§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, this Bill is designed to extend until 1924 the Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act of 1921 and the Scottish Act of the same year dealing with the same subject. The first clause deals with London; the second with local authorities generally throughout the country; and the third with Scotland. I should state in the first instance, that the Act of 1921 expired on December 31 last, and possibly your Lordships may wonder why a gap has been allowed to occur between that date and the introduction of this Bill. The answer is that the process of formulating claims and their examination and auditing the payments takes such a considerable time that the claims for the half-year ending March 31 last will probably not be payable until the end of the year, so that no gap will occur. If Parliament passes this Bill this summer it will come into effect long before it is necessary to make any payments.
The first clause, which relates to London, deals with the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund which was founded in the year 1867 and with the provisions of which I think your Lordships are well aware. As regards indoor relief the amount allowed was increased in 1921 from 5d. to 1s. 3d. and that provision is continued. As regards outdoor relief the method of calculating it on a prescribed scale was provided for in the Act of 1921 but it proved cumbersome and rather difficult to manage. Therefore it is proposed to substitute a flat rate for the prescribed scale. A conference took place between the various local authorities, and the richer authorities, the paying boroughs, sought to limit the sum to 8d. while the receiving boroughs asked for 10d. A compromise was reached in agreement upon the sum of 9d. The, working of the 1921 Act up to March 31 last, for the last half-year, shows that the sum 6 expended in outdoor relief was £1,241,000, whereas had it been calculated on the flat rate of 9d. it would have been £1,183,000; so that there is a very close approximation between the flat rate and the prescribed scale.
With reference to Clause 2, we propose to continue the special provisions which were introduced by the last Act to ease the burden of local authorities throughout the country. The clause carries on Sections 3 and 6 of the Act of 1921, and is so drawn as to fill in the hiatus between April 1 and the time when the Bill becomes law.
Clause 3, the Scottish clause, consists of three paragraphs. The object of the first paragraph is to allow a parish council to arrange to pay in certain eventualities a contribution to a local authority employing a destitute able-bodied person a sum not exceeding the relief which would have been paid otherwise. The second paragraph extends the limits of Section 2 of the 1921 Act from five and ten years respectively to ten and fifteen years respectively. The third paragraph has been inserted since the Bill was introduced in another place, at the request of the Scottish Parish Councils' Association. It provides that the receipt of able-bodied relief like ordinary relief shall not affect the acquisition or retention of a settlement. I should say that a settlement is a residence of three years in a parish without poor relief. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Onslow.)
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (VISCOUNT NOVAR)
My Lords, it may seem to some that questions affecting the Scottish Poor Law should be dealt with in a separate Bill, seeing that the Scottish Poor Law is totally distinct from the English Poor Law. The latter dates from the reign of Queen Elizabeth; while that of Scotland was inaugurated as late as 1845 and was only extended, as a temporary measure, to the relief of the able bodied poor in 1921. The two systems seemed to be destined to remain distinct and to develop on different local lines. But when the Ministry of Labour was established and a national scheme of insurance against unemployment came 7 into operation, the provision of poor relief became in reality, though not administratively, part of a very much bigger organisation of national relief. Therefore, it is proper that the subject should be discussed in a common Bill for the United Kingdom. The close association also of industry between the north and south of the Border accentuates the national character of the problem. They prosper together or suffer simultaneously from the same depression. Therefore, any acute crisis in any of our great industries affects the whole of Great Britain and can only be dealt with on national lines.
The necessity for pressing the clauses of this Bill as they affect Scotland is that the temporary Act, devised to meet the emergency in the winter of 1921, gave power to the central authority to extend it for another twelve months, and these last twelve months are due to expire on May 15 if this Bill is not passed. The power of parish councils to give relief to the able-bodied poor would cease, and we should revert to the situation tinder which assistance to this class is not permissible. Various alleviations have been given at the request of the parish councils, and the falling figures in unemployment will give rise to the hope that normal conditions are returning. That will finally relieve parish councils of the onerous duties which, despite their difficulties, they have carried through with much success. I have every hope that they will respond to the call we are making on them to continue this work a little longer, and that, though ill-equipped for the job, though operating under the glaring eye of the ratepayer, they will continue to administer the Act with the same efficiency and sympathy as they have shown in the past.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.