§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ Duty of local authorities to promote welfare of blind persons.
§ In determining, in the case of any blind person, whether or not, or to what extent, to provide financial assistance under the preceding provisions of this subsection, the council shall take into account not only the needs of the blind person, but also the needs of any members of the household of which the blind person is a member who are dependent on him, and the rules laid down in paragraphs (a) to (e) of subsection (3) of Section thirty-eight of the Unemployment Act, 1934 (which require certain assets of the person concerned to be disregarded), shall be complied with in computing the resources of any person in order to determine his needs for the purposes of this subsection.
§ LORD STRABOLGI moved, in the paragraph beginning "In determining," after "subsection," where that word first occurs, to insert "any old age pension payable to the blind person under the Old Age Pensions Act, 1936, as amended by Section one of this Act shall be disregarded and." The noble Lord said: On behalf of my Party I have been asked to move this Amendment. As your Lordships see, it is quite simple. It is an instruction to the local council, in assessing the means of the blind person who is to receive financial assistance, to ignore the old age pension if the blind person is receiving it. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is a humane proposal, and I hope the Government will see their way to accept the Amendment.
Page 2, line 15, after ("subsection") insert the said words.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
This Amendment was moved in a somewhat different form in another place and was rejected there 8 after a Division. Therefore I think the noble Lord will not expect me to accept it here. Looking at the matter in the simplest possible way, what the noble Lord suggests is that the blind ought to be given more money than they are being given at present. That is to say, he does not think they are getting sufficient at present. The question whether extra money should come from the pocket of the taxpayer or the ratepayer is an important question, but still it is a subsidiary question of machinery. I suggest that if it is proposed to take more money from the taxpayer or the ratepayer to give to the blind, some case ought to be made out for the view that they are not having enough already. As I said on Second Reading, we are not aware of any case where the blind are being treated ungenerously or meanly. My noble friend opposite has not been backward in the past in bringing to light cases of scandal or abuse and I am sure he will continue in that very admirable function. I can only say that I have never had any such case brought to my notice by the noble Lord or by any member of his Party.
We none of us would like to be in the position of depriving a blind man of his just due, but I must say that our conclusion is that the present system is working perfectly well, that the blind are getting sufficient to live on, and that the small changes made by this Bill will not affect that situation at all. I must further point out that the effect of the Amendment would be to create a certain disparity between various classes of the blind. If a blind man is earning ten shillings that would be taken into consideration, but if he is receiving a pension of ten shillings that pension would not be taken into account under the noble Lord's Amendment. I do not know whether I have satisfied the noble Lord as to the reasons why we cannot accept his Amendment, but the main point is that so far as we know the blind are being properly treated at present and we see no ground for introducing this complicated and, as we think, unnecessary alteration in the law.
§ LORD ADDISON
I would ask the noble Viscount to give a little more consideration to this matter. None of us have ever contended that anything in the way of improper treatment of the blind has prevailed, but we are dealing 9 now with a very important extension of the Act of 1920. Under that Act it was optional for a local authority to provide certain services to help the blind, and local organisations for the assistance of the blind, where they were efficient, were recognised and in some cases promoted. But in many areas no such organisations existed and were not brought into being. Under this Bill it will become the duty of the council of every county or county borough to make arrangements as provided by Clause 2 (1). That is a very important and most welcome extension of the Act of 1920. If the noble Viscount looks at the subsection to which the Amendment relates he will see that the duty of the councils will include the provision and maintenance of workshops, hostels, homes and other places, mainly, no doubt, for training and for varied forms of help to the blind in the way of teaching them to read and in many other ways. These services, instead of being optional, row become—and we welcome the change—the duty of the authority in question. We think it is reasonable that, so far as there is an extension of facilities to persons already receiving help under the 1920 Act, no account should be taken of pensions. This Bill contemplates additional and extended forms of assistance, and I would urge on the noble Viscount that the proposed Amendment is entirely fair. I hope he will see his way to reconsider his decision.
I will certainly look into what the noble Lord has said, but I was under the impression that the obligations of local authorities were being carried on by this Bill.
Only in a very slight degree. I think I am right in saying that under the 1920 Act they have the duty of providing for the welfare of the blind.
§ LORD ADDISON
I do not like to interrupt, but I had to deal with this matter when I was in another place and I would point out that the provision of assistance was optional and not compulsory and that it could be given through local organisations. Now it becomes compulsory, and we welcome it.
I will not pit my knowledge of the subject against the 10 knowledge of the noble Lord, who had to administer the Act when he was Minister of Health, but I was certainly under the impression that we were merely continuing a service; that we were giving greater facilities to the local authority but nevertheless were continuing a principle which had been in existence since 1920. The noble Lord referred to institutions but the Amendment goes a great deal further and would affect ordinary domiciliary assistance. I will certainly give further consideration to what the noble Lord has said, but I cannot for the moment hold out hope that there is much chance of the Amendment being accepted.
In view of the noble Viscount's promise to look into the matter I do not propose to press this Amendment to a Division. I will only say that I am not greatly impressed by one of his arguments, that the matter was fully discussed in another place and divided upon. Many noble Lords will bear me out when I say that another place makes very grave errors in legislation, and sometimes the greater the majority the greater the error.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.