§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Mine is an agreeable task this afternoon. I have to explain the main principles and provisions of a Bill which I know will receive a wholehearted welcome from noble Lords in all parts of the House. This is a Bill which makes a strong appeal to the sense of social justice which animates your Lordships' House, and it provides another opportunity for us to assist in mitigating undeserved distress and human misfortune. The National Assistance Bill has for its general object the completion of the Government's comprehensive plan of social legislation, the greater part of which is already on the Statute Book. Family allowances and increased old age pensions are already being paid, and the remaining parts of the general scheme of National Insurance and the new National Health Service will be brought into operation on July 5 next. To these measures will be added the legislation which is at present before your Lordships' House, to provide for the care of deprived children.
The present Bill rounds off this new social service structure. It deals with the residual social needs which remain outside the scope of the Acts to which I have referred. National Insurance, as the words imply, is concerned with the provision of cash benefits in return for contributions. There are, however, many contingencies which cannot be covered by insurance principles and which require a different 1097 line of approach and treatment. The National Health Service is designed to promote health, and to meet the needs of those who require some form of medical or nursing care. There are, however, many people who are not suffering from illness or disability requiring the professional skill of doctor or nurse, but who need care and attention of a different kind. In this country to-day some 400,000 men and women and their dependent children are receiving outdoor relief under the Poor Law, and there are over 100,000 people, comprising sick, infirm, crippled, as well as old people, in Poor Law hospitals and other institutions. There are also, as your Lordships are aware, 30,000 children, bereft of parental care, who are being dealt with by the Poor Law authorities, either in institutions of one kind or another, or boarded out with foster-parents.
The first thing which this Bill will achieve is the complete and final abolition of the Poor Law. The process of dismemberment has gone steadily forward throughout this century, but the hopes, engendered by successive amending measures, of removing the fear and dislike that the old system of relief carried with it have not been fully realised—not because of shortcomings on the part of the administrators but because the Poor Law itself rests on conceptions which our present-day social outlook will not tolerate. The point has been reached where the only way to deal with the Poor Law is to abolish it, so that the social services of the future, in every branch, may be services to which any member of the community will readily have recourse, without loss of self-respect and without fear of sitgma, whenever his need may arise—services, moreover, which must be administered with human understanding and sympathy. So the remaining responsibilities of Poor Law authorities—consisting chiefly of the provision of outdoor relief and the institutional care of the aged and other non-sick persons—are merged into the new services which are provided by the present Bill. Every noble Lord will, I feel sure, hail the demise of the old Poor Law.
These new services fall naturally into two parts. On the one hand, it is necessary to meet the needs of those who for the most part live a normal home life, but find themselves in need of financial 1098 help. On the other, account must be taken of the person who, whether or not his financial resources are sufficient for his requirements, has a primary need of a different kind—namely, a need for care and attention that he cannot secure in ordinary home life. Any comprehensive scheme of assistance must necessarily make this twofold provision. The Government have decided completely to separate the duty of providing financial assistance from that of providing care and attention. While the latter will remain within the sphere of local government, the former will become an entirely national service. It will stand as a reserve behind the National Insurance and allied services to assist people in special circumstances which are not otherwise covered. There will, at the outset, be substantial numbers of people who because of age or life-long disability cannot become eligible for insurance benefit. Then there are those who are self employed, and so cannot qualify for unemployment benefit. And there are people who may become the victims of sudden affliction, such as fire or flood, or other abnormal circumstances, and who will urgently need temporary assistance.
But a change from local to national administration is not enough. It is essential to ensure that the new scheme is administered from the start in a new spirit; it must not be permitted to acquire a fresh taint and thus come to be regarded as the old Poor Law under a new name. Assistance must, of course, be based on a person's need, or the whole basis of the insurance scheme would be threatened. But the administration must be humane and enlightened. That is vitally important. The Government have therefore decided that the responsibility for providing financial assistance for persons in need living in their own homes shall be placed upon the Assistance Board. I think it is generally agreed that the Board have developed an administration imbued with the spirit of social service, and here I would like to pay a sincere tribute to the present Chairman, Lord Soulbury, to his predecessor, Lord Rushcliffe, to their colleagues on the Board and to its local officers for the fine reputation which their work has so deservedly won. We are convinced that the Board, under the new and more appropriate title of National Assistance Board, will administer 1099 the new and broader scheme with the same care for the welfare of the applicants as has hitherto been shown.
The Board's present organisation of local officers and appeal tribunals will be maintained with a minimum of alteration, though some changes will no doubt be necessary in the distribution of local officers. It will be the duty of the Board to assist persons who are without resources, or whose resources must be supplemented to meet their requirements. For the sake of uniformity and general convenience, the machinery for deciding claims for non-contributory pensions—which are payable subject to means—is being assimilated to that for dealing with applications for assistance. The Board's local officer will give the decision in the first instance, and his decision will be subject to a right of appeal to the appeal tribunal. In order to have the benefit of advice and assistance of persons having local knowledge and experience the Board will set up area advisory committees.
The scale of national assistance will be governed by statutory regulations. These regulations will be made by the Minister of National Insurance after consideration of drafts submitted by the Board. The Board will be required to frame their first draft for submission to the Minister as soon as may be after the Bill has passed into law, and as the initiative rests with the Board it would be improper for me to attempt to forecast what the contents of the regulations will eventually prove to be. The regulations will, however, require the affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament—and this should ensure that the standards to be applied will be acceptable to public opinion. In some respects the Bill itself gives guidance about the contents of the regulations. It lays down certain principles and rules about the treatment of resources. It also requires that special provision shall be made for blind persons, and for persons who have suffered a loss of income in order to undergo treatment for tuberculosis of the respiratory system.
At present, the major local authorities are responsible for the welfare, training and care of the blind; all financial assistance to blind persons has to be given under the Blind Persons' Act, and not under the Poor Law. The specialised welfare services required by the blind will 1100 continue to be provided by the local authorities, but financial assistance in future will be provided by the State through the National Assistance Board. In framing proposals for this special treatment of the blind, the Board will take into consideration the special circumstances arising from blindness—the most tragic of all handicaps—including the extra expenses which blind people invariably have to incur, and the extent of the preferential treatment which they are at this moment receiving from local authorities.
Many thousands of people suffering from tuberculosis of the respiratory system are at present receiving allowances under a special scheme which was introduced during the war. This scheme provided for allowances, borne nationally but administered locally, to be paid to persons who were willing to give up work in order to undergo treatment. The present scheme, which was set up as a war-time man-power measure, applies only to persons to whom treatment offers a fair chance of recovery. The incurable is excluded. It is now proposed to replace this scheme by a better and wider system. Sufferers from tuberculosis of the respiratory system will, in future, look to the National Assistance Board for any financial assistance which they may need, and to the regional hospital boards for treatment. As regards sufferers who give up work to undergo treatment, the regulations will, like the present scheme, have regard to their special position, and will provide special additions to the normal rates of assistance. Furthermore—and this I would emphasise—the limitation of the existing system will disappear, and these special additions will be paid to all sufferers who give up work to undergo treatment, whether they have any prospect of recovery or not.
Apart from the special treatment accorded to these two classes, the Board will provide assistance on a basis which preserves the concessions made by the Determination of Needs Act, though that Act itself has been repealed. In future, a man and his wife are to be dealt with jointly, and assistance to be granted to them will also make provision for any children under sixteen years of age dependent on them. Where there are other persons living in the same household, such as parents or earning sons and daughters, the Board will 1101 assume that they are making some contribution towards the rent and overhead expenses of the household. Under the present regulations, the contribution assumed is never more than 7s. a week and may be less. As regards the personal resources of the applicant, superannuation payment and war pensions will, as at present, be disregarded within definitely prescribed limits. The special protection to war savings is being preserved. As regards other capital, the present provisions are being amended to increase from £25 to £50 the amount which is to be wholly disregarded. This means that nothing is to be taken into account where the capital is less than £75, and only 6d. a week, or less than 2 per cent. per annum, will be deducted where the capital is between £75 and £100. Under the Second Schedule of the Bill there are other total or partial disregards, and, as at present, an applicant who is the owner of the house in which he lives will have it disregarded.
There is one class of person whose needs cannot properly be met by the Board's grant of a cash allowance or by their being accommodated in the residential homes to be maintained by local authorities under the Bill. These are the people known as casuals, vagrants or tramps, and who are described under the Bill as "persons without a settled way of living." During the war they practically disappeared, and with full employment there is no reason why the old casual should return to his old unsettled habits or why vagrancy should attract new recruits. It is now proposed that the general responsibility for making suitable provisions for tramps and for persuading them to settle down should be put on the National Assistance Board. The Board are to provide re-establishment centres for training, educating and reconditioning, and to make available to the applicant all the resources of the employment exchange for entering or returning to industry. The Board will also provide and maintain reception centres where people without a settled way of living can find temporary board and lodging. Until this has been done, the Board intend to use the existing facilities provided by local authorities, who will be repaid any outlay which they incur as the agents for the Board. As noble Lords know, the policy 1102 in the past has been to keep the tramp moving, and this meant that he remained a tramp. The new policy is to persuade and help him to give up the road and to adopt a settled and productive mode of life, or, where he is unfit for work, to settle down in a suitable home.
I turn now to Part III of the Bill, which deals with the functions of local authorities—the councils of counties and county borough in England and Wales, and of counties and large burghs in Scotland. The first duty placed on them by the Bill is the responsibility of providing residential accommodation for aged and infirm people. Noble Lords will recall a debate on the plight of old people which was initiated in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, almost a year ago. I stated then that the figures of the general population trend showed that the number of persons of pensionable age had doubled since the beginning of this century and that by 1970 they would represent one in five of the population. I added thatclearly the needs of so large a section of the community must be kept in the forefront in the moulding of our social attitudes and the development of our plans of social security and welfare.Much, of course, has been done for the old people by way of social provisions. As the Nuffield Report states, poverty need no longer be a fear of old age, thanks to the increased old age pension. But many old people, owing to age, infirmity or other handicap, are in need of care and attention which they cannot get in their own homes. They are not sick people. They do not need constant medical care and attention. For the most part they are elderly people who are no longer able to lead normal lives and look after themselves in their own homes, and whose relatives and friends are unable to provide homes and the necessary care and attention for them. The overwhelming proportion of old people, possibly as many as 95 per cent. of them, live independent lives in homes of their own or in the homes of their children or others, though some of these old folk are admittedly unfit on physical grounds to do so. To have safeguarded the financial position of old people so that, given the necessary health and strength, they may continue to live in normal surroundings, is an achievement of which we may all be proud.
But there are other problems which confront old people. The handling of 1103 many of their problems does not fall within the scope of this Bill, though I should like to mention that the Bill does authorise local authorities to contribute to funds of organisations which promote the welfare of old people in general by providing them with recreation and meals. There are many useful activities of this kind—old people's clubs, mobile canteens which take meals to old peoples in their homes—which are deserving of every encouragement. We confidently expect that local authorities will do what they can to foster these voluntary organisations.
Under the Bill, the major function of the local authorities in relation to old people is to meet the need of those who cannot wholly look after themselves or get others to care for them in ordinary home life, and for whom special accommodation must be provided in some other way. It is hoped that, with the help of the Exchequer subsidy which the Bill provides, this special accommodation will in most cases take the form of small hostels, of which there are a number already established, accommodating 25 to 35 people, so that something like the comfortable atmosphere and freedom of ordinary home life can be reproduced instead of the barrenness of the large institution. While new building for this purpose will be given as high a priority as possible, it is obvious that the provision of this special accommodation on a scale adequate to the needs will take time. Opportunities for acquiring suitable properties capable of being adapted for this purpose are also becoming more and more infrequent. It is not enough to obtain a derelict or unoccupied country mansion far away from the old folks' home surroundings and their friends and relatives and often without adequate or convenient transport facilities.
As for the present Public Assistance premises, many of these are large and cheerless institutions. But for a period, which we hope will not be unduly long, it will be necessary to continue using them. During the past year or so, local authorities have been urged by the Minister to improve the conditions in these establishments, so far as may be practicable, and this policy will be energetically pursued until the local authorities have obtained the new homes and are able to vacate the old ones. One thing, however, will be 1104 achieved immediately the Bill comes into force. The workhouse as it now exists will be abolished, and the new service will be substituted for it.
The service will include board and all necessary amenities, including medical and nursing care of the kind one ordinarily receives in one's own home when ill. It will be available not only to old people, but also to infirm, blind, and other disabled and handicapped persons who may need residential accommodation with amenities of this kind. Indeed, it will be available to all who cannot wholly look after themselves, irrespective of their incomes. I want to stress the fact that there will be nothing reminiscent of the Poor Law. Every resident will be required to pay out of his own resources for the accommodation and service provided. The local authority will fix a standard charge based on actual cost, and the person who can afford to do so will pay the charge in full. If he cannot afford to pay the standard charge the local authority will assess his ability to pay, taking into account the same disregards as the National Assistance Board would allow if they were assisting him in his own home, and will also allow him to retain 5s. a week as pocket money. On this basis they will reduce the charge to what the person can afford to pay, but in no case to less than 21s. a week. If a person cannot afford to pay even the minimum charge of 21s. a week he will go to the National Assistance Board, who will pay him such assistance grant as will enable him to do so, leaving him also with 5s. a week pocket money. Thus the local authority will become the provider of comfortable accommodation, with care and attention, for which the resident himself will pay direct, even when he is receiving cash assistance from the National Assistance Board. In this way the human dignity and self-respect of the assisted resident will be fully protected from any stigma or sense of pauperisation.
The Bill leaves the responsible local authorities free to frame their own rules for the management of the old people's homes and other residential accommodation which they provide. The repressive rules which now fetter the authorities in the administration of the present Poor Law institutions will have no place in the new scheme. No longer will there be detailed 1105 regulations, for the breach of any one of which a person may be labelled "disorderly" and punished by the workhouse master; nor will there be lists of offences for the commission of which a person may be placed in confinement as a refractory person. No longer will it be necessary for the authority to record the name of every person, officer or inmate, who enters or leaves the premises, and the time of entering and departure, as though the place were a prison. Simple rules for the guidance of the residents in the sort of homes envisaged will, of course, be necessary, but they need be no more than is required for the general comfort and convenience of all concerned. The residents will be treated as living in a place which is a substitute for a home of their own, and, within reasonable limits, they will be free to come and go at will. Noble Lords will realise that what the Government seek to provide is a welfare service in the real meaning of that term.
The admirable welfare services which have been built up to assist the blind are well known to your Lordships. These services will continue on the same footing and, it is hoped, in the same progressive spirit as hitherto. The local authorities are now to be enabled to extend these provisions to the deaf, dumb and other persons who are substantially and permanently handicapped by illness, injury, or congenital deformity. The new power may be made a duty if the Minister of Health or the Secretary of State for Scotland so directs. This new local government service will require a careful approach, including the ascertainment of the number of persons involved, the classification of such persons according to their disabilities and requirements, and a study of the facilities which are already available to them, through voluntary agencies. The Bill has been purposely constructed on lines which will give all the necessary flexibility in the provision of these services. Based on the experience of local authorities in dealing with the welfare of the blind, the Bill itself indicates the various directions in which the. welfare of these handicapped persons can be fostered. All handicapped persons have this in common: they need assistance of a skilled as well as a sympathetic kind if they are to surmount their difficulties. With such assistance they can lose that sense of isolation from their fellows, that feeling of being of little use to the 1106 community and, in consequence, of being neglected.
If their age and general condition are such that remunerative employment is not out of the question, careful training for suitable work, either at home or in a. special workshop, and in many cases in ordinary industry, is the best way of helping them to gain confidence, and ultimately to take their proper place in the community and in industry. For those who cannot be trained in any form of work, the regular visit of a qualified home teacher can do much to brighten their lives. The visitor can help them with their day-to-day problems and instruct them in suitable pastime occupations. Another important part of the welfare service would be the organising of entertainment, recreations, social gatherings and clubs where these people may meet not only persons similarly handicapped, but others as well. In these and other ways new interests can be brought into their lives. As in the provision of residential accommodation, local authorities will be free to use the services of voluntary organisations as their agents for the provision of these services if they so wish. It is hoped that the good relations which have for many years existed between the local authorities and the voluntary bodies employed in blind welfare, for instance, will continue and will be extended to organisations which are now promoting the welfare of the new classes of persons for whom this Bill caters.
My Lords, I have described in general terms the principal objects and provisions of the Bill. Though I have, out of regard for time, omitted to deal with some important details, I hope I have succeeded in giving a fairly clear picture of what it is intended to do. Viewed in isolation the Bill may be regarded as marking the end of a long and depressing chapter of social history, and the final rejection of an unworthy attitude towards poverty and its causes. It must also be viewed as. part of a new and comprehensive scheme for the social betterment of our people—a scheme which will remove fear and enable each of our citizens to plan a full and useful life, in the knowledge that, as he serves the community, so the community will safeguard him against those vicissitudes which were the dread of so many of our forbears. I commend 1107 the Bill to your Lordships for a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Henderson.)
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ LORD RUSHCLIFFE
My Lords, after the very careful and explicit explanation of this Bill, I do not propose to take up much of your Lordships' time. I should, however, like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for his kindly references to myself. As the noble Lord has pointed out, the Bill is really the last of a series of measures which have had for their object the breaking up of the Poor Law and the substitution of something else for a system which has, in many respects, remained unaltered since the days of Queen Elizabeth. The Acts to which I refer are, of course, the Act of 1934, which set up the Assistance Board, the National Insurance Act, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act and the National Health Insurance Act, to which may be added the Act which introduced family allowances.
In spite of those four measures, there is still a residue. This Bill covers that residue, and I think really completes the picture. When the Assistance Board was set up under Part II of the Act of 1934, and I had the privilege of conducting that Bill through another place, the whole conception of the Assistance Board was received in some quarters with a good deal of hostility, and in other quarters with a good deal of criticism, which was not confined to one Party. Grave doubts were expressed as to whether the experiment—and it was admittedly an experiment—would succeed. But those of us who were responsible for it were convinced that it was possible to devise a national standard which was compatible with individual treatment, and that central control might guide but would not necessarily stifle local initiative. It was clear to all of us who were responsible that the success of the experiment depended not upon the Act—nor, indeed, upon the regulations made under the Act—but upon the administration. It was realised from the start—and I take full responsibility for this—that the help which we wished to give to these poor people was not limited to financial help. There is much more that can be done in daily help in a whole variety of 1108 ways to those people needing it. That that policy was carried out is obvious to anybody who cares to read the annual reports of the Assistance Board, which have been published from that day to this.
I cannot refrain from speaking in the highest possible terms of the officers up and down the country who had the duty of carrying this policy into effect. Those officers were taken from almost every Department of the Civil Service. There is probably not a single Department of the Civil Service which did not contribute somebody to the officials who carried out this policy. It must be remembered that under this Act these civil servants were given a very wide discretion which they had never had before. They were given a discretion in the payment of money, subject, of course, to overriding regulations. How fully they justified the trust reposed in them can be seen from the success of the experiment, which is now admitted. As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, the Board have fully established themselves in public opinion, and the highest tributes have been paid by many of the people who were formerly most critical, both in another place and up and down the country.
The Bill before us imposes upon the Assistance Board many new responsibilities, and I sincerely hope that the Board will not be under the impression that some of those responsibilities will prove anything but extremely difficult in administration. I have no doubt that the Board will surmount those difficulties, but let it not be thought by anybody at this time that it will be an easy job. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred to one set of duties to which I was going to refer. They are set out in Clause 16 and the following clauses, which deal with the treatment of vagrants and tramps. Clause 17 says this:It shall be the duty of the Board to make provision whereby persons without a settled way of living may be influenced to lead a more settled life, and the Board shall provide and maintain centres….I sincerely hope they will persuade these tramps to give up their habits, but it will not be easy because, odd as it may appear, there are a certain number of people—and I have met them myself—who prefer tramping to any other form of life. I think that is particularly true in Scotland, 1109 where, as one knows, tinkers will enter the institutions in the winter and in the summer take to tramping or going about in their caravans. All I can say is that I wish the Board well in their not very easy job.
I do not want to deal in anything like detail with the various clauses of the Bill, although one could go on for a long time. If I did comment on all these clauses, I think it would be, almost without exception, with the greatest approval. I happen to be Chairman of the Advisory Council for the Welfare of the Blind, and I welcome the clauses in the Bill which have as their object the welfare of the blind. I need not refer to them in detail because the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has already dealt with a good many of them. I would, however, mention the clause which deals with the needy blind, and under which the present varying methods of assistance paid by local authorities are to be made uniform. There is one further comment I wish to make. I was a little disappointed, in reading through the Bill, to find that there is no mention of disregards of payments made by voluntary bodies. It is a pity that there is nothing in the Bill dealing with this matter. The Minister in another place gave a definite undertaking that the policy of the statutory disregard of these sums should be continued. I speak from memory, but I think that under the present practice something like 7s. 6d. is disregarded, and I think the Minister gave an undertaking that that would now be 10s. 6d. Of course, I accept absolutely the Minister's undertaking, although, as I say, I wish that it had been in the Bill itself.
I do not think I need take up your Lordships' time in saying any more, except to repeat that this Bill is the last of a long series of measures which have had as their object the breaking up and final elimination of the Poor Law. I wish it every possible success, and I am extremely glad to have had this opportunity of commending it to your Lordships' House.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ LORD ALTRINCHAM
My Lords, I am proud to have the honour, on behalf of my friends on these Benches, of supporting the Second Reading of this Bill. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading said that he thought the 1110 Bill would receive a welcome in all quarters of this House, and I am sure that that is true. We are all most anxious to see this completion of the social service edifice for which all Parties have been responsible. In a way this is only a completing Bill. In military matters, after a great advance had taken place we used to talk about "mopping up" pockets of resistance. This Bill mops up pockets, not of resistance but of the poverty of old age and some of the disabilities and infirmities of old age which other measures just failed to include or to touch. For that reason, I think, it must be acceptable to everybody concerned about the relief of destitution or infirmity of any kind in this country.
The Bill has two great branches. One concerns the care of the aged, and the very young when they have lost all other proper protection; the other deals with infirmity and disability of various types. Those are the two wings of the majestic structure of our social services, and I am very glad indeed to be able to support the Bill to-day. It also deals, as the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe said, with some other people who do not come into the categories I have just mentioned. I am bound to say that like Lord Rushcliffe, I have a strong feeling for tramps. Since Shakespeare gave us Autolycus, the gay vagabond, the "snapper-up of unconsidered trifles," English literature has abounded in pictures of the happy tramp. He is a familiar figure with a weakness for that way of life with which many of us sympathise. Now, apparently, the local authorities are to "cabin and confine" him. I suppose that it must be done, but I hope that in trying to teach the tramp a settled way of life—in which we may doubt their being successful—they will not deprive him of the happiness in life which he has derived from following his own happy method of:Jog on, jog on the foot-path way,And merrily hent the stile-a:The structure of the Bill does present some administrative difficulty, as the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, pointed out. The fact that all the finance is handed over to the National Assistance Board and that the administration rests with the local authorities means a certain diarchy or dichotomy, which will produce some administrative problems. We on this side may have some suggestions to make on that point. Let me say how entirely 1111 I endorse what the noble Lord opposite said about the Assistance Board—which is now, quite properly, to become a National Assistance Board—and the tribute he paid to Lord Rushcliffe. It was he who was really the begetter of the scheme; and in spite of the criticisms and doubts with which he was greeted in all quarters when it first came into being, he has made it a great success. I should like also to endorse the tribute to the very able civil servants who have shown that a scheme of this kind can have the human touch. They have brought that touch, and it is a great achievement. I am glad that that service is recognised by the extension of the Assistance Board's activities. I am sure, too, that the Board's future is in good hands, since the noble Lord, Lord Soulbury, is concerned.
Now let me come to one or two of the caveats and suggestions with which I should like to deal for a short time. These are not, of course, Party points; they are points on which anxiety has been expressed in all quarters in another place, and also in your Lordships' House. Your Lordships may be able to make one or two modifications and improvements which I hope may be regarded as helpful, and trust that they may receive consideration from noble Lords opposite. The first point I wish to make is in connection with the danger of overlapping. This is a very real danger, and it may be possible to take steps to reduce that difficulty. In the second place, I think everybody agrees that the officers of the National Assistance Board should be readily accessible everywhere. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, did not say much about that in the speech with which he moved the Second Reading. I know that at the moment the Board are widely represented in the country, but surely they will have to increase their representation a great deal if they are to do this work; there will have to be far more local branches or representatives than there are at present. We should be grateful if the noble Lord could give us more information on this point.
I think everybody is agreed that the fullest use should be made of existing local knowledge and public spirit. There is a danger lest in seeking (quite rightly) to do away with the stigma of the Poor Law we somehow get back to bureaucracy of a rather inhuman type. We all hope that 1112 that will not happen. I am sure that the officers of the National Assistance Board will recognise the danger of losing the human touch when there is divided authority. I observed that in the debates in the other place this was felt most by those who were most familiar with this kind of social work. I hope the Government will give real consideration to this. It is true that an Amendment was introduced emphasising the importance of establishing advisory committees throughout Great Britain. That is good, so far as it goes. It is true, also, that under the Third Schedule of this Bill local authorities may establish committees and sub-committees. But it seems to be unfortunate in this respect: that all authorities below county councils and county boroughs are excluded from service under Part III.
I should have thought that some use might be made of the borough councils and rural district councils which have done such admirable work. In my own county, my own rural district council are very much better in dealing with these things. I regard it as a misfortune that closer touch by subordinate local authorities is entirely excluded from this Part of the Bill. As a result of that, existing public assistance committees and existing relieving officers are to be abolished. Those are the people who have the closest touch with persons needing help, and it is a great pity that they should be swept away. Why thus extinguish the people who have the local knowledge and experience, and who have admirably carried out this most important public work? The Government, with their new broom, are quite right in sweeping away the grime of centuries but I hope that in doing so they will not sweep away a certain amount of gold dust which ought to be preserved. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider three suggestions which I make informally, for they may be worthy of attention.
The first of them is as follows. Would it not be possible to preserve the local advisory committee in every district as a sub-committee under the Third Schedule, and make their appointment mandatory in every borough council or rural district council? They exist. There is nothing in the Third Schedule to make the appointment of sub-committees mandatory, and I think there ought to be. If the appointment of sub-committees is to be mandatory, why not use the existing committees 1113 which have done this work admirably and which are exactly the type of committee required? I hope some consideration will be given to that idea.
The second suggestion I would make is in the form of a question. It is this: Why not preserve the existing relieving officers as servants of those sub-committees? I give your Lordships' House one example. Great anxiety was expressed in another place about what has been excellently done in the past but what is not fully provided for in this Bill: that is, a "round-the-clock" service. It is a matter of the greatest importance. An Amendment of a very general kind, dealing with the duty of the National Assistance Board to provide something that will take the place of the existing round-the-clock service, was promised. I very much doubt whether that Amendment to subsection (3) of Clause 2 (which, I presume, the noble Lord will move at a later stage) will be adequate. It seems to me a pity to abolish officers and to pay a number of them compensation when their services are required. If the State is going to pay them, why not use them? They cannot all be absorbed and it will be a great loss to the social services of this country if they are driven out of their present work. If this suggestion were considered, I think we might also go some way to removing the difficulty of absorption or compensation. Clause 58 does not provide adequately for the appointment of the officers who may be dispensed with. We feel strongly on that point, and I hope that the Government will give it consideration. Again and again, the noble Lord insisted on the importance of local knowledge and the human touch. That is very right. That is what is necessary to get away from the old Poor Law stigma. No one can supply that knowledge and that human touch better than the local Public Assistance committees and the relieving officers. Noble Lords are familiar with their work. I have seen a great deal of it myself. No people are more deserving than they of continuance in a social service of this sort.
My third suggestion is this. Under the Bill, the National Assistance Board are to appoint their local advisory committees throughout Great Britain, and apparently local authorities have power to establish another set of committees. Would it not be possible to have only one committee in each rural district or borough? Surely the 1114 problem of administration would be simplified if one committee dealt with the whole of this work and if the existing Public Assistance committees with their relieving officers, possibly expanded in some way, were to deal with both sides of the work. The noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, is so familiar with work in all these services that I hesitate to say on the subject anything which I have not submitted to him. He spoke, however, of administrative difficulties. I think it is conceivable that if it is decided to have one committee in every district or borough rather than two committees, the whole system may work better.
Before I sit down may I mention three or four points about the Bill which occur to us as being worthy of special commendation and praise? First, of course, is the abolition of the stigma of the Poor Law. I will say no more about that, for we all thank Heaven that it has gone. It came down to us from a hard and, in many ways, a cruel past, and it has existed even up to the present day. With all the will in the world, it is difficult to get away from it under existing regulations and organisation. Therefore I am delighted that this change is being made. In the second place, I welcome most warmly the recognition and encouragement which are given to voluntary organisations by Clauses 25, 28 and 29 of this Bill. That is a most admirable feature of the measure. I am glad that by one amendment which is made, rural district councils are enabled to give financial aid to voluntary workers engaged in the supplying of meals. Hers again I would like to see local knowledge everywhere consulted upon the use which may be made of voluntary organisations. Local people know best what local voluntary organisations and local individuals can do. After all, that is what counts in establishing, maintaining and making certain of the human touch. Therefore I hope that local committees will be fully used in promoting and helping the work of voluntary organisations. I believe that in this respect the Salvation Army have a suggestion to make, and it is one which appears to us to be worthy of consideration. I will not trouble your Lordships with that suggestion now but I will mention it privately to the noble Lord afterwards, and I hope that he will agree to go into it.
1115 We welcome very warmly the new provision for the infirm. I am glad that in addition to provision for the blind there is to be special provision for the deaf. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, called attention to that before, when we were discussing a previous measure in this House. It is a most important point. We also welcome the fact that the treatment of tuberculosis is to be made exactly the same in all cases, even when the case is incurable. The old system was very unfair and hard in this respect.
I am sure, too, that there will be a welcome from all parts of this House for the fact that our authority is preserved in dealing with regulations made under this Bill. Whatever noble Lords opposite may wish to do to this House in other respects, its authority is preserved in this Bill, at any rate, and we warmly welcome that fact. The regulations have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament, and they will not become law unless they are so approved. I am a little ignorant on these matters. I would ask only whether they are regulations of the kind which have to be swallowed whole or disapproved as a whole, or whether amendments will be possible. It is of great importance that one should be able to amend regulations without throwing out the whole of them. I hope that the noble Lord will give me an answer to that point. All Bills, of course, are capable of improvement; I think that this House improves most of the Bills which are brought before it. I hope that the Government will consider some of the suggestions that we have made. By and large, this is a splendid Bill and we are glad to help to make it law. During its passage, it is right that we should remember some of those people who laid the foundations of this splendid edifice. In regard to Poor Law, there are no names comparable with those of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. That in unquestionable. I should like at this stage, however, to remind your Lordships of two great men. With one I was slightly associated when I was young, and with the other I was very closely associated later. They both played a great part in laying the foundations of and building up the social services in this country. One was Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and the other was David Lloyd George. Their names were for a very long time household 1116 words in this country, and they ought to be mentioned in this context to-day.
For Parliament to pass a Bill of this character in a year such as this is an act of faith of which we have reason to be proud; but it is an act which we must justify. The assistance will be immediate. There will be no gap in regard to the current assistance, whatever its form, but I suppose that the capital expenditure proposed under this Bill—new hostels, new homes and retreats, homes for children, and so on—must obviously wait. Much must depend on the proposals which are about to be made in another place. The cost of the social services has reached £735,000,000, and I believe there has been an addition of £170,000,000 in the last year. While we are making no complaint of that—and, indeed, it is part of the legislation upon which all Parties are agreed—it does emphasise the importance of producing wealth in this country in order that this splendid edifice may be maintained. I am confident that that will be done. It is fashionable in these days to decry the sovereign State, but in my opinion patriotism and the family feeling of a great people is a fine thing. Here in this Bill, approved by all, is an expression of the family unity of our people when it comes to the relief of suffering or infirmity or old age; and it is an expression of what our sovereign State exists to create and maintain for its people. I trust, therefore, that all sections of the nation will work together from now on to produce the wealth on which this edifice of social service depends. It has no parallel in any country in Europe; indeed, it has no parallel anywhere. Let us work together to keep the great structure intact.