HC Deb 05 December 1930 vol 245 cc2567-654

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time".

This Bill seems to me to represent the sum of all the Parliamentary virtues, as far as legislation is concerned: it imposes no tax on the taxpayer and no rate on the ratepayer; it will lead to the employment of no new official; and its principal aim is to increase the sum of useful knowledge available for all mankind. On those general grounds it must commend itself to every Member of the House, although some have been moved by persons outside to express a desire to oppose it. It may be urged against us that this Measure has already been considered this Session in another place. I am aware that it would be out of order for me to allude to the flood of eloquence that swept it away there, but I am entitled, I think, to say that if its intrinsic values are as great as I have stated, it has this further extrinsic value now—it has shared the fate of a good many beneficent Measures by being rejected when first presented in another place. But if it survives the opposition that it may encounter here to-day I understand that there is nothing in the constitution to prevent it being sent back to another place with the knowledge that the consideration given to it here may perhaps have improved it.

While the parentage of the present Bill may be humble, and while those of us whose names are on the back of it make no other claim than that most of us have been connected with local government for a considerable number of years, we can at any rate claim that it had very distinguished grandparents, because this is the successor of the Bill of 1908. I believe I may refer to speeches made in another place against the Bill of 1908; they have passed into history. A Member of another place then said that this was "a Bill brought forward by a few obscure Members of the House of Commons". It was introduced by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary. The second name on the back of the Bill was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The next name was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Duncan). Then followed the name of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Lord Robert Cecil and the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Leif Jones) were also among the backers. Therefore we can say that if the Bill's parentage is obscure, yet if the doctrine of heredity has anything in it—the most approved statement of the doctrine is that ability misses one generation and appears in the next—this child of our efforts may well hope to benefit from such a distinguished ancestry.

The Bill passed through this House with only one speech in opposition, and as that speech was delivered at five minutes to eleven o'clock at night I am sure that hon. Members who recall the House of 1908 will not need to be reminded that the speech was delivered by a Member who then represented the City of London—Sir Frederick Banbury. I will quote his speech in this House in order to represent the ground on which he disapproved of the Measure. He expressed disapproval of the proposal that a local authority should have power to exclude the Press by a two-thirds majority. He said it seemed to him that the Press ought to be admitted or they ought not. Those who have followed the debate in another place will realise why those words are quoted by me to-day. I shall not go any further into it than that. But when the Bill reached another place the most dire catastrophes were foretold as to what would happen if the Bill passed. The Duke of Northumberland said: It is no use admitting the Press. Everybody knows perfectly well the result of that where local authorities are concerned. Discussions by local authorities are not generally of wide interest, and the result is that they are very sparsely reported unless somebody forgets himself and says something that he ought not to say. That never happened, said the Noble Duke, in county councils, of which he was a member. But sometimes in municipal borough councils one of the hon. Members calls another hon. Member a liar and there is a row. That is reported at the greatest length and that is the value of publicity. I think that it is a monstrous thing that we should be asked in this country for the first time to give the Press legal recognition and authority to be present at all meetings. This is the first time, as far as I know, that it has been proposed to give the Press a legal standing in this country. The Bill goes very much further than some noble Lords seem to think. It establishes a very dangerous principle and is a Measure that is not required. The effect of that peroration was such that the Noble Lord who had moved to reject the Bill withdrew the Motion and the Bill was forthwith read a Second time and had a comparatively easy passage to the Statute Book. It is 'a matter of regret to me that the four associations which represent the local authorities should have thought it necessary to frame a Motion to reject this Bill. I should have thought they would have admitted that after 22 years, with the mass of local government legislation that has been passed in that period, it is high time that this matter was reviewed by Parliament. I want to assure them that if the Bill gets a Second Reading to-day and goes to a Standing Committee, we shall be prepared to examine every Clause and Sub-section in the light of that statement. We are quite willing to listen to anything they have to say.

I have not hitherto regarded their secretaries as among the great comic writers of the twentieth century. I am bound to say that the letter they published in the Press on Wednesday of this week revealed a humour that may be unconscious but none the less exists. We are asked to believe that it would seriously inconvenience public authorities if the noble chairman of the county council and the learned clerk of the peace had to calculate how many two-thirds of the people voting were before they were assured that a, requisite majority had been obtained. It is true that the Noble Lord, the late President of the Board of Education, told us this week that he could not work out the sum, "As sixty is to one hundred, so is £1,500,000 to X." Of course, he is only the ex-President of the Board of Education. But the noble chairman of a county council and the clerk of the peace, if in doubt about working out what is two-thirds of any number less than 100, can always call in the county accountant to check their arithmetic. It is also said that it would be inconvenient if the Press were excluded from a meeting for one Motion and then readmitted for another. I speak as one with considerable experience of four or five different forms of local government, and my experience is that business, in connection with which it is necessary to ask the Press to retire, such as the acquisition of a particular piece of land or the consideration of some pending legal action, is always taken at the end of a meeting, and I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of any local governing body which desires to conduct its business for its own convenience and that of its constituents, to arrange matters in that way.

I turn from these general considerations to the proposals of the Bill. I desire to emphasise the fact that this Bill is an attempt to bring the law of 1908 up-to-date, and is nothing more than that. If it can be said that anything in the Bill goes outside the principles laid down in the 1908 Measure I am sure that the promoters will be willing to meet any opposition on those lines. The Clause which excites most interest is Clause 2. In paragraph (a) we re-enact the definition in references to those bodies which are directly elected. I expect that, except for the question of a two-thirds majority being necessary for exclusion, no point will arise with regard to that matter, because 22 years' experience has shown that the public interest has been served and not hindered by the admission of the Press. Paragraph (b) also re-enacts existing law, and I do not intend to waste any time in dealing with it, but I think paragraph (c) is probably that part of the Bill around which most of the controversy will range. A public assistance committee as far as I have been able to ascertain is in every way analogous to an education committee.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE



The hon. and gallant Member has put his name down to an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill and he will be able to explain that point, after I have done my best to anticipate his arguments. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) was speaking on the Second Reading of the Local Government Act he said: The public assistance committee is going to be an important body because it will be seen that to it may be delegated any of the transferred functions of the council, except the power of borrowing or levying a rate …. There can be no doubt that this committee will rank among the most important appointed by the county council."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1928; col. 77, Vol. 223.] In fact it has been so. I have served on a public assistance committee and I find that the procedure is in every way analogous to the procedure at an education committee. That is to say the reports of the various sub-committees are presented and are discussed with all the formality which characterises discussions at council meetings. In fact it would be impossible to conduct the business of the education committee or the public assistance committee of a great local authority unless that procedure were adopted. One is faced with the fact that during the past 22 years, successive Governments, rightly or wrongly, have heaped upon county councils and county borough councils a tremendous number of duties. Several of these duties, including education and public assistance, have been given to them in such a, way that most of the big authorities delegate their powers so completely that the report presented to the county council or the county borough council and discussed in public, is merely a record of things already accomplished.

The formal decisions—I do not refer to discussions at a sub-committee where men and women sit around a table and argue things out more or less informally—but the formal decisions, taken on the recommendation of the sub-committees, are taken at the committee meeting and education as a public service has gained immeasurably from the fact that these discussions at committees are held in public and that the public get a full knowledge, not only of the matters before the committee, but of the policy guiding the committee. What is the position of the county councils to-day? I have here a report of a meeting of the Middlesex County Council held in October, from the "Surrey Comet" of 1st November. The report begins in this way: So bulky was the volume of the reports presented at Thursday's meeting of the Middlesex County Council that in some instances the envelopes in which they were sent through the post could not stand the strain and members complained that the reports reached them in a dilapidated condition. Perhaps this was not surprising seeing that the reports ran to 570 pages and weighed 1 lb.6 ozs. I am sure that the representative of the County Councils Association will agree with me that Middlesex is among the most enlightened of the county councils. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I said "among the most enlightened." I am prepared to agree that the county councils represented by some of my hon. Friends here are first, and I will put my own second, but Middlesex deserves a place. What I have just indicated is not an uncommon experience of county councils to-day. The money spent by county councils to-day is enormous. My own county of Surrey has an annual budget on the rate account of £4,750,000. The public which finds this huge sum is entitled to reasonable reports of what is being done by the authority administering it. But if 570 pages of reports are submitted to a county council meeting, the local Press, even if they want to do so, cannot possibly give an adequate resume of the decisions reached, apart altogether from any question of policy which may arise in the discussions. It has been a great advantage to education that the fact of the education committee meeting a week or a fortnight or three weeks before the county council or the borough council, has made it possible to give to their mere transactions—not, to speeches—an extent of publicity which has enabled the public to follow what the-local authority has in mind in connection with the development of that particular public service.

The argument will doubtless be raised that it is proposed in the Local Government Acts gradually to deprive the public assistance committee of some of the services which it now administers and to-hand these over to various other committees of the council such as the public health and education committees—when, incidentally, they will be given the disadvantage of publicity. It will be argued that therefore we ought not to put them into too strong a statutory position but my experience as a. member of a public assistance committee convinces me that now, more than ever, is a time when publicity ought to be given to the work of the public assistance committee. Full publicity should be given to the principles that are engaging their attention. They are sharing out the institutions among the various services in the county, with the result that the infirm poor in the infirmary are in some cases being moved 20 and 30 miles and placed in other institutions, making it very difficult indeed for their poor relatives to visit them on the ordinary visiting days. That kind of thing is something that ought to be known to every citizen, both the citizen who has to find the money for the service and the citizen who may be inconvenienced in one of the most sacred relationships of life, namely, visiting sick and infirm relatives. They have a right to know, before it reaches the stage of the county council meeting, what exactly has been proposed.

We come next to the guardians committees, and I know that here some of my hon. Friends on this side have some alarm lest it should mean that individual relief cases will be discussed in public. I understand that misgiving, but we have the practice of 22 years behind us. For 22 years the boards of guardians have been open to the public. The board of guardians of which I was a member used to split up into three committees. The Press remained in the room, but I have never known—and I have made vigilant inquiries and have been unable to find—any instance where an individual relief case has ever been reported or commented upon in the local Press. There are matters that these guardians have to do, functions that are frequently delegated to them, that entitle them, I think, also to be open to the Press. They have to discuss general questions of principle with regard to the management and control of institutions and the staff under the power delegated to them by the public assistance committees, and those again are matters about which it is desirable that the public should know.

I come next to the Metropolitan Water Board and the other bodies included in paragraph (e), which were also in the Act of 1908, and, under paragraph (f), assessment committees. It is held by the promoters that an assessment committee is already an authority under the Act, but some assessment committees reject that claim, and it is therefore thought as well that it should be put beyond a doubt. There is an argument here that this may lead to the disclosure of things of a private nature that ought not to be made public, but I would point out that every decision of an assessment committee is open to review at quarter sessions, when the evidence would be tendered. Here again I know of no ground for thinking that the action of the Press towards local government has ever been such as to make it necessary to suggest that they have unduly pilloried any person before a public authority dealing with matters of a personal nature.

Then we come to paragraph (g), dealing with a joint electricity authority, the conservators of a common catchment area board, and internal drainage board. These are, I suggest, all authorities that come within the general principle of the Bill. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), whose name appears first among those who desire to reject the Measure, himself told us last year the high proportion of the cost of local drainage work that was going to fall on the borough that he represents, and I am sure there is every ground for admitting the Press to that kind of body. The subcommittees and the joint sub-committees that follow are also included in the Act of 1908, and in paragraph (i) we make another effort to ensure that this legislation shall be inclusive. With regard to the provision about a committee of the whole council, I am inclined to believe that that would be difficult to work in the case of small councils, and that is one of the things that I suggest might very well be argued out on questions of principle in Committee. I am quite prepared to meet any reasonable objections to that provision.

I do not think there is anything else in the Measure that calls for comment by me. Various other matters in the Bill will be touched on by later speakers among those whose names are on the back of the Bill, but I want to make a strong appeal to the House that this Bill should be given a Second Reading. All of 'us connected with local government know the great difficulties of getting an intelligent interest in our work taken by the ratepayers and by the men whom we desire to see interested actively in the work. I feel that one way of bringing home to the public the great and bene- ficient work that local authorities do and of interesting our best citizens in the work would be to ensure that not the speeches, but adequate reports of the transactions of these local authorities should be made public, and I am sure we have long gone passed the time that was satirised by James Russell Lowell with regard to the admission of the Press, when he said: Fact is, the less the people know o' wut ther' is a-doin', The hendier 'tis for Guvment, sence it benders trouble brewin'; An' noose is like a shinplaster,—it's good, of you believe it, Or, wut's all same, the other man that's goin' to receive it. John Milton said: Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely above all other liberties, and the right to know is the first right of the citizen. There is another distinguished man from Cambridge, Paley, who said: Natural liberty is the right of common upon a waste; civil liberty is the safe, exclusive, unmolested enjoyment of a cultivated enclosure, and this enclosure of local government, to which every citizen should be anxious to give his mind, ought to be cultivated in the light of knowledge so that reason may be used to fertilise it. As Dean Swift said: Reason is a very light rider and easily shook off. It is easily shook off, but reason that is based on knowledge is a firmer rider than reason which is not based on knowledge, and I trust that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading after the assurances that have been given that on all questions of detail the promoters are anxious to meet any reasonable opposition, and that the question of principle, in view of the extent and ramifications of local government to-day, is one that this House ought to have re-examined in the light of to-day's conditions.


I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shield's (Mr. Ede) has dealt so fully, fairly, and clearly with the provisions of the Bill that there is no need for me to waste the time of the House by going into details. The Bill introduces no new principle. The principle was established in 1908, and all that this Measure does is to bring that Act up to date. Since 1908 there have been many changes in local government, and the result is that the provisions of the 1908 Act no longer fully carry out the purpose of that Act. In particular, the Education Act of 1921 and the Local Government Act of 1929 have altered the whole mechanism. The administration of poor relief, for example, has been passed to a new body, the public assistance committee, which is not mentioned and could not have been mentioned in the Act of 1908. Moreover, some of the wording of that Act was a little obscure, and in a matter like this there should be no room for misapprehension. Finally, the enormous increase of burdens upon county councils and other local authorities has meant that a great deal of work has been handed over to committees and subcommittees, and very often the most important discussions take place there. Ample provision is made in this Bill for the exclusion of the Press where a matter is really private and confidential, not indeed by a bare majority, but by a two-thirds majority, in order that such exclusion should not be a mere haphazard affair, but the considered act of the authority in question.

If I may be allowed to say one word on a question of detail, the only really controversial point in this Bill is in Subsection (3) of Clause 2. I understand that on that is based the chief opposition to this Measure, and it is argued that at these public assistance committees, when inquiries are being made into the circumstances of applicants for relief, the Press should be excluded from them. On that, I think, there are two things to be said. The first is that in the 1908 Act the Press were admitted to boards of guardians, and it seems reasonable that they should be admitted to the meetings of the authorities which are taking over the function of boards of guardians. Very often at these meetings there will be very vital discussions on questions of general principle.

Again, as my hon. Friend pointed out, in the past the Press has not reported relief cases, and there is no likelihood that it will do so in the future. But, clearly, this is a matter on which we ought to have full assurance. It is hard enough for an honest man to be an applicant for public relief, to have his affairs inquired into, without the presence of reporters. It is perfectly true that under this Measure exclusion by a two-thirds majority will give a certain protection, but I think that the promoters of the Bill will be most willing to agree to an alteration in Committee under which at all meetings of Committees and Sub-committees, which are exclusively confined to dealing with, personal applications, the Press should be ruled out. But, for the rest, I think the public assistance committees should come within the scope of this Measure. After all, our expenditure on poor relief to-day has become a colossal thing, and it cannot be right that the general lines of that expenditure, apart from the personal cases, should be discussed only in camera.

I would like to say a word upon the general question. I am no lover of new legislation. I can generally find many good arguments against any new legislative proposal from whatever party it comes. But. I am bound to confess that I cannot envisage seriously any objections to this Bill, except a general distrust of the British Press. No doubt, it is unhappily true that in recent years a certain type of newspaper has most effectively succeeded in alienating the confidence of thinking people in this country. We are all familiar with the kind of paper whose only object seems to be a scramble for circulation, which never argues except in headlines, whose leading articles are noisy ultimatums, and the larger part of whose contents seem to he advertisements of drapers and milliners. But that is not the staple of the British Press. That is not the kind of newspaper which is interested in the reports of the doings of local authorities, except when they happen to deviate into scandal and crime. That kind of paper is an imitation of the worst kind of American journalism. Everyone familiar with America knows that the strength of the American Press is not on its "yellow" side, but in the great bulk of local, provincial, what are called country papers, which, as a rule, are most ably and most responsibly edited, which are true journals of opinion, and which have the confidence of their readers.

In the same way, the great bulk of the British Press, and especially the provincial Press, is run by people with a very high sense of duty, and it reaps its reward in the confidence of its readers. That is the kind of paper with which this Measure is concerned, and do not believe that there is a better type of newspaper on the globe. My hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading has a long experience of local administration. I can speak from a long experience of handling the printed word in most of its forms, and I do not believe there is any class of man more worthy of trust, less likely to abuse any privileges given to them than the working journalists of Britain. This Bill provides ample security for the conducting in camera of really confidential business, but, for the rest, surely those who pay the piper should be allowed to know something about the tune.

The principle at the back of this Measure, which was at the back of the 1908 Act, is a very old and a very vital principle in our public life. The publicity given to the discussion of public questions has grown steadily with the growth of democracy. We can see that in the history of the publication of the Debates in this House. As soon as Parliament become a real organ of public opinion, the publication of its Debates followed as a matter of course. There is always a tendency even in the best bureaucracy to keep things to itself, but that tendency should be resisted in the interests of democratic government. Member of local authorities are elected by the public, and those who elect them should surely he given the data on which to judge their work.

The complexity of our administrative machine to-day, both local and national, has become very great, and the problems with which it is concerned are more closely linked than ever with the comfort and prosperity of the ordinary citizen. These are not matters of theory and dogma; they are practical questions, business questions, where the one thing desired must be efficiency. A suspicion has grown up in many minds that efficiency may somehow or other he inconsistent with democratic methods—that efficiency and freedom are incompatible. That suspicion has been broadcast throughout Europe, and we have seen in recent years more than one great nation surrender its liberties into the hands of a bureaucracy or dictator. I believe that the suspicion is without justification, and that just as democracy proved itself the most effeetive instrument to win victory in the Great War, so it can be not less effective in the more difficult contests of peace. If, however, we are going to vindicate that principle, we must be careful not to whittle away the fundamental right of a democracy, which is the oversight of its Government. The problems of to-day are more closely linked with the experience, the needs and the interests of the ordinary citizen than ever before, and in the interests of efficiency itself we ought to do our best to make certain that the administration of our public affairs should not only be controlled, but assisted, by the expert knowledge and the good sense of the rank and file of the nation. Business which is habitually done behind closed dors is as likely as not to be badly done, and in order to secure the great end of a true partnership between government and governed, I believe that there is no more effective instrument than a free and responsible Press.


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."

I listened with interest and respect to the arguments which were put forward by the Mover and Seconder of the Second Reading. It is certainly true that a Bill which imposes no taxes or additional rates, and does not call for the appointment of any more officials, must make a weighty appeal as compared with the ordinary Measure which is brought before this House for consideration. I am not surprised, therefore, at the opening words of the Mover who pointed out these facts, and I am not surprised that he put these facts in the forefront of the advantages of this Bill. We who oppose the Bill recognise that the Press have long played, and will, we trust and believe, long continue to play, a very important part in developing and assisting local government. There is no doubt that Press reports stimulate intelligent interest in the doings of local authorities, and that the interest which the Press had taken in local affairs has tended to encourage some excellent people to stand for those authorities, and to regard it as a privilege to be permitted to serve upon them. Press reports have brought many advantages, and I desire to make it clear that we are not opposed to publicity from the Press in respect of local affairs.

We are opposed to the Bill because we think that there is business of a certain character which it is not in the public interests that the Press should have the right of reporting. It is not necessarily in the interests of the public, when matters are being considered in their early stages, that the discussions should be reported in the public Press, and that the matter should be spoken about in the streets and the market places. Then there is the question of intimate personal matters, and we feel that, so long as the Press are present, there is the opportunity of disclosures which are not in the interests of either the council or of the individual whose affairs are unfortunately being discussed. The Bill is being strongly supported by the Newspaper Society and the Newspaper Proprietors Association, but I feel that there is some misunderstanding about the present position. An impression is apparently abroad that the Press have not adequate access to the meetings of local authorities. Surely that is a misapprehension. The Press have complete and direct access to the full meetings of practically all the important local authorities.

I would like to draw attention to the 1908 Act, to which reference was made in an interesting way by the Mover, and to remind the House that the Press are entitled to attend meetings of all local authorities, subject to the power of those authorities to exclude them when, in the opinion of the authorities, exclusion is advisable in the public interest. The Act of 1908 defines what are those local authorities; they are the county councils and councils of county boroughs, joint boards or committees which have delegated powers; education committees, so for as regards the proceedings which are not required to be submitted to their councils for approval; boards of guardians, and other bodies which have power to make rates. The Mover stressed the fact that boards of guardians have been succeeded by public assistance committees, and he urged that the meetings of those committees should be open to the Press in the same way as the meetings of the boards of guardians, It is not true to state, however, that boards of guardians have, in fact, been succeeded by the public assistance committees. The authorities which are responsible for the work which has previously been conducted. by boards of guardians, however, are not the public assistance committees, but the councils of counties and county boroughs; they are the authorities which have replaced the boards of guardians.

It was contended that huge sums are being spent by public assistance committees, and that the public ought to know bow that money is being spent. It was also suggested that urgent and important matters of great public interest are being dealt with by the public assistance committees, and that it was impossible to instruct the public except through the medium of the Press. It was further said that these committees have the power of inspection, visiting and managing Poor Law institutions. That is a formidable list of cogent arguments, and I do not minimise their weight, but my reply is that the public assistance committee is not the primarily responsible authority, which is the council which set them up, and to whom they have to report.


I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent what I said. I was careful to say that the public assistance committee is analogous to the education committee. I admit that the authority is the county council or the county borough council, but my argument was that it was analagous to the education committee, and I do not think I put my argument higher than that at any stage.


I am sorry if I stress that argument of the hon. Member more forcibly than I should have done, but I am prepared to deal with the matter from the point of view of the position of the education committee. His arguments would carry more weight if he could have shown that information was failing to reach the public, or was being withheld from them, under the system prevailing at the present time. In the case of education committees the press have a right of access to their meetings and of reporting matters which do not subsequently have to be submitted to the county council for approval or consideration. It is a limited right of access; it is not a right of access which enables the Press to deal with all matters which may be under the consideration of the education committee.

Public assistance committees also have to report to the councils concerned, and surely it would be an intolerable position if the proceedings of those committees were made public in the Press, and discussed and criticised in the Press, before they had come up for consideration by the parent body, the body which is in control of the work of the committee. At the present time there is no embargo on admitting the Press, and many committees do, in fact, allow the Press to attend their meetings, and I suggest that this discretionary power should. be preserved to local authorities. Judgment on this Bill must not be confined to the narrow ground of whether the proprietor of a newspaper should or should not be allowed to send his representative to report proceedings, for his own benefit, perhaps, in cases where the public are excluded, and I am sure the Bill will not be pressed on such a narrow ground.

To me there is one simple issue, and. that is whether it is or is not. in the public interest that these extended powers of access should be given to the Press. I frankly admit that there is every reason why electors and the public generally should be entitled to receive all reasonable information regarding the work of their representatives on local authorities, but I think they have very strong weapons in their own hands if they do not receive that information. In the first place, elections are frequent, far too frequent; we seem always to be taking part in them; and that gives ample opportunity for the public to express their opinion. Then, again, the Press itself is not altogether a, dumb animal. It has its own remedies and its own methods of bringing pressure to bear, and of seeing that matters which it thinks should be discussed receive publicity and an opportunity for discussion. I suggest that the intervention of Parliament is not required here, and that the local authorities should be allowed to continue to exercise a free hand in the matter.


I would particularly draw attention to the requirement of Clause 1 that a two-thirds majority must be secured before the Press can he excluded from any meeting. That is really an unworkable majority, because the two-thirds majority is required on each and every occasion, an item on the agenda on which it is desired to exclude the Press. How has the figure of two-thirds been arrived at? Who is it who has suggested two-thirds'? In this Mother of Parliaments we work on a bare majority, and why should it be necessary to have a two-thirds majority before the decision of a local authority can be effective 7 I think I am right in saying that the only cases in which a two-thirds majority of a local authority is required are those in which important matters of principle are under discussion, when, for example, it is a question of giving effect to some of the adoptive Acts, like the Superannuation Acts. This question of a two-thirds majority will require very careful consideration by the House before it is approved.

I need not stress the many cases in which it is undesirable that publicity should be given to particular questions. Questions involving litigation arise, and there are cases where differences of opinion take place between one authority and another in which premature disclosure can only lead to a discussion, a report of which would be most detrimental to the public interest. I also take grave exception to paragraph (c) of Clause 2, which goes far beyond the powers already given to education committees. As I have already mentioned, in the case of education committees it is only those matters which do not need the confirmation and approval of the parent authority which the Press have a right to report. But under the terms of this Bill they will have the right to report and to pass criticism upon all the acts and proceedings of a public assistance committee even before they are reported to the Council. The Municipal Corporations Association, the County Councils Association, and all the other great bodies associated with local government, are opposed to this Measure. For the first time, perhaps, in the history of the country, we have all the urban interests combining with all the rural interests in a united protest against a Bill, and I suggest that it is inexpedient for the House to give it a Second Reading. I urge the rejection of this Measure because I believe that it is not in the public interest, that it is not wanted by the ratepayers, and that adequate facilities exist already for the Press to report all the important proceedings of local authorities.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I have had 19 years' experience as a member of a local authority, and during all that time I have been a champion of the admission of the Press. I have a great deal for which to thank the Press. I have to thank them for reporting the many speeches I have made in our town council, and to thank them for editing those speeches on many occasions. It is a democratic right of the Press to be admitted to meetings of local authorities, where it is in the interests of the ratepayers that they should be present. The fact that the Press are present does, in fact, tend to lengthen the proceedings considerably, because certain members who otherwise would not have much to say talk a great deal when the Press are present and often complain that the Press have not reported them accurately. I remember a classic instance of a certain member complaining very bitterly that he had not been properly reported in the Press. On the next occasion when he spoke the reporter had instructions to report him absolutely verbatim, and his remarks were printed verbatim. He did not ever make any complaint afterwards.

The Mover and Seconder of the Bill have, to my mind, put forward the strongest possible arguments why it should not be passed. They dealt eloquently with the general question of the freedom of the Press, and we all subscribe to that view, because we not not going back to the dark ages when the Press were not admitted to our proceedings, but we say that. under the 1908 Act the Press have a full opportunity to report everything which is of real importance to the ratepayers, and that this proposed extension of their facilities will not in any way help real publicity. The Mover of the Motion for the Second Reading said that he was not concerned with what happened in another place when a similar Bill was discussed. Let me say emphatically that I am not concerned with what happened in another place either, but I am concerned with dealing with this question as we ought to deal with it as the duly elected representatives of the people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] I am glad to hear hon. Members opposite cheering that statement, and I would like to remind them that I have been duly elected, and not on a minority vote either.

The Mover of the Motion for the Second Reading told us something about the Middlesex County Council and the bulky reports which they were in the habit of presenting at their meetings. On that point, all I wish to say is that if this Bill becomes law those reports will be far bulkier than they have ever been in the past. Even if they are bulky reports, if you put a good pressman on the job he will quickly extract all that is interesting, and leave out that which is not interesting. We are dealing now with a new principle as regards legislation of this character, and I cannot understand why the promoters of this Bill have included a provision providing for a two-thirds majority. That is the one thing to which we take strong objection. At the present time, if there is a bare majority in favour of the exclusion of the Press, the reporters are not admitted, but, when the particular business under discussion is finished, they can return. To ask the House to agree to a two-thirds majority is absurd and ridiculous, and hon. Members should recollect that that is a weapon which can he used both ways. I do not think that the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is much concerned about this point, because he has already told us that he is prepared to meet all the objections in Committee that may be put forward by those who are opposed to the Bill.


All the reasonable objections.


It is very difficult to decide what are reasonable and what are not reasonable objections. Who is to decide that point? I suggest that this House ought not to give a Second Reading to the Measure because Clause after Clause have met with opposition, and, if the promoters of the Bill meet all the objections which have been raised, there will be nothing left. I agree that the public have a right to know all that is going on. They do know that under the present system, and I am going to prove that statement. We know that under the Public Health Act, 1875, there is a provision that all resolutions shall be carried by a bare majority of the Council, and the same Act also provides that reports from the committee shall be submitted from the council sitting as a full council for confirmation. If there is anything in a report of a committee to which any member of the council takes exception, that particular matter can be raised at the council meeting, and then the Press will have an opportunity of reporting it. May I point out that the Press are handed those reports, and, if the reporters think that there is anything in the reports to which they ought to call attention, they do so. I do not know that any complaints have been made that anything of public importance has been suppressed by the reporters.

I would like to mention the Local Authorities (Admission to Meetings) Act of 1908. If we were discussing this question under the conditions which prevailed in 1908, I should be in favour of the Bill, but we are now dealing with an entirely different situation. The Act of 1908 has been in operation since 1908 and it has been satisfactory in its working to the Press and to the local authorities. Why was that Act passed? It was passed on account of the decision given in the Court of Appeal that the Press had no statutory right to attend the meetings of town councils. We find that the associations representing all the local authorities throughout the country are opposed to this Measure, and I submit that we ought to give due weight to the opinion of those associations, because they are not political organisations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am a member of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and in that capacity I have presided over meetings of that body, and sometimes I have accompanied deputations to Ministers of the Crown. I know that when we have full meetings of that association the members take good care to express their opinion freely, and I am, therefore, in a position to say that as far as that par- ticular organisation is concerned there is no political bias in their opposition to this Measure.

My view is that on this subject we ought to carry on in the same way that we have been doing in the past. The Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils Association, the Urban District Councils Association, and the Rural District Councils Association are all opposed to the Measure, and I think the opinion of representative bodies like those ought to be taken some notice of. We have been asked why objections are taken to this Measure. One reason is that we are anxious to facilitate the despatch of public business. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields says that he has great experience of the work of the committees of local authorities, but I am prepared to pit my experience against his, and my experience in dealing with public matters involving much detail is that if you have the Press present there is a tendency to protract the proceedings.


I said that it was desired to have the Press at those meetings like the education committee where the subcommittee submit their reports and where the discussions are as formal as they are at a council meeting. I did not put it any higher than that.


I agree absolutely, and, if this Bill were to provide for that, I should vote for it and not oppose it; but it does nothing of the kind. The hon. Member appears not to have mastered the contents of his own Bill. The Bill is a leap in the dark. He now tells us that he only wants it to apply to certain things, but the Bill is not drafted in that way. It will require drastic alteration in Committee, and will, as I have said, emerge as a mere skeleton.

On the question of private matters, I should like to put before the House a case that came within my personal knowledge. There were certain very delicate negotiations between a corporation and a railway on a very important matter affecting both the ratepayers and the general populace of a large area. Questions had to be discussed and dealt with by the whole council—not by a mere committee—and by a bare majority, if you like, under the ordinary procedure, we went into general purposes committee and requested the Press to leave. I submit that it would have been very undesirable if the matters discussed at these meetings, of which a large number have to be held, had been published in the Press—and the public interest was such that the Press could not have been blamed for publishing them; indeed the public were demanding information and it was very difficult to meet that demand. [Interruption]. When, however, the report was published in full and the whole of the circumstances were revealed to the public, they understood the reason for the exclusion of the Press, and there was not a single complaint from anyone in the town, but rather commendation for the common sense shown by their representatives in dealing with the matter.

There is always opposition to any project, however good—[Interruption]—and in this instance there was a slight opposition, and possibly, if a two-thirds majority had been necessary the minority, would have got their way. However, since the final approval of the scheme by both parties and its sanction by this House in an Act of Parliament, every man who opposed it in Committee is now saying "I was in favour of this; it was only on little matters that I disagreed." Why is that It is because they realise that the scheme is now popular with the public, but, if the proceedings had been reported during those delicate negotiations, it would never have come to fruition. I suggest, therefore, that the idea of a two-thirds majority is a very foolish one.

To take a case of litigation, suppose that there are two local authorities, one promoting a Bill and the other opposing it. Is it fair that the proceedings should be fully reported in the Press when ways and means of dealing with the question are being discussed? I suggest that it is unfair to both sides. In these matters the battle has to be fought out in committee upstairs, and that is the proper place, but to discuss how the opposition is to be met, or the proposals that are to be put before the House on a Bill, with the Press present and able to report everything, is not in the best interests of the ratepayers or anyone else.

The hon. Member, in stating all the objections to the Bill, no doubt with the idea of forestalling what we were going to say, referred to the purchase of land, say for street improvements. He knows, as a member of a local authority, how, when a street improvement is decided upon, if it becomes known outside, difficulties immediately begin in regard to negotiating for the purchase of land. We know that the local authority has power to proceed to arbitration and so on, but in my own council—a very enlightened and businesslike council—we have always found it best, when we want to do anything in the way of a street improvement, to send a very simple-looking individual to inquire about the price. [Interruption]. Hon. Members laugh too soon. They send a very simple-looking individual, but there is sometimes a very keen brain behind a simple-looking exterior. If hon. Members wanted to do a deal, they would not do as they generally do when they are seeking election, that is to say, begin to describe their own accomplishments, but they would go in a mild and humble way, but at the same time very keenly intent upon making a good deal.

The hon. Member gibed at certain people for saying that they did not know how the two-thirds majority was to be calculated, but he will realise the difficulties of local authorities, and the fact that even the borough accountants will not be able to help them out, if I put to him a concrete case. In addition to being the member for the county borough of Grimsby, I am the member for the urban district of Cleethorpes, and the clerk of the urban district council has written to me as to how this question of a two-thirds majority would work. He writes: There are 15 members of this council. If the whole 15 were present at the meeting, it would mean that the Press would not be excluded if three members voted against exclusion, although 12 members voted in favour of it, as the majority would be only nine, which would not be two-thirds of the members present. He goes on to say: If only 11 members were in favour of exclusion, the remaining two being neutral, the resolution would have no effect. In my opinion"— and he is expressing the opinion of the council— the amendment goes a lot too far. The amendment referred to is the amendment of the Act of 1908. Therefore, it is not such a comic opera—or grand opera—affair as the hon. Member suggested when he said that the letter to the Press to which he referred was rather on the humorous side.

As to Clause 2 which contains definitions of local authorities and committees, the education authority is the council itself, and the education committee is a committee of the education authority. The proceedings of the education committee have to be reported to and confirmed by the full council. The practice in my own town is to admit the Press to full meetings of the education committee, but the Press do not want to go to the meetings of small sub-committees. I believe that they ought to be admitted to the full education committee meetings, because I admit that in some cases the proceedings of sub-committees are not fully reported to the council. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear ! "] Certainly, however, the proceedings of subcommittees are reported fully to the education committee. These reports are circulated to the Press, who can make use of any item that they wish, and, therefore, they suffer no great hardship. If this were a Bill merely to empower the Press to attend meetings of education committees I should be in favour of it but it contains many other things of which I am not in favour.

As to paragraph (c) of Clause 2, which deals with public assistance committees, there is a very strong case for asking the House to reject the Bill on this alone. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) pointed out that these public assistance committees do not take the place of the old guardians' meetings. That is taken by the town council, and to the town council, at any rate in my district, a full report of the proceedings of the public assistance committee is presented. It is there to be debated, either by any member of the public assistance committee or by any member of the council who is not a member of the public assistance committee, who can deal with any item to which he takes exception, and full publicity is given to the proceedings, at any rate in my own area, under the present law.

To suggest that the Press should be present when cases are being dealt with of people applying for relief—[HON. MEMBERS: No!"]—it is no use saying "No"; this Bill would provide for that. The hon. Member said that he could trust the Press and so can I. But I am going to join issue with him when he says that in his experience he has never known them report anything in the nature of a private matter dealing with a person's distress, or with fraud on the local authority. His experience is far different from mine. I have known cases where they have been reported. It is not fair to those who are administering nor to those who are applying, because people write anonymous letters stating that so and so is receiving relief and that he ought not to have it. We get it on pensions committees just the came. It is a question whether you ought to deal with these cases and investigations have to he made. You have the reports of your officials who have to investigate these cases. It is far better in the interest of all concerned that this should be done privately rather than publicly.

If you are going to admit the Press, you ought to admit the public. The public have as much right to attend meetings as the Press have. It is very difficult sometimes to deal with these cases even when you are meeting round a table, but, when you feel that you want to do justice and right, both to the applicants and to those who have to find the money, it is not fair. The people attending the meetings may be held up to ridicule in the Press because of certain things that happen. As far as those committees are concerned, it is not in the best interest of anyone that you should have publicity. When you come to assessment committees, in my opinion it would not be in the best interests of any of the parties concerned if the Press were admitted. You have to deal with private and personal matters which affect the people themselves and which are not of public interest, and it is not in the best interest that they should be admitted. I am a great advocate of having the Press present at all meetings of public authorities where business of importance to the ratepayers is being discussed, but I think discretion should be given to the duly-elected representatives of the people, not by a two-thirds majority, but by a majority to say whether or not they shall exclude the Press, because it is in the public interest that they should be excluded.

We are going too far in this matter. It is not a question whether we agree or not with the freedom of the Press. I do not think there is a public man who would say he does not want to see the utmost freedom given to the Press, but you have to use a little common sense in these matters. Hon. Members laugh. Possibly the word "common sense" does not appeal to them. You have to look at this thing from the point of view of public business. There has been no case made out for the Bill, it has not been proved that it is necessary nor that the present facilities are inadequate, and, as far as I know, there is no great cry for it on the part even of the reporters—whether on the part of the newspaper proprietors I cannot say—because those poor fellows would have to spend many dreary hours and get little copy. It is no use sending anything to the newspapers nowadays unless it has a good story behind it. On behalf of the junior reporters, and of the best conduct of public business, I hope the House will reject the Bill.


I support the Bill, because, in my opinion, it recognises and seeks to translate into legislation what I regard as an elementary light of the public, that is that those who pay in rates for the social services of the country should have a right to know how their money is being spent. I believe the operation of the Bill will, to a very large extent, supply them with that very much desired information. I support it for another reason. In these times, when local authorities are entrusted with greater and greater responsibilities of local administration, it is very necessary to generate and stimulate as keen an interest as possible on the part of the public in local administration. The complaint is often made, especially during the progress of local elections, that the public fail to take an interest in the doings of these bodies, and I believe one of the reasons for that. deplorable indifference is that they have not been supplied with sufficient information as to what the authority does, and also as to the effect upon their lives and conditions of the various Acts which they are responsible for operating.

I should like to refer to file objections that have been urged by the two hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill. It was suggested that it was not in the public interest that, when matters of public concern were being considered in their earlier stages, the public should know what is being carried on. In my opinion, that is precisely the p lint when the public ought to know most, otherwise, later on the objection is urged: "We have come to a decision, we are committed, and we cannot go back upon what has already been decided." The early stages of these discussions are the very times when the public should be supplied with the fullest information, consistent with the efficient and proper discharge of the duties with which these bodies are entrusted.

For 20 odd years in my capacity as a member of the county council I have fought with some of my colleagues for the admission of the Press to what I think the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) will admit is one of the most important committees of a county council, the highways committee. We agitated and proposed resolutions every year—the chairman characterised them as hardy annuals—and we were always met with the same prophecies as to what would happen if the Press were admitted. We were successful in obtaining a majority and for the last three years the Press has been admitted. Experience has entirely falsified all the dire consequences that were prophesied as to what would happen.

The matters to which the hon. Member for Grimsby referred, negotiations for the purchase of property and things that are essentially private, are never reported. It seems to me that hon. Members who object to this have no trust in the Press. They do not seem to give the representatives of the Press credit for ordinary common sense. When matters of this character are under the consideration of my highways committee, the chairman simply turns to them and says, "We think in the public interest this matter ought not to be reported," and invariably the request has been respected.

Since the change in the administration with regard to relief owing to the passing of the Local Government Act it has become very necessary that this Bill should be passed, because to-day the public are at a disadvantage. The Press used to be admitted to meetings of boards of guardians, and I do not think that anyone who has served upon boards of guardians—and I have no doubt that a great many Members of this House have served upon such boards—can say that the Press have ever reported an individual case of relief which has been considered by the committees of these bodies. These cases have been referred to what are known as relief committees, and, after having been dealt with lay those committees, have been reported to the general committee. The prophecies as to what may happen and how it may interfere with the efficient discharge of the duties of these local authorities are, I submit, from past experience, groundless. I support the Bill, because I believe that it will make for enlightened and progressive administration on the part of the local authorities throughout the country. I am very glad to have had an opportunity of supporting it and of reinforcing that support by my own experience as a member of two or three local authorities in my part of the country.


After the three speeches which have been delivered in support of the Bill, I do not think that it will be necessary for me to say more than a few words. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) spoke in support of the freedom of the Press, but it must be clear to all hon. Members that this is not a. question of conferring any privilege upon the Press of the country. The Press of the country, in this respect, is a valuable organ which serves the public. It is the only medium by which the public are enabled to find out what takes place at the proceedings of the local authorities which discharge various local functions.

There are two points of view which we have to consider. First of at, the public have an interest in the decisions and actions of local authorities in regard to various matters. They are interested in the resolutions and reports of local authorities. Practically all the authorities which come within the scope of the Bill are administering services in respect of which it is absolutely essential that the public should have the very fullest information. There is another point which has not been emphasised, namely, the interest which the electorate have in the action of individual representatives upon local authorities. They are entitled to know, not only what action is taken by local authorities, but also what action is taken by their representatives. I can assure the House that even in the rural districts the electors follow very closely the actions of their representatives upon public bodies. The only way in many respects in which they can do so is by fairly full reports of the proceedings of those authorities being given in the Press. I am satisfied, in many cases where members of local authorities have not acted in accordance with the views of those whom they represent, that had it not been for the publicity given by the Press the electors would never have discovered what they were doing as members of the local authority.

I should like to draw attention to two or three points which were dealt with by the two hon. Members who have opposed the Bill. With regard to the question of the two-thirds majority and the suggested enormous difficulty which a chairman or clerk of an authority would experience in arriving at a two-thirds majority. I believe that the question of the two-thirds majority is already a common consideration in most local authorities. As far as I am aware, the standing orders of most local authorities provide, in the case of the suspension of standing orders or of the rescinding of resolutions, that there shall he a two-thirds majority. I acted for a large number of years as clerk to one or two local authorities, and I did not in the whole of my experience realise that there was any difficulty by way of an intricate and complicated mathematical calculation.


Will the hon. Gentleman answer the little conundrum which I put with regard to the Cleethorpes Council, and then perhaps I may he convinced?


I do not think that that is necessary. Has the hon. Gentleman had any experience of any difficulty having occurred in this connection? The hon. Member also referred to the decision of three or four associations in regard to this matter. I do not for a moment minimise the importance of that decision, but I would rather like to know whether this matter has been submitted to the various authorities which these organisations represent. If the matter had been submitted to all the county councils, county borough councils, and urban and rural district councils, and they had, after it had been duly submitted to them, adopted a resolution in support of the objection to the Bill the case would have been very much stronger than is indicated by the mere action of some committee or committees of an association, or even by the action of the whole of the association.


That is a very important point, and I thank the hon. Member for giving way to me. As far as the Association of Municipal Corporations are concerned, I speak on their behalf. This matter was considered by the duly accredited representatives of the boroughs and county boroughs of the country, and settled not by them, but by the full council, and the decision has been circulated among the local authorities.


May I add the same with regard to the county councils?


My point is that this matter has never specifically been considered by the county councils, the county borough councils, and the urban and rural district councils of the country. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby, who opposed the Bill, referred to one or two other matters. He referred to litigation on the part of local authorities in connection with Bills in this House and the other House. Is it not the position in regard to litigation of that character that the Legislature has already provided that before local authorities can embark upon expense on that type of litigation, before they can oppose Bills, they have to advertise publicly their intention in the Press. It may be necessary in certain cases to have a public meeting, and they need not make public at this stage the evidence which the local authority propose to submit to a Committee of either House in connection with the Bill.

From what I can understand of the opposition it is not opposition to the principle of the Bill. So far the opposition has dealt with one or two provisions of the Bill, and on some of these points when the Bill goes to Committee the promoters of the Bill ought to be prepared to consider reasoned Amendments. Take the question of education. It is of the utmost importance to those who are interested in education, parents of the children, and ratepayers, that they should have the fullest knowledge of what is taking place, whether in the Education Committee or the District Education Committee. From the point of view of education there can be no doubt that the more you can interest the mass of the people in the work of the authorities administering education, the more likely are they to appreciate the benefits of it.

When I come to Clause 2 (f), I am disposed to agree to a certain extent with the remarks of the hon. Member for Grimsby. For several years I have appeared occasionally before assessment committees. Very frequently ratepayers, appellants, appear before the assessment committees in person, and there are matters which come before the committees where the private affairs, the business affairs of the appellants are considered and where it might be a distinct disadvantage to them in competition with others that the information, or any part of it, should be made public. The reply to that will be the statement made by the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill that in the case of an appeal to Quarter Sessions from a decision of an assessment committee the appeal is conducted in public, but it must he remembered that in the first instance before the assessment committee there are scores and hundreds of appeals, in connection with which the most delicate private business matters are considered, whereas the number of appeals which come to Quarter Sessions is very small. It is generally questions of big principle which go to Quarter Sessions and generally on both sides counsel are engaged, the ease has been prepared with extreme care and every endeavour is made not to bring out anything which may be of disadvantage if it were made public, either to the appellants or anyone else.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member who spoke first in support of the Bill refer to the question which arises where a committee of a local authority consists of the whole members of the authority. The Bill provides that Where a committee of a local authority consists of the whole number of members of the authority, a meeting of the committee shall be deemed to be a meeting of the authority. For the economic transaction of business many of the minor authorities, the small urban councils and some of the larger urban councils, have to refer matters not to small committees of the council but to the whole council in committee. In the case of a large authority, a county council or a borough council, the matter would probably be referred to a committee consisting of a portion of the council. Therefore, I think the part of the Clause which I have quoted might very well be altered. One urban council in my constituency has already adopted a resolution and has asked me to see that if this Bill goes forward these particular words shall be omitted. These are all points of detail. On the whole, I am satisfied that the Bill is in the public interest, and in the interests of sound public administration, and it is that which we should keep in view. Having regard to these facts, I strongly support the Bill.


Speaking on behalf of the parliamentary and general purposes committee of the City Council of Sheffield, a very large municipality, on which there is a considerable majority of those who are represented on these benches, I have been requested to oppose the Bill, because the committee consider that there is no evidence whatever that the Act of 1908 has in any way failed. It is true that under the guardians' administration whilst the Press were admitted to the meetings of the guardians they were never admitted to the sub-committees. When one comes to consider the question of admitting the Press to sub-committees of the boards of guardians or to committees of the councils I may say, speaking more particularly as one who has had many years' experience on the finance committee, the watch committee and the highways committee of the Sheffield City Council that it would have been really disastrous again and again if the Press had been present at our meetings.

Take the question of the assessment committee. There can be no doubt whatever that it would not have been in the public interest when questions of the valuation of property have come up that the Press should have been present on those occasions. It, is al/ very well to say that the committee could ask the Press not to publish certain things, but we have to remember that when these proceedings are taking place and the Press are present they send out part of their report, and you cannot recall that, once it has gone out. The council may come to the decision that it is not desirable that the information should be published, but that decision may not be arrived at until some considerable time after the matter has been discussed, and when the report has got a great deal too far. It is no use concealing from ourselves the fact that if we are to have that full and adequate discussion which there ought to be upon these matters in committee, the members will not feel that they have perfect freedom of discussion in coming to the conclusion at which they ought to arrive, if the Press are there, because there will be the fear of what the Press may do or say. I am not quite clear as to what might happen in regard to relief committees, but I do not agree that we shall get what has been described as a general stimulus of public interest in these matters. We all desire that the public should take more interest in these matters as they come up for discussion.

If we could rely absolutely on the Press giving us the important matters which come forward there might be a good deal to be said for their full admittance, but as far as the city of Sheffield is concerned that unfortunately has not been the case—I am speaking of the time when I was a member of the city council. Again and again certain matters, which were unquestionably private, have leaked out in spite of an arrangement with the Press that they should not be made public. My feeling so far as the Press is concerned is that there is too great a tendency not to give the important matters which are discussed and on which the public should be informed but rather to find something which is sensational, which will make a good heading and good copy. If we could rely, as we did in years gone by, upon the Press giving us the important matters which are discussed there would be a good deal to be said fox the Bill. Having been asked by the city council not to support the Bill I have no hestation in supporting the rejection.


I should like, very briefly, to support the principle and the main provisions of the Bill. I have been more than surprised at the extent of the opposition to the Measure and by the arguments which have been adduced against it. The Act of 1908 was rather a confirmation of an existing tradition. That Act left this House practically as an agreed Measure, and, as far as I know, the Press have not abused the privileges conferred under that Act. Their relations to-day with local authorities up and down the country are proof to the contrary. The rights of the public to read reports of the proceedings of local authorities seem to be just as sound in principle as they are in regard to the proceedings of this House. By reporting the meetings of local authorities the Press discharge an important duty of stimulating local interest in local affairs and informing the electorate as to their conduct. In view of the increase in the electorate and the enlargement of the activities of local bodies this information is surely more important now than ever before. How, except through the Press reports, is it possible to secure a semblance of democratic control over the vast expenditure and the innumerable activities of our local government system. What value is the vote of an individual if he is deprived of full information as to the conduct of the representatives whom he has helped to place in authority on local councils.

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In the Act of 1908 this House recognised and established the right of the public, subject to certain provisos, to receive such information and the right of the Press to supply it. What has happened in the course of the last 22 years to make us alter our views in regard to such rights and wish to curtail the privileges which were then conferred upon the Press and upon its readers? The main purpose of the Bill is to secure that these privileges shall not be curtailed unintentionally by recent changes in the structure of our local government. It is true that it seeks to secure for the Press the right of admission to meetings of sub-committees of public assistance committees. I know that objection is taken on the ground that this will entail the presence of reporters when applications for assistance are being considered, and it is suggested that a veil of secrecy should be thrown over these meetings. By all means, we all wish to consider the feelings of individuals under such circumstances, and not the least the Press. It is estimated that to-day about one-third of public assistance committees throughout the country do give permission to the Press to attend their meetings. Is it suggested that the Press have abused this privilege or attempted to exploit private misfortune? We hear many criticisms of the Press on the ground of various transgressions and excursions from their province, but I have not heard any criticisms on this particular ground. We have been reminded that sub-committees of public assistance committees have other business to discuss, such as the inspection of public buildings, there is a variety of business which they may have to discuss. If it is felt that the Press should be excluded from meetings where relief cases are discussed there should be no difficulty at all; it should be perfectly easy to differentiate between matters which by common consent should be considered and discussed in private and those matters which are of definite public interest and importance.

1.0 p.m.

The Bill seeks to strengthen the existing law by making it necessary to have a two-thirds majority in order to exclude t he Press. Personally, I would not press the point of a two-thirds majority. The important point is that the onus should be upon those who wish to exclude the Press to convince a majority of their colleagues that it is in the interests of the public that the Press should be excluded. That, of course, may be regarded as a Committee point. The Bill has the support of the Press of Great Britain. It is not always that its varied sections see eye to eye in this particular case. Their unanimity is not the outcome of identity of interests. The readers of provincial papers may rightly expect to find the news of local matters, but the readers of London dailies require news of rather wider interest. Matters of purely local interest may only have a news value when they are connected with some scandal of administration. News, obviously, is of a different value for different papers; yet the fact remains that both the country Press and the provincial Press and the London Press are at one in desiring the enactment of this Bill.

Further, the principle of the Bill, that the Press have a right to at tend meetings of representative bodies administering public funds, was affirmed by a conference of the Press of the Empire over which I had the honour to preside last June in London. In the course of the discussions then, one delegate after another from various parts of the Empire made it quite 'clear that they had no wish to interfere with the domestic affairs of this country, but that they did regard this principle as a matter of Empire concern. Where the liberty of the Press is involved, one naturally expects to find the Press united. In this case I submit that we stand united, not only for the privileges of the Press, but also for the rights of the public. I for one shall be sorry to see the principle of this Bill lost because of minor points which can be adjusted in Committee.


I have had the privilege of being born and brought up and of having served in local government in democratic South Wales, and because of my experience there, where we are always accused of courting publicity, I have the utmost pleasure in supporting the Bill. I confess that I have been astonished at some of the arguments put forward this 'morning. I deplore the speech of an hon. Member sitting behind me. As to the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), I should say that if an impartial reader read the report of his speech in the OFFICIAL EEPORT and had to give a pronouncement upon it, he would consider that the hon. Member was in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member said that publicity would endanger the chance of a public authority getting land at a reasonable price. My experience is that it is impossible to prevent any intended purchase becoming known. In our authority we have been imposed upon by landowners and property owners to such an extent that 'we never try to select what the hon. Member for Grimsby called an intelligent person with an innocent and mild face. Perhaps the Welsh nation, of which I am proud to be one, does not produce in South Wales the people whose intelligence can be hidden by their faces, though I am bound to confess that on one occasion my authority sent me and I was exceedingly successful in obtaining very low terms for land that we wanted to buy for a new road. On the other hand, remember having to interview six landlords on another occasion, and that I absolutely failed. I can only conclude that my face did not suit the purpose.


Too hard!


I was hoping that he would think it was intelligent. I am all in favour of publicity being given to the work of local authorities. The Leader of the Opposition said a very pregnant thing about three weeks ago—that we had in this country a democratic system before democracy was prepared for it, or words to that effect. One way of curing that malady, if it be a malady, is to enlighten the general public as to what goes on in local affairs. I hold that if a person has the right to vote, that person has a right to know everything. In the speeches that I have had the privilege of making to my constituents—I am referring to the local authorities—I have never withheld a single thing from those whom I was asking to vote for me. One argument advanced to-day was that publicity would tend to prolong debates in local government. I take the other view. I have had a long experience of a council and other public bodies to fortify me in that view. I dare not make aspersions on this honourable House, but often I am tempted to think that if there were fewer Press reports of our speeches, we might get through our work more rapidly and lighten the labours of Mr. Speaker. Be that as it may, I remember on one occasion an elderly alderman of our authority getting up, after having heard speech after speech from the new democracy that had risen in South Wales, and saying, "This council chamber is becoming more and more like Parliament"; and I remember that our chairman said, "God forbid!" I admit that I was not a Member of this House at that time.

Experience has taught us in local government that it is in committee, when the Press representatives are not present, that we talk the most. On every occasion when we meet monthly or quarterly as a full council, and the Press representatives are in the gallery, there is a sense of responsibility upon every member, and in local government at any rate that decreases rather than increases the debating. I am bound to say, after having had experience both of local government of this honourable House, that if we talked there as we talk here, we should speedily find that we were without even a quorum to transact our work. In two hours, or at most three, we are able to review the month's work of education committees and of public assistance committees, and the hundreds of pages representing other work done during the month or quarter. Very rarely do we exceed 2½ or 3 hours in considering and referring back or approving the whole business.

One of the arguments of those who are in favour of the Bill was that it would tend to economy, particularly in local government affairs. I am all for economy; I not only pay lip service to it but I am proud to think that I have always said that in the administration of public money we must be more careful even than with the expenditure of our own money. But having said that, I profoundly believe that if we could get publicity regarding the way in which our rates are expended, regarding the benefits that the general public receive from expenditure in local government, we would not have the cry for a decrease of the rates, but would have public opinion backing up the local authorities in wise expenditure. I sometimes think that I would like to make it obligatory on every Member of Parliament to go through an apprenticeship in local government before he comes here. I may be wrong in that, but it is an opinion that I have held for many years, and particularly since I came to this House. If only the general public could be informed through the Press of the immense beneficence and well-being caused by the expenditure of rates—the bug-bear of rates—if only they could realise how industry itself would be unable to carry on without the expenditure of rates, that civilisation would slide back into barbarism, and that this country would be a cemetery where pestilence would stalk through the land, I submit that public opinion would be a great help to public authorities.

May I say a word on the question of assessment committees by way of illustration. Why should assessment committees not have publicity? I have sat on them too long not to be aware of the scandals in public assessment affairs, and how the rich have battened on the poor times without number. If there is any committee which ought to have the light of publicity flooding it I contend that it is the assessment committee. If the House will permit a personal reference, I may mention that I was interested to find in one of the corridors a photo graph of hon. Members of this House of 16 or 17 years ago. I was anxious to find out my predecessor in the representation of the Forest of Dean and I found him depicted sitting in the corner seat below the Gangway. I refer to that doughty reformer Sir Charles Dilke. For many years one of my ambitions in public life was to do something to enable the poor man to stand up to the rich man, and I was vastly interested to find, later on, that that was one of the maxims of my predecessor. It is in connection with the work of assessment committees that my efforts have been most fruitful in getting justice done for the poor ratepayer who pays far more, proportionately, out of his income than the rich man pays on his property.

I pass on to the serious misgivings which I have upon this matter although I support this Bill. I am aware of the sensational nature of the Press, to which reference has already been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am aware of the continual efforts of newspapers to get "scoops" for themselves, and I quite understand that the private business of committees often leaks out to the Press. But where that occurs, it is generally because a local authority says to the Press "You must not get this information". There is then an incentive to an enterprising pressman, to ferret out the information and publish it even in defiance of the local authority. I have always found that an appeal to the sense of honour of the gentlemen of the Press is far more efficacious than saying "You must not". I, as chairman of important committees, have never yet said to the gentlemen of the Press "Will you please regard this matter as private?" and found that my trust in them misplaced. Reference has been made to the national newspapers and to the Press lords who dominate them. I am not going to refer further to them because they very rarely give any prominence to the proceedings of local authorities. But I strongly suspect that the Press lords of our local areas are far more to be feared in matters of local government than the Press Lords of London.

Over and over again personal friends of my own who are connected with the Press have come to me, before or, sometimes after, a discussion, and have said to me "You know that, friends as we are, we will have to slaughter you about this matter", and I have said to them "I know your position perfectly well; slaughter me as you like". The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) said he owed a great deal to the Press because of their help in editing his speeches and giving him some prominence. I am bound to say that even in democratic South Wales my experience has been exactly the reverse. I have to complain of the unfairness of the Press in dealing with Labour control of local authorities. There are newspapers in South Wales which are continually waging war in aid of the reactionary Tory politics which control them.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Dunnico)

The hon. Member is now departing from the subject matter of the Bill.


I am sorry, but what I wanted to say was that, despite these misgivings on my part, I support the Bill. We have taught the democracy to read; we have taught them and are still teaching them to think, and I have sufficient confidence in the democracy of Great Britain to know that they will select the wheat and reject the chaff, and that it will be to the ultimate advantage of this House and the country that the present deplorable indifference, I might say ignorance, of the public concerning the work of local authorities should be dispelled.


I feel that there is force in many of the objections which have been expressed to certain features of the Bill, and I think that the promoters of the Bill would be well advised if they agree, as I understand they are prepared to agree, to give consideration to those objections at a later stage. I think there is a case for special treatment in regard to certain business which comes before committees like s. public assistance committee, but I also think that the requirement as to a two-thirds majority would be unworkable in practice. But these objections are not objections to the principle of the Bill, and, therefore, I hope that the House will welcome it and give it a Second Reading. In my view it will do a great deal to assist our country in the present phase of the development of democratic government. There are two considerations of a, general character to which I invite attention. One is the tendency of Parliament in recent years to delegate its authority to local authorities, much more than formerly. That tendency, which is on the increase, means that local authorities have much wider powers now, and with those wider powers they have greater importance. One has only to look at the tremendous number of matters with which local authorities are now entitled to deal, to see that they include many subjects which vitally affect the life of the community in many directions. That being so, I think anybody who believes in democratic government ought to welcome any proposal which is designed to secure a greater interest on the part of the community in local government affairs.

The second consideration to which I refer is the tendency which is noticeable nowadays to delegate matters to committees. The real vital work of local authorities is done in committee. I have always felt that the same remark applies to the Committees of this House. Debates on Second Reading and Third Reading create the greatest excitement, but it is in Committee that the fortunes of a Bill are really decided and its effect on the community determined. Because of the increasing importance of committee work we ought to do everything to foster public interest in the affairs of local authorities. We in this country often boast, I think legitimately, that there is in the British people a political genius which is not excelled in any other part of the world, and a political genius which has been the means of saving this country on many occasions of danger and crisis by reason of its sanity and good sense, and I believe that one of the factors in the development of that genius has been the publicity which is given to matters of administration and government. I should have thought it would be a good thing for us to encourage the further spreading of news of what is being done by local authorities as well as by Parliament.

It is often said nowadays that Parliament does not appeal to the country as it used to do and that the public interest in political affairs is on the decline. Whether or not that he true is a matter which we cannot argue now, but I observe that coincident with that complaint is a tendency on the part of the Press not to give so much publicity to Parliamentary and public affairs. The discussions in this House do not receive the publicity in the Press to-day that they did in the years gone by. Whether this declining interest is the cause of the declining notice, or whether it is the declining notice that is the cause of the declining interest, I do not know, but it is a significant fact that the two things are happening together, and anyone who really appreciates the genius for political thought and action in this country should do all in his power to encourage a greater interest being taken in the affairs of local authorities as well as of Parliament. I believe the Bill deserves our support, because it will do something to foster a greater interest in public affairs and thereby create an increasing recognition of the responsibilities of citizenship and so conduce to good government.


I have followed with great interest the progression of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) with regard to this Bill. He and I are members of the same county authority, and I well remember this hare being started. It was started in the council chamber of the Surrey County Council in the form of a request that the Press should be admitted to the public assistance committee of that council, but, unfortunately from the hon. Member's point of view, he was unable to get even a bare majority, not to speak of a two-thirds majority, of that council in favour of his proposal. He followed that up by questions to the Minister, who was unable to help him, as I have no doubt he expected he would, and then, last year, he introduced a, Bill which was quite a modest attempt, confined to a proposal for the 'admission of the Press to public assistance committees. The hon. Member is nothing if not persistent, and I admire his persistency in this instance much more than I admire his discretion, because I think he might have been well-advised to have confined his Bill to the question of the, admission of the Press to meetings of the public assistance committees. There was something to be said, under the new circumstances arising out of the Local Government Act, with regard to the desire that there might be on the part of the public themselves, who have been very little mentioned in this debate, to know exactly how the change was working and perhaps some of the features of the work that was done by the public assistance committees.

I think it was the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) who suggested that opposition to this Bill could only be based upon distrust of the Press. I am not quite sure that that is a fair statement of the position of those who are opposed to the Bill, but it would be easy to retort that those who support the Bill base that support upon distrust of local authorities. One of the things that ought to be considered is whether a, Bill of this kind is likely to improve the administration of local authorities, because the point of view of the administration of the local authorities is very important. It is claimed that the principle of the Act of 1908 is not disturbed by this Bill, but there was no adoption in 1903 of the principle that every detail of local government authorities' affairs should be discussed in public and in the presence of the Press. The principle underlying that Act was that the Press had a right of admission to report matters of public interest which could properly be reported in the public interest, and it is unfair to say that this is merely a codification' of existing laws on the subject; it is an attempt to make an extension of those laws.

Clause 1, for example, proposes to exclude the Press by a decision of a two-thirds majority. We have had some amusing arithmetic in that connection put before us by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), and I have taken the trouble to work out the figures submitted to him by the clerk of the council to which he referred. It is true that in the case of a committee where you have 15 members, the Bill is not quite clear as to what a two-thirds majority means. It is a small point, but having worked out the figures, it is a fact that if you have 12 in favour and three against, in a council of 15 members, you have not established what would be a two-thirds majority in the case of 15 members, namely, 10. That is, however, quite a small point, and I do not put it forward, from a practical point of view, that there is any difficulty in establishing a two-thirds majority, but it is a different matter to ask why the Press should have a special resolution passed by a two-thirds majority in order to exclude them. You may have the case of a local authority spending thousands of pounds on highly controversial matters, and a decision being arrived at by a bare majority of one, yet, on the other hand, when it comes—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and, 40 Members being present


I was attempting to submit the objection taken to this Bill that there should be a special privilege accorded to the Press in that a resolution for their exclusion must be supported by a majority of two-thirds, whereas in much more important matters, in which the public are really much more interested, a bare majority of one is deemed to be sufficient under the existing law. An hon. Member has said that the passing of this Bill would definitely make for economy. With great respect, in my view it might very easily have just the opposite effect. By the passage of this Bill admitting the Press to all committee meetings, you may very easily put before the members of the local authorities the choice between economy and popularity. It may very well be that on the eve of a local election a matter has to be discussed which might be popular with the ratepayers, but which, from the administrative point of view, is entirely wrong. We have a system of local government of which, in the main, this country may very well be proud. Local authorities, in my judgment, are composed of men who are actuated by a desire to render service to their fellow-men, and they have rendered that service in an excellent manner.

Therefore, if it be suggested that because one opposes this Bill, one has a general suspicion of the Press, I would like to say, as one who was for some years personally associated, with the Press, and for many years a member of a local authority, that I do not believe that on the part of the general body of the Press, notwithstanding what has been put forward to-day, there is any general desire to publish all kinds of reports. I believe that with the present facilities afforded the Press, they fully discharge their duties in a very admirable way in presenting to the public matters which, in the public interest, should be presented and criticised. As in London, so in the provincial press, more often than not we find our newspapers in the position of candid critics, and it is perfectly plain, from practical experience, that any matter of importance which has to be the subject of discussion by the local authority, whether the Press are admitted or not, has a way of getting into the Press and being criticised very often before a mature decision has been arrived at. The Press can best serve the interests of the country by taking a detached view, recording a proposal when it is matured, and then submitting criticism of it, rather than by going into the committee atmosphere and merely dealing with committee points.

It is said that this Bill will help the administration of public authorities. If I believed that, I should be one of the first to support it, but I do not honestly believe that it would do so. I cannot bring myself to believe that the mere passage of this Bill will have a good effect upon the administration of our local affairs, or will prevent unwise spending, or bring about a reduction in local taxation. I have heard in this House Members who, quite obviously, have had no experience of local government, talk about the undue extravagance of local authorities. It is too often assumed that money is unwisely spent by local authorities. My opinion is that this country is immensely indebted to the large number of public-spirited men and women of the country who give their lives to this service. It is not a bad thing, by way of illustration, to point out some of the difficulties under which those concerned in local government suffer. They have a real grievance against Parliament in at least one respect, and that is that Parliament during recent years—I am not attributing responsibility to any particular party; the indictment is against all parties—


The subject of this Bill is whether the Press should be admitted to the meetings of local authorities, and the hon. Gentleman is-rather widening the discussion.


With great respect, I was merely giving this as an illustration of the difficulties of local authorities, and in answer to the suggestion that one of the grounds on which this Bill should be supported is that of economy.


You cannot, on a Bill of this nature, discuss the responsibility of Parliament for the difficulties under which local authorities suffer. The only point in this Bill is whether the Press should or should not be admitted, and the reasons for the same.


With great respect, I bow to your ruling, and I respectfully condense the illustration which I wish to make, so as not to depart from the rules of Debate. If it be an advantage to have the Press admitted, it is equally important that the public should be acquainted with the responsibilities of local authorities, and those responsibilities cannot be affected in the slightest degree, whether the Press is present or absent, because they are discharging the responsibilities of a higher authority, and in many cases without any freedom of action. If I have done no more than call the attention of Parliament to that point, I am quite happy to refrain from the more general illustrations I would have liked to have given.

Finally, may I say that I believe our local Press is excellently discharging the duty of giving their local readers very adequate accounts of everything that transpires in connection with local government. There is a very extraordinary provision in Clause 2, paragraph (h): any other body or committee or sub-committee or joint committee or joint sub-committee appointed by a local authority or authorities, so far as respects any acts or proceedings which are not required to be submitted to the local authority or authorities for its or their approval. There are many times when, for a specific reason, a sub-committee is appointed with power, and that power is given because it is in the general interest of the public that they should act without publicity. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading will fully appreciate that point, and so will those who are interested in local affairs. Specific authorisation is given to sub-committees in private and confidential matters, because it is in the public interest that they should be kept private. Had the hon. Member contented himself with adhering to his original idea of restricting this proposal to the meetings of public assistance committees, he would have obtained a greater measure of support than he is likely to obtain for this much wider Bill. One is not actuated by any suggestion of mistrust of the local Press, but one rather has in mind that those who are responsible for the administration of local authorities are entitled to be considered. Those people who are interested in local social services have adequate opportunities of acquainting themselves with all that transpires in local authorities.


I wish to support this Bill, more especially as one keenly interested in Poor Law administration. That administration affects a large number of the helpless claeses of the community, and calls for especially humane and sympathetic attention. Reference has been made to the fact that Poor Law administration has passed from the boards of guardians to the councils of counties and county boroughs. Before the transference, the meetings of hoards of guardians were regularly reported in the provincial Press. Since the transference, a large number of public assistance committees, and the guardians sub-committees of public assistance committees, although doing precisely the same work as the old boards of guardians, have refused to admit the Press to their meetings. As one would expect, the progressive authorities are allowing the Press to go to their meetings, and the reactionary and sluggish authorities are refusing. I will give the names of a few of the progressive county councils which are admitting the Press to their public assistance committees. They are, London, Cornwall, Cumberland, Devonshire, Durham, Essex, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Northumberland, East Suffolk, Isle of Wight, Worcestershire, not to speak of authorities in Wales and Scotland.

The Newspaper Society has made out that about half the public assistance committees are admitting the Press to their meetings, and one-third of the guardians committees. We want all the public assistance committees to admit the Press. We want to bring up the sluggish reactionary public assistance committees to the level of the progressive and forward moving committees.


Does not the hon. Gentleman think that there should be some discretion left to the local authorities, or does he suggest that Parliament should insist on these local authorities having no discretion in the matter?


I am in favour of Parliament insisting on the public assistance committees admitting the Press if the Press desire to be admitted. In some cases there has been a curious division of opinion. In Winchester the guardians committee wanted to admit the Press, and the public assistance committee gave instructions to the guardians committee that they were not to allow the Press to attend their meetings. The guardians committee refused to obey the behest of the public assistance committee, and they are admitting the Press to their meetings. It is most important that the public should know about the work of Poor Law administration.

May I point out how this Bill will help certain work in which I have long been interested. I happen to be the honorary secretary of the State Children's Association, which has for many years promoted the welfare of Poor Law children, a class which has been much neglected in the past. That Association has exercised a vigilant oversight over these children all over the Kingdom, and it has done valuable and beneficent work, to which on many occasions Ministers of the Crown have paid testimony. The. Association bases its work entirely on Press cuttings describing the doings of-guardians all over the country. The only way in which the Association can discover how Poor Law children are being treated is by the Press reports that come in. If half the public assistance committees refuse to admit the Press, and no account of their proceedings appear in the Press, the work of the Association becomes stultified. What is the Association to do?


The hon. Gentleman is wrong in suggesting that no account of the public assistance committees appears in the Press. The Press have the opportunity of getting the reports of the county councils and these reports are open to be published.


Am I to answer that? It seems a pointless remark. I have said that half the public assistance committees do not admit the Press. We are trying by the Bill to bring the reactionary public assistance committees up to the level of the good ones. My Association has been fighting for the Poor Law children, trying to raise the standard of their treatment and fighting against the principle of herding them in large numbers in big barrack schools and institutions, and what are we to do? I ask the opponents of the Bill, what are we to do? How are we to continue our work? It is vital, if proper control is to be exercised over Poor Law administration, that there should be the utmost publicity and that the full flood of light should be thrown on all that is done by the Press. The reason why the Poor Law child suffered 60 much in the past was the lack of publicity; and what effected a. change in the Poor Law was the flood of light which the genius of Charles Dickens threw on the horrible administration that prevailed during his lifetime.

We want to be encouraged in this movement, and we shall not be encouraged if the Press are refused the right, which they have had in the past, of going to all the meetings where Poor Law business is done. I should like to give the House a specimen of the kind of mentality that is behind the opposition to this Bill. In Braintree, Essex, the guardians committee decided that they would admit the Press. The Essex County Council said, "No, you shall not admit the Press." In the discussion at the meeting of the Essex Public Assistance Committee, when the Braintree action was discussed, the vice-chairman of the public assistance committee gave his reasons for opposing the admission of the Press. I am quoting from the "Essex Weekly News" of the 25th April this year. He said: Guardians' committees were sub-committees of the main committee, and inasmuch as their work consisted principally of questions of relief and the visiting of the institutions nothing would take place of the least interest to the Press or the general public. Could anything be more important than the visiting of the institutions? Is it not vital that these refuges for human wreckage, for the failures of life who are dependent on the community, should he conducted with efficiency, with sympathy and with kindness. Thousands of people are interested in the institutions. Everyone who has a relative in an institution is interested in the good working of institutions. If opponents of this Bill had read as many press reports of guardians' meetings as I have, they would realise that visits to institutions have often revealed a very unsatisfactory state of things. For this man to describe the visiting of the institutions as a matter of not the least interest to the Press or the general public shows that he is incapable of filling the position which he occupies. Again, he said, according to this report: They were all agreed that it would not be right to have a list of the recipients of relief broadcast. Who has ever suggested that? Who would ever dream of broadcasting the names? Who has ever done it; and what newspapers would do it in the future? Then he goes on: If there were any difficulties in the various institutions these could be put right without blazoning forth the matter to the world. There you have the condemnation of the exclusion of the Press! Some scandal happens in the course of Poor Law work. There is an outbreak of ringworm among the children, or some old woman dies under conditions which lead to allegations of neglect. It is not to be blazoned forth to the world. Sh-h-h-h! Not a word! Keep it out of the Press ! Is that to be be policy, is that to be the line of action we are to take? Keep it out of the Press ! I say, blazon it forth to the whole world. If there are things going on which ought not to be going on, let us turn the whole floodlight of the Press upon them. In that way, and in that way only, will things be conducted satisfactorily. I have here another newspaper cutting which came before me only a few days ago. It is from the "Morpeth Herald," and is an account of the Alnwick Guardians: The clerk intimated that he had received a report from a sub-committee of the public assistance committee who had inspected the cottage homes at Alnwick. Mr. Herbert moved that the matter be taken in private, as the Press should not have it first. Mr. Lee moved an amendment that it should be discussed in open council, as it was a public matter. On being put to the meeting the Amendment was lost by six votes to five. Clearly the report on the cottage homes was not a satisfactory one, that is as plain as a pikestaff, but those who objected to publicity prevented its being discussed in the presence of the Press. If the requirement as to a two-thirds majority being necessary before the Press could be excluded had been in vogue, the matter would have been publicly discussed. I repeat what has already been said, that it is the right of the people to know how their money is being spent. In the debate on the Local Government Act, 1929, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said the expenditure on Poor Law administration in the year 1926–27 was no less than £50,000,000. It is said that one-fifth of our public expenditure is incurred by the public assistance committees, and if that enormous amount of of money passes through their hands, is it not vital that the public should know what is going on?

2.0 p.m.

Next I wish to refer to a letter in the "Times" of 3rd December, on which much stress was laid in another place. That letter was written by the secretaries of the County Councils Association, the Municipal Corporations Association, the Urban District Councils Association and the Rural District Councils Association. I have no hesitation in saying that that was an officials' letter. Officials never want publicity, and never want the Press. If it were left to officials, the Press would be admitted to no meetings. Only two reasons for rejecting this Bill were given in that letter. It was said, Discussion upon the many important matters now dealt with by local authorities would be unduly hampered by the almost constant pressure of Press representatives at a large number of meetings. What does that mean? What point is there in that? No reason is given; it is a pure ipse digit. How would the proceedings be unduly hampered The second reason is this: The proposed requirement of a two-thirds majority for the passing of the excluding resolution would inevitably lead to such delay and confusion at meetings as to add substantially to the already considerable difficulties of local administration. What point is there in that? What rhyme or reason is there behind that? Like other Members of this House, I have been a member of two municipal bodies, and I never found that the Press caused the slightest difficulty. As to the talk about confusion and delay, I can only wonder how the business of the writers of that letter can be managed.

I do not know what the Government are going to do in this matter, but my impression is that the attitude of the Ministry is distinctly reactionary. That was my experience in some dealings with the Ministry at an earlier stage. I am afraid I have spoken rather strongly, because I feel very strongly on this matter. I feel that publicity and democracy go together. If we hamper the Press we are going to injure the best interests of this country, and I appeal to my colleagues on this side of the House and to hon. Members opposite to pass this Bill. May I conclude by reminding them of a saying which is often repeated, but which never loses its force, that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I rise to support the Amendment, and, in doing-so, I wish to pour a little cold water upon the heat of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) and any of those who may follow the line he has taken. We all agree that publicity is one of the greatest safeguards of democracy in general, but this is a practical Bill to deal with a practical question, and the worst way of approaching any practical question is to import heat into it. The bon. Member said that publicity and democracy go together. I hope he will agree that generalisations must be accepted with a great deal of care.


Some generalisations.

Lieut. - Colonel FREMANTLE

All generalisations. Would he say that publicity of the ballot in elections goes with democracy? He knows the cry that was raised against the Tories because they supported open voting. It was the cry of the advanced parties of that day that democracy must have the secret ballot.


There is no comparison between the two things.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

What are the questions on which secrecy is so essential? I have heard of secrecy in connection with affairs in the trade union movement, and in various departments of social life quite apart from politics. We are all agreed, or at any rate those of us who have had experience on local affairs are agreed, that there are two sides to this question. I think the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, spoke with a well-balanced judgment and a sense of fair play. I should like to raise a question of principle and also a question of actual practice. The principle of the Bill received rather unexpected support from the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland), who said that, if this Measure had been confined to public assistance committees, he would have supported it, because he considered that public assistance committees should be placed on the same footing as education committees, and treated in the same way. That is the danger. Public assistance committees are not on the same footing, and, although in some more reactionary counties they may be carrying on the traditions of the guardians, they are simply glorified boards of guardians. Two or three hon. Members have given their own experience of their work, and we know from what they have said that the tendency on all sides of politics for the last 20 years has been in the reverse direction.

The late Minister of Health carried the Local Government Act, and that was an enormous measure in the direction of the breaking up of the Poor Law. The idea of that Act was that the work of the guardians should be distributed among the different committees of the councils. The one thing we want to avoid is to imagine that the public assistance committees have been placed absolutely in charge of the work of the guardians, and that only in exceptional cases is any of their work to be handed over to other committees of the council. The public assistance committees have no right to demand the admission of the Press because they are only committees of the Council, and they have no right to give a final judgment. Matters are only referred to the public assistance committees which cannot be dealt with by the other committees of the council, and the object in view in advancing local government in this way was that the public assistance committees should only he advisory committees as regards one small branch of the work of the council, which cannot be dealt with by the general committee of the Council.

I come now to the question of how this Bill will work in actual practice, more especially in regard to the proposal for a two-thirds majority. It is difficult to understand how the two-thirds majority proposal will work, because the wording of Clause 1 is: In view of the special nature of the business then being dealt with, or about to be dealt with, such exclusion for the time only when that business is being considered, is advisable in the public interest. Therefore, every single minor point being considered by every local committee is liable to be hung up while the committee is considering whether the presence of the Press is desirable, and a two-thirds majority is required to decide that question. That is not a working proposal, and it is because of that that I have been asked by the Barnet Rural District Council to criticise this Bill.


I am sure the hon. and gallant Member does not wish to misrepresent the action of the promoters. The wards he stressed were: in view of the special nature of the business then being dealt with. Those words were taken from the Act of 1908, and they are being re-enacted in this Bill. There is no extension of principle there.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

The proposal of the Bill refers to all the committees, and therefore they can all put it into practice if they like. If this proposal were not going to be made use of, and if the representatives of the Press were to be allowed to be present during the whole time of the meetings, there would be no objection, but, obviously, those words are put in because it is felt that occasions may arise when it is desirable to exclude the Press. Therefore, it will be necessary to consider, in regard to every point on the agenda, the advisability of the Press being present. The hon. and gallant Member for Dover (Major Astor), speaking with great authority for the Press, claimed the right of admission for the Press to all meetings and that leaves every possible opening for the carrying on of public work.

I quite understand the point of view of those who say that we want the Press always to be present, and the promoters of this Bill practically base the whole of their case on that argument. They say that they desire to secure the presence of the Press in order to be able to show up things, or to educate the public. I think we all agree on that point, and no one agrees with it more strongly than I do, because for 14 years I suffered by being an intelligent observer, as a county medical officer of health, of the proceedings of my authority, and this gave me the best opportunity of observing what was the effect of the admission of the Press to some meetings and their exclusion from others. In what way did it affect the mentality and action of one's authority? My position was a nonpartisan one, because I am glad to say we have no party business on the Hertfordshire County Council, so I was quite detached from any party point of view; the point of view was individual.

There were individuals who used the opportunity for getting off their chest large pronouncements to the public, while there were others who definitely refrained, the knowledge that their words would be reported in full preventing them from opening their mouths at all when the Press were present, though when the Press was absent they contributed, sometimes uselessly, but sometimes most usefully, to the proceedings. The answer of some democratically minded people is that people must learn to speak up and be reported if they are serving on public bodies, but we all know that there are such people as shy people in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "They never get here!"] That is quite true, but there are such people, and they refuse even to come on to public bodies for fear that they will have to speak and of being perhaps misreported. We all know of individuals who are so highly strung in their temperament that they are awkward and even unpleasant to deal with, but who, if you can really get down to them, can be most useful as members of a council.


Do not the public know of these people and elect them?

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Such people may be elected to local authorities on account of their position, experience and character, without ever having to make a speech. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members opposite do not realise that in many counties people are judged by their character, experience and knowledge rather than by public speeches, and that better representatives, sometimes, are obtained in that way. The effect of these proposals will be, first of all, to frighten people from serving, and to make them decline even to stand for election on these bodies. Hon. Members opposite, who have done so much for local government and public service all their lives, know the difficulty of recruiting members of these local authorities from among the newer generation.


You cannot keep them back with machine guns.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

No, but you can make the machine easy and comfortable for them to work; you can try to get the machine suited to the person, rather than insist on the old British line, "Here is the machine; take it or leave it." My feeling, and I think it must be that of everyone else, is that we want to encourage these people to serve on local authorities, and we want to be able to say to them, "You have simply got to be a man of business, a practical efficient person who will do the work in the ordinary way as in any other business," and to remove from their minds the idea that every word they say is going to be reported, and perhaps misreported, in the Press.

I want now to refer to a question which I was rather surprised to find was not dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dover. The Press have not unlimited empty columns to be filled by extra reports. I was once, in my earlier days, the editor of a hospital paper—a most excellent paper, which appeared regularly every fortnight, and was so much appreciated that it had a large number of advertisements as well as a good circulation. After some time, a rival paper was started by a friend of mine, and he, on one occasion, being rather short of news, utilised one of his pages by heading it in small letters "Reserved for Press News", and leaving the rest empty—a most ingenious way of occupying one page of his paper. Unfortunately, most local papers cannot afford to reserve one page, or even one column, for stop press or other news; they are chock full. How are they going to distribute their space? Reports come in from a council meeting, two or three district councils, and perhaps two or three water boards or other undertakings, and they would say, "We have had enough of this stuff; we must have the latest bazaar, the latest charity meeting, short stories, the children's corner, and so on," and they will only reserve, say, half-a-dosen columns for what is called highbrow solid stuff. I agree with the hon. Member for Lichfield in regretting that his eloquence on committees should not be reported in full. I am sure it would have been most interesting. But, unfortunately, that is not the view of most readers, and it is the readers who have to be considered.

Those who have, unfortunately, imported a little heat into this argument have suggested that the question of the honour of the Press is concerned. As far as I know, we do not dispute the honour of the Press, but, an the other hand, it is ridiculous for those who speak for the Press to think that the Press are simply high-minded, patriotic individuals who are going to ram highbrow education into the community whether they want it or not. The Press are common or garden commercial people for the most part. I say that quite as much in reference to the half-dozen very excellent local papers which are produced in my constituency as in reference to the bigger journals. The Press are simply compelled, in their own interest, to consider the question of circulation, that is to say, they have to provide what their readers want, with, perhaps, a little extra bias. I think that very largely that bias is in the right direction, hut it may be in the wrong direction. I am not referring to political bias. There is, of course, very often political bias one way or the other, but, apart from that, the editor may be biased towards aesthetics, art, religious matters, and so on, or, it, may be, in favour of educating the public in local government; but, even so, he will not be able to give more than a certain amount of space to a particular subject.

This means that, if this Bill is passed, it will either be futile, and these committees will not be reported, or, if they are reported, they will be reported at the expense of some other material, perhaps giving only details which are considered to be more appetising to the general public, and which will be given at the expense of the more important proceedings of the central body. That is where the difficulty really lies as regards the practical effect of this Bill.

In the first place, editors would be involved in the difficulty of deciding whether they are going to report these committees or not. If they are not going to report them, it makes no difference and, therefore, we may rule that out from the point of view of the promoters as well as of the opponents of the Bill, although I think most editors would take that line and say that they could not afford to report these small minor committees as well. But where they did, they would have definitely to consider whether they would report them at the expense of reporting the bigger committees or whether they would take on an extra staff. I am sure the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) does not want to work the reporting staffs any harder. They are hard enough worked already, during the day and night as well. There may be half-a-dozen committees in and around a local area. They cannot be everywhere at once, and they cannot report them all in addition to the bigger and more important bodies.


I was once a working journalist myself. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that these local reporters of six local papers make arrangements with one another whereby one covers one and another another, and they exchange copy? The ingenuity of mind of the reporter is far greater than that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

No, the ingenuity is the same. The six papers I refer to are in six different areas and, inasmuch as I have 36 polling districts, they cover six polling districts each and, even allowing for pooling the intermediate areas, they still have six each to do and, therefore, you cannot give them this extra work. It is clear that the ordinary local Press will not take on extra staffs for this purpose. They are hard enough put to it as it is. It really comes down to this. Do we want to have the local detailed work of the committees reported rather than the larger authorities? That is really the final decision here. That is the real reason why we believe it is best to concentrate on the central bodies, where we have the final main principles decided after the reports have come up from the different committees, with power occasionally, as you have at present, to admit the Press to the other bodies rather than to focus the attention of the Press and the public on to the minor bodies, which will have various deleterious minor effects. I beg that the House will consider from a practical point of view that it is inadvisable that the Measure should proceed further.


Usually on a simple Bill of this kind about this hour of the day members begin to repeat them-serves. All the more, therefore, do I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for producing five or six absolutely new arguments. I will not enlarge upon the last, that the Press arranges its affairs so badly—

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Will the hon. Lady give rue a single instance in which I said the Press managed its affairs badly?


The simple business of six papers in one county that cannot arrange their reports among themselves pre-supposes an extraordinary—

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I never suggested that the Press were not able to arrange things perfectly between themselves. If the hon. Member had listened, she would have heard that I said that even by duplicating the work they have to do they could not do more than they have to do at present.


That is the point. The local papers in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's constituency perfectly well understand the business of duplicating their work and sharing out the reports. The hon. and gallant Gentleman began his speech with a delightful argument. It appears that on the Hertfordshire County Council there are a great number of persons of knowledge and experience who are overwhelmed by so morbid a shyness that they dare not speak a word.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I did not say that either.


Persons almost of a pathological degree of nervousness, persons whom I should recommend to the professional care of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. If a man is not man enough to speak in public he had better not try to be a public representative. It is proof of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's real kindness of heart that he can sympathise so fully with them.

The Bill divides itself very sharply into two parts. The first, which in the opinion of the promoters is necessitated by the legislation of 1929, in effect repeats largely the Bill that was introduced last year by the same hon. Member. The second part is concerned with changes in the existing law. Those changes may be a little obscure to hon. Members by the fact that the Bill repeats so much of what is in the Statute, but there are acme important changes. I will enumerate one or two. At present, the Press are admitted to meetings of the education committee in regard to business that is delegated by the council. It is not so admitted of right to business where the council holds the decision in its own hands. Secondly, the Bill would admit the Press as a right to meetings of the council in camera. It is quite common, for certain business, for local councils to sit in secret, and the Press can, according to the Bill, be excluded by an express resolution by a two-thirds majority. The effect of those regulations shows that the promotors, in their zeal for admitting the Press, have laid too little weight on the occasions when it is desirable to exclude, not the representatives of the public but the representatives of particular interests. It is very common, by standing orders, to apply special restrictions on questions of the purchase of sites and questions of litigation. Some members have said that does not make any particular difference. My own experience is rather different from theirs. As a member of the London County Council, I am perfectly aware of what might almost be described as the wiles that that authority sometimes uses in the purchase of sites, and, where an authority has to purchase enormously valuable sites, those special restrictions are really very necessary.

Someone has said that it does not matter about litigation. The hon. Member who spoke from behind me to that effect has lived in a peaceful and happy place. I have been a member of a council which has had the most terrific success in publicity and litigation, the Borough Council of Poplar, and during the time when we were preparing our brief to go out against the London County Council and the Government of the day, the council almost lived in camera. It is useless to tell me that the Press were not likely to have reported, any scrap of our deliberations as to the proper way of defending ourselves.


Does my hon. Friend think that there would be any difficulty in getting a two-thirds majority in the Poplar Borough Council in order to exclude the Press on those occasions?


In the Poplar Borough Council there is such a large Labour majority that there would be no difficulty, but there are other bodies where the majority desiring to conduct equally heroic litigation would be extremely hampered by the presence of the Press, and these matters, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, will require careful consideration.

I now approach that part of the Bill which I call the principle of the Bill; the question of whether the Press shall be admitted as a right to the meetings of the public assistance committees. I understand the fears which have been urged by hon. Members behind me. There is a danger lest by reason of the abuse of powers of delegation and of privacy the public may be kept very badly informed in regard to many cases in which they are interested. The question to which the House has to address itself is to whether that particular evil should be cured by statute or by the pressure of local public opin- ion? This question belongs to a class of questions which are always extraordinarily difficult. There is not a clear principle or dividing line. If it is necessary that Parliament shall lay down certain rules which must be observed, it is also necessary, if local government is to flourish, that there shall be a considerable amount of local freedom, the councillors arid electors taking the responsibility and judging for themselves. If we once admit that we must, in a wide range of subjects, give the local authority the opportunity to choose, we also must, by reason of that fact, necessarily give them the opportunity of doing wrong. You cannot give the power of free will without also giving the power of doing wrong.

The question we have to consider is whether this is a matter which should be settled by Parliament or should be left to local public opinion. It is not an easy matter to decide. The Ministry of Health, both this year and last year, have given prolonged consideration to this matter, and I want the House to consider some of the reasons against the Bill. First of all, we have been told that the local authorities are opposed to it. They are. We consulted last year—and we have consulted them this year—the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations. Though a very great many local authorities do admit the Press to the public assistance committees, there is no difference between the local authorities in that they do not desire this duty to he put upon the Statute Book. We have taken all the evidence that we could possibly obtain, and that appears to he the fact. It is a fact which must weigh very much with the Ministry of Health. Although we may, unfortunately, find it necessary to administer a considerable amount of advice to, and even coercion upon, local authorities, we do not want unnecessarily to go against them.

It has been said that there was the analogy of the 1908 Act. Nothing in the world can he more different than the position of education committees in 1908 and the position of public assistance committees in 1930. Our desire was that the education committee should stretch out its hands, widen its fields, and take all education in its province. Our desire at present is to restrict the public assistance committee to the narrowest of its statutory functions. That was one of the great objections to the Act in 1929, and one of the things which we urged against the Act in this House was that it did not, in fact, break up the Poor Law; that it left the break up of the Poor Law optional, and that it was possible for any county council or town council to go on with the old board of guardians under a new name, administering all its old functions.

The turnover is taking place now. Most authorities have not adopted the principle of declarations. They have adopted the principle of taking away, one by one, from the public assistance committees this institution and that institution. It is a slow and a gradual process. The public assistance committees are undergoing the painful process of having their most interesting functions taken away from them one by one. They do not like it, of course. That is only human nature. There is a pretty general resistance, either a passive resistance or, sometimes, an active resistance on the part of the public assistance committee against the council. The public assistance committee, naturally, almost inevitably, claimed its own functions as against the council. What is urged upon us by good and experienced administrators is precisely the danger of the analogy under education. They do not want to see the public assistance committees, as was the case in regard to the education committees, have special statutory privileges. They point out the notorious fact that the education committee has developed into an almost independent authority. They point out the extreme danger in this time of transition of the public assistance committee showing the same obstinate vitality and developing, as it may under the 1920 Act, into a separate body. That is the fear.

Having regard to the extraordinary nature and complexity of the reform, a far more difficult subject than many other subjects, having regard to the position at the present time, and to the general wish of local authorities, I feel bound to give the House the personal conclusions which I have reached as a Minister. The Government, as a whole, are taking no steps at all to oppose the Bill. The matter will be left to a free vote of the House. All that I am saying now is that, having considered this Bill with the utmost care, my own balance of judgment is, on the whole, that we had better not proceed with the Bill. Having said that as a private person with certain special opportunities, I propose to leave the matter to a free vote of the House in order to show its unfettered discretion. I feel that I ought to say that, because one has had a little closer research into the matter.


The House will desire to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health for the very clear statement which she has presented. I thought her conclusion was a little lame, but I can understand her action, having regard to the experience of the Minister of Labour the other day, who advised the House not to take a certain course and then found herself confronted with her own colleagues in the Cabinet going into the Lobby against her. One can understand that a Minister in the present Government does not desire to risk a repetition of that state of affairs. The arguments used by the Parliamentary Secretary must have convinced a large number of hon. Members. Many of us are in favour of admitting the Press on every possible occasion. We take the view that we ought to give as much publicity to the work of local authorities as is reasonably possible, but I think it was a great mistake on the part of those who have been associated with the Bill that they did not in the first instance consult the local authorities as to its terms. From what has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary and by the Mover of the Second Reading, the Bill appears before us in a most defective form. There is very little of the Bill left. After what has been said on the authority of the Ministry of Health as to the position of education committees and of the councils generally, it now appears that really the only object which remains in the Bill, an object which was behind it at the first, is, if possible, to permit the Press to report the proceedings of the public assistance committees and their subcommittees.

While I would very much like to see the Press admitted on every reasonable occasion, I think there are very serious objections to be considered by the House before we take this particular step. I share very much the views of the Parliamentary Secretary as to the position of the public assistance committees. I want to see their work put into the hands of other and more appropriate committees. I am glad to note from the replies which have been given by the Minister of Health to certain questions and from information derived when one goes up and down the country, that the breaking up of the Poor Law, which was one of the principal objects of the Local Government Act, is being achieved. It is true that in a large number of cases the object cannot be achieved at once, because there are not sufficient public buildings and the like for that to be done. To show the necessity of a measure of caution, I observed that, six or seven months ago, an authority made a declaration which would have necessitated the breaking up of the Poor Law in that particular area, but the Minister of Health, quite rightly, declined to give his sanction because, although the idea of the authority was right and was to be commended, they were not in a position from the point of view of their buildings and other things, effectively to put their declaration into operation. Nevertheless, under the Local Government Act the Poor Law is slowly but surely being broken up, and there is a good deal to be said for the point of view that this stage of transition, unless An overwhelming case for it can be established, we ought not to take the steps indicated in this Bill.

The hon. Member opposite, in the witty and delightful speech with which he moved the Second Reading of the Bill, did not do justice to the position under the Act of 1908. He devoted a great deal of his time to giving extracts from the speeches that were made in connection with that Act, but we have to remember that, in the end, that Act was a compromise between the parties concerned, the local authorities and the representatives who spoke for the Press. It would have been only fair to the people who made the compromise—it was made some time ago, and that does not debar any Bill being brought into this House to deal with the situation—that before the matter was reopened the original parties, or those who represent them, should have been consulted. I should have thought that would have been a very wise step to take. I do not think the hon. Member paid sufficient attention to the views and the position of the local authorities when he said: "I have introduced the Bill, and we shall be glad to consider anything that the local authorities like to say to us concerning its provisions." That is not the place which I would assign to the great local authorities. I was interested to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that even those local authorities who desire that the Press should he admitted to their meetings, are among those who do not desire the provisions of this Bill to be applied to them. They are content to rely upon public opinion working through the local authorities concerned.

I often think that we shall not get the men and women whom we desire, whatever politics they may represent, to serve on large local authorities, and who give up such a large portion of their time, almost the same amount of time that we have to give to this House, unless we are prepared to give them reasonable discretion and to treat them as people who are as capable cf coming to a judgment as we are in this House. If we are not prepared to do that and to have patience with them, even if our own views are not being accepted, we shall be striking one of the worst blows at the local authorities, because we shall find that the personnel of the authorities will degenerate and we shall not get there men and women of the type that we would like to see there. Therefore, in those eases where it is permissible for the local authority to admit the Press, we might leave it to them to decide the matter, because on a very large number of local authorities there are men and women quite as capable as Members of this House to decide whether it is right or wrong to take a certain course.

Do not let us deceive ourselves on this particular matter, and do not let us be led away by a certain amount of cant. A very useful purpose is served on many committees by the fact that the Press are not present. I do not subscribe to the views which have been put forward that the business carried on within closed doors is badly done. That is much too general a statement. I served an apprenticeship for many years on a local authority before I came to this House, and I know that much of the useful public work that is done on local authorities would not be done so efficiently if we had the Press continually present. So long as we secure, as we do secure at the present time, even under the present law, the final determination of these questions coming to the central authority, at the meetings of which the Press are present, we shall be doing a most harmful thing to local government if we insist on the presence of the Press at every committee and sub-committee. Everyone who has had experience of work on a local authority will agree with me when I say that.

It is most unfortunate that the Bill should provide—and this is a point which has been taken by my own borough council—that the Press shall be entitled to attend as a right the meetings of assessment committees of local authorities. The Woolwich Borough Council, with whom I seldom agree, take the view that this is going much too far. Not much public interest is served by reporting the individual cases which come before assessment committees, a certain amount of curiosity may be served in an individual's personal affairs, and whilst it is true that there are appeals to Quarter Sessions, where the Press are present, they are generally on a question principle, and it is quite right that in such cases the Press should be present. It would be unfortunate if the large number of people who have to put their cases before the assessment committee should have to run the risk of having their private affairs reported in the local Press. The competition between the local Press and the great daily newspapers is considerable, and the local Press depend for their circulation on reporting those events which are of interest to the people in the locality. Whatever views we may have we shall all agree that in the case of assessment committees it is not right that this provision should be made.

Then, again, the Bill provides that, the Press shall be permitted to be present at the meetings of watch committees. There is hardly a local authority throughout the country which would support that proposal for a moment. The work of a watch committee is most important, and everyone knows how deli- cate their duties are in connection with the discipline of the local police force You may have an inquiry into the administration of a particular force; and an inquiry into the lack or excess of duty of an individual member of the force. One has only to state these functions of watch committees to see the unfairness of the provision in the Bill. Sometimes there is a good deal of personal feeling shown on these watch committees in connection with its administration, and when feelings run high it would be difficult to get a two-thirds majority, which is necessary to exclude the Press. The more you examine this proposal the more unfortunate and unfair it appears. If this Bill had been brought forward as an amending Bill its real intentions would have been much more apparent. Take the suggestion of the two-thirds majority. That is an extraordinary suggestion. In this House if We want to exclude strangers we can do so by a simple majority of the House. A provision of this kind is quite unneccessary. It is another weakness in the Bill, which I am afraid will not stand very much scrutiny.


May I remind the right hon. Member that the two-thirds majority was in the Act of 1908 as originally drafted.

3.0 p.m.


Yes, but the 1908 Act was passed as a compromise, and if you want a Bill of this kind to go forward it is not very favourable to its progress if you bring forward again one of the matters to which extreme objection was taken in 1908. This House is in a most unfortunate position this afternoon. We have been spending all the time since eleven o'clock on what is an academic discussion. Only two days ago, with the assent of the Government, this Bill was rejected in another place without a Division. I heard the whole of that debate. No one challenged a Division, and the Bill was rejected; it received hardly any support at all. Surely it is unwise for the promotors to ask a Committee upstairs to spend time on this Measure when there are so many requests and demands made upon hon. Members in connection with very arduous duties. Cannot we be sensible enough to see that, whatever our views may be, it would be ridiculous to send this Bill again to another place, where it was rejected only two days ago without a Division. I hope the how Member will be satisfied that he has put forward his case this afternoon with the greatest possible ability, and that those who are interested in the subject will gain something from the discussions which have taken place. I appeal to the promotors of the Bill, having had a very excellent discussion, that they will not ask the House of Commons to spend further time on the Bill, having regard to the many grave duties which now rest upon hon. Members.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


In this Bill there are Clauses which extend its operation to Scotland, and I hope a Scottish contribution may be permitted at this stage. The position in Scotland is different to that which pervails in England. When the Local Government Act came into operation local authorities in Scotland found that they had the power not only to exclude the Press from meetings of public assistance committees, which in effect are the old parish councils, but also that they had power to exclude the Press from meetings of the new, education committees. The discussion which has taken place this afternoon and the points which have been made against the Bill have not in the slightest degree disturbed my support of the principle of the Measure. As a matter of fact, the opponents of the Bill in almost every speech indicated their desire to support the principle of the Bill. But they go on to deal with details which in my judgment are more a subject for Committee discussion. Reference has been made to the fact that in another place this Bill has already been rejected. We should bear in mind the fact that it was the Bill as it is now and not as it may be when it has passed the Committee, that was rejected in another place.

Throughout the discussion to-day there has been a tendency to overlook the fact that in local authorities common sense does prevail. I want to make the same claim for the Press—that common sense does prevail in the reporting of public questions. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) in seconding the rejection of the Bill rather amused me by subscribing to the doctrine of the freedom of the Press. It seemed to me that his subscription was very quickly withdrawn. The fact that the hon. Member represents a great fishing centre on the East Coast took my mind much further north to another great fishing centre, in regard to which one wonders sometimes whether more fish or more anecdotes are sent from it. I was reminded of an anecdote about an Aberdonian who came south to London. The Aberdonian had been told that if he threw a copper from the train when crossing the Forth Bridge it would bring him luck. When he arrived in London a friend asked him what was wrong with his hand, for he saw that one of his fingers was bandaged. The Aberdonian's reply was: "I was told that if I threw a copper from the train when crossing the Forth Bridge it would bring luck, but it did not bring me any luck; the string nearly pulled my finger off." The subscription that the hon. Member for Grimsby made to the freedom of the Press was a subscription that he was able very quickly to take back.

I claim that this House as a public assembly and we as public servants have a right, and indeed a duty, to enable other public servants, the Press reporters, to perform their duty in a proper way. Criticism is allowed in the newspapers. Propaganda is carried on in the newspapers, and they use their leading article columns particularly for dissemination of certain ideas. But even those of us who occasionally are victims of the way in which the Press seems to alter our point of view and fails to give expression to our true thoughts, can subscribe to the declaration that in the main the Press does give a proper indication of the business carried on by public authorities. We have publicity in this House. In this House we make provision whereby the activities of Parliamentary Committees are open to the public through the Press, and I think that we ought to extend the same latitude to the public authorities. Indeed, we should impose it on those authorities as a duty, and give it to the Press as a right that these proceedings should be adequately made public. The Press point of view has not been put forward very much in this discussion. Let me read two extracts from a leading article on this Bill, in the principal Scottish evening newspaper only a few days ago. The first is: The only excuse for keeping journalists on the doormat seems to be that the presence of the reporters would lead to more loquacity, and that the long-suffering journalists would be acting as free advertising agents for bores and persons in search of notoriety. That is certainly not the business of journalists who laboriously sift the chaff of public life in order to obtain some palatable grain. I think we can agree that, in the main, that duty is very well discharged by the Press. With regard to the idea that certain business should be kept private I think the provision as to a two-thirds majority would stand the test. I believe that there is sufficient common sense in every local authority to enable it to decide, not only by a two-thirds majority but unanimously, where in the public interest it is desirable to keep certain business private. But I agree with this further declaration in the leading article to which I have referred. There is no difficulty whatever in a reasonable working arrangement being reached by a progressive town council with the Press. A word from the chairman would invariably ensure respect for confidential matters. Those of us who have worked on local authorities can confirm that statement and say that such confidence has never been abused. There is always the danger of keeping things so secret that distorted reports get out to the public. I made the point at the beginning of my speech that there was a difference between Scotland and England in regard to this Bill. When the new Local Government Act came into operation the Edinburgh Town Council decided that the Press should not be admitted to the new committees—the public assistance committee and the education committee that were taking the place of older bodies.


Were any reasons given for that unfortunate decision?


The reasons given were that the Press were not admitted as of right to the meetings of committees and that, in regard to the committees which were now coming under the town council the Press were automatically excluded. A controversy arose on the matter, as controversies always do arise in Edinburgh over anything of public interest, enabling one to get a very clear expression of public opinion, and, I am bound to say, that public opinion was clearly against the town council's decision and very much in favour of admitting the Press to the new committees. I put a question to the Secretary of State for Scotland and I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman's answer had some bearing on the subsequent decision of the town council. It was to the effect that he would consider whether or not he would approve of schemes of administration under the new Local Government Act which did not provide for the admission of the Press. It was taken as a very broad hint to the Edinburgh authorty and my right hon. Friend was severely criticised for acting as a dictator. Very strong opinions were voiced against the manner in which he was endeavouring to coerce an independent body. I do not know that anyone will accuse my right hon. Friend at least of looking like a dictator, whatever he may be in practice.

I was severely condemned as one who was interfering with something with which I had nothing to do. I make a point of endeavouring, to the best of my ability, to adhere to and support the expressed opinion of the locally elected representatives of the city, the largest constituency of which I endeavour to represent here, and when these strictures were flying about, I said nothing at all about it, but, like the Irishman's parrot, I was thinking a good deal, and the thoughts that came to me included the quotation: They loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Perhaps that is rather too strong a criticism to level, but one cannot help what one thinks on occasions. One also remembers what Robert Burns said to his young friend Andrew Aitken on one occasion: But, oh! mankind are unto weak, An' little to be trusted; If self the wavering balance shake, It's rarely right adjusted I I think such thoughts could be justified by the desire of certain people, interested in one way or another in the work of these committees, to keep that work in the dark. I am glad to say that better sense prevailed, as it usually does in the long run, and permission was granted by the Edinburgh Town Council for those committees, education and public assistance, to be open to members of the Press. I urge upon the House that those rights, at first denied, might very easily be withdrawn. They were denied first and granted by favour, and they might quite easily, without some such Measure as this, be taken back, leaving us in the dark. I am sure that to give publicity to the work of local representatives is something that the public wants. We do not simply want to know what our public representatives have been doing when they come to us, it may be at a ward meeting at the end of the year, and report what they have done. We want to know what they are doing all along the line, and I am certain, with the safeguards provided in the Bill, that along these lines we can do a very great deal to create interest in public affairs by the electors generally and give them a further opportunity of knowing what their public representatives are doing. I am sure the representatives themselves will welcome the opportunity that is provided to show how they are shouldering the responsibility placed upon them by those who elect them to these bodies.


The hon. Lady who spoke on behalf of the Ministry of Health submitted that when a debate has gone on as long as this debate has, there is bound to be a great deal of repetition. There is one repetition which has run all through, namely, that those who are in favour of and those who are opposed to this Bill, have said that they are not opposed to the principle. One would have thought that was almosf unnecessary. The principle of the Bill is Local Authorities (Admission of the Press). We who are in this House, I suppose, have no desire to say other than that we are in favour of the Press, and every opportunity will be afforded them to come in. But one hon. Member said that he was glad that this Bill had been brought in and that he hoped it would be passed, because it would stimulate interest in local government. If that were the basis upon which this Bill has been introduced, I think we should be very glad to go into the same Lobby. But is that the main purpose of the Bill? Do we, by opening the doors of committees of local authorities wider to the Press really stimulate interest in local affairs? I venture to suggest that it will not stimulate, but rather hold back the interest of the people of the district in local affairs. A great deal of useful work which is done to-day by committees will not be done if it is to be performed in the full light of the Press.

Some comment has been made this afternoon upon the fact that there are in local authorities many people who are unable to express themselves when on their feet, and that they had better not enter public life. Is that true of men and women who have engaged in local work? I have had the opportunity for some. 30 years of entering into local government work, and I affirm, without any fear of contradiction, that some of the best men upon local authorities—and women too—have been people who have been almost silent, and yet have done exceedingly good committee work. What is the sort of observation that is made when you come to a selection committee? The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill serves upon a selection committee, as I do.


How often do you attend compared with the times I attend?


Does the Press report that? I do not know whether this is an occasion to cite our attendances, or claim good marks for them, but I have not yet discovered that the boy who at school got the prize for regular attendance was always the best boy in after life. Whether my hon. Friend has a better score upon the selection committee—I am not going to agree that he has—he must have heard it said more than once that so-and-so is excellent on a committee. Very often in a large council a man's value is not known at all to the members of the council who are not on the committee on which this apparently silent member serves. It would be an unfortunate thing if public life were confined to those men who can make themselves heard, who love publicity and pandering to the Press. I am quite sure that if those are the people you get on local authorities, you are going to have a service very much worse than the one you are getting at the present time.

What does this Bill do? A number of committees are mentioned in the Bill, but the main, and really the only purpose, I suggest, which lies at the bottom of this Bill, is the admission of the Press to the public assistance committees. That main purpose has been camouflaged by dragging in the ease of a number of other committees, but the answer to the desire to admit the Press to public assistance committees has been given in overwhelming fashion by the hon. Lady who represents the Minister of Health. What is committee work? The committee is usually the place where the important work is done. The work of the council is but the registration of the results of long effort and careful work in committee, and those who have had any experience of public life know that if we admit the 'Press to committees it will lead to such a prolongation of the work that there will be difficulty in getting people to serve on councils. One hon. Member said that; the absence of the Press from committees leads to the economical transaction of business. As no representatives of the Press are there, members get along with the business as speedily as possible.

I recall a council on which I served which included one member who was ordinarily very quiet in committee. He found there was no particular reason why he should make long speeches. But when the report of that committee came before the council for consideration and ratification and no comment was made upon it, this gentleman would invariably say "If nobody wants to anything about it I suppose I must say something." That was after he had been Quite. silent in the committee. He would then set forth his views, which we used to find were somewhat alien to those to which he had assented in committee, and he gave the impression to the public that although his colleagues on the committee had agreed to a certain course and he did not want to disagree with them he thought he was entitled to say that he had a good many objections to the proposals they had put forward.


Does not that sort of thing happen upon our committees here? Does the hon. Member say it would be an excellent idea if we excluded the Press from our committees—that it would facilitate business in committee and in the House?


Evidently I am taking the hon. Member along with me if he says that the presence of the Press is not conducive to celerity of action, and if that be so it is a recommendation he might put to the House. When the Government are hard pressed for time they might welcome the exclusion of the Press from committees.


What about this House, too?


This Bill is objected to by local authorities. We have had the evidence of the Parliamentary Secretary that the associations which represent local authorities oppose the Bill. In my division there are three local authorities, and each one of them has written asking me to oppose this Bill. Having regard to these representations and with my knowledge of what goes on in local government, I have no hesitation in voting against this Measure. One council wrote to me putting forward a consideration which seems to have very great weight. They said, "We have a general purposes committee which is composed of the whole council. This committee deals with the most important work of the council, and much of its business must necessarily be discussed in camera. We feel there would be a difficulty in disclosing many of the things that we discuss in the general purposes committee if the Press were present, and, in order that we may carry on the very efficient work of this committee, we ask you to use all your power to get an opposition to this Measure." For that reason alone, I should have felt justified in speaking to-day, but believe that the Press have full facilities to enable them to give a true and proper account of the work which is being done by local authorities. Because I believe that no local authority keeps from the ratepayers the information they should have, and because the general meeting of the council is open to the public and the Press, and that it is at the full meeting of the council that the actions of the Council are registered and determined, I suggest that this Bill is unnecessary. Safeguards which have already been framed by the Legislature for the admission of the Press are sufficient, and until there has been a much longer experience of the working of the public assistance committee, and until it can be shown that the work of that committee and the exclusion of the Press from that committee has led to the performance of things which are an injury to the ratepayers of the oountry, this House ought not to alter the present provision which is made for the admission of the Press.


I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Meller), but I could not help feeling that, if one carried the ideas which he has put forward to a logical conclusion, many of the speeches in this House would never be made at all. That might be to the benefit of the population as a whole, but you cannot apply a principle like that to a public authority which is spending public money. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) with a great deal of interest and sympathy for what he had to say regarding the weekly Press. Too little has been spoken about a very important part of our local life—the weekly and local Press. You can allow the great journals to look after themselves as to whether they are excluded or not from public authorities, for, if you try to exclude them, you will lose the battle. The smaller paper relies for its circulation almost entirely on its being able to report something which the big journals would refuse to report as not being of general interest. The action of many county councils and public assistance authorities and the like in excluding the Press is doing the Press a deep wrong, and inflicting upon them a grievance which would not be allowed to be inflicted on the large national Press.

I was interested in the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary, when she gave us such good advice as to the rejection of the Bill, because I remember addressing a question to the Minister of Health about what I thought was a somewhat unfortunate action resulting in a wrong impression having got out of the work of a public assistance committee. The Minister regretted in his reply that be had no power to allow these things to be reported. Yet the hon. Lady apparently advises us to take a step which will continue to keep from the Minister of Health the power of allowing the proceedings of public assistance committees to be known. We differentiate far too much against the local paper, which has a great struggle for its existence, and which, if it is not allowed to report fully the interesting details with regard to local authorities, will in the end be exterminated, and that would be a wrong which nobody would like.


I have not had the advantage of bearing the later stages of this debate or the pronouncement which has been made on behalf of the Government regarding this Measure. I desire to make a few general observations on the strength of experience which, I am sorry to say, goes back a good many years. In the main, I support the principle of this Bill. It is highly desirable that the public should have the amplest opportunity of hearing how its work is being conducted, and in particular the way in which its public representatives are exerting themselves in that regard. In recent years, a considerable extension has occurred in the province of local government, and there has been a rush to serve on public bodies. It is desirable that the ratepayers should know how their representatives are acting. My mind goes back a good many years to the time when I was serving on a board of guardians, and I remember that members of that board, before speaking, waited to see whether the representatives of the Press were present. If the Press were not represented on some of the committees, I found that those men were frequently silent, and took no effective part in the discharge of the business of that body, and they waited for their opportunity to speak when the representatives of the local Press were present.

I submit that while an extension of local government was necessary, it is equally necessary that the public should know the character of the work which is being done by their representatives. Therefore, on the main argument, I join in the demand that the public should know not only how the work of the local authority is being carried on, but also how the persons whom they have elected are discharging those functions. In recent years the setting up of public assistance committees in place of the old boards of guardians on which I have served for many years has occasioned complaints which have given rise to this Bill. I think it is desirable—here I speak at the request of a number of authorities, and the Press who have asked me to stress this point—that with the extension of the work of local government the ratepayers should have the amplest opportunity of seeing how the work is being conducted.

I want to make a humble suggestion to the promoters of this Bill. There are two respects in which I hope they will meet the critics of the Bill in Committee if, as I hope, this Measure receives a Second Reading. I take, first of all, the case of the relief committees of boards of guardians. For years I served on such committees, and those Members of this House who have had the experience of listening to distressing cases of application for relief from persons who did not coma into the workhouse, but who wished to receive some assistance from the guardians, will agree with me when I say that, when applications of that kind are being considered, it is not desirable that the public Press should be represented. I can think of many distressing cases in the London area where I had to listen, as a member of a relief committee, to applications from persons who placed before the committee intimate domestic circumstances which no Member of this House would desire to see placed before a meeting reported by representatives of the Press.

I gather, from an earlier intimation in this debate, that the promoters of the Bill are prepared to consider some means for removing cases of that sort from the operation of the Bill. It is said that the provision in the Bill which enables an authority, when the proposal is supported by a two-thirds majority, not to deal with particular cases in the full glare of publicity, provides a safeguard; but I would put it to any Member of the House who has had practical, and not merely theoretical, experience of these matters, that, when cases are being considered in which circumstances of this nature are disclosed as the foundation of the claim, it is not practicable to ask this House to assent to the method of suddenly moving the exclusion of the Press so that the rest of the application may be heard in camera. I submit that this Bill ought to be so amended in Committee as to exclude such cases from its operation.


They would not be reported.


I have had 37 years' experience of these matters; my hon. Friend's experience may have been. longer. I am only suggesting that, when cases of that character are under review by a public assistance committee or by a sub-committee dispensing relief, there should be some safeguard to save our unfortunate fellow-citizens from such a disclosure of private domestic circumstances as cannot on any ground be justified. As to the assessment committees—and here I speak about matters with which I have been concerned for more years than I dare disclose, and am speaking from actual practical experience on an assessment committee—cases come before assessment committees where the question is as to the value to be set upon particular premises, and the applicant is asked to disclose, for instance, the circumstances as to the mortgage which he has raised for the erection of the premises. I do not think that intimate personal matters connected with the value of the house, on which the committee has to form an opinion, should he raised in the hearing of the Press. It is said the Press does not report these proceedings, and in the main that is true. But if the applicant happened to he a person who had incurred the criticism of the local Press and such circumstances disclosed domestic matters which could he used in order to discredit him, they might be reported.

Without professing to understand the risibility on the benches behind me, I desire merely to say this simple and unaffected word. Without wishing to contract the usefulness of the local Press, as to which, with other Members of the House, I have enjoyed some advantage, I think quite seriously it might be pressed upon the promoters of the Bill, with which I have complete sympathy, that they should consider cases of applications for relief and assessment cases. If they will take steps to see that those matters are not brought within the ambit of the Bill, or are reasonably provided against, I think it might well receive a Second Reading.


The debate can hardly be said to be truly academic, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). The points that have been raised in objecting to it are largely committee paints and, in broad outline, the principle of the Bill has been conceded by nearly every speaker. The main claim of some of us who support the Second Reading is that we only want to make good the losses that have ensued by the application of the 1929 Local Government Act, especially in relation to very large counties. The borough point has been put very clearly by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley). I appreciate very much the spirit of his speech. It was well informed, as his speeches usually are. When we take the angle of the larger counties and see the tremendous change that has taken place arising out of the 1929 Act, we have a far different picture. The county councils have now been invested with the responsibility of the administration of the whole machinery of Poor Law. I find that nearly every Member who has spoken has had experience of county council work, and it does not need any argument of mine to convince them that a member of a county council is now vested with such responsibility, both new and old, that it is an utter impossibility to keep pace with the duties of county council life.

That is conceded on every hand and, when the new responsibilities of Poor Law administration were vested in the county councils, the main charge in this House and among boards of guardians usually was that the old duties were already too full and too heavy and that new duties could not be assumed and carried out with any responsibility. In the nature of the case they have had to delegate the responsibility under the terms of the Act to the public assistance committees. The public assistance committees who sit in camera have largely vested the fuller responsibilities in the guardians committees, again sitting in camera. What does it mean? It means that the lives of thousands of institutional cases, the infirm, the aged and broken men and women of this country, come under the charge of two bodies in the main sitting in, camera and deciding the whole of the regulations governing their lives. We have thousands of children in the care of institutional life either being hoarded out or kept in the institutions. Again, the two main committees who have the charge of those children are sitting in camera and deciding policy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Quite right!"] An hon. Member says "Quite right." The indications of the ages gone by, especially in the writings of Dickens, are that the public conscience and the public mind are the most wholesome guides to administration.

Our claim to-day is that no bodies should have the responsibility of the outdoor poor, the destitute, the casual and the vagrant, the child unfortunate in life or the orphan, the institutional cases in our Poor Law infirmaries, without having the searchlight of public opinion and the guidance of our country at large helping them in a wholesome administration. That is the burden of our claim and the strength of our case, and it has not been answered in the debate to-day. How far do we go? I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who in a very eloquent and well chosen speech moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and, I believe, all of us, would agree that questions of details in assessment, questions coming under the watch committee and questions on domestic matters in the administration of the Poor Law—and we have had yea is of public life to confirm it—are domestic matters. We maintain that with regsrd to policies which have been hammered out on the old boards of guardians during the last ten years the Press has been helpful. On the board on which I have had happy experience in a very rural and scattered county, we usually spent two hours before lunch hammering out common policy and the Press very wisely gave to the public the details of that common policy. The public wished to know the scales of relief, how the children were being treated, and of the changes in the institution and the casual wards. I am sure that the giving of publicity to the old boards of guardians has been helpful to the public and to this House. We now ask, in view of the changes that have taken place, that the public assistance committees should hammer out their policies and declare them to the public. I speak with 15 to 20 years' experience in two spheres of public life, and I have never yet found the Press, which has been an intimate friend of ours in all matters of domestic consideration, whether in urban, county or in Poor Law administration, betray its trust. Never has there been reason for a chairman or any other person to call attention to a breach of faith by the Press. Therefore, the claim that we put forward for the trust that we vest in the Press is one worthy of emulation. We ask that the Second Reading shall be conceded, if possible, without a Division. Points of substance have been put forward, which those who are responsible for the Bill would be glad to consider and, if possible, concede. We believe that the passage of the Bill into law would be in the interests of good government and of wise public administration.


When I came here to-day I received a great deal of correspondence for and against the Bill, and I have listened to the various speakers. The hon. and learned Member for Nottingham (Mr. Knight) made a most excellent speech, one of the best speeches of the day, strongly against the Bill, and I have made up my mind what to do, on his advice. It is an extraordinary fact, and one on which the House may congratulate itself, that the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and the present Parliamentary Secretary

are at last agreed upon one topic. With their tremendous experience, of local administration they have advised us as to the mistake that we shall make in passing this Bill into law. I do not pretend to have as much experience as those two hon. Members, but as one who has lived a great deal in foreign countries I have a tremendous respect for the Press of this country, and I know what great discretion they show in the publication of all matters, but I consider that it would be a public danger to pass this Bill. In many cases members of sub-committees are co-opted, and you will get decisions taken and expressions of views given by people who are not members of the council, and whose opinion does not carry the same weight as those—


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."


I think the House is ready to come to a decision.



Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided: Ayes, 129; Noes, 42.

Division No. 53.] AYES. [4.0 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Gower, Sir Robert McElwee, A.
Albery, Irving James Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. McEntee, V. L.
Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.) Gray, Milner MacNeill-Weir, L
Aske, Sir Robert Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) McShane, John James
Astor, Mal. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Griffith, F. Kingsley (middlesbro' W.) Mansfield, W.
Ayles, Waltor Groves, Thomas E. Markham, S. F
Barr, James Hall. G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll) Marley, J.
Batey, Joseph Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.) Mathers, George
Bellalrs, Commander Carlyon Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Matters, L. W.
Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Middleton, G.
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Haycock, A. W. Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Bentham, Dr. Ethel Hayes, John Harvey Morris, Rhys Hopkins
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Henderson, Arthur, June. (Cardiff, S.) Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)
Bracken, B. Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Mort, D. L.
Broad, Francis Alfred Hoffman, P. C. Muggeridge, H. T.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Hopkin, Daniel Naylor, T. E.
Burgin, Dr. E. L. Hore-Belisha, Leslie. Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)
Cameron, A. G. Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Oldfield, J. R.
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)
Charleton, H. C. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Cove, William G. Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Pole, Major D. G.
Daggar, George Kennedy, Thomas Pybus, Percy John
Day, Harry Knight, Holford Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Duncan, Charles Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Edge, Sir William Lathan, G. Romerll, H. G.
Edmunds, J. E. Lawrence. Susan Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybrldge) Rowson, Guy
Elmley, Viscount Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)
Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Unlver.) Leach, W. Sanders, W. S.
Freeman, Peter Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern) Sawyer, G. F.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Lloyd, C. Ellis Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Glassey, A. E. Longden, F. Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Gossllng, A. G. Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Shillaker, J. F.
Gould, F. Lowth, Thomas Shinwell, E
Simmons, C. J. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby) Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) Thurtle, Ernest Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
Smith, Frank (Nuneaton) Tillett, Ben Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Smith, W. R. (Norwich) Turton, Robert Hugh Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Snell, Harry Vaughan, D. J. Wise, E. F.
Sorensen, R. Viant, S. P. Young, R. S. (Islington, North)
Stephen, Campbell Walkden, A. G.
Strauss, G. R. Wellock, Wilfred TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.) Welsh, James (Paisley) Mr. Ede and Mr. Isaacs.
Bailllie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Reynolds, Col. Sir James
Berry, Sir George Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Leighton, Major B. E. P. Ross, Major Ronald D.
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Lindley, Fred W. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Campbell, E. T. Llewellin, Major J. J. Savery, S. S.
Carver, Major W. H. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.
Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham) Todd, Capt. A. J.
Colman, N. C. D. Melier, R. J. Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)
Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey Millar, J. D. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercllffe)
Everard, W. Lindsay Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert
Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Penny, Sir George TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Sir Douglas Newton and Mr. Womersley.
Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Pliditch, Sir Philip
Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd,Henley) Ramsbotham, H.

Question put accordingly, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.

The House divided: Ayes, 119; Noes, 51.

Division No, 54.] AYES. [4.8 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.) Haycock, A. W. Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Aske, Sir Robert Hayes, John Henry Pole, Major D. G.
Astor, Maj. Hon. John J.(Kent,Dover) Henderson, Arthur, junr. (Cardiff, S.) Pybus, Percy John
Ayles, Walter Hoffman, P. C. Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Barr, James Hore-Belisha, Leslie Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Batey, Joseph Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Romeril, H. G.
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Jones. Morgan (Caerphilly) Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Bentham, Dr. Ethel Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Rowson, Guy
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Sanders, W. S.
Bracken, B. Kennedy, Thomas Sawyer, G. F.
Broad, Francis Alfred Knight, Holford Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton) Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Cameron, A. G. Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Shillaker, J. F.
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.) Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern) Shinwell, E.
Charleton, H. C. Lloyd, C. Ellis Simmons, C. J.
Church, Major A. G. Longden, F. Sitch, Charles H.
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Cove, William G. Lowth, Thomas Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Daggar, George McElwee, A. Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Day, Harry McEntee, V. L. Sorensen, R.
Duncan, Charles MacLaren, Andrew Stephen, Campbell
Edge, Sir William MacNeill-Weir, L. Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)
Edmunds, J. E. McShane, John James Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Mansfield, W. Thurtie, Ernest
Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Unlver.) Markham, S. F. Turton, Robert Hugh
Freeman, Peter Marley, J. Vaughan, D. J.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Mathers, George Viant, S. P.
Glassey, A. E. Matters, L. W. Walkden, A. G.
Gossling, A. G. Middleton, G. Wellock, Wilfred
Gould, F. Morgan, Dr. H. B. Welsh, James (Paisley)
Gower, Sir Robert Morris, Rhys Hopkins Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.) Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
Gray, Milner Muggerldge, H. T. Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Naylor, T. E. Winterton, G. E.(Leicester,Loughb'gh)
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.) Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Wise, E. F.
Groves, Thomas E. Noei-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.) Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Oldfield, J. R. Young, R. S. (Islington, North)
Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.) Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)
Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. Ede and Mr. Isaacs.
Baillle-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W. Colman, N. C. D. Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.
Berry, Sir George Dairymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F, (Dulwich)
Burgin. Dr. E. L. Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Hamilton, Sir George (Illford)
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Elmley, Viscount Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd,Henley)
Campbell, E. T. Everard, W. Lindsay Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)
Carver, Major W. H. Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.
Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Hopkin, Daniel
Lathan, G. Penny, Sir George Snell, Harry
Lawrence, Susan Pildltch. Sir Phillp Strauss, G. R.
Leach, W. Ramsbotham, H. Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.
Leighton, Major B. E. P. Rathbone, Eleanor Todd, Capt. A. J.
Lindley, Fred W. Reynolds, Col. Sir James Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)
Llewellin, Major J. J. Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham) Ross, Major Ronald D. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Meller, R. J. Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West) Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Mort, D. L. Savery, S. S. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Smith, W. R. (Norwich) Sir Douglas Newton and Mr. Womersley.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

the Whole House." —[Sir N. Stewart Sandeman.]

The House divided: Ayes, 25; Noes, 118.

Division No. 55.] AYES. [4.16 p.m.
Balille-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Berry, Sir George Leighton, Major B. E. P. Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.
Campbell, E. T. Liewellin, Major J, J. Todd, Capt. A. J.
Carver, Major W. H. Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham) Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)
CockerIll, Brig.-General Sir George Meller, R. J. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Colman, N. C. D. Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.
Dairymple-Whits, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey Nicholson, O. (Westminster) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Greases-Lord, Sir Walter Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Sir Douglas Newton and Mr. Womersley.
Hail, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Pilditch, Sir Philip
Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Reynolds, Col. Sir James
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Albery, Irving James Hoffman, P. C. Ramsbotham, H.
Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.) Hopkin, Daniel Rathbone, Eleanor
Aske, Sir Robert Hore-Belisha, Leslie Romeril, H. G.
Astor, Maj. H n. John J. (Kent, Dover) Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Barr, James Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Rawson, Guy
Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central) Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Jowitt, Sir W. A. (Preston) Sanders, W. S.
Bentham, Dr. Ethel Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Kennedy, Thomas Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Bracken, B. Kirkwood, D. Shillaker, J. F.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton) Shinwell, E.
Burgin, Dr E L. Lathan, G. Simmons, C. J.
Cameron, A. G. Lawrence, Susan Sitch, Charles H.
Carter, W. (St. Pancras. S.W.) Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Staiybridge) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Charleton, H. C. Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Church, Major A. G. Lindley, Fred W. Smith, Rennie (Penlstone)
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Lloyd, C. Ellis Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Cove, William G. Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Snell, Harry
Daggar, George McElwee, A. Sorensen, R.
Day, Harry McEntee, V. L. Strauss, G. R.
Duncan, Charles McGovern, J. (Glasgow, Shettleston) Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)
Edge, Sir William MacLaren, Andrew Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Edmunds, J. E. MacNeill-Weir, L. Thurtie, Ernest
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedweilty) Mansfield, W. Tillett, Ben
Evans. Capt. Ernest (Welsh Unlver.) Markham, S. F. Vaughan, D. J.
Freeman, Peter Marley, J. Viant, S. P.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Mathers, George Walkden, A. G.
Giassey, A. E. Middleton, G. Wellock, Wilfred
Gower, Sir Robert Morgan, Dr. H. B. Welsh, James (Paisley)
Gray, Milner Morris, Rhys Hopkins Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.) Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.) Mort, D. L. Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Groves, Thomas E. Naylor, T. E. Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Hall. G. H Merthyr Tydvll) Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.) Wise, E. F.
Half, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.) Oldfield, J. R. Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)
Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston) Young, R. S. (Islington, North)
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)
Haycock, A. W Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Hayes, John Henry Pole, Major D. G. Mr. Ede and Mr. Isaacs.
Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.) Pybus, Percy John

Bill committed to a Standing Committee.

Whereupon, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No, 3.

Adjourned at Twenty-four Minutes after Four o'Clock, until Monday, 8th December.