§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Duke of Sutherland.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Relief to dependants of persons involved in trade dispute.
§ 1.—(1). Notwithstanding anything in the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845, the assessments imposed and levied for the relief of the poor shall extend and be applicable to relief to the destitute dependants of any destitute able-bodied person who is out of employment owing to his being directly involved in a trade dispute.
§ (2) The foregoing subsection shall be deemed to have had effect as from the thirtieth day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-six.
§ (3) The provisions of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845 (except those relating to the recovery of expenses from the parish of settlement and to applications to the sheriff by persons refused relief), shall, so far as not inconsistent with the foregoing provisions of this Act, apply to relief under this section in like manner as if such relief had been provided under the said Act to the person whose dependants have been relieved.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR moved to add to subsection (1):—"Provided that, as from the passing of this Act, this provision shall only apply where the action of the employees is not in contravention of any existing agreement between them 577 and their employers." The noble Viscount said: These additional words would relieve the ratepayers of the onus of subsidising strikes which are in breach of contract. The noble Marquess may once more oppose this Amendment with what I may call the women and children plea. It is one which has been used to justify many a raid on the ratepayers and taxpayers—whether for their permanent benefit or not is a question—but I would remind the noble Marquess that we have had strikes before this and I venture to say that never in recent times has there been starvation or privation. As the noble Marquess said, the public conscience would not tolerate such suffering on the part of innocent victims of the dispute, but we maintain that it is better that those who benefit from relief should realise that it comes out of the pockets of their fellow citizens, as they do when it is known that the funds employed are raised by voluntary effort, instead of imagining, as they do, that the money comes out of the bottomless pockets of the State.
§ Moreover, trade unions have a so-called fighting fund compulsorily levied for the express purpose of financing their members and their families during strikes, and this they should certainly have to do themselves when stoppages occur owing to breach of contract on the part of the workers. The noble Marquess also forgets that the children, at any rate, can be left out of the picture, for education authorities have extensive powers. In Fife, where the number of miners is about 30,000, 13,000 children, or 25 per cent. of all in the schools, were fed, and 8,000 received boots or clothing for seven months, at a total cost of £75,000. In other counties proportionately large sums were expended, and it was reported that the physique of the children at the end of the strike was better than at the beginning. As regards other workers than miners, the Act of 1921 covered all, apart from miners on strike. Therefore, when we abolish the Scottish Poor Law system by the first subsection of Clause 1, it should at least be understood that the only reason for doing so is that there has been a calamitous strike by a fraction of the population, who, according to the noble Duke who brought in the Bill, should be assured of support should a similar strike occur. This proviso would 578 discourage lightning and irregular strikes and do something to improve the prospects of the ratepayers and of those unfortunate people, including many miners and other working men, who during a long period of idleness never accepted or asked for parish relief, but maintained themselves out of their own savings. This Bill now makes them liable to subsidise, through their rates, those of their fellow-workers who are supported by parish relief. Incidentally, this Bill deals a back-hand blow to individual thrift and saving.
Page 1, line 11, at end insert the said proviso.—(Viscount Novar.)
THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND)
His Majesty's Government do not see their way to accept this Amendment in the form in which it is moved, for several reasons. In the first place this Amendment, if passed, would deny poor relief to the destitute dependants of persons involved in a certain type of industrial dispute in Scotland, whereas in England dependants similarly situated would be entitled to it. I hardly think that would be considered just. And in considering such an Amendment as this it must never be lost sight of that under the clause parish councils can provide poor relief only if the dependants of the worker himself are destitute, and then only to relieve the dependants, and not the worker. Surely the noble Viscount does not consider the parish council a suitable body to decide whether the action of the employee is or is not in contravention of any existing agreement between employer and employee. The parish council certainly is not a suitable body for that purpose; in fact, it would be totally outside the scope of their powers to decide that point. For these reasons the Government cannot accept the Amendment.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
I should like to add one or two words to what the noble Duke has said. I am very anxious indeed, as I hope I shall show in the course of this evening, that the Government should meet as far as they can the very temperate demands of noble Lords from Scotland for Amendments in this Bill. But I would ask your Lordships to pause for a moment before you 579 agree to this particular Amendment. The noble Duke who has just sat down pointed out in what a very difficult position you are placing the parish councils in Scotland if you pass this Amendment. I notice from one or two of my noble friends signs of dissent to that proposition. The obligation you are throwing upon the parish authorities is to decide whether or not the strike is a breach of an agreement. Of course we are very familiar with these things, and know that in many cases there is a breach of agreement. But it is not so always. In many cases it is extremely difficult to decide. How can you expect the parish authorities to come to a decision upon a matter of that kind? Of course, we all know that there is generally a tremendous altercation in the case of an industrial struggle as to whether it is a strike or a lock-out. That is one of the matters that everybody fights about. I have a great regard for the very high intelligence of the Scottish authorities; I dare say they are very much more intelligent than the corresponding English authorities.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I knew that I should be in agreement with my noble friends there. At the same time you are now asking those authorities to decide a most intricate matter. Surely, there is a great danger in throwing an obligation upon such a body, which it really is not qualified to discharge, and which will only lead to every sort of contradiction as between one parish and another. One parish will hold that there is a breach of agreement, the next parish will hold that there is not a breach of agreement. In one case the women and children will be relieved, in the other case the women and children will not be relieved. That is an impossible way of dealing with the matter. My noble friends, I think, ought to consider much more carefully the wording of their Amendment before they submit it to your Lordships. There should be some much greater authority to make a decision of that kind than the parish council—if that is to be the policy at all.
But I should like also to advance the other difficulty. My noble friend, with whom I have had the opportunity of working very often, has, I know, as warm 580 a heart as any man, and it appeared in the course of his speech. He said it was out of the question that any real hardship should be allowed. He nods his head; of course it is so. But if it is out of the question that any real hardship should be allowed, why is it wrong to specify that in an Act of Parliament? Why should my noble friends prefer always to break the law rather than to do a thing legally? He said, for example, that the education authorities would relieve the children. You cannot do it by law—not as the law stands—in the case of strikers' children. Therefore, what my noble friend suggested was that the education authorities should break the law. It is true that they have been in the habit of breaking the law, and one of the astounding things is that in respect of Scotland, of all places in the world—the most law-abiding part of the United Kingdom—noble Lords should come to us and say: "We prefer that this relief should be given to the women and children by breaking the law, rather than make a very simple provision in the law in order to enable it to be done legally." That really is the question between us. And whether the strikers are breaking an agreement or not makes no difference so far as the women and children are concerned.
I hope your Lordships will realise that I am not at all under-rating the difficulty of the decision to which the Government have come. It is a very formidable thing to say that in the case of strikes women and children are to be assisted. We are not at all blind to the fact that that does assist strikers indirectly, but in the dilemma in which we have been placed we were unable to accept the other horn. Are we to let the women and children starve, or are we to do what my noble friend suggests — leave the authorities to continue to break the law? I suggest that noble Lords should follow the dictates of their hearts in this case. My noble friend knows quite well that we cannot leave the women and children to starve, and he has said so in the most candid way, as we should expect from him. Very well, we must make provision for it. There really is no exit from the rigidity of the logical dilemma in which we are placed. I confess I have arrived at this conclusion with some reluctance, because I know quite well that 581 the helping of the women and children has a tendency to prolong a strike. But I want to be quite candid with the House. How can you accept the alternative? I hope that my noble friend will not press us to accept this Amendment. If we could find any way to meet him I would do so, as I hope we shall be able to show in the case of other Amendments this evening.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
The noble Marquess laid great stress on the fact that relief had been given by breaking the law. That is possibly true, but I maintain that there is the greatest possible difference between enacting a provision of this kind and administering relief, though it may be a breach of the law, in exceptional cases when they arise. It is admitted that by passing this provision and giving organised relief you are assisting the trade unions in their strikes. It is one thing to make it a recognised policy, and thereby give encouragement to men to resort to this means of getting subsistence, and quite another to trust those who are responsible for the administration of relief, allowing them to decide on the merits of specific cases. I do not think the argument of the noble Marquess was sound. If you are going to have a general review of the Poor Law system in Scotland in the future, well and good, but in the meanwhile I think the practice followed in the past on the whole meets the case far better than the provision in the Bill.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR moved, after Clause 1, to insert the following new clause:—
§ Limitation on amount of relief.
§ ".The amount of relief (including where the same is provided otherwise than in money, the cost price thereof) provided under the Poor Law Emergency Provisions (Scotland) Act, 1921, or this Act, shall not in any case exceed the rate of wages prevalent in the locality for unskilled labour."
§ The noble Viscount said: In view of what the noble Marquess said, I did not press my last Amendment, but I am now submitting one to him that has considerable authority behind it. I move it because, not only in Chester-le-Street but in a good many Scottish parishes, extravagant scales of relief were adopted, especially at the beginning of the strike. 582 What happened in a typical mining parish was this. The Board of Health circular was prematurely issued, long before the other sources of relief had been exhausted. There were at that time few, if any, applications for relief. The moment the circular was issued it was taken up by the Socialist Press, which instructed its readers how claims could be made. These at once poured in and were so generously met that the wives of miners had in many cases more to spend on food than they had before when their husbands were genuinely working.
§ This is one example, although it is by no means an extreme case, for in some of them the scale of relief was higher. In one instance, a wife with seven children was given parish relief of 12s. for herself and 16s. for four children under school age or unfit for school, three children were fed at school at a cost to the education authority of 9s., while the parish council paid an extra 1s. 6d. for week-end feeding at home. The total for food for the one family amounted to 38s. 6d. a week. In effect, the men of the families were really fed by the allowances given to their wives and children. All this was done at the ratepayers' expense so that decent, thrifty people were mulcted, not only to maintain the dependents of strikers and the strikers themselves, but to provide more than actual necessities, more perhaps than some of them could afford for themselves. This form of relief lacks common sense and is unjust to the rest of the community. I therefore move this new clause.
Page 2, line 2, at end insert the said new clause.—(Viscount Novar.)
THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND
The Poor Law Act, 1845, requires the parish council to grant "needful sustentation," neither less nor more, and it gives the applicant a right of appeal to the Board of Health on the ground of inadequate relief. Cases might arise, for example, where there was illness among the members of a family, in which more than the rate of wages for unskilled labour might have to be granted in order to afford adequate relief. Such cases would probably be few in number. On the other hand, if your Lordships were 583 to accept such an Amendment, there would be a certain danger that the rate of wages for unskilled labour might be adopted as the normal scale of relief, irrespective of whether or not it was necessary. Instead of curtailing expenditure, the effect of the Amendment might be in certain districts to increase expenditure. From the information I have, there is no evidence in Scotland of such extravagant scales of relief being given as to necessitate such a provision as this. I know the noble Viscount quoted the question of mining districts. He is a great authority on that part of the world, for he lives there, but the information which the Scottish Office has is that as a general rule there is no evidence in Scotland of extravagant scales of relief being given in that way.
Moreover, if this Amendment was passed in its present form I believe it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to work. For instance, opinions differ in each area as to what is the prevalent wage of unskilled labour. Some will say one figure in one district, because they know a number of people who have that wage, and in other districts for the same reason another figure will be given. It is very difficult for parish councils to ascertain the exact and true figure. General knowledge is far too indefinite to be reliable for such a purpose as this. But His Majesty's Government, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, the Leader of the House, said just now, do want to meet as much as possible noble Lords who really feel strongly on this point. May I ask the noble Lord not to press his Amendment to-day and I can promise him that, if he will not press it to-day, between now and the Report Stage the Government will take the opportunity of carefully considering this point and seeing if in any other way or in any different form we can meet it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3:
§ Power to give relief on loan.
§ 3. Any relief (including, where the same is provided otherwise than in money, the cost price thereof) provided under the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845, or under the 584 Poor Law Emergency Provisions (Scotland) Act, 1921, or under Section one of this Act to or on account of any person or to his dependants, which the parish council shall direct to be provided by loan, shall be deemed and is hereby declared to be a loan to the person to or on account of whom or to whose dependants the relief shall have been provided if either (a) a receipt containing a statement that the relief is provided by way of a loan or a written undertaking to repay the relief shall have been given by such person, or (b) a notification in writing that the relief is so provided shall have been given to such person; and any loan shall be recoverable by the parish council from such person as a debt.
§ THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND moved, before the first "loan," to insert "way of." The noble Lord said: This is merely a drafting Amendment to rectify a verbal slip.
Page 2, line 21, after ("by") insert ("way of").—(The Duke of Sutherland.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND moved to insert the following proviso:—
Provided that nothing in this section shall authorise relief under the said Act of 1845, being provided by way of loan unless the person to or on account of whom the relief is provided or his dependants were immediately prior thereto in receipt of relief under the said Act of 1921, or section one of this Act.
The noble Duke said: This Amendment I promised in the Second Reading debate. The Government have put it down in order to provide that relief under the principal Act of 1845, which is limited to persons who are both destitute and disabled, can be given by way of loan only where, at the time the claim for relief under that Act emerges, the person is in receipt of relief under the Act of 1921 or his dependants are being relieved under Clause 1 of this Bill. The whole point is, as I explained to your Lordships on Second Reading, that very often when they are first disabled they come under one Act, then they become no longer disabled but only destitute, and they come under the other Act. This is to make for conformity so that this difficulty will not arise.
§ Hitherto all poor relief in Scotland has been given without any obligation to repay. In the ordinary case of relief to the disabled person it is not proposed that the position should be altered; but 585 it is thought that where relief is given to an able-bodied person or to the dependants of a person involved in a trade dispute there should be a power to the Poor Law authority to give the relief on loan. It is understood that in England, where there is a general power to give relief on loan, it is only in such cases that it is so given. If we were to cut out from this clause the power to give on loan relief under the 1845 Act administrative difficulties would arise. A man, in receipt of relief under the 1921 Act which is being given on loan, becomes disabled by sickness, and therefore a proper object of relief under the 1845 Act: on his recovering and still being unemployed, he would again come under the 1921 Act. These changes from 1921 Act cases to 1845 Act cases, or "ins" and "outs" as they may be called, would be a source of administrative trouble for the parish council and it is for this reason alone that we are not able to exclude the 1845 Act altogether.
Page 2, line 31, at end insert the said proviso.—(The Duke of Sutherland.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
VISCOUNT NOVAR moved after Clause 3 to insert the following new clause:—
.The parish council before giving relief under this Act shall be entitled to require information from any person concerned, whether in the public service or not, as to the financial resources, including any credit balances, of any applicant for relief, and it shall be the duty of the parish council to make full enquiries under this section.
§ The noble Viscount said: I move this in view of the many complaints that parish councils did not, and could not, obtain information as to the private resources of applicants for relief and that this was given indiscriminately even though parish councillors were often convinced that numbers of the applicants had War Savings Certificates or sums to their credit at banks. In one case, and there were probably others, the manager of a co-operative store sat on the parish council and never gave information as to the shares and dividends of co-operative members applying for relief. I suggest that Poor Law officials should be directed to demand full information as to private 586 resources and that the Post Office and co-operative societies should be bound to disclose the financial holdings of claimants for relief. Without this you will have this result. Those who have never claimed Poor Law relief will have expended their savings at the end of a strike, while the savings of those who have been supported by the rates will remain intact. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 31, at end insert the said new clause.—(Viscount Novar.)
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
Before the noble Duke replies, I should like to ask my noble friend (Viscount Novar) whether the wording of his clause is not somewhat wider than the intention disclosed by his remarks. According to his wording the parish council could require information from any person concerned, whether in the public service or not, as to the financial resources of a man seeking relief. It is possible to imagine the necessity for as wide a clause as we can have, but a clause that would require any bank to give information would at once permit any person, whether in the public service or not, to be interrogated and every bank could be forced to give information as to the credits of its customers. That would be impossible. What I think my noble friend intended was that if any applicant for relief had money in savings banks or similar institutions then a public servant should be able to demand from such an institution or bank whether the person demanding relief had money to his credit. I suggest that the words, as they are at present, are too wide.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
May I ask what is the objection to a banker saying whether or not a person applying for relief has money standing to his credit at the bank? If he has money standing to his credit at the bank he has no business to apply for relief. Having been a bank director myself I know it is not the custom of banks to disclose the amount of money standing to the credit of any of their customers but, as the law stands at present, a Judge can make them do it. That being so, I really do not see why a person who goes to the parish and applies for relief, if he has a balance at his bank, should not be compelled to disclose it. There is no difficulty about it.
THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND
Clause 3 (1) applies the provisions of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845, to relief granted under the Bill. In terms of Section 70 of that Act the Inspector of Poor, whose duty it is to attend to applications for relief, is "bound to make enquiry forthwith into the circumstances of the applicant." The section further provides that the applicant is bound to give to the Inspector of Poor and to the parish council "all information and assistance which it is in his power to give.…. regarding his case which the Inspector may desire to ascertain" and is "bound to answer upon oath, if required, all such questions as may be put to him before any Justice of the Peace or Magistrate, and in case of false swearing shall be liable to be prosecuted for perjury." The Chairman of the parish council being ex officio a Justice of the Peace, the council have the means at hand for taking answers on oath in every case if they think fit. The machinery provided by the section would appear, therefore, to be as complete as it is possible to make it so far as the applicant's evidence is concerned.
The meaning of the Amendment is not clear. It probably proposes that the parish council should be empowered to require information as to the financial resources (including any bank balances) of the applicant from any person concerned, whether in the public service or not. If that is its meaning it would be a very far-reaching proposal. It would, for example, enable the council to require trade unions, co-operative societies, savings banks, both trustee and Post Office, to disclose information as to any balances which might stand at the credit of the applicant. Apart from the question of confidentiality of the information it is doubtful whether the power would be of any practical value in the case of the Post Office Savings Bank. Accounts may be opened at any Post Office in Great Britain, and unless the Post Office were informed of the particular office at which the applicant had his account and the number of his account they could not answer any question with respect to the balance standing at its credit. It would similarly be impracticable for the Post Office to supply information as to War Savings Certificates held by an applicant for relief
588 Further, although the parish council may require the information there is no obligation on the person concerned to supply it nor penalty imposed on him for failure to do so. I understand that no penalty is imposed and no obligation put on the person concerned by the proposed clause. Without some provision of that kind the Amendment would, I am afraid, produce little practical result. Parish councils have been able in some cases to obtain information as to applicants' holdings in co-operative societies and they frequently consult employers as to the wages earned by applicants. In the circumstances it would appear to be advisable to let matters rest on existing statutory powers and leave parish councils to make such administrative arrangements as are open to them for verifying the information supplied by applicants for relief. My noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam mentioned the point of banks disclosing the credit of clients. I did not know that it was possible for banks to be forced to disclose the credits of their clients and I do not think, if you were to ask them, the majority of noble Lords in this House would say that it was a fair thing that banks should be forced to give the amounts standing to their credit. If you are not to force the banks to disclose the credits of their customers in all cases, I think it would be difficult to say that you should force them to do so in particular cases.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I do not think the last proposition of the noble Duke quite meets the case that is put. This is not a case of the public generally having their banking accounts disclosed, but it is a very special case of the man who comes to ask for Poor Law relief. The whole essence of the obligation, I take it, depends on the authority which is asked to give relief being satisfied that it is a case for giving relief. Therefore it appears to me that the authority, before it gives relief, should have every possible opportunity given to it of ascertaining whether the case is a deserving one or not: in other words, whether the relief is required. The noble Duke has stated that certain facilities are given for that already by the law of Scotland. That may be so, but the proposal of the noble Viscount, Lord Novar, goes a little further and says that in addition to these existing facilities there should be power 589 to see what credit balances there are at the bank, whether at the savings bank or any other bank. I see no hardships in that in the case of persons seeking relief.
The noble Duke says this may be very ineffective. I do not know about that. It may be very difficult in some cases, if a man has carefully concealed his means, to ascertain exactly where his bank balances are, but in the majority of cases I take it the balances would probably be in the place where the applicant is living, unless he has taken special precautions to conceal them in other parts of the country. If the remedy would not be effective in all cases, it obviously would be extremely effective in some cases, and I venture to think that on that ground it should be accepted. Then my noble friend Lord Banbury pointed out that in certain cases, or in many cases where it is at all relevant to the issue before the Court, the Court can order a copy of the bank account of a person to be produced in Court and examined. That, I think, is perfectly correct so far as my knowledge goes. The noble Viscount opposite will correct me if I am wrong, but he must be fully aware that in numerous cases the Court exercises that power where it is at all relevant. In these cases it seems to me to be obviously relevant. These cases are the sort of cases in which, if they came before the Court, the Court would order the production of the bank account. I hope the noble Viscount will persist in his Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I have, as I must frankly admit, the greatest sympathy with the Amendment, and if I could see my way to accept it on behalf of His Majesty's Government I would do so. But I hope my noble friend will allow me to point out that there are difficulties. I dare say he may be able to get over those difficulties. In the first place, it is clearly very difficult to go so far as to say that the parish council should have the right to demand confidential papers from the bank, as was proposed by my noble friend behind me who spoke just now. Then there is a difficulty which is much more likely to arise. There is no certainty that you can find the particular savings bank in which 590 the applicant has his deposit and I understand the same difficulty arises with regard to War Savings Certificates.
Lastly, there is a formidable difficulty which my noble friend has to get over, and that is that he has not proposed any machinery by which his proposal can be enforced. There are no penalties attached to it. Suppose a co-operative society refused to give the information: my noble friend has proposed no machinery to compel them. I am sure he will see that it requires thinking out a little more. I do not find fault with him because his draft is not complete, but he must see that in its present form the Amendment will require a great deal of knocking into shape. I should like to invite him to confer with me between now and the Report stage to see if we cannot hammer out something. Prima facie the statement that a man who applies for relief should not have a fat balance at the bank appeals to the sense of justice of all of us, but the practical difficulties in the way are formidable. I therefore invite my noble friend to take that course.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
Before my noble friend replies I would like to draw attention to one point. My noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury made great play with the statement that the law has been repeatedly broken in Scotland. I am not a lawyer, but I do not admit that. Apparently the law was broken recently under instructions from the Government, but so far as I understand that has not been the case in the past.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am advised that the law has been repeatedly broken and I may say habitually broken.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
I am given to understand that it has not been broken, but luckily neither of us is a lawyer. What I would like to draw attention to is that, as far as I understand, it is illegal for parish councils to give relief to these people when they have large balances at the bank. My noble friend is trying to prevent this illegality going on. I admit there are difficulties and objections, as pointed out by my noble friend the Leader of the House, but it does seem to me that there is a great deal to be said for this Amendment. Although the Amendment may not 591 be perfect it will give parish councils much greater facilities for making inquiries, and will help them. I believe that in the last strike inquiries were very inadequate and also that the means of obtaining information were not sufficient. I do not know whether my noble friend intends to go to a Division on this Amendment but if he leaves it over to the Report stage I hope something substantial will be done so as to prevent those who may have large balances at the bank getting payment at the expense of the ratepayers.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I hope this matter may be considered in the sense suggested by the noble Marquess opposite. I think Section 70 of the Act of 1845 probably goes far enough. That may have to be further considered, but to put, as Viscount Novar suggests, a duty on parish councils which parish councils certainly cannot fulfil is not, in my opinion, a beneficial way of arriving at the true facts which you want in cases of this sort. I am not talking of cases of litigation where bank accounts may have to be considered. That is a different matter. What is proposed here is that it should be the duty of parish councils to make full inquiries. How can they fulfil that duty? It is quite an impossible duty, and if it is an impossible duty I do not think this Amendment will make the clause better but more difficult. I hope the matter will be dealt with as the noble Marquess suggests and perhaps a solution may be found.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
In reply to what the noble Marquess has said I would remind him that some parish councils have no desire to ask any questions and that this Amendment seeks to impose upon them the duty of so doing. I think in some cases it is as much required as at Chester-le-Street, but I would rather have a representative body doing its duty than I would see it superseded by commissioners, however well selected, and that was part of my reason for moving this Amendment. I should have preferred myself to take a Division and then, if the Amendment had been carried, it might have been easy to enlist the experience and ability of the Government draftsmen, but I am quite sure from what the noble Marquess has said that he would like to meet this very serious 592 evil if it is possible to do so. Therefore, again I give way.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4:
§ 11 & 12 Geo. 5. c. 64. to be further continued.
§ 4. The Poor Law Emergency Provisions (Scotland) Act, 1921, and this Act shall continue in force until the fifteenth day of May, nineteen hundred and thirty.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE moved to substitute "twenty-eight" for "thirty." The noble Viscount said: I will only detain your Lordships a moment or two in moving this Amendment, as I expressed my views very strongly about it in the Second Reading debate. I still think that an emergency measure of this kind ought to deal solely with the point at issue. It ought not to be used as a vehicle for changing the law of Scotland or anywhere else, as this Bill does in a very marked degree and in a degree which is capable of a great deal of objection. I desire to limit its duration to one year and not to four years.
§ The noble Marquess, I think, is ready to meet me to a certain extent on this matter. He has already told the House that it is the intention of the Government to deal with the Poor Law of Scotland and also with the Poor Law of England. That will, no doubt, take some time. I suggested that the Act of 1921, which expires at the end of the year, might have been continued, since it has had effect for a considerable period, under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act this year. I was warned against that proceeding, because it was said that the Act would then fall into a sort of bottomless pit out of which it would be very unlikely ever to emerge. But, if it did not emerge in another place, I think we should take good care that it emerged when it came here, and therefore the prospect does not appal me. I am ready to give way to the extent of moving that the period be extended from May 15 to December 31, 1928, if the noble Marquess will meet me, thus giving the Government the Summer Recess during which to consider what justification there really is for a change in the law, so that they may deal with the matter in the next sittings of Parliament. I think that, if the noble Marquess will meet me on that point, my noble friends behind me are willing to accept that concession with 593 great gratitude, but we very strongly object to the period of four years, and we consider it our duty to divide against that proposal. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE
I will move the Amendment that appears upon the Paper, because I do not know what the noble Marquess will say.
Page 2, line 34, leave out ("thirty") and insert ("twenty-eight").—(Viscount Younger of Leckie.)
§ LORD LAMINGTON
I hope the Government will accept my noble friend's suggestion. It is obvious that there are plenty of safeguards for dealing with this matter, as has been pointed out more than once in debate, and those who have had most experience of the alleviation of distress by parish councils in Scotland are heartily in favour of a time limit to this Bill. I will not say anything further, but I hope that the very reasonable suggestion of my noble friend below me will be accepted by His Majesty's Government.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
Since I have not been very successful with my Amendment, I should like very strongly to support that of my noble friend, on time ground that, if one cannot have too much of a good thing, one can certainly have too much of a bad thing. The recent proposal of the London Municipal Society, issued from Palace Chambers, that the Minister of Health should replace the local authorities in sixty-four more areas with properly selected Commissioners suggests that a Poor Law system which leads to such widespread extravagance and maladministration must be a bad system. The Leader of the House may suggest that sixty or seventy boards of guardians out of the six or seven hundred in England are but a small minority, but I will reply with the argument with which he met my protest against changing the Scottish Poor Law for the sake of forty-five parishes—namely, that after studying the list of the local authorities in question I have come to the conclusion that they also contain a considerable proportion of the population of England.
594 Any such wholesale suspension of elected representatives and it has already begun—must inevitably force the Government to grapple with the reform of the English Poor Law, and I suggest that the less we have in Scotland of this moribund system the better. My great fear is that this or any other Government, after the great effort of dealing with a reform in England, will lapse into the lethargy that overtakes Governments after carrying an intricate and difficult measure, and that Scotland will be left high and dry with the alien and imperfect Poor Law that England has discarded. I regret that the Bill was not rejected in toto, but, if Scottish opinion is to be disregarded, at any rate let the application of this discredited system be so restricted in time that the habit of applying it and the curious and unsavoury malpractices that it apparently makes possible do not become rooted in our soil.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I cannot complain of my noble friend's speech, because it was my duty on the Second Reading to oppose him and he has every right to try to "get his own back" again in Committee, but I am sure that he will forgive me if I do not go once more into the wide Second Reading question. After all, the point between His Majesty's Government and my noble friends behind me from Scotland is a very small one. We both agree that the Bill ought not to be permanent in form, but we differ as to the limit that shall primarily be assigned to it. The Government say it should be three years, and my noble friend, in the Amendment that he has placed upon the Paper, says that it should be one year. As I ventured to say upon the Second Reading, this is only a difference of degree. My noble friend is now good enough to say that he will stretch his period of one year up to the end of 1928. I am not going to oppose my noble friend if he moves his Amendment in that form. I am going to accept it on behalf of the Government.
But I want to be quite frank with the House. I do not think that there is any probability—noble Lords are as good judges as I am of this matter—that the Poor Law system of Scotland will be effectually reformed in the course of next year. In that case we shall have to deal 595 with the situation at the end of 1928, if we accept my noble friend's proposal. I am afraid that the only course that will then be open to us will be to put the Bill into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. There is nothing else to be done, for we cannot leave the matter hanging in the air. Anybody who understands administration will realise that. Let there, then, be no question of any breach of faith when that time comes and we are obliged to make that proposal to Parliament and to your Lordships' House. So far as the present Amendment is concerned, I am willing to accept it in the form suggested.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 2, leave out line 34 and insert ("thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and twenty-eight").—(Viscount Younger of Leckie.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining clause agreed to.