§ Mr. SIDNEY WEBB
I beg to move, in page 73, line 32, to leave out the word "council," and to insert instead thereof the word "councils."
I am moving this Amendment to enable the Government to give us an explanation of the Clause. It is a little complicated, and I hope the Committee will bear with me while I endeavour to explain the point. Clause 93 divides properties and liabilities of boards of guardians which have to be transferred to the councils that are to succeed them into two parts, the institutional and the non-institutional properties. The institutional property is denned as being institutions and offices, and also furniture, plant, and fittings in or about the offices, and all that property is to be divided, as it seems, quite equitably among the councils that succeed the boards in proportion to the rateable value of the dissolved unions. That seems all right, but when you come to the non-institutional property there is a difference, and it is proposed that the non-institutional property should not be divided among the councils that succeed the boards of guardians, but should he given to the council of the county or county borough which manages to get the largest proportion of the Poor Law area. That is a very reasonable way of dealing with property if you cannot divide it. If you have, for instance, a statue of some previous chairman or anything of that kind, you cannot cut the statue up, and it is not unreasonable that it should be given to one or other of the councils that succeed the board of guardians. Possibly there is some board of guardians that has a loving cup which it wishes to dispose of, and in that case it seems rather a drastic measure to divide it, and it is just as well that it should be given to one or other of the councils.
855 But it seems to me that Sub-section (2, c, ii) is not expressed in clear terms, and therefore we wish to inquire what property it is that the Government are going to dispose of in this arbitrary way. It seems easy to say that non-institutional property is not property connected with any institution, but when you go on to read the remainder of the other Clauses, you find that various kinds of non-institutional property are otherwise disposed of. For instance, there are the overdrafts on loans from current expenditure. That is not institutional property, and that is disposed of otherwise by Clause 94. Then there is parish property, and that is disposed of otherwise by Clause 95. The property and liabilities under the Registration Act are disposed of by Clause 96. Therefore, Clause 93 cannot relate to any of those properties. To what does it relate? As far as I can make out, there are some things to which it does relate. Property acquired by the board of guardians for the purposes of Poor Law relief is not parish property under Clause 95, and it may not be institutional property. That is to say, if the guardians bought a house which is occupied for some other purpose than Poor Law, that does not come within the definition in Clause 95. The property under Clause 95 appears to come within non-institutional property which will pass under paragraph (c, ii) in Clause 93.
Then there are some other things. Some boards of guardians have property which they hold in trust for a particular purpose, for instance for scholarships or apprenticeships and things of that kind, and, as far as I can make out, that is non-institutional property. It is not covered by the definition of institutional property, and it is not covered by Clauses 94, 95 or 96, and therefore it seems that it is non-institutional property. There may be other forms of property which the boards of guardians have which are not covered, and they will all be swept into the maw of these all-embracing words of paragraph (c, ii), and will not, as I read it, be divided among the councils that take over the unions concerned, but will automatically be given to the council which takes over the largest part of the union. That is quite proper in the case of a statue or a loving-cup, or something that cannot be divided, and I am not sure that it would not apply to the archives 856 of the boards of guardians, about which the Government are not sufficiently careful. The board of guardians is now an institution of some antiquity, and not only goes back to 1834, but in many cases to 1700, so that there are over 200 years of archives. To those who look into these archives, as I have done for a good many hours, they are of considerable value and ought to be looked after. I hope that they are non-institutional property, for if they are I have no objection to their passing, in the absence of a better custodian, to the council that absorbs the largest part of the union.
Therefore, there are some things which are appropriate to this paragraph. I am not quite sure, however, whether the Government are satisfied that the wide words which are used will not cover more properties than they have thought of. I especially call their attention to property which is not parish property and property acquired by the board of guardians for the purposes of poor relief. That has not any connection with an institution, but it will be non-institutional property and will fall under this paragraph. That property of a union which is applicable to the whole of the Poor Law recipients of a union should not pass arbitrarily to one of the councils, namely, the one that happens to take over the larger part of the union. In regard to the trusts, have the Government considered that boards of guardians own a great many trusts? That property in trusts is not institutional property, and is not covered by Clauses 94, 95 or 96, and therefore is non-institutional property. Do the Government really mean to take this property, which is vested in boards of guardians for the benefit of the whole of the poor inhabitants of the union, and arbitrarily give it to the council of the particular county borough which happens to absorb the larger part of the union?
I think that we are justified in asking these questions when the Bill is so obscurely drafted. As it stands at present, we get one definition in Clause 93 of what non-institutional property is, and then in Clauses 94, 95 and 96, there three separate properties which ought to fall under non-institutional properties but which are deliberately excluded from them. That is not all, because Clause 95 takes out a 857 lot of things which would otherwise fall under non-constitutional property, and then makes two exceptions. After having taken them out, prima facie, of Clause 95, it says that they shall not be considered applicable to Clause 95, and brings them back again into non-institutional property. The Government ought not to ask us to pass this Sub-section in such very general terms unless they have very clearly in their minds the class of property to which it applies. Unless they have these classes of property definitely in their minds, they cannot justify the arbitrary robbery of one particular set of people and an arbitrary gift to another set of people.
I may be all wrong, because when we look at the end of page 73 we see that there are instructions under paragraph (d) as to how the apportionment shall take place, and paragraph (d, i) deliberately relates to the apportionment and adjustment of non-institutional property. But paragraph (c) has said that non-institutional property has all to be given to the one council, so what does paragraph (d,) I mean when it speaks of the apportionment of non-institutional property? Some of the non-institutional property ought to be apportioned, and ought not to be wholly given away as it is in paragraph (c, ii), while some of the non-institutional property ought not to be apportioned. Therefore, there ought to be some words safeguarding it in paragraph (d.).
§ Sir K. WOOD
The right hon. Gentleman has again shown his considerable knowledge of this portion of the Bill, and anyone who has heard him to-night will delight in his vigour and keenness. This is undoubtedly one of those points on which he excels, and I suppose that no one has more experience and interest in matters of this kind than the right hon. Gentleman. This particular part of the Bill deals with the important question of the transfer of property and liabilities, and it divides, for the purposes of the scheme, the property which is to be transferred roughly into two categories —institutional property and non-institutional property. Other categories are set out in the Clause, but for the purposes of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment that is broadly the distinction that is made. As I understand it, 858 the right hon. Gentleman does not challenge in any way the division which is being made as regards institutional property. It is gratifying to the Government that the right hon. Gentleman has no criticism to make of that side of the scheme, but he has put certain points with regard to the non-institutional assets and liabilities, and has not devoted himself so much to the Amendment as to putting questions and criticisms of the Government's scheme. He is wise, as he always is in connection with Poor Law matters, in not devoting too much time to his Amendment. He has made criticisms of the Government's proposal, but he has not at all indicated what the terms of the Amendment are or what the result would be if they were carried into operation.
§ Sir K. WOOD
What does that mean? The right hon. Gentleman seeks to provide that on the appointed day the non-institutional property and liabilities are automatically to vest in the councils of the counties or county boroughs into which the union extends in proportion to the reduced rateable value of the parts of the union in the several areas. That is putting it plainly and briefly. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh. Perhaps I had better emphasise briefly and not plainly. The right hon. Gentleman has asked what the various classes of the non-institutional assets and liabilities are and of what they are composed. As regards the non-institutional assets, the first class consists of assets representing the amounts owing to the guardians in respect of the? relief that has been given by them; under a paragraph in this Clause we deal especially with that matter, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman challenges the method. Under our proposal all other non-institutional assets and liabilities will pass to the council of the county or county borough which contains that part of the Poor Law area having the largest reduced rateable value.
I want to put this before the Committee in comparing the proposal of the Gov- 859 ernment and that of the right hon. Gentleman. Obviously, one of the transfers which will have to be made is the stores in the institutions. There are also superannuation allowances payable to retired officers. If you apply the suggestion of the right hon Gentleman to either of these matters, you will immediately be confronted with very considerable difficulties indeed, and it will be impossible to carry out his suggestion with regard to either of them. It will certainly be very inconvenient. I will put it no higher than that. The right hon. Gentleman has overlooked the other side of the proposal of the Government. It is true that the non-institutional assets and liabilities will pass to the council of the county or county borough which contains the largest part of the reduced rateable value of the Poor Law area at the appointed day, but as soon as possible after the appointed day an apportionment will be made between the councils, so that the various liabilities and assets of the several authorities concerned can be ascertained.
Therefore, so far as the question of trust funds and matters of that kind are concerned, they will come in under this particular Clause and will, of course, be adequately provided for. Really, this method is the best way of dealing with these matters without putting an undue liability on the local authorities. The authorities concerned have given a good deal of time to the examination of these proposals, and they think that by vesting non-institutional assets in the county or county borough in which the main portion of the Union is situate as set out in the Clause the matter will best be dealt with. On the whole, it is the most convenient and fairest way of dealing with what is admittedly a problem. I commend it, at any rate, as being on the whole the fairest and most convenient, and one which will not put upon the ratepayers a large amount of expense such as might be entailed if we followed out any other scheme.
§ Mr. WEBB
I can understand what the right hon. Gentleman really means, but he might have said it more simply. The right hon. Gentleman kept saying that this is a way of saving expense to 860 the ratepayers. There would be exactly the same calculations and apportionments to be made in the one case as in the other. What I understood, at first, was that there was going to be no apportionment or adjustment. Now, is he or is he not going to rob one for an other, or is he going to make it right by compensation? He says that he is going to save the ratepayers expense by making adjustments. Does he mean that, or does he mean that the adjustment will cost less after than before? I am in doubt. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he is saving expense to the ratepayers, and then he tells us that there are going to be adjustments. Which is it?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I can satisfy the right hon. Gentleman with perhaps a very simple answer. Both as regards institutional and non-institutional property there is to be an apportionment. I think that answer the right hon. Gentleman's question categorically. If he refers to the Section with which we are dealing, he will find that it bears out the answer which I have given. May I refer to one other matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, namely, compensation with regard to charitable trusts which may be held by boards of guardians. I am not very clear in my own mind what sort of charitable trust the right hon. Gentleman with his experience and knowledge has in mind, but probably he has not overlooked that we have been careful to deal with every species of charitable trust, sometimes held by guardians and constituted under a lawful act. That is dealt with under Clause 16. It is conceivable that there is some class of trust which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind and which has not been dealt with under Clauses 16, 93, or 95. If the right hon. Gentleman from his experience and knowledge will inform me of any class of trust which he has in mind, I will certainly take advantage of his knowledge and see if I can cover every kind of charitable trust. My impression is that they are already covered.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I think that is right. If the right hon. Gentleman were to pursue it, he would find that it comes back to the definition of non-institutional property which I think sweeps in everything not otherwise provided for and will be apportioned on the appointed day.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Amendment in the name of the hon. Members for Stockport (Mr. Townend) and the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott)—in page 74, line 5, at the end to insert the words:(iii) a payment to the council of any county or county borough into which a Poor Law area extends by the council of any county borough or county into which such Poor Law area extends of such sum as seems equitable in respect of any increase of burden which will properly be thrown on the ratepayers of the area of any such council in meeting the cost incurred in the exercise of the functions transferred to such council by Part I of this Act"—I think should come as a new Clause.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. BARKER
I wish to protest, against that part of the Clause which says:In the case of any right of recovery from any person of payments made or expenses incurred by the authority by way of Poor Law relief, to and in the council of the county or county borough in which the the recipient of the relief was resident when the relief was granted.At the present time, we have thousands of families in this country practically destitute. They are living upon charity, they have been unemployed for a very long period of time, and the guardians with the power vested in them by another Act of Parliament have granted relief upon condition that this relief is repaid- They are piling up a huge debt against these people, and, when they resume work, they will find themselves overwhelmed and burdened with the responsibilities of that debt. They are in arrears with their rent, and they are in arrears with their rates, and now the guardians have power to pile up further responsibilities upon these people. I say it is inhuman in the very worst degree. If you are going to give relief to poorer 862 people, well give it to them, and let that be an end of it. Give relief to poor people and people who are destitute as I have described. There are thousands and tens of thousands of families in that position in this country to-day, and then you ask these people as soon as they resume work to repay the amount of money given to them—
§ The CHAIRMAN
As I read these words, there is no right of recovery to anybody. They only say that any liability or any right of recovery which may now exist with the Poor Law authorities shall be transferred to the county authorities. They give no new right of recovery whatever.
§ Mr. BARKER
I quite agree, but I am against this right being perpetuated in this way. That is my point, and I do say, having some knowledge of the poverty of our people, that it is inhuman in the very worst degree to give relief to our people and pile up a debt against them so that when work is resumed their hearts are broken because of the great debt that is shouldered upon them. They are not responsible for this debt. They are not responsible for the unemployed; they are not responsible for the financial position of the country. This Bill is perpetuating a principle that has been embodied in legislation by this House, and personally I object to this kind of legislation.