HC Deb 04 July 1924 vol 175 cc1728-42

On a point of Order. May Sir, with great respect, call your attention to the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Kingston-on-Thames (Mr. Penny), in line 11, to insert the words "medical or surgical"? That Amendment has the effect of bringing the Bill into conformity with the Title, because at present the Clause is not in conformity with the Title. The Title of the Bill now is to relieve members and chairmen of local authorities from disqualification for office by reason of the receipt of medical or surgical relief, whereas the Clause does not say anything about medical or surgical relief, but merely mentions relief in the widest general terms. I think that has arisen from the fact that in Committee the operative Clause of the Bill was wholly re-drafted, and I think that due consideration was not given to the fact that the Title was changed. In the original draft of the Bill medical and surgical relief were in the Clause and not in the Title, whereas in the Bill now before us medical and surgical relief are in the Title but not in the Clause, and this Amendment would bring them both into conformity.


On that point of Order. The purpose of the Bill is to deal with persons who receive relief in a Poor Law institution provided or set apart for the reception and treatment of sick person. That implies, I think, relief that is medical or surgical and cannot well include relief of any other kind.


I did move that Amendment, after discussion in Committee, so that there should be no doubt, because this Bill was drawn for the specific purpose of dealing with the disqualification of guardians who receive relief from poor law institutions in that way, and were so disqualified under the present law.


It is not usual to give reasons for not selecting particular Amendments, but in this case I may say that my reason was that I considered this Amendment unneccessary, and that the words would be surplusage. I still remain of that, opinion.


I beg to move, in page 1, lines 22 and 23, to leave out the words or such portion thereof as the authority may determine. There is no doubt that the Bill in Committee has grown to a gigantic size and is almost unrecognisable. So much so, that the Association of Poor Law Authorities, although agreeing to all the other Amendments made in Committee, take exception to the Amendment which I wish to leave out. To allow such words to remain in would be to agree to a departure from the principle that the acceptance of relief must mean a disqualification for office. As the House may know, the whole case arose out of a man who was taken ill and taken into a Poor Law hospital for relief, and although he was willing to pay, and did pay, for the attention which he received, he was disqualified from holding office, and it was to remove that disqualification, and for that purpose only, that this Bill was introduced. As the Poor Law authorities are anxious to have this disqualification removed, I hope the House will not insist on a Division on this Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The whole point of the Bill, as I understand it, is to waive the disqualification in the case where the otherwise disqualified person has paid for the treatment which he or his family has received. But the Bill, as we have it in our hands now, does not effect that, as it gives the local authority power to say whether or not they will disqualify this person, because the Bill says the whole cost of the relief given or such portion thereof as, the authority may determine. It seems to me perfectly just and fair to waive the disqualification where the disqualified person has paid the cost of the relief which he has received. But if he has not paid the cost, or the whole cost, it seems to me the disqualification should be valid. Because I do not wish to see the decision in this matter left to the discretion of the local authority, I support this Amendment.


I hope no one will resist this Amendment. I think it would be most unfortunate, from the point of view of the Poor Law authorities, that, by reason of these words being in the Bill, they should be in a position where they might possibly have a power which is undesirable, or—which is much more likely—they might be put in a position where they might be accused of using their powers under this Clause for what I may call local political purposes. One has only to suppose the case—and it is not an unlikely thing to happen—that there may be several members of a local council who may be in this position, and may require the relief which is given by this Bill. If the Poor Law authority has to deal with two or three cases at a time when the local authority of the neighbourhood are in a very strained position between parties, you might have the authority differentiating between two people receiving treatment, and in one case agree to accept some portion of the cost, and, in the other case, require payment of the whole. It might be quite possible that the person from whom they required payment of the whole might be a rich man, and well able to pay, and it might be quite reasonable, in the case of the other man, upon whom it might be a great strain, for them to accept the less sum; but the danger is that it leaves it open to be said of the local authority in the neighbourhood, "Just because Mr. So-and-So was in favour of some particular project, the authority required him to pay the whole amount, and because Mr. So-and-So was against that particular project, they let him off, and removed his disqualification on a merely nominal payment." It seems to me quite wrong that we should unnecessarily put any local authority in the position where that kind of thing could be said of them. As these payments in no case can amount to anything very considerable, and also in view of the fact that I think it will be generally accepted that a man should be disqualified unless he does pay the full and proper amount, I hope this Amendment will be accepted and agreed to as an improvement to the Bill, and one which is necessary in the interests of the local authorities.


I think hon. Members will have a certain sympathy with this Amendment, and also with those who in Committee put this Amendment forward, because, quite clearly, many cases may arise where through poverty a member of a local authority may be unable to defray the full cost of such treatment as he receives. I would further point this out; that this Bill is a very, very small Bill. I say that without disrespect—it is a Bill to deal with a very small point affecting only a very small number of people, while the number of people likely to be affected by the success of this Amendment would be even smaller still. I understand that the Association of Poor Law unions have expressed themselves very strongly in favour of this Amendment, and it is difficult, therefore, to resist the view of a representative body of that kind. I can imagine also that their reason is one of very considerable substance. Whilst on this subject may I say there ought to be no barrier as regards disqualification because one man is poor and the other is well-to-do, but it is questionable whether this is the proper way to achieve that end.

Poor Law guardians are, if this Amendment is not carried, and these words remain in the Bill, put in a position of disqualifying by their action members of local authorities, and not merely members of their own Poor Law authority, but members of other local authorities. We have come, therefore, to the conclusion, with the utmost sympathy with the object of the Bill that to insert these words in the Bill is a method that will not be successful. The qualification of membership of local authorities and the disqualification of members of local authorities, both have been in the past determined by Parliament, and this new method would give a discretion to Poor Law guardians to disqualify the members of other local authorities and to introduce what I think would be a very serious matter, or might be a serious matter—a difference of method in different parts of the country. We might have one Poor Law authority disqualifying a man because he could not pay the whole of the cost, or because he could not pay seven-eighths or three-quarters, and another Poor Law authority disqualifying a man in view of the fact that he could not pay a quarter or one-half—as the case might be. This would be setting up different standards, and that, I submit, would be a dangerous thing. I hope in any general consideration of Poor Law issues that this question may be considered further, and I beg the House to consider it in the interests of those who wish to eliminate any difference there may be between the poor and the well-to-do. The Government, however, do not believe that to resist the Amendment is the best way to secure the object they have in mind.


I am very sorry to hear that the Government have decided to accept this Amendment, because it destroys whatever usefulness there was in this Bill. A person may be taken to a Poor Law institution after an accident in the street, and I am sure hon. Members opposite do not think that that person should be disqualified if he is able to pay for the attention which he receives. A large number of people are obliged to go into parochial infirmaries when they are sick, and because they have not the means of paying, and those persons under this Bill would be disqualified from sitting on the local authority. If any hon. Gentleman or right hon. Gentleman who is a Member of this House receives parochial relief here, that does not debar him from coming and carrying out his duties as a Member of this House. Members of the County Council are in the same position, but it is only the members of boards of guardians and London borough councillors who are to be placed in this invidious position. That is an anomaly which I had hoped this Bill would have removed.

The hon. Member representing the Government says it is a very bad thing to have the law administered differently in one place as against another, and we all agree about that. The same thing frequently happens in the Courts where one Judge may give a certain decision which will be upset by other Judges. In the County Courts you have to leave someone to decide how the law should be administered, but in this case you allow people to sit here making the laws and you are going to prevent them administering them. A certain number of people outside London will not be disqualified, and it is only the borough councillors who are to be disqualified in London. I hope hon. Members in all parts of the House, in order to get some uniformity, will vote against this Amendment, and leave the Bill as it stands. I am very sorry that the Government have decided to accept this Amendment.


I have listened with much interest to the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but may I point out that the authorities themselves are most anxious that they should not have this responsibility thrown upon them. The cases which have been referred to by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley would be very isolated instances. This Bill deals with only a few bodies of men, and I cannot conceive that they would be in a state of pauperism which has been alluded to if they were members of the boards of guardians. These institutions levy a very low rate.


They levy a very high rate. The establishment charges are enormous in all these institutions, and I am speaking of what I actually know.


They are certainly high, but not high considering the benefits given to the people using those institutions. We have to consider the interests of the ratepayers.


I would like to reinforce the argument which has been put forward by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley. A person belonging to a local authority who is a poor man may have one of his relatives taken ill in the street, and if he is taken to a Poor Law infirmary he would be unjustly treated by being disqualified. We will assume in this case that he has been an active member of some political party. He will, therefore, of course, like many others, have made a few political enemies, and, when the question of disqualification comes up, it will be open to those people to say that he has not paid the whole cost. It is very difficult to say what is the whole cost, because there are the standing charges in addition to the costs of the institution. Perhaps he will be given the use of some costly drug, or other costly medical or surgical treatment. I therefore appeal to the Government to reconsider their decision.

I feel that the boards of guardians, who are very public-spirted people—we have nothing whatever to complain about them; in fact, we are very proud of them—should be left to decide the portion of the cost, so that if they decide that the medical and surgical fees should be 30s. or £2 per week, it will not be open to any individual who may have political views different from those of the person who has himself or whose family has received relief, to start an agitation against him to disqualify him. May I point out that members of boards of guardians come up at various periods for re-election, and I think we should give the people the opportunity of selecting those whom they want to represent them, whether they be rich or poor.


I was a member of the Committee which dealt with this Bill upstairs, and, when this Clause was put in, I foresaw the difficulty that might arise here in regard to it. There was no Division upon it in Committee, because I believe we all agreed that this cause of disqualification which at present exists should be removed. It is certainly a disqualification which in some cases is due to poverty, and therefore should not continue to exist. I think, however, no answer can be made to the statement of the representative of the Government that the proper place to define the qualification or disqualification is Parliament. Great difficulties may arise if it be left to the local bodies themselves to decide whether a man shall or shall not become disqualified. If this Amendment be not carried, it will be left to the local authorities in certain cases to decide, and it is possible that political or social prejudice may come in to cause the Board to decide how much of the cost that has been incurred shall be paid by the person in question. I agree with my hon. Friend that he ought to remove this cause of disqualification, but I do not think the local bodies are the right people to do it. It is much better that it should be done by Parliament. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bootle (Major Burnie) does not seem to have read the Bill, because at the end of this very Clause he will find what is the cost of relief. It is in respect of each day of maintenance of a person in the institution a sum not less than the average daily cost per patient of the maintenance of the institution and the patients therein, together with a sum not less than the cost of any special services or treatment provided for that person in the institution.


That is just the point I mentioned. The amount of the cost of any special services or treatment may be liable to argument.


I do not think that it would be liable to any argument, but the point is not really very important, and I do press that the proper body to decide the qualification for membership of boards of guardians is Parliament and not the boards of guardians themselves. For that reason I shall support the Amendment.


It must not be forgotten that the members of these public bodies are trustees of the public purse, and we should not on any account permit them to be laid open to a charge that they are securing some benefit that ordinary members of society do not enjoy. It may happen that a local authority may discharge a liability with a sovereign for a matter for which the individual outside and unconnected with the public body might be charged a much larger sum. A man who represents the community on a public body should be jealous of his responsibilities, and under no circumstances should he seek to enjoy an advantage which is not given to those who are not members of the public body. It is well known that a member of a local council may not participate in any contract that the council may enter into, yet it has been suggested that because he is a member of a public body the council may give him an advantage which in my judgment he should not have. It has been urged that often it is very difficult to ascertain the cost. I do not think that is so, because the local authorities have in their offices all kinds of information and statistics which enable them to put a finger immediately on the cost of any service the municipal authority or local board of guardians may render. In dealing with a Bill like this it is rather unfortunate that the matter should be dealt with in a piece-meal fashion. If you are coming to Parliament to re-open the question of what is a disqualification I venture to think there are many other disqualifications which might well be removed and perhaps with more advantage than in this particular case. I have in my mind a case where a member of a local body had a child in a mental institution, and because of that fact he was stigmatised at election time because he could not afford to pay the cost of maintaining the child there. It was alleged that he was receiving in that respect Poor Law relief. In a Bill like this a Clause might well he inserted removing the disqualification in such a case. I think it is a pity we should attempt to deal with matters of this kind in a private Member's Bill. The Government ought to bring in a Bill dealing with the subject in a complete and comprehensive way. I hope the House will accept the Amendment and that we shall be enabled to get on with this Bill.


Having listened to the discussion in connection with this Amendment, it seems to me that the Members of the House are very desirous of doing something, and they want to be very careful how they act. It must be remembered that the members of these local bodies are usually ratepayers of the district administered by the bodies on which they are sitting. Therefore, they will study themselves to some extent, as well as the other ratepayers. When one has the misfortune to have an accident and be taken into an institution which is under the guardians, such as the infirmary, and when one is prepared to pay what one can towards the expenditure incurred, nevertheless, if one is not in a position to meet the whole liability, one is disqualified, and the guardians are not in a position to say whether they will forego the full amount or any portion of it. It seems to me that we want to have something more definite even than this. If the House feels that it is unable to trust the guardians to say whether they are justified in foregoing a portion of the amount that may have been incurred by a guardian or councillor, something should be put into the Bill to make it clear and definite. I am sure the guardians themselves would like to know how far they could go. It is very hard upon a councillor or guardian, one of whose relatives may meet with an accident and be taken into the institution, that that should disqualify him if he is not in a position to pay the whole amount.

We usually find, and it is especially the case now, that amongst the guardians are members of the working classes. Most of them have to go to their daily toil to earn their living, and invariably lose time in order to attend to the work of the board of guardians. In most districts they make big sacrifices in that way. Of course, someone will say that they are not bound to do it, but they feel public-spirited

enough to want to take an interest in their local affairs. The same is the ease with regard to borough council work. Where there is not a pretty good number of Labour representatives, either on the board of guardians or on the borough council, they lose a good deal of time. We usually find that people in business like to do the work in the day-time instead of at night, but when they are workmen and workwomen they do not mind having committee meetings a little later in the evening. When people have nothing much to do during the day, or are in their business, they prefer to be at their business in the evening, and not at the council. The consequence is that the meetings are called in the day-time, and, therefore, the sacrifice entailed upon these people is greater. I am very much surprised at the attitude which the Government take in this matter, and that they are not disposed to leave it to the guardians themselves to decide, or even prepared to recommend a few words which would meet their desire and that of the House. I hope that, if this Amendment is carried, the Government will introduce some words which will obviate the necessity for people being bound to pay the whole of the cost in order that they may be allowed to continue their work on these bodies.


As the opinion of the House is evidently in favour of the Bill as a whole, perhaps we might come to a decision on this Amendment now, so that we may have a chance of getting the Bill through.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 117; Noes 93.

Division No. 131.] AYES. [3.52 p.m.
Allen, R. Wilberforce (Leicester, S.) Batey, Joseph Chapple, Dr. William A.
Alstead, R. Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish Charleton, H. C.
Attlee, Major Clement R. Bonwick, A. Church, Major A. G.
Baker, Walter Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Climie, R.
Banton, G. Broad, F. A. Cluse, W. S.
Barnes, A. Brunner, Sir J. Costello, L. W. J.
Crittall, V. G. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Ritson, J.
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Kenyon, Barnet Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Dodds, S. R. Laverack, F. J. Robertson, T. A.
Dukes. C. Law, A. Robinson, S. W. (Essex, Cheimsford)
Duncan, C. Lawrence, Susan (East Ham, North) Romeril, H. G.
Dunnico, H. Lee, F. Rudkin, Lieut Colonel C. M. C.
Edwards, John H. (Accrington) Lessing, E. Sexton, James
Egan, W. H. Lindley, F. W. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.) Loverseed, J. F. Snell, Harry
Falconer, J. Lowth, T. Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) McCrae, Sir George Spence, R.
Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, North) McEntee, V. L. Spero, Dr. G. E.
Gavan-Duffy, Thomas Mackinder, W. Stamford, T. W.
Gibbins, Joseph March, S. Stephen, Campbell
Gilbert, James Daniel Middleton, G. Stranger, Innes Harold
Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome) Millar, J. D. Sutton, J. E.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Mond, H. Terrington, Lady
Groves, T. Montague, Frederick Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Morris, R. H. Thornton, Maxwell R.
Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Thurtle, E.
Harney, E. A. Naylor, T. E. Tinker, John Joseph
Haycock, A. W Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Toole, J.
Hemmerde, E. G. Oliver, George Harold Viant, S. P.
Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Owen, Major G. Warne, G. H.
Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Whiteley, W.
Henderson, W. W. (Middlesex, Enfld.) Phillipps, Vivian Wignall, James
Hillary, A. E. Pilkington, R. R. Williams, Lt.-Col. T.S.B. (Kenningtn.)
Hindle, F. Potts. John S. Willison, H.
Hoffman, P. C. Raffety, F. W. Windsor, Walter
Hogbin, Henry Cairns Raynes, W. R. Wright, W.
Hogge, James Myles Rea, W. Russell
Howard, Hon. G. (Bedford, Luton) Rees, Capt. J. T. (Devon, Barnstaple) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Hudson, J. H. Richards. R. Commander and Burney Mr. George
Jackson, R. F. (Ipswich) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Lansbury.
Jewson, Dorothea
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Morden, Col. W. Grant
Ammon, Charles George Gates, Percy Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Nicholson, O. (Westminster)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Gilmour, Colonel Rt. Hon. Sir John O'Grady, Captain James
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Greene, W. P. Crawford O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Becker, Harry Greenwood. A. (Nelson and Colne) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Beckett, Sir Gervase Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Perring, William George
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Perry, S. F.
Blades, Sir George Rowland Harland, A. Philipson, Mabel
Bondfield, Margaret Hartington, Marquess of Reid, D. D. (County Down)
Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Russell, Alexanderr West (Tynemouth)
Brittain, Sir Harry Hill-Wood, Major Sir Samuel Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Buckle. J. Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone) Sandeman, A. Stewart
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Hope, Rt. Hon. J. F. (Sheffield, C.) Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern)
Bullock, Captain M. Howard, Hn. D.(Cumberland, Northrn.) Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Burman, J. B. Hume Williams, Sir W. Ellis Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belfst)
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Iliffe, Sir Edward M. Smith-Carrington, Neville W.
Cassels, J. D. Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne) Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.
Clayton, G. C. Kennedy, T. Vaughan-Morga, Col. K. P.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Kindersley, Major G. M. Wedgwood, Col. Rt. Hon. Josiah C.
Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K. King, Captain Henry Douglas Wells, S. R.
Colfax, Major Wm. Phillips Lamb, J. Q. Williams, Maj. A. S. (Kent, Sevenoaks)
Cope, Major William Leach, W. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L. Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Wise, Sir Fredric
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Lynn, Sir R. J. Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. McLean, Major A. Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Deans, Richard Storry Makins, Brigadier-General E.
Eden, Captain Anthony Mills, J. E. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Elliot, Walter E. Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden) Mr. Lorimer and Mr. Penny.

Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 5, after the word "therein" to insert the words "for the last preceding financial year."

The Bill says: In this Section the expression 'the whole cost of the relief ' means in respect of each day of maintenance of a person in the institution a sum not less than the average daily cost per patient. I invite the attention of the House to the words "average daily cost per patient."


Give attention to the clock.


It would not be right that this House should hurry through legislation if the result of the hurry be to place upon the Statute Book an imperfect instrument. If the hon. Member will listen to me, I will satisfy him that the Amendment, though small, is absolutely necessary. You cannot have an average daily cost unless you fix the period over which the average is to take place.

It being Four of the Clock, further Consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered upon Monday next (7th July).

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next (7th July).