§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. SCURR
This is a Bill of 245 Clauses, and a large number of Schedules, and it deals with the very important matter of the consolidation of the Poor Law Acts. The first Clause deals with the constitution of the central authority, and the last words of that Clause are:Provided that soothing in this Act shall be construed as enabling the Minister to interfere in any individual case for the purpose of ordering relief.That was the law three months ago, but it is not a correct statement of the law as it now exists inasmuch as under the Boards of Guardians Default Act the Minister of Health has power to appoint guardians who are not elected by the area, and these elective guardians are able to put in force any scale of relief they may please. Indirectly, therefore, it is the Minister of Health who is fixing the scale of relief in such areas as West Ham, Chester-le-Street and elsewhere where that order is put into force. I contend that this is not a correct statement of the law, and to ask the Committee at this late hour to deal with a Bill 2186 which contains so many Clauses, on which we are entitled to ask for an explanation, is in no sense a right procedure. This is a Measure for the discussion of which we are entitled to have a day. Rumours are flying about that arrangements have been made regarding this Bill. So far as I am concerned, and I am sure I speak for hon. Members who sit with me, we know of no such arrangement and we claim our right as Members of this House to discuss every detail of the Bill. I agree with the Minister of Health's statement that it is one of the greatest pieces of consolidating legislation ever put before the House of Commons.
§ Mr. SCURR
I am only pointing out that the Minister's observation shows how necessary it is to have an opportunity of discussing the Bill Clause by Clause, and my objection to Clause 1 is that it does not state the law correctly as the Minister, indirectly, has power to interfere in individual cases with regard to the ordering of relief.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I very much regret that the hon. Gentleman has taken objection to this particular Clause, and indeed to the consideration of this Bill to-night. The Committee will recollect that on the Second Reading, two objections were made by hon. Members opposite, and my right hon. Friend the Minister undertook to confer with them with a view to endeavouring to meet their points. I think that even hon. Members opposite and certainly those on this side of the House regarded this as a valuable Bill, and were very desirous that it should be placed on the Statute Book. A few days 2187 ago I met representatives of the party opposite who, I understood, so far as individual Members could, represented the points of view of hon. Members opposite, and we came to a definite agreement.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It may clear up any misunderstandings if the hon. Gentleman will state who these Members were.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I met the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood) and the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence). I think the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley was not present when this point was raised, but the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence) was there, and as a result of that consultation, we put down the two Amendments which appear on the Order Paper. I understood these hon. Members were satisfied, otherwise we should not have attempted to take the Bill to-night.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I am sure hardly anyone on this side will venture to oppose this Bill if the hon. Gentleman can convince us that there has been an under standing properly arrived at through what are known as the ordinary channels. What the hon. Gentleman has shown is not that an understanding of that kind was arrived at, but simply that he arrived at an understanding with two individual Members.
§ Sir K. WOOD
All I know is that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who is particularly interested in the Bill, met me, and we agreed that the Bill should be taken to-night, and I understood that he would make the necessary arrangements with hon. Gentlemen opposite. I understood that they were completely satisfied, and the speech of the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) is the first suggestion I have heard of there being any difficulty in this connection. I wish to take no advantage of any agreement which was made, if there has been any misunderstanding on the matter, but no mention was made of any other objections than those which we considered. I am sure the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne would confirm me if he were here, and that he and the hon. Lady the Member for East Ham North agreed that we were acting in a proper and fair way in the alterations we proposed 2188 to make in the Bill. I do not know that it is a fact that it was indicated that the hon. Gentleman was acting for his party, but this was certainly the arrangement. I mentioned to him this morning that this Bill would be taken to-night, a course to which he assented. However, having said that, the only point I have heard mentioned and which I hope will be disposed of at once is the question as to whether the West Ham Act should be incorporated in this Consolidation Bill. It is not a question of the merits of that particular Act or what it contains or whether we agree with it or not, but simply whether, when you consolidate the laws relating to the Poor Law, such a Measure should be incorporated in the consolidating Measure. I do not think anyone will say that that Act, remaining as it does on the Statute Book without any limitation in respect of the time in which it is to operate, could not for a moment be included in a consolidating Measure of this kind.
I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite will not think I am taking an undue advantage of his position when I say this matter was thoroughly discussed by the Committee which dealt with this Bill. A specific question was raised as to whether this particular Act should be incorporated in the consolidation Measure, and I hope I am not putting the matter too high when I say that the incorporation of what we call the West Ham Act received the support of the hon. Gentleman opposite. In fact, if I remember rightly, he said something to this effect: "We are not entitled on a consolidation Measure to take into account our likes or dislikes of a particular Measure which we may seek to incorporate in a consolidating Bill; all we have got to consider is whether it is a permanent statute of the Realm." I think he agreed with the rest of the Committee that as far as the Act was concerned it must therefore be incorporated, however much Members on one side or the other might like or dislike it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
As a matter of Order, the question that I should report Progress ought to have been moved.
§ Mr. KENNEDY
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."
2189 As far as I know, no arrangement has been come to which could be held to preclude a Debate on the Amendments on the Paper. All I know with regard to any understanding in this matter is that hon. Members approached me representing that the Amendments in the name of the Minister of Health were Amendments of substance which required to be argued and Amendments which did not meet wholly the objections taken on Second Reading. On that ground, I think that the hon. Members who are discussing those Amendments to-night are entitled to have more time than is at our disposal now, and I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the Bill now and have the Amendments discussed on a later occasion.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I will not for a moment press the matter. I have no desire to press the Bill to-night, but I would advise Members who have any objection to a consolidating Measure of this kind, in discussing some of the incorporated Clauses, to communicate with me or my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and let us know what their objections are. Obviously, it is most inconvenient if we do not know exactly their point of view. I suggest that, having regard to the point which has been raised by the hon. Member opposite, it would be far more advantageous if they would suggest to us what their views are. There is nothing to be gained from any party point of view in this matter. It is simply a consolidating Measure, which will be of great convenience for Poor Law administrators up and down the country. In not asking the House to proceed further with the Bill to-night, I would take the opportunity of asking hon. Members who think that anything has been omitted and ought to be included in the Measure, to communicate with us and let us know their difficulty. I think we shall be able to deal with a good many misconceptions which may arise in connection with a very complicated Measure, The hon. Member who raised the point regarding the West Ham Act will see the reasonableness of my suggestion. I was under the impression that everyone was satisfied and, of course, we desire to satisfy everyone in connection with the Measure. In these circumstances, we shall not proceed further.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The Secretary of State for Scotland is present, and I would like to ask him, seeing that this is a Measure which will be valuable in so far as it consolidates Poor Law in England, whether he is considering a similar Measure to apply to the Scottish Poor Law?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The only Question before the Committee is that I do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next, 27th June.