HC Deb 24 May 1922 vol 154 cc1183-5
39. Sir J. D. REES

asked the Minister of Health whether Mr. Cooper's Report en the wasteful expenditure of the Poplar guardians will be published as a White Paper; whether he has yet decided what action to take thereon; and, if so, whether he will tell the House what such action will be?


The Report in question has been published by the Stationery Office, and I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a copy of the letter which I have addressed to the guardians.

Following is the letter:

"19th May, 1922.

SIR,—I am directed by the Minister of Health to forward to you the accompanying copy of the Report made to him by the Special Commissioner appointed to inquire into the expenditure of the guardians of the parish of Poplar Borough, and in view of the Commissioner's serious criticisms of the guardians' policy and administration, I am to urge them to give the Report their immediate and most careful consideration.

As the result of his inquiry the Commissioner finds that the administration of the Poor Law in Poplar is dictated by a policy which is in many instances foreign to the spirit and intention of the Statutes, and that the principles which influence the guardians in the excessive expenditure referred to in the Report are as bad as, if not worse than, those existing prior to the present Poor Law system. In particular he points out that the lavish allowances of outdoor relief encourage persons to apply who would not otherwise do so, and that the guardians' policy has a tendency to demoralise the recipients and is calculated to destroy incentive to thrift, self-reliance and industry.

In the letter which he addressed to the Minister on the 22nd ultimo, the chairman of the guardians contended that the guardians, in granting relief according to their judgment of the necessities of the various cases, were merely exercising a discretion which is vested in them by the Statutes. It seems necessary, therefore, to point out quite clearly that, while the guardians are entrusted with a discretion to determine what is needed to relieve destitution where destitution does in fact exist, they are not empowered to make grants out of moneys provided by time rates in any case in which destitution is not present, and their action in granting relief in such cases as those mentioned by the Commissioner is, therefore, unlawful.

The policy of the guardians is fair neither to the ratepayers of the parish nor to the independent workmen who are persevering to support themselves and their families by their own unaided labour. The Commissioner considers that by careful administration the guardians could effect a reduction in their present expenditure of at least £100,000 per annum, equivalent to the produce of a rate of over 2s. in the £. By adherence to the principles which have elsewhere been almost universally recognised as governing the administration of relief the guardians could check the progressive demoralisation of the poor of the parish and could afford a much needed encouragement to those who have persisted in reliance upon their own thrift and industry.

The Minister, therefore, earnestly trusts that the guardians will at once proceed to set on foot the reforms which are indicated in the Commissioner's Report and he looks to receive from them within a month from this date a statement of the action which they have taken or propose to take in this direction. The guardians must clearly understand that it will not be possible for the Minister to make further advances of public money unless they bring their policy and administration into conformity with the principles and procedure which are accepted by other boards of guardians throughout the country.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

(Signed) W. S. FRANCIS,

Assistant Secretary.

The Clerk to the Guardians of the Parish of Poplar Borough."