HC Deb 27 March 1934 vol 287 cc1829-915

Order for Second Reading read.

3.55 p.m.


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

No less than 89 years have elapsed since Parliament passed any general Act dealing, except in a temporary way, with the relief of the poor in Scotland. The Act of 1845 still supplies practically the whole permanent statutory foundation of the Scottish Poor Law. In the long stretch of years which have passed since then there has been only one change of first-rate importance, when in 1921 the able-bodied poor were for the first time given a legal right to poor relief. The Act of 1921 and the four Acts which have amended it are all temporary in their nature and are only alive to-day because they get an annual inoculation from the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. Therefore, I think we cannot be accused of undue precipitancy if we ask Parliament to-day to turn its attention to this important topic.

This Bill is only a step, though in our judgment an indispensable step, to a full and comprehensive modern Poor Law Statute. The function of the present Bill is to make amendments of the law most of which are long overdue. Those amendments, I have no doubt, will receive the closest scrutiny in the Scottish Grand Committee. Not until this Bill is passed will the way be open for a general codifying Act. For the purpose of framing such a general codifying Act we propose to appoint a small Departmental Committee, composed mainly of members and officials of local authorities who are in close touch, theoretical and practical, with the Poor Law. At the same time there are some special topics which we are going to relegate to them. We intend that the Bill so drafted shall embody in a complete and self-contained code the whole corpus of Scottish Poor Law, which is at present a conglomeration of Statute Law, Common Law and legal decisions. That cannot be done until the first step which we take to-day and the other step which I will mention presently are taken.

While that investigation is proceeding we propose to make an investigation into another subject, namely, vagrancy. It is a separate branch of the Poor Law, and we think it demands investigation. [Interruption.] No, another Committee. The first Committee will be fully occupied. Clause 6 of this Bill deals for the first time with the casual poor, but only when they are accommodated in Poor Law institutions, and its purpose is to secure a certain amount of regulation. In our judgment regulations with regard to the treatment of vagrancy in poor-houses can be passed now, leaving the Committee free and unhampered to go into the general question of vagrancy as a whole. When these Committees report we shall have to consider whether it will be necessary to deal with their recommendations in a Bill on particular topics or whether any suggestions that they make can be incorporated straight off in the general codifying Bill; but that question does not, I think, arise at this moment.

May I turn to the existing Poor Law. In the first place, in its permanent structure it is a system for relieving, not the able-bodied, but only the poor who from age or sickness are disabled from work, and their dependants. These are in Scotland, as every Scottish Member knows, the ordinary poor. The relief of these is mainly outdoor, while children who are orphans or deserted, or whose welfare demands separation from their parents, are boarded out in suitable homes. With regard to adults and children who receive indoor relief, they are accommodated in poorhouses—I use the old phrase—which still, for the most part, are of a general or mixed type, that is to say, a type where proper separation of the old, the infirm, and the children; of the more respectable—if I may use the word—old people whom misfortune has overtaken and others who are more dissipated or of a less desirable type; and even, in some cases, of the sane from the feebleminded or harmless lunatics, is by no means complete.

There is one feature of the Scottish Poor Law which I do not think is so familiar as the two I have mentioned, but which one notices as soon as one begins closely to examine the subject. It is this: A very great deal of what has to be done, and what has always been done and what must be done in the day-to-day working of this system, has no statutory foundation at all, but depends entirely upon administrative rules. It is not until one goes into the topic that one sees how far that fact is established. There is, for instance—apart from one general phrase in the 1845 Act with regard to poorhouse discipline that rules may be made for the treatment and discipline of the inmate—no statutory provision at all limiting the powers with regard to such important topics as detention in the poor-house itself, forms of punishment in the case of refractory inmates, and the right of a man to discharge himself from the poorhouse. Even that very well-known feature of our Poor Law, the boarding-out of children, rests upon no statutory foundation at all.

It might be said that if all this has gone on for 89 years without harmful results, why do we deal with that state of things now? The answer is this—and it is one to which I specially draw the attention of the House—that if you have in charge of an institution one who has got no statutory sanction for discipline, for instance, or for the method of discharge of the inmate, you rely, to a large extent, upon his personal characteristics which may be unsatisfactory; but if everybody concerned knows that there are strict limits to disciplinary measures, and rules for the other subject to which I have referred, you have a system based upon a foundation which everybody understands. I am clearly of opinion, therefore, that the time has come, when we must deal with the Poor Law in any case, to deal with these problems.

Why are we dealing now with the Poor Law? For this reason. The House is well aware that the Unemployment Bill will remove from the local authorities both in Scotland and in England a large number of the able-bodied who are at present under their charge, and for whom they are responsible. But many will be left out. The House is familiar with the provision in the Unemployment Bill with regard to such subjects as training. The Scottish Poor Law contains no powers to give training to able-bodied unemployed persons, and, further, it has no power at all in individual cases to set a person to work in return for Poor Law relief. The only alternative in Scotland to unconditional poor relief is maintenance in an institution. Now I believe that it is most undesirable that there should be no middle course open. I think that in the case of an able-bodied man there should be an opportunity, where it seems desirable, that proper work should be done in return for relief. I think that that is a much better method of dealing with certain difficult types of cases than the rough-and-ready method of relegating them to the poor-house; and that with regard to training and instruction it should be possible for the local Poor Law authority to provide the means for that. It is absolutely essential, if the able-bodied who remain under the care of local authorities are to receive the same opportunities for reconditioning as those who will come under the Unemployment Assistance Board. It is considerations such as these that make it necessary, in our opinion, to bring before the House of Commons a Poor Law Bill for Scotland to-day. That being so we would, I think, have been open to the charge of being extremely supine if we had not also taken the opportunity of dealing with the other matters to which the Bill refers and to which I now turn.

Let me first state the main categories into which the provisions fall. First of all, they are either reforms with regard to the able-bodied, or others that are absolutely necessary and have been long overdue for legislation; or they are giving a statutory foundation to things which previously have been left in a much more nemulous state. The topics with which the Bill deals are as follow: First, as I say, the able-bodied poor. I will go into this subject in more detail later. Secondly, the poor-house—discipline, questions connected with discharge, and a novel feature with regard to taking to suitable institutions a certain type of aged and infirm persons. Again, we take the opportunity of incorporating in the Poor Law certain advantages which in one case they have in England and not in Scotland, and which in the other case they have not in Scotland in the Poor Law itself, of having certain parts of their income disregarded for the purpose of the assessment of their needs. Finally, we deal with regulations with regard to the duties of the inspector of poor.

Let me turn in detail to the first question—the provisions with regard to the able-bodied. These are contained in the first three Clauses of the Bill. The first two Clauses make permanent, though I am sorry to say, for reasons I will give in a moment, only by way of reference, the provisions of the temporary Acts which began in 1921. The only difference between the temporary law as it exists to-day and the permanent law under these Clauses is, that we give to the able-bodied applicant for poor relief, the right which is at present confined to the ordinary poor—the disabled poor—of appealing to the Sheriff against a decision by the Poor Law authority not to give any relief at all. The able-bodied, as the House well knows, have at present the further right of the ordinary poor in applying for poor relief, namely, that if the relief granted is inadequate, then there is an appeal. But the appeal against the refusal to grant relief was in the Act of 1921 not given to the able-bodied poor. We give it to them now by the alterations which we propose in the two Sub-sections of Clause 2 of the Bill.

Now one word as to why we have proceeded in the first two Clauses by way of reference. We all dislike legislation by reference, and I tried to see whether, in making these provisions with regard to the able-bodied poor at this stage, it was possible to avoid a reference. But the answer was "no," for these reasons. First of all, the Acts themselves are full of references to the Act of 1845; and the amending Acts, that is, the Acts of 1923 to 1927, are full of references to the Act of 1921, and as we looked at it, it became one of those matters which cannot be straightened out until we get our complete code, which means a definite, positive statement of every legal proposition connected with the Poor Law of Scotland. However, for the convenience of members who will be in the Scottish Standing Committee when we come to deal with this Bill, and as I certainly could not ask them to undertake the discussion of Clauses 1 and 2 without more assistance than the Bill itself gives them, we propose to circulate to the members of the Scottish Standing Committee in some simple form a paper giving a synopsis of each Section, so that in Committee every hon. Member without trouble will have the provisions of every applicable Section before him at once.

I come to Clause 3, which deals in the first Sub-section with instruction and training. The House will observe that there is no compulsion for instruction or training, and I think that recent experience shows that among the very large number of unemployed and destitute able-bodied persons there is a great desire for instruction. The second Sub-section deals with the power about which I have already said a word, namely, that if the authority consider it expedient in a particular case, they may require an able-bodied person who is being relieved to perform a piece of work. As I have said, I believe that is a most necessary third string to the Scottish Poor Law bow. At present there is only unconditional outdoor relief or relegation to the poor-house. There are many ways in which the grant of unconditional relief, unaccompanied by any provision as to work, is not a blessing to an unemployed man. It really is a disaster. This provision is inserted in order to deal with that type of ease. The language is carefully chosen, so that there is no analogy between this provision and the old-fashioned test work of the English Poor Law. This is a provision to be used only where it will be beneficial to the people with whom we are to deal. Let the House note that, both with regard to the training and the instruction, and the work to which I am now referring, these matters will be subject to regulations made by the Department, and before they come into force, they will be laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament. That is also true of any regulations to which I shall have to refer in discussing the rest of the Bill. This seems to be a necessary provision where administrative regulations—and these will only be administrative—deal with important points.

As to the rest of Clause 3, I need only say that powers are given to the local authority to provide and maintain work centres and courses of instruction and training, and, for these purposes, to acquire land, construct buildings, provide and maintain plant and equipment and do such other things as may be necessary. Taking them as a whole, we desire, by the Clauses with which I have already dealt, that the resources at the disposal of the local authorities for dealing with questions of helping, reconditioning and building up these unemployed who come under their aegis, will be as ample and as serviceable to the unemployed themselves as are the resources which this House in Committee has recently put at the disposal of the Unemployment Assistance Board.

With that I leave the question of the provisions with regard to the able-bodied and come to the general group of questions which deal with poorhouses. The most important of these is Clause 4. A local authority shall, if required by the Department, provide suitable and separate poorhouse accommodation for each or any of such classes of inmate as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Department. At the present moment the Department of Health for Scotland, whose services in the guidance of the Scottish Poor Law are recognised by the House as a whole, has no powers definitely of stimulating local authorities to proceed with the work of improving the poorhouses. I must not be taken to mean that Scottish poorhouses as a whole stand in very great need of internal reform in the matter of management, but I do say that modern methods and the modern point of view demand that, where it is possible, there should be proper segregation in their own interests of the classes of people who compose the different types of those requiring assistance. It would be absurd to expect that upon the waving of a wand everything could be put right in a moment, or that Clause 4 would bring about that state of affairs. All I ask Parliament in that regard is that the Department of Health should have the power to see that what can be done, in consonance with the financial situation of a local authority, is done. As far as my right hon. Friend and I are concerned, we shall see to it that sound and active administration will bring about all reasonable improvement as soon as it can be achieved.

Actual questions of discipline and so on in a poorhouse are touched upon, first of all, in Clause 5. At present the governor of a poorhouse, except for the vague powers conferred upon him by a Section of the Act of 1845, has no statutory power to control the inmates of the institution. That is not right. The giving by Parliament of such a statutory power does not mean that you are to inflict new hardships or anything of that sort upon the inmates of public assistance institutions. It means that those who are in charge of them will have certain powers; but these powers will be limited by regulations, which will be laid before Parliament, and, instead of a nebulous situation, there will be a clear one. What are the powers in Clause 5? I will deal with the second proviso first: No inmate who has been disorderly or refractory shall be confined in a separate room for a period exceeding 24 hours. I will not weary the House at this stage with discussing the actual period, as it is clearly a Committee matter, but I think the House will agree that in principle there should be some statutory power given to a governor of a poorhouse to deal with a refractory person under his charge.


May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether the reference to a separate room means solitary confinement?


It means being confined in a separate room, but not, as in the past has been the case, in a cell.


That does not answer the point. Does being kept in a separate room mean solitary confinement?


If the hon. Member cares to describe as solitary confinement being kept in a separate room for the maximum period which Parliament allows. I will deal with other matters in the Clause, which says: Rules made by a local authority under Section sixty-four of the principal Act for the discipline and treatment of inmates of a poorhouse may provide for the performance by inmates of tasks of work suited to the age, sex, strength and aptitude of the inmate,… Provided that any such rules shall secure that— (i) no inmate shall be required to perform a task of work except on a certificate by a medical officer of the authority that he is physically fit to perform it. What happens to-day? The House is well aware that in every poorhouse the inmates do perform certain tasks of work. All sorts of things are done in the poorhouse without any authority at all except the vague term of "discipline." Parliament has no power concerning the conditions under which such work shall be performed or, that which I regard as most necessary, of ensuring that the medical officer concerned should see that the people set to work are able-bodied. That is another matter, but, if the House will view it broadly, I think they will agree that it is not right that there should be no statutory foundation at all. Would anyone wish that the people who get relief indoors in a poorhouse should from morning to night do nothing? I do not think so. I think that suitable work is a necessary part of the life of those who get assistance from the poorhouse. Here again I say—and I want it to be clearly on record—that this has nothing to do with the old phrase of "test work." It is simply that, for the work which is done in every poorhouse in Scotland, there should in the first place be, for the first time, a statutory foundation, and, in the second place, proper regulation.


Does that not show that you are making provision for a new type of individual who is coming into the poorhouse, because the poorhouse instituted in 1845 was for people who were infirm and past working? You are now of necessity making provision for a new type altogether who can work—the able-bodied.


I see the point of the hon. Member, but I am afraid that the facts do not bear it out. We are not making provision for a new type. Legally, able-bodied people have been in the poorhouse since 1921, but, if anyone will glance at the report of the Royal Commission published in 1909, he will see that the skilled investigators who were made use of by the Commission came, even at that time, to the conclusion that the population of the poorhouses in Scotland, from the point of view of whether they were able-bodied or not, were a definite population with which to deal. The fact is that of necessity Poor Law authorities have given relief to the able-bodied poor in Scotland, and the work which they have done for their own sake, in the ordinary way of life, has had no legal foundation and no regulation. I do not believe that the House would have approved of our dealing with the Poor Law, as of necessity we have to deal with it this year, and leaving such a situation unregulated and without foundation.

I turn to the next matter which is at present in the same anomalous position. I leave Clause 6 at the moment, and come to Clause 7 which deals with the question of discharge. At present there is no statutory provision which either gives or denies to an inmate of a poorhouse the particular time when he can leave the house. The House will readily understand the difficulties of administration which would result if everybody left at the moment they wanted to do so. Therefore, regulation of some sort is necessary, and there has, of course, been regulation without statutory foundation. This Clause deals with what is well known as the "ins and outs," people who frequently find their way, even in the course of one month to the same poorhouse. I will not go into the details of what the period should be before they are entitled to discharge, because these are clearly Committee points. The actual number of hours and so on are clearly matters for the Committee. The principle embodied in Clause 7 is that the more often a man comes into the same poorhouse within a month the less easy it is for him to get out straight away. It is only, in my judgment, a reasonable regulation to deal with the question of the "ins and outs."

I come now to what is the most important alteration with regard to indoor inmates. Clause 9 provides for the removal, under full and proper safeguards, to a suitable hospital or other institution of aged and infirm, or physically incapacitated persons, who are unable to devote to themselves or to obtain from other persons proper care and attention. No such provision is embodied in the Poor Law of either country, but Parliament has frequently approved under Provisional Orders in Scotland, in the cities of Edinburgh and Dundee, and under many local Acts in England, a wider provision than this, which is based not upon the receiving of poor relief but upon general public health considerations. Clause 9 deals with the case of a person who is aged and infirm and actually in receipt of poor relief, and the procedure will be that on a certificate by a medical officer application may be made by the relieving authority to the sheriff and the sheriff will have to be satisfied that there is a suitable institution to which the person can go. An order can then be made, which in no case lasts for more than three months, for the removal of the aged or infirm person to a suitable institution.

This matter was dealt with in 1909 by the Royal Commission. What they had then in mind was that in the more remote parts of Scotland, the more sparsely populated parts there were aged people who were struggling under circumstances of life which had become impossible, who had no one properly to look after them and no power properly to look after themselves. It was felt that in the interests of such persons as well as in the interests of the community it was very desirable that they should be properly looked after. This is a matter in which it is most important that there should be full safeguards, and I especially invite the Standing Committee on Scottish Bills to look carefully into the safeguards that we propose. With proper safeguards we can introduce a provision which will be very beneficial.


In regard to the certifying of the individual by the sheriff it is provided that the person in question is not to be detained longer than three months, but the Clause goes on to say: the sheriff may from time to time, upon application by the authority, make orders for the further detention and maintenance of such persons in such institution, provided that the period of detention under each order shall not exceed three months.


That is so. The three months provision means that each case will come under the purview of the sheriff.


It may mean for the remainder of that individual's natural life.


If it is for their benefit, one would hope so, but if it is not for their benefit application for their removal could be made at once and the sheriff would deal with it. One assumes throughout that the only object in view is the benefit of the person whom I have described. Such a provision, administered well and carefully by all concerned, would humanise and make happier the last years of many old people who are very greatly to be pitied.

Let me deal now with Clause 10, which gives a new right to the poor of Scotland, namely, that the first five shillings of friendly society sick pay should be disregarded in the assessment of their relief. It also incorporates a provision which the Scottish poor have enjoyed up to now, namely, that the first 7s. 6d. of National Health Insurance benefit shall be disregarded. As the House will know from certain interchanges of question and answer between me and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), certain local authorities have been disinclined, apparently, to apply the rule with regard to the 7s. 6d. in some cases. The argument has been used, highly fallacious though it may be, that because this provision was only in the Health Insurance Act and not in the Poor Law Act, it was not part of the Poor Law of Scotland.


Can the Under-Secretary say why disablement pensions and old age pensions are not treated in the same way?


These provisions are either in other Acts of Parliament at present, as in the case of the 7s. 6d., or enjoined in the English Poor Law but not in the Scottish.


Would not the matter mentioned by the hon. Member be subject for an Amendment?


Yes, I am only dealing with the Bill as it stands. No doubt such a question as that raised by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) could be raised in Committee and dealt with. I do not think my hon. Friend would expect me to deal in advance with an Amendment which I have not seen. There remains for close consideration Clause 6, which deals with the casual poor. It contains two provisions. The first provision is that a casual poor person entering a poorhouse to receive accommodation must, if he has money on him, contribute to his keep. The Clause also provides for discharge from the poorhouse. I wish to make it clear that this provision in regard to the right of discharge does not mean that a man or woman cannot be discharged earlier, but only that they cannot insist on discharge earlier. Subsection (2) says: A casual poor person shall not be entitled to discharge himself from a poorhouse before the hour of nine o'clock in the morning of the second day following his admission. Very often casual poor people come in in the evening and they would not be discharged until 24 hours afterwards, but there is a much more important consideration and that is that in dealing with a vagrant or a casual poor person when they are in an institution opportunity should be taken to cleanse them and their clothing. That is a public health duty and is beneficial to the casual or vagrant person. That is the main reason for the insertion of the provision with regard to discharge on the morning of the second day. I am not going to say more about the casual poor person, because we propose to set up a committee to inquire into the question. The further matter that I would ask the House to consider, in view of the Committee stage and pending the investigations of the Committee of Inquiry, is whether we should deal with the casual poor person at all. I would ask hon. Members to consider the question in the light of these observations. Whatever be the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry, so long as casually poor persons are accommodated in poorhouses regulations such as I have described seem a natural and necessary part of the system. It may be asked why then in this Bill have we introduced this provision with regard to the casual poor. I think I have said enough to enable hon. Members to apply their minds to the matter before we reach the Committee stage.

I should like to draw attention to Clause 11, under which the Department will have power to make regulations as regards the duties of inspectors of poor and other officers of a local authority in relation to applications for relief, the investigation of the circumstances of applicants for relief, the affording of relief to poor persons pending consideration of their applications by the local authority and the visiting of persons who are in receipt of outdoor relief. It may be asked why we have introduced this provision. We have done so because there is a large body of rules, regulations, instructions and so on issued by the Department of Health in regard to inspectors of poor and we think the time has come to reorganise and codify thorn. We wish to reissue them when they have been laid on the Table of the House. But that is not the only reason. Under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, the unit of poor relief was changed from the parish to the county and large burgh and the relieving authority now has at its command a very much greater number of officials of various kind than the parish council, which had practically nothing except the inspector of poor. It is for that reason that the. Clause has been worded as it stands. It is to enable the local authorities legally to make use of other officers for the purposes of poor relief, under the regulations of the Department and with the approval of Parliament. It will mean the legalising of a system which is at present in existence in some areas where actually payments are made not by the inspector of poor, as they very strictly should be under the law, but by the Burgh Treasurer. The Poor Law area is given for administrative purposes a larger staff and larger resources at the disposal of the authorities and this Clause will enable those resources to be made use of under suitable regulations.

Clause 14 deals with offences by inmates of poorhouses. At the present time except for a breach of the peace, by an inmate of a poorhouse there is no means of bringing him into the purview of the court. We consider that for the purpose of carrying on properly regulated work there should be the possibility of taking a person who is in receipt of relief to court if there is disobedience. Under the summary procedure which will be adopted the maximum penalty is 21 days' imprisonment, which compares favourably with similar penal provisions elsewhere. There, again, the question of the amount of the penalty is a matter for the Committee, but I think hon. Members will agree with me that there should be this sanction at the back of Poor Law administration.


It is a crime to be poor.


It is certainly not a crime to be poor, but it is a crime for those who have to deal with the poor not to give them every assistance towards their reconditioning and to see that the discipline, which is essential to the administration of any institution, is under proper statutory regulations.


When you have been in one of these Poor Law houses for a month you will be glad to get 21 days in gaol.


I regard Clause 4 as something of great importance. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will give me one or two points about it.


I have already dealt with Clause 4 rather fully, and I do not know how the House would treat me if I repeated my long explanation. I think I have indicated the views in the mind of the Scottish Office in framing this Bill. We have not dealt with the question of settlement and the recourse of one authority against another. We tried to deal with those matters in the Bill presented at the end of last Session, but we found that it was impossible to deal with questions of recourse and settlement unless you put the whole thing in the form of a code. We have, therefore, postponed that question, but I do not think there will be any great misfortune in our so doing, for this reason. Questions of settlement and recourse are primarily questions interesting local authorities inter se, and the Departmental Committee, which I have indicated, might well be given the work of dealing with the amendments which are necessary in the law on these matters. I suggest that they should make an interim report on that topic so that we could see at once whether the provisions with regard to vagrancy and settlement and recourse are such as to require legislation or can be put into a codifying Bill.

I am satisfied that the work of administration must be founded on a proper statutory basis and that we must see that everything is done to help and assist the reconditioning of those who come under the Poor Law. I am satisfied that the time has come when we must do everything to improve the nature of our administration by affording the necessary segregation, and so on. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I close on a personal note. It so happens that the work of carrying on the Poor Law in Scotland, by administrative machinery only and with practically no statutory foundation to guide the administration, was for the last third of the nineteenth century conducted by my own father. The House will understand, now that I am asking it to give a Second Reading to this Bill, why I recall the famous phrase: The roots of the present are deep in the past.

4.50 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add "upon this day six months." The Bill which the Under-Secretary has explained with his usual clarity is one which in the opinion of hon. Members representing constituencies in Scotland might have been introduced in a different form. The Under-Secretary has told us that it is time that the Poor Law of Scotland was codified, and he has promised to introduce a Bill at a later stage as a result of the consultations of the two committees which he proposes to set up to inquire into questions relating to Scottish Poor Law. His last statement was rather an intimation that certain other things were in his mind. He spoke of getting an interim report from one or other of these Committees upon the questions of settlement and vagrancy. I should like to know when he expects to bring in this codifying Poor Law Bill for Scotland, seeing that we are to be asked to await the researches and investigations of these two statutory committees which he proposes to set up. The time they will take is such that he proposes to invite them to bring in an interim report.


It is the drafting Committee which we are asking to deal with settlement and recourse quite apart from other matters, and we are hoping that they will be able to give us an interim report on these questions and go on with their main work. I do not think there should be much delay in the Committee dealing with the question of vagrancy.


The Under-Secretary wants the House to believe that the whole question of Scottish Poor Law is to be gone into thoroughly, revised and brought up-to-date, so that the changes which have taken place in modern times will be reflected in the codifying Bill which he intends to introduce. I submit that such a Bill is not going to be brought before us at an early stage because of the questions which will have to be considered, and the Under-Secretary himself, by introducing a Bill of this character, has admitted, I think unconsciously, that it is going to be some considerable time before we get a report from these Committees. In bringing in this Bill the Under-Secretary also has adopted all the old bad principles which all Ministers of State seem to adopt when presenting Bills to this House. He apologised for the fact that in the first two Clauses there are references to five or six other Scottish Poor Law Acts of Parliament, and he hoped that by this Bill there would be no further necessity for legislation by reference. In this Bill he himself is not merely legislating by reference; he is adopting the other bad principle of departments of State in legislating by regulations. There are five important Clauses in this Bill giving powers to the Department to frame regulations upon the particular questions with which each Clause deals, and I submit that instead of bringing in a Bill of this kind and apologising for legislating by reference the Under-Secretary should have brought matters up-to-date and have embodied the regulations in the Bill.

I have protested on previous occasions against Departments taking to themselves powers by the issue of regulations which this House has no opportunity of discussing or even of rejecting. The worst kind of legislation is legislation by regulations, and I had hoped that the Bill would not have legislated by regulations. I must thank the Under-Secretary for his promise to issue to hon. Members on the Standing Committee a synopsis of previous Acts of Parliament which the Bill seeks to amend. I have protested against legislation by reference, and I induced Mr. Speaker Whitley to make it the right of every hon. Member, when a number of provisions in other Acts of Parliament were referred to, to be able to go to the Vote Office and get the Vote Office to obtain from the Stationery Office sufficient copies of the old Acts referred to to enable hon. Members to follow clearly and intelligently the references in the Bill. That right still holds good.

I am not altogether certain that the Bill is going to do so many of the good things which the Under-Secretary believes are likely to result. The disciplinary methods provided for in some of the Clauses suggest that the Department of Health for Scotland has obtained a Fascist head, and is seeking to govern those in Scotland who are unfortunate enough to be poor by the worst system of regimenting it is possible to impose by any Department or any individual upon those who are unfortunate. There are all manner of punishments provided for in the Bill, from being detained in the institution, not permitted to get away, and having to give 24 hours' notice to the institution to the provision to impose 21 days' imprisonment on individuals who may be refractory and commit breaches of discipline. Why is it that at this hour the Under-Secretary has considered it necessary to bring punishments of this character into the Scottish Poor Law system? Why was it that they were not asked for by previous Under-Secretaries of State? Have the poor of Scotland become so obstreperous, so violent, so undisciplined, that now the hon. Gentleman suddenly discovers it is necessary to obtain powers for all these additional punishments which have not hitherto been in the Poor Law of Scotland? I should have imagined that the Minister would have put before the House some very sound reason why he thought it necessary to have these additional punishments and severe penalties imposed.

There are other matters to which I am certain a number of hon. Members will desire to take exception. In Clause 3, for example, the Department, subject to any regulations again, is given power, or a local authority is given power to maintain courses of instruction and training for such persons as are mentioned in the Clause, or may contribute towards the cost of the provision and maintenance of such courses by another local authority or by any other body. What "other body"? Not a local authority, but some outside body, some voluntary body.


The Unemployment Assistance Board.


But that is not stated in the Bill, and that board is a statutory body.


Not yet.


It may not be yet, but it will be a statutory board. It will be set up by an Act of Parliament, as much set up by an Act of Parliament as the Department of Health or the office of the Secretary of State, and as such it ought to be named in the Bill.


It cannot be at the moment.


If the Government cannot at this stage put it in the Bill the Bill ought to be delayed until it can be done.


Legislation by inference, not by reference.


"Any other body" may mean any voluntary body in Scotland which wanted to take up any particular system of training. Then the Department can assist that body in making provision for and maintaining courses of instruction for the unemployed. Scottish Members have no right to permit the control of any training or course of instruction of the poor to go outside the control of the Department. If the wording of the Clause stands as it is the body that will undertake this work need not be the Unemployment Assistance Board. It might mean any voluntary institution. I ask the Under-Secretary now whether that is the meaning of the Clause or whether this power is to be confined entirely to the Unemployment Assistance Board when the Unemployment Bill has passed. If he tells us that we shall know where we are. The hon. Gentleman does not answer.


It is a Committee point which I shall deal with when the Bill is in Committee.


I do not think it is a Committee point. It is a Committee point to change the wording of the Clause but not a Committee point to go outwith the scope of Public Health control, to hand over the course of training to any voluntary organisation that may be set up. That is a matter of principle.


The hon. Member is making a deduction which I do not think is sound at all.


I think it is sound to any individual who reads the Clause. The Under-Secretary has mentioned only one body, which is to be a statutory body, and not "any other body." The hon. Gentleman is not on very sound ground when he stands by those words.


I made my explanation very shortly.


I am certain that the House would have been willing to listen to a longer intervention from the Minister in order to make clear something which at the moment is not clear in the Bill. The Clause also gives power to acquire land, to construct buildings, to provide and maintain plant and equipment. Here we are giving an incentive to a local authority to erect factories, instal machinery and then to put in instructors to train the able-bodied poor. It is going to be one of the most gigantic mixtures that the law of Scotland has ever been landed into. One would have imagined that these facilities and powers would be left in the hands of one particular body in the country. The more the House discusses unemployment, the more it goes into the question of doing something for the unemployed, the more it exhibits its ignorance of the unemployment question. This is really another Unemployment Bill and not a Poor Law Bill at all. It is a Bill to make the able-bodied poor of Scotland like those of England. I would like to know why the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary, instead of coming before a Committee of the House last night with two or three little "tuppenny-ha'penny" Amendments to the Unemployment Bill for dealing with certain administrative matters arising on the Unemployment Bill, did not incorporate in the Unemployment Bill the powers that they now seek in this Poor Law Bill.

Other matters in this Bill show how far this House is expected to travel with the Under-Secretary. I raised the point whether three months was to be the limit of the incarceration of an individual. That point relates not merely to the aged or the infirm. It may be three months at the commencement, but a recurring period of three months can be imposed upon the individual if the local authority thinks that that is necessary and it makes an application to the sheriff. If the individual is one who wants to be out among his friends, if his friends would like to see him amongst them, he cannot be freed unless a certificate is sent to the sheriff that the particular individual can go out once more. There are various other points in the Bill open to criticism—the regulating of the "ins" and "outs," the classifications under Clause 4, where it is necessary to have suitable and separate poorhouse accommodation, the regulations. We cannot tell at the moment what is to be the method adopted because we have not seen the regulations, and as to the classification one wonders whether it will be such that there will be different grades, such as the labouring or unskilled grade, the tradesman grade and so on right up until there are social distinctions created inside the poorhouse.


With a special place for Cabinet Ministers.


One wonders whether there is to be grading on the lines of social distinction. One cannot tell. The methods adopted here give one the impression that the Government do not really know what they are about. I would like to know also whether the work which the local authority can set men to do is to be task work or work which they are to be invited to do, and whether they can be employed by private individuals. The Bill is not clear. It can be inferred that in addition to work which may be done under the particular local authority these people who are in institutions can also do work for outside bodies and firms. If that is so the House has a right to know the extent to which that particular sort of operation is to go. It might mean cheap labour, which could be made use of by certain employers to the detriment of labour outside which is not under the control of the Public Assistance Committee or of the local authority.

This Bill, I take it, is part of that other issue that has been raised by the Government in the Unemployment Bill, with its Public Assistance Board. The Bill is to place the Poor Law of Scotland upon a similar footing to the Poor Law of England. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Front Government Bench can bear out my statement that hitherto there has been a difference between the Poor Law of Scotland and the Poor Law of England. There was a more humane administration of the Poor Law in Scotland than in England, and when the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary bring forward a Bill, not merely tightening up the Poor Law administration in Scotland, not merely bringing the methods of the English Poor Law into Scottish Poor Law administration, but a Bill actually making the Scottish Poor Law administration even worse than the English system, then it is time for Scottish Members, who have prided themselves in the past on the humanity with which we in Scotland have treated those of our own country, and immigrants from other countries who have come under the Poor Law in Scotland, to protest. We have prided ourselves on the fact that the poor in Scotland were treated more like human beings than the poor in England. In those circumstances are Scottish Members going to permit a Bill of this character to pass in the form in which it is presented to the House? There is another point. A great amount of expenditure will be involved in the operation of the Bill as it is now drafted. The Government are imposing new principles of Poor Law administration on Scotland. Are they prepared at the same time to reconsider the amount to be granted to Scotland in view of the additional expense which a Bill of this character will involve on the local authorities in Scotland? Already in Scotland, on the Minister's own statement, the cost of the Poor Law is rising by leaps and bounds. In Glasgow alone it has risen from £5,000 per week to £20,000 per week in three years. In Edinburgh it is three times what it was three years ago and something must be done by the Minister and his associates when the Government produce a Bill imposing still further expenditure on the local authorities.

I have the exact figures here showing that in the week beginning 17th May, 1930, the weekly expenditure in Glasgow on the relief of the able-bodied poor and their dependants was £5,705 and on 12th November, 1933, the amount per week was £20,919 or an increase of nearly £15,000 in three years. In Edinburgh the expenditure in 1930 was £1,290 per week and that went up in three years to £3,487. In Lanarkshire from £330 per week it has risen to £1,941 per week and in Dumbarton from £158 per week to £490 per week. In Sutherlandshire on 17th May, 1930, the amount so paid was nothing at all, but there has been a catastrophic increase and in November, 1933, it was £4 per week. While the Minister is wondering about the law of settlement, we are getting people from Caithness and other parts, into Glasgow, and they are being placed upon the rates there. Those figures were given by the hon. Gentleman himself in reply to a question put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). With all these facts before us as to the growing expenditure upon Poor Law in Scotland we are bound to object to a Bill, involving additional expenditure, which seeks to obtain further powers including the power to deal with what are called refractory individuals. They are no more refractory than they were a year ago or 10 years ago, or 20 years ago.




Unfortunately. When the Government seek such powers and when they propose to add additional expense on to the already increasing expenditure in Scotland then I submit the House ought not to accept this Bill as it is presented to us this afternoon. If the Minister has any real ideas on reform of the Scottish Poor Law let him hold back those ideas until he is in a position to present them to the House in the Consolidation Bill which he has told us he is going to introduce later. Pending such a Measure I ask the House to refuse a Second Reading to this Bill.

5.23 p.m.


I am sure the House will not begrudge the Undersecretary the legitimate pride which he took in moving the Second Reading of this Bill relating as it does to a work with which he has been honourably connected for a long time. I welcome the Bill and I see in its Clauses a great many ideas which, I am glad to think, have emanated from the county council of Ross and Cromarty and from the public assistance committee there. But I understand the difficulty in which the Under-Secretary finds himself this afternoon. He has made it clear to us that this is an intermediate Bill, and as such it is bound to be in many respects unsatisfactory. This Bill only marks a stage in the progress of the fight against unemployment and as I understand it may not be for any considerable length of time on the Statute Book. The hon. Gentleman today told us of two very interesting facts. The first is, that the Secretary for State is appointing a committee to codify the ancient Poor Law of Scotland. There is no doubt, that that Poor Law requires codification. The second interesting fact is, that he proposes to deal with that curious type of individual whom one finds in every country and particularly in Scotland the vagrant, or casual unemployed person, wandering about the countryside.

While these two great problems are in abeyance, it would be extremely difficult to bring forward a Bill dealing with this subject which would be in all the circumstances satisfactory, and would deal completely with so large a subject as the Poor Law. What the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) said is right, and it is something which required to be said. This Bill is not an appendix to any English Measure. It is an in- dependent Bill and I am glad of that. The tendency recently in legislation dealing with Scotland has been to make Scottish Bills purely appendices to English Bills dealing with the English system. This Bill however, deals with the Poor Law as we understand it in Scotland. I am glad for another reason that that is so. As the hon. Member for Govan also pointed out, the traditional way of dealing with the poor in Scotland has been the humane way, and the real trouble for the Scottish Office when dealing with this Bill in Committee will arise if they attempt too strongly to defend anything which has the smallest taint of the criminal law in connection with it. That will be the real difficulty and I hope that wherever that taint appears to Scottish Members to exist, the Scottish Office will have none of it. Poverty is no disgrace to anybody. We in Scotland have regarded poverty as a tragedy. It has never been regarded as anything which should cause any man to be held in disrepute. Our greatest poet has sung of honest poverty. That is a tradition of Scotland, and I hope that the Scottish Members when dealing with this Bill in Committee—and I am afraid it will require a good deal of amendment in Committee—will maintain that tradition.

Let me refer to one or two of the points which will have to be dealt with in Committee. We are dealing here with a problem which has not in the past affected Scotland, as far as the poor-house system is concerned, namely the problem of regulated work. In the old days the poorhouse in Scotland was a country cottage maintained at the public expense for the respectable poor and the aged, and there was no question of regulated work or statutory work. Nowadays a new problem arises. You may have to deal in all these houses with the able-bodied man. You are super-inducing a new life altogether upon these ancient institutions. The new board is not yet in existence, and we have heard a great deal of discussion in connection with the Unemployment Bill upon the rules and regulations affecting work in the proposed institutions or centres. The argument advanced against the drastic, almost penal work proposed in that Bill can be advanced against any attempt to foist such work upon the able-bodied across the Border. I think I observe a sign of approval from my hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate in that connection and I feel sure that this question will be approached with sympathy by the Scottish Office.

There are one or two other small points which may be regarded as Committee points, but I should like the Scottish Office to have time to consider them before the Committee stage. First there is the question of the discharge of the casual labourers or the casual unemployed. Having read the Bill carefully, I am inclined to think that in connection with this question of discharge there is too much stringency and that there ought to be more freedom. I understood the point which my hon. Friend made about the desirability of cleanliness and all that, but you cannot penalise a man merely because he is poor. There should be a great deal of latitude given to the poor man who by accident finds himself in a poorhouse as to when he will be discharged or how he will get the discharge to which he thinks himself legitimately entitled.

There is the other question of the money which may be taken over from him. I think the Bill is, on the whole, fairly reasonable, but it is unfortunate that there should be a taking over of any money from anybody. If a man finds himself in a very difficult and poor condition, if he finds himself on a cold, wintry night, out of work, with no place to go to, and he happens to have a little money, it may be only a few shillings, it is unfortunate that this should be taken from him in order to pay for what is called his keep. The moment he has finished his period in the workhouse, what is to become of him? He begins again without a penny in his pocket. It is the same old story, and he goes down and down. If he had too much money, a large amount of money, a reasonable percentage might be taken for his night's keep, but to say that if a man goes into a poor-house with a few coppers or shillings in his pocket, on a cold, wintry night the first job, before he is even washed, is to deprive him of his money, is not a thing with which we Scottish Members can on the whole agree.

One other point arises. We are dealing with the poorhouse as a home for the casual unemployed, the aged, respectable poor, and those who are ill or sick. It so happens that in many parts of the country, where the poorhouse is regarded as a very kindly Scottish home, a great many old age pensioners are very anxious to enter such a home, and indeed those who are interested in them are also very anxious to get them into a home of that kind. There has been no attempt at driving them in, no compulsion, but, if they voluntarily wish to go into such a home, where they are well looked after in their old age, then they should be entitled to go, and, if they go there, they should no longer be threatened with any disqualification either of their pension or otherwise. I am sure that that is something which the Scottish Office would do well to consider. There are a great many people in the North of Scotland, in my constituency, who are in that position, honest and respectable, old age pensioners. They have a struggle to live, but they can be accommodated, very often of their own free will, in the local cottage home, and if they want to go in there, instead of living a miserable existence outside, to have care and attention bestowed upon them by competent hands, I think they should be entitled to go there, and, if they do go there, they ought not to have their pension taken away from them, but to be allowed the additional luxury, for the short time of their life that remains, of being able to use it, and not only so, but to have no sign or taint or disqualification of pauperism attached to them.

In conclusion, I should like to say that I think this is a bold and a very fair intermediate attempt to deal with a problem which has to be faced, for however short a time, and I think the Bill is adequate for that purpose. It cannot possibly go the whole way that my hon. Friend the Member for Govan would like it to go. We were told that it would be an intermediate Bill for an intermediate stage, and as such it is competent to deal with the situation, but I look forward to the speeding up of these two Departmental Committees to which reference has been made, because the sooner we have a real Poor Law Bill for Scotland, the better it will be for our country.

5.35 p.m.


I support the Amendment to have the Bill read a Second time upon this day six months. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when he was introducing the Bill, told us a great deal about the Act of 1845. That was when they legalised poverty in Scotland. There had been no system of relieving poverty in Scotland up till then. The last of the collecting boxes is still to be seen in the Nether-gate in Edinburgh. That was how they found the wherewithal to provide for the poor of Scotland up till 1845—the Church dispensed charity—but it is a different state of affairs to-day. In 1845 Scotland was certainly in poverty. There is no doubt about that. Poverty was rampant, and there was a shortage of the necessaries of life. Just 20 years before the introduction of that Act there was what was known in Scotland as the year of the short corn, 1824, and the poor folk of Scotland had to partake of food that was made up more of sand than of meal, as a result of famine being abroad in the land. When that Act was introduced the great power of production to which we are heirs to-day was not there. There was no railway system as we know it; we had none of the great steamboat firms that we have to-day, none of the great Clyde shipyards, none of the great engineering works, none of the great factories Man at that time had only opened the door to this age of abundance in which we now live. There really was poverty, there really was famine at that time, and the law-givers of that day approached the problem in a more intelligent fashion than do the law-givers of to-day, who are still wandering back to 1845 and thinking in terms of the last century, in terms of famine and of shortage, never taking into consideration that this country of ours is part and parcel of a great international development that is taking place. In 1845 we had not the great wheatfields of Canada, and Australia was not able to send us shiploads of dairy produce.

The legislators of to-day in this country are not facing this problem. They are running away from it. Every other country of any note but our own is trying to get down to this problem. We may differ from Mussolini, from Hitler, from Roosevelt, and from Stalin, but the fact remains that they are trying to get down to the problem. They are men with courage. That is what this country requires, and it is evident that up till now they have not arrived on the scene. The result is that we have the Scottish Office, in keeping with the Cabinet of which they are part and parcel, simply allowing things to drift, drift, drift. They are bringing in this Bill in order to deal with a situation the like of which never happened before. When I interrupted the Under-Secretary of State in his speech in introducing the Bill, it was to draw his attention to the fact that the Bill is not to deal with the infirm, with those who are physically unfit, with: Yonder poor o'erlabour'd wight, So abject, mean, and vile, Who begs a brother of the earth To give him leave to toil. It is not that type at all. It is to deal father with "manhood's active might," because until now the individuals who went into our poorhouses were people who were broken, mentally and physically. All the spirit, all the outstanding characteristics of the Scottish race, had been crushed out of them before they went to the poorhouse. I can remember when it was a disgrace for one of my race to go to the poorhouse, and I have known them commit suicide rather than go to the poorhouse, but we have arrived now at a time when the Government realise the fact that those who are not employed are not the old, done men and women, the old veterans of industry, but young men for whom, as long as they work, as they are doing, eight, nine and 10 hours a day, there is no room. There are too many of them. So we have to make provision for them in the same way as Hitler has done, only Hitler is above board about it. He puts them in concentration camps and military camps. That is what this Bill is going to do to them. It makes poverty a criminal offence, because it empowers the Government in certain conditions to sentence men and women to 21 days' imprisoment if they fail to conform to the new regulations relating to poorhouse inmates.

Under Clause 3 local authorities will be authorised to make detention at these so-called work centres a condition of relief for the person concerned and their dependants. This is being done in the land of the brave and the free. Similarly the local authorities are to be given power to adopt disciplinary rules for the treatment of poorhouse inmates and to compel them to perform task-work in certain conditions. Those who do not conform to discipline may be confined in a separate room in the same way as if they were in prison. Under Clause 15 they may be sentenced to 21 days' imprisonment. The National Government will insist on the local authorities finding 60 per cent. of the cost of the able-bodied relief for the standard year ending May, 1933. The total cost of able-bodied relief in Scotland last year was £1,600,000, and the ratepayers will be saddled with 60 per cent. of that amount for an indefinite period under the Unemployment Bill. The Scottish ratepayers, on this basis, will be called upon to pay approximately £900,000 towards the cost of maintaining the unemployed, some of whom will be kept in concentration camps.

How will it affect the big industrial areas? How will it hit the Clyde as against places like Caithness and Argyll? It is as well the House should know what is to be done. Clydebank will be asked to pay over £18,000 extra per annum; Hamilton nearly £12,000, Dumbarton £5,000, Glasgow over £400,000 and Kilmarnock just over £600 extra for the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed. These figures were given by the Secretary of State for Scotland in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I challenged the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this matter at the time and asked him how much relief would come to my constituency, for all the Tories rejoiced because they thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given us something of a concession. The concession was infinitesimal. Our of his grant of £19,000, Clydebank was getting a concession of £2,000. It did not hit Glasgow at all; they got about £40,000, which still leaves them with over £400,000 which they will have to pay. Kilmarnock, Wigtown, Caithness, Argyll and Clackmannan will remain practically the same, whereas the ratepayers of the Clyde area will have to pay a tax of 10d. to 1s. 2d. in the pound for the maintenance of the unemployed, who ought to be maintained by the State.

The Under-Secretary made great play with Clause 6, which empowers poorhouse officers to search persons seeking shelter and to take from them any money found in their possession. I think the House will agree with me that that is unashamed confiscation. When we Socialists put forward an idea like this, we are traduced everywhere. All the leaders of the Socialist movement in this House ever since I came here have held up their hands in holy horror whenever we mentioned confiscation, because they said we would never make any headway, as the people of this country abhor the very idea of confiscation. It is only abhorred when we want to confiscate a little from the rich, from those who can afford confiscation, but in this Bill the individuals who are always up against confiscation are going to confiscate from the very poor. They are going to take from the down-and-out. Nobody would dream of going to a house of refuge unless driven to it by sheer necessity, and this is the time when such confiscation is proposed by the Government and the drafters of this Bill. I do not know who or what they are, but they must lack the milk of human kindness.

Hon. Members may smile as much as they like; it is no smiling matter for the welfare of Britain that we have got to such low depths as to rob the blind man's tin—for that is what it means. It is robbing the blind, the halt and the lame. It is true that it was originally proposed in the first Bill, which was withdrawn, to authorise the officers to confiscate all money found in the possession of a person asking for relief. In the present Bill the power is modified to seize and take from the individual the cost of relief and to hand back any surplus. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean), in moving the rejection of the Bill, asked the Under-Secretary how this cost was to be defined, who was to judge, and whether the work that the individual might perform was to be considered. It had evidently never dawned on the Under-Secretary and the drafters of the Bill that there was something in those points.

Here we are dealing with a new class in society. Formerly the Poor Law dealt only with the infirm and the veterans of work, the veterans who had produced everything, the people who had made Britain possible. Do not let hon. Members forget that, because everything we have has come from the workers, and nobody else. Labour has produced it all. There is nothing in the Bill to say whether any allowance will be made in respect of the work the man has done while in the poorhouse. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson)—I thought he was going to be with us, as I have thought on many occasions—knows that our poor folk would rather exist in a meagre manner than go into the poorhouse. He appealed to the Secretary of State regarding the man who had just enough money on him to pay the charge which would be laid upon him and wished to go out after having stayed the required time; because, remember, a man will not be able to go in and out as he likes, as was formerly the case. He ceases to be a member of the land of the brave and the free, and becomes a slave when he enters there, surrendering his rights, and surrendering his manhood, the same as a soldier has to do. He is under discipline. Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do what they are told. When they are turned out of the poor-house they will go out penniless, just as poor as Moses when Pharaoh's daughter found him among the bull-rushes in the night. That is what we are coming to now. That is what the great Government are doing. They think that because they have gone on now for two years with everything nice and quiet, and with no upheavals in this country such as there have been in different parts of the world, that things will continue in that way—that we have managed to round this winter and are all right for another six months, at any rate. But they are making a mistake, because change is taking place, and making conditions worse for those individuals for whom they are providing accommodation in poorhouses and in concentration camps. They have a situation to face different from any that they have had before.

I turn to Clause 15, and I think I had better read it fully: If an inmate of a poorhouse leaves the poorhouse before he is entitled to discharge himself therefrom, or refuses or neglects whilst an inmate of the poorhouse to perform any task of work"— Mark that! Task work—


Task of work.


Yes, task of work— which he has been required to perform in accordance with the provisions of this Act, he shall on summary conviction be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty-one days. I believe this is the first time in Scottish legislation that it has been proposed to treat a man or a woman as a criminal because he or she leaves the poorhouse without the permission of those in charge. It is one of the worst pieces of legislation which have come before this House in my time. This Bill was supposed to ameliorate the condition of the poor, down-trodden unfortunates of this capitalist system of ours, but, instead of easing their lot, it will make it harder. If the Government had only looked beyond the theories and the ideas in which they have been brought up, which have been instilled into them in every institution with which they have been connected, but which are now out-of-date and obsolete, and had faced the situation in a courageous fashion as other countries are doing, they would not have presented us with this little twopenny-halfpenny Measure. Scotland has led the world in many things. I should be out of order in enumerating our contributions to the world, but here are we, we who are the heirs of all that glorious inheritance, not taking that inheritance by the hand and giving our fellows the benefit of it, but using all the power of the State to keep them from enjoying the full fruits not only of their own toil but of the toil of those who have gone before them. I shall certainly oppose this Bill.

6.10 p.m.


I rise to support the Second Reading of the Bill. Our Poor Law system is out-of-date and legislation is long overdue, and I think the Govern-meet are to be heartily congratulated on having undertaken a task which their predecessors for so long neglected. I have listened to some of the criticisms passed upon the Bill by the Opposition, and, frankly, they leave me quite cold. One of them, indeed, surprises me. Objection is taken to the proposal that in future an applicant for assistance must do some work in return for the relief afforded. That surprises me, because I have in my hand a copy of the proceedings of the Royal Commission of 1909, our Scottish Commission. There was a minority report, and one of the signatories to it bears an honoured name, a name very well known in this House. One of the signatories to the minority report is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), whose absence, and the cause of that absence, we very much regret. Here is his considered opinion, expressed in the measured language of an official report. This official report suggests that what he terms training establishments should be set up; and the is not all. Paragraph 15 of the Minority Report recommends that if an unemployed man is guilty of what he terms repeated recalcitrancy or breach of discipline in a training establishment he is to be handed over to the sheriff, and the sheriff will commit him—let me read the language of the report— to a detention colony of a reformatory type there to be compulsorily detained and kept to work under discipline.


Read it. Tell us whether the Government accepted the Minority Report.


I have read it. I was only citing it because of the views, which I value, of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. It may well be that the proposals of the Government in this Bill would not satisfy so stern a moralist as the Leader of the Opposition—there is no word of the sheriff here—but, for my part, I am glad that the Government are content with more humane proposals, or, at any rate, something less than was suggested there.

I wholeheartedly support most of the proposals of this Bill, but there is one feature of it which deserves very close scrutiny. Some Members on this side of the House who are supporters of the Government are not altogether satisfied with the proposals of the Bill so far as they concern the treatment of the casual poor person, the tramp. Since 1909 there has been no public inquiry into the condition of the casual poor in Scotland. I am sure we all welcome the announcement of the Under-Secretary that an inquiry is to be set up, but I am afraid, if I may respectfully say so, that the Government's zeal has outrun their discretion. I should have thought the proper course would be to appoint the committee of inquiry quam primum and request them to report at as early a date as possible, and then study their conclusions and consider their recommendations. Instead of that, the Government have proceeded to solve the problem by the expedient of uprooting some sections from the English Poor Law Act, 1930, and just planting them in this Bill. I read the English Poor Law Act with interest and with some measure of dismay; with interest because it is the Treasury which the draftsman has ransacked to provide gifts for Scotland, and with dismay because I came across all sorts of strange expressions such as "idle and disorderly person," "rogue and vagabond." Travelling through the Sections of the Act seemed like a prolonged thunderstorm. I am glad that the Act was not passed under the aegis of a Unionist administration. It is only a consolidation Act. The English Poor Law Act is one of the achievements of the late Labour Government.

I want to be fair about this. I suppose that if the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who was Solicitor-General in that Government, were here, he would tell us, "It is not so bad as it appears. Those expressions have no particular meaning, because they are merely the language of the criminal law of England." I have no doubt that that is so. We Scotsmen are heirs of the Roman Law, and, accustomed as we are to the urbanity of a more civilised code, those expressions are somewhat disconcerting. If my criticism were only a matter of words it would not carry so much weight, but when I consider the substance of the English Poor Law Act, I find that my fears are not groundless. It is quite fair to say that the disciplinary code of the English Poor Law Act is, I will not say "harsh," but definitely more severe than that to which we have been accustomed in Scotland. Let me give two illustrations. I will content myself with them. There are two proposals in the Bill, both of which are borrowed from the English Act, and one of which is in regard to the detention of casual poor persons. I see that by Clause 6 (3) it is proposed that power should be conferred upon the local Poor Law authority to detain a casual poor person for a period up to the fourth day after his admission, that is four days' detention. Indeed, in the case of the ordinary inmate it is proposed under Clause 7 (2) to confer power upon local authorities to detain those ordinary inmates for 168 hours. If my arithmetic is correct, that means detaining them for a period of seven days—virtually imprisonment for seven days. It may well be that the Government are possessed of information which is not available to me, but I confess that I have some doubt whether there is any general desire in Scotland that such very wide powers should be extended to a purely administrative body.

My guide in these maters is the Poor Law Report of 1909. When I turn to it, I find that this very proposal was brought to the notice of the Poor Law Commissioners of 1909, and that this is how they pronounced upon it in their majority report: In England, under an Act of 1899, this class of pauper may be detained for a maximum of seven days in the workhouse; in Scotland no similar power exists. The report proceeds: We do not agree with the suggestion that the exercise of such a power should be permitted to an administrative body. I respectfully agree with the Commissioners of 1909. I ought to have continued by reading these words: The denial of personal liberty should, in our opinion, depend upon judicial warrant, obtained by a summary and a cheap procedure. It may be desirable or undesirable to assimilate our Poor Law code to that of England, but if it is to be done at the cost of personal liberty and by a denial of personal liberty, I think that the price is too dear. I have one other illustration. The Bill proposes to confer upon local authorities power to punish inmates by solitary detention. The language of the Bill, in Clause 5, is: confining in a separate room. That is no novelty in Scotland, because punishment of the inmates of poorhouses by solitary detention was practised in Scotland in past times. It was entirely ultra vires and, in point of fact, a warning was given to the local authorities that what they were doing was illegal, and they gave up the practice. One might well suppose that when a power like that is exercised by an administrative body it is apt to be abused. Solitary detention is carried out in prison under the careful restrictions and safeguards of the prison regulations, but to entrust this power to an administrative body is a very doubtful proceeding.

I have here another report, dated 1904, of the Departmental Committee appointed to report upon the medical relief of the poor. A passage in that report arrested my attention: In one poorhouse we found an inmate undergoing 12 hours' confinement in a cell that was not provided with a seat. It was absolutely dark, and without ventilation or heating of any kind. The temperature at the time of our visit was only a few degrees above freezing point. Other cells that we examined were in much the same condition. That was in 1904. If abuses have occurred in the past, what assurance have we that abuses might not occur in the future? In England, where for long they have had this power of solitary detention and have practised it, abuses are, apparently, liable to occur. I have here another Departmental Report. I want to make the fact plain that it does not relate to Scotland, but that it concerns the Poor Law system in England. It is dated 1930. Here is the passage from that report: In the first place we find it our duty to record that in a certain number of casual wards the conditions now existing are"— mark the language— infamous and intolerable. Some of the members of our committee have visited wards where two men are locked in a small cell that was built for one person, and kept there in darkness for 12 or 13 hours. Let me make it perfectly plain that that has nothing to do with Scotland. That is an English report upon conditions in England. My point is that that Was possible in the year 1930. Come down to the present day. What is the position in Scotland? The position, as I think the tinder-Secretary of State told us, is that we have no system of casual wards in Scotland. I think I am right in saying that our practice in Scotland is to hand over our casuals to lodging-house keepers.


I made no such statement. I did not go into those details with regard to casuals, but I dealt with general topics. Those details will be considered by the Committee, but I could not allow the hon. Member's statement to pass.


I stand corrected at once. I do not pretend to have the intimate knowledge of this matter which is possessed by the hon. Gentleman, but my information was that a system of that sort in regard to lodging-houses was not all that it ought to be. The position in regard to that is that in Scotland we have not the accommodation for casuals. It will not be possible in Scotland to detain them for four days, and much less for seven. You cannot put new wine into old bottles.

The first thing we should do is to set our own house in order. I have unofficial information, but it is from a reliable source, with regard to the condition of our Poor Law accommodation in Scotland. I want to be perfectly fair, and I am making no charge whatever against the administration of our Scottish Poor Law authorities, because I believe that they carry out difficult and troublesome duties with efficiency, zeal and humanity. Nevertheless, they have not the accommodation which would provide the wherewithal for detention, much less for solitary detention. I read in this unofficial report from a well-informed source that some of our poorhouses in Scotland are most admirable. I see that there is an admirable one at Forfar. It is described in the report as a spotlessly clean shelter for casuals. It is stated that the dormitory is in every way excellent, and that the house is run at the lowest average cost of any in Scotland. At Brechin there is another which is also admirable. Here are particulars of one—I am not intending to mention any names. I will call it "somewhere in Scotland." It is described as a small public assistance shelter which has no bath, and where the sleeping accommodation is poor. It is stated that it would be out of the question to require men to spend 24 hours there. Then there is another. Never mind where; I shall not mention names, because that would be most unfair. I will again call it "somewhere in Scotland." The report says: In 1932 I saw a lodging-house where the casuals were sheltered at the public expense. I will not read the whole of it.

"The beds were swarming with vermin…crowded together, and the floor was filthy. Men were passing on their road to seek work at roadmaking further on."

My point about all that is that we, must, in the first place, set our house in order. We must provide suitable accommodation.

The Government are to be congratulated most heartily on the zeal with which they have acted in appointing a Committee. They have done what none of their predecessors have done. Labour Governments have taken and have demitted office, and done nothing of this sort. For the first time it has been left to a National Government to face up to the problem, and we thank them heartily for it. It is, however, premature to legislate at this stage. I am quite sure that the one anxiety of the National Government is to do the very best they can by these poor people. I am sure that any suggestion of harshness or injustice would be utterly abhorrent to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. These tramps, these casual poor people, are a much misunderstood class. I am told that the popular ideas about them are in many respects quite wrong. The tramp belongs to a law-abiding class; he is very seldom in the hands of the police. The Act describes him as a destitute wanderer and wayfarer. He has no vote; he has no Parliamentary representative; there is nobody here to ask questions for him. But, although he may be a destitute wanderer and wayfarer, I trust that, in any legislation that we set about in this House, the House will bear in mind that, destitute wanderer and wayfarer though he be, he is, after all, one of the King's lieges, entitled to the same consideration and the same justice as you and I.

6.31 p.m.


I would like to join with others who have spoken in congratulating the Undersecretary on the very lucid explanation which he gave of this Bill. It was none too long, but it was long enough to show that the Bill is one of major importance, and it will require, as I am sure it will receive, all the consideration that can be given to it by the House and by the Scottish Standing Committee. I think it is the sort of Bill that should have had some memorandum attached to it. After all, the administration of the Poor Law is very largely a technical question, and Members of the House, if they have not set themselves to master it, or have not had some connection with the administration, cannot be expected to be able to follow it. Therefore, I should have liked to see some sort of memorandum attached to the Bill, and, indeed, I would go further, and say that it is a Bill which requires an explanatory White Paper such as that which was published at the same time as the Unemployment Bill which is at present before the House. The Undersecretary has told us that the Government propose to put forward some sort of White Paper to help us in considering the Bill in Committee, but, as I understand it, that White Paper is merely to give us an idea of the Acts which are mentioned in the Bill. I think we require much more than that, because, as the Under-Secretary himself said, the Bill proposes to alter, not merely the Statute law, but the practice which is at present in force, and we ought to know exactly what that practice is. I hope, therefore, that, before the Committee stage is reached, the Government will seriously consider giving us an explanatory memorandum that will help us in our consideration of the Bill.

The Under-Secretary went on to defend the adoption by the Government of the old method of legislation by reference, but, in my opinion, his defence there was quite unconvincing. I still think that this is a case in which the Government ought to have been able to avoid proceeding by the method of legislation by reference. We are not dealing with a body of law which goes back for many years. The whole body of law with which we are dealing in Clause 1 of the Bill starts 13 years ago, in 1921, and I feel confident that that is a matter which could have been dealt with quite straightforwardly without proceeding by the vicious method of legislation by reference. Five Acts are mentioned in the first Sub-section of Clause 1, and it takes a skilled person a long time to master what is intended.

I am glad, of course, that we are making permanent the temporary arrangements in Scotland which deal with the care of the able-bodied unemployed. It has been said that the Poor Law in Scotland is more humane than that of England. I hope it is. But many people have had great difficulty in understanding how it has been possible for the Poor Law of Scotland to be administered for so long a time without the power to give relief to able-bodied unemployed persons. I think I am right in saying that it has been possible to do that simply because the strict law has been ignored, and for many years, although it has not been strictly legal to give relief to able-bodied unemployed persons, in point of fact that has been done. It has been done by indirect, roundabout methods, but nevertheless that has been the result of the practice that has been in vogue for a very long time.

We are only expected to deal with general points at this stage of the Bill, and I think it is a fair description of the Bill to say that in general what it does is to assimilate the Poor Law of Scotland to that of England. In doing so, it introduces some of the penal provisions of the English law. It introduces the casual ward for the first time, and I am bound to say I look with some uneasiness on that aspect of the question. I particularly regret that it should have been necessary to introduce the casual ward into Scotland. It may be that its ultimate introduction could not be avoided, but I should have thought that the Government would have taken the view that at any rate the present is not the best time at which to introduce it. What is the type of people that are being dealt with by the Poor Law at the present time? There has been an increase recently, and I notice that the last Report of the Department of Health for Scotland gives us an idea of the new people who have come under that Department. On page 135, the report says: An important factor affecting able-bodied relief is unemployment among workers who do not come within the scope of the unemployment insurance and transitional payments schemes, and whose only recourse in necessity is to poor relief. It goes on to describe the different classes, and then it says: Another important cause of the increase in able-bodied relief has been the deportation and the voluntary return of Scots families from abroad, particularly from Canada and the United States of America. Later on we have this interesting statement: Some authorities attribute a large part of the increse in able-bodied pauperism to the disallowance of persons from unemployment benefit by courts of referees, mainly on the ground that the applicants are not normally employed in insurable employment and that they will not normally seek to obtain a livelihood by means of insurable employment. This factor is stated to account for from 30 to 50 per cent. of the increase in some areas. The point which I would impress upon the Government is that there are two Departments of State at the present time setting out to deal with the same problem, and dealing with it in different ways. The Minister of Labour says he is going to mop up all the able-bodied unemployed in the scheme of Part II of the Unem- ployment Bill. That is the intention of Part II—that all the classes of people I have mentioned should come under it; and, if the Minister of Labour and the Government have any confidence in the effectiveness of Part II of the Unemployment Bill, it is right to assume that those people will be dealt with in that way. If they are going to be dealt with effectively in that way, there is no need to set up other machinery to deal with the same people and the same problem, which I suggest is what is being done here. The right hon. Gentleman is setting up a new casual ward system, which I think he himself would rather have avoided; and he is setting it up at the very time when one might have assumed that he would be able to dispense with it.

There are other provisions in the Bill which, I am sure, Members will not like. There is the provision under which, when a tramp goes for relief and is going to be put into a casual ward, all his money is taken from him, and when he goes he is handed back whatever the authorities think is the proper sum. I do not think that that is a fair provision at all. I think it is taking advantage of the inmate of the ward. I know, of course, that in all these rules you have to give a wide discretion to the authorities, and that, when you give a wide discretion, there is always the possibility of abuse. But I suggest that it should be possible to circumscribe to some extent the discretion that is given in this case, and I hope that that aspect of the matter will receive the attention of the Government. I think it has been mentioned by another speaker that there are very few casual wards in Scotland at the present time. There are many places which have not got them, and I am certain that in many places it would not be worth while to set them up. I do not know whether the cost of that sort of thing has been considered. Taking it altogether I think that at the present time at any rate, this provision is unnecessary, and could be dropped out without really affecting the Bill as a whole. It is not really an integral part of the Bill, and I hope that the Government, when the Bill is considered in Committee, will see their way to drop the Clause altogether.

I would like to say something about Clause 9. I am not quite sure that I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) on this question. What I said a moment ago about another provision applies in this case also. In the administration of the Poor Law you have to give a wide discretion to the local officers, even although there may be a risk of abuse in a very few cases. It is the duty of the elected members of the local committee to see that there is no abuse. Naturally you have to give the local officers a good deal of discretion, especially in matters like those dealt with in Clause 9. It is slightly different problem in rural districts from what it is in urban districts, because very often a poor person is living apart from others, and it is really dangerous to leave him or her alone. Nearly always they are very obstinate, and very often it is necessary that action should be taken quickly. I made inquiries from my own people, and the comment that I got was that the procedure that was being laid down in the Bill was probably too cumbrous, and not likely to act quickly enough. If you are going to have to give three days' notice, for instance, of removal, it may be that you will be too late.

I do not like the proposal under which the sheriff is to decide a matter of this kind on evidence supplied to him. It seems to me eminently a case that ought to be dealt with by people who have seen the actual person whom it is proposed to remove. I would put forward the suggestion that was put to me, that it might be necessary to act on a signed order given by two magistrates who have inspected the place where the person in question lived, and had seen him or her and formed their own judgment on the position of things. If necessary, there might be the sort of appeal which is provided for to the sheriff. I think that the interest, probably, of possible inmates of institutions of that kind would be amply safeguarded by such a provision.

Going back to Clause 3, which provides for the setting up of training establishments, the Governments may have a complete explanation, but at first sight I am rather alarmed at the fact that here we have still another authority taking power to set up training institutions. We are to have the education committee, the Ministry of Labour, the Unemployment Assistance Board, and now the public assistance committees all taking powers to make provision for the instruction and training of different classes of persons. Surely there might be some method by which, I should have thought, the education authority for preference, but, at any rate, one of them, could devote itself entirely to this duty. These are certain general observations of, I think, larger importance, but there are many others which will require careful consideration. I hope that the Government will address themselves to the Bill with a desire to meet criticism and, if they do that, I think they will make some drastic changes in the proposals that they have submitted.

6.50 p.m.

Captain McEWEN

This Bill attempts to deal with what is undoubtedly, a very complicated and difficult question. I was particularly glad to hear the Under-Secretary's announcement that there were to be two Departmental Committees to go into the various questions with which the Bill deals and, in particular, I was interested to hear of that which is to go into the question of vagrancy. As far as I understand, the procedure is to be that upon the report of these Departmental Committees a new Bill entirely will be brought in embodying their findings. To anyone who has traversed the roads in recent years, whether in motor car or on foot, as I myself have occasionally done, the urgency of this vagrancy problem must have been painfully apparent. There is a large and, I fear, increasing floating population living entirely oh the roads. Some of them are tramps, some are men, many young men, seeking work, some are what we call "tinkler bodies," and many are entire families unhoused owing to the demolition of condemned houses in burgh slum clearance schemes up and down the country. By the settled population these people are apt to be regarded as a dangerous menace, and they are accused very often of any crime, from the firing of woodlands to the assaulting of individuals, but accused, certainly on the second head, for the most part evidently wrongly.

It may be for the easing and tranquillity of mind of many perhaps living in lonely parts if I quote an unofficial report regarding the number of these persons in prisons in 1932. A report was received from His Majesty's prisons in Scotland regarding persons answering to the description of tramps, vagrants and persons of no fixed place of residence serving sentences for crime. On 17th February, 1933, no man answering this description was serving a sentence of penal servitude at Peterhead, and there was no record of any such person in recent years. In the large male prisons, persons of this description formed a proportion so small as to be negligible. Reports from all His Majesty's prisons were to the same effect. In respect to the means to be taken to deal with these wayfarers, it must be borne in mind that they are different in England and Scotland, as are also the conditions governing them. In England, I believe, casual wards or lodging-houses are to be found in a network all over the country at no great distance one from another, possibly never further apart than 20 miles. This, however, is not the case in Scotland. For example, from Perth to Kingussie is 81 miles, and there is no lodging-house on all that road, where a needy and not necessarily penniless wayfarer can find a bed. From Pitlochry to Kingussie is 55 miles, and there is no public assistance officer to be found in all the space between.

To turn to Clause 6, the reason, broadly stated, why it is found to be objectionable is that, in the first place, it contains little that is remedial, and there is no reference at all to the classification of casuals. Of course, after the announcement that has been made about the special Departmental Committee, no doubt that will be removed. In the second place, it is more repressive in its nature than constructive, and might well lower the standard of behaviour and outlook of wayfarers whose objective is, or once was, a search for work without doing anything to discourage aimless wandering. In the third place, it is to be noted that even the extended facilities that exist in England are not having the effect of discouraging the wandering of Scottish men and boys over the Border into this country. Experience is quite the contrary.

Another point on which I should like to say a word is the overlapping which undoubtedly takes place of the functions of the police and the public assistance officers. For example, it happens occasionally that in a rural area the public assistance officer is working single- handed. In such a case it is usually fairly safe to rely upon the police giving him every possible assistance. The policeman, for example, will act for him when he is off duty or is otherwise detained or engaged. This is very often done, and it very often works with great smoothness, but where either it is not done, or where it does not work smoothly, it has the effect that the life of the public assistance officer becomes a burden, owing to his being detained long after hours at his office by casuals arriving or even calling upon him at his house and sometimes, it is feared, behaving in a somewhat bullying and threatening way, which they certainly would not dare to do in the case of the police. Then in other cases in country districts, where there is no casual shelter or lodging house, the police may often have to deal with unknown destitute men who are rambling about in the dark and in a manner contrary to the interests of the residents whose property it is the function of the police to protect. Cases are known where a village policeman has not only himself erected a shelter for the casual vagrants, but has also given them food for which he has paid out of his own pocket.

While, admittedly, these two services have worked with great smoothness together, it is obviously desirable that the situation as between them should be straightened out before the introduction of any such regulations as are herein proposed. Presumably this Clause was introduced as the result of annoyance expressed by England at the continuous influx of Scottish vagrants over the Border. It is the decided opinion of those who have for long studied the question that, if time is not given to investigate very thoroughly this matter on the lines of the Phelps Departmental Committee of 1930 before the introduction of the Clause as it stands, there is nothing to be expected in the future except more confusion and further difficulty.

7.0 p.m.


I join with those others who congratulated the Under-Secretary on his very cool and lucid presentation of his views to the House. There is only one thing lacking from the explanation that those of us sitting here would have desired to have, and that is an explanation of why he is introducing the Measure at all. I think he said it was the best part of a century since we had any Poor Law legislation. I wish I could discover, among the hundred and one things for which Scotland is crying out just now, what were the forces that were brought to bear to decide the Scottish Office in introducing a Measure on a subject which has stood untouched for 90 years. As an earnest student of Parliamentary operations and of the quaint habits of Governments, I find myself, with the best will in the world, unable to understand why the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary have picked this out of the basket as the thing that could be most urgently attended to in Scotland at the present time. I hope that I am in touch with the local affairs of Scotland. I think I know representatives of local government work in nearly every part of Scotland; I think I know the poor of Scotland fairly well, but neither from the poor nor from those responsible for administering the Poor Law have I heard any demand for legislation of this kind at all.

The hon. and learned Gentleman who occupies the same bench with me—temporarily—quoted in support of the Measure from a Minority Report issued in 1909 by a Royal Commission set up by a Liberal Government. This legislation, not required for 90 years, was introduced because a Royal Commission of 25 years ago indicated that certain changes ought to be made. I do not accept either the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition or Mrs. Sidney Webb as my political leaders, but I did have at that time a certain amount of association with them, and I know that on the basis of their Minority Report the Labour movement in this country started a campaign which covered most of England and Scotland, and the slogan of which was "Break up the Poor Law." Here, to-night, 25 years later, we are being confronted with a Measure which, if it has any meaning at all, means a perpetuation of the Poor Law and a perpetuation of its institutional aspect. That is taking us away back to our boyhood itself and the novels of Charles Reade and Charles Dickens, who gave all the best of their genius to rouse a public opinion that would make the institutional treatment of unfortunate sections of the community impossible.

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman who is now in charge of Scottish affairs that to-night he is proposing to reverse a decent tendency that has been operating in Scotland for many years; namely, the tendency, even by Poor Law authorities, to get every single possible person out of the institutions and leave them with their freedom. Whether they are aged, orphan children, infirm, or slightly mentally deficient, they are taken out of institutions by every decent-minded local authority in Scotland, and have been taken out for the last 25 years. These authorities, moreover, have had a predominantly Conservative political outlook. The attempt of every one of them was to put the person subject to the Poor Law not into an institution but under the care of some decent, kindly, responsible person, a relative if possible. Another tendency has been, where the person was neither mentally defective nor physically defective nor aged, where he was not incompetent in any way, for the local authority to put money into his hands and say to him—or her—"You are just as competent to manage yourself, your home and your children decently as an institution. You are an intelligent human being; given a limited sum of money you are quite as capable of looking after yourself as any institution would be of looking after you."

I want hon. Members to agree with me that that has been the general tone and tendency in the attitude of Scotland towards the poor during this last quarter of a century. Further, this attitude has worked well. Examine any statistics you like produced by the Scottish Office; look back for years over the statistics produced in the Statistical Abstract. Whatever test you apply, whether it be criminal statistics, health statistics, vital statistics, treatment of children, the school attendance of children—which is a tremendous test of parental responsibility—the result has always been the same. In spite of the fact that the big majority of the people in Scotland have been living for the last 14 years under the most difficult conditions, yet, given a very limited amount of money into their hands through public assistance—always a lesser amount of money than is necessary to maintain the same person inside any institution, whether it is a Poor Law institution, a prison or a hospital—the general tendency of the morale of the people has not been to deteriorate, but in so far as morale can ever be judged by statistical returns of one kind or another, our Scottish people have shown a tendency upwards on this method of treatment, rather than downwards.


I am sorry to intervene, but there is nothing in my speech or in the Bill to suggest that there is going to be any larger proportion of Scottish poor in institutions than there is to-day. So far as institutions are concerned, the Bill deals only with improving those institutions which exist.


I am afraid I cannot accept that statement. When I talk about institutionalism, I am not thinking primarily of an addition to existing institutions; I am thinking of the mood, the attitude, the temper. The casual ward is an absolutely new institution.


I am sorry to intervene again, but the casual ward is not mentioned in the Bill. Mr. MAXTON: The making of arrangements for the treatment of casuals; do not let us quibble about it. A local authority shall, if required by the Department, provide suitable and separate poorhouse accommodation for each or any of such classes of inmate as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Department. Then there is the question of training centres, the question of compulsory task work, the question of detention of people who are given casual accommodation over a period of time—over two or three days. There is the question of detaining the regular Poor Law inmate for compulsorily extended periods if he has been an "in-and-out"; the question of putting inmates in prison if they are refractory; the question of getting an order from the sheriff to keep a sick person temporarily in a hospital for three months. All of that is what I call institutionalism: the attempt of the State to go in on the top of human beings who—I can never say this often enough—are not tremendously different from the rest of us who are here in this House. The average man and woman, particularly woman, in this House, who starts telling hon. Members what they have to do finds that there is a kick coming at once and a feeling of resentment. If he or she approaches them as human beings, as some hon. Members are capable of doing who are not entirely lost to the finer feelings of humanity, there is a decent response. If we feel it here we who are not economically dependent for our daily bread or our night's shelter, how much more must compulsion irk the soul of an independent-minded man who is compelled to submit to a series of disciplines, orders, trainings, rules and regulations—and searchings—in order to get a night's shelter? That is institutionalism, and that is the frame of mind which is rampant in this Bill. I am surprised that Parliament is asked to pass this Measure when that frame of mind is behind it, and such excuses as we have heard are made for it.

The hon. Member who spoke certainly found some points of criticism and hoped that there would be Amendments on the Committee stage. I did not take his speech to mean that he was going into the Lobby against the Bill. I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman across the way who is always called in a foremost place as one of the representative spokesmen of Scottish Liberalism. He was enthusiastic in his praise of it. I have read the most recent utterance of the Liberal party from start to finish.


I should like to hear what the hon. Member is saying.


I was merely remarking—and I can understand you being particularly interested in this, Mr. Speaker—that I had read from start to finish the most recent publication of the Liberal party in the spirit in which I always read anything which is written by my political opponents, believing that they mean it. They told us that in the face of all the interferences with liberty which are taking place all over the world they, the Liberals of Britain, stand above all things for personal freedom. I am glad to hear that. I think it is absolutely necessary that somebody should, in these days, stand up for personal freedom against the infringement and tyranny of one kind of Government and another. I agree with that, but I should like to see it being operated in the practical details of our work here, because, as I see it, this Measure can be used as a tremendous instrument for the taking away of personal liberty. One can see the road along which the unemployed man goes. He is unemployed, exhausts his Unemployment Insurance Benefit, comes under Part II of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, gets across the Public Assistance Board, and is turned on to the Poor Law. The Poor Law give him outdoor relief, and then they put him into the poorhouse. He becomes refractory, which means to say that this fellow who has gone through extended unemployment and has been kicked about from pillar to post, and who has landed finally in the poorhouse, has yet spirit enough to become refractory. He gets three weeks' imprisonment, and, if he is refractory, there he will get six months. The fellow may have only one fault in him, namely, that he has preserved, in spite of all his difficulties, the spirit of Scottish independence.

This Measure in its inspiration, attitude and contents, aims at re-establishing the institutional way of dealing with the population. The trend of the times has all been against that. The trend of local administration in Scotland and of legislation here has been against it. This represents definite re-action and a stepping back into the past. The right hon. Gentleman becomes the glorified Bumble for Scotland. He is to take the poor of Scotland under his control, and he says, "We are going to house you and feed you when you need it, and, by Heavens, you are going to give us your freedom and your discipline in return for your food and shelter." That is the spirit of this Measure. We shall vote against the Second Reading, and if it passes the Second Reading and the right hon. Gentleman persists in going ahead with it, we shall fight it in every possible detail in the Committee stage. We will do still more. We will try to awaken the people of Scotland to a realisation of what is in the Measure because they do not at present know. When this does get across to the people of Scotland, I am certain that from every quarter in Scotland and from every political angle there will come loud protests against the Measure being completed and put upon the Statute Book.

7.21 p.m.


From the description given by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) I think it must be with great difficulty that the Undersecretary of State for Scotland recognises his Bill. I have read the Bill through pretty carefully, and I must say that I did not find all those dreadful consequences or any serious attempt in it to propagate or perpetuate institutions. In the first place, nobody wants that, because as the hon. Member for Bridgeton said, apart altogether from the effect upon liberty, the cost of them is three or four times the cost of letting the men work out their own way. That is what occurs to me in connection with the aged people here. I have often thought that when men reach the age of 80, 85 or 90 years—there are not very many of them, and they are not fit to look after themselves—and have to be taken to those institutions perhaps away from the aged cottage in which they were born and brought up because they cannot afford to get anyone to look after them, it would be a very simple matter to double or even treble their old age pension so that they could at least get some kindly body to stay in the old place and look after them. The total expenditure would be very slight, and the qualification would be "old age." Why, when a person reaches the age of 100, he ought to get £5 a week just to celebrate the occasion. I mean to say he should get at the rate of £250 a year, for it would not last a year in order to have some kind of celebration. That is what might be done here for old people.


They might be refractory.


I believe that the older we get the more difficult we are. Clause 9, I think, could very largely be met if the Secretary of State for Scotland could soften the heart of the Chancellor of the Exchequer by getting him to put a little Clause in his Finance Bill to the effect that the very old age pensioner should at least get enough to pay some kindly body to come and look after him and his wife if she also survive. I am sure that there are many persons, if they were paid a weekly sum, whose whole aim would be to keep the old people alive as long as possible.

I do not think that the criticism and eloquent denunciations of the hon. Member for Bridgeton have any justification whatever in fact, and he will find that when the Bill passes and is working it will have none of the effects which he anticipates. I was very glad to hear what the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) said about spending public money in his speech. I remember that many years ago in his constituency, I think, I came across a very large casual ward. It was somewhere in Glasgow down by the river side. I said to the man in charge of it, "The place is very hot. You have it very much centrally heated." He said, "Yes, that is much the best heat for the casual ward, because when these poor tramps come here, they go to sleep very soon, and therefore we have no disorder."


Is the hon. and learned Gentleman sure that it was Govan and not some other place?


It was down on the river side. I know that it was in Glasgow. It is a very long time ago, but I remember seeing a kindness which touched me deeply. A newspaper boy came in and laid down a large number of evening newspapers. I said, "This seems to be very generous to the casual ward," and he replied, "It is not us who do it." He told me that it was Tom MacIntyre, who has been gone to rest many years, who had given orders for all those places round about Lanarkshire to be presented with evening newspapers because he thought that some of the tramps, many of whom were bona fide looking for work, might be able to find a job by looking through the newspapers, and also find out what was going on. I think that that was one of the kindest things I ever saw one man do for others.

I am surprised to hear it said, and it has been repeated and so I suppose that it must be so, that the Scottish Poor Law has been administered much more kindly than the English Poor Law. It may have been administered more kindly, but certainly from a legal point of view it was much harsher. It was only in 1921 that it became legal to give relief to the able-bodied poor. As far back as the time of Elizabeth, after the enclosure of the commons, they mitigated that by having Poor Law relief, but we did not have it in Scotland. How they managed for all those long periods, even before 1845, it is difficult to say. In the seventeenth century one-fifth of the population of the Midlothians, the most fertile part of Scotland, as it is now, died one year of starvation. There they had had three years of bad crops, and there were no capitalists and no capital at that time, not even a co-operative society to bring them any food, and they had to lie down and die. They were decent people. In earlier times before the time of Henry VIII, who, without a general election, in which he would certainly have been defeated, brought about the Reformation and took all the land and scattered it abroad, the poor went to the gates of the monasteries, and they were taken in and given a spade and made to work for a living. That was infinitely better than getting something for nothing.

One of the main influences in the physical demoralisation of the unemployed is the fact that a man gets something without doing anything for it, and that is what a man does not like. I remember being at one of the large houses in Kintyre where a garden had been quarried out of the rocks. I said to the owner, "I do not think much of your ancestor's business capacity. He could not have had that dug out without the expenditure of a fearful lot of money." He said, "Oh, yes. The position was evidently in this district that they were starving. There was nothing doing and no employment, and after he had made the people do everything he could possibly think of on his estate, and as he did not want to give them money for nothing because it would destroy the mutual respect which each had for the other,"—because they were all friends in those districts and there was no class distinction, and never was in the Highlands—"he employed them all to quarry this big garden out of solid rock and paid them for doing it. It kept them in good bodily condition, and they did not have the feeling that they were accepting something for nothing." At another place going along the road in Mid-Argyll you can see a great avenue more or less quarried out of solid rock, the work having been carried out for the purpose of giving people employment.

I often think of the sheer barrenness of imagination on the part of the Government when the Labour party was in office or any other party. When a Conservative Government or a National Government are in office, the Labour party say that it is the same. There is never the slightest intuition of anything that is to be done to make work for people. There is no use giving the people the task of making commodities which people do not want to buy, or if they have not the money with which to buy them. This Bill is making an attempt to do something to find work, and I am sure that most unemployed men would prefer to do work than nothing. The tragedy of unemployment is that the unemployed man has so little money, and yet he has so much time in which to spend it. Under a properly regulated social condition the man who is unemployed would have a far larger income than the man who is employed, because he has so much spare time in which to spend his money. What is he to do with his time?


Play chess.


The hon. Member says that he should play chess. I suggest that he might play draughts. The one is a more intelligent game than the other. The hon. Member is an advocate of the less skilful game, but I have no doubt that he could easily acquire knowledge of the other. If we are to solve the problem of unemployment, we shall have to revert to the practice of Elizabethan times. In the old days no man worked unless he had a little bit of land—he tilled his land—and unless we get back to that condition so that when employment conditions are quiet the man can till his bit of ground, we shall not make any progress. One or two intelligent employers of labour are adopting that principle. I know of a shipyard where every man employed is a smallholder. He grows his own food, and he fixes the price with his employer…


That has nothing to do with the Bill.


I admit that I was straying somewhat. There is an attempt in Clause 3 to get the unemployed man to do something; something in agriculture or something in other useful ways. Our present system of unemployment is quite wrong. Suppose one of our own friends called upon us, and he was in distress. We might give him some temporary relief, but he would be far better pleased if we could give him a job.


Suppose you could not do that.


We could try. This Bill is an attempt to make the unemployed man better fitted for a job. It is not all that one would like, and no doubt we shall have to develop the system of dealing with these people much further. In Scotland we have segregated the respectable poor, generations ago. In Stuart times, in the times of James V, the respectable poor man was given a badge and a little pocket which he carried, and he went round as a licensed beggar. The most celebrated licensed beggar was James V himself. He went round with his badge and his pocket for the purpose of discovering the truth as to what his subjects were thinking. He had no general election, and there were no newspapers, not even Sunday newspapers—


No broadcasting.


He went round as a beggarman and found out what was going on among his subjects.


They would shut him up now.


. I do not think it would be very easy. There is a very good description of the licensed beggar in Scott's "The Antiquary." It was only the respectable poor who got his badge and was licensed to beg. I do not think the respectable poor will suffer under this Bill. With regard to the vagrant, if he goes into a poorhouse, he will have to stay 24 hours in the place.


More than that; 36 hours.


He will have to be in at least a day, and the purpose of that is for sanitary reasons.


Does it take the hon. and learned Member 36 hours to have a bath?


No, but it takes 36 hours to get my things dry if they have been properly cleaned and disinfected. It shows that my hon. Friend has never done his own washing; if he had he would know that it takes at least that time to dry your clothes.


I do not pose as a valeting expert, but I see shops advertising that they will do it while you wait.


I do not know what methods of valeting they employ, but they do not say how long you will have to wait. There are certain things in the Bill which I do not like. I think the suggestion of going through the poor devil's pockets and taking his money, is not worth while. What would it amount to at the end of a year? I do not think that for all the Poor Law authorities in Scotland it would amount to more than £100. What is the cost to-day of sleeping in a model lodging-house? The cost used to be 4d., but I think the top price is now 1s. Of course, there may be an eccentric capitalist with a large sum of money doing a bit of hiking as the cheapest way of getting about, and he might go to a poorhouse. If he has a substantial sum of money he will probably hand it over; otherwise, he may be robbed. I think the provision about searching the vagrant for money is silly.

The Bill is an attempt to get some real way of working on properly regulated lines. I understand from the Undersecretary and the Lord Advocate that various local authorities have been dealing with the poor more or less on these lines for nearly a 100 years and the Bill is to regularise matters and bring them up to date. If I thought that the Bill was as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) described it, I would not have it nor would any Scottish Member. He may take it from me that the Bill is not as he describes it. Of course, he may use his own description for platform purposes just as he uses a great many things which he does not thoroughly understand, but I think we shall be able to prove to the public that there is no attempt made in the Bill to interfere with the liberty or freedom of anyone.

7.39 p.m.


I was very pleased to note in the speeches real concern at the possibility that anything that may be good in the Poor Law of Scotland as it is at the present time may be lost. It will not be denied that that attitude is very helpful and that it will make for progress when the Bill goes upstairs. The statement was also made that it is not criminal to be poor. While that may be true, we cannot lose sight of the fact that there are many poor people who are deemed to be criminals simply because of their poverty. According to the official figures of inmates of prisons in 1931, over 50 per cent. of them were there, not because of misdemeanour warranting im prisonment, but simply because they had not sufficient money to pay bail, fines, and civil debts. Therefore, I put that qualification on the statement that has been made. While it is not quite true that it is not criminal to be poor, there may be a little disposition to adopt that attitude and to say that it is "criminal," or something approaching to it. That is one of the things that will remain to be seen under the regulations which are to be prepared and laid before the House.

I was interested in the statement of the Under-Secretary with regard to the difficulties that confront various local authorities when certain types of persons apply to them, and they are in doubt as to their bona fides. The Under-Secretary said that there should be no middle course, and he then referred to the fact that to-day the only test they could give to them was to offer them the poorhouse. Now, as an alternative, according to the Bill they have to be given the opportunity of availing themselves of an offer of work.


It was not the middle course in regard to test that I spoke of, but the middle course of work. The hon. Member will see the difference.


Yes. I will deal with the work aspect later on, but before doing so there is one point on Clause 1 which I should like to be explained. In Clause 1 there are various provisions covered by various laws which are to be made permanent, but one that is not to be made permanent is Sub-section (4) of Section 2 of the Poor Law Emergency Provisions (Scotland) Act, 1921. I have looked at that, and I notice that that Sub-section states that loans for purposes such as this shall not be reckoned in any calculation of the statutory limit of loans under Subsection (1) of Section thirty-eight of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1894. I wondered why that is not being made permanent along with the other matters dealt with in Clause 1. In regard to Clause (c) I should like to make one or two comments. If this Bill becomes law there will be under Government jurisdiction four avenues for training and instructing persons. Speaking candidly, none of the four are very competent for their job. Provided that the regulations placed before the Minister by the local authorities are accepted, the local authorities may make provision for the instruction and training of persons for re-entry into regular employment. I do not look upon this particular body if it is created as a competent body for that purpose. There is also the possibility of this work being handed over to what is termed "any other body." I should like the Under-Secretary to inform the House if "any other body" might mean an organisation called the Social Service Council, which functions in various parts of Scotland, or any other body competent to give the instruction referred to. If we are to guide people into employment there should be some regard as to suitability; and not only that, there is no reason why we should create further machinery to get people into employment if industry is not capable of absorbing them. That is just holding out hopes which will not materialise, and the despondency which will attend them will be in much greater degree than it was before.

In regard to Sub-section (2) dealing with able-bodied persons the same applies: I cannot see that the machinery to be created to provide work will allow the officials responsible to be fair in the matter. To be fair in matters such as this you have to be strict, and if you apply this in a strict sense the number of people may be more than the centres you create for this purpose are able to cope with. If that ultimately is the case then I am afraid methods of selection will be adopted which cannot be countenanced as fair by any right-minded individual. The days referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) when people were taken into monastery gardens and given work are long past. We are assumed to have made progress, but I think that the tendency towards control in matters relating to men who are poor through no fault of their own is not the proper way to proceed. I am sorry that I was not present when the Under-Secretary dealt with Clause 4 and I am sorry that I interrupted him after he had given his explanation. I look upon Clause 4 as a matter of great importance. Apparently the design of the Clause is to provide separate accommodation for separate classes. I read an article in a journal issued from a very respectable section of the House in which there is the assertion that there are 300,000 members of the middle classes who are now subject to unemployment of a rather hectic degree and, therefore, I want to know what are to be the points of distinction so far as these classes are concerned. Are they to be the able bodied as against the ordinary poor, are they to be what may be termed the working classes as against the middle classes, or the manual as against the non-manual worker? I shall keep a careful watch on the suggestion to create separate accommodation in workhouses for these various classes.


They are classes of inmates, not classes in the country.


I have endeavoured to indicate that the classes of inmates will be representative of the various types in the country and that it is possible there will be a cut out to segregate them in-a manner which would not meet with my approval. The question of discipline has been well covered by other hon. Members, especially in reference to the proposal to have separate accommodation for persons who may be deemed to be disorderly, and I therefore shall not discuss it. I am quite prepared, however, to see these disorderly people taken out of workhouses altogether and allow the police to do their job. Clause 6 refers to the casual poor. I notice that there is an interpretation Clause, and in that Clause the casual poor are deemed to be wayfarers and such people. I am connected with a trade which has a considerable number of people travelling all over the country looking for work. They are chair menders, french polishers and upholsterers, and many of them travel long distances in order to get the wherewithal on which to live. There is a possibility of them going into institutions such as are visualised in this Bill. They will be subject to search, and if they have any money it is to be subject to appropriation by the officials of the poorhouse. It is quite possible that men of that type, and others who may be mentioned, might have a little money, but that money might be the means of getting them to other places where work can be found and, therefore, I cannot, without further explanation and assurance, accept the Bill as it is. I hope great changes will be made in Committee upstairs. I had intended to deal with Clause 9, but that has already been referred to and therefore I will content myself by saying that I do not look upon the Bill as any advance. I think that the good aspects of Scottish Poor Law are going to be submerged, and I feel bound to vote against the Second Reading.

7.53 p.m.


If one were to judge from the utterances of certain Members of the Opposition one would be driven to the inevitable conclusion that the ordinary workhouse governor in Scotland was a person who would be more suitable as a slave driver. Those who have had any experience of workhouses in Scotland will not agree with that. In my own part of the world no men could be more sympathetic in their treatment of those who happen to be placed under their responsibility for the time being. The allegation that we are going to see our poorhouses turned into something resembling the torture chamber of the inquisition has no foundation in fact. The Under-Secretary has shown an unusual readiness to consider all Amendments that may be brought forward upstairs, and, as the Government have made a most praiseworthy attempt to bring our inadequate and antiquated Poor Law up to date, it would not be grateful on the part of any hon. Member to vote against the Second Reading. If after the Bill has been upstairs to Committee and comes on for Third Reading and they feel bound to oppose it, then there is, of course, no reason why they should not divide against it; but, in view of the amenable spirit which seems to pervade the Government in regard to the Measure, I think we might well wait and see what happens in Committee.

I should like to see a good many alterations made in the Bill. Like the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), I do not like the idea that every man entering a poorhouse is to be compulsorily searched like a criminal, and there are various other points of detail with which I will not weary the House at the moment. I have intervened in the Debate really to draw the attention of the House and the Government to the composition of the vast majority of the able-bodied poor in Scotland; those who are most frequently seen tramping the roads. There can be no doubt that the vast majority are not persons of Scottish nationality at all; they are of Irish extraction, very often of Irish birth. I know that in the poorhouse at Perth, on many occasions, no less than six out of every seven of the inmates are Irish. No one wants to see even Irish poor and distressed suffer, but the people in Scotland are beginning to feel that, although they do not want them to suffer, they do not think that the British taxpayer and the Scottish ratepayer should have to pay for their upkeep.

I suggest to the Government that they should include in the reference to the committee which is to consider the whole question of the able-bodied poor and other cognate subjects, a recommendation that they should study the question of Irish immigration into this country, and what proportion of these immigrants within a year or less become chargeable to the Poor Law. On the Second Heading of the Bill I imagine that it would be out of order for me to go much further, but, even if we got Scottish Home Rule, we could not cure the position ourselves. As long as Scotland remains a member of the British Empire inter-imperial migration and travel must, obviously, be a matter of agreement among all the nations composing the British Empire, and I think that the Government would do well to put the whole question of the movement between various portions of our Empire on the agenda for the next Imperial Conference. I know that in the West of Scotland especially the subject of immigration from Ireland, with the consequent huge accretion of men to the ranks of the unemployed, is causing the greatest concern.

7.57 p.m.


In introducing the Bill the Under-Secretary told us that we were at some time or another to have a codifying statute dealing with Poor Law in Scotland. I should like him to tell us what time is going to elapse before the reports of these various Committees will be to hand and before this final consolidating Bill is placed before the House. It is rather important for us to know whether we are dealing with a stop-gap Measure, something to last for a year or two, or with a Measure which is to govern Poor Law in Scotland for a number of years to come. Clause 1 makes permanent the obligation to relieve able-bodied unemployed, which was imposed as a temporary Measure in 1921. If the Bill is to continue for a period of years, then surely it ought to be accompanied by some alteration in the law of settlement. If an unemployed person comes into Dundee from one of the parishes outside and is aged or infirm, we are able to send in a Bill to the local authority, but, if the unemployed man is able-bodied, the loss has to be borne by Dundee. If we are dealing with a scheme which is to last for some years there should be an alteration in that respect, otherwise, you will get a further concentration of the financial burden of unemployment in the towns and cities, who have already to bear much more than their fair share.

In regard to Clause 3 I join with what has been said about the artificial division which is created by Part II of the Unemployment Bill between two classes of unemployed, those who have been in insurable employment and those who have been in some other form of employment. It seems to me that you are going to get a duplication of effort, and consequent waste; that you are going to have training and instruction courses provided on the one hand by the Unemployment Assistance Board and, on the other hand, by the Poor Law authorities. They will be dealing with people who are, in fact, very much the same, and you may have two sets of instruction courses being conducted in different buildings in the same city. The people who go to these respective courses will be neighbours. They will certainly compare notes, and you may get grievances, which would otherwise be unnecessary, because of the difference in the methods used in the one case and in the other.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) laid a great deal of emphasis on the phrase "task work." I do not want to use an epithet of that kind, but I would like to know a little more about the work which is to be done under Subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 3. Is it really necessary that a local authority should have these additional powers given to it? If the local authority has work to offer which needs to be done, work which would be done in the ordinary way, it can offer that work to its unemployed and they have to take it, because a condition of their relief now is that they shall be destitute and unable to obtain work. The objection to work being found in this way seems to me to be two-fold. If the work is necessary work it ought to be done in the ordinary way and paid for by wages in the ordinary way, but if it is unnecessary work which is merely created for the benefit of this particular class, it must in many cases partake of the nature of digging a pit and filling it up again.

I very much doubt whether that kind of work, created for that purpose, something that is analogous to task work, has any particular moral value for the individual concerned. I quite appreciate that it is possible in some cases and in some districts to find something between the two, work which the unemployed are able to do in the time they have. I have seen it in different parts of the country. On a recent visit to Yorkshire I saw som of the unemployed helping to clear an old Roman road and some old Roman remains, and they were doing it voluntarily rather than remain idle. Other hon. Members have seen things of that kind, which are common in different parts of the country. But surely it is better to keep that sort of work voluntary. I ask the Government whether it is really necessary to introduce the element of compulsion, with all the dangers that it implies.

A great deal has been said about Clause 6 and the treatment of the casuals. The position is left rather vague by the reply of the Under-Secretary to the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). All these special arrangements are being made for the treatment of the casual, but it is not clear from the Bill whether or not there are to be casual wards. Is the casual to be placed in the same building, in the same dormitory it may be, with the permanent inhabitants of the poorhouse? If you have the two classes in the same building, that is to say if you do not have separate casual wards, it seems to me that you are going to have a rather remarkable situation, because you have a strict time-table set out for the casual and a quite different timetable set out for the ordinary inhabitant. You may have the very anomalous situation of two men in adjoining beds in a dormitory one of whom has to give a certain length of notice before he can go out while the other has to give a shorter or a longer notice. There will be all sorts of anomalies unless you have a separate system of casual wards. Perhaps the learned Lord Advocate will Bay whether it is intended to set up a separate part of the building for the casuals alone. Then as regards what was said about the two days. We were told that it was necessary to prevent the casual leaving before the expiration of two days from the time of his admission, in order that the man may be cleaned and his clothes fumigated. Under this system, if he goes from one place to another, he is going to be bathed and his clothes fumigated three times a week.

I join with hon. Members who have made a protest again Clause 9. It is quite clear that in some cases at any rate a number of old people are going to be removed from their homes against their wishes. I have no doubt that the medical officer or the local authority will be acting with the best intentions in these cases, but you are setting up here a form of paternal despotism. I would like to see the drafting of that Clause altered. Of course if the old persons concerned are in such a state that they are really unable to choose, you might well have machinery in order to deal with them, but where they are in a state to choose for themselves it is far better to leave the matter to their own discretion.

Clause 11 of the Bill deals with the position of Poor Law officers. It has been pointed out by several speakers that in many respects the Bill follows the example of the English Poor Law. I only wish that the Bill had followed the English example in its treatment of Poor Law officers. In the English consolidating Act of 1930, in Section 10, it is laid down that the Minister may define not only the duties and the mode of appointment of those who are concerned with the relief of the poor, but he may also lay down their salaries and the conditions of their service. There is a statutory protection given in England not only to the presiding Poor Law officer, but to all officers concerned with relief of the poor. In Scotland the treatment does not extend nearly as far. The low seems to be a little obscure on the point, but by Section 32 of the Act of 1845 it is laid down that parochial boards are to appoint the inspector of the poor and to report his name and salary to the Board of Supervision, now the Department of Health. By Section 56 of that Act the dismissal of an inspector of the poor is made a matter for the Board of Supervision. The protection there, if it is protection, is confined to one man in each district, the inspector of the poor, and a deputy or assistant inspector, or the governor or matron of a Poor Law institution, people whose services have become necessary since 1845, have no such protection as under the English law. We might imitate the English law where it goes further than the Scots law and give more protection to public servants, and I hope the Government will be ready to consider an Amendment to that effect.

My last point is with regard to Clause 15. I am not going to follow what has been said, as to whether there should be a penal provision, because there has been a great deal of eloquence on that subject. But I do put it to the Lord Advocate whether it is reallly advisable that an offence of this kind and offenders of this kind should be dealt with by courts of summary jurisdiction. I have held for some time past that both in Scotland and in England we have gone much too far in putting work on courts of summary jurisdiction. There are certain classes of cases and certain classes of offenders who as far as possible should be kept away from courts of summary jurisdiction. The cases here seem to me to fall into that category. Who are the people who will be charged with an offence under Clause 15? They will be people who have a bad reputation locally, "bad hats," the ne'er-do-wells, the people who, it may be, are notorious or against whom something is known or alleged in the district to which they belong, and the man who is sitting as a lay magistrate may himself be a member of the local authority or may be aware of the reputation which a man bears. Surely where you are dealing with that sort of case, in which it is very easy to have something in the nature of class prejudice, it is far better that it should be dealt with by the sheriff than by the court of summary jurisdiction.

8.12 p.m.


I have listened carefully to this Debate, because personally I am not intimately conversant with the Poor Law of Scotland, and I have to vote on this Bill. I would put one question to the Minister who is to reply. As far as one can judge the Poor Law has worked more or less well for the last 100 years, with the various amending Acts. Why this sudden rushing through of this Poor Law Bill? I may have missed the explanation of the Under-Secretary of State, although I listened throughout his speech. He told us that we are to have a general inquiry, a committee of local authorities set up to inquire into the whole question, and then over and above that we are to have a separate Departmental Committee to inquire into the whole question of vagrancy. I may have misunderstood the whole thing, but Clause 6 lays down definite regulations regarding vagrancy, and it seems to me that this legislation is ahead of the inquiry-What is the reason for the haste? I may be told that this Bill is linked up with or is dovetailing into the Unemployment Bill, Part II. If that is so, would it not be better to wait even a little to see how Part II of the Unemployment Bill is going to work? No one is clear just now as to the ramifications of Part II. I realise perfectly that a great many of the provisions in this Bill will ultimately be necessary. I rose merely to ask for enlightenment as to why there is this hurry before the committee report.

8.15 p.m.


Like the previous speaker I have some little difficulty about this Bill. While I welcome it as the natural and necessary corollary of the Unemployment Bill, I cannot see that it is of any great moment, because we were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the Financial Besolution in connection with the Unemployment Bill, that the State was taking over 95 per cent. of the expense of the able-bodied unemployed and that only five per cent. would be left to the local authorities. Therefore this Bill only deals with that portion of the able-bodied unemployed which costs five per cent. of the total expense in any area. It is true that the history of the Scottish Poor Law has been a wonderful romance. Many romantic things happened in the parishes, small burghs and large towns of Scotland in the last 80 years. We had many estimable men as clerks of the old parochial boards and parish councils. Now they are to be swept up into what are called public assistance committees. As chairman of a parish council in one of those ancient Royal burghs years ago, I met many of these men. They were earnest men and very sympathetic towards the poor. They had that old Scottish fear which is inherent in Scottish psychology the fear of the poorhouse.

Why are Scotsmen thrifty? Why do they succeed in business? Why do they "haud Sooth, and stay Sooth when they come"? Because of the fear of the poor-house. It was impressed on us when we were children. We were afraid lest we should ever be compelled to draw anything in the way of Poor Law relief or go to the poorhouse. Those men to whom I refer used to meet at night in some small room and consider the various cases in the parish, doling out the shillings to the people who needed them and, indeed breaking the law time and again. This Bill, we are told, is a preliminary to a codifying Measure which is going to make legal many things which those earnest men in Scotland did in the past without any authority. For that reason I am glad to see it. I remember a case which came to the House of Lords of the old Royal burgh of Rutherglen against the great city of Glasgow. It concerned an able-bodied man who had a wife living in Glasgow under a separation. The clerk of the Glasgow parish council granted this woman a few pounds and claimed on settlement against Rutherglen but the old Poor Law clerk there held that the grant was illegal. The clerk to the Glasgow parish council knew that the woman needed the money and gave it to her though he was aware of the legal difficulty. The result was that a case went through the various courts to the Court of Session and finished in the House of Lords and it was placed on record that it was illegal to make such a payment. Rutherglen was accordingly relieved of a few pounds but it cost hundreds of pounds to prove that the parish council clerk of Rutherglen was right and the parish council clerk of Glasgow was wrong. That shows the things that were done under the old system.

There was also the boarding out of children, a very excellent work. Children were brought down to the Ayrshire coast or to the Western Highlands and boarded out with people who gave them the grace of hospitality and treated them as they would treat their own children and had them educated at the same schools. Those children in many cases grew up to be good citizens. There was no Statute under which those men acted in doing such work. They did those things "off their own bat." Now we are bringing in a Bill which is to make all this legal. We are told that it is only a preliminary and for that reason alone as I have said I welcome it. I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) through all the Clauses of the Bill but I must say that I do not like the first two Clauses because I do not like legislation by reference. I was pleased to hear the Under-Secretary say that he is going to issue some information upon this matter and "put us wise" to the effect of all this legislation. I hope we shall have that information available when the Bill goes to Committee.

Clause 3 deals with the training of and performance of work by poor persons. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) will doubtless tell me that it is always poor persons who do the work but now we are going to set up machinery and acquire land and provide buildings and do all such other things as may seem necessary in connection with this matter. I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) should protest against it. Socialists on local councils are great advocates of direct labour and I think this Clause opens the door wide to direct labour. We are to have training grounds for direct labour and this is a Clause which I shall carefully watch in Committee because I am not a believer in direct labour.


Then the hon. Member is opposing it too?


I am not opposing it from the same point of view as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) or the hon. Member for Govan. I am surprised that they are opposing it at all. I am surprised too that the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) is not supporting this Clause up to the hilt. There are however many other Clauses in the Bill which deserve the support of all right-thinking people who want to see the Poor Law of Scotland placed on a sound basis and for that reason I am in favour of the Bill.

8.24 p.m.


This Measure has raised considerable controversy and hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that I support its rejection. There are one or two points, however, in which I think it improves matters, and it is as well that we should first see how far there is common agreement. I see only two points of value in the Bill. One is the proposal dealing with the first 7s. 6d. of health insurance benefit in relation to the Poor Law. The other is the exemption for Poor Law relief purposes of the first 5s. of sick pay from a friendly society, and I take it that that will apply equally to trade union payment of sickness benefit. As to the health insurance money it was provided in the 1924 Health Insurance Act that the first 7s. 6d. should be exempted, but from 1924 until recently no Poor Law authority in Scotland, as far as I know, worked that Act. Each one succeeded in defying it. While the Labour Government were in office I had correspondence extending over a long period with the director of public assistance in the City of Glasgow. I wanted the City of Glasgow to do it because it was the law, but I think the director of public assistance—and we are told that these are all fine men—whether he believes in the law or not ought to carry the law out until it is altered. There is no director of public assistance, even in Glasgow, who is greater than the law. But he deliberately refused to do it. I interviewed him and pleaded with him, and he told me, in a most aggressive, cheeky, and impertinent fashion, that he would see the law altered against me.

He told me in effect that those who were running the Poor Law in Scotland did not understand it as well as he did, and that he would have the law altered to suit him, and he refused to carry it out. I went there to get the law carried out, as I have done, I hope, with the Department officers and local authority officers. I wanted him to carry out the law, and I went decently to interview him, but he said, "No, we are not going to carry out the law in this case," and he started to quibble about a maximum scale and a minimum scale. He said that those things did not matter, that he had instructed his officials in Glasgow Poor Law relief to take the 7s. 6d. Ultimately, after years of negotiation, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland insisted that they were breaking the law and insisted on them carrying it out in the Glasgow public assistance department. Yet that is the type of man we are entrusting with terrible duties under this Bill. We were told by the Noble Lord the Member for Perth (Lord Scone) that these were men of great character, capacity and understanding, yet here was one who deliberately, to a Member of Parliament, defied the law and refused to carry it out, and you are saying to this man, "You defied the law, you would not carry it out for years, but we think so much of you that we shall place in your hands power over your fellow subjects." There is no evidence why that should be done, but bringing the 7s. 6d. within the Poor Law possibly brings it within the range of not being so easily misunderstood. Really, however, the 7s. 6d. is not capable of being misunderstood if the Poor Law authorities want to do their job.

The other point is the 5s. friendly society matter. This is an improvement, although with some local authorities, more enlightened than others, it is the accepted practice already. Apart from those two points, I have examined the Bill, and I say that it is fundamentally bad. The hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay) asked a question. We were told that for 18 years the Poor Law in Scotland had worked exceedingly well, but that there had been many things illegal for 18 years and that they were now to be legalised. Suddenly, in 1934, we start upon the legalisation of that which has been illegal for 17 or 18 years. I should have thought that before introducing a Bill of this kind the Government would have consulted the local authorities, that they would have heard evidence from them, and that they would have had conferences with them. But no, that is not done. They have been doing illegal things, and so, without any evidence at all, they rush in here, to carry this Bill through.

It is not really because certain things have been illegal for l8 years, for the Government have told us that they are going to codify the law and that they are setting up a committee to inquire into it, so it cannot be for that reason. The reason is plain. The Government have a Part II under the Unemployment Bill, and this Bill fits into the machinery of that Part II. There is less reason for this Bill now than ever, because the illegal things which they are alleged to have been doing apply now only to a very much smaller section of the population than ever before. It is estimated by the Glasgow Town Council that 90 per cent. of the able-bodied poor will pass out into Part II of the other Bill, yet we are now faced with pushing through a Bill to deal with Poor Law matters at the same time as 90 per cent. of the able-bodied poor have been taken from the care of the public assistance department.

Why is there this rush? It is because under Part II there are certain people who are deemed to be bad people and who, for the purposes of that Bill, will be handed over to the Poor Law authorities, and the Government do not wish the Poor Law authorities to deal with those people kindly. They want them to deal with them with a strong, stern hand, because they feel that it would be bad if somebody passed out of Part II for not being too good and got better treatment under the Poor Law authorities than under the Government Department. So they introduce this Bill to see that those people have no chance of being dealt with decently, lest it might be an attraction for people to come out of Part II by any means at their disposal. That is the purpose that I see in dealing here with the able-bodied poor. It is nonsense to pretend that it is to make things legal, at the very time when you are only dealing with 10 per cent. and when you are setting up two Departmental Committees to inquire into the subject. It would be laughed to scorn in connection with anything but the Poor Law. Before these two committees report, before evidence is heard, you are legislating on the very things with which the Committees have to do. It seems to me that the Government might have had a case for inquiry into Poor Law administration in Scotland, and might have set up a committee to hear evidence, and then legislated as a result of such inquiry.

One of the questions that are not dealt with in the Bill is that of the children. We hear about the powers of the committee in boarding them out. A man may hand his children over to the Poor Law, as indeed he often does. If he is left a widower, and if he is in a job that takes him out of the city and he cannot watch over his children, he frequently goes voluntarily to the public authority and says, "I will pay you to look after my children," and he makes an arrangement. But once the Poor Law authority have taken over his children, he has no legal right to take them back unless the Poor Law authority gives them back to him. Once children have gone into the hands of the Poor Law the parent can only get them back if the Poor Law consents to give them back, even if the parent has sent them voluntarily. One would have thought that in a Bill of this kind you would have given the parents some right to get their own children back, but they have none. I do not grumble at the Government legislating on these matters, but why do they not deal with the whole issue? There is the question of the care of cripple children. Under the Poor Law and under the education system there is power to deal with the blind, but there is practically no power to deal with the cripple children.

We then come to the question of the treatment of these people. I was never on a Poor Law authority, but I have been closely associated with Poor Law work for 14 or 15 years. We are told that among the people with whom we are to deal is the casual who, when he goes to the poorhouse, has to be searched and detained. The reason given by people for doing a cruel thing is a benevolent reason. If a man wants to ill-treat his wife, he always gives the most benevolent reason for so doing. He always says, "I whipped her because I wanted her to be good." In the case of the casuals the reason given for detaining them is the necessity for cleaning them and their clothes. If that be the object, it is the worst way of attaining it. If you were a casual tramping from town to town, would you go to the poor house knowing that you may be detained for possibly as long as seven days? It is the last place you would go near. The very person to whom the Government say they are out to do good is the very man who will not go near the poorhouse. He will go anywhere but to the poorhouse.

Did hon. Members ever see these men going into the poorhouse? I have mixed with them. They are my people, and I know them. I have watched them go in. Cleaning their clothes is a waste of public money in nine cases out of ten. It is nothing but spending public money on their rags. Give them, if you like, clean clothes or new clothes or even secondhand clothes. The idea of detaining them to clean their clothes is nonsense. That is not the reason at all. The fact is that these are men tramping from place to place and the Government feel that they must be stern with them and prevent them tramping about; they must be stationary in their poverty and cause the authorities no trouble. If a man who goes into a poorhouse kicks up a row, he is treated more severely than a Member of Parliament who kicks up a row. We get three days' suspension, and we are supposed to be much above the poor casual. A casual who causes a disturbance has possibly had a drink of biddy before he goes in. It is illegal to drink it, and the only person who is punished is the man who takes it. He kicks up a shindy and for that he is to be subject, first of all, to detention in a room by himself. In effect, it is solitary confinement in a cell. Because he has kicked up a bit of a row he is to be kept 24 hours in this place without any trial. It is the easiest thing in the world to work if a foreman or a manager wishes to pick a quarrel with a man. A casual may come in at a late hour at night. He awakens everybody out of their ordinary routine and annoys them. There is a row, and without any trial the governor can say to him, "Twenty-four hours for you in a cell," and there is no appeal. Even if the man can show that it is wrong, he has no case against the governor.

This power is given to deal with human beings in that way because they are casuals and tramps. I do not know what the experience of other Members is, but my opinion of the casual and the tramp is one of extremely high regard. Why do they tramp? Generally speaking it is because they are decent men, because they hate showing their poverty from day to day in the same place. They hate the constant scrutiny of their friends. Who has not known a young man go on tramp because he hated coming home each day to be under the scrutiny of his brothers and sisters? The other type of man who goes on tramp is the man who thinks he can pick up a job here or there. Now, without any evidence having been led that the casual has abused his trust, without any evidence that further powers are required, with no evidence to show that these people are bad and abusive, the Government come forward with this Bill: the only reason is that the Government just woke up one day and thought they ought to do it. Would the lawyers in this House, who have some regard for the law, allow any other subject to be shut up for a day without trial and without indictment? Would they give to any man the right to shut up a fellow citizen for a day without trial and for nothing? Is there a court which would listen to such a claim? Then there is the further possibility of a sentence of 21 days if he is a man who is awfully bad, if he is shockingly bad. Here, again, we are handing over to bureaucratic control powers over people which I would not allow anyone to exercise.

Another matter with which I wish to deal concerns the transfer of the aged. Here we have another of the worst features of the Bill. It is true there is the safeguard of an appeal to the sheriff. In the case of any other section of the community an appeal to the sheriff is very often a real safeguard. Over an experience of many years I have come to have a great regard for the safeguard of an appeal to the court, and that is why I denounced the power we are giving to officials of poorhouses to shut up a man for 24 hours without any right of appeal on his part. An official may do that in a moment of bad temper. Just imagine a man like Beynard of Glasgow, a man that would break the law and defy Members of Parliament, being given the power to shut up his fellow-men; the man who said to me, "I won't carry out the law. You may be a Member of Parliament, I will see the whole law altered before I carry it out." He is a type of man in whose hands I would not trust a wretched murderer.

But to return to the case of the aged, though an appeal to the sheriff is of value in most cases I think it is of less value and, indeed, of no value at all, in these cases. Who are the people involved? The aged, the very infirm and the partially defective mentally. If they are entirely defective mentally we already have the necessary powers, or if they are diseased there is already every power that is necessary—not merely if they are suffering from infectious disease, but if their disease is a menace to the health of others. What is the value of an appeal to the sheriff to the aged, to the partially infirm and to the partially defective? They are served with a notice, but in 99 cases out of 100 they do not understand the notice.


It is not an appeal to the sheriff, but nothing can be done until the sheriff passes the order.


I know that, but the sheriff must deal with the case, the sheriff must say that it is a proper case for action and the onus of rebutting the application by the local authority lies on the poor person, the defender. These old people on whom the notice will be served will not understand it. Very frequently they have no friends and they cannot instruct a Poor Law agent. I have said again and again that I have a great regard for the Poor Law agents and the work they do, but the one class of work with which I am not keen on entrusting them is this class. They will defend a criminal, but when it comes to matters like this they never think so much in legal terms. These old people do not understand and they cannot instruct a lawyer, and the next thing they know is that an action has been taken at court, evidence led, usually in their absence and an order for removal granted.

This power of removing old people is one that is capable of the worst abuses, and it ought to be removed from the Bill. What happens at the present time? Generally speaking, the old people go to the public hospitals. The chief indictment against our hospitals is that we do not make them attractive. We should start to build decent homes away from the taint of the poorhouse for the old people to live in, and then they will go, and there will be no need to exercise compulsory powers. Give them decent and happy surroundings, and they will go. The hon. Members for Govan (Mr. Maclean), for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham), and Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) knew a man named James A. Allen who was in the Socialist movement in Glasgow and was known as "the millionaire Socialist." He started an experiment when I was a, boy by providing a limited number of homes for old people in one district of Glasgow. He found himself faced with too many applications for them. They were homes where there was complete freedom—nothing of the institution about them, no governors, the right to walk in and out. That is the chief indictment against the poorhouse. Why could we not spend £500,000 or £250,000 on building in Lanarkshire, in Glasgow and in Edinburgh little cottage homes for the people of 60 and 70, homes where they would be free to walk in and walk out?

I heartily agree with those who have moved the Amendment. The Bill is the worst thing that has been proposed for many a day for Scotland. It gives rights and powers over people that ought not to be given. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne), in a very excellent speech, quoted from some report dated 1909. With that I am not going to quarrel. I had neither knowledge nor understanding of things in 1909, but in 1934, an age of enlightenment and reason, to produce a Bill of this character, is setting back the hands of the clock of progress. I have come to regard the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland as possessed of some sort of socially progressive outlook. This is a sickening day when he, as a comparatively young man, is introducing a shocking Measure like this. I can only hope that at an early date he will regret it, and that he will withdraw the contemptible Measure from the records of the House of Commons.

8.56 p.m.


With all that was said by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) I am in complete agreement. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland appeared to be ashamed of the Bill which he introduced. He disarmed criticism to some extent by promising that various criticisms against it would receive consideration in Committee, but he was simply putting off until another day something with which he will have to deal. There are one or two things upon which I should like to be enlightened. I was very sorry that the hon. Member for Gorbals did not pursue his argument on Clause 10, which proposes, in the payment of out-door relief, to disregard the first 7s. 6d. of sick pay under national health insurance, and the first 5s. in the case of those who are members of friendly societies. Is there any good reason why a man who has been disabled by service in the Army during the War, and who is at the present time in receipt of a disability pension, should be differentiated against in this way? Poor Law officials take the whole of the disability pension, and workmen's compensation into consideration. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage the Government will be prepared to consider favourably an Amend- ment to provide that, in the case of men who are able and willing to work but who are dependent upon parish relief and whose disability is due to service rendered to the State, an obligation rests upon the National Government to see that they get equally favourable treatment with any other member of the community.

I do not propose to go into the various questions which have been raised by hon. Members, but I want to make some reference to the statement which was made by the Noble Lord the Member for Perth (Lord Scone). He made a rather remarkable statement, and I hope that in one of the committees which are to be set up full inquiry will be conducted into the matter. He said that most of the persons who are in receipt of Poor Law relief in Perth are Irish or of Irish extraction. That does not say very much for the employers in Perth, because probably the only reason why they employ Irishmen is that they get them for less wages—if they employ them at all. As one who represents a fair number of employed Irishmen, I want to make my protest against the prejudiced statements that are so frequently made on this matter, upon the assumption that all the virtues of sobriety, temperance and thrift are congregated in the person of the Scotsman, who is therefore something superior to the other members of the population of Great Britain.

I have as much regard for my native country as anyone whom I have ever met, but I know that the humanity of the Scotsman is not more outstanding than the humanity of the Englishman. If my knowledge of our history is correct, Scottish administrators in the centuries which are past, and prior to the operation of the Poor Law system, were capable of torturing where that would not have been done in England. We have nothing to boast about in that respect. There is nothing human about the Poor Law or its machinery. I have never had experience of being inside a Poor Law institution and I do not wish to be. I have known any number of men, generally men belonging to the ordinary working-class population, who have resented most bitterly the order which sent them to the Poor Law institution. A member of the ordinary working-class who is anxious to earn his own livelihood by his own labour, no matter whether he is given to taking a glass of whisky and cannot be described as a sober person, still has a natural hatred of the Poor Law system in Scotland. One of the objects of the Bill is to bring within the four corners of that rotten system ordinary members of the working-class who are willing but unable to find work, because of the system which is defended by the present Government. We are offering the most bitter opposition to the Bill, and we will go into the Lobby against it. We hope that every man will be ready to cast his vote on this occasion, and that those who profess to be Scotsmen and Scotswomen will be prepared to go into the Lobby with us in order to make clear to the Government that they resent the introduction of a Bill of this character, which is intended to cast a slur on every member of the working-class in Scotland.

9.4 p.m.

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Normand)

I cannot agree with much that has been said in the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). He said that the Poor Law system of Scotland was a rotten system. I say, without fear of contradiction by anybody who knows the facts, that it is the most humane Poor Law system to be found anywhere in the world. I agree with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) that in Scotland, in the administration of the Poor Law, poverty has been treated as a tragedy and not as a crime. Whether the Poor Law is humane or not depends in the long run upon the character of those who administer it. Those who have administered it, either from the central body from the time that was instituted or in the local districts, and whether they were people who had been elected by their fellow-citizens or whether they were officials appointed by such bodies, have always, with the fewest possible exceptions, exhibited a humanity and a kindness in the administration of the Poor Law that is not rivalled elsewhere. One thing that should be realised in connection with this Bill is that the Poor Law of Scotland will continue to be administered by the same type of man, responsible to the same elected bodies, as heretofore, and I think I shall be able to show that, in comparison with recent en- actments for which the late Labour Government were responsible, the Clauses which are criticised in this Bill are far less drastic and far less inhuman—to use the expression of the hon. Member for Hamilton and his friends—than some of the Clauses of those enactments.

While it is clear that the Poor Law of Scotland is the most humane of any law anywhere for dealing with the poor, nevertheless there were important omissions. It was not until 1921 that the law of Scotland permitted relief to be granted at all to the able-bodied poor. Of course, the humanity of those who administered the law largely evaded that, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood). Clearly, there was no use in withholding relief from a man because he was able-bodied if the effect was to make him cease to be an able-bodied man, and to make him, therefore, a man entitled to relief. Taking that sensible view, the Poor Law authorities all over Scotland avoided the catastrophe of allowing a man to fall into starvation before he was relieved. The people of Scotland recognised that, whatever were the words of the Act, it must be administered in a humane way which would prevent people from falling into ill-health where that was possible, and prevent hardship; and, for the reasons I have stated, they regarded poverty, not as a crime, but as a misfortune and a tragedy.

That being the case, in 1921, because of the economic circumstances of the time, an Act was passed, which has been frequently amended by all Governments since, authorising the payment of relief to the able-bodied poor; but it did not completely assimilate the relief of these able-bodied poor to the relief which is granted to the ordinary poor. In one respect, for example, it treated them differentially by refusing them the right of appeal to the sheriff in cases where relief had been refused. Do hon. Members opposite say that the time has not come to remove that grievance? Is it their policy to oppose any Bill introduced by the Government until we are able to deal completely with every problem presented by the Poor Law? That is one of the remedies which we seek to apply. Another important aspect of the position at this juncture is the probable passing into law of the Unemployment Bill. Up to a point the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was quite correct in pointing out the connection between the two, but he was wrong in what he went on to say, namely, that a certain number of people, whose cases were difficult cases, under the Unemployment Bill would find themselves relegated to the Poor Law, and that the Government had decided to provide for them, under the Poor Law, some form of harsh treatment. There is not a shadow of foundation for that suggestion. By far the greater number of people who, as able-bodied poor, will apply for relief under the Poor Law, will not belong to that category at all. They are people who would never come under Part II of the Unemployment Bill at all, and they far outnumber the very few people who will have to be treated as difficult cases under Part II of the Unemployment Act.

The most important part of the present Bill is the special provision which provides for them in the future, not by a temporary but by a permanent Measure, the right to relief on the same footing as the ordinary poor, with redress at the hands of the sheriff if that relief is improperly refused, and which also provides for them the advantages of training, which will be provided in the same way as for people under Part II of the Unemployment Bill if that be passed into law. That is why, at this juncture, it is necessary and appropriate to amend the Poor Law of Scotland, which has stood substantially unamended, except for the emergency Acts of 1921 and onwards, since 1845. That being so, advantage was taken of the occasion also to introduce certain Amendments of the law which, after consultation with the local authorities—for I can give an assurance that the Poor Law authorities have been consulted on these matters—were decided to be valuable and necessary. On the other hand, certain branches of the law are left over for subsequent treatment. In the first place, there is the whole question of settlement; and, secondly, there is the question of vagrancy. I think the character of the Bill was accurately described by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Boss and Cromarty as a fair Measure of interim reform. It is necessary to deal with the able-bodied poor, and advantage was taken of this opportunity to introduce certain other necessary reforms. Is it suggested that nothing at all should have been done until we were in a position to codify the whole law relating to the relief of the poor in Scotland? I cannot believe that anyone who understands the problem of the able-bodied poor could seriously make such a suggestion. Surely the time has come when their right to relief should be as complete, and subject to the same right of appeal, as the right of any other poor person whatever.

If one looks at the other Clauses of the Bill, I do not think there is any that is more important than Clause 4, and I want to remove at once a misunderstanding under which, apparently, the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) was labouring with respect to that Clause. There is not the least intention to depart from the general trend of the Poor Law in Scotland, which is in favour of outdoor relief. That is the first point. The second thing that I want to say about the Clause is that it is abundantly justified by what was said by the Senior Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) and by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne), in speaking of the bad accommodation which is to be found in certain places. What is desired is that there should be a differentiation, in the kind of accommodation provided, as between casuals, or children, or people of low mentality, so as to make it possible to provide, for each class of the poor who are receiving indoor relief, an appropriate place to which they can go without being compelled to mix with people whom they would feel it to be in some way a degradation to mix with, or with persons who ought to be treated separately from them. Surely everyone will agree that that, so far from being inhuman, is something that is very desirable in the interests of all poor people who have, unfortunately, to come to the poorhouse.


If you want them to have complete detachment, are they not much better in their homes than in divisions in an institution?


There is no intention of bringing into the poorhouse any person who can suitably be dealt with by means of outdoor relief. There is no reversal of policy whatever. There is no departure from the general principle that outdoor relief shall be given wherever it is practicable. If anyone says this is a scheme for driving the poor into institutions, he is saying something that is not to be found in the Bill.


Has any estimate been made of the accommodation that will be required to be built by local authorities under the Clause? It is the wording of the Clause that gives occasion to the thought that a considerable extension of institutional accommodation is intended.


Until 1929 it was the parishes that were responsible for the administration of Poor Law relief, and parishes or combinations of parishes provided themselves with poor-houses for the housing of such persons as they were unable to deal with by means of outdoor relief. In 1929 that system was brought to an end, and the administration of poor relief was handed over to the cities and large burghs on the one hand and to the counties on the other. The consequence is that in a great many Poor Law areas there are a number of poorhouses which have become vested in them, and in some of these already this method of allocating special accommodation to each separate category of the poor is in progress. This Clause is permissive and it enables the Department, when it so decides, to bring pressure to bear on local authorities to carry out that process. It is not foreseen that any additional cost will result from the redistribution of the present occupants according to different categories.


Is that correct? In cases that I know where the poorhouse has been centralised under the county council, the old buildings have been sold or disposed of for other purposes. They are no longer available for this purpose.


I would not contradict what the right hon. Baronet says, but I imagine that that is not in areas where there is a large poor population. The Government are fully aware that certain of these Clauses are such as would cause anxiety. I am unwilling to deprive of his freedom any person who is not insane, and I think we should scrutinise with the utmost care the conditions under which such deprivation may come about. Certainly I would most willingly consider any Amendments which might make more secure the freedom which every person, however poor and however defenceless, is entitled to enjoy. The purpose of the Clause is that, in certain very sad and tragic cases where an indivdual is unable to look after himself and has no one that he can call upon to help him, no wife, no relative, no friend, it should be possible to take him away from his home and place him in a public institution. That is going to be done under safeguards, and the principal safeguard is that the sheriff has to be satisfied that it is necessary for the well-being of the person himself. I fully appreciate that in all probability he will not be in a position to instruct a lawyer to contest a motion that may be made by the authorities but, while I am willing to consider any other safeguards, I think the sheriff will be careful not to act except upon the clearest proof of practical necessity.


Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the case of an old age pensioner who may voluntarily wish to go to a parish cottage and be kept there and yet not be deprived of his liberty?


That point shall be considered.


The Lord Advocate knows that when no appearance is made, the sheriff may decide against the party failing to appear.


What the hon. Member fears will not occur. It is not really litigation that is taking place at all but an administrative act which the sheriff is to authorise, and before giving his authority he must be satisfied by proof that his authority can properly be given.


Is it not the case that, as the Clause stands, it is only if the sheriff thinks fit that he can have a person examined? It is optional. Surely there ought to be something wider than that in order to safeguard the rights of such a person.


I will give the general assurance that if any hon. Member is in any doubt about the sufficiency of the safeguard, the Government will consider the matter, and when an Amendment shall be put down, I will willingly discuss it.

Other Clauses were criticised; for example, Clauses 3 and 5. I do not think that it has been sufficiently realised that these Clauses authorise the making of rules and regulations under which certain action can be taken. Although, therefore, they may permit that action, they themselves provide the limits within, and the conditions upon which, it may be taken. Many of the things which are regulated there have in past days been done without regulation, and the Government consider not that they should never have been allowed to take place, but that all these disciplinary powers which must exist in some form in the government of a poorhouse should be regulated by rules. That is, for example, the purpose of Clause 5. The remainder of the criticism of these two Clauses may perhaps be left over to the Committee stage.


In Clause 3, do not the regulations govern the Clause, and not the Clause the regulations?


Clause 3 authorises a local authority to make provision for instructional training and for enabling any able-bodied person in receipt of outdoor relief to receive training only on condition that he does certain work.

I was pointing out, and more especially in reference to Clause 5, that certain disciplinary action has been taken in the past without regulation, and the Government have decided that in the future that shall not take place again. It is said that the Scots law is being made inhuman by some of the provisions of the Bill, and language of unnecessary exaggeration has been used about them. We were told in 1909 that the Labour party went about the country with the slogan, "Break up the Poor Law." In 1930 a Labour Government consolidated the Poor Law of England, and when I am told that we have taken wholesale Clauses from that Act, I look up that Act and I observe that wherever there is a close connection between the Sections of the English Act and the Clauses of the Scottish Bill, the Bill is far more humane in its outlook than is the Act. For example, if you take the power to confine in a room for misconduct, the English Act gives power to confine for 24 hours or such further time as may be necessary in order to have him brought before a justice of the peace. Lest it be thought that there is no humanity to be found in the English Act, the same Section lays down that: (2) No master of a workhouse shall, on any pretence, chain or confine by chains or manacles any poor person of sane mind. This was the Labour Government of 1930.


That was a Clause of the Consolidating Act. The hon. and learned Gentleman is comparing with his Bill an English Consolidating Act, which was picking up Poor Law Acts for generations past and pulling them together and taking from them some of the worst features, and the worst features of the English Poor Law are considerably worse than anything we have in Scotland.


This Government is going to amend the Poor Law of Scotland before proceeding to consolidate it.


It had better amend the Poor Law of England as well; that would be more to the point.


I quite appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Gorbals with regard to the 21 days' imprisonment, but he should remember that it is within the sheriff's discretion whether he shall inflict the full penalty or part of it.


That is not optional.


No; the hon. Member will agree that the option of a fine is not very valuable for a poor person. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) raised the question of the court of summary jurisdiction. The court of summary jurisdiction in Scotland which deals with such things is the sheriff and not the lay magistrate, and is, therefore, free from the kind of influences to which a lay magistrate might be supposed to be subject.

I do not think it would serve any useful purpose to go through all the Clauses one by one. Something was said about the right to set people to work, and that is perhaps the matter which has been most criticised from the opposite side of the House. In the first place, this power to set to work is qualified by the control of the medical man who is respon-

sible for the health of the inmate of the poorhouse. In the second place, every hon. Member must be aware that people in poorhouses in Scotland to-day are set to work without regulation. Work is performed both inside and outside the house. The effect of this Bill is to bring all that within regulation. When once that fact is realised, I believe that the hon. Members who are objecting to the power will welcome it when they appreciate that it is better to have regulated than unregulated work.

I would only say, as I said originally, that if there is any way in which the Bill can be made both more effective and more humane, the Government will welcome suggestions and will consider either Amendments or additional Clauses for that purpose.


Would the right hon. and learned Member deal with the position of the single ex-service man?


The position at the present moment is that, under the Act of 1932, the Transitional Payments (Determination of Need) Act, the local authorities have the power of making the same allowances in granting relief under the Poor Law as they have when they are granting transitional payments. I am not aware of the extent to which that power has been used, but the Government will certainly consider that point, and whether anything ought to be done, and if so, what. But the conclusion of the whole matter is that the attitude of to Government towards the Poor Law is that efficiency and inhumanity do not go together, and that efficiency and humanity are the two things to aim at. This Bill promotes both, and the House would be well advised to give it a Second Reading. In the Scottish Standing Committee we will co-operate with anyone who has the same ends in view and is willing to co-operate with us in furthering the aims of the Bill.

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

The House divided: Ayes, 174; Noes, 30.

Division No. 185.] AYES. [9.36 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Boulton, W. W.
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Bernays, Robert Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton
Applln, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Blaker, Sir Reginald Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Blindell, James Braes, Captain Sir William
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Boothby, Robert John Graham Broadbent, Colonel John
Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell Borodale, Viscount Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-
Buchan, John Hume, Sir George Hopwood Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Burnett, John George Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Ross, Ronald D.
Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmiy) Jennings, Roland Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Ruggies-Brise, Colonel E. A.
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Runge, Norah Cecil
Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Kerr, Hamilton W. Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.) Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tslde)
Clarry, Reginald George Law, Sir Alfred Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Leckie, J. A. Salmon, Sir Isidore
Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Leech, Dr. J. W. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. Liddall, Walter s. Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Cook, Thomas A. Lindsay, Noel Ker Scone, Lord
Cooper, A. Duff Loftus, Pierce C. Selley, Harry R.
Crooke, J. Smedley Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle) MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.
Cross, R. H. McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Sinclair, Maj. Rt. H n. Sir A. (C'thness)
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Unv., Belfast)
Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery) McLean, Dr W. H. (Tradeston) Skelton, Archibald Noel
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset. Yeovil) Macmillan, Maurice Harold Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dlne, C.)
Denville, Alfred Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Dickie, John P. Magnay, Thomas Spens, William Patrick
Doran, Edward Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Dower, Captain A. V. G. Martin, Thomas B. Stevenson, James
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.) Strickland, Captain W. F.
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Summersby, Charles H.
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Sutcliffe, Harold
Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Milne, Charles Tate, Mavis Constance
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A. (p'dd'gt'n, S.)
Fleming Edward Lascelles Mitcheson, G. G. Templeton, William P.
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Ford, Sir Patrick J. Moreing, Adrian C. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Fox, Sir Gifford Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Fremantle, Sir Francis Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties) Turton, Robert Hugh
Goff, Sir Park Moss, Captain H. J. Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Gower, Sir Robert Munro, Patrick Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas Nall, Sir Joseph Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Greene, William p. C. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Whyte, Jardine Bell
Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Guy, J. C. Morrison Nunn, William Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Zstl'nd) Oman, Sir Charles William C. Wills, Wilfrid D.
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Pearson, William G. Windsor Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Harbord, Arthur Procter, Major Henry Adam Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Harris, Sir Percy Radford, E. A. Wise, Alfred R.
Hartland, George A. Raikes, Henry V. A. M. Womersley, Walter James
Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian) Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)
Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Worthington, Dr. John V.
Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S. Rankin, Robert TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Horsbrugh, Florence Ray, Sir William Sir George Penny and Commander Southby.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)
Attlee, Clement Richard Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Mainwaring, William Henry
Banfield, John William Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvll) Maxton, James
Batey, Joseph Jenkins, Sir William Parkinson, John Allen
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) John, William Smith, Tom (Normanton)
Buchanan, George Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Tinker, John Joseph
Cape, Thomas Kirkwood, David Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Daggar, George Lawson, John James Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Leonard, William
Dobbie, William Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Edwards, Charles McEntee, Valentine L. Mr. D. Graham and Mr. Groves.

Bill read a Second time.