HC Deb 05 March 1948 vol 448 cc686-8
Mr. Richard Law (Kensington, South)

beg to move, in page 2, line 9, after discharge," to insert: within a reasonable lapse of time. We had a long Debate in Committee on a similar Amendment which was moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I do not want to recapitulate the arguments used then, beyond saying that I think that there was a very strong feeling on all sides of the Committee that it was a deficiency in the Bill that nothing was laid down to provide for an emergency service all round the clock—the kind of service given up to now by the relieving officers of the public assistance committees.

The Minister of National Insurance brought two main arguments against the proposals which we then made. The first was that probably the greater number of the cases now being met by the emergency service would not fall to the Assistance Board under the Bill but would be discharged by the local authorities. That argument, so far as it goes, is sound, but it does not go the whole way, because it leaves a substantial balance of cases which would have to be met by the Board. The other argument which the Minister used was that, while he was sympathetic towards the purpose of the Amendment—and I am sure from his answers that he is sympathetic to that purpose—he could not accept the Amendment because it would involve the possibility of maintaining hundreds of offices all over the country open for 24 hours, whether needed or not. He pointed out, with truth, I think, that that could only represent a very serious waste of energy and of manpower. I think that we must accept that argument, and it is because we accept it that we have altered our proposals to those contained in the Amendment which I am now moving, so that it would still provide some kind of legal obligation in the Bill to provide emergency service, but it would not have the effect of compelling a Minister to keep open offices which it was unnecessary to keep open.

Mr. Steele

We had a long discussion in Committee on this point. My right hon. Friend appreciates the arguments which were put forward and the anxiety felt by Members on all sides of the Committee that there should be some expression in the Bill of the necessity for dealing promptly with applications for assistance. Therefore, we have looked at this matter, and we would like to meet the wishes of hon. Members, so far as we can. The effect of the words proposed in the Amendment are not as suitable as we wish and, therefore; if the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to withdraw the Amendment, we would arrange for an Amendment to be moved in another place to insert in page 2, line 5, at the beginning: For the purpose of securing the prompt discharge of their functions under this Act and in page 2, line 6, to leave out from the first "of" to the end of the line, and to insert," the said functions." That would give on the face of the Bill an indication of the urgency of these matters.

Mr. Law

I am most grateful to the Minister for the undertaking which he has given, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.