§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Chamberlain)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Government Bills might be divided into two classes. First, there are Bills which might be described as of the nature of a programme, Bills which form part of the deliberate and declared policy of the Government. It has been my fortune to have been responsible in the past for a number of such Bills, dealing, for instance, with such matters as housing, pensions and rating, and I look forward during the long years of life which are still before this Parliament to making a substantial addition to the list. There is another class of Bills, which I might describe as the emergency class, consisting of Bills which arise from incidents, unexpected and possibly unforseeable, which require legislation to remedy, and the Bill which I have to present to the House of Commons this afternoon falls into that latter class. It is quite true that it does endeavour to provide a solution of certain difficulties which have become obvious for a considerable time, but I certainly did not include a Measure of this kind in the programme which I set before myself when I first took office, and I dare say I should have been content to leave these difficulties unsolved had it not been for a particular circumstance that rather forced my hand. The Bill is described as one toamend the law with respect to the effect of surcharges by district auditors, appeals from decisions of district auditors, and the recovery of sums certified to be due by district auditors.I think, perhaps, I ought to give the House a very brief account of the relations between local authorities and district auditors. The local authorities which carry on local administration throughout the country have, of course, been created by Parliament; such powers as they possess have been entrusted to them by Parliament, and they do not possess any other powers than those which have arisen from that source. 1024 That seems almost a truism, and I am sure it must be present to the mind of every hon. Member here, but I think it is necessary to state it emphatically at the opening of my remarks, because I observe, in the Amendment which is upon the Order Paper, certain words which appear on the face of them to indicate a somewhat different theory. In this Amendment the Bill is attacked on the ground that it does notsafeguard the rights of local elected authorities in the exercise of the duties imposed upon them by Acts of Parliament and the will of the community.What does that mean—"and the will of the community"? If it simply means the will of the nation as expressed through its Parliamentary representatives, then it is simply surplusage, because that will can only be expressed through Acts of Parliament, and, there fore, it is merely a repetition of the words preceding the phrase, but if it means anything else, if "the will of the community" in this connection means, for example, the opinion, let us say, of the majority of the local government electors in any particular local government area, then this Amendment is asserting an entirely novel doctrine. It is setting up a rival to Parliament. It is putting the local government elector against the Parliamentary elector, and that is a course which I am certain this House would never accept and which I should be very much surprised to find advocated even by hon. Members opposite. I hope, therefore, that when the hon. Member who is going to move this Amendment comes to speak, he will give us a clear statement of what he means by this phrase "the will of the community."
Having established that proposition, that the powers of local government authorities are those powers, and those powers only, which have been entrusted to them by Parliament, let us go on to consider their relations to the district auditors. The district auditors are a body of officers who are appointed by the Minister of Health, but they do not take directions from the Minister of Health. They are independent of him, and they have duties laid upon them by Statute. I notice that in this Amendment the hon. Members who have put their names to it commit themselves to the view 1025that the powers now vested in district auditors are anomalous and contrary to the principles of democratic government.I shall be interested to hear that theory also developed, because it seems to me so strange, so contrary to common sense, that I cannot help wondering whether hon. Members opposite have really appreciated what the duties of district auditors are. I could understand, for instance, that if a district auditor were entitled to challenge any expenditure incurred by a local authority on the ground that it did not accord with his personal views or the views of the Minister for the time being at the Ministry of Health, hon. Members opposite might think that was contrary to the principles of democratic government, but those are not the functions of the district auditor. They are, as I have said, laid down by Statute, and they are to be found in Section 247 of the Public Health Act, 1875, which says:Any auditor acting in pursuance of this Section shall disallow every item of account contrary to law and surcharge the same on the person making or authorising the making of the illegal payment.It will be seen, therefore, that the duty of the auditor is confined to the disallowance and consequently the surcharging of illegal items of expenditure, and it certainly appears to be an astonishing doctrine that it is contrary to the principles of democratic government that a local authority should be restrained from making illegal payments. On the contrary, I think the functions of the district auditor are extremely necessary, that they are a safeguard to the general body of the ratepayers, and that they may sometimes serve to remind local administrators of what they do not always bear in mind, namely, that they are in a position of trust and that they are responsible not merely to a majority of the ratepayers, but to the ratepayers as a whole.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am glad to know that that doctrine, at any rate, is accepted by hon. Members opposite. I think it will be clear from what I have said, namely, that the duty of the district auditor is to disallow illegal outgoings, that occasions must arise when the district auditor has to make a decision as to whether any particular 1026 item is or is not illegal, and it may be said by hon. Members opposite that that is too great a responsibility to place upon a district auditor. If that be the argument, then the answer to that is that the decision of the district auditor is not final, but is subject to an appeal, and, as the law stands at present, the appeal is of an alternative character; that is to say, there are two authorities to whom a person aggrieved by a disallowance by a district auditor may appeal. He may appeal to the Minister of Health, or, alternatively, he may appeal to the Courts, and in either case the Minister or the Courts may decide whether the auditor was or was not justified in the view that he took that any particular item was illegal and ought, therefore, to be surcharged. But there is this difference in the procedure on the two appeals. The Minister, in addition to the power to decide the appeal on points of law or fact, has an equitable jurisdiction on the merits. If he thinks fit he can uphold the auditor, he can decide that he was fully justified in making his surcharge, but he can, nevertheless, remit the surcharge on grounds which may seem to him sufficient. The Court has no such power of remission. Until recently a person who, on a surcharge by the auditor, had appealed to the Courts rather than to the Minister could, if he lost his appeal, thereafter appeal to the Minister to remit the surcharge. That was supposed to be the law until recently, but in a case decided in the Courts, Rex v. Minister of Health, Ex parte Dore, it has been held that where an appeal has been taken to the Courts and the decision has been in favour of the auditor, no power to make any remission of the surcharge resides in the Minister, and, consequently, the surcharge must stand. That is the particular case which is the occasion for bringing in this Bill. I shall want to refer to it again later, but meantime I would point out to the House this rather curious anomaly in the present state of the law. An appellant has this choice, he can appeal to the Courts of Law, in which case he has the advantage of their expert knowledge upon what is or is not legal, but, if he loses his case, he loses his chance of getting the surcharge remitted; or he can, if he banks on the tolerance of the Minister, appeal to the Minister and may get his surcharge remitted, though, of 1027 course, in that case he has to take the Minister's decision on the point of law, upon which many people may think the Minister is not particularly fitted to give an expert opinion. That is the anomaly which exists in the present condition of the law.
How has this system worked? Speaking generally, I think it has worked very well. I think the system of audit, with the results which flow from audit, has been to the advantage of local government, and a deterrent against abuse. Although there are a fair number of surcharges made every year, because, of course, there must be errors of judgment in the administration of the best-administered local authority, yet, on the whole, they have not been very serious, nor have the appeals from the decisions of the auditors been extremely numerous. In the last five years there have been only 204 appeals to the Minister, an average of 41 a year, and the majority of those were cases in which the items were not of very great importance. If one separates out the cases in which the amount of the surcharge was over £500, the number of appeals to the Minister in that five-year period is reduced to 26, or only 5 per year. On the whole, therefore, one must say that this system has worked well. But there have been certain particular classes of cases in which it has broken down. They are cases, almost entirely, if not entirely, confined to the London district, in which the occasion of the disallowance has been due not to negligence or fraud but to local authorities following a policy which has, I think, a good deal less to do with the efficiency of local administration than it has to do with political or social views.
In order to enable the House to understand the sort of case in which these difficulties have arisen, I will take one which is familiar to hon. Members opposite, that of Poplar. Some time ago, when the cost of living was about at its topmost pitch, the Poplar Borough Council decided to adopt a wage scale for its employés which included an irreducible minimum of a week for all manual workers, whether male or female. As time went on the cost of living went down, but the Poplar Borough Council did not reduce its 1028 minimum wage, and the natural result was that the disparity between this minimum wage and the current rates of wages in the district, and in particular the awards given by the Joint Industrial Council, became greater and greater, so much so that by 1923 the wages of their male employés were 40 per cent., and of their female employés 78 per cent., above the awards of the Joint Industrial Council. When the district auditor came to examine the accounts he formed the opinion that this disparity had become so great as to amount to illegality, and he surcharged the borough council, in the first instance, to an amount of £5,000. That had not any effect on the council, and in subsequent years further surcharges were made of 11,500, £22,500, £24,600 and 23,000, all arising out of excessive wage scales. The Poplar Borough Council appealed against the decision of the auditor. In the first Court the auditor was upheld, in the second Court the decision was reversed. The matter was then carried to the House of Lords, where the original decision of the auditor was unanimously upheld. I would like to read to the House a short passage from the judgment delivered by Lord Wren-bury upon that occasion:Wages in a particular service are such sum as a reasonable person, guiding himself by of the current rate in fact found to be paid in the particular industry, and acting upon the principle that efficient service is better commanded by paying an efficient wage, would find to be the proper sum. The figure to be sought is not the lowest figure at which the service could be obtained, nor is it the highest figure which a generous employer might, upon grounds of philanthropy or generosity, pay out of his own pocket. It is a figure which is not to be based upon or increased by motives of philanthropy nor even of generosity stripped of commercial considerations. It is such figure as is the reasonable pecuniary equivalent of the service rendered. Anything beyond this is not wages. It is an addition to wages and is a gratuity. The authority is to pay not such sum but such wages as they think fit.I have other pronouncements of learned Judges who considered this case, and they are all very much to the same effect. If I quote them here it is not because I want to discuss the particular amount of the minimum wage which was paid by the Poplar Borough Council. I, myself, have always maintained that it was no part of the function of the 1029 Minister of Health to fix the rates of wages which local authorities should pay; but the reason I have read the judgment is because it illustrates what I have endeavoured to make plain, namely, that the decisions of the auditor are based, not upon his personal view, or the views of any individual, but they are based upon what is legal or illegal, and the judgment which upheld the auditor in this particular case was the judgment based on the fact that the wages actually paid by the Poplar Borough Council were illegal, because they exceeded what was considered to be a reasonable amount. After the House of Lords had come to this decision, the Poplar Borough Council appealed to the Minister to remit the surcharges. I said I would remit them, and I did so for this reason, that this appeal, as I have stated to the House, was upheld in the first Court, and was reversed in the second Court, and I thought it was, at least, arguable that the members of the council had considered that they were entitled to go on paying those high wages without transgressing the law, until the moment when the law had finally been decided by the highest Court in the land. That was the view I took, and it was on that ground that I considered in this case it was proper for me to remit that surcharge, although, of course, the law, having once been decided by the House of Lords, it would not have been proper for me to remit a surcharge if the council had gone on paying those wages, after it did actually know the law. Those proceedings were taken in the Court, and, as I have already told the House, in those particular circumstances the Minister had no power to remit, although he would have had power to remit if in the first instance the appeal had been made to him and not to the Court.
It is not only Poplar that is concerned. I take Poplar as an instance, because this was a case which went to the Court. But what has been going on in Poplar is still going on elsewhere. Of course, it is riot merely borough councils which are concerned. There are other local bodies which are concerned similarly, and while there have been five surcharges upon the Poplar Borough Council for paying excessive wages, there have been no less 1030 than nine surcharges upon the Poplar Guardians for a similar error, and there have been five in Bethnal Green and three in Woolwich. In some of these cases an appeal has been made to the Minister. While holding that the surcharge was justified, the Minister remitted it pending a final decision in the House of Lords upon the Poplar case. In other cases the appeal went to the Courts. The surcharges in Bethnal Green arid Woolwich are in the same position as the surcharge in the case of the Poplar councillors, namely, that as the law now stands, and without any alteration in the law as provided in this Bill, they are all liable to go to prison. I have made inquiry, and I find there are no fewer than 97 persons concerned, all of whom may go to prison.
I submit to the House that one cannot contemplate a position of that kind with any sort of satisfaction. Whatever the deserts of these people may be, I, myself, think that, at any rate, in some cases it may fairly be argued that they have been in doubt as to whether what they did was legal or not. In any case, it is not going to be any satisfaction to the injured ratepayers that 97 persons should go to prison, because, for the most part, the sums in question are not small sums, but they are very large, and the ratepayers would not be one penny better off if the penalty were exacted, and as soon as those persons came out of prison, there were nothing to prevent the same game being carried on again. In fact the gradual accumulation of these cases has now brought matters to a head, and it has made it clear to me, as I hope I have made it clear to the House, that this weapon of disallowance and surcharge, although it may work well in the majority of cases, yet when it comes to a question of deliberate policy, such as has been pursued in these particular boroughs, breaks down when it is most needed. It brings the law into contempt, and, therefore, it seemed to me it was time we abandoned the plan which was so ineffective.
Therefore we sought round for some better means of protecting the interests of the ratepayers. The better means which I have devised will be found in Clause 1 of the Bill. Under the new procedure, surcharges after disallowance will be divided into two classes, and the 1031 reason for that is that what I am concerned with is not primarily the punishment of offenders. It is primarily the prevention of the offence, and, therefore, I am not really concerned with small illegalities which may very possibly be committed in good faith. It is when they are a matter of policy, which necessarily involves large sums, those are the eases we have to look after. Accordingly, under this new Clause the items are divided into two classes—the substantial and the trivial. We fix the dividing line at a sum of £500, and, with regard to items up to £500, there will be in future, in accordance with the provisions of the Bill, an appeal only to the Minister. But there will be this difference between the new procedure and the old, that power is taken under the second paragraph of Clause 2 (1) for the Minister to state a ease to the High Court and to get the benefit of the Court's decision upon a point of law. But we still preserve to the Minister the power of remitting if he thinks it proper.
Where you get a surcharge of over £500, the procedure is to be different. As soon as that surcharge is made, there follows an automatic disqualification of the person surcharged from serving upon any local authority for a period of five years. If we cannot by this process stop the commission of the first offence, we can, at any rate, stop that particular person from committing it again for a substantial period of time. But, naturally, one would not allow an automatic procedure of that kind to stand without some sort of appeal, and there, again, I have been very careful to draft this Bill so as to protect all people who ought legitimately to be protected against a disqualification of this kind. I have not provided that in these more serious cases the appeals shall lie to the Minister at all. I thought it might well be said that the Minister's political views might be very strongly engaged on one side or the other; and, remember, we are here dealing with a political policy. It might be argued that the Minister was prejudiced, and that whatever decision he gave was not really an impartial decision. Therefore, I have taken away in this case the appeal to the Minister, and I have left the appeal solely in the hands of the 1032 Court. It is provided in the second Subsection of Clause 2 that the person surcharged may apply to the Courtfor a declaration that in relation to the subject matter of the surcharge he acted reasonably or in the belief that his action was authorised by law.Those are the two classes of cases in which I consider it possible that a responsible member of a local authority, not in pursuit of any particular end, he might act illegally: might do something which was not authorised by Statute, but which he thought was in the interest of the borough, or he might do something which he thought might be perfectly legal, but which was afterwards found illegal. In such a case, should be very sorry to see a local authority deprived of the service of somebody who might be a very valuable member of the body, and, accordingly, the High Courtif satisfied that there proper ground for doing so, may make a declaration to that effect, and where such a declaration is madethe disqualification is automatically withdrawn. Then I make a further provision that where they find that the auditor was perfectly justified in snaking the surcharge, but where they feel that this qualification should not stand, they may further relieve the person surcharged from his personal liability, either wholly or partially. Therefore, I do not think it can be said that in this provision I have not taken every possible precaution to safeguard all legitimate interests of good government, and that I have made it apply only to cases where there is a deliberate attempt to act illegally.
Under Clause 3 I have taken the opportunity of making another minor amendment in the present proceeding. Under the present law the sums which are surcharged are recoverable before the justices, and, in default of distress, the auditors are bound to apply for a warrant. In other words, persons who have not the means to pay are obliged to go to prison. I do not think that imprisonment really is the proper remedy for these offences, and accordingly, under Clause 3, it is provided that the sum which is certified by a district auditor to be due, shall be recoverable either summarily or otherwise as a civil debt. which means, of course, that it will no longer be the case that where a person 1033 has not actually got the means to pay that person will go to prison.
It only remains to consider what is to happen in the cases of surcharge which either are before the Court or have been decided actually by a Court—the cases of Poplar, Bethnal Green and Woolwich I have already mentioned. I think everybody would agree that it would be quite unfair to bring those people under the operation of a procedure which was not in existence when the expenditure was incurred which has been the subject of the surcharge. On the other hand, I might have left them to their fate. I have not taken that view. I do not suppose that I shall get any gratitude from hon. Members opposite, and, indeed, I am not asking for it. I frankly say I have not done it to please them, but I think that when anyone is introducing a change in procedure which brings into operation a completely new method of dealing with these troubles in the future, one might fairly take the opportunity of wiping the slate clean as far as the past is concerned, and giving the benefit of the doubt to those particular cases, especially seeing that in the case of Poplar, in particular, I had myself already proposed to remit the surcharge when I supposed I had legal power to do so. Therefore, under Sub-section (5) of Clause 2 if the surcharge in respect of which proceedings were instituted has not been enforced at the passing of the Act, no proceedings for the enforcement thereof will be taken. I do not know that that provision will provide any consolation of a satisfactory kind to the ratepayers.
§ Dr. SALTER
May I point out that in the case of Poplar and some other boroughs certain expenditure now decided to be illegal is being continued at the present time? In these circumstances, do I understand that this Bill will wipe the slate clean as far as expenditure is concerned up to the present time, or from the date of the coming into operation of this Bill?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
If the hon. Member will look at Clause 4, Sub-section (2) he will see there that it is providedThis Act shall not, save as provided by Sub-section (5) of Section two of this Act, apply to any accounts the audit of which was commenced before the tenth day of May, nineteen hundred and twenty-seven.1034 Therefore, that is the starting-off point, and anything before that date will not come under the operation of this Bill.
§ Dr. SALTER
In the case of certain councils, at any rate, the expenditure now decided to be illegal is at the present time continuing before the Bill comes into operation.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think that where fair warning has been given, and everybody knows now that there is to be a change, it would be unreasonable to say that people who went on disobeying that warning should escape. Indeed, I am not sure that I have not gone further than a great many people would like me to do in exercising so much clemency as is contained in Clause 5 and Clause 2.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The auditor will then be auditing the accounts for last year, and that means the expenditure up to 31st March of this year. Will any expenditure beyond that, which is illegal, come under the Regulations of this Bill?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think the hon. Member forgets that the date of the final decision of the Rouse of Lords is known, and that is really the date from which everybody knew what the law was.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman has not taken up my point. Will this decision apply to accounts up to 31st March? The final decision of the House of Lords was not given until after that date.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Perhaps the hon. Member will raise that point in Committee, where we can thrash out the details of the dates. I do not think I have anything more to say to the House upon this Bill. It must be clear that no member of a local authority who is doing his duty within the powers given to local authorities by Parliament has anything to fear from the operation of this Bill, The only people at whom this Bill is aimed are those people, if there be any such, who wish to go further than the law allows them, and who wish to set up a counter authority to the action of Parliament. If they are prepared to persist in conduct of that kind, 1035 then they will be rightly removed from a position which they have shown themselves unfit to occupy.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
Does the Minister of Health propose to set up scales of relief for the guidance of guardians? There may be an accumulation of £500 by very small amounts indeed, and it must be remembered that the auditor does not come round every day. I would like to know, what is the position of those people who have no guidance whatever in these matters?
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House, being of opinion that the powers now vested in district auditors are anomalous and contrary to the principles of democratic government, declines to proceed with a Bill which fails to safeguard the rights of local elected authorities in the exercise of the duties imposed upon them by Acts of Parliament and the will of the community, indirectly increases the powers of bureaucratic officials independent of popular control, and establishes the principle that duly elected representatives of the people may be disqualified for holding office otherwise than for corruption, misconduct, or negligence, and notwithstanding that they retain the confidence of their constituents.We are accustomed to hear from the Minister of Health an extraordinarily skilful and plausible statement of his case, but on this occasion I think his story has been told with a little less than his usual skill. He told us at the outset of his speech that Bills might be divided into two parts, one dealing with policies and the other with emergencies. This Bill he classified as an emergency Measure. It is very strange that within the last year the Minister of Health has been associated with other emergency Bills of this character. This Measure is in line with the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act and with Clause 6 of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill. So far from this Measure dealing with a specific emergency, we can only conclude that the three Measures I have mentioned, taken together, are part of a deliberate policy. It has not been made clear to us why the Bill has ever been introduced at all.
The right hon. Gentleman made no general charge that our system of local government is full of corruption or mis- 1036 conduct.It is true the Minister of Health has referred to four local authorities which have been a little troublesome from his point of view, and now we are wasting valuable Parliamentary time in dealing with a few isolated cases of local authorities, which, in his view, have not been carrying out the law. This is the third year of a Parliament which has still many of its pledges unfulfilled. If the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward his Poor Law proposals we should have been prepared to give them sympathetic consideration, but, instead of that, the time of the House is being wasted at this stage by a trumpery Measure of this kind. The Minister of Health is looking forward to introducing a large number of policy Bills. I think he is unduly optimistic. Perhaps his new emergency policy, which carries out the dearest wishes of hon. Members on the benches opposite, will tend to smother all chances he may have in the future of doing useful constructive work. The Minister of Health has now descended from the constructive work of housing to the destruction of local government, and that is a descent from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Whatever view the Minister of Health may succeed in imposing upon this House, we, on this side, cannot escape from the conclusion that this Bill must be taken in conjunction with the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act as a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to suppress either local authorities or public representatives with whose political views they do not agree. There was a time when Members of this Government sat on that bench "arrayed in white raiment," but to-day their uniform is that of the black shirt. We who belong to the Labour party are sometimes accused of taking our instructions from Moscow. I think we may now retort that the Minister of Health, is under the instructions of the new regimé in Rome, and this attempted suppression of local government is quite in harmony with modern Italian policy. I know this is a very serious charge, but it is one that can be substantiated from organs of opinion that specialise in local government questions. The "Local Government Journal" is a publication which, as far as I am aware, has no political sympathies with the Labour party, and it is an independent paper. In dealing with the Bill now 1037 before the House, that journal, in its issue of the 21st May, 1927, used these words:There have been too many indications of late that the Ministry of Health is growing callous to fundamental principles of English local government. At present the Ministry does not seem to possess a constitution robust enough to enable it to play the part naturally assigned to the central authority in an ancient and democratic system like ours; it is not strong enough to wrestle, as it were, with erring local authorities, and to overcome their tendency towards irregular or illegal courses by peaceful, though strenuous, persuasion. Instead, the Ministry now seems to prefer the essentially weak policy of suppressing altogether those local authorities who, rightly or wrongly, resist it. It will be a sorry day for English local government if the policy of suppression, supersession, and disqualification becomes generally accepted.I think that is a very strong indictment of the Measure which has been brought forward to-day.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I do not know, but probably it was the editor of the "Local Government Journal." If I thought my hon. Friend was suggesting that I wrote it, my language would be even stronger. In the past we took no objection to the institution of the district auditor, but now the district auditor's powers appear to have grown far beyond what are considered to be reasonable. I do not need to trace the history of the growth of the area covered by the district auditors, but since they were established nearly a century ago to deal with boards of guardians, they have gradually extended their duties to cover the accounts of all local authorities except municipal boroughs and county boroughs outside London, and those boroughs which are jealous of their autonomy have sought to keep out of the meshes of the district auditors. There are a. number of their services, however such as education and housing, which come under the review of the district auditor. I believe I am right in saying that when the Minister of Health approves of the incorporation of a borough, either by gentle persuasion or more forcible coercion, he tries to induce the new local authorities to accept the principle of the district auditor. So that at the present time most of the expenditure of local authorities in England and Wales 1038 comes under the review of the district auditor.
That is a very important point from the standpoint from which I am putting our case. These auditors, appointed by the, Minister but under no sort of control by the Minister, under no sort of control by anybody, who are perfectly independent bureaucrats paid out of public funds, developed a swollen sense of importance so great that, as far back as 40 years ago, Parliament had to pass legislation in order to prevent the Minister from being overridden by the district auditors, and it had to be laid clown in law that no district auditor should disallow expenditure which had been sanctioned by the Minister. If persons are given powers of that kind, there really ought to be some clear definition of their ditties.
What are their duties? The right hon. Gentleman has confined them to the point as to whether expenditure is illegal. It is true that they can disallow and surcharge payments which are ultra vires, and no one questions that as a perfectly legitimate function. It is quite right that they should surcharge for losses which arise from crass negligence or misconduct; it is right that the district auditors should, so far as is possible, prevent corruption; but, owing to what I regard as a most astounding legal decision, the district auditor has even wider powers than that. He is in a position to surcharge payments which he thinks are unreasonable. The right hon. Gentleman very carefully muddled and mixed and tried to confuse the House on the two points of unreasonable ness and illegality; but a thing may clearly be unreasonable in the mind of a crassly ignorant district auditor without being illegal.
As the powers now stand, the district auditor is not merely the guardian of the law; he is becoming, as a matter of fact, the arbiter of social policy. That puts him in an entirely different position, and I say that, whatever may be the qualifications of the district auditor to decide questions of legality, he is the very last person in the world to decide whether expenditure is reasonable or unreasonable. If he is a really good, dyed-in-the-wool member of the Tory party, almost all forms of public expenditure would be regarded by him as unreasonable. If he 1039 were progressive-minded, a person who saw the social advantages of developing municipal services, of establishing a high standard of life for municipal employés, he would regard as reasonable wages which a person of another political outlook—and even district auditors have their political outlooks—would regard as being unreasonable.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we thought that other people should make law besides the House of Commons. Not at all. Our objection is to district auditors deciding what shall be the law; and our big objection to this Bill is that the district auditor, a person over whom the right hon. Gentleman has not a vestige of control, is being fortified with a new power that has never before been vested in any public officer. What is the position under this Bill? Persons surcharged to an amount in excess of £500 are to be disqualified for five years from being members of any local authority. The amount is important; the right hon. Gentleman has stressed it; he has made a point that I should have made if he had not made it. This is not a question of members of a local authority coming to see the right hon. Gentleman and taking advantage of Ascot races to go there at the public expense and spend £25 of the ratepayers' money. Surcharges for £500 mean surcharges in respect of expenditure deliberately undertaken as a matter of policy—that the right hon. Gentleman admits. Even though t majority of the council believe in that policy, even though, if the right hon. Gentleman were to compel an election in the town, there would be an overwhelming vote in favour of that policy, still, if the district auditor, supported by the Minister or the Courts of law, regards this expenditure as being, as I would say, unreasonable, and not illegal, then those people who incur it are to be banished from public life for five years.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The hon. Member says "Hear, hear!" Well, that is his point of view. That is what I meant when I said that this is not an emergency Bill. This is a Bill for the suppression of the Labour party. The disqualification, it will be noted, is to be prohibition of membership of any local authority for five 1040 years—not of the local authority in respect of work on which the person concerned has been surcharged, but of any local authority. One can imagine a member of an urban district council, who is also a member of a board of guardians, and a member of a county council, being subject to surcharge in respect of something done as a member of an urban district council; and, though he may have been as impeccable as a member of the Primrose League on the other public bodies of which he is a member, he is to be debarred from membership of all those public bodies for a period of five years. This is the final triumph of the district auditor. This is a new kind of intimidation of Labour councillors which really dwarfs into insignificance the whole of Clause 3 of the Bill which has been before the House so recently.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Are we to understand that no one except Labour representatives offends against the law in local government work?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am quite sure that the authorities which have been referred to as being the culprits who have given rise to this Bill happen to be, as always happens in these cases, Labour local authorities. It is because it is a conflict of policy. It is, of course, right, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that there should be an appeal from the decision of the district auditor, either to the High Court in the case of larger sums, or in other cases to the Minister; but I would put Dais to the right hon. Gentleman. Where the surcharges are highest, one may he sure that it is a deliberate question of social policy, and I am not satisfied that the High Court is the best kind of body for deciding questions of social policy, as to their reasonableness or unreasonableness. Once Judges are put into the invidious position of going outside deciding on points of law, and of determining what is reasonable from the point of view of social policy, inevitably their own class and political prejudices warp their judgment, and I say that it is not right to put the members of the Bench in a position of that kind. As regards the position of the Minister of Health, there is an interesting passage, if I may quote another local government journal, in a recent issue of the "Municipal Journal," which, 1041 again, I may assure the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), I did not write. It is this:Among the more objectionable principles which, in the course of history, Parliaments and Councils have conferred on Ministers of State, are those that enable the Executive to punish their political opponents.Although I should be glad to think that is never likely to happen, the whole purpose of this Bill is directed against the political opponents of the party now in office. What are the specific objections which may be laid against the Bill? I again quote—because independent non-political testimony is, perhaps, better than my own—I again quote from the "Local Government Journal":The most spectacular surcharge fights of recent years, it should be noted, would not have been affected by these provisions if they had been in force.And a little later:While, therefore, it may be doubtful how far the proposed new additional penalty provisions will have much practical effect on surcharge litigation, it is certain that they will do nothing to reduce, and a good deal to intensify, the unseemly wrangles between the auditor, the local authorities, and the Ministry that have become so discreditable a feature of the Government audit system in recent years. … So many of the fierce disputes which have arisen through district auditors' surcharges of late have concerned either purely bookkeeping points or else questions which involve very delicate issues of high politics on which the attitude of the Ministry is apt to change with each successive Government. We can see nothing in the present Bill which will remove these fundamental defects of the Government audit system, and several provisions which may very well intensify it. This is a very great misfortune which local authorities generally will sincerely deplore.Then, again, the "Municipal Journal" says:At the present moment the ratepayer has protection. If an elected person is surcharged and yet pays nothing, his opponents are not debarred from making that fact known. If they choose, they may fight an election on that issue, and, if their agents have skill enough to select the dominant questions in the contest, they can force the spendthrift, penniless man to declare that he stands for unlimited surcharges. … The ratepayer can, if he likes, protect himself by his vote. If he does not vote, the Minister of Health has yet to show that the negligent voter deserves protection, and then it must be proven that the Minister can protect. Under the Bill that Mr. Chamberlain has submitted, the town councillor would lead a precarious life indeed. 1042 Were he to vote a little money towards the recognition of a visit from a royal or distinguished person, he might find himself removed from office at the fiat of a Minister with a pronounced dislike for royal or distinguished persons. Mr. Chamberlain has produced a two-edged sword. Legislation of this sort has a way of recoiling upon its authors.Those are criticisms of this Bill from non-political sources. The greatest objection, in our view, is the constitutional objection that it puts extraordinary powers and extraordinary penalties into the hands of the district auditor, and that it puts similar powers and penalties into the hands of the Minister of Health for the banishment from public life of his political opponents—because I am quite sure he will never disqualify anyone else. Really, this Bill, intended in the first place to punish the members of three of four recalcitrant local authorities in London, strikes, like the Beard of Guardians (Default) Bill, at the root of local self-government in this country. It means that, if local authorities will behave themselves like branches of the Primrose League, if they will carry out a Conservative policy of small expenditure and no returns, they will meet with the smiles of the Minister of Health. It means that local self-government is to exist so long as it does not cut across the policy of the Tory part. That is a position which we cannot accept. We do not look upon this Bill as a mere fussy interference with the rights of local authorities. It is really a blow at the development of social services by the local authorities, at the development by local authorities of a new attitude towards the people they employ, and it is really an attempt to use the machinery of the State for party ends. That is bound to fail.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is going to try to prevent this kind of action. He does not believe it is a good thing to put people into prison. He does more to the public-spirited man. He bankrupts him and banishes him from public life. The right hon. Gentleman must not suppose that he is going to cure these people of these policies that they hold by expelling them from their local authorities. Just as under the Trade Unions Bill for every leader who is arrested there will be 10 to take his place, so with the case of every councillor and member of a board of guardians 1043 who is driven out of that local authority for five years there will be others ready to take his place. It is not a question of personal feeling. It is a question of deliberate policy, and, if you get rid of one group of men, their places will be taken by another group, and all you are doing is to make for a new crisis in local government as the Labour party becomes stronger on our local authorities. The Bill is not going to improve relations between the Minister and the local authorities. It is going to embitter relations, and the policy is not merely retrograde but almost indescribably mean. I should like to read again the words of the "Local Government Journal." [Interruption.] Hon. Members do not seem to like it. This is the opinion of responsible people who conduct an established local government journal. It is worth something and is, at least, not political.It will be a sorry day for English local government if the policy of suppression, supersession, and disqualification becomes generally accepted.This Bill is the thin end of the wedge. The Boards of Guardians (Default) Act had not been long on the Statute Book before the right hon. Gentleman's London Conservative friends had presented him with a list of 60 boards of guardians who had to be suppressed, including one in the area from which the right hon. Gentleman comes. How long will it be before there is clamour for more legislation of this kind? The Government, so far from showing that they believe in freedom and liberty, are now doing their best to suppress it. They are now showing a tender regard for minorities which they never showed when we were in a minority. They are doing it simply out of fear of their political opponents. It is a party political Bill that is not required on grounds of public policy. It is a Bill for which the right hon. Gentleman has not proved that there is any need. It is a Bill in direct line of descent from the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to be remembered because of his housing programme. That is going to be forgotten under this new type of Conservatism directed towards the suppression of local government, and it is 1044 because that is the real purpose and the ultimate result of the Bill that. I move the Amendment.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I beg to second the Amendment.
I wish to emphasise one or two points which have keen only lightly touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Come (Mr. A. Greenwood). I am going to begin with one or two details. The Minister said criminals were divided into two classes by the Bill—500-pounders and under 500-pounders. I want to point out how, in dealing with people under £500, he has sinned against the fundamental doctrines of the English Constitution. I use those words quite deliberately. If a person be surcharged for a sum less than £500, he can now go to the Courts. It is a round-about way, it is true. The auditors surcharge, and the person goes to the Courts under a Sub-section of the Act of 1875 which it is now proposed to repeal, but he can get to the Court. Under the new legislation, if a person be surcharged for a sum less than £500, he cannot get to the Courts at all unless it is a question of law. If it be a question of fact, if it be a question which has usually been submitted to a jury, the Minister is judge, jury and executioner all in one. That is an important thing, and I want to give two cases of this kind, a real case and a supposed case, and see how it will work out.
The real case I am going to allude to is when the auditor tried his hand on the City Council of Westminster. In 1908, he attempted to surcharge the Westminster Council because they had taken a tender that was more than the lowest, and the amount of the surcharge was £479 19s. They took it to the Court, and the Judge dismissed the auditor with contumely. I understand there was a, point of law involved. It was whether the council had a right to take any but the lowest tender. They gave no defence upon the fact, but merely stood upon their rights. In that case, all that would have happened is that the Westminster Council would have had to go twice to the Courts instead of once and pay two sets of lawyers' fees. They would have had to go in the first place to get an instruction, and in the second place to get a judgment. You may say it does 1045 not very much matter going to the Courts twice. It is true the Westminster City Council is, perhaps, the richest local authority in England and can indulge in a little extra litigation at the expense of the ratepayers. But, supposing it was Merthyr Tydvil or some small board of guardians in a distressed area, it would be a serious matter to make the ratepayers pay twice for determining the same case.
But supposing we have a case in which there is no point of law at all but which depends merely on the facts. Suppose it is a case of a contract in which there is a suspicion of corruption. Under the present law, if a man be surcharged for having accepted a contract for improper consideration, if the evidence be strong enough,, the Minister can take him to the Court and get him punished. But in the case of a contract under £500, where the ground of objection is suspicion of improper conduct, there is no access to the Courts at all. The Minister sitting in his office can decide on the facts of the misconduct without a trial, without cross-examination and without hearing witnesses. He has removed all those cases from the Courts altogether, and, unless he has enough evidence to go to the Public Prosecutor, the unfortunate man may have to pay £300 or £400 and very likely have his little business ruined and his character, too. In that class of offence—surcharges for misconduct under £500—this little, harmless Bill takes away from the subject things that were granted to us by the Magna Charta before there was a Parliament at all. It takes away from a person suspected of misconduct the right of defence and trial by his peers. It gives the Crown the power of fining and ruining the subject. It is as atrocious a violation of the principles of the Constitution as can be imagined. The Minister does not care. He has so little reverence for the sanctity of the law and the principles of the Constitution that he can ask Parliament to give him powers which have never been granted to any Minister of State, and he actually asks for power to try cases of misconduct in his own room without any of the safeguards with which the law surrounds the criminal. That is what he is doing in this innocent little Clause 2, which allows him to deal with all questions of surcharges where the facts only are in dispute.
1046 May I say one word about the penalties. The Minister posed as the kindest man in the world. He wanted to prevent workpeople going to prison. The truth of the matter is that under the existing law he can take only their household goods. Under the law he proposes, he can bankrupt them and take all the goods they possess. He said how hard it was to send poor people to prison for three weeks, but under those smooth, gentle, kindly words he was taking power to take away all that a man possesses. He cannot do it at present. He can take a man's furniture. But under this law he can take away £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000. He can do more than any Judge of the High Court can do. He can ruin a man, he can sell him up, and he introduces this, forsooth, under the pretence of tenderness to the subject. It. is so hard to go to prison for three weeks to clear your debt. His heart bleeds for people who are in prison for three weeks, so he asks the House for power to take the whole of their capital and every penny they have. It is supposed to be a gentle penalty, but it is putting in the hands of the Minister an enormous and very savage penalty indeed. I shall be very much interested to hear what the Attorney-General thinks of the proposal to try a man for misconduct in the Minister's room without any access to the Courts at all. I cannot help thinking that, at any rate, his professional conscience will be shocked.
I come now to the main part of the Bill. The Minister said it was emergency legislation. It is emergency legislation arising from a declaration by the Judges of the condition of the law which has surprised nearly everyone concerned in local government work, and which is contrary to the view of the law laid down by other eminent Judges. The immediate question was what wages councils had the right to pay. Councils generally base themselves on Section 62 of the Metropolitan Management Act, 1855. It says that the authorities shall appoint or employ such officials and servants as may be necessary and may allow such salaries and wages as they may think fit. Simple plain persons have read these words, and have believed that they mean such salaries and wages as they honestly think ought to be paid. They imagine that Parliament by these 1047 words has given them the right to do wrong as well as to do right, because it is in the nature of discretion that that power is given. When you have discretion, the power to sin is a necessary concomitant to that power. That was believed by the Poplar Borough Council, by the Woolwich Borough Council, by town councils generally, and believed by so great a Judge as Lord Justice Atkin. Lord Justice Atkin laid down what we believed, and what the world in general believed, to be the law. He said:I think, therefore, that there is no reason for not giving the words of the Section their plain and unrestricted meaning. It is said that, so construed, the Section gives a Metropolitan Borough Council the power of paying extravagant wages, such as, for example, £30 a week to an office boy. The answer, I think, is to be found in the restriction that the council must act in good faith.Lord Justice Atkin, and another Judge with him, reaffirmed the right which all councils thought they had under the words of the Statute to pay such wages as they thought fit. The case went to the House of Lords, and the learned Judges in the House of Lords imported other considerations. The quotation made by Lord Sumner, which has already been given, sums up the new doctrine. Under that doctrine, you are to pay, not such wages as you think fit, but you are to pay what the services are worth in the market. What is reasonable to pay, a little above the market wage or a little below it, is, as another learned Judge said, a very doubtful question. Under the new law—for the Judge-made law is entirely a new law—it will be for the auditor to determine any question of wages, any question of expenditure, and all the details of municipal work exactly as he thinks reasonable. It is not a question of legality. The Judges carefully drew a distinction between expending money for unlawful purposes, with regard to which the auditor has a perfect right to surcharge, and for what was unreasonable. It is not, therefore, a question of whether the auditor can surcharge for expenditure that is illegal. Nobody objects to that. Nobody wants a local authority to open a shop, as one Judge said, without the authority of Parliament. Nobody desires that any enterprising urban 1048 authority shall run light railways. Nobody desires that any local authority shall be allowed to do anything which Parliament has not given them power to do. But we are dealing with what is unreasonable in lawful expenditure.
That is to say, a whole range of matters have now come within the purview of the auditor which, in the opinion of the world in general, and in the opinion of Judges of the Court of Appeal, was formerly not within the province of the auditor. There is where the new law hits us hard, because the auditor is not a person who is qualified in any way to deal with these problems of local government, which I can sum up in the words, "What is reasonable, expenditure on lawful objects?" If you can decide that, you are undertaking the whole duty of councillors, the whole business which councillors are appointed to decide, and which the electors sent them to those local bodies to deal with. If you give the auditor power to decide what is reasonable, in the wide sense, you give him power over the policy of the council. In the City of Westminster, the auditor tried to make it unreasonable that they should not in all cases take the lowest price which was tendered. The auditor tried in the case of the London County Council to disallow ducks in the parks. He said it was an unreasonable expenditure to have ducks in the ponds there, but the county council showed its teeth, and he did not go any further. I mention these things to show how meticulous a man is the auditor. Who is the auditor? Is he a. civil servant appointed after a competitive examination in the strictest tests of the Civil Service? He is not; he is appointed by the Minister. He may not have had any qualifications except those which the Minister chooses.
There is no statutory provision for his appointment by examination. There is an examination now, but there used not to be an examination. There is a little examination at the will of the Minister. The auditor is altogether an irregular civil servant. He has escaped all the rules which are laid down to guide the Treasury Commissioners in the selection of civil Servants. Supposing that he was even one of the local government officials. Is it possible that one man can oversee not merely the legality and the good faith and honesty of local authorities, but also guide their policy? Lord Justice Sumner 1049 and the other Judges in the House of Lords widened the scope of the law as it was understood. The auditor has power which is very much greater than we understood he had. The auditor has always been in the position of sentencing a man and forcing him to go to the Court for his remedy. In saying that I am only saying in my imperfect words what a great Judge, Lord Justice Fletcher Moulton, said with regard to the restrictive power on the part of the auditor. He said, and these are words which the House ought to consider:The true mode of securing the good management of municipal affairs is to induce the best men to take part in them. The task is at best unremunerative and often thankless, but if those who accept it are liable to have their conduct pronounced upon and their character and property injured by decisions, not of any of the Courts of law of the country, to which they are, of course, answerable, but of a special tribunal chosen by a Government Department without any powers or qualifications for holding a judicial inquiry, and discharging these functions without any of the securities which protect individuals before our Courts, and if the jurisdiction of that individual is not to be limited to requiring an account of municipal money, for which the accused has made himself responsible, but extends to calling him to account for the reasons and motives of all his actions, no self-respecting man will take part in municipal affairs.The Judge said that at a time when people could always go to the Courts. What would he have said of those new powers that, when the surcharge is under £500 and when questions of fact are concerned, the avenue to the Courts is to be closed by the Minister; that the person can have his conduct pronounced upon, and his character probably injured by a Minister sitting in his room, and the person shall have no access to the Courts and no form of trial?
The Judge spoke strongly enough on this matter before the Minister had these new powers, before the law had been so laid down by the Judges as to give him the new power. What he would have said of the Bill which we are considering I can only faintly imagine. I ask the House to think again in this matter, and to think two or three times, before they trust a Minister of the Crown with this power, before they trust any Minister with such uncontrolled powers over local authorities. Local authorities have duties laid upon them by Parliament, and 1050 when Parliament gives them these duties it does not intend them to be exercised in practice by the Minister, it means that the local authorities, with due consideration to the wishes of their electors, with proper knowledge of the needs of their districts, shall carry out these duties in the way they think fit. Everyone knows that some of these powers at e purely optional, and only to be undertaken at will. The extent to which they are carried out depends upon what the locality can bear and what the people really wish. The local authorities are not only responsible to Parliament; they are responsible to their own people to carry out, within the limits set by Parliament, the policy which is desired by the people. If you give the Minister such powers as he asks in this Bill, you rule out all variety of experiment in local government, and you will make it a thing which no self-respecting person will enter upon.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood), who moved the Amendment, made some rather serious statements. He said that the Minister, in introducing this Bill, was wasting the time of the House with a trumpery Measure. He said this Bill was nothing more or less than an attempt to suppress local government. He referred to district auditors as being, or that those appointed in future might be, grossly ignorant persons. So far as-our district auditors are concerned, I do not think that any charges could be fairly levelled at the work that they have up till now accomplished. I would like to remind the House that any action they may take is subject to the law of the land, and confined to the power of raising questions regarding the legality of expenditure. Moreover, questions which they can raise are subject to appeal, and cannot be enforced if the appeal be given against the district auditors. The only quarrel I have against this Bill is against its title. It is entitled the "Audit (Local Authorities) Bill." It might, with justice and much more fitly, have been described as a Bill to protect the pockets of the ratepayers of this country. I support this Bill because I believe it to be a Measure which is long overdue, and because I feel that the burden which the ratepayer is now called upon to carry has almost reached the limit of endurance. 1051 Local government expenditure has been growing recently by leaps and bounds. Perhaps there are few outside this House who realise the scope and magnitude of our local expenditure at the present time.
In the last return for the period 1922–23, local government expenditure in England and Wales on roads and bridges alone came to £40,000,000; on public health to £32,000,000; on education to nearly £75,000,000 and on poor relief to £36,000,000, a total expenditure of no less than £346,000,000—indeed a large sum which had to be met out of the rates and taxes. To this sum of £346,000,000 must also be added a sum of £71,000,000 in respect of loans made during that period, making a total expenditure of something like £418,000,000 incurred by the local authorities. Not only are the local authorities charged with the administration of these vast sums of money, but they have also incurred debts on loans which amount to no less than £800,000,000. These are big figures, and I venture to think they show the need of seeing that local government is administered in the cleanest and most efficient manner. There are cities in this country whose expenditure on local government exceeds the total national expenditure of some of the smaller States in Europe at the present time. The object of this Bill is to curtail illegal expenditure, and, therefore, I think it must make, indeed I believe it is making, a wide appeal. All local authorities whose accounts are now subject to audit come under the provisions of this Bill—the county councils, urban and rural district councils, boards of guardians—I am glad to think—and also many boroughs.
It has been said that this is an attempt to suppress local government and we have had many quotations from a certain journal in substantiation of that allegation. I can only say that the official view of the County Councils' Association, which is one of the bodies concerned, is in favour of this Bill. The Association of Municipal Corporations, in so far as they have had time to express any opinion and in so far as it has been possible to ascertain their opinion, certainly offer no objection to the provisions of this Bill. The vast majority of 1052 local authorities believe this to be a good Bill and a Bill introduced in the interests of ratepayers and of clean and efficient local government. If I may be allowed to say a word in regard to Clause 1, some criticism has been levelled at the fact that the line has been drawn at £500. I hope that the Minister, when the Bill goes upstairs to be considered in Committee, will be prepared to reconsider the figure of £500. I should like to see the amount considerably and substantially reduced. Another point to which I should like to direct the attention of the House is that I think that it might be well that no cases should go to the Ministry of Health. We do not want any suggestion of bureaucratic control, and for that reason no doubt the Minister has provided that cases over £500 shall go to the Courts for a decision. It might well be that all cases, whether over or under that sum, should go to the Courts rather than to any Government Department. I do not want to go into any details of the Bill or to deal with points which will more profitably be dealt with in Committee, but I desire to express the hope that the Bill will receive the sympathetic consideration of the House. Industry and ratepayers alike have been hard pressed to find money to meet the demands made upon them. I believe this Bill will do something to alleviate the burdens with which they are now faced, and, what is, perhaps, even more important, may prevent the further imposition of burdens which they should not rightly be called upon to bear. I beg to support the Bill.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I should like, in the first instance, to refer to some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood), who proposed the Amendment and to deny, most positively, one of his statements. One of his statements was to this effect, that it is only Labour members of local authorities that are guilty of the illegal practices against which this Bill is directed. I have been a member of a local authority for many years and I am still, and I can assure the hon. Member that he is totally mistaken. There are members of local government authorities who are active Conservatives and active Liberals who are equally guilty and actually do commit the same sort of illegal action that he claims as being solely confined 1053 to members of his party. I should also like to point out with regard to his speech, that he made rather a confusion of phrase or confusion of thought. He kept talking about social policy, when, really, I am sure he meant electoral policy rather than social policy. He said that the people against whom this Bill is directed were actuated by their social policy, but surely in every single case where, during his speech, he said it was social policy which actuated them, really he meant it was electoral policy which actuated them.
On one point I was in thorough agreement with him and in entire disagreement with the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill was an emergency Bill and not a political Bill. I venture to differ entirely from the right hon. Gentleman, and, I think, perhaps, he may agree with me when I explain what I mean by that. In local government, even more directly than in national government, the whole system of democracy is breaking down. We are seeing now, what political philosophers of all ages pointed out, that democracy contains in itself the seeds of its own dissolution. That principle was laid down more than 2,000 years ago. The recent history of local government in this country, and the recent history of political democracy in Europe, have shown conclusively that that was a thoroughly sound principle and that, in the absence of certain principles, there is not the least doubt that democracy will disappear not only in local, but in national government.
The reason why the right hon. Gentleman is presenting one Bill after another to this House is simply that the innate corruption of democracy is beginning to make government impossible in local affairs in this country. Every Bill he has produced relating to pains and penalties upon members of local authorities, together with the whole of his Poor Law policy that he is gradually unfolding before us, is all devoted to that one end, to prevent the utter and innate corruption of democracy from ruining local government in this country. The hon. Member who speaks officially for the Opposition claims that corruption of government as being the one and sole purpose of the party to which he belongs. 1054 Remarks were made by the hon. Member who spoke for the Opposition about the district auditors themselves. It so happens that I have had the control of tile finances of an urban district council for a number of years, and I can assure the hon. Member that he is quite mistaken if he thinks that those of us who control local finance regard the district auditor as an enemy. Very far from it. I can say from my own experience that district auditors give us a vast amount of help, that they are entirely reasonable and willing to stretch points of law to an extent which I should never have dreamed possible if I had not experienced it. They are willing to go to almost any length to ensure sound finance in the affairs of local authorities.
As far as my own local authority is concerned, if I remember rightly, since I have had charge of the finances, we have only had one case of surcharge, and I mention this example in order to show the sort of way in which the district auditor deals with these cases. The case in question is this. We received, as a council, an invitation from a local water board to send representatives to attend the opening of a new reservoir that was being constructed. I was not able to be present, but my colleagues went, and they had really a good picnic. Judging by the bill, which was passed on to me subsequently, they had a thoroughly good afternoon. My colleagues entered into this thing perfectly innocently, because they thought the water board was going to pay for the refreshments. But dismay overtook us when, about a week later, the bill came in, with all the details of what they had had and the prices affixed to it. The district auditor, when he saw that in my accounts, at once drew attention to it. He said, "This seems to me to be altogether an excessive charge for tea." I pointed out to him that it was a charge incurred in perfect innocence, and that members of my council, if they had known they were going to have to pay for the refreshment themselves, would never have agreed to go to that particular feast. I have no doubt that the auditor was acting illegally in allowing that and not surcharging us.
I mention that as an example to show how reasonable and sympathetic district 1055 auditors are in regard to those who sin without malice. But as far as this Bill is concerned, I hope the Government will pay attention to what was said by the last speaker, and will not make this extraordinary limitation as to amount that is in the Bill. One of the chief troubles of very small local authorities like my own is, that, year by year, there is an increasing number of picnics of one sort or another. The sanitary department have a picnic at some watering place for a few days; the Urban District Councils' Association, of which I am a Vice-President, have a picnic at some other watering place, and the Highways Association have a picnic at a third watering place. The accounts in respect of sending representatives to these picnics amount to a very considerable burden, and at present these amounts are not disallowed. If in the future it should become the policy of the right hon. Gentleman to call a halt on this unnecessary expenditure, and it is in many cases very unnecessary, I should like any offences against that policy and any surcharges to come under this Bill, in the same way that the large amounts over £500 come under it. I hope he will consider the appeal of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) and see if he cannot make an alteration in that direction in Committee.
When I said that the hon. Member who moved the Amendment had been referring to social policy, I meant that, as far as it is possible to judge of these matters, in every one of the really scandalous cases, to some of which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health referred, the object has been perfectly obvious to any unbiased person. The reason the preposterous minimum wage was given in Poplar, and kept up even when the cost of living had made it unnecessary was—and anyone knows it who has had any dealings with members of the Labour party in local or national government—simply a matter of electoral policy: a policy of getting votes for themselves, and for no other reason whatsoever. It is simply cant and humbug for the House of Commons, either on the opposite side or on this, to pretend that there was anything else in it except that. I have had enough experience in national and local government to know that the 1056 party represented on the benches above the Gangway on this side of the House, as a matter of deliberate policy, have adopted this bribery of the electors.
In the old days, when democracy was a very limited thing in this country, bribery and corruption went on, but it was bribery and corruption at the expense of those people who got the vote. They paid for it out of their own pockets, or their friends paid for it. The worst and most dangerous form of bribery and corruption in government is not when a candidate himself pays for votes out of his own pocket, but it is that form of bribery and corruption where a candidate pays for his votes out of the pockets of the nation. As certain as night follows day, we shall see the end of democracy in our own time unless a check can be put on 'that form of corruption in government. The best of the political philosophers of every age have pointed out most definitely that democratic institutions cannot be preserved if they become rotten, and if there is this bribery for getting votes.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I would remind the hon. Member that we are dealing in this Bill with the question of local government.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I think the principle applies to national government, otherwise this Bill would not have been necessary. The principle which I was trying to put before the House was that local government in certain directions is becoming so utterly corrupt and rotten by people buying votes at the ratepayers' expense, that democracy has been set aside, and deliberately set aside, by the ratepayers, lest worse things should happen.
§ Mr. MORRIS
With the general principle enunciated by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), that democracy cannot survive if it becomes rotten, I fully agree; but I do not share the pessimistic view that he entertains in regard to democracy. The Bill is perfectly justifiable, whether it has regard to the Labour party the Conservative party or the Liberal party. The party in power is quite immaterial, as far as this Bill is concerned. What the hon. Member has just said about expenditure by local authorities goes to the very root of administration. It is vital, if local gov- 1057 ernment is to survive upon a democratic basis, that there should be purity of administration. As I understand the constitution of this country, the powers of the auditors are not enlarged under this Bill. All that the auditor has to do is to see that the expenditure of the local authority is perfectly legal expenditure. That is the duty with which he is charged.
§ Mr. MORRIS
It applies generally to the urban district councils, boards of guardians and borough councils elsewhere.
§ Mr. MORRIS
The auditor is thereby charged with the duty of seeing that the expenditure of the local authority is justifiable expenditure according to the law. That is, in accordance with the law as passed by Parliament. If he carries out that duty, he surcharges in regard to any illegal expenditure. It becomes very important that he should carry out that duty. The only change, so far as I can understand, which this Bill makes is that the effects of the decision are altered. If this change secures purity of administration, whatever party may be in power—I care not whether it be the Labour party, the Conservative party or the Liberal partyit is doing something to safeguard the interests of local government itself, the whole constitution and jurisdiction of legislation and the supremacy of Parliament. Parliament indicates what legal expenditure shall be in regard to local government. All that this Bill does, as I understand it, is to maintain the authority of Parliament so that it shall have complete jurisdiction over the expenditure of local authorities, and to see that that expenditure is legal expenditure. That is a fair democratic principle. Should there be any complaint about the expenditure on the ground that it should be increased, the proper way to meet that situation is not to increase illegally the expenditure of the local authorities but to change 1058 the law which governs it. That is the proper method of redress. That is the proper democratic principle, and that can only be done through this House, by the proper procedure.
The hon. Member for Mossley touched upon another point which, in conjunction with this one, is very vital. He talked about the sympathy and largeheartedness of the auditors. It becomes very important when the auditor has to deal with a surcharge and the interpretation of the law, that the auditor should know the conditions with which he has to deal. It then becomes a matter of very vital importance. Here I want to make one complaint, in regard to which I have put questions in the House. The conditions in Wales in regard to district auditors are very different from the conditions in England. We have a different language, and different conditions applying. Actually, at the present time, I believe I am right in my statement, there is only one out of four or five district auditors who are capable of speaking or even understanding the Welsh language. That is very important, particularly when you come to deal with the rural areas, where the language is mainly if not entirely Welsh. People carry on their business in the Welsh language, and it becomes very important, if we are to carry out the democratic principle properly, that the district auditors should be competent to understand the Welsh language, and it is highly desirable that they should be competent to speak it. In the rural areas in particular I would demand that it should be a condition precedent to the appointment of any auditor in Wales that he should be able to speak the Welsh language. That is very important if the auditor is to carry out his duties not only in a sympathetic but in a competent way. In so far as the Bill attempts to safeguard the democratic constitution of this country—I am not speaking of the details of the Bill, which can be dealt with at another time, but with the principles of the Bill—it is a Bill that is drafted upon right lines and will, if it is observed in practice, do something to safeguard and protect the democratic principle.
§ Mr. SCURR
Listening to the last speaker and the point he was raising one would think that this Bill, in some 1059 mysterious way, was to be a safeguard of the purity of administration. So far as I understood the Minister of Health, one of the reasons for the introduction of the Bill was that it was an emergency Measure which had arisen out of certain circumstances in connection with the surcharges in the Boroughs of Poplar, Bethnal Green and Woolwich. During his speech the right hon. Gentleman never suggested that there was anything impure or corrupt in the administration of those particular boroughs. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) seemed to think somewhat on the same lines as the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris). So far as I can testify—I speak from personal and official knowledge, having been a member of one of the authorities mentioned and being familiar with the others —I can state that sitting on those three local authorities there are men and women whose devotion to public life, and Whose sincere desire to serve the community, is second to none.
So far as the case goes which was argued in the Law Courts in regard to the £4 minimum wage adopted by the Poplar Borough Council, it was admitted by the Judges that the councillors acted absolutely bona fide, and that in reading the Statute and in taking such advice as was available in regard to the wording of that Statute, they considered that the Statute gave them the power to do what they had done. It is not a question of any illegal expenditure, and it is not a question of corrupt expenditure or of negligent expenditure but simply a difference of opinion between one gentleman, the district auditor, and the council, as to what was or was not reasonable. When we come to the point as to what is not reasonable, it is the gravamen of the whole question that this is to be a matter to be settled by one individual. Unfortunately for those of us who are engaged in the work of local administration in London, we find that even those persons who are to decide what is or what is not reasonable give varying decisions as far as different authorities are concerned, even in the same area. I believe I am correct in saying that in Poplar one district auditor under the Ministry of Health takes the view that a certain wage is a, reasonable wage for the ordinary labourer, while on the other hand in 1060 another district of that borough the auditor of the Ministry of Health who audits the accounts of the board of guardians takes another view of what is reasonable for the same class of labour, and is fixing a different rate. When we come to Woolwich, we again find a variation in regard to the figure which the auditor considers reasonable.
The hon. Member for Mossley has been giving his experience in regard to auditors. The experience which he has had in that respect shows that the Ministry of Health in that case was guilty of gross dereliction of duty. It has never been alleged against a single member of the Poplar Borough Council that they have gone junketing to various parts of the country. It has never been alleged against them that they have gone in order to get very fine teas for themselves at the public expense. Nothing of that sort has ever come before the auditor. All that has come before the auditor in regard to their policy has been that they have submitted to the electors what they considered to be a real social policy in regard to the standard of life of the working men in their employ, and the electors having confirmed that policy at more than one election, they felt that they were justified in carrying it out. Never has there been such a charge made against any member of the Poplar Borough Council. I know everyone of them, and I know that they would not, in any circumstances, engage in any such work as that described by the hon. Member for Mossley. When you come to an urban district council which is not composed of Labour men but of members of the well-to-do classes, men who can very well afford to pay for their tea themselves, you find that the discretion of the auditor is exercised in their favour.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I must deny that at once, if the hon. Member will allow me. Personally we are the poorest council in England.
§ Mr. SCURR
I would not describe the hon. Member as one of the poorest Members of this House, or of the council to which he belongs, and I feel certain that there are other members on that council who belong to the same social class as himself. Therefore, I think I am absolutely accurate in what I have said. It is somewhat of a tragedy which we are 1061 witnessing this afternoon. This is a continuance of the destruction of the fabric of democratic local government in this country and it is introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. I have always had a great admiration for the work of his distinguished father. I did not always agree with him, especially in his later years, but in regard to municipal work he was one of the greatest contributors, during the later part of the nineteenth century to local administration in this country. Some years ago I read of the work of the right hon. Gentleman himself, and I thought he was a worthy follower of his father. But since I have come into this House I have had, unfortunately, to revise my opinion very considerably. In the Guardians Default Act, and in this Bill, he has departed from those former principles of local government and is standing now for the principle under which the central government, through some official or another, is to have more and more power over the policy to be pursued by local authorities.
That is the fundamental objection we have to this Bill. I absolutely disagree with the hon. Member for Mossley. I do not regard the democracy of this country as in any sense of the word corrupt. I see no sign of it. When he addresses the House he always inflicts upon us a very pessimistic speech. I think it is only a habit of mind. So far as this country is concerned its democracy is healthy. I consider that those persons who stand for election to our local governing authorities have every right to put before the electors the policy which they conceive to be in the public interest. What was the policy in the mind of the members of the Poplar Borough Council at the time when the surcharge was made? The policy which we put forward, and which was adopted by the Poplar Borough Council in 1921, was not a new policy. Many years before the War, when the wages paid to municipal employés in London were £1 a week, and 19s. a week and £1 1s. a week, we had always contended that there should be a reasonable and proper standard minimum wage paid to our employés. That wage, compared with £1 which was paid elsewhere, was put forward to 30s. a week, and so successful were we in urging that policy upon the people that our political opponents, when they were in control, adopted it, and the 30s. minimum wage was paid 1062 by the Poplar Borough Council. It was as much as 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. above the wage paid by other borough councils, and, therefore, in putting forward the policy of a £4 per week minimum wage we were only pursuing the policy which had been advocated for many years past.
Then along comes the district auditor. We thought we were pursuing a policy which was perfectly legal. The district auditor says, "How are we going to fix these wages? I am the deciding factor." We, who are members of that council, who know the locality and all the conditions regarding wages in the locality; we who have entered into negotiations with trade union representatives and entered into public agreements with trade union representatives, find that we are put on one side and that one individual, who, with all respect, knows nothing about trade union conditions or the conditions in Poplar, says, "We will take the joint industrial council." The joint industrial council is not a legal body. It is a voluntary body, called into existence, and after its decision has been made the auditor says, "I consider that 10 per cent. above the figure of the joint industrial council to be a reasonable figure." Some other district auditor says, "You are to pay only the joint industrial council's award." What power have we to interfere? The Court has decided that the discretion is entirely in the hands of the district auditor. In other words, this official, who is not appointed in the ordinary way of the Civil Service, who is not responsible to the Minister who appoints him, and who stands absolutely apart, has control of the destinies of local authorities and is to be the person who is to fix all these questions.
It will not be only on questions of wages, it will be also on questions of policy. If the district auditor disagrees with the policy of a local council he will exercise his right against that local authority. The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence) referred to the case of the district auditor and the London County Council in 1912. On that occasion the auditor said that fruit and cod-liver oil were not articles of food to be supplied to children. After considerable controversy, 1063 he agreed that fruit was a food, but he decided that cod-liver oil was not a food. Let me give another case. The district auditor says, "I am only concerned with expenditure which is legal." I take one particular case in connection with the Whitechapel Board of Guardians. It is rather interesting, as showing how the pedantic view taken by a district auditor operated against really human needs. A woman living in Hackney, unfortunately, became temporarily insane. She was a pauper lunatic, and her settlement was in Whitechapel. The little properties she had included her wedding ring. They were taken from her when she was removed to the asylum, but by some unfortunate occurrence they were lost. Four or five years later the woman, fortunately, recovered, and she immediately claimed the little personal things which had been retained. She was a very pious Roman Catholic, and when it was found that her wedding ring was lost, she felt that she could not, under any circumstances, rejoin her husband until the wedding ring was restored. The clerk to the Whitechapel Board of Guardians immediately purchased a wedding ring and gave it to the woman. It satisfied her. It seems to be a perfectly human thing to do.
But what happened? The district auditor came along and surcharged the 10s. as an illegal expenditure. It was pointed out to him that if this ring had not been given to the woman the effect on her mentality might have been such that she would have gone mad again and become a permanent charge on the Whitechapel Guardians and probably cost £1,000 for her maintenance during her life. The auditor's reply to the clerk was: "That is no concern of mine. I am only concerned with the legality of the whole business." Is it not time, instead of taking these measures to limit the discretion of local government authorities and inflict punishment of a severe character on public-spirited men and women who come forward and perform these public services, without fee or reward, very often very unthankful services, for you get more kicks than halfpence in local government, you should give them some help and some encouragement? Instead of that you propose to inflict punishment upon them by deprive- 1064 ing them of the opportunity of serving the community. It is actually proposed under the Bill that if a person commits this fault in one authority and he happens to be a member of more than the one authority, although the other councils are acting perfectly bona fide and legally, he is to be deprived of serving on any authority of any kind or description for five years.
The surcharges are to be made jointly and severally, and being made jointly and severally it may be that all the penalties will be thrown upon one person, although his colleagues are just as much in the mire as himself. Because he happens to be a person of more means than the others he is to be the one who is to be hit under this Bill, by reason of the fact that you are making recovery a question of a civil debt. The more one examines the attitude of the Government in regard to this question the more one is convinced of the fact that they are only concerned with the political issue. As a matter of fact, that was the position put forward by the Minister of Health himself. This is really a political measure, for the purpose of trying to destroy political opponents. The Government and the Tory party are afraid of the Labour and Socialist movement in this country. They see it growing every-where, that we are getting more and more control of local government, and they dislike it. Therefore, they are going to make every attempt to stop our progress. They may expect to succeed, but they have never been more mistaken in their lives. Although they represent a minority in the country they happen to have a majority in this House and they will carry the Bill. Let them carry the Bill! This is a two-edged sword, and sometimes two-edged swords can be turned against those who start using them. We should much prefer that two-edged swords should not be used at all. Rather would we trust the intelligence of the democracy. If we left the matter to the democracy and did not interfere with it in this bureaucratic way, it would be much better for the nation as a whole. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
Far from this Bill being destructive in its influence on local government, as suggested by the 1065 last speaker, I am convinced that it will go far to improve local government by keeping it within the law. If local government under present conditions is hampered and ought to have more powers, those powers ought to be conferred by this House. That was very well put by an hon. and learned Friend who spoke from this side of the House. I have listened very carefully to all the speeches against the Bill, particularly to that of the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. I understand that he agrees that anything that is directly illegal or ultra vires ought to be prohibited by law. I also understand that he had no better suggestion to make as to who was to be the judge of that in the first instance, than the district auditor. Some Members on the Labour side—I am not sure whether the hon. Member was amongst them—did raise sonic objection to the method by which the auditor was appointed and the conditions under which he performed his duties. One speaker went so far as to suggest that he ought to be entirely a civil servant and under the directions and orders of the Ministry of Health. I cannot conceive such a frame of mind; I should have thought it was most essential to secure for an auditor an absolutely independent position, so far as that is possible. I cannot see how that can be secured better than it is now, in the appointment being in the hands of the Ministry of Health but the conduct of the auditor thereafter being absolutely independent.
The sole objection to the Bill, as I gathered from the Mover of the Amendment, is this—that he says the Bill is striking, not at what is illegal or what is ultra vires, but at what he called the policy of the local authority. In my opinion the Bill does no such thing. It is a mistake to suggest that it is striking at policy where the action by the local authorities, of which we have had illustration, is not policy but is an illegal act. Hon. Members opposite seem to me to have misapprehended entirely the position of the local authority after it is elected. It is held on all hands that members of local authorities are trustees for the electors, that they have to carry out their powers as trustees, and that where those powers involve the exercise of discretion, that discretion is not purely the will or desire of the persons who 1066 have to exercise it, but is what is very well known in the administration of all bodies, by judges and by everybody else, a discretion to be exercised on the principle of what is right. It has to be a judicial discretion, as it were, by the person exercising it, and not his own discretion.
I agree with what was said by the last speaker, that the action of the Poplar Board of Guardians was, as they thought, within the law. The words of the Metropolitan Management Act of 1885 did say that the local authority could pay such wages as the councillors thought fit. But that did not mean such wages as they chose. It meant that they had to use this discretion fairly, having regard to the existing conditions about them, and where they were paying wages for a particular class of work or service they were, as trustees exercising their powers, to act fairly and equitably and rightly, having regard to the whole of their constituents, the ratepayers, but they were not to pay large sums above the ordinary rate of wages; they were to use their discretion as ordinary reasonable persons would do. Of course the Poplar Guardians, or the Poplar Council, in settling a standard of wages that was 50 per cent. or 100 per cent. higher than the ordinary standard of wages as fixed by the Industrial Council, were committing an illegal act and were not exercising the discretion given to them under the Statute. It is true that the words used, in popular parlance, did cause the councillors who in the first instance exercised it, really to believe that they had that power, and I exempt them from any dishonesty.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
But those words have been judicially interpreted to mean something else. I have here the judgment of Lord Justice Wrenbury. As soon as a law is laid down it ought to be accepted. The Minister finds, and the cause of introducing this Bill is, that it has not been accepted. He finds that in various local bodies this idea that is put forward in the House to-day, of what is called the policy of the particular body—so far as I have heard it has been mainly where the Labour party has been in control—has led to extravagance, that local authorities are administering their affairs so extravagantly as to be illegal 1067 and to be a breach of the principle of the discretion as defined by the House of Lords. This Bill is going to curb them. It is aimed, not at punishing the particular perpetrators of this policy, but at bringing it to an end. I cannot conceive—I have not heard anything suggested in the Debate—any better system than that which the Minister has devised in this Bill, in which he has excluded people who deliberately set themselves, under what they profess to call their policy, to do what is an illegal act.
That there are some limits of discretion is clear. They have discretion in the administration of all local government matters that come before them. As I understand the position, the auditors, in the matter of the rate of wages, have a rough-and-ready scale of so much above the standard rate of wages that has been settled in a district, either by the Industrial Council or by assent or by agreement amongst the trade unions and the person so engaged. The auditor acts according to this limit that has been fixed. If councillors are surcharged they can appeal to the Law Courts, and the Law Courts decide, as they are constantly deciding questions in the case of private trustees or public trustees, such as people who act as directors of companies and that kind of thing—decide as to whether they are really exercising a legal discretion apart from a purely personal whim. If when they come before the Court the Court is satisfied that there has been honesty of action, it can free the particular councillor from the disqualification which is a punishment for breach of this legal duty. I think this is a most salutary Measure for keeping control over local administration.
There is only one point in the Bill with which I do not at present agree. Where the penalty is coming automatically into effect, where this disqualification takes place in the automatic way provided by the Bill, there is a right of appeal to the Law Courts, as I have said; but I cannot see why there should not be an option to the person affected where the amount is less than the statutory amount of £500. I do not see why there should not be an alternative right to the person thus surcharged to go to the Law Courts or to 1068 the Minister. I would preserve the existing power that the Minister has, because in small matters it seems to me that that would be the easiest way of dealing with the case. I have heard few complaints for years past of the way the Minister has exercised this discretion for setting aside these surcharges or making it easier for those who have offended. It is quite true that in matters where there is legal difficulty the Minister can send the case to the High Court for decision, but I do not see why the determination as to whether there is a legal difficulty or not should rest with him.
I do not see why it should be necessary to have two proceedings, one by which the matter has to go to the Minister and the other by which the Minister sends it to the Court. I urge upon the Minister to reconsider the matter before the Committee stage and perhaps he will see his way to giving the alternative remedy of allowing the person surcharged to go direct to the Court if he prefers to do so. If I happen to be upon the Committee which is dealing with the Bill, I shall prepare an Amendment to that effect. I think, however, that this Measure is most salutary and beneficial and will not have any of the ill-effects suggested by the Labour party. It will lead to purification and better administration in our local authorities, and if a local authority where the control is in the hands of the Labour party find they have not free scope for any policy which they want to introduce, their proper action is to come to this House to get the power of local authorities enlarged, rather than to break the law by putting their policy into operation in the particular way which has been indicated.
§ Mr. PALIN
I rise to support the Amendment. If this Bill becomes law it will bear very unfairly on a certain number of local authorities but will allow other authorities to do the very things of which complaint is now made. The Bill would penalise a councillor in Poplar but would not be able to interfere with a councillor doing the same thing in Birmingham, Bradford, Newcastle or any other county borough. The Minister knows that the district auditor has no power to interfere with a county borough council regarding the wages it pays, except in the education department, and to 1069 a certain extent, in connection with housing, where Government grants are received. So far as the big spending departments of between 500 and 600 local councils are concerned, the district auditor has not yet been able to interfere in any way whatever. It would seem that a dead set is being made upon the little London borough councils. Why London should be singled out for punishment I do not know. There are plenty of county councils who have done more heinous things than the London councils have done, though not in the same direction. Perhaps the Minister is only reserving the county and borough councils for some more severe punishment. Possibly he is contemplating disestablishing them, and replacing them by commissioners of his own appointment. So far as I have had experience of the district auditor he has done some most foolish things, and his decisions have been reversed in all matters of any real importance. Take the Cockerton judgment, for instance, in regard to the right of working-class children to the benefits of secondary education. I am surprised to find the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) supporting the district auditor because the Liberal party have been penalised by the district auditor even more than the Labour party, and the one point on which I disagree with the Mover of the Amendment is his statement that only the Labour party have been penalised by the district auditor.
As a matter of fact the district auditor seems to impose penalties in any case that departs from precedent and the same principle operates in the Local Legislation Committee. I do not blame the Minister, who presides over forces which he does not control, but when we go to the Local Legislation Committee upstairs we find that the bureaucrats who sit behind and in the shelter of the Minister oppose anything that departs from precedent. If a local body applies for a power which no one else has had previously, the Ministry as a matter of course opposes the application. The last speaker said that we ought to go to Parliament for powers. We know how we shall be received upstairs if we do so. We shall meet with the same opposition as that which the district auditor offers to any progressive movement. The reason why there has not been a revolt against the district 1070 auditor up to now is this. Take, for instance, the case of the Bradford City Council of which I have had some experience. They can always make provision from other funds to meet any difficulty created by the district auditor in the education department. Supposing it was desired to supply cod liver oil and milk to children and the district auditor held it was not a reasonable expenditure. The council could find the cost out of the gas profits or the tram profits or the Lord Mayor's salary and the children would get their cod-liver oil. But in London there is no such power and the London children would have to go without because the district auditor thought the expenditure was unreasonable. Why should London be placed under a penalty which does not apply to other authorities throughout the country? I was surcharged 30 years ago as a Poor Law guardian because I voted for the provision of a little greenhouse in the workhouse grounds in order to supply flowers and plants for the hospital wards of the union infirmary. I think that it would be considered a reasonable part of the guardians' duty to supply flowers and plants to cheer the sick, but at that time the district auditor said it was unreasonable. I have not the slightest doubt that on such a point if I came to the Minister he would remit the surcharge as the President of the Local Government Board did in my particular case, but everything that is a new departure is treated in this way.
As regards limiting expenditure and relieving the burden of rates, the district auditor simply does not count. If a board of guardians enters into an action with another board of guardians in regard to some person who is chargeable to their rates, and spends £2,000 or £3,000 on it, that expenditure would be passed by the district auditor; but if the same board of guardians spent £5 in providing new bonnets for the old ladies in the infirm ward they would probably be surcharged. While these things were irritating we could stand them, but, now, if a person is surcharged and if the surcharge is not remitted by the Minister, that person is to be ostracised from public life. If that rule had always applied, some of the finest men we have had in local government administration would have been hounded from public life long ago. Those who have been responsible for 1071 fighting the district auditor include some of the men who established the people's right to the higher forms of education. The suggestion that local government and democracy are becoming corrupt, can be treated with the contempt which it deserves. The hon. Gentleman who makes that suggestion may belong to a corrupt parish council, but the big councils which are governing this country locally, are as pure and are as much to be trusted as the National Legislature. A very high standard prevails and although, from time to time, we may get scoundrels upon those bodies, they are usually found out and have to go to prison. It is very rarely that the district auditor calls attention to anything in the nature of illegal personal expenditure. It is the big matters of policy that cause trouble. The Cockerton case is a case in point; and it is upon matters of that kind that men will be driven from public life by this Bill.
If the district auditors are to have these extended powers—powers of life and death as it were—over those engaged in public work, there should be some guarantee that they are qualified to exercise those powers. One would imagine that a district auditor should have a certificate as a chartered accountant, or, at any rate, a certificate from some society of accountants which conduct examinations. One would think that such an official should possess some knowledge of local government. In all departments where national officials of this kind are appointed, such as the Prison Commissioners, or in the case of police inspectors, the persons appointed must have some experience and knowledge of the duties they are going to perform. The district auditors, while they may be in the main excellent people, are not required to possess any special qualification which fits them for the job. This Bill in consequence seems to be a thoroughly bad Bill. It is not going to purify local government or assist it in any way. It is only going to throw in another bone of contention. As a politician, I do not care a particular malediction whether it goes on to the Statute Book or not. It will only be another sin laid to the charge of the present Government. If it is forced to its logical conclusion and if a few excellent people are driven from public life, 1072 that will only result in driving the Government themselves more rapidly into oblivion. For that reason I welcome this Bill but from the point of view of securing efficient local government it is going to be a failure. If the Minister is honest in the opinion that it is going to purify local government and prevent people acting foolishly with the ratepayers' money, he has made a very great mistake. He will have to start again on another and more comprehensive Measure, a Measure that will be based upon the best principles of scientific government rather than a Measure which, apparently, has been designed to score off a limited number of his political opponents.
§ Mr. LOOKER
There are points in this Bill which are causing a great deal of concern in urban district council circles, and I ask the Minister to give them some consideration before the Bill proceeds to Committee. The first point arises in Clause I, which provides that any person surcharged by the auditor is automatically disqualified. One follows on the heels of the other. He has only to be surcharged, and then he is disqualified from office, and there is a penalty if he acts after disqualification has taken place. In the next Clause there is machinery for having that particular effect revised. It can be revised by the Minister in certain circumstances, or by the Courts, and if the result be to show that the surcharge was made in error, then for a considerable period—it may be a month or less or more—the person who has signed the original cheque will have been disqualified from acting, on grounds which afterwards proved not to be sufficient. I submit that the question of disqualification ought not to arise until it is quite settled that the surcharge is right, and I hope between now and the later stages of the Bill the Minister will consider that point.
There is one other point in the Bill about which a certain amount of concern is felt. At the moment, any person who is surcharged has the right to apply to the High Court by Writ of Certiorari for an order to quash the surcharge, and this is irrespective of the amount, but the result of the Bill will be to deprive the person so surcharged of his right under Section 247 of the Public Health Act if the amount of the surcharge is less than £500. The Urban District Councils' Association fail to see why any 1073 person should be deprived of his right to go to the Courts, which he now has, irrespective of the amount of the surcharge. It is true that under Subsection (1) of Clause 2 the Minister may state a case, if he thinks fit, but that is quite a different thing from a person having his own right to go to the Courts, and I would ask my hon. Friend to look into these two points.
§ Mr. BARKER
I have no fault to find with the Minister's exposition of the Bill, but I think his tone was not at all commendable. It seemed as if he was dealing, not with the accredited representatives of the people, but with a party of vandals. He said that under the present law the persons surcharged came out of prison and began the game all over again. I should like to know what he meant by "the game." The local authorities of this country are as efficient and as honest as any local authorities in the world, and if there is anything of which we can be proud as a nation it is our local self-government. I believe that our local self-government is of a higher standard than that of any other country in the world, and why these men and women should be described in the way in which the Minister described them phases my comprehension.
There is nothing more important in this country than our local self-government. Our health, our education, the good behaviour of our people, the relief of the poor and the distressed, are all attended to by our local authorities, and this service is rendered purely gratuitously; and not only so, but a considerable amount of money is expended by our local people in performing their statutory duties. I see every day, when I am at home, our representatives paying their train fares to Newport, a distance of 17 miles, to perform their duties on the county council. They have to pay their expenses while they are there, they give their services absolutely gratuitously, and they are engaged sometimes two or three days per week. When the Minister described these people as playing the game, I think he must have forgotten himself. It is a most objectionable term to use in regard to these men, to say that they went to prison and then came out and played the game all over again, and I wish to protest against a descrip- 1074 tion of that character with reference to the people who are carrying on the local government of this country.
The real reason for this Bill is that certain localities have returned a majority of Labour representatives upon their local governing bodies. The employés under local governing bodies have been scandalously underpaid in the past, and their status has been very little above that of a pauper, but our Labour councils and authorities have ameliorated the conditions of these employés very considerably. It is the fact that the Poplar authority paid £4 a week to their employés that has brought down the wrath of this Government upon the local authorities; but what is £4 a week? Why, in pre-War money, it is only £2 7s. a week, and I suppose it is these millionaire scavengers and dustmen who have excited the anger of the Ministry. This is a very serious question to our people. We believe that the standard of life is far too low, and our local authorities in many cases have raised the wages of their employés above the labour market level in their areas, and it is because the employers in those areas have to compete with the wages paid by the councils that we have had this Bill brought in to-day. I was very much surprised at the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) supporting a Bill of this character, because this Bill, when it becomes law, will be a menace to every public servant in this country. As an elected representative, his liberty and his character and his social position will be placed at the mercy of a single individual.
As the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence) very ably pointed out, the powers that are in this Bill are greater than any powers that have ever been given to any governing authority in this country, and in our opinion they are entirely unconstitutional. To place a body of representatives in this position will have the most deteriorating effect upon our local government, and it is inconceivable that men of character will stand under a menace of this description. Our working men themselves, by getting elected to a local governing authority, may come in conflict with a district auditor and may find themselves in serious financial difficulties, and they may have their home 1075 broken up and their furniture sold. Elected representatives will be continually jeopardised by the penalties in this Bill, and, in my opinion, it cannot do other than very seriously lower the standard of our public representatives on local governing bodies. There has been no adequate reason given in this House why this Bill should be brought forward. As I have previously said, the character of our local representatives stands as high for integrity, honesty and purity as that of any local governing bodies in any part of the world. Why, then, should we single them out by legislation of this description, except from a purely party point of view?
The Ministry seem to be determined to complete their nefarious work. First of all, they struck a vital blow at local self-government when they passed the Guardians Default Act, and they have inflicted indescribable misery upon thousands and thousands of the very poorest and most unfortunate people in this country by the operation of that Act. Then we find that they are striking at the local authorities again in the Bill which we have been discussing previously this week, for under it local authorities will not be able to exercise their own discretion as to whom they should employ; and now the Government bring in this Bill, which is the most infamous Bill of the three, and which is absolutely uncalled for and absolutely unjustifiable. They are threatening with pains and penalties some of the finest men and women in this country, who sacrifice their time and their fortunes in the service of their fellow-citizens. I shall support the Amendment. When the Division bell rings, I shall be found in the Lobby against this Bill. I thoroughly agree with the terms of the Amendment, namely:That this House, being of opinion that the powers now vested in district auditors are anomalous and contrary to the principles of democratic government, declines to proceed with a Bill which fails to safeguard the rights of local elected authorities in the exercise of the duties imposed upon them by Acts of Parliament and the will of the community, indirectly increases the powers of bureaucratic officials independent of popular control, and establishes the principle that duly elected representatives of the people may be disqualified for holding 1076 office otherwise than for corruption, misconduct, or negligence, and notwithstanding that they retain the confidence of their constituents.If this Government had to submit to a national auditor, they would every one of them stand a great risk of being condemned to bankruptcy, because the way in which they have mishandled the national finances of this country has become an absolute public scandal, and is even bringing revolt among their own supporters, but they know very well that they are immune from any control of that description. When the Attorney-General violated the law and led this country into a great deal of expense, he was actually rewarded out of the public funds for what he had done, instead of being brought within the clutches of the law. The Bill will destroy the interest of our people in local self-government, because every self-respecting person will avoid offering himself for that service, and thus it will be a permanent injury to the institutions of our country.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
In one or two of its aspects this Bill causes me a certain amount of disquiet. I am not going to follow the last speaker in saying that the Bill is a general attack upon the personnel of local authorities; I hope nothing of the sort is intended; but there are two matters in it to which I wish to draw attention. As I understand it, a person who is surcharged £500 or more is subjected to a penalty by being disqualified for five years from serving on a local authority. It does not follow that such a surcharge is in respect of any action that can properly be called corrupt. It may be a surcharge in respect of something done in ignorance of the law; even if it is done in defiance of the law, it is not necessarily corrupt. On the other hand, persons who are surcharged an amount less than £500 are not subjected to a penalty, though a surcharge of less than £500 may very easily be occasioned—by the word "easily" I do not mean frequently—by an action which is in essence corrupt. Therefore, the position is that a person guilty of an offence involving the larger sum, although it is not so reprehensible an offence, may be subjected to the penalty, whereas a person guilty of a more reprehensible offence but involving a less sum than £500 is subjected to no penalty at all, except the financial one.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY of the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
He might be subject to proceedings under the ordinary law in some cases.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
May I be allowed to shift my ground a little? I was speaking on the spur of the moment, and perhaps I used the wrong word. I was speaking of an offence, involving the larger sum, which might be committed in ignorance, and an offence involving the smaller sum which might not be made in ignorance but in direct defiance of the law. I so far agree with what I understand to be the spirit of the Bill that I think that what the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) said is true, and I hope it will be agreed to by all sides of the House that the business of a local authority is not to lay down the law, but to administer it. If local authorities which are of one particular political complexion find that under the law which they have to administer they cannot do things which they would like to do, it is their business to try to influence a change in the law through the medium of this House and not through the medium of their own action as local authorities. That is the constitutional method. However, there still remains the possibility that people may either act in ignorance of the law or act in defiance of the law, and the presence of a penalty in one case and the absence of a penalty in the other case creates a situation which it is not perhaps very easy to defend.
As I read the Bill, anyone surcharged an amount less than £500 is entitled to appeal to the Minister. I admit that the auditor cannot in theory be regarded as the creature of the Minister. In theory, whatever you may assert to be the practice, the auditor must be regarded as being as independent as a Judge of the High Court. He has to do a public duty, and he does it apart from the Minister. But, admitting that, there is the fact that the person who is surcharged less than £500 can appeal only to the Minister. It states in Clause 2, Sub-section (1):Where an appeal is made to the Minister under this Sub-section, he may at any stage of the proceedings, and shall, if so directed by the High Court, state in the 1078 form of a special case for the opinion of the Court any question of law arising in the course of the appeal.A person surcharged £400 who appeals to the Minister will presumably appear himself before the Minister, or he is entitled to do so. If a dispute arises between him and the Minister, the Minister may state a case for the decision of the Court, but the person who is making the appeal may not state a case.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I shall be glad to be put in possession of the true facts, because that does seem to me a bad principle. As I said just now, just as it is the business of Parliament to make laws and it is the business of the local authorities to administer them, so, equally, it is the business of Government Departments to administer the laws, and it is the business of the Courts of Law to interpret them. Apart from this Bill, looking altogether beyond this particular Measure, it seems to be a dangerous thing to extend the practice of allowing Government Departments to interpret the law, especially where such interpretation affects a citizen to the extent of penalising him. If some one is administering the law under the authority of a Government Department and the Government Department is taking action against him, any such matter ought to be settled in a Court of Law and not by the Government Department. Those are two matters which cause me some disquiet. They are matters of principle and not in any way matters of prejudice, and I shall be very glad if the hon. Member who, I understand, is going to reply will deal with them.
§ Miss WILKINSON
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health introduced this Bill with a suavity that was positively disarming. We all know what experience he has had in local government, and it has become the fashion to assume that he is in every way the champion of local government. Whatever he may have been when he was concerned in administration in Birmingham, he is a very different person now when he is sitting with the Government on the Treasury Bench. There is no greater enemy of local government and of independence in local government than 1079 the right hon. Gentleman. It is said that poachers make the best gamekeepers, and here we have a case where a man, who knows every detail of local government administration, is using that knowledge and using his position in the Government not in order to deal with the very real difficulties, which he knows to exist—no one knows them better than he—but in order to cripple local authorities in every possible way. There are two reasons why we are getting these changes in Poor Law administration, why we are continually having these Bills brought before us. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) seems to imagine that there is some corrupt influence at work, and that local authorities are losing their pristine purity. Anyone who has followed the Debates on Poor Law administration and local government administration in this House or the work of the various Commissions on the subject knows that, taking the country as a whole—I am now speaking irrespective of party—there probably never was a time when local administration was so pure as it is now, or when there was such a high standard of morality in local government. In the twentieth century, with a much more educated electorate and with people taking greater interest in local affairs than they did years ago, it is entirely wrong to assume that there was a golden age of administration in the late years of the nineteenth century and that to-day we are wallowing in depths of corruption.
In local administration we are faced with two difficulties. In the first place local authorities, with the complete accord of Parliament, have been taking to themselves new powers that were never contemplated when they were set up. The second difficulty, the difficulty with which those of us representing necessitous areas are more particularly concerned, arises from the fact that conditions in certain areas are so bad that all local machinery dealing with the relief of the poor has been strained to breaking point. The Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health, the Minister himself, and his Department, have received protest after protest, not necessarily from Members on this side of the House, but 1080 from associations representing local authorities, pointing out how impossible the situation has become, in the necessitous areas in particular. I am not, however, dealing here with the troubles of necessitous areas. What I am concerned with is the fact that under this Bill the Minister is trying by methods of punishment to deal with a situation which calls for methods of help. He knows how responsible citizens, members of his own party, are continually pointing out that Poor Law administration is breaking down, not because of any corruption, not in any sense because, to quote the contemptuous words of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), of any attempt to bribe the electorate, but simply because it is impossible to cope with the condition of things in these enormous areas which are sinking into poverty—at any rate, to cope with them with rates that can be paid by people who are sometimes as poor as the people who have to be assisted. Therefore it is that we have come to this position of trying to deal with the problem by punitive measures, by saying to local authorities, "You have got to cut down in order to bring your expenditure within your income," or else you are going to say there are certain parts of this country where expenditure by no stretch of imagination can be brought within income if decent conditions are to be given to the people who are concerned.
The Minister of Health has simply imposed a granite wall against every representation made to him on this matter, and deals with it instead by punitive methods. He first has the method of taking away the seats of those popularly elected local guardians and of filling their places by highly paid officials, whom he himself appoints, in the hope, apparently, that that is going to frighten other guardians, especially labour boards of guardians, who are trying to be really guardians to the poor, into coming within the measures he wants them to adopt. When he finds this has no effect, and that these men still consider themselves to be guardians of the poor, when he finds that they are acting upon principle, and that they believe those principles are right and they will not be frightened into working in that way, 1081 then we are to have a further punitive method. These men, instead of receiving sympathy or help, are now to be told that not only are they to be surcharged, faced with a prospect of their homes being sold up, faced with a prospect of their position being taken from them and paid officials put into their place, but they are to have their eligibility for public office taken from them for five years.
We have heard a good deal in this Debate, especially from the hon. Member for Mossley, about the party which we on these benches represent bribing the electorate. But we find the Conservative party introducing an entirely new principle into the law. We find, not that they are bribing the electorate, but that they are proposing to juggle with the results of the election. You have overwhelming majorities placing certain people in power, and the work of those local authorities does not suit the present Minister of Health. He seems to be the arch-villain of the piece, for I never yet met anyone who so strongly objected to his political opponents. He seems to spend his time at the Ministry of Health sending officials all over the place seeing what Labour boards of guardians and councils are doing, and saying they must not do it. I would remind him that he really is not the repository of all the human wisdom that ever has considered local government, that there are people quite as well-meaning, and certainly more experienced, who have put their difficulties before him. In no case are those considered unless the local authority are prepared to go on exactly the lines which he lays down. Unless he can be absolutely certain in every jot and tittle of their administration that they are doing exactly what he wants, he spends his time in devising means of punishment and big sticks to frighten those bodies.
There is one consolation, and that is that Ministers of Health do not last for ever. It is a real consolation to think that there is likely to be a change before the Minister of Health is likely to do any more mischief. Still, he has managed to do an enormous amount of mischief. He has done mischief in this sense. The particular part of local government, with which district auditors are primarily concerned, is the new services, such as housing, education and 1082 child welfare. Those are just the cases where we want as much money spent as possible in the interests of public health and public decency. It is in just those new and expanding services where the Minister's hand comes down heavily. We were all treated to the account of the waterworks picnic by the hon. Member for Mossley. I have been three years on a local authority and I know how these things are done. It is not only that you have these picnic cases, but district auditors are human beings and all human beings like good teas and excellent wines. When they are all of one party together, it is quite common to meet the auditor and say, "Well, of course, we know it is not quite the thing, but, after all—." Then those things get through. Everyone on local authorities knows that district auditors can be squared in some polite and undoubtedly quite legitimate way.
The point is that, when it comes to questions where the Poor Law or the local authorities are trying to do something a little out of the way, and to bring in new principles to help in some way, that is where the district auditor comes down heavily. The hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence) quoted the case of malted milk for mothers in maternity and child welfare cases, and in meals for the feeding of school children. That is one of the cases in point. You do not expect district auditors to keep up with the modern needs. Every new thing is subject to their very closest scrutiny. We can all point to cases of picnics for men and women, who could well afford to pay for it themselves, which are looked upon with a kindly eye, but it is the cases where the poorer people are concerned that are singled out. The Minister of Health is a very powerful person in this country, and the district auditors naturally take their cue from the policy enunciated by the Minister. When the Minister of Health makes it clear that economy in human life, economy in child life, and human happiness are not the things with which he is concerned, when his Government can spend millions on cruisers and he has to economise on children, then, naturally, district auditors take their cue, and scrutinise expenditure with the utmost care, and surcharge, wherever possible this new expenditure which they consider to be outside the ordinary. Of courser, 1083 the right hon. Gentleman will say that only happens when the expenditure is outside the ordinary.
This brings me to excessive expenditure. One hon. Member opposite has made a great point about the way the expenditure of local authorities is mounting up. If you compare it with the expenditure in the nineteenth century or early this century, you will see it is mounting because our whole ideas are changing. A great many things, which we used to leave to private enterprise as a matter of course, have now to be done by the local authorities, because private enterprise has completely broken down as it could not make sufficient profit. Education is a striking example; public health is another. The local authorities are doing things for the public which it is much more economical to have done in that way than individually. You cannot make a profit out of sanitation. But all those things make for the amenities of human life, and for the happiness of the people who have to live in the cities. Therefore, the continual wails about public expenditure and public extravagance, which we have from tine other side, are simply puerile. Of course, the wealthy men on the other side of the House do not see the sense of it when they are themselves capable of paying out of their own pockets for things which the community require to have done for them. They can educate their children, and they object to paying for public education.
The expenditure out of the ratepayers' pockets is not extravagance. I have seen figures which show that, value for value, the money paid by the ratepayers goes back to them in social amenities over and over again. Taking all our expenditure and going into it in the greatest detail, the expenditure that pays most in human amenities and human happiness is the expenditure of local authorities, because it is that expenditure which goes definitely to the homes of the poorer people, and is used in helping those who cannot help themselves. The dividend of human happiness of those local authorities is one of the most fruitful dividends that are socially paid. Therefore, I suggest that what the Government are seeking is not really in the interests of economy or in the interests of the ratepayers. If 1084 that were so, we would have seen the Conservative Government acting much earlier and much more drastically, when action was needed, on the question of private enterprise contractors who have bled the local authorities white, or on the legal charges which are crippling the local authorities.
There are many ways in which public money can be saved rather than on these essential services. You can save public money and reduce the rates by cutting down the enormous legal expenses that every local authority has to meet if it wants to get any fresh power. This is not a Bill to save the ratepayers' money. It is not the ratepayers whom the Minister is trying to protect by this Bill. He is trying to deal with a situation that appals his heart, and that is that the whole administration of local government in the industrial and populous areas is rapidly falling into hands hostile, not only to his party, but to the principles for which he and his party stand. In the realm of local government, private enterprise is being put out of action wherever it is possible to do so, because methods of collective action are infinitely better and infinitely more economical. Whole areas are rapidly falling into the hands of the Labour party as people realise that bad administration means less dividends in human happiness. The Minister is saying that it must be tackled at the roots, and tackled early, before it has got too far. We had him taking away the seats of the local guardians. Now we have this definite punitive Measure, which is one of the dearest ideas of the party opposite.
I am sure another idea is to disfranchise the electors who have been in receipt of Poor Law relief. If we have that, the Minister of Health can look with pride on the record of his achievement. He came into a fabric of local government which is one of the wonders of the world. There is no country which has built up so magnificent a fabric of local government as Britain. Slowly, step by step, we have built up a local administration which, for purity and for the interest taken in it by the electors, will compare with any other. The interest of the electors is extremely important in any form of government. If you are to have corruption swept away, if you are 1085 to have purity, it is the interest of the electors which is powerful. If this kind of thing is going to continue, you are bound to have a falling away of the right kind of independent people coming forward to join these local authorities, and you will also find the electors losing confidence in local administration. If, in these large areas which have claimed so much of the Minister's unwelcome attention, you take away the administrative duties of elected persons and put in their place officials appointed by the Minister of Health, then you are going to destroy the fount of human interest in local affairs at its very source.
That is the kind of thing which is likely to take away the cleansing flood of public opinion. We are also very much opposed to the difficult and dangerous role which the Minister of Health has taken to himself of interfering with the people's will. We have seen in Italy and Spain how far this kind of thing which the right hon. Gentleman seems to admire so much has gone. None of us know where these things are going to stop. In view of our recent experience of the present Government, one might be tempted to say that their limit is somewhere round the sky. If you are going to have this continual breaking down of local government, no one can say how much farther those principles will penetrate into our national life. I am not going to appeal to the Minister of Health in regard to these matters, because that would simply be a waste of time; in fact, it would be an undignified thing on the part of those who hope before long to come into office and destroy all the work which the present Government have done.
In this Bill, the Minister of Health has put forward some very dangerous precedents. If the right hon. Gentleman really means to save the ratepayers' money, why does he not bring his departmental mind to bear upon considering whether it is not possible really to help these authorities which have been singled out instead of punishing them, which is the real reason for all Bills of this kind which have been brought forward? I am not suggesting that he will do that, because I knew he will not, for that would be against his policy. I suggest that the right policy to adopt is to go right to the root of the matter and help 1086 these men. I know there are large areas where the ratepayers are bearing heavy burdens which the War has left, and where the distress is so intense that no amount of punitive measures like this Bill can deal with it. Punishment in such cases as these never does any good at all. We have seen that demonstrated in our penal system, which only makes things worse. Surely this kind of treatment is much more serious when you are dealing with honourable men who have done the best they can. To punish men in the way suggested is ridiculous, because they have done their best under very difficult circumstances, and the right way to deal with them would be to go to the root of the matter, and place on national shoulders what are really national burdens instead of trying to break down the whole fabric of local government in an attempt to deal with a problem which Bills of this description do not touch in any way.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
The Minister of Health has told us that our local authorities hold a position of trust. Of course, they know that quite well, and I would like to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the way our local authorities administer their affairs is a credit to this country. I think the Minister of Health will agree with me when I say that our local authorities, as a rule, do their work in such a way that very little complaint can be made against them, and I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have looked to other sources for relief of local taxation instead of coming down on our local authorities in the way suggested by this Bill, because they have been doing good work all along the line which has very much helped the work of the Ministry of Health. I think the Ministry of Health might have been more helpful if they had done more in that direction.
I do not think we have been told of any part of the law which has been broken by the local authorities. Very often the expenditure tinder one head in a given district is larger than in another, but you cannot fix a scale of expenditure which would be appropriate to all areas. Take education as an example. I know of areas where the education costs about 1s. in the pound, whilst in an adjoining area the same service costs at least 5s. 1087 in the pound. That is not due to any excessive expenditure in a particular area, but it is due to the sheer poverty of the people and the low rateable value. What may be a crime in one area may be a virtue in the adjoining area. I know one area where the outdoor relief is 10s. for a man and 3s. for a child, whilst in an adjoining area the guardians allow 12s. for a man and 4s. for a child. I would like to know if the auditor will be able to surcharge the area which has allowed the 12s. and the 4s.
When these things are closely examined they will not bear the light of day. I would like to know what is going to happen where something has been done which is illegal, and another year has passed before the auditor has been able to direct the attention of the local authority to what has taken place. A mistaken allowance of £10 a week would soon reach the limit of £500 which would prevent any representative having the right to act in local administration, because his right would be taken away by a surcharge of that kind. I would like to ask the Minister of Health if the district auditor is going to have any say in regard to contracts. It is a very easy thing for those engaged in local administration in different areas to incur losses in regard to contracts, and I would like to ask if the local administrators are going to be made responsible for not accepting the lowest tender.
I want to say to the Minister of Health that so far as local administration is concerned the thing will be reduced to an absurdity, because if we pass such Measures as the one we are now discussing, no one possessing any pride at all will ever think of offering his services to the public. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that those people who at the present time man our boards of guardians, county councils, and rural district councils are just as honest people as we can find even in the House of Commons. The Bill which the Minister of Health recently introduced to supersede the members of boards of guardians is simply an attempt to prevent those local bodies from spending money which is absolutely necessary. I think there ought to be some provision made for these local authorities to carry 1088 out what the House of Commons has said they have a right to carry out.
In this connection, I would like to mention expenditure on the roads. Here again local authorities have had their allowances reduced so much that there is now a great contrast between the present time and pre-War days. I know a county council which in 1913 levied a rate for the maintenance of its main roads of 3¾. in the £, and now the same county council is asking for a rate of 1s. 3¾. in the £ for the roads alone. In the ordinary rural areas the roads are in a much worse condition. More assistance has been given to the counties in regard to road maintenance, but little has been given to the rural areas to maintain their roads. I know a place where the rate for the maintenance of roads in 1913 was 4¾d. in the £, and it is 4s. 6d. in the £ to-day. The Minister of Transport has allowed——
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
I was using those arguments because I know the local rates are very much in the mind of the Minister of Health, and this legislation is being brought forward because of the lack of proper administration in the House of Commons. Is the Minister of Health aware that in consequence of the action of this Government there are children starving in the mining areas? The children in many cases have no boots and cannot go to school in consequence. Those who do attend are half starved, and would the right hon. Gentleman blame the education authority for feeding those children, or would he blame the guardians if they provided money to clothe them. If that be what the right hon. Gentleman means, then we know his policy. I am quite sure that our local authorities intend to do their duty in accordance with the law. It has been laid down by the law that nobody shall be allowed to starve in this country. It has been said that relief, when given, should be adequate, and of what value is it to give relief that is inadequate? It is only prolonging the evil and making things worse as time goes on. I suggest that it is time some real legislation was placed before the House of Commons with a view to alleviating the distress in these areas, without bringing in people 1089 like district auditors, who, as has been pointed out, are only human after all, and between whose decisions there will be great variations. The right hon. Gentleman's Department ought to be able, by keen supervision, to see that the right thing is being done. Therefore, I trust that the Minister will accept the Amendment, and will not proceed with a Bill such as this, which is going to cause confusion to staffs in local areas—and, God knows, they have plenty of trouble now, without having further troubles thrust upon them. Such action will do far more harm than it will do good, even if the Bill remains on the Statute Book for 20 years. Therefore, I shall find myself in the Lobby with my colleagues voting against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I rise only to press a point which has already been urged by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley), and that is that in every case, no matter what the amount of the surcharge, there should be an appeal to the Courts. I agree with the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. Crawford) that it is not wise to leave in the hands of a Minister or a Government Department the interpretation of the law. When there is any question of interpretation of the law, every subject should have access to the Courts, and I would ask the Minister to take that matter into serious consideration before the Committee stage. As to the Bill itself, may I say that it seems to me to be a Bill rendered necessary by an attempt of a party in the country to capture local government in order to turn local authorities to their own ends. Speakers from the other side of the House have accused the Minister of wishing, through this Bill, to harm his opponents. As a matter of fact, it is his opponents and their party who, by their endeavours to attain their Socialistic objects, have rendered the Bill necessary.
§ Mr. J. JONES
The few words of the hon. Member who last addressed the House have really given us the real reason for the introduction of this Measure. In the Labour movement of this country, some of us have spent our time in trying to convert the people we 1090 represent to exercise their democratic rights and become the controllers of local and national administration. Is that a crime? Hon. Members opposite can go down to Westbury and go before the people in that district who happen to be interested in a certain trade, and can say to them, "Your trade has suffered from international competition, particularly from certain countries; therefore, we will introduce and carry through a Bill safeguarding your industry." That is not bribery; that is statesmanship. And even the Prime Minister, by means of a letter, which, of course, is representative of the opinion of the Government, if the Prime Minister represents anyone but himself, appeals to the electors of this particular Division to support the Government because they have done something to benefit them in their particular trade. Yet I am a criminal, under the terms of this Bill, because I stand for my constituency, and say that the first duty of the Government is to look after the condition of the people. West Ham is one of those terrible places that is going to be dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman—I don't think, because we will deal with him before we have finished.
I can go to my constituents and say I am in favour of the establishment of a minimum wage. The minimum wage in West Ham to-day is £3 7s. 6d. Coming back to-day from Southampton, where I have been in connection with the propaganda we are carrying on against the Anti-trade Union Bill which is now passing through the House—the Blacklegs' Charter—I saw people at Waterloo Station who will spend more money this afternoon at the races than they think is enough for a workman to have to keep a family upon for a week; yet I am a criminal in West Ham because I vote in favour of a minimum wage of £3 7s. 6d., and I am supposed to have bought votes. There are only 2,000 men and women employed by our corporation, and there are 380,000 people in the district who are supposed to have been bought or sold by the 2,000 workmen employed by the local authority. We believe in the principle of a minimum standard of comfort; we believe that a first charge upon industry must be a decent standard of living for the people who do the work of the nation. That is a principle we have laid down in all our programmes, local and national.
1091 Who are the district auditors? I have had to come before them myself, and—I do not know whether it is due to the value of my oratory or to my personal beauty—I have managed to escape up to now. I know that some of these gentlemen are very honourable men, but I know, also, that politically they are generally opposed to me. We are to have a right of appeal, and the final appeal under this Bill is to be an appeal to the Minister I know very well that the Minister is governed by the considerations he has now laid down. He says that West Ham is paying too much. What for? Will he mention a single item of expenditure where we have been extravagant in the real sense of the term? What money have we spent that we ought not to have spent? We have gone in for open-air recovery schools, which have been passed by successive Ministers of Education. Is that extravagant? We have gone in for the establishment of clinics, all passed by the Government Department. But supposing the auditor comes along and says he believes this expenditure is not justified, then, so long as you are only worth less than —500 a year, you have to go through the mill and be disqualified for five years. The funny thing is that I can sit in this House, but I cannot get a seat on the West Ham Town Council. I can make the law—the Bill does not disqualify me from sitting here—yet I am one of the criminals.
§ Mr. JONES
I know, but I have been that all my life, though it has not been officially declared yet. If some hon. Members opposite were declared bankrupt for all the evil they have done, they would never have been able to sit here to begin with. Under this Bill, we are going eventually to be eliminated. The object of the Bill is to disqualify us from sitting on public authorities at all. In our district we have a Municipal Alliance—a combination of forty thieves against Labour—and they say, "Vote so-and-so and save the rates." What is the object? The object is to save the pockets of the people who are in the best position to pay the expense. If they can knock 1d. in the pound off the rates it means that they get £5,000. If they can bring the 1092 rates down by 6d., it means £30,000. That is not bribery; it is business from a municipal point of view. But if we say, "The reduction of hours of labour is a part of our policy"; if we say, "The feeding of necessitous children is a part of our policy"; if we say that we will provide decent food for the children in our schools who go hungry, then we are acting as an illegal body, and a gentleman comes down from Whitehall, who has never been elected by the people, but is simply a nominee of the headquarters in London, and he tells us it is wrong and has got to be stopped.
I venture to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman's father would turn in his grave if he had this Bill before him now. Under this Bill, the late illustrous father of the right hon. Gentleman would be one of the people who would be penalised. What did he do in the very city one of the Divisions of which the right hon. Gentleman represents? He got against him all the people who thought they had interests against the community. The most bitter contest that was ever fought in the municipal life of this country was fought when the right hon. Gentleman's father put forward his municipal programme, and he got his reputation as a statesman upon his great capacity as a municipal administrator. In order to get that capacity, in order to get that character, what did he have to do? He had to break his way through all the vested interests that surrounded Birmingham; he had against him all the people who would make fortunes out of the exploitation of the poor; and, when he got that reputation, eventually he came to this House, and then again he attacked vested interests.
Speakers here this afternoon have been talking about tea parties—about a small urban district council in Lancashire, some of the members of which went to a tea party, and there was something more than tea in the cups. They do not talk about the real guzzlers. What about the City of London Corporation, the headquarters of Toryism so far as municipal administration is concerned? They spend more in one month than we get in ten years. They spend —30,000 a year on guzzling. We do not spend —1,000 a year on this kind of thing. They are at it all the time and every time. If some dusky potentate from the furthest ends of the 1093 earth comes to London, he has to have a banquet, and we have to look on and see. The whole of the traffic of London is held up, regardless of expense, to allow his Majesty to pass through, and we can gaze on him—that is our part of the business. This Bill says to us in effect, "We will save ½d. in the pound on the rates." What are you going to save in West Ham? The worst you can say against us, even on the board of guardians, is that we have been too generous to the poor, that we have spent too much in relief. What are we doing now? We are going to the other extreme. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have had to try to raise a voluntary fund to give children who are without boots an opportunity of having a pair of boots. But we have guardians now—real guardians with £800 a year and pensions of £500, ex-civil servants.
When I was a member of the board of guardians, as I was for five years, I used to have to walk from Canning Town to Leytonstone, because very often I had not the money to pay my fare; and when we had lunch costing 1s., we were surcharged 1s. for that lunch, after having been there from 10 in the morning till five in the afternoon. But this man who has taken the place of my colleagues—there is £800 a year for him, in addition to the pension of £500 a year that he is already drawing—he is saving the ratepayers' money. He is not; he is doing the dirty work of people who are not capable of doing it themselves. What right has any auditor to say what is legal or illegal? Who has made him a judge? The best way out of the trouble would be to disfranchise the people altogether and say they have no right to elect anyone. This is only camouflage.
I agree with the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) when he says democracy is a sham. If this kind of Bill becomes law democracy will be a sham. The people will have to pay but will have no right to say. They will simply have to do what these permanent officials tell them. The same gentleman goes to different boroughs and gives different decisions in each. We do not know where we are, and probably he does not. He knows where he is when he comes to West Ham and Poplar. He knows then that he has got to put the screw on. He has his orders from the front. When 1094 he goes to a reactionary district he can wink at expenditure. The City of London can spend what it likes. Is there any control in this Bill over the City of London? Is there any control over the City of Westminster? No, because they spend their money in the right way. They spend it in grazing the fat sow and not looking after the lean cow. Therefore they can go on playing their merry game. If we have a tea party costing about two bob a head, that is extravagance at the expense of the ratepayers. They can have a banquet costing £2,000, and that is simply a family party. The ratepayers do not matter then.
The Bill is an attack on us. The hon. Member opposite has just given the show away. He has told us the reason for it. Labour is becoming a bit too strong for you. We have as much right to ask for the vote of the people on our programme as you have to ask for the vote of the people on yours. If they choose ours as against yours we are entitled to carry that programme into effect. The people do it with their eyes wide open. We cannot buy them like you can. We cannot give them coal and blankets at election time. You can do different things from what we can do. You have greater influence than we have in those respects, but democracy is becoming a bit too powerful for you. As long as the workers were prepared to be mere voting machines on your behalf everything was all right, but as soon as we begin to assert ourselves and democracy really means what it does mean, that the majority of the people shall govern, we have Bills of this kind brought in. The Bill is in direct relationship to all the other Bills that are going be introduced. The Trade Union Bill began it and this is the second, and in apostolic succession we are going to have next the Poor Law Bill, so that by the time you have finished with all your Bills you think you will have us bound hand and foot, but we have the means of breaking the fetters. We have fought bigger men than the people on the benches opposite. The democracy of this country has bigger men than any hon. Members opposite and we will beat you on this. You can pass your Acts of Parliament and you can take a horse to the water, but you cannot compel him to drink. The Bill is reactionary in all its tendencies. I know 1095 what you would like to do with me, but you have done your worst and you cannot do any more. You can disqualify us and make us bankrupt. This is an attempt to create a bureaucratic control over our public life. You do not want to come out openly and say you believe in the policy of Mussolini. You denounce Bolsheviks, but you are making more Bolsheviks by your legislation. You are making recruits for them every time, and you are the real Bolsheviks, because this kind of legislation is helping them to find arguments. What do they say to us when we meet them at our branch meetings? "What is the good of sending you to the House of Commons? What is the good of sending you on to a town council? What is the good of sending you on to the board of guardians? Every time you try to make a move these people come along with this kind of legislation to prevent you making your power effective."
This is an attack upon democracy. This kind of legislation represents narrow-mindedness in excelsis. It represents the opinion of those who think they can keep us down by repression. Repression has never succeeded yet. For a time it may manage to carry on, but eventually a reaction will take place and these Bills will become boomerangs instead of Acts of Parliament, and will recoil on the heads of those who have been responsible for them. You can take the whole of us in the East End of London—Poplar, West Ham, Bethnal Green, Woolwich. The overwhelming mass of the members of those bodies have cleaner hands than the people who are sitting opposite in the matter of public affairs. None of them have made fortunes. Many of them have made sacrifices. We have people who made fortunes out of the miseries of other people during the War, people who became big contractors, talking to us about corruption. We are abusing our position in public life for the purpose of bribing the voters. What man would sell himself for four quid a week? That is the greatest charge made against us—the maximum wage we have established in some parts of the East End. We have not bribed anyone. We have told them we believe the nation is rich enough to afford a decent livelihood to 1096 every useful worker. This is simply an attempt to cripple us for the future. You have not been able to maintain your great artificial majority by honest argument and you are going to salt the ground for those who come after you. You are going to make it difficult for them to carry out any of the constructive legislation they have in their mind. You are going to cripple them so that it will take them years to remove all the obstacles you have placed in their path. That is the object of the Bill, and for that reason we are opposed to it. We challenge you to show as clean a record in public life as we can show. There have been more criminals sent to penal servitude for robbing people on the benches opposite than there are among our people. They have gone to prison because they dared to carry out political work in an honest way, and your officials decided against them. Our hands are clean, and you shun the light because your deeds are evil. We can say to you in conclusion, "Great Cæsar, those about to die salute thee."
§ Dr. SALTER
This Bill is going to have a good many results that the Government have not foreseen. I am sure one result will be to lower the general standard of municipal life, and, in particular, to discourage people of a responsible character and of a cautious type, the very type that make the best municipal representatives, from taking any part in municipal government. This very afternoon an Anglican clergyman, the rector of a parish, has interviewed me in the precincts of the House—he is on a public body—and has informed me——
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present——
§ Dr. SALTER
This clergyman informed me that in view of the risks of public life he does not see his way to stand again for election. I think that is a view that is being increasingly held by considerable numbers of people. May I say why, from our point of view public life is becoming too risky? The law, as laid down in the recent decision of the House of Lords, has simply created a condition of chaos in public administrative work. No one to-day knows where he is. No one knows exactly what may happen as the result of a bona fide decision on his part in regard to wages, conditions of labour, hours and 1097 so on. Let me give two or three concrete illustrations. In my own borough the council has an overwhelming Labour majority. On the question of wages the whole council, Labour, Conservative and Liberal, are unanimous that the appropriate rate for general labourers should be £3 7s. 6d. a week. That figure was arrived at by a committee representing all parties, in consideration of the cost of living and so on and the high rents that prevail in inner London. I challenge anyone opposite to say that is an unreasonable wage for persons living in the inner ring of London. The auditor comes along and says: "I consider a reasonable rate of wages is £3 4s. 11d. a week," and apparently that is the law. Apparently what the auditor says to-day cannot be challenged.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Dr. SALTER
Then I shall have to have a different exposition of the law. That is the interpretation of the position to-day as it is being explained by legal representatives. The moment the auditor surcharges, the whole Council come under the penalties enforced by the Bill and every member of the Council, Liberal, Conservative and Labour, if the Bill goes through in its present form, will be disqualified from sitting on any public body for the next five years. We do not know whether the auditor at his next audit will not fix another figure. He has already fixed at least three different figures at different times. There is no certainty in the matter at all. He has fixed one figure in one borough and another figure in another borough. He stated to the borough councils of London generally that he would allow, as the recognised minimum wage for unskilled labour in the London boroughs, the Joint Industrial Council's scale, plus 10 per cent., and not a penny above. Then he came to Woolwich. Woolwich is a well administered borough, and the Woolwich councils refused to acquiesce in his decision. He therefore said, "I will go a little further and allow 12½ per cent." But he did not say that to the other boroughs. He has told the other boroughs, "I shall stick rigidly to the 10 per cent." Consequently, no one knows exactly what figure may be regarded as lawful, because, as a consequence of the House of Lords decision, 1098 any wage which the auditor considers is unreasonable is, ipso facto, unlawful. That is actually the position to-day. No borough councillor in the Metropolitan area is safe to-day unless he conforms to the figure laid down by the auditor as being the wage. That means that a single person, a non-elected person, is the arbiter of policy and is the arbiter of wages to be paid throughout the Metropolis. Not only has he fixed a different rate at different times, but he has also fixed a different rate in different places. We do not know, for example, whether he has the power of surcharge in respect of wages paid in trading services as well as in non-trading services. That is a moot point. It has not been decided. I understand it will have to go to the House of Lords again, and every council which has agreed to a certain rate of wages in connection with municipal electricity undertakings is at present in a state of complete uncertainty as to whether it has conformed to the law or not in paying a certain amount of wages.
Passing on to the case of the skilled craftsman, I would point out that many borough councils, including Tory councils, are paying to their craftsmen a figure of 2d., 3d., 4d., or more, per hour above the recognised trade union rates. The Minister's own Department acknowledges that, permits that, and encourages that with respect to operatives in the building trade, where plasterers and bricklayers are wanted. His Department encourages the payment of a rate to such operatives considerably in excess of the trade union rate. Borough councils generally, in respect of other types of craftsmen, in order to secure their services, pay a figure in many cases in excess of the recognised trade union rate. We do not know whether that is lawful or not, or whether next week the auditor will not come along and say, "I surcharge the lot of you for doing this." I understand that the auditor has informed the Battersea Borough Council that he will recognise, for certain grades of men, 1½d. per hour above the trade union rates. That is not official, but it has been communicated verbally to certain members of the Battersea Borough Council. Whether it has been communicated to the rest of London I do not know. As this Bill stands today, every borough council in London 1099 which is paying a rate of wages in excess of the recognised trade union rate might be liable to surcharge.
§ Dr. SALTER
I notice the Under-Secretary nods his head, signifying his agreement. Not only will Labour borough councils be affected by this, but, to a great extent, Liberal and Conservative borough councils will also be affected. I am sure they are unaware of that fact at present. However honest, sincere and well intentioned a borough councillor may be, his position is such that he is unsafe; he does not know whether a surcharge will be enforced and whether it will bankrupt him and ruin his life and his career. The result will be that the more cautious and responsible private man will say: "I am going to withdraw from public life altogether rather than run risks of this description." At present, particularly in industrial districts, there is very often considerable difficulty in getting candidates of any kind. In at least two boroughs with which I am familiar, and with which the Under-Secretary is familiar, every time there is an election to the borough councils the three parties have to go round scraping together every single candidate they can lay hands on in order to get a sufficiency of candidates to fight the seats. The Government are tending to lower the whole standard of municipal life by putting this Bill into operation. They are eliminating the class of candidate of which that clergyman to which I referred is a type. Those candidates will not be prepared to risk their futures and their fortunes if they are going to be subject to this sort of treatment. As showing how extremely risky and uncertain the position is, I would point out that the powers of the district auditor appear to be almost unlimited in regard to deciding as to how much money shall be spent on any given purpose.
Take the question of scavengers. The auditor can say, "You shall not pay a scavenger a rate of wages in the Metropolitan area in excess of £3 4s. 11d. a week." Is the auditor to be able also to say, "You employ in this borough 140 scavengers. In my opinion, that is ex- 1100 cessive. You are spending too much money. You ought not to employ more than 110 scavengers. I shall surcharge you for every penny you have spent in wages for scavengers in excess of the number of 110." We do not know whether that is the law or not. The Parliamentary Secretary does not know. He is not in a position to give an opinion at the present time, but a number of lawyers of eminent standing, who are cognisant of and very familiar with local government law, have expressed the opinion that, in view of the House of Lords judgment on the matter, an auditor is in such a position at the present moment that he can lay down the number of persons to be employed on any particular job. The complications are simply endless in this matter as a result of that decision. Take the question of hours. Is the eight-hour day the recognised standard? Is the 48-hour week, the 47-hour week, the 44-hour week, the 42-hour week, or the 40-hour week to be the recognised standard which is permitted by the auditor? I understand that the Shoreditch Borough Council were told by the auditor that they must not pay more than a certain rate of wages to unskilled labour. At that time the labourers were working 44 hours a week, but the Shore-ditch Borough Council said, "We will pay them the same amount of money but raise their hours per week to 47." Is that lawful? Can the Minister tell me whether the Shoreditch Borough Council, by taking that action, are rendering themselves liable to surcharge and to the penalties of this Bill? He does not know, and no one else knows at the present moment. I could go on giving very many more similar illustrations.
Take the question of the salaries of officials. I understand—I do not know whether it is true—that the district auditor has informed the one borough council that at the next audit he is going to consider the question of the salaries of rate collectors and persons similarly employed, and he has indicated unofficially that he will probably surcharge in respect of the salaries of those rate collectors. What standard is he going to set? What standard is anyone going to set? Certain borough councils pay extremely high salaries to their officials and poor wages to the workmen. The Labour borough councils, on the other hand, have paid relatively high wages to the work- 1101 men. Those councils are to be surcharged, but what about the Tory borough councils that pay high salaries to their chief officials—£2,000 to £2,500 a year to their town clerks, where Labour councils are paying £1,000 to £1,200. Are the Tory borough councils to be surcharged? Are those salaries of officials to be reviewed in the same way as the salaries of the lower grade officials, namely, the rate collectors, whom, we are informed, are going to be discussed by the auditor? Again, no one knows. I would point out that in respect of the higher officials if a Labour borough council proposes to appoint certain officials at what they regard as a fair salary, the Minister sometimes intervenes and says, "No, you must give an higher salary for an official of that kind." I know that in respect of members of my own profession who are applicants for posts of medical officers of health, tuberculosis officers, assistant medical officers of health and similar municipal offices, if a Labour borough council offers a salary to a medical officer of health of £800 per annum, the Minister intervenes and says, "That is not enough; you must pay them more." The whole position at the present moment in regard to municipal administration is simply chaotic, and, unless it is cleared up and simplified in a way that this Bill does not attempt to clarify and simplify it, you are going to lower the whole standard of the public life of this nation and, in particular, you are going to drive out of, or cause to retire from, public life a great many of the best type of administrators, men whom this country can very ill afford to lose.
Let me give one or two more illustrations of some of the unlooked-for results that will accrue if this Bill is passed. The case of Poplar has been cited over and over again in this House. Last year, at the Ministry of Health, under the presidency or superintendence or ægis of the Minister and the Secretary of the Ministry there was a conference between the Poplar Borough Council and the representatives of certain great trade unions. An agreed rate of wages was arrived at and a signed agreement was made for a rate of wages of £3 12s. a week for unskilled labourers, such rate to fluctuate with the cost of living. The Minister of Health gave his approval to that rate, and the auditor comes along 1102 and says it is unlawful. Are the Poplar councillors to be surcharged for the amount which they have been paying with the permission of the Ministry of Health? Are they to be surcharged for paying a rate which is in excess of what the auditor says is reasonable and is therefore unlawful? I would call the attention of the Minister to this point. A number of councils have got signed and sealed agreements with national trade unions for a recognised rate of wages, and yet, if the auditor comes along and declares that to be unreasonable, the persons who are paying that rate of wages are to be surcharged and penalised and one result will be a deliberate breaking of contracts and of agreements solemnly entered into after discussions between employers and employed and after a signed, sealed and approved agreement has been drawn up. That is another result of this Bill. Then there will be all kinds of anomalies.
Let me give one particular illustration from my own borough, with which I happened to be very familiar. The Bermondsey Borough Council carries out almost all its work by direct labour. It has an exceedingly efficient works manager, a man of very great experience, who was originally the manager of one of the largest firms of contractors in this country. As the result of a highly organised department, the borough council is able to carry out works like the erection of baths, houses, electricity sub-stations, and so on, at a cost far below the lowest tender of outside contractors. We are erecting new baths at the present moment, and our own Works Department, run by direct labour, put in a tender for the job that was something like £8,000 less than the lowest tender of the outside contractors. We are building a considerable number of houses. We submitted the tender to open competition, and as a result, our own Works Department was able to tender for the erection of the houses at a considerably lower sum per house than the offer of any outside contractor. The result, therefore, of the operations of our Direct Labour Department is, that we are saving the ratepayers of Bermondsey thousands of pounds every year. That fact, I think, is entirely unchallenged by the Ministry, which has approved of the contracts entered into by the Works Department again and again.
1103 What is the position? We are paying to the men employed in the direct labour department rates of wages considerably in excess of the amounts which the auditor sanctioned, and we are to be surcharged for saving the ratepayers some thousands of pounds a year. That is the ridiculous position to which this Bill reduces the situation. We are in the same position in regard to our direct labour department as we are in in regard to many other matters which I have enumerated this evening. We are entirely in the dark, as every council is in the dark. No one can say what this erratic auditor will do next. We do not know on what section of the council's work he will descend next, and what decision he will give as to rates of wages, because every time he comes down he descends upon a fresh department. He has done that all over the place, as far as the metropolis is concerned, at any rate. We do not know, in the first place, whether he can only surcharge in respect of non-trading services and whether he cannot surcharge in respect of the trading services, such, for instance, as the electricity service. In the next place, we do not know whether the direct labour department comes under the head of trading or non-trading services. The situation is entirely obscure. The Ministry has done nothing to help us to clarify the position. We have had no assistance from the Ministry on any of these points. I am glad to know that the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) has been listening to me closely while I have been addressing the House, and I sincerely hope he will be able to give us enlightenment on some of the problems which I have been propounding this evening. We are advised by the highest legal advice we can obtain that councillors cannot be surcharged for paying rates of wages in the trading departments which are above those allowed by the auditor in the non-trading departments. We are informed that that is the case. If that be so, there will be the extraordinary anomaly that under the same borough council the workmen in the non-trading services will be paid at one rate, because the auditor enforces it and the workmen in the trading services will be paid at another rate, because it pays the Department and 1104 the service to give a higher rate. I venture to point out that I have said enough to show that there is considerable confusion in the local government world to-day.
This Bill does nothing whatever to clear up that confusion. It only makes confusion worse confounded. It is placing a very serious and grave handicap on public administration in this country, and I, as one who cares very much indeed for good and sound administration, and has given a great many years of his life to municipal work, am as anxious as anybody in this House to see anything savouring of corruption, even indirectly—even any kind of indirect bribing of the electorate—cleared right out. But when I see, in a municipality like my own, a body of serious-minded people, including several clergymen, doctors, women representing settlements and social services, people of the highest possible character, get together and become, I would almost say, agonised over their duty, endeavouring, with the best heart, and mind and soul of which they are capable, to work out a good and sound policy for the benefit of their borough—when they do this and they arrive at a conclusion, for example, that as far as that borough is concerned, it would be immoral on their part to pay less than £3 7s. 6d. a week, it is not proper for an entirely irresponsible official from outside to come along and say that they have acted wrongly. Such an official knows nothing whatever about the conditions of the district, and makes no inquiry as to whether the rents in that particular area are much higher than in the adjacent area, or in areas on the fringe of London. He comes along and says, "I have laid down a rule for the whole Metropolis. It is a rigid, inflexible rule. I am not going to modify it, and you have got to conform to it." Thus, I say, when the wishes of the inhabitants and the decisions of their representatives are flouted in this respect by an irresponsible person from outside, it is the beginning of the end of local self-government in this country. I say that the carrying of this Bill into law will be to direct another very serious blow at the democratic control of local affairs.
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
In the course of the speech to which we have just listened, the hon. Member said that he looked with grave apprehension upon the future of local government and the services rendered by distinguished members of the public who devote their time to it if this Bill, unaltered, should become an Act. In the concluding sentences of his speech he gave in telling phrases a description of the men and women who give their services to local government. If he gave a correct picture, as I believe he did, of their intentions and the devoted services which these members of the public render, I do not share his apprehension that a Bill of this kind is going to deter them in future from discharging the ditties to which they have devoted themselves. I have none of the apprehension that the hon. Gentleman has described. Let us get back to what the Bill is, and what the Bill is intended to do. The Bill is to amend the law with respect to the effect of surcharges by district auditors. It does not alter the law. It has to deal with certain results which may flow from illegal acts. As we have been reminded this afternoon, the members of a local authority should discharge their duties under Section 62 of the Act of 1885 in a reasonable manner and in good faith. If that be so, what objection can there be? [HON. MEMBERS: "Who decides?"] The decision, again, is effected in accordance with the law as it exists. This Bill does not touch either the establishment or the functions of the auditors, as laid down in the Act of 1875. Those duties are not changed. The auditor gives a wide measure of latitude to local authorities in determining such questions as rates of wages, with which the hon. Member for Bedmondsey (Dr. Salter) has dealt at considerable length. The hon. Member is probably familiar with the judgment given by Lord Dunedin. Lord Dunedin, in the concluding paragraph of his judgment, said:Upon the whole matter he had not the slightest hesitation in thinking that the district auditor had really been very merciful in what he had done, because he had made a large allowance.Is it suggested that district auditors are so unreasonable as not to take that wide view?
§ Dr. SALTER
If after the fullest and most mature consideration a borough council, like the Borough Council of Bermondsey, decide that a proper and reasonable rate of wages for a married man with a family is £3 7s. 6d. a week, is it not a most extraordinary situation for an outside person to come along and say: "I will sweep everything aside. I do not think that £3 7s. 6d. is reasonable, and everything above what I think is reasonable, namely, £3 4s. 11d., shall be surcharged"?
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
I understand that the answer to the hon. Member's question is, that if the local authority disagree with the discretion exercised by the auditor in a case of that sort, and with the auditor's interpretation of his duty, they have an appeal. [HON. MEMBERS: "To whom?"] To the Court. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
The hon. Member is thinking of the case of the under £500 class. Clause 2 (1) says:… may in any other case appeal to the Minister of Health.
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
They are not bound to appeal to the Minister of Health. Surely, that is permissive? The word is "may." I know that considerable play has been made of that this afternoon. Surely, any person who is aggrievedmay in any other case appeal to the Minister of Health.
§ Dr. SALTER
Will the hon. and gallant Member ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health about it?
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
I am reading the words in the Bill. I think there is a degree of misapprehension on this point. I am reminded that if hon. Members who represent the opposite point of view consider that the Bill should be so altered as to compel them to go to the Court, an Amendment of that kind might be introduced. As I read the Bill now, any person who is aggrievedmay in any other case appeal to the Minister of Health.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The hon. and gallant Member is in error. The person aggrieved may appeal to the Minister. If he does not appeal to the Minister, he cannot go to the Court, unless on a point of law. The alternative is not an appeal to the Minister or to the Court. He must appeal to the Minister, or hereafter hold his peace.
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
I understand that the addition of words giving the aggrieved person the option of applying to the Minister or to the Court would meet that contention.
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
The point has been made, and I understand that an Amendment introduced to that effect would meet with the approval of hon. Members opposite. Under the law as it now stands, the auditor has power to surcharge, but the consequences of surcharge are such in a majority of cases that they cannot be pursued, and it would not be reasonable that they should be pursued. The Minister of Health in introducing the Bill mentioned, if I remember rightly, that 97 members of local authorities might be liable to imprisonment under present conditions. Everybody understands that that is neither satisfactory nor effective, and what this Bill proposes is to safeguard, as hon. Members opposite are naturally anxious to do, the character and status of local government by removing that consequence and substituting another. Where there is a case of illegality, surely it cannot be objected that certain results should accrue from the deliberate committal of illegal actions. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood) said that he did not object to the principle of the district auditor, but that what he challenged was the discretion of the district auditors.
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
It has been pointed out that certain con- 1108 trol of details may affect matters of policy, but the district auditor is concerned with certain matters of expenditure, with rates of pay, or rates of wages allowed, and he has certain methods by which he may be guided. There are the rates arranged by the Joint Industrial Council, as modified by what used to be known as the Fulham scale, or the Fulham system. Those are a guide to him. Those are the rates, so that there is a system by which the district auditor may be guided. I will quote from the case of Woolwich in the judgment of Lord Dunedin:Neither the Fulham scale nor the Industrial Council scale had any real authority of any kind, but they operated as a practical guide as to what is a reasonable payment.That is where the district auditor can obtain his guidance. It is, in fact, possible, with a few exceptions, to apply these rates, plus an allowance of 10 per cent. That is what is done.
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
To explain that further would be out of order. I have tried to bring the House back to the real intentions of the Bill, and to the proposals in the Bill, and perhaps I have removed some of the apprehensions of hon. Members opposite as to the future effects on the character of local government. Now, I hope that hon. Members will listen with interest to a few explanations from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health.
§ Mr. SNELL
As one of the representatives of a borough which has earned the displeasure of a district auditor, and the equal displeasure of the Minister of Health, I feel that I may say a few words in relation to this matter, and in relation to what has been said about the unhappy boroughs concerned. I should like to support the Amendment because I believe this Bill is provocative and altogether unnecessary. It is a malicious and unwarranted attack on local authorities for which there is no justification whatever 1109 in their conduct of local affairs. It is an unmerited reflection upon one of the hardest working, most public spirited and self sacrificing type of men that the country possesses. I do not know what experience hon. Members of the Tory party have of local government in other countries, but I have some slight acquaintance with local government in several countries in Europe and in America, and I want to say that the reputation of English local government is world wide. It is the subject of universal admiration and envy. But with all this to its credit, the Government feels that it is doing a service to English local government by casting this unmerited reflection on this hard working body of men.
There was a time in English local government, when the forefathers of the Tory party were rulers, when local government in England was corrupt, but since 1835 at any rate there has been nothing approaching English local government for its purity, its efficiency, and the way in which it has conducted public life. The worst thing that could happen to our public life is that our local system of government should be debased in the eyes of the electors of the country and in the eyes of peoples outside, and it is because of this that I regret exceedingly that the Government has felt it necessary to bring in a Bill of this character. I do not desire to say a word on a particular case, but having served for some years on the greatest local governing body in the world, the London County Council, I know something of the difficulties which local authorities have to face and how great is the desire on the part of all parties to do their very best for their employés and set a standard in public life in regard to the conditions of employment. This desire does not reside merely in a great body like the London County Council, it resides in every local authority, and as I go about the country into small provincial places and talk to the men and women engaged in the local services there is nothing can exceed the pride they have, the loyalty they give, and the services they are willing to offer to these localities. It is the expression of the highest side of their lives; their local pride is almost overwhelming. If, in the difficult times such as we have passed through, these rather zealous and 1110 enthusiastic public servants have transgressed against some rule that prevails in the Ministry of Health, the subject might have been one for admonition and advice. In any case it was a matter for patience on the part of the Department, but there is no justification at all for this challenge to the credit and character of English local government.
What this Bill in reality seeks to do, although it does not expressly say so, is to terrify members of local bodies from paying their servants a decent living wage. It will not allow members of local bodies to be a little better than the average employer of the district. We have always held, and I thought it was a view generally held by all people, that it was the pride of a local governing body, and a national body, that it should set a standard to other employers. Why do people make an effort to become servants of local authorities and national bodies except that they feel that the conditions which are given are just a little better than those provided by private employers. That is an accepted thing in our public life. Just because one or two local authorities may, according to the Ministry of Health, have exceeded their standards, they are bringing in this Measure to put fear into the hearts of these poor men. Hon. Members opposite must understand what is involved. You have poor men serving on local authorities. They are no better off than we are. They work for a weekly wage, and they spend their leisure not in personal recreation but in giving service to the public. They give infinitely more than they receive, for they receive only the satisfaction of having done what they think is right for the community. If you say that if they make a mistake they are to be disqualified as citizens; that you are going to sell up their homes and impoverish them, then you are going to remove the best type of man from the public service of this country.
There is something essentially discreditable or, if not discreditable, there is something which one cannot attempt to describe when you find a public official who is well paid and drawing hundreds of pounds a year, perhaps a £1,000 a year, surcharging a borough council because they have paid wages to workers of £3 10s. a week. A man may be a road 1111 sweeper, but he has to live just as the public district auditor has to live. The Government should have withheld its hand in this matter. The scandal, if there has been a scandal, has not been of sufficient dimensions to require this Bill, and I regret the attack that has been made on local authorities. In my humble judgment the local authority itself is the judge as to what should be done in its own area. This House, in due course, may have to submit itself to the judgment of the electors and it will then be judged for its faults. If a local authority does wrong the local electors are the people who will Judge, just as the public will judge this Government when happily the time comes for it to submit itself to their judgment.
The idea of this Government posing as the prophet of economy is almost a subject for ridicule; it is grotesque beyond words. The most spendthrift Government that has existed in our time, so unable to control the spending of the nation's resources that even a Committee of its own party is throwing ultimatums at the Chancellor of the Exchequer—this profligate organisation called a Government, comes here in its assumed robes of economy, and threatens to terrify and penalise poor men who are doing the country infinitely better service than the Government of the day is doing. There is no doubt whatever about that. If there have been these slight excesses of expenditure—I am not admitting it—in my judgment the people have absolute value for the money that has been spent. For nothing else that they pay for in the world do they get so magnificent a return as they do for what they pay for the local government of this country. If they got the same value for everything they spent, they would probably be a great deal better off. They do not lose by what they pay for local government. They get their health secured, they get proper lighting, proper streets and water and education and so on. They get health and security in life; they get the higher freedom that democracy desires to achieve; and they pay for it infinitely less than they pay for any other service of which they have need. Therefore in my opinion the right thing for the Government to do would be to withdraw a Bill that never ought to have been intro- 1112 duced, and to let things, if they have been abnormal, have time to grow normal.
The hon. and gallant Member for East Fulham (Colonel Vaughan-Morgan) said that the law was obscure and that he had no apprehension as to what would happen to men serving on public bodies. The hon. and gallant Member may not have apprehensions. I do not anticipate that anything will happen to the Fulham district or to the party with which he is associated, for they are not likely to be guilty of overspending on public services which are going to benefit the people as a whole. But we have a considerable apprehension as to what is going to happen. We know what is happening to some of the best men that this country possesses. Therefore we do not look at this matter with the complacency which characterises the hon. and gallant Member. If there is nothing in this Bill which alters the prevailing practice, as he says, what is the necessity for introducing it? It seems to be a trick of the Government in these days to bring forward a Bill which imposes penalties and deprives people of rights and liberties, and then to say, "There is nothing in it. It has always been so. We are only just telling you about it." If these things exist we know about them, and we do not desire to be pupils under the instruction of hon. Members opposite.
The hon. and gallant Member said that the auditor would always give a generous interpretation to what the local authorities do. It all depends what he means by "a generous interpretation." It all depends what orders the district auditor may have received from those who sent him. I believe that a district auditor's duties are essential and that auditors cannot be dispensed with. They are to be respected, for, like every other civil servant, a district auditor does his duty according to a high regard for the responsibility of his office. But his business is to verify the accounts. like any public accountant whom you call into your business, and he may advise if he thinks things are wrong, but the question of policy is not his to determine; it belongs to the local governing body concerned and to the laws which this House passes. A local authority is elected by the people to carry out a policy and, having been elected, this Government comes in and says, "You shall do nothing of the kind." 1113 It is breaking up the democracy of this country, and that doubtless is the main aim. The point that a local authority, if surcharged, may appeal to the Minister, may give to the hon. and gallant Member a certain security and satisfaction, but it gives none to us. If a man were to appeal to the present Minister his case would be judged beforehand, and we know what the answer would be. Therefore, that is not in any sense satisfactory
In this House and elsewhere for many years we have heard about what is called the bureaucracy of Socialism, that Socialism is going to interfere with the sacred liberties of our people, that the local authorities that have done so much for the benefit of this country are to be submerged under the weight of the bureaucracy which Socialists are going to inflict upon the nation. Well, here is the Government proposing to impose on local authorities the most disastrous and unmerited and unnecessary piece of bureaucracy that we have ever seen in this country. The local authorities are not to be allowed to carry out the mandate they receive from the people. They are not to be allowed to do what they think is right in relation to their own employés, but some bureaucrat sent from Whitehall or elsewhere is to become the monarch of the district; he is to decide and not the people themselves. I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will commend itself to what I am sure is the real sense of the House. If the Government would take off their Whips, if hon. Members were allowed to go where their consciences would take them, they would say, "In our judgment the local authorities are doing the best they know. They have done nothing that is wrong, and it is an unfair and ungenerous thing to put this unmerited reflection upon their services."
§ Mr. RYE
The hon. Member who has just spoken expressed the hope that the Government would withdraw the Bill. Speaking as a member of a local authority, the Westminster City Council, I hope that the Government will do nothing of the kind. In my opinion, this Bill is necessary, and more than necessary at the present time, and if I have any grievance concerning the Bill it is that it is not strong enough. I would like to see the Bill strengthened to a con- 1114 siderable extent, for I think that the present state of affairs, under certain local councils and boards of guardians, is neither more nor less than a public scandal. We have people undertaking the obligation of councillors and guardians disregarding their duties to the ratepayers, expending money illegally, caring not where the money comes from, spending whatever they think fit, and when surcharged, saying, in effect, that they are not in a position to pay, that they do not care, and that they do not mind being put into prison, because they could then wear the martyr's crown. We know that the Socialists like to become martyrs. I have every reason to believe that in certain Socialistic quarters it is a stepping stone to future fame; if you do not wear the martyr's crown you cannot expect to sit on the Front Bench opposite. Therefore, I have not the least doubt that right hon. and hon. Members opposite are only too delighted with the present state of the law. They like to be surcharged. They wish to be put in prison so that they can pose as the only friends of the working classes. We have heard it over and over again.
We know exactly what the Socialist feels in this matter. Their one aim and object, in some districts, is to spend as much as they can, and they do not care where the money comes from. They say, "Let us get it from the ratepayers and spend it so that we can raise the standard of living of our employés as we consider reasonable and necessary." I am very pleased to think that the Government—particularly the Minister of Health—have had the courage to bring in this very proper Measure, and I hope when it goes to Committee it will be strengthened. I think it should be strengthened particularly in regard to the disqualification of any person who is surcharged. [An HON. MEMBER: "Make it for life!"] think the hon. Member who interrupted must be a thought-reader. I was going to suggest that when there has been a surcharge, followed by disqualification for five years, if the offending councillor or guardian at the end of the five years resumes office and commits the same error of judgment—I put it no higher than that—he should then be disqualified for the remainder of his life and should not 1115 be allowed to sit again as a guardian or a councillor. I should say that such an individual was incapable of exercising the duties of a councillor or a guardian. I hope the Committee which will consider the Bill will accept the view which I have put forward and will see that in future an adequate penalty is provided for offences against the ratepayers. We do not want men or women of that type on boards of guardians or local councils, and the sooner they are disqualified the better for the ratepayers.
I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health some questions in connection with this Bill. When disqualification takes place as the result of a surcharge, assuming that the person subject to the surcharge comes forward and pays it—a very remote contingency—is the disqualification to continue for five years? Personally, I hope it will, for the reasons I have already given. I do not think a person who wilfully and wantonly commits an illegal act—as we know has happened in at least six places during recent times—is fit to act as a guardian or a councillor, and I hope, therefore, that the disqualification will continue. That, I think, would be only right and proper. I also want to know why, under Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, there is no alternative penalty. The Clause provides that if any person acts as a member of any local authority when disqualified, he shall for each offence be liable to a fine not exceeding —20. What is the good of that? The gentleman will not pay. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite are amused. They like the idea of not paying penalties; they do not see why anybody should pay anything, when an order of this kind is made. I would like to see an alternative. I would like to see the man who does not pay punished in some other way.
§ Dr. SALTER
I know you break the law every week as a City councillor of Westminster. The recently published survey supplied to Mem- 1116 bers of this House — the Westminster survey—shows that the Westminster City Council has been deliberately breaking the law for years past and refusing to put the Public Health Act into operation. You should be imprisoned for it—destroying the lives of the people!
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
The hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) occupied 31 minutes of the time of the House, and I do not think he met with a single interruption during all that time. He should extend the same opportunity to other speakers.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. RYE
I was going to say, when, apparently, I upset the hon. Gentleman opposite, that we all know and we have read in the papers about the decision of the magistrates, "Forty shillings or a month." That principle should be applied in this case. That is the alternative. We all know the trouble that occurred when the Local Government Act was passed. In the old days there was a qualification for councillors or guardians. Now, as there is no qualification, we find people acting in those capacities who have nothing, and who do not care whether they are surcharged or not. It is a matter of positive indifference to them, and I hope, when the Bill goes upstairs, Subsection (2) of Clause 1 will be amended in the direction I have suggested. I understood from the speech of the Mover of the Amendment that the Minister of Health was engaged in destroying local government—that his one aim and object was to pull down local government. I do not agree. In my opinion, the Minister of Health is assisting local government and is making local government what it ought to be, and there is no member of a council or of a board of guardians, who is desirous of doing his duty to the ratepayers who will not be satisfied with this Measure.
The Mover of the Amendment said the unfortunate members of councils or boards of guardians were in the hands of the auditor, and he drew a picture of the auditor as being not merely the power behind the throne, but as actually sitting 1117 on the throne and using all sorts of tyrannous methods. I do not know whether it was intended to represent him as being as tyrannous as, let us say, the executive of a trade union; but, of course, the whole argument is unsound. The hon. Member must have known that there is an appeal against the auditor's surcharge, and, under this Bill, there will be an appeal to the Minister in the case of a surcharge under £500, and to the High Court in the case of a surcharge over that sum. The picture of the district auditor as a despot, whole sole aim and object is to injure unfortunate councillors and guardians who commit trifling errors is ridiculous. The truth of the matter is that there are certain Socialists who hold positions on boards of guardians and councils who are determined, whatever may be their duty to the ratepayers, to expend money in any way they think fit. The time has come when this should stop; and I am delighted to think that the Minister of Health has had the courage to introduce this Bill. I am satisfied that when it becomes law it will, to some extent, check the action of some of those individuals who disregard their duties, who care nothing for the ratepayers, and who are out for one particular purpose, and that is to do damage to the community.
§ Mr. GILLETT
I do not propose to follow the last speaker in the rather doubtful practice of imputing motives to political opponents. Personally, my experience of municipal life has convinced me that there are men of the highest character in all political parties, and to accuse one's opponents of a low standard of citizenship does not help one's own case at all. As a matter of fact, the hon. Member has entirely overlooked the main principle which this Bill embodies, to which we object, and that is that it really supports a great attack on the principle of local government. If hon. Members will cast their minds back some 20 years to the custom of auditing public accounts then in vogue, I think they will agree with me when I say that this question had never been raised till quite recently, when one or two auditors began to encroach on what we consider was not the domain of the auditor. If you have a man to audit business accounts, you do not ask him whether the business is being run on this 1118 or that principle. The shareholders ask the directors, not the auditors, as to the principle that is being followed, and it seems to me that where the Government went astray was that when the auditor began to encroach on ground outside his own domain, but inside the domain of the council, they allowed him to do so.
There is one very distinguished illustration in this connection, and I think it will be familiar to the Under-Secretary, because it is an illustration from the experience of the London County Council. When that council was formed a number of years ago, the London vestries were not in a very satisfactory condition, and certainly the labour conditions under those vestries were most unsatisfactory. Although the empty benches of the Liberal party make it almost impossible for me to pass on the compliment to them, I should be very willing to do it, because it was under the leadership of the Liberal party on the London County Council, with the assistance of Labour, that the whole question of the wages of the workers was considered, and the principle of paying a trade union rate of wages was recognised. To a large extent the London County Council set the standard for many of the other great municipalities by that action, and at the same time they laid down for London a principle which has been recognised ever since. Those who have been in control of the council since, belonging to the Conservative party, have always carried out the principle laid down by the Progressive party on the London County Council in those days, and it is looked upon as a great reform.
If there had been an auditor doing then what the auditor is doing to-day, that great measure of reform, which has received the support of all the political parties in the London County Council, would never have come into existence, because he would have said: "The standard of wages paid by the old vestries was so-and-so, which proves that they could get the men to work for that figure, and, therefore, you are not justified in introducing shorter hours or paying the trade union rate of wages." It seems to me, therefore, that hon. Members opposite take it for granted that what is the standard for to-day is to be the standard for ever and ever. 1119 So they thought, no doubt, before the London County Council came into existence, and so, no doubt, thought the vestries, which had minds and outlooks about as large as that of the hon. Member who has just spoken, but to-day we recognise what pettyfogging, contemptible little vestries they were. There will be a larger outlook some time on labour questions and the treatment of labour in this city, but the action of the auditors in interfering in questions of policy makes it almost impossible for any new policy in regard to labour such as I have outlined to come into existence. What I consider to be the mistake of the Government is that, instead of saying to the auditors, "You are passing outside your domain," they have, by bringing in this Bill, said to the auditors," You are very fine chaps, and we will pat you on the back and make it as difficult as possible for those who are not ready at once to fall in with your suggestions."
I will take another illustration from the London County Council. Many years ago, when the tramways were being laid down, a great dispute took place in regard to the purchase of Belgian rails. Criticisms were made of the governing body of the London County Council because they were not buying English rails. We know very well that many local bodies under the control of the party opposite have reversed that policy, and I am not discussing whether or not it is a wise policy, but supposing a Conservative council have before them the offer of an English firm and the offer of a foreign firm, the latter meaning a saving of £2,000. Supposing they say: "We think it better to give this work in England, to have English work for English men," and the auditor steps in and says: "No. Here is an offer from a Continental firm to do this same work at a saving of —2,000, and I shall surcharge you that amount." I put it to the Minister to say what is the difference between the question that has been discussed with regard to wages and this question, that might very easily be a crucial point coming before a Conservative council. I say that it is no business of an auditor to decide such a point. If a council think it wise to follow a policy that has been supported by hon. Members opposite, 1120 they ought to have an absolute right to do so and to spend £2,000 more if they think it will be beneficial to the English worker. The people who are to decide are their electors. When the ejection comes, the question will be raised, and if the electors confirm their action and agree with their money being spent in that way, well and good, but if the electors do not agree, no doubt they will put in other candidates holding the opposite view.
The same thing should apply in regard to this question of wages. Where the Government are making a mistake is that they think they have to step in and, because they do not agree with a policy here or there, that they are going to put everything right at once by a Bill of this kind. As a matter of fact, they are not going to get anything perfect in this world. The late Sir Wilfrid Lawson once said: "The only perfect thing is the perfect fool." The Minister is making the mistake of thinking that, because he does not agree in regard to certain questions of wages and so forth, he will gain something by bringing forward these proposals. I would like to mention two other matters, arising out of my experience in local government. After the close of the War, employers in the engineering trade compelled engineers to accept three cuts of 5s. each in wages, spread over a number of months, and the question came up before the London County Council of whether they should follow out this policy in respect of their engineering employés. It was a Conservative council, dominated by the Conservative party, and though I am speaking from memory I think I am right in saying that the second cut was delayed and the third cut was never brought about at all. They laid themselves open to the risk of the district auditor saying, "You ought to have enforced those cuts of 5s., which outside employers have compelled the engineers to accept, and as you have not done so you will be surcharged"; and if this Bill had been in force the members of the council would have been liable to be suspended if, as I presume would have been the case, the amount in question exceeded £500.
There is one other question I wish to put to the Minister. Unfortunately, I was unable to get here to hear his speech, and if he has already dealt with the point I apologise. For a number of 1121 years I was a member of the Finance Committee of the London County Council. One day the chairman informed us that we had all become liable to a surcharge, because the Education Committee had paid for the children attending certain schools to visit a Shakespeare festival at the "Old Vic," I think it was. It was a visit which had the support of everybody, but the auditor came along and said it was illegal to pay for them. The point I wish to put is that, so far as I remember, the only people who were informed that they were liable for the surcharge were the members of the Finance Committee. As a matter of fact, the case was tested in the Law Courts at the instance of the chairman of the Finance Committee. Why should the members of the Finance Committee be made specially liable? The decision to send the children to the performance was practically that of the Education Committee. At any rate, the question had been discussed more fully by them than by the Finance Committee, who were only responsible for paying the bill. Are we to understand that when a surcharge is made upon a council the whole of the members become liable to that surcharge or only the members of the Finance Committee, who may sign the documents? I have been told that surcharges have been imposed particularly upon a few members of a body who have signed the documents sanctioning payment. If that point has not already been dealt with, perhaps we may be told what is the position of those members of a local body who are members of the Finance Committee, and whether under this Bill they are in a worse position than their fellow members.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to say that the Bill makes no difference whatsoever.
§ Mr. GILLETT
I am very much interested to hear that from the right hon. Gentleman, but I must still ask why it was that in the case I have mentioned, where the members of the Education Committee were obviously more directly concerned than the Finance Committee, the members of the Finance Committee had to bear the surcharge? Under this Bill would all the members of the Finance Committee he excluded from the council in the case of a similar difficulty arising, and no members of the Education Committee be liable?
§ Mr. GILLETT
Yes, I agree there was no difficulty in that case, but who actually will be made liable for a surcharge under the provisions of this Bill? However, the real point to which the House ought to direct its attention is the mistake of the Government in bringing forward this Bill at all and so increasing the power of the bureaucracy in the way that has been pointed out. Even if some local authorities are doing things with which the Government do not agree, their powers ought to have been left to them, the Government relying on the wisdom of the electors when the election comes round; because it may come to be found that those authorities have merely been going a little ahead of the ordinary opinions of the time. What to-day is being done in Poplar and is held to be unsuitable may in a few years' time come to be a recognised practice on the part of other councils, just as I have indicated that the London County Council have passed from the low standards of the old vestries.
§ Mr. KELLY
I am not surprised that this Government should bring in such a Bill as this, and, if the Minister himself has not told us the reason for it, we have heard it from at least two hon. Members. The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville)—a very appropriate constituency—told us that there was great justification for such a Measure, because many of the councils were being captured by Socialists, and something had to be done to prevent a continuance of that state of affairs The hon. Member for Loughborough. (Mr. Rye), who has had experience of local government as a member of the Westminster City Council, also revealed some of the reasons which animate hon. Members opposite when he said that many people get on councils who are not the possessors of much property, who are not well-to-do, who are not wealthy, and who have no money, and for that reason ought to be prevented from occupying such positions.
§ Mr. KELLY
I accept the hon. Member's statement, but I remember his words, which were that Socialists owning nothing ought not to be members of these councils; and the rest of his remarks clearly indicated his bitter feeling against anyone but Conservatives sitting on these councils. I suppose it is due to the neglect of the Westminster City Council that housing conditions in that district are so bad. I want to ask why a district auditor should be put in the position of being above the Minister and above the local councils. I had an example recently of the wastefulness of district auditors, of their extravagance in the expenditure of money. A case occurred where an auditor took exception to the spending of sums of twopence on tram fares or omnibus fares for the members of a public body who were visiting one of its institutions. Whilst the matter was under consideration with a view to a settlement, the auditor started proceedings, and spent some £64 on legal expenses, which had to be met out of the public purse—all that for the mere purpose of endeavouring to get back a few twopenny tram fares spent by members of a local authority in the course of their work. The real intention is in keeping with the Bill we have been considering in the earlier part of the week.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health shook his head when the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) was speaking, and when he put it that the local councils had no authority and no right to pay above what was termed the trade union rate. I wonder where they get that standard and where they secure this trade union rate that is referred to, because, if that standard is to be taken, then the London County Council is likely to be penalised at this moment, because, finding that the trade union rate which had been imposed in the engineering trade is one that is not accepted by them, they are paying more than that rate. I take it that, if the auditor who is attempting to penalise Woolwich at this time happens to have to deal with the London County Council, then it would mean that probably the 1124 hon. Member for Greenwich (Sir G. Hume), who is not now in his place, but who plays an important and honoured part on that council, is likely to find himself in trouble ere long.
I submit that this Bill is in keeping with the attacks made on wages by this Government since they came into office. I hear the suggestion made that the rate selected by and agreed upon by the Joint Industrial Councils, should be accepted. I am wondering when the Government took to itself the acceptance of rates that were laid down by Joint Industrial Councils. If the Minister of Health is taking that standard, then it is not accepted by other Government Departments, and he had better consult with his colleagues in the Cabinet, because the Secretary of State for War refuses to accept the standard of the Joint Industrial Councils and in some cases is paying below it. Yet we have the Minister of Health to-night stating that the rates laid down by the Joint Industrial Councils are those that may very well be accepted. This is one of those vicious Measures which seem to be the sole purpose of this Government, with a view to tying up local government, and making it difficult for those who give their services freely, and desire to give them, for the benefit of the community. We find this Government putting everything possible in the way of these people and hampering them and making criminal offences and threatening them with penalties for the carrying out of those duties when there is no intent on their part either to be extravagant or to waste the money of the public. If they wish to destroy local government and carry it on by officials sent from Whitehall, let them be honest and straight and say so at once and not go on in this way hampering and preventing these people from giving us this work of local government which is to the advantage of the whole community.
§ Mr. BROAD
I rise to oppose the Bill and to speak in support of the Amendment. In the first place, I think, before any Bill is brought before this House to penalise local councillors on the instigation of the auditors, a fair and proper method of selecting and appointing those auditors ought to be devised by the Government and taken into consideration by the House, in view of the recent decision of the House of Lords which was against 1125 what nearly everybody concerned in local government had previously thought was the law of this country. We can well understand a body of auditors appointed to review things from the auditors' or actuarial point of view and to say whether payments by the local authorities are for objects which those authorities have the power to carry out according to the law, but when such district auditors undertake the work of revising or condemning reasonable action by the local authorities, then I make bold to submit that it is a type of man and a type of mind of a very different character from district auditors who should be entrusted with that function.
I noticed that when the Minister of Health was introducing this Bill, and speaking on the subject of surcharges—of which he said there had been five of over £500 per year during these last few years—the only specific case which he mentioned on which such surcharge had been carried to the Court, was on the question of wages. I submit that there is room for honest men to have reasonable differences of opinion as to what are proper wages. For instance, there is the Tory point of view. I recollect one great Postmaster-General, who held a very high position in the Government of the day, called postmen blackmailers and bloodsuckers because they asked for a minimum wage of —1 a week. He lost his seat, but I believe he is now in another place. We have seen that the policy of the Conservative Government, which represents in the main the employers' interests, is that the workers' wages should come down and that their hours should be lengthened. On the other hand, we have a different point of view on our side. We believe the true basis of a healthy community is a decent standard of wages to enable a man to keep a home and a house in which he can maintain a wife and family in comfort and decency and have reasonable opportunities for recreation and enjoyment. We believe that is the soundest basis for the community, and that we have the right, where the electors in the districts approve of that point of view, to apply that policy, and, if it be not approved by the electors, they can turn us out.
Under the present powers of the auditors as defined by the law, it seems that there is to be no elasticity in local 1126 government, and that, while we have a Conservative Government in office, Conservative auditors are to apply their will, so that all local authorities are to be squeezed down into the Tory mould. That is disastrous in itself from the point of view of social progress. It has been one of the finest things in this country that, within limits of the law, top and bottom, there has been a great deal of scope for local authorities, and nearly all the uplift of our people during the last two generations has been due, not to the lifting of wages or the fact that wages have commanded a higher standard of life, but almost entirely to the improvement of the great social services. The idea of local government, as it used to be controlled by the Tory mind, was to do as little as possible, but we have seen great developments in that respect. It has been almost entirely due to the development of social services—health services, recreation facilities and so on—that we have seen such remarkable changes in this country. We have seen the average age of death increased by 10 years in the last 20 years. We see that there is not one quarter of the misdemeanours in respect of which charges are made in the Courts, nor one half of the criminal charges that there were some 30 years ago. That is almost entirely due to an enlightened policy in local government, to the reduction of Toryism, and the growth of a more enlightened spirit in the local administration of this country. If this is to be the new view, that not alone are the objects of expenditure to be under the control of the auditors, but the policy as well, it means this, that, if we have a change of Government and a change of policy, then, if we want that policy properly applied, we must clear out all the auditors and have a fresh lot to meet the new incoming Government's point of view. That sort of thing is going to be very disastrous indeed when it is introduced into our local government system. Before this Bill was brought in there should have been a complete review of the position of the auditors, including not only the accounts but also the policy of local government.
I want to deal now with the penalties which to me are such as would not be meted out even to criminals. We on this side take a more enlightened view of the policy of local government, and we do 1127 not believe what the Minister of Health has laid down, that these matters should be looked at purely from a commercial point of view, and that wages should be determined in that way. The prevalence of unemployment has forced wages down, but I think the country will agree, when it understands this question, that the first consideration in regard to wages should be the adoption of a decent standard of life for the workers. Those who hold that view and think that the auditor is wrong, and refuse to accept his view and go on with their policy, will find themselves surcharged at the next audit. In that way, these public representatives are to be ruined and practically outlawed, as far as local government is concerned, for five years; whereas if an official took that amount of money out of the public funds and was sentenced to two years' imprisonment he would be entitled to sit on the council if elected. Therefore you are really placing the honest local town councillor in a worse position than a convicted criminal.
I think hon. Members ought seriously to reconsider the position. What is now being proposed will mean in some constituencies that instead of putting our usual candidates up for election we shall have to put up women candidates or people of straw. You will not be able to proceed against people of straw in a financial sense, and you cannot make the husband responsible in a public capacity. The result will be that in selecting candidates for local authorities, the chief consideration will not be to select those who are the most capable, but those who cannot be penalised by the Minister of Health, and that kind of thing is not going to be good for local government in this country. We want the best of all classes for our public work, and to bring forward a Measure of this character in the way it has been brought forward without any justification other than the fact that Poplar and one or two other districts have a different idea of what are reasonable wages is absurd. It is degrading Parliament to use a Government majority to strike a blow at progress because some areas happen to be in advance of the narrow and retrograde view of those who happen to hold office for the time being. I hope hon. Members will see that this degradation of 1128 Parliament is not allowed to go on at a time when so much is required to be done in the interests of the country. I hope we shall see that the time of Parliament is not occupied in striking underhand blows at their political opponents.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
This discussion has covered a considerable amount of ground. I want to say that the Minister of Health, in introducing this Bill, did not give all the history that has led up to the introduction of this Measure. It is a very long history, but I think, if the right hon. Gentleman consulted his Department, he would be informed that ever since the Act of 1894 and the bringing in of Labour and Socialist representatives on local authorities there has been a considerable controversy between the Department and those local authorities as to their public expenditure on certain things. During the discussion the other night, and also to-night, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have been at some pains to prove that those of us who have helped to administer places like Poplar were actuated by desires and feelings to bribe the electors to put us in public positions by promising them gifts, and they assert that in the end we did this.
I would like the House to understand that that is not a modern statement in the sense that it is something which has only grown up since the War. As long ago as 1890 Mr. Will Crooks who, I suppose, was one of the most respected Members of this House, and myself and others, were elected to the Poplar Board of Guardians, and for a long series of years we were subject in and out of this House to the cry that we were Poplar wastrels. The point is that right from the very first moment that Labour took any part in helping to administer affairs those guardians who adopted a different policy to that which obtained previously were singled out for attack in every direction. This Bill is the culmination of about 30 or 34 years' agitation and propaganda by the Tory party. It has taken them a long time to reach the position they have now reached, but it is on record that the agitation has been going on all those years. The Minister of Health said the other night that it was true that the party who were victorious should get the spoils, and he arrived at that conclusion because I had said that 1129 it is folly to think that when this House entrusts administration to new sets of people there should not be a change in policy, that things should not be done differently from what they were previously. So long as that is done within the law, no one ought to complain about it. I want to submit, however, that, over and over again in the history of local government in this country during the past 34 years, there has been an attack on Labour and Socialist men, not because they have broken the law, but because they have adopted an entirely different policy from the policy of those who had previously been in the position of administrators.
To-night the discussion has ranged very largely over borough councils and town councils and questions of wages, but I think the Minister, when he replies on this point, will agree with me that a very large number of surcharges take place in regard to the Poor Law and Poor Law administration. At least, I think that, in Poplar, for one case that you have had from the borough council, you have probably had a dozen or more from the hoard of guardians. It is said that the boards of guardians which are dominated by Labour and Socialist people are administering wrongly and illegally. That is a point that I want to deny, and to deny very emphatically. When I was first a guardian—all this is on record, and the Department would never dream of contradicting it—the amount of money given to a poor woman who was a widow, for outdoor relief, was 1s. 6d. a week, and for a child 1s. a week. Directly Mr. Will Crooks and myself, and other Labour men, got on that board, we did our best, and we succeeded, not with Labour majority, but with a majority made up of tradesmen and others, in convincing them that that was an iniquitous sum to pay, and we got them to adopt a scale very much more in accordance with what we considered to be decent and humane.
Obviously, the rates went up, and obviously, those bigger ratepayers who will not live in our district, who will not take any part in helping to administer our district, but who take the money out and go and live elsewhere, formed themselves into an organisation to work on the auditors to surcharge us for giving what they described as illegal and excessive 1130 outdoor relief. We were able to beat those attacks. I have said this in the House before, and I am saying it again to-night, because the man of whom I am going to say it is not now with us, and I cannot be charged with saying anything in order to get payment from him, or anything of that kind. Lord Long, who was then Mr. Walter Long, and Mr. Gerald Balfour, who succeeded him as President of the Local Government Board, were so convinced of the justice of what we did that over and over again they wiped out the surcharge, and would never listen to the idea that we had not the right to change the policy of those who had gone before us. They recognised that when Parliament gave us power, Parliament gave us power to administer according to what we considered was reasonable and just.
To-day, we have apparently turned the circle, but in the meantime, many of the people with whom we wanted to deal through the boards of guardians are now dealt with under the Old Age Pensions Act, the Insurance Act, and in a hundred and one different ways that were not then in existence; but there still remains a large body of men and women who are obliged to go to the boards of guardians, and in the administration of the Poor Law, in the settlement of how much a poor man or a poor woman who comes before the relief committee shall be given, the person who is going to check what is given comes and does the checking without ever having seen that man or woman, without ever knowing anything about them at all, very often 12 months after the money has been given.
For me it will not matter very much. I am not pleading for myself, because my age, and my powers and energies will not permit of punishing me very much; but this is going to apply to a set of men and women who are not quite of the same sort as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) described because our people are probably much poorer than those about whom he spoke We have not got a settlement in our district that will send decent, good, Christian workers to come and take part in our administration. We have practically no one there to take part in it; the few who do are on our side; but the majority of the 24 guardians and the 49 borough councillors are men who work in the 1131 docks, who drive carts, who work on the railways, who are carpenters and bricklayers, and there are some of their wives as well who are giving their time for nothing. I say here and now what I said last week. I challenge whoever replies to ask the Department whether, of all the boroughs in London—leaving out the question of policy, leaving out the question of principle underlying our policy—whether, in the carrying out of our policy and in the work of administration the Poplar Board of Guardians and the Poplar Borough Council are not as efficient as any in the whole of the Metropolis.
That has never been challenged, and it cannot be challenged to-day. Our policy may be wrong; that is open to argument; but the men and women who are administering it are poor men and women, the sort of men and women upon whom the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Rye) poured scorn just now—poor people who never get anything out of it. One out of the lot may, perhaps, come here in days to come, as I have, but the great bulk of them will simply work hard and live penurious lives till they die. These are the people who, if they make a mistake, are going, some of them, to be made bankrupt, and others of them are going to be thrown out of public life for five years. Let me touch upon the question of bankruptcy. The hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence) and myself, the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr), and my colleague from South Poplar (Mr. March), have been living under the shadow of a most tremendous surcharge for years. The one of us who might have been penalised is the hon. Member who seconded this Amendment to-day. She never said a word about it, but she is the one member of our board who might have been made bankrupt by the surcharges which have been put upon us, as we have been told, jointly and severally, that is to say, we are individually and collectively responsible for the lot. But the others are poor men who have been putting by their shillings, and, two or three of them, have been able partly to pay for the houses in which they live, and no one knows the terror-stricken condition of their wives during that period, till we were able to convince them that their houses could not be 1132 touched. But directly this Bill passes, there is not a single one of them that will dare to remain in public life.
I have said hard things about the right hon. Gentleman, and I expect he has said hard things about me, but I will not make against him the charge that he would deliberately break up a man's home, that he would deliberately see a man sold up; but he might feel that under the law he had no option, if this Bill is passed, but to say that the law must take its course. These people will have no right of appeal, and, in my judgment, if they did have the right of appeal, unless they had plenty of money to employ the very best lawyers, they would not stand a dog's chance in the Courts. The consequence is that Parliament has given this privilege and this right to go on to these local authorities to the poor people upon whom the hon. Member for Loughborough poured so much scorn. I hope his constituents will remember what he has said about the poor people in London. But here is the extraordinary thing, that all through the 34 years you can count on your [...]ngers, from East London or from anywhere else, the number of men and women who have been charged with anything approaching corruption or misuse of public money, and yet we are to have this Bill, with all these penalties, thrust down our throats.
Again the right hon. Gentleman did not even give us the full story of the position that has compelled him to bring in this Bill. Poplar was surcharged, and the £5,000 could not be paid. But they refused to grant the remission of the surcharge unless the council brought its wages into relation with the decision of the Courts. We had a very difficult and very tangled business to get through before we could meet him on that matter. He knows, and I think the House ought to know, that we did not get that settlement until there had been called into conference officials of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health, and representatives of the big trade unions and of the board of guardians, and in the end a document was signed pledging the borough council and the unions to a certain scale of wages. On the faith of that document, the right hon. Gentleman gave us the remission of the surcharge and the costs and so on. But now this 1133 is what has happened. The Municipal Alliance, the people who have pursued the Poplar Board for 30 odd years, a body representing manufacturers who, if they chose to take an interest in the affairs of Poplar by fighting elections and coming on to these authorities, could exercise some influence and help us to administer—these people, who will not help to carry on the work of the borough, put their money together and go to the Courts and get an entirely new decision on the powers of the right hon. Gentleman. When I speak of him I speak of him as the Minister and those who have gone before him as well as himself.
The President of the Local Government Board and the Minister of Health have always exercised the power of remitting surcharges even though the Courts have held that the surcharges were legal. This shows the class bias of the business. This has never been raised till a Labour board was in question, and it is only raised because a body of employers of the kind I have just mentioned have put up the money to have it done, and it is done deliberately to lower the standard of wages for the district where they employ men. It does not suit them to have the local government workers paid the wages they are paid. They have always objected to it. Long before there was a Labour majority on the Poplar Borough Council, long before the War, we paid 30s. a week when Westminster was paying 21s., and no one can blame us. It was a Liberal and a Tory board. There is something in Poplar that is big. There is a public life in Poplar that has been there for the last century, and it has often expressed itself through Liberals and Tories, and now through ourselves. It is, of course, a matter of great hilarity to talk about 30s. a week, and the public spirit of poor men, but the public spirit of the poor men of Poplar has reduced the death rate of babies from 160 to 67, and that is more than has been done in Westminster. I challenge the Minister again on the question of housing in Poplar. We are second to none in the Metropolis in what we have done for housing during the last 10 years. When you talk about spending other people's money, every penny that goes on the rates the very poorest people have to pay on their rent, and they pay it gladly to get the work done that is being done. The right hon. Gentleman knows that 1134 these manufacturers went to the Court and have put him in the cart now, and he knows that this Bill is part of the bargain he has made with them to prevent him bringing in a Bill to indemnify himself for what he has done.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member has no right to say that I have made a bargain with anyone, because it is quite untrue.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if he did not bring in this Bill the vindictive gentlemen who for 30 years have pursued the Poplar Labour representatives would have pursued him and compelled him to pay that money. The Court has decided that the right hon. Gentleman acted illegally in remitting the surcharge, and you cannot get it out of the Poplar Borough Council.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member is now saying something quite different from what he said before. He said before that this Bill was part of a bargain I made with the Poplar Municipal Alliance. I deny that statement in toto and ask him to withdraw it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I have no wish to charge the right hon. Gentleman with doing anything that he has not done. If he tells me he has not had any negotiations, direct or indirect, with the Municipal Alliance, or anyone connected with them, I am bound to accept his word. [Interruption] You asked me to withdraw. What more can I do? If you would not be quite so contemptuous one would not feel so sickened. The insolence of some right hon. Gentlemen is beneath contempt. I know, and the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, that the decision of the Court put him in a very awkward position indeed. He did, in fact, what, the Attorney-General did. The Attorney-General made a great bloomer, and the right hon. Gentleman was convicted of having done the same thing, and it is certain that the Municipal Alliance was determined to get something done so that they could put the Poplar Council in the cart and the board of guardians and the council should have some sort of drastic treatment meted out to them. The result is this Bill. There is no need to argue very much about it, because it has been shattered to pieces by speaker after 1135 speaker without any attempt to reply at all. It is said that we are against having someone to examine our public accounts, but that is absolutely untrue. We believe that you must have an auditor, but we deny that you ought to give the power to the auditor that he at present possesses. Here is the fix you are in. The right hon. Gentleman not only has got himself landed for the remission of the surcharge, and consequently this Bill, but also in signing the agreement with the union and the borough councils. What has this precious auditor got to tell us now? The auditor tells us that what we have signed with the Minister of Health or the Minister of Labour does not matter; that, if we pay more than this, he will surcharge us. He not only comes to us after our expenditure has been incurred, but he tells us beforehand what we have to pay. Would that be tolerated by any Tory board if they had an official to tell them that they had to pay more wages than they ought to pay?
That is the auditor of the borough council, but you have an auditor for the guardians who speaks entirely differently. Which one is correct? That is the dilemma that the public representatives of the district are faced with, and this Bill does not affect that one bit. What the right hon. Gentleman ought to have done was to have brought in a Bill to deal with the powers of the auditor. If the House is to give the auditor the power to fix wages, it is not fair that the auditors in various parts of the country should lay down various rates of wages, and so on. It seems to me that the position in quite farcical, when you have in one borough two different auditors laying down two different scales of wages. It is not true to say that we do not want our accounts properly audited. Even with all the trials we went through in different Courts, even in the House of Lords, nobody, either Judge or counsel, charged the Poplar Council with corruption or negligence or anything of that kind. It was simply a question of our judgment of what the law was as against other people's judgment. Do not let the House forget that the first Court of Appeal decided on our behalf, and, therefore, we had great justification for thinking that we were right. The only other thing I want to 1136 say is this. Someone said, I think it was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones), and he said with truth, that in this country there are two schools of thought in the Labour movement, one that believes in using administrative and political power, and the other which believes that these functions are quite useless and that the only thing we have to do is to prepare for violence and revolution. The Minister of Health has, during his period of office, treated local authorities in this manner. This House has passed the Guardians Default Bill, and the Clause in the Trade Unions Bill in connection with public employés, arid is now considering this Bill, laying it down that a public official who is responsible to nobody shall decide the policy of local authorities and that the local authorities are not to know what they may pay in wages or what they may pay in relief. A Minister who is anti-Socialist or anti-Labour will be able, under this Bill, to bankrupt members of local authorities, and if this House passes this Bill, I am confident that an early House of Commons which succeeds it will repeal it.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I think, perhaps, it is unnecessary for me to make much comment upon the last speech which we have heard, except to explain to the House, and especially to hon. Members who are not familiar with the circumstances, the allusion which the hon. Gentleman has made to the position of the Poplar Guardians and Council at the present moment. The Courts recently decided that the surcharge, which has been made upon these authorities, instead of being remitted by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health as he desired to do, cannot be remitted, and that the amount which has been found by the district auditor, and confirmed by the Court, as having been illegally spent by these authorities, must be paid. I suggest that it is a travesty of the situation to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is in a difficulty. If anyone is in a difficulty it is the authority whom the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lansbury) represents to-night. At this moment, apart from this Bill, the law would have to take its course, and, for what it is worth, proceedings would have to be enforced, including imprisonment. The hon. Gentleman has 1137 stated that, in some way, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has come to an arrangement and, when the surcharges were remitted, an undertaking was given and, following that undertaking, certain agreements were entered into.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I said that before the surcharge was made we entered into an understanding with the right hon. Gentleman that a certain agreement as to wages and conditions would be fulfilled.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I anticipated that the hon. Gentleman would make that statement, and I have with me a communication which was put into writing at the time and which has not subsequently been repudiated by anybody. It is dated the 2nd March, 1926, and it was addressed to the Town Clerk at the Council Offices in Poplar. It says:While deciding to take this course the Minister desires me to make it clear that he cannot give any assurance or security against any future surcharges in respect to similar expenditure incurred after that datethat is the remission of the surcharge—and another letter, dated 25th August, 1956, addressed to the people who were then or lately guardians of the parish of Poplar again dealing with the same matter, to this effect—it is the concluding paragraph of the letter—At the same time, the Minister desires me to state that his decision to grant remission must not be taken as indicating any approval of, or agreement in, the scale of wages which the guardians have recently adopted.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Will the hon. Gentleman deny that an agreement, such as I stated, was come to in the offices of the Minister of Health between the representative of the Labour Department, his own representatives, and the unions and the council?
§ Sir K. WOOD
It has always been the attitude of my right hon. Friend in no way to take any part with the Poplar authorities or anyone else in the fixing of wages. That is a matter for them. It was expressly stated—[Interruption.] That is why it is so essential to deal with the hon. Gentleman and his friends in writing. It is expressly stated in both these communications that the Minister of Health will not be responsible for any arrangements the 1138 hon. Gentleman may make, and, in fact, no agreements have been made——[Interruption.] If I may, I would like to answer one or two of the questions that have been put as to what we understand by the arrangements they state the Bill makes. I shall be very brief, for, I understand, it is desired to get on to the next Bill. First of all, I will deal with what I regard as the most essential criticism that has been raised, not in regard to the merits or policy of the Bill, but in regard to a matter of detail raised by several of my hon. Friends and one or two hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is in regard to cases where the guardians or other people may be surcharged for an amount less than £500, and an appeal from the decision of the auditor can only be made to the Minister of Health. It has been urged upon my right hon. Friend that an appeal to the Court ought to be given, and it has been represented that, up to the present time, by one means or another, anyone who is aggrieved by a decision of that kind could take the matter to the Courts. I wish to say, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that that course will be considered in Committee. He is sympathetically disposed to that question, and we shall be very glad to consider whether any means can be adopted to carry out what several of my hon. Friends desire in that particular matter, namely, that a person aggrieved should have, we will say, the alternative of either appealing to the Minister of Health or going direct to the Court.
In the few minutes left to me I want to direct the attention of the House to one or two observations which have been made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood), who, in a reasoned Amendment, moved the rejection of this Bill. He said it was a trumpery Measure, that there was no necessity for the Bill, and that it was not true that there was any need for legislation at all. I wondered, when I heard the hon. Gentleman speaking, whether he recalled the proceedings in this House in February, 1924, when the Labour Government were in office. This is not the first time, by any means, that the question of the surcharges and the difficulty that has been experienced by various Ministers of Health in relation to enforcing them and seeing that the law of this country is observed, have been 1139 before this House. So far from anyone regarding the position then as satisfactory or that there could be no need for a revision of the law or an enforcement of it, I would like to read to the House and to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne a statement made on the 26th February, 1924:The next point is whether the power of surcharge will he retained. I join with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Wheatley) in saying that in my experience the power of surcharge has not been effective. We know perfectly well that, if a board of guardians be surcharged, and if it refuse to pay, and find its way into prison, the Ministry of Health has the board of guardians in prison, and it has a policy of surcharges which it must enforce, at any rate from the point of view of its own dignity. A deadlock takes place; no money is paid; the taxpayer is not relieved"—I regret to say that the statement goes on:the boards of guardians are 'Poplarised,' and in the end the situation is the same. The only victim is the poor Ministry of Health, which is given an absolutely impossible law to administer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1924, col. 396, Vol. 170.]That is a statement which was made by the Prime Minister in the Labour Government, the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. R. MacDonald). What we are endeavouring to do to-night is to meet the wishes of the right hon. Member for Aberavon, by finding some effective means for dealing with a situation which has been so explicitly and graphically described by the right hon. Gentleman. We are endeavouring in this Bill to make the punishment fit the crime for those who transgress the law and bring local government at the present time into disrepute.
I agree with what has been said by many hon. Members to-day that, as a whole, local administration in this country may well be the envy of the world. In fact, the mischief with which we are endeavouring to deal in this Bill, although it is important, is very limited in its character. It is fair to say that up and down the country there are scores of local authorities with Labour majorities who have found no difficulty whatever in administering the law. They have experienced none of the difficulties that have been described by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) this evening. 1140 They have been able, not having pursued the policy of Poplarism, perfectly well to administer the law. They have never been in conflict with the district auditor. Whilst the sums involved are large, the cases are comparatively few. In fairness to the other boards and the other local authorities up and down the country who are properly administering the law at the present time, who know perfectly well what the law is and who have had none of the difficulties which have been described to-night, it is necessary that, as the right hon. Member for Aberavon pointed out, we should take steps to find a more effective remedy.
The effective remedies that we are endeavouring to find in this Bill are two very simple ones. In the first place, we say, from the point of view of surcharge, that if a person has to be surcharged, if the amount he has paid is found to be illegal, the remedy as far as the repayment is concerned should be effective. The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence) described the present situation very well. She said that the present position is this: if you surcharge a member or a local authority, what can you do with him or her as far as obtaining payment of the money is concerned? It is a very curious law. You can only distrain on certain specified chattels which happen to be in the dwelling-house at that particular moment. If the individual has debentures, or house property or anything of that kind, they cannot be touched, and the only remedy left to the persons who have to enforce the law and obtain repayment of the illegal expenditure that has been incurred is this, if these individuals do not happen to have these particular chattels, or have covered them by some arrangement, they have to apply to the justices to send them to prison for three months, and, as we know, on one occasion, accompanied by a brass band, these ladies and gentlemen very gladly went as a sort of cheap martyrdom for that period.
What we are proposing in this Bill is this, that these surcharges shall be treated as every other civil debt; that if a person who is surcharged does not appeal against it on the ground that it has been incurred in circumstances which were reasonable, or in the belief that the payment was authorised by law, there shall be the full civil remedy to obtain 1141 payment. I should have thought that was perfectly honest, fair and legal. In the future it will be possible, when surcharges are made, for individuals who seek to obtain the repayment of their money, to do so by all the remedies open to the Courts. If a guardian or a local councillor happens to have debentures or house property, they can be taken; if he has not, then he can be made bankrupt. That is a perfectly reasonable suggestion, far more reasonable than sending the person to prison for three months. Let me point this out. Under this Bill, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, so far as the past is concerned no further steps can be taken and, therefore, the position which confronts the few local authorities up and down the country, who wish to pursue the policy which has hitherto guided them in these matters, is that they have to decide to mend their ways, obey the law as laid down in this Bill, and follow the ordinary procedure of local authorities up and down the country. If they do not, I do not see that they have any reason to complain. They knew exactly the position. If they incur any surcharges in the future it will not be by a decision of the district auditor, because he is not the person who is finally responsible in this matter. As every hon. Member opposite knows they have a perfect right to take any decision of the district auditor to the Courts, and in the future all that anyone who is disqualified under the provisions of this Bill has to do, if it is a sum of more than £500, is to satisfy the Court that he has acted either reasonably or in the belief that the payment he authorised was lawful. I should have thought that it was perfectly easy for any honest and careful administrator to comply with that provision. These, briefly, are the provisions of this Bill. I only want to say one final word, and it is this. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has given his opinion that this Bill is rather a doubtful remedy, and he pictured to the House a sort of procession of guardians and members of local authorities following one another after they have been disqualified. He thinks that after one set of surcharges has been made and members of the local authority are disqualified, others will be there waiting to take their places. I do not think so at all.
1142 My own view—I have good ground for saying so, for certain indications have reached me—is that this Bill will be a very effective instrument indeed, and that there will be very few members of local authorities who, after the law has been clearly laid down, as it is in this Bill, will be prepared either to be disqualified or to have all the remedies of the law enforced against them as they are contained in this Bill. Secondly, I say without any personal offence, from my observation of those particular members who have been the subject of surcharges in the past, that I have always thought they had the belief that the whole of the local administration of the area lay upon their shoulders, and that if anything happened to them the whole of the local government of this country would come toppling to the ground. They suffer from what I call exaggerated ego. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and myself may be able to compare notes 12 months hence, but I do not visualise a procession of these gentlemen taking the places of those who have been disqualified.
I can understand that the remedies available at the present moment do not cause much fear, but Members of the House may be satisfied that this Bill will be a very effective remedy indeed. In future, all members of local authorities will have to administer the law as it is and not as they wish it to be. The Amendment shows some confusion of thought. Local authorities are subject to the law just as anyone else is. All their duties are laid down by Statute, and all that the district auditor has to do is to see whether the members have complied with those laws or not. If they have not, he surcharges them. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about discretion?"] The discretion is within the law, as the Courts have again and again upheld. What has happened in the recent cases in the Courts has been that the highest Court of the land has declared that the actions of members of these local authorities have been beyond all reason, and, far from being a matter of discretion, have become illegalities on that account.
§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
Does the hon. Gentleman assert that an action that is unreasonable is necessarily unlawful?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I will answer the hon. Member for Nelson first. This is what Lord Wrenbury said on that very point:The person in whom is vested a discretion"—That is the discretion as to payment of wages—must exercise his discretion upon reasonable grounds. A discretion does not empower a man to do what he likes merely because he is minded to do so. He must, in the exercise of his discretion, do not what he likes but what he ought; in other words, he must, by the use of his reason, ascertain and follow the course which
§ reason directs. He must act reasonably. The word 'fit' I think means fitting or suitable. The words 'as they may think fit' do not mean 'as they choose.' The measure is not the volition of the person vested with the discretion. It is the suitability, the adequacy or the fitness of the amount, in the reasonable judgment of the person."
§ Let me say this in conclusion. A judgment of the highest Court in the land has unanimously decided upon the illegalities which have been committed and has said that a surcharge should be enforced. This Bill desires to enforce the principle which as I have always understood appertains to our local government system and that is that people who administer the affairs of local authorities do so as trustee and must treat the ratepayers' property with just as much care and honesty as they treat their own.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 229; Noes, 94.1145
|Division No. 181.]||AYES.||[10.38 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Greaves-Lord. Sir Walter|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Chapman, Sir S.||Grotrian, H. Brent|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Centr'l)||Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Clarry, Reginald George||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.|
|Atkinson, C.||Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Hall, Lieut.-Col Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Cooper, A. Duff||Hanbury, C.|
|Balniel, Lord||Couper, J. B.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn, N.)||Harrison, G. J. C.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Henderson, Lt.-Col. Sir V. L. (Bootle)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Henn, Sir Sydney H.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.|
|Berry, Sir George||Dawson, Sir Phillip||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Dixey, A. C.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Drewe, C.||Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy|
|Blundell, F. N.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Elveden, Viscount||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||England, Colonel A.||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiten'n)|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Everard, W. Lindsay||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Fermoy, Lord||Jacob, A. E.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Fleiden, E. B.||Jephcott, A. R|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Finburgh, S.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)|
|Brown-Lindsay, Major H.||Ford, Sir P. J.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)|
|Buchan, John||Forrest, W.||Kindersley, Major Guy M.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Foster, Sir Harry S.||King, Commodore Henry Douglas|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Fraser, Captain Ian||Lamb, J. Q.|
|Burman, J. B.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Little, Dr. E. Graham|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Gates, Percy||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Loder, J. de V.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Goff, Sir Park||Looker, Herbert William|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Grace, John||Lougher, Lewis|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Grant, Sir J. A.||Luce, Major-Gen.Sir Richard Herman|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth. S.)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Lynn, Sir R. J.|
|MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Power, Sir John Cecil||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Price, Major C. W. M.||Tasker, R Inigo.|
|McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Radford, E. A.||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Raine, Sir Walter||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Rees, Sir Beddoe||Tinne, J. A.|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Remer, J. R.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Roberts, E. H. G (Flint)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Malone, Major P. B.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Margesson, Captain D.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Rye F. G||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Meyer, Sir Frank||Salmon, Major I.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Wells, S. R.|
|Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Sandeman, N. Stewart||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple-|
|Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Savery, S. S.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Murchison, Sir Kenneth||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W)||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Nelson, Sir Frank||Shepperson, E. W.||Wilson, Sir Murrough (Yorks, Richm'd)|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hon. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Skelton, A. N.||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Nuttall, Ellis||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kic'dine, C.)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Oakley, T.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Withers, John James|
|O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Smithers, Waldron||Womersley, W. J.|
|Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Penny, Frederick George||Sprot, Sir Alexander||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Stanley, Col. Rt. Hon. G. F. (Will'sd'n, E.)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)||Wragg, Herbert|
|Perring, Sir William George||Storry-Deans, R.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Strauss, E. A.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (Norwich)|
|Philipson, Mabel||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Pilcher, G.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Major Cope and Captain Lord Stanley.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Hall, F. (York W. R., Normanton)||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hardie, George D.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Harney, E. A.||Scurr, John|
|Baker, Walter||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hayes, John Henry||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Barnes, A.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Batey, Joseph||Hirst, G. H.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Hore-Bellsha, Leslie||Smillie, Robert|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Snell, Harry|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Stamford, T. W.|
|Broad, F. A.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Bromfield, William||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Bromley, J.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Kelly, W. T.||Townend, A. E.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kennedy, T.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Clowes, S.||Kirkwood, D.||Viant, S. P.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lansbury, George||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Connolly, M.||Lawrence, Susan||Watson, W. M. (Dunlermilne)|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lawson, John James||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lee, F.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Lowth, T.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Dunnico, H.||Lunn, William||Westwood, J.|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Whiteley, W.|
|Gardner, J. P.||Mosley, Oswald||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Atterclifie)|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Murnin, H.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Gillett, George M.||Palin, John Henry||Windsor, Walter|
|Greenall, T.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Potts, John S.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. B.|
|Groves, T.||Rlley, Ben||Smith.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Ritson, J.|
Bill read a Second time.