§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CRAUFURD,
on rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said: Mr. Speaker, this Bill is in fact the embodiment of recommendations of a Committee which sat three years to investigate the effects of the Scotch Poor Law Act passed in 1845, and to report whether and what amendment should be made in that Act. Most of those recommendations were adopted unanimously by the Committee, and I appear here as representing the Committee in laying before the House and the country the Bill which I have endeavoured to frame as embodying their recommendations. It is not my intention on the present occasion to discuss the policy of the Poor Law. Everyone must admit that there are grave social evils caused by the law, which gives to those who through accident, misfortune, or misconduct are unable to maintain themselves and their families, the right to demand subsistence for themselves and their families from their more wealthy and more provident neighbours. No one would contend, if we could begin de novo, that such a law is either necessary or desirable. But the law has now been in existence for three centuries; and all we can do is to accept this state of things and to endeavour to mitigate the evils arising there from. I am here to give embodiment to amendments which we think will counterbalance those evils. There are some differences between the state of the law in Scotland and the state of the law in England, and the House will pardon me if I advert to them to make my propositions more intelligible. One main difference between Scotland and England is this—in Scotland we do not recognize the right of the able-bodied to relief. Our principle is a rate in aid of those who being disabled cannot entirely support themselves, or who through sickness or old age are no longer fit for earning their livelihood. We supplement their means, and endeavour to maintain them in a decent condition. In 1843, the question of the state of the poor in Scotland drew considerable attention, and it was found necessary, on account of the great grievances and 1035 complaints that were made as to the insufficient mode of dealing with the poor in Scotland, that a Royal Commission should issue. That Commission reported, and the Report showed distinctly that there was a very sad state of things in a large proportion of the parishes. It was found that many evils existed in the dealing with paupers in the populous towns, and that in the Highland districts there was great misery and but little provision made for the deserving poor. Considerable sensation was caused by the revelations of the Commission, and the consequence was the introduction into Parliament, in 1845, of a Bill which is the law at present, and mainly regulates the question in Scotland. As that law was passed under the conviction that the local authorities had, in a great many instances, been oppressing the poor instead of providing for them, and that they would be disposed to continue to exercise their powers in that niggardly spirit which was revealed by the inquiries of the Royal Commission, the Act was naturally framed with a considerable bias in favour of the poor, without sufficient provisions to protect the rates from being improperly and too largely expended. The whole tendency of the Act of 1845 was to strengthen the legal right of the poor to relief. That is another distinction between the law of England and Scotland. With us, before 1845, the pauper had the right of applying to the Court of Session for relief and better contribution for the support of himself and his family. That cumbersome mode had become utterly unworkable, and, practically, the poor were handed over to the tender mercies of the local authorities. In the larger parishes the local authorities dealt fairly and liberally with the paupers; but there was a large number of parishes in which this did not occur, and the consequence was the paupers had been unable to get relief, though the law gave them the power to go to the Court of Session. They were entirely at the mercy of the Local Board who managed the poor rate. In England there is no such right of absolute legal demand for the support of the poor by the rates; but in Scotland one main provision made by the law of 1845 was to facilitate the carrying out of this legal right. By that Act, if the Inspector of Poor, who is, in fact, the relieving officer, 1036 refuses to grant relief, the pauper is entitled to apply summarily to the sheriff, who is required to hear the application ex parte, and authorized to grant interim relief, until the Inspector shows cause against it. In many cases the Inspector finds it useless to attempt to get the order reversed; and the consequence is, that this provision framed in the interest of the pauper is worked somewhat oppressively against the ratepayer. This is the main difference between the Scotch and English Poor Law. In England no pauper has a right to go to the magistrate or justice of the peace to obtain an order for relief. I believe it is a fact—at any rate in regard to out-door relief—that the guardians are masters of the situation, and that even the Poor Law Board cannot interfere. The guardians, on their own responsibility, may grant or refuse relief; but the pauper has no right, if the guardians refuse relief, to go to a magistrate to get put on the roll. In Scotland, a pauper can go to the magistrate summarily, and get an order to be placed on the roll. But if the Inspector or the Parochial Board consider that the sheriff's order is not reasonable, they may, and often do, protect themselves by giving the pauper a mere trifle. The pauper can then—and in any case in which he considers the relief granted to be inadequate—appeal to the Board of Supervision. If they are of opinion that the relief is inadequate they communicate with the Local Board, and often the matter is arranged without going further; but if the Local Board be recalcitrant, then the Board of Supervision can give a certificate to the pauper to go to the Court of Session to obtain an order on the Local Board for the proper relief. [An hon. MEMBER: In-door or out-door?] Out-door. I am coming to the other presently. The rule is, that if in-door relief be offered and the pauper refuse it, the Parochial Board has discharged its duty; but the general practice has been that out-door relief has been the rule, and in-door is the exception. [An hon. MEMBER: Does the hon. Member mean that the sheriff can compel out-door relief?] The sheriff's order does not say more than this—that the pauper shall be placed upon the roll, and shall get relief. He cannot decide what relief, or the quantity of relief. He can only order the Board to put the pauper on the roll. The right to relief 1037 is decided by the sheriff; the kind of relief by the Local Board. The tendency of this is to put enormous power in the hands of the pauper, and in consequence there has been a largely increasing charge on the ratepayers. With regard to the law of settlement, our law of settlement is in an anomalous and unsatisfactory state. Many think that settlement itself should be altogether abolished, and that the pauper should be relieved by the parish where he has contributed his labour, where, when he is no longer able to earn his living, he should be entitled to relief from the rates; but, undoubtedly, there are difficulties in the case. Our present law mainly consists of birth settlement and residential settlement. The latter is acquired by a residence of five years in one parish, the man having never received relief during that time. But if the pauper, after having acquired such settlement, during any subsequent period of five years, be absent from the parish four years and a day, he loses that settlement absolutely, and is thrown back upon his birth settlement. This state of the law tells against the industrious workmen who work in large towns, and especially in towns where there are more than one parish. It constantly occurs in large towns like Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Ayr, where there are three or four parishes interlaced and intermingled, that men have lived there for 20 or 30 years, and given their labour to the town, but have acquired no settlement there, because, by moving from one street to another without knowing the boundaries of the several parishes, they never get a residential settlement, although they have maintained themselves in the town without being a burden on the rates. These men, when they fall into old age or sickness, and become objects of relief, are thrown back as charges on the parish of their birth. In some instances, when they have been there a day only after their birth, they come back after 50 or 60 years, although the parish had never received the contribution of their labour. In the same way, if a man does not reside in every subsequent five years for one whole year in that parish, he loses his settlement in the parish where in all right and justice he ought to be sent to receive relief—that is, where he has given his labour. Here, again, there is great difference between the laws of 1038 England and Scotland. Practically, in England, by the law of non-removability, the period for acquiring a residential settlement has been reduced to one year. We do not propose to adopt this for Scotland, but what we propose by the Bill is to provide that no person shall lose a settlement once acquired until he shall have acquired another. There are many people who say the change would be a great evil; that it would increase the charge on many parishes, and would add to the rates. But I say these people only look at one side; they forget the interests of the industrious poor, and they do not see that one of the best means of reducing pauperism is to remove all fetters from the free intercourse of labour. The Committee upstairs did not see their way to reduce the time or to reduce the settlement simply to a birth settlement; but taking the matter as it is now, we have thought it right to take away some of the fetters that interfere with the free intercourse of labour, and render it difficult for the industrious poor to obtain relief. In the 5th clause of this Bill we have proposed that in all towns where there are more than one parish, these parishes shall, by Act of Parliament, be combined into one parish. In England it will cause surprise to hear that we have no such thing as a Union throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. That is not because we have not the power to make Unions, for in the Act of 1845 there is a permissive clause allowing parishes, if they can agree, to form a combination, subject to the approval of the Board of Supervision. There has been only one case in which such a Union was effected in Scotland. It was by the combination of certain rural districts in Islay; but it was found that, what with the extent and what with the great distances over which paupers had to travel, it could not be worked satisfactorily, and there being no power by the Act of 1845 to dissolve combinations, another Act was passed for that purpose, under the provisions of which this combination was dissolved. We have several parishes combining to build a poor-house, in which each shall take their proportionate number of rooms but these are combinations simply for poor-house purposes, in order to save the expense of building a poor-house for each parish. With that exception the principle of combination has not been 1039 carried out. Attempts have been made recently in the town of Glasgow to combine two parishes; but they have fallen through, probably because one of the parishes objected to arrangements which were essential to the combination. That was one of many instances in which attempts at combination have during a period now of over a quarter of a century been defeated upon the question of one parish or another having to pay a little more or less rates—and hence the inevitable conclusion of the impossibility of obtaining the benefits of combination except by compulsion. Thus it was that the Committee felt it unanimously their duty to recommend that in all towns where there is more than one parish, they shall be combined in one. We have parishes in which most of the working classes live, and they are called upon to pay heavy rates, when their wealthier neighbours residing in more favoured localities have much lighter burdens to bear. There is, for instance, the case of a parish like the parish of Canongate, in Edinburgh; and in parishes like this, where large numbers of the lower classes live, the rates are the heaviest. I say that that is an absurd and anomalous state of affairs, and one which is utterly intolerable—one which I hope Parliament will not continue to sanction any longer. Of course there will be parishes which will rise up and say they object to be dragged into these combinations. They will declare that they will not pay more. But the question is not a question whether these parishes shall pay less or more, but whether the proposed change will benefit the general state of the country, and whether the industrious classes will be benefited by the removal of a great burden. I believe myself that nothing will do more to facilitate the question of the settlement of the poor than the equalization of the rates by the combination of parishes. Why, at present one parish, because it is more thinly inhabited, may pay 1s. in the pound, whilst in the next street, in another parish, because it is more densely populated, and therefore containing more poor people, they may have to pay double that amount. It is unequal and unfair, and must cease. Then, again, in the Canongate a great proportion of the land in that parish is Crown property. That Crown property does not pay any taxation, and the consequence 1040 is that only a small extent of the property in the parish bears the whole charge of the rates. I think 2s. 2d. in the pound is the amount now paid in Canongate parish, while in the West Church parish the charge is only 1s., or a very little more. The richer parishes thus escape lightly, while the heavily burdened labouring population in the Canongate are crushed with taxation. We propose that all exemptions from taxation shall be abolished; that no exemption whatever shall continue, neither of Crown property or ecclesiastical property, nor of schools, nor of educational institutions. The only reason for exemption shall be that the parties collecting the tax shall be satisfied that the parties they apply to are utterly unable to pay their share of the rate. I believe that if this principle in the Bill is carried out, the practical result will be to reduce the poor rate throughout the country. In all the parishes there will be a readjustment owing to these combinations, and I believe that this is the only reasonable way to deal with this matter, and to obtain a state of things which is desirable. These are the principal features of the measure, with regard to which I may say that it is more a question for details of clauses than for discussion on a second reading. I think it will be generally admitted that the present condition and administration of the Poor Law in Scotland is not satisfactory; and as in moving the second reading of this Bill, I am only inviting the House to declare generally that the law requires amendment, I trust the House will not hesitate to grant the second reading, and reserve for the Committee the consideration of any details or improvements necessary. And now there is one thing I am anxious to state with regard to the 5th clause, which is probably one of the most important clauses of the Bill. I have seen many statements in the papers with regard to what this Bill proposes to do in connection with various parts of the country, and I may state, in passing, that I have been very much gratified that the details of the Bill have been received very favourably; but I may also say that there is considerable misunderstanding of the provisions of the Bill, and in some cases that misunderstanding has arisen from the want of sufficient knowledge of what the 1041 law is now. With regard to Clause 5, complaint has been made that the clause is drawn in too stringent a way, and it is said that I have made no provision for making terms between the parishes; that if the clause passes in its present form no provision is made for an equitable distribution of advantages and liabilities between the several parishes in the combination. Again, I find opposition and complaint made by the officials, who expect to find that they may, by the new arrangement, be thrown out of employment. My answer to this is, not that I have omitted to consider these questions—I have bestowed great attention on them, and with the assistance of a legal gentleman, who has been kind enough to give me considerable assistance in framing this measure, I have tried to avoid being landed in great difficulties. But what I felt was this—that it was impossible to ascertain what might be the particular status of every parish throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, and what I had to do was to bring the clauses to bear generally, leaving those who thought the clauses pinched or inconvenienced them to bring their particular cases before the promoters of the Bill. We felt that there were great difficulties to overcome, but we believe that we have pointed out in this Bill the way they may be got over. I never intended to disregard the claims, for instance, of a parish which had contracted a large debt. It may be said—"What are you going to do with this large debt contracted for the good of the parish?" But that is a matter of detail which will be dealt with in Committee, rather than one of principle to be considered on the second reading. Every one of these things will receive the most careful consideration and attention, and probably the House may think that the best way will be to leave these matters to be dealt with by a central authority, with full power after hearing the parties, to decide what shall be done. Of course, it will be necessary to insert a clause giving that power. With regard to the compensation to officers, my impression was, and is, that many of these officers will be utilized in the new combination. Of course, any real claims on the part of the men thrown out of employment, which may be thought reasonable, will be considered; but in connection with that I 1042 must say that if you are to stop reforming abuses until you can buy off all opposing personal interests, you will be landed in a labyrinth out of which escape will be difficult. But there are special cases which no doubt will have to be dealt with, and these may possibly be dealt with under the superannuation clause. These are some of the principal objections to Clause 5, but there is one more. I am asked what alteration will be effected by my proposed combinations, and I will illustrate what I think the alteration will be by referring to the City of Edinburgh. That city contains within its boundaries the city parish, and portions of the parishes of Canongate, St. Cuthbert, Liberton, Duddington, and South Leith—all more or less intermingled one with the other. Portions of the two last are also included within the boundaries of the Parliamentary burgh of Portobello, and another portion of South Leith, together with a portion of the parish of North Leith, is included within the boundaries of the Parliamentary burgh of Leith. I may be asked whether I mean to combine or amalgamate all these parishes and the several burghs within them into one single Edinburgh combination, and my reply is "Certainly." One reason for so doing is because on referring to the map it will be found that all these places lie in a ring. Is the House prepared or not to improve the law of settlement, and to extend the boundaries of intermixed parishes, making them one for all purposes of settlement? I hope that an affirmative reply will be given to the question, even if the experiment is made at the expense of some little local inconvenience. If you are prepared to approve of the principle I have enunciated, it is your bounden duty to facilitate the settlement of the industrial poor, and that cannot be done without combination—by which uniform settlement, uniform rating, and uniform management will be secured. But it is objected that the business to be transacted will be too large to be managed by one Board. My answer to that is very simple—namely, that the Town Council of Glasgow have petitioned in favour of this clause. Surely, if the 50 members of that corporation can overtake the management of the various trusts which they have to administer in so exten- 1043 sive a town as Glasgow, it will not be difficult to constitute a body of managers capable of dealing with the single trust of the administration of the Poor Law, even in the large combinations that will be created in Edinburgh and in Glasgow. It has been said that there will be great difficulties in the way of this measure; but I do not, after careful consideration, anticipate that there will be so many difficulties as there are objections to the present system. Many places have petitioned in favour of this main principle of the Bill. It has been suggested to me that, where very small portions of rural populations are brought within the boundaries of the towns, I should cut off the piece, and only take within the combination so much of the various parishes as are within the area of the town; but a few minutes' consideration would have shown that that would be the means of introducing new difficulties which would cause greater evils with regard to settlement than those which now exist. No doubt there may be difficulties with regard to some parishes which are more intermixed than others; but with regard to what has been brought under my notice of parishes which have nothing to do with one another, I see no difficulty in combination. I do not understand what is meant by the objection that we might combine parishes the interests of which are distinct. My object is to improve the position of the ratepayers. Surely their interests are identical with regard to the payment of rates and the management of the poor; and if many cases of difficulty—such, for instance, as are created by the boundary of a parish running through a room, thereby involving endless litigation—are got rid of by combination, it is most undoubtedly their duty to adopt the principle without a moment's delay. I know my hon. Friend the senior Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) has got a notion in his head which he confesses he does not understand. The hon. Member says that in the parish of Liberton—which is almost entirely a rural parish, where there is a classification of rates—by the action of the combination under the Bill, the landowners will be relieved at the expense of the ratepayers in the City parish of Edinburgh. But I think the hon. Member has not studied the Act of Parliament, 1044 for if he had done so he would have found that classification did not touch the owner, but affected only the occupier. By the law as it now stands in Scotland, poor rates are paid half by the landowner and half by the occupier. We had an old law in Scotland which prevailed before 1845, and the principle of which was that every man should contribute to the support of the poor according to his means, or, as it was termed, "means and substance." That principle existed up to 1845, and it was recognized in the Act of that year. There were three modes of taxation permitted under that Act—first, taxation to be levied half on the owner and half upon the occupier of lands and heritages; second, half on the owner of lands and heritages, and the other half upon the whole of the inhabitants according to their means and substance, other than lands and heritages; and, third, an equal percentage upon the annual value of all lands and heritages within the parish, and upon the estimated annual income of the whole inhabitants from means and substance other than lands and heritages. The two latter modes were framed with a view to an equitable distribution of the rates over the whole parish. But, being optional, they were not adopted in more than a few parishes in Scotland, and there were difficulties in the way of its adoption, from the fact that the system was optional and not established as a general rule, the result being that in the year 1861 an Act of Parliament was passed which abolished taxation on the basis of means and substance. By that Act—24 & 25 Vict., c. 37—which is recited in the Preamble of the Bill now before the House—all parishes that were then levying their rates upon means and substance were forbidden to do so any longer, and were ordered to resolve that they would within two months of the passing of the Act adopt the first mode—namely, taxation on lands and heritages only, one-half to be levied on the owners, and the other half on the occupiers. But, inasmuch as it had been felt that it was not right in principle to put taxation upon land without a compensating arrangement which should to some extent make men pay according to their ability, the Act of 1845 provided that there might be classification of occupiers, a different rate being imposed upon each class according 1045 to the different nature of their occupation. Thus farmers would be in one class, house occupiers in a second, lawyers in a third, bankers and merchants in a fourth, and so on; and, upon an estimate of the proportion that the rent paid by the individuals in each class for the land, house, or premises occupied by them respectively might be fairly supposed to bear to their income, or means and substance, so would the rate in the pound be fixed for each class. So that, for instance, if 4d. in the pound on the amount of their rent be chargd on farmers, it would be, say, 1s. on house tenants, 2s. on lawyers, 4s. on bankers and merchants, and so forth; and by this rough mode of classification, the result was produced of making those who were rich pay a greater sum than those who were poor, and thus there was an equitable distribution of the charges. Therefore, the principle established was simply this—that if a parish had to pay an assessment of £1,000, £500 would be paid by the landowners, and the other £500 would be paid by the occupiers, who would, in the case of no classification, or of there being only one class in the parish, pay the same rate as the owners; and, in the case of classification, would pay varying rates, so calculated as to establish among the several classes of occupiers some sort of rough justice. It will thus be seen that the owners of lands and heritages can in no way be affected by classification. But even if by the compulsory combination of parishes and the equalization of rates it should come to pass that owners or occupiers in certain parishes should have to contribute a larger proportion to the poor rate than they are now contributing, I trust such a consideration will not be allowed to stand in the way of necessary reforms. Statements have been used in opposition to this Bill—statements purporting to be published on behalf of such leading Parochial Boards as those of St. Cuthbert's, North and South Leith, Barony Govan, Cathcart, and St. Ninian's—and some of them, I must say, prove to me, either that my Bill has been misunderstood, or that the people who drew up the statements are altogether ignorant of the law. One statement is this—and I give it as an example—namely, that the mode of assessment—the first mode in the Act of 1845—is 1046 to be made compulsory; but the mode of assessment is in no degree altered by the provisions of my Bill. The system was compulsory by the Act of 1845, as amended by the Act of 1861, which declares that they shall assess only according to the first mode. This, I repeat, shows the perfect ignorance of those who drew up the statement in opposition to the Bill. Now, as to my Bill the state of things is this—Out of 887 parishes, all have adopted the rating of the Act of 1845, with the exception of 92. The number of parishes which are not assessed under the law of 1845 has been gradually reducing; and there are, as I observed, only 92 which assess themselves either according to the old usage which was in existence before the Act of 1845 was passed, or by the system of voluntary contributions. I have followed the precedent of the Act of 1861, which abolished, so far as parishes were concerned, the means and substance, and adopted the first mode of assessment; because I feel that in dealing with these combinations of parishes and with improvements which have been suggested, it is not right to leave a small portion of the remaining parishes to continue under a different system. I think it necessary, in order to bring everything into a proper and equitable state, that I should compel them to come within the same law. With the first reading of the Bill it may appear to some that I am making a new law, but it is not so—it is simply following the Act of 1845; and, if people had looked into the Act of 1845, they would have seen at a glance that the present Bill does not alter the assessment, but simply takes away the option which had been allowed, because previous Acts did not compel parishes to come under them; they left the power,—so long as parishes chose to continue either the voluntary assessment or the established usage—for them to do so. In other words, the provisions were of a permissive character. This was so provided, because it was not thought desirable that so sweeping a change should be made at once, but by degrees, as it suited the purposes of those who were interested and the policy of economic management; so that these 92 parishes must now be left out, to come in by degrees, or they must adopt the only mode of assessment which is by the law of the land imposed, and 1047 which I do not interfere with. With regard to the system of classification, I believe it is most desirable we should extend it. I had the honour of submitting to the Committee which sat to inquire into the subject, several proposals for discussion with reference to the assessment of real property. I have a strong opinion upon that point, and I believe a day will come when we shall have a system introduced which will not allow the wealth of the country to escape from paying poor rates. The difficulties are great, but they are unnecessarily magnified, and startle and frighten people. Though I submitted a scheme for the local taxation of personal property to the Committee which I believe could be worked out if adopted, it was, nevertheless, thought there were difficulties in the way, and that the time had not come for such a proposition, though it was admitted it might possibly arise. I mention this in order to show how strongly the Committee felt that the present incidence of taxation could not continue. They felt that the case laid before them in the evidence which was adduced was so strong that they set to work to see how real property could be relieved, feeling that a greater burden ought to be borne by the wealth of the country. Therefore, the promoters of the Bill have adopted compulsory measures, and they require that this classification, which has not been generally adopted in all the parishes, shall be real; that it shall be uniform and universal; and then there will be a system in operation which will relieve those whom I assert are bearing too much of the taxation of the country. One of the objections to this Bill is the greater power it gives to the Board of Supervision with reference to the question of classification. At present they have no initiatory power. Unless the Parochial Board take steps in the direction of classification and propound a scheme, the Board of Supervision is not in a position to do anything; but if the local Board propose a system of classification, then the Board of Supervision has the right of dealing with it, and either adopting it, modifying it, or rejecting it altogether; but when once that classification is introduced there it remains, and it is not in the power of any human body to alter it, so long as the constitution of that particular local 1048 Board is maintained. In the Bill before the House I propose what I think will be desirable. I do not give power to the Board of Supervision, at their own discretion, to come in and interfere with the local management; but I give power to the ratepayers to complain that there ought to be classification where there is none existing, or that the existing classification is unjust and should be altered; thus giving no initiatory action to the Board of Supervision, but enabling the ratepayers to set its jurisdiction in motion. I hope this is a suggestion which will be received favourably by the House. I am afraid I am detaining the House at a very great length, but I feel I am justified in doing so, because the question is one of very deep interest, and affects the well-being of the whole country. I will now go into details as to the objections which have been raised against the Bill. I have already mentioned one of the statements which have been made in opposition to it, and which only displays marvellous ignorance of those who endorse that opposition, and I ask the House to judge of the general opposition to the Bill by the example I have quoted. Now, with regard to the expedients by which this Bill on the recommendation of the Committee proposes to relieve local taxation, I desire to say that, coming forward as I do to ask for contributions from the public Treasury for that purpose, I am placed in a position of grave difficulty, and for that reason should have preferred that the Bill had been in the hands of the Government rather than in the charge of a private Member. A private Member, however well backed up, when he proposes to touch public money, always stands at a great disadvantage. I, however, believe I have the cordial assent of the Government to the general principles of the Bill, and I have endeavoured throughout to form it in accordance with their views. The Lord Advocate himself was a Member of the Committee, and was also a party to most of its recommendations. I regret the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not present to-day. I know he intended to be so, and it is only in consequence of unavoidable causes that he is absent; but considering that I was requested to bring in this Bill, and that the Lord Advocate has expressed his 1049 wish that I should take charge of it, I hope I shall receive every consideration at the hands of the Government, even when I attempt to put my hands into the public purse. I feel sure that some of the propositions I have made will not be dissented from by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because if any objection is raised, all I can say is, I only ask for Scotland what you are now giving to England and to Ireland. In England the Government pay half the expenses of the medical officers and half the cost of medicine, and they are even more generous in Ireland. But what do we get in Scotland? By a great deal of squeezing and careful management our medical relief costs us £35,000, and all the Government contributes towards that expenditure is the paltry sum of £10,000. I do not think the House can refuse to put Scotland in at least as good a position as England. Therefore, I ask that half the salaries of medical officers and half the cost of medicine shall be allowed. I also ask for a contribution similar to that which you have in England—namely, for a Poor Law audit. This is one of the most important matters that can be submitted, and I believe, myself, if we had a proper system of audit in Scotland, the reduction in the expenses would be something marvellous. There are, unfortunately, cases of peculation constantly occurring among the Inspectors of the Poor—some grievous cases having happened recently—and these have arisen in a great degree from a bad system of financial management in connection with the payment of accounts for maintenance of paupers residing in a different parish from that to which they are chargeable. In such cases there is, in fact, no control or check over the funds received by Inspectors of the Poor from other parishes, and hence the opportunity has been afforded for a considerable amount of malversation. Mistakes are made which entail heavy losses. If we had a proper system of financial management; if we could establish, through the medium of the Board of Supervision, or otherwise, some kind of clearing-house system between the parishes, instead of leaving those payments entirely in the hands of Inspectors—who, if they are so disposed, have the temptation put in their way to misapply the funds—if, I say, 1050 we had a proper and efficient system of audit—as the Bill provides for, and as exists in England—we might be able to stop these practices, and thus economize our expenses. I therefore ask for a grant for the payment of auditors in Scotland similar to those in England, but I do not want them to be appointed permanent officers, as I have so drawn the clause that the authorities may be able to arrange with proper parties from year to year to audit the accounts, and pay them such remuneration as may be agreed upon for their services. Another thing is with reference to the cost of prosecutions. I believe many men desert their wives, and parents their children, and many children who ought to support their parents escape that liability because nobody cares to charge the rates with the cost of prosecuting them. I have provided in the Bill that this shall be made a criminal offence, extending the Act of 1845, and making it the duty of the Procurator Fiscal to undertake these prosecutions. I do not propose to increase the salaries of the Procurators Fiscal, but only that all actual outlays in conducting prosecutions shall be paid for by the public funds. And then I hope offenders against the law will no longer escape, because people do not like to throw good money after bad, as it is called. There is one other thing which I ask—and I have left it to the last because I think it the most important of all the claims which I make on the public funds—and I earnestly hope the Government will not refuse to grant this relief. I ask that the public Treasury shall pay half the costs incurred in the relief of pauper lunatics. People may object to this on the ground that it is based on the principle of a national rate. I am not going now to argue as to whether a national rate would or would not be a proper thing. I will merely say this—that as the duty of maintaining the destitute is a national duty, the charge required to meet it ought to be a national charge; and though we may not live to see it, I believe the day will come when, through some contribution from the national funds, the local rates will be relieved. It is said that if there be a national rate everybody will be wanting to put his hands in the public Exchequer. In the 1051 case of lunatics, we have at all events this protection—you cannot make a lunatic. There is a certain proportion of lunatics to be provided for, and it is not likely that there will be any jobbery to increase the number. Therefore, I think this is a case in which Parliament may safely approach the consideration of the question of relieving the local rates. Notwithstanding what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said a few days ago as to the impolicy of relieving local rates, I think it might easily be shown that the local taxation is only part of the general taxation; that it is merely for particular reasons connected with management that some of the taxes are levied locally, and others Imperially; that they all form part of the general taxation of the country; and that if you relieve the rates out of the general taxation, you are only taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another, and are not imposing any greater charge on the community at large. I would earnestly ask that Government take my proposal on this subject, which is one of the recommendations distinctly and unanimously adopted by the Committee upstairs, into their serious consideration. I admit that it is novel in character, but seeing that there is so much to be said in favour of it, I hope that it will not on that account be rejected. I thank the House sincerely for the patience with which it has listened to my somewhat extended remarks, and I confidently appeal to the judgment of both sides of the House on this important question.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Craufurd.)
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, that the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Ayr, being founded on the recommendations of the Select Committee, of which his hon. and learned Friend himself was Chairman, certainly deserved the careful consideration of the House. He could not, however, agree that all the provisions of the Bill were assented to in the Committee with the unanimity represented. He greatly regretted the absence of the Lord Advocate on this occasion, because it was certainly desirable that he should have been present when they were dealing with such a department of the Government as the 1052 Board of Supervision in Scotland, and with questions of Poor Law administration which affected every parish in Scotland, and were exciting great interest in that country. He would state in few words what was his conception of its object and purpose—its purpose was to introduce a stricter and more uniform administration of the Poor Law in Scotland. The Committee, of which he (Sir Edward Colebrooke) had the honour to be a Member, did not go along with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Craufurd) in some of his proposals; but upon many very important points they were agreed. Among them were the proposal for raising of the standard of relief in rural parishes, the necessity of introducing a more simple administration in burghal parishes, and also of giving increased powers to the Board of Supervision. The Committee were unanimously of opinion that the manner in which the Board of Supervision had acted during the last 30 years was most satisfactory, and that there was no real cause for the hesitation shown when it was proposed to confer upon it its present powers. One of the recommendations of the Committee was, that in order to diminish the amount of expenditure, which had been in many cases too lavish, there should be greater combination between the different parishes; and he certainly thought that the evidence placed before them fully justified that recommendation. They also proposed that there should be more superintendence and an efficient system of audit. Such changes as these, though very important, could hardly be said to involve any general or radical alteration of the law, or to justify any alarm in the country; and, in his opinion, they deserved the full and careful consideration of the Government, in order that the House might be enabled to arrive at a useful result. With regard to the combination of parishes, he did not go nearly so far as his hon. and learned Friend—his own statement, indeed, shewed that there were two sides to that question. His object, indeed, seemed a most desirable one—namely, that they should combine urban parishes as much as possible, so as to prevent the loss and difficulties which were now experienced by working men in consequence of the want of combination. He could not help thinking that it might be possible to make town Unions for settle- 1053 ment purposes without carrying out the great changes that his hon. and learned Friend proposed in the administration of the law; but when they came to balance advantages and disadvantages, he thought the evils that would arise from creating the system of combination which he desired would far outweigh the supposed benefit to working men. When his hon. and learned Friend submitted his proposal to the Committee, he (Sir Edward Colebrooke) felt so much alarmed that he submitted a counter-proposal, whether the principle of the Metropolitan Act of 1869 should not be applied to analogous cases in Scotland. He did not put the Committee to the trouble of dividing; but he hoped his suggestion would meet with favourable consideration on the present occasion. He did not think it desirable, or even possible, to carry his hon. and learned Friend's proposition into effect in all cases. It could not be carried out, for instance, in such a case as that of Glasgow, involving a population of 600,000, or of Edinburgh, involving a population of 300,000, without putting great difficulty in the way of the administration of the laws. From his own experience—and he would appeal to the experience of his hon. Friends—he believed that the combination proposed was, in many cases, practically impossible. He had here a return of the differences of the poor rates in Glasgow, and they were certainly very great. In the City Parish they were 6½ per cent; in the Barony, 5½; in Govan, 3½, and something extra for a poor-house; while in Gorbals they were 14 per cent. That was a state of matters which loudly called for redress. Having stated thus much against the Bill, he must, nevertheless, conclude by saying that it was one well deserving of the attention of the House; but, at the same time, he trusted the House would not pledge itself to anything on such an important question without first having the opinion of Her Majesty's Government as to how far they were prepared to sanction such changes.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, that the views expressed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke) were so much in accordance with his own that he should not weary the House repeating them; but he desired to state within a short compass certain objections which he entertained to the mea- 1054 sure. There was an annual meeting in Edinburgh of deputations from all the Royal Burghs in Scotland, called the Convention of Royal Burghs, and he had that day presented a Petition from that body, passed unanimously, strongly disapproving the present Bill. This Petition was entitled to very great weight, because it came from the representatives of many of the burghs in which the proposed combinations were to take place. One of the objections stated by the Petitioners was, that the Bill proposed that nearly the whole management of the poor in Scotland should be under the direction of a central Board—thus carrying out the principle of centralization, which was repugnant to their constitution, and to the practice which had hitherto obtained. The Petitioners also said that the best course was to abolish the four existing Acts on the Poor Law, and introduce a consolidated Act, embodying the whole law as amended. He had also presented another Petition from another very influential body, the Southern Chamber of Commerce, who were opposed to the clauses conferring additional powers on the Board of Supervision, which they said ought to be exercised by Parliament, and not by an irresponsible body, consisting of a few members. The English Poor Law Board had a Cabinet Minister at its head, and a Parliamentary Secretary, both of whom were answerable to that House for every alleged mal-administration. The case in Scotland was far different. They had a paid Chairman and three practising lawyers to assist him, who were not chosen for any peculiar fitness they might possess, but because they were sheriffs of particular counties, who were engaged in daily business in the Parliament House; there were besides the Lords Provosts of Edinburgh and Glasgow; but that was a mockery, inasmuch as their hands being so full of local business, they could have neither much time nor influence. Lastly, there were two or three county gentlemen to whom a similar remark applied. In short, he (Mr. M'Laren) looked upon the Board, and it was looked upon in Scotland generally, as a great calamity; for it had increased Poor Law expenditure, and was responsible, in a great degree, for the £800,000 now levied. If the Board had never existed, the Scotch poor would 1055 have been better looked after, and more economically managed. And that was once the opinion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ayr. He quite agreed with the hon. Baronet the Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke) in his opposition to the union of the parishes in large towns; but, at the same time, both his hon. Friend and himself were in favour of union in such extreme cases as Gorbals and Canongate. In his opinion, none of the plans indicated in the Bill were of the kind of Unions that should take place. He much preferred the Unions such as existed in England. There was one part of this Bill so extraordinary that he thought hon. Members would refuse to support it when they saw clearly the effect it would have—he meant the mode of the union of parishes. The Bill proposed that the Parliamentary Burghs, and those created for special purposes under the Police Improvement Act, should be dealt with in the same way as Royal Burghs. Now it might happen that one burgh with 1,000 inhabitants might be within three different parishes, and the effect of this provision was, that each of these three parishes would be swallowed up in the little town. He believed, in fact, that if the system of "dove-tailing" were carried out there would not remain 50 independent burghs in all Scotland. Now, he altogether objected to that principle. He should like to see a well-devised plan of extending the Poor Law Board on the same principle as obtained in England. In Mid-Lothian, for example, the outlying districts, apart from Edinburgh and Leith, contained a population of 30,000 only. Why could not they unite that population on some equitable principle, so that town and country might be combined, and a fair rate be levied over the whole county? Extend the principle to every other county in Scotland, and the questions about settlement could very rarely arise; great expense would be saved, and there would be no temptation for villages to become depopulated by sending the poor people to miserable haunts in the towns to die of fever or disease. By this system all parties were injured, the town was injured, the poor people themselves were injured, the employers were injured by the artificial scarcity of labour; whereas, were there any equitable system of union these 1056 things would go on quietly and naturally. Then, as to the clause giving owners of £100 a-year land, or tenants paying £300 a-year rent, a right to sit upon the Boards—that seemed to him legislation belonging rather to the last century than to the year of grace 1872. There was a case where the annual expenditure amounted to £800,000. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ayr proposed to create an element of aristocracy in the Poor Law Boards which never had an existence before, and he left it to the Board of Supervision to say what the other members should do. On this subject he would only say that such an unconstitutional principle ought not to receive the sanction of that House. The present qualification was only £20. The elected members were to go out every three years; but the gentlemen who sat in their own right were to remain for ever, and even be able to be represented by their factors. Why should not Parliament fix the qualification, or, failing that, why should it not be left alone? Then there was an arrangement, by which the point of the wedge was let in for bringing back the old principle of rating by "means and substance"—one-half was laid on the owners, and the other half on the tenants. But political economists were agreed that, whatever might be levied, the owner paid it all, because it was deducted from the rent. What was done here was, that the tenant's part was manipulated into a sort of income tax. There were some other harsh clauses in the Bill, upon the discussion of which he would not enter; but altogether he felt, with every respect for his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ayr, impelled to give his opposition to the Bill. But he had another special ground for objecting to the Bill. He did not think that a measure such as this, involving an expenditure of £800,000, and affecting every parish and town in Scotland, should have been left to a private Member—it should have been introduced with the authority and on the responsibility of the Government, who should have been open to receive all manner of suggestions, and to pass with their prestige a measure for the good of the whole people of Scotland. Had this measure been matured by the Law Officers of the Crown, and approved by the Cabinet, the House would have 1057 had some assurance of its sufficiency. He thought, moreover, that the Bill had been too short a time before the public—he thought that sufficient time for its consideration had not been given to those who had had experience in Poor Law administration, or to those public bodies who were interested; and he hoped that the second reading would not be pressed at present.
§ SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER
said, he entirely concurred in many of the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, and especially in his concluding remarks, in which he expressed his surprise that a measure of this importance should have been left to an independent Member to be dealt with upon his individual responsibility, instead of being brought in by the Government. No doubt the Scotch Members owed a great deal to his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Craufurd), both for the pains he had taken in preparing this measure, and for the ability with which he had presided over the Select Committee; but he (Sir Robert Anstruther) thought that a measure of this importance should be introduced by the Lord Advocate. He was sure that many hon. Members would share with him his surprise that the Lord Advocate was not present in the House that day. With respect to the Bill itself, it seemed to him that the Board of Supervision was constituted supreme authority in all matters connected with the poor in Scotland. The powers conferred on the Board were enormous. They were empowered to fix the number of the parochial boards, the annual value to be paid by those who were appointed to the boards in burghs and rural parishes, to decide upon the assessment and classification of paupers, to order the amount of poorhouse accommodation for each district, and it might require the superannuation of officers belonging to the parochial boards. These were some of the powers which the Bill proposed to confer upon the Board of Supervision; and the question which naturally occurred to him was, what remained for parochial boards to do? or rather, what might they do which the Board of Supervision might not at once, and upon its own responsibility, undo? He thought the provision enabling the Board to decide disputes beween parishes, when they were submitted to it, was a very excel- 1058 lent one, which might have been carried further. He would reserve his criticisms on the Bill for the Committee; but there was one point to which he desired to refer at once—namely, the increase in the qualification of owners from £20 to £100 value, or five times the amount of the present qualification. Perhaps there was no county in Scotland which would be more affected by this provision than his own county of Fife; and he did not hesitate to say that the proposed increase in the qualification would create an immense amount of surprise and dissatisfaction. There were other minor points on which he thought the action of the Board might be very arbitrary—for instance, the establishment of dispensaries for the supply of medicine to the poor. There were many districts in which it would not be necessary to enforce such a provision. Admitting the good intentions of his hon. and learned Friend in introducing this Bill, he was bound to say that, regarding the measure as a whole, it was not one which he thought would give satisfaction in Scotland.
§ MR. CRUM-EWING
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the Bill had stated that the burghs in Scotland were generally opposed to this Bill. He (Mr. Crum-Ewing) could only say that he had presented a Petition from his own burgh in favour of it. He must not be supposed to approve of all the provisions of the Bill; but viewing the measure as a whole, he was bound to say that he should feel it his duty on a division to support the second reading.
§ MR. W. H. MAXWELL
said, that after the labours of the Committee which had inquired into the subject of the Poor Laws of Scotland, it was only to be expected that some measure would be based upon its recommendations. He did not, however, think that the benefits many persons expected from legislation would be realized. He was afraid that the spirit of the Scotch people was much changed, and there was not that repugnance that existed 30 years ago to see their names upon the poor roll. The great cause of the increase of pauperism in the towns of Scotland, notwithstanding the general prosperity, was the intemperance and improvidence of the lower class. He had listened with considerable satisfaction to the speech 1059 of the hon. and learned Member for the Ayr Burghs, in moving the second reading of this Bill; and although there were various points which he considered needed material amendment, yet he thought there was a great deal of good in the Bill, and that it would be a great misfortune if there were any opposition to it being read a second time. There was one point to which he could not help referring—the change which had taken place in the opinion of the hon. and learned Member with respect to the Board of Supervision. He (Mr. Maxwell) was connected with a country district, and was chairman of two parochial boards, and he could say that the conduct of the Board of Supervision had given very general satisfaction. He believed that the Board of Supervision had done great service to Scotland in the past; and, speaking for himself, and being fully aware of the views held in many rural parishes in the South of Scotland, he looked without any fear to the additional powers which this Bill would confer upon it. The great question dwelt upon by the hon. and learned Member was that of the combinations. No doubt there must be hardships in combinations; but his own view was very strongly in favour of combinations, and he should like to see a combination of rural as well as of burgh parishes. He thought it would be for the advantage of the country generally and of the working of the Poor Law that there should be a combination of the rural as well as the burgh parishes. He believed the qualification of members of the Boards, as proposed in the Bill, was too high; but he was well aware that some change in the present qualification was by many considered loudly called for. There were other points of the Bill to which he would draw attention—such as those making poor-houses compulsory, enforcing legal assessments in every parish relating to women with illegitimate children, the removal of Irish paupers, and the expense of keeping lunatic paupers. With the general approval of the Bill which he had expressed, he trusted there would be no opposition to the second reading, and in Committee many of the changes which had been indicated might be made.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, that if any excuse were needed for an English Member taking part in this discussion, he 1060 might point out that certain guiding principles were almost equally applicable to the Poor Law systems of both countries. The principal differences in the administration of the Poor Law in England and in Scotland were that in Scotland the system of unions had not been adopted, and that where the prescribed tests had been submitted to the Boards of Guardians they were not justified by law in refusing relief. In Scotland, on the contrary, the law did not recognize the right of an able-bodied person to relief; but authorized assistance being given to those who were partially able to support themselves. The present Bill proposed to remove to a certain extent the inconveniencies arising from the former of those differences by introducing a system of combination. He admitted the necessity of having large areas for certain purposes, such, for instance, as the education of pauper children; but, at the same time, he contended that it was highly desirable that some portion of the charges should be borne by particular parishes in order that there might be sufficient guarantee with reference to a personal knowledge of the paupers and their antecedents. There was no part of the Bill which he should support with greater pleasure than that which related to the principle of rating. "Means and substance" formed the only real and justifiable basis of assessment; but the system had failed in America and elsewhere for want of adequate machinery. If, however, the principle could be carried out, he should be glad to give his hearty co-operation to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He approved the provisions of the Bill concerning medical relief and Government allowances; and, believing that the measure would improve the existing Poor Law system in many respects, he was prepared to give his support to the second reading.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he was much obliged for the comparison the hon. Member (Mr. Corrance) had drawn between the systems of Poor Laws in the two countries. The Scotch law was much less humane than the English, and it bore very hardly indeed on many of the poor. The Bill was a very fair exposition of the views of the majority of the Select Committee which had considered the question; but it was deficient in many points on which the minority held very 1061 strong opinions. Still, it might be well to have the Bill read a second time Several matters in it would require alteration, and he would direct attention especially to the question of the boundaries of boroughs. There was not sufficient provision, as the Bill stood, to give the ratepayers free choice of election as regarded the members of the board.
§ MR. MILLER
said, it was true that he did not know the exact proposals of the Bill when his name was put at the back of it; but he knew that, in the main, it proposed to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee which had inquired into the subject. The combination proposals went a little beyond the proposals of the Committee, and would, perhaps, require some modification; but he hoped the result would be a clause so arranging the matter that the poor rate would fall equally upon the whole population of the country. Care, however, would have to be taken lest a combination of parishes, by dividing the responsibility, should lead to extravagance. It would be perfectly possible in Edinburgh to carry out, if it was decided to do so, the proposal to separate the deserving and unfortunate and the worthless and dissolute paupers from each other.
§ MR. FORDYCE
said, that he, in common with many Members, had been struck by the difference between the opinions expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Craufurd) when he moved for his Committee, and those he had expressed that evening in moving the Bill founded on the Report of the Committee. The chief points of the former were opposition to the present Poor Law system, and particularly to centralization. His speech to-day and the Bill he had introduced proceeded on an approval of both, and proposed an extension of them. He (Mr. Fordyce) had no doubt this change of view had been the result of the evidence laid before the Select Committee; and he, for one, confessed to a similar change. The only part of the Bill of the expediency of which there might be some doubt was the proposal to raise the qualification ownership from £20 to £100. There were other ways by which the evils incident to a low qualification, and which were proved before the Committee to be rife in some parts of the country, might be remedied, and he had 1062 no doubt the hon. and learned Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) was not wedded to any particular scheme. He had voted against the proposition in the Committee. As to the question of combinations, the Bill seemed to him to go as far as the prospect of success warranted, and he looked on the proposal as valuable chiefly as a stepping-stone to a national rate. There was one omission in the Bill which he regretted. The Select Committee recommended the abolition of all exemption from payment of poor rates of certain classes of property, and they also recommended that shootings and deer forests in the occupation of owners should be made liable to pay poor rates. Now, the Bill ignored that recommendation, and he was glad to see that the farmers in the North of Scotland had begun to take action in consequence. It was a curious fact, but a fact it was, that if a man chose to keep his grouse shootings in his own hand, he paid no poor rates. It was the same with deer forests. If the land was suitable for sheep pasture, it was sometimes rated on its value for that purpose. The effect of that was greatly to increase the pressure of the rate on the occupants. If he let his grouse shooting for £800 a-year, the lessee would probably pay £40 of poor rates; but when he took it next year into his own hands, that sum had to be made up by the farmers. That did not seem reasonable, and was felt to be a hardship. Then it was certainly an extraordinary proposal to tax churches and places of worship, and exempt deer forests. Upon the whole, he considered the Bill well worth the support of the people of Scotland, as it was drawn up in the interests of the ratepayer, and of the respectable poor as against the idle and dissolute.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, that as regarded the rating of shooting and deer forests, it was impossible that such a subject could be introduced into this Bill, although it might be fitly dealt with in a Lands Valuation Bill. He supported his hon. and learned Friend in the Committee on this point, and he should be prepared again to give him his support if the matter was introduced in its proper place. He had much pleasure in supporting the second reading of the Bill, in so far as it carried out the recommendations of the Select Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Ayr 1063 (Mr. Craufurd) had in some measure departed from the recommendations of the Committee, but the departures were so trifling that he was prepared to give the measure his hearty support. The country owed a large debt of gratitude to his hon. and learned Friend for acting as Chairman of the Select Committee, and for preparing the present Bill. He must congratulate his hon. and learned Friend on his change of view with regard to the Board of Supervision: he believed that evidence respecting the action of the Board had worked a similar change in the opinions of other Members of the Committee. With respect to combination, against which so much had been said, he believed that by a slight alteration of the phraseology, the recommendation of the Committee on this point might be completely carried out. At present the Bill went much further than the Committee intended. With regard to the qualification, he must remind hon. Members that the House was not bound by the figures inserted in the Bill. They might be altered in Committee; and, for his own part, he thought that in rural parishes it might be raised to £50 instead of £100. There was one part of the Bill to which he objected—namely, the part which provided that orphan and deserted children should not be allowed to remain beyond a certain time in the workhouses. In some parishes great difficulty would be experienced in getting persons to board children in the country. He begged to thank his hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk (Mr. Corrance) for his remarks on the Bill, and particularly for his observations respecting classification, medical relief, and lunatics. A system of classification was the only means of carrying out the original plan of assessment. The system of assessment on "means and substance" had been tried in Scotland, and had been abandoned in every parish but one. The provisions of this Bill, however, approached the original plan as nearly as possible.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
said, it was all very well to raise objections to a private Member bringing in a Bill on this subject on the ground that it ought to have been dealt with by the Government; but their experience in the past showed that the Government so frequently practised delay that independent Members holding opinions on various important 1064 subjects had no alternative but to bring forward the questions themselves in the form of Bills. The Scotch people took very great interest in the question before the House, and he hoped hon. Members would give attention to it in order that a satisfactory settlement might be arrived at.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
said, that before he consented to the second reading of this Bill, he should like to have a clear understanding from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ayr that he was prepared in Committee to reduce the tenant's qualification, which was at present fixed at £300 a-year. This might do very well for the South of Scotland; but it was not at all adapted for the Northern districts. In the road boards £200 a-year was the qualification, and he thought that quite high enough. He thought that, in drawing the Bill, his hon. and learned Friend had rather forgotten the principle that taxation and representation should go together, and had given far too much power to the Board of Supervision. This was a defect which, he trusted, he would be willing to rectify in Committee; and, subject to these alterations, he should be perfectly willing to give his consent to the second reading of the Bill.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
supported the second reading of the Bill, which, in his opinion, was a step in the right direction. He approved of the suggestion of assessing shootings and deer forests; but he thought there would be difficulty in fixing the principle on which they should be assessed.
§ MR. GORDON
expressed his acknowledgments to the hon. and learned Member who introduced the Bill (Mr. Craufurd) for his lucid explanation of its provisions. At the same time, he thought this was a measure which ought to have been introduced under the auspices of the Government. Seeing that the Bill in the main followed the recommendations of the Select Committee, which had with so much care considered this question, he did not feel himself at liberty to oppose the second reading of it. He had been for eight years a member of the Board of Supervision, and could say that the members gave the greatest attention to the business which came before them, and he believed they had materially contributed to the proper working of the Poor Law system in Scotland, The Bill 1065 carried its provisions in reference to the combination of certain parishes farther than the recommendations of the Committee warranted; but that did not affect the principle of the Bill, and he left himself perfectly free to express his opinions on that point in Committee. Combination to a certain extent would likely be attended with considerable improvement in the management and amount of the assessment; but there was evidence to show that by too large combination there was the danger of getting an extravagant system of management, and that the poor would not be so well attended to. He approved of the proposal that one-half of the expenses of maintaining lunatics should come out of the Imperial funds; but he was not at all inclined to have the rating for the poor made an Imperial burden on the Exchequer.
said, that whatever objection there might be to some of the details of the Bill, there could be no difference of opinion at all as to the ability with which the Bill had been laid before the attention of the House. As the Government had so much business to attend to that they could not just now attempt to deal with the question of the Scotch Poor Law, the Scotch Members had done very wisely to intrust the business to the hon. and learned Member for the Ayr Burghs. Under the circumstances, it would be impossible for the Government to refuse to support the second reading of the Bill. It was founded on the recommendations of a Select Committee which sat for three years. On the Committee sat the Lord Advocate, and many most important Amendments in the Report were suggested by him. The Lord Advocate would have been present to-day, but for unforeseen reasons he could not attend to give his support to the second reading. The Government would, of course, reserve to themselves the right to recommend Amendments to the Bill—particularly with regard to the proposals as to the combination of parishes, which, if carried in their present form, would, in some cases, lead to the formation of districts of unwieldly size. With respect to the Board of Supervision, to which so much reference had been made, they all knew very well that his hon. and learned Friend had not at first a very high idea of the efficiency of the administration of the Board of Su- 1066 pervision. After three years' inquiry, however, he altered his opinion, and by this Bill he conferred on the Board very large powers. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) rather reproached the hon. and learned Gentleman for having changed his opinions in respect to this question; but he (Mr. Bruce) could not help thinking that, in the face of the evidence given before the Select Committee, it would have been impossible for him not to have changed his opinions. Undoubtedly, the powers proposed to be conferred upon the Board were very large, especially with respect to classification; and, until he had heard more upon the subject, he could not pretend, on the part of the Government, to say that they should support the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend on the subject. With respect to the qualification of members of parochial boards, the Poor Law Board in England exercised the same power which was now proposed to be conferred on the Board of Supervision in Scotland. There was, however, this distinction between the two cases. The proposal of his hon. and learned Friend was that all tenants of the amount of £300 a-year should be members of the Board; whereas in England such tenants were only in a position to be selected by the votes of the ratepayers. With respect to the question of State contribution in aid of the purposes of the Board, he could not say anything until he had had an opportunity of consulting his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would probably like to have a voice in the matter. The question of the provision for pauper lunatics was one which could not be settled with respect to Scotland alone, but would require to be dealt with, when it was legislated upon, in reference to the whole kingdom. The proposal that the Boards should be privileged to borrow money at 3½ per cent was also attended with some difficulty. On the whole, there were several objections to the Bill when it was gone through in detail; but he found it possible to give his support to the general measure, reserving for the Government the utmost freedom of action in Committee.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, the Bill was one of vast importance, affecting as it did every part of the existing Poor Law administration of Scotland. It dealt with the area of taxation for Poor Law pur- 1067 poses, with the election of those who were to administer the law, with the questions of taxation and assessment, with the care of pauper lunatics, with the superannuation of Poor Law officers, and with the treatment of vagrants:—in fact, there was no subject connected with the administration of the Poor Law which it left untouched. The Bill was very ably drawn up; but the conclusion at which he had arrived from a consideration of its proposals was that the question was too extensive to be dealt with by a private Member, even with all the ability and the knowledge of the subject displayed by the hon. and learned Member in charge of the Bill. The Bill was one which, if undertaken at all, should be undertaken by the Government. The Secretary of State had said— "I cannot undertake this Bill myself, but I am inclined to agree with it in a general sort of a way. The Lord Advocate is, unfortunately, not here, and so, on the whole, I agree to the second reading of the Bill, reserving the right to raise opposition in Committee." But that was not the way in which an important question such as this ought to be settled. It would have been quite in order for the Home Secretary to have said that his hands were so full of business that, though he agreed in the necessity for a change in the law, he could not, in the name of the Government, undertake to effect it. That was a course that might be understood, and its adoption would have been wise. But for the right hon. Gentleman to pronounce his official approval of some parts, and his disapproval of others, and then to leave the Bill to take its chance in Committee in the care of a private Member, that was not the kind of administration which he could understand. Hitherto it had been the practice in questions of this kind for the Home Secretary to take the lead—the Home Secretary, assisted by the Lord Advocate. But where was the Lord Advocate? He presumed there must be some reasonable excuse for his absence; but failing such excuse, it was excessively wrong that he should be absent on such an occasion. The Home Secretary had stated that the Bill embodied many suggestions of the Lord Advocate, and yet the Lord Advocate was not there to support them. A great many changes had in recent years been made in the way of carrying on the Busi- 1068 ness of the House. They were called reforms but some of them were highly detrimental to the proper conduct of the Business of the House. One of the changes to which he referred was the absence of the Law Officers of the Crown on occasions when their presence was demanded by the special business before the House. When he first had a seat in the House it was the acknowledged duty of the Law Officers of the Crown to be in their places on Wednesdays to advise the House upon Bills submitted by independent Members. Now, Wednesday after Wednesday, they had all sorts of Bills brought before them—private Members airing their crotchets and riding their hobby horses—and the constant absence of the Law Officers of the Crown, and the consequent inability of the House to consult them upon the intricate questions often involved, had led to a great deal of very hasty legislation. He thought it was time the House expressed a definite opinion upon the subject, and said whether it thought the Law Officers of the Crown ought or ought not to be present in their places on Wednesdays. With respect to the Lord Advocate it was probable that there was some inexorable reason for his absence on that occasion, and therefore it would be well not to pass an opinion till an opportunity had been offered for explanation. As to the Bill there were many points in it with which he heartily agreed; but he retained the opinion that the subject embraced was too large to afford any hope of useful result from attempted legislation under existing circumstances.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 14th May.