§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
I rise, Sir, to move that this Bill be read a second time. It was not my intention to have troubled the House with any observations on the present occasion for these reasons:—The Bill was introduced by me last year, and the House was then kind enough to listen to extended observations of mine in reference to it. It has been before the country since the month of February last year, and has been fully examined and discussed; and, under these circumstances, I should have thought it my duty to have asked simply that the Bill should be read a second time, and not have troubled the House with any remarks in reference to it. But, Sir, a most extraordinary change has taken place, and I think I have a right to complain of the way in which I have been dealt with in respect of the opposition to the measure. It is, as I shall show, in every main and important feature founded upon the recommendations of the Select Committee on Scotch Poor Law, which sat upstairs for three Sessions, many of which recommendations were carried unanimously, and others by considerable majorities. My hon. Friend the Member for North Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke), who appears now to oppose the Bill, was a Member of that Committee, and favoured me last year with his support by giving me his name on the back of the Bill. Although he differed from some of its details, he was then willing that the second reading should pass unopposed. Well, the Bill in the main is the same as the last edition of the Bill published last year; but, in consequence of his objection to some of the details, I did not think it right to ask my hon. Friend to give me his name on the present Bill, but have left him at perfect liberty to take whatever course he may think proper. I think, however, it would have been only fair if I had had longer notice of the opposition which is now intended. Petitions have just been presented and read to the House, and it may be observed—and the observation may be a strong one in the minds of some hon. 973 Members—that whereas all the Petitions presented have been against the Bill, there has not been a single Petition laid on the Table of the House in favour of it. ["Hear, hear!"] My hon. Friend near me (Mr. M'Laren) says "hear, hear!" No doubt the opponents of the Bill have worked strenuously against it, and it was natural and right that they should do so; but it would have been only reasonable and fair on their part to have given me more lengthened notice that such opposition would be offered, so that the opinion of the country might have been really evoked, and that it might be shown whether the two or three Petitions presented really and truly expressed the opinion of the people of Scotland generally. The fact is, that the Bill passed the second reading last year without opposition, and that the present is the same Bill. The whole question at issue between us is not a question for the second reading stage. The principle is admitted that reform is necessary in the administration of the law for the relief of the poor in Scotland, and, under these circumstances, the country would have expected, as I did, that there would be no opposition to the second reading of a Bill with the main and larger proportion of the provisions of which the country generally are, I believe, content. Well, Sir, the Notice to move the rejection of the Bill was only entered on the Votes on Monday night last; the Bill was in the hands of Members on the Tuesday of last week; and I was therefore entitled to expect longer notice of opposition than I have received. I am taken at a disadvantage, and I trust the House will give me the benefit of that consideration, and not assume from the opposition to the Bill that a large portion of the people of Scotland are not in its favour. I may, indeed, refer as to the feeling of the country to the Petitions presented last year. The Bill, as it was introduced in its original shape, was objected to in several of its details, and the House will recollect that I adopted many of the suggestions made for amending the Bill; that we went into Committee pro formâ for the purpose of having it reprinted; and that in the second edition of the Bill I practically removed the objections which had been made to it, and adopted the suggestions made for its amendment. I shall now state the number of the 974 Petitions presented last year. So far as I can gather from the records of the House, there were altogether 181 Petitions presented; of these 60 were against the Bill; 110 prayed for alteration; 1 prayed for remitting it to a Select Committee; and 13 were absolutely in favour of the Bill as presented. Amongst the 13 were Petitions from Aberdeen, Ayr, the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, and the Town Councils of Glasgow and Stirling. When I look at the principal towns of Edinburgh and Glasgow, I find from the former 3 Petitions against, 5 for alteration, and 1 in favour; from the latter, 7 against, 13 for alteration, and 2 in favour; while from Aberdeen, there was 1 against, 2 for alteration, and 1 in favour. Now, I am entitled to claim, as in favour of going into Committee on the Bill, any Petition that is not directed against the second reading, and therefore positively against the Bill; so that, virtually, out of the 184 Petitions presented last year, 124 were in favour of going into Committee. Many of these were presented in reference to the Bill in its original shape, and the alterations prayed for wore, to a very great extent, assented to by me, and introduced into the second edition of the Bill last year. Therefore, so far as the opinion of the country is concerned, I am entitled to claim it as in favour of going into Committee; but I have a stronger claim still for asking the House to pass the second reading, and it is that the Bill is the Bill of a Select Committee. Its first provision, which is the main, and, in my judgment, the vital provision of the measure, was adopted upstairs without a dissentient voice, and was absolutely one of the recommendations of the Committee in these words—"In all towns consisting of more than one parish, the parishes to be combined." I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanarkshire will say that he never understood that recommendation in the sense in which I have translated it in the clause in my Bill. Well, but that I submit is a matter not for the second reading but for Committee. If my hon. Friend turns to the Report of the Select Committee, he will see that after discussing the question whether any change should be made in the Law of Settlement, the recommendation I have quoted was unanimously adopted with a view to remedy one of the greatest 975 evils in the existing law. In page 8 of the Report, he will find these words—To obviate these evils, it has been suggested, in the first place, that no person should lose a residential settlement once acquired in any parish or combination, until he shall have been absent for a period sufficient, at any rate, to enable him to acquire a fresh settlement; and, in the second place, that in all towns consisting of more than one parish, the whole of those parishes shall be formed into one combination.My hon. Friend, if I may judge from conversations I have had with him, seems to read that as meaning that they shall be combined solely for the purposes of settlement, and not for the purposes of uniform rating and of management; but my hon. Friend will see that that is not so, for if he refers to the next paragraph in the Report, he will find these words—Whether any further extension of the area of chargeability and management would lead to satisfactory results, is a question as to which there is much difference of opinion.Now, the word "further" clearly points to the fact that some extension of the area of chargeability and management —namely, in respect of towns having more parishes than one, had been agreed to; the "difference of opinion" referring to the desirability of combining parishes in counties. Under the head "combination," the House will find this unanimous recommendation — "that in all towns consisting of more than one parish, the parishes shall be combined." The 5th clause is based upon that recommendation. In the first edition of the Bill, I assumed that by those words anything in the nature of a town was meant, and I framed the clause so as to include not only Parliamentary burghs, but anything that could be considered a town or burgh, having more parishes than one. That was strongly objected to as going beyond the necessities of the case. I yielded, and in re-editing the Bill, struck out all but Parliamentary towns. What more limited interpretation can possibly be put upon the recommendation of the Committee, I will leave it to my hon. Friend to explain, because it passes my comprehension. But, again, the clause as it now stands in the Bill is nothing more nor less than the original combination clause as it stood in the Poor Law Bill of 1845, when first introduced by the then Lord Advocate, now Lord Colonsay. I would, however, rather stand on the fact that it is the recom- 976 mendation of the Select Committee, and I hardly think the House will reject the second reading of the Bill because it may be urged that, in the wording of the clause, I have not hit what the Committee meant. I hold that I have done so; but, whether I have or not, is a question to be discussed, not now, but in Committee on the Bill. I do not wish to weary the House with details, but will state broadly that the main and important provisions of the Bill follow the recommendations of the Committee upstairs. I have introduced some clauses, which they did not deal with, but which are necessary to the carrying out of the main provisions, and to put them in a workable shape. There are others which effect a slight modification of the present law, or adopt one or two clauses of the English Poor Law Act, as, for instance, those relating to the education of the blind, and so on. But on two points the Bill differs from the Report. The first has reference to the appeal to the Sheriff in case of a pauper being refused relief. There was considerable difference of opinion on this subject in the Committee. I was in favour of doing away with the legal right to demand relief—a right which does not exist in England or Ireland. The Committee, after much discussion, adopted that view, and recommended that the jurisdiction of the Sheriff be abolished, and that with the Board of Supervision alone should in future rest the decision, not only as to the amount of relief, as heretofore, but also as to the right to relief. That recommendation was clogged with a provision which I found it impossible to translate into legal language without bringing about the very evil we desired to avoid. That condition was that the Inspector should be liable for all the consequences of his refusing relief to the pauper; but I found it impossible by Act of Parliament to impose so fearful a responsibility on the Inspector. It would be a rod held in terrorem over him, which would induce him to give the relief rather than take the responsibility of refusing. Under these circumstances, I adopted the suggestion which was strongly urged upon the Committee by the Chairman of the Board of Supervision—namely, to fence the Sheriff's jurisdiction with safeguards against its being used improperly. It is the rule of the Board of Supervision, whenever 977 an Inspector refuses a pauper relief, to require that the Inspector should give to the pauper a certificate of the grounds on which relief is refused. That is looked upon as a sort of safeguard—as being a means of informing the Sheriff that there were good grounds for refusing the relief. But inasmuch as the present law imposes a statutory duty upon the Sheriff to hear all paupers who come before him, without the power of compelling them to produce their certificates, the regulation has been more or less a dead letter; because, if the certificate state sufficient reason for refusing the relief, the pauper puts it behind the fire, and never produces it before the Sheriff at all. I have therefore adopted a suggestion in which many of the Committee were inclined to agree, and have made it a statutory obligation that if an Inspector refuses relief, he shall grant to the pauper a certificate stating the grounds of his refusal, and send a copy to the Sheriff Clerk, and that the Sheriff shall not hear the pauper unless he produces that certificate. That provision was in the Bill last year, and I think is not a departure from the Report to which any member of the Committee can well object. The Bill now before the House is practically that of last year, with certain amendments which I will explain. There are some clauses respecting the audit which are necessary to enforce the decision of the auditor. The officials of the Poor Law Board here pointed out to me that the clauses as originally drawn would not give auditors the power of carrying out their decisions, as is provided in England. I felt the force of that, and therefore prepared Clauses 43 and 44; but these are auxiliary to the question of the audit, and do not alter the intention of the Committee. There is also a clause respecting the settlement of inter-parochial accounts, a matter which did not come before the Committee. I have inserted it in consequence of the many recent cases of peculations by Inspectors, owing to the loose way in which these accounts are now settled. The clause to which I refer is Clause 40, by which I propose to establish a clearing-house department in the Board of Supervision, through which all pecuniary claims between parishes may be balanced and cleared. That clause is in no way contrary to any of the recommendations of the Committee, but is 978 something in addition to them. I now come to an important alteration which I have ventured to make as to the constitution of parochial boards, which is the second and main point in which the Bill differs from the Report. I am told that Clause 8, as it now stands, and the subsequent clause providing for the mode of election, are so objectionable and offensive as to induce my hon. Friend to propose the rejection of the Bill, of which he otherwise approves. Now, first let me inform the House what the present law on the matter is; for the information is, I find, necessary, not only for English Members, but even for some of my Scotch friends. Let us take rural parishes first, and I will refer my hon. Friend to the 22nd and 23rd sections of the Act of 1845. The boards in rural parishes—that is, in parishes which are wholly or in part out of a town—consist of all owners of land or heritages of the value of £20 and upwards, of the provost and baillies of any Royal burgh, of the kirk-session if that body does not consist of more than six, or of six members nominated by itself if it consists of a larger number, and of such a number of elected members as shall be fixed by the Board of Supervision. The elected members are elected by all ratepayers of any amount whatever not being the owners of land or heritages of the value of £20 and upwards, and not being the provost or baillies of any Royal burgh, or members of the kirk-session, and, as such, members of the parochial board. There is no qualification whatever required for the elected members except that they shall be assessed to the rates of the parish, and shall have paid them. The number of elected members varies in different parishes, for there is no limit fixed. In burghal parishes—parishes entirely within a town—and in all combinations of parishes, the board consists of elected members—namely, such number of "managers," as they are called, not being more than 30, as the Board of Supervision may fix from time to time. The qualification is at the discretion of the Board of Supervision, provided it shall not be higher than £50 ownership or occupancy. In addition to these managers, four persons are nominated by the magistrates of the burgh, and the kirk-session may nominate not more than four persons. The whole body of ratepayers elect the managers— 979 and there is a provision that owners and occupiers under £20 shall have one vote; between £20 and £40, two votes; between £40 and £60, three votes; between £60 and £100, four votes; between £100 and £500, five votes; and above that, six votes. These votes are allowed whether in right of occupancy or ownership, and if a man occupies for two votes and owns for three, he has five votes. Votes for ownership and for occupancy may thus accumulate; no elector, however, possessing more than six. There is a similar provision as to the votes of the constituency in rural parishes. Thus, there is a different constituency as to voting power from the ordinary system, where every ratepayer has one vote. I have found that this state of things is not very generally known. Now, the Committee strongly felt that the present qualification of £20 for a seat at the board in rural parishes was far too low; boards in many of those parishes consisting of a large number of members so closely allied to the pauper class that very often they use their position to place their relatives on the poor roll. In the evidence taken by the Committee, and in the Reports of the Board of Supervision, there are flagrant instances of this. The Committee therefore felt that it was necessary to make some change. The Chairman of the Board of Supervision suggested the raising of the qualification of ownership in rural parishes from the present minimum of £20 to a minimum varying from £100 to £500, to be fixed by that board in each parish according to the number of owners of such values respectively. £100 may appear a large minimum, but there is a table in the Appendix to the Report of the Committee which shows that in many parishes a qualification even of £500 would afford a large board. The Committee, however, declined to pledge themselves to any particular sum, and simply recommended that the qualification should be raised; that occupiers of land and heritages should also be members without election, their qualification being fixed at not less than that fixed for owners; and that all ratepayers, not members of the board in right of owner ship or occupancy, should form the constituency for the election of the elected members; that the nomination of members by magistrates and kirk-sessions should be abolished; that the minister 980 of the parish should be no longer ex officio member of the board; and that the members elected should remain three years in office, one-third going out each year. At present the elected members in the rural, and I think also in the burghal parishes are elected annually. Following that recommendation, I at first proposed £100 as the qualification for owners, and £300 for occupiers, such persons being ex officio members. That was loudly decried, and surprise was expressed by some of my Radical friends that I should become such a Tory in my old age as to raise the qualification. My object, however, being to secure a body, which might be trusted to hold the balance fairly between paupers and ratepayers, that cry did not make much impression on my mind. But so many representations were made to me, that I reduced the qualification in the second print of the Bill last Session to £50 for owners and £100 for occupiers. On further consideration, however, I felt that no definite principle could be found in any particular sum, and that £50 in some parishes would give a too numerous board, while in others it would probably give only just enough. Moreover, circumstances have changed since the Committee reported, when the proposal for a purely elective board both in rural and burghal parishes was negatived by 11 to 4. The House has since committed the management of one of the most important local interests to school boards, the members of which have no qualification except that they are selected by ratepayers who contribute to the cost of education. Vote by Ballot has also been adopted in Parliamentary, municipal, and school board elections. Under these altered circumstances, I suggest that a similar provision should be applied to the only governing local body which remains constituted on a totally different system to that of any other in the country. I propose it, however, only as my individual suggestion, in order that it may be fully discussed, and it is the only clause opposed to the decision of the Committee in a Bill much of which my hon. Friend will, I believe, entirely approve. I am told election by Ballot will entail considerable expense. That may be a reason for refusing to adopt it, though I presume the same objection would apply to the Ballot at school board elections. The present 981 mode of election is inconvenient, and often very expensive. Suppose an election in the barony parish, Glasgow, or the city parish, Edinburgh. Notice is given of the day when the electors are to assemble; if not more than 100 attend, the vote is taken then and there by show of hands or any other way the Inspector thinks proper; but if there are 101—any number over 100—the meeting is dispersed, and clerks are sent out with voting papers to every ratepayer at a grievous expense. This was not brought prominently under my notice till after the Committee had reported, and my Bill had been introduced last year, when, finding all representations to the Board of Supervision had failed to effect a change, I proposed, in the second edition of the Bill of last year, that all elections should be by open poll; and though this would have increased the expense, no complaint was made against it. The Ballot is not prescribed by the Education Act, but the Education Board have adopted it; and the rules which I have placed in the schedule to the Bill for the conduct of elections arc taken from the rules of the Edinburgh Board of Education. These are my reasons for the changes I have made in the Bill. If it is felt better to retain the old system, I will cheerfully accept the decision of the House. But as we have abolished qualification for Members of Parliament and for town councillors, why should it be retained for members of parochial boards, and why should not the same confidence be shown in the ratepayers of the country as in those of the towns who are allowed to elect town councillors—the rating body? If, however, it is thought better not to make too many changes at once, restore Clause 8 to its former shape. The vital principle of the Bill consists in the clause respecting the improved regulation of settlements and uniform rating, as to which the Committee were unanimous. The House a few days ago, with the approval of the Government, endorsed the principle of union rating in Ireland, and they surely will not refuse to go into Committee on my Bill. Petitions have been presented from various parts for alterations in it. Those presented today come from a limited area. The one presented by the hon. Member for Edinburgh pretends to represent the feelings of the ratepayers, but is signed only 982 by Sir James Gardiner Baird—[Mr. M'LAREN: Signed by him as chairman of the parochial board.] I thank my hon. Friend. That is the very thing I wished to ascertain. He signs it as chairman of a parochial board which is not yet in existence. Sir James was the bitterest opponent of the Bill last year, but could not induce any Scotch Member to propose its rejection. He protests against the operation of the 5th or combination clause in Edinburgh, where for 25 years the unfortunate ratepayers of Canongate and other parishes have been suffering from divided rating, yet finding that the thing could not be maintained, and in the hope of averting the wrath to come, he has, at the eleventh hour, induced the wealthy parish of St. Cuthbert's to take to its arms the miserably poor parish of Canongate. That very fact is a strong argument for combination, and the election last Friday for the combined board refutes the notion that the ratepayers are not to be trusted with the election of proper men. Sir James himself was elected unanimously, and the whole 30 are men of position and ability. The same thing is being done in Glasgow, where the parishes of Govan and Gorbals are about to be combined. Last year some of the Glasgow parochial authorities offered to abandon the opposition to my Bill if I would agree not to combine all their parishes in one, and would consent to unite only the city with the barony parish, and Govan with Gorbals, thus practically admitting the necessity for combination; but I declined to surrender the principle that in the same town there should be one system instead of the monstrous differences hitherto existing, under which the wretchedly poor parish of Gorbals is assessed 14 per cent on its rental, while its wealthy neighbour, Govan, is assessed only 3 per cent, and the other two parishes at rates varying between these two extremes. Some have tried year after year to amalgamate; but the rich parishes have at present evaded their fair share of the poor rate, and are doing all they can to prevent a reform. This is why you find sometimes in the same town where there are two parishes to be combined by the Bill, one parish petitioning in favour of the Bill and another against it. The principle of combination it is admitted has failed to be carried out even where most needed, despite the 983 strenuous efforts of the Board of Supervision since the passing of the Poor Law Act of 1845. It is time Parliament should step in and extend to Scotland the benefits of union which exist in England, and should no longer allow the wealthy portion of the community to escape bearing their fair share of parochial expenditure. The strongest arguments used last year in resisting my combination clauses were those urged on behalf of the country gentlemen. It was said that these gentlemen had taken considerable interest in the management of the boards in rural parishes, and that where these were combined with town parishes the country gentlemen would be ousted from the management. A gentleman of position and influence in the parish of St. Cuthbert's said to me last year—"How can you expect me to vote for a Bill that will extinguish my present right of sitting at the parochial board?" But since then these gentlemen had, like the reptiles in the song of St. Patrick, "committed suicide to save themselves from slaughter," for they have themselves consented to allow the combination to take place between Canongate and St. Cuthbert's in Edinburgh, and Govan and Gorbals in Glasgow. I have myself no fear of the result, for I believe the ratepayers of my country are wise enough to elect those who will best administer their affairs. But then I am told there are parishes whore there are many colliers, and it is said that the colliers will not vote for the gentlemen. Let me remind hon. Gentlemen that those colliers are household voters, and if colliers can be trusted to return hon. Members to that House they could surely be trusted to elect proper persons to manage their local affairs. These are arguments for the House to consider and for the House to deal with. I hope that hon. Members who sit here for Scotland will not refuse the second reading of this Bill merely because there are some provisions of which they disapprove. These provisions come endorsed with the recommendations of the Committee which sat upstairs. If it can be shown, when we go into Committee on the Bill, that those provisions do not represent their opinions, and that the recommendations were meant in another sense, or if the House see fit to modify those recommendations, I shall, rather than risk the Bill, willingly bow 984 to any modification except the abandonment of those principles which appear to me to be vital and essential to any improvement of the Poor Law. I have detained the House longer than I intended; but I felt it my duty to place the matter fully before them, and I hope the observations I have made will remove impressions which I think would not have existed if there had been an opportunity of comparing the provisions of the Bill with the Act of Parliament now in. existence. It may be said that would have been accomplished by making this a Consolidation Bill. But there would have been grave difficulties in adopting such a course. Let us do the best we can. Let us first endeavour to amend the law, and then we can easily consolidate the law. I shall be prepared to show that the largest powers given in the Bill to the Board of Supervision, are only re-enacted from the present law. Some small but not very large additional power is given, and when we go into the details of the Bill, I shall be prepared to show that I have not even given all the powers that were advised in the recommendations of the Committee. It is not now the time to go into these details, but I shall be prepared to point them out in Committee. I thank the House for the kind attention they have given to the observations I have made; and I earnestly entreat them not to reject a measure which, whatever may be its present defects, is capable of being made a vehicle for enormous improvement in the Poor Law. I move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Craufurd.)
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE,
in moving that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months, said, it was not without hesitation that he came forward to take the strong step of opposing the second reading of a Bill with many of the provisions of which he cordially agreed. If the recommendations of the Committee had been brought before the House without any additional clause, he would have been very glad to take the same course as he did last year; but he was placed in this peculiar position—that if he were to accept the compulsory combination of parishes, he would seem to have very much misun- 985 derstood the views of the Committee, of which he had himself the honour to be a Member. If his hon. and learned Friend was so enamoured of this particular provision that he regarded it as the very principle of the Bill, without which they could have no Bill at all, he thought it preferable that the Bill should be abandoned altogether. His hon. and learned Friend had now confirmed his view by the very emphatic way in which he had dwelt on this one clause, and had declared that by it he would stand or fall. Now he (Sir Edward Colebrooke) thought it was rather a strong course for the hon. and learned Gentleman to take when he came forward to represent the opinions of the Committee, and at the same time put such a construction on their recommendations that some of its Members could not allow to pass—unless, indeed, they chose to follow him. He was not disposed to quarrel with them on that account. He admitted this clause, when it came to be examined, was one of such great importance that it was entitled to be considered very fully. It contained most dangerous provisions—one of which, if really carried out, would go far to overthrow the established administration of the Poor Law, and would be productive of the greatest confusion. He might have been disposed to waive his objections if his hon. and learned Friend had given some assurance that if the Bill were sent to a Committee, he would be ready to accept some compromise. But his hon. and learned Friend had not done this, but said it was impossible for him to do so. Now, the position of a private Member was such that it was with great difficulty he could bring any question before the House, or to have it duly considered if he once got it there. Perhaps at some late hour of the night a division might be snatched, which was utterly at variance with the real opinion of the House. He would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman what probability there was under his guidance — unless he consented to strike out certain provisions — what chance there would be for the discussion of the Bill? The circumstances of the time had strengthened his original conviction, that this was not a subject to be dealt with by a private Member. It was one that ought to be dealt with by one of the most important Departments of the State, and ought to be 986 brought forward on the responsibility of the Government, with such recommendation as the Department thought proper to make. His hon. and learned Friend had introduced some new and important provisions; but it was not on account of the new provisions with reference to the mode of voting that his opposition was based, though he was willing to admit that they had strengthened his conviction that this was the time to take a stand against the Bill. His hon. and learned Friend complained of being taken by surprise. Why, the Bill had been only a week in the hands of hon. Members when it was moved in the House, with a clause which was calculated to upset the whole constitution of parochial boards in Scotland, and his hon. and learned Friend asked them to accept at once the provisions for that purpose. He (Sir Edward Colebrooke) was rather amazed that his hon. and learned Friend had so suddenly turned upon this question, and that he should be so much alarmed at persons with no qualifications getting on these boards. Last year it was not proposed that any question of qualification should be raised; but now he turned completely round and changed his mind. The provisions of the Bill dealt with the whole arrangements of the Poor Law in Scotland. He was himself strongly of opinion that the Poor Law of Scotland worked well. He thought the general tendency of opinion was in favour of it, and he could not call to mind any general feeling against it in the country districts which would justify such a change as this. He declined absolutely to enter into the discussion of such a question at one week's notice. When such a change was put forward in such a Bill, it must be taken to be the principle of the Bill, and must form the key to the examination of all its details. In that case it mattered not whether the Bill should be postponed for one month or for six months; and he thought the best way would be that his hon. and learned Friend should withdraw the Bill, and leave the question in the responsible hands of Her Majesty's Government. His hon. and learned Friend had also changed his mind in another most important particular, and has now confined the operation of the Bill to Parliamentary boroughs—and he thought he had done wisely, for the provision which 987 he brought forward last year combining police boroughs, was of so extravagant a character, and would have led to such injurious results, that there was a general outcry against it. He certainly thought it a most dangerous provision; but it did not strike him at the time that the union of towns was not in terms the same as the union of parishes. He believed that many persons in towns were disposed to favour this kind of union; but when ho found that the effect of it would bear only on parishes which belonged to a city, and looked at the number of combinations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, he thought he was justified in taking a stand against provisions of so dangerous a character. His hon. and learned Friend had not pointed out any evils in the existing law of settlement which rendered it necessary to introduce so radical a change. He threw out, indeed, an argument on one or two evils which might be remedied, as to the area of chargeability; but then he only recommended extension so far as was required for the purposes of union. On the question itself his remarks would be but few. He would instance two of the largest of these combinations—the cases of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The city of Glasgow was divided into four parishes, two of which extended their ramifications into the suburban districts. These, if combined, would form a union, the lowest estimate of the population of which would be 520,000, but which on other testimony would be 600,000. Combinations of police boroughs would produce a still larger amount. Now, he thought that for combinations like these they had some right to expect protection from Her Majesty's Government. These schemes, if carried out, would be subversive of all existing arrangements. Again, with regard to Edinburgh, there were seven parishes, one or two of which were agricultural parishes. Were this principle carried out, the two cities of Leith and Edinburgh would be forced into a union against their inclination. If they were to force a union of parishes under 100,000—if they were to take, say, one-fifth of Scotland to form a union, why not take the whole? They were taking a step, and a dangerous one, towards a national rate. There was a great deal to be said about a national rate. It would reduce those glaring inequalities which existed in 988 neighbouring parishes—it would tend to introduce a system of taxation throughout the country which would make the Poor Law rather an Imperial than a local question; parochial boards would lose their responsibility, and there would be a desire to dip into the public funds in much the same way as Members in this House were apt to propose to the Government to draw on the public purse. He believed such provisions would be fatal to economy, fatal to the administration of the law, and would affect most injuriously the labouring population for whose behalf the present law existed. After all, the only substantial reason given for the change was that with regard to the Law of Settlement. It facilitated the change of a person from one part of a town to another. But could not that be done without having recourse to such a tremendous measure as this? It was remedied in this metropolis by an alteration in the law of movability. Yet who ever thought for that purpose of putting the whole metropolis into one union? If anyone had made such a proposal, he would have been considered mad, and he feared they were advancing to a dangerous extent towards that. In support of his view he might point to the opinions of the Board of Supervision, and to the evidence taken before the Committee, where they had a witness saying—It is necessary to guard against too large an area, and also against too narrow an area, on account of the expense of management, and hold that it is impossible to have any general rule, and you must always have special inquiry into the particular circumstances, and make a thorough investigation whether a new distribution is necessary or desirable.He quite concurred in that evidence. On every occasion in which Parliament had dealt with the subject it had made special inquiries. If it was considered really necessary to have this compulsory union, he should still have to suggest that the Bill be not approved of. He would now bring these remarks to a close were it not he wished to say a word or two with reference to the position of Her Majesty's Government in connection with this subject. His hon. and learned Friend, the responsible author of this Bill, did not stand alone. He said he had brought in this Bill with the concurrence —and he thought he added at the instigation, or with the assistance—of his right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate of 989 Scotland. Now, he was very anxious to know what were the relations of the right hon. Gentleman to the Government in respect to this matter? The predecessors of his right hon. Friend boldly held the opinion that the Lord Advocate—whose post was certainly somewhat anomalous —inherited all the powers of the Privy Council of Scotland, and there was also an opinion that he inherited all the legislative powers. He (Sir Edward Cole-brooke) thought it was a pity that when this subject was discussed last year, the right hon. Gentleman did not state his views on the subject; because a great deal of the anxiety felt out-of-doors, and a great number of the deputations that came upon the subject of the Bill were due to the feeling that this Bill was not merely that of a private Member, but was a kind of pilot balloon sent up under the authority of the Lord Advocate to see which way the wind blows. He should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman consulted his Colleagues? He was quite sure he could not have done so, for the Home Secretary—who, he might remind the House, was Home Secretary for Scotland as well as for England—had very frankly given it as his opinion that combinations on any extensive scale were not desirable. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a deputation in Glasgow, said—The experience is, that the administration of the Poor Law is most efficient where the area of population is not too large to make it beyond the power of one executive to work it properly. The general rule is that the smaller the area of population the better the administration of the law. The provision of the Bill which struck me as most questionable was undoubtedly that which provided for the union of very large districts. Both in the interests of the ratepayer and the poor, it was always desirable that the managers should take a personal interest in the question. There is one thing in particular in the improvement of the Poor Law — namely, that it is a question for the Government rather than a private Member.So much for the views of the Home Secretary, which he hoped he would be prepared to support on this occasion. He would further ask, whether the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate consulted the Board of Supervision? Certainly not, for the Board of Supervision, startled at this Bill, launched out in such an extraordinary way, and circulated over the country, thought it high time to let their views be known, and gave the opinion to which he had already 990 referred. Therefore, they were in the position of having the Lord Advocate, the Home Secretary, and the Board of Supervision all giving their separate opinions on the subject, and were in consequence left in such a state of confusion that they did not know who to follow when they went into the lobby. He held that it was most important that measures like this, which were really Government measures, should be brought in by responsible members of the Government. They could not be so introduced by any of them without their consulting the heads of the Government, and knowing the views of those responsible for the management of the Executive. The position in which they were at present placed was a very disagreeable one, and the only way in which they could be extricated was, in his opinion, for his hon. and learned Friend to withdraw the Bill, and let the Government take the responsibility upon themselves. He was confirmed in the belief that this was the proper course by a speech recently made, not in this House but to the electors at Stranraer by the right hon. Gentleman, in which, having ventilated a number of agricultural grievances, he dwelt upon the question of Poor Law. He said—I have been assisting the Member for Ayr in preparing his Bill, but upon one particular he did not go far enough. He proposes these combinations only with regard to towns, but I think we can carry out the combinations in the country as well.He did not complain of the right hon. Gentleman for making that statement; but if he had such strong views on the subject, he thought he should mature a scheme and submit some proposal to Parliament on the authority — if he could get the authority—of the Government. He thought it would be an additional reason for that course that the Committee's suggestions on this subject could be considered, and its plans properly digested, and then his right hon. Friend could bring in his Bill, and not alter the system of election and have other new provisions thrown upon them without notice. He thought the question was much too serious a one for a single Member to deal with. They were dealing with the welfare and prosperity of the working classes of the country. He hoped the result would be to throw out all those things which had been 991 shown by experience to have had most disastrous effects in the South of England in the administration of the Poor Law enacted 40 years ago. The hon. and learned Gentleman had undertaken a heavy task, and had brought forward very important provisions, which would, he hoped, have the consideration of Her Majesty's Government; but to pass this Bill was simply impossible. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Amendment—that the Bill be read the second time this day six months.
§ MR. TREVELYAN,
in rising to second the Amendment, said: Sir, I am sure that there will be much satisfaction felt at the course my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke) has taken in meeting this Bill with an open negative, for it gives us an opportunity of extricating ourselves from the extraordinary attitude in which we stand in regard to the measure. The responsibility rests almost entirely with the Government, and if the result of this debate is that the attention of those Members of the Cabinet who have made local taxation their study is directed to the plight in which Scotland is placed, I care not how small a number go with the hon. Baronet into the lobby to-day; because I am satisfied that when Ministers have once given this matter such consideration as it deserves, they will take measures for seeing that the Bill never becomes an Act. Towards the close of the Parliament before last, a measure was brought forward under the auspices of a Ministry containing, with one or two distinguished exceptions, the whole of the present Cabinet, by which the area of rating was so extended as to include a fair admixture of rural and urban parishes, with the same assessment. It is not necessary after the Union Chargeability Act has been at successful work for eight years to enter into a defence of the principle on which it is founded. That principle, as is well known, rests on the fact that the poor rate was high in town districts and low in country districts, on account of the large portion of the working population born in the country which is constantly being driven into the towns in search of employment. There is no want of proof that the measure was as popular as it deserved to be. Its passage into law was almost immediately followed by a General Election, and the experience of 992 those of us who had the doubtful pleasure of a house-to-house canvas was, that it was almost the only legislative performance of that period in which the householder of the towns took a lively and personal interest. That the Government has not found reason to change its mind or its policy is pretty evident from the support which the other night it lent to a private Bill introducing union chargeability into Ireland. Now, was the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, who spoke in behalf of that Bill, aware that for these two years there had been hovering about the Notice Paper of this House, under a sort of half-acknowledged patronage of the Scotch department of his own Government, a Bill proposing to settle the question of Scotch assessment on another basis than that of universal and equable union chargeability? I say "to settle" the question, because the Bill does not propose to leave the area of assessment alone, and confine itself to certain specific changes in Poor Law administration. Not at all. It proposes to introduce into Scotland a newfangled system of grouping burghal parishes, which, under a specious appearance of working in the direction of the Union Chargeability Act, will, in effect, lead Scotland further than ever from the policy embodied in that Act, and from the declared and recognised theories of Her Majesty's Government. But there is another feature in this Bill which I must beg to commend to the notice of one important Member of the Cabinet. The present First Lord of the Admiralty, who I regret to observe is not present, in his Metropolitan Rating Act, and in the more general measure which time did not allow him to pass, laid down the principle of a uniform deduction from the gross rental of different classes of property. That principle, broadly stated, is that the nature of the subject rated should be taken into consideration, and that an abatement should be made in the case of property which was perishable and expensive to maintain. Houses therefore which need repairs and insurance, and which are so perishable that they sell for about half the number of years' purchase of landed property, were to be subject to a deduction, according to the views of the right hon. Gentleman, from one end of the kingdom to the other. And yet here we have a Bill, which last year appeared to be in a left- 993 handed manner under the protection of the Government, which expressly repeals that section of the Act of 1865 that authorises a deduction from the gross rental for repairs, general maintenance, and insurance of mills and houses. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the nature of this Bill? If he is aware of it, how comes it that he has not prevailed upon the Cabinet to express a decisive objection to a measure which forbids even the voluntary adoption of a principle north of the Tweed which they wished to render universal and obligatory to the south of it? But this measure has a more serious defect than its inconsistency with previous legislation, and that defect is the neglect—I will say more, the marked severity—which it displays towards the interests of the inhabitants of towns. If the Bill passes in its present shape, or in anything like its present shape, the burgh population will suffer so heavily that the House should hesitate to give the Bill a second reading until the towns of Scotland, great and small, have had time given them to make their voices heard in the matter. For, in the first place, exactly the same difference between the amount of the rate in rural and urban parishes exists in Scotland as existed in England before the Union Chargeability Act, and for exactly the same reason. There as here the population are crowding into the towns, and by their course are not impoverishing the country, but are actually enriching it by giving it a better market for its produce; and not only so, but the pauperism Of the country has a special tendency to gravitate towards the towns. Apart from the singular attraction which great cities afford to vice and misery, it is not unusual for persons, no longer fitted by their age for the exposure and toil of agricultural labour, to seek light employment in factories during the last few years of life or of independence. Hence it comes that there are many agricultural parishes which pay only a half or a third of the rate paid in the town adjoining, and therefore it is a grievance in itself to the town population of Scotland that a Bill should be passed professing to deal comprehensively and finally with her system of local taxation, which neglects to do for them what the Union Chargeability Act, passed by the Government, did for England, and 994 what the Union Rating Bill, supported by the Government, proposes to do for Ireland. It will be said, however, that this Bill makes combination permissive to those parishes which are inclined to adopt it. But that combination is at the discretion of the Board of Supervision, and no one can read the statement of the chairman, published last year, without perceiving that the inclination of that Board is not towards the principle of union rating. Besides, a question so large as this should be settled openly by Parliament on general regulations laid down in the Statute-book, and should not be left to the arbitrary decision of a body whose opinion may vary with every change of its individual members. And, further, the most important object of this Bill—so we are told—is to make very wholesale combinations in the case of burgh parishes. But the combinations which take place under the 5th clause do not, and are not intended to remove the inequality of rating between town and country, except in the case of the portion of a burghal parish which is rural in its nature, and these small portions of country will suffer exceptionally by having to bear the whole burden which ought to be shared with all the landward parishes in the neighbourhood. And do not imagine that this provision was introduced with any intention of relieving the burgh rates. You will find its motive in the 8th page of the Report of the Poor Law Committee, which shows that burghal parishes are grouped, not to relieve the rates of the town population, but in order to prevent the rural rates from being burdened by having paupers thrown back upon them who have lost an urban settlement by shifting their residence from one burghal parish to another. For this most insufficient reason, utterly alien to the interests of towns, the burghal parishes are to be grouped—not into unions of convenient size, as is the case on this side the Border, but into amorphous aggregations, one of which will contain a few thousand people, and another more than a fifth of the population of the whole of Scotland. But the town populations will suffer, not only by what this Bill refuses them, but still more by what it imposes on them. Hitherto, as I have shown in an earlier part of my speech, house property has enjoyed a certain small, 995 and, in my opinion, a just advantage as opposed to land. But according to the hon. Member for the Ayr burghs, land is to be put at an immense advantage as opposed to house property, for by the 17th section, assessment according to classification is made compulsory, except in such cases as the Board of Supervision may remit the obligation. Now, the policy of the Board of Supervision in this matter is well known. In the case of a poor rate of 1s. in the pound, owners would pay 6d. and occupiers 10d. for houses, and only 2d. for land, so that the tenant of a house, as opposed to the tenant of land, will lose the benefit of a somewhat advantageous deduction, and suffer the great evil of a very disadvantageous classification. But we shall be told that there is a piece of sugar which will sweeten any pill, however bitter. No qualification is exacted from a candidate for a seat on the parochial board, except that he is a ratepayer who has paid his rates. This measure we shall be told gives us for the first time self-government, pure and unadulterated, in local matters. Now, I hope I do not undervalue the blessings of self-government; but of what nature is this self-government? It is self-government with just as much "self" in it as the Board of Supervision chooses to allow. Parishes are only to combine if that Board gives its sanction. It is to have power to classify lands and heritages, power to compel parochial boards to provide poor-house accommodation, and receive inmates to such an extent and in such manner only as it thinks proper. I will not weary the House by going through the Bill, and naming all the points on which the Board of Supervision is absolute and autocratic. Suffice it to say, that if the Bill passes it will be difficult to know what parochial boards are to meet about. A few clerks to keep accounts, and a few collectors to get in the rates, would be much more proper instruments for the Board of Supervision than these assemblies that are now thrown open with such a flourish of trumpets to free and unconditional popular election. The Bill is a measure for consolidating and vastly extending the powers of a Board which in days not long ago was, in the opinion of the hon. Member for Ayr himself, far too powerful already. It is the most extraordinary change of opinion in all profane history. He got his Committee 996 in order to curse the Board of Supervision, and now, behold! he has blessed it altogether. This Bill of his is nothing but one long prophecy of Balaam; and we who looked upon him as our champion against the Board of Supervision may easily find a parallel for ourselves in that chapter of history. The question is, whether Scotland is being treated quite handsomely in this matter. It appears now, that year after year a Bill proposing a radical change in her system of local administration and assessment is to be laid on the Table by an irresponsible private Member, which a responsible Minister then urges us to carry through a second reading, and do our best to amend in Committee. Year after year our lobbies and our galleries are full of unhappy people, hard-working men, who are torn from distant homes and important avocations, in order to watch the progress of a Bill which, so long as it is in private hands, has no real chance of becoming law, but which is formidable because we are never told plainly whether the Government intend to quash it or to press it through. It is not fair that when measures which Scotland has so much at heart are in prospect, our Notice Book should be filled and our time taken up with Amendments on a Bill that is not destined to be turned into an Act; and it is the duty of Ministers to set the mind of the country at rest, and plainly to declare whether they adopt this Bill as theirs, or whether they vote against it. And I can hardly believe that they will stultify their English and Irish policy alike by supporting a Bill which contradicts the two leading principles that guide both the one and the other. I beg to second the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir Edward Colebrooke.)
§ MR. ORR EWING
I am very glad indeed to have heard the remarks which have fallen from my hon. Friend opposite. I thought that he was entirely in favour of the Bill, but I presume that he has changed his mind.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, that at any rate he should like to know when any conversation took place in which he said 997 he was in favour of the Bill. He was very much opposed to the Bill last year, as hon. Friends around him would testify. This year he was certain no words had passed his lips in approbation of anything in the Bill except the clause throwing the election of the parochial boards upon the ratepayers.
§ MR. ORR EWING
I am very glad to hear that. In the conversation which took place, I understand that my hon. Friend's approval applied not only to one clause, but to the remainder of the Bill. I am quite satisfied with the explanation he has made; but, although I am opposed to the Bill on its second reading, it is not for the reasons he has given. I do not think this Bill is intended to injuriously affect the burghs of Scotland; indeed, where it does affect them, the tendency is, by amalgamation, to make the arrangement more just. With this part of the Bill I quite agree, but my objection to the second reading is that the Bill is contrary to the Report of the Committee. The Committee sat patiently for two full Sessions, and, I believe, the better half of a third, and examined witnesses from all parts of the country, and, after great deliberation, came to a decision upon the subject. Now I find that this Bill is not in conformity with that decision. I object to it, in the second place, because it differs so very materially from the Bill introduced by the hon. Member last year, and the people of Scotland have had no time to consider those very important alterations. I am surprised the hon. Member should think we have not dealt fairly with him when endeavouring to throw the Bill out on the second reading. We have done all we could to get him to delay the second reading, so that the public opinion of Scotland might give forth no uncertain sound. We have promised him, if he made certain concessions, not to oppose it; but we do not find him willing to listen to any representations. It is too important a measure to be brought in by a private Member of this House; it should be brought in by the full authority of the Government and by the Lord Advocate. It may be interesting to the House, and certainly to Scotch Members, to recall them to the origin of this inquiry and of this Bill. It will be remembered by the House that the hon. Member, when moving for this Committee, made a long and rather exciting 998 speech, finding fault with the boards in Scotland generally; and in order to recall to the mind of the House what he then said, I will read one or two extracts from his speech—Mr. Craufurd pointed out that the old mode of supporting the poor in Scotland was in existence since the 16th century down to 1843. The poor of Scotland were supported under the old system, and he maintained, without fear of contradiction, that the principle on which that law was based and administered was well adapted to provide for the maintenance of indigent and incapable poor, and was one eminently qualified to preserve that feeling of charity without which the fabric of society could not be effectively maintained. He then asserted that in that year (1869) they were worse off than they were before the introduction of the Bill of 1845, which, he said, demoralised the people. The poor, he said, claimed charity as a right, and this destroyed the principle of independence, and tended, he said, to pauperise the country. Then, again, what he wanted was an inquiry into the cause of pauperism, and the principle of the Poor Law, with the view of seeing whether they could have the old law for Scotland, which would restore to them that independence of character which was once their pride and glory in that matter."—[See 3 Hansard, cxciv. 513.]Now, has the Bill carried out the declaration of the hon. Member? Does it carry out the result of our inquiry? Certainly not. For what does he propose? We have some 87 parishes in Scotland supported by voluntary rates, and they are well managed. I can mention to you one parish where the poor are supported by voluntary rates, pure and simple, by the landowners. They do not ask any tenant or anyone but landowners to pay a farthing. The collections made at the parish church doors are purely voluntary, and go to aid the assessment of the heritors. At the present moment the assessment of that parish is only 3d. in the pound, but still the hon. Member, notwithstanding the glowing description which he gives in praise of the whole system, brings, in this Bill, a compulsory law to do away with all this, and to appoint Inspectors of the poor, build poor-houses—everything, in fact, which we really do not require. These small parishes manage their affairs much better on the principle on which the hon. Member was so loud in his praise when he asked for the Committee to inquire into the subject. But now it seemed—to quote the remark of an hon. Member—the hon. Gentleman cursed the system ho formerly blessed. This Bill consists of 53 clauses, and in 30 of these clauses the Board of Supervision and the whole powers are to be 999 given to this central association which he formerly so much condemned. I must say that the hon. Member's conduct is very different from what it was in 1869, but I do not object to his change of opinion. I object to this Bill because it is contrary to the Report of the Committee in the 5th clause. There was, no doubt, a strong feeling in the great majority of the Committee that the country parishes did suffer from the difficulty of attaching settlements in great towns. It was also felt that there was an inequality of assessment within the Parliamentary burghs. We therefore agreed to report that, so far as the rate was concerned and the law of settlement, we were desirous of having an amalgamation of parishes in burghs, but we never intended what is provided for by this Bill —to amalgamate the whole parishes of largo towns into one board of management; nor did we intend to compel small parishes to adopt compulsory rating. That question was never brought before the Committee; and so far as other alterations in the Bill are concerned, as compared with the Bill of the previous year, they are very important indeed. Last year the hon. Member fixed the qualification so high that we on the Conservative side of the House had to ask that it be reduced, and we got him to reduce it to £50, from £100 and £300. What has he done this year? He has abolished the qualification altogether, and he has instituted the ballot; and his reason for doing so is that the ballot is introduced in the Education Bill. But we have had no experience of the Education Bill. Before I came up I tried to elicit the feeling existing on the subject, and I assure you that the feeling was against the system. His reasons, then, for introducing this novel system I do not understand. How can we have vote by ballot if you give a greater number of votes according to the valuation of the property you hold? [Mr. CRAUFURD: If you look at the schedule you will see all that provided for.] All I can say is I have read it, and I cannot see how it is to be done. I will not detain the House longer. ["Divide!"] I trust Her Majesty's Government will agree with us that this Bill should not pass the second reading to-day, and that they will instruct the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate to bring in a Bill next Session to con- 1000 solidate and amend all the Acts passed on this subject in and since 1845. I am sure the general feeling of Scotland is that the Government should take the responsibility of legislating on this subject. We are in no hurry for legislation. and can wait till the Lord Advocate can find time to give attention to it.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
I rose when the hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment (Sir Edward Colebrooke) sat down, because, so far as I can judge from his references to myself, and the manner in which those references were received, I thought it would be convenient and in accordance with the general opinion of the House that I should speak at the earliest opportunity. Sir, when the Committee was appointed, over which my hon. and learned Friend who has introduced this Bill (Mr. Craufurd) presided, I was one of those who thought —and I confess I thought somewhat strongly—that no case had been made out for the appointment of that Committee at all. It was appointed, as we see from the title of the Report, "to inquire into the operation of the Poor Law in Scotland, and whether any and what amendments should be made therein." I was not then aware, nor am I aware now, that any such objections existed, or had been spoken of in Scotland, to the operation of the Scotch Poor Law, as required the appointment of a Committee of this House to investigate them. I was not originally a Member of that Committee; but shortly after its appointment I was added to the number of Members, having been asked to allow my name to be proposed by my predecessor in office. I attended a great many meetings of the Committee, and heard a great deal of the evidence given, and what I did not hear I read. I could not say at the termination of the inquiry that I remained altogether of the opinion which I had been at the commencement; because I was persuaded that the investigations of the Committee had done a great deal of good in removing certain impressions or prejudices which existed even in the minds of some of the Members of it. Undoubtedly that inquiry removed those preconceived and really erroneous notions from their minds, and would probably also have the effect of removing them from the minds of those whose communications had produced those erroneous impressions; and to remove erroneous impressions of that 1001 description is certainly of considerable importance. The Committee sat in the discharge of its labours for about two years, and. at the end of the Session before last—namely, in July, 1871—it presented a Report to the House containing certain recommendations—none of them, as I think, relating to any matter of first-rate importance, but being all rather of the character of practical improvements in the details of Poor Law administration; but of such a character that had the objections which were stated to prevail in Scotland been limited to these, I do not think it would have occurred to anybody to press for, or that this House would have been disposed to grant a Committee of Inquiry. Nevertheless, as a Member of that Committee, I think we were pretty generally unanimous—not altogether, because there was some variety of opinion—but we were generally of one mind in regard to those practical improvements which were contained in the Report. However, though I concurred and thought that most of these recommendations, if not all of them, were well founded, I was not of opinion at the termination of the inquiry that the Poor Law of Scotland was so defective, or that there were any such radical errors in the provisions of the law, that I could advise Her Majesty's Government that the matter was one of such urgency as to demand a place amongst those measures which the Government were determining to submit to the consideration of Parliament. In the course of the vacation, immediately after this Report was presented, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) communicated with me. His ability and perfect candour were admirably manifested in the conduct of the inquiry by the Committee—and I cannot refer to anything more satisfactorily illustrative of that perfect openness to conviction and candour which distinguished my hon. and learned Friend throughout, than by referring to some of those prepossessions which had been produced upon his mind by communications from without before he entered upon the inquiry, but which he yielded up as the result of this inquiry which was conducted under his chairmanship. I may observe further that the Report was limited to the recommendations of a practical character, to which I refer, in the administration of the Poor Law, and 1002 which were very far short of some of the views which my hon. and learned Friend still continued earnestly to entertain even after the inquiry was concluded. But in the course of the vacation, after the Report was presented, my hon. and learned Friend was good enough to communicate with me in regard to the most convenient mode of giving effect to the recommendations of the Committee. He asked—I thought very naturally, but hon. Gentlemen of more experience than myself may have a different view upon the subject—but I thought it was a very natural and proper inquiry for him to make, whether on the part of the Government I designed to bring in a Bill to carry out the recommendations of the Committee, or thought it would be better to leave the matter in his hands as Chairman. Having the view which I have already expressed—that I could not advise the Government that the Poor Law of Scotland presented a case of such urgent demand for reformation—I had no hesitation in expressing my own opinion—that the task of bringing in the Bill, if my hon. and learned Friend thought that necessary, to carry out the recommendations of the Committee which were so generally agreed to, as I have stated, would be with great propriety left in his hands. Accordingly, the Bill of last year was introduced with this view. I am not aware, so far as that Bill was concerned, that my hon. and learned Friend communicated any further with me or with the Government than I have stated. Indeed, the word "further" is out of place, because it was rather as a private Member and a friend that he communicated with me than as an official or Member of the Government. The Bill which was introduced last year, and under these circumstances, was, as I read it, a Bill intended—and plainly upon the face of it intended—to carry out the recommendations of the Committee, and to do no more. Whether Clause 5 did not go beyond the recommendations of the Committee in regard to the union of parishes within burghs, or what modifications ought to be made upon it in order to render it conformable to the opinions of the members of the Committee in making the recommendations to which I shall immediately advert, all this appeared to me to be matter for consideration in Committee and not for a debate upon the second reading—but 1003 with the exception of that criticism, such as was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke), I am not aware that it was ever suggested that the Bill professed to do more upon the face of it than to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. With regard to that criticism upon the 5th clause of this Bill, the recommendation of the Committee is in these words, "in all towns consisting of more than one parish, the parishes to be combined." I apprehend that my hon. and learned Friend found some difficulty in dealing with the cases of some parishes which were partly in one burgh and partly in another. Anyone addressing himself to the draughting of a clause intended to carry out general recommendations continually encounters difficulties that have not presented themselves to the minds of those who made the recommendations, and I am not surprised that my hon. and learned Friend found a difficulty in carrying out this recommendation—or, it maybe, even the impossibility of carrying out the recommendation, without doing at the same time something more which might not recommend itself to those who were quite of opinion, that the recommendation as it stood, even if it could be carried out alone, would be beneficial. Now, I thought when I read this clause last year—and I venture to say that I think the same when I read it in the Bill of this year—that the provisions of Clause 5 are worthy of the most serious attention, in order to see whether the clause ought to be remodelled and restrained to do what the Committee recommended and no more—for if it be found impossible to do what they have recommended without doing something more at the same time, the question will be whether this project of union ought not to be abandoned altogether. But the proposal is in the direction of the recommendation of the Committee and with a view to carry it out; and I did not in the least degree regard the Bill, because this clause appeared to go further, as thereby departing from what was its previous character—namely, a Bill introduced by the Chairman of a Committee in order to carry out the recommendations which the Committee had with general unanimity made. The Bill of this year contains a provision, and an important one, upon a subject that was not under the consider- 1004 tion of the Committee at all—I mean a provision regarding the constitution of parochial boards. No one can deny for a moment that this is a provision relating to a subject of first-rate importance —and I was glad, I confess, to hear my hon. and learned Friend say that if it appeared to be in accordance with the general opinion of the representatives of Scotland, he was quite willing to abandon this provision altogether, and to proceed with the Bill as a Bill to carry out the recommendations of the Committee upon those portions of the subject which they had considered, and no more. After that declaration—which is entirely in accordance with my own view—I shall abstain from indicating any opinion whatever on the merits of that provision, because I quite think that this Bill, in the hands of my hon. and learned Friend, ought to be limited to the recommendations of the Committee over which, as Chairman, he presided. But being so limited, I confess—and observe I am speaking only as a private Member—it appears to me that it would be only reasonable for the House to pass the second reading of the Bill, and consider in detail the provisions of it in Committee, to measure them by the recommendations of the Select Committee of this House which sat so long and so fully entered into the subject. With respect to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke), that the Government ought either to make this Bill their own or to oppose it, I must say that, with the greatest possible respect for the opinion of my hon. Friend, I cannot possibly agree in what I understood him to say. I am not aware that it is according to precedent—it would appear certainly very inconvenient in practice — if when a Bill is introduced by a private Member the Government must either oppose it or take it out of his hands. While I remain of the opinion which I ventured to state to the House on a former occasion, that the reform of the Scotch Poor Law was a subject which was entitled to consideration at the hands of the Government, yet nevertheless I think it very fitting that the Chairman of the Special Committee appointed to inquire into the working of the system should have an opportunity on the days and hours appropriated to private Members of this 1005 House, of calmly discussing and carrying out the recommendations of the Select Committee. Why, these recommendations were concurred in by hon. Gentlemen of all political opinions and representing all sorts of constituencies. There was my hon. Friend the Member for Fifeshire (Sir Robert Anstruther), my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke), the hon. Member for St. Andrews (Mr. Ellice), the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Glasgow (Mr. Gordon), the hon. Member for the county of Peebles (Sir Graham Montgomery), and a variety of others, all concurring generally in those recommendations of the character to which I have adverted. Why is the Government to take such measures as that out of the hands of a private Member, into whose hands it so naturally came as Chairman of the Committee making the recommendations, or to oppose the measure? Why, the Government, as a Government, is not interfering in this matter at all. As a Scotch Member, I certainly have formed my opinion, and concur generally in the recommendations of the Committee. I have had no hesitation in receiving any communications from my hon. and learned Friend in regard to what he proposed to do; and I am sure I have experienced myself too much courtesy and kindness at the hands of almost every Representative from Scotland to refuse to communicate with him upon any matter upon which he may think that any expression of opinion on my part may be of service to him. I have not hesitated myself to communicate, even with regard to measures which may be presented as Government measures, with friends who were private Members, in whose judgment and upon whose advice I could rely. But in no larger sense than this has there been any communication even with myself individually with respect to this Bill. I think it is right it should be considered as a Bill brought in by the Chairman of the Select Committee appointed by this House, dealing with practical recommendations in regard to matters, none of them really of first-rate importance, and limited to parishes within burghs, in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee. If that clause goes beyond the recommendation of the Committee—if it is found that because carrying out the recom- 1006 mendation of the Committee and going no further, it is impracticable, and cannot really be framed—it will be for the House to consider whether the matter should be persevered with or not. It is on these grounds only that I am content for myself to support the second reading of this Bill, with a view to consider its provisions in detail in Committee, to measure them by the recommendations of the Select Committee appointed by the House, and with the view that it is to carry these out, and do no more.
§ MR. M'LAREN
thought the hon. and learned Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) had not met with due justice in regard to the alleged extension of his Bill beyond the Report of the Select Committee—for he found, on looking at the Report of the Committee, that his Bill, in place of being beyond, was greatly within the limits prescribed by the Committee in their Report. The Committee recommended that every town in Scotland which consisted of more than one parish should be combined; and the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend of last year contained a clause that every burgh in Scotland should be combined, and that was a limitation of the Report of the Committee, because there were large towns in Scotland which consisted of more than one parish, and which were not burghs. Again, the Bill of this year was still more limited, because it stated that the boundaries of burghs for the purposes of the Act should be the Parliamentary boundaries. It was therefore au injustice to charge his hon. and learned Friend with having exceeded Ids instructions. If it were a fact, as was stated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate, that this was the only important clause in the Bill, the other arguments he proposed to offer would not be of much value. But it was not so. The Bill teemed with objections. In his judgment it was one of the worst Bills relating to Scotland that he had seen—it could only be amended on the principle of supplying a new lock, a new stock, and a new barrel. This led to the question—Why have not the Government themselves introduced a measure? He concurred entirely with what was said by the Home Secretary at Glasgow—that a large measure fur the improvement of the Poor Law was one for the Government rather than for a private Member. Well, nobody denied 1007 that this was a large measure. It was objected to because it was too large a measure, and therefore it logically followed, from the terms laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, that the Government ought to take charge of this large measure. There were other considerations which made it a Bill that the Government ought peculiarly to have charge of, and ought to have introduced. This Bill dealt with the Department of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a large extent. It made grants of public money here, there, and everywhere. He had no doubt that money would be rightly expended if all the clauses of his hon. and learned Friend's Bill were carried; but he was now speaking of the propriety of introducing a Bill involving a large expenditure of the public money for various purposes without the Government being made liable for the consequences. He hoped some Member of the Government would answer the question whether they approved of the expenditure of the public money; and he made that request for this reason—that last year all these grants were in the first edition of the Bill, and many constituencies petitioned in favour of it because these grants were in it; but when the Bill was passing through Committee, these grants, by desire of the Treasury, were dropped out. The hon. and learned Member for Ayr says the Bill he has brought in this year is substantially the same as the second edition of the Bill of last year. How that could be he (Mr. M'Laren) could not understand, for he found that all the money clauses that wore struck out of the Bill last year were incorporated in the Bill of this year. For example, Section 15 took power to lend money at 3½ per cent, to be paid during a long term of years. He wanted to know whether Her Majesty's Government had given their consent to that? He should be glad to find that they had; but still that was an important matter, as to which it would be well that they should have information. Then, in Section 19, the Bill enacted that all Crown property in Scotland should in future pay poor rates, the same as the property of private parties. That was a principle which he also cordially assented to, provided it was a principle to be applied to the whole of the United Kingdom; but he wished to know whether Her Majesty's Go- 1008 vernment assented to the principle being applied to Scotland, because he had always understood that until the assent of the Crown had been given in such cases a Bill was not permitted to go forward. Then, by Clause 29, one-half of the whole expense of the pauper lunatics of Scotland was to be paid by Her Majesty's Exchequer. He had no objection to that—on the contrary, he approved of it, if the principle were to be made applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom; but he wanted to know whether Her Majesty's Government had given their consent to that proposition? Then, by Clause 32, the Bill enacted that one-half of the cost of all medical salaries, attendances, and medicines should be paid by Her Majesty's Government. He wished to know whether Her Majesty's Government sanctioned that? Again, in Clause 39, auditors were to be appointed by the Court of Supervision, and to be paid by the Crown. Now, the number of auditors was not fixed—it was to be such a number as the Board of Supervision might think fit, with the sanction of Her Majesty's Government, to appoint. That seemed to be rather an anomalous power. Then, by the present law, the Board of Supervision was entitled to appoint two superintendents to perambulate the country in special cases, and to report to the Board of Supervision. By the present Bill the word "two" was struck out of the former Act, and the words "such numbers as the Board of Supervision may think fit" introduced. He wished to know whether Her Majesty's Government had given consent to these provisions?—because if they had not, and supposing the Bill should be read a second time—which he hoped it would not be—they might have all these things thrown out, as they were in the second edition of the Bill of last year. Now, in regard to large combinations he would not say anything, because that subject had been so well dealt with by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke); but as his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ayr tried to take some credit to his own Bill for having caused two parishes to be united—one in Glasgow and another in the city he had the honour to represent—he must state the facts of the case. In place of its being a matter of no importance, and a matter 1009 to be laughed at, the fact was that the Board of Supervision, in the Report which was put into their hands only a few days ago, repeat the opinion they gave this year, and it was to the effect that the only two parishes in Scotland really requiring compulsory combination were Canongate and Govan; that they were disposed of by combining Canongate with St. Cuthbert's in Edinburgh, and Govan with Gorbals in Glasgow, and that the rest might be safely left to the voluntary action of the parishes themselves. That was the opinion of the Board of Supervision; and the local authorities, respecting that opinion, had amalgamated those parishes without any Act of Parliament. Therefore they were in this position—that the Board of Supervision had reported as their deliberate opinion that there was no need for any compulsory combination of parishes in all Scotland. This question had been put forward as if it were one of great magnitude in a pecuniary point of view. So far as regarded the parish of the Canongate, it would not add so much as a farthing in the pound to the rate in the parish with which Canongate had been united. With respect to the law of settlement, everything would be put into confusion if this Bill should pass. By one section all churches and chapels were to be assessed to the poor rates, but nobody could tell who was to pay it. The Bill introduced some time ago by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) contained only one objectionable clause, but nearly all the clauses of this Bill were objectionable when clearly understood. It was also too bad to force on the Bill so soon after its introduction.
§ MR. GORDON
said, that last year Scotch Members and deputations were put to grievous annoyance and inconvenience by the Bill being put down on the Paper night after night. There was a crowded attendance, and he hoped that on this occasion the opinion of Scotch representatives would be distinctly ascertained.
§ SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER
said, it was most desirable that the opinion of Scotch Members should be distinctly shown by a division, and he believed it would be found that they were unmistakably adverse to the Bill. He fully appreciated the labour and skill with which the hon. and learned Member for Ayr presided 1010 over the Committee of which he (Sir Robert Anstruther) was a Member, and the skill and patience he had devoted to the preparation of the Bill; but the surprise of the Scotch Members could not but be shared by their constituents when they saw its provisions. But what was of most interest to him was the line the Government would take. He knew they were in a very difficult position. They apparently approved the present constitution of the parochial boards. When the Committee was appointed, the Lord Advocate, whom they assumed to represent the Government, but who now told them that he was there simply as a private Member, made no proposal to alter it. They understood last year that the Lord Advocate and the Home Secretary approved the Bill in the shape it then assumed, raising the qualification from £20 to £100; but all of a sudden the new Bill swept away every qualification. They were told that the Government approved this sudden change. They had had no opportunity of testing that, for the Lord Advocate had not been in his place since Parliament opened. They now knew that, as far as Scotland was concerned, they had no Government, and, certainly, if the Government followed the Lord Advocate in all his changes they would be in a most undignified position. They had solved the difficulty in this extraordinary way—that they had no opinion whatever on what the Home Secretary admitted to be a very important Scotch question. That was a most unsatisfactory state of things. His hon. and learned Friend bad dealt with the question well; but it only confirmed him in the opinion he had expressed from the first, that a measure of such importance ought not to be in private hands. He should vote against the second reading because the Bill did not agree with the Committee's Report, because the people of Scotland knew nothing about it, because they had had only a week to understand it in, and because Bills of such importance ought to be dealt with by responsible Ministers on the Treasury Bench.
was understood to support the second reading, reserving Amendments in the Bill till Committee.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, that the objections taken to the Bill were objections which could be urged with much more propriety in Committee. Moreover, the 1011 hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment himself approved much that was in the Bill. He should himself support the second reading, and he was glad to find that the Government intended to do so also—at least, he supposed so, as they permitted the Lord Advocate to vote for it in order that Amendments might be made in Committee.
§ MR. CRAUFURD,
in reply, said, it would be uselessly detaining the House to go through all the faults that had been found with the Bill; but he promised to answer them if he were allowed to go into Committee. As to the constituency which elected the small members of parochial boards, he preserved the present law, which provided that no person could be elected or vote who is not assessed to the rates, and has not paid them. This disposed of the allegations that he was putting the election into the hands of paupers. Moreover, nobody could sit as an elected small member who, within three years, had been excused from paying the rate. Hon. Members seemed to fear that he was going to take every advantage of the forms of the House in order to force the measure through. That was not at all his intention. He should endeavour to consult Scotch Members in fixing a day for going into Committee on the Bill which would give them the fullest opportunity for discussion. The second reading had been fixed for this early day on account of the difficulty experienced by private Members in forwarding their measures, but he was desirous of giving Scotch Members and the Scotch people ample time to consider the provisions of the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 48; Noes 181: Majority 133.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for six months.