§ Mr. BARNES
I beg to moveThat an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Order, dated the 17th day of June, 1927, made by the Minister of Health under the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, 1926, and entitled the West Ham Union Default Order (Continuation) Order, 1927, be annulled.We desire to submit this Address to the Crown to enable the House to review the situation which has prevailed in the West Ham Union area for a period of 12 months since the Guardians (Default) Act was passed; and we trust that this will provide an opportunity for the Minister of Health to state his future policy in regard to the Union of West Ham. When this Bill was introduced in July of last year, the Minister had proposals before the country, if not before this House, which involved the reorganisation of the Poor Law, and I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that the House discussed the Guardians (Default) Act with the idea in its mind that it was a purely temporary Measure, and that probably it would be followed very shortly by a comprehensive review, and possibly by an enactment, in regard to our Poor Law administration. Now political circumstances appear to be making the re-organisation of the Poor Law as far as a new Act of Parliament is concerned somewhat remote. Therefore, I feel that, inasmuch as when this Default Act was passed, it was described by the Minister himself as a temporary Measure, those of us who represent this particular district are entitled before another six months' period of administration and power are given to the appointed 2410 guardians, to have a full statement of the Minister's policy and his views.
I feel that we can claim that we are not making an unfair request, because if the Minister's remarks, which are reported on column 1639 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, Volume 197, are referred to, I believe it will be clearly seen that he looked upon this as a purely temporary proposal. As a matter of fact, the thing which concerns those who represent this union area is the fact that for a period of 12 months we have lost a part of our civil administration. The Minister has claimed with a good deal of gratification, and I think the Conservative party supports his policy, which has been blazoned forth in the Press as being a very admirable action on the part of the House of Commons. But those of us who live in the area take an entirely different view. Therefore, I propose to ask the Minister this evening to state the position as he sees it, and to tell us how long the injustice of this policy is going to prevail in this area.
May I also ask whether the right hon. Gentleman can give us any indication as to the possibilities of a new Poor Law Bill being introduced in the near future, such as he indicated last year? If so, can he tell us what effect it will have on the position in West Ham, because it does appear to those who are concerned intimately with this subject that if any radical reform of the Poor Law administration is to take place in this country, that might provide an opportunity for the appointed guardians in West Ham to be superseded, and we might then revert to the normal state of administration in that area. If it is not the Minister's intention to proceed along those lines, I think we are entitled to ask him whether he intends to carry on this system indefinitely in West Ham? As representatives of the public of that area, I think we may claim to be more representative than even the Minister himself, and we are entitled to ask that that question should receive a definite answer.
When the Bill was before the House in July of last year, other Labour representatives from the district and I pressed upon the Minister that before the Bill was passed, and the new method was put into operation, a full inquiry and investigation should take place into the 2411 facts. I wish to repeat that again. I do not think that any Member of the House can argue that the representatives of the Labour party in that area, either Members of Parliament or those who represent the Labour party on the local council, or even the members of the late board of guardians themselves, have ever refused to collaborate or co-operate in a full inquiry into the facts. As a matter of fact, we would welcome such an inquiry, because we believe that the more the facts as they prevail in the Union of West Ham are brought to light, the more this impression that at present prevails and which has been fostered by the Press, and which we claim to be a gross inaccuracy, is likely to disappear, and the real problem that confronts the Minister of Health will emerge.
I should like to submit that again to the Minister, and to ask him whether, instead of this Order to continue the board of appointed guardians in this particular district for a further six months, it would not be better to have a full and impartial inquiry into the whole of the circumstances? I think we are in an even stronger position in urging that to-day, because the circumstances of 12 months ago were more or less one-sided. We had not then had any opportunity of contrasting the new system with other administrations, but to-day the administration of the present guardians and the effect of their policy can be contrasted with the effect of the policy of the old guardians. As a result of two or three years of controversy which has surrounded this district, it is quite obvious to those of us who know the facts that the public can be easily misled.
It is always a difficult matter to get even residents interested in material facts involved in a problem of this nature, and when we realise the mass of people who are outside the area, who do not reside in it, and do not know the state of the population, the condition of unemployment, the amount of poverty, and the trading and commercial conditions which prevail, obviously it is impossible for the public at large to form any competent or well-informed opinion. You have the Press grossly misrepresenting the whole situation in a way which we claim is a deliberate policy, and not only the Press of London, but I have also come across 2412 references in provincial papers to the situation in West Ham, and it is very difficult to prevent oneself from becoming increasingly embittered by a situation which faces one from day to day, and when you see the vehicles of public opinion, upon which democracy depends, distorting the facts in the way they have. As a matter of fact poor districts in regard to social problems are very much like poor persons; it is very difficult for them to find friends. Naturally for the richer areas there arises the issue of the equalisation of rates. I do not think the Minister in charge of the Department surveying the whole basis of our public and social life should lend himself to any policy which is opposed to the rights of the poorer areas. As a matter of fact, an area like West Ham challenges the conscience of capitalists and of the well-to-do people of this country. No one can give any attention to the massed poverty in the East End of London without realising that its magnitude is such as to call for serious consideration from Parliament. We have seen in the case of West Ham a few cases of abuse trumped up by the Minister of Health, the Government, and the Press to excuse them from applying a real remedy. I have no hesitation in saying that, when it comes to the question of unemployment in West Ham and the problem of their relief, the standard of morality in that district will compare very favourably with the standard of morality in the West End or Mayfair or anywhere else.
When this Bill was introduced, if I understand the Minister correctly, he based his case on three main points. First financial, that the late guardians were in debt to the tune of £2,000,000 and were still proceeding to borrow heavily to meet other purposes. A second accusation was that their administration was extravagant, and that they did not exercise the necessary care to discriminate between various individual cases to which they gave relief. His third point was based on moral grounds. He stated that in some quarters there was open and unabashed corruption of the electorate, but I venture to suggest no one can read the Debate and the arguments of the Minister himself without admitting that he failed entirely to 2413 justify his charge. He never attempted to explain to this House why the guardians were in debt to the tune of £2,000,000, and why they were prepared to borrow further. He quoted one or two cases of extravagance, but he could not prove that the main part of the administration was extravagant. As far as moral grounds are concerned, I submit there is no administration in which you cannot detect weaknesses. If it is a business or an organisation, we have to evolve machinery to check abuse. But I have no instances where cases of abuse have been used as an excuse to take away the honest character of a whole district.
Let me try to put our view broadly on these issues which the Minister has raised. West Ham is £2,000,000 in debt, but surely nobody would say it arises from administrative reasons. It arises because within the area the bulk of labour is very lowly paid and the employment of the district is mainly of a casual nature. When you have seven winters of abnormal unemployment as we have had in recent years and you get the workers of a good town massed together as you have them in the West Ham area, it follows that the burden of unemployment and destitution falls heavily on that district. West Ham is not peculiar in that way. Sheffield and Middlesbrough and other areas are classified as necessitous areas and all of them have been pressing upon the Government since 1920 the necessity of something in the way of equalisation of rating to enable them to carry their continuous burdens arising from unemployment. I have attended many conferences of necessitous areas in recent years. I have been with deputations to various Government Departments, and what has emerged from all these conferences and discussions? It is that, bad as many areas up and down the country may be, in all the statistics and comparisons made, West Ham is the poorest and most difficult of all the necessitous areas throughout the country. Therefore, knowing all these facts, it was not open to the right hon. Gentleman to come forward and try to argue that the debt had arisen in West Ham as the result of financial muddle, extravagant administration, and bad morals. The game he is playing is low indeed. It is part of the Conservative party's policy to save the taxpayer at the expense of 2414 the ratepayer and that has been a problem of the necessitous areas. The taxpayer, the well-to-do member of the community, ought to bear a fair proportion of the national burdens, and, if all this burden of the necessitous areas were imposed on the Treasury, it would operate in the form of an equalisation of rates, and the well-to-do people would be compelled to contribute their share. But by keeping this burden on the rates the poor people in these necessitous areas have to carry their own charges. It is the old policy of segregating the classes. If capitalists so arrange their business that people get an insufficient wage to enable them to live away from the factories, at least they might have the decency to tackle the problem and help to carry the burden when it arises.
We come now to the point of extravagant administration. I wish to submit that hon. Members have never had the facts before them to enable them to decide whether or not there has been extravagant administration in West Ham. As a, public representative, I have never had the facts submitted to me in this House in an impartial way, properly investigated and tested in every way by proper inquiry. As I live in the area, I can grasp in a broad and general way that there has been extravagant administration, but as far as I can see the whole of this trouble commences from the fact that the maximum of 55s. a week for a family of eight was considered too much. I can say quite definitely, whether an area is poor or rich, that I do not intend to subscribe to the doctrine that the sum of 55s. a week is extravagant for a family of eight persons. Far from extravagant, it is a miserable amount for any family to exist on to-day. You cannot always give people what they are entitled to, but it does not destroy the fact that the Minister has merely made statements, and has never been able to submit to the House the facts on which he bases his charges. Let us take, first, the question of extravagant administration and the charge of open and unabashed corruption. I suggest there is no political party in which there is such a high standard of public life as among the Members of the Labour party generally. I do not claim that every individual Member does not make mistakes like everybody else, but, taking the Labour administration 2415 as a whole, it compares favourably with the Conservative party as far as we can judge, and the charge of open, unabashed corruption does not come very well from them. I can cast my mind back to a very recent incident that occurred on the Finance Bill.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain. FitzRoy)
The hon. Member is now discussing the reasons why the appointed guardians were set up, but the Prayer is that the Order should be annulled.
§ Mr. BARNES
What I would like to submit to you is this. The Order, as we understand it now, will re-appoint the guardians for a further period of six months. That still involves the late guardians, and our intention is to ascertain whether the right hon. Gentleman still levels the same charge against the people and their representatives in West Ham. To deal with that argument, you must submit the whole case and give all the circumstances as presented last year.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That point might be taken, but, if the hon. Member will cast his mind back to the previous Debate, he will find that the Question then before the House was whether or not the appointed guardians should be appointed or not. The Question now before us is whether the appointed guardians should be continued or not, whether the Order should be annulled or not.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I submit that the whole question is now open for discussion by the House. The House passed a temporary Rule. It would be better for the district if the old members were put back, and I submit that the whole matter has come to an end with the expiry of the Rule.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Chamberlain)
On that point of Order. I have no desire to limit discussion, but it does make a difference as to the line the discussion is going to take if we knew what is in order or not, and I would like to submit to you that the question to be decided is whether any new facts have arisen which would make the continuance in office of the guardians appointed under the original Order undesirable. If we are only to have a repetition of the arguments which were 2416 used against the original appointment of these guardians, then we are going back to a point which has already been decided by the House.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The House has decided nothing whatever except that these guardians shall continue in office until the day fixed. The whole matter, I submit, is now open for discussion. We start afresh. The question is whether we shall have the new or old guardians. Nothing whatever has been decided by the House after the date of expiry.
§ Mr. GROVES
In view of the fact that the present position results from an Order by the Minister and not from the discussion of an Estimate, I submit the time is opportune to have the discussion. The complaint we have against the work of the present guardians is directed, of course, towards the point that they should not be given a further six months' leave.
§ Mr. BARNES
Before you give a final ruling, Sir, may I submit that if the House does not approve of this Order the present term of office of the appointed guardians will come to an end. If it is necessary that this Order should be passed so as to continue the appointed guardians in office, surely that demonstrates that the previous Order was purely temporary in character and that we are now considering a new situation.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
May I draw your attention, Sir, to the provisions of the Act of Parliament? It provides first that an Order may be made appointing guardians for a period not exceeding 12 months. It then goes on to say:The Minister may, at any time … by order extend for a period not exceeding six months, the term of office of such guardians.That shows quite clearly that the possibility of the extension of the Order was contemplated. There is a sort of proviso to the effect that if either House within 21 days after the supplementary Order has been made presents an Address to His Majesty, praying that the Order may be annulled, then the Order is to be annulled. I suggest that the original discussion on the Bill covered the point of the original appointment and the extension of the appointment of the guardians, subject to any new facts which might be brought out showing that the guardians ought not now to be reappointed.
§ Mr. WEBB
The right hon. Gentleman's argument destroys itself. He has said that Parliament gave the Minister discretion to extend the Order within certain limits, but it is exactly in reference to that discretion that complaint has been made. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Ham (Mr. Barnes) is attempting to show that the Minister ought not to have exercised the discretion, and that question the House has never yet decided. This is the first, and I submit, the right opportunity for deciding whether, in the opinion of the House, the Minister has properly exercised the discretion which the Act of Parliament has given him. In order to discuss that question it is, I submit, in order to consider whether the action of the late guardians was such that they should continue to be exiled and deposed. Consequently it is fair to consider whether their offence—if it be an offence—has not been sufficiently met by the punishment of deposition for one year, or whether the Minister, in his discretion, is justified in continuing that punishment. In that connection, not only the action of the Minister's own guardians, comes into question, but also the gravity of the offence of the original guardians which we have now to consider.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
I understand one of the reasons why the Minister proposes to give these gentlemen another period of office is the fact that he claims they have saved some thousands of pounds. It seems to me we are entitled to examine the question of whether they have, or have not, saved this money.
§ Mr. THORNE
And we are also entitled to examine the question of the treatment which they have meted out to the poor people.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
We want to show that the old guardians were, on the whole, better than the new guardians. How can we do so, if we may not refer to the conduct of the old guardians in order to make a comparison with the conduct of the new guardians.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think the different points of view which have been 2418 placed before me by various hon. Members do not affect the ruling I have given. I never suggested that the conduct of the appointed guardians should not be reviewed. That seems to be a very reasonable subject of Debate on a Motion like this. The only ruling which I gave was that a discussion of the conduct of the late guardians as the reason for the original appointment of the appointed guardians and for the Order of the Minister was not in order upon this occasion, because that question has already been settled by the House. This Motion only deals with whether the Order should be annulled or not. I understand that is the subject of the Prayer and that is the only subject we are discussing.
§ Mr. WEBB
I understand from your ruling, Sir, that you consider it would not be in order to discuss whether the conduct of the original guardians was such as to justify the making of the original Order, but the point now is whether the conduct of the guardians was such as to justify a continuance of the Order for a period longer than the original Order.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman has, in better words than I could have expressed it, stated the ruling which I have just given.
§ Mr. BARNES
It was not my intention to occupy time on the point with which I was dealing. What I was trying to impress upon the Minister and the House was the fact that the present policy is based on charges of corruption against the late board of guardians—among other charges. I had not intended to discuss whether those charges were well-founded or not. I was going to point to an incident of a few days ago, since we are on the question of political corruption. Hon. Members opposite a few days ago were pressing the Chancellor very effectively on the question of five-men companies disgorging amounts which ought to have been paid into the Treasury in taxation. We might very well argue that a form of political corruption was involved in that matter. It was my intention to quote certain words of the Minister of Health and to apply them to that position, in order to show the dangers which arise in connection with matters of this description. When the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act was being considered 2419 last year the Minister used these words:Those who are made the recipients of relief and who are unable to support themselves are no longer disfranchised, and they have a voice, and sometimes it may be the deciding voice, in the election of those whose duty it is to distribute relief. Put those two facts together, and I do not think anybody can deny that, human nature being what it is, you have there a very serious danger of political corruption."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1926; col. 1641, Vol. 197.]I should like to turn those words round a little and apply them to the case which I have just mentioned. They would then read:Those who benefit from gaps in the administration of the Inland Revenue have a voice, and sometimes it may be the deciding voice, in the policy of the Government, whose duty it is to impose these taxes. Put those two facts together and I do not think anybody can deny that, human nature being what it is, you have there a very serious danger of political corruption.I do not think anyone on this side of the House would feel justified in upsetting a Conservative administration in another field because of an incident of that sort. We claim with equal force that a Conservative Government and a Conservative Minister, having obtained power in Parliament by special circumstances which had no relation to the administration of the West Ham guardians, have no right to complain of the morality of that local administration, purely from motives of political partisanship. The Minister in appointing these guardians was supposed to be acting in the interests of the ratepayers of West Ham. The appointed guardians have been in office for 12 months and there has been no reduction in the rates. In their recent report the appointed guardians bemoan the fact that West Ham, East Ham, Leyton and Waltham-stow have not passed on to their ratepayers the reduction of 2d. which has been made. It is all very well for these appointed guardians to claim that they have enabled a reduction to be made in the call on the ratepayers. The hon. Member for Stratford who is to follow me will prove why that reduction in the call has not been passed on. All that has happened is that the burdens and the responsibilities which the appointed guardians should have met have been passed on by them, and they have raised 2420 new burdens in other administrative fields which the local councils in that area have had to bear.
Our information from West Ham is that there is only one way of producing the reduction of rates which the residents are entitled to, and that is either by bringing West Ham into a common poor fund system such as prevails in the London County Council area, by some equalisation of rating over a larger area than a union or by some grant from the Exchequer. During the Second Reading of the Bill I ventured the opinion that if it reduced the cost of Poor Law administration in West Ham it would only do so by cutting down relief over the whole range of applicants and in every direction. One has only to look at the two reports submitted by the appointed guardians to see that that prediction has been justified by subsequent events. In the first place they reduced the expenditure for which they were liable by an all-over cut of 25 per cent. I want hon. Members opposite to realise what a drastic reduction that 25 per cent. represents. It is true that the Minister may say that the actual decision to make the cut was come to by the late board of guardians. As I understand it, it was made by the clerk in the last two or three weeks of their administration because funds had been stopped, but they never actually sanctioned it and I think we can say legitimately that that cut was the first act under the Minister's, policy. It has not brought anything like the relief alleged, but nevertheless it appears to point to the fact that the only way of economising was not by dealing with the instances of extravagant administration which had been alleged but by undertaking an allover cut. We are told in the second report that even that has not been sufficient, and a further 10 per cent. cut is to be made in certain categories.
The policy of the guardians has been particularly brutal not only as regards these all-over cuts but in their methods of forcing payment from people who can ill-afford to repay. We are not trying to prove to-night individual cases of hardship. Our real case is that the policy of the appointed guardians has resulted in universal hardship—that is, with hardly any exceptions. I want now to give a case to show the methods adopted by the appointed guardians in their efforts to 2421 secure repayment of assistance given. This is a case of a minister—not that the minister himself was subjected to a cut in relief. I will give the name of this clergyman if necessary, for he does not ask me to withhold it, but it is not desirable to mention names unless it is absolutely essential to do so. In the course of his work this clergyman discovered a woman suffering from an ulcerated leg—a running leg. She required hospital treatment, and he was able to secure her admission to a hospital. The father of the family was a ne'er-do-well and did not attempt to support his family while the mother was in hospital, and the clergyman secured the admission of the four children of the family to the guardians' home on the undertaking that he would meet the charges. The children were there for a month, and when they came out the guardians sent to this clergyman a bill for 18 guineas, with an intimation that if he did not pay they would take action against him.
This is the policy they have adopted towards those who by their training and education are not able to protect themselves against brutal treatment of this sort. The clergyman was made of different stuff. He was not going to submit to such treatment, and flatly refused to pay the 18 guineas, and eventually they let him off for £5. It is by methods of this description, applied to a number of poor people, that the guardians are able to claim they have secured so much repayment. The point I wish to make is this: The guardians' scale of relief at that time for a man and wife living together was 14s. 6d. a week and for a man and a wife with four children 29s. 6d., the allowance for four children being 15s. a week, or 3s. 9d. for each child; but when it came to charging this clergyman for the maintenance of these children they charged him £1 3s. 7d. a week for each child. When they are distributing relief they give 3s. 9d. a week for a child—and now 10 per cent. is to come off those children's allowances, if they are the children of men able to work—that is 4½d. off the allowance for each of these impoverished children. I congratulate hon. Members opposite and their Government on their business methods.
2422 Regarding the attitude taken up by the Press, I have here an edition of "The Children's Newspaper," published on 22nd January. This is a paper which is supposed to be circulated amongst children, intended for children's minds. This is how they treat the case of West Ham. I am mentioning this in connection with the action of the guardians in regard to the charge they make for children in their institution and the allowance they make to working people who have to maintain them in their own homes. The paper says:Something like a miracle has been worked by three men in West Ham. They are the three Poor Law guardians whom the Government sent to take the place of the elected guardians who had brought the town to the brink of ruin by their extravagance. The miracle has not been worked by magic, but merely by common sense, care and industry. An examination of the cases which were receiving relief showed that one person in every four did not need relief at all, and it was found that the rest could be given the relief they required for little more than half what had been spent before. With winter coming on and with 10,000 able-bodied men requiring relief instead of work the new guardians had to consider whether there was anything they could do to provide more employment.I would like the Minister to tell us how many men the guardians have put into work as the result of their policy. It is all very well for stuff of that description to be put into the papers in support of this policy, but what can any of those children who are getting 3s. 9d. per week be expected to think when they read about miracles worked at their expense? Then hon. Members opposite wonder why there are Bolshevists and revolutionaries in these areas. How can children who have passed through these experiences have any respect when they become grown up men and women for a system which has taken it out of their bodies and souls in that way? We are told that the number of persons has been cut down by one-half, and the number of cases reduced by one-half. I would like the Minister to submit evidence that the old guardians were giving extravagant relief in those 50 per cent, of cases which it is said have not been justified. That is the kind of evidence we should have. It is all very well for the guardians to say that they have cut down the cases by one-half, and that they have cut down the amount of money distributed by one-half. Where is the evidence by which 2423 that policy can be justified? The people whose allowances have been cut off are people who were entitled to those allowances, and they come to us and complain of their treatment. It is no use Members on this side conveying those complaints to the Minister of Health or taking them to the board of guardians. I ask, what right has the Minister of Health or anyone else to impose an administration in West Ham which neglects the representative side of our institutions? The Minister of Health cannot claim that he has the support of the people in West Ham for the policy which he has adopted. He may have the support of a misguided public outside those areas, but the ratepayers of West Ham do not support his policy, and no one can claim that they do.
§ Mr. BARNES
At any rate, there is a much larger representation of Labour in West Ham than there is of the Conservative party. I do not deny that at first this policy was supported by the Conservative party in West Ham, but even Conservative supporters are now a dwindling quantity. I am not making statements which I cannot prove. The results of the municipal elections in West Ham last November showed that practically the bulk of the candidates in that area who were returned were opposed to the policy adopted by the appointed guardians, and I challenge any hon. Member to produce evidence to prove that that policy has been approved by the people of West Ham. As a matter of fact, it has not been approved by the ratepayers. The appointed guardians, in the concluding paragraph of their Report, referred to the fact that, despite the 25 per cent, cut and the further 10 per cent. cut in the expenditure, there is no hope of any immediate relief in the rates of any substantial character.
The appointed guardians say that they cannot commence to repay the principal in regard to those scheduled amounts, and that are aiming to get back the West Ham Union area to the expenditure which was in vogue in 1920. The appointed guardians believe that it is possible by administration to get the charge for the Poor Law purposes in the West Ham Union back to what it was in 1920, and what does that mean? We 2424 do not expect hon. Members opposite to support us in every direction, but I should like to ask what this proposal means looked at as a business proposition? Take the figures for unemployment. I will take the official figures in order to show that I do not exaggerate. Taking the national unemployment fund in 1920, the benefits paid out amounted to £1,009,000. That was just before the slump commenced in 1921, when the amount jumped from £1,000,000 to £34,000,000, which was the amount paid out in that year. That shows conclusively that in 1920 we had practically a period of no unemployment. We know that that represented the end of the post-War boom period, and in May and June, 1920, things were at their best. From that time the figures went up with increasing rapidity, and in 1921 the figure jumped from £1,000,000 to £34,000,000; in 1922 it was £52,000,000; in 1923, £41,000,000; in 1924, £36,000,000; in 1925, £44,000,000; and in 1926, £43,000,000.
Is any hon. Member going to say that in July of this year, taking a period including 1927, there has been any material change in that figure? If there has been no material change in the volume of unemployment, surely hon. Members will admit that the cumulative effect of seven winters of phenomenal unemployment in an area like West Ham has been most disastrous and exhaustive. No wonder that under these circumstances hon. Members opposite, who are investigating every avenue of economy, are finding it more difficult to apply their methods. Can anyone visualise the situation in an area like West Ham, where there were no reserves to commence with, and where the people who happened to be out of work for only a few weeks found themselves on the rocks immediately. In the face of these facts the appointed guardians submit a report in which they say that by careful administrative methods they believe they can get the blackest spot in the country back to the situation in which it stood in 1920. That is a preposterous suggestion. In 1920 the unemployment figures were under 2 per cent.; in April, 1926, just before this Bill was passed, the percentage was 9.1 for insured persons; and in April, 1927, the percentage was 9.4 per cent. The percentage of unemployment for the five weeks ending April, 1926, was 27 per 2425 cent., and in April, 1927, it was 25 per cent. Surely in the face of these circumstances the Minister cannot stand here and endorse the paragraph I have quoted from the report of the appointed guardians.
I wish also to refer to the action of the appointed guardians in reference to traders. I have had placed before me one or two cases of peculiar hardship arising out of the system of registration of traders adopted by the guardians. They are instances of small traders owning small shops, and they now find themselves cut out from the register of traders because they failed to see the notice published in the local Press. When I made representations to the guardians on this question it had no effect, and this suggests to me that their whole policy is to look after the well-to-do and ignore those who find it difficult to make both ends meet. In reply to my representations on behalf of these small traders I was told that the amounts were very small indeed. The guardians told me that in the case of Mr. A the amount of trade was only £1 10s. per week, and that in the case of Mr. B it was only £2 10s. per week. Those amounts may not seem very large, but in the case of tradesmen supplying small quantities of goods to a large number of people over along period, it is an essential thing for those traders to retain the business of their customers, and if that trade over a period of six months is going to be broken down and these poor people take their relief tickets elsewhere, then these small traders lose their trade. Questions of this kind should be at once taken up by the Minister of Health.
In conclusion, I wish to summarise my views. I assert that the administration of the Appointed Guardians in West Ham and the policy adopted by the Minister of Health represents, if you like, in West Ham one of the backwaters of our capitalistic system of society. Areas like West Ham have to suffer all the disadvantages of the competitive system, fluctuations in employment, and matters of that description which fall with an increasing intensity upon the people who reside in areas like West Ham. Their battle with life, under the best of conditions, is a difficult one. The fact that they are in and out of employment does not equip them to hold their end up in all respects under our modern administrative 2426 methods. But the Conservative party and the Minister of Health, taking advantage of a situation of that description, supersede the elected representatives of the people, who have been born amongst them, who have lived amongst them, who understand their difficulties and can meet cases of hardship with some sympathy—hon. Members say with generosity, but whether there is generosity or extravagance does not matter very much, because the limit was well within the requisite needs. When you supersede that kind of person, and get a well equipped, trained civil servant, the professional type of person in this country, taking something like £30 a week, and you put that well equipped, trained official down to administer a policy where all the time he is using his better equipment to take it out of people with 30s. and £2 a week, I cannot conceive of anything more brutal and despicable than using trained intelligence to defraud of their rights and opportunities the untrained element in our midst.
§ Mr. GROVES
I beg to second the Motion.
I want, if I can, to give the Minister one or two illustrations of the reasons why these guardians should not have any renewal of their office. My first indictment would be that they are not guardians. Guardians, in my estimation, are for the purpose of preventing destitution administratively, and, in reviewing one of the reports of the new guardians, I was struck with their statement that their efforts were directed to making able-bodied men seek work or obtain their own maintenance, and only go to the guardians as a last resort. I do not raise any special objection to that particular point, provided that the point itself comes within the ambit of some sort of definition. Therefore, I wish to submit to the Minister that, if he is prepared to accept the definition of "last resort" as laid down by an ex-legal adviser of the Local Government Board, Mr. Adrian, I am sure we should be able to proceed with this Debate, not only upon an equal footing, but upon terms which will be respectively understood by both sides. Mr. Adrian, in giving evidence before the Government Commission, said:The last resort can be quite well defined as a person without material resources 2427 directly available, or material resources appropriate for satisfying his physical needs, or in order to maintain life, or to obviate, mitigate or remove causes endangering life, or likely to impair health or bodily fitness.I am prepared to accept that in this argument, and to address my remarks to a criticism and, I hope, denunciation of both the reports issued by the new guardians, and to submit to the Minister of Health certain definite acts and facts which I feel, if he has any tenderness of heart at all to-night, must cause him to make up his mind that his three nominees cannot continue their particular class of work.
I quite appreciate that, owing to certain Acts of this House covering the past 30 years, the Poor Law as such has been narrowed. West Ham has participated, I quite appreciate, in old age pensions and social services generally. The feeding of school children, unemployment insurance, and health insurance, all tend to keep people off the Poor Law. But, of course, we must be prepared to appreciate the fact that the Poor Law system of this country is still the oldest and greatest social service, and it exists exclusively in order to meet the point. I have just submitted, namely, the prevention of destitution. I submit to the Minister of Health that the actual work during the past 12 months of these West Ham Guardians has been quite contrary to the actual Acts of Parliament, which lay obligations upon the Ministers of the Crown and also upon local administrative authorities called guardians. Therefore, I am going to ask the House first of all to walk with me through their first Report.
I am very sorry that it is out of order to comment in any way upon the work of the old guardians, relatively, because there have been many degrees of criticism with regard to the old guardians, on the ground that they were, presumably, over-generous or extravagant in some of the measures with which they met the general poverty and apparent destitution of the area. But I want to say, in a word or two, that it appeared to me that the attitude of the old guardians was that it was cheaper to prevent poverty than to cure it, that, if it was possible to prevent destitution, it was cheaper to prevent it than to incur the necessary expenditure 2428 on social services to meet the dire facts of poverty that exist. I am going to criticise these two Reports in the presence of the Minister of Health, because he himself is so specially interested in the work of the new guardians. He himself came down to West Ham three weeks ago. I do not say anything unduly hard against him for going to the infirmary and speaking to the nurses. I appreciate the fact that the Minister of Health would visit any ordinary Poor Law institution. But it appears to me that the Minister of Health only visited West Ham because, as he admits, he is specially interested in the work of these particular guardians. I am going to quote an extract from his own speech. He said:This particular union was said in some quarters to belong to the Ministry of Health. It did not. He assured them that it was not correct that Sir Alfred Wood-gate and Mr. Beal were in his pocket. It was true that he was responsible for persuading them to undertake their present duties, and, therefore, it was natural that he should watch with special interest the work which they were doing with so much credit to themselves and so much benefit to the community.
§ Mr. GROVES
I trust that the few facts which I am going to put before the House with regard to the first Report of the guardians will be carefully listened to by my hon. Friend the Member for East Leyton (Mr. E. Alexander), and we will see if he will cheer those passages as I proceed. The Minister of Health speaks with regard to the credit of the guardians and the benefit of the community. Listen to what they say on the first page of their own Report. The House will understand that they came into office on the 20th July, and this is their first Report, which takes them up till the 30th October. They admit, on the first page, that, following their six months' work, there are 51 fewer people in the sick home, 62 fewer people in the infirmary, 26 fewer children sent to the convalescent home at Margate, but 80 more people in the workhouse, and 25 more people went mad during their first six months of office.
§ Mr. GROVES
That is their Report. They state that 19,006 fewer people were on relief. Then, on page 8, they deal, under the heading of institutions, with the nurses and their general conditions, that is to say, the nurses to whom the Minister of Health presented these medals. They call attention to the work of the old guardians when they reduced the working hours of the nurses from 55 to 48. I say that 48 hours' work per week is sufficient for ordinary nurses in any hospital or institution. These people boast that they have increased the working hours from 48 to 56 per week. At the end of their first Report they admit that they reduced the relief by 48 per cent. That may sound all right in ordinary propaganda, but I am going to point out quite dispassionately exactly how this relief has been reduced and the exact effect of it upon the community, because I am going to approach the subject on the assumption and in the full belief that the Minister, in the few hours we are going to give to the discussion of this appeal by us, is going to approach the results in a perfectly open way, otherwise the Debate would not be worth having. I am going to prove that the work of these guardians has been not the work of real guardians of the poor but of oppressors of the poor, that where bread existed previously in the homes of the poor, it is now not there, that where men, under the old guardians, did receive perhaps 15s. a week to live on, now they are driven down to live on 1s. a day. They cannot live on 1s. a day. West Ham has a great history. It produced such men as Thomas Hood, who wrote:Oh God that bread should be so dear,And flesh and blood so cheap.We are going to prove to-night the vivid application of those words, because it is reasonable to assume that the reduction in relief has meant malnutrition in mothers, it is a singular fact that our fever hospital is full, it is a fact that the waiting list of women to enter our sanatorium is very much greater at this moment than before, and I am authorised to state by Dr. and Mrs. Watkins and the matron of the Plaistow Maternity Home—these are their Own words—thatsince the reduction of relief in West Ham the constitutional and physical appearance of the mothers and children attending the Plaistow Maternity Clinic is obviously a process of deterioration.2430 I will repeat those names—Dr. and Mrs. Watkins in charge, and the matron, Miss Davis. With regard to infantile mortality, up to 1919 West Ham was among the highest of the industrial towns in the country. There is no getting away from that fact. Between 1919 and 1926, in the era of this assumed extravagant Poor Law relief, it is an evident fact that the infantile mortality of West Ham was among the lowest of the industrial towns, and since 1926 the rate is steadily moving in the wrong direction.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. GROVES
I do not know the month. The figures are available. They will be presented by someone else. The guardians have presented Report No. 2, in which they indicate that they have reduced the amount of relief per person from 8s. 5½d. to 5s. 6½d. per week per head. I think that report will bring us to grips with the actual position. I want to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one or two humorous passages in the report. The hon. Member for Layton, who is to reply to our case will have a nice task when he hears this, on page 4 of Report No. 2, covering the period from 1st November, 1926, to 31st May this year:Under the late guardians' administration it was the custom to give a coal allowance in practically every case, without discrimination as to whether the recipient was living with relatives and sharing a fire with them or whether such person had access to a heated living room, as obtains in most lodging houses. During the consideration of the hard cases alluded to in the preceding paragraph the guardians became aware that one of the factors advanced during the summer months by many of the applicants was that coal had to be bought for cooking and other purposes. After careful consideration the guardians decided that the proper course to pursue was not to make a coal allowance as such, but to give instead an allowance to cover the increased cost of living in winter.Can the Minister tell me what an additional allowance of 1s. 6d. in winter has to do with answering the position of these poor people needing some coal in summer for cooking? Many of them have not got a gas stove. What allowance have they given? This is not humorous; it is tragic. I am going to take the lowest number of cases the new guardians advertise, that is giving them the full benefit of the 2431 doubt. For the week ending 28th May this year they state there are 14,722 cases. That is not persons, but families. The number of persons works out at 35,040. They have given in coal allowances £350 a week. If you divide the number of families into the amount you arrive at the sum the new guardians in this Christian country have allocated for warming these people, of 5¾d. per family per week. There are many things we say across the floor of the House, perhaps hard things. The right hon. Gentleman has a reputation for local government that he ought to be proud of, but he ought to be ashamed that 5¾d. per week per family should be allocated to the poor people of West Ham for coal in a borough that is administered by his own nominees. I see hon. Members at the Bar outside the House grinning. They would not grin if they lived in my area and they would not come to our area and show such countenances among the people who have to live in the conditions I am trying to enumerate with decency and courtesy.
I presume the right hon. Gentleman will be very pleased to know, and I hope the House will take cognisance of the fact, that the new guardians are buoyant with hope that, having done the things I have indicated to the Minister, having brought starvation into our borough, having allowed 5¾d. per family for coal allowance—they tell us on page 6—the children in the Scattered Homes have been encouraged to join the Boy Scout and Girl Guide troops in their vicinity. So we may rest assured all will be well. I come to page 8, the last page in the Second Report issued by the guardians. It says:Possibly the most important part of the policy of the present Board has been to get the unemployed to work.Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us where, when and how the Board have indicated their policy to get the unemployed to work? Why, the Government cannot do it. The new guardians have placed 150 men in employment. That is from their own Report. Thus their claim of putting a new policy into operation in West Ham is not true.
I want to amplify the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) with regard to the 2432 attempt of the new guardians to bring West Ham back to the position of 1920. The "Labour Gazette" stated that the amount of unemployment in 1920 was 2 per cent. Now it is 8.8 per cent. If the Minister's nominees are going to attempt to bring West Ham down to the 1920 position, they are either very ignorant or very callous, because the amount of unemployment has been multiplied by four. Take the position in our docks. West Ham has grown up with the development of the docks. Before the War boats from the Baltic and other places came to the East India or Royal Albert Docks, and our men were engaged in their thousands unloading and reloading them. As a result of the War and the loss of certain international markets, West Ham has a very large number of dock labourers still looking for work. It is no fault of West Ham. I want to submit to the right hon. Gentleman that the percentage of unemployment at the docks is 25 per cent., and that for 1926 it was 27 per cent. In the first report of the guardians they honestly and distinctly state that there are 1,237 dockers who are married men receiving poor relief. I only use that illustration to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there does not appear, even from the point of view of national or international trade, to be any reason to assume that trade in the vicinity of West Ham is in the future going to be very largely increased. The right hon. Gentleman's own nominees have boasted that their effort is to bring the Poor Law position of West Ham down to the level of 1920, and if they do that with his help and guidance they will be doing it in face of all industrial and economic facts, and attempting a thing which is against the common interests of humanity.
Under the heading of Old Age Pensions, these people boast of the cases which are being taken off the list. I think they have taken off 941 old age pensions. Under the old board of guardians each pensioner used to receive, in addition to his pension of 10s., the sum of 5s. I suggest that that 5s. was generally to be applied for the payment of the rent of their rooms. I have always said that I thought the country was rich and generous enough to see to it that men or women who had given of their best to industry 2433 from early manhood or womanhood until the end of their working life should not spend the remaining years of their lives within the four walls of the workhouse. This additional 5s. helped the old age pensioners to keep outside the workhouse. What has happened? I objected, and I had the support of the right hon. Gentleman when I submitted my objection to him some time ago, to the guardians having a man to collect the 10s. pension belonging to the pensioners who were compelled to go into the infirmary. I think that is a very bad practice. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will call the attention of the guardians to this practice, which, I think, ought to be made illegal. My opinion is that it is illegal to appropriate the 10s. a pensioner receives while in the infirmary and apply it towards his maintenance.
I desire to submit to the Minister something which, I think, is very interesting, because the guardians claim that they have reduced the expenditure of the union. We in this House must not get mixed up, because there is a difference between the Poor Law Unions and the boroughs. The union comprises various parishes, including West Ham, East Ham, Leyton, Walthamstow and Wanstead. For my purpose, I am only going to deal with the county borough of West Ham, but that which I am going to bring forward will affect, in principle, all the parishes within the Poor Law Union. What I want to submit to the Minister of Health is, that the policy of the West Ham Guardians in reducing the expenditure of the union is effecting an increase in the expenditure upon social services in the borough. I am going to prove it by figures. Under the old scale of relief, mothers received an amount of money which allowed them to provide meals for their children in their own homes. I, myself, have been a member of the Special Schools Committee of the Education Department of West Ham, and proud we were to put into operation the adoptive Acts connected with the Education Act to enable us to feed necessitous children. I know that mothers who are poor love to have their children take their meals in the home with the rest of the family. Under the new regime, when the relief was so drastically reduced, it meant that the ordinary mother in our locality receiving relief had not sufficient money 2434 coming into the home to enable her to supply meals at home for the children.
What result has it had on the County Borough of West Ham? I have here the official figures issued by the education department of my borough. In order that I shall not unduly prolong my speech, I am going to summarise these details. The House must understand that I am now dealing only with the school children who come within the category of appearing to suffer as the result of lack of food. The procedure adopted is for the teacher in needy cases to give a child a provisional ticket for the feeding centre, but the parents ultimately have to fill in two separate forms. I will not trouble the House by reading the details, but I want to assure hon. and right hon. Members that there is no possibility of meals being given indiscriminately. The parents must prove that there is actual need. The parents or the father have to fill up a particular form, issued according to the Acts of Parliament, 1900–1921, under the Board of Education, and we send an inspector in a perfectly decent way to make certain inquiries. The inspector has to indicate to the superintendent of visitors: How long the applicant has resided in the district; the state and general condition of the home; whether the children attend school regularly; whether they have been summoned for non-attendance, and, if so, to give particulars. He is also asked: Can you recommend them as a deserving family, and what is the total number of the family to be supported? When these particulars have been supplied the children are put upon the regular feeding list.
In the first 26 weeks of 1927, that is, from the week ending 8th January to the first week of July, and multiplying that to get a fair average for the year—I want the Minister of Health specially to note this point because it is one which concerns a vital principle—the County Borough of West Ham have supplied 439,556 additional meals; nearly half a million extra meals as compared with the number supplied under the old administration, which was assumed to be generous and even extravagant. I have taken the trouble to go to the head offices of our borough to arrive at the average cost of a meal, and, taking all in, including supervision, so far as the 2435 Borough Treasurer's Department of the County Borough of West Ham can assess it, the cost works out at 6d. per meal per head, which is a fairly reasonable amount: certainly not extravagant. The additional cost thrown upon the exchequer of the County Borough of West Ham and taken off the shoulders of the union, as such, is £10,988 18s. We have to allow for the fact that we get on approved expenditure a grant through the Board of Education. If we get 50 per cent. of the £10,000, it means that as a result of the drastic reduction in relief in West Ham, at the end of the year the increased expenditure will represent a rate of 1d. I can visualise that at the end of the year we shall be accused of extravagance. That is a point of vital consideration in view of the claim of the present guardians that they have reduced the expenditure.
I will read the actual increase in the figures, and will hand them over to the Minister if he desires them. They are official figures, printed by the borough. This year, as compared with 1926, for the week ending 19th March, 1,007 school children were attending for meals. Over 1,000 school children who previously were fed in their own homes, their parents being in receipt of Poor Law relief, and being proud to be able to have their children with their feet under their father's table at mealtimes, now attend our dining centres connected with our schools, because their parents have had their relief drastically reduced by the new board of guardians. Connected with the County Borough of West Ham, we have, and we are very proud of it, a department associated with our clinic and maternity centres where we supply dried milk, a commodity which is accepted by the Ministry of Health and medical people generally as being a very nutritious form of food. To the very poor people we give away free packets of the dried milk. In these cases, the parents have to fill in a good many particulars and they have to have their homes examined by inspectors in order to prove that they are actually destitute and in need of this help. When we are satisfied that they are in need, we give weekly a one pound packet of dried milk, which costs the borough one shilling.
§ Mr. GROVES
When the applicants are not destitute, we sell the milk at half price, and in many other instances where they can afford to pay we sell it to them at cost price, namely, ls. per pound packet. In this department also, I should like to point out what has been the effect on the finances of the County Borough of West Ham as a result of the reduction of expenditure in the union. Some 8,402 persons who used to pay the full amount now cannot do so and come to us to obtain the dried milk at half price. To put it in another way, under the old scale, people received just that amount of money that would allow the mother who was bringing up a young family to go to our centre and purchase at full price one pound of dried milk, or to purchase at half price dried milk, which we all believe has proved medically to be very beneficial. There have been 12,150 extra packets of free milk supplied, which works out at a cost of £607 10s., and 388 additional packets of milk at half price, at a cost of £9 14s. As a result of the reduction in the amount of Poor Law relief, people have been forced to demand this social service from the County Borough of West Ham, and we have incurred, in addition to the £10,988 18s. on extra meals supplied, an additional expenditure of £617 4s. in supplying dried milk.
Another reason why I want the Minister of Health to agree to our Prayer to-night to annul this Order giving the guardians another six months, is because statements of officers of the Government generally show that poverty and lack of nutrition are contributory factors to tuberculosis. Sir George Newman made a special plea in the Board of Education Report that every local authority shouldseriously consider what its policy and practice is going to be and pursue its course with knowledge, thoroughness and persistence.Dr. Lee, Tuberculosis Officer of Sunderland, in calling attention to the increase in tuberculosis, said:The unparalleled poverty and distress due to unemployment is the chief explanation.I do not think the Minister will dispute the general statements of Medical Officers 2437 of Health in the country, that it seems almost impossible to arrest the progress of tuberculosis while unemployment and destitution prevail in this land. I think I can prove to him by giving figures that the policy of the preent guardians is a policy of hardship, in addition to the general reduction of relief. It is my object this evening to do what the Minister asked us to do when he said that any cases of extra hardship which we could submit to him would be considered. I want to submit to him—I will not delay the House by trotting out hundreds of cases—about 20 cases, and I want to show him how the nominees of this Government in West Ham have oppressed the poor. A learned Judge once said that too often the guardians, instead of being guardians of the poor, were oppressors of the poor. I think that was connected with West Ham. I want now to bring to the notice of the Minister of Health, what we have often stated, that we have at our disposal glaring cases which ought to be sufficient to make this House infuriated with the work of these guardians and make the Minister say to us, "Well, you have brought to my knowledge facts which are new, and in view of them I am going to alter my course." After all, there is nothing ignominious in a Minister of the Crown being prepared to weigh in the balance evidence of real hardship, and to recognise that all these are typical instances. It appears to me that the new guardians are going to make men live on 1s. a day. I trust when the Minister replies he will either approve or denounce, one or the other, this situation in which men are put in the position of living on 1s. a day. I will give names and addresses, because I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Perhaps the hon. Member is not aware how many of his colleagues wish to continue the Debate, or he would have some consideration for them.
§ Mr. GROVES
You will not think me immodest if I say it is generally agreed that I should have some degree of latitude of time in putting the details for West Ham.
§ Mr. GROVES
I would not have taken the liberty if I had not known that that 2438 was so. I will hand the whole of these cases over to the Minister. The first is the case of a man named Augustus Evans, of 21, Leabourn Street, a single man, suffering from hip joint disease for 40 years. It is impossible for him to work. He used to get 15s. a week under the old regime, and now he gets 5s. in money and 5s. in tickets. His rent is 4s., and he has not moved suddenly into a new house, but has lived in his room for 10 years. He has got to live on 6s. a week. The second is the case of Mr. R. Williamson, of 9, Queen Street, Stratford, age 77. He and his wife are old age pensioners. He used to get 4s., i.e., in addition to the 10s. old age pension. Now they are reduced to 1s. 6d. The daughter works for the guardians, and she is called upon to contribute the 1s. 6d. which is given to her parents. The third is the case of Mr. A. Curry, 38, Blyth Road, a man who has worked very hard, and who is now an old age pensioner. He gets 5s. parish relief in tickets. His rent is 5s. 6d. a week. He has a daughter, and the guardians have suddenly discovered that she is a domestic servant and have called upon her to contribute 2s. 6d. a week. She wrote back to the guardians, and said she could not afford to pay that. She wrote a very nice letter, and I will read it to the House. This is her letter to the collector of the guardians.Sir,—I am in receipt of your letter of the 16th instant about my father to the effect that the guardians have decided to make no alteration in the 2s. 6d. weekly but I see no reason why I should pay the sum demanded of me. Where do you think my father gets his clothes on a total income of 15s. a week, including 5s. worth of food tickets you give him? I have quite enough to do with my own money and cannot pay anything, as stated at first.—Yours truly.I do not look on that as a simple detail. I think it is very hard if a man, aged 78, who has been for years a good industrial worker, merely because he has grown old, is to be thrown on to parish relief because of the economic circumstances of this country. His daughter is an ordinary domestic servant, getting £26 a year, and I think the guardians are very mean indeed to call upon her to contribute 2s. 6d. weekly. Then there is the case of Mr. F. Butcher, 46, Chapel Street, a single man suffering from tuberculosis. I know that is so, because in our ordinary West Ham clinic 2439 I have been in touch with him. The doctor has stated that the man is not fit for heavy work. He gets relief of 8s. in kind and no money at all. His rent is 4s. How does the Minister expect this man to pay rent when he gets no money whatever from the guardians and when all their relief is given in tickets which are taken to the local shops in order to get meat or groceries, whichever is thought best? I will not weary the House with many other details except to mention a case which I consider to be a vital one. What is the attitude of the new guardians to the blind population? I know very well that the speeches from Members of this House, not all connected with this party, have been directed to getting assistance for the blind population. It is always said that this country ought to be great enough to see that the blind are maintained, so that they do not have to go to the workhouse. There is the case of Mr. F. Ellingford, 24, Beaconsfield Road. He went blind under distressing circumstances. He has six children under 14 years of age, and no wife. He used to get relief under the old guardians, but the new guardians have discovered that he has a son at work. That young man is likely to get married and wants to build up a home, but the guardians have decided that the blind man can have no relief at all. He has six children under 14 and yet is to have no relief whatever. His son, who earns £3 15s. a week, has to keep that household.
Those are actual facts which I know. I put them to the Minister of Health, and I am willing to go into these cases with him and to give what evidence and help I can at any inquiry or committee to see that justice is done. I am willing to help—and I am willing to recall any harsh words I may have used in a heated moment—in order to see that cases like these shall be dealt with by this great State Department and that the Minister's nominees who have wilfully perpetrated these injustices to the poor population of this country may be stopped by the only person capable of stopping them, and that is the Minister himself. Here is another and a very serious case—Alfred Garland, of 31, Stephens Road, West Ham, has a wife in the central home suffering from bronchitis. He works at a local varnishing company; salary £2 10s. 2440 a week, rent 8s. 4d.; that is £2 1s. 8d. in hard cash to live on. What do the new board of guardians do in a case like this? Here is a note from the guardians, headed No. 65. What do you think the guardians demand? It is £1 3s. 4d. per week, out of his £2 1s. 8d., leaving 18s. 4d. per week for an able-bodied man to live on.
If the Minister does not feel that such cases as these are sufficient to warrant his intervention, his kindly intervention, then something ought to be said. Another case: Mr. J. W. Allen, 84, Major Road, a fitter and turner, age 68; rent 5s. per week. The Guardians used to allow 11s. but it is now stopped, because his son works in the Great Eastern Railway. Is it the policy of the Poor Law administration of this country that sons should be compelled to keep their parents when they are incapable of sustaining themselves? Another case: Mrs. Hamilton, of 14, Wingfield Road, husband in a central home, paralysed; rent 3s. 6d. per week, panel money 10s.; she has to live on 5s. 6d. a week. Another case: J. Reeves, 25, Beer Road, wife and one child, income l0s. 6d., rent 3s. 3d., and they have 7s. 3d. on which to keep three people. I know this is somewhat boring to hon. Members opposite, but they are facts that should be stated. C. Chapman, 141, Maryland Road, He and his wife are old age pensioners. They get £1 a week; pay 3s. in rent, and they have 17s. on which to live. The guardians refuse any help whatever. Mr. C. Hand, 99, Rosher Road, wife and one child, 24s. per week in relief, rent. 8s. In this case the guardians have decided that three people must live on 16s. a week. W. Cox, 33, Albert Lane, a single man. He has no income and the guardians refuse any relief at all because he is an able-bodied man. The next case is one in my own street, Mrs. Mynett, a widow, of 44, Henneker Road, Stratford, with one child. She gets 15s. a week pension and 5s. in relief, making her income £1. She has not been a widow very long and the rent of the house remains as it was when her husband was alive. The landlord refuses to allow her to sub-let and, therefore, it still stands at the top rent of 12s. ld. Her actual income, therefore, is 7s. 2d. She has a son at work who earns £1 a week, and a daughter of 15 who gets 5s. a week. That is £1 5s. between them.
2441 I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he would do if he were sitting in the board room of the guardians and had to decide this case. Would he not say that £1 5s. is not too much for these people, that 12s. 6. per week for a growing man, who has to keep himself respectable, is not an extravagant amount to allow, and that 12s. 6d. is not too much to allow any girl to live on and keep herself clean and respectable? He must admit that the income of the son and daughter ought not be taken as a contribution towards the maintenance of the mother. The guardians have decided, let us have it plain and straight, that 7s. 2d. per week is sufficient for that woman to live on, that is, a shilling a day. Another case—Mr. McNeal, with a wife and two children. In this case the guardians have decided that they must live on £1 per week between them. Another case, J. H. Marguss, of 64, Mark Street, with a wife and two children, relief, £1 2s., rent, 6s. Therefore the guardians have decided that four people must live on 14s. per week. I have a lot more of these cases, but I think I have given sufficient to illustrate the policy against which I protest. It has apparently been decided that the very poor people in West Ham must live on one shilling a day. I should like to pause there and ask hon. Members who have just come in whether they think it right that this country, that this Parliament, should acquiesce in a board of guardians laying it down as a general condition that the citizens of this country must live on one shilling a day.
We feel that we have a right to protest most strongly against the Minister supporting the actions of the West Ham Guardians in this House. If it was a case of propaganda outside we should not care at all, but we want the Minister to say whether he approves or deplores the action of the new West Ham Guardians in laying it down as a condition that a British citizen should live on one shilling a day and keep himself or herself decent, clean, upright, moral and respectable. I say that it cannot be done, and I believe the Minister of Health realises that it is impossible. Another case, T. Hartley, of 13, Vine Road, single. Gets 8s. relief, and pays 6s. a week in rent. In this case the guardians have actually decided that this single man is to live on 2s. a week. Another case, J. Austin, 59. Goodall Road, Leyton, with wife and three children: 2442 relief, one guinea per week; rent, 5s. 6d. In this case the guardians have decided that five human beings are to live on 15s. a week between them. Is that possible? And if it is not, what defence can the Minister make on behalf of these new guardians? If we are to have a saving of money I say that it should not be a saving at the expense of human lives. That is a most indefensible basis, and I do not think any Minister of Health in any British Parliament ought to stand up in support of such a policy. Another case, J. Martin, 10, Cross Street, a single man: gets 10s. a week relief; rent. 5s.—
§ Mr. GROVES
I have not got his birth certificate, but I can get all the information and send it on to the hon. and learned Member for Leyton (Mr. Cassels). He is a single man, and whether young or old he has to eat and drink and to be decently maintained, and he has got, according to the West Ham Guardians, to do it on 5s. a week. This is the last case I will quote in detail. Mr. Bevis, of 47, Major Road, has a wife and four children under 14. One child is in the infirmary suffering from rheumatics, and the man himself is a chronic invalid, with the same complaint. The guardians give him 15s. 6d. a week in money and 17s. in tickets, making a total of £1 12s. 6d. The rent is 11s. 8d., leaving £1 0s. 10d. for five people to live on, which works out at 4s. 2d. each for a week. I submit to the Minister that these cases of hardship merit his consideration, because the present guardians are quite aware that illness in a home involves certain hardships. I received a letter on 9th February from the present chairman of the new guardians, in which he says to me, in reference to a case to which I called his attention:In view of the fact that illness must necessarily bring a certain amount of hardship in the house, the board are not prepared to vary the order made.I do not mind as long as the Minister will either accept or denounce this position. I have only selected about 50 cases of hardship, but I could place before the right hon. Gentleman 500 at any meeting that he cared to indicate. Let me read this very humorous letter, sent as the result of an appeal made by a particular branch of the National Union of Railwaymen, to the present board of 2443 guardians on behalf of a woman who is a widow and has to maintain her son, aged 22. The guardians gave this son some relief and this is the reply I received from the clerk of the Board, because I made some overtures on behalf of this woman, who is a widow, living at 25, Norfolk Street, Forest Gate:Referring to your further letter, this case has been fully inquired into and reconsidered. The woman herself is not in receipt of outdoor relief, but the allowance made is in respect of her son, Henry, single, age 21 years of age, mentally deficient from birth. Inquiries show, and are corroborated, that the son enjoys very good health.Here is a man who is mentally deficient from birth, and anybody who is acquainted with this particular class of case knows that these people eat a lot and that 8s. a week relief for a man like that is in no measure equal to the needs of the case.
I want to clinch my argument with a case that I think merits the right hon. Gentleman's immediate attention. Last week the guardians took to task a man who wilfully threw himself on the parish. The guardians felt that this man, who was a single man, aged 32, and who had been out of work since 1922, should be dealt with somehow, and I want the Minister of Health to see that I am bringing this to his notice because it is evident to me that the new guardians are guilty of conducting their work without fair discrimination and without proper previous inquiry. Here, in my opinion, is a case that should make him put his foot down at once. It is that of a man whom the guardians have accused of wilfully neglecting to find work, and I have in my hand, and am prepared to hand them over to the Minister, replies from firms to which this man has made application for jobs. He heard of a job at the Great Eastern Railway in 1926 and applied for it. He did not refuse the job, but the medical man connected with the Great Eastern Railway who tests people before they start work turned him down. I have a certificate that this man, Edward Harland, first went to the London Hospital on 18th October, 1922. The diagnosis was mitral stenosis, and I understand from medical men that this is some affection of the heart, and it was decided by medical men that this man was not physically fit to carry on 2444 a laborious job. He was offered a job in a public house as a barman at 22s. a week, seven days a week, 11 hours a day. He would have midday off, I admit. He told the guardians that he was not fit medically, and I have evidence in my hand, which I am prepared to give to the right hon. Gentleman, in support of that statement. It says:Out-patient Department, London Hospital. This man suffers from a heart complaint.It will be evident to any medical man here that that would render him quite outside the possibility of taking a job as a barman in a public-house. This was a case of prosecution, and so I am not in this House in a position to criticise the decision of a magistrate or Judge, but that is the question about which I asked the Home Secretary in the previous Debate whether he was prepared to give a decision. This man was sentenced to a month's hard labour for wilfully refusing to maintain himself, for refusing work—a man with a heart complaint, of which the guardians had full knowledge; and very insulting things were said in the Court, with which I will deal with the Home Secretary. This man got a month's hard labour, and that is just an illustration. The Minister will say that I am the sort of man who makes statements without inquiry, but I would like to know under what circumstances the guardians prosecuted that man and determined that he was fit to do a barman's job for 11 hours a day in face of the medical evidence that this man suffered from a heart complaint.
I say that the policy of the present guardians is a policy of persecution of the poor. Their administration is enough to make us laugh in West Ham. I will give two instances which the right hon. Gentleman can investigate. On 27th October last year a man called at my house, and I said, "What is your trouble?" He replied, "I have a wife and two children, and they are all down with bronchitis. I have been to the parish doctor, and he has given me a prescription. I have been to the dispenser to get my medicine, but I could not get it." I said "Why?" He said, "Because they have no bottles." The dispenser had no bottles to give the medicine to this poor man. Then I telephoned to the Clerk of the Guardians 2445 and told him that that would not suit me, and asked him what he was going to do. I said that I should have taken the prescription to the local chemist, had it made up, and sent the bill in to the guardians. I will give credit to the clerk because he did exactly what I would have done. I have here a letter from him, in which he says he has taken the matter up with the dispenser, and he trusts that as a result there will be no recurrence of this sort of thing.
I want to give one other instance. The other day, a poor destitute woman appeared at a local relief station to get her relief in the ordinary way. She said to the relieving officer that she felt unwell, and he replied, "You had better go to see the doctor." The woman, who had been waiting about for a long time, went to see the doctor, who decided that her illness was a case of diphtheria. These are the new guardians, who are going to administer affairs in West Ham in a much better way than did the old ones! The old ones are accused by the Minister of Health of unabashed corruption. I do not know what accusation will be made against the new guardians in this instance. It will be said that the chairman did not know that this case was one of diphtheria. Hon. Members opposite will naturally assume that the guardians at once sent for the ambulance and despatched the woman to the Fever Hospital. They did nothing of the sort. They sent her in a public vehicle, a tram. Talk about public health! I will give the Minister of Health the name and address of the woman, and the date on which this happened. I interrogated the relieving officer about it and protested. If this had been the old Socialist guardians, the statement would have been heralded abroad that they cared nothing about sanitation, and that all they cared about was getting their friends returned at the election.
I do not often intervene in these Debates, but when I do I like to give evidence in the shape of concrete facts. I am prepared to hand these facts over to the Minister and to prove them at any inquiry or commission; and to help. This is a matter of Debate and not of hate, and I am prepared to bring this information in order to help him. In a previous speech I used a phrase which I think 2446 the Minister of Health, in his reply on the following day, rather hoped I would, withdraw. I am really slow to move and always ready to forgive. Having read of things connected with the matter, and having taken up the position that the Minister has certain information which he thinks is absolutely reliable, I thought I should have the same. As he knows, I approached the chairman of the board of guardians in a perfectly courteous way—I thought that was the proper place to begin. I asked whether it would be possible to have—not some sort of examination—but whether, as a citizen, a councillor, and an elected Member of Parliament, I could look at certain papers which I wanted to see. The Minister knows that the chairman of the board of guardians declined to grant me that right, and told me that he had sent a letter. That puts me in this position that I know what I want to get and I know where to get it. Of course, if I sat on the other side of the House, I should do what the Home Secretary would do, I should go down with acetylene gas, hammers, and the like. But I can only get down as a result of an appeal to the Minister. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will use his best endeavours to persuade the chairman to allow me to go down—with him, if he likes—to look at certain documents which I want to see. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I would be the first, if I discovered that my information was in any degree inaccurate, to withdraw it and to apologise for making use of it. I have asked in a courteous manner whether I, as a public man, a ratepayer and a citizen, can see public documents—they are not the personal. property of these new guardians—and if they have nothing to fear, why should they not put all their cards on the table. What is it that they are afraid of our seeing? I know what I want. My point is in sight, and, if the right hon. Gentleman will afford me reasonable facilities for seeing a certain case of papers, then I think I shall be able to bring this particular issue to a satisfactory conclusion. I want to do that. I hate casting reflections on anybody in this House, and I am not the man to do it; but I know what I am at, and I trust that the Minister will use his influence 2447 with the chairman to allow me to enter the doors and see the documents.
I have dealt mainly with the general indictment which we put up against the guardians. I only want to add that the humour of the position is in regard to the question of "on loan." I will deal with the case of Mr. T. Dean, of 60, Ranelagh Road. I told the House, in March, that the guardians had sent Mr. Dean a claim for 17 guineas which, they said, had been given to his family on loan. Strangely enough, since there have been general complaints in the locality about the assumption on the part of the guardians that all this money given during the general strike was given on loan, the guardians have taken up a new position. They have sent the man a new order—I have it here—and they have deleted the statement that the money was on loan. The order says:I am directed by the guardians to ask for payment of the sum of 17 guineas, due for the maintenance of your family.There are many other details that will be submitted to the House by other hon. Members. I shall be pleased to submit many more details on a future occasion, if the Minister of Health can allow this question to be discussed again. As the elected Member for the area, I say that the Minister has no mandate from the area for imposing these guardians on the West Ham Union, and I trust that the House will support our protest against such an imposition. I think I have proved that, far from preventing destitution, a board of guardians which is prepared to assume that able-bodied people can live on 1s. a day are spreading destitution, with the trail of hunger, want, misery, ill-health, and everything which this nation and this Parliament ought to assume to be wrong, immoral and un-British.
§ Captain AUSTIN HUDSON
I want to deal, in the few minutes in which I propose to speak, rather more generally with the question than the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) has done. I am sure he will not think me discourteous if I say that perhaps the large number of cases which he gave rather lost their point when they were given in the House as he gave them, because we only heard one side. I expect that the 2448 hon. Member, like all of us, gets numbers of such cases in connection with all sorts of Departments; that is particularly the case with me in regard to the Ministry of Labour, where someone says that his unemployed benefit is cut off. When you go into the case, however, with the Minister, you always find that there is another side. Perhaps, a case which at first appears to be a very wrong one, and over which you wax very indignant, turns out to be not half as bad as it seemed. I hope that the Minister of Health will not grant this Prayer to annul the Order for the continuation of the West Ham Guardians. I am one of those people who believe that the whole matter is bound up with the question of how the people who administer this relief should be elected.
I put a Motion down—unfortunately it was not reached owing to the fact that the Guillotine was in operation—to discuss the whole question. That matter is entirely bound up with the question of whether the appointed guardians should go on, or whether the elected guardians should be put back in their places. It seems to me an excellent opportunity, now, for us to see, after a period of time—we have had about 12 months, now—whether we were right in saying that the administration should be carried on by those who have only a simple object in view, namely that of carrying on the administration as best they can for all sections of the community. Now the elected guardians, whom the hon. Member opposite wishes to see back again, were elected very largely by those people to whom they gave relief, and the relief which they administered—I say badly administered—was got from the ratepayers of the district. The hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) who opened this Debate said that the majority of the ratepayers did not support the policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, but the majority of the ratepayers in West Ham have no votes attached to them at all. They are the limited companies who pay on the rateable value. It is a thing which could be altered, and I hope when the new Franchise Bill comes in something will be done.
We on this side have been told that because we do not like the policy of these guardians we are heartless people. I 2449 think that is an entirely fallacious argument. You might as well say that a man who does not respond to every charitable appeal is an unkind man. He might not be an unkind man, but a prudent man. The present guardians are not unkind; they are merely prudent, and look into every case before they spend money. Like any other Member of this House, who does not reside or is not connected with West Ham, I have to get my information from the newspapers which, the hon. Member said, were putting such a bad case against them. I think we can get a good idea of what is going on if we read the newspapers of all shades of opinion, including the "Daily Herald," and, having read reports from various papers on the subject, I think the appointed guardians are making a very good show of the administration of a very difficult problem indeed. Some of us were brought up on that excellent motto, "God helps those who help themselves." I think that the present guardians are acting on that motto, which is such a good one that it should be framed at the expense of the Ministry and hung in the board room of every board of guardians. They said in their last report that they want everybody in the district to go last of all to the board of guardians for relief. Let them help themselves, and let their last thing be to come to the board of guardians. I think that is a system which is a very good one. I think the State should never give public assistance to anybody, unless absolutely bound to do so. That is the way the Unemployment Insurance Act works. If a man proves that he is helping himself for all he is worth, he will get his unemployment insurance.
§ Mr. THURTLE
Is the hon. Member aware that the prisons at the present time are full of people who try to help themselves?
§ Captain HUDSON
I am aware of that. I do not mean help themselves to what belongs to somebody else. That is a different thing entirely. It is Socialism in some ways. Under the Unemployment Insurance Act, if a man has not done his utmost to get a job and help himself, he is struck off. We have had many cases where men are struck off. That system was not in operation at West Ham at the 2450 time of the election of the guardians. Insufficient inquiries were made, and practically everybody who wanted it could get relief from these guardians. I think the guardians are working well. They are showing what can be done by a body which is not influenced by vote-catching, but is merely trying to do its best in the ordinary way, irrespective of party. I remember the late Minister of Health, the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), asked whether we expected Socialist boards of guardians to carry on in a Conservative spirit. They would carry on as Socialists. We say they should not carry on as Socialists or Conservatives or Liberals, but be businesslike, and non-party, and do their work both for the ratepayers and the poor people of the district on a strictly non-party basis.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I had not intended to speak, because I know the patience of this House is much shorter than the patience of the poor, and I can see that the boredom of the recital of these stories regarding the poor one by one is more than hon. Members can bear. I am conscious it is very difficult to get their attention to such stories. I want to speak from another angle. We have had two reports of the guardians. There is nothing in either of them—not one word as to how they have done their duty, which they were sent to do, to relieve the poor. There is practically nothing about health, nothing about vital statistics, and nothing about the result of their policy on the lives of the persons with whom they have been entrusted. Nor do we get from the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary any details of these matters. I think we ought to have an inquiry by the Minister, and a report from him as to the merits of restrictive and liberal relief. There is material enough in London. Over a very long period the West Ham Board of Guardians have given liberally; over a long period other boards of guardians have given restrictively, and now the Minister is carrying out a series of experiments, which might be called laboratory experiments or control experiments. He has suddenly, in three districts, stopped liberal relief and instituted, through his nominees, restrictive relief.
2451 I have collected a few figures which I desire to give the House. I am going to make a comparison in vital statistics between West and East Ham, London, Kensington and Paddington. West Ham is a notoriously poor area. East Ham, my own borough, is not rich, but it is rather better off than West Ham. North and South East Ham taken together, in social conditions and poverty, are well below the London level, though there are many pleasant places in East Ham. My own partiality is for East Ham, North. But West Ham is poorer than East Ham. We contribute to the West Ham Union more than we receive in Poor Law relief. When the Minister's proposals came out our borough treasurer did a sum which showed that on a comparison of the two boroughs in regard to Poor Law, East Ham would gain considerably. You would expect, therefore, that in vital statistics East Ham would be well below the London level and West Ham a great deal below the London level. It is not so however, and I will run through the general death rates for a period of eight years. The figures are as follow:
All through these eight years West Ham with its desperate poverty is only once above the London general death rate per 1,000, and East Ham has always been below it. I will take a much more sensitive figure, the rate of infantile mortality over the eight years. As Members know, there was a sudden and beneficent change in the general infantile mortality rate after the year 1918, and London dropped from 108 to 85. Each succeeding year it has gone down, with some oscillations, until it has reached a figure of 64. During those years West Ham was only three times worse than London. East Ham was only once worse than the London level, 2452 and that was last year. Here are the figures:
— London. West Ham. East Ham. 1919 … 13.6 13.3 9.9 1920 … 12.8 12.9 10.3 1921 … 12.5 12.1 10.2 1922 … 13.5 13.3 11 1923 … 11.4 10.6 9 1924 … 12.2 11.5 9.8 1925 … 11.9 10.8 10.2 1926 … 11.4 10.6 9.4
It will be seen that 1926 was the first year in which East Ham was above the London figure, and that was due, as I read the figures, to an extraordinary first quarter, when the infantile mortality touched the unprecedented figure of 97. Compare that with London. Considering the richness of London, it is a miraculous thing that West Ham should be so often a little below the London average. Now I will take the Royal Borough of Kensington, and ask hon. Members to note how the West Ham mortality figures under their guardians and their town council compare with those of Kensington.
— London. West Ham. East Ham. 1919 … 85 86 69 1920 … 76 74 60 1921 … 81 75 63 1922 … 75 81 62 1923 … 61 60 51 1924 … 69 78 54 1925 … 68 66 53 1926 … 64 56 68
That is the only year in which Kensington has been better than West Ham as regards infantile mortality.
— West Ham. Kensington. 1919 … … 86 102 1920 … … 74 83 1921 … … 75 107 1923 … … 81 84 1923 … … 60 70 1924 … … 78 75
Kensington is composed of North Kensington and South Kensington. Consider the solid comfort, the luxury and even the splendour of South Kensington.
— West Ham. Kensington. 1925 … … 66 79 1926 … … 56 61
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
An explanation of that is quite simple. The working class woman nurses her child and the well-to-do woman leaves it to somebody else.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I am afraid that will not do. That remark shows an 2453 extraordinary ignorance. If you want a really good infantile death-rate, go to Harrow, where there is a well-to-do middle-class population. There you will find the lowest death rate in the country. It is not the working men's children who live, it is the children of people like the Harrow school masters, who have large families and know how to look after them.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
After that excursion I would ask hon. Members to compare the death rate of West Ham and North Kensington. I have read the first three years, showing that West Ham was well below North and South Kensington. For the following years I have not got the Registrar-General's figures, which I have been quoting up to now, but the figures of the Medical Officer of Kensington. The total in one case varies as much as two points. For the other years the figures are equal. Look at West Ham and North Kensington. In 1922 in North Kensington the figure was 91; in 1923 in West Ham it was 60, and in North Kensington 86; in 1924 the figure for West Ham was 78 and in North Kensington 87. In 1925 in West Ham the figure was 66 and in North Kensington 88.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I shall have to ask the hon. Member to give me notice of that question. In 1926 the figure for West Ham was 56 and for North Kensington 79. North Kensington, as everybody knows, is a district containing well-to-do residents, and in no way constitutes a fair parallel with West Ham. West Ham is a district which borders on the river and some of it has been reclaimed from the river, and even now it is flooded at certain times, whilst North Kensington is situated in a healthy district. In many respects West Ham has had liberal relief. North Kensington gives very little relief and hardly give any outdoor relief at all. The only thing in which you can say that West Ham is better off than North Kensington is that it used to have guardians who did look after the poor, and the only difference is in the scale of relief which has been adopted. If I take the figures I could show that West 2454 Ham and Paddington compare very favourably indeed. I know these guardians have been blamed for wasting money, but suppose they did waste the money. Suppose that every word which Mr. Killip has said on this question is true, I say it is better to waste money than to save money at the expense of the poor people.
I will now give the figures showing the mortality in West Ham County Borough, in which the greater part of the poverty of West Ham is concentrated. I am going to take the Registrar-General's figures, quarter by quarter. I have shown that the rate of infantile mortality in West Ham over a long period has been very satisfactory. The figures for the last two quarters of 1926 do not show any very great change, the West Ham figures following the London figures at a rather increasing distance. If I take the quarter ending in September, 1925, in London the infantile mortality was 55, and in the quarter ended in September, 1926, it was 53. In West Ham it dropped, with London, from 59 in September, 1925, to 55 in September, 1926. In the following quarter, the last quarter of 1925, the figure in London was 88, and in the last quarter of 1926 it was 74. In West Ham it was 72 in the last quarter of 1925, and 69 in the last quarter of 1926. The West Ham figure has dropped with that of London, though not so quickly. It has dropped at a slower rate for the last half of the exceptionally good year, 1926. Now I come to the Registrar-General's figures for the spring quarter. The Registrar-General's figures show a rise of five points in the infantile mortality, over the whole of London, as compared with the corresponding quarter ending on the 31st March, 1926. The figure was 71 in March, 1926, and 76 in April, 1927.
The West Ham figures, however, according to the Registrar-General, show a jump of 33 points, the infantile mortality in West Ham, in the quarter ending on the 31st March, 1926, being 56, while in the quarter ending on the 31st March, 1927, it was 89. That is a terrific jump. In my own borough of East Ham, the course is different. As I have said, we had a phenomenal first quarter in 1926, with a mortality of 97. A year before it was only 58 in the corresponding quarter, and this year it is 90, that is to say, almost 2455 up to the peak of an absolutely exceptional quarter. These are the Registrar-General's figures as far as they go. I have taken out the unweighted figures, for the next quarter, which I am not going to give to the House, because, naturally, the unweighted figures and the broken weeks at the beginning and the end of the quarter are strictly comparable with any quarter, but I will just say this, that they do not seem to me to offer much ground for encouragement. That enormous jump is a very disquieting thing. I know perfectly well how difficult it is to deal with infantile mortality figures over a short period, and that one ought to be extremely cautious in drawing any conclusion. There does not seem to be any general disturbing cause, such as weather, or the London figures would have shown it, and, as I have shown, they have only risen by five points. I have looked through the causes of death as given in the weekly returns, and I cannot see—I only say I cannot see—any evidence of infantile epidemics enough to account for it. There is, of course, the restriction of relief, and I say that it seems to me highly probable that the restriction of relief has made the mothers in much worse case to face confinement and birth than they were a year ago. I think that that is so, and it is somewhat confirmed by the opinion given by the officers of the infirmary; but what I am asking now, and this is my reason for bringing these matters forward, is that the Minister should give us an inquiry.
Of course, the figures I have given are the figures of an amateur statistician, but I do not think that anything in the world can disprove the peculiar effect of the long course of infantile mortality figures and of general death-rate figures that I have given over eight years, for eight years is a very long period; but what I want to have is an expert investigation by people accustomed to do it, by people accustomed to manage statistics, by experienced medical officers who can give an independent report. And I want much more delicate figures than those given by the Registrar-General. For instance, I have given the gross infantile mortality figures. The real index, however, is not the deaths under one year, but the deaths under 2456 one month and under one week. If you could have those, and if you could add to those the figures for stillbirths and miscarriages for the period, you would get what is the most sensitive index of all namely, the condition of the mothers at the time, when they come to bring forth children, because these statistics are really more maternity statistics than any statistics of deaths over a week or a month. I want a comparison over a long period of time of Kensington and West Ham, and Paddington and West Ham. I want to have in statistical figures the effect of liberal relief and restricted relief. I want an examination of the height and weight of school children and the death-rate by selected groups of ages. I want, in short, to have this matter gone into in a proper and scientific way. Whenever I have brought hard cases to the Minister he has contented himself with a sort of stock statement that he has no reason to suppose hardship is being inflicted. He has no right to suppose. It is his duty to know. That is what we have a Minister of Health for. That is what we have Registrars-General for, in order that experiments like this, affecting the life and health of the population, should not be entered into in the perfectly lighthearted way the Minister of Health has entered into the West Ham, the Chester-le-Street and the Bedwellty experiments. We of the Labour party have always said we gave the relief in order to save life. If we are wrong, tell us so, and prove it. We do not spend money for nothing at all. And if we are right, if restricted relief means high infantile mortality, let the well-meaning ladies and gentlemen in Kensington mend their ways and give enough relief to make the homes happy and prosperous.
I am going to address one question on one particular case to the Minister which I addressed to the Under-Secretary and to which I got no answer at all. I gave the House last time two instances of soldiers' orphans whose incomes have been used to support their stepfathers and stepbrothers. Those cases were vouched for by the Under-Secretary who, when I spoke to him, wrote me a letter to say the facts were substantially correct. I have a case of three children, aged 15 and 12, who were soldier's orphans, receiving a pension of 7s. 6d., 2457 and one working earning 10s. Their mother married again. There are, besides the stepfather, the war widow and the child. For the stepfather, the war widow and child they get 4s. in kind and 4s. in cash, the family living on the war pension and the 10s. earnings of the soldier's orphans. With regard to those cases, the old guardians acted on a letter they received from the Ministry of Pensions in which they say:I am to point out that the allowances amounting to 7s. 6d. weekly payable to your wife as the guardian of the two children of the late Gunner William George Crowe, Royal Field Artillery, should be expended for their sole use and benefit.That is a letter the guardians received with regard to a case in 1922, and since then they acted upon an instruction from another Minister so as to give separate support to the relations of the fatherless children of soldiers. The new guardians have instituted a plan of making the fatherless children of soldiers keep the step-father and the mother and the rest of the family. The Minister of Pensions is here. It was his Conservative predecessor who wrote the letter the guardians had. I see in the papers that the War Pensions Committee of West Ham, which is by no means only Labour, which includes military representatives and so forth, are writing to protest against the pensions of the fatherless children of soldiers being used to support the family. When I pressed the Under-Secretary he only said it was the law that all sources of income should be taken into account. It is not the law that you should support your step-father. It is not the law that you should support your own brother and sister, let alone your step-brother and sister. It is Wood-gate's illegality. I want to press the Minister on these two points, the audit of vital statistics, and whether he approves of this use of the pensions of the fatherless children of soldiers.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes), who opened the Debate, began by asking me to give him answers to some large questions of policy. What, for instance, was the present intention of the Government in regard to a general Measure of Poor Law reform? I think that the ruling of the Deputy-Speaker which followed shortly afterwards would really preclude me from going into any large questions 2458 of that kind. I would only, therefore, make this allusion to that part of the hon. Member's speech, that when he said I had spoken of the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act as a temporary Act I think he misunderstood the observations I made on the Second Reading. What I said was not that the Act itself was temporary, but that it provided a temporary means of getting over certain difficulties. Of course, it is quite clear that the arrangement under which the elected board of guardians are swept away and their places taken by an appointed board of guardians is not intended to be a permanent arrangement. Apart from the measure we are discussing to-day, the necessity of making fresh Orders from time to time for boards of guardians to be retained in office shows that the thing is temporary.
What we really are concerned with is, whether the present guardians, the Order for whose appointment was dated the 19th July last year, and whose term of office, therefore, expires on the 18th of this month, should be continued in their present office for another period of six months. It seems to me that the case for the Motion that that Order which I have made continuing them in office for another six months should be annulled must rest on evidence that they have not carried out their duties properly and that they could, therefore, be replaced with advantage by an elected board of guardians. I do not complain of the fact that hon. Members have tried to find a number of cases on which to argue that the present guardians have behaved with injustice or unfairness or even with illegality, but it is not the first occasion on which this matter has been discussed.
We had a Debate on the Estimates of the Ministry of Health on the 27th June, and some of the hon. Members who have been speaking to-night also spoke on that occasion. Among them, and in particular, was the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves), who, I regret to say, is not now in his place. He made on that occasion certain statements, the effect of which was that the books of the new guardians had been falsified either with their authority, or, at any rate, by some person employed by them, and, on a subsequent occasion, I read to the House a letter I had received from the new guardians explaining what the real 2459 facts were, and saying there was no foundation whatever for the hon. Member's statement. I then called upon the hon. Member to withdraw his statement. He sent a message to the House, through my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, that he wished to make some further investigation and that he would deal with the matter on the first convenient opportunity. He has told the House what has happened. He had no evidence, but he hoped that if he could get access to the books of the guardians he might find some evidence. Accordingly, he wrote to the chairman asking that he might have access to the books. He had not time to read the letter from the chairman which he has received in reply, because he spoke for an hour and a quarter. As I do not intend to speak for so long, I should like the House to hear the letter, of which I have received a copy:Sir,—I have received your letter of the 4th instant this morning, and have refreshed my memory by looking at Hansard's Parliamentary Report of the Debate on the Ministry of Health Vote on the 27th June last. The charge you made in the Debate against the present West Ham Guardians was that they had a staff engaged in writing the words 'on loan' against the names of persons who received relief in May, 1926, and whose records at that date did not have the words 'on loan' placed against the relief given to them. You stated in the Debate that the present Guardians had a staff 'up to two weeks ago,' that is, the 13th June, engaged in writing in the words 'on loan,' as above. You also stated in the Debate that you had proof of this. If you have proof, it is up to you to produce the proof. If you are not in a position to do this, then you should publicly withdraw the charge made against the present guardians. The Board decline to allow you to inspect their records in search of evidence as requested in your letter under reply.I think the hon. Member has behaved shabbily. He made a statement for which he had no evidence; he stated that he was prepared to prove the charges; he has not proved them, and he has not withdrawn them. That is not the way in which a matter of that kind should be treated.
§ Mr. GROVES
When the right hon. Gentleman asks me to provide my evidence, of course, the evidence is where it is and where I want to see it. I can only bring the evidence in support of my allegations when I can have access to the 2460 case papers, which are not in my possession but in the possession of the guardians. I am speaking specifically of the case papers. I made courteous overtures in order to obtain the case papers; I know where they are; I know which they are and how to get them. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to help me to get them, and then I will bring the evidence he requires.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member must have forgotten what he said in the House. He began by making a statement. Then he went on:I wish to repeat that statement, in case I am required to prove it.He then went on to say:If the Minister of Health will give me a reasonable assurance that the person engaged to fill up the books in the way I have described will not suffer loss of employment, I will produce him at the Bar of the House.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Gentleman proceeded to say:In my view it is something which no decent-minded man can defend."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1927; cols. 124–25, Vol. 208.]I think no decent-minded man would have made a statement of that kind and then decline to withdraw it when he was unable to produce evidence in support of it.
§ Mr. GROVES
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he has thoroughly read my speech, whether he has taken any step to face up to the question that he should give me the assurance for which I asked. I cannot expect the assurance to be given by the local guardians, but I do expect it from the right hon. Gentleman's Department. If he is prepared and he has the power to assure me that the person concerned will not be dismissed by the guardians—he has not taken that step—and if he will put it into writing I will face up to the facts and do what I said.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not know who is the person of whom the hon. Member speaks. How can I say that, if he makes statements which I know must be untrue, if they are as stated by the hon. Member? I now come to examine one or two other statements made by that hon. Member.
§ Mr. DUNNICO
On a point of Order. In the event of this person being produced and the statement found to be correct, will the right hon. Gentleman give the guarantee then?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am not in a position to guarantee that somebody whose name I do not know and of whose existence I am entirely unaware shall receive no injury in circumstances which have not yet arisen. What I have asked the hon. Member to do is to produce the proof which he said he had.
§ Mr. GROVES
The right hon. Gentleman does me an injustice, which I am sure he would not desire. He stated that I had said I had it in my hands. I said nothing of the sort. If he refers to my speech he will see that I asked him to give me an opportunity to get the proof.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It is not proof to produce somebody here to make a statement of that kind. I have the letter of the chairman of the board of guardians, and it is stated where the books were, and that they were not and could not have been falsified. That is a fact which can be obviously easily verified. The chairman states that the books were not in the hands of the staff. They were with the auditors, and therefore they could not possibly have had entries made in them by the staff up to within two weeks of the hon. Member's speech. I pass from that point, which I leave to the House, which can see exactly where it stands.
I come to the next statement made by the hon. Member. He read out a vast number of cases in the House this evening as bringing forward evidence that the new guardians were not carrying out their duties properly. Of course, these cases had not been sent to me beforehand. If the hon. Member had sent to me, not 20, but four or five cases and had asked me to look into them, how much more weight would his arguments have produced in the House if I had not been able to meet them or to give a satisfactory explanation. Cases of that kind cannot possibly produce any effect when they are obviously one-sided. The reason, therefore, that I am going to examine further statements made by the hon. Member on the last occasion is to show 2462 the House whether, when it comes down to the evidence he quotes, the hon. Member has made that careful examination into the correctness of the statements that anybody ought to make before they produce them in this House.
The next statement was that I had had the effrontery to present medals to the nurses at Whipps Cross Hospital after their hours had been increased. He said he had been there to the hospital. If so, he ought to know that the hours of the Whipps Cross Hospital nurses have not been increased and that they were working under the old guardians the same number of hours as they are now.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I said the Whipps Cross Hospital—not the Central Institution. The reason I gave that was because that was what the hon. Member for Stratford said.
§ Mr. GROVES
That would not be so. If I said that I should have corrected it. I distinctly said the Central Home and gave the letter of the ward. I made it quite clear that it was the Central Home in Union Road. I do not go to the Whipps Cross Hospital.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
This is what the hon. Member said:I think it is the greatest piece of effrontery for the Minister of Health to go to Whipps Cross Hospital and present medals to nurses after the newly-appointed guardians, who are his own nominees, had deliberately increased the working hours of those nurses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1927; col. 116, Vol. 208.]
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
That shows how much reliance can be placed on the hon. Member's statements. The first case the hon. Member gave was that of a man called Mason, who attended the London Hospital, where he had been ordered three pints of milk a day, and he said that the relieving officer had refused any help except the workhouse. I have made inquiries about that case, and I find that there is no truth in the statement that the relieving officer had refused any help except the workhouse. As a matter of fact, he is now receiving 10s. a week in cash, 12s. in kind, and is at the same time in receipt of National Health Insurance benefit of another 10s.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Hon. Members have taken two hours to present their case, and they must listen to the reply.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
On a point of Order. The question submitted by the right hon. Gentleman is that certain statements were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) which on investigation proved to be inaccurate, according to the right hon. Gentleman. The supplementary question put by the hon. Member for Stratford was that the facts as now disclosed did not prove that his statement was inaccurate, but that changed circumstances arose after his investigation.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
A definite statement was made to me by the chairman of the board of guardians, that there was no truth in the statement made by the hon. Member that in this particular case the relieving officer had refused any help except the workhouse. He then went on to state what the relief given to the man was. I cannot lay my hand on the case at the moment, and I cannot therefore check the fresh statement made that this relief has been given since. At any rate, even if it were true that the relief had been given since the hon. Member called attention to the case, I still have the statement that his original statement was not true. Then I come to the next case of Clawson, who, the hon. Member said, attended Guy's Hospital, and was allowed only 7s. a week. I am informed that this man has never produced any evidence of attendance at any hospital, that he has never complained, and no one has complained on his behalf, that his case has been hardly treated by the guardians, that, as a matter of fact, he lives with four other people, one of whom is in receipt of relief, and that they have an income going into the household of 45s. 6d. a week after the payment of rent. There was one other case mentioned, of a certain man named Charles Gillham, who had fainted with hunger at Queen Mary's Hospital, and who had been refused any relief by the guardians whatsoever. I can only say that inquiries have been made at my request about this man, and that the guardians can find no trace of any person of that name ever having applied to them for relief on any occasion.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
There is another class of statement, and one which I think is really deserving of a little more serious consideration, at any rate as put in the form in which it was put by the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence), who has argued that, owing to the administration of the present board of guardians, the general health of the community is suffering and that that may be measured in the death-rate and in the infant mortality rate.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I said I thought I could prove that the administration of 2465 the old guardians was beneficial and that the jump to 89 this year was alarming. I was extremely cautious.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member need not be afraid. I am not going to convict her of any inaccuracy of statement, because I know she is careful with her facts. But that is not the case with the hon. Member behind her, and here again I must correct him, because, although the hon. Member for the Stratford Division was careful to say that the figures which he quoted of the infant mortality in West Ham, compared with the rate of infant mortality in other great towns in the country, were not necessarily the result of the administration of the new board of guardians, yet the insinuation was perfectly clear, and I was not surprised to find in the "Daily Herald" the next day that the t's were crossed and the i's dotted.What are the methods by which the Commissioners have reduced the cost of Poor Law relief in West Ham?asked that paper.Infant mortality figures supply half the answer. In 1924 the infant mortality rate was 78.3, less than the average for 105 great towns. The rate in March and April"—This is what the hon. Member said, and the "Daily Herald" quotes it:this year is 104, as compared with 90 in the great towns.According to that statement, the rate, which for a long time had been less in West Ham than it was in the 105 great towns, when the new guardians came in, immediately reversed the position and was greater in West Ham than elsewhere. Just let us see what evidence there is for these cases. I have some figures quoted by the hon. Member for Stratford, and let me say here that you must not confuse the county borough of West Ham with the union of West Ham. There is no use in quoting the figures for the county borough against the West Ham Board of Guardians. Therefore to illustrate by figures which might flow from the guardians' administration you must take figures for the whole of the union. These are the figures for the cases quoted by the hon. Member for Stratford. I begin by saying that it is quite true that West Ham in the past has had a very good record in the matter of vital statistics, and I am disposed to take the infantile mortality rate as a very fair measure of 2466 the general condition, not merely of the infant population, but of the population as a whole. It is a. good general guide, and it is quite true that for some considerable time the infantile mortality! rate in the West Ham Union has been well below 105 of the big towns in the whole of Great Britain. In January of this year the hon. Member said, speaking generally, the rate in the great towns was 98.2 and that in West Ham it was 100.4.
He is wrong altogether. The rate in the great towns was 100 and in West Ham it was 91. In February he said the rate in the great towns was 100 and in West Ham it was 104. As a matter of fact, the correct figure was 114 in the great towns and only 94 in West Ham. In March he gave the figure quoted in the "Daily Herald" for the great towns as 90, and in West Ham 104, still much higher. The real figures were 87 in the great towns and 84 in West Ham. Only in one month—in the month of April—were the figures in West Ham actually higher than in the great towns. I think they were 74 for the great towns and 82 for West Ham. These figures compare with the hon. Member's figures of 104 for West Ham and 90 for the great towns. Not a single one of the hon. Member's figures was correct. Every one was wrong, and the significant thing is this, that not only were the figures wrong, they were all wrong in the same direction. It was a wrongness which made a case for his argument. When we find that as a matter of fact the real relation of the figures was exactly opposite from that which he stated, we see how much value is to be attached to his argument.
The hon. Member for East Ham North is much more careful about her figures. She has noted a rather stiff rise in the infantile mortality for the first quarter of this year. The hon. Member has put an increase in mortality for West Ham for the first quarter of this year which, she says, shows a disproportionate jump as compared with last year. That is only the first quarter. Why has she stopped there? Why has she not gone further? Because it is quite true that the figures in West Ham were 82 in April, which was higher, but at that time all these figures were higher than they are later. In May the figure goes down to 44, and in June to 38. Against 2467 those two figures in West Ham I find that in the great towns there were 55 and 52. So that the latest figures we have—those for the last two months—so far from showing that the infantile mortality in West Ham has gone up, show that it is lower than in any of the figures of the old guardians. As far as the need for an inquiry is concerned, an inquiry could not be held into all the things hon. Members wanted to hold an inquiry into in connection with a Motion of this kind. It would have to be an inquiry undertaken not in West Ham but over the whole country, and that is not a matter we can discuss at this moment.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The point is this: The Registrar-General only issued the figures for the quarters. Has the right hon. Gentleman the figures down to 26th June?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The Registrar-General gives them by quarters. Nobody can get them by months. If the figures were as stated in April, they must have been much worse.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member must realise that in these figures of infantile mortality it is not sufficient to take separate months. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is what you have been doing!"] Hon. Members are very unreasonable. First they quote particular months and they are incorrect, and when the correct figures are given with exactly the opposite result, they accuse me. In the enormous number of cases which are dealt with by a board of guardians it is obvious it must be extremely difficult for the most efficient, the most careful and the most conscientious guardians not sometimes to make a mistake. The extraordinary thing to my mind is that hon. Members have evidently done really hard labour to try to find some cases which will throw discredit on the guardians in all these months. Yet they have been extraordinarily unsuccessful.
Let me turn now to the other side of the question. The charges which have 2468 been made against the guardians have not been substantiated. They have fallen to the ground. What have the guardians done? What is the extent of the change they have made in the affairs of West Ham? The old guardians were done away with because they were no longer able to perform their functions for financial reasons. They had already to cut their scale of relief and they were going rapidly into bankruptcy. We have had these two Reports issued by the present board. They cover eight months only, and in the Reports you can get some sort of idea as to the change in the financial situation since they took charge. The old guardians were borrowing at the rate of £700,000 a year.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I say the old guardians were borrowing at the rate of £700,000 a year. When the new guardians came into office they borrowed £300,000 at once in order to meet urgent calls upon them and since then they have not borrowed one penny. They have not only ceased borrowing, but we find that the number of cases dealt with weekly has been reduced from 28,000 to 14,000, the number of persons from 68,000 to 35,000, the weekly cost from £28,000 to £9,000 and the annual expenditure of the guardians from. £2,345,000 to £1,387,000, a reduction of nearly £1,000,000. That seems to be the most complete answer lo the argument that the state to which the Union had been brought was due, not to any extravagance on the part of the old guardians, but to circumstances absolutely beyond their control. When you get a saving at the rate of nearly £1,000,000 a year, without inflicting any serious hardship or injury on any deserving person then, it seems to me, you have shown to demonstration and beyond the possibility of contradiction that the condition of this union was due, not to the circumstances, bad as they might be, in which it found itself through exceptional unemployment and the want of any large section of well-to-do people, but to methods which were quite unnecessary and which had gradually led to general demoralisation. In addition to the figures which I have given, the guardians have been able to reduce the precept upon the rates by an amount 2469 equivalent to fourpence in the £, and although an hon. Member has given us a lot of figures to show that the borough of West Ham in consequence of the saving had an increased expenditure upon children's meals and in other ways, even his figures, as far as I could make them out, could not amount to more than a little over £15,000, whereas the amount which has been saved on the precept upon rates by the present guardians is at the rate of £112,000 a year.
§ Mr. THORNE
How do you make it out that a penny rate brings in £14,000 and a fourpenny rate is £112,000? Calculate it.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member has expressed criticism on more than one occasion because the present guardians were excused for a time from making repayments of principal which were due. That remission was made to avoid further borrowing. When reductions of expenditure were being made at the pace I have indicated, it would have been useless to ask the guardians to borrow money to repay interest, and in this particular case we are only repeating what we have done in other cases, notably in the case of Poplar. It is no new thing. In the present half-year at any rate the new guardians will repay about £80,000 principal.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Although they are no longer borrowing, they will be asked to pay back principal at a higher rate than was repaid by the old guardians. That seems to me; considering the short time in which these results have been achieved, to be quite properly described as it was described in the newspaper which an hon. Member quoted; and not only West Ham but the whole country is under a great obligation to these gentlemen who have undertaken this work and have shown what it is possible to do by sound and careful administration.
Nobody can read the report which they have issued without seeing that there is not only a restrictive side to their policy but that there is also a positive side. The examination of individual cases is done with a care which is entirely new to West Ham and the relief which is given is adapted to the needs of the individual 2470 instead of being given indiscriminately. Improved accommodation has been provided for the hospital staff, workshops have been provided for the training of mental defectives, and consideration is now being given to the treatment and the nursing of the sick poor in their own homes. An even more important side of the new guardians' work is what they are trying to do to re-educate the employable people of West Ham into a sense of their responsibilities to the community. There are many there who had been on relief for years and had practically become content to go on doing nothing. Much as I condemn them I blame more those who had made it possible to receive more for doing nothing than for doing a hard day's work, and I do not think there is anything more satisfactory in the Report of the new guardians than the fact that in eight months they have been able to bring down the numbers of the able-bodied unemployed—
§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
Has the right hon. Gentleman got any proof that these people who have been denied relief are now working?
§ Mr. PALING
If you could prove that you would have proved it from the Ministry of Labour before now.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It is the belief of the guardians themselves that a considerable majority have for the first time for a long while really taken some active steps to obtain work, and have succeeded. Hon. Members opposite want to stop this beneficent work. It is quite clear that if now the present guardians were to be removed from office and we were to return to the system of election we should return again to that chaos and demoralisation which existed before. To take such a reactionary step as that would be a disaster for West Ham, and I believe that West Ham would be the first to denounce it, and I am certain that this House will not agree to it.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I only desire to call attention to two things. The first is the last statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, who said that the action of 2471 the West Ham Guardians has resulted in a further employment of certain individuals. There is no evidence of that. The figures of the Ministry of Labour do not bear the statement out, and the Minister of Health has given no figures to substantiate it. If there be any substance in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, then he should be logical and wipe out all the Boards of Guardians, because he has proved conclusively from tariff reform figures, that the mortality is much less. I desire to bring the House back to the original claim made from this side of the House. There is a dispute as to the accuracy of the figures. It is admitted that there has been a saving in money, and, we do not dispute it. If hon. Members opposite are content to judge money on the one hand and human life on the other, that is the simple conflict between us. There is a dispute as to the accuracy of the figures. All we ask is that the figures should be investigated. I remember a demand being made when I was speaking from the Treasury Bench on a question of the criminal law affecting some Russian subjects, and the hon. Members opposite said "Let us have an investigation." When it is a question of the House of Lords, hon. Members opposite say, "Let us inquire into it," but when it is a question of human life the answer is "No." The one thing we are demanding is that an investigation should take place. If the right hon. Gentleman's figures are correct, they can be proved by a real test. We want that test to be made. We ask for an investigation, and, if the Government are not content to have an investigation, it only shows that they are afraid of the facts.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I think I can say in ten minutes all I want to say, and all that probably some hon. Members will care to hear. In addition to my other crimes, I happen to have been a member of the West Ham Board of Guardians. While I was a member of that Board I looked at every case from the standpoint of human sympathy, because I have been through the mill myself. I know many cases where people put their hands in their pockets very deeply in dealing with hard cases, but we can never get them to look at the question either nationally or internationally. We have got now some new guardians, and the claim made 2472 for them by the Minister of Health is that they have saved fourpence in the pound in the rates in West Ham. What does 4d. in the pound mean in West Ham? I am putting it at the outside when I say that in that Poor Law area it means £60,000 per annum saved to the ratepayers. But I would ask the right hon. Gentleman why he forgot to mention the fact that, when his puppets were appointed—men who are paid salaries, when they would not even pay the tramway fares of the working men and women who went miles out of their way to administer the Poor Law—when these men, with £1,500 a year salary and £800 a year pension, were brought in to administer the Poor Law, they were given instructions, but when we approached the Minister in cases of hardship he told us he could not give us a hearing, that it was all in the hands of the appointed guardians. Appointed by whom? By a miniature Mussolini. Just as the great man is coming down, so will these other imitators of his come down eventually. I am not arguing about the figures that have been produced here to-night—figures in money; the only figures I understand are the figures in the streets, the people amongst whom I live, better men than most of you are.
The basis of the policy is this: Force them down to starvation level, so that they will take any wage the boss likes to offer them. That is the basis of the policy of the new board of guardians. They are drawing their thirty quid a week, but the ordinary man who applies for relief has to be forced by sheer starvation to accept any price the employers care to offer. And what has happened? Where relief has been refused, overcrowding has taken place, and the infantile mortality is increasing. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is going down!"] From your point of view it is going down. Perhaps you have had letters from Dr. Stopes. There is no trouble in that respect. Remember that, so far as you are concerned, we in West Ham claim the same right as the people in Birmingham, the right to elect our own representatives. When these guardians were appointed, they were given a blank of £300,000 on loan to begin with. Only a fortnight before, the same Ministry refused a loan of £300,000 to the old guardians. [Interruption.] It is the 2473 fact, and I challenge the Minister to deny it, that the old guardians paid up on the nail the interest and the capital amount according to agreement. Have the new guardians done so?
§ Mr. JONES
Oh, they borrowed to pay their debts! What a marvellous piece of business! The old guardians levied a rate to pay the interest and the capital back, in proportion to the amount of money they agreed to pay back. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I challenge anyone to deny it. I know what you will say. We understand you. Take the two years—the 12 months preceding the new guardians and the 12 months since—and I challenge any Member of this House to prove that the old board of guardians did not fulfil their responsibilities, and make the rates of West Ham and the district surrounding it. I am very sorry that West Ham is always used in this connection, because the rates of districts outside West Ham are involved. West Ham is a county borough, and one of the biggest parts of the union area, but there is East Ham—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why are you sorry?"] I am only sorry that West Ham seems to be picked out by some of you as a horrible example. I am prepared to go down to any of your constituencies and, given a free platform—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is rather forgetting himself. His remarks should be addressed to me in the Chair.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is the reason why I prefer the old rule of the House. The other way leads to altercation and does not help debate. If hon. Members would always address me they would be saved that trouble.
§ Mr. JONES
If I cannot see them I shall not hear them. West Ham is not afraid of any investigation. Our public representation is as clean as that of any other part of the country. We are prepared to face any kind of investigation you like to put forward. Surely the Minister, before he condemns a public 2474 body in the way he has done in this case, should be prepared to agree voluntarily that a Committee of this House, selected by himself, should make a full investigation into the administration of the poor law affairs of West Ham. That is not an unfair offer. We know before we start that there will be a majority of Members prejudiced against us because of the campaign that has been carried on in the Press and on the platform against the local representation in West Ham. You have disqualified the Board of Guardians.
The next thing will be that you will disqualify our Town Council, and then the four Members for West Ham will be disqualified. Why not? You have as much right to disqualify us from sitting in this House as you have to disqualify Members of the Board of Guardians, because we stand with them. We have fought the battle they are fighting. We are here to do what we can to give the workers of the country a better chance. We are demanding work or maintenance. That has been the basis of our policy all the time, either work under reasonable conditions or decent maintenance. What is your policy? To starve them into work. You are teaching the people of West Ham to learn how to begin to work. Marvellous—the people from Kensington telling the people of West Ham how to work! Imagine the Lord Tom-noddies and the MacGregors who never did a day's work in their life, and the workers of West Ham, who have forgotten more about work than you have ever learnt.—[Interruption]. I can understand interruption coming from the hon. Member for Leyton because as soon as he left off work and began to forget it he became rich. When he was an ordinary workman he was poor. When he got other mugs to work for him he began to get rich. It is the only way you can get rich, to get other people to work for you.—[An HON. MEMBER: "How much have you got"?]— Our old friends have come back. They have never listened to the debate. For about two hours the House was practically empty. These people who have spent more on a meal to-night than they are prepared to give a working man to keep his family for a, week have come back to insult some of us.
We have done our best to put the case for the class to which we belong. All 2475 we ask is fair play. These guardians are going to have their life prolonged for six months. They ought to have their necks prolonged six inches. We in West Ham are not ashamed of any enquiry you may hold. We ask for it. The biggest criminal in the country can get a trial in a court of justice. Our offence is that we belong to the working class. We have done our best to get over the trouble but we have not had much assistance from you.
As far as poor law administration is concerned, we have to bear more than our fair share of trouble. I know very well that as far as some hon. Members of this House are concerned—[Interruption].
§ Mr. DUNNICO
On a point of Order. Very insolent remarks are being uttered from these benches accusing the hon. Gentleman of having had too much beer—[Interruption]—I wish to ask your ruling. Are these hon. Members entitled to indulge in insolent and offensive remarks of that character?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Certainly not. I will not allow any remarks of that kind to be made. As long as hon. Members keep interrupting, it is impossible for me to hear what is going on below the gangway. I can only conduct the proceedings of the House if hon. Members assist me.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
I understand I shall have to cut my remarks short, because this Debate will possibly terminate not later than Twelve o'clock. I can assure You, Mr. Speaker, that during the last ten minutes it has been very difficult for me to restrain myself in consequence of dirty observations from hon. Members on my left—[Interruption].
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask hon. Members below the Gangway kindly to keep quiet. Will the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne) be careful to address the Chair and not to look the other way?
§ Mr. THORNE
Yes, Sir. I will endeavour during the few minutes at my disposal to look at you. I do not wish to look in that direction, because if I do something may happen. I want to dispute some of the statements of the Minister of Health with regard to the loans and with regard to the £112,000 which he mentioned. As I said in one of my interjections, according to a first report made by the present board of guardians a penny rate will bring in £14,100 odd, and a 4d. rate £56,000 odd.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member seems to be under a misapprehension as to the product of a penny rate. A penny rate brings in, not £14,000, but £28,000. His figures are for six months, not for a year.
§ Mr. THORNE
Well, I want to draw attention to the fact that if you look at Command Paper No. 2786, you will find that the guardians themselves state that a penny rate will produce £14,199.
§ Mr. THORNE
They make the rate for the year—two half-years, I admit—but a penny rate does not bring in £28,000.
§ Mr. THORNE
That remains to be proved later on. The guardians go on to say that these reductions represent £112,000. I say that they do nothing of the kind; all that they have saved is £56,000. Then the Minister said that the old guardians were borrowing money at the rate of £700,000 per annum, but is that correct? We will see. On 31st March, 1922, they borrowed £300,000; on 31st March, 1923, £200,000; on 31st March, 1924, £500,000; on 31st March, 1925, £750,000; on 31st March, 1926, £650,000; and on 31st March, 1927, £300,000; or a total of £2,700,000, making an average of £355,000, and in only one year have they borrowed more than £700,000. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend charges us with being inaccurate, as a matter of fact, he is incorrect, because they have—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I did not say that the late guardians had borrowed at the rate of £700,000 a year during all the years of their existence.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I said that when the new guardians came into existence they found that the old guardians were borrowing at the rate of £700,000 a year. They did borrow at the rate of £700,000 a year for the last two years.
§ Mr. THORNE
If you take the two years, of course, it is true. I have read out the figures, but the last year was £300,000, and it was handed over to the present guardians, and all this talk about saving these millions of pounds is not true. If they have saved all these hundreds of thousands of pounds, how is it that they have only reduced the rates by 4d. in the pound? If the present guardians can, by legitimate means, save a few thousand pounds, well and good, but not at the expense of the poor. Anybody, by cutting down the relief by 45 per cent., by cutting away a very large number of poor people who are entitled to relief, could save money, but, as the Minister knows, if they had been called upon to pay their way in the same way as the late Board were called upon to do, they could not have saved a 4d. rate at all. The old board of guardians were called upon to pay, in 1924, £1,316,000; in 1925, £223,000; and in 1926, £248,000. As a matter of fact, if the old board of guardians had been operating, they would have been called upon to pay in round figures about £350,000. That is what you would have called upon the old board of guardians to pay. Why do you not call upon the present board of guardians to carry out their obligations in exactly the same way as you would have called upon the old board of guardians? You have done it for the deliberate purpose of trying to make people believe that they are saving money when they are not, because they are not paying their way.
You are not calling upon the present board of guardians to pay their way because it is evident, according to your own statement, that you are going to bring in a law which is going to make the present position very different. You 2478 are going to make every local authority deal with Poor Law, and the result will be that people in the areas where they should be called upon to pay heavier rates will get out of their obligations. Therefore, I contend that the present board of guardians are not carrying out their business in a humane manner. I have had any number of cases brought to my attention; I have hundreds of letters which I have never attempted to deal with, because it is no good. I have sent in many letters to the present board of guardians, and they have said that, after careful investigation, they do not see any reason to alter their policy. We know perfectly well that hundreds of these persons are suffering very seriously in consequence of the attitude taken up by the present board of guardians. Anyone can save money in the same direction as the board of guardians.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that if this petition were granted and the old Board were restored—I take it, he means by election—one would have the same methods operating as one had prior to the Board of Guardians being superseded. By that statement I take it that the right hon. Gentleman means that, if this question were submitted to the electorate, the electors would disagree with his policy, because if he were quite sure that if he had an election of the Board of Guardians and that the electors would uphold his policy, then he would have a majority of people of his own way of thinking sitting on the Board of Guardians. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in 1920, when the Socialists were not in power, on the scale of relief granted by the old Board of Guardians, there was a maximum of £3. Therefore, you cannot accuse the old Board of Guardians of being extravagant, when, as a matter of fact, they were only operating the scale of relief which operated in December, 1920. Personally, I think they were a little bit generous. I have never been on a Board of Guardians, and if I were I think I should err on the human side. But, with all the talk of extravagance and mal-administration, you have not proved one single case yet. You have had time, you have had Government auditors who have had time to examine the books, and you have not made out a case where there has been mal-administration or corruption in any shape or form. 2479 I am quite convinced that, if the present Board of Guardians could have found that there was any corruption or mal-adminstration, they would have brought it to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope this petition will be granted and that we can have the democratic principle operating again, so that the Poor Law electors will have an opportunity of showing whether they believe in
§ the policy of the right hon. Gentleman or not.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Order, dated the 17th day of June, 1927, made by the Minister of Health under the Boards of Guardians (Default) Act, 1926, and entitled the West Ham Union Default Order (Continuation) Order, 1927, be annulled.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 68; Noes, 170.2481
|Division No. 263.]||AYES.||[11.55 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Scurr, John|
|Ammon, Charles George||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Batey, Joseph||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Snell, Harry|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Broad, F. A.||Kelly, W. T.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Buchanan, G.||Kennedy, T.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kirkwood, D.||Thurtie, Ernest|
|Compton, Joseph||Lansbury, George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lawrence, Susan||Townend, A. E.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lindley, F. W.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Viant, S. P.|
|Duncan, C.||March, S.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Dunnico, H.||Maxton, James||Westwood, J.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Montague, Frederick||Whiteley, W.|
|Gillett, George M.||Naylor, T. E.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Paling, W.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Grentell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Groves, T.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Windsor, Walter|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Potts, John S.|
|Hayday, Arthur||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hayes, John Henry||Riley, Ben||Mr. Barnes and Mr. Benjamin Smith.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W. Bromwich)|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hawke, John Anthony|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Crockshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey,Gainsbro)||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Henn, Sir Sydney H.|
|Balniel, Lord||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Dawson, sir Philip||Hills, Major John Waller|
|Bennett, A. J.||Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Hilton, Cecil|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Bethel, A.||Ellis, R. G.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Ford, Sir P. J.||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W||Forrest, W.||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Fraser, Captain Ian||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Frece, Sir Walter de||Kindersley, Major Guy M.|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Ganzoni, Sir John||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Gates, Percy||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Little, Dr. E. Graham|
|Buchan, John||Gibbs. Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Long, Major Eric|
|Burman, J. B.||Goff, Sir Park||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Gower, Sir Robert||Lumley, L. R.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I, of W.)|
|Cassels, J. D.||Grant, Sir J. A.||McLean, Major A.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Grotrian, H. Brent||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||MacRobert, Alexander M.|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Colfox, Major William Phillips||Hanbury, C.||Margesson. Captain D.|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Harland, A.||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Cope, Major William||Harrison, G. J. C.||Meller, R. J.|
|Merriman, F. B.||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Milne, J. S. Wardlaw||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M||Sandeman, N. Stewart||Waddington, R.|
|Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur clive||Sanderson, Sir Frank||Wells. S. R.|
|Neville, Sir Reginald J.||Sandon, Lord||Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple-|
|Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Savery, S. S.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Nuttall, Ellis||Skelton, A. N.||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|O'Connor, T, J. (Bedford, Luton)||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon||Winterton. Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Oakley, T.||Smithers, Waldron||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.||Womersley, W. J|
|Penny Frederick George||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)|
|Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Storry-Deans, R.||Wood, sir Kingsley (Woolwich W.)|
|Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nalrn)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Plicher, G.||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Power, Sir John Cecil||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Preston, William||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Raine, Sir Walter||Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)||Major Sir George Hennessy and|
|Remer, J. R.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Mr. Frederick Thomson.|
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Adjourned at Four Minutes after Twelve o'Clock.