the same right? Because it is a right, rather than a privilege. I think very little consideration will show that that could not be done without inflicting an injustice against which public opinion revolts. Not only does every man in every other Court have that right, but a man's own son had that right when he came before the tribunal under the early Military Service Acts.
1756 I would impress upon my right hon. Friend that he should review his consideration of that Regulation. I do not think he does, but some people seem to suppose that a man who goes before a tribunal is doing something he ought not to do. That is an entirely wrong impression. It is as much a right for a man to apply under the Act of Parliament for exemption as it is the right of the Crown to compel him to serve as a soldier. The two rights are given by the same Statute, and but for this right the Bill would never have passed this House. It is a part of the law, and, therefore, ought to be as much respected, and one which the Regulations should give the same assistance in carrying out. The matter is urgent. The Regulations are already in force, and I would beg my right hon. Friend not to delay revising them. I can assure him I make these suggestions with no desire whatever to embarrass the Government, and certainly not with any desire to embarrass him. I most frankly and gratefully acknowledge the constant sympathy and assistance which the President of the Local Government Board has given to tribunals. He and his able staff under him have had to compose what amounts practically to a new code of law, applying the new conditions—conditions unparalleled in our history. That they should have avoided mistakes under such circumstances was impossible, and that those mistakes have been so few is, I think, in itself a high tribute to those responsible. It is in that spirit that I invite my right hon. Friend on behalf of the Government to accept the suggestion I have made, and to bring these Regulations in accord with public opinion, and in accord with the pledge given by the Home Secretary when this Bill was in Committee, and thus make them acceptable to public opinion and to the thousands of citizens of this country whose liberty they have taken, and whose right they also have taken in a manner which no other Act of Parliament has done.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN (Chairman, House of Commons Appeal Tribunal)
I think I may say, on behalf of the Committee as a whole, that we are all very much indebted to my hon. and learned Friend for a lucid explanation of a very complicated situation, and for the moderation with which he expressed the strong view he holds. I think at the outset I should like to claim 1757 for myself, and for my colleagues who may speak in this Debate on the same lines as myself, that we are at least as anxious as any member of the Government, the head of the Local Government Board, or the Minister of National Service, to get fit men as speedily as we possibly can. I think that will be admitted, and therefore anything we say here, that being granted, will be only judged from the point of view that we are sincerely anxious to help the country and to get the right men as quickly as possible. The next thing to which I would like to get the assent of everybody is this: That in the Regulations which are issued, strong as was the case under the first Regulations for their being lucid, simple, and easily understood, there is an overwhelming case under present conditions for the new Regulations being, if possible, so simple that ho who runs may read, because they are based on the assumption that no man at any of these tribunals shall have the benefit of professional assistance. Therefore it follows that if ever there were any real necessity for pellucid clearness, if that can be got in such a document of this kind, here it is.
I do not hesitate to say that while these Regulations in some respects are useful, they are more difficult to understand than any Regulations I have ever read under the Military Service Acts. We are dealing with a new class of men—a class up to fifty-one. Of the existing class, from eighteen to forty-one years, you can say with truth that substantially all the cases —there being some exceptions, of course—are hard cases by reason of personal claims, domestic responsibilities, and physical fitness. That being the state of affairs, the greatest possible care should have been taken in framing these new Regulations. After the reluctant manner —I do not think I am putting it too high—with which, after the arguments that were raised before the House, the House parted with that Bill, any promises or undertakings should have been implemented to the full, and one of the most important of them all was the question of the right of appeal from the local to the Appeal Tribunal. The way in which my hon. and learned Friend dealt with that absolves me from going into any details, and I think it would be very much better if I simply gave some concrete instances of how the thing works. The panel of the tribunal over which I have the honour to preside sat this morning in Committee 1758 Room 9, and we had at once before us these Regulations to deal with them as well as we could. Under the old Regulations in the case of a man, say, John Smith, coming before a local tribunal, on the ground which he lays before that body, let us suppose he gets an exemption for three months. In. the old practice he would have the right of appeal. What is the position of John Smith, who has appeared before the local tribunal to-day—and I suppose hundreds of cases have been heard this morning all over the country? No local or Appeal Tribunal can now give anything, except in the case of a certified occupation, other than a final decision in form. It is true that John Smith has two days, and, if he be a wise man, he will run no risk, but put in at once his notice of appeal. Should he not do that, what is his position? Fourteen days before the end of the three months he must apply to the local tribunal for leave to renew his application, and if the local tribunal refuse him, there is no appeal from it. I will assume that the man has taken the advice tendered to him, and has at once lodged his notice of appeal. The case subsequently comes before the Appeal Tribunal. What, then, is our position? The man lays before us the ground upon which he asks us to reverse the decision of the local tribunal. The local tribunal have given him three months' exemption. I say to the man, "This appears to be a perfectly proper order; there is nothing wrong with it; you have had three months' exemption; what now are your grounds for asking anything further?" The man, perhaps, replies, "Oh, yes, it is a very fair order." Then I will say, "Is there anything more than that you have to put before us?" The reply will probably be, "I do not trust the local tribunal as to what is going to happen fourteen days before the end of the three months, and I should like to put in a notice now." What is my answer? It is, "I do not think that is a ground in which I can exercise my discretion in your favour. I cannot take from you the statement that you ask for an alteration, simply because you do not trust the local tribunal. You must apply to me on some grounds which are relevant. Your application must be based upon clearer grounds which are set forth by Statute, and in the Statute there is nothing stated about having no trust in the local tribunal. "The man may continue," Well, I do not know what ultimately the local 1759 tribunal may or may not say in my favour. There may be a change of personnel, or all sorts of things may happen." Things do change, as we all know. As everybody knows, in London there is no guarantee if a man make an application before a committee that he will come again before the same body of men. Still, that is a ground which, as I tell the man, I cannot entertain.
What happens to that man? He is deprived of his right of going before the Appeal Tribunal on the merits of the case. I say to both of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, they know as well as I do that this House would never have passed the Bill had they not believed that the appellant was going to have substantially the same right of appeal as before from the local tribunal to the Appeal Tribunal. It may be that my right hon. Friend will get up and point out to me and to the rest of the hon. Members here that technically the same rights of appeal are there, save that the appeal has to be put in at once. You may say that, and with the best will in the world, but the man does not know. He has not been through it. Neither has my right hon. Friend the Minister for National Service. He does not know how the tribunals work. Some of us do. We are steeped in it, and have been for over two years, and we are very tired of it. At any rate, we do know the job. We understand how these things are going to work. I say this deliberately, that while, technically, you are giving to the appellant from the local tribunal the full right of appeal in two days, substantially you are vitally affecting his right of appeal.
Again, with regard to re-hearing, what have we been used to do? We made our final order for two or three months. It might be that often a man or his wife was seriously ill, or there were many other domestic conditions into which I need not go in detail. Everybody understands who knows what human life is, because it Is that we are dealing with here. I often wonder whether permanent officials realise that in this matter. In a case of this kind we say to the man: "Yes, that is the final order, but if the circumstances vitally change, you can apply for a rehearing." Of course, I admit at once there has been a certain amount of abuse. Such always happens; but substantially these rights have been well and reasonably exercised. Now the man has 1760 no chance of a re-hearing at all, unless he gets the consent—of whom?—the Director General of National Service.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
No, no; he has to go to the Director-General of Recruiting for it. Another thing has been taken out of our hands, and it is serious, and really serious, for it will give a blow to the system, and will not, as is supposed, help you to get your men quicker. You will not get a man a day earlier, that is certain. I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is not true to say that you will not get a man a day earlier owing to this Regulation, and you will enormously increase the work of the tribunals, clerical and otherwise. I desire to make a suggestion. I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board will receive it with that open mind and sympathy which has distinguished not only himself, but his predecessor in office; and I would like to join most heartily in what was said by my hon. Friend in praise of the Local Government Board, whose sympathetic consideration, I doubt not, we shall have in the problem that is now before us. My suggestion is concerning Regulation 27. I see my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal party present. He has one of the clearest minds probably that ever entered public life. I might read out Regulation 27, to which I invite him to look. It is one of the most complicated Regulations ever issued.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
There is Regulation 44, which seems to give the right perfectly clearly. It says,Any person aggrieved by the decision can appeal,and so on. The real intention of somebody —I do not know who—but I do not believe it is the intention of my right hon. Friend here—somebody's intention is embodied in Regulation 27, to clog, and, consequently affect, the right of appeal. Let me say another thing about that. If those concerned feel certain that this two days spoken of in which the man can make his appeal should be present to the minds of everybody, why is it not so stated? That two days you have to arrive at by a process of laborious deduction. It is nowhere so stated.
1761 That brings me to the question of the right of appellants to professional assistance. Let me repeat—let the Committee thoroughly understand—I hope I am not wearying hon. Members, but I am going to say it over and over again until it is driven in—as to the class of case with which you are dealing. You are dealing with men from forty-one to fifty-one years of age. They have borne the burden and heat of the civil side of this struggle up till now. I have no particular sympathy with one class above another, but the least we can do is to acknowledge that they deserve well of their country for the way they have fulfilled their duties up till now. If, under the circumstances, any man or body of men deserve any reasonable assistance, it is these in laying their cases before the tribunals in the national interest—because it is against the national interest to send unfit men into the Army, and it is also against the national interest to send men into the Army who are better retained in civil life. To deprive them of the right of professional representation is wrong. I myself am a lawyer, although I have not been doing very much at it lately.
I rather distrust people who do not like lawyers. The other day I was reading Lord Morley's "Reminiscences." In one of his reflections the question is put: "Why is it that the great executive officers do not like lawyers?" The reply by Lord Morley, in his own wise way, is: "I think perhaps because they do not like law." I will at once admit that in some tribunals, in some districts of the country, it is quite likely that the right of professional assistance has been abused. I am not saying that this has not happened. I have certain evidence that it has, but in any system of this kind you may have abuses. We must take the balance of things. I can only speak from my own personal experience in London, and here I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that while there have been some—very few—instances of legal gentlemen not acting in the proper spirit, and abusing the right of professional assistance, these cases have practically died out. We got to know those concerned, and they had a rather chilly time when they appeared before us. For the rest, solicitors and barristers alike have played their part well. They have discharged a very difficult duty with a high sense of their national responsibility. Many and many a time I have seen a lawyer turn down his 1762 brief, knowing that the application of his client could not reasonably be proceeded with.
There is another useful function performed by the legal representatives. They have been very useful—if I may use the term—as watch-dogs, in helping the tribunals to an interpretation of the Regulations and of the proper exercise of their power. There is a regular Bar which thoroughly understands the Regulations, and which has a very large experience of the practice of various tribunals. This has been a very useful safeguard for the public with regard to the exercise of tribunal powers. If my right hon. Friend will turn to page 5, paragraph 3, he will see what is required. Appellants have toconfine themselves to the presentation of evidence and the elucidation of facts strictly relevant to the grounds on which the application is made.I will put a concrete case of a man of forty-five or forty-six with three or four children. He sits in the Court for some time watching each case, and waiting his turn. When his case comes on that man's mental condition is not at all conducive to the "elucidation of the facts strictly relevant." He often comes before a tired tribunal. By one o'clock to-day I was very tired, and it is only by the strongest exercise of patience that I was able to give a decently fair hearing to the last ten cases before the tribunal. I think that alone shows the astonishing lack of knowledge of human nature exhibited by this proposal to take away from that class of man this useful power of representation in laying the facts of the case before the tribunal.
There is another point, and it may seem a rather small one, but the strain placed upon the chairman of doing the appellant's work for him is very great. Perhaps I may be forgiven for relating a little personal experience which occurred only this morning. We had a list of forty-two cases to deal with between 10.30 and 1.30. At the beginning of the proceedings, in view of the Debate to take place to-day, we announced that we would not hoar any professional representatives, and we adjourned those cases for a week, in order to see what happened here. All those cases were taken out, and we had then a list of twenty-four cases to deal with. Any County Court judge or judge in the High Court would be horrified at having to deal with the lives and fortunes 1763 of some twenty-four people between 10.45 and 1.30, and they were really cases of very great importance. What happens at a normal sitting? Some cases would have been heard with professional representatives, and immediately a case comes up where a man is not represented you say to yourself, "I will look after that fellow, and see that he has a fair run." There are many reasons perhaps why such a man is not legally represented. Possibly one is that he cannot afford it. If hon. Members saw the human problems that I do who cannot afford legal assistance, they would understand what it means for a chairman to have a mind fresh to deal with such a case. Under this Regulation all that is gone, and you are left with this very great strain. The consequence is that the cases do not get the careful consideration which they should have. On all these grounds I most strongly urge my right hon. Friend not to be led away by the mere technical position with regard to the right of appeal, but if he will charge his mind with the fact that the House intended that a substantial and not merely technical right of appeal should be granted, he will suspend Regulation 27, and I am certain that, after what has been said, he will be ready to grant once again the right of professional representation.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am sure there is only one desire in the Committee with regard to this matter, and it is that the right of appeal which the House and the Government wisely accepted should be adequately safeguarded not only in the letter, but in the spirit. I have not the knowledge of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down on this subject, nor his experience; but I confess that upon giving such attention as I have been able to devote to the terms of these Regulations I find it very difficult to reconcile the 27th Regulation with the 44th, or to say what is their conjoint effect. I cannot help thinking that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board would be well advised if he would consider the possibility of clearing up the matter, and making it perfectly plain to the House and the persons concerned that the right of appeal which was intended to be granted in its fullest and largest sense is not indirectly cut down and curtailed by the provisions of the 27th Regulation.
1764 The point upon which I want to say a word or two has reference rather to the 12th of these Regulations, which provides, among other things, that a party to an application shall not be professionally represented before the tribunal. I think my right hon. "Friend opposite has already said that he has an open mind on that subject, and is prepared to defer to any general expression of the opinions of the House. The matter is made a little more serious by the third Sub-section, to which my right hon. Friend has just referred, which is one of the most stringent I have ever seen in any Act of Parliament, or any Regulation of a public Department. It is in these terms:All parties to an application, and their representatives, if any, who are allowed to appear, shall confine themselves to the presentation of evidence and the elucidation of facts strictly relevant to the grounds on which the application is made.That is a counsel of perfection to which, so far as I am aware, no tribunal has ever even attempted to conform. You are setting up a standard which a Court of law, with trained judges on the bench and accomplished counsel at the Bar, assisted by still more accomplished solicitors in the well to instruct them, as far as my knowledge goes have rarely been able to attain. I do not want to press that too far. If we are to have this ideal system of justice administered by these tribunals, surely you should fortify them by every possible means, to prevent them falling short of securing the attainment of both the truth and the justice of the case! I am not speaking here in the interests of the profession to which I once belonged, but I am speaking entirely in the interests of the persons concerned and of the State. Our history in this respect is a very peculiar one. By the common law of this country, in the old days, persons concerned as parties in a case were not allowed to give evidence at all. It was supposed that they had such a bias in their own interests that they could not be trusted to tell the truth, and it required the centuries of experience to make accused people who best know the facts of the case competent to give evidence before the Court.
In my own experience, I remember quite well, when I was a young man at the Bar, that a prisoner in a criminal case was not allowed to give evidence, because he was supposed to be so tainted that, whether innocent or guilty, it would be dangerous to receive his evidence. It 1765 is exactly twenty years ago since a Bill was passed through this House to enable prisoners to be witnesses. Some of the most eminent lawyers of the time opposed it hotly and strongly, on the ground that it would be a perilous and fatal departure from a rule which the wisdom of our ancestors and the experience of their successors had devised. Does anyone say that the result is not satisfactory? It is true that it has stopped one argument on behalf of the criminal— that his mouth was closed. We all know that in three cases out of four the prisoner is a guilty person, and in his interest that his mouth should be closed. I merely mention that as an illustration to show how our ideas with regard to these matters have been modified, and wisely and judiciously modified, by Statute.
If it is true that you ought to give the parties concerned power to state their own case, still more is it true, and all experience shows that it is so in a highly technical matter of this kind—which affects vitally the interests, not only of individuals, but of families—they should be allowed such professional assistance as they can obtain? It is not only in their interest, but In the interest of the tribunal. My right hon. Friend opposite has just drawn a pathetic picture of the mental lassitude to which he was reduced as lately as this morning, after sitting for three hours. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has recovered."] Yes; he has re-covered quickly and thoroughly. However, I am speaking quite seriously, and it is a crippling of the efficiency of the tribunals that they should be deprived of professional assistance. They can do their work much more quickly, as nay right hon. Friend has truly said. The advocates, whether they be solicitors or counsel, in a matter of this kind, owing to their high professional traditions, may be relied upon to assist the tribunals, and not obstruct them, particularly in a sphere where the highest interests of the State and the safety of the State are concerned. I venture very strongly to appeal to my right hon. Friend to make a large and liberal concession in this matter. He will not delay the object that he has in view, but will facilitate it. He will give to the persons concerned the assurance that they have had full justice done to them, and he will substantially aid the tribunals in the discharge of a most difficult 1766 and most invidious task. I hope that he will see his way to withdraw that Subsection, which prevents the employment of professional assistance.
§ Mr. FISHER
I gladly acknowledge that everyone who has spoken has shown all through this struggle a desire to give every possible assistance, either by sitting on these tribunals for long and weary hours, or, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has done, by assisting in many matters the progress of the War, and doing every single thing that they possibly can to procure the men who are absolutely necessary at the front at the present time I am a little bit in the position of those who have to carry out very grave and serious Acts of Parliament, like the Military Service Acts. All those Acts, and especially the last Military Service Act, if they are to be of real value, must have quick operation, and there was very little time to frame this very difficult and complicated code of rules. My right hon. Friend, who was responsible more than any other man for the Military Service Act, the Minister for National Service (Sir A. Geddes), was very naturally pressing the Local Government Board to frame these Regulations and to issue them as soon as possible. It is perfectly obvious to anybody reading the instructions which accompany those Regulations that our desire was to accelerate the proceedings of the tribunals without doing any injustice to the applicants, in order that there might be a constant flow of men to aid those gallant fellows who stand between us and destruction. Perhaps we had not sufficient time to take evidence on all those points on which we had to come to a rapid decision. I quite agree, if we had had more time, that I should have liked to have consulted several of my hon. Friends who have sat as chairmen of these tribunals, but do not let the Committee run away with the idea that we have no evidence. I can assure the Committee that a good deal of evidence has reached us on the question of employing professional assistants. It was not by any means all on one side. I have a large batch of correspondence on this question from chairmen of appeal tribunals, chairmen of local tribunals, and from men who have worked very hard on those tribunals, and who have acquired an immense amount of experience during the last two years in working them. The evidence that came to my knowledge was 1767 very varied. I am myself a member of the Bar, and come of a family connected with the Bar.