HC Deb 05 July 1934 vol 291 cc2135-47

7.7 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, to leave out from "employment," to the end of the Subsection.

This is an Amendment to strike out of the Clause two and a-half lines which were inserted during the passage of the Bill through Committee. At the present time the cost of relief to able-bodied men is borne by the authority which pays out their relief. The Amendment which was put in on the Committee stage would allow the particular authority which pays the relief to recover the money paid from the place of settlement of the persons who received the relief. I have no objection to the principle of that Amendment; that is to say, as long as you have a law of settlement in being. It raises, however, the whole question of whether a law of settlement is a proper thing or not. I should have thought that at the present stage practically everyone was agreed in thinking that the law of settlement is a mediaeval institution. I said on the Committee stage, and I repeat now, that it dates from the time when a parish or something of that kind was an economic unit. We are long past that. Neither the parish nor the county is the economic unit of to-day; the economic unit of to-day is undoubtedly the whole country. That principle, indeed, has been recognised by the Unemployment Act which has just been passed. The burden of relieving the unemployed was made there a national charge, and a national charge only. The hon. Gentleman a few months ago said that the Government could not be expected to embody different principles in two Measures which they were passing at about the same time. That is, however, exactly what he is doing. He is applying the law of settlement in the one case, throwing upon the small localities in country districts the duty of providing for their unemployed, whereas in the Unemployment Act that principle is definitely thrown over.

Indeed, there is another Act of Parliament in which that principle is ignored. I pointed out to the Under-Secretary in the Committee stage—but he did not deign to take notice of it—that last year Parliament passed a Children and Young Persons Act. There was an opportunity, if we were to stick to the law of settlement, of applying it. But the law of settlement was never mentioned in that Act, and I pointed out that under that Act it is possible, for instance, for a sheriff to order a family to be taken away from their parents and handed over to the education authority of the district in which the children and the parents lived at the time. There is nothing about being able to recover from the place of settlement to which these children or their parents belong. If this principle is a right one, why was it ignored in the Act which was passed as recently as last year by the present Government?

The last time we were discussing this question, we were unable to get a discussion on it in isolation, because by accident this Amendment was passed without a Division, and when later we came to discuss it, it was mixed up with the question of relief to the sick poor. My hon. Friend in the Labour party made a great deal, and rightly so, about the differences in the amount of relief which was given in certain cases to sick poor in the same locality. Not for a moment would I defend that, and I am as anxious as they are that it should be stopped. But that has nothing to do with the particular question which I am raising by this Amendment, which deals entirely and solely with relief to able-bodied men.

I have pointed out that the Unemployment Act did not deal with the matter in this way, but in dealing with the question of unemployment and its relief there had to be a re-adjustment of the burdens under that Act. We can all remember that prolonged conferences took place between the municipal authorities and the Government as to the incidence of the cost of relief. They came to a decision and an agreement in apportioning the burdens. That adjustment was made on the basis of the cities, and others, too, bearing the burdens as they are doing at the present day. If you change that as you are changing it in this Bill, then you ought to re-open the whole question of the adjustment which was made under that Bill and have a new adjustment. Otherwise you will give the cities twice over the benefit of this relief that you propose to give them by the Amendment which was introduced in the Committee stage.

When the Amendment was first proposed by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy), the Government opposed it, and only afterwards did they turn round and give way. My point is that you must either apply the law of settlement rigidly and all round or you must get rid of it entirely. I said before that everyone was agreed nowadays against the continuance of the law of settlement. We have been promised, I understand, an inquiry into the whole question. If that is the case, why should we, while we are thinking of and preparing an inquiry, start legislating upon the very subject about which we are going to inquire? As I have previously pointed out, the hon. Gentleman has set up, quite recently, a Committee to inquire into the vagrancy question, which enters into the question of relieving the able-bodied poor. Why should he, while he is asking people to inquire into a subject, start at that very moment to legislate upon it without waiting for the report of the inquiry? To say the least of it, it is not a great compliment to the people whom he has invited to spend their time inquiring into the question.

If the law of settlement is to be applied, it must be applied all round; you cannot tinker with one little point which happens to be the place where the larger towns think the shoe pinches. The sparsely populated counties, just as much as the cities, have to give relief to able-bodied persons, but, if this provision is passed as the Government wish to pass it, the result will be that, although the law is nominally the same as regards both types of districts, it will in point of fact only be effective in the case of the cities, and not in the case of the counties. If a person who lives in, say, Glasgow, comes and asks for relief, his place of residence, his antecedents, and everything about him can quite readily and easily be investigated, and everything he says can be verified if it is capable of verification. Moreover, it is very easy to reclaim anything that is paid in respect of that person, because you know exactly where he has come from and all about him, and you write to the county, if it be a county, and inform them about him and get your money back. But the unemployed who are relieved by the counties, and particularly the northern counties, are of a different type, as I tried to explain before to the hon. Gentleman, but without success, I am afraid. They are largely of a new type altogether, a type of tramp, who is, however, not the same sort of tramp that we have been accustomed to in the old days.

Anyone who goes motoring in the rural districts of our country can see that you have on the roads to-day persons of a different type from that of the old days. In the summer, particularly, one sees numbers of unemployed who have become sick of waiting to try and get jobs in the cities, and have gone tramping through the country, and through the Highlands in particular; and, whenever the weather is bad, they come in and get relief. It is only in small sums, but these northern counties are now to be told to investigate the case of each man who goes in in that way, just as, say, Glasgow could and would investigate the position of a family living in a street well known in Glasgow. If these counties are to be expected, in respect of a small sum of that kind, to undertake the same work as is done in Glasgow, it will put upon them an enormously increased burden for very little reason. It might be worth while to go in for all this correspondence and so on if it were a case of recovering £5, but, if the amount be only 5s., it is surely most unreasonable to expect these counties to engage in all the necessary work and correspondence in order to try to recover such a small sum. There are other aspects of the law of settlement, and, if it is not possible to give relief in every particular, it seems to me that it ought to be left alone until it is possible to deal with the matter comprehensively. On a previous occasion I raised the question of boarded-out children, and so did one of my hon. Friends. The Under-Secretary has since written to me and tried to draw a deduction from the facts of my own county, suggesting that, as regards these boarded-out children, instead of our performing a service to others we are getting something for it. I am quite unable to check the figures that he has given to me—


I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I shall have difficulty in answering those observations of his, because they have nothing to do with the Amendment.


I did not realise that I was getting beyond the Rules of Order. I do not want to go into that matter at all, but, as I referred to it before, I thought that, if I did not refer to it again, it might be assumed that I thought that the point was a bad one. I do not think it is a bad one, and I should have been prepared to argue it if it were permissible to do so. However, I will leave it. My point, shortly, is that, if these words which were put in in the Committee stage are allowed to stand, they will enable the bigger towns to recover in certain respects with regard to these able-bodied poor. If recourse is made possible in respect of able-bodied poor in this way, it will enable the large towns to recover from the counties, but the counties perform many services in respect of which they ought equally to be able to recover, but in respect of which they will not be able to recover if these words are allowed to stand. The law of settlement ought either to be applied rigidly or abolished. If it is not possible to abolish it now, at least it ought not to be further entrenched when there is a possibility, and, indeed, a probability, that in the near future it may be swept away altogether. As I said before, it is a mediaeval idea. All modern thought is against it, and I should have thought that neither this Government nor any other would wish to do anything to make it more difficult to sweep it away in the near future. The insertion of these words is in the interests of the cities, and I quite agree that they have the votes to carry it through if they wish to do so, but I feel that at least we are entitled to utter, and ought to utter, a protest against what is being proposed.

7.23 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do not propose to go over the ground which has been covered by my hon. Friend, who has set forth very fully the various arguments on which his Amendment should be supported, but I should like to take the opportunity of reinforcing what he said with regard to the general principle of embodying in this Bill the old idea of the law of settlement. I have never yet quite understood why the Government changed their mind and allowed the Bill to be altered from the shape in which it was first brought in by accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy). Apparently their first thoughts were not, from their point of view, as good as their second, but from our point of view we regret that they did not abide by their first thoughts.

It seems rather peculiar that, at the moment when the whole question of the law of settlement is coming under review, when there is going to be an inquiry into this ancient method of dealing with our poor people, this old principle should be embodied in a Measure which represents the first attempt to codify, so to speak, the Poor Law of Scotland. I think it is a pity that the Government should have gone out of their way to embody that principle, which many of us hope to see swept away as being entirely unsuited to our modern methods of life and our modern means of locomotion—a principle which dates from a time when small areas like parishes were the units, and when there was great difficulty in getting about from one part of the country to another. Conditions are now entirely different, and the care and support of the able-bodied poor is no longer looked upon as the immediate duty of the locality from which they come, but as a national obligation. In the old days, when an able-bodied man was poor and out of work, he was looked upon as having done something wrong, for which he ought to be more or less punished. One is thankful to think that that way of looking at things has entirely disappeared, and those who look forward to seeing the modern methods of dealing with this problem still further amplified, and to the introduction into them of still more humanity, regret that the occasion of this Bill should have been taken to reestablish the old law of settlement.

7.28 p.m.


I should like to reinforce the appeal which has been made by my two hon. Friends who have so closely attended the sittings of the Committee on this Measure, and have obtained such a complete mastery of it. The question which they have raised in this Amendment is one of very great importance, not only for the Highland counties, but for a number of other mainly rural, counties in Scotland. I, too, regret that the Government should, in this instance above all others, have revived the old and obsolete principle upon which the law of settlement is based, and should have departed from those new principles which are to be found in modern legislation such as the Unemployment Bill, on which the House spent so many months of time, and which tend to regard the accidents of poverty and unemployment as national rather than purely parochial responsibilities. It is particularly unfortunate that it should have been done in this instance, because, broadly speaking, the authorities on whom the burden will fall under the proposals now in the Bill are the poorest authorities in Scotland, while those who will benefit most, and who pressed hardest for the inclusion of this provision, are the wealthiest authorities in Scotland.

It seems to me unfair that this additional burden should be placed upon the counties, which are suffering now as, I think it is no exaggeration to say, they have never suffered in endeavouring to maintain their public services. The sources from which the rates are drawn in these country districts are being depleted by the immense difficulties of agriculture and by the almost complete collapse of the herring fishing industry. It is upon these struggling counties, with all kinds of burdens being piled upon them for new roads, housing, and so forth, that the weight of providing for the payments under this Clause will fall. I know there is a specious plea advanced by the Government that, balancing the payment that the counties will have to make to the City, there will be other payments which the counties will be entitled to obtain from the Cities in respect of men who come from the Cities travelling through the Highlands. I call that a specious plea, because these are men who come through for a night or two nights. There are a great many of them, and it means an immense amount of costly investigation into a large number of individual cases each of which is very small, but which in the aggregate add a certain amount to the burdens of the country. I would beg the Government even now to take the view that this law of settlement is out of date, that the efforts to revive it in this case should be abandoned, and that the Amendment should be accepted.

7.33 p.m.


Those of us who were in the Committee appreciate the great importance that hon. Members attach to the Amendment. We had a very full discussion, and I do not think they will think me disrespectful if I do not cover the whole ground again, but there are certain main points with which I must deal. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir E. Hamilton) asked a very pertinent question: Why have recourse in the ease of the able-bodied poor? Recollect what the proposal is. Under the law of Scotland in the case of all those who were permanent recipients of poor relief, namely, the ordinary poor, the law of settlement and recourse applied, and, the able-bodied poor only being the recipients of poor relief at all through a series of temporary Acts, we had to consider whether there was any reason, if we were going to deal with the question of settlement at all why and if the law of relief was going to be extended to the able-bodied poor, the law of settle- ment should not also be extended. Otherwise, you would have had the extreme anomaly of settlement and recourse in the case of the ordinary poor, and no settlement and no recourse in the case of the able-bodied. When I spoke on the Second Reading I was of the opinion that we might have left the question of settlement altogether for the committee proposed to be set up, but there was a serious anomaly which was pressed upon me with regard to the ordinary poor that, where you have settlement and recourse, there was the difficulty of the person whose residence was not in the area of relief getting very much smaller relief than an equivalent case living next door, and there was also the question whether it was possible to make permanent the law with regard to the relief of the able-bodied poor and yet leave out of that law the provision with regard to settlement which was put in when they were first included in the Poor Law for reasons which have ceased to exist.

We came to the conclusion that it was not possible to leave the whole future of the law of settlement for discussion by the committee that we proposed to set up, and, therefore, we had to deal with all the anomalies. The first anomaly was no law of settlement with regard to the able-bodied poor. What possible justification in principle was there for that? It was only a matter of accident that the able-bodied poor were brought into the Poor Law. If you dealt with it at all, you had to get rid of all the anomalies, the first of which was that it did not apply to the able-bodied poor. Secondly, the law of settlement, where it did apply, was such as to cause the most inequitable results in individual cases. It seemed to us that we could not deal with one anomally without dealing with the other, and we preferred to deal with the thing then and leave it open for the committee to deal with the question that hon. Members have raised: Why not let the law of settlement die? The law of settlement is part of the Poor Law of Scotland. It is a matter which very largely concerns local authorities whether it is going to live or to die. We much prefer that the final discussion on whether the law of settlement is to continue as part of the law of Scotland or not should be undertaken by a committee on which local authorities would be largely represented. If the committee were going to discuss the law of settlement in a proper way and under proper conditions, there was in our judgment a great deal to be said for letting them discuss the law of settlement as it stands when you have got rid of all the various anomalies.

It may be an arguable question whether you have got rid of all the anomalies or not. In my judgment you have. You have got rid of the fundamental anomaly that the law of settlement did not apply to the able-bodied at all while it did apply to the ordinary poor. Secondly, we have got rid of the anomaly that it was so operated in the past that, if I a native of Caithness were getting poor relief in Glasgow and the scale of relif was smaller in Caithness than in Glasgow, there was the risk that, although my need was exactly the same, I should not get the same relief as another man whose area of settlement was different. I know there may be different views taken about it, but my object, if I dealt with it at all, was to deal with it so as to get rid of the anomalies. When the Committee is appointed, the main function of which will be to assist us in the codification of the Poor Law, they will be entrusted, as part of the subject, with the consideration of the future of the law of settlement. On that Committee there will be representatives of the cities, the counties and the burghs. Let them thrash out the question whether the law of Scotland is to survive or not. If it is to survive, let it be of universal application, and not containing all sorts of anomalies. If it is not to survive, let us have the authentic voice of the local authorities in their decision on the matter.

Division No. 321.] AYES. [7.44 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Burnett, John George Denman, Hon. R. D.
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Calne, G. R. Hall. Dickle, John P.
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly) Drummond-Wolff, H. M. C.
Aske, Sir Robert William Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Dunglass, Lord
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.) Edwards, Charles
Banfield, John William Christle, James Archibald Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey
Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell Clarke, Frank Elmley, Viscount
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Clarry, Reginald George Emrys-Evans, P. V.
Batey, Joseph Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Essenhigh, Reginald Clare
Borodale, Viscount Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. Ford, Sir Patrick J.
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Conant, R. J. E. Fremantle, Sir Francis
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Cooke, Douglas Gardner, Benjamin Walter
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Courtauld, Major John Sewell Gillett, Sir George Masterman
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Crooke, J. Smedley Glossop, C. W. H
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Croom-Johnson, R. P. Goff, Sir Park
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Cross, R. H. Goodman, Colonel Albert W.

When will the Committee be appointed?


I hope very shortly after the Bill becomes law. I am not in any circumstances going to change the Bill as it stands. I gave no undertaking to give further consideration to the matter. It has been fully discussed, and I appeal to hon. Members to let us get on with the Bill. The House appreciates, and Scotland appreciates, the emphasis that hon. Members have put on this question, but I beg them not to continue the Debate any further.


Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Government find it necessary to make able-bodied relief a national charge under the Unemployment Act but a local charge under this Bill?


That is a question that has been asked again and again, but it has nothing to do with the Poor Law. That is the result of another piece of legislation. I have to deal with the Poor Law as I find it.


Can the hon. Gentleman explain how the particular points that we are dealing with link up with the question of higher payments as between city and county?


The Amendment refers only to the Statutes which deal with the able-bodied poor and would exclude our new provision with regard to settlement and able-bodied relief. Standing as it is now, my new Clause with regard to recourse refers both to the able-bodied and to the ordinary poor.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 15S; Noes, 22.

Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Macquisten, Frederick Alexander Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Guy, J. C. Morrison Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)
Hacking. Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.) Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Hales, Harold K. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Milne, Charles Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres Simmonds, Oliver Edwin
Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Skelton, Archibald Noel
Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties) Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Hornby, Frank Moss, Captain H. J. Somervell, Sir Donald
Horsbrugh, Florence Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J. Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Howard, Tom Forrest Nall-Cain, Hon. Ronald Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H. Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Jamieson, Douglas Nunn, William Spens, William Patrick
John, William O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)
Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Strauss, Edward A.
Ker, J. Campbell Orr Ewing, I. L. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Palmer, Francis Noel Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.
Kimball, Lawrence Patrick, Colin M. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Lawson, John James Pearson, William G. Summersby, Charles H.
Leech, Dr. J. W. Penny, Sir George Tinker, John Joseph
Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Percy, Lord Eustace Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Leonard, William Peters, Dr. Sidney John Wallace, John (Dunfermline)
Llewellin, Major John J. Petherick, M. Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th) Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Loder, Captain J. de Vere Ramsden, Sir Eugene Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour.
Loftus, Pierce C. Reid, James S. C. (Stirling) Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Lumley, Captain Lawrence R. Remer, John R. Whyte, Jardine Bell
Mabane, William Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick) Rickards, George William Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Ropner, Colonel L. Womersley, Sir Walter
Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton Ross, Ronald D.
Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside) Sir Frederick Thomson and Lieut.-
Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Jenkins, Sir William Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)
Cape, Thomas Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Thorne, William James
Cripps, Sir Stafford Lunn, William White, Henry Graham
Daggar, George Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Mainwaring, William Henry
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Milner, Major James TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Rathbone, Eleanor Sir Murdoch McKenzie Wood and
Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Rea, Walter Russell Sir Robert Hamilton.
Janner, Barnett Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)

7.53 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 21, at the end, to insert: (3) Section three of the Poor Law Emergency Provisions (Scotland) Act, 1927 (which relates to the giving of relief on loan), shall cease to have effect. The Amendment is really consequential upon the decision in Committee not to make the provision in the temporary laws permanent. After the 31st December of this year, when the temporary laws come to an end and the able-bodied are relieved in accordance with the permanent provisions, relief by loan will no longer be possible. There is no use in keeping on relief by loan, and the Amendment has been put down in order to stop it from the time that the Bill becomes law.

Amendment agreed to.