HC Deb 20 March 1940 vol 358 cc2027-31

Lords Amendment: In page 8, line 35, leave out Sub-sections (3) and (4).

Mr. Elliot

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment." It will be remembered that Sub-section (3) of Clause 10 is one on which we had some debate during the Report stage and that I undertook to investigate the matter further and to direct my attention to meeting certain views which had been expressed by many hon. Members in all parts of the House. As the House will also remember, Sub-section (3) of this Clause was inserted in the Bill for the purpose of providing convenient machinery for dealing with differences of opinion which might arise on the question whether it was in the best interests of an applicant that he should receive a supplementary pension, or that he should become an inmate of an institution. The cases contemplated were those in which an infirm old age pensioner without friends or relations and who clearly should be looked after in an institution was reluctant to enter one, or, more rarely, where a difference of opinion arose between the officers of the Board and the public assistance authority as to the proper treatment of a particular case.

The proposal in the Bill was criticised by hon. Members on the ground that the procedure contemplated might be operated harshly and to the detriment of the old age pensioners. I do not admit that there was any foundation for this apprehension, but I promised to review the question further before the Bill became law, and, having done so, I have come to the conclusion that the number of cases in which recourse would need to be had to the machinery of the Subsection is likely to be so small that I think the power in the Sub-section can safely be omitted from the Bill. Therefore, in order to avoid any possibility of hardship arising from the Sub-section, the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have decided that the simplest course would be to drop this Sub-section (3), and also Sub-section (4) which is consequential upon it.

It will be clearly understood, of course, that the omission of these provisions from the Bill is not to be regarded as relieving local authorities from their duty of providing institutional accommodation and care for persons whose interests would best be secured by admission to an institution. There are needs which can be met by the grant of money from the Assistance Board and which are their responsibility, but other needs remain the responsibility of the public assistance authorities. The most obvious of these is the need of medical treatment either in the home or in hospital, and the need for institutional care which in the case of old age pensioners may well arise from the natural infirmities of age and the lack of relatives who are able and willing to provide the necessary care and attention for the pensioners.

We feel confident that public assistance authorities and their officers will treat this concession in the spirit in which it is made and will be ready to co-operate with the officers of the Board in dealing suitably with old age pensioners in cases where the needs of the pensioner could be provided for best by care of an institutional character, rather than by the payment of a supplementary pension. The Secretary of State for Scotland and I propose to send out a circular to local authorities calling attention to the fact that such cases will, no doubt, arise and pointing out the need for co-operation.

Mr. Speaker

I must point out to the House that this Amendment raises a question of Privilege.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

I am glad that this matter has had a happy ending. Those who were present some 10 days or more ago will remember that we had, I will not say an acrimonious, but a protracted Debate in which some of my hon. Friends and I expressed ourselves strongly about Subsection (3). The decision which the right hon. Gentleman has now taken does him credit. It shows that he has taken into serious account the criticisms which were offered from these benches. I can understand the fact that, until that Debate, the right hon. Gentleman had not been fully conscious of the serious possible consequences of this Sub-section in the form in which it appeared in the Bill. It might have given rise to a good deal of misunderstanding and it might have affected two entirely different classes of people. First the old age pensioners themselves might have been deterred by it from putting in perfectly proper applications for supplementary pensions and, secondly, it might have acted adversely on the local authorities. Some of these, including my own local authority in the City of Edinburgh, were very much alarmed by the Sub-section as it stood. Therefore when we came to consider this matter we found it necessary to express our views very definitely and strongly.

I recall saying to the right hon. Gentleman, who had already promised to look into the matter, that I felt that there was no way out except the withdrawal of the Sub-section. It is, as I say, a credit to the right hon. Gentleman that, on reconsideration, he has seen the necessity of that step. I appreciate, as I imagine all my hon. Friends appreciate, that there may be old people who would be better in an institution, but that is clearly a matter for the local authority to decide as the right hon. Gentleman has now recognised. I do not think the provisions of the Bill as they will stand now after the omission of this Sub-section will prevent that proper consideration, which the right hon. Gentleman has adumbrated, being given to those cases. Therefore, I support the Amendment which has been made in the other place and I hope that it will be acquiesced in by this House.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)

I rise to thank the right hon. Gentleman with all sincerity for having put to rest one of the unfortunately large number of controversial issues which arose during our earlier discussions of the Bill. I think his decision will give satisfaction to all who are interested in the matter. I am not sure that the most welcome feature of his announcement was not the statement of his intention to issue a circular to local authorities. It is urgent that their attention should be directed to this matter and that they should know exactly what the Minister expects them to do. In all these fields, where there is a division of authority or the possibility of a division of authority, the person most likely to suffer is the person in whose benefit these arrangements are being made.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Neil Maclean (Govan)

I also would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for this concession. There might have been trouble had this Sub-section been put into operation in Scotland. He will remember that I drew attention to the fact that it violated the Scottish law on the question of placing anyone in a mental institution. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland who, I expect will be issuing a circular for Scotland, will be very careful with the wording of it and the instructions that are given to the officials of local authorities. He will know that the Sub-section which has been withdrawn would have meant a direct violation of the lunacy law of Scotland, and if in that circular he gives instructions which even to a minor degree carry out the provisions which were in that Sub-section and are in violation of the law of Scotland, he will find himself running the risk of litigation on the part of the relatives of those who may be concerned.

4.16 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)

I can answer the hon. Gentleman's point in a word. I do not wish to argue the point he made about the law of Scotland, but in sending out the circular I shall certainly take very good care to see that the law of Scotland is not infringed. All we desire is to assist the local authorities in the proper discharge of their duties, and I shall be careful to watch the points which have been raised in this Debate.

Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)

While we are obliged to the Minister for what he has done, I should like to inquire whether there is to be any alteration in the financial arrangements between the Board and the local authorities in this regard. If a local authority carry out the recommendations in the circular, will they be reimbursed by the Board for any expense they incur?

Mr. Elliot

No, Sir. This Amendment does not alter in any way the main structure of the law, but deals merely with the procedure to be adopted in the case of persons who, it is thought, might be benefited by institutional care. The arrangement previously proposed would have provided for the final decision to be in the hands of an appeal tribunal. The alteration we are making leaves the responsibility for ordering institutional care with the local authority.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Special entry made.