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Clause Ii—(Exceptions)

Volume 73: debated on Thursday 8 July 1915

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The duty of registering under this Act shall not apply to any prisoner in a prison, certified lunatic or defective, or inmate of any Poor Law institution, hospital or other institution for the care of persons suffering from physical or mental infirmities, nor to a prisoner of war or a person who is interned:

Provided that before the discharge of a person from a prison, lunatic asylum, or other place where he has been detained, or from a hospital or other such institution as aforesaid, the governor, master, manager, or other person in charge, shall ascertain from him the particulars required to be registered under this Act, and shall forward them to the proper local registration authority, who shall cause them to be registered and a certificate of registration to be issued to the person so discharged.

I beg to move, after the word "not" ["this Act shall not apply"], to insert the words "except to such extent as may be prescribed."

There are several Amendments to this Clause, which is really a very difficult one to draft, and perhaps the Committee will be willing to agree to certain changes which I will indicate. The difficulty is that the exceptions in the Clause do not go far enough in some cases; there are instances omitted which ought probably to be included, and the duties thrown upon the registration authority under the second part of the Clause are perhaps a little difficult of fulfilment. What I suggest is, after the word "not," to insert the words "except to such extent as may be prescribed," and after the word "other" ["hospital or other institution"], to insert the word "prescribed." The effect of that will be that under the regulations which we take power to issue for the carrying out of this measure we shall take care to secure the exclusion of any institution which ought not to be included, and at the same time make provision for the registration of any individuals leaving those institutions who we think ought to be included. If this meets with general approval, I shall be glad to amend the Clause in the way I have suggested. It will then be necessary to omit the words "for the care of persons suffering from physical or mental infirmities."

4.0 P.M.

I am not quite clear as to the meaning and extent of the words "except to such extent as may be prescribed." I understand quite well that my right hon. Friend desires some such extension of his power, but I suggest that it would have been as well if he had indicated to the Committee in what direction he will use this extended power. We ought at least, I think, to have some indication of what he hopes to obtain by this.

May I inquire as to what further it is proposed to omit; is the proviso to be excluded? Generally, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said; it is really much better to leave this to administration, rather than, to try conclusively to cover all these difficult points in the Bill itself.

I desire to call attention to one or two classes of persons included in the Schedule, which, I hold, ought to be noted. There is, for instance, the class of aliens. No doubt they come in under the prescription. There is, also, the class of persons suffering from disease. I can conceive, for instance, that those persons in receipt of sanatorium benefit under the Insurance Act might very well be excepted. I should hope that under the powers the right hon. Gentleman will be enabled to meet and deal with these cases.

The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman will not be thrown out. Of course, the acceptance of the Government Amendment will alter the circumstances. The hon. Gentleman may not find it necessary to suggest words to be put in, but he is entitled to move, and to ask questions.

There is a small point to which I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. There is no penalty attached to the non-fulfilment of this duty.

I do not think that is right. As a matter of fact, there is a penalty for anyone who refuses to carry out the Act. The difficulty is this: we propose that certain institutions shall be excluded. Then we propose that certain people leaving those institutions should be subject to registration under the Bill. One of the cases that naturally occurs to one is the case of people leaving, say, lunatic asylums for private residences. It is very undesirable that anything should be done to stigmatise these people when they are released from confinement. Therefore we thought it would be better that we should take power to exclude institutions which ought to be excluded, and secure outside them the registration of proper persons who may have been in and who may have come out. This we can do by regulation. I do not think there is any fell design behind this proposal on the part of my Department, and on the whole I recommend it to the Committee as the most convenient method. The hon. Gentleman opposite asked me about vagrants. He suggested that we should ask the registration authorities to register vagrants. That part of the labouring population which temporarily occupies vagrant wards is extremely difficult of identification. Any attempt to identify and classify these people with the other people in the country would, I think, be a mistake and be impossible of fulfilment, and I could not accept the Amendment to put a duty upon the registration authorities which I do not think they could perform adequately. With regard to the rest of the Clause or proviso, if the Committee will agree to leave it out, and accept the Amendment I suggested, it will make it much more workable.

The hon. Member for Devonshire (Sir J. Spear) had better move his Amendment in the proper place.

had an Amendment on the Paper, after the word "apply" ["shall not apply"], to insert the words, "to Irish Volunteers nor."

Will my Amendment come in as an Amendment to that proposed by the President of the Local Government Board? So far as I can see it cannot come in precisely as indicated in the Paper, because of the suggested alteration.

I do not think that will be the case, but I will deal with the hon. Member's Amendment when we come to it. I do not think the acceptance by this Committee of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment will affect the acceptance of the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman.

I think it impossible to fit it in. If you will note, Mr. Chairman, my Amendment proposes to exempt a certain set of people absolutely. Consequently I ask you to allow me to move my Amendment to that proposed by the President of the Local Government Board.

If the hon. Member takes that view, it compels me to give my ruling on his Amendment. I am not prepared to accept his Amendment, because it has no definite meaning. He must bring up his Amendment in correct form, so that it can be interpreted in some legal sense; as it at present appears on the Paper it is altogether too indefinite.

I am sorry to appear to be persistent, but I think the right hon. Gentleman has fallen into an error in this question of penalties. He said there was a penalty in the measure. I suppose he refers to Clause 12, Sub-section (2), where there is a penalty attached. If, however, he will look at the top of page 5, he will find no penalty attached to any person who has not registered himself.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, after the word "institution" ["Poor Law institution"], to insert the words "except vagrants in the casual ward, a register of whom must be prepared by the workhouse master after consulting the vagrants."

I take the object of the Bill to be to have a register that shall facilitate the useful employment of all in the country between the ages of fifteen and fifty-five. With that I am in complete sympathy. The Clause as it stands excludes from that registration the ordinary inmates of workhouses. I am quite in favour of that. Frequently, however, there are inmates in the casual wards who, I think, ought to be included in the register. It will not be a complete register of the people unless these persons are included. Many of them are men quite able to work, professing to be looking for work, and hoping they will never find it. We have here an opportunity of inducing them to work, which will be of considerable value to the country, and, I think, will add popularity to the measure. Unfortunately, these are rather a large class. It will be a misfortune if they are excluded from the Bill. It is highly important to introduce these men to useful work, and I cannot help thinking that this is a valuable opportunity to do so. My right hon. Friend said that we cannot call upon the local bodies to undertake the work of registering these casuals. The right hon. Gentleman will allow me, as President of the Poor Law Association, to assure him to the contrary; and that there is no part of the work that local bodies will have to undertake under this Bill which will be more agreeable to most of them than the terms and provisions of a register containing the names of the men who go in and out of our casual wards. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out the difficulty that might occur when these men move from one casual ward to another.

I would suggest that these vagrants, when discharged from the casual ward, should receive a note or ticket requiring them to produce their certificate at each casual ward. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, and notwithstanding what he said, I hope he will further consider the question. I think he will find that in this proposal there is a legitimate attempt to deal with a class of persons, vagrants, that cause more distress and anxiety to the boards of guardians and the public generally than any other. We ought to have a register of them, and here is the opportunity to obtain it. If we introduce them to useful work they could help forward the interests of the country. My Amendment, I am sure, will have the support of local bodies. Here is an opportunity, in the first place, to complete a register which cannot be completed unless my Amendment is accepted, and to promote social reform which will be extremely advantageous to the public generally.

Though the register of vagrants may be desirable from many points of view, I am sure that my hon. Friend will at once see that these vagrants cannot possibly add to the assets and resources of the country at such a time as this. The only value of this register is to ascertain the actual assets and resources of the country that can be used during the period of the Act. This Amendment will only delay matters, and will only add extra burdens to those who already have enough to bear. It might be useful at some time or another to compile a register as desired by my hon. Friend, but it would not do at present to encumber our register with a list of vagrants who can be of no earthly use.

I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that these vagrants would be of great use if they could, at the present time, be made to work on farms. In many other ways, too, these men, who are living on the community, ought to be made to work when required—very much more than ninety-nine out of one hundred citizens of the country.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He knows that he and I have been working at the case of the vagrant for years. But the difficulty about the vagrant is not to pass an Act of Parliament to make him work. First of all, you have to find him; then, when you have found him, you have to make him work. We have none of us found a solution to that question! Merely registering a man who has occupied for one night or two nights a casual ward is not going to bring us nearer to that goal at all, while it will undoubtedly add an additional burden to those who have to make the register.

I think there is a little more in this suggestion than has yet been recognised by the President of the Local Government Board, whose sympathies with this sort of work are familiar to all. As a matter of fact, there is in many parts of the country a great shortage of agricultural labour at the present moment. Now there are every night in our casual wards a large number of potential workers if sufficient disciplinary measures are brought to bear. Obviously if you had a number of casuals in the wards on Monday night it is possible to find them work on Tuesday morning, and it is quite possible for the President of the Local Government Board, by a Departmental Order extending to the whole of the country the way-ticket system, to keep his Department in constant touch with every vagrant who applies for relief in any casual ward in the Kingdom. I suggest that, at a time when we are always having it emphasised that those who should work are most reluctant, and when the willing workers are being penalised for the benefit of the shirkers, it is of the utmost importance, if we are going to organise the potential labour of this country, that we should avail ourselves of these resources. I suggest that the President of the Local Government Board has powers to extend by Departmental Order some such system as the way-ticket, which would allow the authorities to keep in constant touch with every vagrant who applies for Poor Law relief.

Amendment negatived.

Further Amendments made: After the word "other" ["or other institution"], insert the word "prescribed."

Leave out the words "for the care of persons suffering from physical or mental infirmities."

Leave out the words "Provided that before the discharge of a person from a prison, lunatic asylum, or other place where he has been detained, or from a hospital or other such institution as aforesaid, the governor, master, manager, or other person in charge, shall ascertain from him the particulars required to be registered under this Act, and shall forward them to the proper local registration authority, who shall cause them to be

registered and a certificate of registration to be issued to the person so discharged."—[ Mr. Long.]

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.