§ COMMITTEE. [Progress, 15th December.]
§ [TWENTY-SECOND NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 19 (Election and qualification of Guardians).
In page 12, line 30, before the word " There," to insert the words " The Local Government Board shall appoint to be members of each Board of Guardians a number of persons not exceeding one for every five elected Guardians, and not exceeding three on any one Board."— (Mr. Rathbone.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, he hoped the Committee would remember that at the close of their proceedings the other night they had the benefit of listening to a very able speech by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Go- 1672 vernment Board. The right hon. Gentleman clearly put before the Committee the reasons which had induced him to come to the conclusion that a change in those who had the duty of administering the Poor Law would not have any material effect on the administration of the Poor Law itself. There could be no doubt as to the views held by the right hon. Gentleman, because he expressed them very distinctly. The right hon. Gentleman said—He laid down this principle: that the Guardians in rural parishes could not give outdoor relief except under the regulations of the Local Government Board, and those regulations safeguarded the ratepayers.Later on the right hon. Gentleman said—There was no power to grant outdoor relief except in accordance with the orders of the Local Government Board, and those orders were in force in every part of the Kingdom.The right hon. Gentleman concluded by saying—The Board of Guardians were simply the machinery by which the regulations of the Local Government Board were carried out.The right hon. Gentleman's arguments were in the direction of an assertion that so supreme was the power of the Local Government Board that the ratepayers were protected and uniformity of system was assured. The right hon. Gentleman shook his head, but what was the meaning of his argument if it was not— "Don't fear anything; my Department has such complete control that the Board of Guardians are but the machinery." The right hon. Gentleman meant that the regulations were so complete that they were bound to be so rigidly followed that nobody need fear any extravagance. What he (Sir R. Paget) wanted to point out was, that the right hon. Gentleman's own Report, published and circulated within the last few weeks, entirely refuted and confuted the whole of that argument. The ground was taken from under the right hon. Gentleman's feet. Since the last meeting of the Committee he (Sir R. Paget) had referred to that Report. Various comparisons were made in it. One of them was the ratio of expenditure on outdoor relief to the whole expenditure on indoor and outdoor relief. He found that in North Wales the expenditure on outdoor relief bore the proportion to the expenditure on the whole of the relief of 85 per cent. The figure in Shropshire was 40 per 1673 cent. Was it possible after that to Contend that any regulations of the Local Government Board were such that they could so control the expenditure that they could have one system in force in every Union? It could not be. The same regulations were in force, but the administration was different. What was to prevent Shropshire, with its 40 per cent., sliding back, slowly and steadily, until it reached the 85 per cent. of North Wales? It was a question entirely of administration. What was to prevent North Wales from pulling itself together, introducing a healthy scale, and gradually improving until it reached the high pitch of Shropshire? Nothing but administrations He had just now asked a friend, who was well-informed on the matter, how it was that the percentage in Shropshire was so extremely low, and the reply was, that it was because they had had a generation of men—men of the stamp of Sir Baldwin Leighton—influencing the Boards of Guardians in the direction of putting their system of Poor Law administration on the soundest basis. Another table showed a comparison of the number of poor relieved— indoor and out—per thousand of the population. In Norfolk they were 44 per thousand; in the West Hiding of Yorkshire they were 18 per thousand. To take the comparison in the larger area for the Local Government Board groups, they found that in the North-West groups the number was 19 per thousand, and in the South-West group 38 per thousand. The Report dealt with figures and facts, but it did not attempt to explain away the matter. Those who knew the secrets of administration knew that it was administration, and that alone, which had caused this discrepancy. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman's attention to another comparison, also from his Report, and that was with regard to old-age inmates of the Unions, those who were over 65 years of age. There was an interesting table showing what was the proportion borne by the inmates of workhouses of 65 years of age and upwards to the whole population of that age. They found that in Hertfordshire there was, per thousand of recipients of indoor relief, no fewer than 364; practically one in three. In Westmoreland the number was 147 per thousand. In the one case the numbers were 1674 one in three, and in the other case one in seven. Those differences were extraordinary. Again, in connection with workhouse expenditure, they found that in Rutlandshire the consumption of wines and spirits was nearly 13s. per head of the inmates of the workhouses, whilst in the Leeds Union it was ¼d. per head. To what was the difference owing? Administration.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, the consumption of wines and spirits was owing to the stimulants being prescribed by the medical officers.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, he thought that, if the right hon. Gentleman would make personal visits to some of these places, he Would find that this expenditure was owing more to the orders and administration of the Boards of Guardians themselves than to the action of the medical officers. A strict Board of Guardians would say to their medical officer—"We cannot allow expenditure to run away from us in this way." His (Sir R. Paget's) contention was that, no matter what regulations were in force, administrative ingenuity would drive a coach and four through them all. He did not make any charge whatever against the Boards of Guardians of the future, but he wished to ask whether there was any reason to believe that, if the Boards came to be composed of a very different class of persons from that which now supplied the Guardians, the administration of the Poor Law would tend in the direction of strictness and economy rather than of laxity? Since the Poor Law reform of 1834 things had very much changed. The labouring man was better off; he was better fed, better clothed, and better housed; he was more independent, and in every way better fitted for the position he might have to take under this Bill. He wanted the right hon. Gentleman to consider gravely what might be the possible effect of his measure. The question was really of such magnitude, and required to be treated with such minuteness, if it were treated properly, that the circumstances of the moment were not favourable to the due discussion of the measure. The House was attenuated, and the circumstances were such that if surely could not be a reasonable time for entering into so great a question. The lesson of 1834 was a bitter lesson, lax principles of administration 1675 having been allowed to creep in until they corrupted the whole of the body politic. That state of things had now been put an end to by a gradual and steady improvement in the administration of the Poor Law. The sum and substance of all Poor Law management and expenditure was administration. They all knew that there was still great room for improvement, and great demand for reform. Since 1834 there had been no great consideration of the Poor Law. The time had come when there ought to be such a consideration, and when full inquiry was needed. The Commission on Old Age Pensions dealt, no doubt, with a very important matter, but something further was needed. There was the question of classification of workhouses—
§ An hon. MEMBER, rising to Order, asked whether the hon. Baronet was speaking to the Question?
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, that those who had heard the important speech delivered by the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would agree with him that it would be hardly respectful to the right hon. Gentleman if the points dealt with in that speech were left unnoticed. There were no Party polities on this question. There was an earnest desire, on both sides of the House he believed, to improve the system of Poor Law administration. He feared that hasty action without the possibility of proper consideration might lead once more to a state of things as melancholy, degrading, and ruinous as that which was pointed out in the Report of 1834. One could not rest content under a state of things in which one out of every three or four persons of the age of 65 was now receiving relief, whilst one in 18 out of the whole population was also in receipt of relief last year, instead of the gradual reduction which one had been looking for; and finding year by year there was a distinct and marked increase in the number of those who obtained relief, the matter was one of great and national importance, and he thought it was well worthy of the right hon. Gentleman's careful consideration.
§ SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)
said, he hoped the Committee would not delay 1676 long before rejecting this Amendment. It seemed to him that there were three decisive flaws in it, every one of which should induce the Committee to reject it. The first was, that it rendered it compulsory on the Local Government Board to send down and make inquiry as to who were fit persons to serve on the Board; secondly, it would add to the bureaucratic character of the Bill by adding to the duties of the Local Government Board; and, lastly, it was absolutely contrary to the whole spirit of the Bill. The first sub-section of the clause said—(1) There shall be no ex officio or nominated Guardians.He would ask any Member of the Committee if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carnarvon was not directly in the teeth of that sub-section? The Amendment would take the selection of a section of the Guardians out of the hands of the ratepayers and place it in the hands of the Local Government Board. He had listened to the speeches which had been made in favour of the Amendment, and had not heard a single argument which could get over any one of the flaws he had pointed out. For that reason he thought they ought not to continue the discussion.
§ MR. CAVENDISH (Derbyshire, W.)
said, he ventured to make a few remarks, because he had the honour at the present moment to hold the position of Chairman of a Board of Guardians in North Lonsdale. He was bound to say that that position had not been conferred upon him because of any merits of his own. He had been selected because of the services of his grandfather, who had preceded him in the post, and who, since 1834, had done his best to administer, in a proper spirit, the Poor Law in the district in which he resided. He (Mr. Cavendish) could quite understand, and heartily supported, the desire of the Government to abolish the existing system of ex officio Guardians. Under the present system, as the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had pointed out on Friday night, the Magistrates were scattered about in such numbers in different parts of the country that there was nothing like uniformity. He, however, should regret to see the ex officio Guardians abolished, and he hoped they would find some means of securing some sort of ex officio membership. Ex officios had, on the whole, 1677 and considering their difficult position, done their work well, and it would be difficult for many of these to continue members of the Boards under the elective system, seeing that they had numerous and most important duties to discharge in other capacities. Take the case of the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir J. T. Hibbert). That right hon. Gentleman had done an immense amount of good in the Union with which he (Mr. Cavendish) was connected, but now, having regard to his official duties at the Treasury, he would be incapable of performing the duties of an elected Guardian. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman would consent to serve as an ex officio member, and at certain times, when grave necessity for it arose, would be able to give the Board the benefit of his advice. The right hon. Gentleman had duties to perform in connection with the County Council, and in the future he might have others in connection with the Parish and District Councils. It would be a great misfortune if the valuable services and experience of such manufacturers as the right hon. Gentleman could not be availed of. He, therefore, hoped the Government might discover some way, either by this or some other Amendment, of utilising the services of such gentlemen.
§ MR. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
said, there was now a clear issue before the House. They had to decide whether they should allow these ex officio Guardians to continue, or whether they should require Boards of Guardians to be composed entirely of representatives of the people. They had heard a great deal in the course of the Debate as to the merits of ex officio members of Boards of Guardians. He was sure they on that (the Ministerial) side of the House desired in no way to minimise the efforts of those gentlemen who had given up their time at great sacrifice to themselves to serve the public on Boards of Guardians. But he would point out that it was a question of principle. It was a question as to whether they wished to have a really representative government in the localities —government by the people unhampered and unfettered by any nominees or men appointed by Local or Central Bodies. They wanted to have in the local districts their local representatives carrying on their work unhampered by ex officio 1678 Guardians. The hon. Member for Carnarvon, no doubt, was a gentleman of great experience in these matters, and his views were entitled to great respect. The hon. Member proposed that Boards of Guardians should have the power of nominating men to act with them. What was the reason of his Amendment? He told them he moved it because he was afraid that if there were no continuity of ex officio Guardians—that was to say, of men of leisure and wide experience— there would be maladministration of poor relief. The hon. Member told them also that he feared that unless these gentlemen were appointed or nominated in some form or other they would not take part in the work of Boards of Guardians. That was entirely contrary to all their experience. They had found in County Council elections that men who, previously to the Local Government Act of 1888, had taken part in local affairs were willing to stand for election as County Councillors. His hon. Friend wished to almost force the ex officio class on Boards of Guardians. Well, a good many faults had been attributed to the squires, but he (Mr. Luttrell) had never heard before that they were at all bashful, and he believed that they would be perfectly willing to come forward for election. One hon. Member had said that ex officios would not stand for election because they were too busy. If such were the case, how could they afford the time to take part now in the administration of local relief? A great deal had been said about the evils which were apparent in Poor Law administration previously to the year 1834; but these evils had arisen mainly, or very greatly, through the action of the very class of men whom his hon. Friend now proposed to put on the Boards of Guardians. Lord Althorp, when he introduced the Poor Law Bill of 1834, said that—From the conclusion of the last century up to the present time the Magistracy of this country, though acting with very good feelings of humanity, had in the administration of the Poor Laws fallen into considerable mistakes, and he had himself, in his own situation as a Magistrate, not unfrequently felt bound to act upon bad and erroneous principles in this respect. With this view, he should propose that Justices should not in future have the power of ordering parochial relief to persons in their own homes—he meant outdoor relief to the poor.The proposal of the Government was to 1679 give the people more representative power. By granting increased representative, power in 1836 Parliament, to a large extent, abolished the evils which then existed, and he believed that when a still greater increase of representative power was given the Poor Law administration would be still further improved. It was not necessary to have such Guardians as his hon. Friend proposed, because there was now a Central Authority. The President of the Local Government Board stated the other night that he had ample power to safeguard the interests of the ratepayers and to prevent any wanton or undue expenditure on Poor Law relief. He (Mr. Luttrell) hoped that the Committee would shortly go to a Division, and he felt perfectly convinced that in one Lobby would be found the friends of privilege, and in the other Lobby the friends of democratic representation, unhampered by officialism.
§ MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
, in supporting the Amendment, said that, although he did not in any sense approve of the present system of ex officio or nominated Guardians, he felt that a strong case was made out by the President of the Local Government Board when he pointed out that in some place there were too many such Guardians, and in other cases too few. While their attendance was irregular, and many only put in an appearance on special occasions when there were offices to be filled up, all agreed that some change in the system was necessary, but he could not see why they should on that ground get rid of ex officios altogether. No one would deny that ex officio Guardians had rendered most useful service in Poor Law administration. The test to be applied was outdoor relief, and they all knew that prior to 1834 the country was being pauperised by that system of relief. Returns which had recently been published showed that in those Unions which were largely controlled by ex officio Guardians the smallest amount of outdoor relief was, as a rule, paid; and vice versâ. Wales, for instance, stood very badly indeed with respect to outdoor relief; the percentage was 80.8, whereas for the whole Kingdom it was 53.7. That was, he believed, partly attributable to the fact that in Wales the ex officio Guardians were less regular in their attendance than 1680 elsewhere. In some cases, too, the proceedings were conducted in Welsh, a language which the ex officios did not understand. Wrexham, however, had a smaller expenditure for outdoor relief than any other Union in Wales. The Wrexham Union, however, was controlled by an ex officio Chairman, and that was the explanation of the low expenditure. He believed that the President of the Local Government Board was heartily in favour of everything which this Amendment was intended to produce. The right hon. Gentleman had told the Committee that he was in favour of the present ex officio Guardians being returned on the Poor Law Boards in the future; that he believed they were sure to be elected, and that their position and influence on the Boards would be strengthened because they were elected. That might be true of a great part of England. No doubt the majority of the most active and most useful ex officios would be elected under the provisions of the Bill. But the Bill applied not only to England, but to Wales; and did the right hon. Gentleman think that in the Welsh-speaking parts of Wales there would be the slightest chance of these Magistrates being elected on the Boards of Guardians? He supposed that the Magistrates who had recently been appointed would be elected on the Boards; but, speaking from personal experience—his father having been for 25 years the Chairman of a Welsh Union—he could tell the right hon. Gentleman that in the greater part of Wales it would be as easy for the camel to go through the eye of a needle as for an ex officio Guardian to be elected under this Bill. Take what had occurred in the case of the County Council of Denbighshire. Of the 48 Councillors only 11 were Magistrates, and every one of these eleven came from the most eastern part of the county where the people were almost entirely English or English-speaking. But in the most western part of the county he was perfectly certain that no ex officio Guardian of the class which the right hon. Gentleman desired to see elected would be returned on the new Poor Law Boards. Surely, if it were important that men who had experience in the administration of the Poor Law—men who were placed beyond the temptations that others might be under; men who had always 1681 striven to keep down the poor rates— should be returned on the new Boards, the fact that no such men would be placed on the Boards in a great many parts of Wales was a very good argument in favour of the Amendment, or of some provision excepting Wales from this clause of the Bill. Looking generally at the clause, he should say that he thought it was a disastrous thing to enter into this reform of the Poor Law hurriedly at this season of the year. He thought this question far transcended any other question dealt with in the Bill. It was all very well to set up Parish Councils and District Councils. It was all very well to democratise our system of parochial government of our Boards by which sanitation was carried out. These Boards offered no strong temptations to corruption; but when they proposed to set up a body which not only levied rates, but could distribute these rates amongst the people who elected the members of that body, it was a serious matter to England, while in Wales it would be disastrous. He supported the Amendment because he thought it would give in all cases just that amount of control and that amount of safeguard which was most important when it was proposed to bring a fundamental change like this into operation.
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
said, he thought the hon. Gentle-man would have some trouble in getting the Welsh Members to agree with him that Wales ought to be excluded from the operation of the clause. With regard to the Amendment before the Committee, he was surprised that it should have been moved by the hon. Member for Arfon, after that hon. Gentleman had passed such severe strictures on the ex officio system as a whole. It should not be forgotten that the principle of the clause had been justified by the Conservative Party. It was a principle that was contained in the Local Government Act of 1888, for which the Party opposite were responsible. The Act disestablished the ex officios. The work of the county had hitherto been carried on by nominated Magistrates.
§ MR. LAMBERT
said, the Magistrates were not subjected to popular election; and as they were not under popular control the late Government thought it wise 1682 to disestablish these gentlemen and bring into existence a body placed on the broadest franchise. They only left one forlorn set of creatures, called the Joint Committee, probably as a sort of remembrance of old times. The evils which existed prior to 1834 were deplorable; but they did not exist because the Boards of Guardians were elected, but because they were not elected; and the Government did not do anything to alter the principle of the Poor Law, for what they did was merely to bring the system of election up to date. He had been a member of a Board of Guardians for the past six years, and that Board felt so strongly on the subject that by a very large majority they voted for the abolition of the ex officio element. He failed to see where the ex officios were superior to the elected Guardians. Magistrates were nominated ex officios because they had some judicial capacity, and not because of any capacity for dealing with Poor Law affairs. He believed that, as the British people had never shown themselves ungrateful to those who had served them well, the best of the ex officio Guardians would be re-elected under the Bill, and would thereby bring a great deal more dignity and weight to the deliberations of the Boards. It had been said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Arfon Division that, as a rule, the ex officios only attended when there was some job to be done and some patronage to be exercised. He would not bring such a sweeping charge against them; but he would relieve them from such a stigma. He did not believe that the existence of ex officios on the Boards was necessary in order to secure continuity of policy. He believed that the provision of the President of the Local Government Board providing that one-third of the Guardians should retire annually was a far better safeguard for continuity than any ex officio element could possibly be. It was not his experience that the ex officios were great economists. It was the elected Guardians that had shown themselves most careful of the ratepayers' money; and he felt perfectly sure that, if any Board were unduly extravagant, it would not be re-elected. He did not know of any body of Englishmen who were partial to the payment of rates. Most Englishmen regarded rates in the same way as Mem- 1683 bers of Parliament regarded General Elections—necessary evils, all right once in a way, but if too often repeated liable to become intolerable bores. Hon. Gentlemen opposite declared that District Councils were necessary. But, then, would it not be a palliable absurdity to set up two Boards—the District Council and the Board of Guardians in the same district? As a ratepayer he should protest against any such proposal. Ratepayers did not object to have their money spent on objects of usefulness, but they did object to spend it on costly machinery of administration. The President of the Local Government Board had done his best to conduct the Bill peaceably through the House, and his efforts deserved the praise of all Members; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would stick to this clause, which would place our local government system on a sounder basis.
§ MR. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)
said that, as he had always protested against social questions being treated from a Party point of view, he intended to approach this question solely from the standpoint of Poor Law administration. It would have been more to the point had the last speaker, who said he was a member of a Board of Guardians which voted for the extinction of the ex officio element, given the Committee the acts of those ex officios which had caused their condemnation. The hon. Member said that the ex officios attended the Board meetings to do acts of jobbery and patronage, but the patronage which these Boards gave away was not such as specially recommended itself to the class from which ex officio members were drawn. From what he had seen of Local Boards, the presence of ex officio members had more than once prevented most undesirable jobs which were sought to be done, not in the public interest, but contrary to it. It was because this question was so difficult and so special that he was sorry it was brought before the country at the present crisis when a General Election was so near, and not dealt with in a judicial spirit after a General Election by a Bill with the consensus of the two Front Benches. He was rather surprised that this Government, which claimed to be a decentralising administration, should be so inconsistent as to put up one of its 1684 members to argue that the ratepayer should not be defended by his own action, but by a body sitting at Whitehall. If a ratepayer had only to depend upon that body he pitied the ratepayer. It was once thought that the men who paid the rates were fairly entitled to call the tune, but the President of the Local Government Board had given away his whole case by practically acknowledging the soundness of the contention that under the new suffrage people would have the power without the responsibility of payment. He would be quite satisfied if the President of the Local Government Board could do something to do away with the compound householder. In urban districts there was not the same danger there was in rural districts, that there would be a connection between the voting and the administration of out-relief. It was important that those who had advocated out-relief should have brought home to their pockets the result of the policy they supported at the poll; and if only this were secured, he would not hesitate to trust the democratic principle; but it was wrong that the determination of a policy should rest with those who would not bear the cost of it. Whilst it was desirable that there should be uniformity of action throughout the country, it was also necessary that there should be considerable local elasticity, and, seeing the diversity there was throughout England and even in the Metropolis, it was preposterous to say that the Local Government Board had any appreciable controlling influence. They could not in these days control from Whitehall a Local Body elected on the widest suffrage; and it was only in the most extreme circumstances that the President of the Local Government Board could come to the relief of the local ratepayers. It was not a money question only, but it was one of the demoralisation of the poorer classes for beyond all doubt demoralisation would follow the operation of such a clause as this. The ratepayers were perfectly prepared to pay any rates if only they could produce an improvement in the condition of the working classes, or even in the condition of those who did not work. In this matter of the influence of the Local Government Board, he would remind them that in this winter, when there was no abnormal distress, the President of the 1685 Board had been urged to issue a Circular to stimulate Local Authorities to do their duty. If this were done in the green tree what would be done in the dry when these Local Boards were formed on an electoral basis, and when there might be pressure not only to extend outdoor relief, but to abolish workhouses? It was not likely that the President of the Local Government Board could ever sufficiently look after the interests of the efficient administration of the Poor Law, while these Local Democratic Bodies have increased power and so little responsibility brought home to them. He was in favour of the Amendment, because it would secure that uniformity which the President of the Local Government Board desired, with the smallest amount of friction. The nomination of two or three specially selected men would do much to secure wise administration In some districts, and would help less-informed men to carry out their duties. It often happened at present that the recommendations of Poor Law Inspectors were not at all attended to; and they would be still less likely to be listened to when there were no nominated or specially selected men to cultivate a wise administration by placing their knowledge and experience at the disposal of others. In some parts of London, and especially at the East End, the influence of ex officio Guardians had been a very beneficial one. These ex officios had been met with cold looks at first, but after a time they made themselves felt; and he knew several who were now the mainstay of wise relief in their districts, and were cordially appreciated by those who had originally given them the cold shoulder. He would say, let the suffrage be as wide as they like so long as those who voted contributed directly towards the money to be spent, and would suggest that the Board of Guardians should be a body ad hoc, elected by all who paid any rates. If the present scheme were dropped, and such a proposal as he had suggested were brought forward with the consent of both Parties after the General Election, he felt convinced they would run no risk of injuring the great mass of the English people, or the true principles of Poor Law relief which were now in jeopardy. He was quite of opinion that it was not necessary that J. P.'s as such 1686 should be added to the Boards of Guardians; and he was quite opposed to the Magistrates attending the Board meetings en bloc. He did not think that occurred. He had been an ex officio Guardian for 13 years, and he attended the meetings when he had leisure. But now, unfortunately, he had not the leisure, and did not attend the meetings; yet it was probable that his name went to swell the list that was read out the other day. He did not believe the ex officio Guardians of that Board ever turned up to affect improperly the action of the Board; they had never done so to carry a job for themselves; but he had known, in other rural Boards such happen and elected members come up in strength when they wanted to appoint an auctioneer to the office of road surveyor. In conclusion, he should again express regret that the Government should have brought forward this clause at all. It only showed for the fiftieth time that the extremity of a Government was the measure of its principles.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
said, it was only natural that this Debate should take a very wide range. For his part, however, he intended to confine himself strictly to the Amendment which had been moved by his hon. Friend the Member for the Arfon Division. If anyone listened to the speech of his hon. Friend they would see that he drew a distinct line between the ex officios who did not attend to their duties and those who did. The objection some of them had to the proposal of the Government was not that it interfered with and altered the existing system, but that it indiscriminately swept away good and bad together without putting any substitute, even for a short time, in the place of the valuable elements it would remove. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board gave them very elaborate figures the other night which showed the extraordinary disproportion there was between the number of the ex officio and elected Guardians. He thought the right hon. Gentleman 1687 might well have spared them, for, after all, his figures only proved one thing, and that was that the distribution of Magistrates in the different parts of the country was very unequal. The great majority of these gentlemen who had been appointed by one Government or another as Justice's of the Peace had not applied for or accepted the appointment with the view of becoming Guardians at all, but for the purpose of performing the duties of their office as Magistrates. No one would deny that a considerable portion of ex officio Guardians did most valuable work; the fact that about 250 out of 630 Chairmen of Boards of Guardians were taken from the class of ex officio Guardians put that matter out of dispute; and when they considered that the ex officio Guardians regularly in attendance were in the proportion of 1 to 10 elected Guardians, they saw that the services of those who attended were valued most highly by those who had the best opportunity of judging of their services—namely, their elected colleagues. That being so, ought they not to think once or twice before they swept away in this rough-and-ready way all these valuable elements on Boards of Guardians? The President of the Local Government Board told them it was impossible to trace any discrepancies of administration to the proportion of ex officios on the Board, but the right hon. Gentleman did not give them any figures to show that on the Boards where Poor Law administration was conducted most wisely there was not a directing element of ex officio Guardians. He was not sure the right hon. Gentleman would be disposed to deny that on many of these Boards, which ranked highest in the estimation of the Local Government Board, there were not a few individuals belonging to this much abused ex officio class who exercised so much influence that they were the real leaders. He should like to know very much whether anyone would deny that fact. But what the right hon. Gentleman added about the nominated Guardians in London was of considerable importance in considering the Amendment now before the Committee. He admitted there was not a large number, but he thought the right 1688 hon. Gentleman said there were 23, and that he had recently added to their number.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
asked why the right hon. Gentleman added to the number at all if the nominated and ex officio Guardians were a useless element? Why had he not taken the line he did about the qualification of Guardians and declined to add to the number? His action showed that in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman they formed a valuable element on certain Boards of Guardians. He was not acquainted with the details of Poor Law administration in London, but he was sure there were Boards where the nominated Guardians had done valuable service, where they would be very much missed if swept away, and under the new state of things there would be many other Boards, where similarly appointed Guardians might render extremely valuable service. After all, his hon. Friend's proposal was only to extend to other parts of the country what prevailed in London, and if made more optional in form it would give discretion to the Local Government Board to add to the number where it was considered beneficial, as admittedly was the case in many parts of London. Then he wished to allude to the extraordinary argument used by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the real effect of this clause. The right hon. Gentleman said they were not in any way altering the principles of administration—that no set of gentlemen were more opposed to that than the Government. He (Mr. Hobhouse) thought that by altering the mode of election, by sweeping away all the ex officio element, they were very likely to alter the principles of administration. How was it, if the principles of administration depended on the Order of the Local Government Board, they had such extraordinary differences, in the proportion of indoor and outdoor relief all over the country, and even in the Metropolis? When he 1689 spoke of the Metropolis he ought to remind the hon. Gentleman, one of the Metropolitan Members who spoke the other night with such a light heart on the subject of Poor Law reform, that in London they had a great safeguard against lax administration which did not prevail in other parts of the country; they had no common poor fund in other counties in England. If the Government were introducing a form of administration analogous to that, they would have a stronger case for claiming that they would not dangerously relax Poor Law administration in other parts of the country. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman's argument was really a good one, that the administration of the Poor Law depended, after all, on central control, did he not see the proposal of his hon. Friend was the very thing he needed to strengthen his hands and to render the central control more efficient? Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman stood on his belief in his own principles, he ought most readily to accept this proposal—at any rate, in the optional form he (Mr. Hobhouse) had suggested. They were told the Government did not wish to weaken the Poor Law administration, and there was no risk of that being done, in spite of the election being in the hands of the compound householders. That, he was bound to remind some hon. Friends of his who called " question" just now, Was one of the vital changes in the system of Poor Law election, althought it did not fall within the confines of this clause. This was the first occasion on which they had been justified, perhaps, in calling attention to this most important change in Poor Law administration, which was caused by putting the voting power in country districts into the hands of a class who did not directly contribute to the rates. This, to his mind, was far more important than abolishing plural voting or removing ex officio Guardians. Then some hon. Members said that all the good men who sat as ex officios would be able to be returned as elected Guardians. Were they quite sure of that; were there not many of these men who for various reasons would not care to go through a popular election? They were not all so strong and active as his hon. Friend. Some of them were advanced in years; and he thought that age 1690 and experience was no disqualification for wise administration of the Poor Law. After all, they must not put physical strength too high in the competition for public service, and they should remember that all men were not equally qualified for these sometimes severe contests. Others might be prevented from contesting from over scrupulousness and from motives that were not fully appreciated in this House, but which, nevertheless, did bear weight with some excellent men, and prevented them from re-seeking by popular election posts they had held by other means. That was not all. They were sweeping away all these ex officio posts, but they were not creating others. They were not adding Aldermen to the District Councils. He was not advocating that at present, though he thought the institution had worked extremely well in the County Councils. If they were adding Aldermen to the District Councils he thought that would provide posts that some of these valuable men could fill; but instead of that they were forcing these men to enter into competition with their fellow-elected Guardians, and in many cases it would be a question whether the squire, who had done great service, should run an election contest against a fellow-parishioner who had been an equally valuable member of a Board of Guardians. These were practical difficulties against these men getting elected. He was not sure, moreover, whether the fact of a man having administered Poor Law relief somewhat sternly, and yet with a full sense of justice, always made him the most acceptable as a popular candidate. In the election of the future they must guard against having promises of lax administration made an inducement to the electors to return a man at the head of the poll. Surely there were many reasons to make them desire to keep some of these men. They wanted continuity in their administration, and he did not see how the fact that the Guardians were to be elected for three years was going to preserve continuity at the first election. They wanted some variety, a certain number of men who were not always looking to their prospects at the next election, who had more of an independent position than any popularly-elected men could 1691 have. After all, Poor Law administration was somewhat different from the administration of other local matters. The Guardians did not spend public money on purely public objects, but in relieving private individuals—and there was much more room for favouritism, for the influence of the softer influences of human nature, than there was in the dry administration of sanitary and other local matters. All that ought to be borne in mind when dealing with this branch of local administration, and he thought the Government would be wise, if they could not accept the proposal as it stood on the Paper, to accept some proposal calculated to attain the same results for, say, a limited space of time. He ventured to think that unless they had some power of this kind vested in some superior authority they would not get in the future, in many Unions, what they all, in their heart of hearts, desired to get, a wise administration of the Poor Law, which they had had for the last 60 years.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
said, there was really such a strong feeling in his constituency upon this subject that he felt bound to say a few words in support, at least, of the principle of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone), and in support also of the very able, sympathetic, and well-informed contention of the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. H. Hob-house) who had just sat down. The feeling amongst his. principal supporters was this: that the dispensation of relief as a personal aid to particular individuals did differentiate the Poor Law administration from almost all other kinds of public duty. It was thought most objectionable that the dispensers of the public bounty should be elected by the very men who were to partake of the benefits. That was the great and cardinal objection. Moreover, the principle of this Amendment was really carrying out that which already existed. The present Poor Law Guardians, with all their defects and shortcomings, were largely popularly-elected or nominated, 1692 or appointed, ex officio; but even those who were elected were not elected by any of those who really did not pay the rates, or of whom it might be said did not properly feel them. That, again, was the great objection to almost everything in this Clause 19. Then it was felt that after the earlier clauses of the Bill whereby it had been declared, despite all their objections, that those who did not pay the rates, or who did not pay the rates directly, should have the voting power, after all that it was thought there was an accumulative weight and momentum of objection against these Poor Law Guardians. They apprehended that there would be probably a great increase of relief if this clause should, unhappily, ever become law, which they trusted devoutly it never would, and which never should if they could possibly prevent it. So great was this danger that his constituents apprehended there would be an amount of unnecessary relief given that might amount to a large system of national corruption. Then there was this further fear: that the best men who now served on the Board of the Poor Law Guardians would not consent to stand. That matter had been so very well put by the last speaker that he need not labour it; but it was felt that many men who were most highly qualified by experience, by sentiment, and by local knowledge for the posts of Guardians were not fitted to go through what they called the rough-and-tumble of a popular election. [An hon. MEM-BER: Why?] He would not go into the reason why; it was sufficient for him to state the fact, and he would appeal to his hon. Friends around him if that were not the fact? They did not speak feelingly; they were prepared to go through this rough-and-tumble, as they did not only for Parliament, but many other institutions; but they knew there were many of the best members of these Boards who would not consent. Moreover, they had not the time, and were not prepared to bear all the rebuffs that beset those who went through this ordeal. If the best men were not secured for the work it would be a great national loss; and there was this further danger: that if these men were displaced they would be replaced by a set of second-rate professional politicians. [A laugh.] The hon. 1693 Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) laughed; his conscience made him do so, . for he knew that would be the case perfectly well. The danger was quite obvious; and whatever happened at the election of County Councils, School Boards, and the like, at all events they should keep out of the Poor Law Boards of Guardians the professional politicians who would run for the purpose of administering the Poor Law for their own political interests; he could not imagine anything more dangerous than that the Poor Law should be administered according to the requirements of professional politicians. Then there was the precedent of Aldermen. Already the principle was acknowledged for the County Council, and he believed there were Aldermen in all Municipal Corporations, and surely what was good for municipal life must be equally good for the Poor Law administration. But there was a far greater argument for having Aldermen in the Poor Law administration, because in municipal life the administration did not dispense benefits as in the case of the Poor Law. These appeared to his friends in his Division to be unanswerable arguments, and to constitute grave objections to the clause, and therefore he should vote, at least, in favour of the principle of the Amendment.
§ SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, he spoke on this subject as having had experience as a Guardian in a West End London parish, and as an ex officio Guardian for the Union of Bradford. His first remark would be that the Government, as on the now historic Clause 13, had failed to see the great difference of administration which arose from the difference in the character of the administrators. If they changed the trustees he believed they invariably changed the character of the trust. He happened to be the only ex officio Gnardian on the Bradford Board, but he thought he might venture to say that the judicial faculty acquired by the administration of justice was of great value on a Board of Guardians. He believed a Magistrate who had sat on a seat of justice for some 1694 years did acquire the most valuable habit of testing cases on their own merits, and casting aside those feelings of prepossession and prejudice which were so attractive to the novice and so fatal to careful and wise administration. And he wished to make this further remark as to ex officio Guardians, that he believed the Boards of Guardians derived great advantage from these on account of their permanent tenure. He believed that many of the ex officio members who had been chosen as Chairmen of Boards of Guardians had continued to hold the position during a long series of years. Though it might be true the ex officio might be one among many, his experience was large and valuable, and he counted far more in the deliberation of his colleagues than would be expected from their number. If he chose he might refer to a distinguished personage who had for many years a conspicuous position on a. Board of Guardians in the County of Lancaster. During his residence in Lancashire he was present on every occasion that the Board met, and he knew how valuable his services had been to the administration of the Poor Law by that Board. There was this further recommendation —namely, the independence. He believed it was very important that the gentleman exercising the function of a Guardian should be thoroughly independent, and he believed that a man who might lose his seat at the next election might not give that consideration to all the cases which their nature deserved. He did not believe that economy always rendered a Guardian popular; but, on the contrary, the Guardian who was most popular was often the man who was most kind, to use a general phrase, or, in other words, who was most liberal with other people's money. There was another point on which he ventured somewhat to join issue with his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman somewhat overrated the effective influence of central authority upon local administration. It was not possible for any Central Board, without absolutely binding down 1695 the Guardians with rigid rules, to enforce that similarity of policy which was desirable. He thought they might gain advantage by looking to what had taken place in the East End of London. He regretted the absence from that House of Mr. Pell, who had done so much for the Poor Law administration. Mr. Pell was the first man in the East End of London to do away with outdoor relief over a wide area. He was not aware of any change in the central law corresponding to that change of law in three Unions. The change was so great as to amount to a revolution. Again, he (Sir F. S. Powell) was a Guardian in a parish in the West End of London, and he could remember kindness of a lavish character, which surprised him as a Yorkshire Guardian; then came a Chairman who practised severity, and on this Chairman's retirement there was again a return to liberality. Even the same Guardians could not act precisely alike in good times and bad times. When times were prosperous and work plentiful they would be inclined to regard every applicant for relief as, primâ facie, an impostor, but at other times when work was scarce they would sympathise with any decent man who came before the Board. He believed that the influence of just severity in the one case, and of undue kindness in the other, would cause modifications in the administration of the Poor Law. He did not regret such modifications, because he believed they really gave that elasticity to the administration which was of great value, and, in fact, in some cases rendered the administration of the Poor Law possible. He believed that strict and fair, but austere, Guardians would decline to help a widow in the first days of her widowhood, while Guardians of a liberal tendency would give aid in these cases. Those who were the best administrators of charity told him they had scarcely known a case where a widow had been injured by refusal, because she was sure to have some friend to help her; whilst they had scarcely known a case where a widow received assistance without injury to her independence and force of character. It was impossible by a rigid law to produce rigid uniformity. There was great force in what fell from his hon. Friend with reference to the disparity between the 1696 different districts, and it was certain that there should be—he did not say absolute identity, but, speaking roughly, a great correspondence between the amount of pauperism and the amount of education. At the head of the list his hon. Friend had read they had Norfolk, and at the foot they had the West Riding, Lancashire being next. Lancashire and the West Riding were two districts adjoining each other, they were similar, being manufacturing districts, and they stood in a position of nearly complete identity as regarded pauperism, occupying the best position on the list. Wise administration was at the root of the matter. When there was an intelligent and independent population like that in Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, and a Board of Guardians who worked with the popular feeling which was in favour of independence and intelligence, there was a low scale of Poor Law relief. When they had such discrepancies as had been pointed out by his hon. Friend, they showed that the mere law from the Central Authority did not suffice to produce uniformity, but that uniformity arose from the administration of individual Guardians acting according to their sense of what was right and best for the people. The truth was, so far as he could see, that what was desired was not the popularity of individual Guardians with the certainty of re-election, but a course of administration which would be conducive to the welfare of the population.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
did not wish to prolong a discussion which, in his opinion, had occupied quite long enough, but he should like to point out that as the Amendment was narrow and restricted to one point it would be convenient to dispose of it before they proceeded to another Amendment which raised the whole issue. He declared that no act of the President of the Local Government Board had been attended with more satisfactory results to the country than the lowering of the qualification of Guardians. He could bear personal testimony to this. In two considerable parishes in his own constituency it had resulted in the election of popular Guar- 1697 dians of a different type from those previously elected, and who, he would venture to say, would discharge their duties even better than the Guardians of the ordinary type. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire was really as futile as it was inconsistent with the principles of the Bill. What did his hon. Friend expect the head of the Local Government Board to do? Was he to select the best men? The best men would probably be selected by the parishes themselves as elected Guardians, and if the right hon. Gentleman was to select men whom the electors would have rejected that would be a most unsatisfactory result. They had been warned in very eloquent terms by the hon. Member for Kingston that this system of outdoor relief was likely to develop into a grand system of national corruption. He should like to know whether any man who had studied the effects of the Friendly Societies, Trades Unions, and all combinations of men to secure the principle of thrift and to avoid the terrible results such as they had to face in the period before the Poor Law, seriously supposed they could ever drift back to the period before 1834? In order to show the inutility, wanton and unpractical nature of this Debate he should like to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they did not remember the 15th February of this year? They were then challenged to divide the House against this very principle of the qualification and mode of election of Boards of Guardians, but they did not do so, and did not in their speeches seriously challenge the right of this House to do away with ex officio Guardians, and to sweep away plural voting, whilst the only argument they advanced was that the Poor Law administration ought to be dealt with as a whole. Let it be dealt with as a whole. No one would welcome that more than the Radical Party, but when gentlemen opposite did not dare last February to divide the House against the single point now before the Committee he asked was not the whole of this Debate on the Amendment and clause an utter sham and mockery of Parliament and the country?
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
expressed his regret that the Government did not see their way to truncate the 1698 Poor Law clauses of the Bill. In reference to the question of ex officio Guardians he remarked that even the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had given them a good character, whilst Mr. Alfred Pell, whose great success to Poor Law administration had been referred to, was for nearly the whole of his career as a Guardian ex officio. At least one-third of the Chairmen of Boards of Guardians over the whole country were ex officio, and he failed to see why, except it was to make the Bill symmetrical, and because they had done their duty, the right hon. Gentleman wished to abolish them. It had been said that they were not absolutely punctual in their attendance, but how could they be, some of them who were ex officio Guardians and also Members of that House, when the Prime Minister desired their attendance there for 11 months out of 12? Ex officios in these days were an anachronism; he did not deny it. He confessed he should like himself to be an ex officio Member of Parliament for the next 10 years, but that was beyond practical politics, and he did not see why men who desired to serve on Boards of Guardians should not go through the mill just as Members of Parliament had to do. It was because the men who had done their duty on Boards of Guardians as ex officios would go through the mill and would be elected that he confessed he did not see the objection to this clause quite as strongly as some of his hon. Friends on that side of the House.
§ MR. COLERIDGE (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
desired to dispel a few of the alarms which seemed to be felt on this clause by Members opposite. It was believed, apparently, that the abolition of nominated or ex officio Guardians would tend to the production of a body of elective representatives who would dissipate public money on behalf of the undeserving poor. He had waited in vain for statistics to discover whether or not it was true, as alleged, that those Boards of Guardians in which the elective principle prevailed were more extravagant in their expenditure of public money than those Boards in which the ex officio element 1699 prevailed. It would be paying a bad compliment to the industry and ability of hon. Gentlemen opposite not to suppose that if such arguments were forthcoming, founded on fact, they should have heard them in this Debate. He did not think hon. Gentlemen opposite quite appreciated the extreme horror that the poor had of the brand of pauperism, and he thought that had been exemplified in the late industrial struggle. Nothing was more affecting or praiseworthy than the silent, obstinate resistance on the part of the poor to going as beggars for parochial relief, and that not only in the case of those who took part in the struggle, and of whom it might be said that work was open to them, although not on their own terms, but of those who had no part or lot in the struggle, and who might with a very specious excuse have gone to the parish for parochial relief. Surely they might argue from the known to the unknown, and say that it was a happy augury for the future, and showed them that the poor themselves were not desirous of becoming pauperised, whether through ex officio Guardians or through Guardians chosen by themselves. It was not through elected Guardians that in 1834 the rates were dispensed in an extravagant manner. It was through the ex officio Guardians, who did it for reasons best known to themselves, but which other people believed were reasons not unconnected with the lowering of wages. In his judgment, and in the judgment of all those who had had experience of the working classes, there were no more obstinate or hostile opponents of mendicity than the industrious poor themselves.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)
said, that this had been a most interesting and, at the same time, a by no means one-sided Debate, having been taken part in pretty equally by Members on both sides of the House. Such being the case, it was rather a strange thing for an hon. Gentleman who had taken part in it to call the Debate a ridiculous Debate, as the hon. Member for East Northampton had done. Besides the well-sustained character of the Debate, the Amendment under consideration had proceeded from one of the supporters of the Government, and, therefore, there could not be said to 1700 be anything of an obstructive element in the discussion. This Debate illustrated, what he ventured to say on the Second Reading of this Bill—namely, that when the right hon. Gentleman, for reasons-which were known to himself and not to them, introduced into this Bill the question of the reform of the Poor Law, he must be prepared to look forward to a different state of things to that which would have occurred if he had confined his Local Government Bill to a Bill establishing Parish Councils. No doubt to establish Parish Councils by itself was a very considerable order; but when, in addition, there was added the enormous question of the Poor Law, the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that he had greatly increased the complication of the measure they had to consider. The right hon. Gentleman, with an assurance he was surprised to hear, said they were not dealing with the administration of the Poor Law, but with the administrators. The right hon. Gentleman could not persuade him he was so innocent as that. He could not believe the right hon. Gentleman did not connect the administration with those who administered it, because he knew the practical ability, shrewdness, and grasp of public affairs which the right hon. Gentleman possessed. He was quite certain the right hon. Gentleman was not expressing his real convictions when he used a phrase like that. He sometimes asked himself whether these proposals were really the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman's own heart? Was this Poor Law business really an attempt on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to grapple with this great question, or had it been taken up with a view to anything approaching electioneering? He did not wish to throw out insinuations which were disagreeable, but really the condition of things was such that one was forced to make suggestions which one-otherwise would not utter. When to the ordinary parts of this Bill there was added the whole question of the Poor Law, one was obliged to ask on what reasonable conditions could such an addition be made?
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, that on Friday night the President of the Local Government Board made a most elaborate speech, in which he traversed the whole question of the Poor Law, and he did not think the right hon. Gentleman would wish to narrow the limits of this Debate. He was answering the remark of the right hon. Gentleman himself that the administration of the Poor Law was not to be connected with those who administered it. They knew who were to administer the Poor Law, and the hon. Gentleman in his Amendment raised this issue distinctly. Why, he asked, should they remove this ex officio element, against which nothing could be alleged. This ex officio element was deliberately imposed upon Poor Law Guardians when the Poor Law was enacted in 1834, and a very important addition was made in the 25th & 26th Vict., c. 103, when Assessment Committees were for the first time appointed. The section of that Act said that the members of the Assessment Committees were to be not less than six or more than 12—Consisting partly of ex officio and partly of elected Guardians, provided always that one-third of such Committees shall consist of elected Guardians.Therefore, in this recent Act, it was provided, not that there might be, but that there should be, ex officio Guardians charged with this important duty of assessing the rates. These Assessment Committees were charged with most delicate duties, and yet what was done in this Bill? The only reference to these Assessment Committees and to the sweeping change that was now proposed would be found in the Schedule, where the repeal of that portion of the Act dealing with ex officio Guardians was provided for. This was a matter which must have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's attention; or otherwise surely in such a question as the constitution of the Assessment Committees, which went to the very root of the arrangements for rating, he would not have consented that this great change should have been left to the Schedule of the Bill, whilst no reference was made to it, and no attempt made in the body of the Bill to supply the place of the ex officio Guardians, who were excluded by this stroke of the pen. The right hon. Gentleman had 1702 said that hon. Members need not be afraid, because the Local Government Board would always take care to exercise the control which otherwise would be exercised by the ex officio Guardians. He would give the right hon. Gentleman some statistics which he might consider satisfactory upon the point. He took the figures of indoor and outdoor relief in London. In Lambeth Union, where there was not a very large number of ex officio Guardians, the proportion was 3,295 indoor against 3,082 outdoor— about one-half; in St. George's, Hanover Square, where the ex officio element prevailed largely, the number of those receiving outdoor relief was 481, while those receiving indoor relief was 2,765. In the case of nominated Guardians—where they were concerned—the proportion was still more striking. In Whitechapel, whilst 1,489 were relieved indoors, only 36 received outdoor relief; and in St. George's-in-the-East 1,380 received relief indoors but only 28 received outdoor relief. He had only the London figures by him; but here it would seem that where the ex officio Guardians prevailed, there was much more discrimination in Poor Law relief than prevailed elsewhere. He did not say that the ex officio system as it stood could be maintained without modification. He could understand modifications of it. He was supporting the Amendment, which was an indication that he was not opposed to some reform; he did so because, although the method proposed was not so satisfactory as the present arrangement, he would accept it rather than lose the control of the Boards of Guardians by an element which had been of the greatest advantage in the administration of the Poor Law. The Amendment would give some element which would be of use in relation to the more democratic element. Some gentlemen tried to persuade them that the Bill was not so dangerous since the present ex officio Guardians would be elected on their merits. He did not think the best way to meet an argument of that kind was to say that the present ex officios would not take the trouble to go through an election. He did not know whether they would or not. Some, no doubt, would try to avoid the risk of rejection; but the much more important point, to his mind, was that in the good time 1703 coming, under this Bill, there would not be room for both elected and ex officio Guardians, and he was afraid that the result would be that many of the latter class, although amongst the most respected and most useful inhabitants of the parish, Would lose their places upon the Boards. A man who lived in a parish, and was now an ex officio Guardian, and who, like himself, had to come to London to discharge his Parliamentary duty, must stand a bad chance of election as against the farmer or tradesman who, living constantly at home, Would be constantly in attendance, and, indeed he would not wish to stand in opposition to him. The Boards of Guardians as they at present stood, had shown their appreciation of the ex officio element, because they had in the case of one-third of all the Boards in England chosen the ex officio members fort heir Chairmen. He was afraid that the object of the proposal to abolish the ex officio element was a political device rather than an attempt to do what was best for the parish, and he did not think the common-sense of the country or of gentlemen opposite agreed to it. In no. case had it been attempted to be shown that the appointment of ex officio Guardians had been detrimental to the interests of a parish. They had not heard of a single specific case of complaint. General statements they had had, but nothing else. It appeared to him that to persist in a proposal of the sort was the height of political insanity.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
The hon. Member, in dealing with this question of ex officios, devoted his argument almost entirely to the excellencies of the elected Guardians, and asked us to say that the Boards were well managed where they have control. That was his line of argument. The Amendment before the Committee is for no such purpose as that. The word "ex officio" does not occur in it. My hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon intends something very different from that which the hon. Member supposes, and from that which many other Members who have addressed the Committee suppose. My hon. Friend accepts the abolition of ex officio Guardians. He starts from that basis; and he asked that there may be added to the Guardians popularly-elected 1704 a limited number of Guardians nominated by the Local Government Board, who shall have proved themselves to the satisfaction of the Local Government Board to be a valuable element eligible for the position. That is a question far apart from the arguments addressed to the Committee. My hon. Friend simply desires to supplement the popularly-elected Guardians by Guardians who, perhaps, may not be able to command the approbation of a majority of the electors, but who would have the qualifications of experience, knowledge, and character. The qualities which are wanted in men charged with the dispensation of public relief are not always the most popular qualities in the eyes of electors. They are qualities which are not popular; they are, as a rule, disagreeable. But on a Board which is to discharge its duties rightly the presence of a "disagreeable" man ought to be possible—a man who could be severe, and who could foresee the consequences of action taken. That is what is wanted —a man who could be useful, and who would prevent the Board going to mere flummery in its dealings with the question of relief. The man dubbed disagreeable and cynical sometimes proved himself to be really benevolent, as we learned from many of the stories that appear at this, special season of the year. There is one recent novel, I believe, in which a character is drawn on those lines. It has been said that the Amendment is not necessary, because it is not likely that what was done before 1834 would now be repeated. I greatly distrust arguments founded upon a belief that this generation is so much wiser than its predecessors. There are the same characteristics—there is the same tendency now —as there were then to do the smooth and ready thing, to help instantly wherever one meets an object of compassion without reflecting upon any of the possible consequences. We are not so different from our grandfathers that we can be sure that we will never yield to the temptations to which they yielded. We have been told that the poor have a horror of becoming paupers. There is, I am glad to say, a most helpful horror of the workhouse; but I am afraid that, in many districts, there is no horror of outdoor relief, and that it is rather looked 1705 upon as the crown and summit of an agricultural labourer's life. [Cries of "No!"] I shall be glad to be proved wrong, but my experience is that this view of outdoor relief is acquiesced in by poor and rich alike. I have known it to be acquiesced in even in this House. Those who can look ahead are as much wanted now on Boards of Guardians as they ever were. I do not say that hitherto such men have been found exclusively, or even mainly, in the ranks of ex officio Guardians, but there is no doubt that there are many men belonging to that class who have learnt their business and know how to administer poor relief so as to check the spread of pauperism, and who are valuable agents in raising the poor man's standard of morality, self-respect, and independence to a higher level than it had ever reached before. I was very glad to hear the President of the Local Government Board say that no body of men in this House are more eager to maintain the true principles of Poor Law than the present Government, but I am rather afraid that they may be led astray and that in their day of trial and temptation they will not be as strong and resolute as they now believe themselves to be. My right hon. Friend said that it was the control of the Poor Law Board that kept everything right. How can that be? Is the power of the Board evinced in the extreme disparity of administration that prevails? If the Board was so powerful as to be able to restrain the injudicious dispensation of outdoor relief, how does it come about that there are parishes side by side, in one of which there is an abundance of outdoor relief given, whilst little or none is given in the other? They do not superintend every Board of Guardians in the country. It is not desirable that they should do so. They may lay down general rules, they may try to secure elements that can be trusted; but no amount of visitation or inspection by any such authority as has been referred to can keep the Poor Law Boards in certain Unions and under certain circumstances from falling into bad habits.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER, Wolverhampton, E.)
I did 1706 not refer to control. I was talking of administration.
§ MR. COURTNEY
If the right hon. Gentleman desires an easy way' of exercising control, and causing these general orders to be obeyed in the spirit as well as in the letter, he could not have a better way than by assuming the powers which the Amendment would give him of having persons in his own confidence—a very limited number—on each Local Board. He may, no doubt, think—I see the difficulty—he would have difficulty in finding out suitable men for every Local Board, but that only drives us to find out some other way of dealing with the matter. There is another Amendment on the Paper which proposes to obtain the necessary elements through the agency of the County Council. There may be other ways of getting these elements supplied. Experience must have taught my right hon. Friend the value of the present proposal in the case of the parishes in the East End of London. I wonder what my right hon. Friend thinks will become of White-chapel and St. George's-in-the-East when he takes away from them those nominated members who have given their energies, their time, their public spirit to reform and regenerate these neighbourhoods, handing them over simply to the representatives of the majority of the ratepayers. The action of these gentlemen in Whitechapel and St. George's-in-the-East has effected a moral revolution; and I cannot but regard the work they have been doing as paralysed at present. [do not see how this scheme gives any security for its continuance and maintenance. It is desirable it should not be imperilled, and therefore we ask for some security. The distribution of the ex officio element is a matter of chance; but in many places they have supplied one or two good members, who have made the unions models of administration. Let us have those one or two good men. Let us have some security, some element which may be relied, on, and which will not over bear the elected Guardians. If my right hon. Friend does not like this Amendment let him take a means of selecting 1707 such men. It seems to me that it is a matter of the utmost importance to the national future that we should have some guarantee for the maintenance of the true principles of Poor Law administration; and if you cannot accept this Amendment it should be easy to find another which would meet the case.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir C. RUSSELL, Hackney, N.)
My right hon. Friend seems to think that popularly-elected Guardians are not men who can think independently for themselves. He says that nominated Guardians should be placed upon the Boards, because they would foresee the consequences of the action of the Boards. He also says, without any proof, that where the ex officio element under the existing system most widely prevails there is to be found the best Poor Law administration. [Cries of "No!"]
§ MR. COURTNEY
What I said was that the distribution of the ex officio element is a matter of chance, but that, in many places, they have supplied one or two members who have helped to regenerate those places, and make them models of good administration.
§ SIR C. RUSSELL
But in many places the same may be said of the popularly-elected Guardians. My right hon. Friend has reminded the Committee that the discussion has travelled far beyond the scope of the Amendment itself, and, though I do not complain of this, I want hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to help the Committee to understand where we are. This Amendment, my right hon. Friend says, and says truly, gives the go-by to the system of ex officio Guardians altogether. It pre-sup-poses thatex officio Guardians no longer exist. Is that a position which gentlemen opposite are willing to assent to? There is no response. We stand, therefore, in this position, that while this Amendment is being put, and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are professing their readiness to vote for it, they are going to vote for an Amendment which gives the go-by to that principle. Every one who has spoken upon it has said he will vote for it.
§ SIR C. RUSSELL
I understood that the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from that quarter were prepared to vote for the Amendment. What is the prospect the Committee now has before it? Many hours have already been occupied in the discussion of this Amendment, which does not dispose of this ex officio question at all, for now the right hon. Gentleman tells us that after this Amendment is disposed of others will be brought forward. Why are we not candidly told what is the position taken up by hon. Gentlemen opposite? Are you going to stand by the principle of ex officio Guardians or not? If you say you are, that is a plain issue, and let us come to it; but if you say you are not, let us know what is the plan which you propose to substitute for it. The Amendment before the Committee has received very scant praise from any quarter; and I am not surprised, for what is the proposal? It is that—The Local Government Board shall appoint to be members of each Board of Guardians a number of persons not exceeding one for every five elected Guardians, and not exceeding three on any one Board.What is the total number of Guardians which would have to be nominated by the Local Government Board? Something like 2,000 spread or sprinkled all over the country. What special powers, what special advantages in the selection of these 2,000 intelligent and honest men who are to "even the mass" of the popularly-elected Guardians have the Local Government Board? Is the President of the Local Government Board, like another Diogenes, to go about with a lantern looking for suitable and honest persons? I say the suggestion is a, retrograde one, and not one of progressive legislation at all. It would have a tendency to make more bureaucratic than it is at present the Office of the Local Government Board—and it is quite bureaucratic enough as it is. I say, 1709 therefore—and I might almost sit down at that statement—that the Amendment does pre-suppose that the ex officio system is gone, and proposes to erect in its place a system which, so far in these Debates, no one has been found to get up and warmly justify and defend. I do not know whether I ought to sit down without noticing what has been said in the course of this Debate. One fallacy which, it seems to me, is running through the Debate is that where there is the smallest modicum of outdoor relief the system is best administered. I deny that that is a true test. The amount of outdoor relief may be great in one Union, and yet if discriminatingly distributed the administration may be better than in cases where the amount is small. And not only may the administration be better in such a case, but it may be the most economical. Again, it has been suggested that when the system was under the Magistrates it was better administered than it might be under a purely elected body, but the facts prove the contrary. No one denies now that under the system of popular control the administration has been largely bettered and not rendered worse. In the Report in connection with the Act of 1834 there is the statement that the members of Parochial Boards who were distinguished for that strictness which some decried as harshness in the administration of relief, were the persons who themselves had risen from the ranks of the labouring men, and that that strictness arose from better knowledge of the wants of the applicants and the means of satisfying them. The Report proceeded to say that the Magistrates, even if they had a general knowledge of the subject, seldom had and seldom could acquire a knowledge of the individual facts upon which they had to decide. I would remind the House — without going through, as I had intended, some of the observations addressed to the Committee — of the discussion which took place on the 13th of February this year. On that occasion a Bill was brought in by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Harborough Division of Leicestershire (Mr. Logan) a short, clearly arranged Bill to provide for the qualification of Poor Law Guardians on the ordinary electoral franchise. The Bill, in the 4th clause, set out that every 1710 person qualified to vote at any election for Poor Law Guardians or members of Local Boards should be qualified to be elected as a Guardian or member of a Local Board, and provided further that no person should act as a Guardian or member of a Local Board unless he should have been elected as provided for in the Bill. Well, what was the course of the Debate on that Bill? A number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen took part in it, and I was particularly struck with the speech of the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool. I did not find in that speech one word of dissent from the principle of the Bill. After that I think we may proceed with the discussion, with the knowledge that there is nobody in the house prepared to stand up for the principle of ex officio Guardians. Nobody has unequivocally supported the Amendment now before the Committee, and what we want to have is a suggestion as to what should be put in its place. The Government would regret the loss of the services of experienced men on Boards of Guardians; but they believe that these men would be without difficulty selected by a popular vote. It is said there is not room on the Boards for the squire and the farmer, and that the former would not be willing to oppose the latter. There is room for fair representation of both, and it has not appeared that in other local elections where the squire is interested he has exhibited any delicate regard for the interest of the farmer or anyone else. So it will be here. If these country gentlemen desire to discharge the duties belonging to their station and position they will find constituencies willing to have them.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just resumed his seat has challenged hon. Gentlemen on this side to state what their views are on the particular Amendment now under consideration, and reference has also been made to the fact that we took part in a discussion earlier in the Session. The learned Gentleman deduced from that that we are pledged entirely to the abolition of the ex officio principle, and therefore pledged to 1711 the measure now before the Committee. Well, Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman in his criticism of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carnarvon told us that it ought to be opposed, because it would make the measure much more bureaucratic. The Committee will remember that the President of the Local Government Board, in his able speech on Friday, based the whole of his case on the fact that the prohibition of the improper administration of relief would rest in the hands of the Local Government Board. Are we not again entitled to complain that Members of the Government do not consult with one another before speaking on Amendments, so that, at any rate, the opinions they express shall agree? We have the President of the Local Government Board advocating a departure from the established practice, and contending that an increase in outdoor relief will be impossible, because the Local Government Board will prevent it; then when an Amendment is moved by an hon. Member on his own side proposing to . put into the hands of the Local Government Board the duty of nominating certain members of these Boards of Guardians, a Member of the Government gets up and says this is a bureaucratic proposal, therefore they can have nothing to do with it. It certainly does not lie in the mouth of the Attorney General to charge us with inconsistency. Some months have elapsed since the occasion referred to when the matter was before us, but only a few hours have elapsed since the principles were announced which the Attorney General now disavows. It is all very well for the Attorney General to shake his head, but we cannot let him off so easily—I say entirely disavows. The Attorney General told us that he was learning as he went along, that he knew very little about these subjects, and was picking up knowledge as he went from clause to clause. If his speech to-night is proof as to what he picks up, he has plenty to do in that direction. The hon. Member for the University of Oxford said it is all very well to talk about country gentlemen being elected as Guardians if they offered themselves as candidates; but the hon. and learned Gentleman does not realise the manifold duties of the Guardians under the Bill. I do not 1712 suppose the hon. and learned Gentleman has had time to look into all the details of the measure. He has failed to realise that the Bill of the Government proposes that the District Councils of the future shall consist of the representatives of the various parishes. Now, every one of those parishes possesses representatives already on the Boards of Guardians. It would, therefore, be absolutely necessary for the Magistrate or ex officio to push out a man who is at present an elected representative of the Board of Guardians of the district. Well, that would be an invidious thing to do. The Attorney General indulged in an undeserved sneer at the landlords of the country. He suggested that they had not had much consideration for the farmers hitherto. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not taken much trouble to inform himself on this matter. He might have found some useful information in connection with the elections for the County Councils. If he had inquired he would have found that in many cases men belonging to the ex officio class who would have been glad to have become members of County Councils had been unable to stand for their own districts, because other men who had not previously belonged to Quarter Sessions came forward and got elected. I can speak for the division in which I live, where a man is regarded as so good a candidate for the County Council that no Magistrate would oppose him. This was a gentleman not agreeing with us in politics, but holding the same views as the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that no one on this side of the House had expressed approval of the Amendments of the hon. Member for Carnarvon.
§ MR. W. LONG
The hon. and learned Gentleman, if he has any fault to find, must find it with the President of the Local Government Board, who, in his able and interesting speech of Friday, chose—I think very wisely—not so much the Amendment of the hon. Member as his own, proposal as contained in Clause 19. The right hon. Gentleman practically reviewed and defended the whole 1713 scheme of the change proposed in the Poor Law.. The right hon. Gentleman cannot, and I am sure will not, complain if we on this side have adopted a somewhat similar line in the views which we have expressed. But the hon. and learned Gentleman asks some of us to say whether we approve of this Amendment or not. I say frankly, and at once, that this is not all I should like to see done in the direction of, at all events, strengthening these Boards for the future. But I believe this would be a valuable concession, and I confess I should have been glad if the Government could have seen their way to accept it. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin said, it is not we on this side of the House who are in favour of a particular form. It is not a question whether the Guardians are to be nominated by the President of Local Government Board, or appointed by the County Councils, or of any particular form; but the argument we have pressed on the Committee—and which I will now endeavour to bring before it—is in the direction of showing that those who are engaged in the discharge of the difficult duties of Poor Law relief believe that there would be some risk and danger in the scheme of the Bill, and that it would be wise on the part of the Government to take steps to lessen that risk and danger. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board made a very able speech on Friday, and I venture to say that if it had not been for the time of year, when hon. Gentlemen opposite think more of getting away—[cries of "No!"]—than of the Debates that speech would have invoked considerable criticism. I look upon the President of the Local Government Board as a good man struggling with adversity. His heart is in the right place, but he feels it very difficult to give expression to the views he really feels in some of these questions. I do not mean to say that he is dishonest or acting wrongly, but I do mean to say that he had some small misgivings of his own when he defended the fact that the Government are leaving the Unions alone; and he told us why. He said "the Union is there," and then —most marvellous argument from that side of the House—he told us that not only was it there, but that it had been 1714 there for many years. If we had been sitting in the places of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite and had made that declaration Members of the Opposition would have jumped up and denounced us for defending an institution because "it is there and has been there for. years." Why, in their view as a rule it is the strongest condemnation in existence of a thing to say "it is there and it has been there for years." If that argument had fallen from hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House hon. Members opposite would have had something to say about it. I do not admit the argument that it is there and has been there for a certain number of years is a sufficient answer to those who say it would have been better to deal with this Poor Law question as a whole. My own belief is that the Act of 1888 paved the way for a great alteration in the system of local government, and I think you might possibly have got rid of the dual Councils side by side, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, if you did not hand over the administration of the Poor Law to District Councils. I believe the Government in their hearts do not wish to weaken the principles of the Poor Law Act of 1834. But it is not the Government or their wishes that have to be considered, it is the views of hon. Gentlemen who support the Government that have to be taken into account. The views expressed in the country are not the same as those enunciated in the House. The right hon. Gentleman on Friday said that all that was intended was that the Local Government Board should control reckless outdoor relief. He said—The control of outdoor relief would be virtually regulated by the Central Authority, and would not depend on the action or will of local administrators. The orders of the Local Government Beard on this subject applied some to rural districts and others to urban districts. They had what was called an outdoor prohibitory order and an outdoor relief regulation order.He also said—The Local Government Board were the Guardians of the trust, responsible to Parliament and the country to see that the Poor Law was properly administered, and the Board of Guardians was simply machinery by which the regulations of the Local Government Board were carried out.I venture to say that if he expects the 1715 Guardians to discharge these duties in the future he will be mistaken. He will have laid on them not only the heaviest duties they ever had imposed upon them, but duties with which they will never be able to cope. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Local Government Board will control the administration of Poor Law relief, and hon. Gentlemen opposite have frequently in this Debate referred to it. Now, if this is the case, confirmatory views should be found in the spoken or written opinions of authorities on these Poor Law questions. Let me read a sentence from a speech delivered by a gentleman, once a Member of this House, who is judged by all who know him to be a very high authority. I mean Mr. Albert Pell. On the occasion of a deputation to the Prime Minister, he said—The deputation were not actuated by any Party bias or feeling whatever. In fact, he did not forget that legislation on this subject had been conspicuously connected with the Liberal Party. Personally, he was old enough to remember 1832 and 1834, when his father, himself a Liberal, took no inconsiderable part in the settlement of the question. As he understood it, any qualified person (and he might be qualified if he had received relief for 25 years, provided that he ceased drawing it a year before the election) became a Guardian for any Parish or several parishes, and he could act in one or two unions and one or more counties. Boards electing on the principle proposed in the Bill would administer outdoor relief in the most acceptable form, and the demand for relief would thus be stimulated and means would be taken to get behind the prohibitory orders. As the Bill stood it did not provide a sufficient check on unwise administration, and it would irresistibly tend to the advancement of social debasement, affecting the moral character, not only of the poor, but of the rich, who would shirk their responsibilities.Now, that is the opinion of a man who has been an experienced Guardian not only in the country, but also in London. He was speaking, I venture to say, the sentiments of his heart in no way affected by political considerations. All who know him will be convinced that he was actuated solely by a sincere desire that the Poor Law should be wisely and well administered, and that this Parliament should take no false step in its dealing with the matter. I say that Mr. Pell does not confirm the statement of the President of the Local Government Board. We have been told by the Attorney General that the proof of bad administration is 1716 not to be found in the decrease of the pauperism existing in the Union. Well, there may be some modicum of truth in that statement; but I venture to say that, as a general rule, it has been accepted that the best test of the administration of a Poor Law area is in the comparison between the outdoor and indoor relief. In some districts, no doubt, you may find the outdoor relief greater than in others owing to local circumstances, such as mountainous country, or the wide separation of towns; but I have here figures of unions where the circumstances of locality, inhabitants, and employment, are practically the same. I take some unions sufficiently near to one another and alike in their characteristics to make it impossible for anyone to say that they are under varying conditions. In Brixworth the outdoor paupers are 5 per thousand; Towcester 43; in St. Neot's 10, St. Ives 30; in Newmarket 15, Linton 62; in Oxford 8, Woodstock 49; in Headington 15, Thame 52; in Bradfield (Berks) 4, Hungerford 35; in Whitechapel 4; in the City of London 41. Now, in the face of such figures it is impossible to say that the statistics of outdoor pauperism are not a fairly accurate indication of the administration of the Poor Law as well as of the needs of the locality. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, and he is entitled to disagree with me, but I venture to say that that is a doctrine hitherto accepted. I say that if Local Government Board control had existed, and if it were to be found in the present administration of the Poor Law, you would find it affirmed in the opinions of existing Poor Law authorities like Mr. Albert Pell. Moreover, you would find the figures of pauperism more or less equal throughout the country, whereas they are as dissimilar as they can be. What is meant by good and bad administration? Good administration may be indicated, as a rule, by the amount of outdoor pauperism compared with the pauperism of the whole district. But what is it that leads to good administration? I will not say that it is the presence of ex officioon Boards of Guardians. I make to the President of the Local Government Board a present of the interesting figures he read to us the other night. No doubt the operation of the ex officio 1717 element has been very unequal all over the country. I do not attach very great importance to the retention of the ex officio element. On the other hand, I do not believe, as hon. Members are so fond of representing, that it is a question between the working men of the future and the Guardians of to-day. I am not afraid of the working men of England, and I speak as one who has taken some interest in Poor Law questions; but I am afraid of those weakly, sentimental, but well-meaning people, who belong to both parties, and who believe that good can be done by the free administration of outdoor relief. It is not that we believe in ex officio as ex officio, or that we are afraid of the working man or believe that he will act wildly in distributing outdoor relief that we think that some provision of this kind is necessary. It is for a different reason. It is because unquestionably the argument that the control of the Local Government Board will be real and effective in preventing outdoor relief cannot be sustained. Further than that, we say that there are some risks and that these risks ought not to be run. Now, Sir, what are the figures of the poor rates of this country? In 1892 no less than £8,847,000 was spent on the relief of the poor in various ways, and on outdoor relief, exclusive of such charges as lunatic asylums, nearly £5,000,000. Is it right that the House should lightly deal with a Local Authority which has the expenditure of such vast sums in its hands? In the country districts people, as the hon. Member for Somersetshire has pointed out, are especially unable now to stand any sudden or large increase in the rates for increased expenditure. It may be the case that those Boards of Guardians may not in any way increase outdoor relief. They may be as careful in their administration as their predecessors have been, but there is a risk that they will not be. You may say we take a political view of the case, but you will find that at various meetings held in London, reports of which have no doubt reached the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and been considered by him, men belonging to all political Parties have united in expressing the belief, which they have formed as Poor Law administrators and reformers, that the Government were 1718 incurring some risk by suddenly handing over Poor Law relief to popularly-elected Guardians. The President of the Local Government Board quoted a friend of mine formerly in this House, Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, as saying that if country gentlemen left off serving on Boards of Guardians it would be their own fault. Well, my noble Friend is an excellent authority on local government, but at the same time he now belongs to the large army of the unemployed from a political point of view.
§ MR. W. LONG
Well, then, I am mistaken, and the reason why I made the mistake is that the statement bears a striking likeness to one made by the noble Lord the other day. However, at the present moment the noble Lord is a warm supporter of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, and he has stated in public that he believes the Poor Law is wisely included in this Bill, and that there is plenty of room for everybody to take part in the work of these Local Authorities. My point is that the noble Lord's opinion is worthless in view of the fact that there will not be room for the country gentlemen in the existing Authorities, and you will have either to enlarge your Board or have these men left out. I have endeavoured to prove to the Committee that if you rely on the argument that safety in the future will be found in the control of the Local Government Board you will depend on a broken reed. If you say that these ex officios are anomalies, and you will have none of them, I ask you which do you desire most—do you desire merely that your authorities shall be uniform, and be in conformity with your modern notions of what Elected Bodies should be, or do you desire to make them the most efficient, practical and useful Local Bodies, so that the administration of the Poor Law in future may compare favourably with its administration in the past? If that is what you wish you will do well to engraft upon your proposals something like that which is to be found in the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. 1719 Rathbone). There are two peculiar features in the general proposals of the Government. One is the proposal respecting the election of members of the Board every three years. It may be that representation of the various parishes may be unequal, and some alterations will have to be made before that part of the Bill will be workable. Then as to the duties of the Assessment Committee. They are of an extremely difficult character. The Committees vary in their practices all over the country. Proposals have been made, I believe, from both sides of the House that some system of outside control similar to that respecting the assessment for the Income Tax should be introduced. I look with some apprehension upon your transfer not only of the administration of the Poor Law, but also of the administration of the onerous and difficult duties of Assessment Committees to newly-elected Guardians, and I think you would do well in your own interest and, above all—what is of much more importance—in the interests of good administration, and in the interests of those whom we are sent here to protect, if you introduce into your measure some element which would not only give a continuity of practice, but secure the presence on these Local Authorities of some people who will not feel that their actions are constantly reviewed, and who are subject to contested election.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
No man in the House speaks with fuller knowledge on these subjects than the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, or discusses them in a more satisfactory manner, and, therefore, I always listen to what he says with the greatest attention. I confess, however, that just now I have listened to a speech which has been somewhat disappointing. We have been told by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) that he regards this Amendment as assuming that ex officio members are at an end, and that substitutes must be found for them. I have heard nothing from the hon. Member who has just sat down to contradict that view. Let, us, at all events, see where we stand. Are we discussing the question of whether ex officio members ought to be kept up or 1720 not? I venture to assume, having listened to the hon. Member's speech, that we are not discussing this question. The hon. Member said something in favour of the ex officio members in the past, and he used one illustration which, I confess, surprised me, of admirable administration which gave the figure 4 in White-chapel as contrasted with the figure 41 in the City of London. I assumed from that that ex officios prevailed in White-chapel and were wanted in the City of London. That surprised me.
§ MR. W. LONG
I quoted those figures not in reference to ex officios, but to the argument that the Local Government Board controlled the Poor Law throughout the country.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, I do not know how far the Local Government Board controls the ex officio members. I doubt its power on that point. But though the hon. Member may say a good deal, and I have no doubt a good deal is to be said in favour of ex officios in the past, I do not understand him to take his stand on the propriety of continuing ex officio members in the future. Do let us see whether we have agreed so far. Then the hon. Member argues that in the future there should be something to replace those ex officio members, something that shall be different, as I understand, from the elected members. That is the second proposition. If we can agree on that, let us try to go on. The next point is to consider whether the Amendment of my hon. Friend is that something. I cannot find that anybody except my hon. Friend thinks that his Amendment is that something which ought to be substituted. I very carefully watched the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and I noticed that he did not say he was in favour of the Amendment. He said he was in favour of something like it. That is what I would call a mild backing of your friends. Just conceive what the proposal practically amounts to. The elected body of members are apparently regarded as a sort of herd of wild elephants who need some tame elephants to train them. My right hon. Friend 1721 (Mr. H. H. Fowler) is to have a supply of 2,000 of these State elephants, whom he is to distribute with the object of keeping the wild elephants in order. Just conceive what is to be the task of the nominated members, who are to go amongst those who have been elected as the best men to administer local affairs. They are to walk into the room where the meetings take place, and say, "Gentlemen, you have been elected by your neighbours, but you don't know anything about it. You are very excellent men, but you are ignorant, and rash, and foolish, and the President of the Local Government Board has sent us down to set you right." Well, that may be a very good thing for those gentlemen to do, but how is my right hon. Friend to find out the proper persons in counties all over the country to go amongst the elected Guardians and say, "You do not know your business, and we are sent here to teach you?" In my opinion that is not a practicable proposal. My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that those men could not be selected by a Board witting in London to do a duty of this kind. How, then, are they to be selected? They are to be the cream of the cream, and are to float on the top of the skimmed milk of the elected members. Well, my right hon. Friend could not undertake the task it is proposed to impose upon him. The hon. Member who has just sat down says we must have something like it —that is to say, that we want some countervailing force, some leaven which will leaven the mass of the elected members. Do let gentlemen opposite tell us what they think that ought to be. That is a fair question. We are quite ready to discuss it. We do not say we will not listen to anything of the kind; we do not say that anything of the sort will be peremptorily rejected. We are obliged to vote against the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone), because we do not think his proposal is practicable at all. But gentlemen opposite have hitherto had ingenuity enough in the proposal of their alternatives on this Bill. Do let them tell us now what it is they want. That is, I think, a ,fair demand on our part. We are merely wasting time now in going on discussing an Amendment which nobody supports, 1722 and in talking about ex officio members when they are practically abandoned. Do let us come to some practicable alternative to supply the place which you say ought to be supplied of the ex officio members. Let us have some practicable proposal, and we will willingly discuss it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
The right hon. Gentleman takes a very singular view of the functions of the Opposition. He thinks we exist in order that the Government may put questions to us. I have always thought that the Government exists that we may put questions to them.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
We stand simply by the abolition of ex officio members. That is the proposal of our Bill. If you want to propose something else, tell us what it is.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks he has replied to my observation by that rather uncalled-for interruption. I can only tell him that he has not replied to it. The Government have, in perfect wantonness of spirit, introduced into a Bill intended to carry out different objects a clause by which the scheme of Poor Law Guardians in this country is revolutionised from top to bottom. They have done so without preliminary inquiry and without giving us the slightest power of framing any alternative scheme based on any special inquiry into the necessities of the case. They have themselves brought forward no argument to show that any special necessity of the case exists. As far as I can judge of the opinion on this side of the House, we are as prepared as gentlemen opposite to admit that the Poor Law which was founded in 1834 — 60 years ago—and which has been scarcely modified since that time, may require some modification, but! we say that to modify it with this degree 1723 of public discussion, with this amount of data at our command on which to form a national plan for carrying out any new proposal that may be submitted to us, is too much to ask us. To get us and interrogate us, as the right hon. Gentleman has done, to ask us, "Do you mean to stand by the ex officio Guardians, and, if not, what do you mean to do?" is not the way to treat an Opposition, and, in my opinion, not the way to conduct a Bill. Of course, we all feel—everybody must feel—that when the Government say there are difficulties in the way of the present Amendment, they say what is absolutely the fact. I really cannot myself see how this particular scheme by which 2,000 persons are to be nominated by an Office in Whitehall is to be carried out. It appears to me to be directed to an admirable object, but not to provide the machinery by which that object can be carried out. The Government say "give us your alternative." If an alternative can be provided it can only be with great difficulty, and will require long and careful discussion. I myself ventured, as a matter of personal opinion, to throw out on the Second Reading a scheme which I cannot say is adequate or even fully thought out. It was, however, the best that suggested itself to my mind, and an hon. Friend of mine has placed on the Paper an Amendment which will carry out its object. When we come to that Amendment, I shall be prepared to defend my own views upon it, and to hear what the Government have to say. But we are in this difficulty. The Government have, by a stroke of the pen, destroyed the existing system. To ask us to frame a new system is to throw on us a task of the extremest difficulty, but one which we are prepared to do our best to carry out. We shall approach that task, I think, imperfectly, but, at all events, you must not reproach us, because we have not a plan cut and dried. I agree with the Government that the plan proposed by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Rathbone) is one we can hardly support. I rejoice that the Government have, on their part, declared their willingness to discuss any other plan. Really, however, we are not to be misled by all this rubbish about a uniform 1724 system, which is all nonsense, and I hope Gentlemen on both sides of the House, who have at heart the interests of Poor Law administration, will set their wits to work, and endeavour—
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Wednesday next.