§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
asked the President of the Local Government Board, Whether his attention has been called 573 to the case of James Westbury, an old Gloucestershire agricultural labourer, whoso case was decided by the Cirencester Bench of Magistrates on Monday last, the 21st; his son, a corporal in the Coldstream Guards, having met with an accident in the performance of his duty through an accidental explosion, was discharged, and is an inmate of the County Lunatic Asylum; the father was ordered by the Guardians to pay a contribution of 1s. 6d. a week towards the support of his son, and has for two years actually paid Is. a week, exhausting, in so doing, £3, all his savings, and obtaining £2 from his friends; and that, being unable to continue to pay, he has been summoned before the magistrates, and is now ordered to pay 6d. a week; it was proved by sworn evidence that his wages are now only 9s. a week, and for the past 12 months have only averaged 10s. 7d. without deducting three weeks when he was ill and unable to earn anything; and, whether he will consider the desirability of amending the Act of 43 Elizabeth c. 2, so as to prevent contributions being enforced on the very poor?
§ THE PBESIDENT (Mr. RITCHIE) (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
I have made inquiry as to the facts of this case. James Westbury, who has no wife or other person dependent on him for support, was summoned before the justices to show cause why he should not contribute towards the cost of the maintenance of his son, who is an inmate of the County Lunatic Asylum. From the evidence of the relieving officer it appears that Westbury in May, 1885, informed the relieving officer that he could not pay 1s. 6d. per week towards the cost, but was content to pay 1s. per week, and the Guardians assented to the arrangement. This sum he paid until a few weeks since, when he was advised by the solicitor in the case not to continue the payment, and in consequence of his refusal to do so this application was made to the justices. Westbury, however, in his evidence, denied that he had expressed his willingness to pay the 1s. per week. As to his earnings, his employer stated that from June to December last his average weekly earnings were 11s. 3d., and that his earnings were now 9s. per week. When he was on special work he earned more. The justices, taking into consideration the earn- 574 ings and the statement of Westbury as to his expenses, were of opinion that he was of ability to pay 6d. a week, and made an order accordingly. With reference to the liability of a person to contribute towards the maintenance of a relative who is relieved at the cost of the poor rate, as liability under the existing law only arises in the case of a person who the justices who make the order consider of sufficient ability, the Government do not contemplate any amendment of the law.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
Does not the Local Government Board think it its duty to protest against this harsh enforcement of the Poor Law against the very poor?
§ MR. RITCHIE
Of course, the Local Government Board are very sorry to see a harsh enforcement of this or any other law. The hon. Gentleman will see that the Act imposes a duty on the justices to say whether or not an individual is able to contribute; and it must be remembered that a large number of people who have to contribute to the poor rate are themselves not very far removed from pauperism. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that the interests of the ratepayers should be duly considered in the administration of the Poor Law.
§ SIR HENRY TYLER (Great Yarmouth)
Is it not possible that the War Department might be induced to contribute something towards the young soldier's support?
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM
said, that so unsatisfactory was the answer of the right hon. Gentleman that he should call attention on an early day to the whole question.