§ Mr. CARR-GOMM moved
"That, in the opinion of the House, there is urgent need for the reform of local government in London, so as to secure, by means of the unification of authorities, an improved, simplified, and more economical system of public administration and a complete equalisation of the burden of the rates." Owing to a sudden bereavement of a private nature, which has occurred within the last 24 hours, I feel it is impossible for me to do more than formally propose the Motion which stands in my name. I trust the House will allow me to do this, and to leave the advocacy of this important subject to my hon. Friend the Member for North St. Pancras and to other hon. Friends who sit on this side of the House. I beg to move.
§ Mr. W. H. DICKINSON
We must all regret very deeply the cause which has prevented my hon. Friend from presenting the Motion which he has Tabled, not only by reason of the circumstances themselves, which are of a painful character, but by reason of the fact that he has, I know given a great deal of consideration to this particular subject. We owe him thanks for having brought forward this Motion, which advocates a reform in the system of local administration in London. The Question of London government has really received no careful and elaborate investigation since 1855, with the exception of the inquiry which took place before Lord Courtney's Commission in 1894. It is all the more to be regretted, because all through that half century Parliament has been imposing upon local authorities more and more duties of a complicated and important nature, and all this time, whilst these duties have been thrust pell mell upon one or other local authority in London, the actual machinery for their administration has never been properly and carefully considered by this House. The condition of London Government is one of considerable complication, and I do not propose to go elaborately into that part of the subject, but when I say that we have here in London no fewer than three central bodies carrying on, side by side, the administration of public work applicable to the whole of London, and have recently established a fourth, namely, the Port of London Authority, which also has to do with the affairs of London Government, and also that we have 57 local authorities of different kinds carrying on local 1134 administration, these figures of themselves are sufficient to justify me in saying that London government is complicated and difficult to be understood. The effect of this undoubtedly is that London as a city is not uniformly well administered. I will not say that the administration of it is bad throughout, but there can be little doubt on the part of anyone who walks through London, and knows the different parts of London, that local administration varies very considerably. London, as we know, is a healthy place on the whole. The health statistics are exceptionally good as compared with many other towns; but the health itself varies also very largely in different parts of London. The death rate in London on the average is below 16 per 1,000, but the death rate varies enormously. In Hampstead it is only 10 per 1,000, but in Shoreditch and Bermondsey it amounts to 20 per 1,000, and we have therefore a high rate and a low rate holding good in different parts of the same city.
Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties to contend with in London is that the system of administration is so complex that the people of London themselves are never able to understand it. There is really no means of informing the public and the electors as to the right shoulders upon which to place responsibility, and a very good example of that was given in the recent elections for the County Council. The great outcry was against the rise in the rates. Undoubtedly the ratepayers in London had suffered under a very considerable increase in their rates during the two or three years preceding that election; but, as a matter of fact, the rate of the London County Council had increased by a very small fraction of a penny. The increase in rates was due to other authorities, but the public could not understand this, and it was generally put down to the outgoing London County Council, with the result that the electorate voted against the party then in power, upon which many responsibilities undoubtedly lay, but certainly not the responsibility of increasing the rates of the metropolis. This question of simplifying the machinery of local government in London needs consideration, and I sincerely hope that the Government will be able to take advantage of this Debate to say that they are willing to consider this great problem. It is one of the greatest problems of municipal, practice and law which can present itself to any Parliament. The first thing that strikes one in regard to London administration is the inequality of the rates, and 1135 this of itself has many results. It affects the health and well-being of parts of London. It affects the good administration of parts of London, for in those parts which most need good administration it is most difficult to accomplish it by reason of the fact that the cost of it falls with such severity on the locality in question. In the King's Speech in 1906 a measure for the equalisation of rates was promised, and I can assert that no one who looks into the question of administration in London will deny that it is one of the first things which must be considered in regard to this subject. The present inequality of rates is most striking. In the parish of St. James's, Westminster, in the year 1908–9 the total rate paid was 6s. 4d. in the £, whereas in the parish of Bromley, a very poor part, in the extreme east of London, the rate was no less than 11s. 6d., and a couple of years ago it was still higher, amounting to 12s. These high rates occur in the poorer parts and the lower rates in the richer parts. In the City of London the rate is 6s. 5d. in the £, whereas immediately opposite, on the other side of the Thames, the rate in Bermondsey is 8s. 11d. That is a picture of the position of rating in rich and poor parts of London. I do not think that anything can describe the position of London government better than the figures I have just given. These great inequalities have arisen notwithstanding continuous attempts on the part of Parliament to equalise the rates. In the fifties and sixties local administration of London was carried on by vestries or boards of guardians, who were all independent, and the expenditure of each was raised entirely from the locality in question. But in 1867 it was realised that it was impossible to continue a system under which the poor parts had to be maintained entirely by the rates levied in their own districts, and accordingly Parliament instituted what was known as the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund—a fund which is based on the simple principle that certain items of expenditure of the boards of guardians are taken out of it, whilst the whole sum is raised out of the rateable value of the metropolis. In 1888 Mr. Ritchie brought in the Local Government Bill, and another step was taken by instituting indoor pauper grants, under which a further sum was collected by the county council and doled out to the boards of guardians in various proportions. The effect of these measures, and others to which I will not refer, for the equalization 1136 of poor law burdens, has been that not less than 70 per cent. of poor law expenditure is now provided for by a central and uniform metropolitan rate. In some places more than 70 per cent. and sometimes as much as 80 per cent. is provided by the central fund for the purpose of carrying out the poor law in a locality; but nevertheless the House will see from what I have said that the difference in the various localities is still very great. We still have an enormous disparity between the rates raised for the poor law in the poorer and in the richer parts of London. For example, in St. James's, Westminster, the cost of the administration of the poor law by the board of guardians comes out at a rate of 7d. in the £, whereas the cost of the same work in Bromley is no less than 5s. 11d. The effect of the operation of the equalisation fund is that the net cost of the work of the guardians that falls locally on the district is in the case of St. James's 2d, in the £, and in the case of Bromley 3s. 2d., so that by this process of equalisation, so far as it has gone, the difference in the rates as between the richer and the poorer parts of London, so far as poor law administration is concerned, is reduced from 5s. 4d. to 3s. in the £. The same process has gone on with the borough councils, although not to the same extent. There Parliament has provided a system of equalisation by a number of measures, the principal of which was a measure passed in 1894. The result on local administration is as follows: The cost of the local administration in St. James's, Westminster, would involve a rate of 1s. 2d. in the £, whereas the cost of the same administration in Bromley would involve a rate of 3s. 10d. But by equalisation the net burden for local administration in St. James's is reduced to 1s. 1d., whereas in Bromley it is reduced to 2s. 7d., making a difference of 1s. 6d. instead of 2s. 8d. in the £, which it would otherwise have been. The total result of all this is that, although Bromley has been considerably relieved at the cost of the central parts of London, there is a great discrepancy between the actual rates as they fall upon the inhabitants of the districts. The total rate in St. James's was 6s. 6d. per pound, whereas the total rate in Bromley was 11s. 10d., or a difference of 5s. 4d. The rates, therefore, are still very unequal. The amount of money spent upon Poor Law administration in London is £4,500,000 a year, and that has been equalised and centralised to the extent of £3,000,000. Of 1137 the £4,000,000 which the borough councils spend, £1,000,000 has been equalised under the statutes to which I have referred. Taking the whole of London, the expenditure falling on rates and taxes amount to £17,500,000, of which £13,000,000 is already raised by a uniform municipal rate, leaving only £4,500,000 to be raised locally. That is to say, the central purse now supplies no less than 74 per cent. of the expenditure in London. And, of course, in some places this would be very much more, because each place varies, and although in some places the relief is smaller, in other places the relief forms a greater proportion of the total expenditure.
I have given these figures in order to show the House not only is the condition of affairs such as calls for further equalisation of the rates, but also to show that there is clearly no satisfactory solution except that one of equalising the whole of the rates of London. This may seem a serious proposition, a proposition of some gravity; but we have the approval of a very important Royal Commission. The Royal Commission on Poor Law which has just now reported has definitely and distinctly dealt with the question of London on this point, and they have recommended that the whole of the poor rate should be charged uniformly over the whole of London. Perhaps I may give one or two words from the report. They state:—The case for the abolition of Boards of Guardians has been more conclusively demonstrated in London than in any other portion of the kingdom. … There is an almost universal opinion among those acquainted with Poor Law work in the Metropolis that the present system … does not secure economical and efficient administration. … The variations of rateable value as compared … with needs and population make it difficult to establish a common standard of treatment without equalisation of expenditure.Lastly they say:—It is impossible to establish a good general system of public assistancewhich is the new word for Poor Law administration—so long as London is divided into sections, each having an independent and separate authority of its own. There must be a central body for the control of the administration.With that universal opinion, given by all those who appeared before them, I think all agree. I think no one now questions the policy of at any rate unifying not only the cost of expenditure but unifying the administration of Poor Law in London. We have had no similar inquiry into the other branches of the Government, the ordinary local administration, with the exception of the Commission to which I have already referred. 1138 If we had now such a Report similar recommendations would have to be made, showing that the only solution to the proper management of London would be to unify all the rates in London, and to consolidate the administration of the various authorities.
This consolidation has been accepted to a certain extent by Parliament. In 1855, when an Act of Parliament was passed establishing independent local authorities, the Metropolitan Board of Works, established by that Act, had comparatively small functions, and did not greatly trench on the administration of the local authorities. But no sooner was the Act of 1855 passed than Parliament, in regard to almost every question of importance, found it necessary to increase the functions of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Perhaps one of the most notable cases was that which came after the inquiry by the Royal Commission into the housing of the poor. The evidence before that Commission and the Report itself showed conclusively that the administration of the Acts relating to the condition of the dwellings of the artisans having been given to the local authorities had been entirely neglected, and it recommended that the function should be handed over to the Metropolitan Board of Works That was done by Act of Parliament a few years afterwards. Similarly in 1888, when Mr. Ritchie brought in his Local Government Act, that Act established what has proved to be a very useful institution, namely, the medical officer of health for the county, with certain important relations, increased afterwards by the Public Health (London) Act of 1891, between him and the various sanitary authorities. So Parliament there consolidated to a certain extent and brought together the sanitary administration as carried out both locally and centrally of London. But of course the House is aware that in 1899 an Act was passed establishing what we know now as the borough councils. That Act did not alter to a very great extent the functions of the local authority, but it did undoubtedly tend to make them more independent, and I have always believed that the effect of that Act has not been beneficial to London. It has not improved, as it was expected to improve, the local administration, and it has to a certain extent, at any rate, hampered the central administration.
As an instance of this I may be allowed to refer to the administration of the Shop 1139 Hours Acts. The Acts of 1892 and 1895 were passed in order to protect young persons from exceptionally long hours, and provide them with seats and other similar arrangements. The administration of that Act was entrusted to the London County Council, and I believe it is generally acknowledged that Act has been carried out with beneficial results to the workers in the shops. But the Act of 1904, which authorised arrangements being made by borough councils for the early closing of shops, has practically been in most places made unworkable, and as a proof of that only two years ago there was an important conference of London representatives from the various borough councils to consider this very question of the administration of the Shop Hours Act, and the motion that was discussed by these representatives of the boroughs was that "in the opinion of this Conference the Act has been inoperative so far as London is concerned owing to the want of unanimity in administration, and that the local authority who administers the Act in London should be the London County Council." There was a very interesting discussion upon that motion. The motion was not carried, as an amendment was carried, explaining that it was important to extend the whole area beyond London in order to have an efficient inspection under the Shop Hours Act. But the whole discussion, at any rate by the representatives of the borough councils, showed that it was quite impossible to carry out an Act dealing with the earlier closing of shops if the Act was relegated to the authorities who only had control over a very small area which formed part of one great city. I only quote that as an example, and I could give a good many more to show, from the point of view of administration, that we need in London a more unified system of local government. The question then is, How shall we obtain this system, what reforms are possible and advisable? In connection with the poor law the Royal Commission to which I have just now referred recommended that the board of guardians should be abolished, and that the whole administration should be put into the hands of a Statutory Committee responsible for the whole of the work, and constituted very largely of representatives from the London County Council and also local committees, drawing their authority 1140 from that Statutory Committee. So far as the recommendations to give these new powers to the London County Council go, that I certainly believe is a proper solution of the problem. But it is of almost greater importance that the committee should be a committee of the county council, receiving its funds from the council itself, and not being a separate rating authority, for it is the separate rating authorities, that must be done away with if any financial advantage is going to be gained for London government. In all questions coming before the London County Council we must aim at drawing together the central and local administrative bodies. I do not believe that London government can be carried on without the assistance of persons interested in every district of London; but it is not beyond the power of the human brain to devise a scheme whereby the work carried out by the central authority shall be in close touch with the work carried out by the local authority. Of course, the central authority must be responsible for raising the money. As I before remarked, that is the only way by which you can obtain a fair equalisation of rates. At the present moment we raise a very large proportion of the expenditure of London by means of a central rate, but the one fault in the present system is this, that in doing so, and in granting the money to local authorities, there is in reality no actual or useful control exercised over them by the authority that has to provide the money. I do believe if we could devise a scheme, and I am sure we could devise a scheme under which the rates could be collected centrally and paid over to whatever local authorities are to be established, we would ensure not only economy of administration and the equalisation of burdens, but also would ensure a far more amicable and friendly working as between the central and local authorities. If the local authorities could be put in a position such as that which is now occupied by important committees, like the Education Committee of the London County Council, they could then be entrusted with the discretion, a very wide discretion, as to expenditure of the money that is raised centrally and granted to them. One of the great problems of London government is how to bestow upon the persons who live on the spot sufficient authority to enable them to carry out the work that is entrusted to them with success. But in order to do that the central authority which is to have this great 1141 responsibility and great power must be one of high position, and of larger numbers than the present county council. I would like to see this higher power, and a more dignified position attained by the entry of the City Corporation into this scheme for the reform of London government. I have never understood why the City of London should hesitate at all to come into an arrangement such as this. In 1835, when the Royal Commission which inquired into the position of all municipal governments in England reported in favour of establishing municipalities on the basis on which they now stand, and which has proved of such incalculable value to municipal government in this country, they stated with regard to London:—We do not find any argument on which the course pursued with regard to other towns could not be justified, which would not apply to London, unless the magnitude of the change be considered as converting a practical difficulty into an objection of principle.That observation was considered in 1894 by Lord Courtney's Commission, which investigated this question, and they said what ought to be done was to apply to the London area "the dignity and completeness of the highest form of municipal life." They wrote as follow:—'The principal difficulty in effecting any reorganisation of the government of London as a whole lies in the existence of the City as now limited,' and 'it is not surprising that any change, however agreeable to the course Of municipal development throughout the kingdom, and however full of promise of enhanced splendour in the future, which proposes to carry over the heritage of tradition and renown from a limited area hitherto specially enjoying it, to the whole Metropolis that has grown up around it should be viewed with mistrust and repugnance by those who may be called upon to share what they have hitherto exclusively administered with the mass of their fellow citizens.'But 'this was identically the same difficulty which confronted the Commissioners in 1835 in dealing with cities second only to the City of London in all that makes London famous. Liverpool and Bristol, no less than London, had a commercial centre with large estates and peculiar privileges confined to a small number of citizens, many of whom were not resident; but these and many other towns had their boundaries extended so as to take in the suburbs at their gates; and if there was in any case unwillingness to accept this extension at first, no sooner had the road once been opened than extension followed extension until town now vies with town, not which shall contain the smallest area and population, but which the largest.'I ask why cannot, also, the City of London lead the way in this respect and in this direction? No one admires more than I do the history of the great Corporation of the City of London, which, in the old times, did lead the way in all movements in advance for the benefit of the people of London and, indeed, the benefit of the people of this country. But it does not occupy that position now. It occupies a second place, so far as the views and opinions of the great mass of Londoners 1142 are concerned. The London County Council undoubtedly occupies the premier position in London, and I cannot help believing that unless the City of London takes advantage of the opportunity of joining in with the great reform of London Government, its influence will largely diminish rather than increase, and I firmly believe the only way in which we can preserve those traditions in its history and greatness is by bringing it in to the greater work of greater London, and making it part and parcel of the greater city.
§ Mr. PICKERSGILL
I think we are indebted to my hon. Friend for giving us an opportunity of discussing this most important question. The Resolution proposes to take further steps in the direction of the equalisation of London rates, and, of course, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, that inevitably raises the question of London government. Now, there are some people who seem to think that London can be governed in exactly the same way as Manchester or Birmingham is governed, by a single municipality, but there is a most important difference between London and those cities. That difference consists in the huge area and in the huge population of London, and that is not only a difference of degree, as some persons maintain, but it absolutely necessitates a difference of principle in the treatment of the two cases. That was recognised by the report of the Courtney Commission, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend. Before I read what they say on this question I should like to point out that that Commission reported in the year 1894, some years after the London County Council had been established. It is important to bear that in mind. This is what the Courtney Commission said:—London contains within itself a large number of separate local areas, administered with efficiency, and many cases, considerable success, and possessing attributes of local life which could not be wisely weakened or endangered.I for one, as a London Member, agree and endorse that statement. I consider that it is absolutely necessary that those local bodies should be independent within the sphere of their own functions. I do not for one moment contend that their present distribution of functions between the central authority and the local authority is the right distribution. There is great room for improvement, but I do say that it is essential to an effective local body that it should be independent within the sphere of its own functions. Make the 1143 area of those functions small if you like, but let the local authority directly affected be independent within that area. It has been suggested that the finances of the local bodies shall be subjected to the control of what would be in fact an enlarged London County Council. May I point out to the House if you give the London County Council control of the finances of those bodies you practically give them the whole control of those bodies. Control of the finances is the absolute control. I could understand a proposal to sweep away those local bodies altogether, but I confess I have great difficulty in understanding the policy of the proposal which leaves those bodies in existence, which allows them to be directly elected by the ratepayers, and which says that when those local bodies have formed what I may call their Budgets, then the London County Council shall come into the field and have absolute control over that Budget. That is not a proposal which, I think, ought to commend itself to this House.
What would be the effect of such a scheme? In the first place, it would be an extremely costly way of administering London, because you would inevitably require a double set of officials. Only persons who have some knowledge of local affairs, as those persons who drew up the Budget, the local body originally, would be qualified to criticise it. Otherwise justice would not be done to the needs and necessities of the locality, and, in the second place, such a scheme would not result in efficient local bodies. You would not expect really good men to become members of a local body which had no real power. May I just repeat what I said before? It is quite open to you, and it will be a wise policy, I think, to redistribute the function of London bodies between the central and the local authority; but if you maintain directly elected local bodies let them, at all events, have independence within the sphere of the functions which you assign to them. That, as I understand it, is the only sound policy in connection with the establishment of directly elected bodies and their affairs. There is no precedent to the contrary in our local governing institutions. There is one direction in which we can look in order to relieve the enormous mass of functions which would fall upon the central body under a complete scheme of unification. I refer to education. Up to the present time it has never been suggested that the unification of London government should include edu- 1144 cation. Sir William Harcourt's Bill of 1884 did not include education. The Courtney Commission did not contemplate the inclusion of education within its scheme, and for a very good reason. The work of London education is enormous. It is true that other county councils administer education. I daresay I will be reminded of that. They do not furnish any precedent at all, because the case of London education is absolutely unique in this country, and instead of using any words of mine I should like to put the case as it was stated by the late Leader of our party, the late Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman. They are so striking. I very much prefer to use them rather than my own. Sir Henry's words were these:—The duties that the Education Authority for London has to perform, are more vast and more trying than those undertaken by any other such body on the face of the earth.Then he goes into statistics, which I need not on this occasion repeat, and he states:—Those figures are simply stupendous, and we must remember also to take note of this relationship which is practically the relationship of guardians over children and their personal relations with the great body of the teachers. Those are matters which cannot be tested by figures or reduced to statistical form. Nothing in the whole sphere of municipal administration is equal to the work of the School Board of London.The words used by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman towards the conclusion of that passage which I have quoted emphasise an aspect of this Question which is of vital importance. I mean this: that the effect of an absolute unification, that is, of a piling up of an enormous mass of new work, upon the London County Council or the county council enlarged central body, must inevitably be to increase and intensify officialism. Officialism is bad enough at present, but it would be ten times worse under a scheme of absolute unification. And if there is one department of public work likely to receive deadly injury from officialism it is the work of education. While the absolute unification of London Government is surrounded by difficulties which are perhaps insuperable, there is one great department of administration which might, I submit, be unified with comparative case. I refer to the functions of the guardians and the administration of the poor law. My hon. Friend has referred to the inequality of London rates. I know it well. I want to point out to the House, however, that if the poor rate of London could be equalised an enormous boon would be gained by the poorer districts. The range of inequality of the local poor 1145 rate is more glaring than that of the equality of the local rate for other expenses. The aggregate of the areas in which the poor rate is either grossly above or grossly below the mean is very much larger than the aggregate of the areas in which the local borough council rate is either grossly above or grossly below the mean. Therefore an enormous boon would be gained by the poorer districts if you equalised the poor rate whilst you left the other rate alone. My hon. Friend has referred to the Report of the majority of the Poor Law Commission. I want to refer to the minority Report, which follows very different lines from those of the Report of the majority. Instead of merely replacing the guardians by another body, it supersedes them altogether. Instead of merely transferring the functions of the guardians en bloc to some other authority, it proposes to distribute them among the various departments of London government, with which each of those functions is naturally and properly associated. For instance, under this scheme the ordinary poor law schools would go to the eduaction authority, very much, I think, to the advantage of the children; the special schools for infectious diseases would go to the health authority; the imbecile children would be handed over to the asylums authority; and so on.
There is only one other subject which I need specifically mention, and that is outdoor relief. That has generally been regarded as the crux of the case. No doubt the distribution of outdoor relief by local bodies elected within small areas is very difficult, very delicate, and very invidious. It is impossible perhaps under such circumstances to secure uniformity or judicial impartiality. Here again the minority Report, following what I think is the excellent plan of distributing the functions now exercised by the guardians, supplies an admirable solution. For instance, as regards the aged, the work would go to the local pensions committee; and if you could have one and the same committee dealing with the two classes of pensioners, those who draw their pensions from the national exchequer and those who draw them from the local fund, the convenience of such an arrangement is obvious. With regard to the able-bodied—I am dealing with outdoor relief—the work would go to the local unemployment committee; and as for the rest, the minority report suggest the appointment of officials. Perhaps someone may suggest that I am rather inconsistent 1146 in giving any kind of endorsement to the appointment of officials. But we are dealing now with a very special case of outdoor relief. I have pointed out the extreme inconvenience of allowing locally elected representatives within small areas to have the power of giving or withholding outdoor relief; and here is a case where, subject to general rules, regulations, and principles laid down by the central authority, the intervention of officials; might be not only permissible, but probably desirable and meritorious. The function of these officials, according to the scheme of the minority Report—and this is obviously very desirable—would be to coordinate every kind of public assistance which the members of the family receive. At present, as the minority Report points out, you may have different members of the same family receiving public assistance from different authorities, very likely without its being known to those different authorities; and it is desirable that the public assistance given to the different Members of the same family should be coordinated, that the families should be regarded as a unit, and that all the circumstances of the family—educational, moral, sanitary, and economical—should be taken, into account when giving to any member of it any measure of public assistance.
I think it will be clear to the House that by thus distributing the functions now performed by the board of guardians expressly to the different committees of the London County Council—for that is what the minority Report proposes—you will greatly lighten the additional work which would be thus imposed upon the members of the Council. It is upon these lines I suggest that the poor rate in London might be equalised with a unification of poor law administration. I would, in conclusion, urge upon my fellow members for London that, instead of grasping after revolutionary changes in the whole of London government, which could not possibly be carried out in the next Session of Parliament, and which my hon. Friend himself seemed to suggest ought to be preceded by an inquiry of some kind, we should unite to secure this great, beneficent, and, I am sure, practicable reform.
§ Mr. W. C. STEADMAN
It is now 20 years since I entered public life by being elected a member of a vestry in the East End of London under Schedule A of the Metropolitan Management Act, 1855. During my career I have had the honour 1147 of being a member of that vestry, a member of the board of guardians, of the London County Council, and of this House—all for the same constituency. And the thing which has puzzled me is the reason that London government has always been neglected by the two great political parties in this House. It is the largest city, we are told, in the civilised world. It has a population almost equal to that of the whole of Canada. Yet to-day, I am prepared to say, the local government is a disgrace to our common-sense. Why? Because we have a multiplication of public authorities overlapping each other in their work. I do not want to condemn officialism. We are told the Government of this country is run on officialism. So far as the humble private Member of this House is concerned it is run on officialism. It is very seldom one gets the opportunity of going into questions that interest one, and then only under certain conditions and certain rules and regulations of the House itself.
Take the London County Council. For 15 years I was a member of that body. I was proud of being a member of that body. There is a certain percentage of men elected, both aldermen and councillors, to perform its work. Do they? Not more than 50 per cent. of the total membership of the London County Council actually take an interest in its affairs. It is perfectly true that you may go down there on a Tuesday and see perhaps 120 or 130 members present out of a total of 137. But the work is not done on a Tuesday. The work is done over the six days of the week in the committee-rooms of the council. In order to attend to my duties properly I spent no less than four days a week. Personally, I am more in agreement with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green than I am with my old colleague the hon. Member for St. Pancras. I will give him credit for this: that for years he has been interesting himself in London questions. I know he is thoroughly honest and earnest in the matter; but the reason I support the idea of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green is because I am not bigoted in my opinions. I have got an open mind, and I am always ready to be converted, if any hon. Member can convert me. But at the present time I am not prepared to add any more work to the London County Council to what it has already. I was totally opposed to that body having the responsibility thrown upon it of educating the children. Up to that 1148 period I could honestly attend to the work that I was responsible for. For three years I was chairman of one of our asylums. The moment we undertook the educational work I could not attend to that portion of the work appertaining to education any more than fly. I maintain that no public man, not even a Member of this House, should aspire to a position unless when elected he means to give up the time necessary for the performance of the duties.
It has always been a mystery to me why Parliament has neglected this gigantic work of the London County Council. I see the President of the Local Government Board in his place. He has had, I think, 18 years' experience as a Member of the London County Council. He has great responsibilities thrown upon his shoulders in the position he now occupies. I honestly admit that when he was placed in that position, I was not jealous of him. Far from it. If he had not been put there, I should not. I was proud of it, because I thought: here at least we have a man who is going to tackle our problems. I was referring to the multiplication of public authorities which we have in London. Take the London County Council. It has the control of lunatics; of industrial schools. We have a body which has not been mentioned during this Debate. That is the Metropolitan Asylums Board. This is not a directly elected body. The boards of guardians nominate one or two representatives on that body. I believe whoever presides at the Local Government Board has the power to nominate a certain number. Well, now, I ask in all common-sense, where we have people properly elected outside, and answerable for their conduct to the people outside, and then certain things come on, what must it mean with a body elected under that constitution? They are responsible to no one. They do not care twopence how the rates go up. They cannot be turned out, and yet they are there doing part of the work which the London County Council now does, and the London County Council doing part of the work that that body does. I ask my right hon. Friend is not that overlapping? It could easily under good government be abolished. As a matter of fact our rates have gone up—no one knows it better than myself, for I am a direct ratepayer, and have been for 27 years. Where does a good deal of the money go? A good deal, in fact, in administration! I have been a poor law 1149 guardian. My wife followed me on the board, and remained a member for nine years. We had a system of outdoor relief. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that our system was a good one—one that any man could get up and defend publicly. We did not give our money away indiscriminately. Every case of outdoor relief was carefully investigated by my wife—that was part of her duty—before it went before the board, and she advocated the applicant having it. Now there are four parishes within the borough of Stepney, and I think there is only one poor law authority out of the four that gives outdoor relief away. To my mind this is one of the most important problems that the Government can have to deal with. It costs in our workhouses as much per head for administration as it costs to keep the paupers, as you term them, in the house. Years ago, when I was a member of the Mile End Vestry—and it was a body which was never Progressive, and could not be accused of wasting the ratepayers' money—I became converted to the opinion that our boards of guardians could be abolished and that the duties could be performed by being given over to the vestries. I was a Member of this House when the late Government introduced their London Government Bill. I seconded the Motion for the rejection of that Bill. What for? Because I knew under that Bill what was going to happen, because I knew that it was going to set up two gigantic cities, one a city of the rich and the other a city of the poor. I remember well the speech of the then Prime Minister, who was in hopes, I have no doubt, and he was quite honest in his view, that under the Bill you were going to attract a different type of man somewhat superior to the old personnel of the district vestries to take office. Has he done so? No. Hunt up the records of the 21 borough councils throughout London, and you will find the personnel much the same as the old vestries and boards of guardians were previous to the Act coming into operation. The Act has done what I prophesied it would do. When I was first elected to the Mile End Vestry my rates were 5s. 8d. in the £. We were giving away £6,000 per annum to the unemployed, a relief fund which was equal in that parish to a rate of 4d. in the £. My rates during all that long period up to the time of this new Act coming into operation had only gone up 1s. in the £, namely, from 5s. 8d. to 6s. 8d. We were doing all the work that was re- 1150 quired for the parish. We also spent, without going cap in hand to the Local Government Board, one or two winters thousands of pounds on finding work for the unemployed inhabitants of our parish, and we met all our liabilities for a rate of 6s. 8d. in the £. When I left Mile End, under the régime my rates had gone up from 6s. 8d. to 9s. 4d. in the £. Where was the advantages and goodness of the new borough council? All they did was to increase our rates just as I prophesied at the time. Now at the time the London Bill was before the House all the Members for the Tower Hamlets except myself wanted to make the whole of the Tower Hamlets one borough, which would include Bow and Bromley and Poplar. The Prime Minister would not agree, unless all the Members were agreed upon it. I stood out against it. I knew what Poplar was. I was born in it. I knew its poverty too well, and I was not prepared to saddle myself with the responsibility of voting for any scheme that was going to increase the rates in the place which I had the honour to represent. I have said that outdoor relief is a very important problem for the Government to deal with in settling this matter. Why do I say that? Because once we allow so much per head, as stated by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, from a common poor fund to the people inside our workhouses, every farthing you spend in outdoor relief has got to come from the pockets of the ratepayers in the parish where you spend that money. Some Members of the House perhaps have read or heard of Mr. Charles Booth's work on industrial life in London. He there states that there are, or there were at the time he wrote the book, and it must be more intensified by this time, half a million of adult workers in London whose average earnings do not exceed 10 or 15 shillings per week. And yet you rail about the working-classes not being thrifty. He spent thousands of pounds in securing his facts, and he estimated this enormous number of adults were earning not more than from 10 to 15 shillings a week. He took a large proportion of that number from the parish in which I live—I knew him well; and these are the people who, through indirect taxation, have to put their hands in their pockets to pay money which is being spent in outdoor relief, while the swell and rich man in Park Lane goes scot free, and has got no responsibility to his fellow-men under our present law. I do not wish the House to misunderstand 1151 me. I do not rail against wealth. I do not envy the millionaire, because he has got far more responsibility to answer for when he appears before his Maker than I have, but I do condemn the system that enables one man to become a millionaire at the expense of pauperising his fellow-men. Now I should just like to say one word before I conclude in reference to the City of London. I well recollect the scene when the London Bill was going to Committee. The right hon. Gentleman who now occupies the proud position of Minister for War moved an Amendment to include the City of London within the scope of that Bill. I remember the manner in which it was received. I well remember it because I had to keep the discussion going. I was asked to say a few words, and I honestly admit now, that at the time when I rose I did not know what I was going to say to add to the Debate. At any rate, I got something out. It puzzled me, because I am not exactly a bitter enemy of the City, and I speak of men as I find them. I was a colleague for some years on the Thames Conservancy Board with the City representatives, and we passed through some very good reforms. For 12 years I have been connected with the Drapers' Company as a governor of the East London College, and I find some very good traits in their character, but for the life of me I cannot understand—seeing that the population which was once resident in the City of London is no longer able to reside there because the ground is covered by banks and warehouses—why it falls to the lot of those living in my Constituency to undertake the responsibilities of the City. I do not think that is fair. If other people are called upon to take the responsibility of housing the workmen who flood the City in their thousands in daily employment, and in most cases at a starvation rate of wages—because in the warehouses a man is lucky if he gets a guinea a week working for an employer who may be turning over £60,000 or £80,000—we have a right to say, if we take over your responsibility as far as housing is concerned, we have a fair right to ask you to contribute a share of the expense in that direction.
I support the abolition of our boards of guardians, and I support reform so far as local government is concerned as a whole. I do not support a policy which is going to hand over any more work to the London County Council than it has already got. 1152 On this matter I can speak from experience. In the old days before the administration of education was settled on our shoulders, the members of the London County Council used to have a voice in its administration, and it was not left to the officials. The rates which poor people now have to pay are being largely spent upholding a system of officials, half of whom by good management could be done away with. I am not opposed to the permanent official, because he has to get his living somewhere, but I hope he will fall into other channels. I do not wish to see him starve, but our first duty is to those whom we represent, and they are the ratepayers of London. There is no city in England, so far as I know, which is managed worse in its local affairs than London. I notice the President of the Local Government Board is not in his place. I do not know whether he has an idea that his Under-Secretary can handle this Question better than he can. At any rate, I ask him to ponder over these facts. [Laughter.] This is not a laughing matter to me. I have to face my Constituency, and I have been, like others, crying in the wilderness against the wicked Tory party for neglecting our interests in London. I am not going to condemn the Liberal party, because they have done a lot of good work. I want to go before my Constituency with an Act which is going to case them of the heavy burden of the rates which they have to pay at the present time. Only the Government can help me in that direction, and I wish in conclusion to say to my colleagues that when you are supporting me you are helping yourselves as well as helping us.
§ Sir WILLIAM COLLINS
I wish to express my satisfaction that the fortunes of the ballot have enabled us to bring this question of the anomalies and grievances under which local administration in London suffers before the attention of the House of Commons—
Attention called to the fact that 40 Members were not present. House counted, and 40 Members being found present.
§ Sir WILLIAM COLLINS
The opinion which the hon. Member for Central Finsbury has formed as the result of his own practical experience and shrewd common-sense as to the condition of local government in London finds ample corroboration in the systematic writings of those who have written upon the question of local government, and especially in its application to London. Mr. Mackenzie Chalmers, 1153 writing on local government in 1883, stated that:—In the case of London it was confusion worse confounded.Mr. Blake Odgers in 1899 declared that there was still no uniform and no harmonious system about the government of London. He said that whenever a difficulty arose a special authority was created to meet the need of the hour. The capital of the Empire has suffered from legislative neglect on the part of this House. The hon. Member for North St. Pancras said that London was omitted from the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. That was rather the result of accident than of design. He pointed out that the Commissioners of 1835 regarded London as different in degree, but not in kind, and they dismissed a plan of dividing it into new municipalities. Since that time there have been various tendencies towards the unification of London. If any one doubted whether it were practicable to equalise further the rates of London without unifying administration he must have been convinced by the Debate on the subject on 20th March, 1907, in which it was clearly shown that it would be impossible to rearrange the rates without rearranging the areas. An allusion was made by an important Royal Commission, presided over by Lord Courtney, in 1893, to the cause of the real difficulties and the real defects of local administration. They said "The recent treatment of the large area of London outside the City as a county, while recognising its essential unity, gave undue prominence to county rather than to city characteristics. London is really a large town and requires town and not county treatment." The Poor Law Commissioners moreover recommended that the poor law authorities should be merged into the municipal authority, and that public assistance ought to be regarded as a branch of municipal government. They looked forward to a unified London for all local purposes. There is a general agreement that the unification of London should be effected, and that the municipal and poor law authorities should be merged into one. During the lifetime of the present Parliament various things have been done or said on behalf of the Government in dealing with the local government of London. The late Prime Minister said in 1907 that London had been "unfortunate in its treatment." The present Prime Minister has said that there were serious arrears in the matter of administrative 1154 reform of London government. When a deputation waited upon the right hon. Gentleman last November, asking him to set up a new authority with reference to London traffic he said that there was strong objection to setting up any new authority, because London suffers from a superfluity of authorities. We desire to express the hope that changes may be made in the direction of simplification and unification of local government in London. London suffers from a chaos of overlapping by the local authorities which deal with its local affairs. We are driven to the conclusion that there must be a rearrangement of local government.
§ Sir W. COLLINS
I am glad that the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London is of that opinion. Precautions must be taken against local extravagance. The unification of rates cannot be carried further without the re-arrangement of local government, or the relations which ought to exist between local expenditure and local responsibility would be apt to be separated. And it becomes even more serious when we are dealing with services which, according to the Royal Commission on Local Taxation of 1901, we are to speak of as national services locally administered. I, therefore, think we have a right to ask from the Government that besides the very moderate reform contained in the London Elections Bill promised this Session, we ought to have a far larger measure of London reform dealing with municipal and poor law authorities, and endeavouring to bring about the associations which there ought to be between local expenditure and local responsibility—a problem which I think some of the administration of the present Parliament has tended rather to complicate than to solve. In the interests of efficiency and economy in the local administration of London I hope the Government will assent to the Resolution moved by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe, and during this Session or next bring forward some practice legislative proposal to give effect to some such reform as that advocated.
§ Mr. W. PEARCE
I hope we shall have some promise from the Government in the direction of what has been argued to-night. To secure a complete equalisation of the burden of the rates probably portends a very large measure, and the relations between the London County Council and the borough councils, and even the 1155 enlargement of the London County Council area might have to be considered; but a smaller step should be taken with much less difficulty, and it seems to me to be easily within the power of the Government to do something during the present Session. There is one paragraph in the Report of the Commission which is of a striking character. The Commissioners say:—The breakdown of the poor law in London is more conclusively demonstrated than in any other part of the kingdom.That is a very valid reason why the Government's attention should be directed to poor law administration in London. There is something else to be borne in mind. In the King's Speech in the first Session of this Parliament a promise was made as to the equalisation of rates in London. A complete equalisation of rates in London would involve a great change, but 75 per cent. of equalisation would be effected by a reform of the poor law. The figures are very striking. The divergence of the borough councils' rate is not very large, but in the poor rate the variation is enormous. I will take first of all the poor rate, and then the borough council rate. I hold in my hand the quarterly rate-note of the Borough of Poplar, and for one quarter the poor law rate and the sick asylum rate in Poplar amounts to more than 1s. in the pound. It is also necessary to raise a further sum for arrears of former quarters; and another 3d. is also demanded of the ratepayers of Poplar. So that in the quarter's rate for Poplar the demand for poor rate amounts to 1s. 3d. in the pound, that means over 4s. in the pound; while in Westminster, in some portions, the demands for the poor rate are under 3d. in the pound, for Paddington under 4d., and Hampstead under 4d. If we examine the figures for the borough councils of those four districts on an average for the four years ending 1905, the latest figures I can obtain, we find they are: Poplar 2s. 1d., Westminster 1s. 3d., Paddington 1s. 5d., and Hampstead 1s. 8d. It is therefore evident that the inequalities of the rates in London at the present minute are very large, and in some cases extend to 75 per cent., because of the variation of the poor rate. The poor law average rate in London is from 9d. to 10d. In my own Constituency in Limehouse the rate for the poor law is 2s. 7d., and here again it is perfectly clear how this large 1156 inequality arises. I think the House admits that the poor of London ought to be a charge upon the whole of London, but the difficulty has been that you cannot do this without controlling local management and local expenditure. The Report of the Poor Law Commission—both the majority and the minority Report—points out how, by the disappearance of boards of guardians and the establishment of a public assistance authority—of a public assistance committee, using the London County Council and the borough councils almost entirely, with a certain number of co-opted members—a new management might be instituted by which this difficulty of central control over local expenditure could be obviated, and I think now is the time when, if the Government are not prepared to take the full step, they can certainly take this one step. Ever since I have been connected with municipal politics in London, and politics in London which extends over more than 20 years, on this side of the House at least, it has been the invariable cry that the poor rate in London ought to be equalised, and, speaking as a London Member, I feel that if this Parliament passes without my being able to show my Constituents that something has been done in this direction, I shall create great disappointment, and they will consider that my Friends at least have failed in their mission, and have not taken the opportunity, now that they are in power, to do something to get rid of a great grievance in these poor districts, which now, if the Government have the will, it is well within their power to effect. I hope if the Government do not find time to consider the whole question they will at least take this one step in regard to the poor rate, and before this Parliament has finished they will be able to show the citizens of London that they do accept what I have been arguing for—that the poor of London are the business of the whole of London, and that they will equalise the poor rate, and in that way give an enormous boon and take away a sense of injustice which exists in the poorer districts of London.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Masterman)
I congratulate the London Members on having twice won success in the Ballot, and commiserate with them in twice failing to attain in a complete degree the object which they desire. The first time owing to an adjournment of the House there were only a few minutes 1157 to discuss London government, and the second time, to-night, we come to discuss it after an extraordinarily exhausting Debate, and it is difficult to do justice to the subject in any degree commensurate with its importance. As far as the presentation of the case is concerned, I am not sure that there is very much left to be said, after the most admirable presentation which has been given to-night, especially by my hon. Friends the Members for St. Pancras and West St. Pancras, stating, indeed, facts which are known to all who have in the least degree considered this most baffling but, at the same time, most fascinating problem in local government that I suppose the world has ever seen. There are great difficulties associated with the growth of a City with nearly five million of inhabitants now, and with, outside it, another city of about 2,500,000 inhabitants, covering 117 square miles, with a rateable value of over £44,000,000, and with rates collected equal to the revenues of a good many European States, with rate collecting authorities numbering over 50, and associated with the most extraordinary anomalies in the areas which they cover and in the variations still existing from parish to parish. Besides all this anomaly and complexity you have a fundamental fact which is driving on the movement represented by this Debate, and very inadequately represented in comparison with the movement outside these walls. That is the fact that partly as a result of these anomalies and partly from extraneous causes this great aggregation of cities is divided into cities of the rich and cities of the poor. The cities of the rich are getting richer, and there is much evidence to make it appear that in some cases at least the cities of the poor are getting poorer. Under these circumstances everyone will agree that the opportunity is ripe for reform, but I think my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury was a little unjust in suggesting that the problem had been completely neglected by all successive Governments which had occupied the position of authority within these walls.
We have gone a very long way towards recognising the absolute justice of the principle of equalisation, and I will appeal to the action of past Governments in order to relieve myself from the responsibility of even arguing to-night the question of the justice of the principle of equalisation. Of the 15½ millions of money which are exacted in various degrees from the ratepayers of London nearly 9¾ millions 1158 are for charges over the whole area of the county, and nearly 1¼ additional millions are charges levied over the whole area of the county except the City of London. That is a total of 11 millions out of 15½, leaving 4½ millions which are not raised uniformly, or only some 3–10th of the total revenue. These 4½ millions are divided between two great divisions of expenditure, and I think I must tell the hon. Member for Limehouse that he was not entirely correct in his statement as to the percentages of the 4½ millions. About £1,300,000, according to the latest returns, are devoted to non-equalised poor law expenses, and about £3,100,000 are devoted to meet the non-equalised expenses of the borough councils, the ordinary apparatus of public health, and the sanitary authority. It is perfectly true, and it cannot be too often repeated, that the result of these discrepancies is extraordinarily varied. There is no other city that I know of in the world, not even among the capitals of the great countries of Europe, which shows such variation as a rate of 6s. 2d. in Kensington and a rate of 10s. 5½d. in Poplar. I entirely agree with all that has been said as to the necessity of very careful observation of the remedies which can be provided, and of leaving no stone unturned until particular remedies are applied. I will say just a word as to the non-equalised expenditure of the borough councils. That in part was attempted to be met, as all the specialists in London government know, by the Equalisation Rates Act of 1894. It was certainly a measure of reform long overdue, but I think also I carry general agreement with me when I say that that Act has not altogether worked in a satisfactory manner. So much is that the case that I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for West St. Pancras definitely declare himself against the continuance of that system. It is the rather vicious principle of national doles to local purposes carried further in council doles to borough council authorities. It does not associate complete examination of expenditure with responsibility for raising the money, and I should think that there is a pretty general concensus of public opinion that in whatever way we are to approach this problem it is not best approached by the method of equalisation of rates. There are other minor objections. It does not entirely provide relief to the poorest authorities, and it does not entirely say that the relief is to come from 1159 the richest authorities, and the general result still leaves, as of necessity it must leave, a very conspicuous and rather cruel inequality as between the necessary expenditure on public health in a poor district in comparison with what a penny rate will produce in a poor district on the one hand, the necessary expenditure on public health in a rich district in comparison with the amount a penny rate will produce in a rich district.
The second great branch of public expenditure has been more completely dealt with to-night in this Debate, and I am not in the least degree surprised that London reformers who have spoken seemed to be more in line for the moment, and seemed to be more disposed to concentrate their attention on the equalisation and reorganisation of London on the question of the poor law. In the case of the poor law the inequalities have been so glaring in the past that there has been a continual succession of attempts to meet them from time to time in a series of Acts. Without going into details, it is sufficient broadly to say that there are some not entirely unsatisfactory methods of equalisation in connection with poor law expenditure, except on certain specified items. These items are in the main four, of which two are important. The first is out-relief, the second is buildings and loan charges on buildings, the third is maintenance and repair of buildings, and the fourth the expenses devoted by the various guardians of London to the maintenance of indoor poor in excess of that which is equalised by the Metropolitan Poor Act and other Acts which deal with equalisation.
The variations of the money spent on outdoor relief are of course enormous, partly as a matter of different policy adopted by different guardians and partly by different administrations after a policy has been adopted by different guardians. The total amount spent on outdoor relief in the last year of which I have information is about a million and a quarter in London, but that varies enormously from one union to another. I do not wonder that hon. Members should seem surprised. I was dealing with the total amount of non-equalised poor law expenditure. The variations in outdoor relief differ to such an extent as this—not to compare rich and poor areas—St. George's in the East, population 50.000, outdoor relief £422; Poplar, population 170,000, outdoor relief £36,900. 1160 I am not going into a large question of that sort now. We will have an opportunity of discussing it in full when we come to discuss whatever poor law proposals this Government presents to this House next year. As my hon. Friend has reminded me, the variation which I have referred to was a halfpenny rate in one case and 10½d. rate in the other. But that is not the only variation in the poor law in different unions. There is the question of loans and the question of difficulties in the case of buildings, especially among new poor law unions which have had to build very largely and very quickly. These variations are almost as important as the others. The outstanding loans in the Union of Westminster, an old union with a large amount of buildings, for a considerable time, and consequently capital, in this matter, are £623. In the Borough of Greenwich they amount to £330,000. The variations are therefore due, first, to the low and high rateable value. That is a variation that ought not to occur. There is no variation in Manchester between districts of low or high rateable value, nor, so far as I know, in any of the capitals of Europe. Variation also arises from the various proportions of the poor and the differences of policy, and also in a minor degree from such questions as leakages, empty houses, and places becoming less favourable to live in, which sometimes cause considerable variation.
Every Member of the House who has spoken in this House to-night has accepted the view which I think has been put before us by the hon. Member for the City of London, that responsibility must go with expenditure, and that in any proposal which may be made in future in connection with poor law reform it will be essential that the body which raises the rate, even if an equalised rate on the whole of London, will have to have control over it. The variations in the different scales of poor law administration are so large, the difference in the pressure put on local authorities is so great, and the possibilities of abuse are so many, that no other principle is compatible with efficiency or with real kindliness and compassion towards the poor who are to be benefited by the Poor Law system. Beyond that I find differences of opinion amongst those who have spoken in this House to-night. I find a very considerable difference between my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and the hon. Member for North St. Pancras. My hon. 1161 Friend the Member for Bethnal Green seems to think that those larger views of London government and London organisation are contemplated with which the Member for North St. Pancras has identified himself. I do not know whether the differences between different groups of reformers are sufficient to cause anyone to emphasise them as one of the factors for delaying reform; but, as far as concerns the special point of concentration and equalisation, upon which this Debate has mainly turned, I gather that there is not very much difference between the various groups. We have had a Bill backed by very strong official recommendations on the Report of the Commission, and we have to deal first with the question of the poor law reform. There is, of course, another possibility of obtaining relief, which must not be entirely lost sight of. The Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined a proposal, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean remarked that every Government had outlined a scheme as between local and national finance. I hope the Members for London will be keen and vigilant in seeing that London receives fair and just treatment in this matter.
The recommendation of the Local Taxation Commission, or at least of some of its most expert financial advisers, outlined schemes which would have given an enormous amount of relief to London. Under one case, the scheme outlined by Sir Frederick Hamilton and Mr. George Murray, more than one-third of the whole additional amount to be devoted to local purposes from national sources would go automatically to London. The commonly accepted idea that London, although the wealthiest city in the world, would be ruled out, because it is the wealthiest city in the world, from such relief is, of course, seen to be an idea without foundation directly one examines the recommendations on the subject of what should be national and what local expenditure. The Members who have brought this subject before the House have rightly declared that if there is one subject upon which the whole of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law are united, and spoke with more deliberate and emphatic voice than any other, it is the question of the reform of poor law government in London. The majority Commission, in words which have been quoted in this House, break into almost unnatural emphasis in their condemnation 1162 of the present system, and in their advocacy that the unification of the whole system of poor law relief should receive careful consideration, and in the recognition of the principle that with safeguards much could be obtained for efficiency and for the poor of London by a single uniform rate. The Minority Report as Members know, desires the splitting up of the poor law and the division of the functions which are now performed by the poor law authorities between various committees of the other local authorities. But the Minority is equally emphatic both in the condemnation of the present system and also in the desire of equalised rating.
The Government have promised in a series of speeches from the Prime Minister downwards, to deal next year with the Question of poor law administration. It has been commonly recognised, I think, among all critics from whatever side they come of this great Poor Law Commission that that part of the poor law administration which, on the one hand, most drastically calls for treatment, and, on the other hand, might most easily be isolated is that part which deals with the metropolis. Speaking for myself as a Greater London Member, I am grateful to hon. Members for having brought this subject forward. I hope they will never cease to bring it forward until some relief is afforded. It is idle on my part to promise any other Bill dealing with London than that which has been introduced this Session. The Government entirely accept the motion which has been moved to-night, and if I could offer a piece of private advice to my friends I would advise all those who are particularly interested in this matter during the next few months to concentrate their attention especially on purposes for the reform of poor law in the metropolis.
§ Mr. J. H. SEAVERNS
I first desire to thank very heartily the hon. Gentleman for the strictly modified pledges, I am sorry to say, which he has given us on behalf of the Government as to their future action in the desired remedies of the great grievance in the matter of London Government which have been pointed out to-night. I did not intend to say anything in this Debate, and my only reason for intervening arises from this, that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned very briefly in his remarks the divergence of views on the part of individual London Members which has arisen in the Debate. This evening that 1163 divergence, I understand, is represented by the views of the hon. Member for St. Pancras and the hon. Member for Bethnal Green. While I, personally, and I am sure the London Members as a body, would be the last to deny or to fail to recognise the great experience, the great knowledge of London affairs, and the sound judgment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green, it is a fact that on this matter an enormously preponderating majority of London Members agree that no partial equalisation of rates would be sufficient to meet the exigencies of the problem, but that the equalisation of rates must be accompanied by a far-reaching reform in the methods of London government as a whole. I should be sorry for the hon. Gentleman to think that there was any serious divergence of opinion between us, and I hope he will put before the Government our very strong views on the matter. He has recommended us to exercise keenness and vigilance in the study of this and poor law questions generally. Keenness and vigilance on our part will not be wanting, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will recommend to his colleagues in the Government the same keenness and vigilance in dealing with this pressing problem and in removing this grave injustice to the people of London.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that this discussion has come on at an unfortunate time, when, at the close of three days' exciting Debate, a large number of Members have gone away. This is an extremely important question, which has been raised periodically ever since I have had the honour of a seat in this House, now nearly 17 years, and the Debates have always brought out the strong differences of opinion which exist among London Members. The Parliamentary Secretary seemed to be a strong supporter of this Motion. He also appeared to be in favour of some alteration in the poor law. But that is not the Motion before the House. The Motion is in favour of a general equalisation of rates all over London. The hon. Gentleman told us that he was against the principle of high and low rateable value, and in answer to an interruption of mine he said that that did not obtain in other great cities—I I think he instanced Manchester. But he also told us that there is a population of nearly 5,000,000 within the London area, and another 2,000,000 outside that area, 1164 and that the income from rates imposed over that vast area was larger than the revenue of many European States. That, however, does not apply to Manchester. His whole analogy is not a correct one. Manchester is one city, inhabited by people with more or less common interests, whereas London is an agglomeration of cities, inhabited by people with different interests. The people who live at St. George's-in-the-East, we will say, have little in common with the people who live in Notting Hill, and the people who live at Greenwich have very little in common with the people who live at Islington. The hon. Member goes on to say in his extremely interesting speech that the rate-collecting bodies in London number over 50, and naturally any attempt to deal with a question was complex, and would occupy a good deal of time. I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the Government has only one Bill occupied with London before the House. I do not know quite what that Bill is for dealing with the equalisation of London rates. I can only think of one Bill, a jerrymandering Bill.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That brings me to the hon. Member who represents Lime-house. He told us that his constituents would be very disappointed with this Bill, for they had hoped that it would do something for them. That was the reason the hon. Member was in favour of this Motion, because he wanted to return to his constituents and point out to them the good that the present Government had done for them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Yes, but it was a singular argument in favour of the Motion. Some 13 or 14 years ago, when I had the honour to represent Peckham, an Equalisation Bill was brought forward. That Equalisation Bill was backed by argument. The argument which was advanced then was that the poorer districts were suffering from heavy charges, and that the richer districts did not pay these heavy charges; and that if part of the wealth of the richer districts were distributed over the poorer districts, the poor would be better off. At that time Mr. Bartle represented Islington, and I represented Peckham, a constituency which would benefit in the greatest degree by the proposed equalisation of rates.
§ Mr. SEAVERNS
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be 1165 now put; "but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed.
And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ The House adjourned at Five minutes after Eleven o'clock.