HC Deb 09 November 1934 vol 293 cc1432-67

11.11 a.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 18, at the end, to add: (6) Where a person to whom the council of a county or county borough have afforded outdoor relief shows to the satisfaction of the Minister that the council, in affording such relief, have failed in any respect to comply with the provisions of this section, then such person shall be entitled to recover from the council such sum as the Minister may certify to be the difference in amount between the relief afforded to such person and the relief which he would have received had the council duly complied with the provisions of this section. The point of the Amendment is to provide for an agreed procedure in respect of a decision of a county council or county borough where they have given a decision which involves a person in certain disabilities. The person would be provided with an appeal from a decision of the county council or county borough to the Minister. The particular difficulty which we have in mind is indicated in the last portion of the Amendment in which the Minister may certify the difference in amount between the relief afforded to such person and the relief which the person would have received had the council duly complied with the provisions of this section. The principle of the Amendment is clear. We seek to guarantee to the person concerned—the appellant, I call him for the time being—the right of appeal to the Minister from the decision of the local authority. The proposition is so simple, so elementary and so eminently just that I am quite sure that the Minister will speedily rise to accept it, and I submit it for his consideration.

11.14 a.m.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)

I am truly sorry to disappoint the incurable optimism of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), but I do not think he really expects the Government to accept this Amendment. He proposes to introduce a revolution into the basic idea of our administration of public assistance, and I think he will, on consideration, come to the conclusion that, apart from its general merits, it is unsatisfactory in the manner in which it would work. The effect of the Amendment would be to introduce a right of appeal from the public assistance body to the Minister in the case of one only of the considerations which should be present to the minds of the public assistance authority in arriving at their decision as to the amount of the relief. A grave objection to the proposal, sufficient really to lead the Committee to reject it without further consideration, is the extremely unsatisfactory position which would be produced if there were a right of appeal in the case of only a very small part of.the question decided by the public assistance committee, without any alteration of the general position. I think, therefore, that, if this question is going to be considered seriously by the Committee, it should be considered in another Bill on a much wider scale.

On the general merits of the position I do not think the Committee will be in any doubt. The root idea of our system of public assistance administration is that the amount of relief required is to be decided in close relation to the circumstances, in the exercise of full discretion by the authorities who are practically in touch with the case, and in consideration of its human aspects. For that reason we have always jealously protected public assistance authorities from any Ministerial interference, and I should be most reluctant to see any weakening of that principle. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will riot press this Amendment to a Bill introduced for certain limited purposes, because it would really take the Bill too far beyond those purposes, and would not, I think, be justified on the merits.

11.18 a.m.


This Bill has been introduced in order to amend the enactments relating to the relief of the poor in England and Wales so as to secure uniformity throughout Great Britain in the provisions relating to the disregarding of sick pay, maternity benefit, and wounds or disability pensions. The purpose is, as has been stated in the House, to bring the Poor Law administration in England into line with the Poor Law administration in Scotland, as amended by the recent Poor Law (Scotland) Act. One of the points of amendment in the administration in Scotland was that maternity benefit, the first 5s. of sick pay from a friendly society or trade union, the first 7s. 6d. of National Health Insurance benefit, and the first 20s. of any wound or disability pension, were to be disregarded by the public assistance committee in Scotland. The Scottish Standing Committee accepted an Amendment providing that, where a public assistance committee did not disregard any of these benefits, but took them into consideration when assessing the amount of the public assistance that was to be received, thereby reducing the amount which would be received, and where an appeal was made to the Department and the Department agreed that these amounts had not been disregarded by the public assistance committee, the individual who was in receipt of public assistance must be paid back in respect of those amounts over the weeks in which the public assistance committee had not taken them into account. In other words, it brought into the Poor Law administration in Scotland a new feature. The Minister shakes his head, but it means that, where the Department agree that any amount which has not been paid and ought to have been paid by the public assistance committee, having regard to these benefits, must be paid. The particular provision—namely, Sub-section (2) of Section 11—of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, which came into force on the 1st September, 1934, reads as follows: Where a person to whom a local authority have afforded outdoor relief shows to the satisfaction of the Department that the authority in affording such relief have failed in any respect to comply with the provisions of the foregoing Sub-section"— that is the one relating to the benefits which have to be disregarded in assessing the amount of the relief— then, not withstanding anything in Section 75 of the principal Act, he shall be entitled to recover from the authority such sum as the Department may certify to be the difference in amount between the relief afforded to him and the relief which he would have received had the authority duly complied with the provisions of the said Sub-section. I submit that it is perfectly clear that, if any amount is deducted from a person's public assistance because he has been receiving these benefits or pension, and if the Department certify that these deductions ought not to have been made, the Department can give instructions that the amount which has been deducted from his public assistance shall be paid to him in respect of the weeks when it was deducted. That is the purpose of the present Amendment, and that was the purpose of those of us who moved and 'supported the Amendment in the Scottish Standing Committee, which was accepted by the House when the Bill came before it on Report and Third Reading. If it be the desire to make the present Bill uniform with the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, this proposal must be accepted as well, so as to give to those who are in receipt of public assistance in England the same right of appeal where they are in receipt of such benefits or pension, and the same right to receive the back money which has been deducted from their relief by the public assistance committee.

If the Minister will not accept the present Amendment, which seeks to embody in the Bill the purpose already embodied in the Poor Law (Scotland) Act and already being administered there, I would ask him if he will go into the matter and see on Report whether, in this omission from the Bill, an injustice is not being perpetrated upon those who at the present time are applying for public assistance and who are in receipt of the benefits mentioned in the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, and whether he will frame suitable words to give to these people the same rights as are given in Scotland under the new Act.

11.25 a.m.


I should like the Minister to reconsider the matter. The purpose of the Bill is to some extent to bring the law in England into conformity with that in Scotland. In the Scottish Standing Committee I moved an Amendment to provide that, where it is shown to the satisfaction of the Department that these exemptions have not been carried out by the local authority, the applicant shall be entitled to recover arrears of payment. The Amendment was slightly altered and put into proper legal form and was accepted by the Committee. One of the difficulties we found in Scotland was that, if a Poor Law authority disregarded a particular exemption, there was no authority to enforce them to carry it out. There were large public assistance committees which ignored the law. The Secretary of State for Scotland ultimately persuaded them to carry it out, but meantime for months and for years poor persons did not receive payments that they were entitled to. It may well be that the number of authorities that do not carry out the law may be small, but poor persons should not be penalised. What powers has the Minister to see that no poor person loses? By the time he takes action months may have elapsed. Why should a poor person who has proved his case to the satisfaction of the Minister be punished for weeks or months by not receiving sums to which he has proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he is entitled?

I trust that the Minister will accept the Amendment and will bring the law into conformity with that of Scotland. A great deal of the force of the change in the law will be lost if Poor Law authorities can decline to pay. By the time the Minister has acted, the man's need may have gone, because he may have resumed work, but he has been penalised whereas, if the public assistance committee had carried out the law, he would have got the benefit of the exemption. The Amendment has the added force that it would secure uniformity. It gives no public assistance committee a privilege over another whereas, as the Bill stands, a committee which has no regard for the law, instead of being penalised, is subsidised by being able to save the money that it should have paid out.

11.33 a.m.


I think it would be very much better if compulsion were put upon people who tried to evade the law. No such powers are given under the Bill. The Minister says that if an appeal were given in this case it would only be an appeal to him upon a small section. That may be so, but this is a rather a new thing and a particular thing, and we are justified in asking that there should be an appeal in these circumstances. There is a vast difference in treatment as between various authorities up and down the country. We think there ought to be no difference between any authorities as regards these payments, but we are afraid there will be, and, if there is, is it asking too much that those who are suffering should have a right of appeal to the Minister to have given them what is laid down in the law? I do not think that we are asking for anything that is extraordinary, and I hope that, in view of what has been said, he will see his way to alter his opinion and give us that for which we ask.

11.35 a.m.


There is a difference in administration in this matter. Take two similar cases in respect of Health Insurance. In the case of a man, wife and four children, the rate is 35s. Here is a case in which the husband is in receipt of Health Insurance and receives 15s. We know of cases in this respect where the authorities have not given the £2 2s. 6d., as they ought to have done since they are giving 35s. where there is no sickness. We know of cases where instead of giving £2 2s. 6d. they have given 37s. 6d. What can such persons do to secure the benefit of the Act? I agree with the Minister that every individual case could come up on appeal, but is it not possible to have some safeguard so that a man can secure the full benefit of the Act? There may be next door neighbours. One of them may be sick and the other may not be sick. They come under the provisions of the law, and, surely, an Amendment that asks that something should be done to secure the full value of the law is not asking too much. If the wording be wrong, will the right hon. Gentleman suggest some other method of getting the full benefit of the law?

11.36 a.m.


I was surprised to hear the Minister this morning refuse the request of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) which is contained in the Amendment. I can well remember that the Minister of Health, when he thought that a few of us in South Yorkshire were paying too much, was not very long in coming after us. He surcharged your humble servant and others £284. We made an appeal, and the amount was ultimately reduced to £2 10s. If the Minister of Health can investigate the case of public assistance committees whom he thinks are paying too much, I want to know why he cannot investigate cases where we feel that they are not paying sufficient and are not carrying out, the law. The hon. Member for Ince, (Mr. G. Macdonald) bas stated several cases, and I could state cases galore, where Health Insurance has not been taken into account. They have refused to take it into account.

You may have two committees in different parts of the country where the one committee looks at a case and wants to know whether there is destitution before they take into consideration the 7s. 6d, and the 5s. and the other committee, before they start to consider a case, take off the first 7s. 6d. and the first 5s. There you have two different examples entirely, and, when the Minister said this morning that he could not take this matter into account, I was a little astounded. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) has distinctly read out the Act which came into operation not 100 years ago, but only 10 weeks ago. Surely it is fresh in the memory of the Minister of Health, and yet he states that as far as England is concerned it cannot have the same benefit as Scotland. That is a ridiculous situation into which to put people who apply for public assistance, and I hope that when he replies he will at least concede the request contained in the Amendment.

11.40 a.m.


First of all, let me clear up a misconception contained in the remarks of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). Under this Bill, the people of England will have precisely the same benefits as the people of Scotland. The purpose of the Bill is that all that is secured in the Scottish Bill shall be secured to the people of England. I think that hon. Members who have spoken have been mistaken in supposing that the Bill will not secure to the persons it is intended to benefit the full enjoyment of the benefit the Bill intends to secure. The picture of local authorities, who, in widespread manner, generally disregard the terms of the law, or the picture of public assistance committees, who, in an equally widespread manner, administer the law without care and with a wide degree of variation, is a completely mistaken picture. That was the picture which hon. Members produced. But it is not so.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) what provision there is for securing that the spirit of the law shall be enforced, and with reasonable uniformity in its enforcement? My first answer is that the law is not disregarded by public authorities. The second answer is this: The manner in which the observance of their functions in a reasonable manner by the public assistance committees is secured in the manner in which it should be secured according to our ideas of public assistance administration. It is secured by the general powers of supervision of the Ministry of Health, in the most practical of all manners, through the general inspectors, who are officers well-known to hon. Members opposite for the work they do in close relation with the public assistance committees, and by the admirable spirit with which they do their work with great efficiency. It is by continuous consultation and the advice of the general inspectors that the objects which hon. Members have in mind will be secured. The hon. Member for Hemsworth is completely mistaken if he thinks that there is even a tendency to exercise that general supervision and that power of advice, counsel and guidance in only one direction. It is not so. The supervision of the Ministry of Health is exercised in order to secure the law being observed, and when the law lays down the provision, as it does in this Bill, the supervision of the Ministry of Health will be exercised in order to secure that it is applied in favour of applicants just as much as it is in any other case.

I will turn to other arguments addressed by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) in the first place. Let me put it as strongly against myself as I can. He said "You profess that this law is one to assimilate the law of Scotland and England, and here is a particular way in which it is not assimilated." That is based again, I think, upon a very deep misunderstanding of the purpose of the Bill. I can well understand why the Amendment to which he referred was accepted in the Committee upstairs. It was in order that the practice under Scottish public assistance law should be made the same in England in this matter as it is in other matters. In Scotland there are, and were prior to the Scottish Act, certain rights of appeal against the refusal of relief, against an order for indoor relief, and against inadequate relief.

That right of appeal is familiar to Scotland, but I need not remind the hon. Member, with his deep knowledge of Scottish culture, that, in regard to the public assistance law and many other laws, the history and the conditions of Scottish law Are completely different from ours as regards procedure. It has a different foundation in civil law from the common law of England. It has different historical associations and there are widely different conditions, economic And cultural. We should be following the wrong course if we thought that as regards procedure we needed in all cases to assimilate the law of England to the law of Scotland. That brings me to a point of difference in regard to which there is misunderstanding by hon. Members opposite of the purpose of the Bill. This is a Bill to secure the same benefits to the people in England as are secured to the people in Scotland. That is what is expressed in the heading of the Bill: to secure uniformity throughout Great Britain in the provisions relating to the disregarding of sick pay, etc. It is to secure similarity of benefits but not similarity of procedure. If we were to make the suggested alteration it would be so foreign to our practice of the law in England, that even though we might try to assimilate English procedure to Scottish procedure in that respect, there would dill remain 101 very much wider differences. This Bill is not designed for that purpose, and indeed it should not be so designed because our system suits our conditions and no doubt the Scottish system as regards procedure suits the Scottish conditions. It is for that reason that the Government are not prepared to accept the Amendment, and I cannot promise any reasoned consideration which will alter that view of the case. The object of the Bill is to secure equal benefits for the people of this country with those in Scotland, but under our existing procedure.

11.48 a.m.


The reply of the right hon. Gentleman is very disappointing. He has not met the case that has been put. He is trying to have it both ways. On the Second Reading of the Bill I was reproved and told that this was not a Bill for bringing in things like workmen's compensation, but merely to bring English and Scottish law into line. When we seek to-day to do that, the right hon. Gentleman tries to dodge out of it in a way that does not meet our case at all. When the Scottish Bill was before the Standing Committee there were members of the Committee who felt there ought to be safeguards provided for people who were in future to enjoy these additions to their benefit, or, rather, to be excused from having their benefits reduced. Some of my hon. Friends felt that it would be right to insert a safeguard to make sure that these people did get what they were entitled to under the law of the land. I know quite well that the whole structure of Scottish law is different from our English poor law.

This is not a small point but a point of substance. On this Bill which is intended to bring the provisions of the English law into line with the Scottish law, we are entitled to ask for the same kind of safeguards as have been given to Scotland. When the Poor Law (Scotland) Bill came to this House and was given a Third Reading, it did not confer some particular benefit on the Scottish people because it was felt that Scotland was out in the cold. If the Bill had been an English Bill, the same point would have been raised in the Committee that was raised by my hon. Friends and if it had been accepted, as the principle was accepted in the Scotish Bill, we should have felt that it ought to be accepted for Scotland also. Therefore, our case to-day is that as the principle was accepted by Parliament just before the holidays as regards Scotland, it should be applied to England. That seems to be perfectly reasonable. It is not that we mistrust the whole structure of local Government in this country, but we know of cases where the local authorities did not carry out the law when the question of sick pay had to be considered.

With the new added advantages not merely sick pay but maternity benefit and so on, we are not asking much when we say that when the right hon. Gentleman's vigilant inspectors do not happen to be about and mistakes are made, and people are defrauded of what is due to them, that they should have some kind of appeal. It does not help the right hon. Gentleman for him to say that we do not like appeals in this country. Under the Unemployment Act which was passed by this Government recently, provision was made for the first time for an appeal to the Minister. Why should not there be an appeal in this case. It would not be difficult. It would only be a question of subtraction and addition. The point would be whether the 7s. 6d. had been allowed for or not. If the Minister said that it had not been allowed for and he certified to that effect, it would have to be paid. That is a proper safeguard against abuse, perhaps in thousands of cases. A safeguard which has been accepted for Scotland ought to be accepted for England.

11.52 a.m.


The right hon. Gentleman says that the Bill is designed to give the same benefits to England as to Scotland. Without entering into our difference of opinion, I would say that that is precisely the point on which we differ. If the inspector finds that a man has not got the allowance, he is paid back in Scotland the sum to which he is entitled, but in England under the Bill if the inspector finds that a man ought to have been paid this sum but has not been paid it, he will not be paid the back money. In Scotland it was illegal for the Poor Law authorities to pay poor law back money, but we have altered that. Where it is found that a. man should have been paid and has not he is now paid it in Scotland, but it will not be the same in England. Take the case of two ex-service men. In Scotland if, through a mistake, the man has not been paid, he will be paid back the sum to which he is entitled, but in England he would not be paid. We say, that the same benefit ought to be paid in England as in Scotland.

11.53 a.m.


We were able to quote numerous cases in Scotland where payment had been withheld and that was why we were able to get the provision put in for Scotland. Suppose one of the right hon. Gentlemen inspectors finds that in a case of sick benefit an applicant for public assistance has not had the first 7s. 6d. taken into consideration and that the authorities have actually reduced his amount of public assistance by 7s. 6d., having looked upon it as income going into the house. Assuming that the total amount that the man would have received per week had there been no health benefit going in was and he was only paid £1 12s. 6d. The 7s. 6d. going in for sick benefit is treated as income and they disallow a portion of the public assistance which he would otherwise have received. Let us assume that that case goes on for four weeks before the inspector comes upon the scene. That means that the individual loses 30s. to which he would have been entitled. According to the Bill that we are now discussing such a man in England will not receive any of that back money, but his 7s. 6d. will be added when the inspector has shown the Public Assistance Committee that they have not been carrying out the law. It will only be paid the first week after the investigation makes it clear that the 30s. has not been paid but the 30s. will not be recoverable by him. A Scottish applicant in a similiar case, a man who has not received the allowance in respect of sick benefit by an evasion of the law, unconscious perhaps, can apply to the Department of Health for Scotland, who can give an order to the public assistance committee of the particular locality to pay the 30s. arrears for the four weeks to the man.

The right hon. Gentleman says that there is no need for the Amendment as there are sufficient safeguards so far as the English case is concerned. Where are these safeguards? Can the Minister assure the Committee that in a case where this 7s. 6d. has not been taken into account by the public assistance committee, or the £1 in the case of a man with a pension, that when such evasion is found out and his inspector instructs the public assistance committee that they have not been carrying out the law, the individual will receive the amount which has not been paid to him? Is there a safeguard in the Bill to meet that case? If there is perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will inform us. This is a matter which does not affect parties but it does affect every hon. Member in the House. If it is found out that in Scotland we had given an applicant the right to receive this amount which he ought to receive and that the Department of Health can instruct the public assistance committee to pay him the money, then I am confident that if English Members of Parliament do not accede to this provision and give the same protection to the English applicant they will receive representations from their constituents insisting that the same benefits shall be given in England as we have succeeded in obtaining in Scotland. If there is not the same protection for the English applicant I am sure that in the succeeding week the Ministry of Health will be submerged by letters from applicants asking that their case shall be gone into.

11.59 a.m.


I listened with some interest to the reply of the right hon. Gentleman. We put down certain Amendments to the Bill which have been ruled out on the ground that they do not conform to the general principle of the Bill, which is designed to secure uniformity in the law as between England and Scotland. But the Amendment which we are now discussing, and which we are asking the right hon. Gentleman to accept, is designed to secure uniformity of benefit as between England and Scotland. We are asking that the same rights shall be given to English workmen to secure their full benefits as are given to Scottish workmen. When we point out that there is this right in Scotland and put forward the Amendment the right hon. Gentleman says that while the Bill may be designed to get uniformity of benefit it is not designed to get uniformity of procedure. Why not? Is there any reason why there should not be uniformity of procedure? The right hon. Gentleman gave no reason. He said that the atmosphere in Sotland is different, the Poor Law system in Scotland is different, that there is a difference in national characteristics. I do not know whether this is the case or not, but I am sure that there is a similarity between people in England and Scotland in that they are equally anxious to secure as much of these benefits as they can. It may be that if a Scottish applicant is refused these benefits he will kick and make himself generally unpleasant, whereas in England he might say nothing about it.

I say that there is no difference between the two in this respect. If they have this right in Scotland there is no reason why we should not have it in England. It is said that good arguments were adduced for this proposal in the Scottish Grand Committee. Are we not entitled to expect that the same good arguments will have some influence on the right hon. Gentleman in the case of England? He has not made out any case for opposing the Amendment. If Scotland has a right to this extra safeguard then I can see no reason why the same right should not be given in the case of England.

12.3 p.m.


I do not propose to enter into a discussion in regard to the Scottish case. They are starting a revolution in Poor Law administration which has been going on since the war, and in facing these new conditions the Scottish Standing Committee and this House have laid down new principles. That would not have been done had there not been good evidence that it was necessary. I cannot see why the Minister says that there is no need for this change in England and Wales. I have had as much experience in administering the Poor Law as anyone, and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if between now and the Bill going to the House of Lords he will make inquiries of the London auditor, who surcharged myself and others because we did take into account health insurance. I appeared before him on at least three occasions, and on each occasion he said "if you continue to take this into account you will lay yourself open to a very heavy surcharge." As the Audit Act had been passed we had not the courage to face the results of such a surcharge. It would have been a considerable sum of money.

It had been a general principle with us not to take into account health insurance up to 7s. 6d. a week. The auditor disputed our right to do that. I appeared before him with a colleague and put the case again and again, but on each occasion he stuck to the opinion that we had no right to do what we were doing. I want the Minister of Health to keep in mind the fact that what we were doing was under an Act of Parliament which says that in assessing the destitution of a person the 7s. 6d. must not be taken into account. Between now and Monday I want the right hon. Gentleman to look into the case against the London County Council that was taken to the courts a month or two ago. That Council from the moment it became a Public Assistance Committee, has excluded the 7s. 6d. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that it has been a very widespread and deliberate practice.

There are two points I want the right hon. Gentleman to inquire into. One is the action of the auditor who engaged in very vehement arguments with me on the subject because I claimed that the law should be carried out for the poor as well as for anyone else, and because I claimed that he had no right to impose on us the responsibility either of submitting to a big surcharge and then going to the court for relief, which we were not sure of getting, or of submitting to his ruling, which in my judgment was absolutely illegal. I think I put some questions to the then Minister of Health on the subject, and I believe that the statement was then made that the auditor was not the Minister's officer but was independent and so on. Surely poor persons should have a right of appeal to the right hon. Gentleman.

The other point is the action of the Public Assistance Committee of the London County Council, which was dealt with in the courts recently. I will abide by the decision of the right hon. Gentleman, as to whether that case does not dissipate his argument that this practice is widespread. In any case I cannot accept the argument that what is good for Scotland cannot be good for England because our conditions are different. My Scottish friends very often want Home Rule for Scotland. I think they do very well by being with us. They

12.19 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 18, at the end, to add:

"() Sections forty-nine and fifty of the Poor Law Act, 1930 (which makes provision as to relief on loan) are hereby repealed."

This Amendment reaches back, to some extent, to the same argument to which

get excellent differential treatment. The 7s. 6d. and the other sums are a very big consideration. Parliament, not a Socialist Parliament but a House of Commons ruled by Liberals and Tories, has given the poor the right to claim that when they are getting 7s. 6d. sick pay that shall not be taken into account in assessing their destitution. In a very large number of cases that law has been put on one side by local authorities and by the auditors, and that is a much more serious consideration.

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 33; Noes, 72.

Division No. 392.] AYES. [12.12 p.m.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin) Parkinson, John Allen
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Gardner, Benjamin Walter Rea, Walter Russell
Aske, Sir Robert William George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Thorne, William James
Attlee, Clement Richard Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Tinker, John Joseph
Batey, Joseph Griffiths, George A. (Yorks,W.Riding) Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Buchanan, George Grundy. Thomas W. White, Henry Graham
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Dagger, George Harris, Sir Percy Williams, Thomas (York., Don Valley)
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Wilmot, John
Davies, Stephen Owen Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George
Debbie, William Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Edwards, Charles Paling, Wilfred Mr. G. Macdonald and Mr. Groves
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.) Denville, Alfred Orr Ewing, I. L.
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Duckworth, George A. V. Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, B'nstaple)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Pownall, Sir Assheton
Balniel, Lord Elmley, Viscount Ramsay T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury) Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Remer, John R.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B.(PortsM'th,C.) Fox, Sir Gifford Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Boulton, W. W. Ganzonl, Sir John Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Granville, Edgar Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine, C.)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Headiam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Browne, Captain A. C. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Templeton, William P.
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Kirkpatrick, William M. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Burnett, John George Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe- Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly) MacAndrew, Lieut-Col. C. G.(Partick) Todd, Lt.-Col. A J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Carver, Major William H. Macqulsten, Frederick Alexander Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Clayton, Sir Christopher Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Cobb. Sir Cyril Marsden, Commander Arthur Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Womersley, Sir Walter
Cooke, Douglas Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Crossley, A. C. Munro, Patrick
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Denman, Hon. R. D. Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid Captain Austin Hudson and Mr. Blindell.

we have just listened, only that I think the Minister, from a debating point of view, is on slightly weaker ground. Here again we are trying to make the law of England the same as the law of Scotland. When the Scottish Standing Committee discussed the point, those of us who thought that the relief on loan should be abolished, put down an Amendment with that object. The Scottish Standing Committee, having given the matter very careful consideration, debating it for two days, decided that relief on loan ought to be abolished for Scotland. The Minister sought to get away from it by speaking about appeals to the Minister and that sort of thing. There is here no question about appeals to the Minister or the Department. It is a simple Amendment for the abolition of relief on loan. I am not going over the arguments for that abolition, but will content myself with the Minister's own statement on the Second Reading of this Bill, namely, that it is to bring the law of England into conformity with the law of Scotland, and that the benefits are to apply equally to the one country as to the other. If this benefit be needed for Scotland, then the same benefit ought to apply to England. I admit that, possibly, in some respects there are differences between Scottish Poor Law and English Poor Law in their origins, but in certain matters there is no difference. I agree with the hon. Member who said there is no difference in poverty. There is, however, a little difference in outlook. In any case, I want to plead for the abolition of relief on loan as a, system which belongs to the Dark Ages.

Now that we are bringing into effect the new Unemployment Act, relief on loan ought to be abolished throughout the country. As I said, I am not going to argue the proposition, but am simply going to state the facts. When the Unemployment Insurance Bill went through the House, the great argument for the transitional benefit was, roughly speaking, that unemployment benefit, when a person had received his standard benefit, became a national form of Poor Law, and ought to be subject to some similar form of test. If a person has qualified to receive national Poor Law benefit and is not subject to be paid on loan, why should another person, not because he is any worse but because of force of circumstances, be subject to having his relief on loan? Under the new Unemployment Insurance Act it is estimated that 95 per cent. of the able-bodied poor become chargeable to the Government. That figure may be right or wrong, but I take it as being correct.

Who are the five per cent.? Roughly speaking, they belong to three categories —the small business man, who cannot qualify, the hawker class and the people who have been abroad. Why should the small shopkeeper, who cannot qualify but must come on able-bodied poor relief, be subject to his relief being granted on loan, whereas the other person, who can join the national scheme, is not subject to the same condition? Suppose a man has gone to the colonies in a spirit of adventure and as a result has got outside the Act. Is it fair that he should be penalised? Supposing a person who has received relief afterwards secures work of some kind or another, why should he have this burden placed upon him? I want to say that in Scotland we have never worked this system to the same degree as it has been worked in England, but we have worked it to some extent, and I have seen it operate. I am sorry that the hon. Member opposite who takes such an interest in the British Legion is no longer in his place. I have known cases in Scotland where we have succeeded in getting for a man a sum of money with which to start a business. He started the business, but has relief had previously been granted to him on loan, all the time that the poor fellow was struggling to earn a living from his business he had that loan like a dead weight upon him.

I suggest that a man who has been on Poor Law relief is in much the same relationship to the State as the member of a family who has received a loan from the family. If you lend one of your own family a sum of money and he then does well, is not that fact in itself your repayment 7 If a poor devil who has got a loan from the State afterwards raises himself above the necessity for Poor Law relief, is not that the State's repayment? What happens under the present system of relief on loan is that he will not take steps to raise himself above the need for relief because he knows that this debt is a first charge against him. He has no incentive to raise himself above the need for relief. This debt crushes him down. I do not know conditions among the miners as well as the members for mining constituencies but I have been in conversation with miners on this subject and there is a difference between the treatment of the miners in Scotland and the treatment of the miners in England in this respect. In 1926 the miners had relief paid to them. It was given on loan and the loan is still, in some cases I understand in England, outstanding. I may be wrong, but I understand that to be the position. In Scotland that relief was cancelled. That a miner to-day, in 1934,, with his awful work and his low wages should still be bearing that load of debt is, I submit, a penalty on decency. The more decent and kindly the man himself is the more he feels it. A large proportion of our population hate to be in debt.

I trust therefore that the Committee will say with me that it is time to bring the law in England up to the same humane standard as that which has been applied in Scotland. I ask them to say that in future relief given to persons because they are destitute is not to hang like a dead weight around the necks of those persons for years and years. If a man has committed a crime, when he has served his sentence we have always taken the view that that should end the matter, and that there could be no further proceedings against him. Is not the punishment of having to go on Poor Law relief enough for a man without heaping further punishment upon him in the shape of a load of debt. I ask hon. Members to treat this matter in a spirit of decency. Indeed I would say to those who have been brought up in a public-school atmosphere and an atmosphere of culture to treat it in a spirit of sportsmanship and to vote for the Amendment.


On a point of Order. May I draw attention to the wording of the Amendment as it appears on the Paper which refers to "the Poor Law Act, 1932"—


That matter has been mentioned and has been put right already. It should be "the Poor Law Act, 1930."


That was my mistake, and I admitted it. The hon. Member need not rub it in.

12.30 p.m.


I desire to support the Amendment which asks that the law of England and the law of Scotland shall be brought into line on this matter. The mover has mentioned the case of the miners and I wish to go a little into that question. In the street in which I live there are miners to-day who got relief on loan in 1926 and are still paying it back. Some of them still owe as much as £10 or £15 and are repaying it at the rate of 1s. for each week in which they work three days or more. If they do not work three clays a week, but only 21 days or 21 days, they do not pay that week's instalment. There are some men in the South Yorkshire coal-field who are only receiving is. 6d. per day, and if they have three days' work in the week that represents 22s. 6d. less stoppages, and the stoppages are often about a half-a-crown. Out of what is left the miner has to pay 1s. towards repayment of the 1926 lock-out relief on loan. That was not a strike as far as the miner was concerned but a lock-out.

The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) tells us that the miners in Scotland got this relief, but that the loan was cancelled, and when they got back to work they had not this debt hanging over them. But our men in South Yorkshire still have that debt hanging over them and some of them have almost had the souls crushed 'out of them by it. There are young men who were attempting to get their heads up and to raise their wives and families, but to-day, on account of this debt, they arc depressed and despondent. They will want to know the reason why they should be treated differently from the miners in Scotland. We in the West Riding some 18 months ago tried to have this loan forgiven and wiped out, but we were told by the inspectors and auditors that it could not be done. To-day the miners of South Yorkshire are paying back to the West Riding County Council a sum of £30,000 a year in shillings. I hope therefore that the Committee will agree with us in this Amendment.

There is another point. There were 160,000 men injured in the mining industry last year, and these men who are working three days a week get an average compensation of about 22s. 6d. per week. They have no savings, and they are living from hand to mouth. When they meet with an accident they have nothing whatever, but have to apply at once to the Poor Law, and if they have any relief granted to them, it is on loan. When they get their compensation in two or three weeks' time, the amount of loan that they have received is deducted from their compensation before they get it. Take the case of a man who has two days' work a week. It is not a question of whether there is destitution; the Poor Law people say, "You have been working two days at 7s. 6d. a day, which is 15s., less stoppages, and we cannot grant you anything"; and if they do grant anything, it is granted on loan. If that man the following week has no wages at the office, that loan is stopped off, not in the mining office, but at the employment exchange, and when he comes for his employment exchange four days' benefit, if he has a wife and two children, he will get less than a sovereign. Instead of drawing his unemployment benefit that he should have drawn a few weeks before, e draws it less the loan which may have been granted to him. That is not the case in Scotland, and I ask that at least we shall have the same treatment as Scotland has had.

Here are two cases that have come under my personal observation. In the little township in which I live, in Royston, a miner came to me and said, "I have two days to come this week, and my wife is expecting in the course of a few weeks, but she is not getting sufficient food to eat." I said, "Get a doctor's rote." He got it, and it stated that this Mrs. So-and-so required extra nourishment of milk and eggs. The man, a respectable citizen, presented this note to the relieving officer who said, "I cannot give you anything, because you are working." This man had worked 35 shifts in 18 weeks, and—


I do not think this has anything to do with relief on loan.


I wanted to point cut that he wanted this relief, not on loan, but that they would only grant it to him on loan. The point is that on the medical officer's certificate he could only get it on loan, and he did not receive the benefits that the doctor prescribed. I could cite other cases, and I hope the Committee this time, instead of turning down the Amendment, will at least see that we in England and Wales shall have equal to what Scotland has, not relief on loan, hut, if relief is required, that the man or woman shall have it without having a debt hung round his or her neck.

12.40 p.m.


I hope the Minister will take this opportunity of bringing the law of England into conformity with that of Scotland. It is another case where the Scottish Standing Committee and the Scottish Members have stolen a march upon the English Members almost unawares. This relic of medieval practice in our Poor Law ought really to be got rid of, and here is an opportunity which presents itself to the Minister when he is seeking to bring the law and the administration in this country into conformity with what it is North of the Tweed. If it is right there, it is right here. I have come across the most dreadful cases of the way in which this Act is being administered, cases of people who have been out of work for weeks or months, who have got rid of anything on which they could realise anything in their homes, who are indebted to their friends, who have parted with their goods and chattels, and then, one bright day, they get a job and begin to have a little hope, but suddenly they are confronted with a demand for repayment.

In some parts of Wiltshire at the present time there are such cases, and whenever they get a job and have a few shillings to spare wherewith to get their children the clothes they could not buy before, and perhaps get some of their goods and chattels back into their homes, they are confronted with a demand from the public assistance committee, on the instructions of the auditor, for repayment. We have got away from that medieval barbarism, through the enterprise of our friends in Scotland, North of the Tweed, and here is an opportunity of bringing the same humanity into our Poor Law in England and Wales. We are entitled to it as much as they are in Scotland, and as this golden opportunity has presented itself, I hope the Minister will seize it.

12.42 p.m.


This Bill and this Amendment are an illustration of the great amount of confusion into which our services have fallen in this country. They are symptoms of the disorderly way—I do not use the word with any offensive meaning—in which these services have found their way on to the Statute Book. The whole field of social services is littered with proposals which have reached the Statute Book in response to some sudden economic emergency or social need, and I welcome this Bill for what it does, as indeed I would welcome any other Bill for the purpose of removing any inequalities in the law and practice of the Poor Law, or to eliminate any inequality or unfairness of treatment between any other classes of persons whose needs were the same, but who came into some other administrative class for some technical reason.

This Amendment discloses one of those extraordinary states of confusion which will arise, it is feared, in the very near future. My hon. Friend below me referred to what would happen when the Unemployment Assistance Board began to operate, and it is true that there will be a position which will bring into the field of legislation all sorts of anomalies. What is to happen when a man who has hitherto been under the Poor Law is suddenly, because he happens to have got into work, brought under the Unemployment Assistance Board? I do not know, but I think the Committee is entitled to have information on this subject, because it is very germane to the Amendment. Will an individual who, having been fortunate enough to get a little work and leave the Poor Law, comes under the Unemployment Assistance Board, take with him the liability to repay the loan, or will it become the liability of the Unemployment Assistance Board? Will the Board, in carrying out their duty of relieving a man's necessities, have to take into account the debt he has contracted to the Poor Law authorities which hangs over his head? I hope the Minister will see his way in this Bill or in some other Measure to remove this possibility of uncertainty and anomaly. I would ask him if he could give his mind—because this is a matter of the most profound importance—to the setting up of sonic body much wider than a departmental body—


That question hardly arises on this Amendment.


I agree. I rose to draw attention to the necessity of either the proposal which is embodied in the Amendment or some similar proposal if we are not to reach a state of great confusion in the administration of these services.

12.47 p.m.


I think I am correct in saying that this system is continued because of a judgment some years ago in favour of the Ministry of Health which implied that an able-bodied man was obliged to maintain his family although the labour market might be closed against him. This Statute has been made to apply on account of an anachronism of that kind. I cannot see how the Minister can legitimately allow this provision to continue in England and Wales when it does not obtain in Scotland. One can appreciate the argument that it would act as a detriment against trade disputes, such as strikes in particular, or lock-outs. As it does not apply in Scotland, however, that argument cannot be applied to England and Wales. In Glamorgan we have on a number of occasions tried to remove this load from the shoulders of those who are, generally speaking, destitute people, but we have been unable to do so. At one time we endeavoured to estimate the amount that had to be spent in collecting this money, and we discovered that the amount spent in paying officials to call at houses to collect in some weeks 3d. and in other weeks 1s. was so excessive that it was hardly worth their while, and certainly not worth the while of the authority to engage collectors to get very small amounts of money. It led to a number of administrative difficulties.

The Minister really ought to welcome this Amendment in order to put England and Wales in the same position as Scotland. Apart from that, this system ought not to be justified at all. The people to whom it applies are seldom above the destitution line and never above the poverty line. The reports presented to us this week with regard to the distressed areas show that there are 40,000 persons in South Wales who are really redundant and cannot be absorbed. The repeal of this provision would certainly partially relieve both Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire. It would relieve the destitute people in South Wales and in other distressed areas outside Scotland. By accepting the Amendment the Minister will do something to amplify the recommendations for relief which is contained in the reports on the distressed areas.

12.50. p.m.


The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) gave good reasons to show that as this system was not in operation in Scotland it ought not to be continued in this country. It is not often that a Scotsman gives anything without getting good value for what he gives. Scotland has experienced this system and are getting good value for their money, and surely we ought to follow their experience and adopt the same method. I would remind the Minister that in introducing this Measure he said he wanted to march side by side with Scotland, and that that was why he brought it forward. There is a grand opportunity to put this country on the same footing as Scotland and so enable the two countries to march side by side. There is a stronger reason than that. Two of my colleagues mentioned miners' stoppages. I remember several of them, and I recall vividly how in one locality the men marched to the Poor Law-offices in order to try and get relief. Thousands of them got it on loan and to the present time much of that money remains to be paid back. The men cannot pay it back and probably it will become a bad debt, for it costs almost as much to collect it as the amount that they collect. The book-keeping and the collecting will about balance when all the money has come in.

In my experience very few people go to the Poor Law unless out of sheer necessity. No one likes to go there at all. I should like to see the whole system of relief put on a similar footing. Boards of guardians in one part of the country are more lenient than those in another, or, if I may put it in the reverse way, some are more harsh than others. Some may grant relief on loan and others may grant it without any conditions. It all depends on the complexion of the board of guardians. As we have had experience of this system in Scotland, why should riot England be put on the same footing so that everybody will be treated alike '? I hope that if the Minister does not see his way to accept the Amendment some regard will be paid to our appeal. From time to time small Bills are introduced which raise large questions and they have to be put on one side on the plea that they cannot be dealt with in those small Measures. I hope that the Minister will riot shelve this question on that plea. I welcome what is in the Bill, but I am sorry that it does not go further, and I hope the Minister will reconsider his decision.

12.54 p.m.


On this Amendment, which was introduced in a closely reasoned speech by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), we have had some interesting speeches challenging the whole principles of the Poor Law in this country. I note that the hon. Member corrected a mistake on the Order Paper with regard to the year 1932. When I first read it, I thought he was trying to pretend that the National Government perpetuated this relief on loan, and then I realised that he always says what he thinks and is never backward in coming forward even in criticising his friends. It must be remembered that the whole principle of relief on loan was approved, endorsed and continued in the Act of 1930, passed by a Government of which the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) was such a distinguished member.


That is a consolidating Act.


The principle of relief on loan became an issue at a recent by-election. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman was a member of a Government which gave endorsement to that principle was not sufficiently brought out there. I did my best to bring it not, but apparently the electors did not appreciate the point. In the issue raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals there are two points—the point of principle, and the point of administration. On the point of principle, which has been accepted for at least a century, surely it is right that a man who borrows money should give an undertaking that he will try to repay it. That principle was introduced into the Poor Law not only in the interests of the administration but in the interests of the recipients themselves. Indeed, in many parts of the country men who claim relief prefer to receive it as a loan, because it preserves their independence. I cannot speak for Scotland, but as far as England is concerned it is not only a question of good administration by local authorities but applicants for relief themselves accept the principle that if their circumstances recover and they can afford to repay in whole or part they will do so. I say that principle is right, and in practice it has been shown that very few harsh cases arise. We are the most sensitive barometer of all the Government Departments. If anything goes wrong the Minister or myself knows about it almost as soon as it has happened, and I have never heard of a case of harsh administration in this respect. No member of this House has ever brought me a single case since I have been at the Ministry. I say that this system is working fairly, and that it is generally efficient. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals talked about shops, and it is quite true that the shopkeeper would come into that 5 per cent. who had passed from the Unemployment Assistance Board and come under public assistance. If a shopkeeper gets relief on loan and subsequently manages to make a good profit out of his business. makes, say, £500 a year, surely it would he wrong that 116 should not recognise his past liability. Members have spoken as though local authorities in all cases claim repayment of relief. That is not so. The local authority has the discretion to decide whether to claim the whole or part of the loan and in every case the circumstances of the individual are taken into account.


Is it not the fact that the local authorities have acted not on their own initiative but on the instructions of auditors and have sent out claims indiscriminately to all persons to whom relief has been granted?


No, not to my knowledge because the Labour Government's Act of 1930 gave a local authority discretion as to the exercise of this power to claim repayment of relief on loan. It is no use my right hon. Friend trying to get away from that.


Not at all, I do not dispute the fact a bit, but it is a bad law and it wants altering. The hon. Gentleman says the Government want to assimilate the law of England to the law of Scotland. Here is a chance of doing so. We should make up for the errors of the past.


Now we are on the next point, which was fully argued by my right hon. Friend. In this Bill, which is limited to assimilating the law of England to that of Scotland as regards four objects, we are not trying to amend the whole law and practice of the Poor Law. The hon. Member for Birkenhead' (Mr. G. White) spoke about confusion and anomalies. I cannot pretend to know Scottish law, but in so far as I do know anything about it I claim that on the whole the principle and practice of poor law administration in England is not behind that of Scotland. We have long accepted the principle of relief for able-bodied men, and Scotland did not get it till 1921. Relief on loan was in operation in Scotland from 1927 until 1934. In Scotland relief is a right, and though in this country it is not a right we get the same effect by saying that it shall be the duty of a local authority to relieve. As to the right of appeal given to the Scottish applicant we get it in a different way, that is by the general supervisory power of the Minister to see that in cases of complaint these matters are attended to. But why should there be confusion because, for hundreds of years, the difference between the Scottish law and the English law has been a marked difference? On the whole I am not sure that it has not been to the advantage of us English. All we claim is that we should have home rule for England in this well-established principle. Anyhow, this is not a Bill on which we are going to upset and change the law, but to assimilate it to that of Scotland.

1.3 p.m.


I am sorry the Parliamentary Secretary has again refused an Amendment which we thought would improve the Bill. I am glad that he did not repeat the arguments of the Minister as to why England should be treated differently from Scotland. The Minister told us that Scottish tradition, mentality and characteristic are such that we could not expect to apply to England what Scotland has in all cases. I do not think that is the reason.


Does the hon. Member question that proposition which he has just stated?


With a name such as I have I could not. I suggest that the reason for the difference is that Scottish Members in Standing Committee were more powerful in argument and more persuasive, or that the Scottish Minister was more easily persuaded than the Minister of Health for England. I cannot understand how any person can justify the poor in Scotland never being relieved on loan and the poor in England running the chance of relief on loan. If instead of comparing Scotland and England we take the case of Lancashire and Yorkshire the position will be much more clearly seen. Could we suggest that miners in Yorkshire should have relief, but not on loan, but that the miners in Lancashire should have relief on loan? The House would never agree to such a thing. If this is applied to the miners in Scotland, why not to the miners in Durham and Northumberland? I cannot understand how the Minister can resist the appeal to give the same treatment to miners in Northumberland as is already given to the miners in Scotland.

We have seen relief on loan in operation and that is why we want to see the system ended. We would like relief to be determined entirely according to the position of the applicant at the time he makes his application, no regard being paid to future possibilities. We think the attitude of the Minister is entirely wrong on that point. I know cases in which men who ought to have had relief did not get it, because they had previously had relief on loan, and they did not want those loans hanging over their lives for a number of years. I can understand the Conservative Government reserving their right in these cases, so that in a trade dispute public assistance will not enable the workers to hang on sufficiently long to win. Relief on loan will act as a deterrent in those cases. During the stoppage of 1926 relief was given on loan upon the instructions of the Minister of Health. I was chairman of a board of guardians at that time, and we decided not to give relief on loan, but we were soon told that we had to alter that decision. We then told recipients that if they could pay back at any time they should do so.

There has been a change since then. The committee now say, not that the money should not be paid back until recipients reach a position of comparative wealth, but "You shall pay back regardless of consequences to your family." In Wigan, scores of people have been appointed collectors, and people are told that they must pay their loans back at a certain ratio and by a certain date, and they are being pestered. The collector is paid on commission, with the result that he wants to increase his income week by week, and if he finds that people are missing a week he brings pressure to bear. I have had to deal with a number of cases in which people have been treated unfairly in regard to their relief on loan. I have never heard a person say "I do not want relief in the ordinary sense, but, the public assistance committee will grant me a loan;" they go to the committee because they are destitute. We say that they should have relief without regard to future possibilities. The Bill is intended to bring our law into conformity with the practice in Scotland, and, if relief without loan be right in Scotland, it cannot be right to omit it from England. It is not fair that because there is a barrier between people they should have different treatment.

1.11 p.m.


This Bill applies to the shopkeeper as it does to other classes. Why should a little shopkeeper struggling in a miserable side street be penalised? After the Welsh disaster the pit shut down, and that means distress not only for the miner but for the poor shopkeeper. His shop also shuts down, and he goes on poor relief. The miner goes on what the Tories call national poor relief, but the shopkeeper is not treated in that way. It is suggested that he might later earn £500 a year; but so might the miner, although he seldom does in practice. What applies in one case should apply in the other. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) has earned a reputation in this House, and I gladly acknowledge his capacity. In the Committee proceedings upstairs he said this: There is a good deal with which I disagree in the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), but one point which he made should be emphasised; that is, the extreme undesirability of putting a millstone round the neck of a young man starting in life. The hon. Member declared that the young man who had relief on loan was starting in life with a handicap. The second thing he said was: The decent man who feels he owes something to the local authority is handicapped in his mind, whereas the other fellow who is a careless sort of man, does not mind a bit. It puts a handicap on the decent man who is trying to do his best, and it does not count in the case of a man who is out to get whatever he can."—[Official Report, Standing Committee on Scottish Bills, 8th May, 1934; col. 51.] I hate penalties put on decency, and I hope the hon. Members of the Opposition will divide with me on this Amendment.

1.14 p.m.


I gather from the Parliamentary Secretary that this principle has never been challenged, but at least one board of guardians challenged it. Years ago the Merthyr Tydvil Board challenged it.


My point was that no one challenged it in the House in 1930 when the Bill was going through.


On a Consolidation Bill, an Amendment to challenge this principle would have been out of Order.


We had a Bill of 400 Clauses last year, and endless Amendments and new Clauses were moved.


I thought the Minister was suggesting that it had not been challenged outside. I am unable to speak as to the proceedings on the Bill of 1930, as I was not then here, but I feel sure that, if the Minister took a census of the views held by local authorities and public assistance committees, they would not support the Ministry in this—certainly not in the distressed areas. I think that on this matter we ought to have the views of Members representing distressed areas. From time to time they have made many applications to the Minister for relief, and on this matter I am certain that Members representing the distressed areas would agree with me when I say that the local authorities in those areas would be at one in trying to remove this millstone, not only from their own necks, but from the necks of the poor people, who are just on the verge of destitution at all times. In the constituency of one of my colleagues, namely Methyr Tydvil, the rates are 27s. 6d. in the pound. There are scores of people there who have this enormous burden to face, and yet collectors are knocking at their doors and taking from them the few extra coppers that they get during the three or four days that they may be working at the colliery—


And the Poor Law authority does not want it.


The Poor Law authority does not want it. The same thing applies throughout the whole of Glamorgan. Nearly 40 per cent. of the people there are totally unemployed, and most of them are faced with a debt of this kind. This is one of the most irritating pieces of administration that can be conceived, and yet it is to be continued. I cannot understand the attitude of the Minister in regard to it. It is no use saying that this has been the pracitice for 100 years. In the old days an individual could be treated as an individual, and it was possible to infer that he was responsible for his lot, but in these days masses of people are affected by some unforeseen incident. In law it would be called an act of God; here it is called depression, or something of that kind. Masses of people are struck at once, and 50 per cent, or more of them may be affected to the extent of being rendered destitute; but, because they are able-bodied persons, they are not entitled to relief. Although the market is closed against them, and they cannot sell their labour, they cannot obtain relief except on loan, because it is the English law that they are responsible to their dependants, although they cannot sell their labour in the market. In these days, when masses of people are affected in that way, the position is very different from what it was in the old days, when the individual may have been responsible for the plight of his family. There is no justification for the continuance of this as I think, very serious anomaly. That is putting entirely on one side the fact that it does not obtain in Scotland. I think the Minister ought to reconsider the position. I would ask him if he is prepared to inquire into the cost of collection, and relate it to the amount actually collected. If he will do that, he will find that it really is not a paying proposition, apart from the other factors.

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 28; Noes, 87.

Division No. 393.] AYES. [1.21 p.m.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Gardner, Benjamin Walter Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)
Attlee, Clement Richard George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Parkinson, John Allen
Batey, Joseph Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Thorne, William James
Buchanan, George Grundy, Thomas W. Tinker, John Joseph
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) White, Henry Graham
Daggar, George Harris, Sir Percy Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Janner, Barnett Williams, Dr. John H. (Lianeily)
Davies, Stephen Owen Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Wilmot, John
Dobbie, William Lanshury, Rt. Hon. George
Edwards, Charles McEntee, Valentine L. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. G. Macdonald and Mr. Groves.
Allen, Col. Sandeman (Birkenhead) Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Peters, Dr. Sidney John
Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe Fox, Sir Gifford Preston, Sir Walter Rueben
Bellile, Sir Adrian W. M. Fremantle, Sir Francis Ramsay. T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Fuller, Captain A. G. Ramsbotham, Herwaid
Balniel, Lord Ganzonl, Sir John Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffleld, B'tside)
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury) Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th,C.) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Bonn, Sir Arthur Shirley Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Blindell, James Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Bouiton, W. W. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Hume, Sir George Hopwood Storey, Samuel
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Browne, Captain A. C. Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Tate, Mavis Constance
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Ker, J. Campbell Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Burnett, John George Kirkpatrick, William M. Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunllffe- Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Clayton, Sir Christopher Llewellin, Major John J. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Lloyd, Geoffrey Wayland, Sir William A.
Cooke, Douglas MacAndrew, Lt.-Col C. G. (Partick) Whyte, Jardine Bell
Crooke, J. Smedley Macquisten, Frederick Alexander Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Galnsb'ro) Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Womersley, Sir Walter
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Denville, Alfred Morgan, Robert H. Worthington, Dr. John V.
Dickie, John P. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Duckworth, George A. V. Morrison, William Shepherd
Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel Munro, Patrick TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Captain Sir George Bowyer and Commander Southby.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 2 (Citation, repeal, extent and commencement), ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

1.26 p.m.


I beg to move "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I do not think it requires any words from me to commend the Third Reading. The House is in possession of the various interesting matters which have arisen for discussion in Committee, and I think there is really no difference of opinion as to the desirability of passing the Bill as a whole. As the House is aware, the general effect of the Bill is to place an obligation upon public assistance authorities to disregard. the first five shillings of trade union sick pay on the same footing as friendly societies' sick pay, because. there is no difference in substance between the two, to impose a similar obligation in respect of maternity benefit, and to disregard the first pound of a disability pension. As to the desirability of these measures the House is in full agreement, and I trust, that we shall now be able to secure the Bill.

1.27 p.m.


Two sentences only will be adequate to explain the attitude of my hon. Friends and myself in this matter. We are extremely sorry that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were unable to meet us on the Amendments that we moved in Committee, but we have considered the Bill as a whole, and we feel that we should not be justified in opposing the Third Reading.

1.28 p.m.


I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not be justified in voting, against the Bill. I regret that it does not assimilate the law of England and Scotland in respect of the matters that we have discussed and one or two others as well, but it makes some improvement in the lives and conditions of the poorest section of the community and anything that does that is to that extent welcome. The bringing of trade unions into the same condition as friendly societies was absolutely necessary. I wish to thank the Opposition for putting their whips on. I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who is an even more faithful attender at the House than I am, is unwell and is unable to be here.

1.29 p.m.


I should like to associate myself with what previous speaker's have said. We, too, in view of the fact that an improvement is being introduced by the Bill, have no desire to divide on the Third Reading. We also are rather sorry that suggestions that were put forward in Committee were not accepted. We hope that on a future occasion the Minister will take the opportunity of introducing further Measures to bring those suggestions into practical effect, particularly the suggestions in regard to workmen's compensation payments not being taken into consideration in the way they are at present, and, if the Minister finds it possible to do something in that regard, he will have taken a step in the right direction.

1.30 p.m.


I should like to express the great appreciation that many of us feel as regards the exemption of maternity benefit. I hope this is only the beginning of considerable measures to be taken to improve maternity conditions. They are very much wanted. This is a small step, and there is a great deal that one could say on the subject, but it is a step in the right direction, and I hope it is the forerunner of further measures next Session in regard to health and maternity benefits.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third Time, and passed.