§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. STANSFELD
, in moving that this Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was to concentrate in a new Department to be created by the Bill the existing functions of the Poor Law Board, certain functions of the Privy Council with regard to health, and the prevention of disease, especially the oversight of such matters as vaccination, the powers and duties of the Home Office and of the Local Government Act Office with regard to local government, and certain other powers and duties of the Home Office with reference to the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, and the collation of local taxation Returns. This Bill asked no new powers whatever. It was practically the 6th chapter of the Eating and Local Government Bill, which was introduced by his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, and which had been withdrawn; but in consenting to the passing of this Bill, they would not commit themselves to the larger questions involved in the measure which had been withdrawn. The measure, which was introduced on its own merits, was based on the Report of the Sanitary Commission presented at the beginning of this Session. The 13th Resolution to which that Commission agreed was to the effect that it was expedient that the administration of the laws concerning public health and the relief of the poor should be presided over by one Minister as a central authority, whose title should signify his charge of both Departments. And the next Resolution was to the effect that the central authority should have general powers of supervision and inspection, and defined powers of control and direction over all local health authorities, and should exercise the sanitary powers and duties now exercised by the Privy Council, or the Home Office, or the Board of Trade, respectively. 79 He proposed by this Bill to carry out these two Resolutions, with only two exceptions. He did not propose to interfere with any of the veterinary functions of the Privy Council nor with the Board of Trade. The office of Registrar General of births, deaths, and marriages, the Medical Department of the Privy Council, and the Local Government Office, under Mr. Tom Taylor, would be transferred to the Local Government Board. It might be supposed by some that this Bill was an effort to introduce the thin edge of the wedge of a centralizing system. If that were the object of the Bill or the policy of the Government, he should be the last man to propose such a measure. There was nothing in the Report of the Sanitary Commission which he admired more than that part in which they expressed their conviction of the growing importance of local government in this country. This Bill, instead of destroying, would give new force to the principle of local government in this country.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
, in seconding the Motion, said, as the Chairman of the Commission on whose Report the Bill was based, he wished to say that it was possible that the title of the Bill might lead to a misunderstanding; it seemed to have been misunderstood by his hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire (Mr. Knight), who he saw by the Notice Paper intended to move the rejection of the measure. The object of the Sanitary Commission was to perfect and develop local government, and this was also the object of the Bill. They had had three objects before them—to consolidate the law, to make local government active and uniform, and to collect fragments of central supervision which were at present scattered through no less than four Departments, and place them in one central Department—namely, a Local Government Board united with the Poor Law Board. The enactments on the subject of local government had become so accumulated and confused that the law on that subject was wholly unintelligible, local government had itself been made a matter of option, and there was no practical local government in a great part of this kingdom. A central authority was required to carry out the purposes of local government. The Sanitary Commissioners had recommended, in substance, 80 the simplified central authority proposed by this Bill. They advised that there should be one consolidated statute upon the subject of all local government, and proposed, a scheme of which this one was a portion, to carry out their object. They had drawn up a Bill consisting of 400 clauses, which, he should have the honour of asking the House to read a first time next Tuesday, so that the matter might, during the Recess, be considered by the country, and he hoped that in substance it might next Session be adopted by the Government. That Bill would take the place of a number of independent and frequently contradictory Acts in relation to this subject. It was most desirable that there should be a law to establish a uniform and imperative system of local government; and for this purpose it was requisite that there should be established some one central authority to assist and stimulate local government. An economy of officers would also increase efficiency—for instance, the united central authority would have one set of inspectors for all local government, instead of having a variety of inspectors under various Acts. The machinery of the Poor Law Board would be sufficient in carrying out this work, their officers would serve for the whole, and the Boards of Guardians were ready to hand for local government in rural places. In his opinion there was no fear of any increase of centralization under this Bill. Centralization at the present time was excessive, and by this Bill would be reduced. By this Bill local government would be set at work throughout the country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. KNIGHT
said, he regretted that this Bill should be brought forward at so late a period of the Session, and in so imperfect a state as it was. It was only a portion of a larger scheme which was not yet before the House. The real origin and explanation of this Bill was that it was sought to place the whole local government of the country under the Poor Law Board. When Mr. Baines was President of that Board it aimed at carrying out no aggressive objects; but now it wished to encroach on the power of the local authorities, and to 81 bring them entirely under its control. This it had done by promoting various measures; but the great coup was the Union Chargeability Act, which had led to a great increase of the rates. During the 12 years before the passing of that Act the rates amounted to an average of £6,016,000 per annum; and during the four years subsequent to its passing their average amount per annum rose to £7,443,000. That was the result of breaking up the sound principle of parochial chargeability; and the country would yet have to return to the old area of natural charity and mutual charity. Nothing could be more infamous than the present condition of the system of medical relief in the country, while the prevention of the adulteration of the food of the people was a matter of the utmost importance. The Government might have taken up these and other subjects with much greater advantage. The action of the Government in proposing this measure was a police action, and if such a system were to go on nothing soon would be safe from Government inspection in some form or other. He begged to move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time upon this day three months.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
, in seconding the Amendment, said, the Bill was another step in the direction of centralization, giving large powers and authority to a central authority, without giving any details as to the way in which these powers would be exercised, and he therefore objected to it.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Knight.)
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, he must deny that this was an act of aggression originating with the Poor Law Board; it was founded upon a recommendation of the Sanitary Commission. This measure was not a piece of centralization in the right sense of the term—that of taking powers from the local authorities. It only grouped together under one roof various authorities that were already centralized, and professed to place them under the control of one responsible Minister.
§ SIR MASSEY LOPES
said, he was at first inclined to oppose the Bill, but had seen reason to change his opinion. The statement of the President of the 82 Poor Law Board had been very satisfactory, and he (Sir Massey Lopes) would support the second reading.
§ MR. DELAHUNTY
said, he only objected to the Bill because Ireland was not included in it. He thought it would secure local legislation for local affairs.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.