§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Pell.)
§ MR. DODSON
said, he had had some communication with his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) in regard to this Bill. The Government could not accept the Bill in the form in which it stood; but he had suggested to his hon. Friend certain Amendments, and if he would agree to their insertion, the Government would assent to the second reading-, with the understanding that the Bill should afterwards be committed pro forma, to receive the Amendments proposed by the Government. It was not necessary to detain the House then with any further observations.
§ MR. PELL
said, he was in hopes that the right hon. Gentleman would, though the hour was late, have mentioned the nature of the changes be proposed should be adopted. They were important; one especially, which touched a principle of the Bill—namely, the removal of the demoralizing distinction the law draws between the class termed tramps and ordinary paupers. In accepting the proposal, he could not do so without observing that he thought they were losing sight of a very mischievous 359 state of things which now existed. We had in our country something like 40,000 or 50,000 persons who, under the invidious term of "tramps" or "vagrants," were treated in a very different way from other destitute persons. In our workhouses as little as possible was given them to maintain life for a few hours; the next morning all the work that could be got out of them was exacted, and then they were dismissed with the certainty that they could not get through the day without some offence against the law; and they passed on to the next workhouse, miserable examples of cruel, impolitic, un-Christian, barbarous treatment. The Government said, if the 4th clause were removed, the Bill could go forward. Now, a great deal had been said about centralization; and over and over again it had been asserted by heads of Departments, and especially by the heads of the Local Government Board, that nothing was more mischievous than the exercise of a centralizing authority. Here, however, in reference to this particular portion of the Bill, while the opinions of Boards of Guardians throughout the country had been taken, and they, after mature deliberation, and on their own experience as local authorities—small, perhaps, but important—were almost unanimous in removing this degrading distinction, the central authority—the Local Government Board—stepped in and set local opinion at nought. There were one or two other matters in which the Government required modifications, though they were not so important as the point to which be had referred; and with the objections to the 6th clause he would not now trouble the House. He was prepared to accept the offer of the Government— thankful for small mercies, and a step in the right direction; and if it was the pleasure of the House, he would ask that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ MR. CROPPER
said, he was glad to find that the Local Government Board had accepted the Bill. One important feature in the measure was, that Boards of Guardians would be enabled to detain travelling vagrants for a longer time—a useful provision, that would enable Guardians to exercise some deterring influence over vagrancy. Other portions of the Bill would be best discussed in Committee; and he should be glad to see it passed, in the belief that it 360 would have a good effect throughout the country.
§ MR. BRYCE
said, he regretted that the President of the Local Government Board could not accept the Bill in the form in which it was introduced; but the particular Amendments which the Government proposed to make were matters for discussion in Committee. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire that the Bill was better in its present form than in that to which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to cut it down. But, at the same time, as an instalment, it was valuable; and it was worth while to accept even this modification in the treatment of vagrants. He hoped his hon. Friend would bring in his Bill again next year, and persevere in his attempt until something considerable was done in the direction which the Bill indicated.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, it was the misfortune that there seemed to be no discussion upon anything save that which had relation to Ireland. There was an opportunity for a discussion of this Bill some 14 days ago, on a Wednesday afternoon; but, since then, the condition of things had become intensified, and there was still less prospect of a discussion. In the result, the House was now asked to give assent to the second reading of a Bill on a subject to which many Members, irrespective of political Parties, had given considerable attention, and with which Bill they were not thoroughly acquainted, while, at the same time, they were told the Bill was to be considerably amended, he might almost say emasculated, in Committee. Really, he did not know what the Bill was to which they were asked to give a second reading. Of course, he agreed in the maxim, "that half a loaf was better than no bread;" but he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not give some indication of the alterations he proposed, rather than leave to the hon. Member for South Leicestershire the task of mutilating his own offspring. He, with the faltering voice a parent would naturally adopt under such circumstances, told the House of important changes he was bound to accept in Committee. He (Mr. J. G. Talbot) would only now say that he regretted exceedingly that a Bill which seemed to be a moderate and, presumably, an useful alteration of the law, 361 should be turned into a mild, he might almost say an inefficient, attempt to deal with a great question. At that hour he would not detain the House beyond saying that he gave his unwilling assent to the second reading of this emasculated Bill, and he hoped that next year a more efficient attempt would be made to deal with the subject.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday.