§ Mr. J. Edwards
I beg to move, in page 57, line 33, at the end, to insert:Provided that nothing in this sub-paragraph shall extend the operation of the provisions of Section sixty-eight of that Act or regulations made thereunder as to the transfer of officers.The intention of this Amendment is merely to make plain that the procedure does not interfer with the regulations to be made by the Minister under Section 68 of the Act of 1946.
§ Amendment agreed to.711
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Steele)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
Let me express on behalf of my right hon. Friends the Minister of National Insurance and the Minister of Health, and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, our deep appreciation at the way in which this important Measure has been received and debated in the House and in Committee. We had a very friendly Committee upstairs under the able chairmanship of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher). I was very happy at the general approach of all hon. Members, the spirit of helpfulness and the sound criticism, which combined, have succeeded in making this a better Bill than it was when first presented. One of the remarkable features of the Committee stage was the absence of Divisions. We had one or two; and I remember particularly those concerned with the structure of the administration and with the representation upon the National Assistance Board. Coming as they did from Wales and Scotland my right hon. Friends and I could appreciate and understand the arguments which were advanced. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) is nodding his head. If there are any doubts which still exist on this matter I should like to resolve them now, and to take this opportunity of giving a complete undertaking that there will be someone from Scotland and someone from Wales on the Board.
We hope that this Debate today will conclude consideration by this House of a Measure which is itself the culmination of a series of Measures of social legislation. Taken together these Measures form a body of law which, by its all-embracing scope and its boldness of conception, is a tribute to the faith which the people of this country have in their future. This Bill is the natural complement of the provisions for family allowances, the National Insurance Act, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, and the National Health Service Act. Taken together these Measures bring about a complete transformation of our social services. After growing up piecemeal and experimentally, in the normal British way, they are being moulded into a coherent whole. Today we are in sight of the end 712 of the Poor Law system as we and our ancestors have known it. We have inherited much that is good from past experience, but we are also laying the foundations of a new and better system for the future. The process of breaking up the Poor Law has been proceeding at a rapidly accelerating pace during this century. Until just before the turn of the century, when a beginning was made with compensation for industrial accidents, Poor Law relief was still the only public assistance for those in distress, whether of old age, infirmity, sickness or unemployment.
Since that time provisions against these emergencies have been developed along two main lines: on the one hand, by State insurance, which we are now extending; and on the other hand, the residuary problem of the Poor Law was being broken into fragments, and provision made outside the Poor Law for all kinds of assistance according to need by special authorities both local and national. These developments have culminated in a series of Measures of which the one before us is not the least important. The broad effect of these Measures is greatly to extend provision through insurance against the ordinary emergencies of life, and greatly to narrow the field in which needs not otherwise provided for will arise. But there will always remain the need for a residuary service against want. As my right hon. Friend has said on a number of occasions there is always an exceptional need. For many years, too, we shall have with us those who cannot benefit from the new insurance provisions. This need is met by the National Assistance scheme.
The general welcome which this Measure has received shows a wide agreement with the manner in which the residuary problem is being dealt with. The burden of assistance in cash will in future be borne as a charge on the national Exchequer. The standards by reference to which such assistance will be given will be uniform for the whole country. At the same time, the long experience of local authorities is being drawn upon in the institutional provisions in this field. We are establishing what we are confident will be a fruitful partnership between the central and local authorities. For the aged, in particular, the provision made in this Bill gives promise of a 713 measure of independence, and of a new relationship with the public authorities responsible for their well-being. I am sure that these provisions will open up a far happier prospect for many old people than the old system, even at its best, could possibly provide. The rapid progress which has so far been made with this Bill leaves no doubt that it can come into operation by the date promised by the Prime Minister, 5th July next.
I think I ought to say a word here about the administration, because I think we all recognise that the fruitful development of social legislation of this kind depends upon the methods by which it is administered, the machinery through which it is applied, and, above all, upon the spirit in which those administering the service apply it in their day-to-day relations with those with whom they come into contact. The Assistance Board have already put in hand peparations for carrying out the heavy tasks which await them on 5th July. The Board already have a widespread network of local offices numbering some 300. It is hoped that by arrangements with other Government Departments with local offices, and particularly my own Ministry, to extend the number of places at which members of the public can attend to see the Board's officers. Apart from the obvious convenience to individual applicants, these arrangements will avoid duplication of offices and save a great deal of accommodation and staff.
In the general administration the Board are proposing to found themselves substantially on the administrative arrangements for supplementary pensions, which have worked successfully for nearly eight years. Except for able-bodied persons registered at the employment exchanges, who will make their applications through the exchanges where they are registered, the ordinary manner of applying for assistance will be to obtain a form from a post office, of which there are over 20,000 in the country. These forms must be and will be of the simplest possible character, amounting in effect to an invitation to the Board to arrange for an officer to call to collect the necessary information. The address of the nearest office will be printed on the back of the form, and, when completed, the form need only be filled in and put in the post. People who use the form will have an opportunity to 714 mention on it any reasons why their application requires to be handled with exceptional speed.
Once the necessary information has been collected—and since the abolition of the household means test this has been a comparatively simple business, a decision can be taken on the amount of the assistance to be granted, and it only remains to arrange for payment. The able-bodied persons who are registered at the employment exchange will be paid at the exchange, in the same way as if they were claiming unemployment benefit. The normal method of payment in all the other cases will be the same as the present method of paying supplementary pensions. Persons will be sent a book of orders which they will be able to cash week by week at the Post Office. The arrangements adopted by the Board have undoubtedly been welcomed in general by supplementary pensioners as being more convenient. There seems no reason to fear that arrangements which have proved generally suitable for pensioners will not also prove generally suitable for the sick, the disabled, and the old persons without pensions, who will constitute the bulk of the persons for whom the Board will now be taking responsibility from the local authorities.
There are, of course, special cases which will require special treatment, and there will be sudden emergencies of one kind or another. These are inevitable, and these the Board must be prepared to meet. It would be wrong, however, to suppose that assistance is mainly a matter of meeting sudden emergencies. On the contrary, it is, over a wide field, a matter of careful and considerate handling of situations which are of long standing. Although the handling must be careful and considerate, it must not be dilatory, and the local officer of the Board will be armed with sufficient authority to be able to deal with cases promptly. On difficult cases, the local officer will be able to seek the advice of the local advisory committee. The Board will now review the constitution of these committees in the light of their new responsibilities, and of the pledge that members of local old age pensions committees will be given the opportunity to continue, on the advisory committees, the valuable services which they have hitherto been rendering under the Old Age Pensions Acts.
715 If a person who applies for assistance is dissatisfied with the result of his application, he will have the right to appeal to the local appeal tribunal. We have decided to mark the independence of the tribunal by a change in its constitution, so that in future all the members will be appointed or nominated by the Minister. The procedure of the tribunal will be kept as informal as possible, and we have acceded to wishes expressed in Committee by making it plain, on the face of the Bill, that the rules will provide for appellants to be accompanied or represented by friends. The first task of the Board, when the Bill becomes law, will be to produce a draft of the regulations, to govern the level of assistance, which will eventually come before this House for approvel by affirmative Resolution.
When the new regulations have been approved, the Board will have to review, in the light of their provisions, the allowances at present being paid by way of supplementary pensions and unemployment assistance. In addition, they must make arrangements with local authorities for putting national assistance into payment at 5th July, 1948, to about a quarter of a million households which are now being maintained by outdoor relief, blind domiciliary assistance, or tuberculosis treatment allowances. They will also have the responsibility, from 5th July, 1948, for those persons who are to be provided by local authorities with residential accommodation under Part III of the Bill. At present, some of these are disqualified for old age pensions, which can now be restored to them, and most of the rest will need to be granted assistance to enable them to meet the charge which the local authority will be required to make for the accommodation provided. The machinery for these processes is already being worked out in consultation with the local authorities.
Lastly—and this is important—the Board must be ready to deal with the applications which will, no doubt, be received from persons who are struggling hard to make both ends meet, but who at present refuse to apply for outdoor relief for the various reasons which formerly influenced the million old age pensioners who refused to apply for outdoor relief, although they readily applied for supplementary pensions from the Board. I think it would be inappropriate to wish 716 the National Assistance Board an active future. Our hope on this side of the House, and probably on all sides of the House, is that the extensions of insurance, and eventually a rising level of prosperity for all, will in the long run leave it with little to do. But, for some time to come it is likely to remain responsible for providing, in whole or in part, the maintenance of more than a million people, and we trust that in this Bill we have supplied the right statutory background to enable it to do its work in the way we should all expect.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
It is a pleasant duty, on behalf of the Opposition, to say that we regard this as a sound Measure which should provide and form the basis for a system of social security such as has already been largely set up by previous Measures. This Bill has had a very easy passage; there were very few Divisions in Committee, which is the best proof that there were very few differences of opinion.
When the House is repealing a system of legislation based upon an Act of 1601, it is appropriate to look back for a moment on history. On the whole, over the last three and a half centuries there has been a steady improvement in the treatment of the poor, but if there have been interruptions, that has generally resulted from some abrupt change in the economic life of the country. It was impossible, I think, to combine justice with humanity so long as all those in need of assistance were lumped together, and when there was no distinction drawn—and the machinery for doing so did not exist—between the undeserving and the deserving. If we are inclined to criticise our predecessors, we should, I think, recognise that this Bill could only have been passed in its present form if there had been, during the last 30 or 40 years, a development of a whole line of different branches of social services.
It is because of all the new developments of this century that I think we can now look back with some detachment upon the acute controversies about the relief of the poor, which took place between 1770 and 1840. Anyone who reads history must have been struck by the strange parallel between much that happened in the early part of the 20th century and much that happened in the early 717 part of the r9th century. It was towards the end of the 18th century that well-intentioned but sentimental humanitarianism, summarised in the Speenhamland policy, resulted in wages being subsidised out of the rates. What was well-intentioned, and inspired by kindly feelings, led to the demoralisation of those who received the assistance, and placed an intolerable burden on the ratepayers who had to provide the money.
It is interesting to reflect that it was only with the departure of the Tories and the passing, in 1832 of the great Reform Bill, that a Royal Commission was set up to examine the whole matter. It was in 1834, that the new Whig or Radical Government, which had come in, passed the Poor Law Reform Act. It was, no doubt, a most necessary Measure, but it was indiscriminate in its effect. Professor Trevelyan, in his "Social History of England" writes:An operation was necessary to save society, but the knife was applied without anaesthetics… Moreover, in their preoccupation with the problem of adult workmen, the Commissions overlooked the justice and expediency of treating old people, children and invalids with the tenderness that was in every sense their due.Although probably few of us would now say that the Act of 1834 was unnecessary, it was bitterly denounced by Benjamin Disraeli, who was the first statesman to draw the attention, not only of my party, but also of Parliament, to the social question as it existed after the Industrial Revolution. As a young politician he said, in a famous speech at Maidstone, on 3rd July, 1835,I tell you that I have long since registered myself among the sternest opponents of that Measure. To sum up my feelings in a sentence; I consider that this Act has disgraced the country more than any other upon record. Both a moral crime and a political blunder, it announces to the world that in England poverty is a crime.Why has it taken us 113 years to pass, as we shall today, a Bill which will sweep away the characteristics of the Poor Law which Disraeli denounced in 1835? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]. I will tell Members opposite; the Royal Commission on the Poor Law of 30 years ago gives the first answer to that question. While Members opposite, rightly, pay tribute to the very remarkable minority Report, it is open to us, on this side of the House, to draw attention, also, to the very drastic and revolutionary changes 718 that were recommended by the majority Report on that occasion. Much of the social reform which has been enacted during the last 30 years or so arose out of the recommendations of that majority Report.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance referred to the great importance which the Government attach to insurance. This Bill provides only the ultimate net, with small reticulations, with which to gather up those who have fallen through the net of social insurance at a higher level. I think it would have been impossible to have had a Measure of this kind if it had not been for the great development, over the last 30 years, of the principle of contributory insurance. I would put second to contributory insurance the establishment of employment exchanges, with all the highly specialised work which is associated with them. Before they were established there was never any question of the State, as such, providing a network all over the country so that those seeking work and jobs could be brought together. That was one of the recommendations of the majority Report of the Royal Commission, and it was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), when he was President of the Board of Trade in the great Liberal Government of 1906–15. Among those who, inconspicuously, were helping him at that time was Mr. William Beveridge, now Lord Beveridge.
Unemployment insurance was followed by the National Health Insurance, and that we can associate today with the names of the late Earl Lloyd George and, again, with Sir William Beveridge. Old age pensions had already been initiated, and we associate them with Joseph Chamberlain, with Earl Lloyd George again, and, of course, Mr. Asquith. Then there was the great step forward which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition introduced as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1926—The widows' and orphans' pensions scheme which, again, was based on a great and imaginative development of the idea of contributory insurance.
So, today, when giving a Third Reading to this Bill, it is not inappropriate to remember that we could not have pissed this Measure if it had not been for the work of men of enlightenment and 719 imagination—politicians, civil servants and social reformers of every kind—who, through generations, have made contribution to the present structure of social security. There was a need for these many individual structures to be brought together. That was done again by the report of Sir William Beveridge.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member is giving a very interesting historical survey, but his speech is more appropriate to a Second Reading than to a Third Reading.
§ Mr. Molson
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I recognise that in a Third Reading speech one may refer only to what is contained in the Bill. I should, however, have thought with deference, that it was appropriate to deal with the derivation of the Bill, and that is what I was proceeding to do. The need for a scheme of national assistance was always recognised as underlying the insurance schemes to which reference has been made. I was dealing with these other Measures in order to emphasise that it would not have been possible to have drafted this Bill on these lines had it not been that the vast majority of people who, at an earlier stage, were dealt with by the Poor Law are now to be dealt with by other Acts which are now upon the Statute Book. I will confine myself to saying that the Bill derives its origin from the Beveridge Report and from the Coalition White Paper and I congratulate the Government upon the way in which they have taken up the various proposals that were made in the last Parliament. It is a matter of great satisfaction to this Parliament to be able to pass them into law.
Generally speaking, the structure of the Bill is that the financial liability for those who come within its scope shall be borne by the Exchequer, while accommodation shall be provided by the local authorities. I think that it is a logical development that the burden should now rest upon the Exchequer. First it was upon the parishes, then upon the unions, and after the Act of 1929 it fell upon the counties. Since the distribution of poverty does not depend upon the administration of the local authorities, I think that it is only fair and equitable that the burden should rest upon the country as a whole. As 720 regards the local authorities and that part of the Bill which provides for decentralisation, we on this side of the House always tend to believe in small units, even if the smallness of the units makes administration a little bit casual, and not as tidy as it might be if it were centralised.
In the second place, we believe in private enterprise in the matter of charity, as well as in everything else, and, thirdly, we desire to preserve, so far as we can, the human touch, and not leave things entirely to a machine and to the Civil Service. I was glad that the Parliamentary Secretary emphasised the great importance which the Government intend to give to the local appeal tribunals: If any hon. Member has felt some anxiety about the great centralisation which is the main feature of this Bill, I think that can be softened down and its ill-effects removed, provided that the local tribunals are given ample scope and, above all, are manned by the right kind of people.
We welcome the decentralisation that is provided for in Part III of the Bill, and we particularly welcome Clauses 25, 29. and 30, under which power is taken to give assistance from public funds to voluntary organisations which provide accommodation and which look after the welfare of the people concerned, and also to the old peoples' organisations. However successful the State may be in setting up a great organisation, it will never be able to dispense with the human touch which comes from the voluntary organisations, where people set out to organise things for themselves in order to bring personal help and kindness to those in need.
I want to raise two important matters about the structure and administration of the scheme. The Government have decided to use as their main method of administration the National Assistance Board. That is of some satisfaction to those of us who were in this House in 1935, and who remember the bitter denunciation by the Socialist Party, when it was in opposition, of the Assistance Board as then set up. We are happy to think that our Measure was so successful, and that the administration has been so good that, in introducing this new Measure, they are glad to avail themselves of the machinery which we set up in 1935. They have changed the name, but that is all that they are changing. [Interrup- 721 tion.] In reply to remarks which I think I heard made, we had in the Second Reading Debate great tributes paid from the opposite benches to the work that has been done by the Assistance Board.
I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health, who is to wind up the Debate, to tell the House a little bit about the measure of independence which the Board at present enjoys and which, I assume, it will continue to enjoy under the Bill, since no change has been made in its constitutional position and only its name has been changed. I assume that it will continue to occupy the same position of independence as it has in the past. In view of the Debate which took place on the day before yesterday, this is of wider interest than even the question of the administration of this Measure.
I believe that it is the existing practice that while hon. Members can put down Questions regarding the general policy of the Board, the Minister of National Insurance does not answer Questions which relate to individual cases or to matters of day-to-day administration. I believe, as I said the day before yesterday in opposition to speeches that were made by, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) and the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), that it is most undesirable that this House should try to interfere unduly in the day-to-day administration of effective and responsible bodies which have been set up. I do not think that, in the long run, it will be conducive to good administration if Members of the Government are held responsible for everything that is done in the country by those who are under independent boards in the exercise of their discretion.
The second point I hope the Minister will be able to deal with is the size of the staff that will be required for the general administration of these services. In the 1935 Act there was, in the first place, the system of the administration of insurance benefits which was done through the employment exchanges; in the second place, the administration of assistance allowances which was done by the officers of the Board; and, in the third place, there was the granting of relief by the public assistance officers of the local authority. It would be appropriate also to add that, in addition, there was the whole system of 722 the administration of National Health Insurance through the approved societies. I am not asking for any economy which is going to result in deterioration in service. I hope, however, as one of the beneficial results of the unified and integrated system which is now being set up, that it will be possible to get as good and indeed better results with the employment of a much smaller staff of officials all over the country.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that as a result of these services being brought together one official will now be able to do what previously was done by several officials. One thing I always believed to be wrong under the 1935 Act was that when a man was fit and was in receipt of an allowance from the Board his payment was carried to him by one person, but when he became sick his public assistance relief was carried to him by another person. As a result of this new system, I hope we can be told that there will be a great reduction in the number of officials.
The House of Commons has now reached the Third Reading of the last of a series of Bills which, taken together, will establish a large measure of social Security. From this time onwards it will be the responsibility of those concerned to administer them. We must frankly recognise that much that is contained in this Bill will have to wait until the resources of the country are sufficient to enable the new accommodation to be provided. In this, as in so much else, it is the task of this House to design a plan. It must be left to the country as a whole by the energy, vigour and imagination that it throws into its industrial effort to provide what is needed for making these Measures effective. Social security can only provide a more equitable share of the cake we have to divide amongst us. Whether that cake in future is going to be larger or smaller will depend on the general policy of the country and the efforts of its people. So far as this Measure is concerned, the House can claim that those who in the past have been poor and unfortunate can be assured of a fairer share of the general cake than they have ever had before.
§ 1.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
May I first of all pay tribute to the way in 723 which the Ministers who have been handling this Bill have conducted it through all its stages? I am certain that those of us who sat on the Committee will agree that it was a happier committee because of the accommodating spirit with which suggestions made by back benchers were received by the Ministers in question. We can express our gratitude because we felt that when we were discussing matters in Committee and when we had got to break down a preconceived resistance against new ideas our suggestions were sympathetically received. It is true to say that on this Bill we found the Ministers most accommodating.
There are one or two categories of people to whom I want to make reference in this the final stage of the Bill. I suppose all of us know the full developments of the Measure. We talk easily of the Poor Law and we wish that it could be done away with expeditiously. We would like to see these barrack-like institutions, in which so many people endured a living death for so long, razed to the ground. I was in one only a fortnight ago which boasted of being 180 years old and it struck me as a remarkable thing that such places were ever allowed to develop into their present state. In many cases they are quite beyond repair, and those poor, old people who have to live in them are not able to see even a blade of grass. Their exercise ground is concrete and there are wooden seats for them to sit on. When this Bill comes to fulfil all its promises those places will go.
What is very important, however, is not merely the places in which these people will live, but the sense of independence that they will have because they will be entitled by right to certain things. The old people will be entitled to their 26s. a week old age pension and the local authority cannot demand any more from them than 21s., leaving them 5s. a week pocket money. Incidentally, there is a Clause in the Bill about which I am not happy, whereby the local authorities will have power to vary that amount. In Committee I asked the Parliamentary Secretary a question about it, because I do not want to see the local authorities able to deny an old man-or an old woman that 5s. a week by saying that special circumstances 724 exist and that it should be reduced. It is possible that there will be special circumstances, but I should like to know what they are going to be, and in any regulations which may be made to cover the point, I hope the Minister is going to satisfy himself of the special circumstances in which that pocket money can be reduced. The answer the Parliamentary Secretary gave to me was:Our intention was to leave the maximum discretion with the people who will be best able to exercise it. We genuinely feel that the representatives of the local authorities are the only group who can exercise this discretion. We therefore decided to leave it to them and 'we rely upon them to exercise it properly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 2rst Jan. 1948; c. 196.]That is all very well, but it does not give us any idea of what are the special circumstances, nor does it say whether the discretion as well as being in favour of a downward direction can be varied in favour of an upward direction. I know that there are others in those circumstances, but this case is one that is important. We shall now have old people exercising an independence which has been denied to them during that period of their life when it would have meant so much to them. I welcome the Bill because it does that.
Some people are of the opinion that giving old people money solves their problems. That is wrong. The Bill does, to a very large extent, take away the withholding of assistance until destitution. People will not have to be without anything before they receive assistance. Moreover, old people will be able to get as a right, things which are provided for them in the Bill. We can make the old age pension as big as possible, but it is service that the old man and woman really wants. It has been rightly said that it is important to do this job in the right spirit. An Act of Parliament can say what can be done but the result will very largely depend upon the people who have to do it. If voluntary associations are to be given an opportunity to play a full part a great deal will be done to humanise a service which ought to have been human but which has not been administered in a true spirit of humanity.
The Minister will find it necessary to exercise powers of direction in regard to certain matters in the Bill. For instance, 725 there is the authority which we are giving to local authority to make contributions to the funds of voluntary associations. I notice that there is a rather peculiar wording in Clause 30. It is:A local authority may make contributions to the funds of any voluntary organisation whose activities consist in or include the provision of recreation or meals for old people.Recreation and meals are not the only services that old people require. Would it be possible for contributions to be made to voluntary associations which do other things and not those particular ones? Perhaps the Minister will bear that in mind when he is making his regulations.
§ Mr. Messer
Yes, Sir. Some associations do a lot of things which might be termed incidental to an immediate need. It is possible for an association to be encouraged in such work as domestic help. The Minister may tell me that domestic helps are provided under the Health Service Act, but that is no reason why a voluntary association providing that service should not be paid. Many old people have had their lives brightened by visits which are paid to them. That service might be called recreation. Other associations not merely visit old people, but discover and do what is wanted, such as shopping and running errands. Those who work among old people are aware that there is a host of things which could be done. The associations which organise this work spend money in doing so. I commend this matter to the notice of the Minister and ask him to broaden the interpretation of the Clause.
Last Monday I had the good fortune to see a marvellous piece of work in operation at a hospital school in Carshalton, Surrey. The school is run by the London County Council. It is an experiment of the greatest value. I went among the 60c children there, who are divisible into three types. There are those who would be sufficiently improved in their condition to be able to earn their living. There are those so incapable that they would only be able to earn their living if their wages were subsidised. They would need to go into a sheltered workshop. They would never be able to face open competition with able-bodied people. The third category is of people who are 726 being educated. Some are being prepared for entrance examinations into a secondary school, some had passed that stage, and were getting ready for matriculation. Anybody who saw the postures of some of those children—in some cases they were lying on their backs on plaster beds—would wonder how it was possible for them to do writing, but they were doing it. I doubt whether those children will ever be able to stand on their feet.
Are they to get the type of assistance afforded to those whose poverty might be temporary? Are they to be faced with a future in which they will have an inadequate standard of living? I should have thought we could give them a handicap allowance because of the circumstances in which they have to face life and that we should not give them just bare subsistence. We should give them something comparable with what they would have received had they been able to earn their living. These children will grow into men and women. Some of them come from poor homes and some from middleclass homes. We sometimes lay too great an emphasis upon restoration to wage-earning capacity and lose sight of the fact that such people are as much entitled to get joy out of life as anybody else.
With regard to the second category, the Minister has already gone some way, and he has destroyed the best part of my speech by the Amendment which he put down on the subject of tuberculosis. I would ask him to think again. I know that he has been advised by his medical advisers on this matter, but tuberculosis is not simply a medical question. II is a social problem. I ask him to give consideration to what has been said.
Another very important thing in the Bill is the attempt to lay down a national standard, which is a very big advance. One of the chief weaknesses of the system as it has been, is the wide variation which takes place from one part of the country to another. The local authority with high rate-raising ability has been able to do very much more than another with only low rate-raising ability. These variations are wrong. We now have a national service. The Bill attempts to do what is very necessary, and that is, to bring the local people into contact. In Clause 3 the Minister sets up an Advisory Committee. I hope that that will be an 727 effective Advisory Committee. I hope that it will be entitled to initiate as well as to deal with things referred to it by the Minister and that some notice will be taken of what it advises should be done. In a service of this description, if control is too remote from the periphery, if the people who will be the recipients of the service are too far removed from those who are directing it, there is a risk that the work will become mechanical, that it will not respond to the needs of the people in the way that it should do, and that it will differ from one locality to another. I hope too that the tribunal which is referred to in the Schedule will be built up in the same way as that under the National Insurance Act. This Bill is a very fine monument to Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb and——
§ Mr. Messer
One cannot go through the names of all those who have laid their bricks. The Minister is today responsible for the building. Every hon. Member will wish him success in the work to which he has put his hand.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
The House is accustomed to listen to the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) with great respect when he speaks on social subjects, and they will warmly welcome what he has said. Indeed, one of the main features throughout the proceedings on the Bill has been the helpfulness on all sides of the Committee and not least from the hon. Member for South Tottenham. We have listened to him today with great appreciation, and nothing that I say is intended in any way to detract from the welcome which I give this Bill and appreciation of the fact that it is setting the coping stone to all the social legislation which was prepared during the war by the Coalition Government and is now being brought to completion.
Already some hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that we cannot expect full implementation of this Bill to be made in the immediate future. Indeed, during such a period of financial stringency it is difficult to see how such items as the construction of the re-establishment centres, the reception centres and 728 homes for the aged and infirm could be carried out. However, I remember being told a long time ago that when we are considering assistance to other human beings and to charity we must always think what we can afford to give and then give a little more. In the implementation of this Bill we should approach the matter in that way. We should think what we can afford at the present time of financial crisis, and then give and do a little more.
One of the interesting features of this Bill from a rather theoretical point of view is that it places on the Board a duty to assist, and yet in a sense there is no correlative individual right. The right is the right of the community to ensure that it shall free itself from the moral blight and the practical scourge of want. In that way it is a challenge to our people. The Bill is making assistance in many ways easier and better and as a consequence there may always be a tendency and a temptation for some to avail themselves of the opportunity to abandon their own moral responsibilities. One of our main duties in all legislation which we undertake today is to do nothing in any way to lessen family ties and responsibilities. I hope that while the duty is now laid on the National Assistance Board to assist, our people will still face up to the moral responsibilities that lie, for example, upon children to maintain and look after in their old age those who have brought them up, and that nothing will be done to lessen that. That is the challenge to our people.
There are one or two points to which I wish to draw attention particularly. I should have preferred—and many hon. Members may share this view—to see separate Boards for Scotland and Wales. I can never see why those countries should not be allowed to run their own social services as they consider they should be run. I do not intend to go into detail on this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker; I am merely referring to it in passing. Another point with which I would deal is the new relationship which is being set up between the National Assistance Board and the local authorities and the great extent to which the success of this Bill depends upon the maintenance of friendly and efficient working arrangements between the two. For example, there is a Clause under which the Board can require a local authority to provide accommodation for a person, and that person cannot then be turned out of 729 the accommodation without the consent of the Board. That is one of those minor things which might give rise to a great deal of friction between the local authorities and the Board. How that will be settled depends very largely on the way in which the two approach the common problem.
I would, also refer to the responsibility placed upon the National Assistance Board for influencing people, meaning vagrants particularly, to a more settled way of life. For that purpose, reception centres will be set up. I am not quite satisfied that we are taking the right step in this matter. After the reception centre stage, the person may be passed on to a re-establishment centre where he may get instruction or training for his entry into or return to regular employment. We there come up against this difficulty; what happens when it' proves difficult or impossible to influence the person to a more settled way of life? What happens if he refuses to go to the re-establishment centre? According to the Bill apparently, he then loses his right to all assistance from the Board. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is no finality in that provision as it stands at present.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in replying, will refer to this matter, because it represents a loophole in the Measure, and implies a certain amount of coercion on the individual which I find it hard to justify. In general, I would rather have seen this "influencing," which is a moral process, being done by bodies which set out on influence in a moral way, and I hope that many of the reception centres will be entrusted to bodies such as the churches, and other voluntary organisations, many of which in the past have shown their ability to rehabilitate from the moral point of view those who have lost their way in life.
I did not quite understand the hon. Gentleman's explanation today of the Clause making mothers responsible for the maintenance of their husbands and children. I still find that this is difficult to justify, since the primary responsibility of a mother must, of course, be to her children, and it is difficulty to see how she will be able to carry out that responsibility if, for example, she has also on her hands the responsibility of her husband who, for some reason or another, 730 is unable to contribute to the family exchequer, and if she has to be the breadwinner as well as bringing up her children and looking after her man.
Then, again, I find it hard to see the reasons why the local authorities should be called upon to indemnify employees who may lose all or part of their emoluments or their job because of the action now being taken in transferring from a local authority those functions which are' now being taken over by the National! Assistance Board. While it may be true, that there will be few cases in which no alternative employment can be found for such "displaced persons," I do not consider that this burden on the local authorities is justifiable in principle, and I hope it will not be a precedent.
One of the greatest difficulties local authorities will meet is in seeing that that part of the Act is carried out in which the burden is placed upon them to provide accommodation of different descriptions suited to different types of persons.
Another matter which has come up in the course of discussion today is that of the responsibilities of districts in Scotland. By an Amendment passed today additional responsibilities are placed on districts, in particular for welfare. In the rural parts of Scotland district officers are at present charged with the administration of public assistance and this is one of their main functions. Many county councils may find it necessary to revise their administrative arrangements in consequence of the withdrawal of these responsibilities. Considering that the districts are now to have these additional responsibilities for welfare placed upon them, it seems reasonable that the Government should reconsider that Amendment by which the county councils are obliged to send copies of any schemes they have to make, only to small burghs. They should also consult the districts in these matters.
Finally, on behalf of those of my colleagues who are here today, and those who are not, I give this Bill a very sincere welcome. One is always liable, in dealing with legislation of this kind, to think of it as final. We have a long way to go before we reach finality in our social legislation, and what may seem perfect in a plan today may need, in the not distant future, to be modified considerably in the light of social development and 731 different trends of thought. Nevertheless, this is a Measure on which undoubtedly the Government are to be congratulated.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
May I join with other hon. Members who have tendered congratulations to the Ministers in charge of this Bill, and perhaps I may be pardoned if I mention specially the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance, one of my old colleagues in other spheres of activity.
In the time at our disposal this afternoon, I cannot follow the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) in all his historical references, but I will mention two things. The much derided Speenhamland system saved the people of this country from the terrible impact of conditions arising out of the wars, and the transition to a capitalist system. Secondly, the trouble with regard to the Poor Law has flowed from the Act of 1834, with its terrible doctrine that those given assistance must be placed in a position less eligible than that of the lowest paid labourer. It was the terrible doctrine of less-eligibility that united in the denunciation of the old Poor Law such entirely different minds as Disraeli, William Cobbett, Charles Dickens and John Ruskin. I am sure that the hon. Member for The High Peak will recall one of the passages of Ruskin in which he described those in the workhouse going to the bones which had been thrown away in order to suck out the marrow for sustenance. However, it would take me far too long to continue on those lines, and I will come to the Bill.
In a phrase which has been used a number of times, this Bill places on the local authority, fairly and squarely, responsibility for providing for residential accommodation for persons who, by reason of age, infirmity, or any other circumstance, are in need of care and attention, which is not otherwise available to them. All the most desirable institutions belonging to local authorities are being taken from them—Walton Hospital, Liverpool, Firvale Institution, Sheffield, Whipps Cross, West Ham, institutions which in various ways have developed along lines providing the highest services are going—but local authorities will still have to provide some residential accommodation. Everyone 732 with experience of these things knows how quickly in old age, infirmity passes into sickness. A person may be judged aged and infirm one day, and the next day be a sick person. In the regulations which the Minister issues, will he endeavour to see that there is a common code, covering the accommodation in these institutions, and that there is not going to be inferior and superior accommodation because of great financial resources at the disposal of the national authority? Those who have been engaged in administering these institutions in an enlightened way have been pleading for 50 years for a common code for these institutions. I ask the Minister in all earnestness to see to that.
Twice in a lifetime men engaged in the Poor Law service have been uprooted. The Act which dealt with the first transition, the Local Government Act, 1929, Section 121, says:Every transferred officer shall hold office by the same tenure and on the same conditions as immediately before the appointed day.…In this Bill is the Minister providing for the same sort of protection as was previously afforded in the 1929 Act, or is there to be any worsening in regard to the position of men who have loyally carried out duties and responsibilities placed upon them within the framework of the existing law? I am not one who indulges in wholesale denunciation of the Poor Law, because everyone knows that the Poor Law existed to relieve destitution, and not to redress social inequalities. I ask the Minister whether those men and women who have given such loyal service in the past will have the same protection under this Measure as they have had under the 1929 Act.
I wish seriously to warn the two Ministers involved that they are heading for administrative chaos unless there is hard thinking and collaboration between now and the day when this Measure comes into operation. To give an illustration of what I mean, the head of an institution not very far from this House, when the Bill becomes law, will be responsible to no less than four different authorities, central or local. What is going to be their relationship in regard to that man—and there are others like him—in this new set-up? So far as I can see there has been no 733 thinking and collaboration to get problems of that kind solved.
§ Mr. Molson
Could the hon. Member develop the point a little further? I should be interested to hear who are the four authorities.
§ Mr. Burden
The four authorities are London County Council, the Assistance Board, the hospital board and the police. The head of that institution in London, after the appointed day, will be in contact with all those authorities in his daily work. With divided responsibilities like that, the protection he has had under the old laws goes for all time.
I am a little afraid of a rigid application of rules and regulations. One of the virtues of the old, despised, Poor Law has been its flexibility and the way in which it could deal with each case on its merits. Yet I heard that a certain high official in a certain Department concerned with the administration of this Measure has said in cold blood, "We have to train people to become destitute between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m." Frankly, that is not the spirit in which great social legislation of this kind can be administered.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)
Who said that?
§ Mr. Burden
I used that illustration because I am pleading for flexibility in administration; that is all. I realise that so far as the old public assistance was concerned, there was always someone on duty for the whole 24 hours. In building up the new system to take the place of the old order, I hope we shall not throw away what has been valuable in past legislation, but that this Bill will mark a step forward in the social progress of our people.
§ 2.30 p.m.
Mr. Dames (East Ham, North)
It is stating the obvious to say, what is in everyone's mind, that the present occasion is a milestone in the history of the common people of this country. It was natural that the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), with whom I work with greatest accord on these social 734 matters, should have been historical, I thought he was taking his brief a little too far when he attempted to infer, rather than to show, that this legislation, as well as the other pieces of social security legislation that have preceded it, were inevitable because of the work of the Coalition Government or of Conservative Governments that had preceded that Government. I say bluntly that I and those associated with me take the view that this legislation, as well as the accompanying pieces of legislation, are here because of the organised power of the working class and the Labour Government, which is the political expression of that working class movement. There were opportunities enough between the wars, when destitution was far greater than it has ever been since the war, when millions of my fellow-workers were starving, when this legislation could have been passed and brought into operation. No, we are not asking, we are not begging, we are demanding and we are claiming, and it is because we are claiming, that this legislation is here today.
I am sorry that the Liberal National Benches are now completely denuded, and that the Liberal Benches which gave us Sir William, now Lord Beveridge, are also completely denuded, because I wish specifically to refer to one inference in the speech of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson). I have nothing against the National Liberal Party serving out its probation thoroughly for complete absorption into the Tory Party. That is up to them. Other than to comment upon it, I have no particular interest. When, however, the old argument began to appear that poverty and moral delinquency were allied, I thought I smelt something that even good Tories have long ago thrown overboard. On the general question, I think that when the Tory Party and their associates, the National Liberal Party, make a claim about this type of legislation it is rather a question that:The devil was sick, the devil a monk would be;I am again stating the obvious when I say that this Bill, which will soon be an Act of Parliament, will depend more upon its implementation in terms of actual machinery and persons than perhaps any other Measure we have passed. I would direct attention, I hope with human sentiment but without sentimentality, to 735 those parts of the Bill' which deal with the ageing population of this country. There are many ways in which one can construe these figures. The way to look at this important social problem is in relation to the working population. We are likely to maintain our working population at 18 million, but, we are approaching the stage when 7 million people will be entitled to retire from work. That is important, because we cannot dissociate the question of providing homes for old people from the general economic problem. The problem of old people is, more often than not, a problem of homelessness rather than a problem of destitution.
In passing I would say that I believe—I say this to my own party perhaps more than to any other section of the community—that we have to get rid of a lot of ideas which we held before the war, in regard to old age generally. A far safer line would be for us to say that 75 rather than 65 is old, if we are really to face up to our responsibilities. It is extremely dangerous to take an arbitrary line on this question of old age. Men and women vary enormously at different age levels. There are men in this House who, I say with all respect, are old at 60, and there are others who are young at 70. We should avoid making too arbitrary a line, and we should look upon the age of a person in regard to this Bill and to the other related Acts of Parliament from the standpoint of what actual contribution they should make.
The problem of homelessness which this Bill will tackle, or attempt to tackle in due course, comes from the inevitable break-up that constantly occurs, more in the homes of the working people than in those of the middle classes, when either the old gentleman or the old lady passes away at a different time from his or her partner. Then the surviving partner is shunted about amongst many households of sons and daughters, finally ending up at the hostel. I am not criticising what is an inevitable development. I do not believe it is right for old people to live with the younger generation, except in exceptional cases. I am not criticising, I am merely calling attention to the obvious, namely, that the two generations do not mix.
736 I am pleading that in the implementation of this Measure there shall be the closest possible co-ordination with the housing authorities so that old people can have homes provided where they can work, if they wish to do so, in the locality in which they have always lived. I am terribly afraid that the difficulties we face today, through being unable to build to the extent we wish to do, will drive many local authorities into taking over mansions in the country, with the result that the old people will be taken away from their home surroundings. Thus the pattern for the housing of old people will be set by what is a temporary expedient. I believe that it is the duty of the Minister and of his leading officials to try to give guidance to local authorities so as to make local authorities see this problem not merely from the standpoint of what is possible now but rather with a vision of what is possible in the future in the type of buildings we really want.
I suggest to the Minister that it would be well if we studied some of the fine work which has been done in Scandinavia in particular in regard to housing old people. We do not know everything in this country. We know a great deal, but there is much more to learn. By all means consult local authorities and all interested political persons like ourselves, but I would also beg that the old people themselves should be consulted as to the type of home and the provision they wish made in their homes. Unless we can get an insight into their minds and understand them, I do not think we shall get very far.
I congratulate the Government on one of the finest pieces of quick-acting legislation we have had for a long time in the Clauses of the Bill which deal with the inspection of homes which are run for profit. The Report of the Nuffield Foundation, published in 1947, called attention to scandals to which only Dickens could really have done justice, in regard to cases in which poor socially inhibited middle-class people had put their old people in homes in which they were away from the common herd, with the terrible results recorded in this Report, which I suggest every hon. Member who is interested in the problem should read. I shall not harrow the feelings of this House by reading those scandals, but I congratulate the Government on having acted quickly, 737 so that inspection as well as registration will now take place, and the evil things that one reads of in that Report will be removed. I do not know whether the House realises that many of our old people today who are actually sick—I am not speaking of the chronic sick—are dying earlier than they should or are suffering more than they should because there is no hospital provision capable of dealing with them. It is common knowledge that hospitals today are deliberately giving preference to young people rather than taking aged patients who very often after a short period of treatment could be made fit and well again. I am not criticising. I know the difficulties but I think it might be known and earlier attention given to it.
I congratulate the Government. The Committee on which I worked was a good committee. While I disagree with the Opposition from a broad political angle, I would pay a tribute to the hon. Member for The High Peak for the work he did. This is the final act of a comprehensive scheme of combined legislation. I am deeply convinced that this Bill is here, as the other four Acts are here, because of the organised power of the working classes, and for no other substantial reason.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I am glad of the opportunity of welcoming this Bill and of paying a tribute, not only to my colleagues on the Committee who worked together very harmoniously, but also to the very fine direction we received from the Ministers in charge. The general scheme of the Bill has been very widely commented on by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I shall confine myself to certain aspects with which I wish to deal particularly.
One disappointing thing about this Bill, to my mind, is the very small impact which it has made on the general population. I am surprised at the meagre Press notices it has received, and how very rarely it is referred to at public meetings. I have the impression that large masses of the population are totally unaware, both of its importance to them, and to the community as a whole. Other sections of the community have not only felt the necessity for some of the provisions in the Bill, but have been very 738 keenly interested in those provisions as they have gone through this House. I would refer, in particular, to those voluntary societies who have for so many years performed such admirable service for disabled persons. If I refer only to two of them, it is because my own experience has been for so many years among them.
I would say how pleased are those who are associated with deaf welfare that that category has been mentioned specifically in this Bill. I think it is the first time that the deaf, who have always considered them-selves to be the Cinderella of the social services, have been mentioned in a major Bill. It may interest the Minister to know that already organisations for the deaf are examining schemes, in connection with the powers that will be given to local authorities to co-ordinate with them, and will put those schemes before the Minister and the local authorities. I am pleased also that the Parliamentary Secretary has seen his way to alter that rather un-understandable marginal note, where the terms "deaf" and "dumb" were retained. As I explained earlier, that is a particular connotation.
With reference to blind welfare, the reaction has not been quite so favourable. We welcomed the announcement this morning by the Minister of National Insurance in regard to the consideration given to blind householders. That had caused a great deal of anxiety. We also warmly welcome the reference to pensions from the pension societies and to disablement allowances. I hope very much indeed that the Parliamentary Secretary's announcement in Committee that the disability that certain voluntary societies were to suffer, owing to the loss of grant from local authorities for special services, will be interpreted in a very wide manner.
I understand that the Minister will provide recompense for the loss of grant. I hope he will envisage the work being done not as work of a static character, but as a wide, expanding service, and will make provision accordingly. These services, such as the provision of Braille, and other technical devices, are constantly growing. We hope that new devices will be invented, and we trust that the Minister will be able to provide us with the necessary funds. I, and those who are associated with me in this special kind of work, confess to a great deal of disappointment that these old societies have 739 not been put upon a central register, but have still to be registered with the local authorities in whatever areas they operate.
By far the greatest disappointment, however, is the retention of the absolute definition of blindness. I have raised this matter with the Minister on many occasions and I cannot understand why he is so obdurate. The present definition of blindness is wholly indefensible. It has been found to be ineffective, and everyone interested in this problem has called attention to it. Even the Minister's own Advisory Committee has been worried about this on numerous occasions. We would much prefer to have no definition at all in the Bill, or that the Minister should by regulation prescribe the degree of visual defect which would constitute blindness, and not link it up with an industrial appraisement; that is to say, not put upon a medical man the onus of having to make an industrial appraisement of disability. No one on earth can define the nature of work for which eyesight is essential, because, during the war in particular, the development of blind employability was a surprise, even to those who have been the greatest advocates of the extension of that work.
I conclude by expressing my pride at having had the privilege of playing some small part in the shaping of this great and humane piece of legislation.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
An impartial observer watching the progress of this Bill through its various stages would, I think, be chiefly impressed by the earnest desire shown in all quarters of the House to bring, so far as circumstances permit, a better measure of security and contentment to the poor and aged and the disabled among our population. Hon. Members have been found ready and anxious to further the cause of so many categories who are affected by the Bill; the poor, the blind, for whom there has been no better and no more sincere advocate than the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), the deaf and dumb, the crippled and the disabled generally.
In these last few observations which I desire to address upon this Measure, I would say a further word as to the position of our old people. My points are really three. The first is this: that Part 740 III of this Bill, providing as it does for accommodation, seems to me to lay not one but many foundation stones for a new type of home, within the proper meaning of that word, for the aged and for the infirm. It is plain that the new buildings needed cannot be completed for a considerable time. While we are pleased to have taken this initial step, it is our duty not to put out too high hopes for the immediate fulfilment of this human project.
Secondly, we are pleased to know that under Clause 45, in calculating means where a person applies for the old age pension, no account is to be taken of any assistance grant or of the value of accommodation provided. That is a salutary provision, but I would like to add that in matters of old age pensions there is still some inequity. Sometimes those who have by care and thrift acquired some small savings are penalised by that fact when their pension rights come to be determined.
My third point is on the same Clause. Under that Clause, claims for old age pensions go to the National Assistance Board. One hopes that the close and sympathetic contact which claimants for old age pensions have established so often with local pension committees will not be lost. From what the Parliamentary Secretary said earlier, it is, I think, the intention of the Government that those contacts shall not be lost. I welcome this Measure and wish it well. All hon. Members are deeply anxious that a real benefit shall go to those who fall within its terms.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Mr. J. L. Williams (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I agree with all that has been said in praise of this Measure, and it is hardly necessary to add any words to what has been said. The unanimous view of the House about the evils of the old Poor Law tempts me to recall that the Poor Law came into existence to deal with a situation in which a great part of the population of this country was on the point of extermination. These things must be considered in their own setting.
I wish to deal with two points, one of which has been discussed already to some extent. I refer to the position of the voluntary agencies. Concern was expressed when the Bill was first pub- 741 lished that the work of voluntary agencies would be upset, if not destroyed altogether. Fear was felt that the business of nationalising these services would destroy the work of the agencies. Nationalisation was regarded almost as an act of indecency. On the other hand, some people felt that the State would be so benevolent that there was really no need to do anything more along those lines. That was a dual attitude towards State intervention which is reminiscent of what we had when we emerged from the unrestricted and unrestrained individualism of the last century.
In my constituency there are people interested in a deaf and dumb Mission. They were setting up an Eventide Home and they were much concerned, because they felt that this was a bad time to make an appeal. I am glad that the Minister has clarified the position, and I hope that the steps which are taken will prove satisfactory. The position of the deaf and dumb, as well as of the blind, has been dealt with by able people on the technical side. We are glad to know that it is now possible for those who wish to add to the amenities enjoyed by these people to do so. Scope is given for men and women of great skill and good will to supplement the work done by this Bill. There is no conflict between these different services, but there is the problem of how these voluntary agencies will fit into the new social services. That matter should receive attention. To use conventional labels we must consider how this voluntary collectivism will fit into a system of State and municipal collectivism. We are a matured democracy, and we have a great deal of confidence that we shall be able to dovetail these services into one another. We believe that we shall be able to regard these things in a more empirical fashion than other countries.
The fear has been expressed by many people that the atmosphere of charity about the work of the voluntary agencies is extremely distasteful. They complain about excessive influence being exercised by monied people in these organisations. I tell these critics that if those people exercise undue influence, they do it with the money of other people. I have noticed that in the last 10 or 20 years the funds obtained by these organisations have been made up increasingly from money subscribed by people in the lower ranges of 742 income. It is up to those who feel in this way about these organisations to enter into the work of administration themselves.
My other point concerns the provision in the Bill for the drawing up of scales of relief. I do not suppose that I can do any more than express a hope that cognisance will be taken of all the circumstances, especially as they exist next July, when the scales are drawn up. No matter what we may say about the different aspects of this Bill, what will count eventually in the eyes of many of these half million odd people, will be the amount of money which they receive and what they can buy with that money. By way of illustration, I would point out that when old age pensioners came under a new scheme in October, 1946, about 1½million of those people were in receipt of supplementary allowances, and half a million are still receiving them. Those people do not get a penny more today than they did in those days. It is no use telling them about the abolition of the means test, and so on, or pointing out that they receive 26s. pension instead of l0s. That is in vain, so long as they do not get more than they received two years ago and so long as what they receive will not buy as much as it would buy before.
It would be wrong for me to discuss prices and matters of that kind, though I believe that the greatest satisfaction could be obtained from a move in that direction. I hope that, in framing the scales, the Minister will have due regard to the cost of living at the time when this Bill comes into operation.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I welcome the opportunity, in the few minutes at my disposal, of expressing my appreciation to the Ministers and the Parliamentary Secretaries responsible for the drafting of the Bill and for bringing it forward. I have been trying to discover the cause of the placid atmosphere that permeated the House on Second Reading, that permeated the Committee, and that is permeating the House now on Third Reading. I have not yet been able to discover what the cause is, but I think it must be the weight of shame that has been resting upon us because of what our predecessors did. I welcome the Bill because through it we can see the extinguishing of the last 743 smouldering embers of the old Poor Law system. We have tried for almost half a century to bring about its abolition.
I make no apology to the House when I say that I have been an agitator for the abolition of the Poor Law system for more than 37 years. I remember a colleague of mine, who, in my early days, went to prison because of the harsh words he said about the Poor Law system. I record today what he said as he left the dock to descend into the cell. His words are indelibly printed on my mind. He said:Any man who gives public expression to the truth unfavourable to the rich is in great peril of being placed either in the bankruptcy court or in gaol.And to gaol he went.
We have marched a long way since then; and now we have before us this great Measure which is calculated to be one of the greatest pieces of social reform that has come before this House in 50 years. This Bill, and the four great Measures which have preceded it, constitute together the greatest Measure of social reform the House has had before it for 50 years. I was particularly struck by a statement made by a member of another place on 24th February. He said:A social service ought to bring the resources of the State to the help of those who need them most.This Measure now before us sweeps away, wholly or in part, 79 Statutes passed in days gone by. I think it is significant to note that when the first Poor Law enactment was placed upon the Statute Book in 1601, the population of this country was just over 6,000,000 people. Today we are dealing with more than 5,500,000 people who require assistance under this Measure. That is significant. It has been mentioned during the Debate that there will be in 1961 over 7,000,000 people who may have recourse to the provisions of this Bill.
I welcome the Measure in its entirety. Although it does not go as far as I should like it to, I welcome it as a mighty step forward in social legislation. I want, however, to plead with the Minister regarding what is contained in the White Paper, and with regard to the discretionary powers given to the local assistance boards. The White Paper says: 744This discretionary power is an essential feature of a service of assistance according to need, and even wider use may have to be made of it in view of the extended scope of the new scheme and the greater variety of circumstances in which assistance may be sought.We have had experience of the exercise of the discretionary powers given to the Assistance Board. In the main, they have used these powers very generously, but throughout the country there are men acting for the Assistance Board who have the old conception of the Poor Law system—they are niggardly, parsimonious and lacking in generosity. It is that conception which we want to get rid of.
We have a system which is making it impossible for those who secure supplementation to get the full benefit, because they happen to have taken in a lodger. This is happening in the textile and mining districts. The days for this sort of thing have passed. I have a case in my own constituency of an old lady and an old man who, because they took in a "Bevin" boy, had their supplementation reduced to 6d.; and the old lady had to pay 4d. in tram fares to fetch it. I hope that the Minister and the staff of the Assistance Board will insist upon these discretionary powers being used as generously as possible in the case of the old folk standing in need of the provisions of this Measure.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
All who have spoken in this Debate have begun their speeches with words of congratulation to the Ministers responsible for this Measure. I begin with a word of warning. My warning is this. Whether or not a new Poor Law arises on the ashes of the old will depend entirely on the spirit of the administration. In the past, people have been more upset over the way in which relief has been administered than by its inadequacy; people do not mind being starved so much, if it is done in a nice spirit. In 1932, there was a change of government in London, mainly because of the administration of the Poor Law. In the 10 areas of administration of London not only was the relief given small in amount, but the people who accepted the relief were often insulted. They were asked, "What about a spot of work to keep your mind off your troubles?" when no work was obtainable. People's pride increases in 745 proportion to their poverty, and the Minister must keep this important fact in mind in the future work he does in connection with this most valuable Bill. I want him consistently to remind all those concerned in the administration of the Assistance Board and the local authorities by regulations, circulars, letters and by every other means, of the urgent necessity for the greatest kindliness and consideration in administration.
In the time available to me there is only one thing more I want to say: that while I am quite sure that all those who will be needing assistance will be greatly relieved by the passage of this Bill, there is one class of people which, I believe, will suffer—the district medical officers, who administer medical assistance under the Poor Law. I know it is not usual to give any compensation to part-time officers who come and go often very rapidly, but the district medical officers, who have done excellent work under great difficulties, are not, in the true sense, part-time officers. Although they are not employed whole-time, they are giving a 24-hour service. Moreover, these officers are called "senior Poor Law officers," and cannot be discharged by the local authority except with the consent of the Ministry. As they are permanent officers, and not in any sense temporary, I ask the Minister to be quite sure that justice is being done to them. This Bill is a beat Measure, and, as has been said so often, will complete the new set-up which has been agreed upon by the Ministers concerned.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
I wish to say only a few words in welcoming this Bill, and to express the hope that it will be successful in operation. I feel that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) did a service when he reminded the Minister that this is not finality. It may well be that 50 years hence the then House of Commons will refer to this Measure as being small, and will regard the present Minister of National Insurance as hardhearted and despotic. We are always changing our social structure; as our national productivity increases, so we widen our measures of social assistance to the mass of the people. It is, therefore, wrong to imagine that we have reached the ultimate in social services. Indeed, a mere change of form is not, in itself, 746 significant, and I share the anxiety of other Members who believe that this mere change of administrative form may not result in the abolition of the Poor Law spirit.
It was to that end that I asked the Minister of National Insurance to change the name of the officers who were conducting this work. I wanted the officers of the National Assistance Board to be called "social welfare officers," because I feel that they ought to have before them all the time, not the idea of cutting down on social services but a constant reminder of the obligations they were under towards those for whom they were appointed to work. I am sorry that the Minister did not find it possible to accept that change; but it has been agreed to change the iniquitous title of "investigating clerk" to one more in accordance with the social aims of the Board.
This Bill makes another change in the structure and functions of local government, which, at the moment, is in the melting pot. Many of these functions are being changed or taken away, and some of us feel that too much is being done too quickly. It may be that these changes in the functions of local authorities are being brought about so rapidly one after the other that they will not be to the ultimate benefit of the people of this country. It certainly is a great hazard to risk so much change all at once.
In connection with the establishment of old folks homes, this, perhaps, is the most spectacular and most appealing of all the provisions contained in the Bill. I share the anxiety which has been expressed that we shall not see the realisation of these homes for a very long time. I think that the Minister and the local authority can speed them up if they will take full advantage of the services of voluntary organisations in their areas. I was delighted to find the other day that an organisation in one part of the country had already established itself to run these, homes and had taken on lease premises which they intended to convert for this purpose. If local authorities will give a lead to existing voluntary organisations or those which may get together for this purpose, I am certain that the delay which must obtain if we have to wait for buildings and suitable staff to be engaged by local authorities can be greatly eliminated, and we can 747 see this work commenced in a short time. I do not know how long it will be before the Minister can get these homes running officially. I hope that he will see that local authorities are encouraged to keep voluntary organisations in their areas on the job until homes can be built and run by the local authorities.
It may seem strange that at this time, when we have so much trouble in our domestic and economic sphere, and when the international horizon is very cloudy, we should be going in for such a wide measure of social reform. There may be risks attached to this policy, but I feel that they are risks well worth running. I said on Second Reading that I looked forward to the time when the greatness of a nation will be determined, not by the strength of its Armed Forces or by the volume of its industrial productivity, but by the kind of life it metes out to the mass of its people. That is the idea which should be before us. This Bill goes some way towards it. Hon Members on this side of the House hope that in practice the Bill will be as good as the promise which it contains within it.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument, but I have only a short time in which to deal with one particular Schedule to the Bill and the effects which it may have in certain circumstances. Much of what I would have said had I been able to speak earlier in the Debate has been said for me by my colleagues on this side and much to my surprise by some Members on the other side. I have no desire to indulge in vain repetition.
I want to call the attention of the Minister to the effects in certain circumstances of paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Sixth Schedule. These paragraphs deal with premises combining hospitals and public assistance institutions. They lay down how in future the destination of these properties is to be determined as between local authorities and the Minister. The principle that is being adopted is that of the "major user." The major user of certain property immediately before the appointed day is to determine its destination.
748 The case and the circumstances I have in mind are graphically illustrated by an instance from my own constituency of Norwich. There we have a hospital called the Woodlands Hospital which stands now on a valuable site of 30 acres which are around the hospital, but in the past it had precisely four acres out of that 30. The rest of the 26 acres were occupied by the public assistance institution, and had that public assistance institution been standing today the principle of major user would, of course, have protected the local authority as being the legal possessor of those 26 acres of valuable land. Unfortunately a few years ago a German aeroplane dropped a bomb upon that institution, which was totally destroyed, while the hospital escaped with only slight damage.
The effect of that German bomb, if this Schedule stands as it is now—and I know the House has accepted it—will be to shift the principle of major user from the national assistance institution to the hospital, with the result that the Norwich Corporation will lose the 26 acres of land upon which that institution stood. I know that neither of the Ministers concerned in this Bill designed any such grotesque result as that. It is one of those anomalies which constantly arise from the operation of Acts of Parliament of this type. What I am concerned with is what can be done about it.
The matter was raised in Committee upstairs, and after a far too cursory examination was settled by the Minister himself giving certain assurances about Departmental action. I am quite willing to accept those assurances, but every Member of Parliament knows that the assurances of Ministers are not of the slightest value at all outside Parliamentary proceedings unless those assurances can be backed up by powers conferred by the statute under discussion or by some other statute. Therefore, I can be forgiven by both my right hon. Friends concerned in this Measure if I doubt whether the guarantee which they gave in Committee is of such value as they appear to think it would be. What I am anxious to do is to get the Minister, in his reply, to give me some further assurances upon this point because, in fact, he can within the statute give me such assurances as the Norwich Corporation is entitled to ask for in a case of this kind.
749 I have a final word to say. I want to offer my congratulations to my right hon. Friends on the production of this important Bill. It is particularly suitable that a Bill of this kind should have been produced and brought before the House by two Ministers like the Minister of Health and the Minister of National Insurance, both of whom in the course of their long lives in public work have had a most intimate, direct and personal experience of the operation of the Poor Law system of this country. It is, therefore, a fitting thing that Ministers with records of that kind should have put this coping stone upon the structure of social security erected during the last two years, and I heartily congratulate them upon their work.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I express my appreciation of the fact that a Member from Scotland will be upon the National Assistance Board. That will in many ways be more beneficial to the people of England than to the people of Scotland. The wisdom that that representation will bring to bear on the subject should be extremely helpful.
The only thing that disturbs me, because of my experience, is the operation of the scheme. My experience is that the Assistance Board in Glasgow has been more harsh in its approach to the people than the public assistance authority. I am not suggesting that the people concerned are made in a mould that makes them hard, but the fact is that centralisation tends to express itself too often by circular than by the personal touch. The work of the Glasgow public assistance committee was second to none in the country. If the new scheme lives up to that standard it will do well. The personal touch by the councillor and local people with the applicant and the officials was a very great support. The tribunals and the advisory committees may fulfil that function. I hope they will.
The strong case made here is that by the abolition of the Poor Law we are introducing a new and beneficial system. The administrative side is all-important. Poverty is not a crime, but there can be no doubt that it has always been looked upon in that way, and that the individual in poverty loses self-respect and dignity the longer he is in that condition.
The people of Glasgow will suffer from the passing of the Bill unless greater con- 750 sideration is given to their claims. Glasgow has always been granted payment in kind in addition to the actual scales. I do not want any hon. Member to run away with the idea that the scale was lower than that of the rest of the country. Glasgow paid more than £3 million per annum in relief and spent more than £250,000 in supplying essential goods. Since old-age pensioners have been transferred to the Assistance Board they have received their payment and only a small supplementary allowance to purchase essential wearing apparel, which many of them are quite unable to do.
The sick poor of Glasgow will be transferred. Last year Glasgow spent £50,000 in clothing by bulk purchase. I asked in the Committee whether it was not possible to continue that practice, to leave the local authority to be the bulk purchaser and to direct the clothing only on the instructions of the Board. It was one of the occasions when we had a Division in the Committee. The minority can rightly claim to have been on the right lines. The minority was one. I happened to be that minority. It may be that the Parliamentary Secretary will assist me. In Clause 12 (2) are these words:References in this Part of this Act to the giving of assistance in kind include references to the issuing of orders for the free provision of goods or services.I hope that it will be possible to read into that Subsection that, with the extension of the work of the Board, clothing will be granted. Let us assume that old age pensioners go into a home and get 26s. per week from the Assistance Board. Of that sum, 21s. will be handed to the local authority as a quite inadequate sum for maintenance, and a greater burden will be placed upon the local authority than is justified. I have not time to develop that point. I will deal with the individual. The individual is left with 5s. Surely the Minister does not suggest that 5s. is sufficient to keep a person in the necessary clothing throughout the year? If he does, it is an unreasonable claim to make.
I have made my points, not in the detail I desired, but I have tried to conform with the ordinary decency of the House, and I hope they will be noted. Like others, I think it would be unbecoming of me if I did not enter my word 751 of praise for the people responsible. If I single out the Parliamentary Secretaries I do so because I think they took on the greater part of the burden of piloting the Measure through the Committee. It is true that the Members of the Committee were in the main very helpful, but I offer them my congratulations. I hope that we are burying the Poor Law not merely by legislation, but in spirit and that our poor will, in their hour of stress, be looked after with greater toleration than we have ever before known.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Law (Kensington, South)
I do not intend to stand for more than a few minutes between the House and the Parliamentary Secretary who will reply to the Debate, but we ought not to leave this Measure without a final benediction from these benches. We are all conscious that we have been helping in greater or less degree in the shaping of a Measure which, properly administered, will be of inestimable benefit to that section of the population—I concur with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance in hoping that it will be a small section of the population—which is left over, as he described it, as the residuary problem of the whole social service schemes that have been discussed in this Parliament. I am conscious, too, that there has been a degree of co-operation between both sides of the House which is rare in this Parliament. I suppose it is rare in any Parliament. However, if we had had more of it, I do not doubt that it would have been of very great benefit to the country in the very perilous times through which we are passing.
The hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) said that the Standing Committee, on which he, like others of us, served, was a very happy Committee. I agree with him. The hon. Member gave much of the credit for that to the Ministers who were in charge of the Bill upstairs. I agree with him there, too. The Ministers showed great patience, open-mindedness, fairness and willingness to listen to argument and to be influenced by argument. If all Ministers of this Government had shown the same open-mindedness and willingness to listen to argument, we should all be better off today.
My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who opened the 752 Debate on this side of the House with such an extremely interesting speech, was quite right to remind us of the historical background of this Measure. It is a good thing sometimes to pause to remember famous men and our fathers that begat us. I do not want to introduce a note of controversy into a discussion which has been singularly harmonious, but I must say that I cannot agree with the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) who said that the sole reason for the introduction of this Measure was that it represented the organised will of the working classes. I would prefer to believe that it represents a development of the social conscience which has been going on over a long period of time, a development which has effected the conscience not only of the party opposite but of all parties and of all sections of the community.
§ Mr. Law
I think the argument adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak answers the question just put to me by the hon. Member for East Ham, North, and it is absolutely irrefutable. He will remember that the argument was that, if it had not been for the practical labours of previous Governments, not only the Coalition Government in war, but many Governments before that, it would have been quite impossible for this or any other Government to introduce this Bill.
On this side of the House we welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. We welcome it because it carries to its conclusion a process which has been going on for a long time, the final abolition of the Poor Law. We welcome it because it has made the relief of distress a national rather than a local charge. At the same time I think it can fairly be said that, while the Bill centralises a great many services, it gives to the local authorities new responsibilities and new fields of activity. We welcome the Bill, too, because the Minister has managed to preserve within its framework much of the work which has been done by voluntary societies and which will continue to be done by them under the Bill.
This is a very good Bill, but I cannot help reflecting, as it leaves this House, that its effect will not depend entirely on what is written into it. It will not depend even upon the spirit with which it 753 is administered. Its results will depend, above all, upon the degree of economic recovery of this country for which we can hope. I know there is always a certain amount of impatience on the benches opposite when any economic argument is introduced into our consideration of social questions.
§ Mr. Law
I hope it is nonsense. I have seen many signs of it but, whether I am right or wrong, it is of the utmost importance that the people of this country should realise the desperate nature of the economic situation with which we are faced, and that unless the economic problem can be solved, not only this Bill but all the other Measures of social legislation which have passed through this Parliament will prove to have been written in sand.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to refer to Clause 9 for a moment. Under Clause 9 it is laid down that an assistance grant will not be made to anyone for any period while that person is engaged in remunerative, full-time work. That is obviously reasonable but it goes on to make an exception, namely, that it shall not apply:in the case of work otherwise than under a contract of service where the earning power of the person engaged in the work is, by reason of a disability, substantially reduced in comparison with that of other persons similarly occupied.In Standing Committee I moved to delete the words "otherwise than under contract of service." I need not repeat the arguments which I, and other hon. Members, made then but, when he came to reply to the discussion, the Minister said:I appreciate the point which has been put, but at the moment I am not disposed to accept the Amendment … I would, however, like to look at the matter with a view to meeting the point, which is a fair one. If the Amendment is withdrawn, I will undertake to meet the case between now and the Report stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 17th December, 1948; c. 83.]On that assurance, I asked leave to withdraw my Amendment, but that point has not been met by the Government. I have no doubt that there is a good reason—obviously I would not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of any breach of his undertaking—but I should appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman who replies would 754 explain what that reason is, or whether the point is met in some other part of the Bill.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
I think it would be difficult to exaggerate the, importance of this occasion. If is significant that we are today parting with this extremely important Bill, and sending it to another place. It has already been said—reference was made to it by the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) in quoting Disraeli—that what it really means is that poverty is no longer a crime, and not even the vestigial remains are left of that very long period of our history when it was in fact regarded as a crime. One can say that the opening sentence of Clause 1 is of profound significance for us, looked at in terms of our great history:The existing Poor Law shall cease to have effect.Simply put, but, I think, a statement which is profoundly important. I noted that the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd), who I am sorry is not in his place, said that a mere change of administrative form is not of itself significant. That may be true of those persons who live exclusively in the realm of cold logic, but for the majority of us who are concerned not with what is true as a matter of practice at the moment, but who are also concerned with the vast field in which we live—which is a field of emotion and feeling—change in administrative form is significant. I could not but cast my mind back to the country districts of Buckinghamshire as I knew them as a child. I am not so very old, but, going back to the period before the 1914–18 war, I recall that as one went round the villages from time to time one got the real impact of fear coming from the villages—fear that a husband was going to be out of work, fear of illness, fear of death coming to the wage-earner, and, what in some ways was even worse, the fear old people had as they got on in life—the fear, which in the end became a certainty—that they were going into the workhouse. No one who is conscious of what that situation would have been like if only the powers we have today had been exercised can describe this change in administrative form as insignificant. It is of profound 755 significance, even if nothing else happens, that the Poor Law is dead.
I would agree with what the hon. Member for The High Peak said when he pointed out that the scheme which is now before us does very substantially depend OR the social services. It is true that this Measure to which we are giving the Third Reading today could not have been brought forward within the framework of depression—if I may use the phrase the Webbs used so often—which was the order both of the old Poor Law and of the new from 1834 onwards, and could only have taken its proper place within the framework of prevention of destitution. This afternoon I am not going to make party points about this, except to say that if we are talking about the prevention of destitution we must not only think in terms of our social services, but must also think in terms of economic policies like those directed to full employment and towards the location of industry and it is all these things taken together which are important.
A further point I would like to make in passing is that the need for penal repression of any kind is lessened by Measures of this kind; in other words, it is Measures of this sort which constitute our first defences against crime. The more we are able to do by this kind of Measure, the less necessary is it for us to invoke the final defences open to us, which are the methods of punishment. Yet another point about the Measure is that not only does it do something of great significance in respect of what is past, not only is it significant historically, but it is also important for the new possibilities which it opens up before us, possibilities which I am sure the lively local authorities will explore to the maximum of their capacity and to the best of their advantage, in view of the particular physical circumstances of the time. These possibilifies—homes for the aged, a whole host of welfare services for old persons, blind persons and disabled persons of various kinds—constitute a field of work which local authorities can now tackle with the necessary power in a way which would not have been possible hitherto.
A number of detailed points have been put to me, and I will do my best to 756 answer some of them. I cannot take up every point at this stage, nor can I again argue matters which I did my best to argue thoroughly upstairs or earlier today in this House. The hon. Member for The High Peak put two specific points to me. His first point was that he felt that the new arrangements ought to mean considerable economy in staff. I cannot this afternoon begin to try to talk about the whole host of activities upon which the staff of my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance are engaged. I must restrict what I say to the matters which are covered in this particular Bill. I think that there are at the present time some 7,500 persons employed by local authorities who were engaged in non-institutional work, that is, out-relief and all the things associated with it. If we put that fact alongside the statement made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance in the Standing Committee, when he estimated that about 1,500 additional persons would be needed by the Assistance Board in order to carry on this work, although we cannot take those two figures and compare them absolutely, they indicate that we are likely to get a substantial economy in manpower in respect of financial assistance. Some of my hon. Friends may say, "Does that not create a redundancy problem?" I do not think that that need arise. There will be need for manpower in other directions, but in the narrow field of financial assistance I feel sure that my right hon. Friend would confirm that he would expect a substantial saving in the number of staff required for this purpose.
The second point which the hon. Gentleman put to me concerned the way in which the work of the Assistance Board would be dealt with in relation to this House. This Bill does not in any way alter the responsibility of the Minister of National Insurance for answering Questions here about assistance granted or withheld by the National Assistance Board, although it will be within the recollection of all hon. Members on both sides of the House that my right hon. Friend is always most careful to respect the essentially independent position of the Board.
The hon. Member for The High Peak was obviously worried about a fairly narrow point. I do not think I am mis- 757 interpreting him if I say that he did not really wish that private and individual affairs and claims for assistance should be bandied about in this House. If we take what has been happening in the past we find that replies to Questions have always been put in such a form as not to reveal private circumstances. On the whole hon. Members have not tried to press for details of individual cases to be given here, but have been quite happy to receive those details by' way of letter, so that they are not published. I hope that that practice will continue. Obviously, the Minister has a certain responsibility for answering Questions and the Questions ought to be put in such a way as to be capable of being answered without having dragged out in public domestic details which will necessarily arise. I think I have sensed the feeling of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that that is, in fact, what we would like to see.
The hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) asked as to the circumstances in which the 5s. pocket money can be reduced. I would prefer to put it in this way. Local authorities can vary the amount, either up or down, in special circumstances. In the ordinary way, and for the overwhelming majority of cases, such special circumstances would not arise, but one can consider, for example, the case of a feeble-minded person who is unable to look after his pocket money. It might be desirable to reduce the amount, and for the money to be used in some other way by the local authority. I take my stand, as I did in Committee, on the point that the people on the spot are the people who should exercise their discretion. We do not wish authorities to have any limitation from above in that direction, because we think they will do a better job if they are left free to act as they wish.
My hon. Friend also asked about the payments to voluntary associations, and whether payments could be made to associations performing other functions than providing meals or recreations. As a matter of practice, these associations are invariably multi-purpose, and as long as they are providing either meals or enter-tainment those grants can be paid. As regards domestic help, I think the answer which he anticipated is the right one, and that we could do more under the National Health Service Act than under this particular Measure. I cannot 758 agree with my hon. Friend in the matter of a handicap allowance as the right way of dealing with the permanently disabled. Cases should be taken on their merits, and money is not the right answer. We are more likely to find the right answer by the proper use of the welfare services set out in this Bill than by any standard payment of a handicap allowance.
The hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) raised a certain question about transfers. I cannot, this afternoon, go into that in the form in which he put it. I have discussed it with him in considerable detail in another context, and I think that he knows that the association of officers concerned will be brought into the fullest consultation on this matter.
The hon. Member for North East Ham (Mr. Daines) had a good deal to say about the problem of old people, and asked that close collaboration should take place between those responsible for homes for the aged and the housing authority. That is an extremely important point, and one which we shall have to bear in mind in any administrative steps which are taken. We may also have to bear it in mind in the event of any further legislation with respect to housing. The two things are linked together, and we must, as far as possible, treat them as one problem. I also agree that where the old people have, associations through which they can be consulted, we should consult them. I agree with him that we have a good deal to learn from Scandinavia in this matter. I would say to the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) that for the narrow purpose of this Bill, which is, after all, one of financial help, I think that the present definition of the blind is as good as we can get. If we had to use it for a lot of other purposes, I do not think that it would be suitable; but for our narrow purpose I consider that it is the best that we can do at present. The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) raised again the difficulty arising from a building, with land, in his constituency. This is the only case of which I am aware. Although he poured a good deal of scorn on assurances that I had given already, I would only say that there is a reasonable prospect—I put it cautiously lest I should be challenged later—there is a real prospect of our being able to settle the problem of 759 his authority by administrative action. That action will be taken within the powers which the Minister of Health possesses. It will not require further legislation.
The only other point upon which I have time to comment is in respect of what the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) said. Clothing is covered by Clause 20. In the case where the local authority is providing the residential accommodation, clothing can be included in requisites. I have not time to pursue the more detailed points which he raised. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law), that, as I understand it, the only people who are not covered either by the local authority's powers, under Clause 28, or by the powers of the Board are those who are employed by ordinary employers; in those cases, it is not desirable to leave the way open to regular supplementation of wages. I have looked at this matter carefully. I believe that all other cases are included.
In conclusion, I would only say that I think that this National Assistance Bill, and Measures like it, constitute the greatest defence that we have both of our ancient liberties and our free institutions. They are an indication of life and democratic activity. There is an old saying that if one is not growing better, one is no longer good. I think that that is true of the State. I agree with what has been said about the importance of good administration, but I would add that there is one other thing which is required. Not only must those who administer this service administer it in the right spirit, but there must also be a right response from all those for whom the service exists. If we can have both those requirements, then I think those of us who have taken part in today's proceedings may be able, in years to come, to congratulate ourselves and to see things which we have wanted for a long time.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.