§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I am presenting to the House of Commons the last of the Measures which the Government have adopted for the expansion of the social services of this country. The House will be aware that in the last few years a number of substantial steps have been taken in transforming and enlarging the social services. Family allowances are in operation; increased old age pensions are being paid; a full scheme of National Insurance is on the statute book, and will come into operation in July next; the National Health Service is on the statute book, and will come into operation on the same date; and there is in preparation a Bill for which my right hon. Friend the' Home Secretary will be responsible, for the welfare of deprived children. The National Health Service will take care of the sick. The new Child Welfare Service will, as I have said, take care of the children who are deprived of their parents and their guardians. However, there will still remain, after all these things have been done, 400,000 persons on outdoor relief, and 50,000 in institutions. There thus remain, after we have bitten into the main body of the Poor Law, these residual categories which have to be provided for. This Bill, therefore, must be seen as the coping stone on the structure of the social services of Great Britain.
The Bill itself is simple in character, and I ought not to find much difficulty in making its provisions clear to the House. I would, however, say that, simple though the Bill is, its provisions are exceedingly important, and this occasion marks the end of a whole period of the social history of Great Britain. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House would wish me to take this opportunity of paying a warm and sincere tribute to the services of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. They made a most distinguished contribution towards thought on this subject, but they were not alone. There were many others, in 1604 all parties and in all fields of public activity, and now we are to see the con-sumation of their efforts. Indeed, the Poor Law has been humanised in its administration in the course of the last 20 to 30 years. Nevertheless, the taint remains, and, of course, many of the statutory inhibitions are still there.
The Government approach the problem from the angle that they wish to see the whole residual problem in two special categories. They wish to consider assistance by way of monetary help made a national responsibility and welfare a local responsibility. Where the individual is immediately concerned, where warmth and humanity of administration is the primary consideration, then the authority which is responsible should be as near to the recipient as possible. Therefore, it is proposed that we shall transfer to the Assistance Board, to be renamed the National Assistance Board, the responsibility for providing the financial help which will still be needed, because there must always stand behind the existing social services a national scheme to assist people in peculiar and special circumstances. There will be a number of persons who will not be eligible for insurance benefit. There will be some who will not be eligible for unemployment benefit, and there will be persons who will be the subject of sudden affliction, like fires and floods and circumstances of that kind, who will need to have help from some special organisation.
It is, therefore, proposed, as I say, that the National Assistance Board shall have the responsibility of providing help of that sort for persons in need of help. The National Assistance Board, since it has been created, has established itself as a humane system of administration, and it is, I am sure, perfectly proper that at this stage we should recruit the services of that Board as an institution to which we entrust the assistance of persons in monetary need. The scale of National Assistance will be determined by regulations, to be presented for the approval of the House of Commons by my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance. There will be an opportunity for full examination when they are presented, and as hon. Members know, they will appear before the House of Commons in draft form, and every opportunity will be given for discussion when they are presented. It is 1605 not, therefore, my intention at the moment to attempt to prophesy what these scales are to be, but I do not believe they will meet with resistance when they are presented.
There are a number of persons for whom special provision will have to be made. There are, for example, the blind. Their welfare will be the responsibility of the principal local welfare authorities—the county boroughs and county councils in England and the county councils and large burghs in Scotland. For some time past we have given a special place in our social services to the welfare, care and training of the blind. Among all handicapped persons, the blind are the most handicapped. Milton expresses this in unforgettable words in "Samson Agonistes" when he says:Light, the prime work of God, to me's extinctAnd all her various objects of delight Annulled.…We propose to place upon the Assistance Board the duty of providing maintenance of the blind and upon the local authorities a duty to make special schemes for their training and welfare, both domicilary and otherwise. Of course, to some extent this has been done by some authorities on an extremely generous and humane scale under the Act of 1920, but we hope to enlarge these services in the future.
There is another category of persons for whom the Assistance Board will have a special responsibility. I refer to those who are suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. As hon. Members will know, we have developed in this country, perhaps as much as any other country in the world, a system of mass radiography by which it is possible to detect the presence of tuberculosis even before the victim is aware of it. There was an alternative scheme adopted during the war to encourage persons in the early stages of tuberculosis to give up their jobs and to undergo treatment. Special scales were laid down in order to encourage them to do so.
We propose to continue that scheme and to extend it, but, because of the nature of its origin, because it was originally intended as a scheme to increase the labour force, it has one very grievous feature. The allowances cease when it is found that the condition is incurable. 1606 This is a cruel affliction. We propose to end it. Surely, if a person has been encouraged to give up his employment in order to undergo treatment, and if it is found that the treatment is useless, it is far better that he be kept until he dies than that he be told that because he is incurable no help can be given. Therefore, that feature will cease. The treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, like that for other forms of sickness, will be the responsibility of the National Assistance Board, on the one side, and the regional hospital boards, on the other, it being the function of the National Assistance Board to supply the financial provision, and the hospital service to provide the treatment. This division of responsibility will run throughout the scheme and, as I hope to be able to show, it will have very important and, I hope, valuable consequences.
The National Assistance Board will provide its assistance on the basis of a determination of needs which we propose to bring up to date. If I might be allowed a personal reference, I have spent many years of my life in fighting the means test. Now we have practically ended it. In the future only the resources of the man and dependent children—that is, children under 16 years of age—will be taken into account in determining their need. Where there are other members of the household, they will be regarded as making some contribution towards the payment of rent, as at present. As a general rule, the present regulations prescribe no more than 7s. a week, and very often less.
In calculating the personal resources of applicants there will be the usual disregard of superannuation and war pensions. They will remain within definitely prescribed limits. War savings are protected, and, as regards other capital, we propose to raise the existing £25 to £50. That is to say, a person must have £75 of savings before any deduction can be made in the amount of assistance to be given, and only 6d. a week—less than 2 per cent. per annum—will be deducted where the capital is between £75 and £100. In addition to the usual disregards we are making this alteration. Of course, under the Determination of Needs Act, 1941, there are also other disregards. The owner-occupier will have disregarded his house and the effects of the household.
1607 There is another category for which the local welfare authorities will, at first, make provision as agents of the Assistance Board. They will be the vagrants. This class of person, picturesque and very often lovers of the countryside, almost disappeared during the war. It is a fact that full employment practically extinguishes this type of person. The old method was to give help to the tramp in the form of deterrents. The Elizabethan Poor Law punished the homeless vagrant in the most savage manner. I have been looking up the Elizabethan statute. This is what it says:And every such person, upon his apprehension, shall, by order of a justice or constable assisted by advice of the Minister and one other of the parish, be stripped naked from the middle upwards and be openly whipped until his body be bloody.We are a long way from that now, but we hope to take a step further still. Last year I sent a circular to the Poor Law authorities advising them that it is not the duty of the Poor Law authority now merely to pass the tramp on from one place to another, but to give him opportunities of rehabilitation towards a settled life. This system will be continued in the future on a larger scale. It will be the responsibility of the National Assistance Board to provide centres for training, education and reconditioning, and to make available to the applicants all the resources of the employment exchange. In the interregnum, until proper institutions can be created for this purpose, the National Assistance Board will use accommodation provided by local authorities.
There is another category of persons for whom we shall have to accept an even larger measure of responsibility than we have had in the past, and these are old persons, By 1970, old persons—that is, persons reaching pensionable age—will be one in five of the total population. It is a staggering figure; indeed, it can be said that, in some respects, the proper care and welfare of the aged is the peculiar problem of modern society. We have, of course, gone a long way towards it by making provision for increased old age pensions, and it is one of the more fortunate and agreeable aspects of this problem that modern medicine and better nutrition enables old people to continue working longer than they formerly did. My right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance 1608 informs me that, of the 7,000 old age pensioners who become eligible for the pension every week, two-thirds continue in their employment. That is a very remarkable fact, because we all know, from our own experience, that it is very much better if we can continue to follow the rhythms of our normal life, because when those rhythms are abandoned, decay is accelerated. Further, it is a very welcome addition to the total labour force of the country.
The Nuffield Foundation Survey reports that 95 per cent. of old people live independent lives in their own homes or the homes of their children, but it does not always follow that old folk want to live in the homes of their children. Indeed, in some respects, living with their children is in many' cases merely an expression of the lack of housing, and we all know how the forced juxtaposition of old and young people can produce very disagreeable domestic conditions. Where the association is voluntary and arises out of mutual love and respect, then it produces a mutual endorsement of each other's regard, but, where it is forced either by poverty or by the absence of alternative accommodation, it can be a very serious source of domestic disturbance and un-happiness. Further, it is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the psychology of old people that they cling tenaciously to privacy. They do not want to be interfered with; they want to lead their own lives. They do not want to be dependent on other people, and, as they grow older, they become jealous of their independence.
Therefore, we have decided to make a great departure in the treatment of old people. The workhouse is to go. Although many people have tried to humanise it, it was in many respects a very evil institution. We have determined that the right way to approach this problem is to give the welfare authorities, as we shall now describe them, the power to establish special homes. I have been cudgelling my brains to find a name for them, but it is very difficult.
§ Mr. Bevan
No. When we talk to some old people, they think they are facing the dawn, not eventide. If we call them "Sanctuaries," it is almost as bad, and, if we call them "Retreats," 1609 it is worse, because what we are really thinking about is a type of old people who are still able to look after themselves, who can, to use a colloquialism, "do for themselves," but who are unable to do the housework, the laundry, cook meals and things of that sort. Therefore, we have to think of a type of place where these services can be rendered to the old -people, and, at the same time, leave them the maximum of privacy and independence. This means that the buildings to which I now refer must not be so large as to become institutions. Bigness is the enemy of humanity. That is the reason why the Metropolis is such a bad place to live in. When hon. Members opposite nod their heads enthusiastically to this principle, let them remember that it is one of the most unfortunate features of the last 30 years that London has grown at the expense of the rest of the country.
If we have an institution too large, we might have a reproduction of the workhouse atmosphere, with the workhouse master and all the regimentation and the rules that have to be obeyed, and, therefore, it seems to us that the optimum limit for these homes must be about 25 to 30 persons. If we build them of that size, it is possible to name them and not call them by some general name at all, but to call them by some special name that belongs to each of them, in exactly the same way as a lot of residential hotels. We might call them "High Mead" or "Low Mead," or "The Limes," or whatever it may be. There is no reason at all why the public character of these places should not be very much in the background, because the whole idea is that the welfare authorities should provide them and charge an economic rent for them, so that any old persons who wish to go may go there in exactly the same way as many well-to-do people have been accustomed to go into residential hotels.
It is of the essence of the scheme, if it is to succeed, that old people who avail themselves of these institutions should be of mixed income groups, because it will at once destroy the character of these places if we have merely the most indigent persons living there. It often happens in our towns and villages that, when old people have reached this stage, they are anxious still to remain with their own neighbours and live among them. A considerable number would probably 1610 come into these places, if they were made agreeable and were not tarnished in the very slightest degree by association with the old Poor Law administration.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
May I ask my right hon. Friend a question? He says that they should pay an economic rent. Does that mean that each individual must pay the rent, or that the institution, as a whole, must be economic?
§ Mr. Bevan
I will explain the position in more detail shortly; I was coming to that point. It is not that the institution as a whole should pay, but that the individual should pay the normal charges for accommodation there. This is the point concerning which I asked hon. Members earlier to have regard to the distinction between the functions of the National Assistance Board, on the one side, and the welfare authorities, on the other. Where an individual has not the resources to enable him to pay the normal charges for the accommodation, he goes to the National Assistance Board, and it is the Board that must put him in the position to pay the minimum charges of the hotel. In such circumstances, of course, there will be lower charges so that the home, as a whole, would not be economic; the welfare authority would itself be making a contribution, but the minimum charge would be 21s. a week. As the old age pension is 26s. a week, that would leave a margin for the individual.
Therefore, we should have in the home a number of persons, some of whom would be paying the normal charges, and the Assistance Board would be paying to the individuals and not to the authorities. The National Assistance Board puts the money into the possession of the individual old age pensioner, who then goes in a perfectly respectable and dignified way to the hotel and pays the charges that the hotel makes, with, as I have already said, a minimum of 21s. a week. This means that, so far as such a person's neighbours are concerned in the same hotel, they do not know who is putting that person in the position to pay the charges. There must be no distinction between those able to pay the full charges themselves and those who are helped to pay the minimum charges by the National Assistance Board. That is a very important consideration which must be borne in mind by everybody when they 1611 are considering this problem. This is the main provision which we hope to make for the old people.
I have already referred to the scheme for the blind so I do not propose to refer to it any more, because the details of it will come up in Committee. There are, however, a number of other categories of persons who require assistance. For instance, there are the deaf—often neglected. Deafness is a fearful affliction, and very much more attention will have to be given to it than has been given to it in the past. When the National Health Service comes into operation, we hope to be in a position to have a large number of aural aids ready for free distribution to the deaf of this country. There are also other handicapped persons, either congenital or through accident. Such people will need to be attended to, and, in particular, to be taught occupations, either in industrial establishments or in their own homes. This will also be the responsibility of the welfare authority dovetailing into the work of the Ministry of Labour which has responsibility under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act. Therefore, there is this clear distinction which we are drawing between the functions of the National Assistance Board and of the welfare authorities. The welfare authorities will cease to be Poor Law authorities; the public assistance committee will cease to exist. A special committee will be set up for the purpose, or the local authority might get the permission of the Ministry of Health to use one of the existing committees for this purpose.
§ Mr. Bevan
No, it means the welfare authorities, the county and county boroughs in England and Wales, and the counties and large burghs in Scotland. They will be the welfare authorities for this purpose. As I say, these are the main distinctions. The extent to which we can carry them out will depend on our resources, and the extent to which we can establish these new hotels for the old people will depend upon the development of our building programme. But, of course, it must be remembered that the provision of these homes is also a contribution to the housing problem itself. As we put young married people into new 1612 homes at the one end, and thus relieve the housing problem, we can take the old people out at the other end, and, again, relieve the housing problem there. Obviously, it will not be possible for these hotels to spring up overnight; it will take some time to build and equip them. However, we have set our feet upon that road, and we intend to march upon it as quickly as possible.
These are the main provisions of the Bill—simple to state in this House of Commons, detailed to carry out in practice, but bound to have a profound effect upon the welfare and the wellbeing of large numbers of people in the country. It is, I should have thought, a very agreeable thing that, despite all our difficulties, hardships and the diminution of our resources, we are able to turn our attention to this work at the present time. The conditions in which the poor lived in the past were harsh and inhumane. Poverty was treated as though it were a crime. Those of us who have been associated with boards of guardians will know how frightfully difficult it was to administer the Poor Law in a humane fashion. Some of the rules of the old workhouses read like pieces from fiction. Here is Rule 23 which says:That all children from five years old to 12 shall be allowed one hour's respite from work to attend the schoolmaster for instruction in reading.Rule 24 says:That encouragement be given to the industrious poor out of the profit of their labour not exceeding 2d. in the 1s. each.Some of the Poor Law reformers of 1830 may have been humane men, but their regulations were inhuman. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, writing about the workhouse said:The young servant out of place, the prostitute recovering from disease, the feebleminded woman of any age, the girl with her first baby, the unmarried mother coming in to be confined of her third or fourth bastard, the servile, the paralytic, the epileptic, the respectable, deserted wife, the widow to whom outdoor relief has been refused, are all herded indiscriminately together.Twining, described a workhouse of the 1850's, where:The 'nurses' were pauper inmates, usually infirm and more often drunk than sober, who were remunerated for their services by an amended dietary and a pint of beer to which was added a glass of gin when their duties were peculiarly repulsive. Underneath the dining hall was the laundry, with the fumes of which it was filled four days of the 1613 week, while the lying-in ward was immediately above the female insane ward, the presence of a noisy lunatic or two in which no doubt greatly conduced to the well-being of the parturient women. The ward for fevers and foul cases contained but two beds and was separated from a tinker's shop by a lath and plaster partition.These are not things we are immediately leaving behind, because we have left them behind for some little while, but this is the sort of thing on which we are finally turning our backs. This is the sort of thing which has been a reproach to a civilised community. For me, personally, it is a very great honour to have the opportunity of introducing this Bill, and I am sure that to the House as a whole it is a very agreeable occasion indeed to see it read for the Second time.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
I am sure that we shall all join with the Minister in the sentiment which he has just expressed. It is a great pleasure to the House to be able to take up and continue the work of ameliorating the social services on which the House has been engaged for so many years, and in particular that we should now have the opportunity of having this Bill read for a Second time. I think all of us on this side would wish to join with the right hon. Gentleman in the tribute he paid to the great work of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. But although it was the majority and minority reports of the Poor Law Commission which opened the great discussions on this matter, it would not be fitting on a day like this to omit from mention David Lloyd George, who first brought into existence the Health Insurance schemes, and before him, Mr. Asquith, who first introduced old age pensions. Nor on such an occasion would it be fair to omit the name of Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who introduced for the first time the contributory system and was the first man to lower the age for old age pensions. It would be most ungenerous on such a day if we omitted the names of any of those who have been the pioneers and architects of the schemes on which, as the Minister himself said, he is now placing a coping stone.
Of course, the problem of relief has been a problem in this country for many centuries. It has always been the glory of this country that it was never willing to omit consideration of the weaker or 1614 poorer classes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I repeat, the poorer classes. The record of this country in the friendly relations between the richer and the poorer people is a record for which many a Continental country and almost every Asiatic country would give its eyes. Let right hon. and hon. Members who attack us on every occasion, telling us not to run down our own country, also live up to their own words. The record of this country in the humane and friendly treatment of its citizens is one of which this country may well be proud. It is quite true that the difficulties during the industrial revolution—[Interruption.] I wish the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) would do me the justice of allowing me to speak. We on this side did not interrupt the Minister.
I was pointing out that the kindlier traditions of an older time were lost during the industrial revolution, and I was about to refer to the necessity for the smaller institutions and the desirability that they should not have an institutional character because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, their bigness was the enemy of humanity. I was remembering one of the first of the Barchester novels, Trollope's novel, "The Warden," and Hiram's foundation was admittedly such an institution as the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. If I remember rightly it was called Hiram's hospital, so that even in those days the proper nomenclature, to which the right hon. Gentleman always attaches great importance, and rightly so, had not been achieved. It is also true that the smaller and friendly institution was the legacy of more ancient times, which in itself bears tribute to the fact that the problem of the treatment of the weaker brethren has always been a problem to which the best citizens of this country gave their close attention.
The co-existence of a nation-wide relief system with voluntary organisations of one kind or another is also very old. The tithes forming a nation-wide relief organisation were supplemented by the benefactions of various monastic and other organisations, and this combination of a nation-wide organisation and the work of local authorities and voluntary organisations is inherent in our social traditions. The right hon. Gentleman's tribute to that co-operation, not merely in the Bill but also in his speech, is among the reasons why we on this side are glad to see this Bill 1615 today. [Interruption.] The hon. Member must learn to contain himself while other people are speaking. I will have something to say to the hon. Member before very long. He can wait until then.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Because in this House it is a tradition that one person speaks at a time—a tradition which the hon. Member has never mastered.
After the work of Mr. Neville Chamberlain, I think it would be fair to claim that the Act of 1940 was a further step in advance. The Act of 1940 introduced two principles which the right hon. Gentleman is maintaining today. That Act divided the insurable risk from the non-insurable risk, and put the non-insurable risk into the category of a nation-wide responsibility. That nationwide responsibility was first recognised in 1936, but was afterwards stressed in the Act of 1940. I remember that in 1940 the House was divided. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite were pressing for a flat rate treatment of the old age pension system, and the Government at that time felt that that was an impossible approach to the problem, and that the flat rate increase of 5s. which had been suggested was totally inadequate to deal with the problem as we saw it. Therefore, the principle of the supplementary pension administered by the Assistance Board was introduced. At that time there was a very active controversy on the matter. Again, that controversy has been settled on very much the lines on which we were then discussing it.
There still remains the Assistance Board to which I was glad to hear the tributes paid by the right hon. Gentleman. In strong terms, and not without justification, he attacked the Poor Law and the Poor Law taint. It made me wonder all the more why he and his hon. Friends attached such importance to the maintenance of the Poor Law system in 1940, because it was the Poor Law system which they then desired to preserve. It was the Poor Law system as against the Assistance Board to which they devoted all their praise. The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) paid eloquent tribute to the Poor Law which he desired to see maintained. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) paid tribute 1616 to the Poor Law. I think the Minister of Health also paid eloquent tribute to the Poor Law, and even said he desired to see it continued. I think he will find that that is so.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has got it all wrong.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I think the right hon. Gentleman is inaccurate. Does he challenge what I say?
§ Mr. Griffiths
May I clear this matter up? What the Government in 1940 did was to bring in a Measure by which old age pensions of 10s. each week could be supplemented. What we urged then was that the basic rate of pension ought to be raised. That is precisely what we have done.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. I was speaking not of that question but of the praise and tributes paid to the Poor Law by hon. Members opposite, by the right hon. Gentleman, and by the Minister of Health himself—the Poor Law system, which they desired to see continued. Is that challenged?
§ Mr. Shurmer
Is it not a fact that the fear not only of Members of this House but of many of us who were members of local authorities were justified—the fear that the local touch would be lost? We had brought up the relieving officers to the way we required they should act in dealing with the old age pensioners in our towns and cities. Our fears have been justified in many instances by some of the National Assistance officers.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It is a strange thing then that this Bill proposes to carry those duties away from the local authorities to the National Assistance Board officers.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that the amount to be left to the Assistance Board after the whole of the needs have been meet by all the other measures—insurance allowances, old age pensions, sickness benefits-will be very small indeed. Only the residual categories will be left.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
What the right hon. Gentleman is proposing now is that it is exactly these residual activities them- 1617 selves, the most personal and humane of all the activities, which are to be left to the Assistance Board, which are to be under the administration of the Assistance Board. The right hon. Gentleman himself wished these things to remain with the Poor Law. He himself said in Committee on the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act:If I wanted to burst up the machinery of the Unemployment Assistance Board, I could not do it more effectively than in the way the Government intend to do it now, because … the Government are handing over to the Unemployment Assistance Board a task to which it is wholly unsuited. That personal relationship which necessarily must exist between those who are giving assistance to the old people and the old people themselves is so essential a part of the effective and humane administration of the assistance that people are frightened that this is to be revolutionised and that the old people are now to be passed under the control of officials over whose conduct there is no effective local check."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th February, 1940; Vol. 357, c. 2305.]I put a question to him. I said:I do not think that the argument has been advanced from any side of the Committee that the matter should be left to the public assistance authority.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has utterly misunderstood the nature of the proposals now before the House. Indeed, I must apologise, because I could not have made myself clear. What I have said is, that we are making a complete separation between the functions of the central authority and the functions of the local welfare authorities. In this case the functions of the National Assistance Board are cash functions. They put money into the possession of individuals; but the welfare of the individual is left to local administration.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Yes, but it was precisely because they claimed in those days that the Assistance Board does not put people in possession of the cash required that they objected to it. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) on the Third Reading of the Act of 1940, said:It is to be taken away from the public assistance committee, not because the old people prefer to go to the Unemployment Assistance Board rather than to the public assistance committee, but because the public assistance committee consists of elected persons 1618 who have to account to the electors for what they do. That is why you take it from them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1940; Vol. 358, c. 948–9]The hon. Member will find on reading the Debate on the Bill that that is what he said. [Interruption.] He did not make a very great success of his previous interruption, and had better not go on further with this one.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. and gallant Gentleman unnecessarily, but surely he understands—or have I misunderstood the Minister of Health?—that what the Minister is proposing in this Bill is to hand back to local authorities just those very things which the last Act took away from them. Why in the world should I protest now when we are handing back to the local authorities the very function which the local authority can best perform, namely, the supervision of the people's welfare and co-operation with them in it?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne totally fails to understand the point. The hon. Member was then arguing that the local authority should have the power to give money for relief. [Interruption.] I have read the hon. Member's speech carefully, and he obviously has not done so. It was because the giving of the additional monetary allowances was being transferred from the local authority to the Assistance Board that the hon. Member objected, and he was in favour of leaving the monetary allowances to the local authorities.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not realise that in the days to which he is now referring there was no division of functions at all? When the Government took away the right to grant the money they took away everything there was. What is now being done is to separate the two things, so as to produce the results I, personally, have always wanted, namely, that the financial burden should be a national burden and not a local one, and that welfare should be a local function and not a national function.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
What the hon. Member attacked in 1940 and divided the House against, was the proposal that the financial burden should be a national burden and not a local burden.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member is not very good at understanding things. himself, and so he should not complain about other people. If he reads his speeches and studies the record of the Division Lobbies, he will see that he was voting against the suggestion that the money allowances should be a national business; and that is what we put through, and what the right hon. Gentleman is maintaining.
The other point, of course, which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have abandoned altogether is the non-contributory pension, for many years it was their contention that pensions should be non-contributory. They have abandoned that. That is all to the good. We come together on that general agreement. Now the whole nation is at one upon the contributory pension and upon supplementation by a central authority, by the Assistance Board. These are enormous sums which the national Board and the Minister for National Insurance have to administer. These also are, as the Minister of Health has rightly said, facts touching the very life of our people. There were arguments that the people would not wish to go to the National Assistance Board. Those arguments were disproved in fact. Some 900,000 people were transferred to it in the first instance. The numbers steadily rose until in October, 1946, they came up to over 1,500,000.
The accusation, therefore, that the Assistance Board would not be humane in its administration was not borne out in practice. The apprehensions which were expressed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were proved to be unfounded. They were proved to be unfounded by the enormous numbers of the older people who resorted to it. They were proved unfounded by the tribute the right hon. Gentleman the -Minister of Health paid to the administration today. They have been proved unfounded by the fact that the House as a whole is now taking the Assistance Board, and is entrusting it with greater powers and duties than ever before, and with authority and responsibility which it would be hard to exaggerate. That is also a great tribute to the humane administration of Lord Rushcliffe, Chairman of the Unemployment Assistance 1620 Board, of Lord Soulbury, the present Chairman of the Assistance Board, and also to those other men who dispelled the fear which existed in many quarters that administration might be ungenerous or inhumane. To those men also a very great debt of gratitude is due from the country as a whole, and, in particular, from this House, whose servants they are.
The Minister made one or two other points of considerable interest. I was glad to see that he was maintaining and extending the tuberculosis schemes which were introduced by the Coalition Government. I thought, as he did, that the provision that these allowances should be paid only when there was a chance of recovery, as an incentive to rejoin the labour force, was harsh and inhumane. If I may say so, I thought the right hon. Gentleman was very well advised in his decision to extend and continue those allowances even though the patient proves to be incurable, or, at any rate, to be so deeply smitten by the disease that he cannot return to the army of industry as an active, marching soldier.
Of course, that will place on the Government a still greater responsibility for finding the nursing staff to make sure that the treatment is available for these people. The tuberculosis schemes are sadly held up just now because it is not possible to staff all the beds which are in existence; and as long as we are in that position it is not really necessary, or even advisable, to talk about using more money for bricks and mortar provision when we already have bricks and mortar provision above the range which our staffing will enable us to bring into play. I very much hope it will be possible for the Minister of National Insurance to say a little more about that when he winds up the Debate tonight.
As the Minister has said, the coping stone rests upon a number of previous provisions, some of which have been supplied by the present Government, and some of which have been supplied by previous Governments. But that is a matter for the past, for we have now to look forward into the future. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, but the future rests upon the past, and these provisions which have been made could not have been made now had it not been for the hard and devoted work of many 1621 Parliaments before this one, which has recently been elected. Naturally, the Minister stressed the points of the Bill which he thought were most interesting and most advantageous. However, I think he will agree it is also true that the setting up of a national organisation will throw a greater responsibility than before upon this House.
These sums which are being reviewed here are colossal. The estimated cost of National Insurance at present is £452 million, which one has to compare with the total money raised by the rates of £200 million. That National Insurance figure is estimated to rise to £749 million by 1978. That will certainly throw a very great responsibility upon the Government to maintain a steady financial level, because if money values change it will prove a great deal more difficult to move these national wide scales up and down than it was to adjust the scales of a great number of separate authorities.
By the way, in the adjustment of the nation-wide scales, I am interested to see that the right hon. Gentleman has maintained the veto of the other place absolutely unimpaired. It shows how very little importance right hon. Gentlemen opposite really attach to their principles for limiting the suspensory veto; and that they leave untouched the suspensory veto of the other place on something as important as these scales and regulations, not merely for one year or for two years, but for the whole duration of a Parliament, is a fact about which we do not complain. The other place has, naturally, always been reasonable in its treatment of any matters in dispute, and I think it will continue to be reasonable here, too.
However, in dealing with his major question the right hon. Gentleman left one or two admittedly minor questions rather in the background, I thought. There are certain provisions in the Bill about which we should like a little more information. For instance, in Clause 45 there are very sweeping powers with which is is proposd to endow permanent officials. These powers have previously existed in local hands, but it is now intended to spread them far and wide over the whole country. Any person who is aged or infirm can be removed from his house on the certificate of one medical officer of health, supported 1622 by the court. Such a person may be removed and placed in a hospital, or other place, either within or without the area of the appropriate authority and detained therein, and that detention order may from time to time be extended by the court,for such further period not exceeding three months, as the court may determine.I think the Minister will agree that in the case of the other people who are subject to detention, the certificate of one medical officer alone—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Yes, I said it goes before the court; but, remember, in the case of other classes of persons who are so detained, the person is summoned before the court. This makes no provision at all for the person being examined by the court or summoned. The only person who has to conduct an examination in the matter is the certifying officer.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
He is the medical officer of health, it is quite true, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that in most cases at least two certificates are necessary before taking the pretty grave step of removing a citizen from his house and detaining him under an indeterminate sentence on an indeterminate order. Before that step is embarked upon and maintained I think more than one certificate is usual.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Hanley)
Does not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that only one medical certificate is needed on a three day order, in order to remove a person from his home if he is deemed to be insane?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
But subsequently two certificates must be obtained. The removal is all very well, but after that two medical certificates must be obtained and, what is more, the person then comes within the purview of the Board of Control. I am simply arguing that, in giving these sweeping powers, it would be as well to consider, perhaps during the Committee stage, whether, for the nation as a whole, something much wider in safeguards for the persons in question might not be necessary.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would agree that where an old person is living in a house and is utterly incapable of looking after himself, who has no one at all who can look after him, and where such people are in a very bad state of health and sanitary condition, some authority must be responsible for looking after them, and someone must do something about it. It is in the interests of the old people themselves that this power is taken, and not in the interests of a tyrannical State. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman looks at all the other Subsections of the Clause, he will find protection after protection for the liberty of the subject.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The right hon. Gentleman naturally states the extreme case. We must remember that it is the borderline cases where injustices may arise. No one will quarrel in regard to the extreme case of a person living in very insanitary conditions, who is totally incapable of looking after himself; but these cases shade away to a point where a legitimate difference of opinion might reasonably arise.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
The court decides.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Yes, but in such cases, in the tradition of our country, the court does not decide simply on the evidence of one man. In mental cases, either the individual is summoned before the court, or the court has the individual examined. We do not think these wide and sweeping powers should be lightly put on the statute book. They will apply not merely to the extreme cases, but to the borderline and marginal cases, and that is where injustice might easily arise. It is one of the examples of what inevitably occurs when this House is brought in as a final determining authority. This House is being brought in through the Minister. The Board is connected with the Minister, and it is only through the Minister that we are able to raise questions about the actions of the Board and other actions arising out of this Bill.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Is the argument which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is propounding not an imputation upon the medical profession, of which he is such a distinguished ornament?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I do not think the desirability of having two certificates has ever been held to be an imputation on the medical profession. In fact, in many cases it is regarded as being a protection. I do not think that consultation has ever been regarded as an imputation. Up to now I have not heard that medical men in general regard the previous provisions regarding this kind of thing as any sort of imputation on their profession.
In regard to residential accommodation, as the Minister has pointed out, it may be some considerable time before this is available. Although, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it will in itself be an addition to our housing accommodation, in that it will release other housing accommodation, these, as we know, are matters about which it is very difficult to prophesy. The Minister has indicated that he will do his best to make headway with this provision, and we in our turn will await with interest the headway he makes. The charges are to be substantial, leaving no more than a margin of some 5s. to the old people in the instance he gave. I notice that hospital accommodation is to remain free, but that the pension is to be adjusted. Can we be told exactly what that means, because it would appear as if the two sentences of the statute cancel each other out? It seems to indi-date on first sight that the pensions will be decreased pro tanto with the accommodation in the hospitals. The provision for refusing to maintain oneself is very severe indeed. The Minister nowadays takes strong views about these things. We may find ourselves unduly harsh in these matters. The provisions of the Elizabethan Statute were well couched in the savage terms of those savage times, were, I think, directed towards making an able-bodied person maintain himself; the hon. Gentleman is trying to secure exactly the same object by the technique of our days of fine and imprisonment.
These criticisms of ours are slightly more difficult, because this Bill is brought in before the local authorities, who are so closely concerned, have had time to give it adequate consideration. I have a complaint from the City of Glasgow that its Parliamentary Bills Committee has had no time to examine this Measure. Although the Second Reading is today, the Parliamentary Bills Committee is only today able to sit and consider it. They ask me to ascertain from the Minister what are the 1625 provisions for the payment of compensation to persons who suffer loss of employment, or loss or diminution of emoluments, attributable to the passing of the Bill. They are anxious to ensure that these are not being debarred from consideration by the Financial Resolution, because they consider that the Clause as it stands requires amendment. I am sure that the Minister will not complain if we do our best to give examination to this very great Measure, which covers a great number of our people, and is largely, as he has said, the culmination of a long series of Acts and administrations. We believe that it will throw a greater strain than before on this House, because many functions previously administered locally are now being taken over by the central authority. We agree that the monetary functions should be taken over by the central authority. Therefore, we are supporting the Second Reading.
A very considerable amount of local co-operation will still be required. We are absolutely convinced of that, and the Minister made it clear that that was his view. It is a great tribute to the strength and humanity of this country that at this time, with our diminished resources, we should be moving forward on this path. I felt a certain pride myself when in 1940, I was able to bring forward a Measure, however imperfect and however many its defects, whereby we were able to continue to make progress in the teeth of the tumult of that time. The supplements which were granted relieved the position of many old folk, who otherwise were feeling very sadly the pinch of poverty. The advance now being made is admittedly part of a much greater advance. The raising of the general level of the pension schemes, the general flat-rate level, has undoubtedly, as the Minister said, diminished the ambit over which our emergency measures run. But the safety net has to operate.
That we can turn our attention to this at this time, and in spite of our stringent financial position, is, I am sure, something which makes every one of us, without distinction of party, feel to that extent a sense of relief. There is a sense of proceeding along the line which all of us, in our hearts, desire to proceed along It was Henry IV, of France, who said that the purpose of government was that every peasant should have a chicken in 1626 his pot. It all comes down to that. The great schemes of administration and finance come down to the comfort and decency of the ordinary citizen.' That we should now be able to make this step along that road is an occasion on which I compliment the Minister of Health. I am sure that the whole House, without exception, will feel today that in the Second Reading of this Bill a good day's work is being done.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
I am very pleased today to have the privilege and opportunity of saying a few words in support of this Bill. Much has been said about the social legislation that has been passed through this House in recent years. It has taken us at least 40 years to break up our Poor Law system, for it was in 1909 that the Poor Law Commission made their report. Since then, there has been a considerable improvement in public opinion. As one who took part in the early agitation after the findings of that Commission, I feel that today is a very great day in the history of this Parliament, and indeed, in the history of this country, and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health must be highly delighted that he has been privileged to have the opportunity of introducing this Bill.
I well remember in my apprenticeship days, when I was working with some of the finest craftsmen in this country, that one of the nightmares of those men, some of whom were advanced in years, was their concern as to what would happen to them when they could work no longer. Many had experienced the difficulties of the unemployed in having to go before the Poor Law guardians of those days, and they became exceedingly apprehensive as to what would be their lot when they could work no longer, and would probably have to go into a workhouse. With knowledge of those facts, I am very pleased today to be a Member of this House who is helping my right hon. Friend to place the coping stone on his various social Measures. I am delighted that the old Poor Law system is passing out. The method of approach, the attitude of mind, has completely changed. Many old folks, and younger ones, too, who became applicants for assistance under the old Poor Law system, were regarded as if they were re- 1627 sponsible for the poverty and adversity which had overtaken them. Many reverend gentlemen, and those connected with Christian churches, assumed that many of these people were endowed with a double dose of original sin. Thank God we have grown out of that attitude of mind, that we can look forward to something more human and in keeping with Christian ethics. I congratulate the Government on having brought forward this Measure, and I shall be glad—although I hope it will not be necessary—to take part in supporting it in its further stages in Committee and in the House.
I would like to point out that the Memorandum accompanying the Bill is exceedingly helpful, because it directs our thought and attention to what I consider to be a most important matter. I want to commend the Ministers responsible for the Bill on their production of this Memorandum. These Memoranda are becoming more permanent, and Members of the House are, I hope, becoming more appreciative of their value and assistance.
I am pleased to find that we are at last approaching this subject from the point of view of making it a national, and not a local, charge. For far too long local authorities have been compelled to shoulder the burden of supporting the poor. At the time the Poor Law Commission reported, the poor were keeping the poor, especially in the poorer areas. We are glad that we have passed from that stage, and that the State will now shoulder its responsibility. In very few cases are individuals responsible for their poverty; in the main they are the victims of a bad social order. I also appreciate the Minister's attempt to bring the personal touch into the administrative Clauses of this Bill. There are to be advisory committees, which is all to the good. These committees will bring a local touch into the Measure, and, what is more important, will enable the Minister to be aware that there are differences, personal and geographical, in various districts. These are matters which must receive the attention of these committees. Another very important point about the local machinery will be the appeal tribunals. If applicants feel that they are not getting a square deal, or a sufficient grant to enable them to keep themselves in reasonable comfort, they will have the 1628 opportunity of appearing before an appeal tribunal.
I am delighted that the Minister has inserted in the Bill provisions whereby the local and personal touch can be given to its administration. I welcome the im provement that has been effected in regard to the Determination of Needs Act. Regulations arising from that Act will be laid upon the Table of both Houses, and we shall see the precise type and form of those recommended. The House will have opportunities of improving on them. No one can say this Bill is being administered by an autocracy from head quarters. The provision in regard to capital in the means test is again an improvement. Residential accommodation for the aged, people is a thing that this House has discussed on many occasions. I welcome the acceptance of the principle. I welcome the statement made by the Minister that he has no desire to have large residential buildings, but that they shall be kept down to a reasonable size. That will be welcomed by all enlightened Members.
I would prefer to see something like the system that has been adopted in Dorchester for the aged agricultural workers. They can take their meals in a communal dining-room or in their personal apartment. What is of great assistance is the recreational facilities afforded by a large common room adjoining a number of separate apartments. I would commend that to the consideration of the Minister. I have seen it, and I feel very pleased with it. Something like that would help to inspire the minds and create interest among those who have been accustomed to factories and workshops. They would not feel isolated. The Minister's suggestion that the aged people be permitted to keep a little pocket money is a delightful idea. It will be supported by every enlightened man and woman throughout the country. I know of nothing worse than the old system by which the aged men or woman were deprived of spending money. To have something they can use in their own personal way is one of the delights which will be appreciated by all. I commend the Bill to the House. This can really be said to be a great day in the history of Parliament. The death of the Poor Law has been long overdue. I welcome its demise.
§ 54 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)
I feel that the principles of this Bill must be accepted by every progressive person in this House. I do not propose to follow the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) in what I thought, in the beginning of his speech, was a grudging tribute to the introduction of this Measure though he tried to make up for it in the latter parts. I appreciate the embarrassment which he must find in a social security Debate taking place in the House, in view of the record which the Conservative Party has in these matters. This goes back to the foundations of social security in the time of Asquith and Lloyd George. I believe that if there had been a progressive Government in the years between the wars, this Bill would now have been on the Statute Book for many years. The Government are to be congratulated on bringing forward this great Measure of reform which rounds off the social security Measures which so many of us wanted to see on the Statute Book. Tributes have already been paid. Let us pay a tribute to the author of the Beveridge Report for the great work he did in those war years.
We have established only the framework and the machinery. The humane, sympathetic administration of our social benefits is a matter which has to be ever present to our minds. There are very few points I want to make. I think detailed criticisms are far better left to the Committee stage. It is not only the size of the benefit which is important; it is just as important, and, in some cases, more important, that the benefit should be paid immediately in urgent cases. I hope those who administer this scheme will tell the officers of the Assistance Board that it is their duty, in urgent cases, to move with the maximum possible speed. If they use their own discretion in these matters, no person with sympathy or humane feelings will ever say they have been too quick off the mark.
I am glad the Government have introduced the recommendation of the Beveridge Report, that all these draft regulations should be submitted to the House of Commons and another place, in order that debate may take place upon them before they are presented in their final form. They are matters which 1630 require not only debate, but proper advertising to the people who are going to benefit. In these Debates we shall be able to give the necessary publicity to the changes being made from time to time. In dealing with the regulations, could the Government give more indication, not as regards resources, but the determination of need? Is it going to be based on a subsistence level? If it is, is a genuine cost-of-living index going to be taken? Are people going to be given a really square deal in this matter so that they can live, I will not say in luxury, but in relative comfort; and the sort of poverty which has occurred in the past be removed?
There are 450,000 widows under the age of 60 drawing 10s. a week. Some of them are able and willing to work, but there are some—and I have some in my constituency—who are able to work, but cannot find work. Those people are still living on 10s. a week. They pay 3s. 6d. rent and rates, and that leaves a small sum on which to try to keep going. When I have said to them that I would see what could be done in the way of National Assistance, they have said, "No, we do not want to go on the parish." I would like to know whether in cases like that, far out in the rural districts, where there is no possibility of these people—some aged 57—transferring their homes or getting jobs, there is any possibility of their being helped? I agree with the Minister of Health that we should have these residential hotels or clubs. That would be a tremendous stride forward. If only we can break down the old idea of an institution, I believe there is tremendous scope for development along these lines. Has any provision been made in the housing target for the 130,000 to 140,000 houses needed? In general, I want, on behalf of myself and my colleagues, to give our full support to this Bill and to congratulate the Government on having introduced it at this time.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
On behalf of all my constituents, and on behalf of those people in Liverpool who for the past 40 years have been compelled to apply to either Poor Law or public assistance authorities for maintenance, I welcome this Bill. I am not an envious sort of person, but I envy today the opportunity which the Minister had of 1631 moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I would very much like to have had that opportunity. I feel that he presented the Bill with a calmness which he did not feel. I would not have been able to present it in that way. I think of what we are repealing more than of what we are proposing, and I think that this Bill should not pass its Second Reading without our placing on record the difficulties which people in this country have had to face, particularly since 1921.
I was proud to take part in the unemployed demonstrations and organisation in Liverpool in 1921 and onwards, because, having won the war and having been promised a country fit for heroes to live in, we discovered that one in five of the population of 855,000 in Liverpool was compelled, within a very short time of being demobilised from the Forces, to apply for relief from the local Poor Law authorities. Under the 1911 Act, relief had to be paid mostly in kind—very little in cash. Some of it was paid in cash in Liverpool—the Toxteth board of guardians paid some in cash—but it was mostly paid in kind While I was listening to the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), floundering in difficulties, I realised that he had no conception of what he was talking about, or what it meant to repeal the things which this Bill sets out to repeal. I was sorry for him from that point of view. There are thousands of people in this country who will welcome this Bill because they will feel that they will never again have to apply to people on Poor Law committees, boards of guardians or public assistance committees, and prove that they are destitute. I am pleased to see that the word "destitution" does not exist in the Bill. That word has been a very sore point for a long time, because it meant payment below the rates and wages paid to the industrial workers, and it tended to reduce continually the standard of living of those who were compelled to apply for Poor Law relief.
I am proud to be part of the Liverpool organisation. When we are paying tribute to the people who have done things, I want to pay tribute to a person who is not known nationally and who has never had his praises sung, but who, nevertheless, was a hero to the destitute people in Liverpool.
1632 I am referred to the Poor Law officer in Liverpool, a man known as George Evans, who, for almost two years, fought the Ministry of a Tory Government and paid fully in cash relief to those who had to apply for assistance in Liverpool. In times likes this, I think that we ought to pay our tribute to people who have had the courage of their convictions—officials of local authorities or officials of the Government. I take the opportunity now of paying this tribute to George Evans for establishing, for the first time in this country, in 1921, in spite of the fact that it was illegal to do so, payment of relief fully in cash to those people who were destitute.
When we talk about queues at the present time, we do not realise what queues used to be like. Let us remember the queues outside the Poor Law relief offices, the destitute people, badly clothed, badly shod, lining up with their prams—many of the men lining up with the kit-bags which they had carried during the 1914–18 war—for their week's rations of black treacle and bread. Bread was issued once a week—and we know what bread is, even in the best of times, when it has been kept for a week. These are the things that we are repealing. These are the things we are wiping from the face of this country, and I am pleased to be associated with a Socialist Government which is doing this, because I know that a Tory Government would never have had the courage, or even the ambition, to do anything of the kind. It has always been useful for them to have a large crowd of people destitute, because they could be used to reduce the standard of living and the wages of the people who were fortunate enough to be working.
There is another important matter in connection with the scales of relief that were paid and the amounts that are to be paid under the new regulations. When the scale was established during the 1914–18 war for the Poor Law payment, it was 10s. a week. In the first instance, in 1921, 10s. a week was considered sufficient to maintain a destitute person. That was gradually increased, and in 1931, when we had a financial crisis similar to that which we have today, the only way the Tory Party could find to deal with the situation was to inflict a 10 per cent. reduction on everybody, including those people who were drawing the destitution scale of assistance. In 1633 Liverpool, where we have never had stable industries and never had permanent employment—it has always been a question, in the main, of casual labour—and where there have always been large numbers of unemployed, and where we still have large numbers of unemployed, the position has always been, so far as my party is concerned, that we have had the utmost difficulty and a struggle to establish some decent scales of assistance for those unable to maintain themselves.
The Bill covers many aspects. Another thing which I am pleased to see in it is the new method suggested for dealing with old people who have toiled as long as they possibly could, and have given of their best to the industrial and general welfare of the country. When they have been unable to look after themselves, it has just been nobody's business to see that they were properly cared for. Even when the old age pension was raised to 26s. it did not relieve the destitution of many aged people who had no one on whom to depend but themselves. It greatly assisted those who were able to live with relatives, but not those who found themselves compelled out of their 26s. to look after themselves, to pay rent and to find some one to do their washing and cleaning. These aged people like their liberty and they do not like to go into institutions. They love to live among their fellow creatures, but it is usually the oldest room in the house which is offered to them. We have thousands of them in Liverpool living in filthy back rooms, struggling as best they can, having to do their own queuing for the amount of rations which they are allowed, and suffering great hardships on 26s. a week. I do not take the same view as the Minister about the Assistance Board. I do not think the Assistance Board is any better than the old board of guardians or the public assistance committee, because in many instances those in receipt of 26s. as an old age pension are being paid by the Assistance Board the miserable amount of 6d. in addition to the 26s. that they get.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Steele)
So far as that point is concerned, I think it ought to be made perfectly clear that when the Minister of National Insurance was responsible for raising the amount of pension to 26s. a week, he said 1634 that no person should be a penny worse off even if they had only 6d. extra, and that is why some persons are being paid the 6d.
§ Mrs. Braddock
I quite agree with the Parliamentary Secretary, and that is what I am grumbling about. They are no worse off,' but they are in exactly the same position as they were before, because when they were drawing 10s. a week they got 16s. 6d. from the Assistance Board. When the money went up to 26s. the Assistance Board very courteously gave them a book in which there were weekly dockets for the payment of 6d. What I am saying is that in the new regulations which have to be passed and in the Clauses of this Bill, which deal with old people who are receiving financial benefits from the State, we have to give very careful consideration to the fact that there are two sets of old people. There are those people who are able to live with their sons, daughters or other relatives and who, through being looked after, can quite obviously get special comforts and conditions, and they have no rent to pay. On the other hand, there are those who are completely alone. They do not want to go into institutions, and they have many expenses. In some instances, too, they do not have the opportunity to go into institutions because the institutions are completely full of old people. In making the new regulations, let us remember there are these two sets of old people and let us make the regulations in such a way as to be certain that those aged people who are living on their own, and who have a lot of commitments because they are living on their own, are given ample attention in order that they may exist decently as long as they live.
I am delighted with the arrangements that have been made for old people in hostels. In the area which I represent, we have a number of places into which old people are taken. They are unable to look after themselves, and though strenuous steps have been taken and every good will has been shown on the part of those who are responsible for the treatment of old people in these places, it has to be said that places which were built as workhouses, cannot be suitable for the altered circumstances of old people, nor can those places provide something which is different from what was provided in the past.
1635 I am particularly glad that I have had a part in this Bill, as a Member of the party responsible for it. I am very bitter about what has happened in the past to those people who found themselves in need of assistance. I am bitter because I know what has happened to them. I am bitter because I have been part of them. I have sat on a committee where public assistance had to be given out, and it has been a horrifying experience to me when people have come in and asked for a pair of boots and have had to stand in a corner and show the soles of their boots before another pair could be given to them. Some of the most difficult situations I have known have arisen in connection with clothing, because the regulations of the Poor Law were such that a person had to be destitute, not only from the point of view of cash, but also from the point of view of clothing before he or she was permitted to receive assistance. I have been in a committee where the chairman, who was not of my party, persisted—and I protested—in seeing the underclothing of old people before the committee was prepared to give an order that new underclothing should be supplied. These things remain with us. We remember them.
I remember baton charges in Liverpool, when the unemployed were demonstrating in order to get some decent assistance from the country they fought for and from the country from which they expected a square deal. It is for the sake of those people that I am glad today, because they have very bitter memories of what the Poor Law and public assistance actually meant. Those who have been in touch with, and those who have accepted, public assistance or Poor Law know what I mean. People objected to, and stayed away as long as they could from, public assistance or charity. I am pleased that today we are ending that. We are realising and accepting the principle that anybody who is unable to look after himself or herself, for one reason or another, becomes a complete charge on the State, and the State takes responsibility for seeing that he or she gets the very best consideration and attention.
I end where I started. I know how many people in my area have looked forward to this Measure ever since 1921. I have looked forward to the time when the Poor Law would be abolished ever since 1906, when I had my very first recollection 1636 of people starving. I was taken, at the age of seven, into the central area of Liverpool where the women of the Socialist movement, even then, were looking after people who were in poverty. They used to make soup every day and take it down to the central area of the city in a van and distribute it, and a piece of bread, to those who were hungry and waiting for it at a cost of a farthing a bowl. I have always remembered since then the terrible tragedy and horror on the faces of those in the queue when the soup finished and there was no more to be sold.
I am glad that I have lived to see this day and to have had a share in the agitation—because agitation it had to be until this Government came into power—for a new system, doing away with the need for people crying out that they were destitute, and having to prove it before they were given assistance in order to continue living in a country which was able to produce wealth over and above any other country in the world. I welcome the Bill. I hope that in Committee the Minister will be able to agree to one or two Amendments. There is one Clause particularly which I should like to see amended. That Clause makes it necessary for the Assistance Board to present its accounts to this House only once a year, so that only once a year shall we have the opportunity of discussing the progress of this scheme. I hope that that can be amended and ways found under the Bill whereby we can discuss the progress of the scheme, because in its early stages the scheme will have to be watched very carefully. I hope that the working class movement will be able now to forget the horrors of the past in the joy of realising that we are living in a country that is going to produce for the benefit of the citizens as a whole.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)
I hope the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) will forgive me if I do not follow in any detail the statements that she has made. I would like to do so, because I know that she speaks from very long experience of local government work, more particularly perhaps in the field with which we are concerned today, and 1637 also because, if she will allow me to say so, I always feel that when she makes remarks which are a little more extravagant than we are ready to accept, she does so because her heart carries away her head. I ask her to believe that good hearts and decent intentions are not the sole prerogative, thank God, of any one political party. There are some of us on this side of the House who have tried to do our little bit in the past towards the development of the social services which are essential to our country and of which we personally are proud.
I must not be tempted to accept the challenge thrown out by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers). He is not here now, but I would like to join issue with him at some time upon the rather provocative statements he has made. I feel that I am within the temper of the Debate in resisting the temptation, because the Minister of Health in his opening speech made what I thought was a notable and very welcome departure from the rather forceful manner in which he has introduced some other Bills with which he has been concerned. He will probably appreciate my own feeling of embarrassment in rising to give general approval to a Bill which removes from local authorities some of the duties with which they have been charged in the past. I hope he will accept my action today as at least evidence of the sincerity of the opposition which I have shown to his other attempts—many of them successful attempts—to raid functions which I believe are properly functions of local government.
I am glad that the Minister resisted the obvious temptation to make a speech of a very different character, which, judging from some of the interruptions that have been made since, might have been better to the liking of some of the—if I may say so without offence—less thoughtful of his supporters behind him. The Minister quite properly paid a tribute to the work which has been done in the past under the Poor Law. To do otherwise would, indeed, be to fail to recognise the historical changes which have brought us, quite logically from locally administered relief to a Bill which transfers some of the most important assistance functions to a central State body.
In the earlier days of public assistance—I do not mean going back to Queen 1638 Elizabeth but in the days immediately preceding and following the industrial revolution—communities were much more isolated than they are now. Industries were much more localised. In consequence, the conditions of life and of living in one area differed widely from those in another, and much more than they do today. It was proper that in those conditions the administration of relief in whatever form to the less fortunate members of society should be the function of purely local bodies.
Times have changed. The conditions which led—I must use the horrible word "destitution" which I join the hon. Lady in condemning—to people being destitute and in need of relief, are much better understood than they were, and the problem is now susceptible of national rather than local treatment in a way in which it was not 50 years ago. Moreover, there is a fact we must all be honest enough to face. In those days, local authorities had not acquired that most vicious of all institutions of local government the party whip. Local authorities were not party-politically divided. We must face the fact that when politics crept into local government, it became most difficult for local authorities to administer relief in cash or kind without being subject to pressure which they did not like and which very few people wanted them to suffer. Therefore, I feel sincerely that this is the proper time—I would even agree with the hon. Lady that the Bill is some years overdue—for the complete transfer to the central government of functions concerned with the direct administration of relief in cash and kind, leaving to local authorities the job of administering the forms of welfare and assistance which are still left to them by the Bill.
To judge from some of the interruptions that came from the other side, and particularly from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), there is a tendency to overlook the importance of Part I of the Bill. In my view, and I am sure the Minister will agree with me, the administration of cash relief is a very important part of the whole business of assistance. I think the Minister will also agree that nothing that we can do to the Bill, and no Amendment that we can propose to it, will make quite certain that this part of the Bill will prove 1639 the success which we all desire it to be. If there is any function of government of which it would be right to say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, it is the handling of what is essentially a human and not an automatic service. The welfare side is left to the local authorities quite properly. I am not sure whether that is in Part II—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
It is actually Part II.
§ Sir H. Webbe
That is what I meant to say. It relates to the National Assistance Board. The success of that Board in discharging its functions will depend much more upon its administration than upon any provisions which govern its constitution. I do not want to enter in detail into this aspect of the matter, but we ought to have in mind the fundamental difficulties which face any administration, and not least the purely mechanical difficulty of getting the offices to house the staff and the staff to run the scheme. This great function of cash relief must not stop for one moment. It is absolutely essential that it should carry straight on when the transfer of functions takes place from the local authorities to the National Assistance Board. I know the Minister of National Insurance will not think that I am in any way attacking him if I say that it is common knowledge from the postbags of all hon. Members that the National Insurance Department is at the present moment shockingly overworked and overwhelmed, and, to put it quite bluntly, in the most hopeless mess, in many of its actual administrative jobs. It is not an uncommon thing to have serious delays in the delivery of new pension books and so on. I say that not by way of criticism of the Minister, because anybody with practical experience of administration knows what a terrific task he has and the great difficulty there must be in establishing so vast a service in such a short time.
It is vital that before the appointed day under this part of the Bill is fixed it should be made perfectly clear that the complete organisation to handle this function is available and ready to start at a moment's notice without any creaking and without any mistakes. That almost 1640 certainly means taking over from the local authorities the premises they have used for this job and the men they have employed. I have found no paragraph in the Bill about premises though I have no doubt there is one somewhere. What I have found is a paragraph about staffs which repeats the perfectly monstrous position of the corresponding paragraph in the Local Government Bill, which I hope will be dealt with when we get to the Committee stage of that Bill. The provision is that compensation for any local authority staffs who may be displaced by the transfer of functions to the central government shall be paid by the local authority. When these functions passed from the board of guardians to the county councils it was then left to the county council to pay the compensation. Today when they are passing from the county council to the Government it is again left to the county council to pay. That is so monstrous that I am quite certain that the Minister will accept the position that as the Government are putting these people out of jobs, any compensation to which they are properly entitled should be paid by the Government and not left as a charge on the ratepayers. Matters of that kind can be dealt with, and I am sure will be dealt with, before the Bill comes into force. Many other details will no doubt be ironed out in Committee.
There remains, however, the one fundamental difficulty of ensuring that the administration of these money grants by the National Assistance Board shall be humane and not automatic. That point was made by the hon. lady the Member for the Exchange Division and I am quite certain that it is in the minds of all hon. Members. We have had experience on the London County Council of such a transfer from the board of guardians through various stages to that of a published London scale of relief. However much one instructs one's officers to use their discretion, their common sense and the powers that are given to them, there is a fatal tendency for a printed scale to become a fixed scale. Our experience in London was this. In the earlier stages when we did not have a scale carrying the full authority of the council, we felt obliged to give some sort of guidance to the public assistance committee by giving them a scale which had no greater 1641 authority than that it was merely a suggestion or advice from the chairman of the committee. Even at that stage there was a tendency for the whole administration to solidify, and the published scales became fixed scales. That is a very great danger as it is only by the wisest administration that the Minister will be able to make the discretionary powers given to those officers a reality and not merely a sham. It is true that there is an appeals tribunal provided, but that tribunal is, again, an official body and before very long it will be bound by hosts of precedents and decisions and it will probably become more hidebound than the assistance officers themselves.
There remains only one hope and that is in the local advisory committees. There are local advisory committees associated with the assistance boards today. I doubt whether anyone who has served on those committees is satisfied that they are really doing their job. They are not taken sufficiently closely into consultation. They are used much more as a general dumping ground for odd questions of a general character which occur to the assistance officers. They do not get the close personal touch with the applicants which was the one feature of the old Poor Law system which was well worth preserving. Although for some reason or other the Minister of Health did not like to be reminded of it, in 1940 he and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) paid a tribute to the value of close personal contact between the applicants and people who were not officials and were not bound by official rules. I can think of no amendment to the Bill which will secure the continuance of that humane contact and touch. It will be for the Minister by regulation and by the supervision of his officers to encourage and stimulate the discretionary power of his officers and by some means to make greater use of the local advisory committees so that they may be in constant and daily contact with the work the officers are doing and so be in a position to check whether they are using their discretion or relying in 99 per cent. of the cases on the published scales.
I want to say a word about the local authority services. I very much welcome the Minister's statement, particularly in regard to homes for aged persons. There is no doubt that his approach is the 1642 human approach—it is the approach we would all like to see—but again we must remember that the administrative problem that faces local authorities is terrific. The problem of administering groups of isolated homes, each with their own individuality and character, and each containing not more than 20 or 30 people, will be a very big one, and I am not at all sure that it will not be beyond the powers of some of the larger authorities. However, the nearer we get to that ideal the better.
There is one little point that worries me. In the Clause which lays upon the local authorities the responsibility for providing this accommodation, a completely new condition is introduced into the paragraph which deals with temporary accommodation. I do not quite know where we are getting to, but Clause 20 (1, b) reads:Temporary accommodation for persons who are in urgent need thereof, being need arising in circumstances which could not reasonably have been foreseen. …If it only means fire, earthquake, act of God and that kind of thing, well and good, but I am rather afraid of introducing a condition of relief which might involve the local authorities in becoming censors of morals. We know perfectly well that there are people in trouble and bad health who have brought it on themselves, but I do not think that is a question with which the relieving authorities must be concerned. They must deal with facts and not with history. Therefore, I hope we shall be assured at the appropriate time that there is nothing more in this than an attempt to limit the requirements on the local authorities to give temporary assistance.
I wish the Bill contemplated that the responsibility for dealing with casuals should not remain for all time with the local authorities, and I hope that in Committee the Minister will do something about it. If responsibility remains with the local authorities, it will be an odd bit of the administration which is properly completely part and parcel of the work to be handed over to the National Assistance Board, and it would be a mistake if that is left with the local authority, because it is much more in the nature of assistance than of welfare, and I do not find in the Bill any limit on that.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The condition in the Bill is for a maximum period of two years during which the Board can make its own 1643 provision. The local authorities in that respect will act as agents for the Board.
§ Sir H. Webbe
I thought that the limitation of two years referred to the running of the rehabilitation service, and that the immediate relief of casuals would remain a function of the local authorities even after the two years. However, if I am wrong in that, I am glad, because that is the kind of provision I would like to see in the Bill.
I welcome the Bill. As the Minister has said, it is the coping stone of a series of Bills which have gradually transformed the old type of Poor Law into the new type. However, I do not think we ought to give it a Second Reading without paying a tribute which, so far this afternoon, has only been paid by the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division. We have paid tribute to the big names in the history of Poor Law public relief, but we ought to remember many thousands of others. In the 20 odd years during which it has been my privilege to work on a local authority, I have met many admirable people for whom I have the highest regard and the greatest admiration, but I know of none for whom my admiration is greater than those men and women who have devoted unselfishly their time, their energy and their ability to perhaps the most invidious, and certainly one of the most heartbreaking jobs with which local government is concerned. To them we ought to pay a tribute for ail they have done to bring about the change in mind and in circumstances which now makes this Bill possible, and I hope that, if I happen to be on the Committee, I may help to knock it into an effective Bill for a purpose with which I am sure we all agree.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
In common with other hon. Members, I want to pay my tribute to the Ministers responsible for the introduction of this Bill. In some ways I hold a unique position in this regard because I have been associated in a practical way, with the evolution of Poor Law during the last 26 years, and I am proud of the opportunity to be here at the Second Reading of this Bill. I was a very minor official of the local authority in Glasgow when that authority broke 1644 through the existing law and paid the able-bodied in cash instead of kind. I admit my responsibility, and my office did not hold me very long—or I did not hold the office very long; I had political convictions of a kind that apparently were not in keeping with the higher-ups, and I departed. I then found myself in the queue of the recipients and attended at the parish council offices for my weekly allowance. While I have no doubt the people who let the hall, put the text on the wall with very good intentions, it was rather ironical to see the following words right in the front of the hall:Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.One requires to be in a queue of that kind to know the irony of such a sentence. Since then, I have watched a gradual improvement and, although I would like to avoid saying this, I think that politics played a great part in that change. I am perfectly certain that my city was in the forefront in its treatment of the unemployed able-bodied, but that was largely because of the political power and pressure of the party and the people with whom I was associated. Finally, many of us took charge ultimately of the local authority, and in 1929, with the passing of the Local Government Act, we again made a great jump forward in the treatment of the poor of the great cities and, for many years after that, I was intimately associated with that movement.
I came here with a little fear about this Bill. Having read it, I have to be perfectly honest and say that it is far superior to anything I had expected. I have been conservative in my regard for the local authority; I have always had the feeling that the local authority could handle the problem much better than advisory councils. I am not completely converted to the advisory councils yet. The Poor Law cannot be broken up merely by the passing of legislation; it can only be broken up by a complete change in the approach to the people who are compelled to apply for aid. I do not know any immediate solution but, judging from my own city alone, I say that the treatment of the people was better under the local authority than under the Assistance Board. That is my reading of it from practical, day-to-day experience, and I must mention it.
1645 One point may come out of that, the right of a member of the local authority to be more intimately connected with the advisory council. I agree with the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) that there is a tendency for the person selected for a job to be less intimately concerned with that work than the person elected to the post. I hope that will be noted, and that local government people may nave the opportunity of serving. The National Assistance Board is the most important. If this is to be a new National Board—not the Assistance Board redesignated but a new Board known as the National Assistance Board—I hope it will be possible to have at least one representative from Scotland on it, because our country is sufficiently important to merit some little recognition.
§ Mr. Carmichael
Regarding that administration, I would ask one question on the point that the local officer can act with speed in cases of urgent demand. I hope we are quite clear as to what is meant by that, because, under the old public assistance and parish councils, there was a 24-hours' service and the offices were open constantly. In my view that is essential now because, as the Minister stated in presenting the Bill, there may be fires and all kinds of difficulties, and there must be people on the spot. A further point regarding administration is that payment can be made in cash and in kind. For many years we opposed any payment in kind because we were afraid that the officers would do as they did in earlier days -they would supply the bread, the butter, the margarine and so on, and we were left as paupers in the worst possible sense.
I think there is a case for payment in kind, and my experience of public assistance in contrast to the Public Assistance Board, bears that out. The public assistance committee paid in cash, but, when people wanted clothing, they provided clothing, whereas when people applied to the Assistance Board they were paid in cash, and if they made an extra plea for clothing, they were given an extra £2, or £3, to try to get clothing. In many cases they were offered the opportunity of having cash, by which they could only buy second-hand clothing.
1646 In Glasgow the local authorities developed a very big establishment for the supply of relief other than cash where there were all kinds of clothing for all types of persons. I suggest that it would be worth while the Minister considering the advisability of giving the larger burghs and towns the right to handle cases of that kind directly. If they require assistance by way of clothing and things, other than payment by cash, let people make application to the Assistance Board. Government auditors look after the finances of local authorities, and there would be no harm in the local authority handling business of that kind while the Government accepted financial responsibility. The most important factor in economy is the ability of a local authority to buy by bulk purchase over a large area, and for a large number of people.
A person who is dissatisfied with an officer's finding, can appeal to the committee; could we have an appeal to the umpire as well as to the committee? Too often people on appeal committees tend to take the official point of view. I am not saying this in any adverse sense. The official has all the knowledge at his fingertips, and is more competent and able to present a case to the committee as against the applicant, and the tendency is always in the direction of the official being upheld. I think there is a case for an opportunity of appeal to the umpire
There is an idea that people can be directed to training centres. I have no doubt that if I looked up old copies of HANSARD I could find hon. Members now on this side of the House who made strenuous attacks on the training centres and work centres. I see a danger in this Bill. I do not say that it was put in for the purpose, but if there were a serious period of unemployment and people exhausted their industrial benefits, there would be the grave possibility that they would require to apply to the Assistance Board, and there would then be the tendency to direct them to training centres. I am a little doubtful about these training centres, as I have always held the view that if society, through Government agencies, cannot find work during a period of depression, it is not right to penalise people by putting square pegs into round holes. I would like that point looked into, and to have more information about training centres.
1647 After all, a very good case can be made out for the vagrant. He is a man who does not trouble us very often. In the past he decided that in the winter months he could not roam the country in the same way as he did in the summer, and he made for the workhouse, but he always worked there. We cannot just build society by dictation. Last week some hon. Members opposite tried to be the pioneers in protecting people from slavery. Let me show how, for ages, the city to which I belong has been associated with pioneering in this direction. In Glasgow we have some of the finest homes in the country. I am afraid of the "20 to 30" in the big towns, but I think these homes can be made such that towns can be very proud of possessing them. In Glasgow now there is a waiting list and the homes cannot be compared in any way with the workhouses of the past. People go to them with a great deal of pleasure because they can have independence with all the advantages of co-operation, even in the hour of illness.
I hope this Measure, if amended, will be amended merely to advance it towards aiding the human family to greater happiness. I was very glad to hear the commendations of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Junior Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieutenant-Colonel Elliot). At first I felt a little fear because the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Member (Sir J. Anderson) has been telling us ever since I came into this House that we should hold back many of these Measures, as this was not an opportune time for them. I hope there is no serious quarrel between them, but, if there is, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Junior Member can be assured of my encouragement.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
Whilst the general purpose of this Bill merits our approval, there are a number of points which need to be clarified, and one or two provisions which may with advantage be amended when we reach the Committee stage. One of the most important parts of the Bill is that which deals with the setting up of a single authority to administer cash grants. I agree in principle that it is wise there should be one authority deal- 1648 ing with these monetary payments. I remember that in 1937, when I became chairman of the Public Assistance Committee in Edinburgh, one of the first problems with which I had to deal was discontent, aroused quite legitimately owing to the fact that there were two scales of payment in the city, one by the public assistance committee and one by the Assistance Board. It was possible, and it happened, that families in exactly the same economic circumstances—in adjacent houses, or "stairs" as we call them in Scotland—were receiving different grants from those two authorities. We overcame the difficulty by assimilating the public assistance scales to those of the Assistance Board, but adding the important proviso that the public assistance officer should have discretionary powers, over and above the scales, to deal with special cases, of which there were bound to be a considerable number. It is essential that there should be a measure of flexibility. We in Scotland have always attached great importance to that in the administration of relief. I am anxious lest under the terms of this Bill there may be too great an urge to attain complete uniformity of treatment, and that insufficient discretionary powers are left to the officers of the board to deal with cases of particular difficulty.
The public assistance officer, or to give him his statutory title, the inspector of the poor, is liable under the Act of 1845, to have criminal proceedings taken against" him if he fails to carry out his duties. That means that there is a definite individual responsible for the relief of distress, and in the event of anything going wrong, or of any person suffering death or injury, it would be possible to bring that official before the courts. That is a wise provision, because it is a safeguard for the applicant. It does not appear to me that there is any such provision in this Bill. Clause 4 imposes the duty of giving assistance upon the National Assistance Board and Clause 8 deals specifically with the granting of monetary assistance, but I cannot find any Clause in the Bill which makes any particular official or servant of the National Assistance Board liable for failure to carry out these statutory duties. I would ask the Minister of National Insurance and the Secretary of State for Scotland to look into this point, which is one of some substance, because under the existing law in Scotland, at any rate, 1649 people who are not able to fend for themselves are safeguarded by the terms of the parent Act.
The question of personal contact between applicants and the new National Assistance Board has been touched upon by a number of hon. Members. I would only add my voice to theirs, and say that one of the great weaknesses of any central authority is the loss of personal contact. As my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has said, that very point was commented upon by the present Minister of Health and by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) during the Debates on the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940. Today, under the existing system, the staff of the public assistance officer are in close touch with the people who require aid, and visit their homes and find out and relieve their needs. I trust that this duty will also fall on the officials of the National Assistance Board, but I am a little apprehensive that under the new set-up there may be a widening of the gulf between applicants and those engaged in the administration of the scheme. I would make the constructive suggestion that the responsible Ministers should consider appointing members of existing public assistance staffs to the local offices of the new National Assistance Board. Furthermore, in amplification on what the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) said, when he referred to the desirability of appointing one representative from Scotland to the National Assistance Board, I would suggest that a public assistance officer of standing in one of our populous areas would be an admirable person to fill that post. I hope that the Secretary of State will bear that in mind.
I wish to say a word on the subject of emergency arrangements, which are mentioned in Clauses 11 and 24 of the Bill. To take the most simple case, which happens almost every day in any big city, a tramp or some penniless wayfarer descends upon the town. He is directed to the offices of the public assistance department, where, certainly in Edinburgh and probably in all large towns, there is a 24-hour service, and the officer on duty hands him a voucher or a cash grant to obtain a meal and arranges for his accommoda- 1650 tion in a lodging house or local institution. I am not clear what is to happen to a man of this category under the Bill. Is it intended that he should be directed to the local office of the National Assistance Board? If so, the Board's officers will require to have a 24-hour service, because there are obviously people who will arrive at any hour of the day or night. If that is not intended, such a person, on entering a town, will have to go, as at present, to the public assistance department, and would it be competent, in this event, for the public assistance department to provide him with emergency relief in kind and money as well as accommodation, because as I read the Bill it would not be competent for relief either in cash or kind to be given by the servants of the local authority? This point is not quite clear, and the Minister might perhaps refer to it in his reply.
One hon. Member has referred to the problem of some local disaster such as a flood, fire or explosion which would render people homeless for a temporary period. As I understand it, Clause 20 (1, b) of the Bill imposes the duty of looking after people in that category upon the local authority, but I am not clear as to whether the function of the local authority would extend to the replacement of personal effects. For example, if there was a fire, people's clothing might be lost, and some emergency clothes would have to be provided, and possibly financial assistance. It seems to me that under the Bill the National Assistance Board would have to fulfil those two duties, and not the local authority. Perhaps that point could be explained. At all events, it is quite clear that close liaison would be required between the local officials of the National Assistance Board and the appropriate officials of the local authority.
There is another matter which I will develop in detail in Committee, if I am fortunate enough to be placed on the Standing Committee, but I cannot overlook it altogether on the Second Reading Debate. It is, what is to be the fate of the present local government employees who may be displaced as a result of this Bill coming into operation, more particularly the officials of the public assistance department? My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities mentioned that he had received some communication from the city of 1651 Glasgow on this subject. The only Clause of the Bill which appears to deal with this matter is Clause 57. Frankly, I do not think that that Clause is by any means watertight as regards payment of compensation. I trust that it will be strengthened during the later stages of the Bill. One point which I would emphasise to the Secretary of State for Scotland is that there is no compensation for loss of office or status in the case of the inspectors of the poor, who are in a special position. These officers in Scotland are appointed, if I may quote the proper Latin phraseology, "ad vitam aut culpam" "for fife if free from blame," under the terms of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845. It seems unfortunate that no suitable provision has been made for them in view of the onerous duties and responsibilities they bear. I hope that special terms will be included in the Bill later to deal with this small but nevertheless important section of senior local government officials upon whom Parliament has put important and difficult functions in the past.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers) is no longer with us. He made reference, in a disparaging manner, to the record of my party in the past. I would merely remind him that it was a great Tory, Lord Shaftesbury, who, against the opposition of the Radical mill owners of the day, introduced the early factory legislation in this country. Then, there was the great Joseph Chamberlain, who was one of the earliest people to agitate for old age pensions, and we are proud of the record of his son, Neville Chamberlain, in placing upon the Statute Book the Widows' Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
It is a great privilege to be associated with the presentation of a Bill of this kind. It is impossible on a day such as this not to cast our minds back to the past. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and one or two other hon. Members, have done that in a controversial manner although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman started his speech by complimenting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health 1652 on being uncontroversial. It was a great pity that he tried to score points of that nature. I do not propose to follow that example. My memories on this subject go back for 40 years At that time Sidney Webb toured the country in a campaign for the abolition of the Poor Law. It seems strange on looking back that it has taken 40 years to accomplish that, and that this Bill is being presented within a few days of the passing of Sidney Webb. It is a pity that he did not live for another two or three weeks in order to see the culmination of the campaign. The success of the campaign is due largely to the development of the social conscience. I think that even the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his hon. Friends Would not deny that a great deal of that social conscience was stimulated by the agitation of Keir Hardie and others who brought to the notice of the House of Commons and the country the condition of the poor. Those great pioneers, John Burns, Bernard Shaw, and others who led the demonstrations of the poor in London, all played a part in bringing to the attention of the comfortable in life the condition of those who, in Jack London's phrase, were, "the people of the abyss."
The history of the Poor Law goes back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. I was most interested to hear my right hon.. Friend the Minister of Health describe some of the things which happened in those days. Curiously enough, I have looked up some of our Scottish records. If I might translate from their rather archaic language, they show that the penalties for being poor in Scotland were even more severe and ferocious than those in England. In the 1605 Statute in Scotland it was laid down that:All masterful and strong beggars may be taken by any man and, being brought to any sheriff or magistrate, can get them declared as masterful beggars and may set his burning iron upon them and retain them as slaves.The branding of the poor with hot irons was not confined to Scotland; but certainly it is on our records as one of the treatments for the poor. Looking back, it is obvious that poverty became associated with crime. That arose very largely from the taking over of the monasteries which deprived the Church of the ability to keep the poor. Thousands upon thousands of people were thrown on to the roads and many of them, including ex-soldiers, took the law into their own 1653 hands. In the reign of Henry VIII, 72,000 people were executed for theft. Executions went on at this rate into the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Eventually it was discovered, as Baggage wrote nearly two centuries later, that:The usual restraints which are sufficient for the well fed are often useless in checking the demands of hungry stomachs.During this period the poor were presumed guilty, and they had to prove their innocence. It was from that point that we had to start to reach the point today that, as embodied in this Bill, the poor are presumed innocent until the State proves them guilty. We establish in this Bill one of the great slogans or ambitions of the early days of our movement—the establishment of work or maintenance in this country as the moral principle governing the treatment of people who are in need. Under this Measure, those who get assistance get it without humiliation or abuse. Perhaps the greatest thing about the Bill is that it removes from the treatment of people who are hard hit in life the humiliation which accompanied a great deal of charity in the past. I think that the greatest injury done to the poor in the past was not the fact that they were deprived of food or nourishment, but that they were deprived of their self-respect. The destruction of the dignity of man was the greatest crime against the poor in days gone by. Therefore, charity today for the first time takes on all its Christian virtues. It ceases to be only an insurance against lawlessness.
This Bill wipes out poverty as we knew it, and any shame attached to need. The able-bodied become the business of the Minister of Labour, the sick become the responsibility of myself and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health under the National Health Service. Those who are in need become the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance under the National Assistance scheme. In this scheme Scotland is to be given an office of its own, a Scottish Office of the Assistance Board which will work from Edinburgh with a senior officer responsible for the service. I would like to pay tribute to the humane way in which the Assistance Board in Edinburgh has worked. I have had a great deal of experience connected with people in my own constituency. The Assistance Board has gradually become known as a friend to 1654 old age pensioners who look to the officers as friends and helpers. They come in as welcome visitors instead of being regarded as the "nosey-parker" type associated with the early days of Bumbledom.
Also, I would like to pay tribute to the administration of local public assistance in Scotland. It is true that in all these things it is the change of spirit that matters more than the change of form. There is no question that in the last 20 or 30 years there has been a gradual change in the whole attitude of the administration of relief. Even in the case of public assistance, only the older people remember the horror that was attached to receiving help from the community. Those of us who lived before the last war remember the horror with which people regarded the necessity of having to appeal to the parish or to the Poor Law. Many of them would rather have died than have done that. Any number of people in this country have starved rather than accept the kind of assistance offered by the old Poor Law. It is interesting to note that before supplementary pensions were introduced 250,000 people were receiving Poor Law relief. When supplementary pensions came in, with dignity attached to them, another 750,000 old people were found who were equally in need when compared with the 250,000 but who would not go to the Poor Law. They applied for the supplementary pensions, and I am happy to have played a part in the passage of that Act. That proves quite clearly that it was the humiliation attached to public assistance that caused people to go without what they required and which, in many cases, led to disaster and cost the country far more in the long run.
There are in Scotland today 89,000 people including dependants, receiving outdoor relief. Of those, over 8,000 are receiving only medical relief, and they pass now into the Health Service scheme. The balance of some 81,000 will go to my right hon. Friend and the National Assistance Board to receive outdoor cash assistance. There are 5,800 receiving blind domiciliary assistance who will also go over to the National Assistance Board. Like the Minister of Health, I would like to pay tribute to the way in which assistance to the blind has been built up. The experience gained in helping the blind will guide us in helping other people who 1655 are crippled or incapacitated. I think it is the first time that many of the people who have been incapacitated by being crippled have received recognition in a Bill as being worthy of dignified relief and not having to apply to the Poor Law. Some 2,560 of our cases are tuberculosis cases, and they will, of course, where they are in hospital, pass to be dealt with by the Minister of Health, while those who are being assisted will pass to the Minister of National Insurance.
We have 7,100 homeless children, and they are boarded out in institutions or with families. I have had some little experience of this system in Scotland, and it is really a remarkable experiment in which people in the Highlands and other parts of Scotland have accepted these homeless children—who were homeless for various reasons—and have brought them up with their own children, lavishing love and care upon them, until some of these children have gone out into the world and have distinguished themselves as a result. I feel certain that, so far as the children are concerned, when the new Bill is introduced setting up the arrangements for the care of children, that experiment will prove a valuable guide to the best way of helping the unfortunate children of the future.
The duties of local authorities under the Bill concern the more intimate side of welfare work and the provision of residential accommodation for old people and others. This will eventually involve the abolition of what we used to call the "mixed" poorhouse, where medical services and Poor Law services were mixed up. These will be separated in future. We have 53 major institutions in Scotland, some of them over 100 years old, and, of course, the ultimate destination of these places is the scrap-heap. We hope to develop the experiment which was referred to by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael), of the Crookston Homes, which show what can be done in getting away from institutional methods, and the housing experiment carried out at Clydebank, which has also given us other ideas. I hope that, in future, we will not establish the principle of separating the old people from the rest of the community. Old people do not want to be isolated from their friends, and they live longer and happier if they see 1656 children and young life around them than they do when separated into groups of old people who may not have very much patience with each other. Young people provide old people with life, and the more we retain them as members of the community the better it will be both for them and for us. Of the 6,700 people in mixed poorhouses in Scotland, 2,700 are sick, and 700 are mental cases, which will go to the hospital service. Another 270 are children in the poorhouses, and they will go to the new service for child care. The further 3,000 are old and incapacitated people who will have to be provided for and given attention.
The Scottish Housing Acts provide a very generous subsidy for building houses for old people, but, in this Bill, this service will go further and will provide houses, plus amenities and comforts. These amenities may be tobacco, clothing, wireless and other things that make a habitation into a home. This House will part with this Bill with the feeling that it is opening a new era in history, or, perhaps, putting the seal on a new era that had already opened, because of the fact that this Bill is passing this House without any serious controversy whatever.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in his criticisms, raised the point about the local authorities not being consulted. All I can say is that Glasgow has not complained to me about not being consulted, and why Glasgow, in every case, should give the right hon. and gallant Gentleman its complaints I cannot understand.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
This is rather a reflection on Glasgow. The letter that was sent to me went also to every Glasgow Member, and I am perfectly willing to give the right hon. Gentleman a copy. It was not a complaint made solely to me, but to all the representatives of the city.
§ Mr. Carmichael
I think we can blame Glasgow to some extent, in this matter, because the Glasgow Public Assistance Committee considered this Bill in very great detail, but I think there was a break between the Committee dealing with it and the Parliamentary Bills Committee. I think that the fault was partly due to the Parliamentary Bills Committee.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I thought my predecessor was pretty good in consulting the local authorities on the aspects of this 1657 Bill, and I can assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that the practice has not changed since he was in office. There never was a Bill introduced without the local authorities being consulted in the fullest and best way possible.
A great many of the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton are points which are not peculiar to Scotland, but points of principle which cover the whole country. The Minister for National Insurance will wind up the Debate, and so there is no particular point in duplicating these explanations and possibly depriving some hon. Members of the opportunity of speaking. I would like to say this about the inspectors of the poor. It it quite true that the old law made it a penal offence for an inspector of the poor not to relieve a person coming for relief. The House will be happy to know that we have not discovered any inspectors of the poor whose actions caused that penalty to be applied. We are putting on their counterparts in this Bill a duty which some of them will do out of Christian charity and kindness of heart, and they will be as enthusiastic in working this Bill as I hope the House will be in passing it.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I think the House will agree that there is very little difference in approach to this Bill, but the truth is that what is going to matter is not so much what is in the Bill as the way in which it is applied. I welcome very much the right hon. Gentleman's expression of hope that this Bill will wipe out any shame that is attached to need, but it will do so only if the way in which its terms are carried out is sufficiently flexible. There are two points on which I would like to emphasise this need for flexibility.
The first is the case of men who are out of work and who have passed out of their six months' benefit period, but who are still not in a position to maintain their wives and families. This Bill, on paper, at any rate, extends to them a new hope, and that is very much to the good. They can go into training centres—although the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) does not like training centres—and, no doubt, they can also be placed 1658 in jobs. The sort of flexibility the need for which I would emphasise is that, concurrently with this Bill, it is really necessary that they should go into jobs or start their training long before the six months' period is exhausted and; at the same time, the two Ministries responsible for putting them into those jobs should see that they have an opportunity of returning to their original trades. Flexibility in application in that direction is very essential.
The second way in which flexibility is necessary has already been referred to, but I would like to put it from a different angle. At the present time, when application is made for outdoor relief, or, indeed, for assistance, from what have now come to be known as the welfare officers of local authorities, the applicant goes into a comfortable room, sits in a comfortable chair at his ease, and puts his case. I hope that, when replying, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of National Insurance will assure the House that those conditions are still going to apply because, if the applicant for assistance is to go into a draughty room, stand at a counter with a long queue of other applicants behind him, and apply for assistance in public, then this Bill will certainly not fulfil the "great expectations"—I think that is an appropriate phrase to use—which we all entertain of it.
At the present time, welfare officers have a great deal of latitude. They work on guidance rules, and not on cut-and-dried regulations. Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an indication in what way he anticipates that the regulations will be framed? Is there to be that same kind of latitude, because that is extraordinarily important? Can he also tell us exactly what are to be the lines on which his local officers will work with regard to the making of immediate payments, because, in the matter of granting assistance, speed is often the very essence of the problem. That is why, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton said, it is necessary to have a 24-hour service. I think it will be generally agreed that many local authorities give the widest latitude to their welfare officers at the present time. In fact, I have been told by those officers to whom I have spoken that in no case are the payments which they agree ever reduced by their committees, and that, indeed, very often they are raised. It is 1659 obvious, therefore, that they get the fullest support.
There is another matter to which I wish to refer—the necessity for the presence of people with a full experience of local government, not only on the staff of the National Assistance Board, but also on the appeal tribunals. I would like to echo what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) about the necessity for bringing local authority employees with experience of local assistance on to the staff of the Board. Compensation is not enough. We need their experience. As for the appeal tribunals, I am not convinced that, in every case, they will be the best medium for settling differences. For example, in the case of an application for assistance being refused at the present time, the applicant has the right, in Scotland, to apply to the sheriff. The sheriff stands outside the official run of things altogether, and that is his particular value. I should have thought, as has already been contended by the hon. Member for Bridgeton, that it is quite plain that an appeal tribunal may get into a rut, and will tend, on the whole, to take the official point of view, whereas the sheriff keeps himself in touch with public opinion through his many contacts with it, and is, therefore, more likely to take a completely unbiassed attitude towards the case.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give the House some indication of the normal limits in the exercise by the National Assistance Board of their authority. For example, there is the Clause under which the Board may require local authorities to set up and run reception centres. Can the Minister say what is to be the normal attitude to that? At the present time, in the constituency which I represent, reception centres are separate from other institutions under the local authority. Will it normally be the case that reception centres will remain under the local authority—or, in general, is the Board going to take over these reception centres?
With regard to the administration of the law in connection with the blind and other handicapped persons, we shall all, of course, look forward to the regulations which are to standardise the allowances for these people throughout the Kingdom. 1660 Plans for the services for the blind, deaf and crippled, and for the setting up of hostels and residences for the old and infirm, are to be prepared by the local authorities, and are to be submitted to the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Health. We all hope that this provision will operate—as I am sure it is intended to operate—as a spur to local authorities to get on with the tasks which are now compulsorily laid upon them. But it is possible that this may not happen at the present time; it may be the economists will come along and say that this is not the time to build the new homes and institutions which are required. The Financial Memorandum talks of a period of five years within which the homes are to be set up. It is difficult for us on this side to envisage that local authorities will be in a position to carry out that work within the prescribed period unless they are relieved of part of the housing programme that at present falls upon them. If they are to remain the sole builders of houses—or nearly the sole builders—I cannot see them carrying out this part of their duties under the Bill.
Therefore, I very much hope that, along with this culminating Measure to round off the social legislation on which we have embarked since the war, there will be a relaxation of the regulations regarding building, so that it may be possible for houses to be built for the families of today and of the future, and, at the same time, for the needs of the old and infirm to be catered for.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I am very happy to be able to join with hon. Members on both sides of the House in warmly welcoming this momentous Bill, and in congratulating the Government on the sympathy and understanding with which they have put forward the provisions embodied in it. Many hon. Members have used their experiences and their constituencies in order to illustrate their points; I hope that the House will forgive me if I confine myself to the provisions in the Bill which deal with the services for the blind and deaf because I have had a life-long association with sufferers from those two disabilities. The blind have always been able to attract a great deal of sympathy and help, and indeed there has been special legislation on their behalf. That 1661 has been quite properly accepted by this House and the country as some assistance for the great affliction from which they suffer. The deaf have not been so fortunate. The disability of deafness is probably the least understood of all the major disabilities. It attracts less sympathy, and I believe this is the first time that, in any major Bill, they have been specifically mentioned pari passu with the blind. We welcome that. We are very glad indeed that the Government have recognised what a great affliction deafness can be—not only total deafness, but deafness in varying degrees.
There are certain aspects of Part II of the Bill on which I would like to make one or two comments. I wish to refer to Clause 5 which empowers the National Assistance Board to make special provision for blind persons and also for tubercular subjects. The provision of domiciliary assistance hitherto has been laid upon the local authorities, and this has led to very different standards of assistance and differences in rate incidence. It has also led to a great deal of feeling among blind persons themselves in adjoining localities. In one locality they come under the jurisdiction of a progressive, sympathetic local authority in which the rates of domiciliary assistance are high compared with a neighbouring authority where they are sometimes very niggardly. By this Clause the Assistance Board lays before Parliament regulations which will give not necessarily an absolutely standard rate for the whole of the country, but standard rates of assistance for blind persons. I hope that when the Assistance Board frames these regulations they will take as a model not the most niggardly of the local authority rates but those of a generous nature. In particular, I urge the Minister to see that no blind person, whatever the rate he is getting today, will suffer any diminution in income because of the application of these rates.
Those of us who have been engaged in blind welfare work for many years regret that the Minister has not been able to accept that which has been a feature of our recommendations, namely the handicap allowance—the cost of blindness allowance. The case for this allowance has been put to the Minister by my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) and 1662 others on many occasions. We believe that blindness imposes an additional cost at almost every economic stage of a blind person's activities. For instance, the successful journalist has to employ a secretary, the physiotherapist has to employ a chauffeur, and the housewife has to pay for even the ordinary services of life. We had hoped that, without any means test, the Minister would have been able to provide in this Bill some alleviation in those cases.
It is very gratifying to learn that there is a proviso to the effect that among the services to be performed by local authorities, they shall provide homes of different types for different kinds of persons. That means that homes can be provided for old persons and for infirm persons. We hope that the local authorities will not be backward in providing homes for blind persons of different types, some with multiple defects perhaps, and also for deaf persons. But there are certain types of homes in regard to which it is very difficult to see how the Bill is to operate. I refer to homes of a special character provided by voluntary organisations. I have in mind the homes of the National Institute for the Blind, for the deaf-blind—those who suffer from that terrible handicap of blindness and deafness. There are homes in Hoylake and Harrogate which in no sense of the word can be called local. No local authority, not even the London County Council, provides a home for the deaf-blind. In view of the aggregation of these people throughout the country, there should be an appropriate organisation like the National Institute for the Blind or the National Institute for the Deaf. There is a very strong case for a direct grant from the Minister to this voluntary assistance in order that application shall not have to be made to all the local authorities up and down the country in order to collect means of support. That applies to all the special services which these big national organisations render.
Today all the braille which is used for blind persons is produced at the printing works of the National Institute for the Blind; there is also a printing office in Edinburgh, and at the moment these are subsidised to the extent of a certain amount for each braille book, magazine and pamphlet which is produced. Unless grants can be made directly from the Government, we shall have to go through 1663 all the local authorities and ask for grants on a per capita basis, which it would be impracticable to collect. There is special apparatus such as mathematical tables, typewriters, physiotherapy instruments and craftsmen's tools adapted for the blind; and, in the same way for the deaf, the National Institute for the Deaf has a research department which evaluates hearing aids and performs a useful service for the deaf community in addition to printing magazines, deaf and dumb alphabets and so on. These are national services, and I hope the Minister will find the means of subsidising these societies on a national basis and relieving us of the necessity of going round all the local authorities.
I would like to say a word or two on the subject of definition. I am sorry to see that the definition of blindness is taken from the Blind Persons' Act, 1920. To my mind, this is a bad definition because it imposes on a medical man the obligation not only to make a medical assessment of a person but to relate it to his capacity to work. The definition of blindness is:A person so blind as to be unable to perform any work for which eyesight is essential.I contend that it is not the function of a medical man to make an industrial appraisement. All he should be asked is to assess the degree of vision and leave it to another body to decide on employ-ability. I do not know whether there is a misprint in Clause 28 where we find the expression "deaf or dumb." The expression "deaf and dumb" occurs several times in the Bill—in the table of contents, in the Financial Memorandum at the beginning and also in the margin index.' The words "deaf or dumb" have technically very little meaning, but the words "deaf and dumb" relate to the congenitally deaf—those who have not been able to acquire speech or language through natural means; that is to say, they have not been able to learn to speak or use language as an ordinary baby picks it up from his mother. I hope the words mean that the deaf and dumb and those very severely deafened are to be included in the Clause.
I also think there is need for clarification in relation to the possible infringement of the Minister's functions in the provision of workshops for disabled 1664 persons, on those of the Minister of Labour under the Disabled Persons Employment Act. There seems to be a great deal of confusion there and we should welcome some clarification of the meaning of that Clause. The functions ought to be very plainly marked, so that we can distinguish between workshops for employment and those provided for part-time occupations or recreation.
One other feature that seems rather invidious, and, indeed, is inclined to be misleading, is the necessity for voluntary societies for disabled persons to register under the War Charities Act, 1940. There are up and down the country welfare societies for the blind and deaf that have a long and honoured history going back for a century or more. The first society for the blind was founded at the beginning of the 18th century. It does seem extraordinary that they should be required to register under the War Charities Act when the disabilities from which their beneficiaries suffer have nothing to do with war service. It is likely to mislead the public, and I do urge the Minister to see whether these charities could not be registered under this Bill. It is almost dishonest to appeal for funds on notepaper bearing the inscription, "Registered under the War Charities Act," when, in fact, those charities or the disabilities of those they serve have nothing whatever to do with any form of war service.
I hope that in the Committee stage some of the anomalies will be smoothed out and that we shall have, in the end, a Bill which will fulfil its purpose in the fullest sense, and bring a great deal of help and hope to these disabled people. I am thinking not only of the blind and deaf, but of the epileptics of whom we hear very little and whose need is so great. I am thinking also of those people, the number of whom is, unfortunately, growing, who have lately been stricken with infantile paralysis. I wish the Bill every success. I am sure that with other and recent Measures, it is a very fine experiment in social security.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
As the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans) has pointed out, and we all appreciate, the second part of this Measure provides an opportunity for considering the 1665 special case of the physically disabled population. The hon. Member has presented—and presented from great experience—the case for the deaf and for the blind. The Minister, in opening this Debate, specifically mentioned two categories of disabled people, the blind and the tubercular. I wish, in the course of a few short observations, to present the case for those who are crippled from whatever cause, be it congenital or accidental or from disease.
For some time now some hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer), and I have been in touch with a body which is called the National Cripples Reform League. That organisation has put out a document which we think a useful document, and I will send a copy to the Minister, if I may. It contains seven points on behalf of those who are so grievously handicapped. The first three points, perhaps, fall rather outside the scope of this Measure, but I should like to mention them in passing. In the first place, it is urged that research into the causes and prevention and cure of these disabling diseases should be increasingly undertaken and pressed forward. Secondly, from the point of view of education, it is suggested that, although under the Education Act, the handicapped child is provided with an education, still there is very limited accommodation in the special schools for those children. Thirdly, in the matter of training, it is represented that, whereas the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944, does provide for the training of the disabled, there is need for very careful discrimination in choosing the particular training for the particular work in which a cripple may find his special condition the least handicap.
The fourth point of the Cripples' Charter, which is the document put out by this organisation, deals with the question of employment and falls directly within the purview of this Measure. Here again, the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, to which I have already referred, helps very largely in finding employment for those who are physically handicapped. I think that hon. Members will agree also that Clause 28 of this Bill considerably improves the position by providing, through local authorities workshops and hostels for these disabled persons, suitable work in the home and 1666 elsewhere, and arrangements for aiding the disposal of the products of their work. The question has presented itself whether, where a man by reason of his physical incapacity is prevented from earning a normal wage, that should not be made up to a normal wage in view of his incapacity; and I was wondering whether under the regulations adumbrated in Clause 5 (3) of this Bill it might be proposed to make certain rules in that regard.
Following immediately from that point there is the position of the unemployable cripple who in no circumstances can do any work of any kind. It has been suggested that such people should not be dependent upon sickness grant and assistance, but should have an adequate national handicap allowance. In the Measure now before the House there is in Clause 28 a provision which will be welcome, namely, in Clause 28 (4) (f) the provision of recreational facilities for those who are so handicapped. It is to be hoped that those unfortunate people may be assisted to find some enjoyment in life, as well as opportunities for training and employment, and it may be that under that Clause there is proposed to be established eventually recreational centres and, perhaps, holiday homes.
The final point in this document that I propose to send to the right hon. Gentleman deals with a question which has arisen in another connection. It is right to point out that an increased cost of living must be borne by those who need and have to maintain surgical appliances. A wheeled chair may make a world of difference to a crippled person. We know that under the National Health Service there is provision made for the supply of these appliances, and it seems to me that perhaps under Clause 12 (2), which deals with assistance in kind—and that is there defined—this Measure might cover the supply of surgical appliances. Perhaps I might refer further on this point to the fact that some time ago a request was made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider an Income Tax allowance in respect of the maintenance of these appliances, for we all know that that is a very considerable and costly matter. These are times of great financial difficulty, but we owe, do we not, a high duty to those who must live their lives under the shadow of physical disability. I do not hesitate to commend these few 1667 suggestions to all hon. Members, for it is my firm conviction that this House is never unmindful of the causes of humanity.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Miss Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
I have listened with some attention to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield), because he has touched upon a subject similar to one that I wish to pursue later in my speech. I thought we had two very interesting speeches this afternoon from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and from the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I am sorry the right hon. and gallant Member is not present—although I know he has been present during the whole Debate so far—to hear what I have to say, because I thought that his speech emphasised the difference between the attitudes with which the two sides of the House approach these matters. The hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) said that the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) ran away with her head. In listening to the two opening speeches in the Debate today, I thought my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health spoke with his head and his heart, whereas the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities spoke only with his head—and at times even that was a little befogged.
While hon. Members opposite have a good deal of theoretical knowledge about the Poor Law and the administration of assistance, we on this side of the House have practical and personal experience. Many of my hon. Friends on these benches have themselves, at one time or another, been recipients of poor relief, and have seen their relatives, friends and neighbours having to apply for such assistance. Therefore, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must not be surprised if he arouses anger on these benches when he tells us how humanely the Poor Law has been administered in the past.
Like every other hon. Member who has spoken, I welcome this Bill as a long overdue sure. Today we are burying' the Poor Law, and I do not think that many tears will be shed at its passing. If there is one man who, had he been alive, 1668 would have liked to have been here making a speech on this Bill, it is Charles Dickens, and he, I am sure, had he been a Member of this House, would have been sitting on these Labour Benches. What rousing support he would have given to a Bill which banishes for ever that Poor Law system against whose cruelties and miseries he spoke for so long. Our Poor Law system began its ugly career in the days of Shakespeare; it went on gathering strength and victims through the centuries; it failed to arouse the sterile consciences of rich Tory Governments; but at last, in this Bill, it is being slain with one blow by the Ministers of Health and National Insurance. We all know the personal tragedies which have been caused by the indignity of having to ask for assistance from the rates, and I, too, am very pleased that assistance is to be a national and not a local charge, so that no longer shall we have the poorest sections of the country paying more merely because they are poor.
I welcome, too, as have many hon. Members who have spoken, the disappearance of the workhouses. It is monstrous the way in which we have allowed our old people, after arduous and useful but ill-paid work, to end their days in these institutions, and I welcome the setting up of the old people's homes which have been described by my right hon. Friend. He said that they will be small, and that everybody will be able to pay their way in them, either from the money which they have as their old age pension, or from that which is given by the Assistance Board. I believe this to be good, but there is one point that I wish to make with respect to these homes. There are many old people who do not wish to be segregated as old people; they like to see life around them; they like to take an interest in the young, particularly in children, and to hear the laughter of children around them. Therefore, when the local authorities are setting up these homes, I hope they will not isolate the old people too far away from the centres of population.
I hope, too, that these schemes for homes for the aged will be complementary to, and not instead of the very excellent little houses and bungalows which local authorities are building on housing estates, and that the Minister of Health will see to it that where these small houses and bungalows are being built there are 1669 available to the old people those hot meals' services, and health and nursing services, which are being developed in some places, so that as many old people as possible will find it easy to go on living in their own little homes, because I am sure that as long as they can do so that is what they would really prefer.
Mention has been made of the provision for handicapped people, and I was pleased to hear the two previous speeches, dealing particularly with the blind and the crippled, respectively. This Bill bridges the gap in providing for those handicapped people. But very little has been said today about another large class. of handicapped people—the mentally handicapped. There is always a very great tragedy in a home where a mentally handicapped child is born; a child termed "ineducable," too bad to go to school, yet whose parents do not wish it to go into a home. I know it may be very easy, to say, in a detached kind of way, that the best place for such a child is in an institution; but sometimes the parents do not think so, and prefer to keep their child in their own home. Today, many such parents are making great sacrifices in order to look after these mentally handicapped children. Therefore, I am pleased that this Bill makes provision for home training to be given to such children and such people, because I believe this, is a class of persons which has previously been forgotten.
There is one point about these handicapped people on which I am not clear, or, at least, so far as I am clear I do not believe the provisions to be very satisfactory. I refer to the financial allowances for those who are absolutely incapable of earning their own living. By this Bill, the household means test goes, but husbands are responsible for their wives and children, and wives are responsible for their husbands and children. I should like to ask the Minister whether that means that where a person of this kind is absolutely incapable of employment he or she will not receive any financial aid unless the parent can prove it to be absolutely necessary. Is there a means test on the parent of such a person before a grant can be made? I believe that a very good case can be made out for giving a grant to such people when they are absolutely incapable of work.
This is a very good Bill. I hope that if it can be perfected in small ways, that 1670 will be done. The Poor Law has lived so long that it is very difficult to bury. Old inhumanities die hard. The success or failure of this Bill will be in its day-to-day administration, because it is the small things that count in a Measure such as this. It is said:Evil is wrought by want of thought As well as want of heart.It is also said that poverty consists in feeling poor. I hope that not only shall we abolish poverty by this Bill, but also the feeling of pauperism, which so many people have had in the past. As my right hon. Friend said, this is the fifth of our social security Measures, Measures which, when they come into full operation, will give new zest and hope to thousands of people. For them the road will not wind up hard the whole of the way, but as the summit is nearer, the path will be less steep, the ground much softer, and the burden lighter than ever before.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
I am sure we all agree with the sentiments of the hon. Member for North-East Leeds (Miss Bacon), when she speaks of the necessity of implementing this Bill in a humane manner. It is the manner of administration which will determine whether we shall banish for ever the stigma of the Poor Law. It is still possible, in the absence of humane administration, for many of the disadvantages of the old Poor Law system to remain after this Bill has come into operation. I quarrel with the hon. Lady for trying to convey the impression that the desire for this legislation, and, indeed, the mainspring of this legislation, comes from hon. Members opposite. Many hon. Members opposite will have seen "Social Insurance, Part I" which was presented to the House in 1944. The work on it was started in 1944, and it is the source of these five Bills, some of which have now become Acts of Parliament, to which we readily give assent on both sides of the House.
I wish to sound a note of warning, and I hope hon. Members opposite will not imagine that it in any way indicates that I am uncertain or not enthusiastic about this-Measure. The hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) was good enough to remind us of the evils which have been perpetrated in the past, and I have come to the conclusion 1671 that all good progressives are people who will not look to the future, but only to the past. I would remind her that those bad days—and no one will deny that they were bad days—may be with us again. It is all very well, while we are living substantially on tick, and while goods can be sold overseas with reasonable readiness, to talk about the neglect of unemployment queues, but if in 12 months time we reach a position in which overseas aid is more difficult to obtain, and goods are not so easily sent overseas, we may not be facing so easy a situation. Therefore, these proposals, desirable as they are, should be regarded with some caution, because industrially our future is by no means certain. That proviso in no way detracts from the welcome I give to this Bill.
This is an agreeable path which both the Opposition and the Government can tread together. The measure of the pleasant nature of this Bill is shown by the fact that the most truculent of right hon. Gentlemen, the Minister of Health, and the most truculent of hon. Ladies, the hon. Member for the Exchange Division, could not really get any venom out of it. The Minister of Health made a very surprising statement. He said that bigness was the enemy of humanity. We on this side could not agree more. We are surprised to note that people who have that conception should have introduced the incredible industrial monstrosities, inflicted in the form of various Bills, in the last year or two. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that admission. I find there is apparently a little trouble in the Cabinet on this important question of tramps. The Minister of Health was very keen to mop up the tramps, whereas the Lord President of the Council referred to them at a public function not long ago as being people not without their qualities, whom he would be very sorry to see disappear from the London Embankment. I leave that small difficulty to be settled internally in the Cabinet.
The Conservative Party have always been concerned with social reform, and we can say with truth that the name of Disraeli will always be associated with the social reforms of the last century. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is looking backwards now?"] It does hon. Members good at times to have their minds directed to the 1672 facts of history, because I do not believe that Socialist history is at all reliable. In this century, we might well say that Neville Chamberlain was perhaps the most insistent and sincere social reformer. He would have rejoiced to introduce this Bill today.
The capacity for social legislation depends not merely upon the will to implement it, but upon the material capacity of a country to produce. If an hon. Member opposite asks me why we did not have the same standard of social advantages some hundreds of years ago, the answer is that these things must depend upon the standard of our production. I want hon. Members opposite to' realise that we on this side have an interest in this problem, and that we too have made a contribution. I am glad to see the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans), because when I went down to his constituency in an unfruitful effort to keep him out of this House, I heard him proclaiming with great authority, assisted by a very efficient loudspeaker, that he and his party had been responsible for introducing the Measure which put family allowances into operation. I hope that since the hon. Member has been in this House, he has taken the opportunity to inform himself more carefully about that Measure, and that he has learned with satisfaction that it was introduced by a Conservative Party.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
Can the hon. Member explain precisely what would have happened to family allowances had the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) been Chancellor of the Exchequer?
§ Mr. Shepherd
The provision of more assistance and social advantages of all kinds is obviously something to which we must always direct our attention, but there is a danger of causing to grow up in society a class of individual who relies too heavily upon these social services. There are people who are prepared to take advantage, and we should not attempt in any way to encourage people to behave as adult babies, anxious to make use of the public feeding bottle. 1673 There is that danger, and I think that Members on all sides should recognise such possibilities.
There is nothing more satisfactory to me in this Bill than the attempt which is being made to provide accommodation and a better life for our aged people. In my opinion, there is nothing which can give us less satisfaction than the life we have meted out to many of our old people. It is the least satisfactory of all the social aspects of our life. The Nuffield inquiry said that there had been an improvement in the condition of old people in the years which have passed since before the war, and for the benefit of Members opposite I would like to point out that that improvement was attributed by that inquiry to the Supplementary Pensions Act, which was introduced by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain. But there is still a great deal of distress among old people; they live colourless and drab lives in the most distressing conditions.
It is one of the less satisfactory of Divine arrangements that women live longer than men, and as a consequence the lot of many of them—hundreds of thousands of them, particularly in our large cities—is appalling. I believe that if we conducted an investigation into the lives of many elderly women in our great cities we should find examples just as terrifying as those which Charles Dickens found in his day. The harsh lot of many elderly women is not appreciated by the mass of the people who go about their ordinary work and have the opportunity of living more or less ordinary lives. Many of these women are left, as someone put it the other day, "to weep their way to the grave, unwanted, unseen, and uncared."
I hope that this Bill marks a determination on the part of the Government, and everybody else—because this is an obligation on the whole of the community—to see that these people are better treated than they have been in the past. The Minister referred to these homes for old people as "hotels." I hope they will not be referred to like that; I want them to be regarded as real homes. In any case, the word, "hotels," brings to my mind the hon. Member for Upton (Mr. A. Lewis) doing his roadside ritual—a picture I do not want to have created in our minds at the present time. What we want for these old people is the provision 1674 of small homes. The ideal would be 20 or 30 of them living together. We should maintain the existing names of the houses which are taken over for this purpose, because we must avoid the institutional aspect.
I also suggest to the Minister that he should invoke the aid of voluntary organisations. I am convinced that local authorities may well fail to get on with the job as quickly as they would like, for many reasons. But if they could get local organisations behind them, to adopt a home, or help run it, they could achieve greater success than by trying to run the home themselves. Even when the homes have been established, and occupied, there will still be great scope for voluntary organisations. They can supply amusements, arrange games, and do all kinds of things in connection with which the voluntary touch is of such great value. I welcome this Bill, because it is a step on the road to social betterment. Although things in the international sphere look very dark indeed today, I hope the time will come when the greatness of a nation will be measured not merely by the strength of its arms or the might of its industrial machine, but by the service and care which it affords to its people.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, West)
It would be out of Order, for me to attempt to follow the remarks which have just been made by the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) in his reference to the Family Allowances Act, although I do know that many thousands of mothers in my constituency bless that Act, and thank the Government for it. The hon. Member said that this Bill contains no venom. From the tone of the Debate so far, it seems that the Bill docs not give rise to any political controversy. There are points of difference, of course, and Clauses on which Members are not agreed, but, generally speaking, the Bill does not give rise to political controversy and is, therefore, a suitable Measure on which to address this House for the first time. The Bill, being non-controversial, will enable me to avoid infringing the Rule that a Member's maiden speech in this Chamber should not be controversial.
It has been claimed for this Bill that it will finally sweep away the last remnants of the Poor Law. The phrase" abolition 1675 of the Poor Law has been used by previous speakers. In the Memorandum which accompanies this Bill, that point is made in these words:It is indeed the fundamental object of the Bill to achieve the final break-up of the Poor Law, and create an entirely new service founded on modern conceptions of social welfare.The "Manchester Guardian" echoes that in saying:The remnants of the Poor Law, which have existed in the country since Queen Elizabeth's reign, will vanish under the terms of the National Assistance Bill.What does this claim amount to? That, by the Bill, we are abolishing the last remnants of the Poor Law. That claim must mean something more than that we shall repeal the Poor Law enactments. If it means anything, it must mean that we shall clear away the essence of the Poor Law and the stigma that goes with it. If this Bill is successful in removing that stigma from the minds of the poor, then it will indeed go down in history as a great Measure. But if that stigma is to go, it will need something more than this Bill, or an Act of Parliament, or regulations. It will need a different attitude of mind on the part of the administrators of outdoor and other relief for the poor. They have a very difficult job if they are to remove the stigma of the Poor Law. They have to humanise the relationship between the poor and authority—a difficult and complex task, and one which cannot be done merely by passing legislation.
Part II of the Bill centralises the machinery for outdoor relief. Local authorities are relieved of their Poor Law functions, and the National Assistance Board becomes responsible for the relief of every form of destitution and poverty. That is a big and serious responsibility which the National Assistance Board will have placed upon it. The Board will act according to the law we are now making and the regulations which this House will consider and approve. In those regulations there will be certain discretionary provisions allowing Poor Law officers a certain measure of discretion. They will be very important in operating the Measure. Although the Poor Law is going, we shall find that the first and last commandment of the old Poor Law will pass to the National Assistance Board. 1676 The charge will be laid upon that Board, "Thou shalt relieve the poor." That the Board must do, as I understand it, at any time of the night or day. It must relieve destitution and poverty. After the stigma of the Poor Law has disappeared, this National Assistance Board must be something more than a national Poor Law authority. We shall only be changing the form of machinery if the National Assistance Board becomes merely the Poor Law authority on a national scale. It must become a progressive and enlightened welfare authority—and I stress that word "welfare." It has to win over the poor, get their trust, and remove the old stigma of the Poor Law in their minds. It can do so only through its method of administration. It can remove that stigma only by humanising the relationship between the poor and itself.
Some speakers have doubted whether the National Assistance Board will be able to achieve that objective. There are instances in the history of the Board which give rise to a doubt as to whether it can perform that humanising process. At one time the Assistance Board—it was then called the Unemployment Assistance Board—did gather to itself its own stigma, the family means test. Although today we are in different times economically, we cannot be sure that the conditions of 1932 and 1934 will not come back. We cannot legislate on that assumption, and the Board has to remove the stigma which became attached to it as a result of the family means test. That will be a difficult business. There are hundreds of thousands of men and women in this country today who still hear the name "Assistance Board" with some distress—and possibly hatred in some cases—because their experiences in those years were very bitter indeed. If the Board is to be successful, its officers must learn the art of welfare. It is not only an important science of tables and sums which can be paid out. It is an art, and a very difficult art. I believe the Board will have to employ trained welfare workers if it is adequately to fulfil its task. Hitherto it has not done so, but has relied upon personnel recruited largely from the Civil Service and local authority offices.
The object of Part III of the Bill is to abolish the workhouse. A different kind of accommodation will have to be provided by 1677 local authorities. It has been mentioned that there will be delays in providing that accommodation, but quite a lot can be done with existing buildings. The more progressive authorities have already begun the adaptation of existing buildings in order that they may personalise their accommodation—if I may put it in that way. Under Clause 27, new buildings will be subject to an Exchequer grant, and I think the Minister might look at that Clause again. It seems to me that, in the interest of providing a variety of accommodation in keeping with modern conceptions, he should encourage local authorities by applying the Exchequer grant not only to the new, but also to the old buildings adapted to provide modern accommodation.
It is within the knowledge of many hon. Members that the more progressive local authorities have already re-named their public assistance committees, and now call them "social welfare committees." It may seem to us, sitting here discussing these matters, that this rationalising of these matters—intellectualising them, if you like—is very unimportant; but it is important, I submit, to the people concerned, the poor who have to use these places, who have to go to these committees. After all, it is for these people that we are legislating. I think it would have been as well if this Bill had been called the "National Welfare Bill." That is a more modern term, and would mean something warmer to the poor people who have to go to the Board. This question of terms may not seem to be very important to us, but I am convinced that it is important to the poor people who have to go to the authorities for assistance.
The Assistance Board has got to create an officer whom it designates the investigating clerk. It will be his job to go into the homes of the poor and find out what are their means. It is not a nice-thing for an aged widow to learn that an investigating clerk is going to call on her. It would be kinder, I submit, if she were to learn that a welfare worker was to call. This may not seem very much to any of the hon. or right hon. Gentlemen sitting here, but to the poor in the back streets of my constituency these names convey good or ill. Pre-1934 terms cannot be helpful.
On the subject dealt with in Clauses 28 and 29, welfare services to the handicapped, much has already been done. The 1678 Bill will encourage progressive authorities to go on with the good work they are doing, and will stimulate some backward authorities to come abreast of modern conceptions. The relevant sections of the Education Act do much in the matter. It is practicable to take the handicapped at the earliest possible stage, particularly the blind, the deaf and the dumb. I think that Clause 14, which deals with the rights of appeal of the applicant when he comes to the Assistance Board, should be more widely known. Every applicant should be given clearly to understand that if he is not satisfied with the decision of the officer,' he has a right to appeal to the tribunal.
I think, also, it would be as well if the Minister would consider amending that Clause to enable the applicant to take with him a friend or an adviser when he comes before the tribunal. Many of these poor people are not able to express themselves adequately and do justice to their case. Clause 57, which deals with compensation of displaced local authority officers, is a new departure. In previous legislation, the compensation costs have always fallen on the receiving authority. I hope that whoever replies to this Debate will mention that matter and explain it.
The Ministers concerned have introduced what I consider to be a very good Bill. It has very worthy objectives—worthy in themselves and worthy of the Government. They have brought to the making of this Measure a certain amount of vision, and if that vision pervades all the personnel who have to deal with its administration, it will indeed become a very great Act.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Heathcoat Amory (Tiverton)
I am sure that all hon. Members will join with me when I say how interested we have been in the thoughtful contribution to our Debate which has just been made by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans). Speaking as someone to whom addressing this House always involves a big measure of blood, sweat and tears, I was extremely envious of the assurance and the ease and sang-froid with which he addressed himself to a task which added at least 10 years to my age when I undertook it. I am sure that we shall always look forward to the hon. Member's interventions in our future Debates.
1679 Many of us on this side of the House were disappointed that there were so many things in the Local Government Bill last week to which we took objection that we had to vote against it, and it is the pleasanter, on that account, that today we have a Measure to the main provisions of which we can give, I think, our sincere approval and support. One of its main objects is to help the elderly and those other people who, for various reasons, find it difficult to meet the buffets and rigours of competitive life without a little help of the right kind. That is a good object. The Measure seems to us to tackle these problems on wise lines and to fit well, which is important, into the framework of the national social security schemes. I think that it will be agreed that today the elderly are a hard-pressed section of the community. The other day I accused the Minister of Health of showing a certain lack of confidence in the local authorities, and I am glad that today I can on this occasion completely exonerate him from that accusation. As a confirmed decentraliser, I do not quarrel in this case with the transfer of these particular functions to the new National Assistance Board. I think that the old Assistance Board has a great deal of success to its credit, and I have heard many tributes paid, to the humanity and sympathy with which the officers of the assistance board have handled, and do handle, these individual cases.
As regards the welfare services, I am glad these are to be left with the county councils, and I hope that the county councils in their operation will delegate really worthwhile functions downwards to local advisory and managerial bodies. Whatever the shortcomings of the old Poor Law and public assistance schemes—and, of course, they were many—I think that we ought to pay some tribute to the many people who have conscientiously carried out their duties within the limitations imposed by the law and the regulations—the members of guardians' committees and local public assistance committees—duties which are always unspectacular, often difficult, and sometimes frustrating.
With regard to the new homes, I agree that they must be homes and not institutions. Their success will depend on the skill with which necessary care is combined with the assurance of some independence 1680 and privacy. They must be small and they must be local. I agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland when he says that old people do not want to be segregated but want to mix with their neighbours and with the younger folk. I am sure that is right. This part of the Bill is bound to take much time to complete. It adds quite a formidable list of capital expenditure projects to the big programme which already stretches away to the horizon, and beyond. Meanwhile resource must be used and something perhaps may be done by using those medium sized—large but not too large—private houses which many people are finding too big for their own requirements today. I support what the hon. Member for North East Leeds (Miss Bacon) said about small houses. Whatever we do with these homes, there will always be a need for small independent houses, not segregated, but mixed up with other houses for the benefit and use of old people. I also agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) said when he expressed the hope that the fullest use would be made, particularly in the early days, of existing voluntary schemes and services. The practice of marrying-up new statutory machinery with the existing voluntary services is in the best tradition of our social legislation. It is also a good point in this Bill that tuberculosis grants are to be extended to incurable cases.
I would also like to say a word about the treatment of vagrants. I am sure that the greatest possible emphasis must be on rehabilitation. Some of the old chaps have got to be quite happy in their nomad kind of life, and possibly it is the kind of life they prefer; but with the younger men every possible help must be given to influence them and guide them to a more settled and useful kind of life. The cooperation of the local authorities in running the rehabilitation centres which will be a responsibility of the new Assistance Board will, I think, sometimes be found useful. My own county council are doing something in this direction of rehabilitation at present with encouraging success. The reason for younger vagrants getting on to the road are so many and so deep-seated that arrangements for training must be flexible and must be ambitious.
In conclusion, I welcome this Bill as a useful and appropriate contribution to our 1681 great national social security schemes, and as a Measure which, if it is administered with understanding will, I believe, do a lot to bring greater happiness and fresh opportunities for life to a great many deserving people who, situated as they are, without a helping hand can do so little for themselves.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
It is not without interest that the great Elizabethan Poor Law will apparently be receiving its death blow tonight without a single voice from either side of the House being raised in its defence. When that law was conceived, it was no doubt regarded as being to some extent generous, but so much has the outlook of people been broadened and their sympathy extended that it is now almost universally regarded as harsh and restrictive. I look upon this Bill as one of the best that has been introduced in the life of this Parliament. I believe it will resolve more headaches and indeed nightmares of people engaged in local government than perhaps any other Bill. May I, in a moment or two, tell the House from my experience, of some of the headaches which will be relieved when this Bill becomes law?
Many old people receive non-contributory pensions, not as a right but as their necessities demand and when they have insufficient means. When such patients go into a hospital, at any rate in the area of the London County Council, they generally hand over their pension books to the steward, and the steward draws their pension of 26s. a week. Of this pension, 21s. goes for their maintenance and treatment and they have returned to them 5s. a week as a comforts allowance.
§ Mr. Hastings
It may be 2s. 6d. in some places elsewhere; in London it is 5s. After 13 weeks in hospital a change occurs because such people can only receive any pension at all when their means are less than £209, and the cost of treatment and maintenance in hospital is regarded as means. Therefore, in the case of the London County Council hospitals, where the cost of maintenance and treatment is about £240, after 13 weeks these poor people have their pension com- 1682 pletely withdrawn and they receive not a penny as comforts allowance. We had in March last no fewer than 550 such cases in the wards of the London County Councils' hospitals. I do not suggest that all these people were completely penniless, because some of them may have had help from friends or from some charity, but suddenly after 13 weeks they find their comforts allowance had disappeared, and they blame the London County Council because in some other areas where cost of hospital maintenance and treatment is less this allowance was at any rate in part maintained. I am grateful to this Bill in that the outlook will be completely changed and the cost of hospital treatment will not be counted as means, although it is quite true that the Bill states pensions will be adjusted. That, I take it, will mean that at any rate these aged patients will have some pocket money while they are in hospital.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
Is it not a fact that all pocket money was stopped because the London County Council had appropriated the hospitals and worked them under the Public Health Act, whereas if they had been under the Poor Law, the allowance would have been continued?
§ Mr. Hastings
This may have been one of the disadvantages of appropriation, but there were so many advantages in appropriation that the London County Council very rightly decided to appropriate.
I come now to the second of my nightmares. I think perhaps the saddest sight I am ever called upon to witness is when I have occasion to go into the old peoples' wards of the workhouses or public assistance institutions, as they are now called, and see old people sitting on high backed chairs against the wall, in some cases with their only possessions under the chair in which they are sitting, and often with windows so high that they cannot look out. There they are sitting, reading, but too often doing nothing at all, apparently only waiting to die and rather hoping that it will not be too long delayed.
This Bill makes a complete change. As soon as can be arranged there are to be small homes or hostels for old people. I have seen these homes in London and elsewhere and I know how very happy people can be in them. One thing seems 1683 to me essential. Old people do not like being uprooted. They prefer to remain in the same area in which they have lived and their main interests as a rule are their old friends, and particularly their children and grandchildren. I hope it is realised that it is essential that these homes, which may be and should be adapted houses, must be as near as possible to where the old people have spent their lives. I had that impressed upon me strongly in 1944 when it was my business on behalf of the London County Council to visit evacuated people in various parts of England. I found both the old people and the children were well treated in nearly every case, but I found that whereas the children were happy in practically all the cases, in spite of the kindliest treatment nearly all the old people were miserable. All the interests for which they had lived had disappeared.
I feel that in these homes, from which we are hoping so much, there must be as much freedom as possible and there should be as little restriction on visitors, on coming in and going out, on the old people wearing their own clothes, and having nicknacks and possession around them. The Minister pointed out that in all cases some payment will be made for accommodation in these homes or hostels by those concerned. He suggested that perhaps in many cases assistance of about 26s. a week would be provided, and of this 21s. would go for accommodation and 5s. be returned as pocket money. Out of this pocket money will have to be provided all the ordinary odds and end that old people want—papers, stamps, tobacco, peppermints and so on. There will be very little left to buy clothing, and I am wondering what the Minister has in mind. Does he expect clothing to be provided out of this sum as well? I cannot help thinking that in these small homes the key person will be the matron. I have found that in hospital wards for the chronic sick and in institutions, the whole atmosphere depends upon the character of the sister. Occasionally you get a sister who is at once both efficient and kind, but that is rare. I suggest that in selecting matrons for these homes or hostels kindness should be the first consideration.
A sufficiency of such homes will do a very great deal to remove from the old people the fear which is always present 1684 in their minds of the workhouse to which they may have to go, and will make it much more difficult for those who run inefficient homes for the aged for profit to keep their homes going. Such people always hold out, when complaint is made by the old people under their charge, the threat that they would otherwise have to go to the workhouse, where their condition would be much less happy. The Bill also decrees the registration and inspection of such homes, but the definition of an old persons' home is rather vague. It is couched in very broad terms. It reads:any establishment the sole or main object of which is, or is held to be, the provision of accommodation, whether for reward or not, for the aged.How about the daughter who keeps a home for her aged parents? Will she have to register and have her home inspected? I do not think there would be a very great hardship if that were the case, but it would be interesting to know whether such is contemplated by the Bill.
There is one last point. Clause 30 permits local authorities to make subscriptions to voluntary organisations whose activities consist in or include the provision of recreation or meals for old people. This is a desirable Clause, but in the useful Circular 49 sent out by the Ministry of Health earlier this year, local authorities were urged to consider the provisions of clubs for old people. They were told that the Minister would be willing to consider schemes for providing such clubs. It is presumed, therefore, that the provision of such clubs is legal at the present time. Would it not be useful to insert into Clause 30 words to make it abundantly clear that such clubs and recreational facilities may be provided both by voluntary organisations and also by local authorities themselves?
If time permitted I could give other examples from my experience in connection with assessment and vagrancy to show how greatly the difficulties of local authorities will be eased when the Bill, becomes law. But. I hope I have given sufficient examples to indicate how strongly I approve of the principles underlying the Bill.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby (Dorset, Western)
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) has the advantage of considerable medical knowledge as well as knowledge of these matters, and he has dealt 1685 with points of great interest to the House. I very much regret that I shall not be able to follow him very closely. I thought he put his finger on one of the real essentials of this Bill when he spoke of the human factor with particular regard to the aged and the location of their hostels. If they are to play the part we wish them to play, he is right in saying that they must not be situated too far away from the homes where those people have lived, because unless we get this human factor aright, so much of the organisation and the economics of this Bill will de destroyed.
I am very pleased to be in a position for once to say that I entirely welcome this Bill. On some other occasions I have not thought that a Bill was welcome in its form or even necessary, but this Bill is both welcome and necessary. I thought some hon. Members opposite were a little too apt to forget that this Measure, which is the last and fifth of the quintet of the new social security structure, was part of that envisaged under the Coalition Government and that it is not something new which has suddenly been produced out of a hat purely by the present administration. That is as it should be. That being the case, it is obvious that we on this side are bound to its general terms, for in fact it sticks fairly closely to the Beveridge proposals and the White Paper of 1944. If I say anything which is at all critical I wish it to be clearly understood that I fully realise that the broad principles are already decided and that I am merely looking about for ways in which it might be possible to make sure that we are doing the best job possible, being agreed as to the purpose of that job.
One or two references have been made to the Elizabethan Poor Law. The Minister of Health made a reference to the rather terrible punishments which were meted out under one of the Statutes to those who offended. I thought he might have gone on to tell us how terrible were the penalties for the second and third offences. Those statutes were of course designed to deal with a very great problem which was a new problem owing to the dissolution of the monasteries and the tremendous prevalence of vagrancy owing to the enclosures and other factors which rooted out people from the places where their families had lived for generations and set them moving about the country. There is no doubt that from 1686 our point of view the Elizabethan Poor Law was rather savage, but we must remember that it achieved its purpose in that only today, many centuries after, are we finally abolishing it. Obviously it achieved something, although by the rather rough and ready methods of those days.
The thing which we should notice about it, which is of lasting importance, is the particular unit of administration which the Elizabethans chose for the organisation of their Poor Law. They went right down to the lowest unit of administration, the parish, and it was on the parish that they fastened the responsibility for the poor and for that new class of "sturdy beggars" which was troubling them. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this Bill is that we have gone to the other extreme. With one exception, we have gone in for Whitehall administration, for very centralised administration, and I am wondering whether we might not have gone too much from the one extreme of the very small unit to the other extreme of the too centralised administration. There is no doubt about it that the localised administration of Poor Law has great advantages, and in my remarks this evening I shall try to look at the Bill from that point of view.
One of the most important things at which one should aim in a scheme of public assistance is flexibility, and I am not absolutely certain that we have enough flexibility in this Bill. Hon. Members will remember that during the lengthy and friendly discussions we had on the National Insurance Bill, the most important Bill of the quintet, we spoke a good deal from these benches about the importance of flexibility and of not having too much centralisation. Recently, with certain hon. Members opposite, I was fortunate in going across to France to look at their social security scheme. What struck us most was the degree of decentralisation which existed, both within regions and within the subdivision of regions, the local "Funds." In both cases I believe there were committees elected by those who were actually concerned; they elected people to look after their interests, and those committees were allowed a certain amount of say; they could alter the system of benefits to quite a considerable extent, and they had a real interest in making things work 1687 smoothly and adapting them to local circumstances. That has a lot to be said for it.
Obviously, we cannot go back on our present structure of National Insurance, but we should be wrong to lose sight of the need for getting the local elements to function efficiently. I feel we must look for flexibility in the new administration though it seems to be lacking. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) in the Second Reading of the Old Age Pensions Act of 1940 particularly stressed this, when he said:We dislike the Poor Law system, but experience has shown that it is more resilient, more humane and more understanding than the abstraction called the Unemployment Assistance Board, with its elaborate classification of groups of people, with its inevitable standardisation, with its officialism and with its remoteness from the individual with whom it has to deal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1940; Vol. 357, c. 1478.]The present Minister of Health during the passage of that Bill used these words:That personal relationship which necessarily must exist between those who are giving assistance to the old people and the old people themselves, is so essential a part of the effective and humane administration of the assistance that people are frightened that this is to be revolutionised and that the old people are now to be passed under the control of officials over whose conduct there is no effective local check."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1940; Vol. 357, c. 2305.]It seems to me that under this Bill more and more power will be handed over to officials who, however able, are very much bound as to the actual way in which they use their discretion and who, in fact, will have very little discretion indeed. I know there are difficulties about leaving local discretions.
In their famous book on Local Government the Webbs point out, in referring to the system of Poor Law relief at the end of the eighteenth century, the disadvantages there were under that system whereby any local magistrate could overrule the overseer, if he thought the overseer was not allowing any poor person enough, and give more. They point out that this led to an under-mining of the authority of the official. I am not advocating that, but I wonder whether under the new system we will get the same advantages as at present we get by means of a local committee—which is an elected body, and not dependent on Whitehall—and which is res- 1688 ponsible for the actual awards made. In future the award will be made by the officials alone. It is true there is going to be an appeal to a special appeal tribunal, but many people would hesitate before they indulged in one of those appeals. If we look at the composition of the appeal tribunal itself we see that it is appointed by the Minister, and not elected. There is a danger that it will not be anything like so representative as the present system. In the case of non-contributory old age pensions, we are again abolishing a local representative committee and replacing it by a civil servant. Civil servants are bound to apply strictly the instructions they receive, and there is not the latitude for the amount of human sympathy which can be used by an elected committee.
This comes very near to being a committee point, but the Assistance Board is going to play such a large part in the new scheme that I think the House would be justified in looking at it a little more closely at this stage. At present, according to an answer to a Parliamentary Question, total salaries of the Board amount to something between £8,000 and £9,000, of which £5,000 goes to the chairman. Under the new system the powers of the Board are going to be very important, but the salaries are not to exceed £12,000. I should think that a modest sum, in view of the importance of the work undertaken. The Board itself is to be kept very small, and is to consist of a chairman, deputy-chair man, and one to four other members. An hon. Member asked whether there was to be a Scottish member. Obviously that is desirable, and if we are to have a Scottish member, and the whole Board may consist of only three persons—
§ Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
The hon. Member is advocating a small Board. Would he include a representative for Wales?
§ Mr. Digby
I have no connection with Wales—but I am always sympathetic to the claims of Scotland and Wales, because many parts of the country have slightly different points of view, and it is very useful that they should be properly represented. Therefore I favour a larger Board.
We read in the Bill that a large number of regulations are to be made by 1689 the Board and approved, if necessary, by the Minister. We on this side of the House dislike the system of having all that we would expect to see in the Bill made known a few years later. We shall undoubtedly await the regulations with a good deal of apprehension. A lot depends on what the regulations say. They may make or mar the whole project. It is, however, probably a good plan that the regulations should be drawn up by the Board, and then go to the Minister. The members of the Board are the right people to do it in the first instance, and we would rather it was done that way than the other way round.
What are the scales of relief to be? In the Beveridge Report, in Paragraph 369, these words are used:It must meet those needs adequately up to subsistence level, but it must be felt to be something less desirable than insurance benefit; otherwise the insured persons get nothing for their contributions.I would like to hear a little more about this from the Minister of National Insurance when he replies. Does he still agree with those words of the Beveridge Report? If so, what is his intention with regard to the regulations? The question of proof of needs and the examination of means clearly produces many difficulties. On the whole I should say that the new regulations are not perhaps as generous as they might be. We have to remember that we are here laying down a rule of thumb which will be applied generally throughout this country, and there will not be the local variations or the local discretionary power which, as I have said, there are at the present time. The position in regard to needs is perhaps not so difficult. I notice from the Report of the Assistance Board for 1944, which is the last Report I have been able to get, the total number of prosecutions was only 392. The concealment of earnings was by far the largest factor in those prosecutions. Clearly, something must be thought out to deal with that possibility to prevent any abuse.
Again, we read in the White Paper, that the younger persons who apply and who are capable of work, are merely to be referred to the employment exchanges. One cannot help wondering whether the employment exchanges will give sufficient attention to this matter. Occasionally, unfortunate examples are brought to my notice of persons who apply without 1690 result to the employment exchanges. I am not sure whether sufficient attention will be given to cases of this kind. The question of means is most important. As the Beveridge Report rightly pointed out, it is most important to encourage savings. I do not think that the new limit of £400 has been fixed too generously. I am not quite sure why it applies only to what are technically called war savings, and not to general savings. I am not sure why a privilege should be given to those who happen to have invested their savings in one or two specified directions rather than those who have invested more generally.
Further, the amount of disregarded sick pay from a friendly society has been fixed at only 7s. 6d. a week. As far back as 1901, a Private Bill was introduced in this House, and accepted, by a former Member for North Dorset, my grandfather, to increase that exemption up to the extent of 5s. a week. Now, nearly 50 years later we are only willing to extend it to 7s. 6d. Another matter in regard to these disregarded amounts about which I am concerned is the case of an allowance from a firm. In the county I represent it is the practice to disregard a certain amount of an allowance from a firm. I cannot find any reference to this matter in the Second Schedule to the Bill. Another point in reference to means concerns non-contributory pensions, which I see are not to be assessed under the terms of the Second Schedule to this Bill, but under a different system, depending on the Act of 1936. I am worried to learn that despite the fact that we have now had the cheap money policy with us so long, savings amounting to over £750 are to pay interest at 10 per cent. If that is the correct figure, it is quite out of keeping with the times. We have had this-cheap money policy for a long time and there is every indication that it will continue. If the Minister thinks that the 10 per cent. is a normal return on savings, I am sure that he is misinformed.
On the important question of administration, if this scheme is to be a success, the administration must be good. The provision of accommodation is an extreme difficulty. As the Minister knows from his experience in connection with the provision of offices for the National Insurance scheme, it is not very easy to get accommodation. In answer to a Question by me not very long ago, the 1691 Minister said that so far he had only been able to set up 600 offices. I would like to know what progress has been made since then. He will not be able to administer this scheme properly until he has a sufficient number of offices, and 600 for the whole of the country is no good at all. I hope that he will tell us how he intends to deal with that matter. It is no use to say that the Ministry of Labour exchanges can be used. We must have other offices as well.
I had intended to speak on the subject of the personnel who will administer this scheme but, as other hon. Members have dealt with that matter, I will not go into detail. It is one of the many matters which must be discussed in detail on the Committee stage. If we do not get the right personnel, the scheme will not work properly. The County Councils Association, in the memorandum they submitted to Lord Beveridge at the time of his Report, particularly stressed that if the officers administering any new public assistance scheme, became less accessible, the whole scheme was bound to suffer. Once again, I welcome this Bill, the broad outlines of which I am sure are right. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will take very careful steps to check bureaucracy and to ensure that even if he does not retain representative local institutions he is absolutely certain that in the administration of the scheme he is able to introduce a humane and sympathetic spirit.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
Like every hon. Member who has spoken, I welcome this Bill. I find myself in agreement upon it, with some hon. Members with whom I usually disagree. I have often made plain my view in regard to the administration of social services. It is a bad thing for administration to be too remote. It is always a good thing if the people for whom the services are administered are as close as possible to the administration. While that is a good theory, we are faced with the fact that up and down the country there has been such a wide variety of rates of benefit that we could do nothing but centralise them. To take a small county like Lincolnshire, there are three county councils and two county boroughs—five authorities which, under the Act, 1692 could pay different rates of benefit for out relief. It was simply absurd. Indeed, we get that even in urban areas, where the line of demarcation between the boroughs runs down the middle of the street, and we get a line of people on one side of the road receiving a different rate of domiciliary assistance from the people on the other side. Those of us who have been criticising that sort of thing must agree that we must have at least this measure of centralisation.
I want to deal with three or four of the categories of people who will come under this Bill. First, there are the old people. I have never felt that we could solve the problem of old age simply by giving people money. Even if we increase their pensions, the time arrives when it is not money, but service, that is wanted. It is a welfare service which is needed, and, as Chairman of the National Old People's Welfare Committee, I have been brought into close contact with the real tragedy of old age. I have seen people who have gone into institutions because it has been too difficult for them to be looked after at home, and I have seen how, when they got inside, they said goodbye to the world. They have been put to bed as a chronic case, often when they were nothing of the sort, but because it has been easier to deal with them like that. There they were, lying in bed, looking at a blank wall, and I should say that they would almost welcome the shadow of the sable wings of the Angel of Death overtaking them.
I think we should try to solve this problem with something like an approach to normality. We should keep old people out of homes as long as we possibly can. Under the National Health Service, there is a provision for local authorities to assist by means of home help. There are people who can remain in their own homes, and who should be allowed to do so. We have no right to consider that our obligation to those who have gone before us is finished by putting a roof over their heads and giving them three or four meals a day. They are entitled not merely to live, but also to enjoy life. There are many old people who would be very much happier if they could be brought within the reach of such treatments as physiotherapy and other aids which are made available to the young. Indeed, there is a hospital not very far from here where there is a unit 1693 devoted to the care of people in old age, and in that unit, taking a comparison with other institutions, 70 per cent. of the people who go there return to normal life again.
I am glad to see that the dream of Charles Kingsley, Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Hood and Charles Dickens—and we ought not to forget Sidney Webb—is today being realised. The workhouse is going to be a thing of the past. It must not be imagined that all these institutions have been humanised. They have not. I have visited some where these old people sit around on hard seats, and where the only recreation ground is an asphalt area without a blade of grass to be seen. I am glad that that sort of thing is going. It may now be said that we can divide old people up into three groups. The first group consists of those for whom we could quite easily bring normality into their own homes through the provision of home helps. The second group consists of those who have got into a state in which they cannot be left, those who are ill or bedridden, who are in just that stage where they need some measure of care and attention. They are the sort of people who should go into a hostel where, if they are ill for a day or two, they can go to bed and get up again when they feel better, and where they can live, as near as they possibly can, what would be an ordinary life. That sort of hostel should be a completely free place where they can go out and come in when they want, and where they can receive visitors when they wish.
It is quite true to say that the tragedy of old age lies in segregation. We want to mix old people with young people. I think it was the Minister of Health who said that he did not want these old people to live in a colony where they would always be looking at funeral processions; he wanted them to see bassinets now and again. I do not know whether he thought that this would bring revived memories, but, at any rate, the idea is a good one. The way we treat our old people is a measure of our civilisation. I will say no more except to express my pleasure that we are going to deal with that sad feature of society.
But the care of old people does not finish there. There is a tendency on the part of those of us who have spent long years in local government to think that all 1694 that is required is the decision which local government makes. I want to make a plea for the voluntary agencies. It is going to be a bad thing for the country if what has been a characteristic of ours, what helped to make us what we are—if we are what we think we are—the stream of good will which has meant so much to other people, is dammed. At the present time, there are committees up and down the country which are devoted to nothing else but the care of old people. In certain localities, the British Red Cross, the W.V.S., the women's institutes, churches, and all sorts of people get together and form committees. At the present time, there is in existence a corporation composed of the Lord Mayor's Air Raid Distress Fund, and linked with the Nuffield Trust, to which local committees can go for the purpose of making an application for a grant with which to help old people, to run old people's clubs, mobile canteens and food kitchens, and for the provision of small homes. That is a work which should go on. Local authorities ought not to want to hinder that sort of thing. What we want to do is to build a bridge between the local authority and the local agency. I have been in this House long enough to have seen many social welfare Measures passed, but I have never yet seen one that did not need something more to be done in the way of extra-statutory benefit. We ought to make it possible for those who are inclined to goodwill to bring to those who need it that addition which is outside the Statute.
The next section of the community to which I want to refer are the blind people. At the present time, blind people can draw three types of income from public funds. They are entitled—and I want to impress this on the Minister—to the old age pension at 40. The significance of that is that we are treating blind people in a different way from other handicapped people. There is no other section of the community which is entitled to an old age pension at that age. Those who go to work can obtain from public funds what is called "augmentation of income," which means that when they are obviously not in a position to earn what is an economic wage, they are entitled to have their income made up by the county or by the borough. Here, again, there has been such a wide variety of rates throughout 1695 the country that they bear no relation to any general standard. The third source of income is what is called "domiciliary assistance." That assistance is paid to the special section of the community who are unable to earn money, who are entirely dependent on public funds, and who cannot be taught a trade. There again, all over the country there is a wide variation. I know two people living in the same road. One lives in London and the other, more fortunately, lives in Middlesex, and the Middlesex case gets more than the London case does. It is just an accident. What we are doing in this Bill is to standardise benefits. I ask the Minister to ensure that when the new scales are introduced, no blind person shall be worse off than he was before, and when the Minister is arriving at that national standard I hope he will give consideration to that request.
The next section of persons to whom I want to refer are those who are otherwise handicapped, such as the crippled. When we deal with public assistance it is as well for us to bear in mind that, in the main, it is a salvage service. The case of an unemployed man who has been earning money, who exhausts his benefit and then needs public assistance, is transitory. He has been earning money and he is going to earn money again. His position is temporary. But when we consider the congenital cripple, the person who has attained manhood or womanhood and has never been able to do any work at all, are we going to apply the same standards? I wish to reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans). Can we not recognise this handicap by paying a, handicap allowance upon which we will build up the other grants which are made, as in the case of normal people? I think it is worthy of consideration. It costs more to live when one is blind than it does when one is sighted, whatever one's position in society. A blind person cannot live on the same amount as a sighted person, and, to a lesser extent, that applies to those who are permanently handicapped in other ways.
I have no desire to make a long speech tonight. I had a wonderful speech prepared, and I have been sitting in the skittle alley watching all the ninepins knocked down one after the other, for 1696 it is in the natural course of events that everybody should have had the same brilliant ideas as I had. I welcome the Bill, but in my concluding sentences I want to reinforce what has been said about administration. In work of this description, it is not what we do that matters so much as the way in which we do it. I have seen relief administered in a way that has humiliated those who received it, I have seen it made a thing of shame; but I have also seen it administered in such a way that the recipients hardly knew they were receiving public assistance.: It is a question of personality. Let the hope go out that those associated with this work are not just those who have been able to pass the matriculation examination. Human life is not based on a mathematical formula. There is something more in it than that. I say to the Minister: make your appointments according to the human appeal, the capacity to understand and the degree of sympathy which these people possess. This Bill will then be a monument to a Government which deserves well of the country, and which yet can deserve better.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Streatham)
I am sure the House will regret that the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) has been deprived of the opportunity of delivering the wonderful speech he had prepared, because we are all very conscious of his deep knowledge and of the great work he has done for the old, the poor, the blind and deaf. I wish to say a few words about the care of the aged, and in passing I would like to pay my tribute to the Assistance Board. Some hon. Members have expressed serious doubts about the centralisation of the scheme. I do not, because in the experience I have had of the Assistance Board in the Borough of Wandsworth, I have found that it has become decentralised, and that it has been staffed with competent officials, men and women of the sort the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) spoke of in his peroration—people who are conscious of human need, and who are mostly anxious to relieve it to the widest possible extent.
I am doubtful whether the homes envisaged by this Bill can be built in time to help our present aged people. The building situation is well known to all of us. 1697 Local authorities have thrust upon them the burden of finding special hostels for these old people. In my own borough at this moment there are 10,000 homeless families—not people: families. That is one of the 30 boroughs in London. I suppose a similar state of affairs prevails throughout the country. It needs no imagination to see that it is going to be a very long time indeed before special homes can be built for the old people. However, I think a contribution can be made towards providing residential accommodation for the old people if, in the big industrial areas such as the London boroughs, the large houses which are too big or are unsuitable for converting into flats for housing are utilised as hostels for the old people. In my own constituency of Streatham a home of that kind was opened just 10 days ago. It accommodates about 20 old people. I think that is ideal in the present circumstances. It is also ideal because it keeps the old people in the place where they have resided for so long. There is nothing of the institution about it, and the old people can get out into the streets and see the bassinets, and life at all its ages and stages. I know that the Minister has that problem in mind.
There is another use to which we can also put these large old houses. A great many clubs have sprung up in such houses. I know of at least one in the London area, where there is a live membership of over 1,000. These lovely old men and women leave their bed sitting rooms where they are living in very dismal circumstances, and for six days a week can go to this club, and other clubs like it, and get a three-course lunch for eightpence and afternoon tea for a penny, and enjoy all the amenities of a first class club furnished with comfortable sofas and armchairs, where they can play billiards, or darts, and where there is an 18-hole putting course in the garden—and all that within 15 minutes of Westminster Bridge by tram or bus. I am glad to see clubs like that springing up. At Lewisham a few nights ago I attended a meeting of a committee entrusted with the creation of a similar club. There are difficulties about getting any accommodation at this time, but most of our big towns have houses of this large type, and surely one in each could be spared from ordinary housing for the immediate needs of at least 1,000 or more old people. Those 1698 who, as I have done on many occasions, have seen these Edwardians and Victorians coming up to their clubs and meeting other old people, and finding great joy in their company, will agree that, at least, such club accommodation ought to be found them.
In addition to commending this suggestion to the Minister, I also suggest to hon. Members on all sides of the House that there is a great deal which each one of us can do in these days of shortages and difficulties to inspire and help committees to help the old people—committees composed of people who are not burdened with other public duties as aldermen and councillors are. We can all help, and the inspiration of an enthusiastic Member of Parliament can work wonders. Furniture can be got for these clubs; carpets and linen, too. It is wonderful how the community will respond to appeals for these things, and the voluntary services are sure to rally round to help—such organisations as the W.V.S., the Red Cross, and so on. I submit that suggestion to the House as a way of rendering immediate and great help.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
Like the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer), at this late hour obviously I cannot deliver the speech I had intended to make. Therefore, I must confine myself to one point, and one point only, namely—and I make no apology for it—the position of the staff who may be adversely affected by this Bill. When the National Insurance Act was under discussion, the officers concerned made very strong representations to the Minister of National Insurance, and on 15th December, 1945, the Minister told the deputation:Let me repeat that the eventual Bill is one which will transfer the functions of the public assistance authorities to the national body. When that stage is reached the principle of transfer will be clearly invoked, and the absorption of the displaced will be invoked also.So far as I can see, transfer and absorption are not provided for in this Bill. I am not complaining. I know the difficulties. But it seems that some thought has been given, in the words of the Memorandum, to superannuation provisions for those who may be transferred to the Civil Service. A large number of men and women are likely to be adversely affected. I understand the figure to be 1699 somewhere about 7,200. Many of these officers have statutory rights; they ought not to be penalised, and they ought to have a square deal.
It may be said that local authorities ought to absorb these men, but more and more of the responsibilities of local authorities are being lost to them, and it is very galling indeed to the men of the social welfare department to find their colleagues in the electricity and public health departments being transferred, while they are left high and dry without any transfer provision, and with very vague and indefinite compensation Clauses in the Bill. The officers concerned feel very deeply that they have a real grievance. I believe that the Minister is willing and anxious to do the right thing, and I ask him to renew negotiations with the organisations concerned in order, if possible, to reach a solution of these difficulties before this Bill is dealt with in Committee.
Finally, as one who has been a member of a board of guardians, and also a chairman of a public assistance committee, I say that I do not agree with the indiscriminate abuse which has been levelled at the Poor Law. I believe the Poor Law has played a great part in the past, but, remembering the great work of men and women in our movement—George Lans-bury, Will Crooks, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and others—I welcome this Bill, as the House generally has done, as a great milestone in the path of progress.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Hanley)
I will follow the good example set by the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) and will be as brief as he was for the hour is late. Mention has been made today of pulmonary tuberculosis and the benefits which are to be granted under this Bill, not only to those of whom it is said they may recover, but also to those who are apparently incurable. This particular provision I welcome more than any other, because it would have been better by far that nothing should have been done than to tell people who come for benefit, "No, you may not have it because we think you will not get better." In the country, medical men, like myself, have had imposed upon them the duty of offering the death sentence to these men and women. Now that we have a 1700 remedy, it will make life very much easier for some of us in this respect.
Much has been said about the Poor Law, and a defence of it was put forward a moment or two ago. It is true that the Elizabethan Poor Law was a comprehensive law. It was a comprehensive series of benefits as time went by, and in that respect it had something to be said for it. It differs in one particular respect from what we are discussing today. It came into existence because organised society feared those who were dispossessed and ill-treated, whereas today we are dealing in another way with this problem. I think that we feel affection, not only in the humane way, but real affection for those who find themselves in want and in need of the assistance of society and that is the essential difference. It has been said, and I do not doubt its truth, that when Queen Elizabeth died she refused to go to heaven, but insisted on the purgatorial plane because of her immense attachment to her country and devotion to her people. If that is so, and if she is still about, I hope she will have listened to this Debate and will have learned that not only devotion to the people, but also some understanding of suffering is needed.
Like every one else, I welcome this Bill. In this Debate many names have been mentioned of men and women who have contributed to our knowledge of how we should administer this type of law. In the Stoke-on-Trent area, there is a name which perhaps I may be allowed to mention, the name of Alderman Barber, who recently died. He started in the workhouse as a child, and he became our first citizen as Lord Mayor. His knowledge and understanding helped us in North Staffordshire very greatly to understand this problem.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
As the last speaker before the big guns come into operation, I hope that Queen Elizabeth will listen in to the point I am making, and that is that two Welshmen have been the Alpha and Omega in this Second Reading Debate. As I listened to this Debate, I wondered what would have happened in South Wales if this Bill had been introduced during the depressed years. I hope the Minister will let me know why Scotland gets a larger Exchequer grant than Wales. I do not mind 1701 about England. Why cannot Wales be in the same position as Scotland? I am also interested in the new schemes to be prepared by local authorities. I suggest that the public assistance committees should not be asked to do this work. I know something about public assistance committees. Some people think that we have not now got the Poor Law. They had better come to my country, and then they will find out very soon. I do not want the responsibility of building the new world to be placed on the shoulders of these committees. Let us have some new blood to do this work. When the schemes are produced, I hope it will not be long before the Minister puts them into operation.
Finally, I wish to refer to the burial of paupers. Unfortunately, I witnessed the burial of a pauper only a few weeks ago. I brought this question to the notice of my local authority, and I protested about it. I hope, as a result of this Measure, that this will be dealt with far more humanely than it is dealt with at the present time. No Welshman can finish his speech without a great peroration. I will merely quote to the House the title of this pamphlet, "If Christ applied for Parish Relief", which was written in 1919. I am glad that it is one pamphlet at least which I can now put into the fire as a result of this Bill.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Law (Kensington, South)
I cannot match the Welsh eloquence of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), but I should like to say at once that I share the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) that this has been a most agreeable Debate. It has been agreeable not only because we have had speeches from Members who are well fitted to address the House on the technicalities of this very important subject, such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield), the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), my hon. Friend the Member for Western Dorset (Mr. Digby) and the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer). This Debate has been specially agreeable to me because I am not, by nature, a highly combative person, and I have felt that in spite of the divisions which are so deep between the two sides there is on this matter, a very general 1702 fabric of agreement. The Bill has been welcomed in all parts of the House, and I do not think that any Member has opposed it except possibly the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock). The hon. Lady said that her constituents would be very much moved by this day in Parliament. I expect they will, but they will also be extremely muddled by her speech—
§ Mr. Law
I found it difficult to understand the hon. Lady's speech, and I will try to tell her why. The hon. Lady said that one of the great merits of the Bill was that it would do away forever with the system of relief which could be given at the discretion of the relieving officer in the form of goods instead of money. That made me feel that the hon. Lady had not read the Bill. If she looks at Clause 12 she will find that the Assistance Board has exactly that discretionary power to which she objected.
§ Mrs. Braddock
I did not expect the right hon. Gentleman to understand me, but I was referring to vouchers which have to be taken to shops and exchanged for food.
§ Mr. Law
The hon. Lady objected to relief being given in kind, and food is kind. That power is retained by this Bill. She also said that she did not think much more of the Assistance Board than she did of the old system. Well, if she does not think very much of the Board she does not think very much of a great part of this Bill because the Board is preserved in Part II. The only conclusion I can come to is that the hon. Lady hates the Bill rather less than she loves the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. Law
This is a very good Bill; it has been carefully thought out. That is not an epithet which I would normally apply to the impulses, generous, no doubt, as they are, of the Minister of Health, but this Bill is human and imaginative. It takes full account of the susceptibilities of the unfortunate people with whom those who will have to administer its provisions may have to deal.
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) said that he thought this was 1703 one of the best Bills that had been produced in the present Parliament. I would go further. I think it is, without qualification, the best Bill produced by the present Government. I must admit at once that is a somewhat ambiguous compliment, because a great many people would hold the view that the best Bill produced by this Government might still be a pretty bad Bill. I do not mean that. I think it is pretty good. I could put it better, perhaps, by saying that it is a very good example of Conservative—or "Tory" if the hon. Members opposite prefer it—social legislation. This Bill carries out part of the theme annunciated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in the Debate on the Address, when he said we on this side of the House were determined to establish a basic standard of life for all and, having done that, to set the people free. It does not fulfil the whole of that great theme, but it does do something to meet the first part of it. The House knows that it is beyond the power of any of the right hon. Members opposite to do anything to set the people free. There is nothing they would like less.
This really is an example of good Tory legislation, because it is building carefully upon existing foundations and developing existing framework a little further. The hon. Member for North-East Leeds (Miss Bacon), who made, if she will allow me to say so, a very charming speech, mentioned that she detected a difference in approach to this Bill between the two sides of the House; in particular between the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health and my right hon. Friend who followed him. She said one was all heart and the other all head.
§ Miss Bacon
I did not say that. I said one spoke with his heart and head and the other simply with his head.
§ Mr. Law
I accept the hon. Lady's correction. For all that, I think she is wrong. I would remind the hon. Lady of a Negro spiritual, with which she may be familiar, called, "All God's chillun got shoes." In that simple little song there occurs this line—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sing it."]—I will not sing it—" Everyone who talks about Heaven isn't going there." Everybody today who talks the loudest about their affection for the people of this country is not necessarily 1704 more fitted to administer service of this kind than people who, perhaps, talk with a little less eloquence. The hon. Lady said she detected a difference in approach between the two sides of the House. I would have agreed, until I read the Bill. When I read in the White Paper that this schemeentailed an extensive repeal of existing legislationI expected to read on and to find that everything that had been done by previous Governments had been left out and that all the machinery set up previously ruthlessly swept away. But machinery set up by previous Tory and National Governments is being maintained, and I would say that this Bill is a real tribute to the social legislation of successive Conservative and National Governments in the past 20 years, from the Local Government Act, 1929, and to the Family Allowances Act, which was passed into law by the last Conservative Government.
That brings me to another point. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans) made a very effective, modest and sincere maiden speech, and I certainly would not criticise it, because I enjoyed it as much as, I am sure, the whole House did. But before he addressed the House, the hon. Member for Bucklow had said, without knowing that the hon. Member for West Islington was to follow him, that at the by-election of West Islington, the hon. Member had trumpeted far and wide the thesis that it was a Labour Government who passed the family allowances legislation. The hon. Member for West Islington, when he came to speak, said—and this is the point to which I would particularly draw the attention of the House—that, whoever had passed the legislation, his constituents were firmly convinced that it was due to the Labour Government.
That seems to me to reflect a very odd state of affairs, because it has been the stock-in-trade of hon. Members opposite for a long time—and now it is about the only stock in trade left to them—to create a superstition—for it is nothing more than that—that the Governments between the two wars constituted a period of unremitting and relentless grinding of the faces of the poor. [Interruption.] That is what hon. Members mean when they talk all this poppycock—to use an expression that is hallowed by the Front Bench opposite—about 20 years of Tory 1705 misrule. But having won one General Election on that, I can assure them that they will not win another. That horse is not going to run. Be that as it may, this Bill, based on Tory principles and following and developing Tory precedents, is about as a practical a recantation as it would be possible to find of these slanders against the Tory Party with which we are all familiar.
This Bill does, of course, represent a certain centralisation in the administration of this assistance service. I am not myself in favour of centralisation. I think that the more a Government is centralised, the less liberty there is; the more the processes of Government are diffused over the whole area of the community, the brighter the prospect for democracy; and, in general, I think that centralisation in Government is a bad thing rather than a good thing. But in this case, I think that there is no doubt that, so far as the expenditure of public funds on assistance is concerned, this is one of the exceptions that proves the rule, and I have no doubt at all that the right hon. Gentleman has taken the right step in this Bill.
Centralisation does bring with it certain dangers and there is the danger that a highly centralised service may lack the humanity and the personal touch of local authority services. For that reason I should like to enforce the plea that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Western Dorset (Mr. Digby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Abbey, Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) that the position of the pensions committees should be reconsidered. The Minister will agree that these committees do represent a vast fund of experience in these matters. He would agree that they have done most valuable work. They have considered thousands and thousands of cases and sometimes appeals have been made against their decision. I think I am right in saying that as far as London is concerned the Minister of National Insurance has in the main upheld the decisions of these Committees. It will be a very great pity if advantage can no longer be taken of this devoted service, and if this vast fund of experience just goes to waste. When the right hon. Gentleman comes to reply, I hope he will be able to give some indication that he is prepared to reconsider this matter between now and the Committee stage of the Bill.
1706 I want to say just one word about the financial aspect of the Bill. From what I understand of the financial memorandum and what the Minister of Health said earlier, I do not imagine that this Bill represents any great additional burden but is just a transfer from one pocket to another—from the ratepayers' to the Exchequer. No doubt there will be some small increase in the charge, but I do not think any of us would criticise that in this particular case. I confess to a feeling of some slight uneasiness about the capital expenditure which is envisaged in Part II of the financial memorandum. I am not very clear—I do not think the Minister himself is very clear—when this capital development is likely to begin. In the financial memorandum it says that it is to take place during the next five years.
The proposals themselves are absolutely admirable. I am sure that the homes for old people are most desirable and essential in the long run, but what I am not clear about is—when there is any prospect of these homes, in fact, being built and the work on them being undertaken. The Minister of Health said in his opening speech, I think with perfect justice, that we were entitled to congratulate ourselves at this time of grave financial stringency that we are still concerned with developments of this kind, but I think there is some danger, unless the position is slightly clarified, if it goes out from this House that we can legitimately embark upon this capital expenditure because that would seem to be quite contrary to the advice which was given to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Minister for Economic Affairs, a week or so ago, when he said that it was necessary to cut down capital expenditure.
On the other hand, if this is not to begin for some little time to come that ought to be made clear, too, because otherwise the people of this country, and in particular the old people whose need is so very great, will feel that they have been deceived by the Debate this afternoon. In that connection might I reinforce the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson), who suggested that even if we cannot go on with the full scheme for the old peoples' homes at the present time then something should be done on an 1707 ad hoc basis by the development of old buildings as has been done in Streatham, Kensington and other parts of London?
I would offer one more comment to the House, and then I will give way to the Minister. The Minister of Health said that he had been cudgelling his brains to find a suitable name for these old peoples' homes. I quite agree with him that the alternatives, that have been placed before him are not very satisfactory. I do not think that they are at all suitable. The right hon. Gentleman and the House may not be aware that there are already in existence in London and other parts of the country a number of old peoples' homes which are doing very good work. And may. I say that I am extremely glad there is to be cooperation between the authorities and these voluntary organisations. But some of these voluntary bodies have found no difficulty at all about names. I would like to tell the right hon. Gentleman what some of these homes are called. They are called "Churchill Houses." I would like to add that I have spoken to the old people who live in these homes, and they have no objection whatever to being thus associated with the greatest of living Englishmen.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)
This Debate began with a speech by the Minister of Health. In its matter, tone and temper it was a speech befitting a great historical occasion. Since then we have had a succession of speeches from the back benches on both sides and because of their constructive character we welcome them and take note of them, and we shall seriously and fully consider them.
What a pity that two grudging, carping speeches have come from the Front Opposition Bench. They indicate how far from the best of their own party those Tory leaders have wandered. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) took up the first 25 minutes of his speech without referring to the Bill, in the worst carping speech I have ever heard. We have just had the same from the right hon. Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law). All I can say is that I have no doubt that the people of the country will note the 1708 tone and temper of these speeches, for the speeches really reveal what their authors would do if they were over here.
Since there has been some question about the history of the Bill, perhaps I might recall some of the recent history, which will be within the memories of many hon. Members who are here. In its present form, the Bill and other Bills make one great scheme. The process began one day in 1941 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) announced to the House that he was setting up a committee to examine the whole of the field of social insurance and allied services, and to report what should be their future. That was the first step, taken not by a Conservative Government, but under a Coalition Government, and under the inspiration and drive of Labour Members of that Government. There came the committee, and later the report. Perhaps I may recall—I am only doing this because the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has done it—when the Beveridge Report came up for consideration in the House how the spirit and the temper of the speeches made by two members of the Conservative Party shocked everybody, and led our party into the Lobby for the first time against the Coalition Government. As a result of that Debate, raised by our own party, and in which I had the privilege of taking part, we had very quickly the White Paper and then the Bill to set up the Ministry of National Insurance.
The first of the series of five Bills, the Family Allowances Bill, was introduced during the Coalition Government by the first Minister of National Insurance, who is now the Lord Chancellor. It went through all its stages in this House, and then came the break up of the Coalition Government. In the last days of that Parliament, the Family Allowances Bill was allowed to go on the Statute Book by the consent of all the House. When I became Minister of National Insurance, there was no date in that Bill as to when it should commence. I had to fill in the date, and I filled it in as 6th August, 1945. The only contribution which came from the Opposition was that I was hasty in putting in that date. Beatrice Webb used to say that it took 30 years from the publication of a Report until that Report became embodied in an Act of 1709 Parliament. The Beveridge Report was produced on 20th November, 1942, just over five years ago. One Bill, the smallest of the five, though not unimportant, was produced in the dying days of the Coalition Government. All the rest have been produced by this Government, and the complete scheme is being brought into operation next July, within five years of that Report. That is an achievement of which the Government are entitled to be proud.
Because there has been general agreement on all sides with the main provisions and indeed with the purpose of this Bill to end the Poor Law, the Debate has been very largely on points, not unimportant, but of detail. We are all agreed on the main provisions in the Bill and upon the main division it makes of functions. It transfers from the local authorities to a national authority the responsibility for the cash payments. This has been urged upon this House for very many years, particularly during the very bad days of the depression. The truth is that the burden of maintaining public assistance in some of the poorer authorities was crushing local government almost out of existence. Therefore, there grew up a very insistent demand that the responsibility, which pressed heaviest on Merthyr Tydfil and places like that, should be shared equally by the rest of the nation, and the only way it could be shared was by making it a national responsibility. Therefore, we transfer the responsibility for making cash payments from the local authorities to the nation, and now the burden will be equally shared by all the people. Other services which are in many ways the most intimate, often far more intimate and delicate than the cash payments, are left to the local authorities who are nearest to the people they will have to serve. That is the main division of functions in this Bill, and it has been accepted by practically every hon. Member who has spoken.
I want to say one or two words about how very important it is when we think about this Bill and its consequences not to think of it in isolation. It will come into operation next July on the same date as the National Insurance Act, and it is essential to realise that one of the effects of the National Insurance Act will be to take people out of public assistance who have been in it in the past. When the 1710 National Insurance Act was under consideration it was represented that the day the Act came into operation it would have profound effects upon the whole structure of public assistance in this country. As to the problem of the staffs, it was represented to me that the new sickness rates provided in the National Insurance Act, when they come into operation next July, would, by one stroke, do away with half the work now done by public assistance authorities. I was told that half the present staffs are engaged in administering public assistance to supplement the inadequate sickness benefits under the existing National Health Insurance Acts. The result is that when the National Insurance Act comes into operation next July, one of its first consequences will be to lift out of the sphere of public assistance thousands of people who, in the past, have had to go there to supplement the completely inadequate benefits provided by the old scheme.
That will mean that under the new scheme there will be left behind two functions only: first, that of supplementing the benefits provided under the National Insurance Acts where those benefits are inadequate to meet all the needs of the persons concerned; secondly, there will be the very important function—one cannot overestimate its importance—of care by the Assistance Board so far as cash provision is concerned of the worst afflicted of all. Indeed, the main job to be done under the provisions of this Bill will be to care for those people whose lives are so afflicted that they will not come inside the insurance field at all.
Here I come to what has been the main theme in almost all the speeches. Realising that fact, we know that the success of this Bill does not depend only upon the Measure itself—though it is a good Bill—it depends even more upon the spirit in which it will be administered once it is passed by this Parliament. The cash side is to be administered by the National Assistance Board; indeed, one or two hon. Members have raised doubts as to whether the Board should be entrusted with this work. There was a time when I would have shared those doubts. As one who remembers 1934 and the beginning of the Unemployment Assistance Board, one of the best tributes I can pay to that Board is that it has overcome its bad beginnings. It was set 1711 up, not by an act to develop our social services, but as an act of political spite. Therefore, I can think of no higher tribute to the Board than to say that it has recovered in the public esteem from the stigma attached to it in 1934 in all the areas of this country. Why? I think there are several reasons.
During the war the Government of the day entrusted to the Assistance Board the work of administering funds for the prevention and relief of distress. These funds were to help people who, by bombing and all the incidents of war, were suddenly and urgently in need. All this is relative to the question of whether the Assistance Board is capable of organising and administering a service in which urgency is one of the main factors. One cannot imagine more urgent cases than those which fell to be administered by the Board at the time of the bombing, and from every town in this country that suffered bombing there have come universal tributes to the way in which the Assistance Board carried out the prevention and relief of distress.
The second reason I think the Board has won a new place in the regard of the people was because of the way in which it administered the supplementary old age pensions. I have had tributes paid to it by the old age pensioners' associations, and, indeed, the figures speak for themselves. Until 1940 it was still possible for old people to go to the public assistance committee to have their pensions supplemented by public assistance, and a quarter of a million were being so assisted. The first week that the Assistance Board took over the supplementation of old age pensions, the number of applicants was one and a quarter million, which is a clear indication that in the minds of the people the stigma of the Poor Law did not attach itself to the Assistance Board.
§ Mr. W. Shepherd
The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans) made what I thought was a very valuable suggestion, that it should not be called the National Assistance Board, but the Social Welfare Board. Is the Minister in favour of making that change?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am not quite sure whether that would be desirable. The cash services will come from the National Assistance Board, and the welfare services 1712 from the local committees. We can discuss the point later, but at first sight I do not think a change of that kind would be desirable. Indeed, it might lead to a confusion of functions which are otherwise clearly defined in the Bill. Because the spirit of the administration is so important, I am giving time to this aspect of the Bill.
Two kinds of scales are provided for in the Bill. There is, first, the general scale, and, secondly, the special scales for special classes of persons, in particular for the blind and the tubercular. Immediately the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, the first job to be done is to prepare scales and present them to Parliament for approval. The procedure is now well known, and has been laid down in the Bill. It is a familiar procedure. The initiative rests with the Assistance Board, which will produce drafts of the scales and submit them to me for my consideration. I will then submit them in draft form to the House of Commons. They are subject to affirmative Resolution, and before the scales come into operation the House will have an opportunity of considering them; indeed they cannot become operative until they have been approved by a majority of both Houses of Parliament. That means that there will be opportunities later for the scales to be very fully considered.
On Second Reading hon. Members will not expect me to make any promises, or give pledges, except the one undertaking that the Board and I as Minister, will take into consideration the suggestions which have been made. We are anxious that these scales shall be such as will commend them to the sense of fair play of the whole nation. Whatever the scales may be, I hope they will be satisfactory. In the field in which the Assistance Board will make cash payments after July, there will be an infinite variety of human needs to meet—such an infinite variety that I am certain it cannot be met by any general scale or special standard scales, however generous. It is, therefore, essential that from the beginning the Board should realise that they will not be able to fulfil their tasks adequately unless they exercise a wide measure of discretion in their payments over and above the standard scales. The Board have experience of that, as will be noted from the last Report, that for 1946, on the work of the Board, which shows that of the half- 1713 million old age pensioners who now get supplementary pensions one-third are in receipt of discretionary allowances over and above the standard scales. It is quite clear that when we come to the field that will be left of the maimed, crippled, sick, and others with an infinite variety of needs, a wide measure of discretion will be of the greatest importance. We therefore provide in the Bill that the Board shall have full power to exercise discretion in every way. There have been indications in more than one speech in the Debate of how important it is that discretion shall be used by the Board.
Having made the scales, it will fall to the Board to administer the scheme. I wish to say a few words about its organisation. At the present time the Board have just under 300 offices of their own. We are building up the number of offices for the Ministry of National Insurance. We have now close upon 800, and we are hoping to have 1,000 offices for the Ministry by the time our new scheme comes into operation in July next. It is essential that the Assistance Board and the Ministry of National Insurance shall work in close harmony and association. Notwithstanding the difficulty of getting premises in these days, particularly centrally situated premises, in some of the most important towns, the Board and the Ministry will work in close co-operation. We have already arranged that if there be, as there will be, towns and areas in which the Assistance Board have no office of their own, then they will have an officer in the Ministry of National Insurance office who will be available there to those who wish to seek assistance from the Board. We believe that we shall be able, by the combined use of offices of the Board and of the Ministry of National Insurance, to get a nation-wide cover which will be reasonably adequate for the work.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Would the Minister say whether it is his intention to reduce the number of officers who are at present dealing with allowances of this kind? Are those in county districts to be merged with those in boroughs, etc. Will there be a great reduction in the number of officers?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I had intended to say a word about that subject. For the reasons I have indicated, it seems clear that the number of applicants is bound to be less 1714 after next July because of the national insurance scheme. It is clear that for the residual classes the Assistance Board will not need as many officers to administer the scheme as there are public assistance officers at present. We believe that the Board itself will require a number of these public assistance officers. The Ministry of National Insurance will require some and local authorities will require others for their work. We do not think there need be any redundancy on any large scale; we believe it will be very small, because there will be need for these men in the services of the Board and my Ministry, or in the service of local authorities for other purposes. It must be remembered that this Bill extends and widens the responsibilities of local authorities themselves, which will require staff.
It has been emphasised to us how essential and desirable it is that the administration should be kept in touch with the people of the area. There is provision in the Bill for local advisory committees, which the Board will set up to advise them and we want them to be a link between the Board and its officers and the people whose needs they have to serve. We want these committees to be representative, and I give the assurance that they will contain representatives of the local authorities in the area which the committees will serve. That should meet the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) has put. The purpose of the advisory committees will be to advise; they will not adjudicate. It is provided in the Bill that when an officer of the Board has made a decision, and has decided for or against giving a grant in a particular case, and some one is aggrieved by that decision or by the amount to be paid, then the appeal will be, not to the advisory committee but to the appeal tribunal which is provided for in another Clause in the Bill. There are advantages in separating the purely judicial functions in relation to cases from the committees which will advise on the administration of the scheme itself. These appeal tribunals will listen to cases and will reach a decision, which will be final.
One or two hon. Members have raised the question of whether we ought not to provide in this scheme, as we do in the insurance schemes, for an appeal to an umpire against a decision of the local 1715 tribunal. I ask hon. Members to think about that point again. The function of the umpire under the National Insurance Act is to decide on statutory provisions under that Act. Once the decisions are made by the umpire, they become binding on the tribunals. They then set up case law. We ought to think twice before we decide in this scheme to make decisions subject to a final decision by an umpire who will then build up a lot of case law which may be far more rigid than we want. Let us keep the discretion as wide as possible.
A number of other questions have been raised. One was that of a 24-hour service. It will be realised that a good deal fell to the responsibility of the Relieving Officer in the 24-hour service—the need for officers to be available at all times, day and night, to deal with cases of urgent need for a doctor, admission to hospital, or the tragic cases of lunacy. These duties are now to be transferred to the local authority, and will become their responsibility. The Board realise, however, that they must be ready to meet urgent needs and, in that sense, there must be a 24-hour service. We must learn from experience to what degree it will be required in the new setting of this Measure.
I am deeply grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken. It is always a very great pleasure in the House of Commons to listen to a Debate on a subject of this kind. Many hon. Members who have had years of experience with local authorities have made very good speeches in this Debate. I offer my thanks to every one, and I single out one speech only, because it was a maiden speech. I refer to the speech of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans), who brought his experience of local government to bear on this subject. Many others who have worked in all kinds of voluntary organisations have put forward sound, constructive ideas. I hope the House will give a unanimous Second Reading to this Bill. We will carry it through Committee stage, all of us anxious to make it, if we can, an even better Bill. Tonight we are setting the coping stone on the work we have been doing for the last two years of building a comprehensive, unified, social insurance scheme. We have the Family Allowances Act, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) 1716 Act, the National Insurance Act, the National Health Service Act, and now we have the National Assistance Bill. Let me say to right hon. Gentlemen opposite that it may be that if they had been in power they would have done all this; but people would not believe it. I am certain that no Government but a Labour Government would have done all this in the last two years. I am proud to be a Member of the Government that has done this job.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.