§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
, in moving that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair, said, he hoped the House would consent to go into Committee, and pass the unopposed clauses. He had no desire to proceed with those clauses on which Amendments were to be moved, and which might therefore give rise to discussion.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he hoped the Poor Law Board had considered whether it was desirable to proceed with those clauses which were so strongly objected to. The object of those clauses was to vest more power in the central authority, and to diminish that of the local authorities. The effect would be, if carried, to cause gentlemen in the country to retire from the discharge of what had hitherto been considered important local duties. He deprecated the idea of the Central Board interfering in the election of nurses, cooks, and other menial officers of county unions. The Board also wished to claim the right of appointment of auditors. That was also objected to by boards of guardians, because they believed auditors should be gentlemen residing in the locality. By the Bill before the House it was proposed to vest the appointment of chaplain and all the officers of the union workhouse in the central Board instead of in the guardians. He thought that part of the Bill most objectionable. He had no objection to the Board in London being made permanent, provided they were compelled to place on the table of the House all the general orders they issued, so that hon. Members might call attention to them, if necessary.
§ LORD GEORGE CAVENDISH
objected to the appoinment of the auditors being vested in the Central Board. One of the auditors for Derbyshire resided in Wales, and recently he audited the accounts of three of the Derbyshire unions. They took him but a few hours altogether, but he charged each of the unions his travelling expenses from Wales. He thought that the sooner the auditor's accounts were audited by others the better. The auditors ought to be selected from persons residing in the district.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, that if this Bill were passed every executive function would be centred in the Poor Law Board, and would most effectually destroy some of the most important duties of the local administration. Such a system would tend to deteriorate the character of boards of guardians, seeing that persons of respectable and independent character would decline to submit to be controlled at every turn they took in the administration of local affairs.
§ SIR J. CLARKE JERVOISE
hoped the Bill would be postponed, in order that it might be more fully discussed.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he did not think much good was to be done by a general discussion, since the clauses required much separate consideration, and he suggested that the House should go into Committee and pass the unopposed clauses, on the understanding that Progress should immediately be reported. He did not look upon this as an opportune time for making the Poor Law Board perpetual. The Union Assessment Act had only been in operation two years, so that we had as yet had but a very short experience of union, administration — for until there was an equality of charge over the whole area there was no common interest, and each guardian perpetrated his own petty job. The Central Board had taken advantage of the weakness of that system to engross a great deal of power, and this had tended not to improve the administration of the Poor Law, but to deteriorate it and make it permanently inefficient. The rates were still made and collected by the parochial authorities, although they were now administered by the union; and while any portion of the old parochial system remained 1419 the administration must necessarily he defective. When we reaped the full benefit of union administration he believed the powers of the local Boards would have to be enlarged rather than diminished, and the object of Parliament should be so to improve the law as to render unnecessary the interference of the Central Board, with its largely-increasing staff and emoluments. He should wish to take the sense of the House on renewing it for five years only, during which time local administration might be made so efficient as to enable the country to dispense with it, or at least to contract its powers.
also protested against the tendency which the Poor Law Board had all along shown to deprive the local guardians of all proper power. The Board ought to relax its powers, instead of attempting to increase them at the expense of thy guardians, which rendered it almost impossible to get men of respectability to undertake the office. He remembered when he was Chairman of a board of guardians that difficulty was felt, and the interference of the Board had rather increased than diminished since then.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, his hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth), who was not able again to address the House, was anxious at this period of the Session to get the Bill into Committee, but would not proceed with the clauses if it was the general wish that he should not do so.
§ MR. WHALLEY
concurred in the objections which had been made by hon. Members to the permanency of the Poor Law Board; but there was another evil to be guarded against. There was a danger that the Poor Law Board would use its powers in conformity with the new power that was rising in the country—that of the Romish priesthood. Let hon. Members look at the extraordinary clauses in this Bill, which related to the keeping of a creed register. Clauses 33 to 39 were very objectionable. The 34th provided that if a child had been baptized in a religion other than that of the father or mother the entry on the register should be made according to the baptism unless the father or mother otherwise required. It was constantly the practice for the Roman Catholic priests to get hold of children during the absence of the fathers at work, and without the knowledge of the mothers, and to baptize them by the dozen. These children were afterwards followed into the 1420 workhouses and the industrial schools, and they were brought up in the religion into which they had been thus surreptitiously baptized, and not in the religion of their parents. He was sorry that the Government had acted in collusion with the Roman Catholic priests in adopting these clauses.
§ VISCOUNT GALWAY
trusted that the Gilbert Unions would not be included in the Bill. They were carried on to the satisfaction of the ratepayers, and, as there were only a few of them, he hoped they would not be abolished.
MR. J. B. SMITH
regarded the Bill as an infringement of the great principle of self-government. He could not assent to the Motion to make the Poor Law Board perpetual, instead of renewing its powers from time to time. Who were the Poor Law Board? Every two or three years the President was removed by a change of parties, and Mr. Lumley and two or three other gentlemen ruled the whole of the kingdom.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he had no wish, under the circumstances, to proceed with the first clause of the Bill, to which, however, he had no reason to suppose any opposition would be made. Some centralization was inherent in the very idea of a Poor Law Board, and, considering the powers given to the Board under recent Acts of Parliament, it was hardly consistent to limit the duration of the Board to five years. During the last few days deputations had been received from the guardians at Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and other large towns, and none of them were otherwise than satisfied that the central authority should be placed upon a permanent basis. The apprehensions expressed in regard to the increase of the powers of the Board were much exaggerated; for, if in one part of the Bill they assumed a power which they did not now possess, in another they gave up powers which they now enjoyed. The clauses objected to both by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) and his noble Friend (Viscount Galway) obtained the deliberate recommendation of the Committee upstairs.
MR. J. B. SMITH
doubted whether the deputations to the Poor Law Board were empowered to discuss the principle of the permanency of the Board.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he was glad to know that the Government undertook the responsibility of adopting the clauses to which he had referred.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again on Thursday next.