HC Deb 14 March 1867 vol 185 cc1861-6

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now road the third time."—(Mr. Gathorne Hardy.)


I wish to make only one or two observations. This Bill effects a great improvement in the existing state of things, and the chief thing to be regretted is that it does not go further. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) has reserved to himself the decision of a point which he was urged by several deputations to decide by the Bill itself—namely, the extent and boundaries of the districts, each of which is to have an asylum, to itself. I wish to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the importance of making these districts large; as large as the present or future Parliamentary districts. Less than this will not answer the purpose; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us this evening-some idea of what are his purposes on this subject. Another point of more importance is, that there should be created, to stand between the Poor Law Board and the local Boards, an intermediate representative body, which might be intrusted with the administration of the law concerning the metropolis as a whole, and which, although elected, might have the exercise delegated to it of some of the functions now reserved to the Poor Law Board. I much regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken powers to establish such an authority, for we know that he is himself favourable for it. The value of large bodies representing large constituencies, as compared with small bodies representing small districts, is indisputable. I will at present confine myself to suggesting one or two practical cases in which it will be found of importance. Take the case of an epidemic likely to affect the whole metropolis, but for the present confined to a single district. In that case the resources of the entire metropolis could, through the administration of the general Board, be applied to the district in which they were wanted. Something like this was done lately in apprehension of a visit of the cholera, by the establishment of a central committee sitting at the Mansion House. That committee centralized the charity of the whole of London. Again, there is the case of destitution confined to certain districts. In these cases the buildings and beds in some parts of the metropolis are empty, while in the districts suffering the distress they are crowded. The value of a central or intermediate Board between the Poor Law Board and the local bodies, to superintend the application of the resources of the whole metropolis to the immediate exigencies of the distressed districts, is in such cases obvious. This function might well be discharged by a Central Board composed partly of the ratepayers' nominees, and partly of persons selected by the Commissioners. Another most important consideration is that referring to the providing of food, medicine, and other necessaries for the hospitals. In many cases, also, relief is most advantageously given in kind, which makes it very important that provision should be made for obtaining the best articles possible. To make contracts for the supply of these things is an operation for which no local or small body can be by many degrees so fit as is a central body either in point of efficiency or economy. Jobbing, which is inseparable from hole-and-corner proceedings, need not be apprehended in the case of a body representing the whole metropolis, making purchases on a large scale, and entering into large contracts competed for by opulent firms, for these transactions, being of a public nature, would be carried on under the eyes of the world, and subject to public criticism. No one can dispute, and the right hon. Gentleman must be perfectly aware, that efficiency and economy in contracts are better secured when the body which makes them must do so with publicity—when it stands conspicuous in the public eye. To any one disposed to object to the suggestion for creating an intermediate or central elected Board, like the one I am speaking of, that it is a step on the road to centralization, I would say that if the establishment of such an intermediate body be denied, the denial of it would be a fur greater step towards centralization. The powers which such a body is best qualified to exercise have become indispensable. They will therefore be necessarily assumed by a purely Government Board, without any elected body at all—by the Poor Law Board. These are the suggestions I offer to the right hon. Gentleman, and the reasons by which I support them.


said, he thought it must be evident to all that a Central Board—consisting partly of elected members, partly of representatives of the Government—was necessary, in order to obtain uniformity of system throughout the metropolis. It was the interest of the whole of the metropolis to cure the sick as rapidly as possible, and a Central Board could send the necessaries for the purpose to where they were immediately required, instead of allowing them to be idle elsewhere, and it would be most useful in taking the contracts. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would carefully consider the matter.


said, he hoped that a clause would be introduced to the effect that every person, such as medical officers and others, claiming compensation under the Bill, should take any office under the Government for which his previous occupation rendered him eligible, and that in the event of a refusal he should not be entitled to compensation. The Act might involve great cost for compensation. A similar clause had been inserted in the Probate Act. He had always advocated the appointment of a Central Board, and he was glad to find that in this respect the views of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) had considerably approximated to his own. He thought it was the general opinion that there ought to be a distinct Board to manage the asylums for sick and fever patients. [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: Hear, hear!] Now, if one Central Board were constituted, we should have a foundation which could be built upon from time to time hereafter. He thought the concession which had been made, coupled with the provision since introduced into the Bill, that the Central Board might appoint committees to superintend matters of detail in different districts, would, to a great extent, meet the views enunciated by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill.) He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be encouraged by the support he had received to enlarge the powers of the Central Board, and extend them to other provisions which might very well be the subject of the general administration.


said, that twelve months ago the House was legislating in a panic on the subject of the cattle plague, and he thought the House had passed the present Bill with a certain amount of excitement and enthusiasm, which no doubt was due to the popularity of the right hon. Gen- tleman the President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Gathorne Hardy.) If the right hon. Gentleman could take a lease of the office for a number of years, or for life, he, for one, should not object to the powers conferred by the Bill. But when it was considered what in a few months the Poor Law Board was likely to become, he thought it would be seen that, in all probability, the House had conferred upon it too much absolute authority. It ought not to be forgotten that the Poor Law Board had in its past career interposed the obstructions of routine, and in dealing with the poor had passed by the mountains whilst they had stumbled against the molehills. At all events, he hoped that the power delegated to the Poor Law Board of nominating one-third of the guardians would not be extended to other districts.


said, he was in favour of local self-government. The House ought not to distrust the local authorities, who, after all, were our own flesh and blood. The Bill unfairly reflected upon them.


There is nothing, Sir, in this Bill to abolish local self-government. Indeed, under its provisions local government will have the fullest scope for its exertions. With regard to what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), I must confess that I am deeply indebted to him for the support which he has given to this measure. As to compensation, however, there is a difference between the case to which he has adverted and that which will arise under this Bill. In this case there has been no patronage conferred on the Poor Law Board, with the exception of the single office of Receiver. The patronage, whatever it is, remains with the local governors of the metropolis. All the Poor Law Board will have to do is to see that persons do not claim unnecessary or unreasonable compensation. The whole system of compensation was placed on the footing of the Bill purposely, because new arrangements will have to be made, and any officer having a certain district which is altered in any respect may refuse to continue in it, and he must, of course, take his chance with the rest, the Board, as an impartial body, looking to every case on its merits, and taking care that no injustice is done to him. With respect to the Central Board, adverted to by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), it seems to me that in the course of the next year or year and a half that must elapse, before any of these buildings can he completed or brought into operation, we shall see the working of the Act, and whether those whoso work it is do their duty, and carry out the intentions of the House. If in the course of that time it should appear that new powers are wanted, even in the next Session of Parliament, there will be abundance of time to get those additional powers, if they be needed. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Read) was good enough to say that the Bill had been passed owing to popularity on my part. I should be sorry to think that it was. I believe that the Bill owes its popularity to the fact of the great grievances which were Buffered by the poor, the great injustice which was done to the ratepayers in expending money in other objects than those intended, and the injustice which was done to the public, which was obliged to look on powerlessly and hopelessly while such evils existed. This is an attempt on my part to make a beginning to redress those evils. I am far from thinking that the measure is perfect in itself. It is a sketch which may hereafter be filled up. Whoever may succeed me, or however long I may remain in my present office, it is clear that the House has taken up the subject with reality and earnestness, and will not admit of any weak or faltering policy. For myself, I should not hesitate, on whatever side I may sit, to appeal to the House—by the whole body of which I gratefully feel that I have been supported on this occasion in carrying the Bill—to grant any new powers that may be required, in order that the sick and imbecile poor may have justice done to them, and that the money of the ratepayers may be duty expended.


said, he considered this the most important measure respecting the management of the poor which had been passed since the new Poor Law. It had several great principles—to insure a better system of relief to the sick and aged poor, to make better provision in schools for the children of the poor; and, at the same time, to spread the expenses of that relief more equally on a different basis and over a larger area of the metropolis. He hoped this latter principle would be carried still further. The Union Assessment Act was a step in the right direction, this Bill was another step, but it must be carried out still further, so that the whole metropolis might be placed on one uniform and equal basis. He hoped this measure would not long be confined to the metropolis; it would have to be carried out in the different counties. Although there had been negligence in some parts, yet, taking the metropolis as a whole, the poor had been properly cared for, and the large body of guardians had done their duty without fee or reward. But with respect to the Poor Law Board, looking to its defective constitution, and the manner in which it had conducted the Department, it was well known that it was solely owing to the philanthropic exertions of a few public-spirited men—the most distinguished of whom was the late Mr. Walter—that, after a long course of agitation, the had succeeded in modifying the harsher features of the new Poor Law. Those who had the management of the Board had no right to take to themselves the credit of looking after the interests of the poor, while the guardians denied the poor their rights. Since its first formation down to the present time the Board had been restricting the guardians, remonstrating with them for spending so much money, and never urging them to spend more to I provide better for the wants of the poor. It was only in later times that agitation from without had acted on the Poor Law Board, inducing them to take a more humane view of affairs. He denied that the Board had always been the protectors of the poor. He looked forward to the time when one-half the charge for the maintenance of the poor would be put on the Consolidated Fund. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) for this Bill, which would be useful to the metropolis as a whole, and which he hoped was the first step towards spreading the taxation for the poor over the whole country. He believed that the present Bill would effect much good; but he looked forward to the time when the money required for the relief of the poor would be raised not merely on house property and land, but from all who had the means to I contribute, whether they possessed this description of property or not.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.