§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. We are faced with the difficulty of proceeding with the Committee stage of the Bill immediately after the Second Reading. Usually Amendments appear on the Paper and Members understand what is their purpose. Manuscript Amendments have been handed in from various quarters. Will you kindly state what Amendments you propose to call, so that those whose Amendments are ruled out of order may decide that they have no further interest in them. It would be as well at the outset if you would tell us whether any Amendments are to be called and whose Amendments they are.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think that the only Amendment on Sub-section (1) which may be in order is an Amendment, on page 2, line 19, at the end of paragraph (d), to insert the words:The Minister of Labour shall have power to issue to public assistance committees instructions to guide them as to the manner in which family income may be estimated in. determining the needs of applicants for transitional payments.I have not had much time to consider the Amendment, but at the moment I am inclined to think it is in order, and I propose to call it in due course, reserving the right if, as the argument develops, I find it is out of order, to say so.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
I have only just heard of the Amendment, but I submit that it is out of order because it would give me power to make regulations which would increase the charge.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is precisely with that idea in my mind that I said I reserved the right to say that the Amendment was out of order if I thought that was necessary as the discussion proceeded. The Amendment appears to be designed to give the Minister power to issue instructions as to what is his interpretation of the law. That is the way in which I read the Amendment at the moment. Perhaps the Minister will consider that point, and any question as to whether the Amendment is in order can be raised again when this Amendment is reached.
§ Mr. J. JONES
On a point of Order. We ordinary Members have no chance of 1016 considering any of these manuscript Amendments. It has already been suggested that nothing can be done to increase the charge. Is it not taking too much advantage of the patience of this House to ask us to accept Amendments of which we have never heard before?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is now going against what the House has decided. It decided to resolve itself immediately into Committee on the Bill.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The next Amendment which is in order is in Subsection (2) on page 2, line 20, after the word "relief" to insert the words "to any able-bodied person." There is another Amendment, in Subsection (2), line 22, after the word "observe," to insert the words "in any individual case." So far as I am able to discover those are the three Amendments that I propose to call.
§ Mr. MABANE
I handed in an Amendment, in Sub-section (1, a), page 1, line 16, after the word "half," to insert the words "as a minimum." May I have a Ruling as to why that Amendment is out of order, because I did not frame it with any intention of increasing the charge, but in order to make quite clear the intention of the Act? The Minister told us yesterday that at least as a minimum there should be 50 per cent. I have read the Bill and cannot see why the Minister said that. I felt, therefore, that the Minister would certainly desire this Amendment to be moved, in order that the Bill might be in conformity with his statement. Our experience in the past has been that public assistance committees to whom we have referred answers to questions by Ministers in this House in defining matters of this sort, have replied that they cannot administer answers to questions or speeches by Ministers, as they are not the law.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I cannot base my Ruling upon anything which may have taken place in Debate or on any opinion expressed by any Member of the House, whether a Member of the Government or not. I have considered that particular 1017 Amendment with very great care, and I have come to the conclusion that it will be possible to interpret it in such a way as to enable the charge to be increased. On those grounds, I must rule it out of order. The only thing I can say, if it is any satisfaction to the hon. Member, is that if I am wrong in considering that it might have the effect of increasing the charge, quite obviously the Amendment would have no effect whatever.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. If the Amendment to Sub-section (1), page 2, line 19, to insert the words:The Minister of Labour shall have power to issue to public assistance committees instructions to guide them as to the manner in which family income may be estimated in determining the needs of applicants for transitional payments.were carried, would that not mean that the Minister would have power to abolish the destitution test for the family? Is not the foundation of public assistance work that you apply the destitution test to the applicant, with the exception that is made in this Bill. You take the family income into account, and it is the destitution test applied to the whole family. If the words of that Amendment are accepted do they not mean that we abolish that test and substitute something entirely different?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Perhaps in the circumstances my proper course would be to ask the hon. Member to try to justify his Amendment and to show that it is not out of order.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Amendment in page 2, line 19, at the end to add the words:The Minister of Labour shall have power to issue to public assistance committees instructions to guide them as to the manner in which family income may be estimated in determining the needs of applicants for transitional payments.8.0 p.m.
I am inclined to think after what the right hon. Gentleman has said that the Amendment has a tendency, at any rate, to place a temptation in the way of the Minister of Labour—if I may put it in that way—to issue some instructions which would widen the law, and, if it would do so, it would of course increase the charge, and would therefore be out of order.
§ Mr. MABANE
That is what I am endeavouring to show the Committee. In the course of these Debates the Minister has indicated the sort of interpretation which he desires to put upon this means test and upon the Bill. In the past experience of many of us we have found considerable confusion in the minds of members of public assistance committees as to how they should assess the means of families and how they should take into account the earnings or income of the members of a family in which an applicant is living.
§ Mr. MABANE
Even in Huddersfield we have that difficulty, and it is in order to get over that difficulty that I want these words inserted in the Bill. Public assistance committees have asked for instruction and guidance as to how they shall assess the means of various members of a family. We are told that this Bill is a temporary Measure and that in a very short time a more comprehensive Measure will be introduced to alter the general basis of unemployment insurance—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman is now getting on to the merits of his proposed Amendment. I want him first to try to persuade me that it is an Amendment to which there can be no objection on the ground that it goes beyond the terms of the Resolution on which the Bill is founded.
§ Mr. MABANE
It appears to me that there is a certain amount of money to be distributed through the agency of the public assistance committees by way of transitional payments. Our object is to secure that it shall be distributed in the most equitable manner possible. Public assistance committees may not have the wisdom of the Minister and may not decide to distribute the money in the most equitable way. They may want guidance from the Minister as to the distribution of the money. It seems to me that the Minister is, very properly, the person to 1019 guide them as to the best way in which the money can be distributed and the best way in which the means of families can be assessed. It also seems to me to be of advantage that that best way should be generally applied, instead of having one committee distributing the money in a manner that is not good, while another may distribute it in a manner that is good. Rather let them all distribute it in the manner that is good. If the words of the Amendment were inserted in the Bill, then the Minister would be able to instruct all committees throughout the country as to how they could distribute, not more money but the available money, for the best interests of the country.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
As my name is attached to the proposed Amendment may I add to the submission of my hon. Friend. I happen to have been Minister in four different departments, and I remember several occasions on which matters calling for interpretation have been raised by bodies such as these committees. Questions of interpretation are raised which are sometimes difficult and the Minister, in those cases, obtains the opinion of the Law Officers and sends out circulars saying that he is advised that the proper interpretation of the law—short of it being tested in the courts, which is, of course, the last resort—is so and so. He would naturally not be advised that such an interpretation was one that would involve any new charge, but it seems to me that in this case the Minister might desire to issue circulars on points requiring elucidation by the Law Officers and I submit therefore that it would be proper to allow this power to be taken as proposed in the Amendment.
§ Mr. MABANE
I do not think that is a point which I can properly answer now as it is the question of order which is now being discussed.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I have listened to this argument on the constitutional position and the rights and the powers of the Minister, and as one who is not only a Member of the House of Commons, but also a 1020 Member of a local authority, which is going to be severely hit when this Bill becomes law, I wish to say—
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member wants to put a point of Order on the particular matter which we are now discussing, he must confine himself to doing so.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member's preliminary is out of order. He must if he has any argument to advance upon the point, address himself to the question of whether this Amendment is or is not out of order.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have now definitely come to the conclusion that I cannot admit this Amendment as being in order. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) said just now, there is nothing to prevent the Minister at any time writing in reply to a local authority, when he is asked to do so, to tell them—if he has obtained it—the opinion of the Law Officers on the state of the law. It is obvious, however, from the argument of the hon. Member who proposed to move this Amendment, that it might have the effect of giving the Minister definite statutory power to state what the law was and that would be giving him a power which, even though it might not increase the charge, would go beyond the Resolution on which the Bill is founded. Nothing can be put into the Bill which would go outside the terms of that Resolution, and the Resolution contains no power and no authority to this Committee to put in any provision whatever dealing with any question of family means. I must therefore rule the Amendment out of order.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition rose I thought he was going to put a point of Order on the Amendment which was mentioned earlier—in Clause 1, page 1021 1, line 16, after the word "half," to insert the words, "as a minimum." If I may, I wish to revert to the point raised as to that Amendment.
§ The CHAIRMAN
We have passed from that. I called on the hon. Member who had down an Amendment to a later part of the Clause to explain his Amendment in order that I might give a Ruling upon it.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I submit, Sir Dennis, that you did not call upon my hon. Friend to move his Amendment and that the discussion which has just taken place arose upon a point of Order which the Leader of the Opposition raised. I am not complaining, but the right hon. Gentleman opposite got up, as I thought, to continue the discussion on the point as to the earlier Amendment, whereas in fact his point of Order related to the later Amendment on which you have just ruled. I did not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman then, but I venture to ask your permission now to make a submission to you in reference to the earlier Amendment which I think is important. There is real obscurity as regards the point raised in that earlier Amendment and the Minister actually stated yesterday that the Bill contained the words which the Amendment seeks to insert—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that I cannot allow the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to go back to that Amendment. The position is that it was for the Chair to select Amendments which could be moved. I dealt with the question to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is now referring and said that I ruled that Amendment out of order. After that, we passed to another Amendment referring to a later line in the Clause, and I called upon the hon. Member to explain that Amendment in order to see if I could permit it to be moved. It is impossible now to go back to the consideration of any Amendment on any earlier part of the Clause. The next point in the Clause, where are Amendments which are in order, is page 2, line 20. Two Amendments have been handed in, very much to the same effect, in reference to that line of the Clause. I do not propose to call both of them. I shall call one which is in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) 1022 and other hon. Members—in Clause 1, page 2, mine 20, after the word "relief," to insert the words,to destitute able-bodied persons out of employment.
§ Mr. TRAIN
I beg to move, in page 2, line 20, at the end, to insert the words "to destitute able-bodied persons out of employment." In moving this Amendment, I take advantage of what the Minister of Health said yesterday:This Clause is not a major recommendation of the Bill; it is only an auxiliary recommendation, and it will be my duty to give the most particular attention to any detailed criticism of the Clause which may be advanced when we come to the Committee stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1932; col. 880, Vol. 270.]I need not remind the Committee that the Poor Law Act of 1845 stated that it was the duty of the relieving authority to provide adequate sustenance for the legal poor, and this generally is on a more adequate or generous scale than the transitional payments. As I am a Glasgow Member, I will take that city, which pays to a man with a wife and three children, in poor relief, 41s. 6d. per week, while a similar man on transitional payment would get 29s. 6d. If the Bill is passed in its present form, not only will the recipient of transitional payment benefit in a pension or compensation case, but the recipient of Poor Law relief will also benefit by the half of his pension or compensation, and thereby you will increase the anomaly. Supposing the pension is 100 per cent., or 40s., the recipient of Poor Law relief with a wife and three children will then have 61s. 6d. per week provided, while the transitional case would have 49s. 6d. Transitional payment to the able-bodied poor is intended to tide a man over his spell of idleness, while Poor Law relief is paid to persons who seldom have any outlook in life beyond their Poor Law relief. Consequently, the tendency is to be more generous to the latter class, in Glasgow at any rate.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health last night gave the House an indication of the cost of including the Poor Law cases in the operation of the Bill, and he took as his factor of division the figure 4. According to the information in the possession of the De- 1023 partment of Health, the factor for ordinary able-bodied poor is not 4, but 1.8. In working out his figures, the right hon. Gentleman said the cost would only be £250,000. It is a very easy calculation, if the factor is 1.8, which I am informed is correct, to see that the amount mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman can be doubled, and that it will be £500,000 or more. The local authorities in Scotland ask that they should deal with similar classes of people in a similar fashion, and that the class which is not similar, namely, the disabled and the aged, should be differently treated according to the discretion of the local authorities.
We are told that the Clause is optional, but we know that the authorities will be forced to adopt it. Indeed, the very fact of its inclusion in an Act of Parliament is an invitation to them to adopt it, and if any authority should refuse, it would be thought to be mean or parsimonious. We have been told all along that this is a temporary Measure. Why upset the local authorities in the administration of the Poor Law? So far as I am aware, nobody is asking the Government to touch the Poor Law. This Bill is intended to equalise things and to cut out hardships. If we deal with the class of people that we mention in the Amendment, we shall deal with all that is necessary, but to introduce, in a temporary Measure of this kind, something that will upset the administration of all the local authorities is, I think, a great mistake, and I trust the Minister will give the Amendment his careful attention.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I am forced by your Ruling, Sir Dennis, to support this Amendment, although I should have preferred the Amendment that stands in my name, which would present fewer administrative difficulties than would the acceptance of this one. However, I do not wish to waste time by submitting that there is a real difference between the two Amendments, and I will confine myself to giving, in support of this Amendment, the reasons that I would have given in support of my own. The Amendment, as I read it, is an attempt to do exactly what the Minister said yesterday he wanted to do, namely, to extend the more generous treatment contained in 1024 the first Sub-section to those who have never been in insurance and are therefore not transitional risks, but who are otherwise on the same footing as the transitional risks. That, I submit, can be done by the limiting words which it is now proposed to put into Sub-section (2). As Sub-section (2) reads at present, it extends to all cases that come under the administration of the Poor Law. All cases that are dealt with by public assistance committees may be dealt with by them under the terms of the first Subsection, and the words which it is now sought to add:to destitute able-bodied persons out of employment,would limit the operation of the Bill to persons who, having never been in insurable employment, are not transitional risks. I would have preferred my own words, which were simply, "any able-bodied person," because that would not create a new class and would not create, therefore, the fresh administrative difficulties which the Minister might, quite fairly, say would be created by adding this separate class which is not now recognised in any English Act of Parliament.
I want to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train) in moving the Amendment. Here you have an admittedly temporary Bill, a Measure to deal with temporary situation which will no doubt come to an end next June. In the Clause as it stands, you are in fact bringing about a vast and permanent change in the whole administration of the Poor Law. Undoubtedly there is a case for the revision of the Poor Law, but this is not the way to do it. To do it by a side-wind, in a Bill which deals, not with the revision of the Poor Law, but with an alteration in the conditions applicable to persons who apply for transitional payment, is, in my view, entirely the wrong way to do it.
Further, granting that it is desirable so to amend the Poor Law as to give effect to the earlier part of Clause 1, that is to say, to allow applicants for Poor Law relief to have these statutory deductions made in computing their means, you would have, in any Bill dealing with the subject, to provide money out of which the local authorities are to meet the added burdens which would be imposed upon them in dealing with general 1025 relief. According to the opinions which I can gather, the burdens which will be placed on local authorities, and which will result in increases in rates if this Subsection becomes law, are very considerable. The Minister gave a figure last night of £250,000, but even on the assumption that only the present applicants for outdoor relief would he the people to be considered, the legitimate fear of the local authorities is that this would open the door for a large increase in the applications and for applications to be made for relief from a class which at the present is not applying for outdoor relief at all. How real that fear is will become apparent when I remind the Committee of what, if the Sub-section is passed as it is, public assistance committees will have to deduct in cases that come before them. They will be at liberty to deduct one-half of any war pensions—
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Not at all. They will be able to deduct in the case of all persons, whether they are able-bodied unemployed, old age pensioners, sick, infirm and so on, one-half of war pensions arid one-half of workmen's compensation. In addition to that, they will have to make statutory deductions of 5s. in respect of allowances from friendly societies, and 7s. 6d. in respect of any payments from the National Health Insurance. The net result is that any individual case in applications for out relief from sick, infirm and old people, may have a substantial amount which the public assistance committees will be at liberty, if this Sub-section becomes law, to ignore. An hon. Gentleman who interrupted implied that that was a good thing. I am not discussing whether it is or not. I say that if you are going to make an alteration of that kind, which obviously must open the door to a large number of persons who do not at present apply for outdoor relief, you must make provision for finance to enable the local authorities to deal with it. Otherwise, the result will be a heavy increase in the burden of the rates, and at present there is no provision whatever in the Measure for providing local authorities with the necessary means. That is the first criticism which induces me to support the Amendment for the purpose of limiting the operation of the Clause to able-bodied 1026 persons, which broadly covers the area of unemployed persons.
There is a second matter. Does anybody imagine for a moment that this far-reaching alteration in the Poor Law will be temporary? The Bill is temporary, it is true, but it must be obvious that this alteration will be riveted upon the Poor Law without discussion or consultation with the local authorities and without any financial provision. The Minister's argument that if we do not carry the Subsection and if we introduce limiting words such as are proposed, we create new anomalies, is admitted. I do not think that even at the cost of that argument this ought to be done without taking the local authorities into consultation, finding out what the potential claims are likely to be, and introducing some measure to provide the finances in order that the local rates may not be increased for the purpose of financing this Subsection. The Minister speaks of anomalies, but does he imagine that even as it is the Clause does not permit anomalies? Under the Clause as it stands, the public assistance committee in one agricultural area can decide to take fully into account war pensions, workmen's compensation, capital accumulated as savings, houses and so on, while in a neighbouring jurisdiction a committee covering practically the same area is permitted to ignore those circumstances. So it is not a conclusive argument to say that this Amendment will create anomalies. They exist already under the Clause itself, and one must face the fact that in any circumstances an anomalous situation is going to be developed. By this Clause as it stands, we are making a far-reaching alteration in the Poor Law which will be permanent and which will deprive the Minister of the existing power of preventing local authorities from taking large stuns of money into account in the ease of the destitute and the old and infirm, and it will open the door to the introduction of a large number of claims upon the Poor Law which will result in the increasing of rates. This ought not to be done by a side wind in this way but by a Measure dealing with rates.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
I do not want to deal with the merits of the question, for I do not think it is in anyone's mind to modify in this Bill the whole basis of the Poor 1027 Law. I want to make a point in regard to the wording of the Amendment. If the Amendment is adopted,it shall be lawful, in granting outdoor relief to destitute able-bodied persons out of employment under the enactments relating to the Poor Law, to observe all or any of the rules requiredthose rules being rules which enable persons to be dealt with who are not destitute at all. The word "destitute" would prevent anyone coming up under this Sub-section and being treated in the way which the Sub-section intends. It intends that one of the rules that may he observed is that a certain allowance may be made when the value of the investments runs up even to £300. The person who has £300 in the bank is not a destitute person technically under the Poor Law. Therefore, it seems to me that if this Amendment is meant to mean what the Movers of it mean it to mean, they ought not to put in the word "destitute" because by implication it cuts out people a priori from any consideration of their case.
Duchess of ATHOLL
My name appears to the Amendment which has been called, and I wish to say that in the last few moments, since my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) so very well put his case, I have been in consultation with my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train) who moved the Amendment, and he authorises me to say that he does not wish the word "destitute" to be a stumbling block. It is a word that has always been in use in Scotland in regard to those applying for public assistance, but he recognises that in the new circumstances provided for in the Bill the word might not be appropriate in all cases. Therefore, he does not wish to insist on it. I think that my hon. and learned Friend and I really mean the same thing, and that the two Amendments are to the same purpose. I feel it difficult to add much to what my hon. and learned Friend has so well said, but perhaps I may be allowed to add a word from the Scottish point of view. It occurred to me at the outset in looking at the Bill, that it was inappropriate to make a big change in the present Poor Law of Scotland by a side wind.
The very first lines of the Bill indicate that it is to amend an Unemployment 1028 Insurance Act, and therefore the matters dealt with in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 appear to be dragged in. In Scotland, as in England, the Poor Law, or, as I much prefer to call it, the system of public assistance, has its roots deep down in the past. For centuries we have had some system of that kind. It has improved as time has gone on, and I do not venture to suggest that it could stand no more improvement, but I do say very strongly that a question of this magnitude, affecting the lives of thousands of people under such a very old system, should not have this alteration made in. it not only by a Bill which is brought forward to amend an insurance Act but by a Bill which is being rushed through Parliament, with a speed that seems to be almost unparalleled, as far as my Parliamentary experience goes. Further, it is a Bill which is admittedly only a temporary one. As my hon. and learned Friend has so well said, more generous terms given in a temporary Bill can with difficulty be taken back in a more permanent Measure. It seems to me that we are making these changes with really indecent haste.
Further, I suggest that this is a most unseasonable time at which to make changes of this magnitude in the system of public assistance. Unfortunately, we are living in a time of unparalleled financial difficulty, when the Government have found it necessary not only to make drastic economies in various Government Departments but to press every possible economy with great insistence on the local authorities; yet this is the time when, as I venture to say, with indecent haste, without any time for real consultation with the local authorities, and without making any provision for giving them additional assistance in view of the additional burdens which may be cast upon them, the Government come forward to rush these changes through Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart gave some figures relating to Glasgow, and other figures for that city were given by another hon. Friend of mine. I am not sure whether it has been made clear to the House that representatives of the Glasgow Corporation have said that, so far as they can estimate it, the extra charge which will be thrown on the city of Glasgow in respect of those already on the roll and the members of their 1029 families will be no less than £75,000 a year, and that is exclusive of additional charges that will have to be met on account of the additional numbers who will be brought on to the roll by these proposals.
Unquestionably, therefore, this Subsection will make a very heavy addition to the expenditure on public assistance in Glasgow at a time when the Glasgow Corporation have a special committee sitting to see what economies can be made. Is it fair to put local authorities up and down the country in that position? Can they believe that the Government are in earnest about the economies which they have stated publicly they are so anxious to secure? Further, it has been said that there is no public demand for this change in the Poor Law of Scotland. It was very justly put forward yesterday by representatives of the chief cities of Scotland that those who receive relief in Scotland under the Poor Law Act, 1845, have a right of appeal if they are not satisfied with the help they receive, and we were told that whereas the Glasgow Public Assistance Committee deal with hundreds of cases every week only about six in a week appeal against the assistance allotted to them, and usually the appeals are not on the question of the amount of out relief given but against their having been given assistance by way of indoor relief.
Then, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart pointed out, it is the practice of the Glasgow Corporation to give higher allowances to the legal poor than the able-bodied get, or than unemployment or transitional benefit. In Glasgow a man with a wife and five children, if he is one of the legal poor, gets 47s. 6d. a week, whereas a man with a wife and the same number in family who is in receipt of unemployment benefit gets 33s. 3d., and a man in receipt of transitional benefit who has been assessed for full benefit gets the same amount. The average wage in Glasgow is said to be not more than 36s. Therefore, those in Glasgow who come under the description of the legal poor are in a distinctly more favourable position than the unemployed, whether insured or whether uninsured. I cannot say whether that is the case in other areas, because there has not been time to ascertain it.
1030 This proposal in regard to the legal poor would probably also throw a considerable burden on rural areas, because, if an able-bodied person loses his employment in a rural area he is likely to drift to a town in search of work, and if he needs relief there he will have to get it from the public assistance committee of the town to which he has gone. I understand there is a possibility that areas in which there is much unemployment may get a larger block grant in respect of the additional burden this Bill proposes to throw upon them, but that additional assistance will not come to the rural areas, because they do not have much unemployment. There is very little work there, and if a man loses his employment in a rural area he is likely to go to a town.
Duchess of ATHOLL
No, there is no question of that, and the hon. Member has not got the figure correctly. The figure I gave for a man with a wife and five children was 47s. 6d. a week—40s. of pay and 7s. 6d. for rent. There is no question of reducing anybody.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Yes, but I was quoting the case of a man with a wife and five children, and therefore the hon. Member's interruption was not quite to the point. This Rill will throw an unknown and possibly a considerable burden upon rural areas without offering them any hope of the additional grant which, I understand, may inure to town areas where there is considerable unemployment. But we Scottish Members feel that the able-bodied unemployed stand in a somewhat different category from the ordinary poor. It is only in recent years that they have become eligible for relief. Therefore, their records have been kept entirely dis- 1031 tinct from the records of the ordinary poor, and their pay sheets are entirely separate. There is a case, we feel, for giving them the benefit of the additional allowances that the Bill would give to those who are upon transitional benefit. Some of us know only too well that these are days of increasing unemployment among agricultural labourers and those who work upon landed estates. We would not wish to stand in the way of those men receiving the additional allowances that the Bill proposes to give, and therefore we have moved this Amendment which will make the able-bodied poor, but not the ordinary poor, eligible for those allowances.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
On a point of Order. May I ask whether, in view of the Noble Lady's speech, you would be prepared to accept the withdrawal of this Amendment and to call mine? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has ruled against this Amendment as a practical proposition.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The question of the withdrawal of the Amendment is in the hands of the Committee. I suggest that the point might be met by a proposal to amend the Amendment. If the hon. and learned Member who has just put the question to me cared to propose an Amendment to the Amendment, in order to leave out the word "destitute," I think possibly that that might meet the case.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "destitute."
I do so in order that the Committee may be able to discuss the subject that it wishes to discuss.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Amendment before the Committee was to insert the words:to destitute able-bodied persons out of employment.The proposed Amendment to that Amendment is "to leave out the word 'destitute.'" If that Amendment were made, 1032 the Amendment which would then be before the Committee would be: to insert the words:to able-bodied persons out of employment.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am sorry, but we shall probably have a number of hon. Members getting up to speak, and we are likely to be in for a discussion. I have heard part of it. I want to bring the Committee back to reality. By the Act passed 12 months ago, persons applying for transitional benefit are put under the public assistance committees. They come willy-nilly under the destitution test of the Poor Law, without any question. Mere transfer to the public assistance committee puts them under the Poor Law destitution test. That is one thing. The Government have to some extent amended that, or they propose to do so by this Bill. The proposition in Subsection (2) of Clause l is that public assistance committees should have the power, which would not be obligatory upon them, I understand, to give the same right to non-insured persons as are possessed by persons who have been insured but who have run out of insurance.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for a moment, but I am quite sure that he will realise that he ought to confine his remarks to the question of the Amendment to the Amendment which is as to whether the word "destitute" should be in the proposed words or not.
§ The CHAIRMAN
May I make a suggestion to the Committee? I do not think there is very much difficulty. Possibly the Committee will be prepared to accept the Amendment to the Amendment, and there could then be a discussion upon the Amendment. If that is the general view of the Committee—
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
I understand that the suggestion of the Chairman would be acceptable for the convenience of the Committee, without prejudice to the major issue.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The Committee is dealing here with the principle of whether to include a destitute able-bodied person or an ordinary able-bodied person. I do not know how a person who is not destitute can be dealt with—perhaps some lawyer will tell me, and I say this quite respectfully—by a public assistance authority. I want to bring that point home to the Committee, because that is the crux of our opposition to this matter. If the Committee is going to say that a public assistance committee shall not take into account destitution, well, good luck! We shall support that with all our strength, because that is an alteration of the Poor Law for which I have been fighting for a very long time. It will, if it is carried, smash up all this family-income business. The reason for the family income being taken into account is that the persons who apply must be living under conditions of destitution. If the applicant is living in a family with means, it is regarded as the moral duty of the family to take care of that person. That it all wrong—quite wrong. If this is agreed to, I want it to apply not only to a man who is able-bodied but one who happens to be sick. If you put in the able-bodied—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I can only deal with the Amendment that is before the Committee. I expect that the Chairman will pull me up again if I start dealing with something with which the Amendment does not deal.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
So far as I understand it, we are at the present moment discussing a purely technical position. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) was not here when it was pointed out that the word "destitute" in this Amendment made it futile, and of no effect. It is now proposed as an Amendment to leave out that word in order that the Committee may consider an Amendment which is in the same terms. The Amendment which I have later on the Order Paper does, at 1034 any rate, make sense. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow the Committee's view to be taken on this question, all his arguments will be perfectly germane on the main point.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It may be that I am very dense, but I do not understand that the deletion of the word "destitute" from the Amendment makes any difference to the Poor Law as it is at present administered. The Poor Law as at present administered—and this is our whole charge—says that a person must be destitute before he can have any public assistance. That is the law as it is laid down by the Ministry of Health. I do not believe that they have any legal justification for it, but it has grown up, and, if any means are available to a person, he is not destitute according to the Orders and Rules under which public assistance is administered. Therefore, it does not matter whether the word "destitute" is left in or not; the position remains the same. If people go to the public assistance committee, they are dealt with there as destitute persons.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am going to stick to my point, because I know as much about this matter as the right hon. Gentleman. He has served under four Ministries, but I have served for 42 years as a Poor Law guardian, and know what I am talking about. I know that, if people go to the public assistance committee, they will, unless the House tonight changes it, be dealt with as destitute persons, or they will not be dealt with at all. My point is that it will be an iniquity if this Amendment is limited to able-bodied persons only. [Interruption.] I will sit down if somebody will tell me that it is not limited in that way.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
This is a Clause which tries to extend the relief that may be given under the Poor Law. I have not yet understood whether it is the desire of the Government that the Poor Law shall be relaxed in all cases, but, at any rate, the Amendment as originally moved proposed to confine the relaxation to certain cases. The Leader of the Opposition is perfectly right in saying that at present the Poor Law deals only with destitute persons, but this Clause, if it is carried, will surely mean that 1035 persons may be relieved even if they are not destitute—even if they have £300. The Clause as it stands represents a broadening of the area of the Poor Law and a broadening of the relief that may be given. Words were moved to limit that, and those words, as I maintain, are not only limiting words, but really make it impossible to broaden the Poor Law for any class, because, if you say it shall be lawful, in granting outdoor relief to destitute able-bodied uemployed, to make these relaxations, they will have to come within the class of destitute able-bodied unemployed before any relaxation can be made. My Amendment, by leaving out the word "destitute," would at any rate broaden the area of the possible relaxation. The Government may desire, when we come back to discuss the whole Amendment, to have the area of relaxation so broadened as to extend to everyone, but, at any rate, my proposal would make it possible, by leaving out the word "destitute," for the Clause to mean something, and at any rate to broaden to some extent the area of the people who may be relieved, whereas it may be that the Government want it broadened so as to embrace everyone under the Poor Law. It was pointed out, and I think, if I may say so, that the ruling is correct, that, with the word "destitute" left in, it is really technically impossible to broaden the area, that is to say, to deal with people who are no longer technically destitute. We all want to broaden it, and, if the word "destitute" is left in, we shall not be able to do so.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I understand that we are being allowed to discuss it—[Interruption]—that we only took this point in order that we might get on with the discussion. I understood that we were discussing the whole Amendment, and that it was taken in this way to enable Members to state their views.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must correct the right hon. Gentleman. We are not at 1036 the moment discussing the whole Amendment. We cannot discuss the Amendment as a whole until we have got rid of this small proposed Amendment to it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
With other words; and then it was proposed that the word "destitute" should be left out, and we agreed for the purposes of discussion—
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is why I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman once before. It seems to me that he is assuming that the Committee have amended the Amendment, but they have not done so; there has not been an opportunity of putting that question to the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman, if I understand him aright, wishes now to go back to the discussion of the whole Amendment when it has been amended by leaving out the word "destitute."
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not mind so long as the Committee can get into a position in which we shall be allowed to discuss the matter.
§ Mr. BATEY
I should like the Committee to understand clearly the meaning of the Amendment to the proposed Amendment. It seems to me that the Movers of the original Amendment have been caught in their own net. They have moved an Amendment to insert the words:destitute able-bodied persons out of employment.Their intention is clear. It is to confine the concessions which it is proposed to grant to people in receipt of transitional benefit to able-bodied poor only. We do not want them to be so confined; we want them to be given to the destitute as well; and I think we ought to divide the Committee on the question of the deletion of the word "destitute" from the Amendment.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
An Amendment has been moved to insert the words:destitute able-bodied persons.1037 At the present time a person who makes application for Poor Law relief must be destitute, as the Leader of the Opposition has stated. The point is that now the Government are extending the procedure to three classes, but they must still be destitute. The Government now are saying, in effect, that a person can be destitute even although he has £300. It is no use superior people shaking their heads; that is what it means. Transitional payment is Poor Law relief on a national scale, and, to get Poor Law relief on a national scale a person must he destitute. Destitution applies to State relief as well as to local relief. The Bill makes no sense if you amend the Amendment, because it demolishes in the most effective fashion your original position that it is State relief. If it is State relief, you have no right to grant it to these people, because they are not destitute—either that or it is not State relief. I often feel ashamed of my race when I see the meanness of Scottish people. I have seen nearly every wage-cutting movement come from employers who are Scottish. It is a shameful and a shocking thing.
The two main classes are those with disability pensions and workmen's compensation. The other class will not be covered much by it. A man has a disability pension of 30s. a week for himself. If he is fit and able-bodied, he is allowed to retain 15s. and to get 15s. 3d. If he is a sick ex-service man, he gets the Poor Law scale, which is a week in Glasgow, so that he gets 10s. 3d. less. Can anyone defend that? The Government say that they give power to the local authorities to do this if they want to do it, though there may be cases where they do not want to do it, and no one compels them to do it. We ought to have the power to say that a sick ex-service man shall be no less well off than an able-bodied ex-service man. Is there anything unfair in that? Would anyone say that a person who is sick and has workmen's compensation is to be any less well off than another who is able-bodied? The labour market is over-weighted and that type should not be forced on to it. The hon. Member is going to push sick men on to the labour market. If a man with a 30s. pension is certified sick by the Poor Law doctor, he will go to his panel doctor and worry him to certify him able so that he can 1038 get 10s. more. An able-bodied man with a pension of £1 will get 10s., plus 15s. 3d., which is 25s. 3d., whereas, if he is sick, he will only get £1 and he will be 5s. 3d. worse off. Can the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) deny it? A deputation came and made an appeal to a number of hon. Members opposite. I am one of a small group, but, whatever is said of me, I have applied myself to my work. I have tried to understand the Poor Law and the methods of the Employment Exchanges. Someone is needed to defend the so-called wastrels and so long as I am here I will defend what are supposed to be the very bad ones. The deputation came and saw Conservative Members, but they would not see me. I am not sure about the £75,000, neither is the Noble Lady. She has no facts on which to base her conclusions.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
You have an estimate from the people who want to kill the Clause. Do you think people who are going to kill the Clause would make it £10,000? Of course, they will make it £75,000 to kill it. They want to kill the thing, and they have to make their case. If they think you know nothing about it, they will tell you anything they like. They would not tell that to the Ministry of Health, who could examine the figures. I ask the Committee not to carry this Amendment. To place a sick ex-service man in a worse condition than an able-bodied ex-service man is an anomaly of which no one can approve. It may be that we are making an innovation and that it is being done by means of a side wind, but, apart from that fact, it should be remembered that the Measure will only operate until June of next year, after which a new law will come into effect. Therefore, let us have the experience of working this Measure, and, whatever the Government do on this occasion, they should at least see that the Bill remains as it is and that it is given a genuine try out. We should not listen to these extraordinary figures. They may be right or they may be wrong.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I have finished now. As far as destitution is concerned, the Amendment about which there is all the squabbling really does not affect the matter. I make no apology for repeating what the Leader of the Opposition said before the Bill was brought in, that a man had to be destitute in order to get transitional payment. What has happened is that the term "destitute" has been extended so as not to apply to three classes. Instead of juggling with the question of whether the word "destitute" should be in or out those who are responsible for the Measure should proceed to pass it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Cannot we agree to take out the word "destitute" so that we can discuss the Amendment?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If we do not take it out we cannot discuss the Amendment. I understand that you can only withdraw one Amendment at a time. I wish to discuss the main Amendment. If hon. Members want to vote, let us vote, but do not let us go on all night.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
I agree that the Debate has ranged over a wide field, and I regret that there is no Law Officer of the Crown on the Front Bench to give us some information as to the actual law so far as England and Wales is concerned. The word "destitute" in the Amendment does not affect the position so far as Scotland is concerned. I wish to know whether the law in England and Wales is such that a man must be destitute before he can receive Poor Law relief. If the law is as I understand it, I think that as far as England and Wales is concerned the word "destitute" should come out. I hope that someone on the Front Bench will be able to get up and tell us authoritatively the law regarding England and Wales and if it makes any difference to England and Wales whether the word "destitute" remains in or not?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. Shakespeare)
As far as we are concerned in England, the addition of the word "destitute" makes no difference. The Sub-section of the Clause runs:It shall he lawful, in granting outdoor relief.1040 These words are only in respect of destitute persons, and to add the word "destitute" in front of the words "able bodied" in the Amendment is sheer redundancy. Therefore, I suggest, in order to facilitate discussion on the main Amendment, which we all want, that the Amendment to the proposed Amendment should be withdrawn.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
After the authoritative statement of the hon. Gentleman, which differed very much from another authoritative statement which I obtained in the House, I wish, of course, to withdraw my Amendment to the proposed Amendment. I moved it in order to enable the Clause to be widened. I was afraid that if the Amendment was carried it would make it impossible in England to give any relaxation of the Poor Law. I am now assured that that is not so, and I shall be perfectly happy to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That these words be there inserted."
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I hope very much that the limiting Amendment will not be carried. If it is carried it will mean that only the men out of work will get the advantage which the other men are getting. It will mean that only able-bodied unemployed men who are not and never have been insured will be able to get the advantages of the rest of the Act. I wish to join in the appeal made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I was trying to make the appeal but I was ruled out of order—[Interruption.] As long as the appeal has been made it is all right, but I wish to emphasise it, because I know that if the public assistance authorities in London have this power it will prove a very great blessing to many people. I think that I should have tried to persuade my friends to vote for the Bill if the money for the purpose of this Clause was to have been found by the Treasury, because I know that then it would have been operative throughout the country. Local authorities, when money is found by the Treasury, as a rule spend it on the object for which it is voted, but when we knew that this was to be permissive we realised that there would be the opposition which has been voiced here to-day. 1041 It is a rather mean opposition because it is against the most helpless of the people.
I do not want to give individual cases, but it means definitely that if you limit this Clause you leave out the sick, the aged, and the partially disabled persons and put them into the category of Poor Law destitution, which is something this House would not consciously do. If you are to do a generous thing by the able-bodied, surely to goodness you will not do a less generous thing to those who are more helpless. That is the position with which the Amendment really has to deal. On the question of money, if there is a local authority which will face its electors on this subject, it need not even give the money to the agricultural labourer or to the railway worker. If it feels that money is so important, it need not give it to the disabled or to anybody, because the matter is purely permissive. If the local authorities are so sure that public opinion in their areas is against it, they will never act upon it.
I cannot see why the Clause should not stand as it is. If you limit it in this way, you will make the Bill much more pernicious. If it had been affirmative and they must do it, and the money had been found by the Treasury, I repeat that I should have felt inclined to have begged of my hon. Friends to vote for the Bill, even though the rest of it was as bad in some respects as we think it is. This is really something which, if the local authorities will operate it, will help the sick, the aged, and all kinds of people who at present are only living from hand to mouth. I do not know what the Government will say about it. I hope that they will stick to their guns, and not give way on this. Poor people, apart altogether from the ex-service people, are in a bad enough way, but the ex-service people and those who are sick, or who are suffering from any disability, ought not to be forced on to the Poor Law. I think it is a disgrace to the country that any ex-service men should have to go to the Poor Law at all under any sort of conditions. They have earned some better treatment than that, but if this is carried you are going to leave those who are least able to defend themselves in a worse position than the able-bodied.
Let me say one word about this destitution business. It is no use our saying to the public assistance commit- 1042 tees what they can or cannot do because, with the audit law as it is at present, the auditor has the last word on the subject. I know from experience that auditors take the view that there must be sheer destitution, and many of them in England do not give remission of the health insurance money or the health benefit society money that the law lays down. They find reason for saying that you have taken something into account which balances, or rather writes off the relief that the Act of Parliament gives. I am speaking of what I know of London, and. I am confident that they take everything into account, as is shown by the letter of the chairman of the public assistance committee in London, which appeared in the "Times." He put the case a few, days ago absolutely clearly, namely, that you have to see that the applicant has not got anything in his pocket. The result is that when the disabled person goes to the public assistance authorities, his pension and the pensions of those living in the house with him or any other income is taken into account.
You are asking that that shall be struck out only for the able-bodied. I beg the Committee not to do so mean a thing. I do not believe there is anyone who wants consciously to do anything mean to these people, but the Committee will be doing a very mean thing indeed if they carry the Amendment that is being discussed now. I repeat that the Committee is not compelling local authorities to do this, but only giving them the right to do it if the ratepayers in their district back them up. I believe that the overwhelming number of ratepayers, direct and indirect, would cheerfully pay this money in order that the sick and disabled might have a better chance.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES REID
I should not venture for a moment to support this Amendment if it meant mean or shabby treatment to anybody, and we rather resent the accusation that because we wish to do things in a businesslike and not an un-businesslike manner we are therefore being mean or shabby. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Poor Law has stood in exactly the same position for the last 12 years. Both the able-bodied and the people who are not able- 1043 bodied have been under the present disability during two Labour Governments and not one word was said for bettering their lot. On the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) issued his Circular on this very point in regard to the Poor Law in 1930. It was read by the Minister of Labour last night, and there is not one word about the concessions which are now being given. It does not lie in the mouths of others to reproach us with meanness when we are at least taking away a part of the grievances which have existed without anything being done by their Government. This matter has got to be tackled in a businesslike way, and in two halves. The first half of it deals with the able-bodied who are in the same position, to all intents and purposes, as the people who are getting transitional payment. The whole justification which was put forward by the Minister of Health for making any change at all was founded on the case of these able-bodied poor. Not one word was said about any injustice of any kind being suffered by anybody who was not able-bodied.
Therefore, the immediate problem is to deal with the able-bodied. They can be dealt with at present quite easily, because we hope they will ultimately be taken out of the Poor Law altogether, and accordingly any temporary modification of the Poor Law can be dropped as soon as that permanent modification is made. When we come to the case of the sick and infirm, people who always must remain out of the Poor Law, however much you may alter the way in which the Poor Law is administered, then, why make temporary upsets of this kind? What is going to happen at the end of this temporary Measure? Is there going to be a withdrawal of any privileges that are given to the aged and infirm? Obviously not. Are they to be included within the scope of the new Unemployment Insurance Bill, a Bill which has nothing whatever to do with the aged and infirm and in the scope of which they would be completely out of place, or are they to be included in the scope of a second Bill, namely, a Poor Law Bill to put the Poor Law on a permanent and just foundation? If that is the position, surely seeing that the present posi- 1044 tion has endured ever since the War, it can endure for a few weeks or a few months longer until we make up our minds what we are going to do permanently?
At present, in the view of the Minister of Health, the people in receipt of Poor Law relief seem to divide themselves into three classes. You have, first, the able-bodied unemployed. Everybody agrees that in regard to this Amendment they ought to be treated in the same way as people getting transitional payments. Then you have the class of people who are not deserving—the word "wasters" was used by the Minister as describing some of that class—and I think everybody agrees that they are not as individuals to get the benefit of any of these concessions. That was said by the Minister, and I take it that is the intention of the Government. Then you have a large and intermediate class of people who are not undeserving. On the contrary, they are people who are deserving in hard cases, but who are not on the labour market, and do not come within the scope of any permanent Bill intended to deal with unemployment insurance. They are the people who are, apparently, to get special treatment of a temporary nature. If that is the scheme, as I understand it to be, it is going to be extraordinarily difficult for any local authority to draw a distinction between the deserving poor, who are to get the concessions, and the undeserving poor or wasters who are not to get the concessions.
§ Mr. REID
I am not putting the blame on anybody. The Bill as it stands will be exceedingly difficult to work and will lead to many anomalies as between one area and another, because the problem proposed in the Bill for each local authority is this, that when each individual case comes before them the public assistance committee will have to decide: "Is this man deserving, in which case we will give him the concessions, or is he an undeserv- 1045 ing man, in which case we will not give him the concessions." That is an invidious and extremely difficult task to put on the shoulders of any public assistance committee, and it will necessarily lead to anomalies and dissatisfaction.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The position is this, that a Poor Law authority will be able to apply this rule if they like to an ex-service man and to workmen's compensation cases in their area, but in the case of a Poor Law person who is, they think, undeserving—I use the term "undeserving" because it is a little less harsh than that of "waster." [Interruption.] Well, the Minister used that word first—it will not be lawful for the Poor Law authority after the passing of this Act to grant any relief to a man if they come to the conclusion that he is undeserving. That is the position, and therefore it does not enter into this discussion at all.
§ Mr. J. REID
I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. I will read what the Minister of Health said last night, and I take it that he knows the law in this matter. He said:I have argued that there is a big class of those in receipt of public assistance who are indistinguishable on the merits of their cases from those who are in receipt of transitional payments. They ought to receive the concessions,"—All of us agree with that.but we have to recognise that there is another class of those who are in receipt of Poor Law relief from public assistance committees who are not on all fours with those receiving transitional payment. How shall I describe them? I will describe them as a class which has among them an element of wasters, those who will not work, those with whom the Poor Law should deal with as deterrent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November. 1932; col. 873, Vol. 270.]
§ Mr. REID
I am taking the Minister's own view, and he ought to know how the law is being administered. It seems to me that this intermediate class must be dealt with in a very different way from the way proposed by the Bill. If you are 1046 going to draw a distinction between people all of whom are unemployed, some of whom are deserving and some undeserving, you are putting on the shoulders of public assistance committees a burden which is invidious, and which they ought not to be called upon to bear. If, on the other hand, the intention of the Government is that everybody is to get these concessions, whether they are deserving or not, why not make the subsection mandatory? The only reason that has been suggested from the Government Bench, and so far as it goes it is a good reason, is because there are certain individuals who the Government think ought not to get these concessions. If that is so, what we ought to search for is a workable disinction between the class which are to get the concession and the class who are not to get the concession.
The distinction of checking the able-bodied people who are in the labour market on the one hand and those who are not in the labour market on the other hand, is perfectly workable. It has been worked in Scotland for 11 years without any difficulty. Although there is no administrative machinery in England to work it, it would not be in the least difficult. Surely, what Scotland can do England can do with a little trouble. Neither Scotland nor England nor any public assistance committee anywhere is competent to tackle the job of deciding whether hundreds of applicants who appear before the committees are individually deserving or undeserving. There are only two possible ways of dealing with this matter from the point of view of administrative convenience. One is to draw a line between the men who are in the labour market and those who are not in the labour market, and the other is to say that everybody is to get the concessions, wheher they are deserving or not.
If it is said that by drawing a line where I suggest between the people who are in the labour market and those who are not it would deprive the unfortunate aged and sick of benefits which the Government wish to give them, I would say that the proper way to deal with that matter is to have a full investigation and a new Bill to deal with those people. If it is found on investigation, and there has been very little investigation before 1047 this Bill was introduced, that those people are being harshly treated, I should not for a moment oppose but, on the contrary, I should enthusiastically support any measure to give them fair and proper treatment. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is willing to agree that if the experiment is found not to succeed, these concessions should be withdrawn, and if he will guarantee that there will not be any complaints if they are withdrawn, well and good. You must conduct experiments of this kind and if you once start them must you go on with them, whether they are successful or not?
I urge very strongly from the point of view of convenience for the future that a different line of demarcation should be taken from that which the Government have suggested. I would not make that suggestion if it meant being shabby or mean to anyone. Along with that suggestion I would add the further suggestion that the Government should make a complete investigation of any complaints or grievances that there may be regarding the present administration of the Poor Law so far as concerns the non-able bodied, and that we should have a separate Bill dealing with those people in a separate way, and giving them justice.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
I think the Committee will agree that so far we have had an extremely interesting, important and lively Debate on this Amendment. If I rise now to deal with the subject from the Scottish point of view, it is because all the names to the Amendment are those of Scottish Members and a large number of, if not all, the speeches delivered in support have been from Members who sit for Scottish constituencies. There is a good reason why an Amendment in this particular language should be followed specially by Scottish Members. In practice there has existed for the last 11 years a distinction in administration between the relief of the able-bodied poor and what are called in Scottish parlance, the ordinary poor. I will not take the Committee into the historical region beyond saying that before the present time the able-bodied poor were not a subject of relief in Scotland. Since 1921 they have been.
1048 In practice there has been, I think, in the case of all the public assistance authorities in Scotland different lists for the administration of relief as between the legal ordinary poor and the able-bodied poor. Further, in many districts of Scotland the ordinary poor are relieved upon a more generous scale than the able-bodied poor, but it would be hard to find any legal foundation for that practice. It is an example of the practical good sense of Scottish public assistance committees and the general elasticity of the Scottish Poor Law system, but legally there is no distinction between the treatment of ordinary poor and able-bodied poor in Scotland. I do not think, however, that anyone will quarrel with the distinction which many Poor Law authorties in Scotland have made in giving a more generous scale to the infirm poor. In the absence of any legal foundation the case for the Amendment drops. But the argument against the Amendment is, I confess, in many ways attractive because it would perpetuate the distinction made in Scotland between the ordinary poor and the able-bodied poor—[Interruption]—but attractive for that reason only, not for the sinister reason which seems to present itself to the minds of hon. Members opposite.
Everyone who faces the problem raised by the Amendment is brought sharply up against the most serious question, the position of the ex-service man, the disability pensioner. So far as the Poor Law is concerned it is now optional under the Bill for public assistance committees to give the same measure of relief, that is, 50 per cent., which is mandatory in the case of transitional payments, but if the Committee were to accept the Amendment the public assistance committee would not have the option in the case of the disability pensioner as they would have if he were one of the able-bodied poor. It may be said that there cannot be many ex-service men who are likely to become legal poor, that is people who cease to be able-bodied. I have not the figures for the whole of Scotland, but I have figures for Glasgow, which are accurate, and the disability pensioners in Glasgow who are receiving ordinary relief are 450, a not inconsiderable number. It would be very difficult to justify an adverse distinction in the case of a disability pensioner who 1049 had to fall out of able-bodied relief, and say that he shall not have the advantage of this concession while his able-bodied comrade has. I commend that serious consideration to hon. Members who have brought forward the Amendment.
I was impressed by the argument used by the Noble Lady the Member for West Perthshire (Duchess of Atholl) that we were making a very drastic alteration in the Poor Law of Scotland by a side wind and in a Bill which deals with a very different problem. That kind of criticism to legislation is always formidable, but in this case there are considerations, the importance of which I think the Noble Lady will understand. In the first place this interference with the Poor Law is optional only. In the second place, it is not the first time that Parliament has legislated with regard to Scottish Poor Law in an Act other than a Poor Law Act. The case which will at once occur to hon. Members is the disregard of the first 7s. 6d. of national health insurance, which was incorporated, so far as England is concerned, in a Poor Law Act but which, as far as Scotland is concerned, still remains under the National Health Insurance Act of 1924. That was a compulsory provision stating definitely the amount that should be disregarded, and, therefore, the Noble Lady will feel that the action which is being taken here, purely optional in character, is far less drastic and less open to the criticisms which have been made than the earlier action of another Parliament.
We have in Scotland administering public assistance a body of men and women of great capacity who are contributing a notable work to the public services, especially in view of the extra duties which have been placed upon them. To such a body of men and women it is perfectly justifiable on the part of Parliament to give the option which this Sub-section proposes. In my judgment the essence of successful administration of public assistance is to leave to public assistance authorities a large area for the exercise of their own judgment. After only a year of close contact with the question of public assistance I am convinced that, as far as Scotland is concerned, it is a wise step on the part of Parliament to give them this option and to leave in their hands this exercise of judgment.
1050 For my own part, and speaking for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has asked me to speak on this occasion because in our division of work at the Scottish Office matters regarding the Poor Law fall particularly to the Under-Secretary—in this matter we felt that it was impossible and unjustifiable to adopt in Scotland measures and provisions other than those which were to be adopted in the South. I cannot think that it would be wise or right that there should be any possibility of different treatment, say, in the case of the ex-service man with a disability pension just because that man happened to be a Scotsman and lived north of the Tweed I do not think that for the purpose of maintaining the historic distinctions and characteristics of Scottish Poor Law, the merits and importance of which I am perfectly satisfied with, we should have been right or justified in adopting the view that the disability pensioner north of the Tweed was to run the risk of treatment less adequate than that accorded to his comrade south of the Tweed. That is not a position which would be seriously faced either by Scottish Members of Parliament or public assistance authorities or the Scottish public.
I sincerely appreciate the view that I know is held by many public assistance authorities in Scotland that the Scottish Poor Law, with its great traditions, its long record of good service, and its very sound principles, is a. thing which should be interfered with as little as possible, even by way of option. But we live in a post-War world that is not the same as the pre-War world, and one of the main features of distinction in this matter is that in the pre-War world there was not a great mass of disability pensioners. Here is a new feature in our social life, and. alas, sometimes in our public assistance life. I am certain that when the authorities in Scotland and the Scottish public in general face up to the question, much as they may admire and revere the ancient principles of Scottish Poor Law, they could not accept a position for the Scottish ex-service pensioner less favourable than that which the pensioner will receive in this country.
§ Sir J. LAMB
I do not wish to delay the Committee, but I must make a pro- 1051 test, for this is the first time during the 10 years I have been in this House that a Minister has got up to reply to an Amendment and has addressed himself entirely to the Scottish aspect of the case. The Under-Secretary said that he intended to do so, and he has done so, and entirely ignored the very able speech made by my hon. Friend—
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend. I have adopted exactly the procedure which was adopted in an earlier Debate. I then intervened to discuss the matter from the Scottish point of view, and at a later stage it was discussed from the English point of view.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir J. LAMB
I hope we are going to receive a reply from the English point of view, because this is not an Amendment which affects Scotland and Scotland only. Those who have supported the Amendment have not had the opportunity of putting their names to it, the Amendments not having been seen. I hope that this Amendment will be considered on its merits. So far as I am concerned, the principal merit of the Amendment is that it is a limiting Amendment, limiting the provision to the able-bodied man who is not eligible for transitional payment and is making an application for Poor Law relief. Those are the people for whom the Clause was justified, and those are the people, who, we think, should remain in. But we do not wish the provision to be carried over a very much wider area. Now the ex-service man has been brought in. That may be a good case, but it is the duty of the Government to see that these ex-service men are included, if they see fit to do so and not to criticise the Amendment because we have not included them.
What the Amendment does is to create a very great change. I am not going to debate now whether that change is wise or not. Undoubtedly the people who are best able to state what the effect of the Amendment will be are the local authorities who have the administration of the Poor Law. They have not had an opportunity of considering this matter so fully as to enable them to express their opinions to us. What they are not agreed upon is the effect of the Bill in its entirety, but they are agreed that if this 1052 Clause is carried without the Amendment it will undoubtedly add considerably to the local rates. That is something which it is not only our privilege but our duty to consider with very great care, and we have not had an opportunity of doing so. We are told that this is only a temporary Measure, but when great changes are to be made we ought to be very careful. It would be very much better to allow the status quo to remain for the present. Otherwise, when the new Bill comes before the House we may have to retract something which has Already become law. This Bill is being pushed through in special circumstances which give us very little time to consider it fully, as it should be considered. We want to do justice to certain classes of men, and we wish to support the Bill, but in our loyalty to the Government we ought not to be penalised by being called upon to do something which is a very great change and which we think it would be better to delay until next Session.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
Although a very junior Member I cannot help feeling that the action of the Government in this matter is extraordinary. Poor Law is one of the oldest branches of the law in this country. It is dynamite in any branch; you can hardly touch any part of it without great danger. I never expected to live to see an overwhelming Conservative majority going into the Lobby in favour of a Clause which drives a coach-and-four through the fundamental principles of the Poor Law. We are discussing the Clause under such conditions that even the Amendments have to be in manuscript. I support the Amendment as going some way towards improving a sub-section which seems extraordinarily bad and which I would like to see out of the Bill altogether. I am not, however discussing its merits now, but it seems extraordinary that those merits should not have been discussed. This Clause makes a change in the basis of the Poor Law and it is not a question of how many people it affects. It is a question of principle. The Poor Law has always rested on an intelligible principle, the principle—let it be good, bad or indifferent—of destitution. We are now introducing the principle that where there is £300 you take off la. a week. I ask the Committee if £300, why not £3,000? If is a week why not 2s. or 1053 10s.? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not £5,000 a year?"] Why not? Where is the principle involved? The principle of destitution is at least a principle, but here by a side wind and in a great hurry we are introducing what everybody knows cannot be merely a temporary change in the basis of the Poor Law. The number of people who will be affected is irrelevant to the point that this is a very bad way of doing business and a dangerous precedent.
I wish to add one other point. Not only has there been no time for discussion in Parliament or consultation with the local authorities. This proposal has not been advised by the Royal Commission, but actually, by implication, has been opposed by them. I would draw the attention of the Committee to the significant fact that the Royal Corn-mission's proposal was not that the Poor Law should be amended in order to make this provision. They carefully proposed leaving the Poor Law as it is, pending any future amendment of it that may be advised. They proposed something wholly different, namely, taking a whole section of people out of the Poor Law. Whether that proposal is right or wrong does not at the moment concern us, but what the Government propose to do is to leave certain people in the Poor Law and make a complete change in the way in which they are to be dealt with by the Poor Law. That is not, I submit, a reasonable method of procedure. With regard to the point made by the Leader of the Opposition as to the hardship on certain people I have never believed that there was any real strength in the contention that people who were put off transitional payment ought not to go on the Poor Law. If the guardians are too hard-hearted or too incompetent to handle the able-bodied young man who can go and demonstrate they are not fit to discharge the other duties. I do not believe that there is anything in that point at all, but I do not want to go into that with the right hon. Gentleman now. I submit that as far as the proposals of the Royal Commission are of any value at all, they are directly against the right hon. Gentleman in this matter, and I submit that nothing has been put forward to the Committee which even begins to justify us in departing from their recommendations and upsetting the whole basis 1054 of this complicated branch of the law without any proper discussion or consultation.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
For the sake of clarity, may I ask the hon. Member why he did not object to the Bill as a whole? Every word that he has said about this Clause breaking into the Poor Law applies to the rest of the Bill.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I quite realise that and I did object to the Bill as a whole. I did not vote for it, and I very nearly voted against it but I thought that would not be the proper thing to do.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I have been out of order once or twice already this evening, but I hope on this occasion with the indulgence of the Chair to be able to keep in order. It seems to me that an attempt is being made to segregate the poor into compartments and deal with them as though one lot were good, another lot indifferent, and the rest bad. I have heard the word "wastrel" used by those who are experts in that connection—people who, all their lives, have been doing nothing and doing it very well, and drawing big incomes for doing it. Yet, they come here and talk about common people as "wastrels." Hon. Members are very generous to-night in that they are now going to allow the public assistance committees to do something which those committees have already been trying to do in very difficult circumstances I have been for five years a member of a board of guardians, now a public assistance committee—a new name for an old system. The committees are now to be told that they are allowed to do things which they were not allowed to do before; that whether people are able-bodied poor or non-able-bodied poor the committees are to be allowed to arrive at some realisation of their actual position on sympathetic grounds. Agreed, but who is to find the money That has not been suggested by any who have spoken, except on this side.
West Ham is one of the poorest places which has to deal with this problem. We have 20,000 registered unemployed and before the year ends at least 5,000 of those will have exhausted their benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act and will automatically be compelled to 1055 go to the public assistance committee. Last year after meeting all our responsibilities for those transferred from transitional payment to the public assistance committee, we discovered, at the end of the year, when we made up our budget, that we were £54,000 out, mainly because of the cost of that administration. This year our borough treasurer, one of the smartest in the country, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to our local authority, estimates that we shall be down £74,000, which means one shilling in the pound increase upon our present rates. We are being pilloried in the London Press—the kind of Press that goes in for "stunts"—because we are highly rated. We are highly rated because we have a high proportion of poverty. The people who make their money out of West Ham, take good care not to live there. They go to all parts of the South of England; they live in Epping Forest or in some of the suburbs of London, though their wealth comes out of the people who live in the district which I represent and similar districts.
You can pass any sympathetic legislation you like, but when it comes to paying the Bill, it all comes back finally to poor old Phil Garlick. He has to find the money. Some of those who are now looking down their noses and smiling know that I am telling the truth. Some of them used to represent East London constituencies but they soon got tired of it, or the people got tired of them, and they found more salubrious places where they could get votes from "mugs." The Poor Law is undergoing a revolution, and hon. Members here say it is a complete revolution. I agree, but the revolution is going to be paid for by the common people in their own districts. Some of us would like to see the whole system of the relationship of poverty to the State revolutionised and everybody in the community bearing his or her fair share of the maintenance of the poor, but instead of that, under our present relationship, the poor have to keep the poor, and the poorer the district the greater the burden.
I was down in South Wales last week on propaganda work—you cannot do much here—and I went to districts where there was practically no work at all for anybody. Even shopkeepers told me that they were on the verge of bankruptcy 1056 because the people had nothing to spend, and that they themselves were on the verge of having to apply for relief to the public assistance committee to keep them going until better times came. There are whole districts of that kind. After all, to say that the poor districts may be more generous in their own localities is an insult to them, and you ought to give them a little assistance nationally, The time will have to come, and will come, even before some of us have shuffled off this Parliamentary coil, when the nation will have to face up to its responsibilities and not keep on playing about with the problem and trying to make the poor districts keep their own poor, as is being done gradually by the proposals now before the Committee.
They say to us, "You have a lot of poor people here, and you must be more generous to them," but that means that we must be less generous with the other lot. The people who cannot help themselves cannot be helped so much because we are to spend more on the able-bodied people. I do not object to helping everybody so far as we are able, and we are doing our best in that direction, but those who are proposing this Amendment to try to tighten up the situation, and the hon. Members who are finding fault with their own Government, who are responsible for this Bill because it costs them nothing—they are always generous with the people in their own localities—say, "Now you can be more generous of you like."Live horse, and you will get grass.The whole situation is ridiculous, and that is why I said, in the first place, when the Chairman of Committees called me to order, as he generally does, because be is a lawyer and I am not—I do not mean the present Chairman, because Captain Bourne has always been—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
It is not in order for the hon. Member to make personal references to the Chair.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I must remind the hon. Member that it is not in order either to compliment or to reprobate the Chair.
§ Mr. JONES
Then I shall have to be very careful what I say in the future, and pay no more compliments. So far as the principle of this Amendment is concerned, we accept that we should give greater opportunities to local authorities that want to do something, but when it comes to finding the means to do it, what help shall we get from the National Government? Are they going to assist us to meet the increased burden that is being placed upon us? I suggest that if that was proposed, a number of those who are supporting the Amendment would not be found in the same Lobby as we shall be. The nation must face up to its responsibilities in this matter, and if you are going to be generous to one section of the poor, you should not limit your generosity to one section only, but be generous to all, and face the common danger that now presents itself.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
Having given a good deal of thought to this question, and having been very doubtful about the proposal of the Government, I propose to vote against the Amendment. So far as English Members are concerned, what has chiefly disturbed us in this purely temporary Measure is the fear of creating a precedent, but as between two new things, I prefer the new precedent of the Bill to the new precedent of the Amendment. My hon. Friend opposite appeared to think that it was an advantage in the Amendment that it more or less committed the House to the proposals of the Royal Commission, but I am not prepared after three days' study of the Commission's Report to commit myself to their proposals. It seems to me that the proposal in the Bill, doubtful as it is, creates far less of a precedent, a precedent which it will be far easier to depart from in future if the House makes up its mind to depart from it when it comes to permanent legislation, than it will be to depart from the creation of a new legal category of able-bodied—new both in this country and in Scotland. That seems to be a far more dangerous precedent than anything which arises out of this rather hasty piece of legislation.
I hope that the Government recognise how seriously doubtful we feel about the extension of these concessions to the whole body of destitute poor without any distinction at all. There should be a 1058 distinction, and we should regularise in legislation the anomalies of the past. It is a fact that there is at present an anomaly in forbidding public assistance committees to take into account the first 7s. 6d. of national health insurance, and yet requiring them to take into account the means of persons who do not happen to be fortunate enough to be insured. We feel very doubtful about the whole tendency in public assistance legislation, and the Minister will have to meet the close and rigid scrutiny of the House when he brings forward his permanent proposals.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
The Committee will remember that when we were discussing this Bill on Second Reading, I used words to the effect that there would be an opportunity for considering detailed criticisms and proposals for the amendment of the Bill in Committee. That opportunity has now presented itself. The Debate this evening has followed two lines. There was, first, the Scottish approach, which has been fully dealt with by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and there is nothing I can add without the expert knowledge which is necessary in order to deal with Scottish administrative problems. Then there are the wider aspects of the criticisms which have been addressed to the Committee, and I want to deal with these since they cover the general principles of this sub-section. I will certainly attempt to deal with them in the spirit indicated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), that is, the spirit of joining with the Committee and discussing with them—and I trust satisfying them upon—questions which must naturally occur to all of us in connection with legislation which is admittedly so novel as this.
Before I deal with the Amendment, let me, in order to put our deliberations on the right basis, recall the other aspect which I have always had to emphasise in dealing with this sub-section, and that is that we are dealing here, not with a proposal which stands alone on its own merits, but with a proposal which tries to answer the question, "What is the best thing to do in respect of the rules of public assistance when we are agreed, in the main body of the Bill, to make a big change in the law 1059 regarding the basis of transitional payments?" We are not dealing with this subject in a vacuum, as it were. We have to consider what is the minimum—I freely say so—that we have to do with regard to the law of public assistance when we are making this big innovation in the law of transitional payments, in order to avoid flagrant and unjustifiable inequalities which would bring the administration of the law into disregard and which, as I said before, it would be impossible really to enforce.
On that basis, let me turn to the actual Amendment. Though I do not complain of it because I think it is very natural, the Debate to-night has to some extent turned rather upon general principles, and we have heard a certain number of arguments, of great interest in themselves, which nevertheless were not directed to the basic principle of the Bill and of the Clause. As I say, I do not complain of that, because I think we all recognise that this is a Bill which is being passed in less than the usual time, but we also know that the House has approved of that, and approved it for the very good reason that there is something here to be set right, and that it has to be dealt with in the course of the present Session, which is now rapidly drawing to a close.
Let me direct myself to the actual proposals in this Amendment. I believe I shall be able to satisfy the Committee that the proposals ought not to be accepted, for two reasons: in the first place, because they would not do justice in the cases which we have to consider; and, in the second place, because they would be really almost impossible of administration. The purpose of this Amendment, which was very clearly expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) was, as I understand it, to limit the concessions made in respect of Poor Law relief to those cases which come up for public assistance and are comparable to the cases which receive assistance under the transitional payments scheme. If I may say so, I welcome that purpose, because that was the purpose of the Clause as I described it to the House in previous stages of the Bill.
1060 10.30 p.m
But I have to suggest to the Committee, for its most mature consideration, that, as a matter of fact this Amendment will achieve no such purpose. It will completely fail to do two things, either to achieve the purpose of limiting concessions to cases which are comparable to the transitional payments cases in the first place, or, secondly, to remedy those gross inequalities which, as I have told the House, must inevitably arise if we do not adopt this Clause unlimited by the present Amendment. Let me deal with the last point first—that is, that gross inequalities, gross injustices would arise under this Amendment if it were passed, just those inequalities which the Subsection was designed to avoid. I said, in speaking to the House on the Clause, that I would deal with this specific proposal, because I knew that it had been put forward in very responsible quarters—the proposal to limit the public assistance concessions to the able-bodied poor. I said that it would work injustice, and for this reason: Take that phrase "the able-bodied poor." Why should you give a concession to the able-bodied, and deny it to those who, by reason of sickness or of old age, are not able-bodied, but in whose cases there may be stronger reasons for the concession than in the case of the able-bodied themselves? I beg the Committee to consider how this Amendment would work in such cases. The able-bodied person who has not been in insurance, when he needed poor relief, would receive it as long as he was able-bodied. As soon as, by reason of old age, he was no longer able-bodied, he would lose the concession. How is it possible to justify that? It would inevitably create injustices and inequalities worse than those which we desire to remove.
It is not only the aged who are affected by the administration of the Poor Law, but that not unnumerous, tragic class, which may be described as the prematurely-aged, those who are worn-out before their time. If we make this concession in order to avoid hardship and a possible measure of injustice to the able-bodied, shall we rule out that large number of cases which are so familiar to all administrators of the Poor Law? We ask the Committee to consider also the case of the cripples. They are certainly not able-bodied but are they any the less de- 1061 serving than the able-bodied poor? Are we to rule them out from the concession? I feel quite sure that if we look at these proposals, we shall recognise at once the difficulty of relating them to the familiar facts of the cases which do not at once leap to the eye. As one who occupies a Ministerial position and has facilities not possessed by private Members for realising the existence of those cases, I freely recognise the value of what has been said by those who moved the Amendment, but I feel confident, now that I have called the attention of the Committee to those cases, that they will not omit them from consideration.
Let me come to the even more curious result which would follow from the passage of this Amendment, and which I am sure the Committee cannot desire to contemplate. It relates to the case of the disabled ex-service man. In the common case, by reason of the fact of his disablement, he is not able to work. He has never been able to re-enter the ranks of insurable employment. I will deal in a moment with the case of those who are able to find employment, but now I want to deal with the case of those who are not able to find employment. Take the case of an ex-service man who has a disablement pension by reason of the fact that he is totally unable to find employment, because he is a chronic tubercular patient. I do not think the Committee can have realised quite clearly that, if this Amendment be passed, the concession which we are giving to the disabled man in general would be refused to the tubercular patient. That is surely not a consequence that the Committee would desire. I have a ease 'al mind of a man who lost both arms in the War. If the Clause were passed in its original form, that man would obtain the benefit of the concession. If the Clause were passed with the Amendment, he would be refused the concession. I do not think that that can be the intention of the Committee.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Would it not be true to say that, in the cases which have been referred to of infirm and disabled persons, the duty lies upon the public assistance committees to give them a greater measure of relief precisely on account of those circumstances?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
Yes, but that raises the very point which the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary 1062 have been explaining throughout—that, unless the concession is given to this class of man with a disablement pension, he is, to the extent of 60 per cent. of his pension, worse off than if the Clause is passed as it stands. The answer to my hon. and learned Friend is that there is no blinking the fact that the result of passing this Amendment would be to refuse that definite advantage, that start over other disabled men to the amount of 50 per cent. of his pension, in the case of the man to whom I have been referring.
I would ask the Committee to consider another class of case—it is necesary to detain the Committee with details, since it is only by considering the way in which the Clause will act that we can arrive at a decision. There is the case of the disabled ex-service men who, in spite of their disablement, in spite of their being in receipt of disability pensions, are able to find employment in insurable occupations, and so to qualify, when they fall out of employment, for transitional payments. Let me ask the Committee to follow one such case, of a kind that we all know—that of a man with a 100 per cent. disability pension, who, owing to the fact that, if I may say so, he is a man of grit and determination, rises superior to the disadvantages to which he is subjected, and manages to get back into employment and become insurable.
If a man of that sort, having obtained employment, should fall out of employment, he gets his insurance benefit, and, when he has exhausted his insurance benefit, he receives transitional payments. As long as he is in receipt of transitional payments, he gets the concessions under the Bill if this Clause is passed without amendment, and when, owing to age and so on, he falls out of transitional payments and goes for public assistance, then, under the unamended Clause, he would continue, as in plain justice he ought to do, to get the allowance which the Bill provides. If, on the other hand, this Amendment were to be passed, it is more than likely that a public assistance committee would feel bound to take the view that he is not an able-bodied man, and, as soon as he loses his transitional payment status, he would lose also the concession under the Bill. That is just the sort of inequality which 1063 the Bill has been drafted, with the most careful consideration, to avoid, and the introduction of this Amendment would re-create in these cases—and they are typical, and not exceptional cases—inequalities and injustices in individual cases which, as we know, place so intolerable a strain upon those who have to administer the law and whom we expect to respect the law.
There is one more consideration that I desire to place before the Committee. I ask them to consider what would happen to the disabled man who is in receipt of a transitional payment if this Amendment were accepted, supposing that he were subjected, as men in that state of health very often are, to recurrent periods of illness. Whenever he was receiving transitional payments, he would be receiving the allowances, and, whenever he went off transitional payments to the receipt of public assistance, he would be denied the allowances. That, obviously, is a consequence which the Committee could not possibly desire to incur. I believe that, if the Committee have done me the honour of following these examples from practical administration, which test the provision which we are now deciding to apply, they will come to the decision that this provision of the Bill is very carefully considered with a view to avoiding the maximum of injustice and to eliminating the maximum of discrepancy. The introduction of the Amendment must inevitably increase both the injustices and die discrepancies which we desire to avoid. In this discussion certain considerations have been once more referred to which I attempted to deal with on the Second Reading and which I should not be justified in detaining the Committee with once more, because they are perhaps more germane to a Second Reading Debate than to a discussion on a specific Amendment, but on this matter of the expenses which this will cast upon local authorities I will say that we are proposing this legislation for a period of nine months. The maximum of £250,000 to which I referred on the Second Reading has to be reduced, because that was the amount for a full year.
I am in entire agreement with my noble Friend the Member for Hastings that this legislation, and in particular this Clause, 1064 is of a tentative character. Its purpose is not to lose time in putting right inequalities and what are now recognised to be hardships while we are deliberating upon the larger Measure. It would have been an easy matter to say that people could put up with this for nine months more but it seemed better at once, when the situation became clear, without waiting for the further deliberation which is necessary for the preperation of the larger Measure, to put right those matters that can be put right. As regards the burden that will fall upon local authorities, I give the Committee this undertaking, that it will be the function of the Government most carefully to watch the effect of this legislation upon the burden cast upon local authorities and, when the time comes—it must be within the period to which I have referred—for the reestablishment of the whole sphere of administration in accordance with the more permanent scheme, to reconsider its effect in order to remove, if they have occurred, any of those evils which have been suggested by Members who have expressed fears. This is not final; it is tentative, and it will receive the most careful watching and attention in the period within which it is to be worked out. We shall gain during that time experience which will be of inestimable value for the preparation of the final scheme. We are satisfied that the actual burden cast upon local authorities will be so small as to be comparatively insignificant. The Amendment would have an effect, precisely contrary to the intentions of the Bill, of working in individual cases, and the cases that we desire most closely to consider, further injustices of a sort which it is the whole purpose of the Bill to remove.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir CYRIL COBB
I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, after the word "observe," to insert the words "in any individual case."
The Amendment is really very little more than a drafting Amendment. I was not quite sure from the explanation put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister yesterday exactly what would 1065 be the interpretation of Sub-section (2). The words I propose are in order to make the interpretation quite clear. The right hon. Gentleman was detailing certain classes of cases with which, he said, it was very difficult for the local public assistance committees to deal when those cases were out-relief cases or ordinary public assistance cases, as compared with similar cases in the transitional payment range of cases. He was saying that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the local committees to distinguish between the treatment which should be given to transitional payment cases, which, under the Bill, have a statutory right to the three concessions contained in the Clause, and absolutely similar cases which would fall under the ordinary out-relief range of cases.
It is obvious that no local public assistance committee will be able to make the distinction when they get the same set of circumstances in an out-relief case as they have in an ordinary transitional payment case. They will be almost obliged to apply these concessions to a case of the out-relief category. The Minister went on to say that there was a class of case where it would be only right that the public assistance committee should review from the point of view of its merits as to whether it was or was not such a deserving case that it should have the concessions extended to it. Has the local public assistance committee the right in a case of that kind to say, "Although generally we should meet this out-relief case by granting the same concessions to it as we should if it was a transitional payment case, that in this particular instance it is not a deserving ease, and we resume our full right and discretion to refuse the concessions"? That, I understood, was the interpretation which the Minister put upon Subsection (2).
There is another interpretation which can be put upon it. It is that if a local public assistance committee hopes to apply these three concessions to out-relief cases, then the committee will be precluded in any case from making an exception however deserving or undeserving the case may be, and that in any ordinary out-relief class of case, however undeserving it might be, they must in that case give that concession. I want to know what is the right interpretation. Is it that the local public assistance com- 1066 mittee, having once decided that it is going to opt in favour of making a concession, must then make it in every individual case, or may the sub-committee, according to the interpretation of the Minister, make exceptions in those cases in which it does not consider that it is right that concessions should be granted, namely, in undeserving cases? Can the sub-committee assume that discretion which all are supposed to have? I understood from the Minister that the interpretation of Sub-section (2) was that a district sub-committee could always exercise discretion in what it considered to be undeserving cases, and I put this Amendment down in order to see that the actual wording of the Bill implemented the undertaking which the Minister gave to the House yesterday.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) for raising a most important point, and one on which the Committee will naturally require full explanation and assurances. I am confident that it is the intention of the Committee, as it is of my hon. Friend, that a full discretion of the sort to which he refers shall be reserved to the public assistance committees and to their sub-committees. Let me say at once that I can give him the most positive assurance on this subject. It is not only the intention of the Government, in drafting and introducing the Clause, that that discretion shall be reserved, 'but it is the case that the Clause does actually, in its present form, reserve that discretion to the public assistance committees. My hon. Friend's anxiety is that it should not be the effect of the Clause that a committee, by adopting, either by formal resolution or by its general practice, a practice of making these concessions in Poor Law relief, should therefore debar itself in cases of the sort which he has so rightly described and to which I referred, where the concessions are not merited, from refusing the concessions. I can assure him positively that it is the effect of the Clause that this discretion is reserved to the committees in spite even of a general resolution on their part, to allow the concessions or of an habitual practice to do so.
It would have been my desire to satisfy my hon. Friend of that by accepting his Amendment, but for one thing—that 1067 according to legal advice the Amendment might have the unintended effect of preventing a central public assistance committee from following the useful practice of issuing general instructions by way of guidance to its sub-committees as regards the manner in which they are to act. It would not be the intention of my hon. Friend, this Commitee or the Government, to incur that consequence. Since, therefore, the Clause does actually reserve the liberty to which the hon. Member refers—and on that I can give the most positive assurance—and since the Amendment might have unintended and not useful consequences, I believe the right course will be to leave the Clause as it stands. I trust the Committee and my hon. Friend will be satisfied with the assurances I have given.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he contemplates a case in which a public assistance committee may pass a general resolution adopting these three concessions for its ordinary Poor Law cases, and that there might be a position in which a known undesirable case, a known waster, who was known to have £300 in his possession, would come in under the general resolution adopted by the public assistance committee, and that the Minister could not say anything to them and could not even insist, not could the auditor insist, upon surcharging them? Am I to understand that if they passed a general resolution and then came across some fellow who by all right and reason ought to be made to pay or put into the house, he would be able to laugh at them and say: "I have £300 in the bank, but I come under this resolution, and you cannot touch me."
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I am not sure that I understand my hon. Friend's case, but it would be most useful not to consider hypothetical cases, in regard to which one might form wrong conclusions, but to consider the actual effect of the legislation before us. The actual effect of the legislation is this, that whereas there are public assistance committees which now possess discretion in an individual case, the effect of the Clause will be to extend those powers to make these concessions, but will not limit its discretion to refuse the concessions in any case where they think it desirable to do so.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I am not speaking of a hypothetical case, but of a particular board of guardians. The Minister in the ordinary way would have something to say to a public assistance committee who treated such a person as I have mentioned as a proper subject for relief. Am I to understand that if the West Ham Public Assistance Committee or the Chester-le-Street Public Assistance Committee passed a general resolution saying that they proposed to exempt £300 from the calculation, that the Minister could not tell them that that was a wrong thing for them to do? [Interruption.] I have to pay rates in West Ham. If the West Ham Public Assistance Committee pass a resolution saying that anyone who has £300 in the bank shall be exempted under this Clause, whether they happen to be good, bad or indifferent, will they be in their strict rights, and will the Minister of Health not be able to say anything to them? If so, it is a most remarkable position.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
The Minister of Health has no right to say anything to them now. If a public assistance authority exercises their discretion in an individual case, the Minister of Health has no right to interfere in that individual case.
§ Mr. J. JONES
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are giving to manufacturers in West Ham 75 per cent. of their rates back?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ 11.0 pm.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
There is one part of the Bill about which there is a certain amount of confusion, and I would like to put a point of interpretation to the Minister. I should like the Minister to make clear what discretion is going to be left to the public assistance committees in future in dealing with the question of savings. I understand that they are still left a discretion, but it is an upward discretion as a minimum is laid down in the Clause. The Minister speaking on the Financial Resolution said:This Resolution and the Bill which will be founded upon it are limited to three types of resources, namely, disability pensions, workmen's compensation, and savings, or, more properly, capital assets. Our object is to get, if we can, a uniformity of prin- 1069 ciple in dealing with these three types. There will be a minimum which will be uniform and general in its application, with discretion above the minimum to be exercised by local authorities on the merits of each individual case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; col. 354, Vol. 270.]How is this discretion above the minimum to be exercised in the case of capital savings? The Clause will have to be interpreted by all local authorities. Will the public assistance committee have a discretion in each case to decide what capital assets are to be taken into account? The Clause says:All money and investments treated as capital assets and taken into account.Is it within the discretion of a public assistance committee in each case to decide what capital assets ought to be taken into account? It seems to me to be the only loophole in this Clause through which a public assistance committee will still be able to exercise any discretion in regard to savings. The Clause lays down a uniform rather than a minimum scale.
The hon. Member is very ingenious in having discovered an imaginary loophole. May I inform him that it is au imaginary loophole? [Interruption.] It is perfectly obvious that it does not alter in any way the existing law as to their discretion in the matter.
§ Mr. FOOT
Does not the hon. Member realise what it means if no discretion is to be left to public assistance committees? Take the case where a man has saved £100, and the public assistance committee say that they are only going to take the income of that £100 into account and estimate it at 5 per cent. They would estimate his income at, roughly, 2s. per week. If this scale is enforced then the public assistance committee instead of taking his income as 2s. per week would take it at 3s. per week, that is taking out the first £25 and 1s. for each subsequent £25 and, therefore, instead of a man getting 13s. 3d. he would only get 12s. 3d. We were told by the Minister of Health that this Bill was not going to discourage thrift, but if you are going to make this uniform and leave no discretion to public assistance committees you are going to discourage thrift. If it is true that no discretion is to be left to public authorities, and that this is not a minimum scale but a uniform scale to be applied in all cases, why were we told on the Financial Resolution that in regard 1070 to the three types of cases it was a minimum?
The position as I understand it is that where a man has assets of £100 the local authorities are bound to deal with the 100 in accordance with this rule. In exceptional cases where a man's needs justify it, they have discretion to make a greater allowance. When we said that this was a minimum we had in mind the total figure of £300. As I explained in my speech on Wednesday, in exceptional cases, when the merits justified it, the local authority' would be entitled to exercise their discretion above this scale provided they justify each individual case on its merits.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I know it will be said that the answer has been given several times, but in spite of that I am not satisfied on one point. It is in reference to disability pensions. In Bradford the first 7s. 6d. of a man's pension is not taken into account at all. What I want to be certain about is that they are still able to make that rule.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
If it is legal for a particular authority to do what Bradford is doing now, it will be legal when this Bill is passed. At the present time the law is that a public assistance committee must take into account the whole of the disability pension. On the other hand it may set the disabled man's needs against the pension right up to the whole amount, according to the needs in each case. That is the law. What this Bill does is to make it mandatory that 50 per cent. must be ignored. What I want to make perfectly clear with regard to the remaining 50 per cent. is that all discretion in individual cases remains unaltered. That is a most important point which I want the Committee to consider.
Is it true to say that in the case of Bradford they could not apply the 7s. 6d. generally to all the cases as they do at present, but that there must be exceptional circumstances warranting that in each case?