§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
explained that there were certain Amendments on the Paper put down by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) which could not be moved. It was a Bill intended merely to amend a particular Act applying only to England, and it would not be in accordance with the Rules of the House to insert Amendments in Committee, which would have the effect of amending or repealing the Scotch law, without first receiving an instruction to that effect from the House. The hon. Member might have made a Motion with that view before; but not having done it in the House, it was now too late to do so.
Clause 1 (The provisions of S. 23 of the Divided Parishes and Poor Law Amendment Act, 1876, not to apply to moneys to which a pauper or pauper 1601 lunatic may be entitled as a member of friendly or benefit society).
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he should propose to omit all the clause after the word "relative" in line 15. He had been wholly unable to understand the use of the second part of the clause. Altogether, the measure was a remarkable one; and, in spite of the arguments by which it had been pressed upon the House, it appeared to him to be unprecedented in principle. He was willing, however, to admit the first part of the clause, strange as it was. The effect of this first part was that a man might secure payments to himself; and if he became bankrupt or insolvent, that those payments should go to his wife or some other relative. That was a principle which had never been admitted in English law. A man had no power to settle money to his own use, and in the event of bankruptcy or insolvency to the use of his wife or other female relative. Such a provision would not be allowed in the case of a rich man, and it could not be upheld in this case, on the ground of some supposed analogy to marriage settlements, or to settlements by a solvent person, made to take effect immediately. But the second part of the clause had not this poor defence. In that case it was provided that where a man had no wife or female relative dependent on him his sick money should remain in the hands of the Society, and the Guardians should not be repaid their expenditure, unless they had given notice beforehand. He did not at all understand why this provision was inserted in the Bill, for it seemed to him the first part of the clause provided everything that was asked for. Failing some explanation, therefore, he should beg to move the omission of the words.
§ MR. MELLOR
said, the Bill was only intended to restore the law to the position which it occupied before 1876; and, therefore, he thought the hon. Member was wide of the mark in his criticisms, and would not be justified in pressing his Amendment.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
wished to ask the President of the Local Government Board what had become of certain Amendments which he put on the Paper some time ago? He was under the impression, he presumed erroneously, that Her Majesty's Government took an interest in, and had certain opinions concerning, this Bill. He thought, also, 1602 that those opinions had been embodied in certain Amendments which were placed on the Paper. To his great astonishment, however, these Amendments vanished, and the explanation given was that the hon. Member for Ashton (Mr. Mellor) had sent these Amendments down to all the Friendly Societies in the country; and, as a consequence, these Amendments had been removed. He ventured to think it was absolutely without precedent that the Government should put Amendments on the Paper and then run away from them, not on account of the opposition in the House, but because the Amendments had been sent to parties in the country to be considered. The matter required explanation, and seemed to him to be a piece of almost unparalleled weakness on the part of the Government. He objected, also, to this policy of not showing their hand to the House openly with regard to this Bill. He should be curious to know the reasons why these Amendments were not to be pressed. He hoped his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) would indicate the course which the Government proposed to take. He was afraid his hon. Friend behind him had taken a tremendous task upon himself in proposing to discuss this Bill at half-past 1 in the morning, when their masters out-of-doors had settled already what the fate of this Bill was to be. He hoped the Government were inclined to deal seriously with this question, otherwise he would be inclined to let this measure pass just as it stood, and let the Government take the responsibility of the proceedings.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, the right hon. Gentleman opposite, after making some very severe observations in regard to these proceedings, had concluded by intimating his acquiescence in the relegation of this question to the Friendly Societies out-of-doors.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to misrepresent him. He distinctly said that must happen, if the Government did not take the matter seriously in hand.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, his course on this subject had been very simple. Some three weeks ago, he placed certain Amendments on the Paper which, in his judgment, would have the effect of insuring the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords. Whether 1603 it would pass without those Amendments remained to be seen. The Government had supported the Bill last year in the House of Commons, and did their best to carry it in the House of Lords, but failed, because that House quarrelled with the words "pauper or" in the Bill. The Amendments which they made the hon. Member for Ashton would not accept, and, as a consequence, the Bill fell through. He thought his hon. Friend might have accepted the Amendments which he had proposed without any sort of compunction, or any mischief being done to his case. He put these Amendments on the Paper thinking that they would result in a settlement of the matter, because they would place the measure in such a way before the Lords that they would consent to pass it. His hon. Friend, however, instead of accepting these Amendments, postponed his Bill in order to ascertain whether they would be acceptable to the Friendly Societies, and finding that was not likely to be the case, the Government now stood in the same position as last year. They acquiesced in the Bill, and supported it as far as they could, and the hon. Member must take his chance of getting it through the House of Lords. As he had said, the question was not a very difficult or important one. Nothing in the clause prevented the Guardians from withholding relief from any man who was receiving aid from a friendly or benefit society, and it did not seem to him to be a question of very serious importance. He had pointed out to his hon. Friend the Member for Ashton how he thought the Bill might be improved; but he would not accept the Amendments, and, therefore, the Government had nothing more to do with them. As to the Amendments of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), the second part of the clause was necessary, because, according to the principles of the Poor Law Amendment Act, money given by way of relief was given absolutely, and there was no power of recovery at all, except the relief were given on loan. According to the Act of 1866, money expended for a pauper lunatic was held to be money expended as a debt; and his proposal was to restrict the procedure before a magistrate to the case of a debt already incurred. He thought that was a reasonable thing to propose; but his hon. Friend would not accept it, 1604 and, therefore, the Government had nothing more to say.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, the only point which he could gather from the remarks of his right hon. Friend was that, though the Government did not entirely approve of the Bill, yet they were going to support it in the House of Commons, and would endeavour to pass it through the House of Lords. Why was this? Because there was a considerable cry for this Bill out-of-doors. The right hon. Gentleman, indeed, had said this matter was not very important; but it was not satisfactory to him, or, indeed, to the House of Commons, that the Government should deal with a matter to which great importance was attached out-of-doors, and by the Press, in this way. He had called attention to this Bill out-of-doors, at the cost of very considerable unpopularity to himself; but he was not an Obstructionist, and when he saw it was not possible to prevent the passing of this measure, he could do no more than call attention to its provisions, and the spirit in which they were dealing with it.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
, said, his right hon. Friend always liked to have the last word; but he must repudiate the charge which he had made. He had said this Bill was not quite satisfactory; but, as a matter of fact, it was proposed with a view of correcting a provision in the Act of Parliament, which was the work of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton. The original Bill of 1876 did not contain these objectionable clauses, and they were moved at the instance of that hon. Member. Having got into great trouble with his constituents through this proposal of his, he was now endeavouring to amend the Act in which those clauses were inserted. A great and very exaggerated feeling existed among the Friendly Societies on this subject; and the Government thought it best not to waste time in stopping its progress, or in attempting to throw it out, when what was objectionable in it was of an extremely unimportant, mild character. The principle of the original Act remained the same, however; because the Guardians, even if this Bill should pass, would by no means always give relief.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
asked whether he might understand that this Bill simply repealed the objectionable clauses moved 1605 by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne?
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
, said, as a matter of fact, the Government did not feel themselves called upon to deal with a matter of this kind between Guardians and paupers receiving relief.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.