§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, provision should be made for the payment of the expenses incurred by members of urban district councils and rural district councils in attending outside their areas meetings of assessment and other committees in the discharge of their public duties.The terms of this Motion are very limited. It does not raise the question of the payment of salaries to councillors. It may be suggested that that should form part of a general scheme of reform of local government. For example, it may be argued that the payment of salaries to councillors should be introduced only after a reduction of the number of councils or of council members, since presumably payment of salaries would mean that members would have more time to devote to the work and fewer would be required. The payment of salaries as distinct from expenses has not been discussed in this House in recent years, if at all. What has been discussed is the payment of expenses. It was very much debated at the time of the passing of the Local Government (England and Wales) A ct, 1929. Payment of councillors was recognised in the Local Government (Scotland) Act of the same year, and it was argued that there was no reason why the principle should not be extended to councils in England and Wales.
The position now is that expenses are allowed to members of county councils in England and Wales, but, unlike Scotland, those councils are not authorised to reimburse members for the loss of work or the cost of meals when away from home. Why there should be this differentiation as between England and Scotland it is difficult to understand, or why there should be a differentiation between members of county councils and members of urban and rural district councils. The argument has been put forward that county councils embrace more extensive 1339 areas, and that members are away from home longer and have greater distances to travel, but that is only a difference of degree and not of principle, and there is no reason why members of urban and rural district councils should not have the same rights in this matter as members of county councils. Indeed, there are three modern developments of local government which justify payment of members of urban and rural district councils. The first is the increasing concentration of great powers in the hands of fairly large authorities. Members of them have many more duties which call for their attention, both on committee and council work, and they spend more time away from their professions, trades or employment. It would be a sorry day if, through lack of personal means and the failure to get travelling and other expenses, councillors could no longer continue to exercise that constant surveillance over administration which has been a characteristic of British local government.
It is legal for county councils to pay expenses incurred in travelling to and from meetings of the council or incurred on behalf of the council, and that applies to full committee meetings and sub-committee meetings, but no provision is made for the payment of expenses to members of rural or urban district councils. The hon. Member for Devizes (Sir P. Hurd) has stated that the rural district councils are against it, but I think I am right in saying that the Urban District Councils' Association have not gone so far. It is time they decided against pressing for payment of all expenses, but I think that was prior to the right given to county councils by the Local Government Act, 1929, to extend district council areas.
§ Sir PERCY HURD
I was not referring to the urban councils, but the rural district councils. When this matter was under consideration about three years ago there was a postcard poll of the members throughout England and Wales, on the question whether they did or did not wish what the hon. Member now desires, and the result was a decisive "No."
§ Mr. JOHN
But the same argument applies to rural district councils as I was putting forward on behalf of urban district councils. During the last three years 1340 we have had experience of the county councils extending the areas of the local councils, and that brings increased duties. The third reason to justify payment of expenses is an increasing tendency on the part of the electorate to wish to have the advantage of the brains and energies of working men as councillors. I think all will agree that the day of the leisured class is long past in local as well as in Parliamentary government, and yet a large number of sound and useful men are deterred from undertaking public work by reason of the expenses they incur either directly or through absence from their employment. The Urban District Councils Association, although not going so far as this Motion, have at their annual conference repeatedly decided in favour of reasonable travelling expenses for their members who are appointed or nominated on assessment committees, on guardian committees, and other public or quasi-public bodies whose meetings are held outside the area of representation. The annual conference of the Urban District Councils Association expresses a large body of public opinion. I think there are close upon 800 urban district councils represented at this annual conference, not of one shade of political opinion but of every shade of political opinion, and they believe in the payment and reasonable travelling expenses, and I think frequent representations on the point have been made to the Ministry of Health. This Motion goes further than that, claiming not only travelling expenses but allowances for meals when away from home.
Take the case of assessment committees. The work of their members is as vitally important as the work of members of county councils, and yet there is difficulty, very often, in finding suitable men for this work. There is the question of colliery assessments. Prior to the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, the ascertainment of the assessable values of coal measures and of collieries devolved upon experts, with varying results. I should not like to say there were chaotic conditions, but there were a great many anomalies and an absence of uniformity, and frequently this involved the local authorities in loss. Under the Act of 1925 county or central assessment committees were set up, the object being to bring about uniformity in assessments. Serving on a number of those assessment 1341 committees are members of the working class, some of whom have to travel any, thing up to 28 or 30 miles to attend the meetings. In the county of Denbighshire the travelling expenses vary from 1s. 6d. up to 12s. 2d., and in addition to that expenditure there is the loss of a day's work. A number of the members of the assessment committees are unemployed, and it is impossible for them, without assistance from their friends, to find the money for the travelling expenses, though they have been appointed by their own authorities to do the work.
Take, also, the case of the assessment committee at Pontypridd, with which I am fairly well acquainted. It is true that the distances to be travelled there are not so great as in the case of a county, being at the outside between 12 and 15 miles. The committee consists of 25 members, a large majority of whom are miners' representatives. Among them are men who are unemployed, and have been unemployed for eight or nine years. There was an appeal in 1929; and another in 1932, to the Ministry of Health for the payment of travelling expenses and of expenses for meals when away from home. The Ministry granted the appeal, but since 1933 no payment has been made. There have been great difficulties, consequently, in getting a quorum on the committees. These men have to travel in order to make detailed investigations of buildings, and they have succeeded in bringing about a great deal of uniformity in assessments. How, in the name of reason, can it be expected that a man with a family to maintain, who is employed at 45s. or 50s. per week and who may have to lose half a day's work, or occasionally a full day's work, is able to spend money in train fares? How can it be expected that an unemployed man who is a member of a council can spend 2s. 6d., 5s., 7s. or 10s. in train fares, in order to do work on behalf of that public authority?
The work of the assessment committees has grown, and there is need for capable men to serve upon them. If payment is not forthcoming, the choice of appointment of the best men will be very limited, not because of lack of ability but because of poverty and of the inability to provide the expenses to attend assessment committee meetings. The same argument 1342 applies to public assistance committees, which are as important as any committees of local authorities. Because of the number of recipients of public assistance, the work of those committees is increasing. Members of county public assistance committees, who have to travel precisely the same distances to the meetings of those committees as they have to attend meetings of assessment committees, have to lose a day's work. It is frequently impossible for them to do so, and the result is that we receive complaints that it is often difficult to secure sufficient members to form a quorum at public assistance committees. The fate of the poor in this country has to depend either upon the relieving officer or upon other individuals who are less sympathetic. I believe that the poor of this country are entitled to proper treatment, and to be looked after by the representatives of the community. I believe that Democracy has a right to appoint people to look after the poor, but it is impossible for people who have been appointed in the derelict areas to do this work, because of poverty, unemployment and inability to provide the necessary expenses or to lose time from their work.
This Motion is not revolutionary, and it does not make any extreme demand. It simply asks for expenses, not within the area where the council work is done, although I am in favour of the payment of expenses for all council work, but where meetings are held outside the area of representation. Someone may say that county councillors are not paid, which is true, but if a county council has one assessment committee within its own area, and that is the rule, the county councillors are paid in those instances. If the county is divided, and you have East or West, North or South, the divisions make it impossible for the county councils to pay.
§ Mr. JOHN
I am dealing now with the absence of power of the county councils to pay for the attendance of county councillors upon public assistance committees or assessment committees, unless the county council controls in its entirety that public assistance or assessment committee. County councillors are in the same position, in that respect, as mem- 1343 bers of urban or rural district councils, in regard to failure to obtain payment.
I make an appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary. This is not a revolutionary demand, but a reasonable one. It has been recognised before, and it is recognised at the present time. In connection with the Ministry of Labour, there is a court of referees and frequently, because of their experience, assessors appointed are members of local authorities, and when they lose time and pay expenses to go to the places where the court of referees is being held, they are paid out of the rates. If men fail to get expenses, it means that they are not given equal opportunity with others who can afford to do the work. It is not to the advantage of public work that, because of poverty, or inability to devote time from their business, profession, or labouring employment, representatives should take upon themselves these responsibilities. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to accept the Motion, which is reasonable and just. If he does so, I am certain, because of its reasonableness and justice, that members of urban and rural district councils will say that the Government have done at least one good thing.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. GIBBINS
I beg to second the Motion.
What surprises me, having had experience of county work, is the smallness of the request from the urban and rural districts. It is difficult to imagine anyone opposing so simple a Motion. Two reasons, at least justify its acceptance, the attempt to remove inequality between various sets of local government and, secondly, to remove inequalities of opportunity of service in the various districts. I do not think it is disputed that some councillors not only get payment of expenses but very often a second payment for their work outside the city; even inside the city, as chairman of a relief committee, I have had no difficulty, and no other member has had, of getting a conveyance at any time to pick me up and take me to the office where the job is done. A flat rate of pay is agreed upon by the council, and when a man goes to the other side of the district he gets payment decided upon by the council. How can we justify calling upon men and women in the urban and rural districts to undertake public work at the end of 1344 the week, when they have to use their own money? That demand should not be tolerated any longer.
As to inequality of opportunity for service, those who have the means to take up public work are fortunate in being able to do that valuable service, and it does not hurt them. In the next class you may get people who do not mind giving their time, service, and ability, but, when it comes to finding expenses, are rather damped in their enthusiasm for public work. When you come to the third class, there is a good deal of large-mindedness among the workers of this country, to serve and to give of their time. Not many of the working class are able to have their names on institutions because of large bequests, but they are willing to do what service they can within their limits. When they are chosen by a popular vote to do that work, they often find that it not only expensive but that it means a loss of wages.
I know councillors who are doing work like this in spite of the danger that even their job is at stake. To attend the meetings of a public authority they have to make arrangements for getting off, but they never know whether an excuse may be found against them and next week they may find themselves outside the job altogether. I suggest that this House should encourage the men and women who are doing this work. We are getting more women on our local authorities. They do public work and then go back and do their own work. They are quite willing to do so, but it means expensive fares for the wife of a man who is earning only a few pounds a week, and is an inequality which ought not to be allowed to continue. For those reasons although there are others—inequality between various districts and inequality of opportunity for service—I trust that the House will accept the Motion.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Captain Sir GEORGE BOWYER
I rise for the main purpose of trying to make as clear as I can what I believe to be the position of the Urban District Councils Association, of which I have had the privilege of being President for the last 10 or 12 years. The Mover of the Motion referred to the Urban District Councils Association, and I think that he specifically drew the attention of the 1345 House to the difference between the terms of the Motion and what the urban district councils, and particularly the Urban District Councils Association, have asked for. So far as I know, from the case (put forward by that Association and from letters from urban district councils in my division, all of whom have written to me about reasonable travelling expenses, in no case has the demand been put forward for, in the words of the Motion,payment of expenses of members,which I should imagine would cover, not only subsistence allowance, but compensation for loss of time. The case which the Urban District Councils Association has been putting forward for many weeks past, and which I had the privilege of voicing to, the Minister of Health or writing to him about, is a very reasonable one. One can make out an extraordinarily good case for the payment of reasonable travelling expenses, especially in the far-flung county divisions where undoubtedly serious anomalies do exist in regard to many of the meetings which may be called by a county council. I understand the County Councils Association can see that their members get paid, but in respect of the same meeting attended by members on behalf of local authorities those local authorities cannot see that their members are remunerated.
§ Sir G. BOWYER
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) shakes his head. Perhaps he will correct me.
§ Sir G. BOWYER
I am much obliged to the hon. Member, because I know what a vast experience he has had in local government. I do know, by the authority of the headquarters of the Urban District Councils Association, that anomalies exist in the counties and among local authorities. The plea that I have to make to the Parliamentary Secretary is that, whatever reply he may give to the Motion and the very eloquent speeches 1346 which have been made by the hon. Members who moved and seconded it, he will not forget the case that has been put forward for many weeks by the Urban District Councils Association, which limits the matter to the reasonable travelling expenses incurred by the members of urban district councils or rural district councils when attending meetings. I hope that the Minister of Health will carefully and sympathetically consider the case, and that when he has time to bring in legislation he will not forget the case which the Urban District Councils Association has put forward.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
I support the Motion as a member of the Urban District Councils National Executive. It is true, as the last speaker stated, that the Urban District Councils National Conference for the past three or four years, and possibly for a longer period, have had a resolution in front of them in favour of travelling expenses, and I hope that the appeal of the hon. Baronet to the Parliamentary Secretary will not fall on deaf ears. We have repeatedly, on behalf of the Urban District Councils Association, put questions across the Floor of the House to the Minister of Health asking that the urban district council representative at least should have travelling expenses.
§ Mr. DUNCAN
The Motion deals with travelling expenses outside their areas. Is the hon. Member suggesting that they should have expenses within their areas also?
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I want the hon. Member to wait and see. It is clear that the request is for travelling expenses outside their area. Many urban district councils in England and Wales have such limited areas that the travelling expenses inside the area would be only walking expenses. I know what I am talking about. I have gone through the infant school, the elementary school, the secondary school and now I suppose I am in another school. I have served for 27 years as an urban district councillor and have travelled the county of the West Riding as an urban councillor without receiving any expenses, either in respect of assessment committees or public assistance committees. I have travelled the county as a county councillor, and have been, paid my travelling expenses to the 1347 same spots to which a pal of mine, belonging to the same pit, has travelled and has not been able to have his expenses paid. That is an anomaly which ought to be recognised, and it ought to lead the Ministry of Health to accept the Motion.
The Motion may mean a little extension beyond what the President of the Urban District Councils Association stated, but it is only little. I do not think there are many Members of this House who in the last ten days, if they represent any urban districts, have not received letters from urban district councils in their divisions asking them to support the Motion. I hope that it will be supported overwhelmingly. Let me cite a different aspect of the case. We have many workmen in South Yorkshire who are working short time. A collier very often gets on his knees and asks Almighty God to send the coldest weather possible on this side of the grave, in order that more coal will need to be burned, and then he can get work. [Laughter.] Yes, it is true. Many men in my division have been working, on the average, four days a fortnight at the pits and others not more than six days a fortnight. A great number of miners in the West Riding are members of urban district councils, and many of them are on public assistance committees and assessment committees. Some of the men on the urban district councils in the West Riding have to travel 20 miles to an assessment committee, and be away all the day. They go on an omnibus at 9.30 a.m. and return at 4.30 or 5.0 p.m.
There is nothing extravagant or revolutionary in the Motion. It is very mild, as we might expect in the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John). I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not say: "The expense is so-and-so." We are not asking that the expense should come from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are only asking that the expense should be allowed to be paid by the local authorities who are represented by the members who attend the assessment committees and public assistance committees. A great deal of the time of the public assistance committees is taken up by inquiries into applications arising from industrial accidents. I have sat on these committees from 10 in the morning until 6.30 at night, and we have had from 10 to 20 men in a given area making 1348 application for public assistance in the very first week after they have met with an accident, proving that they needed some help from the public assistance committee because the money that they have earned in the past has not been sufficient to keep together the body and soul of the man, his wife and his children. I hope the Minister will agree to accept the Motion.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
It is impossible not to feel considerable sympathy with the object of the Motion, particularly as it was moved so extremely convincingly and so very moderately by the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John). All of us would agree that out-of-pocket expenses are a very serious item in the ordinary service of local government, and all of us, I think, would agree that it is entirely wrong that any particular man should be debarred from giving his service to the community because he cannot afford the necessary railway or omnibus fare in order to do his job. If the Motion had stopped there I think it would have commended itself to universal approval, but the Motion goes further. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) said, not quite convincingly, that it only went a little bit further. He was rather excusing the unwanted bantling by saying that it was only a little one. It goes rather further than we should be prepared to go at the moment.
The hon. Baronet the Member for North Buckinghamshire (Sir G. Bowyer) said that he understood the term "expenses" comprised such expenses as might be incurred through failure to pursue one's normal vocation when performing council work and I gathered that the hon. Member who moved the Motion agreed that that was really the object of the Motion. Again, we feel a good deal of sympathy for that suggestion, but it leads to a considerable series of difficulties if it is amplified. I know that difficulties can be always overcome, but I would remind the House what the difficulties are. First, there is the question of differing expenses. If expenses incurred through not pursuing one's vocation are to be taken into consideration, the man who is employed, say, in a factory at £4 a week, or a shopkeeper, are going to receive a different expense grant than the man who is unemployed. He is not out of pocket at all except in so far as he would 1349 have to pay his own fare, because he is not losing any of his unemployment pay.
§ Mr. GIBBINS
Is the hon. Member not aware that this proposal has already been put into practice in other directions?
§ Mr. WISE
The fact that it is the practice elsewhere does not necessarily indicate that it is a sound principle. I want to draw attention to the difficulties which may arise. If it is to be made universal, it would be perfectly easy to imagine the most extravagant differences. It would be perfectly easy—I am not putting this forward as a serious argument, but merely as an example of what might be said—to say that a company director was losing hundreds of pounds by performing his local government work, and should be compensated accordingly.
§ Mr. JOHN
Is the hon. Member aware that the payment of expenses is provided for in the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, and that a flat rate is already in operation?
§ Mr. WISE
Yes; the hon. Member said that in his opening speech. But there has been a difference between England and Scotland in other respects before now, and a thing is not necessarily sound because it is done in Scotland, even though we have only recently survived St. Andrew's night. The old principle of an unpaid local government and an unpaid juduciary is a very valuable one in this country. It has produced a higher standard of public service than any other system that has yet been devised, and the mere fact that men do make sacrifices to carry out their duty is, I think, probably valuable in itself. Any attempt to remove this principle we should ponder over extremely carefully. It may not be a very long step from compensation for loss of work to a regular salary for elected members of local authorities.
§ Mr. WISE
It is perfectly true that Members of this House are paid a regular salary, but I am not at all sure that it is necessarily a particularly good thing. I have often been extremely grateful to see it, but I am not at all sure that in principle it is right. I would remind hon. Members, however, that that particular sum was granted, 1350 not with the idea of paying Members or of reimbursing them for giving up their time, but was granted actually, as was explained at the time it was done, to cover their expenses in their constituencies. That is the same principle which I think we might go on to apply to local government. No one can refrain from agreeing that local councillors are perfectly entitled to grants to cover their expenses in their constituencies. I think that their travelling expenses, and even the expenses of meals when they are away, are most reasonable things for which to ask, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with me; but to go further would be, I think, to embark on rather a new line, particularly in view of the fact that my hon. Friend has reminded the House that the Urban District Councils Association is not overwhelmingly in favour of it.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
The vote was unanimous at Weston-super-Mare. I was there on the platform, in the last week in June.
§ Sir G. BOWYER
I do not want to correct or deny anything that the hon. Member opposite has said, but only to say, as I said before, that the request which is being put forward to-day, and which has been put forward for many weeks past, by the Urban District Councils Association, has been definitely limited to travelling expenses.
§ Mr. WISE
Yes, and I think most of us are in agreement with the Urban District Councils Association that the claim for travelling expenses is most reasonable; but, as I have said, to go further would be to embark on something which may be dangerous, and any such proposal should be approached with very great caution. We are at the moment at a rather critical period of local government. The whole situation of elected local government in this country is being called in question from powerful sources outside. [HON. MEMBERS: "By whom?"] In the general conversation of a good many people. I would remind the House that the extremely low polls at council elections do indicate that to a great extent the people of this country are not as interested as they ought to be in their 1351 local government, particularly, of course, in rural and county areas. [HON. MEMBERS: "And in Parliamentary elections, too."] The polling in Parliamentary elections is not, as a matter of fact, extraordinarily small. The average poll at the last election was 70 per cent. throughout the country, and taking any ordinary Parliamentary register and allowing for those who have died since the register was compiled, for those who have gone abroad, and for those who are unable to vote for many reasons —for instance, because they are sick or because they are living too far away—to get more than an 80 per cent. poll in this country would require the unscrupulousness of someone like Dr. Goebbels in counting the votes. I do not believe it could be done.
The vote in Parliamentary elections is still high enough to show that there is a lively interest, but the voting in local elections is not. When you have polls as low as 17 per cent. in some parts of the country, it is rather an indication that the attitude of the people towards their local government is not all that it should be, and I do not think we ought, without the most extraordinary caution, to take any step that would worsen either the indifference or in some cases even hostility towards the system which all of us in this House, I think, wish to maintain. If the Mover of the Motion could be content—I do not say to-night—with taking one bite at the cherry, absorbing, say, half of it to begin with and postponing the rest, I think he would meet with a great deal of support, but in principle the whole idea of unrewarded service to the community, both on local authorities and here, is too valuable to jeopardise. The step is so short from recompense for loss of profits, as apart from direct out-of-pocket expenses, to a salary, that I honestly think the House would be well advised to show some caution, while feeling a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Member's Motion.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
Unfortunately, I am old enough to have heard the speech to which we have just listened a great many times 40 years or so ago in debating societies when we were discussing the question of the payment of Members of this House. Every one of the evils that the hon.
1352 Member, in his native wisdom, sees round the corner was then foreseen if any Members of the House other than the few selected people who sit on the Front Government Bench received any payment at all in any guise and under any excuse. I had the privilege of travelling up from his constituency with the hon. Member on Saturday in a first-class carriage. I should not have been there but for the fact that someone else was paying for me. I do not know who was paying for the hon. Member, but the general conversation that we had was not on any very sordid matters, but mainly on matters of high policy, in which in several cases we almost reached an agreement that surprised both of us. These evils that Conservatism is always seeing just round the corner have never arisen when we have pursued a policy of common sense in endeavouring to meet from day to day the actual problems that confront us in government.
This Motion arises out of the actual problems that to-day confront us in county government areas. My local government experience is not in the districts from which have come my hon. Friends who have previously spoken in the Debate, but there is not a meeting of the Surrey Public Assistance Committee at which it is not reported that at some guardians meeting or other it has been impossible during the preceding month to get a quorum, although we have fixed the quorum at a far lower figure than when we took over the responsibility in 1930. The guardians area committees are constituted partly by members of the county council other than aldermen, partly by other persons nominated by the county council, and partly by representatives of the county district, non-county borough, urban, and rural councils, and those last representatives have to be members of the councils concerned. In the neighbourhood of London the majority of the local governing bodies, such as urban and borough councils, meet in the evening, because men who are perfectly willing to give up their evenings to the work are earning their livelihood in some way or other and are away from their homes during the day time. On the urban council of which I have been a member since 1908 we always give the job of being on the area guardians committee to two people who have just come on. They really think we are show- 1353 ing our confidence in them, but the fact is that no one who has had the job before will take it, They have to give at least one day a week—a whole day—to this task, and it is an exceedingly difficult and onerous one. It requires very considerable powers of discrimination. I have known occasions when people have sat from 10.30 to 6 o'clock and have remained behind for a couple of hours in the hope that the people outside would think they had already gone home, because they were by no means pleased with the assessments that had been made.
With regard to such work as that, the Local Government Act, 1929, made the position worse than it was under the old boards of guardians, because one of the effects of the Act—a desired effect—for which it was advocated by the party opposite, was that it would increase the areas of the guardians, and people who served on the old boards of guardians and then went to the newly-constituted guardians area committees generally found that they were administering an area at least twice as large as, and frequently far more than, the area that the old guardians had to administer. One of the desires was that these bodies, which had to exercise assessing duties, should bring to the task that amount of detachment which comes from living at some considerable distance from the applicants and from the local circumstances. There is a great tendency in some of these areas now, especially if the meeting place is changed from place to place within the area, for the committee to vary according to the place at which the meeting is held, so that what you actually get is the people of place A meeting to deal with the problems of place A, and the people at place B meeting to deal with its problems, and so on. Thus the whole purpose of the Act is defeated. When we come to the assessment committees, it is true that the urban and borough councils can appoint people who are not members of the body, but the same difficulty arises, that in a great many areas the people in the morning have to travel away from the place where the meeting is to be held. There is one assessment committee in Surrey which, starting in January, has to deal with 1,200 proposals with regard to one borough alone. I served on an assess- 1354 ment committee shortly after the passing of the Act of 1925 which had to deal with 1,500 proposals for the first new valuation list, and that meant attending day after day.
It is clear that, if the work is to be done effectively, you should have, as far as possible, the same committee meeting to do it. Unless you do that, all chance of uniformity or being able to recognise the salient points of the various cases vanishes. There, again, we increased the areas of the old guardians to create the new area assessment committees, and it is very undesirable that people meeting to consider the assessments should be merely the people from the immediate locality in which the meeting is held. It is very unfair to expect men, especially if you are going to get reasonably young men of alert mind who are earning their living in business, in addition to giving their time, to pay the very heavy cost of travelling, and the provision of a mid-day meal. I am not merely pleading for what is called the working man, but the young professional man who wants to give some of his time, energy and ability to this work, but finds it an impossible burden to do it as he would like. Some of these young men have said to me, "Much as we should like to continue on the council and do the work, we really cannot do it." It is a great loss to local government and to the men themselves that they should so suffer. As far as urban and rural councils are concerned, the Ministry itself has a complete safeguard. They audit the accounts, they can call for the vouchers and they can make the most complete investigation.
This is a small reform which the reforms of the last few years—on which none of us would wish to go back—instituted by the Act of 1929 have really made imperative if the work of local government is to be properly carried on in these areas. I believe that the demand does not merely come from those areas where the Labour party have a majority on the local councils. In Surrey we have no urban or borough council with a majority of that kind, and the demand is as insistent as it is in the divisions represented by my hon. Friends. I could never understand why, having given this thing to the county councils, it could not have been given in the case 1355 of the urban and the rural councils. I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate that a very short Measure, which, I am sure, would be an agreed Measure in this House, may be passed through Parliament so that we may be able to carry on these vast tracts of local government with the efficiency which will come from not having to pass over suitable men because, for reasons of finance, and no other reason, they have to decline.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN TRAIN
Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I am old enough to have seen a great many alterations in local government, and, like him, I was for a great many years connected with local government work before I came to this House. I cannot say that the changes are all for the better. I must congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) for the modest way in which he proposed his Motion. He referred to the Scottish Local Government Act, 1929. There is a great diversity of opinion in Scotland about that Act, and I do not think that it would do his case a great deal of good were I to enumerate the difficulties which have arisen through that Act being put upon the Statute Book. There are Members in the House, I believe, who were engaged at one time as King's Counsellors in connection with cases in which expenses were being claimed under that Act, and it was not always very nice reading. [Interruption.] I am merely referring to what the hon. Member referred to—the Scottish Local Government Act, 1929. Difficulties are bound to arise as these various Acts get upon the Statute Book, and although this is a modest Motion, there are difficulties ahead.
In my opinion it is the thin end of the wedge and encourages that principle about which my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) spoke. It is slowly cutting out the old traditions of service given gratuitously. It is a very honourable and commendable thing for one to give service to local government. A great many of us have given of our spare time to this work. Although we have worked during the day a lot of the meetings were held at night and it did not cost us anything. We had to give our 1356 services during the day as well. The county councils pay expenses and for loss of working time, but the principle is now being recognised—it is partly being introduced here—of commercialising that service which was given so willingly and gratuitously in the past. If that principle is to be expanded and recognised, there is another side to the question. What is the service worth? What are to be the qualifications of those who are to receive money from public funds? Is there to be an examination similar to that in the Civil Service, or are we to take it for granted that any man who comes before the public and collects sufficient votes will be qualified to receive pay out of the public purse? What will his services be worth?
I do not know what position the Government intend to take up on this matter, but I hope that they will be careful because, as I have already said, it is the thin end of the wedge. I would support a large and comprehensive scheme. What is the qualification that would be considered sufficient to earn the money to be paid out of the public funds? This Motion deals with a small, simple request. It is very commendable in itself, but I would like to see the whole position examined. It is true, as has been said by the hon. Member for Smethwick, that there is not the interest taken in local government elections that ought to be taken. We cannot get more than 35 to 50 per cent. of the people to vote. It ought to be made more attractive, but you will not make it so by such a, small measure as is suggested in the Motion. Let. us have something large and comprehensive.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I have been connected with assessment committees and urban district councils for many years. One of my first public appointments was as overseer of the parish in those old days now gone by, when we had the assessments to make. I found, on getting on to that assessment committee, that the representatives were all landowners and owners of large blocks of private property. They took great care that they were well represented on the committee. When the assessment committee work changed over and area work extended, the distances which members of the assessment committee had to travel practically prohibited any working man from 1357 being on the committee. In the district where I lived the assessment committee met on circuit, as it were. One of the places to which I had to travel was 16 miles away, and another meeting of the assessment committee was 30 miles away. I was fortunate for a time to be in a position to pay my own expenses. It meant a whole day away from home, with travelling expenses up to five or six shillings, and on top of that I had to pay for meals. One can see from that that a working man with no one like a trade union behind him is entirely cut out and has no possible chance of serving. If there is one committee in local council work upon which the workers ought to be represented, it is the assessment committee. I found many great anomalies in which people were assessing members of their own political party very lowly and assessing members of the opposite political party as high as they could.
The hon. Gentleman opposite suggested that if we pay members of local urban and rural councils they should have to undergo examination. I sat for no examination when I came to this House, and I do not know how many Members either on this side or opposite would be here if they had had to undergo an examination. Without having been examined, I am paid at the rate of £400 a year. [An HON. MEMBER "Shame"] The hon. Member may think that it is a shame, but my constituents do not think so. All we are asking in this Motion is that representatives on local councils should have some small measure of remuneration. I am not afraid that you are going to affect the character of the individual by offering him his expenses. In the case of the public assistance committee in my district the members of the district committees very often have to travel eight miles to the various centres, but when you come to the area committee there are some who have to travel 30 miles each way. I repeat that a working man who has not a trade union behind him—fortunately in Durham we have a trade union in the eastern part but not in the rural area—cannot stand the expense of having to travel 30 miles each way and pay his own expenses. I heartily support the Motion. The representation of this House has not suffered by the payment of Members, and I do not believe that the character and ability of rural and urban 1358 district councils would suffer if their representatives were allowed their expenses.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. CROOM-JOHNSON
I am one of those Members referred to by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I was once a young professional man with extremely small means, so small indeed that sometimes I could hardly see them, and I was willing and desirous of taking some part in the public life of my country. When, having achieved middle age, I found myself in this House I realised how deficient I was in my knowledge of local government and local affairs because I had not been able, by reason of the expenses to which I should have been put in my young days, to take that part in local affairs which I desired to take. Knowing the experience of the hon. Member in public affairs and the work which he has so admirably done in the county of Surrey, I commend the observations he has made to the attention of the House, and all the more sympathetically because he has touched me on rather a sore spot. If we are to have real democracy, to which we have been paying a good deal of lip service for some time, we must be perfectly certain that we are going to encourage all those people who are willing to give of their leisure, their abilities, their time and industry, in the service of the State, and see that it is not made too difficult.
I have never believed, and I do not believe now, in payment for services rendered, but I do think that if you render services to the community in which you happen to live, or in the wider area which we call the nation, at least you ought not to be out of pocket by reason of undertaking them. May I be allowed to say that I have not discovered that this ideal has been altogether reached in the duty I endeavour to discharge in this House, but, at all events, in local government I feel that we very often miss the services of people with local experience, local knowledge and great ability by the fact that in addition to all the sacrifices which any form of public life in this country entails you are asking them, if they have to travel outside their own area, to put their hands in their pockets. I regard this Motion in a very narrow light. I do not regard it on the lines indicated by the last speaker, 1359 who seemed to think that the word "expenses" was intended to cover something in the nature of payment for services rendered. I feel that some of the best services which are rendered to the people of this country are rendered by people who are willing to do it voluntarily and from a sense of self-sacrifice, but I sometimes think that what we are asking these people to do carries the range of self-sacrifice to an extent to which we ought not really to demand.
May I discuss the matter from a rather different point of view? I have repeatedly had the task, in another part of my daily life, of discussing and considering the duties which are performed by auditors who function under the Public Health Acts. I was rejoiced to hear the tribute paid to the work which these gentlemen do. I agree that there really is no danger if you are going to confine this to the reasonable out-of-pocket expenses paid by these individuals. I am certain that the House need have no difficulty or apprehension that there will be any sort of mischief so long as the auditors who function under the Public Health Acts are there to perform the duties which we all know they perform with assiduity and single-mindedness, although some hon. Members opposite may not always agree with the views of these gentlemen whom I have sometimes to support in another place.
I was interested to hear what was said about the necessity for an examination for the individuals who are to undertake these tasks. That is a very strange argument. I know of no better examination than to submit yourself to the judgment of the free people of this country in a popular election. I regard it as one of the best, the surest and probably the stiffest examination of a man's ability and capacity, and his single-mindedness of purpose. The examination business has been wholly overdone in this country, and I am not at all sure that it always produces the best men. I sometimes feel that you may introduce an individual into an association who is probably a book-worm and nothing else. Conceive the possibility of this House consisting of 615 book-worms! I sometimes feel depressed when I sit in the House and follow my usual occupation, which is that of a quiet and patient listener, but just imagine a Debate conducted by people 1360 who have no real touch with the world and with something which matters so much more than books—the real human interests which underly everything we are attempting to do, whether we believe in the doctrines of the Right or the doctrines of the Left. Therefore, when somebody says to me that individuals who are going to get, a recoupment of expenses which they have incurred in the discharge of public duties should undergo an examination, all I can say is that I am not only affrighted at the idea, but I am affronted at the idea.
What result do we achieve in the end? A small measure of justice, as long as it is confined to the proper and reasonable expenses incurred in the discharge of public duties. I am not sure that, again confined to those expenses, we could not have achieved a rather wider Motion in some aspects of the case, but as far as this question is concerned, again with the limitation which I venture to suggest is a fair one, I am not afraid as a democrat, as one who believes in free institutions and thinks that we may have the right and the opportunity here and now of encouraging people to come into local government, that we should pass a Motion of this sort, provided it does not extend to what I regard as something which is contrary to my whole instincts, namely, payment for services which so many people are ready and willing to give without payment, without fee, without reward, but from a sense of public duty. In those circumstances, I hope that it may be possible to achieve this evening a Motion in some form which will not be a matter for division between one side of the House and the other, but which will be a Motion that we can achieve by common accord.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
In common with many hon. Members, I have had a certain amount of experience on the public bodies we are now discussing. I remember I was asked a few years ago, "Are you a councillor of any sort?" and I was rather pleased to be able to say, "Yes; district, county and privy." Since that time I have bad to diminish my work a little, and I am no longer a district councillor, but I was one long enough to get some acquaintance with the work which we are discussing this evening, whether it be the work which district councillors have to do on assessment com- 1361 mittees or on public assistance committees. I think all who have knowledge of such committees will agree that they do their work best when they are composed of people of different types and different classes. I do not wish to make any charge against one section more than another, but there is a certain tendency on those particular types of committee, a sort of corruption, a pulling of strings for one's friends of the same class, or, as one hon. Member said, of the same politics, although I have not come across that. There is, however, that danger on assessment committees and public assistance committees, unless there are on them people who, in a friendly way, are watching one another and seeing that no such regrettable tendencies arise.
But how in the world can people who are qualified to represent working-class people effectively and properly, just as any other class of people is represented, afford to go and sit on bodies outside their own immediate district if they do not get something in the way of the expenses to which they are put? I cannot see any answer to that, particularly when it is borne in mind that there is much to be said for a good deal of that work being done by people who are judging these matters as general principles and who are under no temptation to log-roll for one another or pull strings for people they happen to know. That would mean that these people would sometimes have to go considerable distances. As to what we may or may not agree upon to-night, I understand from the Debate that the District Councils' Association has asked for travelling expenses only. I think I could make an argument for something more, but we should have gone a considerable and useful way if we could get, as I think we could, an agreed measure that we would at any rate pay travelling expenses, leaving the other things for later on, when we realise, as we all should, that the world is not going to come to an end because travelling expenses are paid in these definite and reasonable cases. I hope the Minister will be able to indicate that he is willing to take some such step and that the Debate will therefore have had a good result.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. A. JENKINS
I would like, in a few words, to support the Motion which has been moved by the hon. Member for 1362 West Rhondda (Mr. John). I think all hon. Members must be pleased with the reception which the Motion has received. For a long time some hon. Members have had experience in local government bodies and have seen clearly the difficulties that arise, particularly in the case of the poorer members of the community, who are unable to take an active part in local government owing to the fact that they cannot pay their expenses. I was glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) refer to his own experiences as a young professional man, without very much financial support, having an ardent desire to take part in local government, but unable to do so because he could not afford it. There are many such cases, and there is not the slightest doubt that local government loses the services of very useful people owing to their being unable to attend because they have not the money to pay their expenses.
I have had perhaps the misfortune to be a member of a local government body where a number of the members was unemployed, and I have seen a number of those people come to the council offices one or two days in the week in an effort to take part in local government work as councillors, having to pay their train fares to the council office and then not having twopence with which to buy a bun for their mid-day meal. I feel it is all wrong to exclude a certain section of the community from taking part in local government work as is the case now. It is true that, as far as the county councils are concerned, the travelling expenses are paid. I think an hon. Member opposite went a little further than that, and said he would be prepared not only to meet the travelling expenses, but the amount necessary to provide subsistence as well during the time such people are engaged in council work. I too would go so far. I think that is very necessary if we are to give an opportunity to all sections of the community to take part in local government work.
We know that in many rural areas the county councils and district councils do not get the services of many of the rural workers. As a rule those councils are dominated by the better-off people. It may be that those people run the risk mentioned by the last speaker, as to the 1363 representatives of one section of the community attempting to serve the interests of that section. Personally I do not think that tendency is very pronounced in this country—I hope it is not—but there is that danger when only the representatives of one section of the community are on a council from which the representatives of other sections are excluded by their poverty. I think in the great majority of cases where members of local government bodies more or less represent the firms for which they work, there is no curtailment of their salaries or wages. Indeed their expenses are paid and there are instances within my knowledge of the payment, not only of their expenses in attending council meetings but of their election expenses as well. I have had experience of a number of cases of that kind.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to the difficulties experienced in Surrey in getting quorums at public assistance committee meetings. That difficulty is experienced all over the country and the County Councils Association, as the Minister knows, have since the passing of the recent Local Government Act made repeated applications to the Ministry asking them to authorise county councils to pay the travelling expenses incurred in attending guardians committee meetings. I have taken part in two or three deputations to the Minister of Health upon this question. We have pointed out that the system of guardians committees will break down unless these expenses are paid and I think that view is borne out by the experience of county councils from one end of the country to the other. There is the further difficulty that apart from the county councils members of urban district councils who sit on these committees are in precisely the same position. As the House is, apparently, in almost general agreement on this question I hope that the Motion will be accepted by the Minister.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. LEVY
I beg to move, in line 2, after "the," to insert "travelling."
I think it will be agreed that this Debate has reached a very high standard on both sides. I seldom find myself in agreement with hon. Members opposite, but to-day I feel there is a good deal to be said for the views which have been 1364 put forward not only from their side of the House but from this side also. I hope the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) will forgive me if I say that it is by the luck of the ballot that he has been enabled to move this Motion and that had one of the hon. Members on these benches been as lucky, a similar Motion might have been moved from this side.
I think it is true that voluntary service is the highest form of public service. In this country we have, approximately, 1,770 local authorities. Under the Local Government Act, 1929, travelling expenses are paid to local councillors in certain circumstances. It has been said, and I accept the figure, that there are 800 urban councils, which means that there must also be a very large number of rural councils, and we all know that the rural councils cover very large areas. I do not believe that salaries should be paid, and we have heard from the speeches on both sides that there is a difference of opinion as to whether expenses, in the broad sense, should be paid or not. I suggest that my Amendment to insert the word "travelling" may prove acceptable to hon. Members opposite and may enable us to avoid any division on this question and to arrive at a proper accord. If my Amendment were accepted the Motion would read:That, in the opinion of this House, provision should be made for the payment of the travelling expenses incurred by members of urban district councils and rural district councils.etc., I agree that my proposal does not go all the way that the hon. Member opposite wishes to go, but I plead with the Minister to accept the Motion subject to that Amendment, and I think that in doing so I shall carry with me hon. Members on this side of the House. In my constituency, which is a very scattered county constituency, there are many rural and urban district councillors, and I know from experience how those ladies and gentlemen give their time to the public service. If that service requires them to travel considerable distances, it is not right, or fair, or proper, that over and above the other sacrifices which they have to make, they should be asked to defray out of their pockets travelling expenses necessitated by their public duties. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, if we cannot go all the way in this matter, 1365 let us as least go part of the way. Let it be said that we have done something, that these private Members' days do bear fruit, and that they are worth while. There have been on Fridays and Wednesdays Bills and Motions that have been of great importance. Some of the Bills that have been moved on Fridays and placed subsequently on the Statute Book have been some of the best legislation that this House has ever been called upon to pass. I plead with the Minister to accept my Amendment, and I plead with the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion and to his hon. Friend on that side of the House not to make this matter controversial, but to accept the Amendment in the same spirit as that in which I have endeavoured to move it.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think that, with the simple Amendment which we are proposing, we can get a degree of unanimity which will carry this thing without a Division. I looked at my paper this morning, my first impression on reading the Motion was that it was comparatively innocuous, but as I looked at it more closely the criticism occurred to me that it was a great deal too wide and that, apart from travelling expenses, there might be questions of payment in respect of lost time and so on. With that I did not agree, and therefore when the hon. Member who moved the Motion said that he did not want to raise questions of salaries, I found myself in entire agreement with him. When the hon. Member for West Toxteth (Mr. Gibbins) said he wanted to get payment for work done inside the committees, I did not agree with that, because I think it raises questions which, although there is a precedent in Scotland, have not proved satisfactory in that country for reasons to which I shall advert later.
We on this side stand with as much sympathy as hon. Members opposite for this principle, that all those who take part in the work, of local councils ought to be allowed to do so, as far as possible, free from one expenses which are incurred in the course of their work. I think we are all in entire agreement with that principle. The hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John), when he referred to Scotland, referred to the Local Government Act of 1929, under Section 17 1366 of which, I think it is, the county councils are given power to pay travelling expenses and also to pay for the time of work which is lost. The terms of the Statute are: "Time necessarily lost from ordinary employment." The Statute sets forth in the Fourth Schedule certain maximum rates at which that compensation, as I may call it, is to be paid. What has happened in the case of the Lanarkshire County Council? I want to be entirely fair, but I think it is the case that, after taking counsel's opinion, they laid it down that the maximum rates should be the normal rates, and, in fact, those were the rates which were paid to certain councillors. You have had cases like this: There is the case of a checkweighman who, on appointment to the county council, had a sub- or undercheckweighman appointed in. his place.
§ Mr. G. GRIFFITHS
All checkweighmen have sub-checkweighmen under them. They are only human beings and cannot work without a break.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
I quite accept what the hon. Member says, but in this case, differing from what he says, the sub-checkweighmen did all the work and the member of the county council who was the checkweighman did no work at all for two years or so, and during all that time he was receiving as the normal rate the amount to which he was entitled under the Lanarkshire County Council rate.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
I think I know the case to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers. Is it not the case in which the checkweighman was sent to prison for six months, due to falsification of receipts by himself?
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
Yes, that is one case, but I am referring also to other cases which were tried in court and where the facts were not disputed, and I am certain that hon. Members opposite do not approve of such action. Let me resume. The checkweighman applies for and gets a regular salary. It amounts to that, because he is employed for so many days a week. The rates paid, I think I am right in saying, were 15s. for a whole day and 7s. ed. for a half-day, and in fact the man does not need to take his ordinary employment at all, as he can be there as a salaried official. It is against that sort of thing that I think 1367 this House should set its face, and I do not think it right to say that the scheme has worked altogether without abuse in Scotland. In view of what the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Cassells) was saying, I think the fact to which I refer were tried out in certain cases taken by the Lord Advocate in Scotland against certain members of a county council, but the facts were undisputed, and the presiding Judge set forth that they were most improper facts. All that was left to the jury was the question whether there was or was not fraudulent intention, and by a majority the jury decided that there was no fraudulent intention.
§ Mr. G. HARDIE
There were three cases altogether, but there are hundreds of cases where the regulations have not been broken, and surely the hon. and learned Member does not mean that you should decide against them because one or two people are found to be doing wrong.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
I quite appreciate that point. I might say that I was in the position of prosecuting counsel. I am simply disclosing facts which were proved in open court, and which I am entitled to set forth to the House for this purpose only—that the House should see in what way such provisions as those suggested might me abused.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
That may be, but this type of thing lends itself to abuse. I do not want to stress this point too hard. Any law is likely to be abused, but the actual working of this Act has not gone as smoothly as the hon. Member for West Rhondda suggested. I want to impress on the House bow strongly we feel that something should be done in the way of expenses, and with that I think the whole House will agree. The county council in England is paid expenses when the committee is one dealing with the whole county. I do not see why the urban and rural district councils should not have the same privilege. It would be a step in the right direction, and one with which hon. Members should be content, to grant travelling expenses. The terms of the Motion are extremely 1368 moderate in proposing to deal with expenses outside the normal working of the urban or rural district council. I should have had sympathy with the idea that expenses properly incurred in the course of the normal duties of these councils might well have been considered at the same time. But the Motion as it stands, coupled with the Amendment, is one which should have the support of the whole House.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
When I heard about this Motion I did not know it was in such placid terms. The philosopher Plato said that wise men took an interest in politics to prevent themselves being ruled by fools. That is why I am in public life. But it is a great hardship that men who give up their time should also be out of pocket. In days gone by we used to have the country gentleman, a man of great leisure and anxious to fill his time, generally qualified for the Bar or with some knowledge of the law, who readily took up local affairs. But as the localities extended the supply of that class petered out, and had to be replaced by a different type of man. Taking an interest in public affairs requires a high standard of intelligence. It is only a percentage of the mass of mankind that is able to manage its own affairs. If these people who have this public spirit are to be out of pocket in addition to losing their time, the numbers of those who will devote themselves to public work will be very limited. In a town in my constituency one of the most intelligent men —an enthusiastic Labour man and a bitter opponent of my humble self, but in spite of that I regard him as intelligent—is a painter. I warned him the last time I met him that Hitler was once a household painter also, and of what he might come to. A man of that type is as good as any of us in local government.
I would go further than the Motion, and include travelling and hotel expenses. The area of my county is about 1,000,000 acres, and to attend the county council meeting in the case of the outer islands means three days. The mere boat fare is not enough in such a case. If the members were allowed hotel expenses it would mean that many suitable men—retired civil servants, policemen, postmen—whose pensions are just enough to keep them going, and who have not enough money 1369 to attend these meetings, would be able to give useful public service. I am entirely against their being remunerated, because I do not want to create a class of local politicians. I would like to see their election expenses paid, because it is a great hardship that a good man, perhaps of small means, may have to put his hand in his pocket and lose £50 or £60. The result of that is that you severely limit the choice of the electors. I hope to see this Motion carried without any opposition, though I think there should be one or two additions that would not lead to the subversion of public life or take away from those who are willing to serve their fellows.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I am not going to follow the hon. and learned Member in the wide terms in which he has referred to this Motion. I urge on the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) that he should not accept the Amendment, because it does not cover expenses to the extent that the Mover and Seconder indicated. The Motion refers to "expenses incurred," which could be construed to extend to all justifiable expenditure such as subsistence, in addition to travelling expenses, that men might have to incur when carrying out the duties of the council to which they belong outside their area. The Amendment is a limiting factor to the expenses that are likely to be incurred. For that reason I would ask that the Amendment should not be accepted. On the general principle of this Motion I am glad to notice that there is general agreement.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The hon. Gentleman must not discuss the Motion until we have disposed of the Amendment.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) had wider scope in the speech which he made since the Amendment was moved.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Member for Argyll related what he said to the Amendment and it was not in any way outside the Amendment. If the hon. Member wants to speak to the Motion he must wait until the Amendment has been disposed of.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
With regard to the Amendment, it is not desirable to dis- 1370 criminate between the rural and urban authorities and the county and borough councils. That discrimination is invidious when we take into account the type of representative who serves on the urban and rural councils. The responsibilities of those authorities are continually being increased by the Legislature, which enforces upon them additional duties, and it is not fair to discriminate as if the work of the urban and rural authorities were less necessary than that of boroughs and counties. They should be put on an equality with members of county and borough authorities. For these reasons I trust that my hon. Friend will not accept the Amendment.
§ 9.38 p. m.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
In the discussion on this matter so far an important point has been missed, namely, what exactly do we mean by the words "travelling expenses"? Those of us who have experience of industry and commerce know that the term does not mean just railway fares, bus fares or even taxicab fares. It involves a great deal besides. The ordinary custom of the ordinary commercial traveller, for instance—I do not know how it is now because my travelling days are over—is that travelling expenses involve one being paid out-of-pocket fares, whether by railway or, as in zmy early days, by the hire of a horse and trap, but it also involves by custom a sum of 20s. a day for living expenses. I cannot say, if this Amendment were embodied subsequently in an Act of Parliament, whether the term "travelling expenses" would indicate anything beyond railway and other fares, and the use of a conveyance, as, for instance, a privately-owned motor-car, where, presumably, a strict interpretation of the term would mean the wear and tear of the car and the petrol and oil consumed; or whether it would embrace other subsidiary expenses necessarily incurred in the course of travelling.
To show the difficulty, suppose that a journey involved a longish railway journey taking several hours, and on the train on which a member of a local authority was travelling there happened to be a refreshment car. Suppose he, incurred expenditure on refreshments, could those be termed travelling expenses? So far as I am aware, there has been no ruling of any sort upon 1371 which we can depend to give us definitely the meaning of the words "travelling expenses." For that reason, I think that the Debate on this Amendment might very well proceed rather further so that hon. Members with legal knowledge could tell me whether I am mistaken or whether in this phrase there is not a very great ambiguity. It is an important matter, because I can give hon. Members an example of what may occur if the Amendment is passed. In this connection, I would draw attention to something that was said by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), that there is special protection for the ratepayers in the case of urban and rural district councils which does not exist in the case of boroughs, inasmuch as the borough auditors are elected and are, generally speaking, incapable of carrying out their duties.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I am glad to have that correction. In the case of urban and rural district councils they have the Minister's own auditors. A case was brought to my attention recently to show that that is not really a protection for the ratepayers. An invitation was sent to an urban district council from a joint water board to inspect the waterworks on the hills—a very pleasant little Saturday afternoon picnic. What the opinion of the councillors in question upon the waterworks may be or what value that opinion is, I do not know. Nevertheless, the reservoirs are situated in a very pleasant spot. The invitation was accepted and the councillors, in due course, after some objection from two of them who were over-ruled by the rest, decided that it was highly necessary in the ratepayers' interest to travel to this particular spot in order to inspect the waterworks, which, by the way, had been in existence there for at least 50 years and had been inspected at regular intervals. The travelling expenses involved were simply the hire of a very comfortable motor coach. The subsidiary expenses, 1372 however, were considerably greater, and I was shown the bill. The councillors having reached this lonely spot on the hills and having made a thorough inspection, which took some time, it became necessary to have some refreshments, and, as it was getting on to four or five o'clock in the afternoon, tea was served.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Yes, tea. If my hon. and learned Friend will wait a moment I will satisfy his requirements. I saw the bill for those teas, and they came to over 30s. per head. I inquired, "What does tea include," and I was told, "Tea includes alcohol and cigars." Even with that, to the ordinary type of person whom we get on our local authorities in industrial Lancashire, the idea of spending 30s. on a tea in their own private life would be beyond their imagination. That is an extreme case, but the point is that the expenditure was passed by the Ministry of Health auditors, and it seems to me that the ratepayers, if they are left to the tender mercies of the Ministry of Health auditors, can be jolly well robbed, as in the case in point.
§ Mr. G. GRIFFITHS
And the auditors can act the other way about and cut as clean as a Sheffield razor. I have had some of it.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I must admit there is a great deal in what the hon. Member says, because I remember that when I was a member of that particular local authority there was an invitation to a similar picnic, but on that occasion it was to the sewage works. We were all under the impression that the Joint Sewerage Board were going to pay the expenses, and that they would fall on neither ourselves nor our own ratepayers, and so I raised no objection and the invitation was accepted; but to our horror and dismay the bill was subsequently sent to us as individuals. I well remember making a special journey to the Ministry of Health, after their auditor had disallowed this expenditure, and making art appeal ad misericordiam, pointing out that we should not have gone to the picnic if we had thought we had to pay for ourselves, and I am pleased to say that I was successful in getting some allowance; but I would point out that we did not have tea at 30s. a head.
1373 The real point I want to bring before the House is the difficulty of getting a definition of "travelling expenses," which seems to be a task worthy of some of the legal talent which I see present on both sides of the House. Ought we not, before passing this Motion, to consider whether we should not limit the scope of the payment of travelling expenses, supposing this Amendment is adopted, having regard to the final words about assessment committees? I have had some experience, and it seems to me that an immense amount of the ratepayers' money, and an immense amount of the time of paid officials on local councils, particularly urban councils, is to a large extent really wasted. I am not suggesting that that occurs on councils where there is a predominance of members of the party opposite. I have always felt that if there is any waste, if there is any corruption, in local government that probably we are better off in the hands of members of the party opposite than in the hands of members of the party on this side; because, when all is said and done, their ideas of corruption are very small. So far as municipalities are concerned, though I have never served on a municipal council, I think we should all agree that if there is anything seriously wrong the amounts involved are bigger when it is a Conservative or Liberal council than when it is a Labour council. The will is there on both sides, but the greatness of the conception lies almost invariably with the Conservative or Liberal councils.
I do not want to detain the House longer that is absolutely necessary, but there does seem to be a most unusual amount of agreement on both sides, and that the one thing which divides us is the question of what the expenses are to be, whether we are to limit them drastically or to allow a certain amount of scope. I agree with what has been said by recent speakers on this side, that we cannot be too strict and must make some allowance. As one hon. Member has introduced Plato into this discussion, probably the same licence may be extended to me. He gave us certain views of Plato about politics, but omitted an underlying principle of Plato's political theory, which was that those who take part in politics must not only make no advantage out of it but must actually make a sacrifice for the privilege of taking part. I think hon. 1374 Members on both sides would agree that that idea is at the back of the minds of many of us. We do feel that, if taking part in public life, whether in municipal work or in the House of Commons, involves the sacrifice of time and money and of earning power, Plato was right and that real satisfaction in public life can follow only when some sacrifice is involved.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. E. DUNN
The speech of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) has left me guessing whether he is supporting the Amendment or opposing it. Before he sat down I thought there was a good deal of general support for the Motion, but I find that an Amendment has been moved which limits the scope of the Motion, confining it entirely to travelling expenses. I want to approach the problem from the standpoint of some actual experiences. I do not want to chop logic with legal Members, because I feel that I am entitled to get right down to the practical question involved in this Amendment. I have spent some 25 years in public life, serving upon all kinds of local governing bodies. I served my apprenticeship on a parish council, and I look back to my service there with a good deal of pride. I passed from the parish council to a rural district council, and served quite a number of years there, and I do not regret the experience which I then gained. I passed from the rural district council to an urban district council, and from there to a county council, and now I have passed to this House.
I think those who have passed through all sections of local government are those who, perhaps, see the full implications of this Motion and the Amendment more clearly than those who have never spent a day in public life or served upon a local governing body, and quite a number of those who have taken part in this Debate have not, I should think, served upon any local councils. I have never regretted my experience of local government work. I think it is a service which in many respects is as valuable as any service which a Member of Parliament can render. One can do things on a local council, and one cannot do anything here. I take the view that the men and women who are serving on local govern- 1375 ing authorities are not only rendering admirable service but that, in the main, they are giving honest service to their day and generation. I support the Motion because it has been my lot to see men and women serve upon local bodies when they have not been in a position to afford the time or the expenses incurred.
As a member of the West aiding County Council, if I travel from my own district to Wakefield, I am entitled to charge travelling expenses. That, as most hon. Members know, is provided for in the Local Government Act. As a member of the county council, being also a member of an assessment committee which is not held at Wakefield—although I am placed upon the assessment committee of my district by the county council—if I travel outside my district to attend an assessment committee meeting, I am not entitled to charge to the council my expenses. Obviously that is wrong. If I am entitled to travel from the place in which I live to Wakefield to serve the county council, which is the major body, and to charge travelling expenses, I should be entitled, if that major body places me upon an assessment committee or upon a public assistance committee, to charge my expenses for travelling to my duties upon either the public assistance committee of my district or an assessment committee. That is how the matter affects me. The Motion refers only to members of urban or rural district councils travelling to districts outside, not within, their own districts. I know quite a number of people who serve urban or rural district councils. If I am entitled to charge travelling expenses to attend Wakefield as a member of the West Riding County Council, it seems illogical that, as a member of the urban district council, I should be denied the right of travelling expenses for attending meetings outside my district.
In spite of what was said by the hon. Gentleman just now, I take the view that the local government services of this country are, in the main, as pure as those of any other country. I do not appreciate the point of view that if somebody travels and charges 30s. for his fee—the hon. Member was good enough to pay a compliment to this side of the House by pointing out that if we wanted to take lessons in corruption in local government matters we had a great deal to 1376 Learn from the standard of corruption of the people who sit upon the benches opposite—
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I tried to point out the generosity of mind on this side as opposed to the meanness of mind on that side.
§ Mr. DUNN
That was not how it rolled across to this side. It rolled across in this way: As far as we are concerned, and the political party to which we are attached outside, we, and our people in public life outside, are practically models of purity and virtue compared with the people on the opposite side.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I have been totally misinterpreted. I am afraid the responsibility is mine for not making myself clear, and I am glad of the opportunity to make myself clear to hon. Members. What I tried to indicate was that if you took any given council on which there was a Conservative majority and which had been corrupt, the extent of its corruption, other things being equal, was likely to be considerably larger in the sums involved, than a council in which hon. Members opposite were concerned.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I happen to be a member of a council and corruption has been occasionally rumoured, but in only one or two cases. There was an actual cash transaction on which was called the Moderate side, which consisted of going to buy some article from them at a very large price. The article was much more expensive than it would have been in a direct exchange of cash. In the main, my experience of municipal and county council life is that there is practically no corruption, whether the constitution be Liberal, Labour or Conservative, or anything else. There is really no corruption in our public life,
§ Mr. DUNN
It is a matter of degree. I believe elementary and common justice 1377 to the people who are serving their day and generation is the point of this Motion. I have taken the trouble to test public opinion on this matter. I have mentioned it in speeches upon public platforms, and I have yet to find, particularly in my area, that the ratepayers think that their public representatives are being fairly dealt with in not being paid their expenses. The proposal of the Motion would not be costly, but would be equitable and fair, and I hope that it will pass through this House.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Captain ALAN GRAHAM
I hope that the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) can see his way to accept this Amendment. By doing so, he will not merely facilitate the rendering of service to the community by all public-spirited sections of it, but he will also do away with the apprehension which exists on these benches that the Motion might be otherwise interpreted by some people as the thin end of the wedge of paying salaries to members of these councils. We all agree that it would be very repulsive to our ideas of democracy if class prejudice or the fact of a man being either rich or poor should act as a qualification or a disqualification for rendering public service on any of these councils. We surely have to decide, when we are considering the nature of a man whom we wish to perform this service, whether he is or is not likely to be a responsibly-minded person. By "responsibly-minded" I mean a person who is really capable of putting the interests of the community before his own concerns. It seems to me that if people are to be given salaries for performing public services then those public services will tend to attract to themselves the irresponsibly-minded man—the man who has made no success of any profession and who thinks that there is an opportunity of making something for himself by having a paid job, nominally or under the colour of performing public service.
Plato has been mentioned this evening, so I hope it will be in order to mention Athens. The decline of Athenian democracy is always said to have set in at the time when jurors began to be paid for their jury service, because it attracted irresponsibly-minded idlers in the city and encouraged litigation. I hope that will not encourage members of a certain pro- 1378 fession in this House to advocate salaries for members of these councils. Generally speaking, the tone of the public service of the Athenian democracy began to be lowered from that date. Athens is a long way from here in time and in geography, but there are many things in common between that democracy and our own, and if we seriously wish, in spite of the menaces against it from the right and from the extreme left, to maintain democracy in this country it is essential that we should try to preserve pure standards of public service.
I feel confident that we can easily rely on the public conscience to deal with those appalling examples of corruption in regard to teas and other matters which were mentioned by one hon. Member! Abuses such as those very soon correct themselves. By accepting the Amendment and the word "travelling," I think we could say quite safely that abuses would not be allowed. It would include those extra expenses that were mentioned by one speaker from the benches opposite, and at the same time it would allay apprehension on these benches, while achieving the just desires of hon. Members opposite.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
The Debate that was initiated by the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) has, I think, shown a very general consensus of opinion on all sides of the House, but the Motion as he put it on the Order Paper goes rather further than the actual proposals of the Urban District Councils Association, as was made clear by the hon. Baronet the Member for Buckingham (Sir G. Bowyer) who, incidentally, has made repeated representations on this subject to my Department. The hon. Member for West Rhondda indicated, and several other speakers from that side of the House took a similar view, that he would not be averse to expenses being regarded in a rather wider way than mere travelling expenses. Indeed, some hon. Members suggested that there were no insuperable objections from the point of view of public policy in paying members of local councils engaged in the local government of this country sums to compensate at least for loss of profitable time. Since then an Amendment has been moved to limit the expenses to travelling expenses. Perhaps it would be for the convenience 1379 of the House if I intervened at this stage in order to indicate briefly—other hon. Members desire to speak—the view of the Department, and also try to clear up one or two points of misunderstanding about the present position and the reason for the present position.
I should like to start with the reason why in our opinion the wider meaning of the word "expenses" ought to be rejected. In the first place there has been, as far as we know, no demand on the part of representative bodies of local authorities for payment for broken time. One or two individual instances have come to our notice, but I think it is fair to say, taking the country at large, that there has been no real demand for this concession. The hon. Member for West Rhondda said that because of lack of means, because of poverty, there were large numbers of men in this country who were deterred from entering public life. He also said that the day of the leisured class is long past. I should be inclined, looking at the condition of local government, to agree with the second of those statements but not with the first. Certainly, there is no sign of any lack of candidates coming forward to fight seats on behalf of his party. I have taken the trouble to get out statistics of the numbers of candidates in the last two years who have fought borough council elections in November. The House and hon. Members opposite in particular, will be interested to hear the figures. In 1935 the number of Conservatives who fought was 821, and the number of Socialists 1,228. That does not show any lack of candidates. In 1936 the number of Conservatives who fought had dropped to 783, but the number of Socialists remained at 1,226. Therefore, I do not think there is any evidence of a serious lack of candidates.
§ Mr. BENSON
In the figures of Conservatives, does the hon. Member include Independents, or Conservatives who are fighting under the guise of Independents?
§ Mr. HUDSON
The same thing is true of the Liberals. The number of their candidates was 213 in 1935, and 199 in 1936. The main point of these figures is to show that there has been no real difficulty in getting candidates to fight these local elections.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I could not find those, but I have no doubt that the same conditions existed. I have an even stronger piece of evidence in the writings of a, gentleman whom hon. Members opposite still, I believe claim to belong to their party, and that is Sidney Webb, Lord Passfield. In his book on "Local Government in England," issued in 1922, he pays a very high tribute, quite rightly, to the part that has been taken in local government by members of the so-called working classes. [HON.MEMBERS: "Oh!"] He says this:Local government in its modern guise, with its new and larger aims and vaster problems, has come to attract, both as elected representatives and as officials, ever more and more of the ablest and best trained intellects, who find, in its service, whether paid or unpaid, an inspiration and a scope actually superior, in their own estimation, to that offered by the pursuit of pecuniary profit. In short, English local government, in 1832–1836 handed over, in effect, to an upper stratum of the middle class, has gradually become representative of all the best sections of English life.I venture to think that that disposes of the argument that it is impossible under present conditions to find satisfactory candidates.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Why does not the hon. Gentleman quote Sidney Webb when he spoke from that Bench in this House?
§ Mr. HUDSON
Let me now turn to the question whether or not it is possible to agree with the narrower Motion if this Amendment meets with the approval of hon. Members opposite and is adopted. Several speakers in the Debate have asked why, if certain concessions were made in the case of county councils, similar concessions could not be made in the case of urban district councils. Before 1929, as hon. Members know, there was no power at all to pay even travelling expenses to any members of local authorities who travelled within the area of the particular body on which they sat, but it was a recognised procedure that, where they travelled outside the area of the body, they were regarded 1381 as doing an extraordinary duty, and then they could claim their travelling expenses. In 1929 this House decided that county councillors, in view of the additional work which was going to be placed upon them by the Local Government Act of that year, should be allowed to charge travelling expenses whether they were attending meetings of the council or whether they were attending the meetings of a committee, provided that that committee covered the whole of their area. That is the reason why, as hon. Members have said tonight, members of guardians' committees, because the guardians' committee does not cover the whole area of a county, are not entitled to be repaid their travelling expenses. It is clear, however, that an urban district council is a very much smaller body, covering a very much smaller area than a comity council, and the expenses are not so great—
§ Mr. HUDSON
If the hon. Member will have patience, I shall come to that. I am endeavouring to explain how the present situation arose, and I am saying that county councillors, in view of the new and additional work imposed upon them in 1929, were given the right to recover their travelling expenses. But the same considerations do not apply to members of urban district councils, because clearly An urban district does not cover so large an area as a, county council.
Now we come to the question of assessment committees. I think this is where hon. Members are labouring under some misapprehension. They have said that a member of an urban district council attending an assessment committee is very much like a member of a county council attending a committee of the county council. That is not really the case. A member of an urban district council who also sits on the assessment committee is not on the Assessment committee carrying out the duties of the urban district council. He is carrying out his duties on the assessment committee, which is an ad hoc body, and therefore he is not in the same position as a member of a county council carrying out the duties of a committee of that 1382 council. That is really the reason why in 1925, when this matter was raised in Committee, Parliament refused to allow travelling expenses to members of urban district councils serving on assessment committees. However, there are at present—and since 1925 more have been set up—a number of joint boards covering the area, of several authorities, just as the assessment committee covers the area of more than one authority. Members of joint boards are allowed to recover travelling expenses, and we agree that it is very difficult to draw a line in practice between A joint board and an assessment committee.
I am inclined to agree with those who have suggested that the time has come to remove that anomaly. Clearly to do so would need legislation, and I cannot promise at present that such legislation will be introduced in the immediate future, but if the hon. Member feels that he is able to accept the Amendment limiting the Motion substantially to what the Urban District Councils Association has proposed, as mentioned by the hon. Baronet the Member for Buckingham (Sir G. Bowyer), I think I can promise that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to the removal of this anomaly at the first opportunity that arises when next legislation has to be introduced altering the existing Rating Act. I hope the hon. Member will feel satisfied with that.
§ Mr. G. GRIFFITHS
Will it be possible to bring that legislation forward before the elections on 6th April next year?
§ Mr. HUDSON
I do not think that is possible in view of the congested state of Parliamentary business. All that I have promised is that we will give it sympathetic consideration next time the question arises of altering the Rating Act.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I hope, after what has been said by many Members, reinforced by the Parliamentary Secretary, the Mover of the Motion may see his way to accept the Amendment. May I say what is in the mind of many of us? We 1383 believe on this side of the House, as well as elsewhere, that public service should be open to all sorts of people without discrimination of any sort. I have never questioned that a man may be very active in party politics on either side and be just as good a citizen, if not better than a man who says, "I take no part whatever in active political life." I have yet to find that being concerned with party politics in a very active state is any interference at all with the ordinary conduct of decency in public affairs. It behoves us to do everything we can, particularly at this time when we see that other nations are not so keen on the preservation of democratic institutions as we are, to see that we maintain equality of opportunity without discrimination of any sort or kind in our public services. It is the proud boast of this country that we have been the nursery of democracy, and one of the reasons why we can say that we have brought democratic government, both local and national, on to a very high sphere is because we have accepted, without any discrimination at all, men in all walks of life and in whatever political party they desired to go, who were ready and eligible to take their share, one with the other, in some kind of responsibility in public service.
I hope that we shall see this remedy pushed forward without delay—that there shall be no attempt made to refuse travelling expenses to those who have to suffer expense in public life—in order that they will be able to come forward and take their share in the public service without any discrimination at all. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion—and I am sure that the House is grateful to him for the opportunity of being able to discuss it—will see his way to make this one Amendment to his proposal. Unless the word "expenses" has some definition in front of it, and unless there is some check in this Motion, we shall lose that general support which we all want to see given to a recommendation of this nature. We know the danger there is, if you make for any concession in public life, of criticism, and the best thing that we can do is to see that the word "travelling" is introduced to limit the expenses. I believe that the House would give unanimity to that proposal and that my hon. Friend, on behalf 1384 of the Department, will be anxious to accelerate some such arrangement whereby travelling expenses can be put at the disposal of people serving on public bodies rather than run any risk of keeping our public life confined to wealthy persons.
It was said by the Parliamentary Secretary that the figures in 1938 showed that a large number of persons offered themselves for services as Socialist candidates for local authorities. It was challenged by an hon. Gentleman opposite as a weak piece of evidence, but I think it is a very substantial piece of evidence. The best piece of evidence that we as guardians of free institutions desire, irrespective of what one individual or another thinks about that party putting forward this large number of candidates, is having suitable persons at disposal ready and willing to come forward to champion a policy which they think is right. I hope we shall see immediate action taken whereby nobody will have any foundation, through inability to pay necessary travelling expenses in the discharge of the work of a public office, for believing that he is suffering a kind of public disability. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to accept the Amendment and limit the word "expenses" by the word "travelling," and secure not only complete agreement in the House but also the support of the Minister of Health in bringing forward legislation to remove a disability on some individuals who desire to serve on the public bodies of the country.
§ 10.31 p.m.
Sir STAFFORD CR I PPS
I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to alter slightly what he has said, because I am sure he does not want to mislead the House or the country. He has said that the Government will be prepared to deal with this matter when next they deal with rating. This has nothing to do with rating, and it has not been discussed or argued as a matter of rating. There is no likelihood of any Bill being brought forward to amend rating for a considerable number of years. It has been dealt with recently, and it is unlikely that any large measure will be brought forward within the next few years. This is a matter which can he dealt with in many of the different Bills dealing with local government. It can easily be dealt with in a short Bill of two or three Clauses 1385 which might very well go through on an agreed basis in a few hours absolutely unanimously. Everybody desires it as limited to travelling expenses. Why then should we wait for two or five years. It is surely a case where, as the House has shown itself unanimous, the Parliamentary Secretary might say, "We will take the first opportunity, whenever it may come, of putting right something which it is unanimously agreed should be put right." I am sure if the Parliamentary Secretary will say that, it will make it much easier for the hon. Member to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. R. S. HUDSON
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for calling my attention to what, I admit, was a slip of the tongue. I used the words "Rating Act" because I was thinking of the Act of 1925, which set up the assessment committees, and under which they are not allowed to charge travelling expenses. What I should have said was that we will take a suitable opportunity of dealing with the matter. I do not know how that suitable opportunity will arise. It may arise in connection with another rating Act, but we will certainly take a suitable opportunity of dealing with it.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I do not know what that principle was. I do not think that I can promise to bring in a special Act for this purpose, but when legislation is brought in we shall give sympathetic consideration to a Clause to this effect. I cannot promise that a special Act will be brought in.
§ Mr. JOHN
In view of the practically unanimous appeal from the other side of the House, and of the promise of the Parliamentary Secretary, though not very definite as far as time is concerned, I am prepared to accept the Amendment. It is not a question of coming here to talk; we want something done, and, having regard to the unanimous opinion of the House, I trust the Government will see that something is done in the near future.
§ 10.35 p.m.
I am sure the House will be delighted at the gracious way in which 1386 the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John), who initiated this very valuable Debate, has accepted the proposal of the Parliamentary Secretary. In initiating this Debate, the hon. Member has called the attention, not merely of this House, but of the country to a very important point at this time. I was delighted to hear the underlying theme of the speech of the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons), who said that we are essentially the guardians of freedom and of public liberty. Such a statement recalls very vividly to our minds what we must do if we are to be in truth the maintainers of this system which has served our country so well and which has made us the admiration—I might say the envy—of the other States of Europe and the rest of the world where they have anything approaching a Parliamentary system of government.
In the Motion as originally placed on the Order Paper, the Mover asked us to agree to the proposition that members of urban and rural district councils should have their expenses granted, but the hon. Gentleman has now accepted the adjectival qualification of "travelling." I am certain that in doing so he has not injured his Motion and has not in any way weakened the public sense of what is due to this most excellent body of men and women who proffer their services for the good of the community and the commonweal. A great many tributes have been paid to those ladies and gentlemen this evening, and I was glad to hear one hon. Member above the Gangway say that they were responsible in their humbler sphere—as compared with those who have the honour to be Members of the Legislature—for getting a great deal more done than we who have the honour of being Members of the House of Commons. Everything in this life is comparative, and I would not for one moment wish to deny the fact that members of local bodies, county councils, borough councils, urban district councils, and rural district councils, are responsible for getting perhaps a great deal done in a small way for the good of the community; but may I be allowed to say how essential it is for us to see that justice is done to these excellent people in the way of remunerating them, or at all events not penalising them, for the good that they do for the community. Perhaps members of these local bodies, 1387 thinking on the lines of the reasoning of the speech made by the hon. Member above the Gangway that they are responsible for doing more in their small way, are rather apt not to be conscious enough of the greater responsibilities that are laid upon Members of the House of Commons and to think that little is done as a result of hours and hours of speech in what they consider to be endless and very often fruitless debates and discussions.
The principle raised in this amended Motion goes to the very heart of the democratic institutions of Britain as we understand and know them. It goes back to the time before the outbreak of hostilities in the European War in August, 1914, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced, in 1911, the legislation necessary for the payment of Members of this House. I was not very old at that time, but I remember that there was an outburst of indignation in many circles at the acceptance by Parliament of the principle of payment of Members. It was then said—and many people to-day still think on the same lines—that the standard of membership would inevitably be lowered. We all know that the reverse has been the case. A great deal has been said to-night to the effect that nobody through lack of means should be prevented from proffering his services to the community, whether as a Member of Parliament or as a member of a local authority. Bearing in mind what was said in many quarters when the system was introduced, I have perhaps certain reservations on the general question of the payment of Members of Parliament, but I recognise that in the main it has worked well and I think the time has come when we ought to see that those ladies and gentlemen who are willing to act as members of local authorities are not penalised as a result of giving their time to the public service.
I do not think the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) was in the House when the hon. Member for West Rhondda initiated this De- 1388 bate, but I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for West Rhondda lay so much stress upon the fact that members of local authorities in Scotland occupied a better position than members of similar bodies in England and Wales.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I hardly think that the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) can be accepted as an authority on Scotland. I was putting my question to the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) as the representative of a Scottish division.
It is very kind of my hon. Friend to put it in that way, but we are only entitled to take part in this Debate as a result of the good services of the hon. Member who is responsible for the Motion on the Paper and, as I say, I only wish that the hon. Member for Torquay had been here earlier. He dines very early and as a result he missed the valuable speech of the hon. Member who introduced the Motion and who made the point that members of local bodies in Scotland occupy a much better position than their less fortunate colleagues in England and Wales. I was speaking of the general principle of the payment of members of representative bodies, but I recognise that the Motion is a narrow one and deals only with members of urban and rural district councils. I only alluded to the payment of members of the legislature by way of illustration. In Scotland members of county councils are not only guaranteed their expenses, but, as I understand, a small remuneration is also made to them for the services which they place at the public's disposal.
§ Sir ROBERT TASKER
Are we to take it on the authority of the hon. Member that they are remunerated for their services?
As far as I understand members of county councils in Scotland are not only given expenses, but also a small return for any losses they may incur in the discharge of their duties.
That is what I was endeavouring to explain, and I thank my hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about this subject. Members of county councils 1389 in England and Wales also, I understand, receive expenses. Here in this Motion we are asked to assent to the same treatment regarding urban and rural district councils that is at present accorded to members of county councils. I am delighted to think that the House has so readily agreed to that and that it has also assented to the adjectival qualification of the word "travelling." At all events, very many beginnings are small beginnings, and I am sure the hon. Members above the Gangway, who have had the good grace to-night to accede to the general wishes of the House, will have no occasion whatever to regret their action, on which I heartily congratulate them once again.
§ Question, "That the word 'travelling' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to
That, in the opinion of this House, provision should be made for the payment of the travelling expenses incurred by members of urban district councils and rural district councils in attending outside their areas meetings of assessment and other committees in the discharge of their public duties.