§ Mr. SCURR
When the proceedings were interrupted on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) to omit Clause 2 of this Bill, I was endeavouring, 709 in seconding that Amendment, to put before Members of the House, who do not represent constituencies in the administrative county of London the fact that, by the proposals which the Minister of Health is making in this Bill, he is adding yet another complicated on to the already complicated system of government which exists in London at the present time. There are 28 borough councils, the City Corporation, the London County Council, 25 boards of guardians, the Metropolitan Asylum Board, arid many other authorities, many of whom have overlapping duties and responsibilities, and many of whom have parallel duties. The fact that the Minister is bringing in another complication into London government is a thing that ought to be condemned. I can quite understand that Members from the provinces do not quite follow the working of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. The City of Birmingham, for instance, as it exists at present, is, for Poor Law purposes, one union. As a result of that, the Poor Law rate is levied all over the city, and, in consequence, the richer parts of the city and the poorer parts all pay the same, and there is no controversy between them. But, if the Members for Birmingham found that there was a board of guardians for each district, and that in each of the richer districts, like Edgbaston, the board of guardians levied a rate for their own purposes, while at the other end of the city the guardians also levied a rate for their purposes, then they, too, would be crying out for a Birmingham Common Poor Fund like London has. If they had it, they would be the very first persons to quarrel with the Minister of Health if he suggested that some authority in Birmingham, especially a non-representative authority, should deal with the administration of that fund as it is now proposed to do in London.
We know that the contributing boroughs have had an interview with the Minister, and put forward a proposal that the contribution per head ought to be reduced, and that there ought to be more effective control over the expenditure. On the other hand, the receiving boroughs also interviewed the Minister and put forward a proposal that the sum of 9d. ought to be increased, and indicated that they do not object to any 710 form of control. What was the Minister's reply? It was: "I have listened to your representations. I am of opinion that neither of you have made out your case for an increase or a decrease, and I am keeping the figures the same." But, when it comes to control, what does he say? One would have thought that, having these authorities together, he would have consulted them, and have said to them: "Let us consult together, and see what is the best form of machinery that can be devised for control." Not so the Minister. He ignores these authorities in every sense of the word. I sometimes suspect that, despite his knowledge of local government outside London, he has not got that knowledge of local government in London that he has outside. Consequently, when he has this question before him of some measure of control, he immediately asks his advisers: "Is there any central authority in London dealing in any way with the Poor Law?" They immediately reply: "There is the Metropolitan Asylum Board," and he replies: "That will do," and includes it in the Bill.
I hold in my hands a report issued by the London County Council on the 22nd February, 1928. It is the report in regard to the position of the Poor Law, particularly dealing with the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. The London County Council gave this considered opinion in regard to the proposal that the Metropolitan Asylum Board should be the authority, and I read it because it is a considered opinion, and because the chairman of the special committee is an honoured Member of this House, the hon. and gallant Member for East Fulham (Colonel Vaughan-Morgan), and he was responsible for bringing the report before the London County Council and supporting it. What they say of the Metropolitan Asylum Board is:The Metropolitan Asylum Board is a central Poor Law body consisting of 73 managers, of whom 18 are nominated by the Minister of Health, and 55 are elected for three years by the guardians of the several London Poor Law unions from within or without their boards.I hope hon. Members will notice those last words.It is therefore linked up with all the hoards of guardians, and may be said to represent (by indirect election) London as a whole. It is probable that the Board 711 could manage the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund, as a purely administrative function, much in the same way as the receiver of the Fund does at present, but such a transfer alone would not materially improve the situation. The fact that one or more of the managers were members of the boards of guardians (and they would not necessarily be guardians) would not be a sufficient safeguard against unsatisfactory administration, for it may be doubted whether such members would be able to influence to any considerable extent the general policy of their boards. It would appear that, in order to secure an improvement in the direction of controlling expenditure chargeable to the Fund in respect of outdoor relief, the Board would have to supervise, or, at any rate, watch closely, the administration of such relief throughout London, and might possibly have to undertake other functions. The Board, being an institutional authority only, has no machinery for dealing with outdoor relief, and it would seem undesirable that any new organisation should be set up for the purpose, in view of the fact that both the Board and the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund would disappear if the Minister's provisional scheme for Poor Law reform in London were carried out. The alternative would be for the machinery and powers of the Ministry of Health to be utilised so far as might be necessary, and for the Board to work in close co-operation with the Ministry in the matter. It is difficult to visualise a scheme on these lines which would work satisfactorily.This is the considered opinion of the London County Council, and that that opinion is absolutely justifiable is shown when I mention to the House the functions of the Metropolitan Asylum Board. It has really very little to do with Poor Law at all. It has to do with fever hospitals, smallpox hospitals, institutions for post-encephalitis lethargica, tuberculosis sanatoria., mental hospitals, mental deficiency hospitals, institutions for the feebleminded, institutions for sane epileptics, institutions for parturient women suffering from venereal disease, ophthalmia, neonatornm, sick children, and the training ship "Exmouth." The only Poor Law with which it deals is the casual wards. Out of a total expenditure of £2,213,000, only £35,000 was spent on the casual poor. The rest is public health services and has nothing to do with the giving of public assistance, either indoors or outdoors, and I submit that a body of that kind is absolutely unable to do this work satisfactorily.
There is a further point in regard to the constitution of the Board. So far as 712 the guardians are concerned, when consideration is being given to the question as to how the Members shall be elected, and a particular union is divided into wards, the idea is that the number of representatives for each ward shall be in proportion to rateable value and population, but in regard to the nomination of persons by boards of guardians to the Metropolitan Asylum Board, there seems to have been no scheme of any kind or description. I find, for example, that the rateable value of the Union of Camberwell is £1,531,000, and of Lewisham, £1,530,000, which is as nearly equal as it is possible to get. Yet Camberwell has two representatives and Lewisham one. On the other hand, Greenwich has a rateable value of £1,364,000 and Southwark about £1,400,000, and Greenwich has one, and Southwark two. Stepney, which has a valuation of £1,770,000, is allowed four. That is rather fortunate for the party with which I am identified, because we have a Labour majority, but the system is unfair from beginning to end. If we take the test of population, we have the same anomaly. Stepney, with 255,000, has four representatives, while Holborn, with 120,000, has three. If I take the principle of rateable value and population together, I find a further anomaly. In Stepney and Camberwell population and rateable value are practically equal, and Stepney has four representatives while Camberwell has two.
Then there is the unwieldy size of this Board. It means that in the end it is going to be reduced to a small Committee of the Board, and what are to be the principles? There is no quarrel, I take it, in regard to the amount per head that is charged on the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. If my memory serves me aright, the figures show that the average is round about 12d. throughout London. Only one or two Boards are below, Hackney and Fulham, and one or two are above. Poplar, I think, is about 14d. and Stepney about 12½d. Therefore it is not the amount spent per head as to which there can be any quarrel. Is it then going to be a question as to the number of persons who are going to be in receipt of outdoor relief? Because after all, that is coming down to a question of policy, and we on these benches have suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that the proper way would be that if there was a contribution being 713 made by all the unions of London towards the relief of the able-bodied poor, they ought to come in as one body, and take the responsibility of the administration of that relief, the receiving boroughs and contributing boroughs together. It has been suggested that the right hon. Gentleman has the power under which, just as there has been a district created for Metropolitan Asylums Board purposes, there might be a district created for dealing entirely with this question of relief to the able-bodied poor of London. Then there could be no possible quarrel between any of the unions or any idea that there was a wrong policy being pursued.
But how can the Metropolitan Asylums Board decide the questions that exist in regard to the relief in London at present? It is a totally different position in regard to administration, say in Fulham and in Poplar. So far as Poplar, Stepney and Bermondsey and, to some extent, Greenwich are concerned, we suffer from that frightful curse of casual labour. In the London Docks there are employed roughly between 15,000 and 17,000 people, and yet there are nearly double that number of members in the union to which I belong seeking work every day. Some means has to be taken, so long as the casual labour problem has not been dealt with by the Port of London Authority or any other authority, under which this industry has to be subsidised, and it is subsidised for the moment by the Poor Law. Does the Minister propose to issue regulations to say that casual workers are not to receive outdoor relief f Is he going to issue regulations that single persons are not going to receive outdoor relief? It is possible by these means to reduce expenditure for the moment, but you are not in the end going to save anything at all, because later on there will be further expenditure on account of the malnutrition of these people, and the result will be greater charges on the public health services, if you drive them into the institutions as they are called—they used to be called workhouses.
There is rather a new idea now that if we only change the name we change the thing. To the people who have to go to the institutions it is as much a workhouse to-day as it was then, and if you are going to send these people into the workhouse and drive them to criminal courses—and the best of them, I really think, would become criminal if they 714 could not get any assistance at all—whether you send them to prison or put them into the workhouse it is going to cost a great deal more than at present. For all these reasons, I think the proposal the right hon. Gentleman has put forward is the worst that could possibly be made. It adds complication to London government, it is putting a duty upon an authority which, by its constitution, it is unable to deal with, and it will create friction between the contributing and receiving boroughs which does not exist to any appreciable extent at present, and it will make things a good deal worse than they are now. For these reasons, I beg to second the Amendment.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the end of page 2, line 19, stand part of the Bill."
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I am sure it has not escaped your notice, Sir, what a very great amount of time Parliament has spent upon Poor Law matters. We have had a litter of little Poor Law Bills. Every six months punctually we spend the time of Parliament in Prayers against the three sets of appointed guardians. We have had not one but many general Debates dealing either with the Poor Law or with matters indirectly connected with it, such as the distress in the mining areas. We have had Parliamentary time enough to have brought in and carried through a really first-class Measure,, but we have done nothing except pass a series of tiny patching up Bills one after another, and if one may draw any inference from the dates in the Bill, that process is to continue indefinitely or for such period as the life of the present Government. But it is no good regretting what might have been. It is no good expressing our wish for some comprehensive Measure of Poor Law reform which would prevent the time of Parliament being niggled away in one little expedient after another. We have to deal with this little Bill before us. I do not deny at all that there are redeeming elements in it. From one paint of view, I regard it with considerable pleasure. Probably it is an illegitimate view, but at this time in the life of a Parliament, one's mind turns irresistibly from the merits of the Bill to the effect it is going to have upon the electors.
715 This is a little Clause to give everything to the Metropolitan Asylum Board, and the Clause is almost the whole Bill. Though it concerns quite a limited circle, just the London Poor Law guardians, the fact is that every body it touches violently and utterly objects to it. We have repeatedly heard what the Association of Boards of Guardians say with regard to it. The majority of those guardians were present at the meeting, and we know of a good many others who are of like sentiment, and those who were present, representing the majority of the London unions, including Westminster and the City, who contributed over 80 per cent. to the Common Poor Fund, passed a resolution saying that they object to the Bill. The City of London Union, with that spirit of enterprise and self-determination which always characterises the City, has circulated Members of Parliament independently explaining that they do not care for the provisions of the Bill. It is very remarkable that there is something like absolute unanimity as to the purpose for which this Bill is proposed to be brought forward. There is unanimity on the part of all the boards of guardians on the main question. We all agree that the administration of the Common Poor Fund is something like an open scandal. We all agree that it is a disgrace that Westminster and the City should be called upon to subscribe money over which they have no control. I should think every Member would agree that to bring unity into the chaotic condition of London Poor Law administration would be an excellent thing. There is no human creature outside a lunatic asylum who thinks it is a good thing that one system of administration should be in force in one corner of London and another, diametrically opposite, in another. Every one in his senses agrees that there is disgraceful administration, and every one of the guardians who protested against the Minister's scheme would agree that those two points are great evils. What an easy job the Minister had under such circumstances! If he had deigned to go through the ordinary procedure consulting the administrative bodies concerned, I think a unanimous scheme would have been adopted. Anyhow, he would have obtained a scheme which would have been 716 agreeable to his own supporters. He has produced a scheme which offends and annoys everybody.
What we and the guardians are facing, is a piece of administration which seems to us to be a thoroughly bad piece of administration. There are a great many reasons for thinking that. I do not want to detain the House by going through these reasons in detail, but I will mention one or two reasons why the revision of the estimates by the Metropolitan Asylum Board, as proposed in Clause 2, is a very bad form of carrying out this matter. It is a silly business to attempt to produce uniformity by way of a revision of estimates. Can anybody imagine anything more ridiculous than to set 28 bodies to make the estimates and one body to correct them? If you want uniformity and prudent expenditure and all things that every reasonable person wants in Poor Law relief you have to control not the estimates, but the policy which leads up to the estimates.
This is a measure productive of the utmost possible amount of confusion and discomfort to all concerned. It is a thing which cannot work smoothly. The ordinary smooth, placid life of the Metropolitan Asylum Board is already over. That body is already being manned by militants from every board of guardians. That body will be the scene of the fiercest struggles. It will be thrown into violent controversy with almost every other board of guardians, and I do not exclude the City. The City Board of Guardians, with its natural pride, has written to say how it strongly disapproves of submitting its estimates to be revised by such an authority. If you want to have uniformity you have to control policy. That is why we have always said that the proper way to have dealt with this matter would have been to make London into a united district for the purpose of out-relief to the able-bodied, and that could have been done without hardly any legislation at mere little Bill to deal with the Common Poor Fund and to place the resources of the Common Poor Fund at the disposal of the Ministry. From the point of view of smooth administration, the plan contained in Clause 2 of proceeding by correcting estimates after they have been made is a bad and an ineffective plan and likely to lead to confusion.
717 The Metropolitan Asylum Board has no staff at all to deal with this matter. It has no staff of any kind to make inquiries, and therefore you are driven back to one of two equally disastrous alternatives. Either they will have to act blindly or they will have to create a staff for the purpose of making inquiries and duplicate in that way the already much too large staffs of the 28 boards of guardians. Our plan would have meant an economy of staff. Everybody who knows of the staffing, the clerical work and the rest of the administration of boards of guardians is aware that if you centralise boards of guardians and bring them under one management you will not need more staff but will be able to dispense with a great deal of the existing staff. The Minister, in Committee, actually said that to make London a united district would mean more staff. No, it is the making of the Metropolitan Asylum Board the authority which will mean either more staff or, as I have said, a blindfold performance of their duties. These are some of the reasons why the Metropolitan Asylum Board is a very bad body for that purpose.
I will come to another point. My hon. Friend has described how archaic and what an historical curiosity is the manner in which the representation of the London boards of guardians is shared out on the Metropolitan Asylum Board. There is more than that. The body is to be over-weighted by nominees of the Minister. There are to be 18 out of 55, quite sufficient to turn the balance between the two contending factions which we may expect to see on the Metropolitan Asylum Board. All the 18 nominees are to be utterly irresponsible people; not responsible to the electors, not responsible to the auditor, and not responsible technically to the Minister, and, therefore, not responsible to Parliament itself. This is another example of the extraordinary novelty which the Minister of Health has introduced into local government—the creation of persons who are his creatures, who are not technically responsible to him, and, therefore, not responsible to Parliament. The selection in this way of people who are neither electors nor guardians nor Members of Parliament is precisely the same device as was used with regard to the appointed guardians. I say that it is an entire novelty in local government. It is a new 718 thing, and a very bad thing indeed. The Minister who can get rid of these persons whenever he likes and who can appoint whoever he likes and for whose actions he need not answer to Parliament is being given a sort of illegitimate influence over the most important operations of local authorities. There are three classes of persons now—the auditors with their new powers irresponsible to Parliament; the newly-elected guardians, the right hon. Gentleman's own creation; and there are now these new powers to be given to a body which is to be overridden by the Minister's nominees.
I am not going to argue this Bill. We know that it is going to go through. We know that the objections of the Guardians of Westminster and of the City find no echo. We know that they are to be relied upon to follow the Minister. It is no use arguing the matter. The Bill is going through. If I could speak better than any Member on either side of this House, or reason like Euclid, or was possessed of the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) it would not make two pins difference. The thing is going through. I, therefore, end as I began, as an optimist. I like to look on the bright side of this thing. This is a Bill which every expert hates. It is a Bill which everybody who searched through it dislikes. It is a Bill which has made for the Minister a reputation for discourtesy towards London municipal government. It is one more stone to be thrown on to the cairn which will mark the unlamented death of this Government. From this point of view, it is a little thing, and every little thing helps, but it is one of those things which in cumulative effect will help to bring home to the country the confusion and failure that the Minister of Health has made of the Poor Law and the failure which this Government has made of one of the most important questions before the country.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Chamberlain)
I hardly dare rise after the eloquence to which we have just listened. I confess I regard with undisturbed equanimity the prospect of the cairn over my grave which the hon. Member has been imagining. This particular Clause is the one which seeks to establish some 719 control over the amount which London as a whole shall contribute for the expenses of individual boards of guardians. The Clause selects the Metropolitan Asylum Board as the body to which has to be delegated that measure of control. Both the last speakers have admitted that control is desirable. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood), on the Second Reading of the Bill fully accepted the principle of control, and the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence), who has just sat down, has gone further and said that it is a perfect disgrace that Westminster and the City of London should contribute to the expenses of Poplar without any control over that expenditure. But the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who moved the Amendment, does not want any control at all. He says that there is no necessity for any control.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am just going to quote to the hon. Gentleman what he did say, if he will let me. He said in his speech, moving the rejection of this Clause that it was quite unnecessary to exercise any control and said that the Minister had that control already in his office.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that I said I stood for no control. He has quoted something which is very different. I told him that he had control at the present moment through his Department of the Common Poor Fund. That does not mean no control.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I have said it 50,000 times in this House, and you have told me that I have said it so often that you have got tired of hearing it.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Gentleman does very often repeat himself, and possibly I may have been betrayed into misinterpreting him on this occasion. But I do not remember having heard him make that particular remark, and I am glad to know exactly what his view is. I now challenge his statement that such control as is provided by this Bill exists 720 in the Ministry. He is really much too familiar with the actual powers of the Minister of Health to try to persuade this House that the Minister of Health has now power with regard to particular items of the amounts which are sought to be charged upon the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund to say that these items should be disallowed. The Minister of Health has no such power. [Interruption.] That is a different matter altogether. It is quite true that certain salaries have to be sanctioned by the Minister of Health, and that unless they are, they cannot be a charge upon the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. That is true, but that is not the control contemplated in this Bill.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member has read the Bill, I presume. The House really might be misled if they were to accept what the hon. Member said, so I cannot allow the statement to pass that any such control in the hands of the Ministry to-day is comparable with the control that is given in the Bill. Hon. Members opposite object to the particular form of control given by the Bill.
I have noticed some confusion of thought in some of the speeches which have been made upon this Clause. Over and over again we have been told that this is a Measure for the purpose of cutting the relief given or the policy followed by particular boards of guardians. It is nothing of the kind. This Bill does not give power to exercise control over the actual relief that is given by particular boards of guardians. What we are endeavouring to do is to settle the amount of that relief which shall be a common charge upon London; an entirely different matter. Hon. Members opposite, as they have done more than once, suggest to me that I would not dare to propose such a thing for Birmingham, Manchester or any provincial town. I would remind them once more that there is no arrangement parallel to this in any provincial town. You would have to have pooling relations between, say, Birmingham, Smethwick, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Walsall and Wolverhampton to provide anything like a parallel, and if such a pooling arrangement as that were proposed, I will undertake to say that the businesslike authorities of the Midlands would never allow it to go through unless there was 721 some common control over the policy. In London we have to face an arrangement under which the unions who pay to the Common Poor Fund have no control or voice Whatsoever in the allocation of the money, which is drawn automatically from the Fund, without their being able to, lift a finger to defend their own interests.
I think I am interpreting the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley correctly when I say that in his opinion the only way to deal satisfactorily with this problem in London would be to have in common over the whole district not merely a financial arrangement for meeting the charges of poor relief but also for the administration of poor relief itself.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Hear, hear! I should prefer that you reformed the Poor Law and abolished the boards of guardians; pending that, I would support with all my heart a central authority for London to govern and control the whole of the Poor Law administration of London.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think that I am very far away from the hon. Member in that respect, but certainly it would be niggling legislation to deal with a big problem of that kind except as a whole. The hon. Member was good enough to suggest that this was a sort of trial run to see whether an arrangement of this kind would work, and if so, to adopt it permanently, instead of carrying out a more drastic reform. I think it was Lord Palmerston who was said to be more universally successful than any other foreign Minister in deceiving foreign diplomats, because he always told them the truth and they never believed him. The hon. Member seems likely to fall into the same error as the foreign diplomats, because whenever I tell him the truth he never believes me.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member is too ready to make up his mind and to assume that I have such Machiavellian designs in my mind as he suggests. The proposal in this Clause is, admittedly, on the face of it, merely a temporary proposal. The Bill itself was originally limited to five years, but has now been cut down in Committee to four 722 years. We explained in Committee that we had deliberately extended the Bill for the longer period in order to give time for the operation of any new legislation which may be introduced for the purpose of carrying out that complete reform of the Poor Law system to which the hon. Member has referred. Let me say something about the Metropolitan Asylum Board as the authority for revising the charges upon the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. I explained on the Second Reading of the Bill that various methods could have been adopted for setting up a body to exercise control. I did not contemplate at that time that this was to be more than a temporary arrangement. Obviously, if you are making a proposal which is simply to tide you over for a few years, it would be absurd to erect any more elaborate machinery than you can possibly avoid. It was that consideration which led me to put on one side the possibility which I certainly should have contemplated very seriously if I had been thinking of a permanent arrangement, setting up an ad hoc body which might have been constituted in such a way as to meet some of the arguments which have been put forward from the benches opposite.
I agree that if we were starting from the beginning to find the best body for a purpose of this kind, one would not constitute it exactly as the Metropolitan Asylum Board is constituted. We have a great many different bodies in London for one purpose or another, and it would be very undesirable to add to their number, especially in a case where the functions which that body performs are only to last for a comparatively short time. It was for that reason, and I think it was a good reason, that I looked around London to see what bodies were functioning which might be competent to carry out this work. There were only two such bodies. There was the London County Council, which I think everyone will agree is unsuitable for this purpose, and which itself, I am sure, would avoid if possible the taking on of so great a responsibility as this. Then there was the Metropolitan Asylum Board. It is true that the Asylum Board was constituted a good many years ago and that it no longer represents, as I believe it did at the time when it was constituted, the relative proportions of rateable value. If we were reconstituting it now it would probably 723 give a larger representation to the paying unions than now. Hon. Members opposite will not object 'because the constitution of the Board is a-little out of date in that respect.
It is not worth while to alter the constitution of this body for the short time that it will be asked to exercise the particular functions which are to be given to it under this Bill. It is a competent body. By the admission of the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr), it has been extremely successful in doing the work which it has to do; it is a body which has served with success, efficiency and businesslike methods, and I do not think that the duties which we are putting upon it now are such as require more expert authority than you can find among the members of that board. In their individual capacity the members of the board are familiar with the problem with which they will have to deal. It will not be their function to inquire whether relief given in any particular instance is adequate or excessive; but they will have to inquire whether the relief given in any particular union is of such a character that it ought not to be paid for by London as a whole, and that a certain part of it, at any rate more than the union desires, ought to be met out of the rates of that particular district.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think we shall find in practice, when this Bill has become law, that it will not be necessary to go into individual cases. By comparing the practice in one union with the practice in other unions, by taking the general averages, by hearing from the unions themselves what they may have to say as to the special character of their own district, and by such information as can be obtained from other sources, I think the board will be able to form a very fair idea of what would be the proper limits of the charges to be made upon the Common Poor Fund. These, at any rate, are the lines upon which I expect the Board to proceed. We had to choose between doing nothing at all, leaving things exactly as they are, or providing such a measure of con- 724 trol as was possible with an existing body. One hon. Member, I think it was the hon. Member for East Ham North, said that the board had no staff for this purpose and that they would have to provide a staff or that the board whose estimates were being inquired into would have to provide the staff.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I think the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. was speaking in favour of a united district, and I said that the united district would have a common staff and he able to settle the policy which led up to the estimate, instead of criticising the estimate.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I was not referring to what was said by the hon. Member to-day, but some observation in Committee upstairs. My point is that the board has a staff already which I believe will be sufficient- to enable them to carry through these new duties. If we were to set up a new body, as is proposed in an Amendment. which we are not to debate separately this evening, a new staff would have to be appointed and they would have to have new offices. When we have a body like the Asylum Board, experienced, competent, well-provided and equipped with all that is necessary, I think it will be a waste of money and a waste of energy to set up a new staff. I ask the House to reject the Amendment.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HARRIS
The right hon. Gentleman said that we have to choose between doing nothing or adopting the proposal in this Bill. With great respect, I do not think that is the correct choice to put before the House. The responsibility for having to choose such a Bill as this rests with the Minister, who has neglected the opportunity to deal with the Poor Law as a whole. He has had three or four years in which to prepare his proposals and to bring the alternatives before the House. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about niggling legislation. If ever there was legislation which deserved the description of niggling, it is contained in this particular Clause. Here is a big question about which Parliament has made up its mind, and we are foisted off with a clumsy instrument like this. Under machinery of this kind friction is inevitable. The Minister 725 of Health seemed surprised that there is a general agreement about the necessity for control. As far as I can see, there is agreement not only on the Government side, but also amongst the Members of the Opposition that if you are going to take money from one authority and hand it over to another authority to spend there must be some control. I have always protested against the 'present system. It is thoroughly unsound and can only be justified as a temporary Measure. Year after year it has been introduced as a temporary Measure, and now the right hon. Gentleman comes forward and blandly recommends this Bill because it is only going to last four years. It is not worthy of his pretensions to statesmanship and high principles. If control is going to work and be effective there must be something like general agreement between the controlling authority and the authority to be controlled. If the controlled authority does not accept the machinery there is bound to be friction, and in the end the organisation will break down.
It is very remarkable that both paying and receiving authorities have come to something like general agreement as to the kind of organisation which would be acceptable to them. They have come to an agreement, both the poorer unions and the richer districts, that they are prepared to accept an organisation composed of representatives of all the boards of guardians concerned. Would it not have been wiser for the right hon. Gentleman to have accepted this proposal? For some unknown reasons he has wedded himself to the Metropolitan Asylum Board which, as he says, will disappear in the future. Is it not a little clumsy to put this great power into the hands of an authority which is condemned to disappear? If this machinery is to work this organisation will have to engage new officials and a new staff. It cannot do the work with the existing organisation, and with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman the Metropolitan Asylum Board will have to go down and inspect the working of the administration in the various unions. That must mean fresh officials. It is most unfortunate, when you have the opportunity of getting something which will be acceptable to all concerned, that the Minister has allowed the opportunity to go by. I received a very interesting letter from an 726 organisation which is not prejudiced in favour of the present system—the Poplar Borough Municipal Alliance. It is an organisation which exists for the purpose of discrediting the work of the party to which the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) belongs. They held a meeting which was attended mainly by limited companies, who do not have votes, and the wealthier sections of the community, and the concluding sentence of the resolution they passed is as follows:We strongly protest against the Bill being left in its present form whereby it is left to the arbitrary decision of the Metropolitan Asylum Board as to whether any proposed expenditure of the guardians is to he provided or not out of the common fund.That is their opinion. This particular Clause has no friends in any part of London. It has no friends in Westminster or in Poplar, or in the City of London. If there is any part of London which is entitled to call for safeguards with regard to expenditure out of the common fund it is the City of London, which is the second largest contributor to the fund and takes very little out of it. The City of London goes out of its way to take exception to this Clause and asks that there should be an organisation formed out of all the unions in the London area. At the eleventh hour I would suggest that this temporary Measure might be made workable if the proposal that the control should be in the hands of representatives of the people actually doing the work was accepted. Only in this way can it be made workable.
We have had great friction during the last few years and much suspicion. I hope this Bill will not be regarded as a solution. In spite of the reference to Lord Palmerston and the right hon. Gentleman's promise to the House that this is only a temporary Measure, I am afraid he has not the energy and initiative to put his beliefs into practical form. He has had three years of office and the backing of all parties in the proposals he put forward, but there is no reason to believe that. if, unfortunately, he is in office for another three years, his great Poor Law Bill will take a tangible form. He will be able to put forward the excuse that as he has put the present Bill on the Statute Book there is no immediate hurry for anything of a more per- 727 manent character. I hope the House will reject this Clause as a protest against the failure of the Government to deal with a problem which has been long overdue, which is demanded by public opinion, and which is to be postponed by the clumsy and unsatisfactory proposals in this Bill.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
It is a matter of great regret that a Bill, the main purpose of which is to extend certain provisions in previous enactments, should be made the means of introducing something entirely new in London government. I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's further explanation of his reasons for introducing this Clause. I agree that he is justified in assuming that most Members of this House are in favour of some control over the expenditure of Poor Law guardians, and if this Measure had been brought forward with the sole intention of setting up a permanent body for that purpose we might have found ourselves nearer to agreement than we are now. What we object to is that the Minister should seek to introduce this new principle knowing, as he does, that for generations past the control already exercised by the Minister, and by boards of guardians themselves, has been sufficient for public purposes. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health looks at me with surprise, as if he was under the impression that the Minister has not sufficient control at the present time.
After all, the right hon. Gentleman need be concerned with one thing only in connection with Poor Law expenditure, and that is whether the law is being carried out. If the law is being carried out then the Minister has every reason to be satisfied with what is being done. If it is not, he has the remedy in his own hands; and he has not hesitated in the recent past, when he has been dissatisfied with the public policy of certain boards of guardians, to introduce a Special Audit Bill to put things right. Nobody wants this Bill except the Minister of Health. It was quite late in the day before the right hon. Gentleman took the trouble to consult the very body which is to have this power. The Metropolitan Asylum Board were not consulted until the eleventh hour, and while it is true that they cast their votes in a fairly 728 large majority in favour of accepting it, it was while we were considering the Bill in Committee, and, therefore, it was largely in the nature of accepting what was being thrust upon them rather than from any conviction that it was the kind of proposal they should accept. The Metropolitan Asylum Board has certain functions of its own which in no way fit, it for the special purpose laid down in this Clause. You are asking the Metropolitan Asylum Board through a system of elected representatives, to be a party to the expenditure of every board of guardians in London.
Although the Minister did his best to explain why it was necessary that the estimates of these boards of guardians should be closely examined by this specially appointed body, he did not point out in what way, during the past few years, those estimates had been wrongly drawn up. He has not pointed to any particular abuse on the part of London boards of guardians to justify such a revolutionary change in London government as this particular Clause implies. We have a right to expect some reason to be advanced in regard to the past actions of those who have hitherto been responsible for drawing up these estimates, before we are asked to transfer the responsibility to some other body to be set up under the Bill. Important bodies like the Metropolitan. Asylum Board have reluctantly accepted the proposal, and the London County Council, on which there is a majority of the friends of the Government, though they looked at it with suspicion have loyally voted in support of accepting the Bill; but it is true that when the Committee reported to the full Council after their examination of the Bill, they stated quite clearly that they did not want the Bill, but the Bill being there and they being called upon to support the Government, they were prepared to accept the Bill.
Then you have the opinion of the Board of Guardians for the City of London. I look around the House in a vain endeavour to see the two representatives of the. City of London. To-morrow afternoon we shall find those two representatives of the City claiming their ancient right to sit on the Front Government Bench, but when it comes to supporting the views of their own constituents on a poor law question we have to record that they have been weighed and found 729 wanting. If the Parliamentary Secretary is going to say anything further on the matter, perhaps he will be good enough to point out just why it is that in a temperate Measure of this kind we should be asked to endorse an entirely new principle of supervision in London. What we want is a complete and comprehensive Measure reconstructing the whole poor law system for London. I see that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with me in that point? No? He shakes his head in the affirmative, to show that he understands me. Why not? If the Government are contemplating a complete change of the poor law why not put Clause 2 on one side? It is only a matter of four years and the present system has done fairly well for four generations. Why bother about something that nobody likes? Why force the majority behind the Government to support something that no-one likes, merely for the matter of four years legislation? We are not defeating the Bill. We want the Bill but without Clause 2. I see that the Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head in the affirmative again. He agrees with me?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I know what you want.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
I wish I could say that the Parliamentary Secretary's knowing what we want was an equivalent to saying that he was prepared to give us what we want. But that is too much to expect, even though he may be one of the most accommodating Members of the Government that it is our pleasure to debate with. Members of the House who will decide this issue have not heard the argument. It is a curious commentary on the procedure of this House that when the Report stage of a Bill is being considered and that stage is being taken with the intention of preserving the rights of Members to discuss whatever principles may be contained in a Bill, that right is so little regarded in this House that Members are not here to listen to arguments. Consequently although we have proved our case up to the hilt, although we have crushed the Minister of Health to such an extent that he has been obliged to leave the Chamber, although we have carried the day in every respect—in spite of all that we have done, I fear we shall have the regretful experience of losing our Amendment.
§ Mr. PALING
I never heard the Minister of Health put up a weaker case for anything than he has done in regard to this Bill. He began by picking flaws in the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) by saying that everyone was agreed more or less that there ought to be some kind of control except the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley. The right hon. Gentleman was pulled up for that statement before he had spoken half a minute, and had to admit that there he was wrong. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley is in favour of some control. The right hon. Gentleman was then driven back to the only argument that I have heard from beginning to end on this Bill, and that was this—that he has virtually admitted time after time that the authority is not a desirable authority, but that because it was for such a short time he hoped it would remain in operation; he thought the authority, bad as it was, was good enough to operate the Bill for the short time that it has to remain. That appears to me to be a. very weak argument indeed, particularly in face of the fact that the authorities concerned on both sides of the case, those that pay in and those that receive, have already met and have suggested a kind of Board which would be agreeable to everyone, which would cost little or nothing, while the question of staff could easily have been arranged; which would have been agreeable to everyone and would have worked amicably even for the period of four years.
I understand, in addition. that when this Rill was brought on someone was asking for control and cast his eyes round and looked at this place and that and the other, and examined one authority and another authority, and then finally decided on this. Probably the reason was that it was about the most reactionary authority that he could lay his hands on and the one most likely to conform to the demands which the Ministry of Health would make. That being so, he never thought it well to consult the people whose estimates are to be taken into consideration, but has adopted this authority without even having the courtesy to approach them. The thing in itself is almost unprecedented in the history of the Minister of Health. I am a little doubtful as to whether the 731 Minister's ideas in this matter are as above-board and as kindly as he would have us believe. When I look through the right hon. Gentleman's record I find that since he has been at the head of this Department almost everything he has done has been in the direction of trying to interfere with elected authorities and to substitute for them nominated and autocratic bodies. I remember the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act. We know how the Minister's own nominees were sent to two or three places, there to carry out the ideas of the Ministry of Health because the elected representatives in those districts had not acted as the Minister thought they ought to have done.
I know that these nominees of the right hon. Gentleman have cut down the scales of relief in many cases to such a point that it is almost impossible for the people living under them to keep body and soul together. That was a reactionary business and the present proposal is on the same lines. The Minister is taking power away from the elected authorities and putting it into the hands of nominees. If the body to which it is proposed to give control under this Bill, comes into operation—as I suppose it will—I wonder if the Minister will he as proud of it as he has been of these other actions. If this Measure has results such as the result mentioned in the House last week from Chester-le-Street the case of Mary Race, I wonder if the Minister will then boast about what the nominated members have done in cutting down this, that or the other expenditure. I wonder if he will ask us to look at the reduction in rates. I suppose if this board's control comes into operation in this matter the amounts which London and Westminster and Holborn have to pay will be cut down and that the Minister will be in a position to boast of that result. But I dare say that if cases arise, such as the case from Chester-le-Street which I have just mentioned, the Minister will say as little as he said last Wednesday. I do the right hon. Gentleman the credit of believing that he was ashamed of that business, and said as little as possible about it.
Another experiment which he with his admirable lieutenant has made is 732 the Audit (Local Authorities) Act. Here was another case in which they thought that an elected authority had too much power. The Minister could not bring in another Default Bill. He could not substitute his own nominated dictators for the elected representatives in this case, and he had to find a more subtle means of dealing with the matter. He found that means in the Audit Act. Under that Measure where these elected authorities spent more than he in his high and mighty wisdom, thought fit, the auditor could come down on them and impose certain penalties. That was the second experiment and I think there has been a third, though not by way of legislation. We have had in Abertillery the working of the system which is called "the big three." That is a third experiment in dictatorship, and in doing away with democratic control. I wonder if the result of this Measure will be as good as the results have been in South Wales as illustrated by the Report of the Commissioners who were sent there. If the authority which is to be set up under this Bill reduces the people concerned to an even lower state of misery and destitution than they are in now, I wonder will the Minister come to this House and suggest that the only way to meet the situation is by private charity.
There was never a more reactionary Minister at the Ministry of Health, and the present Bill is in keeping with everything he has done. During the Committee proceedings the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Rye), who has, I understand, been a Mayor of Westminster, one of the paying-in-boroughs, argued that the amounts paid by these boroughs had grown tremendously, and expressed the hope that they would be cut down. In my opinion that is the pith of this Bill. That is why the Minister has selected this particular body. He regards it as the body which is most likely to carry out his purpose. The Metropolitan Asylum Board has, I understand, 18 nominated members out of 55. The paying-in parties and the receiving parties are rep resented in almost equal proportions on the elective part of the Board, so that the 18 nominated members will have virtual control. They will be removed from the people who have to receive relief in the poorer districts. They will never come 733 into actual contact with the results of cutting down these grants, and because of this fact and because they are doing it in bulk, they will be the better able to achieve the Minister's object. That is the main reason why they have been chosen.
All along the line the Minister is seeking to bring this kind of authority into operation in connection with Poor Law relief—people who are not responsible to the electors. I suppose the Minister has found out that the electors are so persuaded of the humanity and justice of paying these poor people decent rates of subsistence that, even if it means paying more in rates, they continue to elect the representatives who give decent treatment to the poor. The Minister, therefore, has to find somebody else who will regard the question from a different angle. He wants people of his own choosing—the most reactionary he can lay his hands upon—and while we had here an opportunity of setting up a body which would have been representative of all the parties concerned, and to which all would have agreed, the Minister has been guilty of discourtesy to the people concerned by bringing in this proposal. Not only that, hut he will probably prove to be guilty of doing to the poor of London the thing which has already been done in Chester-le-Street, South Wales and West Ham. I suppose it is vain to hope that even yet the Minister may alter this Bill and substitute for the body proposed here one which would more nearly represent the ideals for which the people stand.
§ Mr. KELLY
I had not intended to take part in this discussion, but having heard the statements—not arguments—of the Minister as to why he is adopting this line of policy in Clause 2 of the Bill, I would be failing in my duty if I did not enter a strong protest against it and do my utmost to have this Clause eliminated. Ever since coming to London, many years ago, I have wondered why it was that in London we were split up into so many fragments, why there was no community of interest between North, South, East and West of this great place; and if the proposal of the Minister had been to do something that would bring about that community of 734 interest and make London as a whole realise its responsibility to its fellows, I would welcome the proposal.
But we have found the Minister stating this afternoon that he had looked round for some particular institution upon which he could rely to carry out whatever is in the mind of the Ministry of Health, and he has seized upon a Board that is not responsible to the people of London, a. Board that has had upon it in the past, and probably has in the present, people who have been nominated to the position without the slightest experience of the industry or commercial life of London, whose knowledge has been limited to the extent of having come into London and done a little social work because they have felt they ought to do something for the easy life they were living in other directions. That is the type of person who has been sitting upon the Metropolitan Asylum Board, and that is the body which is being asked to decide Whether or not the estimates presented by the Woolwich Board of Guardians, dealing with the poor people of Eltham, for example, are satisfactory. The people on this body may not know where Eltham is, they may not know anything about its life and its hutments and the suffering that has gone on there for years, but they are to be asked to decide whether they have a right to receive, out of the Common Fund, an amount of money in order to help tide them over some of that suffering period.
I am amazed that in the year 1928 the Government should come forward with a proposal such as that. When, this evening, I interjected a question as to how these people were to judge of the estimates, the Minister said that after a time they would be able to deal with them. Really, we expect something better from the Government, than to suggest that a body which is going to gain experience as the time goes on is to decide as to Whether the next half-year's estimate is one that may be passed or reported to the Ministry as being extravagant. He said that they would be able to compare one union area with another, and that if the conditions in Westminster were at a certain level—[Interruption]—it may be amusing to some hon. Members, but this is serious for the people who are suffering because of industry being so badly organised that they are not able to find work and secure 735 wages. It is suggested that those people from Westminster who sit on the Metropolitan Asylum Board will be able to judge as to the conditions of Camberwell, of Woolwich, or of Poplar, and that if Poplar happens to ask for what appears to them to be an amount greater than is commensurate with what they believe are the demands of Westminster, then there is extravagance in Poplar. To ask us to agree to this body as the one that shall decide these questions is asking something that I hope no London Member, whatever may be his political views, will be prepared to accept.
Reference has been made to the London County Council, of which the Parliamentary Secretary was not only an ornament but a very useful member—I want to pay that tribute to him—but the moment that you go to that body with a Bill from the party now in power, when their own friends are in a majority on that Council, if you think they are going to do other than accept it, you are asking too much, even from the London County Council, and it is not an argument that warrants this Amendment being turned down by this House. I do not want to repeat what has been said already, but it is said that this is for a short period of four years only. May I point out that the Minister himself expects that it will take a considerable time before the Metropolitan Asylum Board has gained experience enough to do its work properly? How many half-years' estimates have to be placed before the Board before it is skilled in the real sense of understanding what ought to be passed? Doos the right hon. Gentleman expect that body to gain this experience before the four years have passed?
§ I notice that this Board will be expected to decide whether any reduction is such as it may think fit to make. On what basis is it going to work in order to judge as to what reduction is required? It will not interview the applicants for relief, it will not examine the industrial or commercial condition of the district, it will not go into arty of those details, and yet 18 nominated people, without responsibility to London, who may have been doing good social work on some of the care committees in connection with our schools, and who may have had this job handed out to them as a reward for that work—I have seen it done in the years that are gone—those are the people who are expected to make reductions in the estimates presented by the guardians and then to furnish the district auditor with their own proposals. I have been surprised at some of the proposals presented by this Government, but I am more surprised at this particular proposal than at most of the others. One thing certain is that they have a contempt for elected bodies, a contempt which they have shown by their many proposals. Here we have that contempt shown for London, and I hope that London recognises the opinion that this Government hold of it, and that it will deal with this Government as London is dealt with; just as London is split up into fragments, I hope to find this Government split up into fragments when the General Election takes place.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out to the end of page 2, line 19, stand part of !he Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 188; Noes, 115.739
|Division No. 89.]||AYES.||[8.48 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Clarry, Reginald George|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Cobb. Sir Cyril|
|Albery, Irving James||Brass, Captain W.||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Briscoe, Richard George||Cohen, Major J. Brunei|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Brittain, Sir Harry||Colfox, Major Wm. Philip|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Cope, Major William|
|Ashley, Lt,-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Couper, J. B.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Courtauld, Major J. S.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.|
|Atkinson, C.||Buchan, John||Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Buckingham, Sir H.||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Burman, J. B.||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Burton, Colonel H. W.||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Davies. Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Davies, Dr. Vernon|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Campbell, E. T.||Dixey, A. C.|
|Bethel, A.||Carver, Major W. H.||Drewe, C.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Eden, Captain Anthony|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||Jephcott, A. R.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Ellis, R. G.||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|England, Colonel A.||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Lamb, J. Q.||Savery, S. S.|
|Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Looker, Herbert William||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W.)|
|Fielden, E. B.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Skelton, A. N.|
|Foster, Sir Harry S.||Lumley, L. R.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Lynn, Sir R. J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Gates, Percy||MacIntyre, Ian||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||McLean, Major A.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Macquisten, F. A.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Grace, John||Mac Robert, Alexander M||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Grotrian, H. Brent||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Margesson, Captain D.||Tasker, R. Inigo.|
|Hamilton, Sir George||Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K.||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Meyer, Sir Frank||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Haslam, Henry C.||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Pennefather, Sir John||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Perring, Sir William George||Wells, S. R.|
|Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frame)||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple-|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Pilcher, G.||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Hills, Major John Waller||Preston, William||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Hilton, Cecil||Price, Major C. W. M.||Wilson. R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Raine, Sir Walter||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Ramsden, E.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Withers, John James|
|Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Rice, Sir Frederick||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lane., Stretford)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n)||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Hurst, Gerald B.||Rye, F. G.||Captain Wallace and Sir Victor|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Salmon, Major I.||Warrender.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Grundy, T. W.||Potts, John S.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hall, F. (York., W.R., Normanton)||Purcell, A. A.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hardie, George D.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Harris, Percy A.||Rose, Frank H.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Salter. Dr. Alfred|
|Baker, Walter||Hayday, Arthur||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Scurr, John|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Sexton, James|
|Briant, Frank||Hirst, G. H.||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Broad, F. A.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Bromley, J.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Shinwell, E.|
|Buchanan, G.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Simon, Rt. Hon Sir John|
|Charleton, H. C.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Compton, Joseph||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Connolly, M.||Kennedy, T.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Cove, W. G.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Snell, Harry|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Kirkwood, D.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Lansbury, George||Stamford, T. W.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lawrence, Susan||Stephen, Campbell|
|Day, Harry||Lee, F.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Dennison, R.||Livingstone, A. M.||Strauss, E. A.|
|Duncan, C.||Lowth, T.||Sullivan, Joseph|
|Dunnico, H.||Lunn, William||Sutton, J. E.|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Gardner, J. P.||Mackinder, W.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow. Govan)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Malone, C, L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Tomlinson, R. P.|
|Gillett, George M.||March, S.||Townend, A. E.|
|Greenall, T.||Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (Paisley)||Trevslyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Montague, Frederick||Viant, S. P.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Naylor, T. E.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley||Oliver, George Harold||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Groves, T.||Palin, John Henry||Westwood, J.|
|Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)||Wright, W.|
|Whiteley, W.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Wiggins, William Martin||Windsor, Walter||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Paling.|
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I beg to move, in page 2, line 19, at the end, to insert the wordsProvided that any board of guardians whose estimates have been reduced in accordance with the provisions of this Sub-section shall have the right of appeal to the Minister, whose decision shall be binding.This Amendment gives the right of appeal to the Minister. I have listened to the discussion which we have had to-day, and I have read the proceedings of the Committee on the Bill upstairs, and, as far as I have been able to discover, this extraordinary Bill is not only a small one, but a very temporary one. But in Poor Law matters the temporary is apt to become permanent. In days when I was less sceptical of the promises of Governments I recollect standing for a board of guardians, about 20 years ago, and stating in my election address that perhaps it was not much good putting up as a candidate, as the guardians were going to be abolished, which was the report at that time. The position to-day is much the same as it was then. The Minister of Health has been incubating a Poor Law Amendment Bill, or a revolution of the Poor Law, for a very long time, but it has always been postponed, and whether he will actually produce anything even if he returns to his position after the next election is very uncertain. In this Bill it is proposed to put very drastic powers in the hands of a very untried authority. T do not say anything at the moment regarding the constitution of the Metropolitan Asylum Board, of which I was formerly a member, because a good deal has already been said, and I hope to say a little more on Third Reading, but the fact is that there ought to be some sort of appeal.
The Board is to act in a quasi-judicial capacity, but it has had no experience whatever of judicial functions We do not know how long that Board will remain in existence, or how the Poor Law is to remain in existence, or whether this Act will be really temporary or one of those temporary Acts which are constantly renewed: therefore there is a clear case for giving some sort of appeal. Judging by the past, I think perhaps the Conser- 740 vative Ministry and the present Minister of Health are likely to be more temporary than the Metropolitan Asylum Board, and, therefore, while I am not sanguine of getting any great change in the composition of the Metropolitan Asylum Board, I am quite sanguine that in a very short time we shall have a change in the Minister. That is why I am eager to see a provision for a right of appeal added to the Bill. There is another reason why there should be a right of appeal. I have not had very much opportunity of looking at this Bill, and I was not able to be present during its earlier stages, but one of the curious things about it is that while it gives the Metropolitan Asylum Board the power to deal with the estimates of boards of guardians, and to approve some and to reduce others, it lays down no criterion on which the Board is to work. There is nothing to say on what grounds the Board should approve or disapprove.
I have not the Minister's great faith in the Metropolitan Asylum Board. The Board is to hear and take into consideration any representation made to them on behalf of boards of guardians. I do not know what process is to be followed, whether their representations are to be made by counsel or whether they are to be written representations, and in any case I think we need some means of getting over possibly the hasty and possibly even the prejudiced action of this authority. No one supposes that the Metropolitan Asylum Board as a Board will sit to go through all these estimates. It will doubtless put the work on to a committee. One does not know what the composition of the committee may be. There is nothing to prevent that committee consisting entirely of nominated members, who will be mere partisans of the Minister of Health, because I have never known a Minister who was so eager to put in his own nominees wherever he could. It may be that that committee will be drawn entirely from the paying unions, or it may be that it may he made up of those of the receiving unions. The one thing that is certain, from my experience of the Board, is that the Board as a whole will not act. If anyone has 741 been present at meetings of the Metropolitan Asylum Board, they will know that they are got through in record time. When I first attended them, it was a matter of pride not to take more than 17 or 18 minutes over a meeting, and until the arrival of myself and several other Labour members, which rather upset the practice, the average time was about 20 minutes. The Board, an old-established Board, has a pride in its traditions, and will doubtless follow the same methods in considering the report of this special committee which will deal with this matter. Therefore I say that the work will in reality be done by the committee. The committee may consist entirely of non-elected persons, because in the peculiar constitution of the Metropolitan Asylum Board there is no reason why any member should be even an elected guardian, as boards of guardians can appoint as representatives someone who is not even one of their members. When we are putting this peculiar power into the hands of this very peculiar, anomalous and antique body, the Metropolitan Asylum Board, we should at least have some loophole for an appeal.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
An hon. Member appears to be smoking, which is quite out of order.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I very much hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will accept this Amendment, and will see that we ale not putting an undue burden on the Minister.
§ Mr. SCURR
I beg to second the Amendment.
If any arguments need to be given in support of this Amendment I think they are to be found in the speech of the Minister of Health when he was replying to a previous discussion. He told us in the course of that speech that when he was selecting the authority to deal with the administration of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund, if he had been considering this question from the permanent point of view he would not have selected that body, and he agreed with the criticisms which were offered from these benches regarding the constitution of the Board. He said it was in an 742 anomalous position and that the conditions were very different to-day from what they were when the board was created. He said that he did not wish to make any reference at all to the competence of the Metropolitan Asylum Board or its efficiency. I am not critical of the efficiency of the Metropolitan Asylum Board. That may be a matter of argument, but if we assume, for the sake of argument, that it carries out its present duties efficiently, that is not to say that it will carry out these new duties efficiently. A crossing sweeper may do his work efficiently, but we would not make him the captain of a battleship, which would be other work with which he was not familiar. The Metropolitan Asylum Board is in precisely that position. It does its work as a crossing sweeper very well, but it is not in any sense of the word able to do this particular work efficiently, and therefore there are bound to be difficulties between the boards of guardians and the Metropolitan Asylum Board, and if there is to be someone to decide between them we say that the Minister ought to be the person to decide.
I would ask the Minister to take a little more into his own hands. He is doing all he can to try to escape responsibility to Parliament in these matters. In the case of the nominated guardians, instead of taking his courage into his hands and administering tile affairs in those unions, he set up nominated guardians, and when we try to criticise their actions we find we cannot do so, because he tells us,, what is technically true, that. these nominated guardians have all the powers of elected guardians, and therefore he has no control over them. As long as the right hon. Gentleman can escape criticism he is happy. We want him to have the courage to face criticism in regard to what is done in this matter. We hope he will decide between the unions and be able to take the responsibility for the policy in London.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am sure we were all very pleased to see the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) intervene in this Debate, and I wish he could have been entrusted with a more satisfactory Amendment so far as his new effort is concerned. Under this Bill, it is suggested that the Metropolitan Asylum 743 Board should review the various Estimates of boards of guardians in London, and come to some conclusion concerning them. Now the hon. Member for Lime-house comes forward with a suggestion that the decision of the Metropolitan Asylum Board should be subject to review by the Minister of Health. The Metropolitan Asylum Board is not a judicial body, and anybody who has followed the discussions on this Bill cannot describe it as a judicial body. I should have thought, if the hon. Member for Limehouse was so anxious to have a judicial body to review the decisions of the Metropolitan Asylum Board, he would have looked round for a real judicial body. He might have consulted the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) on the subject, and he would probably have suggested a much more judicial authority than the one put forward in this Amendment, such as some eminent Judge of the Divisional Court. In a matter like this it seems to me that the Labour party are almost bankrupt of suggestion when they fall back upon the Minister of Health, in whom they have frequently declared they can place no trust in regard to these matters. Now they come forward and say that the Minister of Health is a person whom they are quite prepared to trust in a judicial position to review the decision of the Metropolitan Asylum Board.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley says "because we can review him," but for a long time he has been complaining that, although he can always review the actions of my right hon. Friend, he never gets any further.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs is not entitled to use that phrase which was first used by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). Another important consideration is that, according to the views of hon. Members opposite, the present Minister of Health will not be in office very long, and his successor will be a Labour Minister of Health. Consequently, this proposal surprises me 744 very much. I suggest that in a matter of this kind it is wise to leave the Minister of Health out altogether. I know that in this case hon. Members opposite will not be satisfied with any opinion given by the present Minister of Health. It may very well be that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) will be the. Minister of Health if the Labour party are returned at the next election and we might have some criticisms to make as to what he would be likely to do.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
The Parliamentary Secretary has dealt with certain parts of the arguments used by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), but he has left other parts untouched. I regret to be placed in the position of trying to press any further responsibilities upon the Minister of Health, and, if I had my way, I should relieve the right hon. Gentleman of all his responsibilities; in fact, I would relieve all the Ministers in the present Government of their responsibilities, and I think we should be able to do that if we had the opportunity given to us. The Parliamentary Secretary did not answer the arguments which have been put forward by the hon. Member for Limehouse, who pointed out the peculiar constitution of the Metropolitan Asylum Board. My hon. Friend also referred to the power which the Metropolitan Asylum Board possesses to delegate their duties to a committee. Supposing that the Metropolitan Asylum Board appoints a committee for this purpose, one can readily understand them saying to themselves as a board: "It is quite impossible for such a body as the Metropolitan Asylum Board to consider in detail the complicated estimates that will be submitted by the various London Boards of Guardians," and they will decide to refer them to a committee. Supposing, in addition to that, they take advantage of the power they possess to delegate their duties under Clause 2, and expect the committee to carry out all their duties in that respect.
Supposing the committee, without reference to the Metropolitan Asylum Board, decide to reduce the estimates of a certain board of guardians, and that particular board of guardians object to what the committee has done and frankly refuse to reduce their estimates. I suppose the committee will say to them, 745 "Whatever you spend in excess of the estimates you must provide out of the rates of your own locality." That will be the answer. On the face of it, it seems logical, but it is by no means fair. If there were a judicial authority to determine these matters, there might be some measure of confidence in its decisions, but, if the duties are given to a delegated Committee, as may possibly be done, it seems to me that it will be impossible to place any confidence in their decisions, and that a good deal of delay will be caused. It would be far better that the Minister should be able to step in and say either that an estimate is properly reduced or that it is not properly reduced; and I think the fact that we on this side of the House are prepared to place our confidence in the Minister to that extent should be in itself an inducement to him to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. PALING
The Parliamentary Secretary makes great play with the fact that, because we criticise the Minister and say we cannot trust him, and do not like what he does, and all the rest of it, it is rather contradictory that we should now ask for this right of appeal to him. I do not think there is anything contradictory about it at all. We do not like the business going to the Metropolitan Asylum Board in the first instance, but we do say that, when it is left to the Metropolitan Asylum Board without the Minister having any control whatever, there will be no one to control the Metropolitan Asylum Board, and this House will have no voice in the matter. If the Bill goes through without this Amendment, and anything occurs under the new authority which any Member of this House wants to criticise, or about which he wants to ask questions, every time he brings it forward the Minister will get out of it by saying "I have no authority and no control whatever over them," and we shall have no power of getting at it. That is why, if the Metropolitan Asylum Board is to be the authority, we ask that there may be a right of appeal to the Minister, which will also mean the right of talking the matter over and discussing it in this House. I contend that there is nothing contradictory about that, in spite of the fact that we do not like the Minister of Heath, and I less than anyone.
746 The Parliamentary Secretary talks about this being contradictory, but I remember that last Friday afternoon, when we were objecting to the taking of certain powers out of the hands of the local authorities and putting them in the hands of the Registrar-General, he, with his cherubic face, told the House in his most benign manner that the House of Commons would have the inestimable privilege, if these powers were put into the hands of the Registrar-General, of being able to criticise the Minister of Health, because the control then would be vested in him; and he pointed out to the House that it was worth all that was being given away by taking these powers from the local people, and putting them in the hands of the Registrar-General, to nave the right to criticise, through the Minister of Health, what was being done. He asked the House to accept the Bill under discussion in virtue of that fact, but now, when we come here and ask for an appeal simply to get some right of criticism in this House, he turns round and says that we are contradicting ourselves and there is no logic in us. If there is any contradiction, it lies with the Parliamentary Secretary himself.
The House has a right to control this business. Day after day, month after month, year after year, particularly while this Government has been in power, not only have the rights of local authorities and elected representatives been filched from them, but the rights of Members of Parliament themselves, and, if this dictatorial power is to be put in the hands of the Metropolitan Asylum Board, the least that the Minister can grant us is this right of appeal, so that Members of the House of Commons may have something to say to the Minister himself, and the Minister may be made responsible. I hope, therefore, that even now it may not be too late, in view of the fact that we have proved that the right hon. Gentleman has been contradictory rather than we, he will give way to the logic he has put forward and accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Before the vote is taken, I want to put one or two other considerations to the right hon. Gentleman. First of all, I want to say that there is nothing inconsistent in our asking that the Minister shall be the final court of appeal, seeing that both 747 the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have agreed that this is a temporary Measure, that it is a novel proposal which has not been tried before, and that it is for the purpose of carrying us over a transition period. No one at present knows at all what view the Metropolitan Asylum Board will take of these new powers, and no one has yet told us—I asked the Minister to do so just now—what particular form of control they are going to exercise. Both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have made great play with what they consider to be our inconsistencies in this matter. I said the other day that, so far as I understood, the Metropolitan Asylum Board were not going to control individual cases, and to-night the Minister has said that that is so. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, even now, with the permission of the House, would tell us how they are going to control these matters, and what form the control is going to take, because, until that is settled, we are not in a position to judge whether this body is really the kind of body that ought to determine such matters. What is evident is that the local authorities in London are going to be deprived of the control of their finance, and it is also the case that power is going to be given to a nominated body—not an elected body—in London to undo the bargain that was come to in 1921. That is going to be done, not by direct legislation, but by handing certain powers to the Metropolitan Asylum Board.
I say that, when a thing of that kind is done, the one safeguard that this House has, even though there is a tremendous Conservative majority, is that the Minister in some way shall be brought in as the responsible person. I maintain that he is responsible now, in spite of what has been said. I maintain that the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund is still in existence, that there is still a receiver of that Fund, and that that receiver has certain powers. I quite admit that, if this Bill goes through as it stands, the powers will rest very largely with the Metropolitan Asylum Board, so that even the salaries paid, the number of officers and so on, and the amounts of relief given, will be under the control of this body, in an 748 entirely indirect and, as I think, a very bad manner. This body will not control individual cases, but will have control in the bulk, in the lump. This Committee of the Metropolitan Asylum Board will be able, by cutting down the estimates, to force the boards of guardians to cut down their expenditure, or, in the alternative, to raise their rates. The object of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund is to obviate that; it was to levy this burden in an equitable manner over the whole of the metropolitan boards of guardians.
There is a further thing to consider in regard to this. The Minister, I maintain, has all the information at his disposal to determine whether the action, either of the Metropolitan Asylum Board itself, or of individual boards of guardians, is right or wrong. I tried to make that clear last Thursday, hut through the density of the Minister and his assistant I was unable to get it across, as they say in America, because either they did not understand or did not want to do so. The Minister knows perfectly well that he is armed with a number of inspectors and assistant inspectors who have done a very considerable amount of work in preparing the reports, some of which have been put before this House, concerning administration. He knows perfectly well, too, that under the Audit Act, the auditors have enormous powers and that they have to carry out this business of making reports to the right hon. Gentleman and his Department as to the condition of affairs. Consequently, if there is anyone in the position of giving a judgment as to whether cutting down is right or wrong it is the Minister. He will have all that information, and in my judgment he ought to he the person—whether it is the present Minister or one of his successors—to have the right to hear appeals from aggrieved hoards of guardians.
When the right bon. Gentleman, in his chaffing manner, says, "You are very inconsistent, because you are always telling us that we will not do what you want us to do," that is all beside the point. The point is that the only place where we can challenge this thing, if our Amendment is carried, is this House, and, although we may not at the particular moment carry our point alto- 749 gether, we shall be able to give publicity to the action of the Minister, whereas it is perfectly certain once this power is given to the Metropolitan Asylum Board we shall not be allowed to put questions. It is very difficult to get questions on local government matters put through, because we are not supposed to ask the Minister about matters over which local authorities have power and control, and in this instance you are going to say to the whole of the 28 boards of guardians in London: "This non-elected, partially selected body in London shall control your expenditure, and you shall not have any sort of appeal against their decision." You are removing the publicly-elected authorities' business out of the ken of the publicly-elected representatives and putting them and their expenditure under the control of this nominated and selected body. I cannot imagine the reason. I have not heard any reason. The right hon. Gentleman never takes the trouble to reason anything. He just throws statements at you and leaves them there. That is an excellent way of answering your opponents, but I have heard nothing from any of his supporters, and there has been no speech from that side of the House to-night. We know why—because there is not one of them who can speak on behalf of their constituents against the policy we are advocating to-night. They are bound to keep silent, because their own authorities have backed us up in our attitude towards the proposals of the Bill.
I cannot understand how anyone who believes in local government or in the rights of elected local authorities to carry on their work in a constitutional manner can oppose this very moderate Amendment, seeing that all that it does is to give aggrieved boards of guardians the right to go to the Minister and put their case before him and give the House of Commons the right to challenge any decision of the Minister. That is what we are out for to-night—that the House of Commons should have the right to review and challenge any decision that the Minister may make. There is nothing unusual about this, because it is exactly what was the custom under the law with regard to the Common Poor Fund when it was first initiated, namely, that the Minister was responsible and that we could challenge his decision in this 750 House. This Bill removes all that from the control of the duly elected local authorities and also from Parliament itself. I should have thought that the constitutional Members, and those who believe in upholding the ancient Constitution of this country, would have been only too glad to support us. Anyhow, I hope some of them will, even blindfold, find their way into the Lobby with us when we divide.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I just want to say a few words from the point of view of a very strict constitutionalist. The powers of local government, as far as local authorities are concerned, are no doubt matters of dispute, but, broadly, it remains a fact that Parliament has provided certain powers for local authorities, and placed them under the very jealous and careful control of the Minister, and, through that control, made them responsible to this House. It is quite true the local authorities have a sphere—a very limited sphere—of government in respect of which they are independent. It is an utterly vicious and quite a new thing in the constitution to have an authority charged with important public functions which is neither responsible to the electors nor to Parliament nor even to the ordinary law of the land.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the excessively exceptional position in which this particular body has been placed. We have passed an Audit Act. The House will remember how very much we discussed the functions of the district auditor and how strong the Minister was as to the importance of having an independent civil servant to control the estimate of local authorities. I ask the House to mark the fact that this particular board are free from the auditor altogether. Let us see what the position—and this is not too wild a supposition—may possibly be under the Metropolitan Asylum Board. Let me point out what would happen. The Metropolitan Asylum Board takes the place of the auditors. Every farthing of expense which the guardians put forward, whether in the view of the auditor or under common law it is legal or not—would be free from any possibility of surcharge at all. That is the sort of body we get, and what we say is that 751 somebody in the world must be responsible for this body. They are free from the district auditors anyhow, and whatever expenses they certify will pass. They are free from the electors, because they are indirectly elected persons and are overweighted by a great number of irresponsible persons. They are to be free from Parliament, and the Minister is not to be responsible for their decision. There is to be no appeal from the Minister or interference from Parliament. We could not even get the minor concession that their determinations should be laid on the Table of the House.
What a little monster of a local authority we have created when viewed in the light of any independent constitutional position! We have this poor little, semi-elected authority, overweighted by private Members, put up in a position higher than any county council or council in any part of the world, free from Parliament and free from the Minister, and able to flout the district auditor, and it is the constitutional party that has done all this! I can imagine how Members opposite would have rallied to the defence of the constitutional principles of this country if we had brought in such a little abortion of a Bill as this. We have had no explanation why this particular authority should be placed in this position of independence and power. When the Minister himself got up to speak, he did not defend it. He said, "I have to do something. I looked around London, and this seemed to me the least offensive of all the schemes I could find. It is a poor little thing but, gentlemen, remember this, that is is only a very temporary Measure. I should not dream of excusing it if it was not to die so soon." That is a fair summary of the Minister's speech in defence of the second Clause, which contains
§ practically the whole of the Bill. It is that sort of device that we are now asked to pass into law. There is not a word to be said for it, there has not been a rational word said for it, and I am profoundly disappointed in the Minister. Until now, though I have disapproved of his policy, I have always said he was a good and ingenious administrator. His other little Bills have been bad from the point of view of policy, but they have been ingeniously drafted to meet their ends. Here is a Bill that cannot be defended. It is full of anomalies, full of the strangest provisions.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I will not pursue the matter, but my point was that the very oddness of the body makes it important that Parliament should keep its eye upon it. I can hardly elaborate how specially important it is that Parliament should exercise over this body an even stricter control than over other elected bodies without pointing out what a queer little authority it is and in what an extraordinary position it has been placed by the Minister. In the hierarchy of local government this place in which we stand has its place. To release any sort of local authority from the control of the electors and from the law of the land, as represented by the auditor, and from the power of Parliament itself is to do something which, though on a small scale, is a crime against any principle of wisdom in self-government and against the authority of Parliament.
§ Question put "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 109; Noes, 187.755
|Division No. 90.]||AYES.||[9.40 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Cove, W. G.||Hardie, George D.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Harris, Percy A.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Day, Harry||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Duncan, C.||Hayday, Arthur|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Dunnico, H.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)|
|Baker, Walter||England, Colonel A.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Gardner, J. P.||Hirst, G. H.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)|
|Broad, F. A.||Gibbins, Joseph||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)|
|Bromley, J.||Greenall, T.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||John, William (Rhondda, West)|
|Buchanan, G.||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Griffith, F. Kingsley||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Groves, T.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Compton, Joseph||Grundy, T. W.||Kelly. W. T.|
|Connolly, M.||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Kennedy, T.|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs, Stretford)||Strauss, E. A.|
|Kirkwood, D.||Rose, Frank H.||Sullivan, J.|
|Lansbury, George||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Sutton, J. E.|
|Lawrence, Susan||Scrymgeour, E.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Lee, F.||Scurr, John||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Lowth, T.||Sexton, James||Tomlinson, R. P.|
|Lunn, William||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)||Townend, A. E.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond||Viant, S. P.|
|Mackinder, W.||Shinwell, E.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Sitch, Charles H.||Westwood, J.|
|March, S.||Slesser, Sir Henry H.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (Paisley)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)||Whiteley, W.|
|Naylor, T. E.||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Oliver, George Harold||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)||Williams, David (Swansea, E)|
|Palin, John Henry||Snell, Harry||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Potts, John S.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Purcell, A. A.||Stamford, T. W.||Windsor, Walter|
|Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Riley, Ben||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Paling and Mr. Charles Edwards|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Ellis, R. G.||MacRobert, Alexander M.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Makins, Brigadler-General E.|
|Albery, Irving James||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Fermoy, Lord||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Ford, Sir P. J.||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Ganzoni Sir John||Moore, Sir Newton J.|
|Atkinson, C.||Gates, Percy||Murchison, Sir Kenneth|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Goff, Sir Park||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gower, Sir Robert||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Grace, John||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Bethel, A.||Grant, Sir J. A.||Perring, Sir William George|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Grotrian, H. Brent||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Pilcher, G.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Hamilton, Sir George||Preston, William|
|Brass, Captain W.||Hammersley, S. S.||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Hartington, Marquess of||Ramsden, E.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Haslam, Henry C.||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A|
|Buchan, John||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Rye, F. G.|
|Burman, J. B.||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hills, Major John Waller||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hilton, Cecil||Savery, S. S.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Holt, Captain H. P.||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Charteris, Brigadler-General J.||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Christie, J. A.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G.F.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hurd, Percy A.||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Cope, Major William||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker K.||Tasker, R. Inigo.|
|Couper, J. B.||Jephcott, A. R.||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Lamb, J. Q.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Looker, Herbert William||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Dixey, A. C.||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Drewe, C.||Lumley, L. R.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Lynn, Sir Robert J.||Wells, S. R.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||White, Lieut.-Col Sir G. Dairymple|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||McLean, Major A.||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Macquisten, F. A.||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)||Womersley, W. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)||Mr. F. C. Thomson and Captain|
|Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley||Margesson.|
|Withers, John James||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Wolmer, Viscount||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day Six months."
First of all I should like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the kind remarks he made just now. I regret that my absence has prevented me from taking part in the discussions on this Bill at an earlier stage, but I should like some explanation of the Bill because it seems to me the whole machinery of this Measure is entirely misconceived. If one looks at the machinery set up by the Common Poor Fund, it is laid down that certain sums of money expended by boards of guardians are to be repaid on certain definite terms. That has been continued year after year with variations for many years. Now we have an entirely new thing produced in this Bill, and that is the dealing with estimates of expenditure of boards of guardians. We have, therefore, two entirely different systems. I want to know how the Minister of Health is to reconcile them. In the Poor Law Act, 1927, there is the setting up of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund, and in Section 199 is to be found the list of expenses which are to be met out of the Common Poor Fund. Let me take one particular instance:The amount so repaid in. respect of maintenance shall he at the rate of 5d. per day for each poor person.That is a matter of actual expenditure by boards of guardians which is only ascertainable at the end of a period. According to Section 202, the District Auditor has to certify what are the sums that have been rightfully expended and are entitled to be claimed out of this fund. Now we are to have an entirely new system set up. We are to have a system dealing not with actual payments, but with what boards of guardians estimate they may have to spend on services repayable from the Common Poor Fund. They have to submit these estimates to the Metropolitan Asylum Board, which knows even less of the subject than boards of guardians. On the other hand boards axe entitled to be repaid on 756 certain particular items and the district auditor has to consider that in determining exactly what amount he shall allow out of the Common Poor Fund.
What is to happen supposing that in regard to the particular item I mentioned in Section 199, which is the payment for in-maintenance, the boards of guardians estimate that they are going to spend, say, 1,000 fivepences? Supposing the Metropolitan Asylum Board cuts it down to 900, that becomes the amount that may be paid out to the boards of guardians from the Common Poor Fund. But supposing they actually spend 1,200 fivepences, then under the Poor Law Act, 1927, they are entitled to receive the sum actually expended. That happens to be, say, 1,200 fivepences. Who is to decide between them? I do not think that this matter has been raised before, but if I had been present I should have raised it. It seems to me that this Bill is entirely misconceived. The whole basis of the Metropolitan Common Poor Friend does not deal with estimates of boards of guardians. It deals with the repayment to boards of guardians of certain sums that have actually been expended. They are entitled to recover them if they have been expended for certain purposes on a certain definite scale laid down in the Act of Parliament. To superimpose on the top of that an examination of the estimates by another body, an entirely different method of certification, beats me entirely. I can see no reference in this Bill to the unfortunate individual, the receiver of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. I do not know how he is to act. Perhaps he will be all right if he obeys the orders of the district auditor. I do not know what the district auditor is to do, whether he is to obey the law under the Poor Law Act, 1927, or a totally unrelated law which is proposed to be brought in by this Bill. I hope the Minister will be able to reconcile these anomalies when he replies. That is the first point I wish to make against this Bill, namely, that it is entirely out of accord with the whole of the provisions of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund.
The second point is, that the machinery the Minister has set up is the Metropolitan Asylum Board. He says that it is 757 purely a little temporary expedient. I have told the Parliamentary Secretary, and I will tell the Minister also, that temporary expedients in Poor Law are very apt to become permanent. If you merely look at this purely temporary post-War emergency legislation, I think it is the fifth or sixth time that it has had to be made more permanent, and now we come along with a little more temporary legislation. It reminds me of some form rooms we used to have at school, and which were always known as temporary form rooms. They had been so for 45 years, and very unpleasant they were. They were just about as conformable to the general structure of that college as is this Bill to the general structure of Loudon local government. The Minister says he has looked round to see where he could place this piece of legislation, and he has fixed on the Metropolitan Asylum Board. The Minister, we all know, has a very great knowledge of Birmingham and Birmingham government, but I do not think he knows very much about London government. I am certain that he knows very little about the Metropolitan Asylum Board, because he has selected the Metropolitan Asylum Board as the responsible body which, he thinks, will deal with any excess of expenditure. I have been a member of the Metropolitan Asylum Board, and most of the members on that Board are the same as when I was on it, and I can assure the House we had not the reputation for economy at all.
That Board consists of a great many amiable, rather elderly ladies and gentlemen who take very great interest in a number of institutions. Some are hospitals, some are children's homes and so forth. They all develop a laudable interest in those particular institutions, and everyone is prepared to fight in order to get all the best things possible for his or her institution. When they come together what happens is this. They have their estimates, and one member says to another, "Look here, there is Queen Mary's Home wants something, and I want to get an extra £10,000. Will you back me up?" Another says, "Certainly, old chap, if you will back me up in this other thing." We had a celebrated economist on the Board, Mr. Geoffrey Drage, who was always writing to the papers about the enormous expenditure 758 on social services; but, as a member of the Board, he was not a great economist, because, like the other members, he had a special interest. He wanted to get through something for the training ship and so on, and in order to succeed in that he would help other members in connection with other things. The Board which this Bill is setting up as a great, finance authority is not very strong on finance. Among the London authorities they are the most spendthrift people of the whole lot. If they were called the Poplar Board instead of the Metropolitan Asylum Board, the Minister of Health would have been after their blood a long time ago. The members of the Metropolitan Asylum Board are very keen on certain institutions and on doing the best for them, but they are not an authority which has to meet the ratepayers, they have none of the trouble of raising the rates, and as they are a precepting authority they do not have to bear the blame if the rates go up in London.
A curious position set up by this Bill is that the Metropolitan Asylum Board are to be the supreme financial authority over the boards of guardians, although they are competitors for a share of the same Metropolitan purse. There is one purse in London, the rates, and there are many demands upon it. The chief demands upon the purse are made by the London County Council, the Metropolitan borough councils, the boards of guardians and the Metropolitan Asylum Board. If any one body gets too much, it is worse for the rest, because there is a limit to which you can put up the rates. The Metropolitan Asylum Board as a competitor for a share of the public purse will be in a position to say to another competitor, a. board of guardians, "You must be cut down." I would ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who is to cut down the Metropolitan Asylum Board? They sent their precepts once to Poplar, but Poplar would not pass them. The Minister did not know them, but, as they were supposed to be economical, he has put them into a position that they can get their precept, whether Poplar likes it or not. Now, the Minister of Health is setting up the Metropolitan Asylum Board as a special finance body to look after the morals of the boards of guardians. It is a 759 wonderful thing. I do not think we have had anything better since Gilbert and Sullivan.
Let us see how this proposal fits in with the general local government work of London. What have been the special developments of the Metropolitan Asylum Board? From being a Poor Law authority, they have become a purely health authority. When I was a member of the Board, we were taking steps to see how far we could rid the Metro politan Asylum Board of its old associations. Many of the members objected to the word "asylum" as applied to the Board, because "asylum" seemed generally to denote lunacy. One member did suggest that the word "asylum" meant a place of rest. The Board has struggled not to be thought a lunacy authority. It has struggled not to be thought a mere Poor Law authority. It has developed into a very fine health authority. While I was on the Board, not long ago, the Board approved of a reconstitution by which it could be made up of representatives of health authorities and not representatives of Poor Law authorities, and I believe the Minister of Health at that time was inclined to approve of that.
Now the Minister of Health comes along and wants to put back the Board into the Poor Law. Whereas it was concentrating upon health work, he wants to put it back into the cockpit of London politics in connection with the Poor Law, because we have to recognise that this is part of the municipal policy which the Minister of Health has been carrying on for a long time. We had great hopes of the present Minister of Health when he went to the Ministry, but he has been like Mr. Dick for the last two years. King Charles' head has really become King George's head, the head of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley. Whenever the Minister is dealing with anything regarding public health or the Poor Law, his one idea seems to be to hit the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley over the head. That is why, instead of producing something really fine in local government legislation, he has produced a number of little, petty, partisan Bills. He thinks that he is going to control the spending 760 boroughs, but again ho is upsetting the whole of London government. That is a serious point.
The excuse is made that the Bill is only a temporary arrangement. You can do a great deal of harm by temporary restrictions on a growing child. We hoped that London was gradually growing up into some sort of municipal shapeliness. It has been a most appalling problem for many years, and just as we were straightening out local government matters in London the Minister of Health comes along and for a little temporary purpose, which is quite unnecessary, tries to wrench back the natural development of a great hospital authority, a great health authority, and to throw it back into the Poor Law. That is not necessary. The right hon. Gentleman has ample power over the boards of guardians through the district auditors and through control of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. The work of the district auditors has been made effective for the Minister's purpose, but I think he has rather spoilt his own district auditors by imposing upon them this wretched little Bill.
The next point, is that the right hon. Gentleman does not give any instruction to the Metropolitan Asylum Board. He takes these amiable ladies and gentlemen, very distantly connected with popular election, these people who are interested in various hospitals and so on, and gives then, a very difficult task. They have to review the estimates of the boards of guardians in London. With regard to what the expenditure ought to be he does not give them any guidance, and there is no criterion in the Bill. There is nothing laid down by which they are to judge. They are by their own sweet will to look at the estimates and to approve them or, if they like, reduce them. Why cannot they be allowed to increase them? They are supposed to be super-judges. They are supposed to be much better than the Fulham, Westminster or Islington authorities in judging what expenditure will be necessary. As they are to be allowed to reduce the estimates, why cannot they be allowed to increase them?
Are there not some boards of guardians which are niggardly in expenditure, as well as some which are wasteful? This is an effort to cut down expenditure. 761 It is not an effort to improve local administration. It is a little cheese-paring piece of a sort of charity organisation policy, to which, unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman has descended. As it stands the Bill is perfectly worthless. When examined it will be found that the proposals in it conflict with the existing law. It is perfectly certain that you will have friction between the boards of guardians and the Metropolitan Asylum Board, and if the Bill continues for two or three years the members of the Metropolitan Asylum Board instead of being there because of their public heath work will be there because of their attitude towards the finances of boards of guardians. In fact, you will spoil what is a useful health authority by trying to divert it to other uses. On all these grounds I think this Bill, even at this late hour, should be thrown out. It is quite unworthy of the Minister and of this House. It only adds new confusion to local government in London.
§ Mr. SCURR
I beg to second the Amendment. It is very significant that during the whole course of the Debate not one single hon. Member representing a London constituency has ventured to say a single word in justification of any of the proposals of this Bill. The reason for that is very plain. Every local government authority in London which has considered the matter has condemned the Bill. Even the London County Council, with its great municipal reform majority, has expressed the opinion that the Metropolitan Asylum Board is not a competent authority to deal with this question. Every board of guardians in London has done exactly the same thing. Since the Bill left the Committee I am given to understand that the Hammersmith Board of Guardians, which is not under the control of the Labour party, have passed a resolution condemning it and asking its representative on the Metropolitan Asylum Board to vote against it. The City of London Union has expressed an opinion against it, and every one who comes into contact with local government administration in London, no matter what their political views may be, unanimously condemn the proposals in this Bill.
As a Londoner I protest against the insult offered by the Minister of Health to the whole of local government in 762 London. It would not be tolerated by any provincial authority. London is simply to be regarded as a Cinderella, to be dealt with in any way the Government pleases. Authority after authority has been created in order to take away from the elected representatives the right to say anything at all in regard to their own administration. This is the worst possible example we have had of this kind of legislation. The obedient majority behind the Government will, of course, go into the Lobby in support of the Bill. That goes without saying; it is the practice of this House. But I really should have thought, after considering all the arguments on the Second Reading; all the arguments used in the Committee stage and now on the Report stage, and especially as all local government authorities in London have taken the view they have, that the right hon. Gentleman would have made considerable concessions in regard to this particular body.
I once had the impression that the right hon. Gentleman was a strong man, who really was concerned with getting things done. I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong. The right hon. Gentleman is not a strong man. He is an obstinate man, and obstinate men, as a rule, are very weak men. The person who is not obstinate is a man who is not afraid to meet his opponents and their arguments, and when they are supported by a volume of public opinion is not above correcting his own views. The right hon. Gentleman is obstinate, and having put forward this particular view in this Bill, is sticking to every phrase, every comma, hoping that by so doing he is doing something for local self-government. He is not. Ho is doing the worst possible harm to local self-government, and he will be remembered as the Minister of Health who did his best to destroy all that was best in the local government of London, and did everything he could to take the control of local affairs from the hands of the democratically elected representatives of the people.
§ Mr. HARRIS
I have supported all the Amendments which have been proposed in order to make this Measure a more workable Bill. It is conceived in the wrong spirit; I am afraid will be unworkable. But I have to face the facts, and Clause 1 continues a most necessary provision for the help of the 763 poorer districts. I have to ask myself whether, because I do not like the form of this particular Bill, I am going to vote against it, seeing that it is going to continue this very necessary provision. I think it is unwise to oppose a Bill because it is not in exactly the form one would like. My own view has been expressed more than once—namely, that the Bill is not necessary of the Minister of Health had produced his Poor Law scheme. In that case this clumsy and makeshift arrangement would not have been required. But as long as we are without Poor Law reform and the present machinery of local government exists in London, something of this kind is obviously necessary. It continues provisions which have now been in existence for four or five years. Personally, I cannot recommend my friends to vote against the Third Reading because it is necessary that the able-bodied poor should be a charge on the Common Poor Fund and not thrown on to the localities and the poorer districts of London. While I do not think that it is a workable scheme, I have to recognise that it is better than nothing, and, therefore, I shall support the Third Reading.
§ Mr. RYE
I disagree with the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) who said that no one who was interested in local government in London was in favour of the Bill. I suggest that all the contributing authorities are very much in favour of the Bill. It may possibly be that some of them do not like the Board of Control that is to be set up, but that is quite a different thing to saying that they do not want control, and I should be astonished if those who have had to pay heavily since 1921 do not want the fullest possible control over the spending authorities. Let me remind the House of the enormous increase that has taken place since 1921, when for the first time outdoor relief was put on the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. As an example take the City of Westminster. The result of the burden placed on the ratepayers—a burden that was accepted very willingly—was the equivalent of a 4d. rate. Last year the contribution equalled a 1s. 10d. rate, a very large increase which in arithmetic worked out at £883,968. As 764 another instance I cite the case of the Borough of Holborn. In the first year of payment it had to contribute £5,000. Last year it had to pay £143,351. With the knowledge of these figures, it is rather extraordinary for the hon. Member for Mile End seriously to suggest to an intelligent audience that those who have had to pay and have had to suffer from predatory hands being put into their purse, should raise the slightest objection to the method of control. There is not the slightest objection, so far as the City of Westminster, to which I have the honour to belong, is concerned.
§ Mr. RYE
I am not discussing the board of control that is set up. I was dealing with the statement made by the hon. Member, which will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, of course, and that statement, I understood, was that no one who was interested in local government in London accepted this Bill and was satisfied with the Bill. That statement I deny in toto. There is no question whatever that those who have to pay, and pay heavily, are only too pleased to see this system of control. Let me deal now with the statement made by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence). She made a complaint in Committee upstairs as to the time that is wasted in this House on certain Measures relating to local authorities. Whose fault is it that the time of the House has been wasted over these Measures? There are the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, the Audit (Local Authorities) Act, and now this Bill. Whose fault is it that they are introduced? The fault is that of the Socialist party and their method of local government in London. Time after time they have been found guilty of maladministration, of reckless extravagance, and of illegal payment when they have taken control of local government.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I ask the hon. Member to give a single date and 765 occasion on which one of the Socialist boards of London has been found guilty of an illegal practice.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Yes, I do. I deny that there has been a single case of maladministration or illegal practice by the Socialist party.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
It is the fact that before Poplar fell into the hands of the Labour party and before there was a Labour majority, there were some illegal practices, but not since, and I challenge the hon. Member to give the House a single instance in support of his statement.
§ Mr. RYE
Luckily there are the records, and there is the decision of the House of Lords. Does the hon. Member say that there are no instances of extravagant administration by boards of guardians under the control of the Socialist party? If so, perhaps she will account for the fact that it was recorded officially in connection with Bermondsey, that with a population of 110,000 people, during the week ending 29th October, 1927, no fewer than 16,855, or 15 per cent., were in receipt of outdoor relief. How does the bon. Member account for the fact that in Woolwich it was found that one-third of the outdoor relief paid by the guardians to able-bodied persons was in direct contravention of the Relief Registration Order of 1911? Does the hon. Member deny that in Greenwich recently it was recorded that one in every 18 was in receipt of Poor Law relief?
§ Mr. RYE
I would, however, remind the hon. Member who has interrupted me of the case which took place at Birtley, in the area of Chester-le-Street, where certain individuals stood at the table after outdoor relief had been granted and uttered the pleasing cry: "Please to remember the poor guardians." If there has been delay in connection with these Measures, it has been due to hon. Members opposite. They and their friends have been responsible for the state of affairs which has led to these Measures, and I am by no means certain that the chief offender is not the hon. Gentleman who was designated by the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) to-night as "King George." I am inclined to think that "King George," if indeed he is a king, is largely responsible for half the trouble that has occurred in London. I think most of the extravagance in London has been incited by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). I am by no means sure that we do not want a fourth Measure, a Bill of one Clause which would have the effect of incarcerating the hon. Member and putting him under lock and key for the next 10 years. We might then have no need for further Measures such as this Bill.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
It is in complete harmony with Tory tradition that we should have spent half of this Session on a Bill giving additional votes to the people and the other half in taking away power from the people who are elected. Up to half-past seven this evening, the Conservative slogan was, "Trust the people." Since half-past seven, they have been producing evidence to show that the people ought not be trusted. During the Boer War an article was written by an American humourist named Dooley, the gist of which was that Kruger made a mistake in refusing votes to the Outlanders, and that, he ought to have given them the votes but insisted on his right to count them at election times. I think the Government must have studied the philosophy of Dooley in this respect. They have now arrived at the view that they can safely give votes to the people through the Home Secre- 767 tary, as long as they have the present Minister of Health to deal with the people who receive the votes. The primary object of this Measure is to place elected people under the supervision of non-elected people. I take it that very few members of the Labour party are on the nominated section of the Metropolitan Asylum Board. The nominated section of that Board are carefully selected to protect the interests of the selectors. That being the case, it is not surprising that this House should have been informed, within the past five minutes, that the electors of this country are in revolt. After all, it is very encouraging to find, in the course of the discussion of this reactionary Measure, that 5,000 electors in Hanley who supported the Government in 1924 are now in deadly opposition to them.
Then, if you follow the Bill a little further, you find the same Tory point of view. For instance, the Emergency Provisions Act, which extends the Common Poor Fund for four years longer, has as its principle that the rich in London should contribute to the maintenance of the poor in London. The hon. Member who has just spoken appealed to us on behalf of poor Westminster, which was being over-rated to maintain Poplar. It is surprising to me that these people should never see the other point of view, that Westminster could not be rich but for the labour of Poplar, that they rely on the welfare that is produced by the class who are the majority in Poplar, that when that class are fully employed these people in Westminster take full advantage of their employment, but immediately a trade depression comes along, caused by the system of which they are the defenders, then, although they have benefited during the period of prosperity, they wish to run away from their obligations during the period of adversity. They want the poor to maintain the poor and allow the rich to get away with his spoils which they have made under the profit-making system.
Just exactly the same principle is being applied here as that to which I have referred. The Minister of Health, in the first Clause of the Bill, extends the power of compelling Westminster to contribute to the maintenance of the Poplar poor, and then he proceeds, in the second 768 Clause, to create machinery that will enable Westminster and the other contributing bodies to withhold the money which they are compelled to contribute under the first part of the Bill. Is not that exactly what is happening, that Westminster is compelled to contribute to the Common Poor Fund by the Emergency Provisions Act, but that Westminster, under this Bill, would be enabled to use its representation on the Metropolitan Asylum Board to prevent Poplar from availing itself of the contributions that are made by the contributing authorities? The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill pointed out the existing powers of the Minister of Health and said that the present Measure was totally unnecessary. I agree with that, and no one has given stronger evidence of the power of the Minister of Health than the present occupant of that office. He has specialised in suppressing Boards of Guardians during the past two or three years, so successfully that he has now improved, in this Bill, on his methods of depriving them of their powers. Formerly, he could only deal with Chester-le-Street, West Ham, and boards of that description. Now he is dealing with them in a wholesale manner.
This Bill proposes to deal with all the boards of guardians in London. He is carrying out the same policy on a large scale, but sheltering himself behind the Metropolitan Asylum Board. As has been pointed out already, is it not significant that this body is to have no power to increase the estimates? It is machinery set up to attack the poor, but it has no power to protect the poor. I submit that the business of Parliament, if it is going to deal impartially with economic conditions as they exist to-day, is to see that the administering body has machinery, at any rate, for the people who are to be dealt with. After all, the Poor Law exists for the protection of the poor; it does not exist for the protection of the rich, who are able to protect themselves.
The machinery here is expressly designed to attack the poor, and to protect the rich against the maintenance of the poor during the periods of poverty which the rich have created. All this is characteristic of Toryism. They are enemies of the poor, who have gulled the 769 poor into giving them Parliamentary majorities, and they have used their power, gained by fraud and forgery, to punish the people who have been duped into electing them. It is true that this Bill applies only to London. It is being tried on the dog first, and we shall all have it if London tolerates it. I can never understand why London should be so servile under the attacks that are frequently made upon it. Members opposite talk about Poplar as if it were a place of which to be ashamed. I do not think that I would be going too far in saying that in the Ministry of Health Poplar is one of the most admired local authorities, and that the standard of administration which it sets up, and the spirit of humanity which it introduces into its work, is the admiration of every one who has a real interest in the public life of the country. All that they object to is the necessary finance for carrying out this humane policy, and they prefer the policy of inhumanity, rather than that a few pounds should be taken out of the surplus wealth that they have wrung from the bodies and souls of the people of this country.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I hardly think that it is necessary to follow the speech that has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman, except to remind him that, as far as my knowledge goes, everyone, even on his own side, is not particularly in favour of Poplar and Poplarism. I remember very well the Leader of the Opposition, when he was Prime Minister, describing Poplarism as a nightmare that we should get rid of as speedily as possible. This Bill, perhaps, may do a little in that direction. I would remind the House of the necessity for this Bill, and the reasons which have actuated my right hon. Friend in introducing it to the House. Anyone who has listened to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and of one or two other Members would say that this Bill was introduced with some malicious motive, and that there was no necessity whatever for interfering with the present position of affairs in London. It is, of course, not surprising to anyone who listens to their speeches as carefully as I do to note the confusion of thought and, indeed, the contradictions which appear in a great many of the speeches from the benches opposite. The 770 hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) persists in stating that my right hon. Friend has sufficient powers, and that there is no need to introduce this Bill or to interpose any authority to check the various Boards of Guardians in relation to the Common Poor Fund. But there is another statement which has been made in the course of the Debates upon this Bill which I should like to read to the House:It is very wrong that the Boroughs of Poplar and Bermondsey should tax these other bodies without Westminster and the City having anything to say in the matter.Then there is another statement, that those who pay the piper ought to call the tune.
§ Sir K. WOOD
If the hon. Member will wait a moment he will be rather surprised when he hears who said that. This other statement has also been made:We are willing to give the paying boroughs predominant rights.That is not the statement of the Minister of Health or anyone speaking from the Government side, but the statement of the hon. Lady the Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence), who has made such powerful contributions to this and to the other Debates in the House. In those three statements are the real reason for the introduction of this Bill. Anyone who gives impartial scrutiny to affairs in London in relation to the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund knows that the present position is utterly impossible. When we have admissions such as this that the paying boroughs practically have no control, and when we have heard from time to time of the action of the various boroughs in London which receive the money, surely we must feel that the time has arrived when there must be control so far as this particular aspect of London government is concerned. With one or two notorious exceptions upon the Benches opposite there is practically no dispute that there must be control, and the only controversy that has seriously centred round this Bill is as to the method of control that should be adopted.
I am not surprised that hon. Members opposite centre their criticism upon the Metropolitan Asylum Board. If we had 771 put forward the London County Council me should have been in exactly the same position. I can picture to myself what would have been said if the London County Council had been suggested as the body to exercise supervision and control in this matter. Hon. Members opposite would have said we had chosen a Tory machine. Whatever body had been suggested there would have been the same criticism from hon. Members opposite. The real fact is that they want no control. They are saying to-night, and I was surprised to bear the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) joining in, "Why do not you bring forward a measure of Poor Law reform, that is the way to deal with it?" Anyone giving a moment's consideration to the subject would know full well that this matter needs to be attended to immediately, and what we have to consider to-night is whether the machinery provided in this Bill is suitable and is likely to work, and, at any rate during what we hope will be a temporary period, will give some measure of control and justice to people who have to pay large sums of money—and quite rightly, under proper supervision—for the relief of the poorer parts of London. I suggest that the criticisms which have been made in regard to the Metropolitan Asylum Board will prove to be utterly unfounded. That Board has hitherto performed the work which has been given to it to do in relation to the health of London with the general admiration of London itself. Hon. Members opposite have spoken of the efforts which have been made in the direction of improving the health of London in many ways, and why this occasion should be seized upon to make an attack upon a body of this kind can only be capable of one explanation, and that is that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not want any authority at all to deal with these matters.
The Asylum Board has some knowledge of Poor Law administration. Many of its members are Poor Law guardians themselves, and my own view is that if we review the work of the Metropolitan Asylum Board after carrying out its duties under this Bill for 12 months, it will be found that they have brought a careful and sympathetic consideration to this work in many parts of London, and I am sure they will give a very careful scrutiny to the estimates with which they have to 772 deal. I do not think hon. Members opposite need anticipate that this Board will work harshly. The Committee will be expected to compare the estimates of one Board with similar Boards in different parts of London, and they will hear the view of representatives of other boards of guardians. I suggest that they will come to conclusions which any body of men desiring to give an impartial decision on matters of this kind would come to. There will be no difficulty in the Metropolitan Asylum Board following out the provisions of this Bill.
The hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Bill suggested that in some way or other the Bill conflicted with the existing law. One of the reasons for the introduction of the Bill is to amend the existing law. If any board of guardians finds that the amount sanctioned by the Metropolitan Asylum Board has been exhausted they are able to and a supplementary estimate and present it to the Board. If upon that occasion, or upon the submission of the original estimate the whole sum asked for is not approved, it will not then he a question of the recipients being deprived of their relief. The just thing to do under those circumstances will be that that particular borough will have to bear that particular excessive cost on its own account.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The right hon. Gentleman is not reconciling the difference between the case relating to the estimates on the one hand and the repayment of ascertained expenditure on the other
§ Sir K. WOOD
I do not think there would he any difficulty in that direction, and I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the machinery of this Bill will work very well indeed. I commend this Bill to the House. I certainly regard it, as the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley said, as one of a number of Bills which my right hon. Friend has introduced into this House and which have met with considerable success. The hon. Gentleman criticised the Bill that was introduced in relation to audits, and the necessity for certain authorities in London complying with the law. That Measure had a most remarkable effect, because, even before it reached the Statute Book, the local authorities in London were already obeying the law. It may be that this Bill will be a worthy successor to those others 773 which have done a good deal to cut down extravagance and to vindicate local administration in this country. So far from there being an endeavour to defeat democratic government, a Measure like this and the two others which have been cited are really an endeavour to save local government. The people who are endeavouring to defeat it and to destroy democratic rights in this country are the people who are abusing it. Therefore, I venture to suggest that this Bill will be equally successful in its working, and will certainly end abuses and extravagances and mal-administration which have been existing for far too long in London.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I would like to try once more to clear up the point about control. I think that the right hon. Gentleman and his chief are either, as I said some time ago, very dense, or we put our point of view in such a way that ordinary people do not understand it. I would like to tell the house that one of the first things that were done by the Poplar Board of Guardians, somewhere about 30 years ago, was to ask that the President of the Local Government Board at that time should form London into one district for dealing with the Poor Law, and we have adhered to that ever since. The right hon. Gentleman himself, earlier in the evening, admitted that he at least understood that the reason why I objected to this form of control was that the people who were going to exercise control had no responsibility for the administration, and that what we wanted was an authority that would be responsible both for the administration and for the expenditure of the money. I adhere to that, and I do not think that either the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary has any right to continue to say that we who object to this particular form of control do not want any control whatsoever.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), the late Minister of, Health, is, I am sure, in agreement with me that the position in London, with 28 different boards of guardians representing rich and poor districts, is an anomaly and ought to be got rid of, and that the proper way to get rid of it is to constitute one authority for London to deal with the whole business. There is no disagreement between us about that, but the 774 Government have not taken that course. They have produced a scheme which to-night has been fairly riddled by my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), and the right hon. Gentleman has ridden off and not attempted to answer him. In this Bill there is provision for continuing the payment of 1s. 3d. per day for each person relieved in an institution and 9d. per day for each person relieved outside an institution and there are also other provisions connected with the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund in regard to the salaries, wages, etc., of certain officials. What I want to know, and what my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse asked someone to tell us, is, how the Metropolitan Asylum Board can override the first part of this Bill if it is not going to interfere with individual cases, and the right hon. Gentleman, earlier in the evening, told us that the Metropolitan Asylum Board was not going to do anything of the kind.
There is the dilemma which you are in, and which the first part of the Bill proposes to carry on. What is the law at present? One shilling and threepence per day for each inmate and ninepence per for each persons relieved outside. If the Metropolitan Asylum Board cuts down the estimates, to which part of the expenditure is that going to apply—to the relief out of doors or indoors or to salaries of officials? No one has answered that question, because it is unanswerable, and, when you tell us that we are opposing this Bill merely in a captious manner and not from proper motives, I say that you are putting before us a Bill which is completely contradictory. You cannot in one and the same Bill lay it down that certain money is to be paid, and then say to another body: "In the gross, you can cut it down." I would like the right hon. Gentleman to ask the permission of the House to tell us exactly how this thing will work, because I will tell the House another thing that happens and which upstairs neither of the right hon. Gentlemen chose to answer. At this time of year the boards of guardians in London send either to the Minister or to the Receiver of the Common Poor Fund—I do not remember which—for approval a budget showing the expenditure on officers; that is, the cost which each union will have to bear in regard to officers, the salaries, wages, etc.
775 I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, if his Department has approved of the expenditure on these officers, whether the Metropolitan Asylum Board is going to have the right to revise them? Are the boards of guardians to have to defend the number of offiers and their salaries first to the right hon. Gentleman and then again to another revising body, the Metropolitan Asylum Board, because that comes up here, and no amount of just edging off and saying unpleasant things to us gets rid of the facts of the case, and neither right hon. Gentleman can deny the truth of what I am saying. Therefore, you are putting us in this most. extraordinary position, that the Bill does quite definitely say that a certain sum per head—it does not deal with gross payments at all—shall be paid and that salaries and wages shall be paid, and then you tell us that the Board that is to revise it is not to have anything to do with individual cases but to look at the estimate as a- whole and cut it down. I say there is no rhyme or reason about such a proposition as that.
There is one other thing on which I want to say a word. The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Rye) has told us that we were responsible for all these small Bills. That may very well be that from the hon. Member's point of view, but it is not from the point of view of electors who get the chance of voting. We may be quite wrong, but our contention against small piece-meal, stupid, legislation such as this, is that the time that has been spent on all these small Bills would have proved much more than sufficient to carry the scheme which we understand the right hon. Gentleman has got in the pigeon holes of his office. Had he taken the whole of the time spent on these various small Measures we should have had one comprehensive Measure. I want before I sit down to repeat, even at the risk of being accused of repetition, that we on this side, not merely to-day, but for the last 25 years, have been urging that this business of Poor Law relief and administration should be reformed. It is no use telling us because we object to this stupid, 776 ridiculous Bill, which cannot possibly work, nor is it any use trying to make people believe, that we are in favour of keeping things as they are.
I have always said, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Opposition when he said that Poplarism is a nightmare—and it is a nightmare to anyone who has to administer it—meant that the House of Commons long ago should have tackled the causes which produce poverty and pauperism in the land. It is not sufficient to pass penal Measures. You may very well say, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that the Audit Act before it was actually law was able to accomplish certain things. If he himself was threatened with ruin unless he did certain things, whether they were legal or illegal, he would jolly well take care to preserve himself rather than be ruined. That is all that has happened. It does not mean when you shove poor people off the list of poor relief or prevent them getting assistance in any other way, that you have got rid of poverty. It does not mean that you have got rid even of pauperism. You have only shifted it from one place to another, and the position of the Labour party is that, instead of these trumpery Measures, especially of this Measure, which in this one direction of control we are certain will not work, hut, will simply irritate, Parliament should have devoted itself to much more beneficent Measures.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.