HL Deb 12 July 1934 vol 93 cc560-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, at this late hour I will endeavour not to detain you longer than is necessary, but the Bill is of great importance to Scotland, and it would be improper were I not to draw your attention to some of its very important provisions. In 1921 a temporary Poor Law Act made it legal for the first time in Scotland to give relief to the able-bodied unemployed. That Act and a number of subsequent enactments which amended it still remain as temporary provisions. The new Unemployment Act makes provision on a permanent basis for the assistance of the great mass of the unemployed by the Unemployment Assistance Board, but some of the unemployed will remain with the local authorities. The time has thus arrived for incorporating the present temporary law relating to the able-bodied unemployed in the permanent structure of the Poor Law. This is done by Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill.

In making that law permanent it is proposed, firstly, to give to the able-bodied poor who have been refused all relief the right of appeal to the Sheriff which the ordinary or disabled poor have, a right that was denied the able-bodied poor in the temporary Act of 1921. This is done in Clause 2 (1). Secondly, it is proposed to give the able-bodied poor the advantage of receiving training to fit him to enter or to return to employment in the same way as the unemployed dealt with by the Unemployment Assistance Board under Part II of the new Unemployment Act. Thirdly, local authorities are empowered under Clause 7 (2) to require, in particular cases, a person to perform work, as a condition of receiving outdoor relief. The work will be at a work centre provided by the authority or at a Poor Law institution. At present local authorities have only two alternatives: to grant unconditional relief, or to send the applicant to the poorhouse. The Scottish poor relief system is mainly an outdoor system and it is often not a satisfactory solution to send a man to a poorhouse. The new proposal offers a middle course which we think is in the interests of the men themselves. Training and performance of work are to be subject to regulations made by the Central Department and laid before Parliament. An important part of the Bill—Clauses 4, 5 and 6—is concerned with protecting the interests of poor persons and strengthening their present rights to appeal against decisions of a local authority. These rights at present are (a) appeal to the Sheriff when all relief is refused, and (b) complaint to the Central Department when insufficient or unsuitable relief is given.

The clauses may now be referred to briefly. The purposes of Clauses 1 and 2 have already been dealt with. An important change is proposed in Clause 3. In the present law the amount of relief afforded rests with the authority of the settlement area. The authorities may take different views as to the amount of relief necessary, with the result that persons in the same locality and in exactly similar circumstances may receive different amounts of relief merely because their settlements are in different areas. It is proposed to remove that anomaly by placing the whole duty of relieving a case, including the fixing of the amount of relief to be given, upon the authority of the area of residence. But the settlement authority could not be expected to repay whatever sum the residence authority might think fit to grant without the settlement authority having any control over the expenditure for which they might be liable. It is accordingly proposed that the residence authority will be able to recover not more than the settlement authority would have paid if the applicant had been relieved in the area of settlement. If authorities cannot agree as to the amount to be recovered the dispute will be decided by the Department. It is a natural corollary to this arrangement that the power of the local authority to remove a poor person to a settlement area should be restricted. Otherwise an authority could escape the implication of the clause by removing persons in respect of whom they are able to recover only part of the cost of relief.

I have already dealt with Clauses 4, 5 and 6. Clause 7 is an essential part of the Bill in its relation to the Unemployment Act. The object of subsection (1) is to enable the local authority to take constructive action towards making unemployed persons fit to enter or return to regular employment. The Poor Law authority need not itself establish courses. They may contribute towards the cost of courses provided by another local authority or by any other body. This provision would enable the authority to co-operate with the Ministry of Labour, the Unemployment Assistance Board and education authorities, and so on. The purpose of subsection (2) is to enable local authorities to deal with special cases of difficulty, for example, persons suspended from Part II of the Unemployment Act for contravention of conditions attached to unemployment assistance and analogous cases amongst those who do not come within the scope of Part II of the Unemployment Act. At present the only alternative to the granting of unconditional outdoor relief is admission to the poorhouse. The subsection would give authorities a middle course between those offers. It should be emphasised that the provision will apply to exceptional cases only. The work to be provided will be at a work centre or a Poor Law institution. Men cannot be called upon to undertake the normal work of other departments of the authority.

Clause 8 aims at the break-up of the present general or mixed poorhouse where many types of inmates requiring different methods of treatment are found. Among the classes for whom separate accommodation is desired may be mentioned the sick, the children, the aged and infirm. With regard to Clause 9 it is well known that in every poorhouse inmates at present perform work in the institutions and it will be generally agreed that suitable work is a necessary part of the life of inmates who are fit to perform it. Performance of work is an important matter, and should have statutory authority. It is proposed therefore that the provisions for work by inmates should be governed, not by rules made by local authorities, but by regulations made by the Department and laid before Parliament.

Clause 10 contains an important provision dealing with the boarding-out of children. The system of boarding-out with private persons children who have come under the control of authorities has long been a feature of poor law administration in Scotland, and it is generally recognised that the system has been amply justified by results. The system has developed without specific statutory authority. This clause is intended to give that authority and to secure that boarding-out will in all cases be under the best possible conditions. To that end it is proposed that all arrangements for boarding-out shall be made subject to regulations made by the Department of Health.

Clause 11 deals with exceptions to the general principle of Scottish Poor Law administration—that local authorities are required to have regard to all resources available to the applicant for his support. That principle is already qualified by certain statutory exceptions in the National Health Insurance Act, 1924, and in the Determination of Needs Act, 1932. Under the National Health Insurance Act, 1924, local authorities are required to disregard the first 7s. 6d. of Health Insurance benefit. Certain authorities have, however, been disinclined to observe that provision. The argument was used that as the statutory provision was in a Health Insurance Act and not in a Poor Law Act, it was not part of the Scottish Poor Law. Such an argument was highly fallacious, and to remove any possibility of misapprehension it is proposed to incorporate the provision regarding the disregard of the first 7s. 6d. of health insurance benefit in the present Bill.

It is further proposed to require that the first 5s. of sick pay from a friendly society or trade union shall be disregarded. A similar provision regarding sick pay from a friendly society has been in the English Statutes for a long period and the object is to place the recipients of poor relief in Scotland in a similar position to that of recipients in England. A new provision is introduced regarding the treatment of wounds and disability pensions. The first £1 of pension will be wholly disregarded and its observance will be compulsory upon the local authority. At present local authorities have a discretion under the Determination of Needs Act, 1932, to disregard one-half of the wounds and disability pension, and the exercise of discretion has resulted in unequal treatment of pensioners in the different areas.

In regard to Clause 12, that merely deals with the duties of inspectors of the poor and other officers. Clause 13 makes regulations whereby the Department would administer the Bill. The other clauses are not, I think, of any great importance, and are more or less self-explanatory. It would be untrue to say that this Bill was an agreed measure: it is safe to say that in the form in which it arrives at your Lordships' House its value is generally recognised and generally accepted; and I think it is universally recognised that it is a great step forward in the public provision for the poor of Scotland.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strathcona, and Mount Royal.)


My Lords, there are certain aspects of this Bill, which I con- fess I have only barely studied, which are good, particularly those which deal with the right of appeal by poor persons, now extended to grades other than those which previously enjoyed that right. But I must put in a formal protest and objection to Clause 7, which includes under the Poor Law persons similar to those who come under unemployment insurance, and particularly subsection (2) under which able-bodied persons may be compelled to go to work centres and do work. I put forward a purely formal protest along lines similar to the protest that I made on behalf of my Party in connection with the Unemployment Insurance Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.