HC Deb 01 February 1938 vol 331 cc168-74

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Windsor

I beg to move, in page 3, line 8, at the end, to insert: Provided that when at the instance of one council a blind person is resident in the area of another council for the purposes of being trained or employed in a workshop or other institution such blind person shall for the purposes of the Act be deemed to be ordinarily resident in the area of the first-named council, and nothing in this section shall be deemed to relieve the first-named council of their obligations under this Act in respect of that person, his household, and dependants. The purpose of this Amendment is to draw attention to the anomaly that exists between various local authorities in the administration of the Act of 1920. It will be appreciated, from some of the speeches we have heard, that some local authorities have endeavoured to deal fairly with the blind, but there are other authorities that are not doing anything whatsoever to carry out their local responsibilities. In the case of Kingston-upon-Hull, for example, the outlying areas are sending their blind persons for the purposes of training to the blind institution in the City of Hull, and thereby creating an anomaly, because the areas from which they come are very often paying 10s., 12s. and 15s. a week less than the Hull Corporation is paying to the blind. It is in the interests of local authorities and of the blind themselves that this Amendment is put on the Paper. If the Minister feels that the words on the Paper would not be workable, I should be quite willing to withdraw the Amendment on the understanding that words shall be put in the Bill on some such lines as those of Clause 4, which applies to Scotland. I fail to see any reason why if those provisions are applied to Scotland, England and Wales should not have the same form of treatment and we are only asking that something on these lines should be granted in the case of the English counties.

10.43 p.m.

Sir K. Wood

I would like to give the hon. Gentleman a short explanation of the proposals in the Bill so far as this matter is concerned, because I think that the Amendment has perhaps been put down with some misconception of the provisions. I would point out that Clause 3 of the Bill does not alter the position under the principal Act, under which it is the duty of a council to make arrangements for promoting the welfare of blind persons ordinarily resident in the district. Nor does the Clause alter the meaning of the words "ordinarily resident;" it merely provides that in certain circumstances the council of the area in which the man is ordinarily resident may recover the cost of the assistance from some other county. In considering this matter, which has long been a source of difficulty in various areas, we have had many consultations with the local authorities, and it is as a result of those consultations that this Clause has been included in the Bill, as representing a general agreement between local authorities.

So far as training is concerned, the Amendment is unnecessary, since a person sent by a council to be trained in another area does not, of course, become ordinarily resident there. He remains resident, in the legal sense of the word, in the area from which he has been removed. So far as employment is concerned, it is, of course, a question of fact whether the blind person has legally changed his ordinary residence if he has gone to another area to obtain employment. Where he does not change his ordinary residence, according to legal terms, the Amendment is unnecessary. The hon. Member's Amendment would saddle the council of the area from which the person has moved with the cost of his assistance for the rest of his life. I would suggest that that is going much too far.

Clause 3, which I am asking the House to adopt, is, I think, a reasonable compromise. It does, in fact, what I think the hon. Gentleman wants to do; it limits the liability of the first council to the remainder of the five years' period provided in the Bill. I think it is the view of all the local authorities, as it is my own view, that at the end of that period it is reasonable to regard the person as having established himself in that particular area, of which he becomes an ordinary citizen, and that that area should then take over the responsibility for his welfare. That is the arrangement which has been arrived at with the local authorities. It works both ways, and I think it is a much more reasonable proposition than to suggest that for ever that man should be the responsibility of one local authority. At any rate, the compromise I have indicated to the Committee, and which has been agreed to by the local authorities, is an agreement that I would not like to see disturbed, because we should then have to go back to the local authorities. I think it is an agreement that should be accepted by the Committee.

10.49 p.m.

Mr. Muff

I regret that the Minister cannot give us more satisfaction. In the district which I, along with certain other hon. Members, represent in this House, we have a case of great hardship. Hull is surrounded by a very poor county council area, one of the poorest in the country. They send their blind persons into Hull, and the Hull Blind Persons' Committee treats them with such generosity that these people come along, bringing their dependants, and we are told by the Hull Corporation that if the Clause is passed as it is drafted it means an additional expenditure for them of £2,000 a year. That is what I have been told officially and that is why we appeal that especially corporations like Hull shall be protected against such places as Howdenshire, Holderness and Buckrose—pretty but very poor—which are trading upon the generosity of more well-favoured places. Therefore, I ask the Minister if he cannot give us a better reply than he has already given.

Sir K. Wood

I will gladly look into the cases to which the hon. Member has referred, but at first sight under my proposal it would appear that the position will be improved because, owing to the five years' clause, the allowance will, of course, cover a considerable period of years. But I will look into the case of Hull and will communicate with the hon. Member.

10.51 p.m.

Mr. H. Strauss

I should like to say a few words in support of the principle of the Amendment of hon. Members opposite, who have given the case of Hull as an illustration. In Norwich we have a very admirable Institution for the Blind. It is a voluntary institution which attracts trainees and workshop employés from no less than 10 outside authorities. Since it is a voluntary institution, there is, of course, no limit to the numbers that they may take from outside authorities and, as a result of that they may directly and indirectly saddle the corporation eventually with a very heavy financial responsibility. The hon. Member who spoke last mentioned a possible £2,000 a year. In the case of Norwich it may amount to £3,000. The workshop employés from Norwich number 26, and from elsewhere 30, and the numbers of trainees are, from Norwich seven, from elsewhere 27. It is true, as the Minister said, that the trainees, while they are trainees, do not saddle the corporation with any financial liability, but if, as the result of the training that they get there, they later become workshop employés and settle in Norwich—and everyone would wish them to do so if it is in their interests as blind persons that they should—the result may be that the corporation may have a very heavy liability which it would not otherwise have. It is true, as the Minister says, that, as far as the law is concerned, the corporation will be legally better off as the result of this Clause, but they will only be better off on paper, since in the present uncertainty of the law the outside authorities are in fact making payments, which they will refuse to continue to make, if the Bill becomes law in its present form. What the right hon. Gentleman said about the compromise agreed to by the local authorities is true, and I have no doubt that the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association and the London County Council agreed with it by a great majority, and it is natural that they should, but the unfortunate cases, such as Norwich, which are in a peculiar position, deserve consideration.

Although there may be objections to the proposal put forward on the Second Reading by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White) I wonder whether some such principle, as he suggested, could not be adopted, making the liability for a blind person the permanent liability of the authority for the area in which he was living when he first became blind. While generally supporting the principle which underlies the Amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite, I do not think that, in its present form, it carries out that which hon. Members opposite desire, because the words "at the instance of one council" would not cover the case where a man of his own volition remained a worker in the city concerned. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to be good enough to consider these matters before Report to see whether some arrangement cannot be made which will be on a fairer basis in such cases as I have described.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

One of the admitted defects of the 1920 Act was that it did not make it obligatory upon all authorities who are sharing in a good scheme for trainees or institutions for the blind to make their contribution to such institutions in direct proportion to the liabilities incurred by the authorities. Both in the case of Norwich and Hull the local authorities appear to have been singularly lacking in a sense of public obligation in not having entered, as have the City of Newcastle and other great cities in the North of England, into joint obligations to meet the financial liabilities in proportion to the numbers taking advantage of the institutions specially set up for the blind. That was the defect of the 1920 Act inasmuch as it was not obligatory but was left optional, with the result that mean-spirited local authorities or those who were impoverished or lacking in public spirit declined to be liable, and authorities such as Hull and Norwich have been imposed upon. The defect will still continue for a considerable period of years under the present Act and under Clause 3. The Minister has found himself unable to accept our proposition, but I am glad to learn that he intends to look into cases of hardship and to take other steps to remedy the disabilities which have been brought before the Committee to-day.

10.58 p.m.

Sir K. Wood

I will look into the cases mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss), so far as Norwich is concerned, and by the hon. Member opposite with regard to Hull. I will gladly look into individual cases, although I cannot hold out any hope—I do not think that any one in my place would do so—of departing from the general agreement come to by local authorities in the country. If they had not come to agreement, I think that instead of two hon. Members, there would have been 50 rise in this House. Therefore, it is a fair basis to rest on the general judgment of the local authorities in the country, but I will look at the two individual cases which have been referred to.

Mr. Windsor

In view of the statement of the Minister that he is prepared to look into cases of hardship not only with regard to Hull, but with regard to places similarly situated, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Mathers

Before we part with this Clause, there is a point upon which the Committee are entitled to some information. The Clause is for the recovery of the cost of assistance by one English local authority from another. That means that the boundaries between the different English local authorities can be surmounted, but there is no indication in the Bill as to how the boundary between an English local authority and a Scottish local authority is to be got over. I cannot give actually a concrete case, but, knowing that there is a fairly well equipped institution for the blind in the city of Carlisle, it is possible from the Scottish side of the border, for example, Gretna, that a blind person may be brought into the city of Carlisle. That brings a blind person not only from one English local authority to another but from a Scottish local authority into an English local authority's district. The point may be covered in some other Act or in dealing with the principal Act, or it may be covered in Acts relating to Scotland, but it should be made clear in this Debate what the actual position is.

11.1 p.m.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The position is this. Scottish local authorities have indicated unanimously, I think, that they do not desire to have the type of relief which is to be accorded to the English local authorities. Accordingly, one Scottish local authority will not be entitled to claim against another Scottish local authority. In these circumstances I think that the exemption must extend to the questions which arise between one English and one Scottish local authority, so that if a blind person from England goes into Scotland the Scottish local authority will not have relief against the English authority and, conversely, if a blind person domiciled in Scotland goes to England the English local authority which helps to support him will have no relief against the Scottish authority. That is the only way to give effect to the diverse conditions in both countries.

Mr. Mathers

Is it not the case that Scottish local authorities do recover from each other in respect of any assistance they give under the Poor Law? It seems to me that this is very closely related to the Poor Law arrangement, much more closely than I like. I thought that it would apply in the same way here, and I am rather surprised at the answer that has been given by the Solicitor-General.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I can assure the hon. Member that we have departed entirely from the Poor Law system of settlement, which is an archaic and cumbrous system.