I beg to move, in page 4, line 27, after the word "is," to insert the words
or has before the commencement of this Act been.
As the Sub-section at present stands, it applies to cases which may arise in the future, but does not deal with the cases which have already arisen where a child, by order of the Court, has been removed from the custody of the mother, and my Amendment is to provide that in respect of those children who, before the passing of the Act, had been removed from the custody of the parent, an additional allowance shall be paid to the person to whose charge the child has been committed.
It is right to say that we find the whole of Clause 6 absolutely objectionable, and we are going to oppose every proposed Amendment which extends the power of the Minister to decide whether an allowance shall go to the widow, or be diverted to some other person. We do not do this at all merely because this is an Amendment moved by the Minister, but we have in this Clause one of the very worst examples of bureaucracy which is conceivable. I have pointed out before how, day after day, we are increasing the power of the Government, and increasing the power of the State to interfere with the private lives of individuals. Yesterday the question of whether people should marry or not was a matter which was left to the Minister, and now we are asked to give the Minister power to decide where the children of married people should reside, and under whose custody they should be. The Minister has the power to decide where the pension is to go.
I am explaining why it is we are opposing this Amendment. We decline to strengthen this Clause in any way. I am perfectly familiar with the purpose of the Clause. What I am pointing out is that this Clause gives, in one part, certain powers to the Court, and in other parts certain powers to the Minister himself, to decide as to the custody of the child—not the direct legal custody, but the power to decide whether the pension should go to the mother or anyone else, according to whether he is satisfied or not. In this Sub-section we are dealing with the order of the Court, but I am explaining that we refuse to give any facilities, because here you have got an entirely new principle. It may or may not be right that a competent tribunal—and the right hon. Gentleman will agree he is not a competent tribunal, because he is not a Court of law—should decide where the custody should reside, but we will not submit without a struggle to the very worst type of servile Socialism being vested in a Minister of State, namely, the decision where the custody should reside.
It is not vested in me. I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to read his brief a little more closely. There is no question of vesting discretionary power in the Minister, or anyone else. Once the child has been removed from the custody of the Court, the allowance is paid over to the person who is to look after the child.
I am perfectly aware of that. I am attacking the whole principle of the Clause, because I shall probably be closured if I want to deal with the latter part at a later stage, and the treatment we have received makes it necessary to say at this stage what our objections are. I resent very much the suggestion that I am speaking from a brief, as if I were saying that in which I do not believe myself. I have always in this House fought for the liberty of the individual against the tyranny of the official. I do not believe in that kind of servile Socialism. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, if it is not servile Socialism, it is Tory servile Socialism, or Tory servility without Socialism. If a Minister of State is to decide the matter of whether a child shall live with its parent or not, then I say there can be not a spark of liberty left in this House at all. We will do nothing to facilitate the passage of this Clause, and we, therefore, refuse either to agree to this Amendment or any subsequent Amendment which will give the Minister a power to interfere in private domestic matters. We failed to prevent him from interfering in private matrimonial affairs, and we now want to prevent him from dealing with the custody of children.
There is a great deal in this Clause to which many on this side take great objection, but I do not understand there is any particular objection to this Amendment. The Amendment is this: If a child be put by the Court under the custody of somebody else, the allowance is paid to that somebody else. But there may be some children who have already been put under the charge of another person. What I want to ask the Minister is, supposing this Amendment were not carried, who would get the allowance in respect of the child? I think the Minister's power under this Clause is too great, but supposing the Amendment be not carried, what person would receive the allowance?
The Court decides that a woman is not a suitable person for the custody of her child and that the child has to be handed over to some other person. This Amendment, I know, does not affect the allowance for the child to be given to the second person. Notwithstanding all that, the provision laid down in a subsequent Section is going to give the Minister the right to authorise the local authority to take over the custody of the child. The Sub-section goes on further to say that
the Minister, if satisfied that the allegations of the representation are true, and that it would be in the interest of the child so to do, may direct that the additional allowance or orphan's pension shall be paid to the person having; the charge of the child or to any other person approved by the Minister ….
It, therefore, means this, that notwithstanding the fact that the Court may decide that person A is not a suitable person to have the custody of the child, and may transfer that custody to person B, the Minister has the right to transfer the custody of the child from person B to person C. But our objection to this transfer is not confined to this particular aspect of the question. It is because we are looking at the question as a whole that we object to this procedure. Undoubtedly, if this particular Clause or Sub-section were the whole Clause, with nothing following, possibly we should have very little to say. But so far as we can read the Sub-section the Court is not to be the final arbiter in regard to the custody of the child, who may ultimately come under the supervision of the local authority. I should like the Minister to
give us some further information as to what exactly is to be the subsequent procedure following that I have mentioned.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not meet the objection—with which I entirely associate myself. It is palpably sound on this particular matter. I think I see what the Minister is aiming at in this partcular Amendment. It is dealing with children who already, before the coming into existence of this Act, happened to be in charge of some person, and whose fate, therefore, as having an award in that respect, has been decided. I would like to ask the Minister, would it not be possible to add some words making it possible for the mother of the child to be considered as the suitable person? Her claim might be reconsidered when she wishes to get some money for looking after the child. My experience is—and I have had a very large amount of experience in dealing with very poor people—that there are mothers who were considered unsuitable for looking after their children because they had not got the money to look after them.
Very frequently you get poor, vicious, immoral, drunken people—as you do in all classes of society—people who are very often unfitted to deal with, or to look after their children, because they are driven by poverty and the considerations incident thereto to behave in a very undesirable way, and in a way that parents of children ought not to behave. I believe one of the good features of giving pensions to widows and orphans will be that it will make it more possible for widows to look after their children. I am making a suggestion, that I hope the Minister will take quite seriously, when I say that I really believe the money given to the mother may be sufficient to enable her to look after her own children in a capable manner, and I hope the Minister may be able to make what I am suggesting possible.
The ex-Solicitor-General has made a point on the whole Clause which, I confess, I am rather disposed to think is right. Note in Subsection (1) that where by order of the Court the custody of the child is given to someone else, then the additional allowance paid to the mother shall be given to such person as the Court may order; so that it is not taken out of the hands of the Court at all. What the Amendment does is to provide that, where by order of the Court or by any order that has been made, the custody of the child is in the hands of some person other than the mother, then the additional allowance shall also be dealt with by an order. That being so, I think there can be no objection to it. I really understood the objection taken by the ex-Solicitor-General was that now was a suitable time to use this as a lever to raise the broader question as to the extensive powers given to the Ministry of Health. If he is prepared to argue that power, I am prepared to argue the matter with him, but for the moment I do not see any objection to this Amendment.
I am sure that the Minister will already have learned the feeling of the Committee in regard to these powers over the children, whether given to the local authority or to the Ministry itself. I do ask the Minister to appreciate the difficulties with which we are confronted in this matter, for it is no use blinking our eyes to the facts as we see them. I am going to ask the Minister as to whether, in preparing this Clause, the Ministry have been in touch with the Ministry of Pensions? That Ministry, so far as I know, has had to deal with exactly the same type of cases that fall to be dealt with under this scheme. I had occasion to inquire into more than one case of the kind dealt with by the Ministry of Pensions, and I understand that the Ministry of Pensions have a scheme in hand dealing in a very humane way with the matter. I have no reason to doubt that the Ministry of Health, in everything they will have to do in these difficult circumstances—
On a point of Order. It might be for the convenience of the Committee that we should know what we are discussing. The hon. Gentleman opposite wishes to put a question about a matter which is dealt with in another part of the Clause. By the Amendment we are seeking to make provision in the first Sub-section of the Clause, which now applies in cases arising after the commencement of the Act, to cases which arose before the commencement of the Act. I put it to you, Captain FitzRoy, that the Committee is entirely our of order at the moment.
On a point of Order. Would not this matter be perfectly in order on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill"? But then the right hon. Gentleman rises and moves the Closure.
I feel that the right hon. Gentleman was not justified in interrupting me in my speech. I have never yet got up at this Box to deal with this Bill except to make very practical suggestions. I have never said a single word on this Bill except on points dealing with administration. I am now going to deal with the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, who wants to insert words in this Sub-section, and I am dealing with the words which he wishes to insert by way of Amendment. I want to deal with cases that he desires to include by his Amendment. I want to ask quite a sensible question, and that is as to whether the Ministry, when they were thinking of inserting these words in the Amendment, ever consulted the Ministry of Pensions as to the scheme of that Ministry for dealing with exactly the same type of case which will be dealt with under this Clause. We ought to be assured right away as to whether the Ministry of Health has secured information from the other Departments of State, which have had to deal with exactly the same type of case with which we are dealing in this Clause.
I will endeavour to answer the questions, which I recognise are prompted by a sincere desire to obtain information. But I am bound to say that the speech of the hon. Gentleman shows clearly that he is trying to do the thing that I suggested. That is to say, that he desired to deal with cases which are not covered by this Amendment. An order of the Court leaves no discretion to my Department at all. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen have appreciated that point. I think the hon. Member for the Broxstow Division (Mr. G. Spencer) did not appreciate the difference between the cases dealt with in the first Sub-section of the Clause and those dealt with in a subsequent Clause. It is this: that the first Sub-section only deals with a case where there is an order of the Court. There are many cases in which it would be in the interest of the child that the allowance should be paid to some other person than the mother, and where there is no order of the Court and these are the cases referred to by the hon. Member. I think the Committee will see that there is no inconsistency between Sub-section (1) and Sub-section (2) of the Clause, Sub-section (1) lays down quite precisely what will happen to the child. Then as to the point raised by the hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. H. Guest), there is no necessity to add any words to what we suggest, because the Court which has the whole of the circumstances before it will be able to decide whether, if the widow obtains a pension for herself and an allowance for her children, she would be the proper person to take care of the child. The Court have heard the circumstances, and the Court will decide. The Committee will see that the right person to have the allowance made for the purpose of helping to maintain the child should be paid to the one who maintains it.
I do not think the Minister has yet fully appreciated the point. By an order of the Court, a child may be transferred from its mother to a second person. That second person may prove to be totally unsatisfactory for the care of the child. Would there have to be a new order to get the child transferred from the second person, or has the Minister power, on the representation of the local authority, to get the child removed from the second person to the local authority, notwithstanding the order which has been made?
Can the Minister say whether there is any provision in the Bill to meet a case where the mother reforms? It is quite possible that after her child has been taken away she may reform— the fact that it has been taken away may lead to that regeneration. Is there anything in the Bill which makes it easy for the mother to get back the child?
I beg to move, in page 4, line 28, after the word "payable", to insert the words "an orphan's pension shall be substituted for."
This is the first of three Amendments the object of which is to raise the allowance given to the class of children with which this Clause deals from the scale allowed for them when their mothers are alive to the scale to which they would be entitled if they were orphans. In the case of the first child in a family it raises the allowance from 5s. to 7s. 6d., and so far as the second child is concerned, it raises it from 3s. to 7s. 6d. Very few words of mine will be required to commend this Amendment to the Committee, and, I hope, to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. The object of the Amendment must be obvious. The proposal as it stands will not make for satisfactory working. The Minister has made a very natural distinction between the allowance which is given to a mother for her child and the allowance given to a person who is keeping an orphan child, because a person having an orphan child needs a larger sum to look after it. In the cases we are now considering, the child is practically an orphan. Either through the fault of the mother, or perhaps through no fault of hers—for example, she may have become insane—she is no longer suitable to have the care of the child. In that case the child is deprived of the care of the father and of the care of the mother, and is, in effect, an orphan, and we ask that in such a case the allowance should be adequate to maintain it. It is not adequate under the Bill as it stands. After the first child, for which the allowance is 5s., there is only 3s. for each subsequent child, and it must be perfectly clear that 3s. will be totally inadequate to enable a child to be properly looked after.
I can conceive of only two objections to this proposal. The first is as to the cost. I recognise, of course, that the provisions of the Bill have to be such that the cost of the scheme as a whole can be met out of the finances available. The cost of this Amendment will be absolutely microscopic, because the number of children in this position are exceedingly few, and, therefore, I do not think the Minister will raise the objection of cost. The other objection I can imagine being brought forward would be that the father has presumably paid for an allowance for his child on a certain basis in the event of his death; there is no ground for increasing the allowance, even in the unfortunate event of the mother being unable to look after the child. That, surely, is not the point. The payments were made by the father with the object of ensuring that the child would be looked after in the event of his death, and if the mother is an unsuitable person to look after the child that is no reason why this practically orphan child should not receive the attention to which he or she is entitled, and for which the father has paid. I think the Minister will appreciate these points, and I hope he will be able to accept the Amendment.
I have examined this suggestion with some care, because on the face of it it makes a certain appeal to our sympathies, but I have come to the conclusion that I cannot accept it. I have not come to that conclusion on the ground of cost. The hon. Member is, of course, correct in saying that it would add to the cost of this scheme, but I do not think it would be a very serious addition, although, whatever it was, it would by so much diminish the resources at my disposal for some other purpose. I am not putting my disagreement with the proposal on that ground. I put it on two grounds. The first is an administrative ground, and the second ground is that it does not seem to me to be consistent with equity in regard to the pensions fund. As regards administration. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) spoke of these particular widows as being, in some cases, virtually out of the picture so far as the child is concerned, and he represented the child as being an orphan, but that is not quite accurate. The widow is temporarily out of account as the mother of the child, but not necessarily permanently. The child may be in the position of an orphan for the time being, but at any time the mother may get back into normal relations with the child, and then, of course, we ought to go back from the orphan allowance to the children's allowance. That would be an extraordinarily difficult thing to work. An order might be varied, and the child be given back to the custody of the mother, but we should not get notice of the revocation of the order, and these very much larger orphan allowances would continue to be paid when all the mother was entitled to was the lower allowance.
It might be some little time before the information came to the Department. I have no doubt it would come ultimately, but payments at the higher rate of 7s. 6d. for every child instead of 5s. or 3s. might go on for quite a long time. The mother might be insane and confined to an asylum, and if she came out of the asylum there would be another case where we should get the difficulty. Then there is the other point. Take the case of two widows with children. One woman is decent, hard-working, a good mother, looking after her children, and receiving the normal allowance of 5s. and 3s. in respect of them. In her case the whole charge upon the pensions fund is limited to what is paid out on that scale. The second woman is a bad mother, such a bad mother that the Court decides that she is not to have the custody of the child. In that case the charge on the pension fund is increased by the difference between the children's allowance, and the orphan allowance. It does not seem to me to be right that the pension fund should have to pay more because it is a case of a bad mother. The cumulative effect of these various considerations upon my mind has led me to say that I cannot accept this Amendment.
I want to suggest to the Minister that the two reasons he has given are not very conclusive. I was glad to hear him say there is no financial difficulty in the way of accepting this Amendment, and if we can persuade him that there is no real administrative difficulty, and that real hardship falls upon the children concerned, I hope he will be prepared to meet us. On the administrative difficulty he said it might happen that a child which has been away from the mother for a time might go back to the mother, and that the higher rate would continue to be paid, although the mother was entitled to get only a lower rate. In every case where the child is taken out of the custody of the parent, and either put in an institution or handed to the charge of somebody else, arrangements have to be made to pay the money either to the institution or to the other person; and when the mother took back the child a rearrangement as to payments would be necessary, and it would always be possible for the Ministry to see that an accurate adjustment was made. There may be other considerations, but I think that meets the administrative difficulty.
The other point made by the Minister seemed to be an unworthy point to put before the Committee. He referred to cases in which there is a bad mother, but there are also cases where the mother is suffering from some kind of disability, and whatever the reason for removing the child from the custody of the mother, surely it is not right to penalise the child for the sins of the parents? The position of children who have been taken away from bad homes is rather more pathetic than that of orphans themselves, because, obviously, they have been undergoing very hard times before they were taken away. The right hon. Gentleman said we were introducing too much sympathy into this matter, but I think this is a case which claims our consideration and sympathy and generosity even more than the children who are actually orphans themselves. We ought not to penalise these children for something over which they have no control because of some defect in their parents, and they ought to be put on the same footing of equality with other orphan children. I suggest that this is a case in which the important consideration of finance does not enter, and on the grounds of equity alone the right hon. Gentleman should treat these children on the same basis as orphan children.
As a rule in these cases the vouchers are bound up in book form, all of them being payable to one person only. In those cases the Minister is bound to be communicated with before payment can be made to any other person. There is this further point, and it is that, in the case of a child being placed in the custody of some person other than its mother, it is essential that the sum should be increased if it is financially possible to do so. It would be a difficult thing to persuade any woman to undertake the custody of a child as a commercial proposition, quite apart from the difficulty which has been raised by the Minister. From my own experience I can say that the figure that would be charged by a poor woman for taking custody of such a child would be at least 15s. per week, and I do not think in a scheme of this sort we have any right to expect that a poor woman should be prepared to subsidise this particular scheme out of charity by providing maintenance of this kind because the figure allowed under this Bill was not sufficient. I hope this point will be pressed upon the Minister. Seeing that this is not a question of finance, it should be a matter on which the right hon. Gentleman should be pleased and anxious to give what has been asked for.
This is not so much an appeal to sympathy as an appeal to logic. So far as pensions are payable on behalf of orphans, it is recognised by the Government that 7s. 6d. per week is a much more equitable sum that the additional sum which is given in the ordinary way. That extra amount of 7s. 6d. must have been placed in the Act with regard to orphans for some good reason, and it is that in the case of children not in the care of the mother you have a third person intervening, and you cannot expect the same loving care and self-sacrifice to be shown. Here we have a position where the child is in exactly the same position as the orphan, and if there is any reason for an additional allowance in the case of a child under the care of an institution, surely the same argument that applies in the case of an orphan ought to apply in the case of a child under the care of a third person.
With regard to the administrative difficulty, I suggest as against the logical position involved and the humanity of the thing, surely the question of administrative difficulty is one of a very small character. I am sure that in the working of all the insurance schemes that have been in operation, you have had and do have much greater administrative difficulties than this. I do not want to say that the point has been put forward merely as an excuse to oppose the Amendment, but it does seem to me to be an entirely trivial excuse. As for equity, I object, as the last speaker has done, to the principle of allowing the sins of the parents to be visited on the shoulders of the children. It is not a question of that kind here. There might be a case in the ordinary way of helping the child so as not to encourage parents not to accept their natural responsibility, but this is not involved here because the child is taken away for a definite and good reason, and if it is admitted to be desirable on the ground of the cost of keeping a child that the amount should be 7s. 6d. in an institution, surely the sum should be the same, because the child in this case is practically an orphan.
This Amendment makes a strong appeal to me, and I ask the Minister if he cannot possibly reconsider his refusal. Is it not possible to look at the matter more from the point of view of the child? I hope it is not so much a question of what is fair between the parent as what is fair to the child, and it is obviously necessary to allow more for the child separated than for a child living with its mother.
I notice that the Committee takes a very sympathetic view of this Amendment, and I feel very strongly the points which have been put to me. I am afraid, however, that the administrative difficulties are rather greater than hon. Members seem to think. In considering this Amendment, I have also to consider another standing in the name of same hon. Member on another page, the effect of which is to make the same provision as is proposed here also in the case where the widow has deserted or abandoned or ceases to support her child. I was much impressed with the observations which fell from the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who distinguished between this particular case and that of a child which had been separated from its mother by an order of the Court or otherwise. Perhaps I might meet this case by accepting this Amendment on the understanding that the hon. Member will not press the same Amendment which he was going to move later. Upon that understanding I shall be glad to accept this Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 15, at the end, to insert the words
Provided that where the widow or other person to whom the additional allowance or orphan's pension is payable has not had an opportunity of presenting her case personally to the local authority, or a person appointed for the purpose by the local authority, the Minister, except in such cases as may be prescribed, shall, before giving any such direction, give the widow or such other person as aforesaid an opportunity of so presenting her case to a person appointed by him.
This is an endeavour to meet the criticisms that before taking the steps laid down in this part of the Clause the widow about whom the representation has been made should have an opportunity of personally putting her case so that we may be quite certain that all the relevant information has been given. I contemplate that in the great majority of cases under this Sub-section, the representation will be made to the Minister by the local authorities, and that will be the main channel. I also contemplate that the local authorities, before making these representations, will satisfy themselves that the representation is fully justified. Of course there are several authorities and statutory committees who have special qualifications not only for testing the circumstances in which a representation of this kind might be made—
I would refer the hon. Member to Clause 44, which gives all information about the point he mentions.
There are some words in the proviso upon which I think one or two further comments may be needed. First of all, I am told, in reference to the fact that I have provided that the widow may be interviewed either by the local authority or by a person appointed for the purpose by the local authority, that that the local authority might appoint some official who might not be a competent person to undertake the inquiry. I think the wording makes it clear that I do not want the local authority to confine themselves to one person, but I am advised that, under the Interpretation Act, the word "person" includes "persons"—that the singular includes the plural in such a case. I think, therefore, that that point is covered. There is also another expression which, perhaps, may have given rise to some doubt and suspicion. It says that the Minister shall, "except in such cases as may be prescribed," give the widow an opportunity of so presenting her case. No doubt Members of the Committee will be wondering what is the object of the words "except in such cases as may be prescribed." The cases to be prescribed are cases in which it is clear that the woman could not be personally interviewed. There are three classes of cases. The first is where the woman has abandoned the child and it is not known where she is, and in that case, clearly, you must not make it a necessity that she should be interviewed before this Order can be made. The second case is where she is in a lunatic asylum or similar institution, and the third is where she is in prison. In all of these cases some such provision as this is needed. I hope that, with this explanation, the Committee will agree that the words I have put down fully cover the representations made to me. If, however, there are any further suggestions that hon. Members desire to make, or any further alterations, I shall be very happy to consider them.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has explained this Amendment, but I am not quite clear yet as to what committee of the local authority will deal with cases of this kind. In the case of a very large local authority, such as a county borough, I should imagine that the authority would almost automatically remit cases of this kind to be dealt with by the local Pensions Committee, or the local Health Committee, or, it may be, the Education Committee—
Yes, the Welfare Committee. I thought the right hon. Gentleman might perhaps have explained that in the first place. The only difficulty I can see is this: the type of person who makes inquiries of this kind is the difficulty in all such cases; it depends upon whether you get the right type of person. I know the argument will be used that the right type of person would be appointed to make such inquiries, but it does seem to me that we should not allow an Amendment to pass which would automatically give to a committee of a local authority the power to transfer their duty as a committee to an individual. That is the only point that I want to raise. I should prefer that the woman should have a title to come before a committee of men and women duly elected by the people, so that she can come before a tribunal that will understand her case. I do not like the individual reports that are sometimes obtained for local authorities by some of their officials. I should like, therefore, to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether I am right in presuming that the woman would have the title, in spite of the fact that they might appoint an individual to inquire into her case, to meet the whole committee if she so desires, in order that they may deal as a tribunal with her claim and appeal. I should like, if at all possible, to have an explanation on that very important point.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 3, after the word "personally", to insert the words "or through some person appointed by her."
This is a manuscript Amendment which I have handed in, and I think there is sufficient justification for submitting an Amendment of this sort for the following reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) has just inquired what committee of the local authority would be responsible for these matters, and the Minister suggested that possibly the Infant Welfare Committee might take them up, but in any case, whatever committee it might be in practice, what I presume would happen would be that the appropriate committee would appoint a person—in practice an official —who would make the necessary inquiries. I think that everyone will appreciate that what I am going to submit to the Committee is the usual experience in these cases. There is a large number of quite uneducated and uninstructed people who are somewhat frightened when an official of a local authority comes to them to inquire for information. They have the same sort of fright at the oncoming of an official of that sort as they have when the Poor Law official comes, and they have not the same confidence in placing their view of the case before such an official as they would have in putting their case in charge of an intimate friend, who would be able to represent their point of view to the Committee. Therefore, I would submit that it would be desirable and equitable if the words I have suggested could be accepted by the Minister.
Before sitting down, I should like to add one other point. I had submitted a further Amendment to substitute for the word "person" ["a person appointed for the purpose"] the word "committee," but I gather from the Minister's explanation that under the Interpretation Act the word "person" implies "persons," and I think, in view of that fact, that there is no need for me to press that point. There is also a third Amendment that I have submitted, but I gather from the Minister that he is carefully circumscribing the cases that are excepted, and, if that be so, I do not propose to press that Amendment either. The word "person," where it occurs later on in the Minister's Amendment, is, I presume, also capable of the same interpretation as the one that occurs earlier. I would, however, ask the Minister to consider favourably the Amendment that I have moved.
Could I just raise a further point? May I say how glad we are that the Minister of Health has accepted the view of some of us who thought it a very objectionable feature of the Bill that the woman was not able to appoint someone to state her case for her? I should like to point out that there are two defects in this proviso, even as now amended. To begin with, it may be all right here and now for the Minister of Health to say "except in such cases as may be prescribed," and to say that that only means cases where the widow is not available; but, if that be so, would it not be better to state it in terms. After all, there may be other Ministers of Health who are not bound by a casual statement made in this House by a previous Minister, and who may make very large exceptions to the cases that may be submitted I understand that a great deal of trouble in Acts of Parliament comes from loose wording of this kind, and I, certainly, know a large number of people who are experts on this Bill, on reading this proviso very carefully, had no idea that the Minister merely meant to limit it to cases where the widow was not available. Therefore, I would suggest that definite words be put in in order to lay down, for all future administrators of this Measure, what exactly is in the Minister's mind.
There is also another blemish on the proviso as it stands, and that is in regard to the question of appeal. There is no question of appeal to anybody except the Minister, and I suggest that thereby a very serious disability may be placed on the woman. She may lose her pension for life, she may find herself placed in tutelage and her pension paid to some other person, her children may be taken away from her and someone else paid to look after them, she may see her whole home broken up, and that may come about through information being laid against her. She may not even be cognisant of her rights; she may let them go by default, or may be bullied out of them by a local authority. Therefore, it seems to me that there ought to be some protection for the woman before all these penalties are placed upon her, and I would like to ask the Minister whether he would be prepared to go further and provide that a woman who is not satisfied with her treatment shall have a right to appeal to a Court of law. After all, we have Courts of law which are set up—
I, of course, quite accept that, but I was thinking that, while we were on the job of putting in this proviso and receiving the statement of the Minister upon it, it would be simpler to deal with it now. Of course, however, I bow to your ruling, and will only ask the Minister if he can see his way to give us some concession on the other points I have raised.
I do not think it would be advisable to put a category of cases into the Bill itself. Although I have given the hon. Member cases, it may be that some other class of case may arise hereafter which cannot be foreseen at the moment, which could not be dealt with because the Act has limited the cases to a particular category. I am willing to consider between now and Report whether I can find some general words which would indicate the class of case that we have in mind, and if I can do that without importing any further possibilities of misunderstanding into the Bill, I should be very pleased to do so.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 28, to leave out Sub-section (4).
If I may, I should like to continue the argument which was not in Order on the previous Amendment. May I point out the serious results which are likely to come about from the first two lines of this Sub-section—
Where on any representation by the local authority, or from any court or otherwise.
I regret that, owing to circumstances over which I had no control, I was not here to move the previous Amendment, which met my point. These words, "or otherwise," which appear throughout the Clause, seem to me to be extraordinarily vague. They do not state in any way who "otherwise" is or how these representations are to be made. It seems to me to be, to say the least of it, extremely undesirable that a woman who is left a widow and has children dependent upon her should be at the mercy of any common informer who chooses to lay evidence against her. Those of us who had experience of these matters in the early days of the War, before the routine became settled, know that this was a very serious matter, and we are bringing the same kind of evil into this Bill by this Clause. It means, as the words stand, that any set of persons, or any single person, can lay information against this woman, for instance, a neighbour who may be jealous that she
has a pension and the neighbour has not. It lays the woman open to the possibility of blackmail. Someone may come along and say, "If you do not give us money we will lay information against you." A woman may very easily be intimidated by unscrupulous people in that way. It therefore seems necessary that in the most definite and categorical way, right from the beginning it should be laid down that no casual person can give information and that information can only be laid by a properly constituted body or authority under the law. You have the words here. "by the local authority." Why would it not be possible under the local authority to have a committee which should deal entirely with these cases, and make proper and careful investigation before any complaint whatever is sent to the Minister? I think if the right hon. Gentleman would consider that kind of local machinery his Act would work a good more smoothly than it is likely to do if anyone, of any standing or reputation, can lay complaint against the woman.
Then there is the question of representation from any Court or otherwise. I quite agree here that the Court is a properly constituted body, but it is again laying the woman open to very serious disability. There are certain offences for which she may be penalised in a Court of law on the evidence of one policeman. Those of us who have been concerned with social work have repeatedly pointed out how unfair it is on women that on one policeman's evidence alone—and in a Court of law the policeman's word is always taken against the woman who is charged with solicitation—she may be penalised, however innocent she may be. In fact, I think it will be within the knowledge of Members of the House that, during the suffrage agitation previous to the War, there were women connected with the suffrage movement who laid themselves open to charges of this kind in order to prove to the police authorities the real scandal that, however respectable a woman was, if she appeared charged with this class of offence before a Court, it was always the policeman's word that should be taken. Look at the situation that may arise under this Subsection. You may have a woman charged with this class of offence. The policeman's word is taken, and the Court immediately comes to the conclusion that she is not fit to have charge of her children. She is not only convicted of an offence of which she may be perfectly innocent, but she stands to lose her pension, to have her home broken up, to have her children taken away from her, and to be placed in perpetual tutelage on the word of one policeman. Of course, the Minister will say this is an exaggerated case, but these cases are happening in our Courts every day.
Another point is this: The Minister will say it lies in his discretion, and if such a case happened he would be able to put it right. If it was an individual woman, coming to see Mr. Neville Chamberlain at his home after breakfast, I am certain a soft-hearted Minister would look into the case and say, "Of course, this is not a suitable case," but in actual practice that is not what is likely to happen. These Acts are not administered by Ministers with soft hearts, but by very hard-hearted lawyers and civil servants, and, consequently, it is not any real protection to women that it should be said that the Minister has it in his discretion. If she is guilty of a very serious offence, that renders her unfit to look after her children; it is in the best interests of all concerned that someone should look after them for her, I am not complaining about that, but it would be very wise if we had some kind of uniform procedure in these matters and, if it was possible, to have a committee under the local authority, which is likely to administer these things with more flexibility, more sympathy, and more realisation of women's difficulties, if the local authority should, as it were, be the Court of First Instance in this matter, and that if a Court of law finds a woman guilty of a serious offence, it should at least consult with the local authorities before making a complaint to the Minister, so that there should be no possibility of the woman being unduly injured. We are all anxious to safeguard the moral and physical welfare of the children. We do not want to leave the children in the hands of people who are unsuitable to look after them, but we have somewhat old-fashioned notions and we believe that at least 99 per cent. of mothers are much the best people to look after their children, and that it is very often the fault of poverty, perhaps the fault of bad training, perhaps only words of kindly wisdom and assistance are needed in order that the home should be kept together and the children brought up properly. After all, it is the poorest women we are talking about. It is not the woman who is accustomed to looking after herself, but the poorest and most ignorant of the population who will be very really injured possibly by this Bill Therefore I want to ask the Minister whether it would not be possible to come to such an arrangement as I have suggested. It may of course not be possible at the moment for the Minister to adopt a form of words but we should be quite content if he would take this back and consider the whole question on the Report stage. I hope we shall not have the hon. Member irrevocably committing the House and the country to this Sub-section.
Many people on this side feel as strongly about this matter a? the hon. Lady herself, who has put her case so well. It is an injustice which sooner or later must be remedied, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity.
I gladly respond to the request which has been made to me. But first let me call attention to the exact proposition that is being made. What the hon. Lady has asked us to do is to delete Sub-section (4), which says:
Where, on any representation by the local authority, or from any Court or otherwise, the Minister is satisfied that it is in the interests of any woman entitled to a widow's pension that the pension should not he paid to her but should be applied for the benefit of the widow and the children (if any), he may direct that the pension (including any additional allowance) shall be paid to the local authority or to some other person approved by him to be administered by the local authority or that person for the benefit of the widow and the children (if any).
At any rate that part of the Bill is necessary. I need only refer to one case to give an illustration of its necessity. If, for instance, a woman is a habitual drunkard, and is found so by the Court, obviously there must be some power to make a direction of the kind indicated. That is one of the reasons why it is necessary, and why the pension should not be
paid to her but to some local authority or some sub-committee who should administer it for her.
I do not think that is so. Clause 21 simply deprives the pensioner of her qualification. This is where she is still to have the benefit of the pension, but it is to be paid to some other person or authority to be used on her behalf, and in such a case it is obviously in her interest that we should make some such arrangement as that which is indicated. That is what we do there and everyone will agree that it is desirable. The suggestion has been made that the words "or otherwise" are perhaps objectionable. That is simply to meet the case where a local authority, for instance, or a Court has not notified the Minister of such circumstances as that and where the local inspector or someone in the interests of the children has notified the Ministry. The mere fact that someone makes a statement of that kind, of course, is simply a matter of notice to the Ministry. It does not give any particular value to the statement. The hon. Lady has instanced anonymous letters and matters of that kind. If an information of that kind were laid, there would be an inquiry, possibly through the local Welfare Committee, whether there was any substance in the report. It must be apparent that there would be a number of cases where if you did not allow representations to be made by some other party, the facts might never come to the notice of the Minister, because the local authority might not know, or the Court might not know. The intention is simply to make a provision in the interests of the woman or the children. In order to meet any possible difficulty or injustice, we propose to move later an Amendment which would give the widow an opportunity of presenting her case, and the same right which was extended to her in the other Clause with which we have been dealing.
If we add to this Clause the Amendment to which I have just referred
standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health:
Provided that where the widow has not had an opportunity of presenting her case personally to the local authority, or a person appointed for the purpose by the local authority, the Minister (except in such cases as may be prescribed) shall, before giving any such direction, give the widow an opportunity of so presenting her case to a person appointed by him,
and we add the other words suggested, "or through some person appointed by her" it will be found that the rights of these people will be amply safeguarded. It will give the widow every opportunity of putting forward her case. By that means the widow will be protected in the same manner as was provided in the previous instance. The necessity for this Clause is not any anxiety on the part of the Government or the Minister of Health to unduly press these cases, but it is brought forward in the interests of the women and children themselves. Anyone who is interested in trade union or friendly society work must know that provision of this sort has to be made for certain cases. Subject to the Amendment which we propose to move later, we think that this Clause would give every safeguard to the widow.
I am opposed to this Clause root and branch. It offends my sense of the liberty of the subject. Do the Committee realise the far-reaching power that is given by this Clause? Mark what happens:
Where, on any representation by the local authority, or from any court"—
Not an order of the Court, but a representation, an opinion, perhaps, of some magistrate
or otherwise, the Minister, etc.
That, converted into simple language, means anybody who chooses to whisper any gossip in the Minister's ear about a woman. That answers the description in this Sub-section. Then the Minister, without taking any evidence, without any inquiry, if he is satisfied that there is any truth in the gossip, can say, "Mrs. Jones, it is true that you are entitled to 10s. a week, for which your husband paid, which is your right, but I, without the authority of the law, without giving you an opportunity of being heard, with-
out a single safeguard, in my own discretion, I say that you must kindly pay that 10s. over to somebody else."
That Amendment reads:
Provided that where the widow has not had an opportunity of presenting her case personally to the local authority, or a person appointed for the purpose by the local authority, the Minister (except in such cases as may be prescribed) shall, before giving any such direction, give the widow an opportunity of so presenting her case to a person appointed by him.
I notice that the next Amendment stands in the name of a very well-known Member, the hon. and learned Member for South Shields, which strikes me as a much better Amendment. All that this Amendment moans is that the widow is to get an opportunity. What is the difference between a widow, a drunken widow if you wish, a widow who goes on the streets, and a rakish young man now receiving a pension, or a drunken old man receiving a pension? Why should you not have the same right to say, and it might be justifiable, "That silly old fellow, every time he gets his 10s. he goes off to the pub to spend it. It would be far getter that the Minister should look after him." Perhaps so, and if we were living in a grandmotherly age, it might be done. If you do not say that to the drunken old man, what right have you to say it to a woman, whether she happens to be old or young.
I do not champion women any more than anybody else, but the time has come, and certainly when I look at some women I am convinced of it, when women can very well look after themselves. They resent being regarded as mere weaklings. They resent our saying, "Now be a good girl, or I will take the 10s. from you!" Women have a right to resent any imputation upon the strength of their characters as to their being able to look after themselves. There is no justification for this Measure, unless you say that the Minister shall have a superintending moral jurisdiction over all persons who receive pensions, men or women, and you say that it is better for all these persons that the handling of the money should not be theirs but should be given to someone else. If you are going to go so far as that, then let us debate it, but if not, then what right have you to make this difference between an adult woman and an adult man? You have no right to say that a drunken adult woman should not get her pension than you have to say that a drunken adult man should not get his pension.
I am a little unhappy about this Clause, and I should like an explanation. Perhaps the Attorney-General could give it. It is purely a legal point. Under Sub-section (1), according to my lay understanding, if the Court makes an order, certain things follow. The child is taken from the mother, and so in in accordance with the order that has been made. The custody having been settled, the payments follow. I do not think anybody would object to that. Under Sub-section (4) there is apparently no order, no decision, no judicial action on the part of the Court; but the Court may make representations to the Minister. Here my ignorance and lack of experience-comes in, and it is upon this point that I would like to get an explanation. Under what condition would a Court that has not made an order make a representation to the Minister? I am rather afraid that this is doing, or it might do, very severe violence to the rights of the subject.
If there were an order of the Court it would be all right. Under what conditions will a representation be made which is not an order of the Court? Thai is the difficulty to my lay mind. We would all like to improve each other very much. We are all in that habit. We have all motes in our eyes. Our brother who has a beam in his eye, prefers to remove the mote from our eye, and we sometimes with a beam in our eye, may wish to remove the mote from his. If the Attorney-General or the Minister of Health can satisfy me on this point, I should feel much happier.
On a point of Order. You called me to order when I raised a question on the words "or appeal to a Court of Law" on the Amendment which the Minister of Health was moving. I at once accepted your ruling, but having had an opportunity of looking at the matter further, I should like to point out that these are not the same things at all. What I was asking the Minister to do on that Clause was to give the woman some right of appeal to a Court of Law. In this Clause it is merely a question of whether the Court of Law makes representations against her. Therefore, they were two entirely different things. In that case, is it not possible to get a reply from the Minister on the matter which I raised on the previous Clause?
If I understood the hon. Member aright, she complained that the provision the Minister had suggested applied only to one Sub-section. That is exactly why I have selected the Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields rather than one on a similar point that came earlier. His Amendment will cover cases that arise anywhere under the Clause.
I do not think the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has adequately dealt with the point at issue. The term "representations" seems very wide. It seems to me capable of covering almost any kind of general statement. We have had some talk about the meaning of the voids "or otherwise." The Parliamentary Secretary admitted that these words were put in in order to enable people outside either the local authority or the Court to make representations. Is not that carrying the idea much farther than it ought to be? The limitation in the Amendment to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred only deals with the position of the widow after representation has been made by some person. But why should she be exposed to the position of having to answer to some person unknown on some quite unfounded charge made by some person apparently on any particular subject which comes into his mind?
You are dealing in this Bill with people who make contributions, and after all they are entitled to be treated in a different way from that which obtains in the case of Poor Law relief. You are here merely introducing a kind of inquisition of a general character, with a beneficial object perhaps, but you are doing so against people who either themselves, or through their husbands, have for years paid for pensions. I should say from what the Parliamentary Secretary said that cases would be rare, but is it worth while then encumbering your Bill with a provision of this kind? If you do, ought it not to be made very much narrower, tighter and more precise so that those who are getting pension may know exactly where they are? The people you are dealing with are not skilled lawyers. They are people who may be easily intimidated.
It seems to me that you are opening the door to somebody going to a widow and saying, "If you do not do something, if you will not give me some money, I will make a representation to the Ministry that you are leading an immoral life, or that you are a bad mother, or something else." Somebody to whom she owes money may do it and the woman does not know who is going to hear her case or what the charge is. The matter is left entirely to the discretion of some unknown person, who has to decide whether or not the money to which she is entitled should go to her or to some other, again, unknown person. This Sub-section is different from the earlier Sub-section. In that Sub-section you deal with the protection of the children. Here you go much further and try to protect against herself a woman who is entitled to a pension. I think that the hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) was quite right in asking why should you assume that women are not capable of looking after themselves. Why should you treat them in a different way from men, when men are entitled to a similar privilege? It seems to me that you are having an entirely unnecessary complication. The fewer complications you have in administration the better. You certainly ought not to put the burden of dealing with a case of this kind on the Ministry. Cases have to come up to the Ministry, and have to be considered by people remote from the circumstances, and there must be a large amount of correspondence and waste of time. It is much better, instead of trying to amend this Clause, to leave it out altogether, and simplify a complicated Measure.
The exact legal content and purpose of Sub-section (1) is specific. You get an order of Court which operates, and the order under that Subsection is an order known to the law, but the words in this sub-section introduce new matter. What we wish to know is the legal effect and meaning of the word "representation" as distinguished from an order. It is a very unusual thing to give to a Court of law a vague undefined power to make representations. May I test it, for example, with regard to the act of appeal. One might prohibit an act of a magistrate or seek a mandamus or apply some other remedy if he exceeds his jurisdiction. But what are you to do with a representation? What is the meaning in law, if a magistrate makes a representation? Is that a vague comment, or something scribbled on a piece of notepaper? Has it any legal effect? It is never defined anywhere.
By this representation the magistrate is to take it on himself in addition to performing his onerous duties to make representations. Why do you ask him to make representations? A woman is brought up in Court and the magistrate makes an order. Is the Minister going to ask him to make representations to himself? It looks as if the person who has asked to have the representation made is the very person who will receive the representation. There is no means of complaining against, of upsetting, or of dealing with that representation from the Court by legal process. The Minister may become satisfied on that representation that in the interest of the woman the pension should not be paid to her. We may assume that all the matters which can now be dealt with in law are dealt with in Sub-section (1). Therefore these representations would apparently be cases in which the offence was something less than constituted under Subsection (1). Otherwise the whole of the rest of the machinery is unnecessary.
I have asked how the representation is to be made. I ask now what is to be the subject-matter of the representation? It is not anything in Sub-section (1), because that deals with the custody. It is some representation as, "I do not like the look of this lady," or, "It would be better, in my opinion, if her pension were dealt with in this way or that way." That is an unfair burden to put on the magistrate. It offends every principle of law; it is uncertain, inapplicable and uncontrolled, and it puts the magistrate in the unsatisfactory position that his duty shall not be specifically defined either to make or not make an order. To a certain extent the same comment applies to the representation of a local authority. A local authority is defined as a county borough or a borough. How do they make a representation? Is it by a resolution of the whole of the town council considering the case of Mrs. A? They make a representation, and how does it reach the Ministry? There is no committee defined as being the body to make the representation. I should imagine that it would be a resolution of the whole of the town council in their full robes assembled to make a representation to the Ministry that Mrs. A ought not to get her pension.
On the face of it this is a very serious provision indeed; certain powers are now defined in a law which entitles a magistrate to interfere with the normal relations between parent and child. They are carefully safeguarded and limited, and when this House was more jealous of personal liberty than it is to-day there was great alarm at the proposal that children should be taken away from their parents. The law always guarded jealously the rights of parents over their children. That is to be extended, and extended by words which are not defined, and it is to be put into operation by an authority which is not defined. I support the plea that as regards Sub-section (4) the Clause should be taken back and reconsidered, and personally I hope that it will not reappear. Meanwhile I hope that the Attorney-General will give an explanation of the real meaning and purpose of this Clause.
I am very pleased to respond to the request of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) and the late Solicitor-General (Sir H. Slesser). They will forgive me if I at the same time reply to the right hon Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond). The Leader of the Opposition says that in Sub-section (1) of Clause 6 you have a provision as to what is to happen when a child has been taken away from the custody of the mother by an order of the Court, and he says that an order of the Court is a perfectly legitimate thing, and we know exactly where we are. It is made on legal ground in the ordinary way. He says that Subsection (4) is much vaguer and less satisfactory. May I explain why I think that that criticism is misplaced, and that there has been a little confusion and misunderstanding in the minds of some of the critics. Sub-section (1) and Sub-section (4) deal with quite different subject matter. Sub-section (i) is the provision which the Committee had already recognised, now adopted, under which, when the Court has taken away the custody of the child from its mother by reason of some of the provisions of the Children Act, the allowance in respect of the child is to be paid over to the person who has the child in charge.
It is by an order of Court. Under Sub-section (1), where the Court has already made an order, or may in future make an order, separating the child from its mother, then the allowance that goes to the mother can only pass through the child, not by an Order of the Ministry, but by an order of the Court. Under Sub-section (4) the money can pass away from the mother by an Order of the Ministry without going to the Court at all.
The interruption of the hon. and learned Gentleman seems premature. I was trying to explain to the Committee what he himself had said, that the two Subsections are different in their provisions and deal with a wholly different subject-matter. I was trying to explain what the subject-matter is. In Sub-section (1) you have a case where, under the provisions of the Children's Act, the custody of the child has been handed over to some other person, provision is made that the additional allowance in respect of the child shall be paid over to the person who has the custody of the child or for the child's benefit in such manner as the Court, which makes the order taking the child away from its parent, may direct. Sub-section (4) is not dealing with a case in which mother and child have been separated at all. It has nothing to do with the separation of mother and child, nor is it dealing, as the late Solicitor-General seems to have thought, with the case in which anybody has decided that the widow is to be deprived of her pension. There are provisions in Clause 21 of the Bill, which I hope we shall reach some day—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or some night!"]—which provides that in certain circumstances, quite definitely there laid down, there is power to cancel the pension, and there is provision made in a later Clause, Clause 28, that where a woman has her pension cancelled on conviction and so on, she shall have a right to appeal, which will be dealt with by the proper body.
I am trying to make the Committee understand the difference. I 'have dealt with Clause 6, Sub-section (1). There is a second part of the Bill under which the widow is deprived on conviction in certain cases of her pension and is given a right of appeal. Sub-section (4) is not one which is separating mother and child or dealing with what is to happen in such a case, nor does it deprive a woman of her right to a pension. That is dealt with in Clause 21. Sub-section (4) is a provision put in, not as some hon. and right hon. Members imagine, as a penalty on the widow, but as a protection for the widow. There are cases where circumstances may come to light which render it obvious that in the interests of the widow and the child it is far better that the money shall be spent for them rather than by them. Take the case of a woman who, as soon as she gets her money unfortunately has a habit of going to the public-house and drinking it.
May I point this out? If the woman's offence is bad enough for her to be deprived of her children, well and good, but you are stating a case where you leave the child with the mother. The mother is supposed to be well able to look after the children. You are not taking the children from her, and then you say, although she is perfectly fit to do the most difficult thing in the world, and that is to bring up children to be citizens of the State, she is not fitted to spend 10s. for herself and 5s. for her children. The idea is ridiculous.
I think the hon. Member said that 99 women out of 100 were the best people to look after their children. I do not think, and the Government do not think, that merely because it happens that a woman has a weakness of the kind I have indicated it necessarily follows in every case that she is to have an order of the Court nor do we think she is to have her 10s. taken away. If Sub-section (4) were not in, there would be no middle way at all. You have either to find a case where mother and child are separated altogether, and in that case certainly the children's money would be dealt with in this manner, or you have to find a case where the woman is to be deprived of her pension altogether on conviction for some offence. Sub-section (4) is put in not to penalise the widow but to protect her.
I want the Committee to envisage the sort of case we have in mind. There may well be cases in which women, unfortunately, if they get money in their hands, are tempted at once to go and spend it in the public-house, and then have nothing for another week. If this Clause were not in, in such a case the widow and her child would both suffer. There are other cases, unhappily, where it may happen that a widow has got into the hands of moneylenders, and, although, as the Committee knows, there is no power to charge a pension so as to attach it for a debt, the moneylender very soon would find out on what day the pension is becoming due, and the widow would often find it difficult to resist pressure to use the money in paying exorbitant interest instead of using it for the purpose for which we intend it, namely, for the benefit of the widow and her child. There may be many other cases. In cases of that kind where, if the money is paid over to the widow, it is proved to the satisfaction of the Minister that the widow and child will not get the benefit of it, but that the money will either be wasted or be seized by somebody for whose benefit it is not intended, provision is here made, not that the widow shall not get her pension, as the late Solicitor-General seems to think, but that the pension and the children's money shall be administered for the benefit of the widow and child instead of being handed over in cash to the widow. That is what we are endeavouring to get.
The Committee may say that is a case which will not often happen, and we need not deal with it. It may not be a case that will very often happen, but, where it does happen, it seems to me of great importance that we should deal with it. We take power in Sub-section (4) to provide that where it is obvious that by handing the money over to the widow herself, the result will be that she really will not get the benefit of it; it can be used for her benefit instead of being handed over directly to her, and in such a case we protect her and her child by putting into the hands of the Minister the discretionary power set out in Sub-section (4). I could give other illustrations. There may be a woman not so mentally deficient as to be put in the asylum, but yet so feeble-minded that she is not properly able to administer money. We all know of such cases. We are anxious to provide that this money shall be used to the best advantage for the widow and her child. We do not confine that desire to cases where the Court has ordered the widow to lose the custody of the child or to cases where under Clause 21 the offence is so serious that she has to lose her pension. We are providing this in order to enable us to protect her and her child in such cases when it becomes apparent that, unless some other person administers the money, it will be wasted and never used for the purpose for which it is meant. I do not think that is an unreasonable suggestion to make, or one which ought to be resented by those who are as anxious as we are to do the best we can in the interest of the widow.
The other criticism put forward—and I hope the late Solicitor-General will not think me unfair if I style it pedantic— is that the word "representation" is difficult. He drew a picture of the Lord Mayor in his robes, and I do not know what. We are only providing in the earlier part of the Clause that it shall operate when the Minister gets information that such a state of affairs has arisen. He shall not act on it until he has given the widow a chance of stating her full case and answering suggestions made and until he is satisfied as to whether or not it will be for her and her child's benefit that the money shall be spent in this way. The representation may come from the local authority, who may have got to know of the facts by reason of its education officers or persons of that kind. It may come from the Court. My hon. and learned Friend the late Solicitor-General said the Court has enough to do. Who is to demand the representation? Nobody is demanding a representation at all. All that we are providing is that, if the magistrate or the County Court judge has brought to his notice in the course of his duty facts which indicate that in this particular case the money is being squandered and wasted and not being used for the benefit of the widow and child, he can then, if he is so minded, call the Minister's attention to the facts in order that they may be looked into by the Minister. Assuming that the Minister is satisfied, on investigation from information so received, after having heard the widow's case fully put before him, that it is in her interest and her child's interest that the money shall not be taken away from her, but shall be spent for her by the local authority or some other person undertaking the expenditure, surely it is in the interests of the widow and the child that there shall be power to make the direction given by the Sub-section. I hope I have answered the questions the Leader of the Opposition put to me.
The right hon. and learned Attorney-General has certainly given an explanation, but the impression his explanation has left on my mind is that he is opening a very wide door to the interference of busybodies. Everyone of us who knows the activities of life know perfectly well that there are a thousand and one people who for one reason or another would be only too glad to make those representations and become the custodians of money paid to widows on behalf of themselves and their children. I have had a little to do with some of these cases myself. There are always very well meaning busybodies who will give you information about these people, and who suggest that there should be custodians and guardians. I am sure that everyone who has had any connection with after-care work will know of such cases. There are certain people who require assistance to make ends meet from week to week or from month to month, and we are constantly pestered by various kinds of visitors who tell us that we should not pay our money to our old friend, more or less a dependent, but that we should pay it to them in order that it can be organised with other small payments from other sources. With my experience of that type I am exceedingly suspicious of a Clause such as this.
I do not resist what the learned Attorney-General says as to cases calling for special treatment. Certainly there are such cases. But I cannot imagine how some cases will ever come to light in this way. One of the hardest cases is that of the poor woman who has got into the toils of the moneylender. It is the hardest thing in the world to discover such a case until, possibly, it is made known in the court. I hope that the Government is not going to encourage the sending up of representations from unauthorised, unofficial and very largely irresponsible people. If the Minister can devise a responsible authority to act in this matter he would be doing a great service, but in order to do that good service, which would apply in only a very limited number of cases, he might be doing a great disservice by allowing cases to be subject to unauthorised and purely personal investigations. That suspicion is still in my mind. I hope that the Government will consider this very seriously before they give that power. I think they are proposing to give a power far beyond the necessities or the practicability of the case.
To a certain extent I agree with a great deal of what has been said by hon. Members opposite. This Clause seems to me a most mischievous Clause. We have heard what the Leader of the Opposition has said with regard to the needless gossip that goes about. Those of us who have any great experience of public life, and certainly those who have sat in the police courts for some years, know the jealousy that exists in large industrial districts. This Clause will open a large field for blackmail. It is very easy for one woman, if she gets her knife into another woman, to accuse her of a certain crime, and if the woman will not pay the money that is demanded it is very easy for her accuser to give information to the police. There is another matter, and a distasteful matter, and because it is distasteful it ought to be spoken of in this House. That is the matter which was referred to by an hon. Member opposite—the case of the woman who is brought up and charged with soliciting and is committed on a police officer's word alone. There is no doubt that there are hundreds of women in this country who are wrongly committed. I can say that in the Court in which I have sat for the last 16 years I have always refused to send down a woman on the police officer's word alone. In cases like that, I think that this proposal will operate with great unfairness with regard to the woman. As far as I can see, there is everything provided for under Clause 21. I hope that the Government will see their way to withdraw the Clause, or, if not, to devise some machinery by which a woman who is convicted in the police court of a certain offence can come before a committee and have her case thoroughly thrashed out, and be represented by a friend or some neighbour who can put her case before that committee.
I was pleased to hear the Attorney-General say that this was a matter into which party feelings did not enter. It is a matter of anxiety to all sides to get this very delicate matter settled properly. I wish that principle could be followed out in all cases, even with other pensions. I can quite understand the position of the Government in trying to find an alternative method to the Court. The difficulty to me about the whole of this principle is this—that in the Court the woman would get a chance of facing her accusers, who laid against her information such as would tend to the forfeiture of her pension or the diversion of the money. As this Subsection stands, the woman will not have an opportunity of facing her accusers. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the woman would have an opportunity of stating her case before some authority according to an Amendment that is to be moved later. What I want to ensure is that the woman not only deals with the attempt to divert the money, but also faces the people who lay the information.
The outstanding thing about all the explanations of the Government is that they have- never taken steps to consult the Government Department that has had more experience than anyone in this matter, namely, the Ministry of Pensions. I accept responsibility for the statement that the Ministry of Pensions has had a very wide experience upon this matter. The Ministry of Pensions could tell the Minister of Health that there is no more delicate proceeding they can take part in than one in which they want to make safeguards in the way suggested in this case. What takes place in the case of the Ministry of Pensions? Information is laid before the local war pensions committee for the Ministry of Pensions. The local war pensions committee, through its chief area officer, sets its sub-committee or children's care and women's care committee to work to make investigations. At the same time the special grants committee communicates with the police to find out what there is in the charges. The Ministry of Pensions does, in fact, take action upon information laid by an anonymous person. I am not making that statement at random. While in the Court the widow would have the chance of facing her accuser. In any investigation under this Bill the woman would not have an opportunity of facing the accuser who wished to say that she was a questionable person.
Under the Ministry of Pensions a pensioner cannot have his pension taken from him for anything except treason, and the same principle applies to other pensioners or annuitants under the State or local authorities. Pensions can be taken away for other causes only in the case of a widow. While that may be an arguable question, at least the Government with its majority should make sure, if it has to take these powers to divert a widow's pension or children's pension, that the words in which that is expressed are in clear, legal form, so that a woman shall face her accusers, and if the principle has to be granted at least let it be done decently and with some sense of justice to the widow. I suggest that in the light of the criticisms from all sides of the House, not made in a party spirit at all. it would be a useful thing if the Minister would withdraw this Sub-section, and if the Government desire to deal with the same matter on Report, at least they should get to know what the experience of the Ministry of Pensions is before they embark upon a principle of this kind which I am sure will bring hardship upon some good women.
There is another point. Once you take away or divert a pension and treat a woman as a person who is unfit to take charge of children, is there going to be any right of appeal? Can there be any revision of the decision? What takes place now? Some war widow has an illegitimate child; she falls by the way. A committee investigates the matter, sometimes on anonymous information that is laid. I do know of a case of a woman who is a very good woman, and morally there are few of us who can throw a stone at her. She has had an illegitimate child and is a good mother. But her pension has been stopped. The Ministry of Pensions has an arrangement whereby the pension can be granted again after a year or two. You have no provision for reconsideration like that in this Clause.
I am much obliged to you, Sir, for drawing my attention to the fact. I do not think it makes any difference to the point I have made. I suggest that this Sub-section should be withdrawn in order to give the Ministry of Health time to consult with a body which has more experience than any other Government Department in this matter, namely, the Ministry of Pensions, and to take such action as seems desirable after that consultation, when the Report stage comes.
I only intend to intervene in the Debate for a few minutes in order to join in the appeal which has been made to the Government to delete this provision from the Bill. The hon. and learned Attorney-General and myself have the privilege of belonging to the same political party, and I always understood that one of the stands which we took in connection with the question of a contributory scheme as against a non-contributory scheme, was that in the former case the pension would belong by right to the recipients because they had contributed towards it, and it would be their property just as much as if it were a Civil Service pension. That is the argument I have always used in this matter in my own constituency. I agree that in many cases it might be desirable and possibly in the widow's own interest, if the money were administered by some other person or body, but if I may say so with all due respect to my hon. Friends above the Gangway, one phase of Socialism to which I strongly object is the tendency to say, "We can manage your affairs better than you can manage them yourselves." I have not the least doubt that a committee could spend my money better than I spend it myself, but I have not the smallest intention of ever allowing a committee to do so, and that is why I maintain that this provision is undesirable.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General in a very able speech pointed out one or two things that might happen to the disadvantage of the widow. He mentioned, I think, intemperance and moneylenders. I have been on boards of guardians for many years, and I have known cases investigated where it has been alleged that so-and-so went too much to the public-house, or was given to betting, or something of that kind. The board of guardians administer public funds, and could withdraw the grants from those funds, or reduce them, because the money was paid out of the rates. But in regard to this Measure, I want to take a strong stand in favour of people contributing towards the pensions, and then saying that they can spend the money as they think proper. That is the essence of this Bill. I can quite imagine complaints being made to the Minister that Mrs. So-and-so is constantly seen putting on a shilling with the bookmaker. It may be very unwise on her part, but why should she not do so. It is her money. It may be unwise, as I say, but you cannot go to a civil servant, with a pension of £500 a year, and say to him, "You are not allowed to bet." In my opinion that is the very essence of this scheme. Clause 21 is very different because it dealt with cases where the woman commits an offence against the law. As the Attorney-General pointed out, that is another matter, but here it is simply a question of the faddist coming in and saying, "We think we can spend the money better than you can spend it yourself." I know there are cases which might be cited in favour of this provision, but this is a great question of legislation in which we have to weigh the pros and cone, and, in my opinion, we should not interfere with the great principle which underlies the contributory system, by which the pensioner is able to say, "This is my money. I have contributed towards it, or my husband has, and it is my property to dispose of as I wish."
I give the fullest credit to the Attorney-General and to all hon. Members opposite for the excellence of their motives with regard to this Sub-section, but I think they are looking at the matter as superior people legislating for inferior people. It is not a question of any distinction between the party to which I belong and the party opposite. The division of opinion is between people who do not believe in the point of view I have just indicated, and the kind of people who love going into poor districts and doing what they call "good" to the poor. I do not want to mention any particular organisation, but we are all very familiar with the type. These people do a great deal of hard, and in many respects useful work, but very often in the lives of the poor people they are an intolerable nuisance. The fact of the matter is that people do not like having good done to them against their will. I agree with the last speaker that it is quite possible a committee might spend his money better than he spends it himself, and I will admit that I am quite certain a committee could spend my money better than I do it myself and probably more quickly, but that is not the point. The point is that we should not try to spend other people's money even for their own good. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad hon. Members opposite so fully agree with me because they are coming a step nearer to the right path. I do not pretend to be a lawyer—Heaven forbid!—but I notice that the learned Attorney-General did not reply to the point of the former Solicitor-General. Incidentally may I say that the habit of referring to members of a former Government as the "late" has always rather annoyed me. The hon. and learned Member is not dead yet.
The Attorney-General, however, referred to some of the matters which might come under this Sub-section. He said a woman might spend all her money in drink. Is the drunkenness to be proved in a Court of law, or is there to be a general accusation levelled against the woman, not that she is drunken, but that she is in the habit of frequenting public-houses? That is the kind of accusation which is frequently made in poor districts. I lived for two years in Southwark, my own constituency, in a very poor district, and I am familiar with the kind of gossip which goes on in those districts. You cannot go in and out of your front door without everybody knowing what time you went in, or came out, and the representations made may be of a very curious description. I have known representations of an absolutely untrue and detrimental character to be made against people. Then the Attorney-General entered on a matter on which I can venture to express what might be called a medico-legal opinion. He spoke of people who were backward in mind, but were not fit to be certified as inmates of an asylum. In my profession we find it one of the most difficult things to determine the exact boundary between a person who is mentally deficient and a person who is backward, but apparently a local authority or some person making representations is to be allowed to determine that exceedingly difficult and delicate matter in this connection.
I think on those lines alone it can be shown that we are dealing with a class of case which ought to be proved by proper legal process, and you ought not to stereotype this kind of benevolent social interference in the lives of other people. It was suggested that the school attendance officer might make a report. I suppose the probation officer might also make a report, or the Bible woman at the Court or somebody connected with the Children's Care Committee. These are excellent hard-working people, of whom I know a number, but they are by no means infallible in judgment, and they are liable to suggest to poor people precisely how those poor people should live. They will walk into a poor person's house, examine whether a room is clean or not, see whether the beds have been made and whether the children have been washed, all without a blush of shame, though if they attempted to do the same thing in the houses of hon. Members opposite they would be shown to the front door without any ceremony. I do not suggest that they have any bad intentions—far from it—but I suggest that this kind of benevolent interference, however well intentioned, is an intolerable nuisance in the lives of the poor. I hope the Minister will realise that, at the worst, these representations would be based only upon gossip and, at the best, upon investigation by a variety of people who pry into the lives of poor people and are not particularly well equipped for the purpose. In any case they would not be sufficiently definite to make them a proper basis on which to take away from a person something to which that person had a statutory right. I suggest this Sub-section is an attempt to put a legal camouflage over benevolent interference, that there is already too much of that interference in the lives of the poor, and that the Minister would be doing a good thing by withdrawing the proposal.
I hesitated to join in this discussion because the case on both sides has been put very fairly and at one time I was almost persuaded by the eloquent remarks of the learned Attorney-General. I should like, however, to add one or two words from the practical point of view. As I view this Sub-section it seems to me very reminiscent of the powers given to the war pensions committees, and in my experience of those committees, from their beginning up to the present time, I have had occasion to deal with many hundreds of cases and I have had to consider complaints and representations made regarding people who came before those committees. After an experience of many years I am bound to say a very large proportion of the complaints could only have been made for purposes of petty annoyance. The committee and the visitors connected with the committee, in the most sympathetic way endeavour to sift the complaints, and it is seldom that they are able to prove that there is any real substance in those complaints. This would be an excellent Clause were you dealing with the child in the case of the widow and her child, because I think you have to regard the widow in such a case as being the trustee for the child, and, therefore, the trustee should be a person above suspicion.
You are dealing with the widow herself, and I think it ought to be borne in mind that this is a purchased pension. It is not a gift which is given by the nation in respect of the dependants of those who served in the War. It is not even an old age pension, in which case, indeed, you would never dream of inquiring whether or not a man was spending his 10s. a week, or whatever it might be, properly. This is a case where the annuity or pension has been purchased. It is the inherent right of the widow of the insured person, and you have no more right to step in and say that that person is not spending her 10s. a week properly than you would have the right to say, if a woman earns 10s. a week and has a pension of 10s. a week, that the 10s. which she obtained from her employment made her drunk or that the 10s. from her pension made her drunk. I think it would be a great pity, and a blot upon what I believe to be an otherwise excellent Bill, to allow this Sub-section to go through.
On the question of representations, I do not feel the difficulty that some hon. Members have felt in regard to the Court or the local authority finding the representations. I think the representations come along quite easily, and the intention of the Sub-section is that when the representation is made it shall be sifted, I presume, by the local authority and then sent up to the Minister to deal with, but I think all that paraphernalia should be done away with. You might very well trust the widow to spend the money for her own use, and we have taken power in Sub-section (1) to look after the child. Having done that, I think we might very well, in this case, which is that of a purchased pension, let it go and see if time proves whether we are right or wrong.
I hope the Minister will see his way to withdraw this Sub-section. From all sides of the House we have had good reasons given for such a course, but the real one, I think, no one has yet touched upon. It is not so much that this is to penalise a woman as to how she is spending the money, but as to how she is living. That is really at the bottom of it. If I understand the Minister, he wants to save the children from living with a mother who is living the life of a prostitute. I think everyone would like to save them from that, if they could define it, but it is an indefinable thing, and what I am so frightened of is that under this Sub-section some woman, who may be a perfectly good mother, may perhaps make one slip, and someone will go to the authorities and will say: "This woman is living a life of prostitution and is not fit to look after her children," which may not be the case at all. This is not a pleasant thing to talk about, but I think we ought to face the realities of the situation. We know how much blackmail goes on in that way, that a man will turn out a woman and refuse to support her, and naturally the Committee would have to look into the matter. It is a case where there is such a great chance for blackmail, and I hope the Minister will see his way to do away with it, because, while many points have been put, that is really the main one, that you cannot judge how the woman is going to live. If you inquire as to how she is spending her money, at the back of it is the question as to how she is living, and I say it is too dangerous. Many a woman may be a good mother and love her children, but she may make a slip, and you ought not to take away her money on that account. You never do it in the case of a man, and you should not do it in the case of a woman.
I was unfortunately obliged to leave the House for a few minutes a little while ago to do some other business, and I therefore did not hear the whole debate on this Sub-section, but since I have come back I have had the advantage of hearing the last few speeches that have been delivered, and I should like to give some further consideration to this matter. I do not want definitely to commit myself at this moment, until I have had the opportunity of reading what has been said and considering it further, not to reintroduce some Clause to deal with this matter on the Report stage, but I am quite prepared to withdraw the Subsection now.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 38, at the end, to add the words
Any decision come to and any decision given by the Minister under this Section shall be deemed an award and shall be subject to all the provisions of Section twenty-eight of this Act.
The suggestion that in reference to all these Sub-sections—
I need not detain the Committee many moments, but I took it upon myself to draft an Amendment dealing with the point of appeals, and it struck me that it was far better to have it in this form, covering the whole of the Clause, than in the form of the Amendment of the Minister himself. The reason why I put it in this form is that if hon. Members will turn to Clause 28 of the Bill, they will see that if a person is dissatisfied by an award by the Minister, the question has to be dealt with by all the machinery of appeal. I think it would be a convenient thing to annex that same machinery of appeal to a decision of the Minister under any of these Sub-sections. It has been conceded in the Debate that it is advisable that some check should be placed on Ministerial action in these matters, and I think the most effective check would be that whatever decision the Minister gives should be subjected to the whole machinery of appeal that is provided in the Bill for awards.
I hope my hon. and learned Friend will not press this Amendment. If he will look at Clause 6 as it stands now, he will find that all the matters referred there to the Minister are in the first place matters for his discretion, and, secondly, that they do not involve in any particular any deprivation of any allowance. It is simply a question of diversion.
I agree. I was endeavouring to make that point, but the noise was so great that I saw I was not heard. I do not suggest that there is any similarity between the exercise of the Minister's discretion under this Sub-section and the award under the other Clauses. All I said was that it is advisable, and I thought it was agreed by the Committee, that there should be some check put upon the Minister, and it occurred to me that it was a convenient stage at which to annex the machinery of appeal. If it is thought that that is not a convenient way, and the hon. Gentleman will give an assurance that something will be done to place a reasonable check on the Minister, I shall be quite satisfied to leave it to the Parliamentary draftsman to draw up words to cover the point.
I appreciate what the hon. and learned Member has said, but I do not think he was present when we were dealing with the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health at the bottom of page 1,398 of the Order Paper. We do not want to go to the expense of setting up this machinery in every case. We shall be dealing with the question on Clause 7, and I hope we shall be able to finish our labours for this evening when we have got that Clause by 8.15. I hope the hon. and learned Member will feel satisfied that we have made some provision there, as we do not want to set up all the elaborate machinery of the referees.