§ Miss LAWRENCE
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, to leave out the words "and except as otherwise expressly provided by this Act."
We are now dealing with the Clause which transfers the functions of Poor Law authorities to the council of the county or county borough comprising the Poor Law area for which the Poor Law authority acts. There are three districts which are expressly provided for, namely, Bedwellty, Chester-le-Street, and West Ham. In these instances the whole financial system is upset, and these districts will be de-rated. Under the financial provisions of this Bill they will be entitled to some grant or other, but those grants will depend upon the extent of their de-rating and the extent to which their functions are transferred. We are perpetually being told that the transfer of the functions of these Poor Law authorities will be beneficial to the localities concerned, but the three districts I have mentioned will not have the benefit of the arrangements made under the Bill, but only such arrangements as the Minister of Health may think fit to allow with regard to grants. The Minister of Health may take larger sums from the county or he may not, and it is extremely difficult to know what is going to happen.
With regard to administration, there is to be a certain breaking up of the Poor Law system which is adumbrated in the Bill, and various areas are to be moulded into one county or county borough. What is to happen in those places? There may be no arrangement at all made in certain cases, and in those instances they will go on under the present system for a long period of time. On the other hand, an arrangement may be made, not by the county council but under the direct superintendence of the Minister, and under the nominees of the Minister, who will be able to have a considerable voice in the administration. No defence whatever has been put forward for permitting such a change, and in this respect the Bill has very much disappointed us. It is 268 quite true that the administration of outdoor relief is to be left unchanged, unaltered and uncontrolled, and there is to be none of that discrimination between the able-bodied poor and those who are riot able-bodied which has been recommended time after time in the reports of Royal Commissions. Whenever we approach a really difficult question in regard to Poor Law administration, we find that the Bill is silent. The Royal Commission in their Report emphasised the fact that it is absurd to have under one authority so heterogeneous a mass of services as those connected with outdoor relief, and that fact has never been touched upon by the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I must remind the hon. Lady that the purpose of this Amendment is merely to provide that the Poor Law functions exercised by nominated guardians shall be transferred to the council of the county or county borough.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
We have not been permitted to move the rejection of Clause 1, and it is extremely difficult for us to express what we desire should be left out in this Clause. This Amendment deals only with a very small portion of the questions which we want to put forward. I do not see any reason at all why districts like Bedwellty and Chester-le-Street should not be transferred to the council of the county or county borough. I know that the Minister of Health has said that West Ham is a troublesome matter to deal with. I know the right hon. Gentleman would prefer that these arrangements were not discussed in Parliament and that they should be left for him to settle. The only excuse made by the Government in the case of the West Ham Union is that it is likely to raise many difficulties and they think it would be much more convenient if that area was dealt with quietly at Whitehall.
§ Mr. WEBB
I am sorry the Government have not offered to give any reply to this Amendment which I shall support 269 for the reasons which have been given by the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence). This Amendment enables us to raise the question of the exceptions to Clause 1 which are provided for in other parts of this Measure. Those exceptions include the three unions which are at present administered by nominated guardians. There are certain exceptions with regard to London, and they are of very serious moment. I want to deal with those exceptions, because they throw some light on the provisions of Clause 1. I do not know whether the Minister of Health claims that this Clause breaks up the policy of the Poor Law, but we know that it is the policy of the Cabinet that the Bill breaks up the Poor Law system. This Amendment expressly excludes the provision with regard to London, and the London County Council can completely break up the Poor Law.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
This Clause expressly provides that the functions of the Poor Law authority shall be transferred to the council of the county or county borough, and surely that applies to London as well as to other counties.
§ Mr. WEBB
I submit that those powers are not transferred to the County of London, hut to quite a different body, namely, the administrative County of London which does not include the City of London for which special provision is made. I think I am in order in referring to that point. The administrative County of London can break up the Poor Law, but it need not apply for the transfer of any of its functions.
May I point out that in Clause 17 which deals with the application of this Measure to London? It is provided that:This part of this Act shall apply to the County of London.In face of this provision is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) in order in saying that the County of London does not mean the County of London?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The functions are transferred to the County of London as elsewhere. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham can show that there is an exception in the 270 case of the City of London, he is entitled to do that.
§ Mr. WEBB
The whole of the functions are not transferred to the County of London in the same sense in which they are transferred to the administrative County of Middlesex. The City of London occupies a peculiar position. With regard to pauper lunatics, for instance, these are not provided for in regard to the City by the administrative County of London, the Corporation of the City of London being the administrative county for that purpose; and there are other matters such as those of industrial and reformatory schools, and so on, which have to be excepted. Under this Bill, the administrative County of London is in a position different from that of other counties. It is not obliged to delegate to the Public Assistance Committee any of the powers referred to in Clause 1, but, on the other hand, it is provided that other counties must delegate to the Public Assistance Committee various powers, namely, all those relating to the administration of the Poor Law. That is not a break-up of the Poor Law. It means, unfortunately—
On the point of Order. May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is in order in repeating exactly what he was saying before? I submit that the transfer of powers to the London County Council is under Clause 17, and, therefore, is not covered by the Amendment to which the right hon. Gentleman, is referring.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) to be arguing that in certain cases powers are not transferred to the councils of counties, and, if that be so with regard to the City of London, the right hon. Gentleman would be in order, but when he goes on to discuss all the powers that may be exercised by the county to which the transfer is made, that would not be in order on this Amendment.
§ Mr. WEBB
Of course, I bow to your ruling, but it is clear that there are powers which are not transferred to the council of the administrative county, but which are retained by the Corporation of the City of London. If it were decided to make the administrative County of London exactly like the other 271 counties, those powers might have to be transferred to it, and I have spent a large amount of time in past years in arguing that the special privileges of the Corporation of the City of London ought to be handed over to the administrative county. With regard to those sections which we are discussing on this Amendment, I submit that the powers given under Clause 1 are not given in the same way to the administrative County of London and that that, therefore, is one of the exceptions. I think I am right in that respect, and, that being so, I want to point out that that exception which is made is one of very great importance. The administrative County of London can break up the Poor Law entirely; the other counties cannot, and in their case the relief of the able-bodied poor or the unemployed is intermingled, under the Public Assistance Committee, with matters connected with various other classes, such as the aged who have not yet get old age pensions, the sick who are maintained at home, vagrants, and so on. They are all jumbled up together in one vast mass. The right hon. Gentleman is in favour of breaking that up, and we are complaining that it is not done by this Measure. Such places as the City of Manchester, for instance have not this power of breaking up the Poor Law which the administrative County of London has.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That is not a power given by this clause to London. Except as regards the City, the functions of the Poor Law authorities are transferred to the county. It may be that the county council may have further powers, but that would be a matter for Clause 17.
§ Mr. WEBB
That, of course, disposes of my argument, but I do not think that it opens the door for the right hon. Gentleman to say a word on the subject if he would. With regard to the powers that are transferred to the county except as provided by this Act, we have no objection to that transfer, but we are trying to raise the issue whether the Act will carry out adequately the policy of His Majesty's Government. We suggest that it will not, and we ask in what way it is possible really to secure that breakup of the Poor Law which is the policy of His Majesty's Government. It is the 272 policy of the right hon. Gentleman, but it is nut carried out by this Measure, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will indicate in what way he proposes to deal with it in order that the Poor Law shall be broken up in England as it is going to be broken up in Scotland.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
On a point of Order. Surely it is possible for the Minister to reply on the question of the excluded districts? I am sure that that is in order, because you allowed me to develop it.
§ Mr. KELLY
I was hoping that this Amendment would have been accepted by the Government. One would have thought, in view of the proposal to hand over the administration of the Poor Law to the councils mentioned in this Bill, that it would not have been the desire still to continue the appointed guardians in office but, nevertheless, we find the Government insisting, not only on preventing a reasonable national method of dealing with the question of poor relief, but on a continuance of the method of appointed guardians—for whom very few of those who have any regard for the Poor Law feel any great respect, because they are not carrying out the spirit of the Poor Law—not for a short period, but, under Clause 19, as affected by this Amendment, possibly until 1934 or 1935. I submit that it is not in keeping either with the spirit of the time, or the desire of the people of this country, or with any feelings towards those who have fallen by the way in these struggling days, that this proposal should be continued, and I would ask the Government to be satisfied with their insistence upon handing over the functions of the Poor Law authorities to the county councils, and not to insist upon the continuance of that bad method of appointed guardians until 1934 or 1935, according to the whim of the Minister or the satisfaction of officials in his Department.
I must say that I thought it possible, when I looked at this Amendment, that it was intended to raise the question which might also have 273 been raised by another Amendment to omit Clause 19, and the speech of the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence) confirmed me in that idea. I shall not attempt to follow the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), who was on a point which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have ruled is not relevant to this particular Amendment; but I think that perhaps it may be convenient if I take this opportunity of making some statement as to what is in my mind in regard to the three areas which are now under appointed guardians.
The hon. Member for East Ham North herself appeared to distinguish between the Unions of Bedwellty and Chester-le-Street and that of West Ham. The hon. Member said that there appeared to her to be no reason at all why, in the two first-named areas, the appointed guardians should not disappear and their functions be transferred to the county. I may tell her that that is my intention. I have no intention of keeping on appointed guardians either in Chester-le-Street or Bedwellty, and I do not propose to put into operation Clause 19 as far as those two area s are concerned.
When we come to the West Ham Union, the position is very different, as the hon. Member herself will recognise. We have there a much more difficult matter. There is no question there of a small area being merged in the larger area of a county. We have there a case where two county boroughs and certain districts outside those county boroughs are combined for the purpose of administering relief, and I think that the best plan for dealing with the problem presented by those circumstances would be to separate from the union those parts of it which are at present outside the two county boroughs, letting those parts follow the ordinary procedure of the Bill and be merged in the county of Essex, but to provide for the two county boroughs in a union under appointed guardians until April, 1935. If that be done, the question of the financial adjustment, of course, arises. The position there would be governed by the general guarantee which is given in respect of all county boroughs, and under which, after taking account of any adjustments of the Poor Law areas, and any burdens which may be added to a county borough or any part of a county borough 274 by reason of the contraction of the area of the previously existing union, the county borough is still guaranteed a minimum gain of 1s. per head of the population. Therefore, the two county boroughs in question, East Ham and West Ham, would be subject to that guarantee, and that guarantee would come into force after taking into account any extra charge which might fall upon the inhabitants of those two county boroughs by reason of the fact that the part of the union outside the county boroughs would no longer remain in the union.
The hon. Member will see the procedure set out in Clause 19, under which the Order has to come before Parliament.
Of course, these two county boroughs are also affected by the mitigation of liability Clause, under which the amount of the outstanding debt will be very materially reduced, and while the general principles of the change which I have now outlined would not, I think, admit of any alteration, yet before any Order is made or any action is taken under Clause 19, it would, of course, be natural for me to consult the authorities concerned upon the details of the financial adjustment.
I think the House has learnt with relief that the right hon. Gentleman at least means to end the position created in Chester-le-Street and Bedwellty, and I assume that he is doing so because they are going to be smothered in a much larger authority. In the case of West Ham, we are told the nominated Board is still to continue until 1935. The right hon. Gentleman is going to worsen the treatment of that area. As things are now, at least every six months it must come before the House as to whether that board of guardians shall continue in existence or not, and it is possible for us to debate it and to take a vote upon it, but now the right hon. Gentleman is going to continue in existence the 275 appointed board of guardians until the very latest date that he can keep them. This further point arises. He is not keeping in existence the board of guardians of the West Ham Union. He is keeping in existence a board of guardians of an area which has never existed in law before, and does not exist in law to-day as a Poor Law area. That is an astonishing thing to do by means of an Order. It seems to me questionable whether he has power to do that. He clearly has power under the Bill to continue in existence the West Ham Union and the other two unions, with their appointed guardians, until 1935, but I know nothing in the Bill which permits him to make a new Poor Law union area and appoint their appointed guardians.
There is this further point, which I think is of very substantial importance. In the case of the West Ham Union you have two large towns and a rather straggling area, which will go to the county. But as regards the greater part of the area he is going to keep in existence two county boroughs, which under this Act ought to have their own boards, and he is going to do it for the maximum term that he can. The truth is that he cannot forgive West Ham. He is not prepared to hand over to the county boroughs of East Ham and West Ham the powers that they ought to enjoy. He is continuing his punitive treatment of these people because in the past he has not liked their policy. I should have thought he might have made a clean sweep while he was at it. He has gone two-thirds of the way. I see no real reason why he should not have gone all the way, more especially as on Clause 5 he has an Amendment down—one of those curious Amendments expressing intention and desirability—in which he wants to insert the words:A council in preparing an administrative scheme shall have regard to the desirability of securing that, as soon as circumstances permit, all assistance which can lawfully be provided otherwise than by way of poor relief shall be so provided.The right hon. Gentleman stated in Committee that he wants to break up the Poor Law. He is going, until 1935, to make it impossible for these two county boroughs to take any real steps in the direction of breaking up the Poor Law. It is obvious that there can be no agree- 276 ment reached between the right bon. Gentleman's nominated guardians and the elected local authorities in these two county boroughs, and the Poor Law system is going to continue at its worst in a very important extra-metropolitan area. I should like to ask him if he cannot for once let bygones he bygones. I do not believe he has ever been as much afraid of Poplar as many hon. Members opposite, but he really has had an awful fright about West Ham. It is all over now. A new set of circumstances will apply in that area, and I think it is right policy to press this Amendment, which would mean that, irrespective of the circumstances of boards of guardians, whether they are elected or nominated, their functions shall be transferred to the new bodies on the appointed day, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to going a little further than he has done.
§ Mr. BENN
When we were engaged on another Clause in Committee there was an article in the "Times" reproving the right hon. Gentleman for his overweening desire to exercise autocratic powers in his office. That was a reference to a Clause which gave him what is euphemistically termed "power to remove difficulties." This Clause will be found to be quite as offensive to the sense of civic liberty as that famous Clause which was the subject of the reproof. Where do we stand at present? It is a difficult subject for one who is not an expert and can study only the newspapers, but I understand the position to he as follows: In certain districts where the conduct of the guardians did not meet with the right hon. Gentleman's approval, acting under the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, he has appointed officials to take the place of the elected guardians, and they are at present discharging their duties, subject to the ordinary law, as ordinary guardians. Parliament, in giving its approval, demanded that every six months the right hon. Gentleman should state his intentions in writing, and Parliament reserved the power to negative his action. The provision was inserted at his own instigation. He had not quite the same appetite for dictatorship, or could not gratify it as fully in 1926. He was content to move a Clause which said: 277Any Order made under this Section shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be and if either House within 21 days of the Order presents an Address it shall be null and void.These Orders had a duration of six months. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to remove these appointed guardians, though the reason for their existence has disappeared. The reason put forward for their appointment was that the people in the locality could not be trusted, and it was necessary to put in paid officials instead of the elected representatives of these people who were infected with Poplarism. The authorities who are going to manage the Poor Law are wider and more responsible authorities, so that the need for having this check against the infection of Poplarism has disappeared. But that does not prevent the right hon. Gentleman from putting in Clause 19. What power does he take now? The first thing he says is that the Act shall not apply in these districts, subject to certain provisions. The first is that the right hon. Gentleman can appoint straight away these officials of his Department for six years without any review by the House whatever. Why does he ask for that power to appoint them for six years when he has now only the power to appoint them for six months? There must be some reason. The next thing is that he proposes to reserve certain powers to himself. The first thing he does is that he may remove these guardians and appoint others in their place. There is no reference to us, or to the electors of the constituency, or to anyone but the Ministry of Health. I ask the House to see what is the fate of the ratepayers in these districts under this Sub-section. He may—provide for making such adaptations in the provisions of this Act relating to grants, expenses, the transfer of property and liabilities, and the transfer, superannuation and compensation of officers, as may be necessary.That is to say that, as regards these districts, entire power is handed over to the Ministry without any sort of Parliamentary control. The Minister ought really to justify this. A few perfunctory sentences and appeals to the Chair sheltering behind points of order are not really a sufficient defence against this sort of thing.
§ Mr. OLIVER STANLEY
Has the hon. Member read the whole Sub-section Does not the end rather alter it?
§ Mr. STANLEY
Do not the words—as may be necessary and may provide for applying to the appointed guardians" limit the purposes for which the adaptations may be made?
§ Mr. BENN
May be necessary in whose view? In the opinion of whom? In our view? Not at all. In the view of the electors and ratepayers? Not at all. As may be necessary in the view of General Primo de Rivera. That is the only limitation. I am not a lawyer, but I should like to know what Court of law can determine what may be necessary. It does not say may be necessary for what. All these precious guarantees and valueless declarations of which the Bill is full, assuring local authorities that they are going to get something out of a future Parliament are even reduced in value here, because it is the Minister who determines what grants they are to get. I draw special attention to this, that whereas under the Default Act Orders had to be laid before Parliament and were subject to a humble Address which might be moved by anyone, this Bill says:An Order under this Section shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after it is made.I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would be subject to a humble Address. Apparently not. We might just as well have it laid in the Library or go to the Ministry and read it. It is absolutely no Parliamentary check whatever. I appeal for this Amendment on rather wider than party grounds, and ask Members in any part of the House who think it is time that some check should be put upon the growing bureaucratic appetite of Government Departments, and more particularly the Ministry of Health, that they should support us in this Amendment, or at any rate in getting some further explanation or excuse from those responsible for the Clause.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
I rise to say how pleased I am with the statement 279 that the Minister has just made, that this Order is not to apply to Bedwellty and Chester-le-Street. During the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill I spoke on this subject, and I am glad that my speech was so effective. I took up the point of the unfairness to the counties. It was certainly unfair to counties like Monmouth and Durham that steps should be taken which would create anomalies which would last practically for all time, powers over superannuation, systems of rating and the power to get rid of certain properties. It seemed to me that those were anomalies that required to be removed. I am very pleased that that step is to be taken.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I should like to say: "Great Caesar! Those about to die, salute thee!" I am thinking not of Julius, but of Judas. We have a Minister of Health who is a descendant of one of the greatest exponents of the rights of local government that this country has yet produced. The father of the right hon. Gentleman was the great protagonist of the rights of the people in localities to control their own affairs, and now it has come to this! Why is West Ham selected? Why are we put in the pillory I have on many occasions in this House said that if there is some criminal offence to be alleged against our representatives upon the boards of guardians, why not place us in the dock? Give our people the right to defend themselves. No. The right hon. Gentleman says: "I see the sands gradually closing about me. My Government cannot last for ever. As far as we are concerned, we are going to make the ground secure for ourselves. We are going to single out certain parts of the country for the purpose of preventing certain things, in which we do not believe, being carried into effect."
Poplarism has been referred to this afternoon. It is a most extraordinary thing that the place where Poplarism comes from is left free and easy. They can go on as usual, except that a Ministry of Health auditor comes along occasionally to rap them over the knuckles. In West Ham we have superannuated local government officers put over us—men who 280 say to a working man with a family that he must manage on 17s. a week, and that that sum is enough, while they themselves are drawing £1,700 a year in pension and salaries from the same right hon. Gentleman's Department. They cannot live on less than that amount, but a working man is expected to keep a family on 17s. a week, because he happens to be out of work, and is down and out. We are continually writing to these gentlemen in West Ham to give consideration to the people with whom they have to deal as guardians. They are not guardians of the poor, but simply guardians of the Tory party's policy in dealing with the poor. That is their only function. We cannot see them. If one writes a letter, one gets the usual stereotyped reply. There is nothing in it. We are told that inquiries are being made. By whom are the inquiries being made? They will not meet the people face to face. They will not even meet the representatives of the people. One gets simply a typewritten reply from a clerk employed by them, a clerk who dare not call his soul his own.
These are the guardians in West Ham. This type of guardian is to he abolished in Bedwellty and Chester-le-Street, but is to be continued in West Ham. Why? Why cannot the people of West Ham be trusted to express an opinion upon the kind of representation they shall have? Walthamstow is to be cut away from us. All the richer parts are to be cut away and to go to the Essex County Council. We know why. Old Chawbacon is going to be in control. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] Hon. Members know what I mean. He is the chap who thinks that a man who applies to the board of guardians for relief must receive about 25 per cent. less than an agricultural labourer. He is the kind of chap who can be used for the purpose of reducing wages. We know what is meant when we are told that one-sixth of the whole population of the West Ham Poor Law area, as at present expressed, is to be handed over to the tender mercies of people in the rural areas, whose standard of life is so much lower.
I would like to appeal to the right hon. Member for Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). He lives on the other side of the water; I wish he was under it. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the 281 Minister of Health to realise the situation as far as West Ham is concerned. The population of the West Ham Poor Law area, roughly speaking, is 1,000,000. What is to happen under the new scheme? East Ham and West Ham, representing, practically speaking, 60 per cent. of the total population of the Poor Law area, are to be put together as one authority. Whenever industrial depression takes place, we get it. We have always had industrial depression, because our area is one in which casual labour exists. At the docks, even in the best of times, the men never get an average of more than four days' work a week. They are lucky, to-day, if 75 per cent. of them get two days' work a week round and about the docks. I would like to take the two right hon. Gentlemen to the Victoria Docks to-morrow morning. They would see not hundreds but thousands of men turned away, as surely as the clock strikes eight—turned away, with no hope for them for that day, at any rate, and there will be no hope for a similar number of men the next day. Net, the same men but other men will he turned away as regularly as the clock strikes.
What is proposed to be done with us? East Ham and West Ham are to be one authority. What about our institutions? There is not one of the institutions, except the home for children in the East Ham area, that belongs to the new boards that are to be appointed under this scheme. All the rest of the institutions are outside the area. Are we to buy a pig in a poke? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what will happen to us in the matter of finance? It is all very well to talk about de-rating schemes, local government reorganisation, and so on, but this proposal means that we shall have to buy these institutions, because poverty happens to exist in the districts that you are chopping off? What crime have we committed that we should be treated in this way? The Minister is taking power for six years. I hope he will get six years! If any real justice existed in this country, the people who are responsible for a proposal of this character would get six years' penal servitude for callously doing a thing of this kind to a locality which has more than its fair share of the burdens and sorrows of our existing civilisation. I have come to this House 282 as a constitutionalist, anxious to do my best. We have men and women in our district who have been thrown off the board of guardians by order of the Minister of Health. These same people are being elected to the council by the men and women living in the locality, who know the work that they have done under the existing difficulties.
Whatever may be said against us in West Ham, we lay the flattering unction to our souls that from the financial point of view we stand higher than the London County Council, dominated as it is by the moderate Tory majority. As far as our financial position is concerned in the matter of our loan power, we stand firm. The Stock Exchange does not throw money away, and the Bank of England is not a philanthropic institution. It is falsely named; it is not a bank of England, but belongs to somebody else other than the people of England. Whatever criticisms may be made against us, we can stand our own ground. Vet we are singled out from all the municipalities in Great Britain for attack. Why? Because we were the pioneers of the political Labour movement in Great Britain. From 1892 up to now we have sent Labour men and women to our local authorities. As we advanced in power we sent Labour men and women on to the Floor of this House. Now, we have been singled out for special attack. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman has in his mind. Does he imagine that he will keep Sir Alfred Woodgate all the time? Will the next Minister of Health have the right to sack him? I hope that he will do so. If I had the power, I would not merely sack him, but I would kick him out of office.
Of all the contemptible treatment that people have ever received, we have received it in West Ham. Some hon. Members sitting on these benches have a false idea of oar position. We have no apologies to offer. What we have done we have done because we believed that we were doing right. If we have made mistakes, surely this Government ought to be the last to charge us with criminality on that account. They have done nothing else but make mistakes. They have made mistakes with their eyes open. They do not make their mistakes in ignorance. They know what they are doing. Can they justify singling out one 283 part of Great Britain for special attack? West Ham is no mean place. We have a population of 320,000 people in the Borough of West Ham alone, and there is a population of 200,000 in East Ham. Over half a million people are to be told that, practically speaking, they have no right to control their own affairs. They must find the money; they must levy a rate for Poor Law relief, but they have no right to say how the money shall be administered. The Minister of Health says: "I will send three of my people." The Holy Trinity, Faith, Hope and Charity, if you can get it; people who take big salaries for administering what other people administered for nothing. These guardians can have meals on the board premises. In the old days, if members of the board of guardians had meals, they were surcharged for them. Every time they had something to eat, they had to pay for it, otherwise they were surcharged. Again and again appeals had to be made to the Minister, and invariably he let them off payment.
What right has the Minister, in this Bill, to propose that he should be given power for another six years? Why six years? Why not abolish public authorities? Why not say that the town council shall be abolished? They are the same people on the council who were on the board of guardians which has been abolished. Why not bring in a special Act of Parliament, saying: "No one shall rule but the great I am, the son of Joseph"? We are not going to have Josephus the Second, seeing that we have got rid of Josephus the First. You may pass this Bill through the House. You may imagine yourselves much bigger men than you really are, but you cannot justify this policy. At the General Election, there are six seats to be fought in West Ham and East Ham—four in West Ham and two in East Ham, and they have all gone west as far as the Tory party are concerned. We have five of the seats now, and there is only one to go. The Member who holds that seat is clearing out, before he is kicked out. In spite of that public opinion, in spite of the people expressing themselves so deliberately, as they have done at the polling booths, we are to be told: "It does not matter how you vote. It does not matter what you say or do, I am going to keep control, even though 284 I have not the power." This is going from bad to worse; it is reaction made into a science, and as one of the representatives of West Ham, I must most emphatically protest against the discrimination made against our particular area.
If you have crimes to allege against us, put us in the pillory, and we will answer them. The men and women on the board of guardians may have committed mistakes; they may have been too generous, but what right have hon. Members opposite to charge us with being too generous when they have been giving away money to those who do not want it? The whole progress of this Bill has been one grand series of giving money to people who are not in need of it. The chairman of one brewery company said they did not want it; but they have got to have it. They are going to get £500,000 under this Bill. West Ham gets nothing. Certain factories in the area will get something, but the ordinary householder will get nothing. All they will get is more liabilities; the poor will have to keep the poor. If the right hon. Gentleman was really as sincere as he pretends to be in the matter of trying to do something for the poor, he would not single out West Ham, one of the poorest parts of Great Britain, a large centre of casual labour which has always had more than its fair share of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," for this kind of treatment. On the contrary, he would say, "Let the dead past bury its dead"; let the people of West Ham once more have the right to say what kind of administration they will have.
The Government by their action are insulting men and women as good and as keen as themselves. By singling out the area of West Ham for this special legislation the Government are throwing a dart at the heart of real democracy in this country, and I should not be worthy to be their representative if I did not make the strongest protest I could against such an unfair proposal. Put us on an equal basis with the rest of the country. If we have done wrong show us where we have done wrong; but, if we have not done wrong, you have no right to penalise us in this way. On behalf of the people of West Ham I protest against being told that we are different from the rest of the people in Great Britain. I 285 wonder if the right hon. Gentleman would have been so anxious to penalise the people of Birmingham if any such thing had happened there. At the present moment we have no rights at all; all we have to do is to pay the demands of the people who have been put over our heads, most of whom live in the West end of London and have no connection whatever with the people of the area they have to administer. Would the right hon. Gentleman treat Birmingham in the same way? He has taken the ban off Chester-le-Street and Bedwellty, but he maintains it at West Ham. The men and women in West Ham are as good as any in the country; no crime has been proved against them.
The only thing that can be said is that they have been too generous to the poor; they gave more in relief than hon. Members opposite thought was right. Jesus Christ would be convicted of criminality under such conditions. They were too good to the poor, according to hon. Members opposite who are supposed to be the standard-bearers of the Christian religion and who teach the doctrine of sharing one another's burdens! They gave one shilling more than ought to have been given. Anyone who has had to administer public funds will know that there are always people who will take advantage; tell you a long story and lead you to believe that they are worse off than they are. Some people listen to them and give them something more than they ought to have. That is the crime of the West Ham guardians. Take the administration of the Miners' Fund; I undertake to say that there are some people who will get away with it; there will be some people who will tell the tale and some local committees will probably give something more than they ought to give. Will they be charged with dishonesty because they are kindhearted? For the next six years the people of West Ham are to be told that they are not fit to exercise the franchise.
I do not know what the remedy is. It is no good our appealing to the people of West Ham. It is no good my going to the dockers and saying that they must be constitutional, that they must grin and bear it. The ground has been cut away in advance, and no matter what Government are in power after the next General Election, they will have to go on in the 286 old way because the right hon. Gentleman has laid it down as a law of the Medes and Persians that for the next six years the citizens of West Ham are to have no right to say who shall administer their public affairs and control their public responsibilities. That is an insult not merely to West Ham but to all democrats institutions in this country, and it comes very ill from the son of one of the greatest exponents of local government. This is Bolshevism in excelsis; the only difference is that the Bolshevists wear top hats. I protest most emphatically on behalf of West Ham. We have shouldered burdens and responsibilities which no other place in the country has shouldered. We have always borne our own burdens and done the best to meet whatever situation arose. Now we are to be told that we are not to have the right to vote our own representatives into positions of responsibility. The people who bring forward such a proposal ought to be ashamed of themselves. They should withdraw it and place us in the same position as other boroughs. They ought to give us the right to choose who shall administer our local affairs. You have done enough when you have dismembered the area of West Ham and given the richer parts of the district to the London County Council and the Essex County Council, but to bring forward such a proposal as this at this moment is not merely an insult to West Ham but to all democratic institutions in this country.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The Amendment raises again the question which we have already discussed in the Committee stage, namely, the action which should be taken arising out of the Government scheme in reference to those places where there are guardians appointed under the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act which was passed by the House some little time ago. It comes to this: One of the Measures which is to be repealed under one of the Schedules to this Bill is that particular Act of Parliament, and it is proposed in Clause 19 that power should be given for a limited period of time to keep in existence, subject to the terms of that Clause, the appointed guardians in the circumstances set out. As announced by my right hon. Friend, the Government only propose in the special circumstances of the case to retain these appointed guardians in the 287 case of one area, namely, West Ham. As far as the actual position is concerned, contrary to the speeches which we have heard this afternoon, the Default Act is to be repealed in respect of two of the three places where there are appointed guardians, and they are to exist in one place only for the particular period set out in the Clause.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I will address myself to that matter in a moment. The most effective speech directed against this proposal came from the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn). He has endeavoured to connect Clause 19 with what is now Clause 120, known as "power to remove difficulties." This criticism came rather badly from him because he himself was a supporter of, and responsible for, a similar Clause in the National Insurance Act, 1911, in relation to which he had special responsibilities at one time for its administration. He is really one of the founders of the Clause in this Bill. Then he said that this particular Clause, and any action under it, was really the product of Clause 120 and that Clause 19, where it deals with the protection of Parliament, is absolutely waste paper; that we are, in fact, under these proposals still further limiting the power of Parliament. Under the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act we did have to come to Parliament and lay the Order on the Table of the House when it could he challenged by Parliament, but, he says, that power has now disappeared, and this is another attempt of a bureaucratic Minister to take power unto himself following on the lines outlined in Clause 120 of the Bill.
The only matter on which the hon. Member for North Aberdeen can be said to be at all accurate is when he said that this particular Sub-section would operate for six years instead of six months. I hope I am not doing the hon. Gentleman an injustice, but with that exception his speech was wholly inaccurate. If he refers to Clause 119 on page 103 of the Bill he will find a provision that an Order such as is referred to in Clause 19, has to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, that the ordinary procedure has to be followed 288 as is the case with the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, and that power is given to Parliament to challenge the action of the Minister. Orders made by the Minister under that particular Act have been challenged again and again. The Order under this Bill can be challenged in just the same way. So far as the merits of the matter are concerned, the hon. Member for Nelson (Mr. Greenwood), in that kindly way which he has, said "As regards West Ham, why not let bygones be bygones? You are going to remove the ban so far as Bedwellty and Chester-le-Street are concerned, and why not let bygones be bygones in West Ham?" The hon. Member rather forgets that there is an overdraft of between £1,000,000 and £2,000,000 in West Ham.
§ Mr. J. JONES
On a point of Order. During the time that most, of that money was raised as an overdraft the party to which the Parliamentary Secretary belongs was in a majority on the West Ham Board of Guardians.
§ Sir K. WOOD
For the reasons stated fully by my right hon. Friend, and because there is a great deal of difference as to the consequences of these proposals to the three places that we are discussing, it is very necessary that the appointed guardians should remain in this particular area. Few people without political prejudice on the matter would question the fact that the work which has been done by Sir Alfred Woodgate and his colleagues in West Ham has been of the most beneficent character.
§ Sir K. WOOD
It will be found as a matter that cannot be challenged—it is one of the matters to which I direct my attention—that when you come to weigh up the work of these men, one of the best parts of their record is the fact that they are getting people back to work again in that area.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has made use of a most improper expression, and I must ask him to withdraw it.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Is the Parliamentary Secretary making that statement seriously in regard to Chester-le-Street?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am referring to West Ham. If the hon. Gentleman doubts the accuracy of my statement, he should read the record in the last report of the appointed guardians. They anticipated that they might have to meet criticism and doubt as to the work that they were doing, and they had a special survey made of the people who had previously been in receipt of relief in the area, and they followed up the cases so as to ascertain the proportion in various districts of men and women who had obtained employment as a consequence of their efforts.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary gives way, it is open to the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) to ask a question; but he must not do so on a point of Order, because what he has said is not a point of Order.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The appointed guardians, in order to protect themselves against allegations such as have been made this afternoon, got a careful 290 record of the employment and the names and addresses of the employers in question. They anticipated that directly they did work of this character, it would be challenged, and that accusations would be made that they were not in fact doing what was alleged. They have been accustomed to that procedure for some time. They have followed up each of these cases and have a record of them. Therefore, apart altogether from the special circumstances arising out of the scheme in connection with this area, it will certainly be for the benefit of that particular district that this administration shall continue, because, from the record I have seen, not only has Poor Law relief diminished considerably in West Ham, but employment is increasing so far as these people are concerned, and certainly their self-respect and citizenship are being maintained.
§ Sir HENRY SLESSER
The right hon. Gentleman is truly mistaken if he wishes the House to believe that the effect of this Clause is not very seriously to interfere with the control of Parliament over guardians. I see that by the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, the Minister has power from time to time, by Order, to extend the term of the guardians for a period not exceeding six months. That arrangement was made at a time when this problem was very acute, and when the Minister decided that the guardians should be suspended and specially appointed officers substituted. He took the view, I assume, that so serious and so bureaucratic was the power which he then took, that it should not be allowed to continue for more than six months without the consent of this House. That was the position then. The next year, in 1927, we had a, consolidation of the Poor Law, and, lest there might be any doubt as to whether the provision was temporary or permanent, we find in the codified Act of 1927 this qualification again, that every six months a fresh Order should be made and that it should be debatable in this House.
Now what is the position The Parliamentary Secretary tries to slide off by pointing out that under Clause 119 an Order has to be laid before Parliament. But what is the fact? That under the present Clause, 21 days elapse, during which the Order may be annulled by Prayer. But that happens only once. 291 Once an Order is made under this Clause, and the Prayer is not made or is unsuccessful, the appointed guardians remain in office for the whole period of five years, whereas under the law as it now stands, under the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, the maximum period is six months. We have had no explanation of the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn) and others, that the effect of this Clause is to take away from Parliament the power which was given it under the Guardians (Default) Act of 1926. The House is entitled to ask the Minister, quite irrespective of the merits or demerits of West Ham or any other place, why it is that, seeing that in 1926 and in 1927 it was considered that non-elected guardians should exercise jurisdiction only for six months at a time—why it is that that protection of the six months is now to be removed, and that we are asked to agree without qualification and without an Order and without Prayer and without control of the Minister in any way, to a period of six years.
I hope that the House will address itself to that point. One is familiar with the methods of debate and how these things are done. The Minister has naturally seized upon one or two minor points as to Orders and annulments, but the real major point has not been explained by the Minister or by the Parliamentary Secretary. If it is necessary to have appointed guardians, why should they not continue in office from six months period to six months period? May it not well he that circumstances which exist to-day will come to an end before the end of the period of five years, and that the general desire to end the Poor Law, which the Minister had expressed, may affect West Ham at the end of one year or two years or three years? This is another objection to the Clause: Suppose that the Minister himself wishes to abolish the appointed guardians, he will not be able to do so without getting a special Act of Parliament. If I am wrong on that point, I should like to be corrected, and if I am wrong, I share the blame with the right hon. Gentleman himself for he has already told us that the arrangement would continue not for six months.
I have looked at the Schedule to the Act. If the Minister or the learned 292 Attorney-General gets up and says that under this Clause an Order has still to be made every six months, we shall know where we are, and we shall know then that neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary understands his own Bill. I am not here to make a debating point, but the House will want to know whether the provision as to this six months period, is to come to an end or not. As I read the Bill, it depends on the interpretation of that part of the Schedule which deals with this matter. As I read that, it means that the power will be continued for six years which is the opinion expressed in this House only about an hour ago. If it is to go on for six years, we want to know why the provision inserted in the Act of 1926, and repeated in the Act of 1927, that the power should be renewable every six months, has come to an end. No other question is this. Supposing the Minister wishes during these six years to abolish these guardians, has he the power to do so? Possibly he has, but that is a minor point. The real point is that Parliament will lose control and that the provision as to the six months will, in any case, finish.
To that extent, I think this Clause is connected with Clause 120—"Power to remove difficulties "—which, as a newspaper has said, may be "power to increase difficulties." The connection between them is that both are instalments in the encroachment of a centralised bureaucracy. The whole tendency of the Bill is to increase the power of the central authority and decrease the power of the local authority, as well as of the individual citizen. This Clause reveals, perhaps not in quite such a marked form as Clause 120, the centralising instincts and bureaucratic minds of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. The control of Parliament in this matter is being removed for six years; and, that being so, the protest which I have made —and which I am surprised not to see supported from the other side of the House—is justified. Let the House realise that we are giving the Minister for six years a power which, so far, he has only exercised for six months at a time.
§ Mr. OLIVER STANLEY
I should like to pursue a point made by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn), with 293 that passion for individual liberty and dislike of State control which has so naturally brought him to the place where he now sits. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question about Sub-section (3, b) of this Clause. It states that an Order made under this Clause may provide for making adaptations relating to grants as may be necessary. A point upon this matter was raised by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen, and I regret that I interrupted him in error. I assumed that the power granted to the Minister was merely to make those adaptations which were necessary, mutatis mutandis, to substitute "appointed guardians "for" county or borough council "wherever those words might occur in the Act. This, in fact, is a limitation on the last part of the Sub-section:May provide for applying to the appointed, guardians, with the necessary adaptations, the provisions of this Act relating to the mitigation of the liability of councils for temporary loans.On reading the Clause again carefully, it does not seem to me that that limitation applies to the first part, and I should like to ask whether it is not the intention of the Government that the adaptations which the Minister is making are only those necessary for applying to the appointed guardians the provisions which now apply to the council, and that they do not intend to use this as applied to county councils.
§ Sir K. WOOD indicated assent.
§ Mr. LAWSON
T have been very much relieved to learn that Chester-le-Street and Bedwellty are to be excluded from the operation of this Clause, but I am not prepared to hand out any bouquets to the right hon. Gentleman on that account. We have had two years of the operation of his guardians in Chester-le-Street, and we shall not soon forget that experience. We shall have these guardians administering the law in Chester-le-Street and Bedwellty for a considerable time to come. Knowing what I know about the administration of irresponsible guardians appointed by the Minister, I would be a traitor to my own knowledge and to myself if I did not support the protest which has been made against the con- 294 tinuance of this system even in West Ham. I therefore stand on somewhat different ground from that on which we have stood during the last two years. The fact of the matter is that, even in connection with the Default Act, the House has never yet understood the reasons for the appointment of these guardians in any of these three areas. We have had ex parte statements from the Minister—almost wholly relying on the Press—and a series of reports, in which the appointed guardians, naturally, sought to justify themselves. The conditions which arose in Chester-le-Street have never been stated except by some of us occasionally in this House after 11 o'clock at night, when we had no proper opportunity of stating them fully.
The impression left in the public mind is due to a Report issued by three administrators who had no experience of public life. Perhaps I should say that one of the former three had, but that the present three have not. I challenge investigation from any neutral-minded Member opposite in this matter, and I say they depended entirely upon statements made in a certain case, in a now famous Report, and those who made that Report would not be prepared now publicly to justify the statements which they made on that ocasion. I dare say the situation is the same in Bedwellty and pretty much the same in West Ham. Abnormal conditions prevail, and the best proof of that is that in 1920, under the elected guardians in Chester-le-Street, when the conditions were about normal, relief amounted to £29,000, whereas at the end of the last year for which we have full figures, under the appointed guardians, the relief amounted to nearly £130,000. That proves that abnormal conditions prevailed in that area, and those conditions were largely unknown to the people of this country.
Chester-le-Street was a great munition area. Ex-soldiers came and took the huts in which the people had lived. Those ex-soldiers had no homes in the towns around. Many of them got out of work and a sort of temporary war-time community was turned into a permanent community. The Government sent in ex-service men to be trained and, month after month, for a year or two, I was putting questions to the Government as to what they were going to do with those 295 men. The men remained and ultimately became a charge on the guardians. A great firm came into that area—a motor firm—which failed and left the bulk of its people there. A coal company failed and five or six collieries were closed down and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that was when the matter began to show itself more particularly. That was in 1925. It, is notorious in that area that the company failed because of not too wise financial arrangements. Thus you had accumulations of people who ultimately became charged on the guardians in that area. I have never yet heard any real reason for supplanting the elected guardians in Chester-le-Street other than that during 1926 the guardians insisted on giving relief to able-bodied men.
That was the definite charge against them. It may have been that there was something to be surcharged; that there was something, perhaps, to be justified to the auditor, but I think our people were right in giving able-bodied men relief, and I say that in similar circumstances the same thing would be done again. This House would probably agree with that view, if they understood all about the administration in that area. That was the reason why the Chester-le-Street Guardians were superseded. We pressed the Minister to give reasons for bringing them under the Default Act and the most we could get was that they had given young able-bodied men relief. There has been no judicial investigation, and I venture to say that in spite of wild statements, no Member of this House, of any party, could give a sound reason or clear statement as to why the Chester-le-Street, Bedwellty and West Ham guardians were unseated except what they have read in the newspapers. We know what was said in the newspapers. We have heard the right hon. Gentleman repeat those statements. That is all he has clone. There has not yet been, as I say, a judicial investigation into the conditions prevailing in those areas. There were wild statements in these reports—statements so bad that there were threats of taking the matter into Court. The right hon. Gentleman and his chief said that they put the papers in the hands of the Attorney-General. They are still there, and nothing further has 296 been heard of them. They knew that the statements that were made to justify the appointment of those guardians were rumours and legends that could not be justified by the facts. How long is this House going to be satisfied with mere rumours, with statements in the Press, with statements made by Ministers based purely upon political prejudice, as reasons for violating the principles of democracy in this country?
I am not going to exploit the revelations recently made about Chester-le-Street. In the main, those revelations spring from the administration of poor relief there by the appointed guardians. In Chester-le-Street it is much better to go into the union, or to be a criminal, or to be in an asylum than to get relief from the guardians. The cost of keeping a person in the unions throughout the country, taking the average for men, women and children, is 24s. 2d. a week. In Chester-le-Street a woman and four children only get 20s. The result is that the capacity of the workhouse has been taxed in an abnormal way. They have not room for the people who ask to go into the workhouse there. They have continually to refuse admission into the workhouse to young men. Will anyone in this House justify such a state of things? Will any hon. Member justify paying 20s. a week for a mother and four children, or rather for six persons, including the father? Would the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister of Health justify the regular scale in Chester-le-Street of 20s. a week for six persons? In the particular case I mention, the able-bodied man who receives no relief has served 25 years in the Army. To-day, he receives no unemployment benefit, and gets no relief, while his wife gets only 20s. to keep herself, four children, and her husband. What does the House think of an administration of that kind? No one dares stand up and justify it, but it is the regular scale. It is true that they are not going to continue those gentlemen in Chester-le-Street, and we shall he very glad to see their backs. None of them has had a single day's experience in public life, or in administration.
The right hon. Gentleman has told the House that we are going to have the Orders laid upon the Table. Everybody knows that amounts to nothing.
297 because they are taken after eleven o'clock at night and the House simply accepts the statements which the right hon. Gentleman reads, statements made in the Press which he has never taken any care to justify. They suit his purpose, and that is good enough. It is in that manner that we are violating the principles of democracy as applied to local government and handing over the care and well-being of great masses of the people to three gentlemen appointed by the Minister, mostly of his own political colour, who are not in the long run responsible to anyone. They are not responsible to the Minister, to the House, or to the people. In no case in this country has anyone such complete power as is put into their hands is these guardians. When you ask a question of the Minister, he says that it is a matter for the guardians. When you ask the guardians, they tell us, the elected representatives, that we have nothing to do with it. The Minister sends our letters to them, and they send them back. Even though the Minister has his own private opinion about their administration, they still continue in their own sweet way. I repeat that I do not believe that the Minister or any Member dare justify the scale of payments paid in Chester-1e-Street, which has contributed towards the poverty and disgraceful state of affairs that has been revealed there. Long before there was a Lord Mayor's Fund, there would have been eases of people found dead of starvation if it had not been for decent people throughout the country, and for the little help that has come from those on our side.
My experience in the last few years has been the same as that of members for other areas where these appointed guardians are operating. We have been handing out boots and clothes and heading stories of people receiving no relief. Week in, week out, after leaving this House, we have heard nothing but the sad stories of these people who receive no benefit and very little or no relief. I would like to give my need of praise to the people in this country who realised what the situation was in such an area as ours, and who came to our rescue. If it had not been for them, it passes imagination what the condition of things would be. It would have been far better, more decent, and more efficient if the 298 elected representatives of the people had been dealing with the needs of the people efficiently. After all, what were they doing? They were simply administering the revenue that came from the people who elected them. They were there to be questioned or challenged. I do not care bow grave are the charges that are made against a place like West Ham. If they were carried to the worst form of maladministration, that is their concern and that does not justify us in violating the principles of democratic election. We have had these guardians for two years, and we look like having them for another year. It would be a good thing if Members opposite would demand a judicial inquiry into their operations in order to find out the result of their work. It would be discovered, however efficient and experienced they may be—and in the case of Chester-le-Street they have neither efficiency nor experience—that their work is not as satisfactory as it may seem to be. The Minister of Health would have been well advised to abandon this system altogether. He may tell the House that it is satisfactory and has reduced expenditure, but he must admit that this system has not worked out so satisfactorily as it seems to have done on the surface.
The people of this country have a right lo elect their own members, and the results are their own concern. This violation of the democratic method of election is a very dangerous thing, and is really big with dangers to this country. The day may come when we are sitting on the benches opposite with a majority. I do not see why the hon. Gentleman should look so surprised at that statement after recent events. It is within the bounds of possibility anyhow that we shall be sitting over there, and, supposing we begin unseating guardians because we think they are giving insufficient relief, in some of the more rural areas where we know that certain things take place, that may be a very dangerous thing. There is no one who wants to see the very life of our institutions, whether local or national, sapped, and I say that this is a very dangerous principle. I am pleased to stand with West Ham, because, as in the case of Chester-le-Street, all the things that have been said about them have been merely statements made in interested newspapers. There has been no judicial investigation, and 299 Without any real evidence at all this House has accepted the statements and the actions of the Minister. The Government would be very well advised if they had abandoned this system altogether and admitted as a failure what really has been a very bad failure.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has taken the opportunity of making some observations as to the operations of the appointed guardians in his constituency, and nobody can complain of the hon. Member taking any opportunity which he is able to get within the Rules of this House. He has repeated a number of the criticisms which have been made on the many occasions upon which this matter has come before the House, but he used one expression this evening which I think throws a good deal of light on the point of view from which he approaches the question, when he said that, assuming the guardians who have been superseded did commit some crime or offence, after all it was the funeral of the people who elected them. There the hon. Member disclosed a vicious way of thinking of the responsibilities of elected persons. Not even the fact that people who commit an injustice are elected by a majority of the people to whom they are responsible can excuse that injustice, and, when the hon. Member talks of the mistakes which they have made being the funeral of the persons who elected them, he forgets that in Chester-le-Street there is a minority—[Interruption.] If I have misunderstood the hon. Member he will correct me, but I think I have understood him aright, and T merely make this comment, in passing, that his defence of the guardians on the ground that, if they have made mistakes, it is the funeral of the persons who elected them, overlooks the fact that there is a higher interest even than the interests of the persons who elected the people who committed the mistakes.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
On the same principle, what redress at this moment have the great mass of the people who have elected the Government?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The right hon. Gentleman has made a notable contribution to the Debate. Unless I am wrong, it is the first contribution, 300 or almost the first, that either he or the Leader of his party has been able to make to the Debates on this Bill.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I want the Attorney-General to be quite clear. I did not admit that the Chester-le-Street guardians had made mistakes. I never have admitted it.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I quite understand that. The hon. Gentleman's admission was a rhetorical one, an admission that, assuming they did make mistakes, at any rate it was their funeral. All that I desire to do is to call attention to that vice in his argument, as I think it is, because it does overlook the rights of minorities. I do not propose to enter into a discussion of the merits of the appointed guardians in Chester-le-Street, or even in West Ham or East Ham. There will be an opportunity for discussing those matters when the Order comes before the House, if it is made, in accordance with the provisions of this Bill when it becomes law; but I will take the opportunity of referring to one other habit of mind which is noticeable in hon. Members opposite. Whenever there is a provision put into a Bill, as there is in Clause 119 of this Bill, that Parliament shall have an opportunity of approving or disapproving an Order, hon. Members opposite are very fond of telling us that that means nothing, because Parliament is quite certain to do what Ministers propose. Yet, on the other hand, supposing Ministers take power to do something without coming to Parliament, hon. Members say "How monstrous that they should do something without asking Parliament to approve it." It really passes my understanding why hon. Members who profess to believe so much in the interests of democracy, and the particular expression of democracy which this House represents, can be so contemptuous of the decision of Parliament as to the wisdom or otherwise of an Order which is laid before Parliament. I believe it is a safeguard which all parties in the House recognise and value that Ministerial Orders should be submitted to Parliament for affirmation or rejection; and that power will be found in Clause 119.
The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) asked two or three questions, which it was my only purpose, on rising, to answer. His 301 first question was with reference to the period of the Order, if it is made, under Clause 19 of the Bill. An Order, if made, will be for the period stated in the Clause. The Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, which was repeated in Section 220 of the Poor Law Act, will no longer be in existence. Perhaps, in passing, I may remind the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street that if his party came into office and were minded, as he suggested, to dispossess some guardians or some administrators of the Poor Law in a rural district, they would no longer have the power do it, because the provisions would have been repealed a very long time before they came into power. The first answer, therefore, is that the Order will not be an Order for six months, but for the period contemplated in the Section to which the hon. and learned Member referred.
The second question was as to the reason for repealing the provision which at present requires the Minister to come to Parliament every six months. The object is this. The Minister has decided that he will ask Parliament to put a definite term to the period of the guardians who will now continue the appointed guardians in the West Ham and East Ham district. They will not go on indefinitely. If the existing law were continued, nobody would know whether their period of office would come to an end next year, or in five years or in 10 years. Now we know that they cannot continue after the period of six years—I think a date in 1935—and the object of setting a fixed term to their office is to allow the re-establishment of that spirit of independence and general healthiness of local administration which it is hoped will enable the new authority, when they come into office, to carry out their duties with success and satisfaction to all members of the community.
The third question asked was whether this Order, having once been made and affirmed by this House, is to be like the laws of the Medes and Persians. The hon. and learned Member said that, if it once came before the House and was approved, the House would never again have an opportunity of considering it. There, again, hon. Members opposite are fond of telling everybody, including themselves, that their access to office is so near and so certain that they will be 302 able to put everything right, and I hope it will comfort the hon. and learned Member, if he really believes that, to know that in Sub-section (2) of Clause 119 an Order may be made repealing or varying any Order that my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Health may have made. Therefore, I venture to think that hon. Members opposite will find that every possible avenue is open to them and that, whether they come into office or remain on that side of the House, Parliament will have an opportunity of considering it.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I find the Attorney-General's argument in regard to the responsibility of the elected guardians in Chester-le-Street more ingenious than convincing. He is very concerned now about the condition of the minority in Chester-le-Street, but, if that line were always taken in every matter, legislation would be almost impossible. The present Government have inflicted themselves upon this House for many years against its will, because it has been a minority Government, and other Governments From time to time have done the same thing; and it is within the knowledge of most of us that many Orders have been passed by this House under which minorities have suffered, and that people have gone to prison and had their homes sold up because they refused to obey the law, but no proposal was ever made to put autocratically appointed governors in the place of those Ministers.
If the appointed guardians of Bedwellty and Chester-le-Street are to go, I do not know why they cannot go in West Ham as well, excepting, of course, that the powers there are not quite the same, but are exercised in rather a different manner. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) seemed to assume that the party opposite is concerned about the democratic theory of government, but he should know that that is something to which they pay lip service only, and I have always described the actions of the Minister of Health in particular as the application of a British form of Fascism, to which the Government and their supporters in the Press are rapidly advancing. I believe this Bill is intended in the main to be a strengthening of autocratic powers instead of democratic powers. It is an attempt on the part of the Government to shift 303 responsibility and power from popularly appointed guardians to bodies that exercise a more autocratic power.
I expect the Conservative Government to do what they are doing, and to strengthen those powers for which they stand, namely, the conservation, as far as possible, of the thing that is by every possible means in their power. I protest against their action, but I do not expect they will alter it. I should be surprised if they did, but they must not expect
§ that, if ever we get on that side of the House, we shall be diverted in the slightest degree from doing all that we desire to do, not because of what they may think, but for the same reason that they are doing it, namely, because we shall have the power and shall hold it, hacked by the benches behind us.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes,221; Noes, 128.305
|Division No. 193.]||AYES.||[7.31 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Elliot, Major Walter E.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Ellis, R. G.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Alexander, sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||England, Colonel A.||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||McLean, Major A.|
|Atkinson, C.||Everard, W. Lindsay||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||MacRobert, Alexander M.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Fielden, E. B.||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)|
|Balniel, Lord||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. steel|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Frece, sir Walter de||Makins, Brigadier-General E|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis I.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Ganzoni, Sir John||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Gates, Percy||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Berry, Sir George||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.|
|Bethel, A.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Melter, R. J.|
|Sevan, S. J.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Goff, Sir Park||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Bird. E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Moore, Sir Newton J.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Moreing, Captain A. H.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Morrison, H. (Wilts. Salisbury)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Hacking, Douglas H.||Morrison-Bell. Sir Arthur Clive|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hamilton, Sir George||Newton, Sir D. G.C (Cambridge)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hammersley, S. S.||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn.W.G.(Ptrst'ld.)|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Harland, A.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hartington, Marquess of||Oakley, T.|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd,Henley)||Penny, Frederick George|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Perring, Sir William George|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R.(Prtsmth.S.)||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Pilcher, G.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Chilcott, Sir Warden||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Christie, J. A.||Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Ramsden, E.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Horilck, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Hurd, Percy A.||Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hurst, Gerald B.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Remer, J. R.|
|Conway, Sir W. I. artin||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Cooper, A. Cuff||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Cope, Major Sir William||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Ropner, Major L.|
|Couper, J. B.||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Ross, R. D.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Lamb, J. Q.||Rye, F. G.|
|Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Salmon, Major I.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Crookshank,Cot.H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Locker-Lampson, Com. O.(Handsw'th)||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Loder, J. de V.||Sandon, Lord|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Looker, Herbert William||Savery, S. S|
|Duckworth, John||Lougher, Lewis||Scott, Rt. Hon. Sir Leslie|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Lumley, L. R.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine,C.)||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Spender-Cay, Colonel H.||Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||Waddington, R.||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)||Wragg, Herbert|
|Streatfeild, Captain S. R.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.||Watts, Sir Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wells, S. R.||Major The Marquess of Titchfield and Sir Victor Warrender.|
|Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Sugden, Sir Wilfrid||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (File, West)||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Runciman, Hilda (Cornwall, St. Ives)|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hardie, George D.||Sakiatvala, Shapurji|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Harris, Percy A.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Barr, J.||Hayes, John Henry||Scurr, John|
|Bellamy, A.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Hirst, G. H.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Shinwell, E.|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Hollins, A.||Short. Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Briant, Frank||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Bromfield, William||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Bromley, J.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Snoll, Harry|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Stamford, T. W.|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, W. N. (Carmarthen)||Sullivan, J.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kelly, W. T.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Clarke, A. B.||Kennedy, T.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lawrence, Susan||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Clynes, Right Hon. John R.||Lawson, John James||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Compton, Joseph||Lee, F.||Thome, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Cove, W. G.||Livingstone, A. M.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Longbottom, A. W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lowth, T.||Tomilnson, R. P.|
|Day, Harry||Lunn, William||Townend, A. E.|
|Dennison, R.||Mac Donald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Viant, S. P.|
|Dunnico, H.||Mackinder, W.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Edge, sir William||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Watson, W M. (Dunfermline)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwllty)||MacNeill-Weir, L.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Gillett, George M.||March, S.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Maxton, James||Welsh, J. C.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Montague, Frederick||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Greenall, T.||Morris, R. H.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley||Mosley, Sir Oswald||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Windsor, Walter|
|Groves, T.||Potts, John S.||Wright, W.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Purcell, A. A.|
|Hall, F. (York. W. R., Normanton)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Paling.|