§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Arthur Balfour.)
§ MR. PELL,
in rising to move, as an Amendment—That, in the relief of destitute paupers out of any Poor Rate, this House declines to draw a distinction in favour of enfranchising those who obtain it in the form of medical treatment and those who are compelled to accept it in the form of bread,said, that on Monday last, or, rather, at about 3 o'clock on Tuesday morning, Her Majesty's Government asked leave to introduce this Bill, and a short statement was then made by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. That statement did not by any means satisfy general expectation on the introduction of so important a measure, so far as the information on which the Bill was founded was concerned. The number of Members in the House at 965 the time was very few—he believed about 42—and they were given to understand that on the second reading the right hon. Gentleman would make a full statement, with reasons why the Government had introduced the measure. There was one point, the most important of all, as to which the House was in need of information, and that was the number of persons that would be affected by the measure. The right hon. Gentleman gave the House distinctly to understand that, before the Government proceeded with the measure, information would be given, at all events, upon this point.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR)
said, that he had not given that promise. All that he had promised was that information would be given at a later day, and it should be so given.
§ MR. PELL
said, that then the right hon. Gentleman was making out a worse case for himself. The information ought to have been given on moving the second reading at the commencement of the debate. What possible use could it be in the end? The House was now going to consider one of the most important questions that had ever come before it during the time that he had had the honour of a seat in it—a question, too, that had been rushed upon it. Under these circumstances, it would have been more consistent with Parliamentary practice if the right hon. Gentleman had furnished the House and himself, a humble Member of it, with information essential to the adequate consideration of the Bill before the House. The result of the treatment of this important question was at once to drive hon. Members below the Gangway to resist its progress. No one could fairly object if hon. Members met the measure in such a way as to secure time for its consideration. He would again call attention to the extraordinary circumstances which surrounded the case. On Tuesday morning the Government took the first reading, and, with the greatest difficulty, were induced to concede to hon. Members time until to-day for the consideration of the measure. The report of what took place at that time in the morning, though accurate as far as it went, was, of course, very short. But now hon. Members had an opportunity of telling the country what the Government really did on Tues- 966 day morning. All they had then submitted to them were the vaguest generalities; and he expressed the hope, therefore, that the House would assist him in chocking the progress of this measure until a more suitable opportunity arrived for discussion. The Bill was brought in after 2 o'clock in the morning, and in bringing it in the right hon. Gentleman made a dry statement; but he gave the House to understand that he would make a full one on the second reading. The Government obtained the first reading, but not without some opposition. But for the division that was taken at 3 o'clock on the morning the Bill was introduced, and the apprehension of a "Count out," the Government would have proceeded with the second reading on the same day. For his part, he could not see the necessity for this haste. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) had got a Bill before the House aiming at precisely the same results, with this distinction—that the hon. Member for Ipswich, basing his reasons for his Bill upon the ground that a vast number of the new electorate would be taken by surprise, asked merely for a measure which, though retrospective, was temporary in its character. The President of the Local Government Board had taken the feather out of the hon. Member's cap, and introduced a Bill which was much stronger. The effect of the hon. Member for Ipswich's Bill would be that a number of poorpersons who might have been unexpectedly deprived of the franchise would not be disfranchised before they had time to consider their position. The Government had taken the hon. Member's ewe lamb and amplified it, with mischievous and dangerous additions, simply to secure the popular vote? Then, as to the merits of the question, he wished to put fairly the state of the case dealt with by the Bill. Sickness alone was not a qualification for medical relief. For instance, he (Mr. Pell) himself, or his servant, might be sick, and yet they could get no assistance from the Guardians; the condition precedent was destitution, and his Amendment referred to the relief of destitute paupers. A person applying for medical relief was exactly on the same footing as a person applying for bread, except that his case was not so strong. One applicant was sick, another 967 had not had food for 24 hours; and the Board of Guardians, dealing with both cases and admitting the destitution, made both paupers, and ordered food in one case and medicine in the other. It was now proposed to make a legal distinction between the two cases by giving the vote to the man who accepted medicine, and withholding it from the man who accepted food, by conferring it on the man who accepted that which 1d. a-week subscribed to a medical club or dispensary would have provided him with, and withholding it from the man who accepted the food which a subscription of 1d. a-week would not have provided for him. They had no right to make a distinction between the two paupers, and, as it were, to confer a sort of dignity on the pauperism that might have been most easily provided against. But the matter could not rest here. Why should they confine this exemption to medical relief? Before three years were over they would be having all paupers demanding the exemption; and the old and wholesome rule, which drew a distinction between paupers and free men, would be broken down. In the absence of information which should have been furnished by the Government, he had just examined a Return which was furnished to the House in 1870, on the Motion of the present Speaker, which showed the amount of outdoor and indoor medical relief given in that year. The population of England and Wales was 22,000,000; in that year the country was in a flourishing condition, and there were 1,000,000 paupers. It was remarkable, but true, that, when times were at their best, pauperism was at the highest. It was not so much want that made paupers, as an impulse on the part of the Guardians, who, when their own pockets were full, were disposed to be generous with other people's money, particularly when generous impulses coincided with the inclination to keep up the supply of cheap labour. The Return showed that 840,388 persons then were receiving outdoor relief, and only 106,323, or under 13 per cent, were also sick and in receipt of medical relief. It did not follow that all the 106,000 would come under the operation of such a Bill as this; for, as he understood, the Bill was intended to apply to outdoor paupers only, and not to indoor paupers. That supposition 968 was confirmed by the President of the Local Government Board. The last Return of pauperism in England and Wales was for 1883, when the population was 26,500,000. Times were much worse; but the outdoor poor had sunk to 500,000, roughly speaking, or under 600,000. If the same percentage were taken of this number as he had taken of the 106,000, there would be found only 78,000 in 1883 who were in receipt of medical relief, some of whom had other relief also.
§ MR. PELL
said, ho should come to that presently. The Return of 1870 gave the sex and age in classes, and showed that there wore 46,000 female paupers over 16 years of age. The pauperism of these persons did not pauperize any other adult. But if a woman was under 16 years of age the parent was pauperized. He would take away the 46,000 women over 16 as not affecting the calculation, with the exception of those who were married. If the married women became paupers, of course they pauperized their husbands. Thus, there were 60,000 persons left, whoso sickness carried with it disqualification, in 1870, being 8 percent of outdoor pauperism at that time. If they took 8 per cent of the 600,000 paupers of the later period, there were only 48,000 who pauperized those dependent on them. He would give every chance to the advocates of the Bill, and would assume that 22,000 female paupers over 16 were married; these he would add to the 48,000 he had already mentioned. Thus, there would be a total of about 70,000 who would be affected by this Bill. Of course, he was giving figures which related to a particular day, and not the number for the year, for which, no doubt, an addition would have to be made. But of this number how many were in receipt of medical relief only, and did not receive money or food or other assistance? Among this number were nurses. Was the allowance of nurses to disqualify? That was an important question, as orders for nurses were often given, which resulted occasionally in bringing a daughter from service into a pauper home, who might otherwise be earning her bread. He presumed that orders for brandy, gin, and mutton 969 might come under the head of medical relief. It must also be remembered that no relief could be given except through the relieving officer. The Guardians might order on the doctor's recommendation; the relieving officer alone could give these extras. He hoped he should not be charged with taking an extravagant view of the case; but he had had great experience. He knew of one case, where the Guardians had given an order for 2 lbs. of mutton a-week for a man who, the doctor said, was in a low condition. The relieving officer refused to carry out the order, and, when remonstrated with, his answer was that if the man wanted mutton he had better have one of the 50 sheep killed which belonged to him. One of the chief uses to which medical orders were put was for what was technically known as "preparatory"—that was to say, an introduction to outdoor relief. The prohibitory order interdicted Guardians giving outdoor relief to able-bodied paupers. The order was, however, evaded by the grant, in the first instance, of a medical order to a "prepared" pauper, so as to place him in the class of not able-bodied; after which came the order for full and continuous outdoor relief, with beef and liquor, under the colour of medical assistance. But, after all, when the number of those who received only medicine was calculated, how many would the Bill really affect? Not 20,000—he dared say not more than 10,000. What was 10,000 out of the 2,000,000 who were to be enfranchised? This Bill afforded a curious instance of extremes meeting. When his Friends sat on the opposite Benches they used to refer to the Kilmainham Treaty. This, however, might be called the "Curemainham Treaty," and was something like a Treaty between the extreme Radicals and the Tory Government. They Were urged by their present Leaders to vote against the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Christ-church (Mr. Davey). Hon. Members were also urged by the late Government to oppose that Amendment. Both Front Benches, after opposing that Amondment, and the moderate and consistent measure of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Ceilings), were now thrusting him aside and pushing forward the Bill before the House, which he could not but characterize as a piece of ignorant and 970 mischievous philanthropy. He believed that the day would come when, as one of the results of the present spread of education, the good and true men of England, the provident and thrifty men who were members of benefit societies, would condemn this legislation. The hon. Member for Ipswich argued that a very large number of persons would be disfranchised if some Bill of the kind was not passed, and only proposed a temporary measure, which would have given a warning to the recipients of medical relief, and relieved them of the consequences of a surprise at the coming General Election, so that their votes might not be lost to the liberal Party. The Minister who had the administration of the Poor Law, bidding higher, now proposed, however, to remove for ever the disqualification, and thereby encouraged people to be thriftless and to misspend upon themselves money which ought to go to benefit societies and sick clubs. Ho would like to know why the Government thrust aside the moderate Bill of the hon. Member for Ipswich, and brought to the front this monstrous measure? He was astonished to find the hon. Member for Ipswich and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board racing together; the latter, he thought, quite as free-stepping as the former, and, in fact, a little faster. As a matter of fact, the number of persons who would be disqualified on account of the receipt of medical relief would be very small. For instance, in a rural Union of which ho was a Guardian, there had, in the last three years, been only two cases in which medical relief alone had been received. No doubt, in some Unions, a more lax system had prevailed. In Bradfield Union, in Berkshire, during the years 1874, 1875, and 1876 there were no fewer than 2,124 cases of medical relief. This was so serious that the Chairman of the Board of Guardians took the matter in hand, and, by offering medical relief only as a loan, he reduced the number of cases in the years 1877, 1878, and 1879 to 116. The people, when told that they would only be given the medical relief on loan, and that they would have to repay the Board for it, mostly refused it, and said they might as well have their own doctor. It would be well if this system was adopted in other Unions throughout the country. 971 In these cases there would be no disqualification, as the payment of fees was only deferred. It had been said in the House that there was no great difference between the qualification for admission to a hospital and that for obtaining medical relief from the parochial doctor; but there was a vital difference. Whereas, in the first case, it was sickness pure and simple, in the second it was sickness combined with destitution. In regard to the registration of voters, the law provided that in the ease of a poor person who had failed to pay the rates his registration might be objected to. The pauper who received relief in the shape of medical aid was to be allowed to vote; the other was to remain disfranchised. A Conservative Government, he presumed, would in time remove this disqualification. It would say that it was an unfair thing that this honest man, whose wife might have carried off the few shillings laid up to pay the rates to spend in the gin palace, should be disfranchised, and that payment of rate shall no longer be insisted upon in order to secure a man the franchise. Such unwise concessions were fraught with dangerous and mischievous results. The consequence of giving medical relief confirmed the persons who received it in improvident habits, and it led others to argue that as those who received such relief were allowed to remain on the Register they were as much entitled to similar relief without disqualification. He would ask leave to quote the words of a paper read by the Rector of Shotley, at a Poor Law Conference at Ipswich on this subject—The immediate consequence of giving a sick man a medical order may be that he is sooner restored to health and enabled to resume the labours of his calling. 13ut is this the only consequence? Are there no other results sure to follow which, as true friends of our fellow-men, we ought to take into account? Suppose the consequence of giving medical relief to a particular individual is that he is confirmed in improvident habits, and that his neighbours are discouraged in and deterred in future from efforts to secure medical attendance for themselves. Suppose the granting of medical relief to be a grievous obstacle and impediment to any general system by which the working classes might be enabled at a small cost to obtain medical attendance without submitting to the degradation of pauperism, and that they are thus induced to keep themselves always on the brink of destitution in order to qualify themselves for the relief provided for the destitute alone. Ought they not to make us think 972 twice before we make easy the descent from independence into pauperism.It was impossible to exaggerate the mischievous consequences to the poor which would inevitably result if this Bill became law, without the introduction in Committee of some softening Amendment. He trusted, however, the House would pause before passing such a measure; and he would, therefore, move the Amendment standing in his name on the Paper.
To leave out from the word "That to the end of the Question, in order to add the words" in the relief of destitute paupers out of any Poor Rate, this House declines to draw a distinction in favour of enfranchising those who obtain it in the form of medical treatment and those who are compelled to accept it in the form of bread,"—(Mr. Pell,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, the hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. Pell) had been somewhat unfair in the remarks which he had made to the Government. On Tuesday everyone knew that, if this measure had not been opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, it might have been got through in time for the voters to be placed on the regular lists. But the opposition offered to its passage, not only by hon. Members on the Government side, but by hon. Members on his (Mr. Jesse Collings') own side, had prevented that object from being attained. The hon. Member laid great stress on the information with respect to the number who were disqualified. For himself, he (Mr. Jesse Collings) did not take into consideration whether the number was 10 per cent or 50 per cent. The question was one of principle; and he held that when they passed a Reform Bill they should take care not to enfranchise with one hand, and then, with the other, to disfranchise a number of those whom they were supposed to enfranchise. He could not accept the compliment which had been offered to him, on the ground that his Bill was only for one year. It was made for one year against his will, and only to enable him to bring it before the House at all. It had been drawn by 973 the hon. and learned Member for Christ-church (Mr. H. Davey), who was now unable to be present; and it was intended to be retrospective, and he believed it was so, although all doubt on that point might have been removed by inserting a tew words in Committee. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) said that he preferred his (Mr. Jesse Collings') Bill to that of the Government; but for himself he would willingly give two of his own Bills for the one now before the House. As to the alleged appropriation of his "ewe lamb," he certainly asked for no sympathy on that account. The hon. Member further said that the measure was taken up in order to get the popular vote. That was a grave charge against the Government. In the long run the tools would fall to those who could use them. He and his Friends were true believers in the temple in which, for the moment, they were all worshippers; but hon. Members opposite were mere conformists to a creed which in their hearts they disliked. So long as the peasantry of this country remained in the condition to which they had been reduced, from the state of rude abundance in which they were at one time, to the position of mere hirelings, with a workhouse in return for what had been taken from them, it could not be expected that they would possess the virtues and excellences for which the hon. Member for South Leicestershire seemed to look. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) was himself no lawyer; but he believed that parochial relief of any kind did not disqualify a county voter till the Act of 1867 was passed, and the hon. Member opposite wished to make a new disqualification in making it affect a newly-enfranchised class. The overseer of a small parish in the West of England informed him that there were in that parish 29 agricultural labourers' families, and that 20 of those men would be disqualified, although they themselves belonged to clubs, on account of then-wives or children receiving medical relief. Again, a medical officer of health in a borough in Lancashire informed him that, as there had been an epidemic of small-pox in the place, he had persuaded the people to send their suffering children to a hospital in which the Guardians of the Poor paid for the food and medical attendance; and the 974 fathers of those children, who had been pressed into the hospital for the good of the community, would be deprived of their votes. He would give another instance—from Somersetshire. A gentleman of very good standing, who had canvassed a number of the Liberal voters, said that out of 20 he had waited upon 18 would be disfranchised. Surely that was a very considerable percentage. He had received a letter from a gentleman well known in that House; but he was not authorized to give the name, in which the writer spoke of a town which had 1,900 inhabited houses, and said the conclusion he had arrived at was that the receipt of medical relief would have disqualified rather under one-fourth of the voters in that town, and, about one-third of those who resided in the villages scattered throughout the division. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire had talked a great deal about the "Guardians of the Poor." He (Mr. Jesse Collings) thought that was a misnomer altogether. It should be Guardians of the poor rate elected for the administration of the poor rate. He had come to the conclusion that the Guardians, instead of being elected, as the Poor Law intended they should be, to look after the interests of the poor, were elected by men of property to keep down the rates, which they succeeded in doing by the exercise of cruelty and oppression. ["Oh, oh !"] He knew very well what he was speaking about, and it was certainly from an opposite point of view from the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. There was one thing which certainly required to be altered in connection with the administration of the Poor Law—namely, the giving of one vote for a particular rental, and then increasing the number of votes until they reached six for a £250 rental.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
rose to Order. He did not see that the remarks of the hon. Member had any reference to the provisions of the present Bill.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he knew that his remarks might be distasteful to some hon. Gentlemen opposite; but ho had been challenged by them in reference to this question of Guardians of the Poor, for whom they posed as the champions, and he said again that the Guardians were not elected to care for the poor, but to save 975 the rates. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) opposed the Bill from the point of view of political economy, or what he was pleased to style political economy, the exactitude of which position, however, he (Mr. Jesse Collings) disputed. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) said that destitution ought to be the only ground on which relief was applied for or granted. In passing, he would remind the hon. Member of the responsibility he assumed for himself by his Amendment—that there should be no difference made between parochial aid when received in the form of medical relief, and when received in the shape of bread. It might be an open question whether the hon. Member wished to include that or not. It was a very suggestive Amendment. The hon. Member stated that destitution was always the ground on which this relief was demanded and given.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he disputed that altogether. There were a large number of cases—one or two in every Union—in which medical relief was given, not for simple destitution, but because extra medical skill and help were required beyond what it was in the power of the ordinary wage-earner to command. Might he give an instance or two? He was afraid to appeal to the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) in regard to anything connected with the humanity of the situation. Let them take the case of confinements, for instance. Did the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pell) know how the poor managed in such cases? [Mr. PELL: Perfectly.] Then the hon. Member would admit he was right when he said that they often gave some poor old woman 2s. 6d., or 3s., or 5s. ["No, no !"] Hon. Members might say "No, No!" but he said "Yes;" and ho was glad to have the opportunity of enlightening them from the labourer's point of view. They had heard enough from the property and the Guardian point of view; but, as a matter of fact, in the case he had mentioned, the husband would give a few shillings to some poor old woman, who frequently got into a difficulty in regard to the case; for sometimes very difficult cases would 976 occur even among the labouring classes, and then the parish doctor was called in. He would give the House some idea of the extent to which serious oases took place by referring to the Farnham Union, a place which the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow) ought to know something about. In that Union there had been 60 cases of the kind in one half-year. [Mr. ONSLOW: What cases?] The cases to which he was referring were cases which did not come under the head of ordinary destitution, but which, from their gravity, demanded medical skill, which it was out of the power of the ordinary wage-earning class to provide cases such as broken thighs and arms, operations, and difficult confinements. Then, again, there were cases in which a certificate of lunacy was required. He had been unable to find out whether that came under the head of medical relief; but he believed it did. He had received a letter from one of the Visiting Justices of Surrey, in which the writer pointed out that a large number of poor men had their wives or children afflicted with lunacy. How was a poor man to pay £1 for a lunacy certificate, or £3 for attendance on his wife, in case of dangerous confinement? [A laugh.] An hon. Member laughed; but it seemed to him (Mr. Jesse Collings) that it was a disgraceful thing for a man, who was in a position to command every luxury and the highest medical skill, to laugh be-cause, unfortunately, cases sometimes happened in which the poor agricultural labourer was obliged to call in the parish doctor in the attempt to save, in the case of a confinement, what sometimes, even by the exercise of the highest medical skill, it was found impossible to save—namely, two lives. In the list he held in his hand of the Farnham Union, 60 cases were mentioned which extended over half a-year; and the expenditure upon them, in that single Union, amounted to £86. He thought that was an answer to the hon. Member who talked of destitution being the only ground on which medical relief could be legally given. Was it destitution? Did not poor people pay rates? If they paid rates, they were entitled to a fair assurance against misfortune. Would the hon. Member propose in that House to relieve from rates ail houses from £ 15 downwards which were inhabited by 977 persons of the class the hon. Member sought to deprive of their privileges? He did not anticipate that the hon. Member would be prepared to do anything of the kind. The political economy of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) was not to be commended, nor was it necessary that he should discuss it. The hon. Member said that the receipt of medical relief was corrupting and degrading, and ought to be an absolute disqualification for the exercise of civil rights—that was to say, that poverty was to be regarded as a crime, punishable with the loss of all civil rights. If a labouring man had the misfortune to break his leg, and was unable to pay the doctor £3, his hon. Friend would therefore deprive him of his rights of political citizenship. It was political economy run mad. It was setting up an abstract principle, and dealing with it in the manner and to the extent with which they might deal with the North Pole and the Solar System, instead of remembering that they were dealing with human beings. Assuming the theory to be right, surely it was to be regulated by the common necessities of human life. He thought it was highly dangerous to teach that degradation was synonymous with poverty. Were free education and free libraries degrading in the hon. Member's opinion, because they certainly came within the same category? The poor were bitterly insulted by having their poverty described as degrading. The arguments which were employed were the abstract arguments of the schoolman and of the Professor; but all humanity was against them, and, in the end, humanity would prove victorious. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Poll) had spoken of hospitals and dispensaries. He (Mr. Jesse Codings) believed that the free relief given by charity was, or should be, more demoralizing than the relief given by the community in their corporate capacity, which was what he understood by the poor rate. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) had cheered the declaration that a man should go into clubs. How could men go into clubs when they could hardly get a bit of bread for themselves and their children? Ho declined to treat the question as one of a mere set of opinions, with no reference to the varying needs of human beings. Poor relief, in his mind, 978 should not imply degradation, although poor relief had necessarily had degradation attached to it, owing to the miserable administration of the Poor Law. Passing by that question, he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. A. J. Balfour) to another matter, seeing that the right hon. Gentleman had been defeated on Tuesday by his own Party, in pressing forward a measure which he had evidently every desire to pass. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire seemed to look upon it as something marvellous that there should be anything like sincerity in a Leader of his own Party. To show how this question of medical relief might be made to operate, he would cite one or two cases which had been communicated to him. He had received a letter from a gentleman in Somersetshire, informing him that the doctor and the relieving officer of a particular parish were Members of the Conservative Party; and only the other night one of the Liberal voters was done out of his vote by the parish doctor pulling out one of his children's teeth, and reporting the case to his co-worker and, relieving officer. He could read letters giving dozens of similar cases; but he would not trouble the House with them. He would only give the substance of them, which was to this effect—that unless a large number of voters who had received medical relief were placed on the list before the General Election, the Franchise Bill might as well not have been passed at all, because the lists must be published by the 1st of August, and there would be no time to reinstate the names of these voters. It was quite true that they would have until the 25th of August to make their claim; but it was well known that the bulk of the agricultural labourers were not in a position to send in a claim. Therefore, he pressed on the right hon. Gentleman to complete his measure by ordering the proper officers to make out supplementary lists, which should contain the names of all persons who had been left off the regular lists by reason of their disqualification, owing to the receipt of medical relief. There was a letter published the other day by the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Cropper), to which, if the House would allow him, he would refer. His hon. Friend said 979 it had been represented to him that if the view of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire were adopted, many persons who were not paupers would be deprived of their civil rights, owing to the receipt of medical relief. His hon. Friend gave the instance of an engine driver, who went to a doctor because a spark had flown in his eye. It was said that the parish doctor could not put a man upon the list of paupers without an order from the relieving officer; but he (Mr. Jesse Collings) ventured to say that the majority of persons who received medical relief received it without any application on the part of the head of the family for an order. He had obtained evidence, in addition to his own knowledge, to bear out the contention that the medical officer had a carte blanche, as in the case of the child's teeth to which he had referred, to use his own discretion in cases in which relief was wanted. He had received letters describing the marvellous activity of the parochial medical officers in regard to the health of poor families within the last few weeks. Hon. Members would probably have noticed a case which occurred a few days ago. A woman was run over by a carriage and taken away to the workhouse, because there was no room for her in Charing Cross Hospital. The woman died, and the Coroner drew attention to the hardship of the fact that in consequence of the accident to the woman, and the taking of her to the workhouse, her husband would lose his electoral rights. If that were the case, would the hon. Member for South Leicestershire tell him that all these persons were not illegally made paupers? He (Mr. Jesse Collings) believed that they were. He believed that every man whose family received medical relief without an order from the relieving officer, and without an application for such relief, was illegally converted into a pauper, and in the majority of cases which occurred in many parts of the country it would be found that this was the case. He was quite aware that the medical officer would send in his report, in which the name of the man would be mentioned, and in some cases he would ask for an order after the report had been sent in; but he (Mr. Jesse Collings) contended that that was not an application for relief according to the Poor Law. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would 980 set the Local Government Board to work and insist upon the overseers putting all these men on the list who had been illegally disqualified. If that could be done, there would be a large number of those whose names had already been struck off who would be reinstated. And now with regard to clubs. Hon. Members opposite who knew anything about clubs would know that many of them were semi-charitable institutions supported by a large subscription list got up in the neighbourhood. It was quite true that the members generally paid a small sum per week, but they did not pay the value of the services they received; and, therefore, he contended that they received charity in the highest degree demoralizing. A system of demoralization was introduced which did not belong to medical relief given out of the rates. Private charity certainly did demoralize. It made the recipient a sort of dependent upon those who dispensed it. Medical relief had not that effect when dispensed from the rates. Ho had received a curious letter from an old labourer, and he would invite the attention of the advocates of domestic economy to these facts—for it certainly passed all understanding how persons in this rank of life could make both ends meet with the miserable means at their command. This labouring man said his wages were 11s. a-week, and out of them he paid 2s. for rent, 1s. 6d. for coals, 6d. for school fees, 4s. for bread, and the balance—3s.—was expended in butter, tea, sugar, meat, clothes, and so forth. He added—"Now, how can I pay for medical attendance?" The letter was very badly spelt, but the badness of the spelling was made up by the logic. He admired the ease with which hon. Gentlemen inside that House and outside, whose breakfasts and dinners came round with the regularity of the seasons, preached thrift and economy and every other virtue to these poor men who had to live on 12s. a week. Ho particularly wished the right hon. Gentleman to do what he had asked him, because he had seen a letter from Mr. Edward Strachey—for as the letter had been published he could give the name—in which that gentleman said that, as a member of a Board of Guardians in North Somerset, he had moved that the relieving officer should be instructed to warn all applicants for medical and other relief that its receipt 981 would disqualify them from voting at the next election, and to Ms surprise it was objected that such action on the part of the Board would be illegal. He had positive proof that there was a wonderful amount of activity just now among the overseers and those who were acting with them in obtaining the omission from the lists of those who were disqualified by the receipt of medical relief. The question resolved itself into this— They had passed last year a Reform Bill; were they now prepared to undo one-half of it, for it was a question whether they were going to disfranchise with one hand those whom they had enfranchised with the other? He hoped the House would wisely resolve not only to pass this Bill, but to make it effectual by adding to it the provisions he proposed. He admitted the desire of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire to protect the Poor Law; but he had a mistaken notion of the object and intention of the Poor Law. It was intended to be a beneficent helper, giving national aid to the deserving poor; but, in its administration, it had been converted into a weapon of degradation. An old man, who had worked hard through life, who ought to be respected as an old soldier, was degraded by the Poor Law into the position of the lowest of mankind. There would soon be a Party in this country who would demand that men who had served the community as good industrial soldiers should be treated, not as degraded beings, but as men who had deserved well of their country, who had fought the battle of life in a manner and under difficulties of which we had no conception, and who were entitled to receive very different treatment from that which had been shadowed forth by hon. Members on the other side of the House. He regretted that the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) should have considered it necessary to block the Bill, because he (Mr. Jesse Collings) should have thought that the hon. Member would have given way to the wishes of the large number of people who would lose the franchise if the views of the hon. Member were adopted. They had already passed an enfranchising Bill; and not to pass the present measure would be nothing more nor less than to disfranchise directly those whom they pretended to enfranchise.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD
Sir, the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Jesse Collings) has asked me one question of a business-like character, which will answer at once. I propose, in Committee, to suggest a clause for the consideration of the House, which I believe will get over all the difficulty with regard to placing the voters which this Bill will enfranchise on the Register. I do not think there is anything else in the hon. Gentleman's remarks which calls for notice. In fact, his speech appeared to me to be more or less in the nature of a general discussion on poverty in general not very relevant to the question before the House; but I hope my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) will, when he considers the length of the speech which has just been delivered, acquit me of conspiring with the hon. Gentleman opposite to rush this Bill through the House. My hon. Friend complained very much that I had not given more statistical information. Some information of a statistical kind I shall have to give before I sit down; but I would ask the hon. Member whether his objections are really to be met by statistics at all; whether it is not with him simply a question of principle; and whether the number disfranchised, be it large or small, is a question which concerns his argument? The principle embodied in the Bill has a very curious Parliamentary history. It has been four times before the House of Commons, in the last Session and the present, and on each occasion it was opposed very strongly by the late Government, three times on its merits; and though I admit that when the measure was in the House of Lords, after it had left this House, the late Government changed their minds, yet up to the time that the Bill left the House of Commons the late Government were opposing on its merits the principle of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan), with a cynical disregard of facts, has said—The Conservative majority in the House of Lords have only just now taken advantage of the difficulties we were in with regard to registration to disfranchise wholesale all those working men in rural districts who have had recourse to medical relief; and they do this without notice, at the same time that they are coupling 983 enfranchisement with medical relief in Ireland.The repentance of the late Government upon this question was a death-bed repentance; and it was made so late that they could not give the House the benefit of a last dying speech and confession. The House has never heard from any Member of the late Ministry the slightest defence of the relaxation which this Bill proposes; but though such an explanation has not been given in the House, it has been given in an authentic form outside, for it appears that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), after consultation with his Colleagues, announced that the reason why the late Government had changed their minds upon this question was because they were convinced by the debate on the Report of the Registration Bill that the numbers to be disfranchised were so great that, in order to prevent the Reform Bill being a farce, the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Christ-church (Mr. H. Davey) ought to be accepted. The exact words of the right hon. Gentleman were—Now that the full effect of disqualification had been made clear by the discussion in the House of Commons, the Government had decided to accept the Amendment which was carried on the Motion of Mr. Davey.There was not the slightest trace of that change of opinion shown in the debate; and it would have been very odd if there had been. As far as I can judge from a study of the debate, the only evidence of the large number to be disqualified was given by the hon, and learned Member for Christchurch, on the authority of an anonymous correspondent, who asserted that probably one-fifth of the newly-constituted voters would be disfranchised if the Amendment now embodied in this Bill were not carried. The facts which I am about to give to the House will show that it would be more accurate to say one-fiftieth than one-fifth; so that the only reason given by the late Government for its change of opinion is purely imaginary. I may tell the House that there are no statistics in the possession of the Government that would clearly set forth what the House wants to know. Therefore, as soon as I had command of official machinery, I set to work to try and find out what I could on the subject. I wrote to the 984 Inspectors of the Local Government Board in various parts of the Kingdom, asking them to ascertain from representative Unions—urban, semi-urban, and rural—howmany male persons above 21 have received medical or surgical relief for themselves, their wives, or their children, in the year ending Lady Day, 1885. [Mr. JESSE COLLINGS: Are they all rural Unions?] I have already said that I asked the Inspectors to give Returns from representative Unions, comprising urban, semi-urban, and rural Unions. I obtained Returns from 124 Unions, with a population of 6,626,000; and in making out the average for these Unions I find that it is 2£.5 per 1,000 who have received medical relief. [A. laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) seems to regard the proposition as ludicrous; and the reason may, perhaps, be that he is chiefly acquainted with Birmingham. Out of the 124 Unions from which I have received Returns, Birmingham stands eighth from the top for the amount of medical relief given; and whereas the average for the list was 2£.5 per 1,000, for Birmingham it was 7£.6. To return to the general question, I have separated, as far as possible, the Unions which are purely agricultural from the Unions which are purely urban; and I find that the rate per 1,000 for purely agricultural Unions is 2£.2, and for Unions chiefly, if not wholly urban, it is 2£.7, showing that the amount of medical relief given in towns is slightly more than that given in the agricultural districts. [Mr. CHIL-DERS: Medical relief only?] Medical relief only. Again, I have tried a different system of comparison; I have lumped the two classes together—the almost exclusively agricultural and the semi-urban, and compared these with the purely urban, and the rate in the former is 2£.1, with 2£.7 in the latter; so that, if we manipulate the figures in that way, we again find that the amount of relief given in the rural and semi-urban districts was slightly loss than in the urban. I shall be glad to show the originals of these statistics to any hon. Member who may take an interest in them. I think that inferences of some interest may be drawn from these statistics. In the first place, the particular contention of those who object to the Bill on the ground that, if we take away the stimulus of the 985 vote, people would more readily accept medical relief, is done away with. In the semi-urban districts the number per thousand is slightly higher than in the rural districts, and in the urban districts it is higher than in either. I also draw this conclusion—that there is no ground, on the face of these statistics, for supposing that this Bill would seriously injure friendly societies, because those institutions chiefly nourish in towns. ["No, no!"] I think that is so, where, as I have already stated, the amount of medical relief is higher than it is in the country districts. Nor do I think it would have any serious effect upon friendly societies; because, after all, most friendly societies do much more than give purely medical relief. They give wages during sickness, insurance against death, fees for burial, and so forth, and I do not think that any man would be prevented from joining a friendly society in consequence of the notion that the small fraction of the work of the friendly societies represented by medical relief is going to be done by the rates. I hope we may, therefore, infer from the figures I have given that this measure, in effect, is very much smaller than has been supposed. If that be true, it is also true that under the existing law there are inequalities which it is very difficult to maintain. Those inequalities are of two kinds. They are either natural or accidental, or they are the result of legislation. The natural and accidental inequalities are those which arise from the fact that, in certain boroughs and districts, there are large charities, from which the poorer classes may draw relief without losing their votes; whereas in other districts there are no such charities, and the poorer classes are there either reduced to take the medical relief and to lose their votes, or to sacrifice that relief. The legislative inequalities are of very recent origin, and were introduced by the late Government, not very long ago, in the case of Ireland. In Ireland, as the House is perfectly aware, medical relief does not disqualify; and, therefore, if this Bill does not pass, there can be no doubt whatever that you will have, among the poorer classes of England, a feeling that they are being treated with greater hardship and greater inequality than their Irish fellow-subjects. My right hon. Friend sitting near me 986 the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) warned the late Government that if they gave to people in Ireland who accepted medical relief a vote, they would also have to give it to people who accepted medical relief in England. The late Government were very late, indeed, in learning that lesson themselves. Admitting, as I do, that the Bill removes certain inequalities very hard to defend and maintain, I yet most freely grant that the change which we ask the House to introduce into the Poor Law is one of a most grave and momentous kind, and I fully grant that it rests with the Government to justify the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) has given his views frankly as to why such a Bill is necessary. He has told us that the existing law is a monstrous injustice, an intolerable thing, and an iniquity, although his Friends defended this monstrous injustice, intolerable thing, and iniquity, three times in this House. [Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: Hear, hear!] Those are the views of the right hon. Gentleman; but they are not the views of Her Majesty's Government. If Her Majesty's Government had thought it an intolerable wrong, we should not have tolerated it since 1867. If we had thought it an intolerable thing, we should not have opposed the alteration in the law at the end of this moribund Parliament; and if we had considered the present law to be an inquity, we should have proposed some wider scheme than that suggested, in the first instance, by the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. H. Davey), and afterwards embodied in the Bill of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings). Sir, the reasons of the Government are of a different kind. What is the objection which, in the minds of the majority of this House, has so long prevented a relaxation of the law? It has been thought by the House that to disqualify those who are obliged to receive relief out of the rates is a method of teaching the lesson of thrift and self-dependence —a most valuable, if stern and austere lesson. That was the lesson which it was the intention of the law to teach the labouring classes of this country. Does any Member of this House think that, whether this Bill be passed or not, that lesson will continue to be taught? 987 Does not every Member in this House know that the recent action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) has entirely altered the position of this question? The lesson tow hich I have referred is no longer taught to the labourers of this country. The labourers no longer say, when they have lost their rights as citizens, and have sunk in the scale of citizenship through want or misfortune—"We will struggle to the best of our ability to restore our position." They no longer say that, but they say a very different thing. They say—"A political Party or class desire to keep us out of our just rights for their own selfish and political ends;" and I hold that that is a lesson not worth teaching to any class of the community. Let me endeavour to make myself clearly understood. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly aware that the whole strength of the Liberal organization throughout the country, from the Cabinet Ministers of high standing and the future Leaders of the Party down to the humblest wire-puller of the Caucus, has been occupied during the last month in impressing upon the agricultural constituencies of this country that they are kept out of their rights, and that the whole and the sole reason why a particular Party and a particular class are keeping them out of those rights is that purely selfish motives may be served. Instead of the disqualification teaching, as it was intended to do, a stern lesson of the necessity of industry, self-exertion, self-reliance, and self-respect, it now teaches nothing but class prejudice and bitter political feeling. That is the lesson which is being spread abroad by the exertions of the right hon. Gentleman and his followers from one end of the country to the other. The salt of the old law has lost its savour; it is trampled under foot by contending factions; it is fit only to be cast away. I am bound, before I sit down—and I hope it will be admitted that I have not been as long as either of my Predecessors—to say something respecting the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell). It alleges that there is no distinction between the different forms of destitution. My hon. Friend asserts that every kind of destitution, however caused, and however it is to be remedied, ought to be classed together. 988 If my hon. Friend is of that opinion, he ought not only to object to this Bill, but to that provision of the Education Act which enables a child to get education. [Mr. PELL: I did object to it.] My hon. Friend will admit that I am not introducing, from that point of view, any innovation in legislation. I will go further; and I will not only say that the Legislature has drawn a distinction between one kind of destitution and another, but that it has also drawn the particular distinction which the Bill now seeks to enforce. This was done by the Municipal Corporation Acts, when it was enacted that a man who had received medical or surgical assistance from the trustees of some charity should not, on that account, be disqualified from being enrolled as a burgess. Not only have distinctions, therefore, been drawn between one kind of destitution and another, but distinctions have been made between one kind of relief and another long before this legislation was introduced. As a proof of that, I need go no further back than the Irish case. My hon. Friend asks the House to decline to draw a distinction in favour of enfranchising those who obtain relief in the form of medical treatment and those who are compelled to accept it in the form of bread. It is too late to ask the House to do that. The House has drawn such distinction in the most emphatic language. It has done so this very Session. Not only has the House drawn the distinction that my hon. Friend asks it not to draw, but the natural feelings of mankind have drawn a distinction between the case of a man put out of work by some unfortunate accident, but prepared and able to support himself, if helped, and that of a man who gives up the battle of life and asks to be supported out of the rates. I do not say that the distinction is as profound as I should like; but, as I have said, it is a distinction which has not only been recognized by the House, and it is one which is justified by the natural feelings of mankind. No greater proof of that could be shown than in a fact which has come to my knowledge—namely, the circumstance that in more than one constituency at the present time the agents of the two Parties have declined to make medical relief a ground for seeking to take a man's name from the list of voters. I object to my 989 hon. Friend's Amendment, because it asks the House not to do that which it has done more than once in the most emphatic manner; and I also object to it because I think that by the Amendment my hon. Friend is allying himself with those from whom he differs most profoundly. I think the time might come when the hon. Member for Ipswich would say—"Why do not you extend this relief from disqualification on account of the receipt of medical aid to every other kind of aid from the rates, since you have to-night announced that, in your view, there is no distinction between the two cases at all?" If my hon. Friend's object is to defer such an event as long as possible, how can he consistently go into the Lobby and do the very thing that will promote it? The hon. Member for Ipswich contends that because my hon. Friend announces that there is no distinction, in his mind, between medical relief and outdoor relief, both should equally be made no ground for disqualifying voters; and, in his premises, he finds an ally in a Gentleman who differs most profoundly from his conclusion—I mean the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), who belongs to what may be called— I will not say the antiquated, but the ancient school of the Liberal Party The hon. Member draws his creed from the ancient traditions of the Liberal Party, at a time when the Liberal Party held very different opinions from those which they now hold. The hon. Member still believes in what is, perhaps, the most glorious page of Liberal history—he still believes in the Poor Law Act of 1834, and in that belief he stands, as far as I can see, very much alone among his Friends; but how can my hon. Friend, holding that belief, vote for the abolition of the only distinction which now divides us from the removal of all disqualification on account of outdoor relief? I hope that my hon. Friend will turn these things over in his mind before he gives his vote. For my part, I am quite clear as to the vote which I am going to give, and the grounds for it. I do not think that the House ought to be asked to accept any Bill on Party grounds. It is not on Party grounds that I appeal to hon. Members to support the Government in the Lobby to-night. The 990 grounds we take are of a wider kind. We ask the House to throw away the husk now that the kernel has been destroyed. The spirit which has animated the Poor Law, with regard to this matter, has been destroyed by the action of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Chamberlain) and his Friends, and all that the Government now wish is to cast away a useless and worn-out machinery.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Sir, I have listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest possible interest, as I always do listen to his speeches, and I may say that there is no one in the House who is a more sincere admirer of the right hon. Gentleman's ability than I am; but I have listened to him with special interest on this occasion, because there was a mystery about his speech, and I was not able to discover, until the concluding sentences of it, whether the speech was in favour of the Bill or against it. The right hon. Gentleman told us, in his concluding observations, that he is quite clear as to the way in which he is going to vote; and I think it will come as a revelation to the House, after a speech, the greater part of which has been against the principle of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced. The right hon. Gentleman has certainly contrived most admirably to dissemble his love for the Bill, which has been introduced on the authority of the Government of which he is a Member. At the outset of his remarks the right hon. Gentleman said there was no necessity for him to reply to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings). That appears to me to have been very natural on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, who evidently has very little sympathy with the views of my hon. Friend. Indeed, he has very little sympathy, I am afraid, with the clients of my hon. Friend. At any rate, if he has any sympathy with the agricultural labourers of this country, he has contrived, in a matter which closely concerns them, to keep that sympathy absolutely to himself. Not one word has the right hon. Gentleman said which showed any consideration for the difficulties of this class, the necessities of their condition, the sacrifices they are 991 called upon to make, or the circumstances under which this medical relief becomes necessary; but he has supported the Bill wholly and entirely on the ground that a statement made by me, after the resignation of the late Government, has rendered it impossible for a Conservative Government any longer to offer opposition to it.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD
I referred, not to the late Government, but to the organization over which the right hon. Gentleman presides.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman could have paid me, or the organization over which ho has mistakenly said that I preside, a compliment for which we can be more grateful than that, in this question, and perhaps in many others, it may control the action of Her Majesty's present Government. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has given us a portion of the history of this discussion, and he has told us, with perfect truth, that the matter has been more or less before the House of Commons on four separate occasions, and that on three of those occasions the continuance of the enforcement of this disqualification was supported from the then Treasury Bench. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to whatever credit he can obtain from the fact that he has followed the late Advisers of the Crown. But the right hon. Gentleman has omitted to continue the history. He has omitted altogether to tell the House that when the effect and character of this disqualification became evident, and when a majority of the House of Commons decided that it should be removed, that decision was frankly accepted by the late Government, and when the matter was again raised in the House of Lords the Ministers present in that House supported the decision of the House of Commons, and it was only reversed by a majority of Tory Peers But even if it be admitted that the Liberal Government were to blame for the view they took at the outset, at all events their repentance came a little earlier than that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Their repentance came from information given in the course of the discussion of the matter; but that discussion had no effect upon the right hon. Gentleman or his Friends.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Then will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the information was that subsequently brought him to a real repentant stage? We know what converted us on this side of the House. For my own part, I did not require much conversion, because I had never voted for this disqualification; but, speaking for the late Government as a whole, I may say deliberately that we had no idea that a provision which had existed so long in the boroughs, without serious objection, was open to so much objection when it was to be applied to the new constituencies in the counties. The effect, however, of this provision in the counties had become evident to us, at all events, in the course of the debates; and it was proved to our satisfaction, though not to that of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the circumstances of the rural population varied very much from those in the borough constituencies, and that this provision would have a most serious effect in disfranchising many of those whom we desired to enfranchise. Accordingly, these facts were brought to the knowledge of the House of Lords by the then Ministers; but, in spite of that, the House of Lords re-imposed the disqualification which the House of Commons had removed. That was the position of the late Government, and it was a satisfactory and a consistent one, which I am perfectly prepared to defend both here and in the country. But now let us see what is the position of hon. Members opposite and of the right hon. Gentleman himself. Up to the time when the House of Lords, on the Motion of Lord Balfour, re-imposed the disqualification, hon. Members opposite were all of opinion that no case had been made out for its removal. Has any case been made out since? Not a bit. Then, why does the right hon. Gentleman stand up in his place-—evidently to show that he does not believe either in the propriety, the morality, or the necessity of the measure, and, nevertheless, to propose it? What does the right hon. Gentleman seek to do? The right hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to attribute the passing of this measure to the personal influence of the humble individual who is now addressing 993 the House. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that my personal influence will continue, at all events, as long as a Conservative Government is in Office. But that does not altogether satisfy me. I want to know whether there is any other influence at work with the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends, and what other reason there is for the present Government bringing in this Bill, except my personal influence? What is the reason of the sudden conversion of the Conservative Party on this question? I believe that, as the Conservatives are now in power, they are anxious to show the future agricultural voters that "Codlin is their friend, and not Short." I have nothing more to say. [Ironical cheers.] I like to hear those ironical cheers. I take them as a compliment, because they show that hon. Members opposite do not wish me to say anything more, and that, therefore, I have said enough for my purpose as to the history of this matter. I will now turn to the merits of the case. The right hon. Gentleman has given to the House—I confess that I could not follow them very closely—some figures which, he said, were compounded from experience in the boroughs and rural districts. But the House has to look to the figures obtained from the rural districts alone, and not from the boroughs. In fact, this question affects boroughs in but a very slight degree; and, possibly, the boroughs might never have asked for a change of the law in this respect as far as they are concerned. In the counties, however, it is very different. I do not know from what sources the right hon. Gentleman has obtained his information; and, unless we are supplied with a Bo-port from the whole of the country, I venture to think that statistics from selected constituencies will be altogether insufficient and unsatisfactory.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR)
I did not select the constituencies from which the figures were obtained.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Possibly I am in error upon that point, and the constituencies have been selected, not by the right hon. Gentleman, but at his instance. There are many other cases besides those which have been cited by the right hon. Gentleman, which are 994 known to me and my Friends, and the information which I have received, shows that, unless this Bill is passed, the disfranchisement, through the reception of medical relief, will be of the most serious character, amounting, in some cases, from 25 to 30, and in others to 50, per cent of the electors. [The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head; but if he reflects for a moment, he must see that that must necessarily be the case. The extent of the disfranchisement must vary in different places and at different times. It varies in respect of the circumstances of a particular character. I have heard of one instance, in which an epidemic of measles broke out in an agricultural district, and the labourers there were invited and pressed to receive medical relief for the purpose of preventing the infection from spreading, and is it to be said that because these people consented to receive that medical relief for the benefit of the community, they are unfit to exercise the franchise, and are to be deprived of all their civil rights? Probably they would have no choice between parish relief and incurring a debt which they could never pay. But, even without these exceptional cases, very strong grounds have been made out in favour of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has so unwillingly introduced. I do not care about the motives of the right hon. Gentleman—I am grateful to the Government for having adopted the Radical platform in this and in a good number of other instances. It is a great satisfaction to me, that although I do not admit that this Administration is likely to be very long-lived, yet, at all events, in the course of its brief existence, it has taken its stand upon the Radical platform. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having introduced this Bill against his will, and I am still more grateful to him for having adopted the clause of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) which makes it retrospective. [Cries of "No !"] No; it is not the clause of the hon. Member for Ipswich, neither is this Bill that of the hon. Member for Ipswich; but both the clause and the Bill are singularly like those of my hon. Friend's. Let the present Administration take all the credit they can get for the introduction and passing of Radical measures. I am content to have 995 those measures, and so long as they continue to introduce and to pass them, I shall recognize, in that respect, the advantage of having a Conservative Government in Office.
§ MR. FINCH - HATTON
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House concluded his remarks by congratulating the Government upon having raised Radical politics to a higher plane, and I certainly think that if they can succeed in doing that they will establish no mean claim upon the gratitude of the country. If any proof were wanted of the necessity for it, it will readily be found in the two speeches which have just been delivered on the other side of the House. In rising to make a few observations upon the Bill, I may explain that I do so for two reasons. First of all, that I have the honour to represent one of the largest agricultural constituencies in the Kingdom, and one which will still remain so under the provisions of the new Act; and, secondly, because I have, within the last fortnight or three weeks, addressed that constituency at no less than nine or ten public meetings, and I find that this question is one which commands their undivided attention. I am exceedingly glad, from conviction, to be able to support the Bill of Her Majesty's Government, and, in standing upon that platform, I rather think that I occupy a position which both Parties in the State are trying to attain, but which neither have occupied very long. I am not able to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), although, in matters connected with local taxation, I have generally agreed with the views he has expressed. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. A. J. Balfour) seemed to consider the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jessie Collings) as scarcely worthy of attention, and I so far agree with him that I think most of the arguments adduced by the hon. Member in that speech were not worthy of the attention of the House. Nevertheless, as they were not addressed so much to the House as to persons outside of it, and as the speech itself appeared to be intended not so much to convince the House of the merits of the Bill as to convince the country that the political opponents of the hon. Member are the enemies of the working classes, 996 I certainly think that the observations of the hon. Member deserve some notice. I and many other hon. Members on this side of the House, who have lived all our lives among the agricultural labourers, listened with bowed heads to the homily addressed to us by the hon. Member who has lived all his life in towns, but who, nevertheless, takes so much pains to enlighten us from the labourers' point of view as to what they really want. The hon. Member spoke of the cruelty and oppression exercised by Poor Law Guardians, and I understood him to say that with a few honourable exceptions they make it their business to take care of the interests of the ratepayer only, whereas they ought to be the guardians of the poor. Has it ever occurred to the mind of the hon. Member that a person of ordinary intelligence, who desired to do his duty, might possibly be both, and that there is nothing inconsistent in his being the guardian of the ratepayers and also the guardian of the poor. Has it never struck him, when he talked of the poorer class of ratepayers, that those are poor persons who are required to pay rates, and who ought to have their interests guarded just as much as those who receive relief? Many persons who are very poor indeed are nevertheless called upon to contribute towards poor rates, and of my own knowledge I can say that, in the country districts, they form a class who have suffered more than any other during the late depression of agriculture. The fact that the hon. Member must have known of the existence of such persons ought to have convinced him that the guardians of the poor ought not only to study the interests of the pauper, but to watch carefully those of the ratepayer, and in so doing it will, I think, be found that the two duties are not inconsistent with each other. The hon. Member went into a very curious argument, and one which I should not have expected to hear from either side of the House, when he proceeded to describe friendly societies as demoralizing institutions.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I am sure that the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent what I said, but he is absolutely doing so.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
Will the House allow me to say that I never used the words "friendly societies" throughout the whole of my speech.
§ MR. FINCH-HATTON
I hope the hon. Member will not draw a verbal distinction as to whether he meant "clubs" or "friendly societies."
§ MR. FINCH-HATTON
Friendly clubs, then. I have the words "friendly societies" on my notes, but it may possibly have been "clubs." The hon. Member spoke of clubs to which working men belonged, and I am quite prepared to argue the question out in the House; for I believe I can convince not only the House, but even the hon. Gentleman himself, that what he was talking of was what we generally call "friendly societies."
§ MR. FINCH-HATTON
The hon. Gentleman talked about the institutions to which the working classes belonged, but to which they were not able to contribute sufficient themselves to enable them to secure the benefits insured for, and which, therefore, had to be further supported by the subscriptions of charitable individuals. Those were the institutions —call them "clubs" or "friendly societies," or what you will—of which the hon. Member spoke, and he said that they were demoralizing on this extraordinary ground—that, whereas it was demoralizing for a person to accept charity from a private individual, it was not demoralizing to accept what he was pleased to call public charity in the shape of out-door relief. Has it ever struck the hon. Gentleman that charity, to be charity at all, must in its very essence be voluntary? You cannot call the sum wrung from the ratepayers, perhaps against their will, charity; it is an abuse of terms to call it public charity. I understood the argument of the hon. Member to be that, while it is not degrading to accept Poor Law relief, which is public charity, it is degrading for a poor person to accept private charity. Now, I must say that my experience, and I think I am borne out by the ex- 998 perience of human nature, is altogether contrary to that. We constantly find, in the rural districts, persons of the higher and of the lower class who are on terms of perfect friendship, who entertain the greatest respect for each other, and yet the one is constantly in the habit of giving to the other, and the other readily accepts the gift. But we do not find the existence of such a feeling between the Poor Law Guardians and the poor persons who apply for relief. They know, although they may not be able to define the distinction, that in the one case it is charity, because it is given from the heart, but that in the other it is not, because it is wrung from an involuntary contributor. The hon. Member went further, and he charged hon. Members on this side of the House, as if it were a peculiar thing, with lying-down at night in warm beds, with the luxury of comfortable pillows. I do not think that that luxury is confined to one side of the House; I should imagine that the beds we occupy are very similar to those occupied by hon. Members opposite, and I do not know that the bed which I myself occupy is warmer than that occupied by the hon. Member. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, such arguments as these are scarcely fair as between class and class; but they have the effect—I am sure unintentionally—of obscuring the real merits of the question. One word with regard to the merits of the question itself. For my part, although the right hon. Gentleman below me said that, logically, it might be very difficult to separate the two things—medical relief from other Poor Law relief—yet I am perfectly certain that we all of us do see the difference, and that we see it exemplified every day in the working of the Poor Law. We find that, constantly, the great difficulty we have in our agricultural villages is to get the poor to send for a doctor at all; and it is certainly not desirable, by any steps we may take in this House, to add to that difficulty. Then, again, there is a difference between the giving of ordinary Poor Law relief and the medical relief which must be given to persons who live in an infected district. For instance, an epidemic may be raging, or one of those cases may occasionally occur in a labourer's family which the hon. Mem- 999 ber has pointed out, and which may be difficult to deal with. The calling in of medical aid from the parochial officer, in such a case, surely ought not to place the person who receives medical relief of that kind in the same category as those who receive it in the ordinary form of Poor Law relief. We must remember that, in all cases, disqualification, whether by the receipt of medical relief or otherwise, is intended to be a deterrent. In one case it is a deterrent to a person from keeping up the battle of life, when by going on he might be able, by his own exertions, to place himself in an independent position; but in the other it is a deterrent to him from sending for a doctor when overtaken by a sudden visitation. If the hon. Member for Ipswich will allow me to say so, I think the weakest part of his speech was that in which ho failed to recognize the great benefit derived by the working classes from an honest independence. A man may be deterred from making an effort to secure an honest independence when he obtains the ordinary Poor Law relief; but that is not the case when the question is simply one of obtaining medical assistance. Perhaps the House will allow me to call attention to a fact which only came to my knowledge within the last few days during my visit to Lincolnshire. It is, however, a fact of some significance, and one which I think the House will do well to bear in mind on future occasions. When a case of this sort comes before a constituency, and the electors of the country generally, it is most important that we should be able to discuss it on its merits, instead of being simply discussed, as has now become necessary, as a mere Party Election cry. I have found it extremely difficult in my constituency to discuss this matter calmly upon its merits with the electors of the division. Even although I am myself able to say that I never voted against this disqualification being removed, but, on the contrary, that before the present Government had given notice of their intention of bringing in a Bill I was in favour of it, the question put to me within the last few days was not—"What are the merits of the question? "but—"Is it the Tory Party or the Liberal Party who want to deprive a poor man of his vote because he has received medical relief?" I 1000 think that that is not a good example to set; and I am afraid that if I must charge any individual in this House with the responsibility for such a state of things having arisen it is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). The right hon. Gentleman has attempted, not, I think, with very much success, to defend the line of conduct which he has thought it right to adopt on this question; but, curiously enough, he has brought the history of it down only to a certain point. I will venture to remind the House that there was a further stage which the right hon. Gentleman ought to have mentioned. He has carried the history of this question down to the time when it left the House of Lords; but it has since that time again been before the House of Commons. He has said that the conversion of the Members of the late Government was brought about after the previous discussions in the House of Commons, and while the measure was in the House of Lords. Ho says that that conversion was complete—that as soon as he found there were a number of voters in the counties who would be disqualified by the receipt of medical relief, and who would be greater than in the boroughs—a fact which I understand my right hon. Friend below me (Mr. A. J. Balfour) to deny—[Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Hear, hear!]—as soon as the right hon. Member for Birmingham became convinced of that, al though he has never condescended to explain upon what grounds—and my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board says there are no grounds at all—from that moment he dates the conversion, and the complete conversion, of himself and his Party. The assertion of the right hon. Gentleman is that it was after the Bill left the House of Commons, and while it was undergoing discussion in the House of Lords, that the change was brought about. But when the House of Lords restored the Bill to the condition in which the Government twice insisted upon placing it, the measure came before the House of Commons once more for consideration. The House must remember that this was after the complete conversion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to the merits of the Bill. But how did the right hon. Gentleman act when the question of rejecting or accepting the Lords' 1001 Amendments came before the House? A final attempt was made to alter the decision of the House of Lords, and the House of Commons, by a majority of 170 to 66, agreed with the Lords' Amendment retaining the disqualification; and among the Members who voted in favour of retaining it were the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) and 12 of the Colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), whose complete conversion had been entirely and once for all accomplished on the previous discussion in the House of Commons, and was announced to the House of Lords by the Lord Chancellor. Thus, on the first opportunity when that conversion ought to have borne forth the fruits of repentance, when the Lords' Amendment was before the House of Commons and might have been altered, instead of voting for altering it, and voting for what the right hon. Gentleman says was his conviction at that time, all the Members of the Government who were in the House at the time voted in favour of retaining the disqualification. In the light of that historic fact, I must say that the statement recently made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham outside this House appears to me to be one of the most extraordinary ever put forward by a responsible politician. The right hon. Gentleman is reported—and, I believe, correctly—to have said—What the Tories have not dared to do in the House of Commons, they put up their confederates to do in the House of Lords, and by making medical relief a disqualification for the franchise, they took away with the one hand what they gave with the other. This is monstrous injustice. It is an iniquity which, if not set right in this Parliament, it will he the first duty of the new Parliament to correct; and I do not doubt the country will be able to judge between the two Parties in the State.I do not doubt that they will. I put it to the House whether that speech, if it gave the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, ought not to have read in this manner—"What the Liberal Government have three times done in the House of Commons, the Tories have done in the House of Lords." That is how the speech, to have been a complete exposition of the facts of the case, ought to have read; but that would not have suited the purpose of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bir- 1002 mingham. I think truth is one of the greatest, if not the prime, necessity of English politics, and it has always been held to be so. Of course, I have nothing to do with the reputation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham. It is neither better, nor worse, as far as I know-—except that he is in a more responsible position —than that of many who go about the country imposing upon the credulity of the people. But I do say that I believe that truth is still so valued in English politics that the people of this country will never allow a statesman to lead who has once been convicted of so gross an attempt to mislead. I have risen simply for the purpose of giving one or two reasons for my own wish to support the Bill, and also to lay before the House the significant fact that it has become impossible any longer to discuss the Bill upon its merits in the country, the reason of that impossibility being the perversion of facts—I can call it nothing else—which has been put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham. That has been my task. It will be the task of the right hon. Gentleman to reconcile the statement to which I have referred with the conduct of an honourable and a truthful politician. I cannot conceive a more difficult one.
§ LORD EDWARD CAVENDISH
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had stated in his speech that this question was one of a momentous character. Those were words which, from the subject itself, and from the speeches which followed that of the right hon. Gentleman, appeared to him to be well-advised; and it would have been almost impossible to listen to the three or four last speeches made without thinking that the question had not been discussed in a spirit adapted to the occasion. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Finch-Hatton) said that he would endeavour to give some reason in support of the vote which he would be prepared to give. He (Lord Edward Cavendish) confessed that that was a question which had received for a long time anxious attention on his part; and he had come down that evening to listen to the discussion that would take place, in order to hear the arguments which would be used by Her Ma- 1003 jesty's Government to justify themselves in bringing this measure before the House. He should have been very glad indeed to have heard arguments adduced in that debate which would have enabled him to support the measure brought forward; but ho regretted to say that that was not the case, and he felt that the Bill was not only not necessary, but that it was a Bill calculated to do a considerable amount of harm. It was calculated still further to increase the difficulties of those administering the Poor Law, who conceived it to be their duty, as far as possible, to relieve only those who were absolutely destitute, never forgetting that there were thousands of ratepayers who were themselves only one degree removed from pauperism. The Poor Law system was of the most delicate and sensitive character; and it seemed to him that if they once introduced the principle contained in the Bill of removing the disqualification for electoral rights of those who received medical relief, they would be destroying one of the great safeguards against pauperism. He had said that he considered this Bill an unnecessary Bill; and for that statement he would briefly give his reasons. For many years he had taken part in the affairs of two probably as large Unions as there were in England, with a large population for the area they covered; and in those two Unions, one of which had a population of 20,000, and the other a larger population, he found that there was not a single instance of medical relief having been given last year in the case of the former, and that in the other Union, with a population of 40,000, or nearly as largo as the now constituencies that had been created, there had been only 17 cases of medical relief, and in many of those no vote would have been lost. It was the opinion of the vast majority at the conferences of the Poor Law Guardians, that medical relief was, in numbers of cases, only the beginning of pauperism, and that the spirit of independence being once sapped, resort to the Poor Law for general relief soon followed. The position of the two Unions with respect to medical relief, which he had just referred to, was due to the fact that everyone in them who took an interest in Poor Law affairs tried to induce the poorer population to join provident societies. He 1004 believed that the reason why medical relief in those Unions had been so slight was that this system had very extensively prevailed. If that was the case in those two Unions, he failed to see why it should not be so in other parts of the country; and he thought himself justified in saying that if the measure were passed as it would be passed by the two Front Benches, the discouragement that would be caused by reducing the number of persons who joined these provident societies would be most disastrous in its effect upon the country. Ho would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board the question how far ho intended to go in this direction? Was he prepared to go farther than the Bill before the House? [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: No, no!] The right hon. Gentleman dissented. It was difficult to say how far the Government would be prepared to go; but they had shown themselves very apt pupils of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) by adopting the measures coming from that side of the House. Was the right hon. Gentleman prepared to carry out the hon. Gentleman's theory —that no Poor Law relief should be a disqualification? If so, he (LordEdward Cavendish) would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would have the courage to introduce a Bill to remove every disqualification of the kind? The right hon. Gentleman might be assured that this question would be pressed upon him still further, and that the time would come when he would be obliged to say whether or not he was prepared to extend the franchise to paupers. He regretted that the measure had been introduced at all, and he regretted far more the rivalry which there seemed to be between the two Front Benches to outbid each other in appealing to the prejudices of the people.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he did not wish to give a silent vote on this occasion. It appeared to him from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), as contrasted with what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. A. J. Balfour), that there were still two opinions as to whether this measure would have a large or small operation. His (Mr. Selater-Booth's) own opinion had always been 1005 that it would have a very small operation; and if his right hon. Friend could rely on this Bill as expressing the whole of that which he intended to do, and if he could rely on the existing machinery for carrying it out, he thought its operation would be very small indeed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingharn had mentioned a case with in his knowledge, where 50 per cent of the population would be disfranchised unless the Bill became law. He gathered that the right hon. Gentleman was alluding to a case in which, owing to an epidemic, a large number of persons were maintained in hospital at the cost of the rates. But he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) would point out that those were cases which would not be met by this Bill. The Bill did not touch them. They were very hard cases, and they were of frequent occurrence in London; and he had always desired to see a change in the law by which the hospitals in London and elsewhere should be treated not as pauper establishments. In reading the provisions of the Bill he was disappointed to find that so little security had been provided as to the mode in which relief would be administered. He entirely trusted the Report of the Inspectors of the Local Government Board, who were as energetic a body of men as it was possible to find, and when they said that only 2 per 1,000 of the population would be brought within the purview of the Bill, he was satisfied that they knew exactly what they meant—that was, that only 2 per 1,000 of the population took medical relief with the addition of medical comforts which supported life, and which, in nine case out of ten, in his experience, accompanied it. But how was the overseer to discriminate between the two cases? He should have thought that the Local Government Board, with its great machinery, would have afforded some assistance in this matter by introducing clauses into the Bill, or by some other means. "When they came to consider the Bill further, he thought they ought to look into this part of the subject. When he had the honour to occupy the Office now filled by his right hon. Friend, he was constantly entreated by the advocates of private Poor Law administration to enforce upon Boards of Guardians throughout the country the desirableness of giving medical relief on loan. 1006 The subject had been very often discussed, and the doctrines relating to it wore very well known. The Union referred to by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) was in his own neighbourhood, and he was aware of the careful administration and watchfulness with which the Guardians had been able to get rid of medical relief altogether. In other Unions, which were not so well administered, that had not been possible, and they had heard of instances referred to by the hon. Members for Devonshire and Somersetshire, where 19 or 20 per cent of the neighbouring population would be excluded from the franchise if this Bill did not pass. Here they had to balance between political considerations, when, at a moment like this, they were enfranchising vast numbers of the people, and the strict doctrines of political economy which, if pushed too far, would sometimes provoke reaction. He had always declined, in his own cas9, to advocate, by any pressure of General Orders, the enforcement upon the Guardians of the method of giving medical relief on loan, as he had distinctly pointed out that in London and in the large cities in the North there was so much hospital accommodation to be obtained gratuitously that it was absurd to expect a greater amount of political virtue from the inhabitants of villages than was required from the inhabitants of towns. So long as the great London hospitals failed to extract a small payment from persons using the hospitals who were very well able to pay, so long he would not be inclined to put medical relief on the same basis as workhouse relief. At the same time the distinction was a very slight one, and he thought it was for his right hon. Friend to take care that while the Bill went so far it should go no farther. No one in that House, with the exception of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Ceilings), had advocated the extension of the franchise to out-door paupers. The outdoor pauper had been described as a labourer who fell a victim to circumstances and became the recipent of outdoor relief. There must be some of that class for whom they all had the utmost sympathy; but the instances were very rare of fathers of families being outdoor paupers, and he did not believe that the description given of the out- 1007 door pauper was, in many cases, at all accurate. He felt and believed that more harm would be done by rejecting the Bill than by pushing it forward. He thought that in many parts of the country, under ordinary circumstances, for disqualification in respect of receipt of medical relief, the individual voter would not be so much responsible as the Guardians, who had imperfectly administered the law. Therefore, provided that in case the Bill went on, they were assured that the Local Government Board were prepared, on their responsibility, to secure that the Bill should act in the way that had been described and within the limitations that had been laid down, he was, for his part, content that it should bo read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Courtney.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH)
I hope the hon. Member will not press this Motion. I am quite sure the House will listen to him with that attention that his remarks are certain to deserve, if he will but make them now; and, in that case, I think we might very well conclude the debate this evening. The Bill will be put down as first Order on Tuesday. I hope hon. Gentlemen who are opposed to the Bill—I think I might even appeal to them—will recollect that this matter ought to be decided at once. I think I may certainly appeal to the great majority of the House to allow the debate to be finished to-night.
§ MR. PELL
said, ho hoped the Government would consent to the Motion for Adjournment. He wished to say that he supported it from no desire to defeat the passing of an enactment. It was perfectly well known by those who took an interest in the question that there were several hon. Members who were anxious to address the House on the merits of the Bill, not in any Party spirit, on the one side of the House or the other. As opinions were much more equal on both sides of this question, and as a large amount of support was likely to be given to his (Mr. Pell's) Amendment, he hoped the Government would consent to the adjournment of the de- 1008 bate to enable hon. Members to address the House at some later period.
SIR WILLIAM HAROOURT
I do hope the House will support the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in resisting the Motion for Adjournment. After all, although this is a reasonably important question, it is not a complicated one. It is one that lies within comparatively narrow limits, and that has not been discussed to-night for the first time. It has been before the House on several occasions; its bearings are thoroughly well understood. We have had some very able speeches on both sides of the question; we are in a very advanced stage of the Session; and I am quite sure that everybody in the House or out of it will understand the Motion for Adjournment as only meaning an attempt to shelve the Bill. ["No, no!"] No other interpretation can be placed on a Motion of the kind, and I hope that those who, like myself, are sincerely anxious that this Bill should be passed, will resist the Motion for Adjournment as far as ever they can.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he begged to offer his support to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his opposition to the Motion, but upon precisely opposite grounds. He was one of those who objected to the Bill, and who intended to vote against it; but he appealed to the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) and the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Courtney) not to give any colour to the belief that might be created that this was a factious opposition. His opposition — and, he believed, that of his hon. Friend (Mr. Pell)—was one of principle, and ho did not desire to delay the measure from any improper motive. He was prepared to state why he could not support the Bill, and, when the next stage was reached, should certainly do so. The House would listen with great attention to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), if he liked to make his speech now; or he could make it on the Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair," and he would find the House equally attentive. He (Mr. J. G. Talbot) was sure the sense of the House was in favour of taking the second reading that night.
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of 1009 the Exchequer would accept the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard. The right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary had said the merits of the question were thoroughly understood; but he (Mr. Brodrick) begged most distinctly to say that, so far as he was personally concerned, he supported the Motion solely on the ground that the bearings of the question were not, so far as he could see, fairly understood at this moment. He did not desire to go into the merits of the Bill in the smallest degree. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) had stated, on the authority of statistics, that no more than 2 per 1,000 of the population would be disfranchised for receiving medical relief; but a right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Chamberlain) had stated a proposition the reverse of that—that, in fact, 30 or 40 per cent of the voters would be disfranchised in some districts. That was a discrepancy which almost made it necessary that the House should have still further time to consider the matter. He was quite sure that nothing like factious opposition was intended by the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard, and if the hon. Gentleman went to a division, he should certainly support him.
§ MR. HENEAGE,
who rose amid cries of "Divide!" said, it was all very well to cry "Divide!" but there were some of them who fought this question when it was not so popular as it was now, and who had fought it on every occasion they could — even when they had the two Front Benches against them. They had to thank neither of the two Front Benches for the position they wore now in. He did hope the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would stand to his guns, and that oven though it might be necessary to go on dividing until 4 o'clock, he would not allow this obstruction to succeed.
§ MR. ACKERS
said, he rose to support the Motion for Adjournment. [Cries of "Divide!"] He did so on the ground—[Loud and continuous cries of "Divide!"] He thought that those Gentlemen who desired to make progress with the Bill had better hear him patiently, for he was determined to remain there until they were silent. This Motion for Adjournment was a right and proper one, because they had heard from the right 1010 hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary that he was in favour of the Bill, and he thought the House ought to hear from so high an authority in the late Government the reasons which had induced him to change his opinion on this subject. There were many other hon. Members on the other side of the House as well as on that (the Ministerial) side who desired the adjournment. He earnestly hoped, therefore, that in the interests of those who desired to pass the Bill, as well as those who desired that justice should be consulted before expediency, the House would consent to the adjournment of the debate.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and negatived.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he wished to say one word before the House divided. The Bill proposed a disqualification in connection with the Poor Law Guardians which had never existed before. He considered it unfair to introduce that disqualifying provision, and the Government, he thought, should take care that the Bill was a qualifying one, and did nothing of a disqualifying character. In Ireland, under the existing law, questions bearing upon Municipal and Poor Law elections were decided by the Court of Queen's Bench, and there was no disqualification before that Court on account of receipt of medical relief. They now said that this Bill should apply in all cases except to elections for Poor Law Guardians. So far as he knew there never had been such a disqualification, and it appeared to him to be a most absurd thing in a Bill of this character to pass such a law by reason of the construction of a Statute which had never existed before. In Committee, he should ask the Government to pass a provision declaring "that the Bill shall not disqualify in any case where no previous disqualification existed."
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 279; Noes 20: Majority 259.—(Div. List, No. 232.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he had lost his right to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice, and he did not wish to make a speech upon it now. He rose for the purpose of asking the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he would so arrange 1011 that the Motion to go into Committee on the Bill should be put down as the first Order, so that they might have a fair discussion on that occasion? He did not suppose that the Committee stage itself would occupy a very long time; and, under the circumstances, he did not think his request was unreasonable.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.