I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is one which deals for the most part with matters arising out of the post-War problems of local authorities. Many parts of the Bill are entirely, I am sure, of a non-contentious kind and deal with questions of local administrative machinery, many of them matters which have been pressed upon us by local authorities for a long time past. There are, however, certain proposals which, judging from the questions to which we have just listened, may possibly be of a more contentious character, and it is to them that I will address myself now. I will say, however, that many of the statements that have been made concerning the Bill are quite ill-informed and have not arisen from a close examination of the Bill itself, and I shall have no difficulty, I think, in showing that that is so. The first Section of the Bill to which I will refer relates lo various points connected with housing, and the one which raises perhaps an acute question—but it is one which it is very necessary to raise—is that which is dealt with in Clause 1 of the Bill, which empowers authorities to acquire compulsorily empty houses under certain circumstances. We are all aware that the housing programmes of local authorities have necessitated their applying their financial resources as exclusively as they can to new construction. Therefore it is eminently undesirable that they should exercise their powers of compulsory purchase as to existing satisfactory dwellings; that course should be restricted as much as possible, because the money is wanted for the provision of additional houses. The emergency with which we are proposing to deal in this Bill is one, I think, with which the House is quite familiar, and it is this, that taking advantage, I am sorry to say, of the existing scarcity in certain places, a number of people have kept houses empty longer than they ought to have kept them empty, no doubt hoping that the price would rise. The result is that in some towns this has led to serious disorder, and that some time ago, in Manchester, for example, a number of houses, of this kind, I imagine, were forcibly taken possession of, and it is only the other day that similar incidents occurred near London. I am not justifying them, but I have been requested from all over the country to arm authorities with further powers in regard to such houses.
There are, however, certain things which this Clause does not do but which, I think, have led to a good deal of prejudice against it. In the first place, it is limited to houses, as the Clause describes, which are suitable for the housing of the working classes, and that expression is generally understood to be the class of house which is assisted under the Government scheme, and which is assisted also under the subsidy proposal. Therefore, those who have gone about in fear that the authorities will seize on some country mansion, or some place of that kind, are quite unnecessarily disturbed, as that class of dwelling is ruled out by the terms of the Bill itself. That fear has been expressed to me in correspondence, and another statement which has been made to me in correspondence relates to an anticipation that under this Clause it will be possible for a local authority to take over a furnished house which is situate, perhaps, in the country, and which is not being occupied at certain times of the year by the owner or occupier, but which is used for occupation at different times. This class of house also is ruled out by the terms of the Clause. Hon. Members will see that the Clause specifies that it shall be houses which have not been in the occupation of any occupier, and a furnished house, for which some person is rated as the occupier, constitutes legal occupation, although, of course, you may only periodically occupy it. Those houses are altogether ruled out by the terms of the Clause itself. The only class of property which it is desired to deal with—and I am prepared, if anybody can suggest better wording, to give it favourable consideration—is the empty house in the place where there is an urgent need for additional accommodation, which is being arbitrarily and unnecessarily kept empty. That is the class of property which is aimed at, and I am quite sure, having regard to the disturbances which took place in Manchester some time ago, that it is of the first importance that in this Bill some power should be taken to deal with cases of that kind.
The second Clause of the Bill prolongs the period for the granting of the subsidies for the private erection of houses. The reason for that is that it was found, owing to unusual difficulties, scarcity of labour, materials, and so forth, that a large number of people would not be able to complete their houses in the specified time. It is, therefore, proposed to extend the time during which houses may be erected with the assistance of a subsidy by twelve months. The amount which Parliament has voted will remain unaffected. The Financial Resolution which will be put forward serves to authorise the carrying over of the unexpended portion of the money already voted from this year into next year.
The third Clause of the Bill relates to proposals which have been made as a result of the experience gained in regard to the restriction of unnecessary building. It has been found, for example, that there was a very unequal operation of this power between authorities, sometimes between neighbouring authorities. There were some authorities actively pressing forward their house building, while their neighbouring authorities were allowing and encouraging what appeared to be unnecessary building, which absorbed a large amount of labour and material, and attracted labour from house building which other authorities were endeavouring to press forward. Therefore, I have been requested from all parts of the country to secure that authorities should, firstly, act jointly, and that, where there is real failure to act, the Ministry itself should exercise its powers in respect of building of this description; also that the tribunal work should be speeded up, with the formation, if necessary, of regional tribunals. Those matter are dealt with in Clause 4 and 5.
The proposal in Clause 6 relates to authorities desiring to provide houses for their own employés. County councils can do this already with certain limitations, but in many cases it is not possible at the present time for authorities to do so. So far as houses are provided under this provision, it diminishes pro tanto the claims in respect of housing accommoda- tion required in the area. It is estimated that the maximum charge which may have to be made in respect of this matter will be £10,000.
No. It would not increase the amount which would fall to be paid under the various housing schemes; but it would mean it would have to be paid in an altered form. That is all. Neither of these proposals increases the obigations in respect of houses. I may say, with reference to the representations which I have received, that the only two parts of the Bill which require a Financial Resolution are those which I have just dealt with, namely, the carrying over of the unexpended portion of the subsidy from this year to next, and the authorisation of payments under this heading to authorities who are building houses for their own employés. Those are the only two parts of the Bill which require a Financial Resolution.
It would cost no additional money. Fifteen millions was voted earlier in the year to assist people to build houses under the subsidy schemes. The number of houses at present contracted for in that form is a little over 23,000, and would absorb about 5£ millions of the £15,000,000 which has been voted. It is proposed to carry over the unused portion of the money already voted into next year, but not to increase the amount available.
That is so.
I now come to the proposal contained in Clause 10. We found during the War that a large number of men suffering from shell-shock, or affections of that kind, were mentally disordered for a short time. During the War a system was adopted whereby suitable cases had treatment in mental hospitals, in order that they should never become classed as lunatics, and in order to escape for the rest of their lives any disabilities which that might have brought upon them. The experience of the War in this matter is clearly one which we ought not to lose, or fail to make use of. Therefore provision is made in Clause 10 for the continuance of this form of treatment under very stringent safeguards. One recognises the difficulty and delicacy of proposals of this kind, but I am sure everybody recognises, too, how vital a thing it is that large numbers of people who are suffering from mental disorder should escape any stigma and disabilities which it would bring upon them. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that we should try to devise ways and means of continuing this form of treatment.
In the first place, the Clause provides that the persons so treated must be suffering from mental disorder which is incipient in character and of recent origin, which of course, excludes present cases. The next thing it does is to limit the treatment in respect of any individual case to six months. Naturally it is necessary to erect all the safeguards we can, so as to avoid the occurrence of any scandals, or the detention of people against their will, or anything of that kind. It would clearly stultify the whole effort if irregularities of that kind occurred. Therefore the provisions of Sub-section (2) relating to that matter are of a peculiarly stringent character. It will be seen that the places where persons are to be treated are to be certified, examined and visited: that persons can only receive treatment in this way on the certificate of two duly qualified medical practitioners; that they can only be received on their own consent; and it is also provided that they can discharge, themselves at any time by giving notice in writing. Those are very stringent safeguards, and those who have been concerned in matters of this kind state, with regard to the provision which requires the consent of the person himself, that these safeguards will very seriously limit the number of persons who might be detained. These are really small points, but I think the House will agree with me that it would be better to have a successful experiment on a small scale without any scandals and difficulties, than to allow a large experiment to be embarked upon and have difficulties of that kind arising.
It does not apply only to ex-service men. We do not anticipate that it will require more than the existing staff. I see no reason why there should be additions to the staff.
I do not say that. It might be done with some of their staff or assistants; but, at the present time, the whole of this matter is a very small one, and I see no reason to add to the staff. Coming to the two sets of proposals which more closely affect the local authorities, I will take first the proposals set out in Clause 17 of the Bill. It will be seen there that it is proposed to allow local authorities to make subscriptions to the funds of associations, and to enable their members, with the limits set out, to attend meetings of associations of a properly recognised kind. It is suggested that they shall be enabled to allow travelling expenses to the members attending the work of the authority, and, up to the limits to which I shall refer in a moment, to allow subsistence allowance whilst so attending. This proposal in no way allows any authority to make any payment to members for time lost. If the Members of the House will refer to the Clause itself they will see the limitations whch are proposed. It will be seen, in the first instance, that any payments which are made will have to be made out of the fund or rate directed by the Minister, of which he will approve.
Further, any resolution to make any expenditure would be one which would have to be ratified by a meeting specially called by the local authority, and the associations to which they would be allowed to contribute must be associations approved under this Section, and properly related to the work of local authorities. There is no disposition on the part of the responsible bodies who make representations to me on this subject to allow any subscriptions to any associations other than of properly authorised local authorities or of bodies concerned with their work. The number to whom any assistance may be given for travelling expenses to attend any meeting is limited to three persons. The payment of travelling expenses at the present time has been represented to me from all over the country especially by county councils, as a most urgent matter, especially in the larger counties; and clearly, with the burden of committee work which the local authorities have thrown upon them, unless we are to shut out a large number of people very really and properly contributing to the work of the authorities, we must enable them, where there is a proper case made out, to pay travelling expenses to and from meetings. I will say in connection with that, that I have received not only resolutions of support from the County Councils' Association from 31st July, 1918, onwards, but during last year I received representations from no less than 160 local authorities, including 23 county councils, on this matter.
The next point is the payment of some form of subsistence allowance. It will be seen that the allowance is limited to a member, who,
by reason of attending the meeting, is obliged to be absent for more than six hours from his ordinary place of abode, and the amount of the allowance shall not exceed a sum sufficient to meet such actual expenses as ought reasonably to be incurred by the member.
It would not apply to a meeting place near a member's home. It only relates to cases where the members have to be a long time away from home, and only the necessary costs are allowed for providing subsistence to those members who have to be a long time away from home. I am quite pursuaded at the present time, although it may be against the inclination of a good many Members of the House, that we have to recognise the
work performed by these local authorities, and the innumerable journeys members have to make. Many men cannot afford the travelling expenses and the cost of subsistence they have to incur, unless they get some reasonable form of assistance, and it is in the interests of good government that we should face that responsibility. It will be provided that this proposal shall not involve any charge on the Treasury. [HON. MEMBERS: "The ratepayers!"] I am coming to the general question of the ratepayers.
I now come to the proposals in the Bill which might involve an increased burden on the ratepayers. Under the housing scheme the rate is limited to 1d., and otherwise, except that it might be desirable under the Clause to which I have just referred, there could be no increased burden on the ratepayers. Therefore, the accounts which some Members perhaps may have read of the proposals in this Bill and the burdens which they might put upon the ratepayer have been a little misleading.
I come to the proposal which has received the most criticism. One headline said: "Hospitals on the Rates." I may say that is not the proposal of the Bill, and I hope I shall show the House conclusively what our policy has been. In the first place, everyone will agree, I am sure, that at no time in our history, and certainly not after the experience of the War, is it wise or practicable to ignore a really urgent public necessity. Nothing could be more shortsighted for those who have a real interest in the ordered progress of society than to play into the hands of our opponents by doing a thing of that kind. The fact is that, up and down the country, the accommodation in our voluntary hospitals is quite insufficient, unfortunately, to meet the public need. The first question which we investigated in this regard was the position of our voluntary hospitals. I think that everyone will admit that anybody who suggested, at the present time, if by any means it could be avoided, that voluntary hospitals should come upon the rates, would be either seriously irresponsible or worse, and, therefore, so far from having any desire to bring the voluntary hospitals on the rates, I have taken active steps for some months past to endeavour to keep them off, and I think I shall show to the House quite con- clusively that our efforts for the present and the immediate future have been successful.
Before I come to that, I think it is material to inform the House as to the facts in respect of the voluntary hospitals. During the five years, 1913 to 1918, there was, in the case of the voluntary provincial hospitals, an excess of expenditure over income of £1,300,000. In the case of the London hospitals, in round figures, it was £900,000. During those years these hospitals received a number of free legacies, that is, legacies not earmarked for the maintenance of particular beds, and so on, and I think it is quite fair to ask the hospitals in the present emergency that these legacies, which are clearly available for ordinary expenditure, should be so used. If you take into account the free legacies of the hospitals, both London and provincial, they would balance the expenditure for those five years. Some hospitals are more fortunate than others, and are well supplied by contributions and free legacies, while others are not, and the result is that, although in the sum the free legacies and subscriptions of voluntary hospitals for those five years would meet that expenditure, the fact is that in respect of many individual hospitals they do not. Therefore, we set out to see if some means could be devised, first, for assisting the income of the hospitals, and, further, for securing special assistance for those which were most needy.
This need has become intensified during the past two years, because the figures 1 have given were only up to 1918. During the past two years, with the cost of food, wages, maintenance and so on, the expenditure falling on the voluntary hospitals has unfortunately risen much more than the income, and, therefore, the discrepancy between the two is greater than it was. Also, I think, those who in times past were in the habit of subscribing, with great regularity and public spirit, to our public hospitals, have been in many cases badly hit by the War. What with War losses and taxation, they find it exceedingly difficult to maintain their contributions, and still less, of course, to increase them, and the class which is colloquially known as the "new rich" does not yet seem to have learnt to subscribe to voluntary hospitals to any extent. It is not a class of persons I know much about. They have the reputation of spending great sums on jewellery and things of that sort. Let us hope before long they will learn that it is a patriotic and civic duty to support these hospitals. At any rate, the fact is that these hospitals during the past two years have become increasingly embarrassed. We, therefore, sought the cooperation of the King Edward Hospital Fund, and they have set aside, out of their accumulated reserve, a sum of £250,000 towards the London hospitals, and I think that their readiness to use this reserve to try to meet the needs of the hospitals, and to try to keep them off the rates, deserves our gratitude. As the King Edward Fund limited its operations to London, negotiations took place with the National Relief Fund, which has moneys which could be made available for this purpose, seeing that the distress of the hospitals arose out of the War. The National Relief Fund, I am glad to say, has set aside the magnificent sum of £700,000 to help the voluntary hospitals.
Mainly the Provinces, but it may be London too, and a body to regulate the distribution is now in being. I think, at all events, this is sufficient to show that the Ministry of Health, so far from being anxious to bring voluntary hospitals on to the rates, has been actively working for many months past to keep them off, and I can certainly claim with complete confidence that, up to the present, it has met with success. Sir Arthur Stanley is organising a campaign for increased assistance, and I sincerely hope—and I am sure we all hope—that it will be successful. There is a proposal in Clause 11, however, relating to the voluntary hospitals, which enables the authorities, if they desire to do so, to make a voluntary contribution in aid of hospitals. There is nothing new in this. Since 1916 various authorities have taken power by Private Bills in this House to acquire authority to make these contributions to hospitals. There have been four cases before the House in the last 12 months. The city of Liverpool has taken power to contribute £5,000 yearly to the Royal Infirmary. In Salford they have taken power to subscribe, the amount being limited to the produce of a 1d. rate. This sort of procedure clearly is desirable and I am sure that all will agree that if we can keep voluntary hospitals off the rates that we should allow the authority that thinks it can do it and is willing so to assist to do so. That then is the record of our work so far as the voluntary hospitals are concerned. I will make a suggestion to the House in a few minutes which will show that this matter is abundantly secured and will provide that the Bill as it stands shall not enable the local authorities to take over any existing voluntary hospitals. Perhaps hon. Members who are putting various queries will allow me to develop my case, and I think what they are asking me will be quite clear in a few minutes. The pressure on the hospital accommodation of the country, however, cannot in any case be met by the efforts, great and noble as they are, of the voluntary hospitals. As a matter of fact we have in the country at the present time 45,000 beds in general and special hospitals mostly maintained by subseriptions in one way or another. But there are 94,000 general hospital beds under the Poor Law maintained out of the rates, i.e., more than twice the number are maintained under the Poor Law than under our voluntary or special hospitals. That is a fact which is not always remembered. But this fact also emerged from the examination of poor law returns that they have 30,000 empty beds. You have, therefore, a condition existing in many of our great centres of population that the voluntary hospitals are crammed and they have to clear their patients out of the beds in less time than they should.
Yes, and there are enormous waiting lists, with a dismal prospect for the people at the bottom ever getting in at all. At the same time in the same place you have hospitals maintained out of the rates with a large number of their beds empty. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] The Ministry of Health suggests that it is quite impossible to look at a position of that kind without putting forward proposals to deal with it. In order, therefore, to see what could be done, the first course was to examine the Poor Law infirmaries and see to what extent they were sufficiently well-equipped as to be of use for general hospital pur- poses in any schemes devised. There are in the country 54 Poor Law hospitals which are entirely separated from the workhouses, and 33 of these have already been carefully examined by experts whom I have appointed. The reports upon them amount to this: that in a great majority of cases they are perfectly adaptable and in many cases quite equipped for general purposes. The objection is—
The fact is that, notwithstanding that they are there equipped and well-provided, and that they have this large number of empty beds in many cases, they are empty because they are Poor Law institutions. I requested three gentlemen, one from Newcastle-on-Tyne, another Dr. Elliott, of St. Thomas's, and the third, one of my own staff and an inspector of hospitals during the War, to make a detailed examination of these places to see to what extent they were fit and what would be required to make them fit for general use, if that could be so arranged. The reports are in the main altogether favourable, but there are some very surprising facts. I will give the House two or three of these. The Paddington Infirmary, for instance, is now receiving the overflow from St. Mary's Hospital. Lambeth Hospital, with 800 beds, is also admitting cases from St. Thomas s, Guy's and King's at the present time. Camber-well is receiving cases from King's, Guy's, and St. Thomas's. In the case of Camber-well, with 850 beds on 18th August this year, 200 were empty whilst the population of the district was crying out for hospital bed accommodation. One of the most striking of these cases was the Withington Hospital in Manchester, with 2,600 beds, of which, on 23rd September last, 1,100 were empty. I suggest, in view of the urgent necessity for increased hospital accommodation, in view of the fact that new buildings are to be avoided, if possible, at this time of great expenditure, and in view of the fact that the voluntary hospitals cannot extend their limits at the present time, and that only with great effort and great goodwill can they be kept going, that it is imperative that some practical scheme should be devised where necessary for making use of the good bed accommodation that exists. That is the justification for the proposals of this Bill.
Some authorities, as a matter of fact, owing to the necessities of the case, have taken the law into their own hands. There was a proposal some time ago from the City of Birmingham, which has a large poor law infirmary there, which, however, I could not accept. In the City or Bradford, and at Willesden, they have converted hospitals under the Poor Law into general hospitals. [An HON. MEMBER: "Under what Statute?"] Borough Councils have certain powers under the existing Public Health Act, but it is doubtful, so I am advised, whether or not these powers do fully extend to the supply of general hospitals. The point should be set at rest by provision such as is proposed in this Bill being made.
I propose in order to meet the objections, which I fully understand, and to avoid increasing expenditure unnecessarily to make certain alterations in Clause 11. In the first place, in order to secure that the Minister responsible may be hauled up at Question Time and made answerable for the schemes he sanctions, and also for the conditions applying to them, I shall suggest to the House that in Clause 11 the wording—
That the scheme shall be on certain conditions approved by the Minister—
shall apply to the whole Clause. Further, that paragraphs (a) and (c) of the Clause shall be altered so that the power of the authority shall be limited to taking over, under proper agreements, existing Poor Law hospitals, and that this power shall not extend to taking over the voluntary hospitals. This also shuts out the establishment of additional hospitals.
This is an important matter. Does this mean that we are, when we come to consider it, that paragraph (a) comes out altogether, and that (b) and (c) remain practically as they are, whatever be done with (d).
I am advised that you will probably require some of the words now incorporated in (a) and (c), but the substance will be as stated. There are two ways of dealing with this matter. Hospitals are already on the rates. It is quite fair to say that where they are taken over, and quite separate from any workhouse, maintained as general hospitals the cost per bed would be more. Of course, the conditions would have to be approved by the Minister of Health, and nothing less than that would meet the real needs of the case. There are two classes of objections. The first is the professional objections, and the second the rate objections. With regard to the professional objections, I had a deputation the other day from the British Medical Association, and I found that their representatives were desirous of helping us in every way they could. They said that they came in no spirit of controversy, and the speakers were deeply in sympathy with the scheme as a whole. These medical men went on to suggest that there ought to be sufficient safeguards to secure that bonâ fide professional considerations and objections had an opportunity of being properly considered and fairly met, and with that I entirely agree. The first proposal is that the scheme will have to require the sanction of the Minister. I said to these gentlemen that so far as I was concerned, not in individual cases affecting administrative action but on the general principles and policy governing the recognition of schemes, I was most anxious to consult with them on one condition, that somebody must be produced in consulting whom I could fairly say that I had done what I had been asked to do. I may say that in the case of Bradford, which is quite a test case, I have before me here the suggestions which were obtained on their scheme from the local branch of the British Medical Association, and it only raises questions of detail and there is no objection to the principle of the scheme. Further than that, they have agreed that they will try to secure the goodwill and co-operation of the profession in the district, which we all recognise must be done to make the thing a success. They have agreed to set up a local medical body with which they can discuss questions from now onwards. I think these steps will suffice to meet the representations which have been made to me on the professional question.
A much bigger question is the burden upon the ratepayers and possibly on the taxpayers. I think the limitations of the Clause to which I have referred go a long way to meet the misgivings which have been expressed in this connection, and they will safeguard expenditure. It is always easy for people outside to upbraid the Government, and I fully anticipated that we should have this matter raised in the House. Consequently I authorised inquiries to be made some time ago, and the results are set out in a memorandum circulated to the House of Commons a few days ago, and I should like in this connection to say that was a bonâ fide attempt to place the facts before hon. Members.
I will direct that a copy of it be sent to each Member of Parliament. The only point arising out of this memorandum, as far as this discussion is concerned, is that we have asked a number of authorities to give us their estimates in advance to show what the increased expenditure this year will be over last year, information which we could not ordinarily obtain until later on. I asked these local authorities to anticipate the figures in order that the House of Commons might have them as soon as possible after re-assembling, and they are set out in the document to which I have referred.
The result in the boroughs and districts selected come to this. The increase in rate charges this year over the previous year would amount to a rate of 11s. 6d. in the £. Against that they were able to set off 3s. 6d. additional receipts, leaving in round figures as an additional rate burden a net rate of 8s. in the £. That additional rate arises, I find, as to more than 80 per cent, from two items, increases of wages and cost of material. What I am concerned for the moment with is the additional burden which is thrown upon them by the new services they have undertaken in connection with housing, new roads, extension of hospitals, sanatoria, child-welfare, tuberculosis and the treatment of venereal disease, and the whole of those services altogether only amounts to 4¾d. out of the 11s. That is the extent of the burden which has been thrown upon them by the Ministry of Health. The cost of maternity child welfare amounts to 1d. in the £, and the cost of tuberculosis treatment amounts to less than 1d. Those are the burdens which local authorities have to bear in this matter.
Taking the 11s. increase, 5s. of it is for wages and salaries, 2s. 6d. for direct purchases of materials, and 2s. expenditure on the contracts covering both wages and materials. I am only speaking of their out-of-pocket expenditure.
With regard to the services on the roads and other matters, I cannot say to what they will aggregate, and I am only speaking of the increased burden for the year. The powers of the Ministry of Health over local expenditure are very limited, and I would ask hon. Members, in considering Amendments, to have clearly before them what principles of local government they want to follow. It is quite evident that, apart from certain matters affecting the poor and expenditure in respect of tuberculosis, and other services for which we give grants towards the expenditure, we have little or no power to control local expenditure, and the larger boroughs resent any interfer- ence upon matters entirely within their own prerogative. We do, however, interfere where we can in regard to services to which we make grants, and I will give an example of the kind of extravagance which may be incurred. The borough of Stepney was making a large expenditure on the provision of free milk. We found, on examination, that milk was being distributed lavishly, and that it entailed a charge on the borough of £100,000 a year if maintained at that rate. We examined the account, and we objected to this gross expenditure, and brought the amount down from £100,000 a year to £8,150, and in that way we saved the ratepayers of Stepney a rate of 4¾d. in the £ on one item.
There are only two real alternatives in respect of the policy we can adopt over local expenditure. The House may well say that we decline to give a blank cheque to a local authority, but let us see where that leads us. I think there are only two courses open to us in respect of local authorities. We may say that Parliament will impose conditions upon their ordinary expenditure, but they have certain powers in connection with the expenditure of their ordinary income. If Parliament is to impose conditions upon expenditure it will lead certainly to two results. If it is intended practically to control the whole sphere of local government expenditure it will lead to the establishment of a growing bureaucracy in Whitehall and elsewhere, with all sorts of elaborate machinery, and I should doubt if that would be a popular institution. I am quite sure it would also lead to the destruction of local government, because in a great city no important local body is going to get its best citizens to put their minds and energies into local government if they are not permitted to do more or less as they wish with their own. Therefore I say, if that is to be the general principle adopted it would lead to the destruction of the best elements of local government. The other principle, and, as I think, the right one to adopt, is to put safeguards and limitations of a reasonable kind, and to encourage and stimulate by all possible means the control of the electors over local government. The fact that we have, in some cases, examples not only of extravagance but sometimes even of not good management is not a circumstance for which, after all, it is quite fair to blame the local authori- ties. It has often happened that the local authorities have been elected by a trivial percentage of the electors. Whilst that is unfortunate, it may be in the long run useful that the electors should learn that it is up to them to take a keen and active interest in local government, and it is not right that important local governing bodies should be elected by a more handful of electors.
Therefore I say I think the right system is to do everything we can to encourage and fortify their interest in local government, putting in our Bill such control as is reasonably consistent with that system of government. You cannot expect, if you are going to shackle the authorities, that you will have a healthy and vigorous system of local government. That, in my opinion, is a contradiction in terms. I suggest to the House that the limitations which we are introducing into this Bill will meet many of the objections entertained in connection with it. It deals with many urgent post-War necessities, and I hope the House will give it a Second Reading.
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
The right hon. Gentleman may think he has removed many of our objections, but he certainly has not removed the major portion of them. I never heard a speech with which, as a whole, I more disagreed than the one we have just listened to. It contained a number of most dangerous principles and even more dangerous theories which, if ever put into practice, would be disastrous to the State. I should like to take up a rhetorical point which the right hon. Gentleman put to the House. He asked what should be our course—whether we should allow the local authorities to spend money and develop their system of government under their own resources, or should we hamper and harass them in every possible way so as to make it unlikely that any decent body of men will undertake to become members of those authorities. That is not the dilemma with which we are faced. It is not a question of preventing the local authorities carrying out their existing powers. What we object to, in this and similar Bills, is the putting of fresh powers into the hands of local authorities. In many cases although those cases are veiled as being permissive powers yet in reality they are obligatory, for we all know the pressure which Government Departments bring to bear upon authorities to carry out the permissive Clauses of the Act of Parliament. We object to putting fresh burdens on local authorities at a time when, as the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, although he did not refer to the matter, the whole of the ratepayers of the country, great and small, are groaning under their burdens. Not one word has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, nor is there one word to be found in his pamphlet, which shows any concern whatever at the appalling burdens which the ratepayers have to bear. He is in the position of the naughty boy who, when brought before the master, says, "Don't blame me; blame somebody else." The right hon. Gentleman, in fact, seeks to throw the blame generally on the increased cost of living, higher wages, and added cost of material, but he says not one word about the burden which the ratepayers have to bear. I notice he is smiling at this. It is all very well for him to smile at my words, but the burden of rates is certainly not an amusing matter to the enormous number of people who have to pay them, and he will find, and the Government will find, at the next General Election, that the matter will not be treated as one of humour by the electors when they give their verdict.
My first objection to this Bill is that it is an attempt to deal with a half-dozen entirely different subjects. It deals with the question of lunacy, and it proposes most formidable changes in the existing law, while it removes one of the principal safeguards which the subject now has under the Lunacy Laws. It proposes a procedure, as I shall presently show, wholly novel with regard to the manner in which the local authorities are to proceed when they borrow money—a procedure which has never been adopted before, and one exactly contrary to the procedure always acted upon by the Treasury. It proposes much more wide and sweeping changes than the right hon. Gentleman will admit in the relations of local authorities to voluntary hospitals. It proposes a measure with regard to housing which may or may not be justified. It deals with anything from half a dozen to a dozen subjects, some of which certainly should be embodied in separate Bills. Although I am well aware that the Bill is technically in order, it is a Bill which is against the whole spirit and procedure of this House in attempting to deal with most wide and far-reaching subjects. It is what used to be known as an omnibus Bill. I think it would be truer perhaps to say that this is not so much an omnibus Bill as an omnivorous Bill, which is produced to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the right hon. Gentleman, but which also will arouse the ire of everyone in the country.
I now come to particular points in the Bill. Clause 1 provides for the taking of empty houses. In the first place, in connection with that matter, I wish to raise a protest against the very biased remark of the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech, that, apparently, some of us think our country houses are going to be seized. I do not know what he meant by that. I am under no fear that my country house is going to be seized. I should be very willing to give it up, for the use of the homeless poor, if the Minister and his over-loaded and bloated staff will turn out of their offices in Whitehall and let them be used for housing the homeless poor in London. I object most strongly to the attempt which the right hon. Gentleman made to show bias in this respect by suggesting that those who object to this Bill object to it on the ground that their country houses are going o be seized.
May I recall to the right hon. Gentleman's recollection the fact that I ventured to interrupt him, and to ask him by whom those objections were made. He replied that he did not know. If he did not know, what was the object of referring in the House to anonymous correspondence which had reached him?
Then who are they to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred? I maintain that he mentioned the fact purely for the purpose of creating bias in the minds of the House. With regard to empty houses, I am quite prepared to say this. If it would really relieve the congestion then, although it is a strong measure, it is justified. If, in other words, there are a large number of houses standing empty one can quite understand the bad effect it must have on the public mind when the poor workers in many cases cannot get houses and they see a big number of empty houses up and down the country. In such a case I agree it is quite right for any Government to endeavour to deal with that situation. But we have to ask ourselves this question: Are these empty houses suitable for the workers and can the workers afford to pay rent for them? I look on the suggestion which has appeared in certain organs of the Press with regard to the number of empty houses up and down the country as wholly illusory. In order to relieve the housing congestion these empty houses must be of a nature that a workman who has no house can occupy them if they are seized by the Government. They must be suitable for occupation by workmen. Practically all these houses are already under the Rent Restriction Act, and no one imagines that the owner of a number of houses which are under that Act would wilfully keep them empty in the hope that when the Rent Restriction Act ceased to operate he would be able to obtain a higher rent. Such a suggestion is absurd. I say there are very few of these houses suit able for the occupation of workers. There are, no doubt, certain larger houses which are not at present suitable for occupation by workers, but which could be converted. I gather, however, that it is not the intention of the Government to take any houses except such as could be easily converted into houses for workers. I do not believe that this Clause is needed in the case of those houses which are in such a condition or of such a size that workers could occupy them, and, as the right hon. Gentleman does not propose to take large empty houses, either in London or in the country, and convert them into housing accommodation for workers, I fail to see the object of the Clause at all. I certainly thought that his intention was to occupy any house that was not occupied, and turn it into a house for workmen.
I would point out, in this connection, two things in this Clause which, it seems to me, will require Amendment. Firstly, no compensation will be payable, as far as I can make out, for damage to these houses by the local authorities or by the Government when they are taken over, nor for any structural alteration which the local authority may choose to make, even if it be wholly unsuitable for the purpose to which the owner desires eventually to apply the house. I think that the House—even hon. Members who belong to the Labour party—will agree that a provision of that kind can only be justified in the strongest possible circumstances. If it could be shown that a large number of houses suitable for workers were being held up, I should agree that they ought to be seized; but I say that we have yet to hear evidence that that is the case. Under this Clause a most dangerous power will be in the hands of the local authorities and of the Ministry, and the mere fact that the right hon. Gentleman has put this Clause into the Bill is evidence of the failure of his housing policy. The fact that he now, fourteen months after the passing of his original Housing Bill, should take up the attitude that, in order to deal with the housing position, we have to deal with existing empty houses—presumably built long before the War, and not within the scope of the original Bill—seems to me to show that he admits that his housing policy is largely a failure. I venture to suggest to the House that the Ministry have failed in regard to housing largely because they have not had the courage to deal with two situations, namely, the holding up of building materials and the refusal, until to-day, of the building trade unions to admit ex-service men. They have failed until to-day to deal with either of those situations, and, indeed, I do not know that they have dealt with them now. They now propose to take a fresh power against the lesser evil, when they have never really dealt with the greater evils in regard to dilution and the cost of materials. I think this Clause is a very dangerous one, and I should require a great deal more than the right hon. Gentleman's speech to convince me that there is any necessity for it.
Clause 7 is a curious Clause, to which the right hon. Gentleman never referred at all. It deals with the rate of interest on advances under Section 1 of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act of 1899, and provides that that rate shall be such rate as the Minister may from time to time by order direct. I am not as familiar as I should like to be with the previous law on this subject, but I have been under the impression hitherto that the rates of interest on public loans were laid down by Act of Parliament, and that it was not in the discretion of a Minister to vary them as he liked. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to me rather to stress certain portions of his speech and to leave out very important references to other provisions in the Bill. I am surprised that we have had no justification as yet from him for what appears to me at first sight to be a complete alteration of our existing procedure with regard to loans.
I now come to the Clause which, I think, will prove, during the passage of this Bill through its various stages, to be as contentious and controversial a Clause as any, that is to say, Clause 10, which deals with treatment for incipient mental disorder. I shall leave it to those hon. Members who belong to the medical profession to deal more fully with the objections to this Clause, but I would call the attention of the House to the fact that, under Section 315 of the present Lunacy Act, a penalty is imposed on anyone detaining a mental case for profit without complying with the necessary procedure of judicial investigation prescribed for the protection of the individual. Under Clause 10 of this Bill all that safeguard is swept away, and the Minister is given practically carte blanche to override the Lunacy Act—there is no other word for it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous if I say that this is only another example of the idée fixe with which he is obsessed, that he and his Department alone are going to be responsible for ordering the coming and going of everyone in this country. I do not know why the Ministry of Health should override the Lunacy Commissioners; certainly I do not think that its previous attempts to deal with other questions, and its efforts at other reforms, would lead one to believe that it will be any more successful in this. Many people who have studied the question hold the view that even the Lunacy Acts are not sufficiently strong to protect the subject from pos- sible mishandling or ill-treatment at the hands of those, whether relatives or doctors, who may be ill-disposed towards him. I am not specially familiar with the law on this subject or its action, but there is a large school of opinion that even the present Act allows too large a loophole for possible ill-treatment and ill-usage of the subject; and yet, under this Clause, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to sweep away the safeguards in the existing Act. What makes it all the more dangerous is that, under the Lunacy Acts, it is only a certified person who can be detained or treated as a lunatic, whereas, under this Clause, it would be possible, with very small safeguards, for, say, a neurasthenic who was not familiar with the law to be incarcerated—there is no other word for it—without having any power to adopt the procedure laid down in the Act of appealing to the proper authority.
Many authorities, who have taken a life-long interest in the treatment of those unfortunate people who are afflicted with mental delusions, object strongly to this Clause as it stands, and, knowing that I was going to move the rejection of the Bill, they have supplied me with a memorandum in which they urge that what is needed is, not such institutions as are proposed in the Bill, but the provision of cheerful hospitals run on a purely hospital footing, not for profit but philanthropically, and without detention. I would invite the particular attention of the right hon. Gentleman to their objections.
I do not agree with the proposals of the Ministry. I do not believe that the voluntary effort of the country on behalf of the hospitals is anything like exhausted. I do not suggest that they should be run at the expense of the rates or by the Ministry, but possibly they might be run by the Red Cross, which, I understand, still has large funds at its disposal. Clause 11 of the Bill deals with hospitals, and I should like to state the attitude in regard to it of several of us who are connected with hospitals. I myself have been a chairman of a hospital for ten years. The Clause as it stands gives two powers to local authorities with regard to their relationship with hospitals. They are abso- lutely distinct powers, although I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman made that distinction clear. One is the power to supply and maintain hospitals out of the rates, and the other is the power to make a contribution to voluntary hospitals or similar institutions. Paragraph (1, a) refers to the supply and maintenance of hospitals other than poor law hospitals, and paragraph (1, b) refers to the contributions to voluntary hospitals. I undestand that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to introduce an Amendment to this Clause, so as to make it impossible for a local authority to set up fresh hospitals and support them out of the rates. That, of course, is a concession, and I do not object so strongly to the Clause in that form as I should have objected to it if that proposal had not now been made. I am bound to confers, however, that I was rather surprised that the right hon. Gen-tlemun—whose attitude at the commencement of his speech seemed rather to be one of irritation that anyone should venture to put down a Motion for the rejection of the Bill—I am rather surprised that, on the Second Reading, he should propose this fundamental alteration in the constitution of the Bill. I cannot see the reason which led him to present the Bill before this had been dealt with. The Clause, as it stands, gives to local authorities the power to contribute, on such terms and conditions as may be approved by the Minister, to any voluntary hospitals or similar institutions within their area. I am not going into the question of voluntary hospitals versus State hospitals, but speaking purely for myself, I should like to ask whether, in any locality in which the local authority makes a contribution to a voluntary hospital, and in which—as happens, unfortunately, to be almost universally the case—the rates are somewhere near 20s. in the £, anyone can contend for a moment that the people who would otherwise give voluntary contributions to that hospital will not refuse on the ground that they are being rated for the purpose of what, hitherto, they have done voluntarily.
We hear a good deal of generalisation from the right hon. Gentleman, but we never hear how he proposes to carry on in the future—whether the voluntary system is to continue, or whether the whole hospital system of the country is to be carried on by the State or by the local authorities. If, as he says, he is anxious to see the voluntary system maintained, I say that he should give it a fair chance, and that it will not have a fair chance if local authorities are encouraged to give subscriptions out of the rates. There may be much to be said in favour of a universal State hospital system, although I do not personally agree with it; but you must have either the one thing or the other. However much the sympathy of many hon. Members—who, possibly, may think that my attitude is reactionary—may be appealed to by the idea that the local authority should have power to come to the aid of a hospital that is in difficulties, I maintain that, once you give that power, you strike a death blow at the whole voluntary system. It is not for me, as chairman of a hospital, to say so perhaps, but I cannot refrain from pointing out the enormous amount of unselfish voluntary effort that is put into hospitals, and most of all by the medical profession. I refuse to believe that you would ever get better work from the people who give that effort, or as good work, under a State system. I hope the House will hesitate before giving even these limited powers into the hands of Ministers. The right hon. Gentleman spoke rather as if he were in a position to dictate to hospitals as to the way they should go. So long as the voluntary hospitals are voluntary they propose to manage themselves. They do not propose to be managed by the State nor to be managed by the British Medical Association. They propose to be managed under their existing constitution, with the assistance of the King Edward Hospital Fund, and the other bodies authorised to deal with voluntary hospitals, and they have their official representative on the British Hospital Association, and so long as they remain voluntary hospitals they will not accept Government control.
No doubt we shall hear from representatives of local authorities whether or not, in their opinion, Clause 17, which deals with subscriptions to associations or institutions for the purpose of assisting local authorities, is necessary. I think the general body of ratepayers, taxpayers and Members of the House would be very unwilling to put power in their hands to put further charges upon the pockets of the ratepayers, which this Clause will most certainly do. I do not
understand how, considering that before the War, when we were rich, the local authorities carried on without the Clause, now when we are poorer local authorities demand that these powers should be conferred upon them, because we are certainly in a less good position to afford it now that we were then. There is an extraordinary Clause in the Bill, to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer, which deals with the power of the Minister to vary the conditions upon which local authorities shall repay their loans. Sub-section (5) of Clause 18 is the most extraordinary Sub-section I have ever seen in a Bill. It is as follows:
Where any local authority, owing to circumstances arising out of the War, pave been unable to make the required provision by means of a sinking fund or otherwise for the due discharge of any loan, the authority may submit to the Minister a scheme making provision for the discharge of the loan whether by extending or varying the period within which the loan may be discharged or otherwise, and the Minister may, if he thinks fit, approve any such scheme either with or without modifications.
The only description of that Clause is that it comes straight from Moscow. It is the pure Bolshevist argument of the repudiations of the obligations of local authorities, because if you vary the terms under which a loan is repaid, it is just as much a sacrifice of the principle as if you repudiate the loan altogether. I should be prepared to challenge any hon. Member who supports the Government in this Clause, if what I say is not the fact that it is a complete repudiation—
The Clause says:
may submit to the Minister a scheme making provision for the discharge of the loan whether by extending or varying the period within which the loan may be discharged or otherwise, and the Minister may, if he thinks fit, approve any such scheme either with or without modifications.
The effect of the proviso seems to be almost nil—
provided that nothing in any scheme shall in any manner prejudice or affect the security, rights or remedies of any mortgagee or other person from whom the loan was raised.
I see the right hon. Gentleman's point. That is to say, if some urban council raises a loan and proposes, with the
sanction of the Minister, to vary the terms under which the loan may be repaid, the Minister in his goodness is going to allow any mortgagee or lender to bring an action if he wishes to do so. It is extremely good of him. I do not wonder that he has put it in the Bill, because we all know how the Government has been constantly taking away the rights of the subject. How could they possibly change without injury to the lender? But that is not the only proposal of a most serious kind. Sub-section (4) says:
The unapplied balance of any loan raised for any purpose by a local authority, whether before or after the commencement of this Act (not being a loan advanced by the Public Works Loan Commissioners), may, with the consent of the Minister, be applied to any other purpose for which the authority have power to borrow money.
Is it not a fact that, in the case of money voted for any Government Department, it has always been laid down by the Treasury and by the procedure of this House that no Department has a right to apply money voted for one purpose to another purpose? Yet the right hon. Gentleman proposes to allow, in the case of local authorities, what is not allowed in the case of this House or of Government Departments, because it is known that it would open the road to such grave abuses. In fact, I believe the very reason why this obligation was imposed was because in former days there was a great deal of corruption in Government administration, and Government Departments were in the habit of taking a balance from one fund and using it for sometimes a wrong purpose, and therefore it was laid down very many years ago. Yet the right hon. Gentleman proposes to alter it. The whole thing is reminiscent of the finance of a South American Republic. If we are ever deprived of his services I am sure he will have no difficulty in obtaining an important post in the Finance Ministry of some Central American Government. His proposal is quite in accordance with the best traditions south of the Panama Canal.
I do not think there has ever been a more inopportune time for introducing a Bill of this kind, which obviously imposes fresh burdens, and that apart from the fact that there are one or two provisions in the Bill, such as that regulating the sale of clinical thermometers, which are good provisions. I have been informed by several hon. Members that it is very important that local authorities should possess these powers. But the general effect of the Bill must be bad. They are not only crippling industry, but they are doing what I should have thought no one in the House really wanted. They are actually driving below the poverty line honest workmen who but for them would be able to live in decency and comfort. In other words, in endeavouring to benefit the under-dog you are making life almost intolerable for a lot of people who do not exactly come in the category generally described in the term "under-dog," but who find life very hard—people with small fixed incomes, widows, persons who work for themselves and not for a master, who have no trade union to protect their interests, and have not been able to get their wages put up anything like in accordance with the cost of living—and the crippling effect of the rates, which have in some cases gone up 7s., 8s. or 9s. in the pound in the last year or 18 months, is making it almost impossible for these people to live. In trying to help the under-dog, in many cases in a way which I do not think will be successful, and in trying to do things which will not really benefit the poorest class, you are doing an immense amount of injury to a class slightly better off, but not so well off that they can afford to pay a high rate of taxation. I can understand the attitude of the Labour party—not in this House, but the Labour party generally—towards a Bill of this kind. We know they are anxious to see all our national operations carried on by the State, using that term as including local authorities as well—carried on, that is to say, by the public. Of course, a child can see that as good a way as any other of attaining that object is to keep on raising the rates to 20s., 25s., 30s., 40s., until eventually it will be impossible to carry or private industry at all. Constantly, in my constituency, a Labour candidate for the council says, "I want to see the rates as high as they can be. I want to Bee them £5 in the pound."
But I should like to ask what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. Surely his duty as Minister of a Coalition Government—and I emphasise the word "Coalition"—is not to allow some of the rather fantastic theories which he used to have in the days when he was a private Member to entirely lead him away from his duties as a Coalition Minister. After all, whatever the Coalition is founded on—and there may be doubt in some minds as to what it is founded on, I admit—at any rate, it is not founded on the principle of communism and on the principle of the smashing, through the rates and taxes, of private enterprise, which is the pure policy of communism. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman, though I am sure his intention is not to injure industry in this way, should take care in administering his office that he is not placing such burdens on industry as to make it impossible to carry it on. I have travelled as much as most people in the House, and I have recently returned from a trip abroad. I am convinced that the real problem in this country is not merely, or not only, the problem of how to reconcile the interests of labour and capital, but it is how this country is going to compete in the markets of the world with other countries where the taxes are not 6s. 6d. in the pound and rates are not 20s. in the pound, which is the situation in many industrial centres to-day. In the sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman and many Members of all parties show to the under-dog and in the very natural desire which is shown to redress many long-standing grievances which existed for many years before the War, I hope neither the House nor the Government will overlook the fact that, if by your system of rates you cripple the industry of the country, it will not be a question of helping the existing underdog, but it will be a question of putting every worker in the country in the position of poverty that the workers of Spain or Portugal are in to-day.
I beg to Second the Amendment.
One of the few reasons which justify me in rising is to show that one of the younger Members in the House is joined in his opposition by one of the old and superannuated reactionaries. In introducing this Bill the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that he entirely justified any of its proposals by saying that we must under all circumstances deal with certain social legislation. We all agree, if we can possibly do it, but there can be no advantage in advancing social legislation at a risk and at a cost that will eventually ruin this country, that will check trade, lower wages, and create far greater evils than those with which it is proposed to deal. My objection to this Bill rests upon several grounds. In the first place it is not one Bill: it is nearly a dozen Bills thrown into one. It is possible for this House at the present time to deal adequately with all these subjects in one Bill and in the short process of one Bill? I think hon. Members will agree with me that this sort of miscellaneous legislation is leading to very great evils in the House. I can only tell my own experience. I have spoken to 25 or 30 Members and out of those 25 or 30 Members not more than two or three had even looked at the Bill. If we knew the real facts I am not sure that the Cabinet as a whole knows very much more about it than hon. Members. We are losing very largely the habit of common solidarity and responsibility in the Cabinet. War conditions have limited that, and it is one of the greatest dangers to our constitution that Departments and Ministers proceed their own way, and devise Bills suiting their own Departments, arrogating new powers to their own Departments, with none of that real check that comes with joint responsibility of Ministers. I doubt whether many of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues could put their hands on their hearts and say, with a clear conscience, that they fully understand this Bill. Not more than one or two of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues would be able to stand anything but a very cursory examination upon the principles of the Bill. That being the case, a double responsibility rests upon us as Members of Parliament to look carefully into the proposals.
There are certain leading flaws and mischievous elements in the Bill with which I shall deal later. I will run through a few of the points with which it deals. In spite of the limitations mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, the Bill assumes virtually complete arbitrary control to local authorities to deal with private property in buildings. It is all very well saying that this or that class of property will not be touched. Why should not the mansion be touched as well as any other? Is anyone asking or proposing that there should be a class distinction? Does anyone suggest that in drawing attention to these injustices and this danger to the State, we are doing it in the interest of any one special class? We are doing it because we think that Socialism is a danger to the State and eventually will lead to evils far greater than those which it is attempted to cure. The Bill also assumes far wider powers to local authorities to regulate and control trade and to prescribe the conditions in which trade is to occupy itself. It also tells us, in Clause 2, not merely as a matter of emergency, but permanently, that local authorities are to have the right to tell builders, irrespective of the needs of the market, and without any talk about the question of supply and demand which have hitherto ruled sane business men, that they are to be controlled and prevented from doing certain sort of work. Whatever may be said for this as a short and temporary measure, I am convinced that all business men in the long run, and every sane political economist, will say that it is a wrong and mistaken course. You give the local authorities the right to stop any man from engaging in certain building and to tell him that he must turn his building activities into another direction. In the building of these small houses only a very limited amount of skilled artisans is required, and it is from these buildings, where the least skilled work is mainly used, that trade unions are closing out that moderate skilled work. In the long run, surely, it is well to remember that business will regulate its own affairs best.
It is a most dangerous thing to put these arbitrary powers into the hands of a local authority, and not merely into the hands of the local authority, for in Clause 3 a new device is proposed whereby the local authority is to depute its powers. These powers, rules and limitations are to be laid down by a committee appointed by the local authority itself. I can conceive no body more likely to be a centre of intrigue and private influence than this secret committee, carrying out its operations, not under free discussion in the local authorities, but secretly, and acting arbitrarily, and, as we know very well to be the case, apt to be pulled by wires in personal directions. If we are to have restrictions by the local authority let the power be exercised openly by the local authority. If the local authority is to have the power, let it perform it in the light of day and under the influence of free discussion, and not in a camarilla, sitting in a secret chamber, and composed of a small committee appointed by the local authority, of whose discussions we know-nothing. The local authorities are to be given almost carte blanche in regard to expenditure. You must not control them, says the right hon. Gentleman, otherwise you will not get any persons of intelligence and self-respect to go upon these local authorities. Are we to do away altogether with audits under a central department? Is it inconsistent with the self-respect of a member of a local authority that the accounts of that authority should be audited by an independent authority? Instead of lowering his self-respect, would it not enormously increase his confidence as to the soundness of the expenditure? At present not only are the accounts audited, but the audit confers the power of saying that this or that thing is illegally and improperly done, and of making a surcharge. The fact that that power exists to-day has a thoroughly wholesome influence in the interests of society, and it in no way means the loss of any self-respect to a man who desires to do his duty.
The local authorities are to be empowered not only to borrow, but to borrow money in order to pay the interest upon their borrowed money. Is that sound finance? You cannot pay your interest, and therefore you may borrow more money in order to pay interest on debt with which you are admittedly overwhelmed. Not only that, but apparently public authorities are to be able to lend to one another. They are to be encouraged to give accommodation bills to one another. That sort of thing is bad enough in ordinary private commerce, where it is apt to lead to disastrous results and even bankruptcy; but what will it mean in public finance when, under this Bill, local authorities are to be able to lend to one another by means of mutual accommodation bills? That is provided for under Clause 4. The local authorities are also empowered to build houses for the vast army of employés in their service; an army which is increasing not only in geometrical progression all over the country. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that the money he will require is very slight, and that he doubts whether he requires a Financial Resolution. He says it will not cost the Treasury more than £10,000 a year. That shows how enormous this burden will be upon the local rates. If only £10,000 is to come out of the Exchequer, what will be the cost to the rates of housing this army of officials all over the country? If we are to go on in the way proposed by this Bill; if trade is to be regulated by local authorities, and if the local authorities are to spend any amount of money in building houses for their servants, one wonders what money or what freedom will be left. I agree with my Noble Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill and with my medical friends with respect to the importance of Clause 10, which deals with the treatment of incipient insanity; that is a matter of widespread interest and importance and deserves to be dealt with; but surely a subject of this sort, involving points of great importance to the individuals and points of extreme delicacy and difficulty on which the House has to be advised by the most mature and careful medical authority, cannot be dealt with in a few lines of one Clause of a miscellaneous Hill. Yet, in effect, we are told that if we do not take it as a small almost infinitesimally minute portion of one Bill we are opposing the whole matter and refusing to move forward. This is an unfair argument and one which would load to the destruction of all sound Parliamentary legislative proceedings.
This is a Bill introduced by a Coalition Government of which my own party has no small part of the supporters. I remember that in 1909 I humbly followed the lead of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Bonar Law) in opposing interference with property in regard to land. He used eloquent terms in fighting it. If I am now to follow him when his colleagues in this Coalition Government put before this House a Bill which involves principles quite as socialistic as those which were involved in the Bill of 1909, then that is an end of all consistency in Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal must acknowledge that I at least am one who has given a fairly consistent support to the Government. I came here under no pledges. The great advantage of addressing my constituents in an address which extends to only five lines is that I have not pledged myself or been asked to pledge myself to vote anyway except according to my own convictions. I felt that in supporting this Government which carried the War to a successful conclusion I was doing right, but even the worm must turn at last, and this is a Bill which, looking to the past, when I helped the Lord Privy Seal in opposing similar socialistic projects, I cannot now support.
I know the answer which may be given, that all our opposition to socialism is absolute class prejudice. I have opposed, and shall continue to oppose, socialistic principles, not in the interests of a class, but because I consider them inimical to the best interests of the State and destructive of its commercial prosperity, but if we are to have socialistic legislation, well, let us have it, but at least preserve us from camouflaged socialism. Then, there is another thing to which I object in this Bill. During the War we readily allowed large powers to the Government. We allowed them to step in and control and hold us fast under prescribed rules. When the Defence of the Realm Act was under consideration, I ventured, while agreeing to these proposals, to remind the House that the possession of arbitrary power had a way of increasing the appetite, and that some day or other the Government, endowed with special powers, might wish to make them permanent. This Bill, more than almost any Bill which we have seen, proposes to take into its hand many things that can be managed by voluntary effort and managed quite well. It proposes to give to the right hon. Gentleman's Department powers that never have been given to any State Department—arbitrary powers which cannot be given to a bureaucracy consistently with the best interests of the State. It proposes to shackle industry and work in every direction, and to go no small step forward towards the nationalisation of the medical profession, which I think would be a calamity for medical science and for the country.
With regard to Clause 10, which fundamentally alters the Lunacy Laws, the provisions of that Clause may be right or wrong, but at least they deserve to be dealt with in a separate measure, and not in a mass of heterogeneous purposes.
Certain evils in the Defence of the Realm Act are creeping into the legislation as a sort of canker. We had better abandon it before going further. This country has been accustomed to manage its own affairs without a bureaucracy, and deep in every fibre of its being it desires to have continued local effort and local creation. This country will not stand being bound by fetters in its commerce or in its ordinary transactions. Above all, this country will not give a Government Department the power at its own sweet will, and by encouraging local authorities to do so, to spend money totally careless of what the evil effect will be on the general prosperity of the country. I cannot support this Bill because it is against many of those principles which I have been humbly supporting under the leadership of many Ministers who sit on that Bench, because I think that it increases unduly the power of the bureaucracy, and because it fetters unduly our freedom of action and is contrary to the whole genius of our people; and I also oppose it because I feel that it is launching us into an expenditure which will impose on this country a ruinous cost.
I am not by any means so alarmed at the proposals of this Bill as my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Craik), and for one reason particularly—that the proposals, especially with regard to housing, in Clause 1, seem to be designed to minimise at any rate the dread and threat of Socialism which frightens him so much. There is in the country to-day no cause of social unrest so fruitful as the lack of housing. I speak with no special knowledge, but, in my opinion, for what it may be worth, the sweeping Labour victories in Glasgow are due very largely to the housing conditions there. To anyone who looks calmly at it, and not with the idea of labelling everything that he is afraid of "Bolshevik," that is one of the real main causes of social unrest, and must be grappled with in times of peace very much on the lines on which we grappled with War difficulties. There is no use in minimising facts. Clause 1 proposes simply to give power to local authorities—and I daresay there will be additional safeguards introduced, in Committee—where houses are being unfairly held up, to have them brought into occupation. Further, that such work as is done on those lines must be limited to 25th December, 1923. In my own constituency, time after time, as I go into villages the leading men of the villages every time impress on me that there are cottages held up by people who only use them for two or three months in the summer, although there is immense pressure throughout the country for houses for working people, so that young people cannot get married, and men are suffering from unemployment, and, unless that is remedied, as this Bill proposes—
I am giving that as an explanation of the social unrest, caused by houses which are unfairly held up, and the intention of the Clause that those houses shall be brought into effective occupation. People who talk about Socialism or Bolshevism should at least assist the Ministry in dealing with that very serious problem, so that they can be clothed with powers, so that where there are houses which are vacant and which can under this proposal be brought into effective use for the occupation of people who want them, and for the sake of the stability of the State in which they are citizens, those houses can be forcibly occupied. Hon. Members who prate about the sacredness of property and the liberty of the subject are not grasping the seriousness of the position with which we are faced in the housing problem. It would be quite easy for me to make an attack upon the policy of the Ministry. I am not going to do it. I am going to deal with the proposals which they now make, and I believe that this proposal, subject to necessary Clauses which can be well introduced in Committee, is a step in the right direction, and I support the Ministry most heartily. Clause 10 requires the most careful investigation. I hope the House will not give, in anything approaching their entirety, the powers asked for by the Ministry. Those powers ought to be limited specifically. It is a very serious inroad to what has hitherto been very carefully safeguarded by this House. The Minister of Health may recall the very difficult progress through this House of the last Bill which dealt with a similar question. People know what has happened under the safeguards of the certificates of two medical men, and all the rest of it. They know that any handling of this subject by a Government or other Department by way of extension of existing powers ought to be most carefully examined, and only after the most scrupulous examination should any extension of powers be granted. It is to be regretted that the effects of the War have brought about a condition of mental instability in tens of thousands of men, instability which, after careful and early treatment, might result, and often has resulted, in restoring them to the ranks of fit and efficient units in the nation's service. The horror of sending them into lunatic asylums or mental hospitals often does the greatest possible damage to them. I suggest that the operation of this Clause might be limited and not have any general application.
In Clause 11 the most important and entirely novel powers are sought. There, again, I think the Committee would do well to examine the proposals with scrupulous care. The statistics given by my right hon. Friend must give pause to the House and to any inimical spirit which Members may feel towards these proposals at the onset. I was Chairman of a committee which gave no little attention to this subject. It is quite intolerable that with the extraordinary demand for hospital treatment immensely increased by the War, and with the lack of the normal increase of accommodation which would have been provided if there had been no war, anyone should suffer. This question of the prevention and cure of disease requires immediate attention. As has been said, it is ridiculous that while you have a voluntary hospital in a town or district overcrowded and with a long waiting list—we all know the agony represented in those waiting lists—there should at the same time be, some hundreds of yards or half a mile away, a well equipped public institution not fully utilised. I advise hon. Members who have an idea that these Poor Law infirmaries are dreadful establishments to visit one. I know there is the Poor Law stigma. You cannot help it. I have been to many of these institutions and the great majority of them compare very favourably with most voluntary hospitals. As they have accommodation available it is right and proper that measures should be taken to bring them into full and effective and merciful operation.
I was very glad to hear of the safeguards which the Minister of Health pro- poses to insert in the Bill. I gathered that the power which on the face of the Bill is given to county councils to set up new hospitals is entirely abandoned; and very rightly too. I am sure that the Ministry will be very careful, and the House will insist upon the Ministry being very careful, that before any steps of this kind are taken all proper authorities within the area concerned should have full opportunity of laying their views before the Ministry, and that only after the most careful consultation should these schemes be permitted. I am not at all afraid of the operations of a county council in this matter. The immense importance of the development of preventive and curative treatment throughout the country cannot be overestimated. Let us face the fact that to grapple adequately with that, we must admit that voluntary effort alone does not meet the case. To my mind, given the safeguards required, the proposals of this Clause, after careful scrutiny by the Committee, will constitute a most moderate scheme to meet a grave and national urgent need.
This is a Bill which covers a vast amount of ground. It is not sound legislative management to lump together all sorts of different provisions so that the House really cannot address itself to any one topic. There have been Governments, greatly pressed for time, who may have adopted such a method in order to save time and to get Bills through. The present Government has been fortunate in having abundance of time for its legislative proposals, and this Session being one in which business has gone singularly smoothly, I do not think my right hon. Friend is justified in pressing a Bill constructed upon this model. He ought to be willing to withdraw parts of it or to break it up by instruction of the Committee, so that the different parts of the Bill can be separately considered by the House. The Bill has another serious general legislative defect. There are many complicated Clauses dealing mainly with financial topics, but also many which have the very deplorable habit of legislation by reference. The two defects react the one upon the other. It is always difficult to check and control legislation by reference or to control a Bill which combines many topics. When the two defects are combined in a Bill the suspicion is excited that there is an intention in a Department to slip through a lot of things, each one of which is open to more or less criticism, reliance being placed on the complexity of the drafting and the variety of the topics to prevent Parliamentary control. There is a third general objection. The Minister of Health made an elaborate and able defence against the charge of extravagance. He stated in great detail that the expenditure involved by the Ministry of Health on rates was really not very heavy, and that this particular Bill would involve almost no expenditure on the taxes, and the like. Nevertheless, this Bill does fundamentally come under this objection, that it is a step forward in many different directions on paths of expenditure. It is a case of, Here a little and there a little; in respect of hospitals, perhaps, here a good deal. But in all respects my right hon. Friend seems to think this a moment when it is desirable to go on spending public money on things more or less desirable. I am sure that is a profound error.
We want to see Ministers framing their Bills so that they shall contain only what is absolutely and indispensably necessary for the exigencies of the moment. We want to see done nothing which costs money, unless it is so urgent that great distress or evil would result if it was left undone. This Bill does not give that impression. It gives the impression of being an extension in many directions which cannot but involve a growing burden on the ratepayer or the taxpayer. Burdens on the ratepayer have a tendency sooner or later to react upon the taxpayer. The burden is already so heavy upon the ratepayer that he inevitably rises and cries for some further assistance from the taxes. In any case expenditure reacts now directly on the industrial life and prosperity of the country. I hope that even the Labour party are beginning to realise—I believe some of their leaders have already realised—that you cannot spend money without making things worse for all classes in the community, and that the poorest class, having the least margin, suffer most. I think my right hon. Friend altogether failed to show that the contents of this Bill were of the sort of urgency that would justify the expenditure even of a small sum. It is not enough to say, "There is a number of rather good things; let us have them." It must be shown that things are so urgently neces- sary that great evils will come if they are not done.
With respect to hospitals, my right hon. Friend rather went out of his way to show there was no urgency. He explained very interestingly that he had been anxious to maintain voluntary hospitals and thought he had succeeded in doing so. He said also that although there was great pressure on some of the voluntary hospitals, there were also many vacant beds in the Poor Law infirmaries. He showed, in short, that there was not a really urgent case for doing anything, but that it was a case for making some slight adjustment. What are the actual provisions in respect to hospitals? The first important proposal is to allow local authorities to give assistance from the rates to voluntary hospitals. I think that is open to two objections. It may result in extravagant expenditure, and sooner or later will involve control by the public authorities of the hospitals which receive assistance. Is that a desirable thing to do? If it is it should be done by a Bill expressly directed to the whole subject and leading to the comprehensive treatment of the hospital question. It ought not to be done by a few Sub-sections in an omnibus Bill. The hospitals would be put, in the words of Archbishop Temple, on the slippery slope of the rates in this way.
Under the Bill Poor Law infirmaries can become county council infirmaries. It is said that there are a great number of vacant beds in Poor Law infirmaries, and it has been implied that these are vacant because of a sentiment against going to a Poor Law institution. I have been told that there is no strong sentiment against going to Poor Law infirmaries, though there is a tremendous sentiment about workhouses. I cannot help, in touching on this matter, pointing out that we appear to have inherited from our ancestors just precisely what it would have been better we had not inherited, and we have rejected just precisely that which it would have been better we should have inherited. They thought there was a certain degradation in going on the Poor Law. I think it is a most unhealthy morbid sentiment to think that there should be any degradation in an honest poor man receiving public assistance. That is a morbid teaching of the early part of the 19th century. On the other hand, they had the feeling that it was
highly important, as far as possible, to economise the charges on the rates. I understand we are going to have recourse to this extraordinary resource. We propose to call things by a new name, although we do not propose to alter their real character. Is there to be any power to charge people who go to Poor Law infirmaries who can afford to pay? [HON. MEMBERS: "That is in the Bill."] If there is any taint in going to Poor Law infirmaries which are supported out of the rates, that taint is not removed by putting the institution on the county rates instead of the poor rates. I notice that Sub-section (3) of Clause 11 states:
Section one hundred and thirty-two of the Public Health Act, eighteen hundred and seventy-five, which gives powers to recover the cost of the maintenance in hospital of a person who is not a pauper, shall apply to any patient who has received treatment in a hospital maintained by the council of a county under this Section, and the council shall have the same power of recovering expenses as is given to a local authority under that section.
You are by that proposal drawing a distinction. Some people who will go to the hospital will go free because they are paupers, while others have to bear a charge. That is the poor law taint, so that you do not get rid of it after all. I suggest that all this shows that the hospital question should have been dealt with on a larger scale and in a separate Bill, if dealt with at all. The matter should have been set out at full length, and should have been preceded by an inquiry as to what were the resources of the hospital, and the need for assistance of voluntary hospitals, and how far they were prepared to face, the difficulties and dangers of control. There should have been a more thorough and comprehensive treatment of the subject. As it is, we are likely to spend more money without really dealing with any great urgent difficulty.
I pass to the question of finance, and there the proposals are so difficult to follow that I may very easily be mistaken. In respect to two points I suggest that the Bill makes for less cautious and economical expenditure of public funds. It gives a very important power to use balances raised for one purpose to be spent for another purpose. A local authority desiring to indulge in some extravagant expenditure might overcharge on some legitimate and popular expenditure, and devote the balance to an extravagant purpose which they all along had in mind. There is also a proposal which appears to allow borrowing on easier terms. Surely that is a very unwise thing to do. You do not want to make it easier to borrow money, but you want to so arrange matters that the people shall feel the pressure of the real expenditure. You do not want to get local authorities into the habit of thinking that they can spend a great deal of money and push it off to posterity. That is the worst way to teach economy. Both proposals seem to me at the wrong time to make for extravagance. Then there is a proposal with regard to housing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles said with perfect truth that housing is a most urgent matter. So it is. It causes the greatest distress and has been borne with surprising patience. I agree with every word about its gravity, but I ask if the right hon. Gentleman really thinks that this proposal will do anything to meet it. It will probably not affect one house which is really suitable for the working classes. If there was any power of adapting houses it would be a different thing. The obvious remedy is to build houses. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has been engaged in building houses, and from all we hear he has experienced great difficulties. The Government policy began after the War, and was in fact prepared before that time. Yet after all that preparation and repeated applications to Parliament and liberal expenditure of public funds, there is still such a housing difficulty that this very extraordinary proposal is put forward. I cannot help feeling that this Clause is put in to look nice in the window, and to frighten off some critics who will be told that it is an important step towards solving the housing difficulty which appeals more to the public than any other question at the present time. I cannot see that it will do the slightest good or afford the smallest real relief. Confessedly it is a proposal of a very drastic kind.
It seems to be forgotten what has caused the present housing shortage, and that is the destruction of the confidence of owners of property in housing as a legitimate commercial enterprise. The beginning of the evil was in the land taxes of the Budget of 1909. Wealthy landlords used to build houses not for commercial purposes, and I always thought that mischievous and likely to spoil the market. That process has gone on by the eleemosynary building by the Government and local authorities of houses which cannot be let at a commercial rent. I do not say that in the very difficult circumstances which exist that is necessarily wrong, but it makes the evil worse and worse and drives out private enterprise, which alone in the end can solve the housing difficulty. A man may build some houses and for whatever reasons some of them become vacant, and you say "we will take them from him." That in itself adds to the evil which is interfering with the commercial building of houses. It is always intruding upon a man and preventing him from getting the benefit which he proposes to get, and so you cut at the root of the only real power which will solve the housing difficulty. You increase the want of confidence and spread the sense that you are in the presence of an authority which will always take what it wants without due regard to private rights, without permitting private rights to get that sort of advantage which will alone tempt private persons to make the expenditure which is necessary for the purpose. You are really in this way doing the same thing as the Bolsheviks have done. The evil in Russia is the destruction of confidence. If you once impair the rights of property to such an extent that people lose confidence in it, it is not the owners of property who suffer most, but all those who benefit from that enter prise which builds upon property and thus brings prosperity to the country. I believe my right hon. Friend agrees with my principles, but he does not lay my lesson to heart. Like a great many other people, he goes to church and hears the sermon and goes away to sin. I think, therefore, this Clause is not only out of place in this Bill but is a dangerous and mischievous Clause.
Lastly, there is the appropriate subject of lunacy. There is great need for the reforms which are touched on in this Clause, and for many other reforms affecting lunacy, but I think the great reform that is needed is that the people who are confined by reason of mental deficiency or derangement should pay their expenses and no more, and it should not be lawful to make a profit out of any particular form of disease, and certainly not out of mental infirmity, because the tendency is so overwhelming not to cure the patient, but to treat him very kindly and to keep him where he is. That is a great danger, but this particular Clause merely touches in a most halfhearted way the whole subject, and, so far as it does touch it, I think it touches it in a very dangerous way. The only safeguard the mentally deranged person would have is that of giving notice in writing to a Minister. One can very easily imagine states of mental derangement in which a person would be wholly unaware that such a power belonged to him, and if he was aware he might find it very difficult to avail himself of it. Perhaps that is safeguarded, but, as far as I can judge, these are to be merely small institutions or enterprises, which are very exposed indeed to the danger of a man making a profit out of the patients he takes in. That is the great danger, and it is a thousand pities that the Government here, as in the case of housing and hospitals, have not brought in a Bill, after due inquiry, dealing with the whole subject in a proper manner, or else postponed it until Parliament was able to give time to it. Therefore, for these reasons, which I have tried to sketch out, I intend to vote against the Bill, and I wish I could persuade the House of Commons—I know I cannot, of course—to reject this Bill. It is on account of no ill-will towards the right hon. Gentleman that I do this. I do not wish to bereave his grey hairs of a darling child.
I am sorry for the right hon. Gentleman, and it is with reluctance from that point of view that I shall vote against the Bill, but I am sure that it would do an enormous amount of good to the public service if we rejected the Bill or any Bill of this kind. It would reverberate through the Departments, and it would affect from one end of the country to the other all the spenders of money as nothing else that the House could do, if only once we could summon up enough courage to reject a Government Bill on the ground that they were pressing forward extravagant expenditure at the present time. The whole situation of national economy would be altered, and in a thousand ways we should find economies made up and down the country. It is very difficult for this House to enforce economy in details here and there. The only people who really can do it are the Departments themselves, and once convince them that the House of Commons is so much in earnest on the subject of economy that it has rejected a Government Bill rather than run the risk of further expenditure and you will have a wholly different atmosphere in the public Departments. You would get them to take the matter seriously, and you would find a considerable reduction in all sorts of public expenditure. But will the House ever summon up that courage? Not a bit of it. They go about talking about economy, and praising economy, and denouncing waste, but they never, never, never will give that vote which alone will make their protests effective and useful. Until the House summons up courage to part company with the domination of bureaucracy and definitely to refuse something that it has asked for, we shall go on making sacrifices of liberty and spending money, and we shall be, as we deserve to be, impoverished slaves.
After the very severe criticisms that have been passed on this Bill, I may say that we on these Benches are not very keen on the measure. We do not favour these miscellaneous Bills which deal with so many subjects and refer to so many Acts of Parliament, Orders, provisions, and so on. If you look in the Second Schedule of this Bill, you will find that it refers to no fewer than ten or a dozen Acts of Parliament, and so this is once again legislation by reference. I am not sure the time could not have been better employed in getting together and consolidating the different Acts of Parliament, provisions, Orders, and so on, into one Bill, which would at least be understandable when a man wanted to get acquainted with any particular point. Therefore, from that standpoint, we do not favour this. Bill at all, but I may say that the party to which I belong welcome many of the provisions of the Bill, but not because of what the Noble Lord (Earl Winterton) said. He gave it as a reason why the Labour party favoured the Bill that they liked to see the rates going up, that high rates pleased them. That is about the queerest thing I have ever listened to in my life. It is raking what some crank or other has said and allying that person with the Labour party. It would be quite as reasonable to connect him with everything that the hon. Member for Hull (Lieut-Commander Kenworthy) might say, and I agree that that would be an unreasonable thing. Who is it, after all, that pays the rates? Is it not the people who occupy the houses? Sometimes they pay their rates direct, and if they do not, the man who owns the house not only puts on any increased rates, but puts on a little bit over for himself at the same time, so that we are particularly concerned about the rise in rates to-day. Then, again, industries are rated, and who pays the rates for those industries? Are not those rates, as well as the wages of the men and the profits of the owners, paid by the workers, the people who work in those industries? We are, therefore, very much concerned about these things, notwithstanding what the Noble Lord has said, and I cannot but characterise a saying of that sort as absolute nonsense.
In the first place, this Bill deals with houses, and the Noble Lord said that there was no large number of houses withheld from occupation. I think that is true, but if there is only one house withheld from occupation and there is no power either with the local authority or with the Minister to take over that house, then I say that that power ought to be sought for. There are many houses withheld to-day from occupation with a hope of getting a good buyer for those houses. I believe that is very largely done, although I do not quite realise that the Clause was intended to deal with that class of house, but more particularly with the houses that were out of repair. That seems to me to be the point of the Clause. Whether there is a very large number of houses out of repair which the landlord refuses to repair, I am sure I do not know. It says that they are houses which have not been inhabited.
The Bill says that the authority may have to take into consideration in fixing the rent the amount of money expended or to be expended. Surely that deals with repairs. What we say is this, that if repairs are to be done and they are considerable—and it does not take much repairs to-day to run up a bill of £100 or £200—that could not be brought in in the rent, and the local authority could not recoup themselves in the twelve months mentioned in the Bill, or even five years in a matter of that sort, if the repairs were considerable. Therefore, we say that the rent could not be made to cover these expenses because they would be so very high. Another thing is that, if they could only take the rent for twelve months after having repaired them, and they then hand them back to the landlord, unless a Clause was inserted to compel that landlord to hand over a part of the rent from then onward to the local authority which had made the repairs, that landlord would be taking a rent for repairs which he had never done and which he had never been responsible for. Then there are the large houses. If large houses were to be made suitable for the working classes—because it seems to be thought that a working man could not possibly live in a big house, but must have only one or two rooms in a big house, or else there would be something wrong—they would require extensive alterations which could not be got out of the rent, so that in that sense these large houses could remain unoccupied for almost any length of time. Then there is the question of occupation—"must not have been occupied for three months." What does that mean? Does it mean that if a person leaves his furniture or just a stick of funiture in a house with some caretaker to look after it, that house is occupied? A man might be living somewhere else for any length of time, and people would still be suffering from want of housing accommodation.
I believe there are many houses in this country that the owners have refused to repair. I put a question the other day on that subject to the Minister, and he replied that he did not think it worth while to call for a return of these houses, and that he did not think there were many of them in the country. My opinion is that there is a very large number of houses in this county that have been closed by order of the local authorities because the owners would not put them into habitable repair, and I believe that a large number of these houses could be repaired and made habitable at a comparatively low cost; in any case, at much less than half the cost of building new houses. I go about my own district sometimes and I see houses there, and I am surprised that somebody does not put them in order and get people into them again. As far as I know, the local authority has power to demolish these houses if they are a danger to the community, and they can sell the material, and if they do not get sufficient money to defray the cost I think they should claim the amount from the former owners of the houses. But whether they have power to rebuild and to make a house habitable and take it over from the owner altogether, as belonging to the authority is very questionable. It is a point which I think the Minister could very well go into, because I believe there are many such houses in this country.
The great difficulty in building houses is, as far as I am able to glean, the money problem, and I think any Bill which proposes to bring the housing question up to date ought at least to have some provision in it by which money could be supplied for that purpose out of national funds. Housing Bonds schemes have been started here and there. They have failed hopelessly in many places. Possibly in some places they may have succeeded. They may have succeeded in some of the large cities, but I believe that, generally speaking, in the urban areas they have failed miserably. I do think that such a Bill of this kind, which professes to bring up to date the housing question, ought at least to have some measure in it whereby money could be got from national sources for that purpose.
I need not refer to Clause 2. It is simply an extension of the time in which to subsidise houses. This is a sort of belated provision. The Minister has already said that this was done, and that the time was to be extended 12 months. The same thing was said about raising the subsidy. This House was not applied to for permission when the subsidy was raised. It has not been applied to for permission to extend the period. I am not objecting to either of those things, but I do think that important questions of this sort ought to be submitted to the House first of all, and the permission of the House ought to be obtained before any such orders are given.
There are the powers to prevent luxury building. A Committee is suggested, I do not know why. I have not followed yet the reason for proposing to appoint a Committee as against the whole Council, or as against the whole administrative body. I believe the whole administrative body would be a much safer body to deal with a point of this sort than a Sub-committee, which might be a very one-sided Sub-committee. I have not up to now really grasped the idea of appointing a Committee as against the whole membership of the body. When this comes to Committee I believe it will be very useful information for the Committee if they can find out how many cases have been dealt with under Section 5. It would also be useful information if we knew how many men were engaged on luxury building at the present time. I saw some figures given in a paper last week—I do not quite remember what they were—but they were astonishingly high. It would be interesting to know how many people in the building trade are engaged on this sort of building.
There has been a lot of opposition and criticism levelled against Clause 10. We are at one with all those who have criticised Clause 10. We do not like it at all. We think that the last thing which ought to be run for profit is anything which has to do with the mentally deficient. We do not think the principle is good at all. The principle in dealing with the mentally deficient ought to be curative and not profit. I think it is the wrong way about altogether, and we shall certainly oppose this Clause when the time comes to deal with it. I think it annuls one of the most important safeguards which we have in the Lunacy Act. The only safeguard that is given to the individual is annulled by this Clause 10. These places will soon come to be looked upon as half-way houses to the asylum. They will become very unpopular, there will be a lot of prejudice against them, and I do not think they will serve the purpose which is intended under this Clause. What we claim is that places of this sort ought to be public institutions under public authority and supervision and ought to be run on curative lines and not on detention lines. The Minister has referred to the number of ex-service men requiring treatment of this sort. I believe the ex-service man deserves much better treatment than to be detained in a home run for profit. I think ex-service men would resent this sort of thing. I do not think it is a fair proposal for that class of men. We shall oppose Clause 10 as strongly as we can.
With regard to Clause 11, judging from the speeches which we have listened to to-day, that Clause will receive very severe criticism, and I venture to say there will be a very large number of Amendments. However, there are a very many good points in this Clause 11. The Noble Lord who has just sat down (Lord H. Cecil), in talking about hospitals, mentioned the hospitals in connection with the workhouses, and he said there was not the same objection to those ac there was to the workhouses themselves. I do not agree with that. I believe there is the very same objection to any part of the workhouse as there is to the workhouse itself. I am rather proud of that. A very large majority of the people of this country resent anything in connection with the workhouse. The dignity of a lot of people is such that they would rather suffer than take the advantages which those places offer. I do not know that that is a spirit in our people that we ought to discourage. I venture to say that there will have to be a lot done with these 94,000 beds in these workhouse infirmaries before people will accept them or take advantage of them. It is no use talking about them becoming popular. There is a certain resentment against anything which belongs to the workhouse, and I am in total agreement with it. I believe we ought to make it possible for the whole of our people to get through their lives without the stigma of pauperism resting upon them at all.
Dealing with the rates, we do not favour these institutions coming on the rates. The rates are high enough already. The workers suffer from these high rates, and we do not want to place any institutions upon the rates that would make them still higher. There is a lot of objection to this Clause by certain people. I think the Executive of the Urban Councils Association more particularly are opposed to it. They say that sufficient consideration has not been given to the Poor Law question, or to the reports of the Councils which have been appointed to deal with the medical services of this country, hospitals and so on, and they are asking that, pending that fuller consideration, this Bill should be withdrawn. We do not agree with that. We believe there is good in this, and as far as the party to which I belong is concerned, we shall not vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. There are some points in this which are certainly Committee points. There are the Poor Law officers. They will have to be protected by something. I understand the Minister received a deputation composed of representatives of these people the other day. They need to be protected by some Clause.
There is the right to recover maintenance. That is a very reasonable looking thing in itself, but I venture to say that if these hospitals are to continue as voluntary hospitals that will have to go. The workers subscribe very liberally to these hospitals to-day, and in many places of which I know, they pay so much per week towards the upkeep of these institutions. If you charge the individual for these things, the organised workers will say, "There is no need for us to provide any more." I think this would mean a great loss to these institutions, and not a gain. We want these institutions to be perfectly free so that anybody can go there free instead of having to meet any of these claims. We say they should be free.
We come to Clause 17. This is a very serious matter to a lot of people in this House, because it proposes to make some payment to some people serving on public bodies. I do not think it means very much according to the limitations which the Minister has put upon it to-day, but I should like to say this, that the work of the administrative bodies of this country is worthy of all praise. The time, energy, thought and sacrifice which thousands of men have given in serving the community in which they live on these administrative bodies is something of which we ought to be proud. However, we have now reached the time when we believe that people who serve the community in any sense whatsoever ought to be paid for it. We do not want to minimise that at all. If the Minister only intends going as far as he promised us he was going today, we shall certainly bring in Amendments, and we shall certainly oppose that as strongly as we are able to. What is the tendency to-day? We have just passed through a coal strike. Fortunately, it is over. What are the proposals of the Government and of the coalowners of this country? What is their intention in the future? Is it not to fix up sub-committees between the owners and the workmen, or between the officials and the workmen, so that the output can be increased? Is not that one of the main points of the Government in fixing the new permanent national wages agreement about which they are talking? I listened the other night to the Port of London Bill being discussed. What was the complaint, not only from our side, but from different parts of the House?
It was stated that if the workmen had a greater share in the work, the Port of London Authority would run very much smoother than it is running to-day, and to very much greater advantage. If that is so, are you going to get the workers interested in all these different schemes, and get their assistance, by a policy of this sort which will crowd them out of administrative bodies because you will not pay them? The worker depends upon his day's wage on which to live and maintain himself and his family. It is said that a man must be away from his abode for 6 hours. How does that affect the worker? If a worker is on a public authority and a meeting is called during his working hours, whether it lasts 1 hour or 6 hours, his shift is gone, and he is short of a day's pay. I say again that every worker depends upon his day's pay for his living. The miners have to go down the pit every morning to the minute, not to the hour. They cannot attend any of these meetings, no matter how important they may be, without losing a day's pay. Take any industry you like on the surface. Can a man run away and leave his work for an hour or two and come back and take it up again? You know he cannot do anything of the sort. As long as the workers have a right to be on these administrative bodies—after all, the workers constitute the greatest number of the community and ought to be on these public bodies— they should be paid. I think it is a reasonable request. There was a Bill introduced by the Labour party, in May of this year, and there was one Clause in it which we shall certainly ask for again. I think it was nothing but a reasonable Clause. We ask that allowances should be granted at prescribed uniform rates for travelling expenses, personal expenses and time necessarily lost in attending such meetings. Nothing less than that will satisfy the Labour party. If you are going to oppose Labour getting on these administrative bodies, do it in a straight- forward manner and not in some mean sort of way such as this, by refusing to pay them. I think it would be more honourable to face the situation than to scheme something into a Bill which would make it impossible for them to be on these bodies.
I had some correspondence, and I rather think the Minister has had one or two letters, with regard to co-opted members. Generally speaking, I am not in favour of co-option at all The people co-opted are often as not there through not getting elected. Especially during the War there were a number of Bills and Orders hurried through the House which made, this co-option possible, and not only possible, but they invited different local bodies to co-opt members. The point raised by these people is whether this pay will apply to them or not. However, as I have said, so far as we are concerned, we are supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, because we believe there are a lot of good things in it, and, as usual, a few that are bad.
There are a great many Members who want to speak on this Bill, and I only propose to occupy a very short time for the purpose of dealing exclusively with certain financial aspects of the Bill. There are a great many things which my hon. Friend who has just sat down said with which I am in complete agreement, more especially in what he said about the lunacy Clause and Parliamentary control over expenditure, but I must confess I am not at all in agreement with his suggestion that outside and above this Bill we should still spend more public money in regard to housing, as I understood him, and also in regard to expenses paid to persons who attend meetings. Here is a Bill which seems to me to be one more Bill which is absolutely stuffed with expenditure and money.
The right hon. Gentleman really seems to think that the public purse is bottomless, and we go on with scheme after scheme without any regard to the situation of the country. We really must call a halt in this respect.
I hope the hon. Member will allow me to go on. We really must call a halt to this enormous expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think the taxpayers and the ratepayers are mere shadows, mere abstract propositions that do not exist. But, after all, we are not only Members of Parliament here; we are ordinary members of the taxpaying and ratepaying public, and, I am quite sure, if we allow the Government to go on month after month, and year after year, bringing in these expensive Bills, however good they may be, they will ruin the country by trying to improve it. I should like to take some of the financial points of this Bill. In the first place, it contains the beginning of a vast scheme for the alteration of the medical service. It also contains the beginning of a vast scheme for the alteration of the Poor Law, because my objection to this Bill is not really so much the expenditure actually within the four corners of the Bill, but that really this Bill is merely the beginning of a long series of social reforms. This is the commencement, to my mind, of a series of the most expensive and far-reaching so-called social reforms this country has ever seen, and I am very sorry indeed that we have not got a White Paper showing what is going to be expended under this Bill. I am sure that hon. Members, especially my hon. Friend who has just sat down, who mentioned Parliamentary control, will agree that it is most inadvisable to start a most complicated Bill of this kind without having a financial statement. I think at Question Time the other day my right hon. Friend said he was going to publish it in time for the Committee stage, but the Committee stage is not the House. It is restricted to a certain number of Members, and I do not think it is fair to the House in general that a very important statement of that character should not be circulated.
There is the Memorandum, which would have shown to a very large extent how much money is going to be spent in rates on this Bill. Apparently that Memorandum was published a couple of days ago, and I am not yet aware of a single Member of the House who has seen that Memorandum I have not got it. It was certainly not sent round with the Parliamentary Papers. It may have been mentioned in the Pink Papers. I certainly think the right hon. Gentleman should have taken great trouble to see that that Memorandum, giving his ideas of what it was going to cost to the rates, should have reached every Member of the House before this Debate. I should like very rapidly to take one or two of these Clauses from a financial point of view. We have got, for instance, Clause 10, which treats of a very grave subject, with very important provisions in regard to lunacy, and you have got the appointment by the Minister of, apparently, what is going to be an army of inspectors. I should very much like to know bow often they are going to inspect, and how many inspectors the right hon. Gentleman expects to have? It is going to be a charge on the public Exchequer, because the right hon. Gentleman is going to pay them himself. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, in his reply, or whoever replies for him, can give us some indication of the expenditure which will be necessitated by this very large army of inspectors, because, apparently, you may have a centre for treatment in almost every village in the land.
Then we come to Clause 11, under which county councils may contribute to voluntary hospitals and other institutions. That is going to be a very large burden on the rates, and I feel that, before we agree to this scheme, we ought to know, more or less clearly, what are the right hon. Gentleman's intentions with regard to two reports which have been presented lately. I refer to the report which practically suggests a complete alteration of the Poor Law, and also to the report of the consultative council, which deals with the whole future conditions of medical service. This Bill is only one step to those two reforms, and I think we ought to know, before giving our sanc
tion to this, what the right hon. Gentleman's intentions are with regard to carrying out the suggestions in those two reports. Even the last report contains an enormous scheme which proposes primary health centres, cottage hospitals all over the country, secondary health centres, large county hospitals and a comprehensive scheme of medical treatment for the whole of the community. It gives diagrams and maps. It recommends the establishment of dental clinics and recuperative centres, and, in fact, it leaves no point untouched except one, and that is what eventually it is going to cost. I should like to remind the House that this report contains a prefatory note by the right hon. Gentleman himself, signed "C. Addison." I only want to make it quite clear that this preface actually came from the hand of my right hon. Friend. This is the scheme for the whole reform of medical service in this country. The right hon. Gentleman said:
Action is being taken by the Ministry of Health and the local authorities in relation to a number of matters touched upon in the Report, and proposals for action in other directions are in process of formulation. Many of the council's recommendations must necessarily be considered in relation to a comprehensive policy for the extension and development of health services, including the question of the future administration of services at present entrusted to poor law authorities, which will be submitted to Parliament by the Government in due course.
Therefore, I say this Bill is only a small beginning of some of the more enormously extensive schemes that this country has ever seen. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), who sits behind the Minister, is much more than a private secretary, if I may say so. I am sure he will not mind my saying that he is practically an Under-Secretary to the Minister of Health, because he replies to the Government very frequntly in Committee upstairs. My hon. Friend addressed a meeting of his constituents in Woolwich the other day. My hon. Friend was trying to show the ratepayers that, although the rates had increased, Government grants had increased enormously, and he practically went on to show, indirectly, that the more the rates increased the more Governments grants would increase as well. He said:
It was true that the total amount of rates had approximately doubled since 1914. The Government grants during the same period had been trebled.
Therefore, I say that these schemes are not merely going to fall on the rates. My hon. Friend knows perfectly well, and so does my right hon. Friend, that they will carry with them enormous Government grants in future. It is perfectly true that in this Clause about voluntary hospitals payment for services is permissive, but the local authorities are going to be able to do all these things without let or hindrance. They are not obliged to hold any inquiry. They are not obliged to give any notice at all. They can do the whole of these things without asking the ratepayers one way o[...] another. In addition to this, the decision taken by the local authority to take over a poor law hospital entirely ties the hands of their successors, for a further council cannot possibly throw away a hospital taken over. I do not think it is fair that you should allow any council to incur this very large expenditure, to embark upon these tremendous schemes, without putting the matter in the first place before the ratepayers.
Clause 13 I do not think has been mentioned by way of comment, there is so much in the Bill. But, really, it is quite impossible even in the course of one day to refer to everything. In Clause 13 you have a further extension, apparently, of the appointment of hosts of food inspectors, but it is very vague. I do not in the least know how many are to be appointed, or what the cost is going to be. I quite agree that they are not going to be paid out of the public exchequer but out of the rates, but is not the right hon. Gentleman in this Clause encouraging the spending of money out of the rates? Wt come to Clause 17 dealt with by my Noble Friend (Earl Winterton) and by various other speakers. You have here got further expenses and subscriptions by the local authorities to associations or institutions formed for the purpose of assisting local authorities. That is pretty wide. You have also the expenses of persons attending meetings of associations. As my Noble Friend opposite who inaugurated this Debate said, surely it is inopportunte to incur these expenses. Surely we can wait a year or two. Really what is the hurry, and why should we not do what a man does who is hard up? Surely this nation is quite sufficiently hard up to do as the man would do—try to cut down expenses. Such a man does not immediately do his best to plunge into more
or less unnecessary expenditure. This Clause may lead to hundreds of thousands of pounds being taken out of the rates. In any case, it will probably be a very large sum. The other day there was a meeting held of the Executive of the County Councils Association. I think my right hon. Friend, when he was making his speech, pointed out that these expenses would be very low, that there would not be very much taken out of the rates, and that local authorities would take great care to keep the Bill as low as possible. Therefore I am very much perturbed that at this meeting held last week of the County Councils Association the Executive passed a resolution saying:
That the expenses should not be limited to members of those bodies engaged in this business, but that expenses should be paid to anybody whom the local authority chooses to employ.
I need not go through the series of Resolutions passed by this Executive meeting of the County Councils' Association asking that far more expenses should be allowed—in regard to people travelling about, maintenance, and subsistence for the people they employ, and so on; but it shows perfectly well, if it shows anything, that far from trying to be economical in these matters, the probability is that very large sums of money will be spent.
There is one more point—with regard to Clause 18—about which I should like to make a remark or two. My Noble Friend, the Member for Horsham, dealt with Clause 18, and I rather think my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) did too, but I should like to remind the House, if hon. Members have not noticed it, that under Section 69 of the Local Government Act, 1888, referred to by my Noble Friend, it is laid down—
Where the total debt of a county council exceeds a certain proportion of its annual rateable value it shall not be able to borrow any more money except by a Provisional Order laid before this House.
I do not think reference was made to that particular point, but this Clause 18 deletes that provision and substitutes the Ministry, that is to say, the Executive, for Parliament. I do appeal to Parliament to do what it can to adhere to its powers over finance. We have not got very many powers over finance left. Esti-
mates are presented year by year in such a form that not one hon. Member out of five hundred can understand them. Opportunities for discussion are very limited. I do think when we have a Bill with a Clause in it taking away one of the few remaining powers we still possess we ought to watch it very jealously indeed.
The final point I want to make in regard to finance relates to Clause 21. I do not think this has been mentioned by any previous speaker. Clause 21 provides that a local authority may, subject to the approval of the Minister, contribute to the expenses of any local savings committee, and so on. There seems to be no end to the generosity of the right hon. Gentleman. What amount has he in mind I should like to know, and I would very much like to have an estimate in regard to this particular character of subscription. Anyway, I feel that expenses of this kind certainly ought to be charged against interest receipts. It is going to act unfavourably towards all other savings, against building societies, savings banks, and such like. That is to say, that this Clause allows depositors in this particular kind of savings bank to have their expenses paid out of the whole of the community. Therefore that requires to be looked into very carefully. It seems to me the great problem, as the Noble Lord, the Member for Oxford University, so very much more eloquently said than I can: is not how to spend money, but how to economise!
The whole question is looked upon, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Health, from a different point of view. He does not in the least consider the question, though a scheme is a good one, whether this country can really afford it. To my mind the question for him to decide in these matters is not really what reform he requires, is not really what he wants to do, and whether or not a certain scheme will improve the conditions of the community at large; but really, at the moment, what his reforms are going to cost. I feel so strongly about this that I have put down an Amendment not for the rejection of the Bill, but for the rejection unless the right hon. Gentleman shows that the cost is not going to be very heavy. I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend and he certainly has not satisfied me, and my mind is very largely guided in this matter by these two schemes to which I have referred and which are in the reports beside me. These show me quite plainly that this Bill cannot stand by itself. It must be considered along with these other two schemes which the right hon. Gentleman has got in his office, and which, I take it, he means to carry out. That being so, I certainly, if the Noble Lord opposite (Earl Winterton) divides against this Bill, shall accompany him into the Lobby.
In the few words I propose to address to the House I do not propose to say anything out of harmony with that desire for economy and for watchfulness over financial and local expenditure for which the hour indeed calls. But it is not enough, it seems to me, nor does it get us very far in the consideration of problems which are largely administrative, merely to say one is in favour of economy and to criticise certain parts of this Bill in the same restrictive fashion. My hon. Friend who has just spoken, as always, with great point, has on this occasion quite unwittingly misrepresented the attitude of the County Councils towards expenditure. I do not propose to argue about the suggestions as regards attending meetings, and so on; as a matter of fact, when we come to that Clause the right hon. Gentleman will find that, on behalf of the County Councils, the hon. Member for Yorkshire and myself will have put down Amendments which will secure greater control and oversight over that expenditure. The real sentiments and principles on which the County Councils are now acting are best expressed in a resolution which was passed yesterday week by the Executive Council of the Association. This resolution was proposed by Lord Galway, president; I, as chairman, had the honour to second it, and it was supported by Sir A. W. Chapman (vice-chairman) and chairman of the Surrey County Council. That is three chairmen of County Councils, for I happen to be chairman of the Northamptonshire County Council. The resolution runs:
That considering the very high taxation and local rates now in force the County Councils' Association would urge upon the Government the necessity of reducing or postponing for the present the schemes of the various departments, as to carry them out under existing circumstances would involve larger increases in the rates than the various county councils would, in the opinion of the Association, be justified in incurring.
This Resolution was carried, after several speeches, at a rather big meeting, with only one dissentient. Perhaps as one with some inside knowledge, as being associated with these local authorities, and also having the honour to be Chairman of the Consultative Council at the Ministry of Health, I may say I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman who last spoke, that the proposals in this Bill are merely, or are at all, preliminary to or have any necessary connection with, large schemes of public health such as that developed in the famous medical Report of Lord Dawson's Committee, or the other scheme to which he referred. Some of us, in fact, all of us, are perfectly willing to go slowly in this matter. The great scheme of Lord Dawson's Committee is a counsel of perfection, and his view of public health is exclusively from a medical point of view.
If this country were as wealthy now as before the War, I say frankly, a good deal of that experiment ought to be tried, but as the country is to-day, after the War, I say there should not be any attempting a larger experiment in the present condition of our finance. You cannot, and ought not, at this moment, to carry into effect large schemes, however good they may be, and however ultimately, adroitly, and properly adjusted to local government conditions. While this is not the time for bringing such large schemes into effect, we surely all the more ought to consider what is necessary at the time in order to be able to carry out local government with efficiency and without waste. I share to a considerable extent the criticisms which have been passed upon this Bill as it stands because there is too much in it of a varied kind. I can only compare it to a Neapolitan ice, and I propose to deal with one layer of it. As regards housing, I think the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that there is no large additional expenditure, but that matter can be threshed out in Committee. I must, however, join with others in opposing and criticising putting into this Bill the power to develop housing schemes in the hands of a committee of the council. I understand that under the earlier Clauses of this Bill where all local authorities are deciding whether building expenditure other than that on houses should go one, as the law is to-day that decision has to be taken by the council. I understand that under this Bill that decision would be taken with full executive power by a committee. I think my right hon. Friend will find that, after full discussion, it is desirable to leave that executive power, not to a committee sitting with closed doors, but for the consideration and decision of the whole council. The next layer of the ice deals with the mental cases which do not amount to lunacy. I agree with many speakers that it is very desirable to detach the treatment of such sad cases. It may also be desirable that some judicial person should have the opportunity of giving advice before persons surrender their freedom even for that purpose.
With regard to hospitals, I am grateful to the Minister for restricting that Clause. I think there is a real case for enabling county councils to take over poor law infirmaries, and get them away from the poor law taint so that thousands of beds now empty may be used. That is a matter upon which, as far as economy is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman need not be afraid of meeting public criticism or inquiry. I think, however, that is as far as the House will go on that Clause. I see danger in allowing county councils and county borough councils to subscribe to hospitals. If voluntary hospitals require any assistance other than voluntary contributions—and nothing is more admirable than Hospital Week all over the country—it had much better be obtained in the form of a Government grant subject to audit and inspection than by a contribution from the rates, which would be much more likely to sap and weaken the springs of voluntary contributions.
Having said this, I would respectfully ask the House not to consider that because this Bill is open to criticisms in these particulars it is not worth supporting. A good deal of this Bill has been wanted for a long time by local authorities, such as those who have passed resolutions like the one which I have read to the House. I do not agree with the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) that it is wrong at this time to extend the period for loans. At the present time many of the local authorities in this country hardly know how to carry on not their new scheme, but the ordinary routine duties put upon them by Parlia- ment, because of the extreme difficulties both of rising rates, and getting loans for necessary work at anything like reasonable rates. As that state of things arises not from the crimes of local authorities but from the general world conditions arising out of the War, it is only right and proper that those who come after us and upon whom the repayment of these loans will largely fall, should have their share of the responsibility, for they have been saved, and will have been saved, by the victory achieved by this country and its Allies. If they share in the victory they should share in the responsibilities involved.
As for Clause 22, not only do we want that in the Bill but we want another Section added in respect of pauper lunatics, which would save money and administrative trouble. Clause 23 gives power to the local authority having land for one purpose to use it for another local purpose, and that will prevent attempts to buy fresh land at a time when the cost is artificially high. That is a provision which is absolutely necessary. Clause 14 contains a proposal empowering the port sanitary authorities to inspect aliens and that is surely necessary in the interests of the health of the country. With regard to Clause 19, surely it is important that county and borough mortgages should be considered as trust securities, for they are just as safe, and safer very often, than some other things which come within the scope of the Trustee Acts. I know it may be considered that these plain prosaic provisions to help local authorities to do their daily unexciting work are not very attractive, and I know it is much easier to fasten on some particular Clauses on which may be based rhetorical strictures which we all enjoy. Speaking on behalf of administrators in English and Welsh counties, I wish to say that we are most anxious that a number of these Clauses should pass into law, not to make it easier for us to be wasteful, but to make it easier for us to administrate more fairly without waste. I shall be quite prepared in Committee to support in greater detail the thesis which I am putting before, the House.
It is because a large part of this Bill is wanted, and is economical and necessary, that I cannot vote with my Noble Friend against the Second Reading. At the same time I say to my right hon. Friend and the House that I entirely agree with that frame of mind which leads hon. Members to insist that now is the time for economy, and not for expenditure. New schemes must wait and others must be carried out with the greatest care. Whether it is necessary to have all the provisions of this Bill, or whether the Bill may in Committee be relieved of some of those provisions which have not the advantage which many of us see in those to which I have specially referred, we can consider in Committee. It is not right, however, that we should have no Bill at all to make local government work more smoothly.
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has expressed a wish that certain reforms may be carried out in this country. I am not going to take any exception to his wish, nor am I going to oppose the reforms in this Bill. This Measure as it stands now is a bad one, and I will show where I think it is bad. Like other hon. Members, I have taken part in local government, and I know from my own experience what the effect is of a provision like Clause 18, Sub-section (5). When my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) drew attention to this Clause, I could scarcely believe my own eyes, and I could not think what he said was correct. Since then I have read the Clause, and I have come to the conclusion that the Noble Lord is perfectly correct. Here are the words of Sub-section (5):
Where any local authority, owing to circumstances arising out of the War, have been unable to make the requited provision by means of a sinking fund or otherwise for the due discharge of any loan, the authority may submit to the Minister a scheme making provision for the discharge of the loan whether by extending or varying the period within which the loan may be discharged or otherwise, and the Minister may, if he thinks fit, approve any such scheme either with or without modifications.
That is to say, a municipality will have the power of extending the time during which a loan is to be paid back.
I think it is simply a scandal that a Bill like this should contain power, without the consent of the lender, to do something which is practically a breach of faith. Clause 4 con-
tains a principle which Mr. McKenna particularly impressed upon the country must not be pursued, that you must not borrow money in order to pay interest. Clause 4, Subjection 1, paragraph (6), contains the following provision:
To borrow money for the purpose of defraying any expenses (including interest payable in respect of money borrowed under this section) incurred by the local authority in connection with any such works as aforesaid.