HC Deb 08 July 1878 vol 241 cc1037-47

Order for Consideration of Lords' Amendments, read.


said, although the Bill was a short one, they could not at that hour—20 minutes past 1 o'clock—give to it the attention worthy of its importance; and, further, it would not be courteous to give the Lords' Amendments the scant consideration which was all that they could then receive. It was also important to remember that no report of what was said on this very important matter would reach the public. ["Go on!"] He hoped the hon. Member in charge of the Bill (Mr. Mellor) would not press it.


thought the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Pell) should have appealed to the House, rather than to the hon. Member in charge of the Bill, who, they should recollect, had few remaining opportunities for pressing on his Bill, and who could not be blamed if he desired to press it now, especially when they remembered how interested he was in the change which it was meant to effect. The hon. Member who had just sat down had done right, even if his appeal failed, in calling attention to the very important character of the Bill, and to the position in which they stood with regard to it. He did not wish to offer any obstruction to the Bill, neither did his hon. Friend who had made the appeal. He should wish to say to hon. Members that he was aware the view he took of the Bill differed from that of the great majority on both sides of the House. It was essential that a question of the kind, affecting large numbers of working people, should not be made a Party question. The Bill was one which they should be allowed to discuss, without its being thrown in their teeth—whatever side of the House they belonged to—that they were opposing a measure in which the working classes were interested. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) had drawn attention to the fact that some Liberal Members had opposed the Bill. Well, so had some Conservatives. They should not in that House do anything to forbid or to stifle the opposition which it might excite in the minds of some hon. Members. In a question like that, in which the working classes took such an interest, they should encourage each other to speak out their opinions; and they should not allow themselves to be restrained by the idea that they might become unpopular with their Party, if they pressed their objections to the measure. He knew that remonstrances had been offered in consequence of the attitude taken by some of them with respect to the measure; and they all, he repeated, knew that the working classes took a very considerable interest in it. What, therefore, did he claim, and what did his hon. Friend opposite claim? Why, that they should be able to discuss it. They were told that 400,000 men took an intense interest in the question. But that was no reason why they should shirk, or even shorten, the discussion. On the contrary, it was a reason why they should discuss the Bill openly, publicly, and at a time when their opinions could be reported. With the greatest good-will upon the part of the Press, their opinions and arguments, if uttered at that hour of the morning, could not be placed before the working men. He saw many objections to proceeding with the discussion; but, no doubt, there were many hon. Members who wished to proceed, because they were anxious to see the Bill passed. However, he thought he was fairly entitled to put the case as he had done. It was not necessary to say whether he, and those who acted with him, opposed or not the particular Amendment introduced by the House of Lords; the question was, whether the Amendment should now be considered? How were they to consider it, and what was their position? His point was this—They had here a question in which the working classes took a deep interest; in fact, he had been told they took a greater interest in this than in the Eastern Question. On the other hand, they had the House of Lords proposing Amendments, in consequence of which the friendly societies took up this attitude—they preferred the Bill should not be passed, to its being passed with these Amendments; and he thought the hon. Member in charge of the Bill would bear him out in saying that. What ought the House of Commons to do now? The wish of the working classes was that that House should reverse the decision—and the by no means hasty decision—of the House of Lords. This matter was twice debated in the House of Lords, and it really had not been debated in the House of Commons. What, then, ought they to attempt to do? In his opinion, they ought, in the interest of the Bill itself, to effect such a compromise that there would be a chance of its passing the House of Lords in a shape satisfactory to the benefit societies of the Kingdom. He put it to the House—would the House of Lords be likely to reverse its decision, if the Amendments adopted by that Body were discussed in the House of Commons at a time when no publicity whatever could be given to the grounds upon which those Amendments were opposed? The matter should be discussed under circumstances which would allow public opinion to be brought to bear upon it. If not in the interest of the Bill itself, that it should be discussed at a proper time, was it not in the interest of the general proceedings of the House that, in a question where they might be supposed to be under the influence of pressure from without—and he knew a considerable pressure had been exerted by the friendly societies of the Kingdom upon hon. Members on both sides of the House—that those who had doubts with regard to the policy of the measure should be allowed to state them at a time when they should have some assurance that they would be reported, so that there might be an opportunity for the classes so interested in the question to appreciate the objections that might be urged against the measure? It was not that he and those who acted with him were opposed entirely to the Bill. A great mistake was made in 1876, when friendly societies were made collecting officers in certain senses for the Government. But this Bill did not simply repeal that clause; it went much farther. He should not recommend his hon. Friend (Mr. Pell) to divide the House upon his suggestion, if the House thought right to proceed with the Bill. He should not like to appear as offering any obstruction to the Bill; but it must be understood that if it were taken now, discussion would be impossible, and, for himself, he should not consider it and offer opinions upon it, as he should feel bound to do upon a more opportune occasion.


wished, as his name appeared on the back of the Bill, to make one or two observations in reference to what had fallen from his right hon. Friend (Mr. Goschen). The right hon. Gentleman had put the question before the House in a fair and equitable spirit; but he had proposed an impossibility. He had asked the hon. Member in charge of the Bill (Mr. Mellor) to bring it forward at a time when it could be discussed. But it was impossible for a private Member to give such an undertaking, and the right hon. Gentleman proposed an impossibility. It would be desirable to have this question amply discussed; but the only way that it could be discussed now would be by the Government giving the hon. Gentleman an opportunity for bringing forward his Bill at another time. Unless the Government were prepared to do that, he did not know that they could do better than go on. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that this was in no sense a Party question; and that was shown by the manner in which it had been supported on both sides of the House. The Bill had passed through all its preceding stages in a manner in which few Bills had passed through that House. The right hon. Gentleman complained that no opportunity had been given for discussing the Bill; but Amendments had been placed on the Paper week after week, which had never reached fruition, and were not even discussed. It should be remembered that the Bill had also received the consideration of the Local Government Board, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of that Board had put down Amendments, which were accepted by the hon. Member in charge of the Bill. The Bill as it stood before going to the Lords was acceptable to the parties whom it would most directly affect, and he was justified in saying that they would prefer seeing it thrown out to passing in the altered form in which it had come down from the Lords.


was afraid that he could not afford his hon. Friend the Member for Ashton (Mr. Mellor) a better opportunity for bringing forward his Bill than the present, which he had got in the ordinary course of proceeding, and none could say that he was not justified in bringing it forward. He regretted that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not in his place, as he had stated that he would support the measure. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) scarcely justified in his complaints, as it was perfectly notorious that this Bill had been on the Order Book of the House of Commons during the whole of the Session. There was nothing to prevent the right hon. Gentleman putting Amendments upon the Paper; but he had not chosen to do so.


said, he had put his name down as opposing the Bill; but, on account of the great pressure put upon him by the friends of the Bill, he had abstained from going further.


did not see that the explanation altered matters. There might be objections to the Bill; but he believed that, on the whole, it was the best way out of a difficulty into which they had got; and a way, moreover, which was not open to the politico-economic objections which some hon. Members seemed to entertain to it. He could only say if his hon. Friend proceeded with the Bill, he was prepared to go on, and the House would hardly have a better opportunity.


trusted the hon. Member in charge of the Bill (Mr. Mellor) would not consent to postpone it. It came on before on Friday, and was adjourned upon that occasion because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) had left the House under the impression that it was not coming on.

Lords' Amendments considered,

MR. MEREWETHER moved to disagree with the Lords' Amendment which omitted the words "paupers or" from the 1st clause. The clause set forth that it was expedient to alter the law relating to the liability of friendly and benefit societies to contribute in certain eases towards the maintenance of paupers or pauper lunatics who may become chargeable to any Poor Law Union. The effect of the Amendment was obvious. This question had been discussed on one occasion very fully by certain hon. Members, among whom was the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Mellor), to whom friendly societies were indebted for the very manly course he took to redress the wrong done to them in 1876. The whole of the case was stated upon that occasion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) had put down Amendments; but so far as he (Mr. Merewether) could make out, he afterwards withdrew them. The House appeared to be very unanimous in supporting the Bill, and an hon. Member who thought of opposing it, remarked that if he had gone to a division he would have had no one to tell for him. He saw no reason why the last chance of getting the Bill successfully through should be given up. The clause exempting friendly societies from contributing to the maintenance of pauper lunatics who might be entitled to a portion of their funds, and which had given rise to misconception, was meant to remove a doubt and prevent the guardians from summoning friendly societies, numbering in this country more than 4,000,000 of people, for sums towards the maintenance of pauper lunatics. It was felt that this friction should be got rid of—that the small gain to the ratepayers was not worth the trouble of recovering it. That being the case, he had taken the trouble to listen to everything said in the House and out of it against the present measure; and, as far as he could make out, the sole objection to it was, that it was contrary to the principle of the Poor Law. This idea arose from a mistaken analogy, as the measure had nothing to do with annuities or monies in the savings bank. A comparison had been made between the monies dealt with in the first part of the 23rd section of the Act of 1876—monies in the savings bank or in annuities—and money, the property of the club. The money in the savings bank belonged to the man who was to receive it, and he could get it like the money in a long stocking, when he liked. Such funds should, of course, be sacrificed to the ratepayers when he sought to be maintained by the Union. But the money which he had put in the club was not his in any sense. He had parted with it to the funds of the club. He could not get it, but others could. He could not see how that could be compared to money in annuities or in the savings bank.


said, that as a general rule, if a man had property in the funds, he clearly ought not to be supported by the ratepayers. But to maintain, as a hard-and-fast principle, that a man who had any property whatever should be obliged to pay for relief in any form he might receive it, would be to pursue a course injurious to the ratepayers; for, in the long run, they would be the sufferers. The ratepayers had no friends in the country so great as the men who subscribed to friendly societies, and if encouragement were not offered to the working classes to support friendly societies, they would increase their rates vastly more than they were at present. Men would not continue to be members of friendly societies, if they felt that the money they subscribed to them might go to the Guardians of the poor. The object which prompted people to subscribe to these societies was not a selfish one; it was the desire to make some provision for those dependent upon them. A man became a contributor to them in order to save his wife and family from the disgrace of having to go to the workhouse. If they took away their support from the family of a man who had become an invalid or a lunatic, they would simply break up a home which it might be difficult to re-establish, and run the chance of making the whole family permanent paupers. Suppose the man recovered, the Guardians, having taken the payments which the friendly society would otherwise have paid to the wife and family, and thus obliging them to enter the workhouse, who was to keep them while he was getting a new home? If they passed the Bill, they would be doing nothing for the democracy or for the working man which they had not already done for the aristocracy and wealthy traders. A man could make a settlement for his wife and family which no one but they could touch; and he could contract debts and laugh at his creditors, who had certainly as much claim upon him as the ratepayers upon a man who found it necessary to accept temporary aid. This Bill was no innovation; it was simply an act of justice and expediency. The question they were discussing was a large one in one aspect; but, in another, it was a very narrow one. The Bill, as amended by the Lords, allowed the wife and family of a pauper lunatic to have the advantage of the funds of a society to which he had subscribed, and there was no reason why a similar advantage should not be extended to a man who broke his leg. The principle of the Bill, as approved by that House, would be destroyed if they accepted the Amendments of the Lords.


would not conduct a hopeless struggle in arguing against the Bill, on the merits, tempting as it would be to reply to the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James), and to show that a portion of his argument struck at in-door relief, and was in favour of out-door relief. He contented himself with entering his protest, and added that he had never put any Amendments upon the Paper, though he had given Notice of opposition.


said, a good deal of jealousy had arisen between friendly societies and Guardians owing to the operation of the clause in the Act of 1876 which it was desirable to get rid of; and he thought a portion of the Bill would have that effect. Assuming that the Bill would pass into law, it would deprive Poor Law Guardians of the power to attach money from friendly societies, where the inmate had a wife and family who were receiving it; but it would still be competent to the Guardians, as before, to refuse to give relief to any person who was in receipt of sufficient from the friendly societies for his maintenance.


remarked, that the question was one of great importance to friendly societies, and he hoped some compromise would be arrived at.


thought that any Bill, the object of which was to make an alteration in the Poor Law, ought only to be introduced upon the responsibility of the Government. In that case, they would have an opportunity of discussing the matter in a way and at a time they could not hope for in the present instance. He did not blame his hon. Friend (Mr. Mellor) for bringing on the matter now, though it would have been more satisfactory if there had been a proper opportunity for discussing it.


said, his object in offering any opposition to the Bill was not to secure a small saving to the rates; it was from a higher point of view he regarded the matter. It was because the best interests of the working classes were, in his belief, in jeopardy that he had ventured to interpose in the progress of this measure. He was bound to say that he was perfectly satisfied with the manner in which the Bill had been handled. What they would do by this Bill would be to give a preference to money saved in one form. If a man put money in the funds or the savings bank to meet sickness, it could be attached; but if he put it into the funds of a friendly society, whether registered or not, it could not be touched or applied in satisfaction of the just claims of Guardians.


reminded the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Pell) that it was no new principle that the law should protect money put aside by a man for his wife and family, as it protected no other monies. They had established the very salutary principle of allowing any man to effect an insurance on his life for the benefit of his family which no creditor could touch. If he put money in the bank it could be reached by his creditors, and if he made an insurance to remain under his own control it would equally be liable for his debts. It was no new principle they were now asked to extend to poor men; it was a principle well known to the law, the only difference being that the poor man provided against sickness, while the rich man provided against death.

Motion agreed to.

First of the Lords Amendments disagreed to.

MR. MEREWETHER moved to agree to the second of the Lords Amendments. The Bill as it stood when it left the Commons protected moneys which a pauper or pauper lunatic having a wife or other relative dependent upon him might be entitled to receive as a member of one of these societies. The Lords proposed to leave out "other relative" and insert "child or children or father or mother."

Motion agreed to.

MR. MELLOR moved to disagree to the next Amendment, which omitted "pauper or" further on in the clause, and which was consequent upon the first Amendment of their Lordships.

Motion agreed to.

MR. MELLOR moved to disagree to the next Amendment of the Lords, which struck out of the Bill a provision to the effect that where a pauper or pauper lunatic, having no one dependent upon him, was entitled to money from a benefit society, no claim should be made by the Guardians upon such society for the expenses incurred in his relief, unless the relief were declared to be by way of loan, and the fact of such declaration had been duly communicated to the society.


, in the questions hitherto debated, had gone along with the majority, though with some doubt. He had recognized the principle for which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had contended, and which was embodied in their legislation, that a man might make a settlement by way of insurance for the benefit of his wife and children which would hold good against his creditors. But, in the question now before them, he thought they were bound to support the Lords. They were not now considering the question as between the wife or other relative of a pauper and the Boards of Guardians; but the question was one between the friendly societies and the Guardians, because they were considering the case where the pauper or pauper lunatic had no friends. Why, in such a case, there being no friends to benefit by funds which existed for the man's own benefit, should the Guardians not recoup themselves out of such funds?


said, the object of the clause was to give the Guardians power to claim upon their complying with certain conditions. If the clause were not retained, the Guardians would have no such power; and, therefore, he thought that from an economic point of view, they were bound to adhere to the portion of the clause which had been struck out.


explained, that the words in question simply required the Guardians to give notice to the society concerned, so that they might know and acknowledge the demand. At present they were summoned, which was rather a hostile mode of proceeding.

Motion agreed to. Committee appointed, "to draw up Reasons to be assigned to The Lords for disagreeing to certain of their Amendments to the Bill:"—Mr. MELLOR, Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Sir HENRY SELWIN - IBBETSON, Sir HENRY JAMES, Mr. MEREWETHER, Mr. M'CULLAGH TORRENS, Mr. HIBBERT, Sir CHARLES FORSTER, Mr. PHIPPS, and Mr. COWAN:—To withdraw immediately; Three to be the quorum.