Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £12,943,593, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which
will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Health; including Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, Grants to Local Authorities, etc., in connection with Pubic Health Services, Grants-in-Aid in respect of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under the National Health Insurance Acts, certain Expenses in connection with the Widows',
Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, and certain Special Services."—[Note: £6,500,000 has been voted on account."]
§ Mr. GROVES
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I have put down this Amendment to reduce the Minister's salary by £100, and I think it is very modest on my part. There were, of course, many subjects that could be dealt with on this Vote, but, for the general convenience of the Committee, we have tacitly understood that the main attack from this side will be directed towards condemning the present administration of the West Ham Poor Law Guardians. I would like first, however, to call the Minister's attention to the administration of the Blind Persons Act and to the very special and splendid work that is requisite in this country for the maintenance of blind people, and I would ask him whether he can at some future date receive a deputation of people interested in the State maintenance of the blind, so that we may put before his Department reasons why we feel that the Blind Persons Act is not carrying out the work which Parliament intended. I am not making an attack, but for many years we have worked for the State maintenance of the blind. We believe this country is rich enough, and we think it ought to be generous enough, to remove blind people from the position of beggary, so that they need not be compelled to seek their living by begging either inside or outside public-houses. They should be maintained in decency and, if possible, in comfort. Because Parliament has handed over to what we call the private agencies the attention requisite for the blind people, we, who have fought for State aid for the blind for more than a quarter of a century, feel that that which Parliament desired has not really been done. Therefore, I suggest that if in the future the Ministry would give attention to that point of view, they would be conferring a lasting blessing upon the blind people of this country.
I would like further to criticise the Ministry, and to move a further reduction of the Vote because of its attitude towards vaccination. That is not under discussion to-night, but we shall perhaps find an opportunity on Wednesday of calling attention to the very flagrant misuse by the Ministry of its powers. I am afraid my 114 hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) will not agree with me there.
§ Mr. GROVES
I now come to the part of my story which is most serious. My modesty in suggesting that the Minister should only forgo £100 is overbearing. I would have liked, if it were possible, to move that the same proportionate reduction should be applicable to the Minister's salary as is applied to the relief of the poor in West Ham. If my hon. Friend would feel a personal shaft, I would like also to apply it to the Under-Secretary. This discussion arises from the fact that about a year ago, after protracted discusssions, the Government were responsible for placing upon the Statute Book the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act. As a result of that Act, the West Ham Board of Guardians as such died. We have had appointed in their place three presumably important, intelligent, well-to-do and otherwise well-paid people. Although these persons were already in receipt of a sufficient sum of money to keep them, not in decency but in luxury, the West Ham ratepayers were compelled to pay the chairman, Sir Alfred Wood-gate, a sum of £1,500 a year out of the local rates. As to his two assistants, I regret to say that one of them has died in the execution of his duties, or died in harness as we say in the Labour party, but the other, Mr. Beale, is in receipt of £764 a year. Those salaries are in addition to the incomes of which these men were previously in receipt and which were sufficient, as I have said, to keep them, not in decency but in luxury. I want to call the Minister's attention to the fact that his administration has meant that, while certain poor people in West Ham have been compelled by the persons appointed to become poorer, the people of West Ham have been compelled to pay these incomes to these appointed guardians whose incomes were already sufficient to maintain them.
It is a commonplace that the law of the land in this country is that destitute people should and must be relieved. When I spoke here a fortnight ago, the only criticism of my speech made by the Minister of Health was that my premises were false. I agree that when premises are false, the roof falls in, but no one will object to my opening statement, that 115 it is part of the law of this country that destitute persons should be relieved. We must now analyse why we stand here indicting the Minister for his conduct in West Ham. The Minister, of course, takes the position that these guardians are not his guardians, that he as Minister of Health has no more power and no more interest with regard to them than with regard to any other boards of guardians. He takes the position that once these gentry were appointed to carry on the work of the Poor Law guardians of the West Ham Union, the relation between them and the Ministry of Health is no different from that existing between any other boards of guardians and the Ministry. Last week we had a visit in West Ham from the Minister himself, and I want to prove from his own speech that his personal interest in the West Ham Boards of Guardians, as at present constituted, is such that he does take a very special interest in their work to-day, just as he used to take a very special interest in the work of the old guardians.
He took so much interest in the work of the old guardians that he accepted, holus bolus, the report of his auditor. I have a copy of it here, the same copy from which I quoted during the Committee stage of the Default Bill last year. The Minister himself then said, speaking of West Ham, that the reason he was bringing in his Bill was thatThere reigns in some parts open and unabashed corruption."—[OFFIcIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1926; col. 1642, Vol. 197.]I then asked him for proof. The proof was based mainly upon this report, as any Member will see who cares to glance at the OFFICIAL REPORT of the discussion a year ago. You will there find that this auditor's report is repeated almost word for word from beginning to end, and that the general charge laid down by the Minister was one of "open and unabashed corruption." It was stated perfectly openly that there were many cases of actual fraud. Their names, addresses, and all particulars are set out, and when one totals up the cases, one finds that there are exactly 41. That great union had to deal with thousands of cases, thousands, of families, amounting, in all, to 139,000 human beings. It is only reasonable to assume that wherever you go and whatever you do, you will get 116 some degree of wrong committed. I suggest that the 41 cases submitted to the Minister of Health by his own official auditor—paint them as black as you like—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. GROVES
I was saying, when I was interrupted, that the proportion of cases proved to the Minister of Health was, in all the human circumstances of the case, a very low proportion of wrong doing. I think it is generally understood that West Ham is a very poor place, and I think it is generally understood why that is so. We are talking to-night direct to the Ministry of Health, and we are going to say some very unpleasant things before we have finished. I have some documents here which I hope to read, and I shall try to prove to the Ministry itself that it has transferred the work of the guardians in West Ham from a board that administered relief to the poor under almost overwhelming odds and under circumstances of supreme difficulty—workmen and women who gave readily and voluntarily of their time to serve the common people. When the Minister of Health comes in later in the evening, he will probably get up and disown knowledge of some of these circumstances, but he has appointed these new people with a full knowledge of who they were and what they had to do, and he has maintained his association with them, and I say that lie definitely takes sides with them. When I have read a few of these documents, I will ask him, if he returns, or will ask his hon. Friend on his behalf, some questions about the public speech which he delivered at Whipps Cross Hospital last Wednesday.
I think it is the greatest piece of effrontery for the Minister of Health to go to Whipps Cross Hospital to present medals to nurses. after the newly appointed guardians, who are his own nominees, have deliberately increased the working hours of those nurses. I visit these institutions, and shall do so until I am refused admission. In the sick ward of the central home—years ago we used to call it the workhouse—about three months ago they had so changed the working hours and duties of the women medical attendants that one of 117 these women dropped at the feet of a doctor with fatigue. In the "H" ward there are 48 sick persons sometimes, some of them chronic invalids with diseases such as cancer, and there are only four women attendants, one of whom was the woman who fell exhausted at the feet of the doctor the day I was present. I do not come here and say things that I read in the newspapers; I retail experiences of my own. The Minister of Health went down to Whipps Cross Hospital to present some medals, and this is what he said:This particular union"—the West Ham Union—was said in some quarters to belong to the Ministry of Health. It did not. He assured them it was not correct that Sir Alfred Woodgate or Mr. Beal were in his pocket. It was true that he was responsible for persuading them to undertake their present duties, and, therefore, it was natural that he should watch with special interest the work which they were doing with so much credit to themselves and so much benefit to the community.I only want to emphasise that the Minister himself has gone out of his way to take sides with the West Ham Board of Guardians as at present constituted. He would not go down to an ordinary board of guardians and say that he was taking special interest in the work that they were doing with so much credit to themselves and so much benefit to the community. There is a special reason why that happens in West Ham. The reason is that, previously, they had a board of guardians composed of ordinary working men and women, who approached an almost overwhelming problem with just the qualifications of working-class representatives, with honesty and voluntarily. They have been supplanted, and now we are confronted with a board of guardians whose apparently definite and deliberate intention is to impose upon the very poorest people in the West Ham Poor Law Union a standard of life that is nothing short of starvation.
Now let us have some proofs, because for anyone to stand in the British House of Commons and indict any person with continuing a policy of deliberate starvation of Britain's manhood and womanhood is a serious charge, which ought to be proved up to the hilt. These people started with an immediate reduction of the scales of relief, openly, but it is the 118 insidious manner of their working that is important, like that for which we have indicted the Minister of Labour, for cutting off the registration people on the live register. It is not the open rules and regulations proclaimed to the community that these people have used in order to beat down and oppress the poor people; it is the insidious way in which they have dealt with circumstances. Let me give one or two examples. The new guardians have reduced the rates and the amount of expenditure, and I say that they have done it as the result of starving the poorest of the poor in the West Ham Poor Law Union.
The Minister of Health has stated in this House that he is prepared to deal with cases of individual hardship. The present chairman of the board of guardians has said the same, and I have a bagful of letters here dealing with cases which I have sent to the board and in which I have got the usual kind and courteous reply—so courteous, but so sinister. The reply has always been that the board regrets that it can see no reason to change its original decision. Therefore, this courtesy of " Will you walk into my parlour?' said the spider to the fly," of always being willing to receive Members of Parliament, of being willing to receive the overtures of the elected representatives of the people, is nothing, if we cannot get anything by applying to the Minister. The Minister says: "Let us have cases of individual hardship, and they shall have my attention," but let us see what happens.
One of my constituents, Mr. J. R. Mason, of 50, Geese Road, is suffering from debility very badly—so much so, that he is compelled to attend as an outpatient at the London Hospital, and Dr. D. Hunter, of the London Hospital, recommends that he should have three pints of milk a day. The relieving officer under the new West Ham Board of Guardians refuses any help except the workhouse. I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) say that he knows that figures cannot lie, but that liars can figure, but here are actual documents that neither we nor the Ministry can have had any part in producing. Here is a letter from Guy's Hospital in reference to a man named Frederick Clawson, and the way in which I got it was very dramatic. In marching yesterday from Stratford to Hyde Park, I saw 119 a man exhibiting this, and I said, "What have you got there?" He replied, "I am exhibiting to the people the treatment I have received from the West Ham Guardians." I said to him, "Please show me. I am sure the Minister of Health would like it."
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
Do I understand the hon. Member has produced it to-night without any further investigation at all?
§ Mr. GROVES
You will see. It is corroborated. The man's name and address are quite all right. His name is Frederick C. Clawson, and he lives at, 55, Vincent Street, and he has already been in communication with your Department. It is since we have had the guidance of these beneficent people appointed under your Act. Your Department wrote to him immediately after the appointment of our friends, stating:Subject to the regulations in force, it rests with the guardians to decide whether relief is needed in any case.This is printed. This is not a personal letter to this man, but the usual routine letter of the Ministry of Health. It says:The Minister cannot interfere with the discretion of the guardians in these matters.This man attends Guy's Hospital, and if you had seen him as I saw him, you would most certainly say he was fit only for a convalescent home, but in West Ham he gets 2s. in money and 5s. in groceries for a week—7s. per week to live on. I shall be very pleased to hand this over to the Minister, but it is not the worst that I have to read to him. Here is one which I have had in my possession for months. I did not get this at the demonstration yesterday.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am quite unaware of any of these eases. Has the hon. Member made any inquiry as to the facts in the case he has just quoted—as to whether the man has any family?
§ Mr. GROVES
He is living with his parents, but his father is out of work, and he has other relatives, but if a man 120 is ill, so ill that he has to go to a hospital, are we, in this Christian country, in this position, that because this boy has got brothers in local works getting £2 5s. a week, he has to look to that financial source for his support? Yet, as I have shown, some of these people need three pints of milk a day.
§ Major PRICE
Do we understand that the gentleman you saw yesterday marched in procession front West Ham?
§ Mr. GROVES
No, I did the marching. If there be any credit in it, I walked from Stratford Grove to Hyde Park to demonstrate my hostility to the Government. I have in my hand a card with particulars of a case of which, I am sure, the Ministry have had notice. It is the case of Charles Gillham, a young man in my area, who attended the local hospital because he felt queer. This is a Christian country. Listen to this. On the back of this card there is this statement in the handwriting of a doctor at Queen Mary's Hospital, which is in the West Ham Poor Law Union area, "Fainting, due to hunger." Anyone can examine this. The Guardians of West Ham refused any relief whatever. They refused help on the ground that the boy was living with his parents. We believe that the ease we are putting to the Minister of Health is justified and that the conditions which have been imposed upon us are unjustified. We believe the cases we are bringing forward can be multiplied by hundreds or by thousands. If the Ministry want us to collect them in bulk, we will. I have plenty in my case, and I have raised three which, in my opinion, are the worst from the point of view of brutality. I trust the Minister will see that the saving in pounds, shillings and pence in West Ham has been at the expense of men and women and, worst of all, at the expense of children.
This is the acid test. When the Ministry of Health issue their annual report for this year I hope they will give a special page to the question of infant mortality in West Ham. Sir George Newman, the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, states that high infantile mortality implies not only the loss of many infants but the maiming of many surviving children, for the conditions which kill some injure others, and there is a high death rate in the next 121 four years amongst infants who have survived. He quotes this wonderful passage:The large infant mortality rate predisposes, as would be expected to a large death-rate among children.I want the Committee to consider what has happened in West Ham in this respect since the arrival of the people appointed by the Ministry of Health. Here is the report of the medical officer of health. The figures can be verified; I know that it will not take the Minister many seconds to do it. In 1924 West Ham's infant mortality rate was 78.30 per 1,000, against 80 per 1,000 in the 105 great towns of Great Britain. In 1925 it was 65.98 per 1,000, and in the other 105 towns 79. Under the old regime in West Ham we gave the best possible treatment to the aged, the unemployed, prospective mothers and children. I would not come to this House and be so hypocritical as to say that we in West Ham ever put the saving of the local rates before the saving of death rates. What we tried to do was to save human lives; that is greater than saving pounds, shillings and pence to the nation. John Ruskin says: "There is no wealth but life." You will never get life developed under conditions as laid down in the Poor Law Union of West Ham to-day.
In West Ham under the old regime we reduced the infant mortality in contrast with that in the 105 great towns of this country: I want the Committee to listen to what has happened; I will not say it is a result, but the Government will have to explain these circumstances. In October, 1926, the first month in which these new guardians had been operating, the infant mortality rate in West Ham was 82.4 per 1,000 and in the 105 great towns 100. In November it was 64.5, and in the other great towns 75. What were the figures in the third month? I would not accuse the new guardians of anything as the result of one month's work, but I think three months is a fair period for drawing deductions from an analysis of their work. Whereas in December the infant mortality of the 105 towns was only 84 per 1,000, in West Ham it had gone up to 90.7. In January this year the rate in the 105 great towns was 98.2 and in West Ham 100.4. In February in the 105 towns it was 100 and in WePf Ham 101. In March in the 105 122 towns it was 90 and in West Ham 104. April exactly repeats those figures. Those are figures issued by our medical officer of health. He has no axe to grind. As my hon. Friends behind me know, he has no party bias, he takes only a doctor's view. He presents to us the medical statistics. He never coloured them in favour of the old guardians, and I am sure he would not colour them against the present guardians. He merely deals with his job as a medical man. Those figures stand as a lasting indietment of the policy of the present guardians.
It is not a question merely of rules and regulations. It is the insidious manner in which these guardians have quietly worked to reduce here and there, even by 1s., the money that went into the homes of the people in the common form of parish relief, the money that enabled these people to keep body and soul together. The Minister, as the head of a great Department, ought to realise that his Department and his honour are greater than any mere attack upon a publicly-elected body of guardians, even if they are Labour members. The honour and the prestige of the Ministry of Health is too great for him to risk it in defending people responsible for these barbarous practices. In my opinion, if the Minister did his duty he would clear out these people lock, stock and barrel. I hope he will clear them out within a short time, because the crucial moment is coming when he has either got to get rid of them or give them a new lease of life. Take the question of coal. The old popularly-elected guardians did realise that poor people need coal in the winter. It seems a fairly reasonable thing to give people a half-cwt. of coal. Bless my heart and soul alive, that would not fill the grates of some hon. Members. But the few cwts. of coal which the people used to get were regarded as part of the extravagance of the old guardians. You have to produce a doctor's certificate to prove that you are ill before you can get coal from the new guardians.
I have been here for five years and have never been accused of coming here and making extravagant statements or unfair statements. Here is a peculiar situation. There are able-bodied men in 123 thousands out of work. When first I came to Parliament I heard a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown explaining, in simple language but true, why West Ham is poor. West Ham grew up with the docks. We cannot help trade breaking down. We cannot help the cessation of imports and exports. It is an awful thing when these men have exhausted their claim to unemployment benefit and arrive at the moment—one of the saddest moments in the life of any British workman—when they have to choose between having nothing in the cupboard and going to the door of the relieving officer. That saps the pride of a British working man. I have seen men with whom I have worked go steadily down the slope. They were men who used to have a clean collar and an upright and a cleanly appearance. They leave off that collar; they come to shabbiness. The first time a, man goes to the door of the R.O., as we say, he goes with bowed head. He has not been there a month before he goes with head erect. Society has taught him that that is where he can find his bread. Then you have beat him. How do you beat him I Your new guardians now say to all these unemployed men, "If you are single and under 40, clear out." There is no relief for a single able-bodied man under 40 years of age. If the Government cannot find a man work, then the parish must find him bread. Under the new reégime these able-bodied men must go and get a doctor's certificate proving they are fit for light work only. If they cannot produce that medical certificate, it is assumed that they are fit for ordinary work, and there is no parish relief for them. I say, in perfect friendship, that is a diabolical system to introduce into this country, and it will take more than kind words on the part of the man who is accustomed to use them to explain that away. What I have stated is based on my personal experience. I walk the relief stations—well, I do not walk through them, but I get in touch with them in order that I can get hold of the facts, and facts are very inconvenient things.
Take the next question. Some people have been taken to Court to make them pay back the money which, to use the vernacular, they had on loan. Half-a-dozen 124 men were taken co the County Court. I suppose hon. Members are aware that during the general strike some men went to the parish. They had money during the strike, and after it was all over the Minister of Health declared that all those persons had had that money on loan. As I understand it, if a man applies for relief, by he law of the land the guardians have power to grant that money on loan. During the general strike people in my district applied to the relieving officer, and he replied, "You are on strike, but I will let you have this £2, but, understand, it is on loan and has to be repaid." What I want the Minister to understand is the harshness, the callousness and the hypocrisy which has been assumed in deciding that all the men who applied for relief during the strike knew that they were having relief on loan. Many of these men have had sent to them a note saying that the money they have had on loan must be repaid, and the officiating guardians have stooped so low as to say they are prepared to accept repayment at 6d. per week.
I say that the bulk of the people who got relief during the strike at West Ham did not have it on loan and the guardians knew all about this The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health was very surprised when during the Debate some time ago I told him that his advance troops were at Union Road. Up to two weeks ago a staff was engaged at West Ham marking in the books "On loan." I wish to repeat that statement in case I am required to prove it. The West Ham Guardians have a cabinet which is indexed and contains the record cards. Legally those records are part of the official routine office work. Legally the only thing that can be accepted is what is called the application and record book, which is larger in length than an ordinary dispatch box. The guardians sit with the relieving officers and the facts are written in the book and when something is granted, if it is granted on loan that fact must be specifically written by the side of the name of the person it is granted to, and it is initialled in the book at the time of granting by the guardians who are present. Up to two weeks ago I know that a staff was engaged by the new purists to fill in the books in that way.
§ Mr. GROVES
If the Minister of Health will give me a reasonable assurance that the person engaged to fill up the books in the way I have described will not suffer loss of employment I will produce him at the Bar of the House. I ask hon. Members opposite who have been so loyal in supporting the Government in their attempt to repress what they call corruption to take that fact into consideration, because in my view it is something which no decent-minded man can defend. I will conclude by asking the Minister of Health to reconsider the kindly interest he is taking in the West Ham Board of Guardians in dealing with old age pensions. When we were discussing in July, 1925, the Pensions Bill, somebody moved an Amendment providing that the pension paid to widows should be 20s. instead of 10s., and on that occasion the Minister of Health said:As I have said, in the first place, these pensions are not sufficient in themselves to enable a woman to keep up a home for herself.I think when men or women have spent the best years of their lives in the interests of their country in industry, and have grown old and grey working and toiling, arrive at this age, it is reasonable for them to expect that although the country imperially is not sufficiently generous although it is sufficiently wealthy, it should see that these men or women can live their remaining years comfortably outside the walls of the workhouse. It is reasonable to assume that if a man or woman lives 40 or 50 years in a parish the 10s. a week pension might be supplemented by 5s. from the parish. What is happening in West Ham is that within the next week or two they are going to clear off all the old age pensions. In my area if a man signs at the Employment Exchange that he has got his sons at work, then his sons must keep him. The Minister of Health has admitted that 10s. paid as a pension is not sufficient to keep a woman, but if she has a son or a daughter at work then she cannot receive assistance from the parish. Therefore the new guardians are punishing the children in this way. I do not ask hon. Members on this question to 126 violate their loyalty to the Government. but if the Government will not find work for these people and they are beaten to the wall, surely that is not the moment for the guardians to do such things as I have mentioned.
In the case of these poor people, friends are very hard to find under such circumstances. It is bad enough when a man or a woman is compelled to apply to a relieving officer, but when they are driven to apply for Poor Law relief in this way I do feel that this country should be big enough to see that the Poor Law administration will be such as to see that their manhood and womanhood is respected and not degraded. The new guardians in West Ham have proclaimed a policy of suppression and oppression against the flower of Britain's womanhood and manhood. A few years ago the men I am pleading for were fighting for the freedom of this country. In the area I represent we have thousands of men who wore medals on their breasts for their services during the War, and yet to-day they are living in poverty. In moving this reduction of £100 I would like to say that I should much prefer moving that the Minister's salary be reduced by the same amount as the relief of the poor people of West Ham has been reduced. That would be in the first place 25 per cent. and then 10 per cent.
I hope I have made out my case without undue bitterness. At any rate my case is based upon facts and personal experience. I have seen the men and women in my own neighbourhood decaying and becoming debilitated and they are men whom I used to work with. You expect these men to live straight and upright lives and you are only allowing them 7s. a week in food tickets, and not one penny in money. How do you expect those men to live under such circumstances as that? These questions must be answered. Whatever the consequences we must impress upon the Minister this question and we must insist upon knowing why the right hon. Gentleman does not take action against the West Ham guardians who are now granting only 7s. per week for a man to live upon. How can such men be expected to keep themselves clean? We ought to approach this question and adopt a decent standard of living. Cut out all this passion and this hatred of West Ham which arises simply 127 because we have a Labour and Socialist majority, and approach these problems with a realisation that you have no right to punish a man because he is poor. A man has no right to be degraded because he is out of work, and we look to the Ministry of Health to be truly a Ministry of Health, to rise above party passions, to face the circumstances, and to help us to impress upon the West Ham Board of Guardians that this work must stop, and that they must treat the people of the West Ham Union according to the laws of decency, propriety and comfort.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I know a little better now than to appeal to the Minister of Health on grounds of pity and humanity; but I feel that we have a right to get from the Minister the strict observance of the law. The Minister is very fond of appealing to the law when boards of guardians step a little beyond the law, moved by motives of philanthropy and charity. That is right and as it should be; but what I have to complain about is that the Minister encourages the West Ham Board of Guardians habitually to break the law of England with regard to outdoor relief. The law is clear and plain. Fathers and mothers must maintain their children; children must maintain their parents, but there is no obligation of any kind upon brothers to maintain brothers or upon sisters to maintain sisters; but the whole policy of this board of guardians is to attach the earnings of brothers and sisters to keep other members of the family who are not legally dependent upon them. If these people knew their job, they could get out of it, but they trade upon the benevolent feelings of brothers and sisters and cast the whole care of maintaining the younger members of the family upon the sisters and brothers. There are the children of soldiers who have been killed in the War, to whom the Government have given pensions, and this board of guardians have thrown upon them the maintenance of their step-brothers, stepsisters and step-fathers. When the Government were deciding what we ought to give to the children of men who died in the service of the country, they considered very carefully what was the proper sum to give, so that these children could get a proper up-bringing.
128 I will give two cases. Those cases I brought to the notice of the Minister, and he knows they are perfectly genuine. There were four children of a soldier who was killed, and the Government gave the children pensions. One of them died, and there are three of them left. They have, in the form of pensions, 23s. 6d. a week, while one of them is earning 12s. a week. Later, the mother married, and there are two children of the later marriage. To the father, the mother and the two younger children the guardians give 8s. in kind and 5s. in money, I3s. altogether. The orphans of the soldier have to maintain their mother, their step-father and the two stepchildren. One of the bedrooms they have sub-let for 4s. 6d. a week, because they have so little money for food, and there money fare the soldier's children have nothing like the bedroom space which would make children happy and healthy. The bedrooms of the soldier's orphans have been taken away from them in order that the other members of the family many have enough to eat. There is another case, of a similar kind, where the three orphans of a soldier have 17s. 6d. a week as pensions, and earn 10s. a week. The mother married, and there is another child of the second marriage. They get 4s. a week in kind from the guardians, and 4s. a week in cash, and the rent is 4s. 2d. a week. They let one of the rooms and, again, the sleeping accommodation of a soldier's orphans has been filched from them because there is no money to feed the rest of the family. When the country voted all that amount of taxation in order that soldiers' orphans should be properly treated, it did not mean that they should be all herded into one room. This is the more wicked on the part of the Minister. because the members of the former board of guardians faced up to cases of this kind. In 1922, they communicated with the Ministry of Pensions, and the Minister of Pensions wrote a letter to them which determined their policy. He said:The pensions for the children of the soldier should be expended for their sole benefit.That was not what the Labour Minister said, but what the Conservative Minister said in 1922, and that is the common sense of the matter. This money was never 129 voted to go in indiscriminate relief to the relations of soldiers' orphans. We voted this money in order that the children of men who died in the War might be decently and healthily brought up. Here, in those two cases, the money is being filched from them, and they are being housed in a way which is not wholesome and decent. That is what the Minister is doing.
I now come to more general matters. The Minister is very fond of saying, when certain cases are brought before him, that he cannot interfere with the discretion of the boards of guardians. But we know that the Minister has power to issue general Regulations. The old West Ham Board of Guardians, when they had to deal with an old person, gave 15s. a week. You cannot get a room in West Ham for less than 5s. or 4s. 6d. a week. The new board of guardians have cut down the maximum scale for single persons to 11s. a week. If you have to pay 5s. or 45. 6d. a week for a room, how can you live and obtain food, firing and clothing and everything else on the balance of 11s.? It is not possible to do it. I knew some of these cases, and I know that people are suffering from hunger, and that in the winter they were suffering from cold, as a direct result of the Regulations laid down by the present board of guardians. Some time or other these people will take a chill, they will not have the strength to throw it off, and, though the medical certificate will be that death was caused by pneumonia or bronchitis, the real cause will be starvation because of Regulations carried out under the auspices of the Minister of Health. I have got here in my hand the Report of the West Ham Union, which has been printed in His Majesty's Stationery Office. I do not know what authority Parliament gives to the Minister of Health to print the reports of local government authorities. It is certainly a nice way for the local authorities to save money. If he would consider extending that to the Poplar Borough Council, it would take a bit off the Poplar rates, and we would feel greatly obliged to him. They draw the attention of the world in general to the amount which they have saved in salaries and wages. They have saved something like £15,000 in salaries, and they have done it, partly, by making the 130 nurses work longer hours than any women engaged in nursing ought to do. When I challenged the Minister about this, the Minister denied it, and then I put a question to him, and he had to admit that what I said was true. It is put down also in the report of the West Ham Board of Guardians.
The nurses used to have at the Central Infirmary—not everywhere, but at the Central Infirmary, where the work is very heavy, they used to have a 48-hour week, which meant that they had a day off to recuperate. The new board of guardians have given the nurses a 56-hour week, which means that they do not get a clear day. The West Ham Board of Guardians did not, as they ought to have done, give all the nurses in all their institutions a 48 hours week. At Whipps Cross, the nurses have worked more than 48 hours a week, but in the Central Infirmary, where the heavy cases are nursed, they had only a 48-hour week. I want the Committee to remember that there is no such heavy nursing as the nursing in a workhouse infirmary. At West Ham, the nursing is very much heavier than in London, because in London the Poor Law guardians send the very distressful cases to the sick asylums of the Metropolitan Asylums Board. They do not keep in the workhouses in London the cancer cases and the cases of venereal disease. West Ham does, and, in these extreme cancer cases, it is not merely that the patient is dying from cancer, but very heavy work is demanded of the nurses.
If a person dying from cancer is of any weight, the nurses have to shift the patient continually, or the poor wretch is tormented with bed sores as well as with cancer, so that a nurse who is nursing a dying cancer case has not merely the ordinary work of nursing, but a great deal of heavy lifting and moving, and, if that work is not done, the patient suffers very acutely and painfully. Nurses and sick attendants are only human beings, and, in that atmosphere of death—because there is nothing so depressing to the mind of a woman or a man as to be dealing with chronic cases that cannot recover, that only leave the institution by death, to be replaced by fresh chronic cases, who in three or four months will die, too—there is no work so dispiriting, and, if the nurses do not have a short working 131 week, they cannot give the care and attention that they should; they cannot give the patients those little attentions that are so necessary, they cannot keep up the sort of atmosphere of hopefulness which it is their duty to keep up.
Of all the things that the Minister has done, I think one of the most petty, one of the economies which is most bitter to-day, is the lengthening of the working week of the nurses at the Central Institution from 48 to 56 hours. This is not the first time that the Minister has heard about it. It is in the Report here; it was put to him in this House; it was put to him by question and answer. He knows all about it, and he knows that the unions representing these nurses and sick attendants came to him and argued the case. They pointed out that in other boards of guardians where the work was not so heavy, in London boards of guardians—in Hackney, I think, and some others—because the nursing work is by its nature dispiriting, and because women cannot keep up a proper attitude of mind and a proper condition of body, in other workhouse infirmaries in London, they have a 48-hour week, although they do not have this number of patients. It is getting very common. The London County Council nurses have a 48-hour week. All good institutions where the work is heavy have a 48-hour week, and to re-impose a 56-hour week does mean a callousness on the part of the Minister that I, for one, cannot understand.
The ingenious cruelty of this board of guardians is terrible. Let me take the case of what is done with regard to dock labourers. A dock labourer, if he is a superior sort of man, has a tally, and the tally means that he gets work when work is going. He has to go to the Employment Exchange twice a day to sign on if he does not get work, and he has to go twice a day to the docks, which are at the other end of the district, to look for a job. This present board of guardians have passed a rule that, if a man has a brass tally, he is only to be relieved as and when relief is applied for, because they say that, if they give him anything like a regular wage, if they make an order, some day or other he may slip down to the docks and get half a day's work, and they will not know 132 about it. I will give particulars of a case which I investigated, and which I think has been to the Minister. During six weeks the man in question, who was getting unemployment benefit, had the following out-relief: One week he had 14s. in kind; the next week he had 29s. in kind; then there was a gap, and then he had 22s. regularly for three weeks. Then, on the 13th December, he got a day's work, and earned 19s. He got 7s. in relief, and, of course, lost his unemployment benefit. Then people say that the poor do not want to work. This man, by going to the docks, got a day's work and earned 19s. His relief was cut down to 7s., and he lost his unemployment benefit. These are the inducements that we have to give to the poor.
This man is lame. He spends the whole of his time going backwards and forwards twice a day to she docks, twice a day to the Employment Exchange, and round again to the relieving officer. He is a good attender at the docks, and once in about six weeks, with the depression at the docks and because he is lame, he gets a job; and he has to pay fares. He spends the whole of his life crawling around on that unceasing journey up to the Employment Exchange, because the Minister will not have an Employment Exchange at the docks, though we have asked him often enough. This man goes up to the Employment Exchange at one end of East Ham, down to the docks to look for work, back to the Employment Exchange to sign on, again down to the docks, and now, without a penny in the cupboard, round to the relieving officer. What makes me more angry, even than the suffering of this family, is the contempt with which the poor are treated. The Minister of Labour will not have a room at the docks in order to spare this double daily trudge up to the other end of the borough. A man may be a dock labourer, and lame at that: what is the good of considering him? Let him walk; let him spend the whole of his life in that unceasing trudge. That is the sort of life you give the people, and people do not understand the depression, the misery, the unhappiness which settles down upon a family when they have to live in that sort of way. The wife said to me that they cannot bear it. This perpetual walking and no job, with a little crumb thrown by the relieving 133 officer, is breaking the men's hearts, and is breaking the women's hearts too. I say we ought not to treat the poor so despitefully. I cannot help what the West Ham Board of Guardians do, but to make some decent arrangement whereby this man is not kept walking round and round with his lame leg, in bad weather, is, I think, the very least thing the guardians ought to do.
I want now to ask the Minister a few questions. The last Report of the West Ham Guardians spoke about the wonderful economies they made; and one of the wonderful economies they made was to cut down the loan repayments for the half year from £127,000 to £58,000. The old board, which was so hardly spoken of, did at any rate pay back its interest and part of the principal, which the Minister quite properly accepted. In the last recorded half year, they paid £127,000 for interest and part of the principal. The Minister is uncommonly kind to the new board in the first half year and has let them off the repayment of part of the principal, so that the saving they have made is merely that they are keeping back money that the Exchequer ought to have. We should all like to make savings of that sort. We could all make very large private savings at the expense of the amount the Exchequer is entitled to demand from us. I should like to ask what arrangement Is entered into with this board of guardians with regard to the repayment of the debt they owe and the amount they are to repay in future, and whether the arrangements the Minister will no doubt outline are peculiar to this board of guardians, or whether he proposes to extend the same kind, liberal and generous treatment to the destitute boards of guardians in the mining and industrial areas, and, if not, what justification has he for treating his own children so very much better than his step-children, the other boards of guardians. It is a lamentable thing that in West Ham alone the infantile mortality figures for this year are so much worse than last. A good many things have been said about Poplar, but Poplar's vital statistics compare extraordinarily favourably with those of West Ham, and it seems to be forgotten that the object for which guardians were instituted was that people who were hungry and unemployed 134 should have some definite standard of living. Judged by any of these humane standards, the West Ham Board of Guardians are in a very inferior position.
I should like to make one more general reflection, which ought to come home to the Minister of Health, and that is the extraordinary amount of sub-letting. East Ham is a horribly crowded place. I have known families of six,. seven and eight in a room. The place is crowded so that any room can be let almost at once and, where relief has been cut down, the people have very commonly adopted the plan of all huddling together into one room and letting the second bedroom to some lodger in order to bring in a few shillings a week. The Minister and the West Ham Guardians have, to my knowledge, increased the unbearable and indecent crowding in the borough I represent. I have been to the board of guardians about a family where the father has consumption. Two children have caught it and the rest are in great danger. They are living in one room, and if a decent amount of out-relief were given they could get another room. There is not enough money to pay for the rent, even in tuberculous cases, to separate the people who are healthy from those who are diseased. If you could have the loss of life due to overcrowding, the crowding together in some cases of tubercular and healthy people, the loss of life doe to debility caused by underfeeding and the general human misery caused by the operations of the West Ham Board of Guardians—if I had eloquence I could move the House, but we are not all eloquent and we can only put the plain story before the Minister. I am not putting it before him really. I do not think it is much use. I am putting it before the House, so that what we have to say may be recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT and compassionate people up and down the country may speak, not to the Minister but to their Members of Parliament, and ask them to put some form of pressure upon the Minister.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I might say, along with some of my colleagues, "Blessed are they who expect little. They shall not be disappointed." The state of the Committee demonstrates the enormous amount of interest our friends in the Government 135 take in matters affecting the life and well-being of the people. West Ham was singled out for a special reason. I can remember when the Bill was introduced dealing with the West Ham Guardians. At that time wholesale charges of corruption were levelled against the board, and, as I listened to the speech, I waited for the facts, but they were not forthcoming. All we got was a recitation of prejudices, but no statement of fact bearing out the charges made against the guardians. The new guardians have had nearly 12 months of experience of administration of the Poor Law in the largest Poor Law area in the country. We find that out of hundreds of thousands of cases dealt with in the course of the year they have only discovered 41 cases, out of a population of over 1,000,000, where fraud could have been proved against the individuals concerned—not corruption against the guardians, but misrepresentation on the part of the people who applied for relief. That is the sum total of the so-called corruption in the largest area of Poor Law administration in the country, and probably the most difficult area. We are cursed with more than our fair amount of casual labour. We are the victims of industrial circumstances over which we have no control. In spite of all these difficulties, with all the administrative ability and power of these ex-civil servants, on pension, and now also on salary, they can only discover 41 cases.
One of the boasts made on their behalf is very peculiar. I was a member of the board for five years, and, whenever the Minister honoured us with a visit to give us the benefit of his wisdom and counsel, we made a bit of a fuss about it. It was advertised in the local Press, and we all went to hear the wisdom that would come from the high orators who came from Whitehall to tell us all about it. On this occasion the Minister of Health came to West Ham unannounced. There was no decoration outside the building, whatever there may have been inside. He complimented the board of guardians on their administration. What is their administration. Some of our men and women have had to walk to Union Road from Silvertown because they could not afford even to pay their tram fare before they got free tickets. They went there day after day, very often from ten in the 136 morning to five in the afternoon, and could not have a cup of tea unless they paid for it out of their own pockets. These people can come along with a pension of £800 and salaries of £1,500 to administer the affairs of West Ham, and at the end of their first 12 months they have saved 4d. in the £ on the rates.
A 4d. rate in West Ham represents in the aggregate £60,000, but they owe the Government £800,000, because, after all, if they have taken the place of the old guardians, they have also taken their responsibilities. What have they paid back? I ask the few gentlemen who are now sitting on the benches opposite, what the appointed and paid board of guardians have done to find the money the board owe to the Government? Our men and women had a little more judgment and foresight, and they met their responsibilities. They paid all the time by levying a rate on the people in respect of the money that had been borrowed for the administration of Poor Law affairs, We in West Ham have taken up this attitude, and will continue to take it up, namely, that the relief of unemployment ought not to be a local charge, and that tee maintenance of the old and infirm should not altogether be a local charge. Because we could not get other people to agree with us we have been compelled to shoulder the burden, and our rates have had to go up enormously in order to meet those responsibilities.
What have they done? They say they have borrowed no money. They have lived upon the rate that has been levied. They have not done anything of the kind. The old board of guardians applied for a loan of £300,000 shortly before the new board were appointed. We could not get the money, because, evidently, the Government had something up their sleeve, and probably the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act was part and parcel of it. What is the consequence? This new board started with a loan of £300,000. I will ask the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, if he can tell us how much of that £300,000 they have paid back. It is simply throwing dust in the eyes of the people to say that they are administering the affairs of West Ham more economically than was formerly the case. As a matter of fact, if they had 137 paid off the requisite proportion of debt, they would have had to levy an additional 6d. rate for Poor Law purposes.
I am not going to weary the Committee with cases of hardship. The whole thing is hardship. Those of us who have been through it know that even with the most generous scale of relief it is a case of hardship for any man or woman who has to come before the Board of Guardians. Our crime is not that we have not administered the law. Our crime is that we have taken a more humane view of things than those who have been opposed to us. They think that 21s. a week is sufficient for a man wife and three children. They think that 37s. 6d. a week is sufficient for a man, wife and eight children, for that is the highest scale of relief. They have cut down wherever they can. When we were in office we used to take cases of special hardship into consideration. If parents had to keep children at home from school because they were unable to provide them with boots to wear, we used to provide the children with boots. Is that a crime? That has all been cut out now. In order to try and provide boots for these children we have to organise a private fund. I want to say that a man who will rob a child of a boot will take a penny out of a blind man's hand. That is what your so-called expert Poor Law administrators have done in West Ham. Their so-called economy is a figment of the imagination. It is not real relief and does not face the situation. We therefore hope that this Amendment to reduce the Vote will be carried as a protest against the appointment of these people.
The Minister of Health told us that he cannot interfere with the discretion of the gentlemen whom he has appointed. Why did he interfere with our discretion? Simply because we had to ask him for money. They have to do the same. They have to come to the Ministry for money just as we did. He did not merely interfere with us, but he told us we had no right to exist in spite of the fact that we had been elected by the people we represented by an overwhelming majority. When the council elections took place we obtained, in spite of all the so-called extravagances in West Ham, in every part of the Poor Law area, with two exceptions which we never expected to secure, the return of men and women representatives with considerable 138 majorities. This legislation will come to an end soon, I hope, as well as the Government, who are the authors of it. But what will be the new Poor Law regulation It will be, that the local councils will have the control of Poor Law administration. I believe that that is the intention of the Government in their proposed new scħeme so far as the Poor Law is concerned. The reason that a proper proportion of the borrowed money has not been paid back by the appointed guardians is because they want to hand on the baby to us.
The local councils in the various areas will have to shoulder the burden which these people ought to be meeting as they go along. They would not have been able to come out with their Report and say they had saved the ratepayers 4d. on the rates if they had shouldered their financial responsibilities in the proper way. They may have been able to cut, off people from Poor Law relief, and, here and there, cut down the scale of relief, but the great sum total of poverty in this district—the district that we all know so well, those of us who live in it—remains. All that they have been able to do is simply to try and bale out the Atlantic with a spoon. All their savings really amount to nothing. The only thing they have done is to squeeze a shilling out of those who cannot afford the sacrifice, and they have endeavoured to make the Poor Law stink in the nostrils of the great mass of the people. The people they hit most are the people to whom they pretend to be most sympathetic—the old people. I know, in my own district, of a case of a man who has two sons, who are out of work, living with him. The sons are drawing unemployment benefit and their father's relief is cut down because they are drawing this unemployment benefit. What is the good of humbugging us about or talking about National Insurance Acts when you give a man a few shillings with one hand and devise schemes for taking it away with the other? It is playing ducks and drakes with, what may be called, common or ordinary honesty.
The Minister says he has no control over these appointed guardians. During the five years I have been a member of the board I have always understood, as far as we had the law explained to us by the greatest lawyers on Poor Law matters—and the late Mr. Smith, who was a member 139 of the last Royal Commission on the Poor Law, so informed us—that no relief could be given or recognised except that it was passed by the properly constituted committee of the board, and finally passed by the board itself. Relief committees used to meet in various parts of the Poor Law area and examine every case, and upon the facts placed before them and the reports of the investigators and relieving officers decided to give what we called relief. The chairman of the relief committee signed these orders, and, if they were on loan, an entry was made in the margin of the book that the relief was granted by loan. What do I find now? This so-called board of guardians do not even meet together.
They do not meet the people who apply for relief; they do not interview the people who are in receipt of Poor Law relief, but they pay 7s. 6d. a day to young clerks to go to the various relief stations and hear the cases put before them and make orders for relief. Is that administering the Poor Law? When the right hon. Gentleman moved the Second Reading of the Board of Guardians (Default) Act he told us that there was no intention to alter the law but only the administration as far as West Ham was concerned. I ask, here and now, is it not the law that the so-called guardians of the poor must themselves be the authority to see that the people who apply for relief should have investigation of their claims, and that the orders should be properly made out? In the old days, we did not send young clerks from the office to do that sort of work; we sent clerks to take records of the work of the committee, but, as far as the actual granting of relief was concerned, it was granted by the guardians themselves.
All that has been reversed. The House Committee meets after the board is supposed to have met, thereby reversing the whole procedure. The Relief Committee formerly reported to the House Committee, and the House Committee reported to the board. A clerk is sent to do the work which the Relief Committee used to do in conjunction with the relieving officer, and the board merely meets to sign the relief. Where is the corruption now. Thousands and thousands of pounds are signed away in relief, and the men who sign it have not seen the 140 people concerned but have, simply paid junior clerks to do the work for them. These are the men who charge us with corruption. We are babies when it comes to a question of maladministration.
Our opponents in West Ham cannot get in by a free vote of the people. They cannot win a seat in the overwhelming majority of constituencies in the Poor Law area; but by underhand and back-stair influence they got hold of the Minister, and the Minister was a willing tool in their hands. Now, they are finding that the goods have not been delivered. They were to show us up and to demonstrate how corrupt we were. They were going to save an enormous sum of money. They have done nothing of the sort. They have all the problems facing them, and now they have a little bit of sugar for the bird. There is to be a new works started in Silvertown to employ 200 or 300 men for the time being. That is held up as a great record of what these men are doing and of the work they are bringing into the borough. They have had nothing to do with it. They have as much to do with it as I have to do with the flying of the Atlantic by Captain Lindbergh. They are boasting of this sort of thing; but they forget about the 3,000 men who are signing on at the Employment Exchange in the southern part of the borough. They forget about the 15,000 people who are almost on permanent relief. They are not able to cut them down, except by surreptitious methods.
They have not touched the problem of poverty, either from the local or the national point of view. This report which they have issued is an insult to the people of the district. It will take many more men than Sir Alfred Wood-gate and his friends before they are able to tackle the problem of poverty. Instead of appointing these paid gentlemen to come and show as how things can be done, it would have been better had the Government set themselves to the real problem; how to get rid of the problem of casual labour, and try to get rid of the perpetual curse of men having to tramp from factory to factory and workshop to workshop in search of a few days' work. It is a crime that men should have to tramp from Silvertown to Poplar to sign on, for the chance of getting a few paltry shillings of unemployment 141 pay. These men have paid for this benefit. Why, then, should they be forced to undergo this inconvenience When a man has been paying into an insurance fund he ought to be able to get benefit without being put to so much inconvenience. He has helped to build up the insurance fund and he is entitled to receive the benefit, without obstacles being put in his way. It seems to be the object of the Government to make it as difficult as possible for men to get their unemployment benefit, and to humiliate them and degrade them to every possible degree. It is as difficult for a poor man to get the benefits for which he has been compelled to pay, than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We are told that this is scientific administration. I call it scientific robbery.
We in West Ham are not ashamed. We have no apology to offer. Our men have challenged the Government. The members of the board of guardians are ready to stand in the dock if you will put them there. If you have the courage to put them there and make any charge against them, they are ready to go. Up to now, they have administered things to the best of their ability. They are clean and honest men and women, trying to do their best under difficult circumstances. A few years ago we had a scandal in West Ham and a great fuss was made in the country, but it was soon dropped when it was discovered that seven out of the eight people who had got into trouble were members of the two parties who occupy the other parts of the House, and not these benches. One Labour man was found in the cart, and he went through it. Not merely was he sent to prison, but he was expelled from the Labour party when we found out the game that he had been playing. The others came out of prison and they are very respectable people today, benefiting by the fact that they belong to the respectable parties. Our men and women are willing to go through any kind of investigation. Our record has been clean, as far as it is possible for human beings to be clean in public life.
The appointment by the Government of men to come to West Ham to administer our Poor Law affairs has demonstrated itself to be a failure. If the Government have no other idea of public 142 administration than the appointment of paid officials of this sort, it is only another proof of their lack of foresight and their extravagance. They opposed us when we asked for one shilling allowance for lunch for men who spent from 10 o'clock in the morning until five o'clock in the evening, on three or four days in the week. They would not allow that and the auditor would not allow it as an allowance for food, although some of these men who were doing this public work were only casual labourers. The Government appoint men who have £1,500 a year, in addition to a pension of £800. Of course, they are honest men, while our people are supposed to be corrupt. As far as we are concerned, man for man and woman for woman we are cleaner than the people who have supplanted us.
This Amendment has been put down for the purpose of bringing these matters before the public. We who represent West Ham are willing to face you wherever and whenever you like and to take our stand as far as our administration is concerned. Our only crime has been to do justice to the people, as we know them. We have tried to help them in their adversity and through the valley of the shadow through which they have been passing. The fact that the benches of this House are so empty demonstrates that the Government have no case; but later on their supporters will be here. The men who will spend more on their dinner to-night than they are prepared to give to a man for food for a week, will come here, later on, with the tears glistened down their shirt fronts, and they will show what they think about West Ham and its board of guardians, and what they think of the people we represent. But a day of reckoning is coming, and when the facts are known and the truth is out West Ham will again be rehabilitated.
We have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. We can face the future with every confidence. We are not in the dock; those who are against us will be in the dock when the real issue is faced. We are anxious that this Government, having had the experience which they have had during the last 12 months of their pets administering public affairs, should go to West Ham and say, "Look what we have done for you! We have saved you a lot of money. We have reduced your rates. We have reduced 143 your debt responsibilities. Now, having every confidence in the common sense of the people, we will send these three men about their business and allow you to elect your own board of guardians." wish they would do that; but they do not do that. We in West Ham are not afraid; we are ready for any judgment that may be placed upon us, but we want the right hon. Gentleman to give definite answers to definite questions. How can he justify the policy that has been pursued? He cannot do so. Therefore, we want to draw attention to the fact that while the people of West Ham have been called upon to face their responsibilities, the Government instead of facing their responsibilities and tackling the problem, have been playing with public administration.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
Up to the present we have not had present any hon. Member on the other side of the House who represents the district whose affairs we are discussing to-night. I believe I am right in saying that there are three hon. Members on the other side who represent the Poor Law area of West Ham, and one would have thought that they would have been in their place, either to back up the Government or to have something to say on the Poor Law administration of the district. I am much indebted to the three previous speakers for the excellent way in which they have put their case, more especially the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves). He gave the Committee a number of hard cases, as did also the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence), and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) could have given a similar number of hard cases. I myself, during the last 11 months, have received at least 200 complaints from people living in my own Parliamentary Division or in the West Ham Poor Law area as to the harsh treatment they have received at the hands of the present Poor Law Commissioners. Twelve months ago it would have been impossible for such complaints to be raised in this House. Twelve months ago the old board of guardians was functioning, and the only complaint made against them was that they were a little generous in giving Poor Law relief to large numbers of men and women who were out of work or in 144 very difficult circumstances. During the course of the Debates on the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, on the Second Reading, during the Committee stage, on Report stage, and also on the Third Reading, the Minister of Health, and the Parliamentary Secretary also, used the words "corruption and mal-administration" on more than one occasion. If any hon. Member cares to look up the Debates he will find that these words were used many times.
Like my hon. Friends on this side of the House I shall be much interested if the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister of Health himself, or the present Poor Law Commissioners, can supply the Committee with any information as to these mal-practices or corruption, which it is said went on during the time when the old board of guardians was in office. The Poor Law Commissioners have now been in office for 11 months, and I take it for granted that during that time that have made a minute examination of all the books of the old board of guardians, which are now in their possession, and it goes without saying that if there had been any cases of corruption or mal-administration that they would have been brought to the notice of the Minister of Health long before now. The only conclusion to which I can come is that the charges made against the old board of guardians have gone; that there is nothing of the nature of corruption or mal-administration. During the past 11 months I myself, as well as many of my colleagues, have put down questions to the Minister of Health about matters connected with the Poor Law administration in the area of West Ham and on every occasion we have been told that the Minister of Health has absolutely no control at all over the present Poor Law Commissioners. They are appointed in accordance with the Act which was passed by this House and have taken over all the duties and functions of the old board of guardians. If the Minister of Health has no control over the present Poor Law Commissioners, certainly, so far as the citizens of the Poor Law area are concerned, they have no control whatever. We can criticise them, but that is about all that we can do. We can bring harsh cases before the notice of this House from time to time and we can ask questions and get replies from the 145 Minister of Health, who I take it sends down these questions to the Poor Law Commissioners in order to get their replies. But this is the only thing we can do. Where you have a properly constituted board of guardians you have some control, because every 12 months the citizens of particular wards in the area of West Ham, as in any other Poor Law area, have an opportunity of expressing their appreciation or disapproval of the work done by the board of guardians at the election which then takes place. But in the Poor Law area of West Ham, the whole population, or at any rate the whole of the voters, have been absolutely disfranchised and have no opportunity now of expressing their appreciation or disapproval of the work being done by the present Poor Law Commissioners; and as far as I can see we are never going to get any such opportunity. I think the term of office of these gentlemen expires about the middle of next month. At the moment, I am not certain of the actual date, nor do I know whether they are going to be re-selected. You cannot say that they are to be re-elected; but re-selected. If they are to be re-selected we do not know how long they are going to remain in office. We have been told that later on in the Session the Minister of Health intends to press forward as fast as he can with a measure of Poor Law reform. It has been announced in the House that the Government intend during the next Session to bring forward a Bill which will abolish the present boards of guardians in some, areas, if not in all. That is the information we gather from the Press. I know it may be out of order to discuss the Government's intentions with regard to this legislation, but we are led to understand that this Bill is coming forward and that there has been a compromise in the case of some rural areas that so far as they are concerned they will not be interfered with by the provisions of the Bill.
Another complaint we have to make is that the present Commissioners are not paying their way. I take it for granted that every council in every borough or rural area in this country—they number in all about 1,900—when it borrows money has a sinking fund to pay off principal and interest. I cannot imagine that any local authority would borrow 146 money without setting up such a sinking fund. I am sure that if the present Chancellor of the Exchequer came along to the House next April, when introducing his Budget, and dispensed with his sinking fund, every Member of the House would cry out bitterly against the proposal. The sinking fund that was in operation in the Poor Law area of West Ham has to all intents and purposes been abandoned, though not altogether, for certain sums of money are being paid. I would remind the Committee that on 6th July, 1925, I asked the Minister of Health whether he was prepared to issue a statement showing the amount of loans lent to various boards of guardians in all parts of the country, with the rate of interest charged for each loan, and the amount of principal and interest paid each year. The reply given showed the amount of the loans raised by the various Poor Law authorities, and included a table showing the amount of interest and principal that should be repaid every year.
In this table I find that for the financial year 1925–26 the then Poor Law guardians of West Ham would be called upon to pay in principal and interest £239,644; and for 1926–27—I am not sure whether the table gives the figures to the end of September, 1927, or to the end of the financial year in March—the amount of principal and interest that the present Poor Law Commissioners, or the old board of guardians if it had been functioning, would have been called upon to pay was £328,563, and for 1927–28 £354,256. What we want to know is, what amount of money they have paid for 1925–26 out of that £239,644 and for 1926–27 what they have paid of the £328,513? I asked for that information because the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry on one or two occasions has said that the people of West Ham are well satisfied with the present administration, and I think he said that they have saved the ratepayers something like £800,000. If that be true, I would like him to explain how that saving has been made. Personally I should be exceedingly glad if it could be proved that the present Commissioners have saved the ratepayers that amount. If they have done so, the rates ought to have been reduced very much more than they have been. All that they have done is that 147 on two occasions, once for the half year ending September last, they reduced the Poor Law rate by 2d. in the £ which represents about £29,000. Therefore, a 4d. rate represents very much less than the £800,000 alleged to have been saved.
I shall be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us to-night the amount of money that they have repaid to the Treasury, or to the Goschen Committee, which is the same thing, and we shall then be able to judge whether they have really saved a 4d. rate or not. I am more than convinced that if they had been called upon to pay their way exactly as the old board of guardians would have been called upon to pay their way, this 4d. rate could not have been saved. If the present Commissioners are by good administration saving money for the ratepayers, well and good, but, as has been said, this amount of money has been saved at the expense of the poor people of West Ham. Whatever the Parliamentary Secretary may say, and whatever Sir Alfred Woodgate and his two colleagues may say, we know perfectly well that this amount of money has been saved at the expense of a very large number of poor people in West Ham. Numbers of cases have been given by my hon. Friend; where either the father is in work and is compelled to keep his unemployed son, or where the father is unemployed—there are large numbers of them out of work—and the sons are at work and the unemployed father has to be kept by the son, and so forth. I have had particulars of a case sent to me this morning.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
It is the case of a woman of the name of Boswell, who lives in Canning Town, and I do not know whether she is in my division or that of one of my hon. Friends. I know that one thing which will be flung at me to-night is that the present scale of relief was operating when Sir Alfred Woodgate was called upon to function for the Poor Law guardians. That is quite true. I do not dispute that statement, but why was the then board of guardians compelled to cut down the scale of relief? At that time, the maximum relief was 55s. a week for a man, wife and a certain number of 148 children. The board of guardians was asking for a loan, and the Minister imposed conditions upon them. That gave rise to a quarrel which I had with some of my own friends in the borough, and which perhaps caused a great deal of irritation. I have been howled down on the public platform because I said I thought the guardians would have been wise had they accepted the advice which was given by myself, by the hon. Member for Silvertown, by the hon. Member for Stratford, and also by the hon. Member for East Ham North.
If they had done so, the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act would never have been brought in, because it was aimed at the borough of West Ham. Had they taken our advice, and accepted that loan, the Default Act would never have operated, but that is by the way. About two weeks before the Labour board of guardians were deposed, they had only a few thousand pounds in the bank, and because of the restricted means at their disposal, they had to bring down the scale of relief from 55s. to 40s. 6d. We know the Masonic understandings that are arrived at between the banking authorities and the Ministry of Health. There is no need to send letters to the manager of the bank, telling him how to deal with a situation like that. They can get through on the telephone and give a quiet whisper that the bank ought to do this or ought not to do that, and there is nothing in black and white to show what has been done. The bank refused to allow the guardians any more overdrafts, although they had been charging the guardians a very decent rate of interest. Since the present Poor Law Commissioners began to operate, the bank authorities are making it easy to get overdrafts and I think I am justified in saying that they are allowing the Commissioners more overdrafts at a lower rate of interest than they were allowing the guardians. They are trying to make it appear that the gentlemen who are now operating can do the work better than the board of guardians.
I do not know whether I shall be entitled on this occasion to raise the main question, but this Vote deals with the salary of the Minister, and all boards of guardians and necessitous areas are under his control. For a long time, in fact since 1921, a number of my colleagues and I 149 have been pegging away at this question and have tried to impress on successive Governments the need for financial relief to the necessitous areas. Several schemes have been presented, including schemes prepared by the borough treasurer of West Ham, and, I think, also one by the City Corporation Poor Law authority. These schemes were placed before the committee which was set up to inquire into the question of the necessitous areas, but they have all been turned down. The present. Minister of Health then concurred in the position which we on this side took up. We have said over and over again that it is unfair for a Poor Law area like West Ham or Bedwelty to have to bear a burden of this kind, and that the burden ought to be a national charge. On 20th June, 1922, I had the honour of introducing a deputation to the then Prime Minister, who was, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and the present Minister of Health, then a humble Member of this House, was one of the deputation. I notice that there is all the difference in the world between a rank and file Member of this House and one who becomes a Minister. Apparently, when a Member becomes a Minister, he may have to eat some of the expressions which he has used as a private Member on one side or the other. This is a part of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Health on that occasion:I do not think I need detain you but a very few minutes. I have been asked to speak on behalf of the boroughs rather than on behalf of the guardians. The case is very much the same from the general point of view. As ratepayers, we are not here to ask for relief in respect of the ordinary demands made on the guardians, but to point out that owing to the quite unprecedented circumstances connected with unemployment the burden is falling very heavily on certain industrial districts. The table appendix shows the number per thousand in receipt of relief. Birmingham has 8 per cent. of the population, and Coventry 6½ per cent. Then in the district between those two towns, about 20 miles away, a little while ago there were only 13 people who had applied for relief to the guardians, and they were able to find them employment by giving them jobs on the roads. Although that district is largely responsible, being on either side of it, it practically escapes any burden. We suggest that this is a national question and has been recognised as a national question by the passing of the 150 Unemployment Act, and extending it to the whole country, and the burden ought to be more evenly distributed.Some of the deputation said "Hear, hear!;" to that statement, and the right hon. Gentleman proceeded:If you make the industrial districts bear the whole of the relief of the unemployed, you are going to increase the rates and the evil must still be remedied. It will cause them greater hardships. Out of some 650 Poor Law areas, only about 200 are seriously affected by this question of relief. That shows how very uneven this distribution is and that it should be spread a little more evenly. I have been asked to present the original petition from Walsall and Smethwick, and a number of other places.We all said "ditto" to that statement. That is our case. We have been pleading, ever since 1921, for the recognition of this grievance. Hon. Members opposite can say what they like to-night or at any other time as long as they are sitting on those benches, hut there is no remedy for the present state of things, in West Ham or Bedwelty, or Birmingham or any of the large industrial centres throughout the length and breadth of the country unless there is a better method of fixing the incidence of taxation.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
The hon. Member has kept magnificently in order up to now, but he is proceeding to deal with a matter, in connection with which legislation would be necessary.
§ Mr. THORNE
I will conclude by hoping that the Parliamentary Secretary will give some reply to the questions which have been put to him by the hon. Members for East Ham, North, Stratford and Silvertown and to the question which I have put, which is very important, and see whether he can state the total amount of principal or interest that this present board of guardians have paid. That is the point I want to get at. If he can do that, the Committee will be able to observe to-morrow, when they read the OFFICIAL REPORT, whether the board of guardians are paying their way or otherwise. That is the acid test, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be frank and candid and say whether he can give the information. It will be very interesting to me and my colleagues, because we do not want unduly to criticise the present Poor Law authorities. If they are paying their 151 way and saving the rates—not at the expense of the poor—and at the same time giving a proper scale of relief—I am quite sure that we shall be satisfied.
I know perfectly well what the Poor Law problem has been in West Ham since I have been in the borough for over 44 years, and it is worse to-day than when I first went there in the latter part of 1882. Personally, I believe it will be very much worse, and I do not see how you are going to get any relief unless by some scheme of finding work for men and women out of employment. The Blanesburgh Report admits that even if you get back to normal trade you are going to have 600,000 men and women on your hands for all time, and places like West Ham will have a decent number of them. Therefore, either this Government or some other Government will have to tackle this very important problem. I am not prepared to admit that this Government, or even a Labour Government, can solve the unemployment problem for the next few years to come, because I am more than ever convinced that this problem cannot be solved under the present commercial system. It is a physical impossibility because of the rapid introduction of scientific machinery and speeding up, for no employer of labour will lay out money for the purchase of any kind of mechanical appliances unless it is going to save wages, which in its turn means saving labour and thereby throwing men and women out of employment. We have got more men out than ever we had in spite of all the rapid methods of production. There are still over 1,000,000 out of work. As long as you have your present system, you can rest assured that you are going to have this very large number out of work, and as a preventive and palliative this Government, or some other Government, will be absolutely compelled to give some kind of relief to Poor Law necessitous areas, like West Ham and other places. The Committee may think I have made a rambling speech, but I have done my level best to put the case forward on behalf of the people of West Ham.
§ Mr. TEMPLETON
It was noticed a few minutes ago by some of my hon. Friends that I was in travail of speech, and I was reminded by an hon. Member 152 that West Ham is not in Scotland. I quite realise that West Ham is not in Scotland, and, as a devoted Presbyterian, I humbly thank God for that. For the reason that West Ham is not in Scotland, it is not my intention to say anything at all on the subject of the West Ham Guardians, but rather, as the question before us is much broader and bigger than the consideration of one single part of the King's Dominions, again to draw the attention of the Minister to the position of people in a far more salubrious part of the country than West Ham can possibly be. It must be good, indeed, in midsummer that we should get a breath from the Moray Firth of the fine salt-laden air of that district, after hearing all this talk about West Ham, East Ham, and all the other Hams. Rather more than a year ago I put a question to the Minister of Health in regard to the position of share fishermen of the Moray Firth under the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, and asked him what was the intent of the Government in order to give these men and their families the benefits of that Measure. I received the reply from him that it was the intention of the Government some time to introduce a Measure to amend the National Health Insurance Act.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid if he wants legislation, the hon. Member is not in order in pursuing this matter. If it be within the discretion and power of the Minister, he can, but, if he wants a Bill, I am afraid he cannot raise it on this occasion.
§ Mr. TEMPLETON
I do not want to press for a Bill. I am merely recounting the history of my question to which this was the answer. The point I was putting depends very much on this answer being understood. He said that it was the intention of the Government to amend the National Health Insurance Act, because, as I have pointed out to the Parliamentary Secretary of Health in various conversations we have had, we have here on the Moray Firth a body of men whose weekly earnings for a vast number of years have not averaged £1 a week and who yet are not employed persons according to the meaning either of the National Health insurance Act or the Act to which I am referring. Yet they are called upon, not only as ordinary taxpayers, to bear 153 their share of the State's proportion of these benefits, but also as employers—six of them in every herring drifter being the employers of three employed persons—to pay their share of the employer's contribution in regard to the three employed men, all of whom are at least as well off as the share fisherman is himself.
In these circumstances, I should like to ask the Minister what he proposes to do. We have had some years of the worst possible trade when, on account of the socialisation of the means of distribution in Holy Russia! there has been a terrible falling off in their trade and industry in the purchase of the commodity they have to sell. On that account, they have been reduced to very great extremes of poverty, and they have been called upon, under a beneficent Measure, to bear increased taxation in order to provide funds for other people out of their meagre earnings. Much as I admire this Measure and approve of the principle of those who are in work and in health supporting those who are not, it puts these men in a position of having an extra burden placed on their shoulders while they themselves are not in any circumstances able to participate in the benefits which that burden brings.
I should like to press the Minister to consider their case and to make sure that there will be the means of bringing such men under the scope of this Measure, so that they may attain what benefits are going for the money they have paid. I have no wish to say anything in regard to West Ham or to any other question but this one. I have made this one of the things that I have pressed upon the Government and upon the Ministry at all times, in season and out of season. Here you have a body of men who are not grumblers or grousers, nor are they those who call on the Government to do something to make it possible for them to live without working, but who are honest and industrious and hard-working and who have been hardly hit by the politics, not of this country but of another country, and who deserve well of this or any other Government in order that they may be able to earn an honest living and have that which they are paying for given to them in common with the other workers of the country.
§ Mr. MARCH
I believe we can safely say that the four representatives of East and West Ham have given very good illustrations as to the mismanagement of the Government's representatives on the board of guardians in West Ham, and it is very appetising to hear one of the Government's supporters complaining about their wonderfully exploited Widows and Orphans Pensions Act, which, no doubt, in many instances has done a great deal of good, but there are many anomalies in connection with that Act, one of which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Templeton). In this Vote, I see that there are some expenses connected with that Act. We said, before it was passed by this House, that it was necessary that all widows should be included in that Measure, but the Government thought and said otherwise and were backed up by their supporters, but now, when they begin to have these anomalies brought home to them, it may make them think a little more.
In this Vote also is the question of grants, and we should like the Government to have continued making grants to assist the necessitous areas in the provision of work for able-bodied unemployed men in their districts. The withholding of such grants has meant that the work has been cut off and that larger numbers have been forced to go to the boards of guardians for assistance. I have in my hand a return that has been made by the clerk to the Poplar Board of Guardians, from which we find that for three months at the end of last year no fewer than 200 a month were cut off from unemployment benefit and forced to go to the guardians for assistance. That is a big number, and, the council having completed practically all the work that it was allowed to put in band with assistance from the Government, the only place to which these men can go is the board of guardians. There is a very large number of the men in the district of Poplar, which, like West Ham, is practically a dock area, who are only casual workers, and naturally their wives and families have to depend upon them from day to day. The result is that some 3,000 extra have been receiving relief from the board of guardians as compared with the year before, which naturally keeps up the guardians' expenditure.
155 I can see, as the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) has already said, men with whom I worked years ago gradually deteriorating, getting lower, getting weaker, and getting worse. I can also say, as a Justice of the Peace who is called upon on various occasions to go down to the workhouse under the Poplar Board of Guardians to certify people who have lost their reason, that I know they are increasing in numbers compared with two years ago. They are gradually being driven into the asylums; others are driven into the hospital under the board of guardians; and many of them are being driven into the workhouse itself. Their numbers are increasing month by month in those three institutions, and the cause of it is the long term of unemployment and the action of the Minister in telling boards of guardians that they must cut down their relief. It seems to us that the Minister thinks that the longer these people have been getting assistance from the guardians, the less they can do with, instead of requiring more. As you gradually cut them down, even if it is only by a shilling a week, it makes all the difference to the people in getting little knick-knacks that they could get with that shilling. The result is that they have to deny themselves of something or other, and denying themselves means making themselves weaker and more demoralised than they were before. Their only resort is to go into the work-house or into the hospital, or, if they try to carry on and lose their reason, to get certified to go into the asylum.
Would it not be better, both for the Government and the country generally, to give these people reasonable food and conditions and to keep them out of the asylums? They cost more in the asylum or in the workhouse or in the hospital, and, therefore, we think that the Minister would be well advised to reconsider and review the whole position in those places, like West Ham and Poplar, where they have had these unemployed for so many years. We should very much like to see something done in the way of finding work for these people, but there are many of them who have been on Poor Law relief year in and year out, and there would be some difficulty in their being able to do the work, even if work were found for them, and then we should get the Minister and his supporters saying 156 that these men do not want work when work is found for them. Mainly, it would be because they had got so weak and so demoralised that they could not do the work if they were called upon to do anything that was laborious at all. To avoid that, the best thing would be to find them useful employment and to pay them reasonable rates of wages. I should like to see that done, and I am sure that the men themselves in the district would prefer to be at work rather than to go either to the Employment Exchange or to the board of guardians. If the Minister can do something in that direction, he will be doing something that will be beneficial to the community at large.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I propose to-night to deal only with the main topic which has occupied the attention of the Committee, and I will suggest to hon. Members who have raised one or two other points—for instance, in connection with widows' pensions, or, like my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Templeton), who raised a very important point so far as a very excellent body of men are concerned—that we shall be able, I have no doubt, to go into those matters further on Wednesday next, when again the Estimates of my Department will be before the Committee. I have no doubt that on that occasion it will be possible further to explore the point which has been raised by the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. March). The hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves), who opened this discussion, raised two matters. The first was in connection with the administration of the Blind Persons Act, and the other was in connection with the administration of poor relief in his constituency. I want to say a few words with reference to blind persons, and to assure the Committee and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Pancras (Captain Fraser), who is deeply interested in this matter, that considerable progress is being made in the administration of the Blind Persons Act. If one wanted a test—not by any means the best test, but certainly a test—of the work that is being done, one has only to look at the assistance which has been afforded by the local authorities and by the State. In 1921–22 the local authorities contributed only some £14,671 towards assisting blind persons, whilst this year, 1926–27, it is estimated that no less than £173,828 is to be given by the local authorities alone. 157 There is the same record of advance in the contributions from the State. In 1921 the State contributed £69,886, whilst in the present year we estimate that a sum of £113,000 will be given. I have not finished when I have made that statement, because one of the best things in connection with the administration of this Act is the great assistance obtained from voluntary sources. I am very glad to say there has been no reduction in the contributions from the many people who do so much to help the blind. During the year 1922–23 the total income of the grant-aided voluntary agencies to which grants are given was £378,535, and in the year 1925–26 that sum had actually risen to £420,473.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Opinions differ on the question of adequacy, but at any rate in all these cases—contributions from the local authorities and the State, and assistance through voluntary agencies—there has been a very great increase indeed, and to that extent we are progressing.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee to which of these blind societies he allots the sums contained in this Vote and what, are the amounts.
§ Sir K. WOOD
These sums provided by the State are given to some 130 approved voluntary associations. I could not give the names to-night, but if the hon. and gallant Member is interested in any particular association I shall be glad to give him any information I can. The final point I wish to make about the observation made by the hon. Member for West Ham in this connection is this. I rather gathered from his speech that at some time or other he wanted my Department, so far as the administration of this Act is concerned, to put all these blind persons under the sole supervision of the State—to rely solely on the assistance of the State. I venture to suggest that to do that would be a very great mistake indeed. One of the best features of the administration of the Act is that we are able to cooperate with the many splendid voluntary associations which are carrying on this work.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Will the hon. Member give us the administrative costs of these various associations? We have heard a story that it costs a sovereign to give a sovereign away. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will confirm that statement, or otherwise.
§ Sir K. WOOD
If the hon. Member will put a question to me upon that point, and we have the information, I shall be glad to give it to him. I myself have heard of no criticism in this connection so far as the voluntary agencies for the blind are concerned, and I think the hon. Gentleman who occupied my position previously would confirm that. Whatever views we may take about that, and whatever the facts may be, I want to emphasise the point that we ought to be very careful indeed before handing over to the sole care of the State these people, who are deserving of very great help, because very likely we should endanger the voluntary contributions which are given at the present time. I think we are pursuing the right policy in assisting by State contributions properly-approved voluntary associations and leaving the work to a large extent in their hands.
The principal subject which has occupied the time of the Committee to-night has been the administration of Poor Law relief in West Ham. I would like to make some observations upon the statements which have been made by hon. Members opposite without, I venture to say, much reflection on their part and without many facts to assist them. Some of them I can only term as extraordinary statements. What is the present position so far as the administration of Poor Law relief in West Ham is concerned, and what are the intentions of the Minister towards the present administration? That question has just been put to me by the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne). The legal position is this: Last year, the House passed the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, passed it by a very large majority indeed, after the presentation of a very strong case for interfering with the normal course of local administration in West Ham. Under that Act my right hon. Friend was empowered to appoint guardians in substitution for those who would be disqualified from serving if the terms of the Act came into operation. My right hon. 159 Friend exercised that power in connection with West Ham, and, I think, two other local authorities. In West Ham he appointed guardians who have been conducting the administration of Poor Law relief in that area. The period of 12 months for which the guardians were [...] the first instance appointed expires on 18th July next. So far from being dissatisfied, as three or four hon. Members opposite appear to have been, with the administration of that area by the newly-appointed guardians, my right hon. Friend, and I think the great majority of hon. Members in this House, and, if I may say so, the great majority of people in West Ham—
§ Sir K. WOOD
—and, if I may so, the great majority of people who have followed events there, take the view that these guardians have certainly carried out their work with great success, with great benefit to the district, and without doing harm to a single deserving person. Holding that view, my right hon. Friend proposes, and has taken the necessary steps, to continue the newly-appointed guardians for a further term of six months, which is the maximum period of extension allowed by the Act under, I think, Section 2. The grounds upon which the Minister of Health asks for the extension of that period and the further postponement of the election of guardians is that, although good work has been done and great progress has been made, the work of the newly-appointed guardians, in his judgment, in restoring normal conditions in West Ham in the matter of relief, and the restoration of its financial stability, is still incomplete.
For a few minutes I want to justify the decision which has been arrived at, and answer some of the statements which have been made. So far from regarding the appointment of the newly-appointed guardians in West Ham as an attack upon democratic government the position, so far as West Ham is concerned, is that the more one considers the fact the more one must be driven to the conclusion that but for the temporary appointment of these new guardians the ordinary type of democratic government in West Ham would have absolutely failed altogether. 160 I thought to-night when I heard the statements made by hon. Members opposite, and particularly by the hon. Member who opened the Debate, that they must have very short memories indeed, and they must have entirely forgotten the situation and the state of affairs which existed when the Minister of Health stepped in and asked the House to pass the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act.
What was the position under the old dispensation? The hon Member for Plaistow seems to have forgotten a good many of the things which he used to support in the days of the old dispensation, because at the end of the last financial year for which they were responsible the balance of outstanding loans in West Ham was £1,925,000 or equivalent to a rate of 11s. 7d. in the £. On May 1st, 1926, the number of persons actually in receipt of relief in the West Ham Union was 70,506, or 919 per 10,000 of the population. At that time, the banks had refused to lend any more money to the guardians. The hon. Member for Plaistow told us that someone had to get on to the telephone to advise the banks not to lend the old board of guardians any more money, but that was quite an unnecessary operation. The reason was perfectly plain, and it was because bankruptcy was certainly in sight. What was, in my opinion, almost worse, was not the financial aspect but the grave moral results which had followed the policy of the old West Ham Board of Guardians, because many people had been taught in that district that it was far better to be in receipt of relief than to be at work. At that time there were numerous cases where a man and a family of five were far better off in receipt of relief than the family would have been if the man had been at work at the rates of wages then obtaining. In dealing with the old board of guardians the hon Member for West Ham—
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I mean the hon. Member who opened the discussion (Mr. Groves). He stated in dealing with the old guardians that the Minister of Labour had acted very unfairly, and had simply relied on an auditor's report, a copy of which he had 12 months ago. There was a good 161 deal more than that. Hon. Members representing the West Ham district would no doubt recollect the many admissions which were made by individual members of the West Ham Board of Guardians in public addresses which, so far as their own administration was concerned, admitted that they had failed to realise their duties, and had entirely abused their membership as members of the West Ham Board of Guardians. I only need to remind the Committee, in order to justify the steps taken, of a statement which was made by Mr. Killip, the Vice-Chairman of the West Ham Board of Guardians, who is a Labour representative and the agent of the hon. Member for Plaistow, who said:He must admit that Mr. Ward was correct when he charged the Socialists with using the guardians' relief for political and personal ends. He regretted he had to say that the way in which some of his colleagues were canvassing the unemployed had become such a scandal that something would have to be done to put a stop to it.At a meeting of the same board of guardians on 10th June last year Mr. Killip said:Some of the things done in the name of the West Ham Guardians, well the least we can do is to be ashamed of them. When you are elected as guardians you do not go to give out-relief as though you were giving away hand-bills. We have been landed in this position by people who have entirely abused their membership of the Board of Guardians.Therefore, there is no need to look in any auditor's Report to justify the grounds upon which the Minister of Health acted when he removed the members of the West Ham Board of Guardians from office. I know that is the view of the hon. Member for Plaistow, because I saw an account of a gathering held at the Public Hall, Canning Town, on Saturday night to commemorate the hon. Member's 21st year as a member of Parliament. I will quote a few sentences from the "Daily Herald" in which the Member for Plaistow said:Criticisms of his political conduct had come from the Communists, and it was the outside pressure of the Communists which had spoiled the previous good work of the West Ham Guardians, with the result that the Commissioners had stepped in.
§ Sir K. WOOD
How anyone can say that the Minister of Health was not right 162 in removing men from a position of trust and responsibility who, upon their own confession had abused the position in which they had been put by the ratepayers, or how anyone can say that that was not a proper and necessary course for anyone to take passes my comprehension. There is also this to be said, in considering the position of West Ham at the present moment, and whether any alteration should be made in the present position, and whether we should go back to the old state of affairs—
§ Mr. GROVES
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from the point with which he is now dealing, I would like to ask him whether the charge of the Minister of Health that there was a reign of unabashed corruption is just confined to the statement referred to by the Vice-Chairman of the old board, or whether he himself, on behalf of the Minister of Health, is going to give us some instances of corruption and not rely on the quotations given from the speech of a local gentleman?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I do not propose to do that. It would not serve any purpose, when the Vice-Chairman of the Board himself, and a Labour representative, gets up and says that the unemployed have been canvassed in such a way that it has become a scandal, and that something must be done to stop it, and says also that the guardians have been using relief for political and personal ends. When a person makes a statement like that—a person who is in a responsible position, and a man who is speaking with some authority—and such a statement comes not from a Tory or Liberal representative but from a Labour man, a Vice-Chairman of the Board and probably the most competent member on that side—when such a man gets up and says that the board of guardians are using relief funds for political and personal ends, I do not think anyone need make much further inquiry into the matter.
§ Mr. DUNNICO
Is not the real point, not the reason why the old guardians were removed, but whether there is any starvation under the existing guardians, because they are not doing their duty?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
We do not want, the Parliamentary Secretary to leave this matter, but we want him to give us one solitary case of corruption.
§ Sir K. WOOD
If the hon. Lady would forgive me, I would point out again that when a person gets up and says, "My friends are using relief funds for their political and personal ends," there is not much need to inquire further.
§ Mr. GROVES
Does the Parliamentary Secretary now allege that Mr. Killip, the Vice-Chairman, when he made that statement, was referring to himself and pleaded guilty to such conduct?
§ Sir K. WOOD
No, Sir; I commend Mr. Killip's straightforwardness and honesty. I think his statement can be relied upon. I do not think he was using that, statement in reference to himself, but that he was pleading guilty on be-half of his friends, and I do not think there is much more to be said about it. I want to make this further point. There is no reason, so far as I can make out, for the statement that the attitude of the old guardians, if I may call them so, towards the administration was changed at all. I remember, and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Plaistow also remembers, the time when my right hon. Friend the Minister and myself had an interview with the old board of guardians, and endeavoured, very patiently indeed, to get them to mend their ways. On one occasion we suggested to them that it would be reasonable that they should give consideration to a further lowering of the scale, and more particularly having regard to the administration of other districts which were in just as difficult a position. They said, "Well, we cannot give a reply now. We will come back and give you a reply in a few days' time. I asked them why it was necessary to delay, and they said, "We must go back and consult the unemployed." It is a fact, as my hon.. Friend opposite knows, that they actually summoned an open-air meeting of the unemployed to consult them as to whether a scale of relief should be refused or not.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
I wish the Parliamentary Secretary would tell the truth. It is very aggravating to hear statements like that made when the hon. Member knows it is untrue.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Then that does show some little disregard for the office they held and for which they were responsible. I notice that they have been intervening on occasions in the district in a manner which is certainly not encouraging good administration there. The Mover of the reduction complained of the effort which the new board of guardians, the appointed board of guardians in West Ham, were making to obtain repayment of relief which had been given by way or loan. I should have thought that, when one was satisfied that there was some needy person to whom a loan had been advanced, it was not an improper thing to ask that person to repay a certain sum of money. The newly-appointed board of guardians took the view—a very correct one—that in proper cases it was their clay to obtain repayment of those funds in the best manner they could. This is the sort of thing that happens when this course is being taken. This, again, is a quotation from a paper which is said to represent the views of hon. Members opposite. It is a quotation from Mr. Killip, who seems to have fallen away from the high position he occupied at an earlier stage in the proceedings:Mr. Killip said that he was advising all those who received a demand for repayment of relief loans to ignore it completely on the ground that the average worker had no reserve funds, even while he worked, out of which he could repay money to which, after all, he had contributed, as a ratepayer.Even people in work—it did not make the slightest difference. The vice-chairman of the board, and probably the most influential man in Poor Law matters in this area, shows his interest in the state of affairs in the neighbourhood, and his regard for the difficulties of the situation, and for what undoubtedly were the very onerous duties which confronted the newly-appointed board, and advised those who were listening To him, irrespective of whether they had the means to pay, irrespective of whether they were in work or not, that they should decline to make any attempt to repay loans in those circumstances. When you see that sort of thing it is not encouraging, and it does not encourage the majority of Members in this House to adopt the suggestion made by the hon. Lady the Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence) to get rid of the newly-appointed board of 165 guardians and I suppose, by some means or other, to get the old board back in their place again. As a matter of fact, the situation, so far as the newly-appointed board are concerned, and what they brought about in West Ham, is a very remarkable, a very interesting, and a very satisfactory one, and I think the best comment on it has been made by a newspaper which is not a Government newspaper, but which is very critical of the Government at the present time. That newspaper published an article at the end of last year, after there had been some opportunity of seeing the work of the newly-appointed guardians in West Ham. The article was headed "The Transformation," and it said this:Opinions may differ as to the propriety of appointing three unelected and unrepresentative finance experts to supersede the popularly elected West Ham Guardians, but everyone will gasp at the transformation that they have produced. No little child ever intervened in the domestic infelicities of its parents in melodrama with greater effect than have the Government Board of Guardians amid the bewildering tangle of West Ham finance. The deposed Committee of 56 borrowed at the rate of £700,000 a year. The superimposed Committee of three have not yet asked for a loan. Instead, the burdens of the ratepayers have been lightened to the extent of £28,000, which amounts to 2d. in the £ reduction on the rates for the half-year. Admittedly, their success has been due to the fact that they were dealing with a chaotic situation. Extravagance had reigned unchallenged. There was over-staffing"—I suppose that has some reference to the staffing question that was raised to-night—excessive payment of relief, and lack of the most elementary inquiries and the most ordinary supervision in its administration. Charges of corruption have been vigorously denied, but not the most vociferous of the guardians' supporters would insist that the administration of the West Ham finances was not decidedly muddle-headed. But the whole proceedings of the committee of three reveal one trenchant fact. If, in the event of certain most disastrous political permutations and commutations, the electorate is ever faced with a choice between Socialism and autocracy, it will have no difficulty in making up its mind which is the more economical and efficient.That was in the "Daily News" newspaper of the 28th December, 1926, and undoubtedly it sums up in very striking phrases the really wonderful transformation which has taken place in West Ham during the last few months.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I can tell the Committee this, that there has certainly been a remarkable reduction in pauperism. I have the figures here for the week, for instance, ending on the 27th March, 1926, when the total number of persons in receipt of out-relief was 65,813, and the total amount of outdoor relief given was £27,423. On the 26th March, 1927, the total number of persons in receipt of outdoor relief had actually decreased to 41,054, and the total amount of outdoor relief which had to be expended was reduced to £11,950. I learned to-night, as other Members of the House who have been present have learned, of certain statements, particularly the statement made by the hon. Gentleman who moved the reduction of this Vote, of a certain number of cases which he has produced, so far as I am concerned, for the first time. One case, he told the Committee, he discovered in the procession, I think on Saturday or Sunday—
§ Sir K. WOOD
At any rate, I understand that in the course of this procession the hon. Gentleman came across someone or other who produced a letter to him making some complaint against the West Ham Board of Guardians, and the hon. Gentleman has produced that letter to-night, with five or six others. It is, of course, obviously impossible for me, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, not having allowed me to see those letters before the Debate, to reply to cases of that kind. All I can say is that, if he will send them to me, I will send them to the guardians for investigation.
§ Mr. GROVES
They have been to them. I would not bring them to you before they had been to the guardians. I always work upwards.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I hope that next time, when the hon. Member is working upwards, he will begin a little earlier, so that I have them in time for the Debate that takes place. The hon. Member for Plaistow mentioned one or two cases to-night. There is another case in which he has recently interested 167 himself which, at any rate, was a very good example of the type of case, that is thrown about without investigation so far as the present board of guardians is concerned. I do not want to mention the name to-night. The hon. Member for Plaistow wrote to the newly-appointed West Ham Board of Guardians on the 20th instant calling their attention to the case of a man who lives at Plaistow and the chairman of the board had the case investigated. This is a copy of a letter that has been addressed to the hon. Member.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am giving it as an example of the necessity of careful investigation before these cases are put before the Committee or outside as evidence that the present board of guardians are not dealing with their duties properly.
§ Mr. THORNE
Is it not rather unfair for the hon. Gentleman to use a case that I have never touched in the House at all? If I have a bad case I do not bring it here. You do not think I am fool enough for that, do you?
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member seems unduly apprehensive. I will read the explanation which has been forwarded to him by the chairman of the board of guardians. He says:This man, aged 41 years, has been continuously on relief since January, 1922. He has served two terms of imprisonment for deserting his wife and children during this period and one term of three months' hard labour as a rogue and a vagabond. Under the previous Board of Guardians, he was specially assisted to the extent of £10 in order to start a business, but within a short time of receiving this money he was again applying for relief. This is also a case in which administrative efforts must he devoted to make the man work. He is at present receiving discretionary relief for short periods.
§ Mr. THORNE
Does the hon. Gentleman think—I want to be fair to myself as well as to him—that after I had that information I would touch the man again with a 40-foot pole?
§ Sir K. WOOD
No, I am sure the hon. Member would not. All I am quoting the letter for is to warn hon. Members that before cases are taken up, they should be verified and checked. The hon. Member who moved this reduction made some extraordinary statement that the newly-appointed board of guardians during the last fortnight had been, as far as I could make out, faking their books and writing against certain entries of people who were in receipt of relief some time ago the words "On lean." He told a tale that was certainly worthy of Edgar Wallace, but I had an opportunity tonight of asking the chairman of the board, who is an interested listener to the Debate, whether there was any truth in the statement that anyone had been at the books and, by his direction or authority, written in those words. He has no knowledge whatever of such a thing. It may surprise, the hon. Member to know that apparently the only person who has been having anything to do with the books during the last few weeks is the Government auditor, and I suppose the hon. Member will not accuse him of writing in the words "On loan."
§ Mr. GROVES
The hon. Gentleman has either misquoted me or misunderstood what I said. I did not say in the past fortnight. I said up to the past fortnight. That puts a different complexion on it. I was referring to people who had loans, so-called—that is money—during the general strike period.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I understand that there was no such intention as suggested by the hon. Gentleman. At any rate, the Committee may take it from me, whatever the cause, the newly-appointed board of guardians, as far as I and the Chairman are aware, have not touched the books.
§ Mr. GROVES
I do not want this Committee to think that I made a statement here that I am going to withdraw. I am willing to prove it. I do not want to take up many moments, but please understand that the books to which I am referring are the books that are in the office of the relieving officer. I know nothing about the Public Auditor or the Chairman seeing this. I do not suppose for a moment that the Chairman knows anything about this. They are what are called the Application or Order 169 Books. It is an important matter. You are not going to get away like that, when people believe they were granted money by the old guardians. I am prepared to produce in any office the hon. Gentleman likes, in the presence of the Chairman, the persons who granted the relief, that is, the old guardians. And they did not grant it on loan. I am prepared to produce the persons who put in the books since the guardians have been deposed or defunct "on loan." That is a fair offer, is it not?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I shall be very glad to hear from those gentlemen. What good any person could serve through writing those words "on loan," I do not know.
§ Mr. GROVES
You know very well, you can recover by law when money is granted by guardians on the pretext of a loan. You have to prove that in the County. Court.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Gentleman is now making a very serious statement. The board of guardians of West Ham have by some means or other, or someone on their behalf, or without their authority, has written the words "on loan" in the books on the assumption that they were going to endeavour to get people to repay money granted on loan which in fact had never been so granted.
§ Mr. GROVES
The hon. Gentleman referred to the agitation in West Ham. The agitation put up was that any man who got money from the guardians on loan ought honourably to repay it, but any person who got money, I understand, which was not on loan should now be compelled to repay it through these words being put in after the old guardians, as such, had died.
§ Sir K. WOOD
As far as these guardians are concerned, I happen to know of a number of cases which have been taken to Court. In fact, there have only been 121 cases taken to Court, and in each case the guardians have had to prove their case and in every case the order was made on the defendant with costs. So I venture to suggest to the Committee, that while I shall certainly inquire, as far as it lies in my power, into the statement of the hon. Gentleman, there could be no possible motive for any board of officials taking steps of that kind. As a matter of fact, a 170 very large number of people in West Ham, notwithstanding the very bad advice given to them which I quoted just now, have paid back the money. The actual amount already paid quite voluntarily by a number of people is a sum of over £5,000. Therefore, there is no need for anyone to fake any books or to put words in the books which were improper or which ought not to appear there. As far as the appointment of the board of guardians is concerned, it certainly must be most satisfactory to the great majority of the ratepayers of the district. Borrowing has entirely stopped, and apart from a loan of £300,000 which the appointed guardians had immediately to request to meet the deficiency which they found in the finances of the union no other loan has been raised in respect of the current expenditure of the union. As far as the rate is concerned, there has been a reduction of 4d'. since they came into office.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member put a question to me which I will answer as far as the information I have in my possession goes.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member, and the hon. Member for East Ham, North, raised a question about not having to repay principal. The position was fully discussed before the Goschen Committee. It was not a matter for the Minister of Health. The guardians represented to the Goschen Committee that they had succeeded in reducing their expenditure on relief to such an extent that they would be able, without recourse to further borrowing, to meet the current expenditure on relief and administration and on the interest on the outstanding loans, and to make some provision for a working balance, but that they would, in order to avoid further borrowing, require some accommodation in the matter of principal repayments. The Committee fully considered the matter and agreed to postpone, temporarily, two instalments of principal, due at September, 1926, and March, 1927, and to discuss further with the guardians the payments to be made on account of principal after that date. 171 Repayment of principal will be made in September, 1927, of over £80,000, and the provision for repayment during the remaining half year to March, 1928, will be discussed with the guardians before the Budget of that half year is drawn up.
§ Mr. THORNE
The hon. Member has not given me the difference between what they should have paid and what they have paid.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I have given the hon. Member all the information I have. There are few boards of guardians of whom it can be said, as it can be said of the newly appointed board of guardians for West Ham, that the annual reduction in the expenditure of the union has reached a figure of over £800,000. I wish every board of guardians could do equally as well in other parts of the country. This Act, although there has been a good deal of complaint about it this afternoon, has certainly proved of great assistance in Poor Law administration throughout the country generally. I remember saying on the Second Reading of the Bill that, in my judgment, this Act would not have to be put into force in very many cases. I think it has only had to be put into force in two or three cases. This Act has undoubtedly prevented any great abuse of local administration. A little time ago, I saw a report of the proceedings of the Bermondsey Board of Guardians, and a statement made by the chairman to a deputation which had made further demands upon the union, with which they were not prepared to comply. The chairman of the board, who is a Labour member, and the board is a Labour board, in reply to the demand said—this shows that this Act has been of some use in places other than West Ham—that:The Board's accounts already show a deficit of over £75,000. An increase of the Bermondsey scale would necessitate an application to the Minister of Health, and he felt sure that instead of sanctioning it the Minister would gladly seize the opportunity of superseding the Bermondsey Board.The guardians declined to accede to the demand. I suggest to the Committee that when they come to give a vote to-night on this question, which has been particularly related to West Ham, they will consider that no reduction was ever less justified than the one proposed. If 172 anybody has earned the commendation and the thanks of this Committee, and of the public of West Ham generally, it is the newly appointed Poor Law Commissioners, and I hope the Committee will agree that my right hon. Friend is acting wisely in extending their term for another period of six months in the hope that still further economies will be achieved, without interfering or working harshly in the case of any single deserving individual.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Will the hon. Member kindly answer the two specific cases I gave him, as to which he has said nothing?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I did not reply to these cases because I have already communicated with the hon. Member in writing and given her a reply. The West Ham Board of Guardians have to pay attention to the present condition of the law, just as any other board of guardians, and they are not permitted, in giving relief, to ignore contributions which come from outside sources unless they are specially exempted by Act of Parliament. There are only two exceptions, one in relation to Friendly Societies, and the other is another case specially provided for by Parliament. Except in these two cases every board of guardians has to have regard to the income derived by the family. The board of guardians are no doubt acting perfectly within the law. They do not make the law, they are fulfilling the law as it is at present.
We have not bad to-night a reply to the arguments put forward but a rehash of the case put before this House when the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act was introduced. The Parliamentary Secretary is relying on the docile majority behind him instead of on argument. He knows perfectly well that it does not much matter what he says. He has a majority of 200 to support him. This vote is not a vote against the old board of guardians or for the new board of guardians, it is a vote against the Government; that is what we intend it to be. Early in the Debate the hon. Member for North East Ham (Miss Lawrence) said that she was not going to make any appeal to the Minister; she 173 did not believe he was ever moved by pity or humanity. That is perfectly true. To the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary, as well as the large mass of hon. Members on the other side, to be poor is to be a criminal. On both sides of the House we agree that poverty is a crime. We believe that poverty is a crime, but right hon. and hon. Members opposite seem to think that the individual pauper is a criminal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] It is true. The action of the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary in their legislation and their administration goes to prove that they have a contempt for the poor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] Hon. Members opposite may smile, but it is true. They are prepared to see the laws of this land administered against the poor in a way against which they would revolt if they were so administered against themselves. The hon. Lady who spoke said she wished she had eloquence to move the Committee. No eloquence can move hon. Members opposite. Provided it can be shown that the rates have been saved and that, artificially, pauperism has been reduced, hon. Members opposite will be quite happy. We are told, in all seriousness, I presume, that West Ham is satisfied with its appointed guardians. Time will prove. The Minister of Health has extended their lease of life to the maximum allowed under the Act—for a further six months. At the end of that time, there will have to be a re-election. I hope the three appointed guardians will then face the ratepayers. I am prepared to prophesy now that, faced with the electors who are to-day said to be satisfied, they would be rejected with enormous majorities against them.
The chief part of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary has been devoted to recounting ancient history, and to repeated references to Mr. Bert Killip, who apparently has two characters, when he rightly protests against the policy of certain members of the Board, and when he stands for the representatives of tħe Board. The hon. Gentleman quotes Mr. Killip with sympathy and gives him his support on the one hand, but when he takes a stand against the repayment of relief by men who on full wages are earning less than 174 £2 per week, he earns the criticism of the hon. Gentleman. But the question before the Committee is not the statements of Mr. Killip. The question before the Committee is the administration by the appointed guardians set in authority over the people of West Ham without their approval by the Minister of Health. We have not had a complete defence of their administration. We have had served up again—we know off by heart now what Mr. Killip said—the old statements that were used against the old board of guardians. That does not matter; they are dead. What we should have liked to have heard more of was a defence of the new board of guardians. One argument the Parliamentary Secretary adduced. It was that pauperism had been reduced. Is that a serious claim? Pauperism, official pauperism, can be reduced just as easily as official unemployment. Pauperism in this country, if all boards of guardians were as flinty-hearted as the Guardians of West Ham, could be reduced very substantially, but the number of the suffering poor would remain the same.
There may have been cases of extravagance—it is admitted—but this reduction of pauperism means that a proportion of people who had been legitimately in receipt of out-relief are to-day being denied it. What the appointed guardians are doing is to put the cost of pauperism on the community as a whole, in debilitation, in impaired health, in disease and death, so that the hon. Gentleman may be able to tell us that there has been a saving of £800,000. It is false economy. It is no saving. If the three guardians are to-day allowing a single child in West Ham to suffer in health because of their administration, their £800,000 saving, so far as I am concerned, does not matter a jot. The pride of the Minister is that they have reduced the rates in West Ham. They have done so by reducing the official figure of pauperism—that is by cutting off the relief given to people who had it before, a large number of whom, I earnestly believe, are still entitled to it. They have done so by not honouring the contractual obligations of the board of guardians to the Goschen Committee. The Parliamentary Secretary draws a distinction between taking a loan and not paying what you owe. I suggest they are both the same thing and that, were the 175 old board of guardians still in existence, they would presumably have been borrowing some money, but they would have been repaying to some extent capital and interest just as in the last half-year of Their operations they repaid £127,297. [HON. MEMBERS: "How much did they borrow?"] I am not saying they did not borrow. [Laughter.] I wish hon. Gentlemen would not be so frivolous on a serious matter. I do not suppose I shall be able to make them understand my argument, but I will try to do so, if they will allow me. Had the old board of guardians continued they would probably have been borrowing money. [HON. MEMBERS: "More money!"] Of course they would be borrowing money in addition to the amount they had already borrowed, but the first act of the new guardians was to borrow £300,000.
The old board of guardians would however have paid back some of the capital and interest due under the agreement with the Goschen Committee. They would have borrowed money just as the new guardians did but in order to achieve this extraordinary result of a reduction of 4d. in the rates, the new guardians went cap in hand to the Goschen Committee instead of paying their just debts and were permitted to postpone those debts. That is obviously the equivalent of a loan, so that the net result of the operations of this precious body of autocrats is that they have borrowed money, that they have not paid what they ought to have paid and that they have reduced pauperism by increasing suffering among the people. A number of cases have been brought before the Committee. All that the Parliamentary Secretary did by way of reply was to treat rather frivolously my hon. Friend's reference to the case of a man he saw yesterday and a case, not brought before the House by the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne), but one on which, no doubt, there may have been something to be said, and in regard to which my hon. Friend thought at least there was a prima facie case which he was entitled to bring up before the board of guardians. How many times have hon. Members opposite brought prima facie cases before the Minister of Pensions and found out that they were not good cases to which they could give support and have presumably let them drop? That 176 is the kind of case for which my hon. Friend was pilloried by the Parliamentary Secretary. But the Parliamentary Secretary did not reply to a number of cases. What he said was that it was very important that the facts should be verified. There were three cases, two of them cases of the children or ex-service men where the facts were admitted. Here, as my hon. Friend informed the House, is the letter signed by the Parliamentary Secretary himself, which admits that the facts are substantially correct.
Certainly, the letter says:These inquiries show that the facts stated in the note are, at any rate, substantially correct "—and it goes on at the end of the letter to say:This decision is one within the legal discretion of the guardians, and the Minister, even if he desired to do so, has no authority to require the decision to be reconsidered.Let me give some cases. There are two cases in regard to which the Parliamentary Secretary had no reply. He has told us, with the intention of justifying the new board of guardians, that they have reduced pauperism and saved money and reduced the rates by 4d. in the £ The first case is that of a man married to a war widow, and between them there are six children, four of them stepchildren of the man, and two of them children of the second marriage. They are paying a rent of 13s. 3½d. per week, and living in two, or at the most three, rooms—or they were. Because of their poverty, they were driven to sub-let a room, for which they get 4s. 6d., and the net rent they have to pay is 8s. 9½d. per week. These step-children have a war pension amounting in the aggregate to 23s. 6d. per week. It was the intention of Parliament that that money should be devoted to those children and should not be diverted to any other purpose, whatever. Previously the pensions of those children were not taken into account by the board of guardians, and quite rightly. There is nobody in this House who dare get up and say they should have taken it into account. Is there anybody who is prepared to say it?
Thank you very much. There is one hon. Member in the House who believes that War pensions granted to the children of deceased soldiers should be used for other purposes than the maintenance of the children. I should be glad if other Members would make the same admission. Previously these pensions had not been taken into account, and the step-father received in Poor Law relief £1 in kind and 5s. in money. That was not extravagant, but that, under the new régime, has been reduced to 8s. in kind and 5s. in money. There is another case, equally bad.
Certainly.This decision is one within the legal discretion of the guardians, and the Minister, even if he desired to do so, has no authority to require the decision to be reconsidered.
I will if the hon. Member wishes it, but there is nothing more in it. I have read the last sentence. It is perfectly true that it is within the discretion of the board of guardians to give relief on a scale as low as this, but the right hon. Gentleman has to remember that he introduced the Boards of Guardians (Default) Bill, aimed primarily at this particular board,
§ on the ground, first, that they were corrupt and, secondly, that they were over-generous, and the Debates in this House from that side and the decision of the majority of the Government supporters in this House were the marching orders to the new boards of guardians, who were in honour bound to make extensive economies, at whatever cost to the poor. I am not surprised that the Act was extended to other two boards of guardians. The Parliamentary Secretary said the Act had not been put into operation in many cases, but that it had had its uses. It had terrified other boards of guardians, who, fearing suppression, had been led to economise, also at the expense of the poor. I am not surprised that that should be the effect of this Act. It was intended to have that effect. It was intended, as I pointed out on Second Reading, as an economy Measure. It has succeeded in terms of finance, but it is going to cost the country an infinite expenditure in terms of misery and in terms of disease. If these are the fruits of the victory gained by hon. Members opposite in this Act, they are fruits to which they are welcome.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £12,943,493, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 75; Noes, 235.179
|Division No. 213.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hayday, Arthur||Potts, John S.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hayes, John Henry||Riley, Ben|
|Baker, Walter||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield).||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Batey, Joseph||Jenkins, W, (Glamorgan, Neath)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Broad, F. A||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Scurr, John|
|Bromley, J.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Snell, Harry|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kelly, W. T.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kennedy, T.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Connolly, M.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon, Joseph M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lansbury, George||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lawrence, Susan||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lawson, John James||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Lowth, T.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Dennison, R.||Lunn, William||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Dunnico, H.||Mackinder, W||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Gillett, George M.||MacLaren, Andrew||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Gosling, Harry||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||March, S.||Windsor, Walter|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Mosley, Oswald||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Groves, T.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Oliver, George Harold||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hardie, George D.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Mr Whiteley and Mr. A. Barnes.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut-Colonel||Albery, Irving James||Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Astor, Maj. Hon. John J. (Kent, Dover)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Oakley, T.|
|Balniel, Lord||Greene, W. P. Crawford||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Penny, Frederick George|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Perring, Sir William George|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Blundell, F. N.||Hall, Lieut. -Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Pilcher, G.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hammersley, S. S.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Brass, Captain W.||Harland, A.||Preston, William|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Harrison, G. J. C.||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hartington, Marquess of||Ramsden, E.|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Remer, J. R.|
|Brown, Brig. -Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Haslam, Henry C.||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hawke, John Anthony||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Headlam, Lieut. -Colonel C. M.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Burman, J. B||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Rye, F. G.|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Henderson, Lt.-Col. Sir V. L. (Bootle)||Salmon, Major I.|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Heneage, Lieut. -Col. Arthur P.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hills, Major John Waller||Sandon, Lord|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt.R. (Prtsmth.S)||Hilton, Cecil||Sassoon Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Savery, S. S.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St.Marylebone)||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W. R., Sowerby)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Holt, Capt. H. P.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Christie, J. A.||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belfst)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Howard-Bury, Lieut. -Colonel C. K.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Smithers, Waldron|
|Cockerill, Brig. -General Sir George||Hudson, R S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Philip||Hume, Sir G. H.||Stanley, Lieut. -Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Huntingfield, Lord||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Couper, J. B.||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Strauss, E. A.|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn. N.)||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Jacob, A. E.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Jephcott, A. R.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Templeton, W. P.|
|Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)||Thom, Lt. -Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset. Yeovil)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Knox, Sir Alfred||Tinne, J. A.|
|Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Lamb, J. Q.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Drewe, C.||Loder, J. de V.||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Long, Major Eric||Ward, Lt.-Col.A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Ellis, R. G.||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Elveden, Viscount||Lumley, L. R.||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|England, Colonel A.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)||MacDonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple.|
|Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||McLean, Major A.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Forrest, W.||Macquisten, F. A.||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Malone, Major P. B.||Withers, John James|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Margesson, Captain D.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Gates, Percy||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Murchison, Sir Kenneth|
|Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Nelson, Sir Frank||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Major Sir Harry Barnston and|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Major Cope.|
§ Original Question again proposed.181
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock and objection being taken to further Proceeding, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolution to be Reported To-morrow.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.182
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.