HC Deb 03 May 1888 vol 325 cc1285-307

Order for Committee read.

MR. STANSFELD (Halifax),

in rising to move an Instruction to the Committee, said, its object was to assimilate the electorate for the election of Poor Law Guardians to that for the election of the members of the County Council. This Bill and the Local Government Bill were closely bound up together, and he hoped he should not be out of Order if he took the present occasion to explain his proposal as a whole with regard to this question. Speaking generally, he should like to repeat what he said in opening the debate on the second reading of the Local Government Bill—namely, that he had no desire to do anything that could destroy the Bill or smother it with kindness. On the contrary, he positively desired that the scheme should become law. But he did reserve to himself the right of criticism and of bringing forward Amendments. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) would meet these Amendments with an open mind and judge them upon their merits. Some of them, if the right hon. Gentleman did not find them objectionable, might greatly facilitate the progress of the Bill. With regard to the question of the exclusion of the Poor Law administration from the jurisdiction of the County Councils, he admitted that the difficulties in the way were great, but he did not think they were insuperable. They merely required time, labour, and patience. He did not ask that the Poor Law system should be taken at once in and made one of the ordinary municipal duties of the County Council; but if it were contemplated that sooner or later the Poor Law system was to be taken into the county system, the way could be paved for that by assimilating the electorate. Certain functions of the Guardians of the Poor—those relating to sanitary matters—were to be taken from them by the Bill, while the administration of the Poor Law was to be left in their hands. The result would be that the least important branch of the duties of the Guardians would be performed by a new Body elected on a popular franchise, while the larger and more important functions would be discharged by a Body elected on an old antiquated system. He believed that the effect of refusing the popular franchise on the election of Poor Law Guardians would create a very unfavourable impression in the minds of rural communities, and would be a danger to the good administration of the Poor Law itself. He would point out that the workhouse test was not a perfect test, and that it weighed upon the minds of the working people of this country. It was, therefore, highly inadvisable to take any steps which might stimulate in the minds of the working classes a great distrust of the administration of the Poor Law, or which might lead to them to believe that the Government and Parliament would not allow them to choose their own representatives to administer the law. Having granted an extension of the Parliamentary franchise, and being about to extend the franchise for elections to the County Councils, they could not refuse to extend the franchise for Poor Law elections. If the right hon. Gentleman rejected his Amendment and the Bill went through the House without any such proposal being accepted, he would submit that the present state of things could not last, and if the change was inevitable the best plan would be to make it now. They all admitted the need of simplification of areas and of the functions of local government; but simplification was also required in the matter of registration. At the present time the system of registration was complex, difficult, uncertain, and expensive; but this Bill would add to the complexity and expense by creating a new register. What he proposed, on the other hand, was that there should be for all local government purposes, including Poor Law elections, one register, one franchise, and one method of voting.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to insert provisions in the Bill with a view to assimilate the qualification of electors of Guardians of the Poor, including the abolition of the plural vote, to the conditions prescribed in the Bill with regard to electors of county authorities,"—(Mr Stansfeld.)


said, that the question which the right hon. Gentleman had raised was one which did not require any very large amount of discussion at the present stage of the Bill; and, no doubt, the desire of the right hon. Gentleman was to raise it with a view to future action. He (Mr. Ritchie) wished to take that opportunity of saying that on a previous occasion, in consequence of the limited time at his disposal, he was not able to notice many of the points which the right hon. Gentleman had raised in the debate to which he referred. He valued very much the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman; but he felt that there would be ample opportunities afforded him for dealing with them when the Bill reached the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman had now alluded to many matters which formed points of discussion between himself and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). Upon those matters the House would feel that it would be hardly desirable that he should enter. Of course, the main question which they had to deal with to-night was the Instruction of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld). The impression left upon his (Mr. Ritchie's) mind was that the numerous points of great delicacy and importance to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded were a sufficient justification of the Government in not attempting to overload their Bill with this particular subject of the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with it in a somewhat peculiar manner. The mere fact that the right hon. Gentleman had to move an Instruction in order to carry out his proposal showed that what he proposed was quite outside the four corners of the Bill. In his speech on the second reading the right hon. Gentleman characterized as the great blot in the Bill the fact that the Government did not deal with the Poor Law. Indeed, he went further, and said that the new Councils were created side by side with the Boards of Guardians. But surely the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, instead of removing, would magnify, what he considered to be the great blot in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman must perceive that, instead of removing any anomaly such as he contended would be created by the Bill, he would only be setting up another anomaly of a distinctly larger character. Now, the right hon. Gentleman, departing somewhat from his proposal, said—"If you are going to give municipal work to the new Body which you are about to create, why do you not give to it also the administration of the Poor Law?" His answer was that the municipal work and the Poor Law work had always been recognized as being clearly distinct from each other. The Government hesitated to transfer powers of so delicate and so important a character as those connected with the Poor Law to a Board which did not yet exist, and as to the constitution of which they had no certain means of expressing any very decided opinion. The Government thought it desirable that at some future period all these matters should be administered by one Local Authority; but that was not the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. His proposal was that, whereas property had hitherto possessed a very large voting power in the election of Boards of Guardians, it should now have no voting power whatever. At present an owner and occupier might have 12 votes, six for occupation and six for ownership; but the right hon. Gentleman proposed that in future he should have only one vote. That was an enormous change, fraught possibly with very grave and important consequences. The Government considered that the right mode of dealing with this question, if they felt it could be done at once, would be to transfer all local matters to one Local Body. He was glad to recognize that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any other right hon. Gentleman opposite had charged the Government with a desire to increase by their proposals the stringency of the Poor Law administration, though it might be contended in some quarters that outdoor relief was given too lavishly. In Unions with which he was acquainted, where indoor relief was insisted upon to a large extent, the most philanthropic men were to be found serving on the Boards of Guardians. The view which those gentlemen took was that there was a point when outdoor relief was given where private charity ought to come in, and that where outdoor relief was given too lavishly it checked private benevolence. The burden of the rates would be almost intolerable if outdoor relief was given with too free a hand. But he recognized the force of the observation that the distribution of the contributions proposed by the Government might be an inducement to Boards of Guardians to administer the Poor Law in an unnecessarily harsh manner. The Government were now considering whether they might not make some proposal which would remove the objection and get rid of the difficulty. Nothing was further from their intention than unduly to press people into the workhouse. Though extremely unwilling to take up a strong attitude of resistance to any Amendments proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, he did not desire to conceal from the House what the effect of carrying this proposal would be. If the House were to accept it, the Government would be compelled to withdraw the Bill. It would not be possible for them to carry the Bill through if it were overweighted, as the Government considered it would be, by having to deal in this measure with the all-important question of Poor Law administration.

MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)

said, he wished to say a few words in support of the Instruction which had been moved by his right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) from a Metropolitan point of view, as he did net think that had as yet been touched upon. He was perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) would admit that nowhere was the work of Poor Law administration more difficult, delicate, or complicated than it was in London, and that nowhere was it more important that the Poor Law Authority should be in touch with every class of the community. But they did not secure that in London more than they did anywhere else by the present system of election and representation. In London at the present time they had great difficulties in Poor Law administration—difficulties which were not only recurrent, but which were increasing every year—because those who were skilled and expert knew perfectly well, and frequently alleged in their Reports, that there was in London a growing class for which there was no room in the labour market, crowded as it was to repletion, even to congesion. The Board over which the right hon. Gentleman presided had specifically stated this in a letter written to the Local Authorities during the period the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) was at the head of the Department. The reason he pointed this out was because he considered it essential, in the interests of the economy and efficiency of Poor Law administration, that the Boards of Guardians should have at their back popular support. They should feel that they rested on a democratic basis. Their administration would be just as strong—nay, it would be all the better—if they had more confidence in what they were doing. He thought it was perfectly clear that the Poor Law Guardians in London had, on the whole, done their work economically and faithfully; but they had had a great deal of pressure to bear, and that pressure was becoming greater every year. They saw from the papers how, when winter time came, it brought with it an increasing disorganization and misery, and how deputations, many of them of a tumultuous kind, were constantly waiting upon the Guardians urging them to relax the rules of Poor Law relief. And there was pressure from above as well as from below. In 1886 there was a Circular issued by the Local Government Board asking the Guardians to extend the outdoor relief system. Most of the Boards had expressed themselves satisfied with their existing powers; but he submitted that they would be all the more self-reliant if they could feel that they represented the community in whose interest they were entrusted with the management of these affairs. And that they could not do—it was not in the nature of things that they should—with a limited franchise and plural voting. Then, again, this matter was most important from the point of view of the applicants for relief. There were many poor people who would submit to almost any privation, and go to the verge of starvation, sooner than enter the workhouse or submit to the present labour test. What did these people see? Why, they saw a Body judging of their necessities upon which they themselves had no representation whatever. They saw that no voting power was given under a rating of £50. There was an anomalous state of things existing in London which was not found in other great towns—an anomaly which it was difficult to conceive could be allowed to exist when they were making democratic changes in their Local Government; this was the occasional presence at the Board of ex officio Guardians. They could see the force of the arguments used by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Stansfeld) just as much from the ratepayers' standpoint as from any other. It was said to the owners of property—"Suppose you have a profligate expenditure by a Poor Law Authority elected on the same franchise as the Local Authority of London, which is about to be entrusted with the many powers of the Metropolitan Board of Works, what will happen to you? "His answer was, that on no class did the onus of the poor rate fall so heavily as upon the very poor who were excluded from the present franchise. Rating under £50 did not give voting power.


The hon. Member is quite wrong.


said, what he meant was that there was only one vote for a rating under £50, and that the plural vote came in over that. He meant that the representation given to a person rated at a sum below £50 was very small indeed, compared with that given to the larger ratepayer which rose to six votes when over £250. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board need fear that by giving the mass of the community increased power there would be any tendency to increased expenditure. The likelihood was all the other way. He was convinced that those who depended on the Poor Law Authority would have reason to feel all the more dissatisfied when they saw a premium put upon indoor pauperism, as was proposed by the distribution already alluded to of the Probate Duty; and having that before their eyes, the Government ought to be all the more anxious to show these people that the class to which they belonged was adequately represented by those who had to administer the Poor Law. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board how he was able to show that by the Instruction moved by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Stansfeld) another anomaly would be created? The fact was, they would be doing away with an anomaly already existing. The Government were actually now going to give them one more franchise in London than they already possessed. London would possess five franchises under this Bill—namely, the Parliamentary, the County, the Board of Guardians, the Vestry, and the School Board. If the Instruction moved by his right hon. Friend were agreed to, this number would be diminished by one at least, and they would be so much better off. In the borough which he represented there were 27,000 ratings, the average of which was £47, and he should doubt very much whether, at an election for Poor Law Guardians, there were 10,000 votes recorded altogether. At an election they wanted life and reality. Well, he wished to know if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board realized what the people of London would have to put up with under the Government Bill? There would be an accumulation of franchises and registers. The rate book held good for the Poor Law, the School Board, and the Vestry elections; but they were going, by this Bill, to set up a municipal register similar to that possessed by the municipal boroughs in the country. They were going to add one more. They would leave the Poor Law Guardians to be elected on the basis of the rate book, and were going to give a municipal register for County Council purposes. He (Mr. Lawson) imagined that that was the case—that the municipal register would only stand for County Council elections. What was wanted was cheapness with simplicity in their local elections; and, so far as that went, if the Bill were carried in its present form they would rather lose than gain. They would do away with the cheapness secured by the use of the rate book for all present purposes. The right hon. Gentleman had made one remark which was, he thought, singularly applicable to London. He had said—"You must draw a firm line between Municipal and Poor Law administration." The right hon. Gentleman knew very well that the Metropolitan Asylums Board was really a Sanitary, and not a Poor Law Authority. With regard to that Board, they would find it difficult to say how far it ought to remain a municipal, and how far a Poor Law Authority. But he had risen for the purpose of pointing out that in London what they most wanted in these matters was unity, and he distinctly believed that they would gain in that direction if this Instruction were agreed to to-night. As the Instruction was opposed by the Government, however, he supposed it would not be assented to by the House. If it were adopted they would do much more than secure unity and cheapness, because they would benefit the Poor Law Authority and strengthen popular confidence in them. He admitted that the Guardians had done their work well in the past, but the effect of adopting the present proposal would be to place them on firmer ground. When they were creating a new register in London it would be perfectly easy to adapt it for this purpose. He had thought it advisable to put this matter from a London point of view, because he thought the people of London were suffering more than the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board knew from the multiplication of registration authorities and registers.

MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)

said, that when the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board first introduced his Bill he was inclined to think that he had made a serious mistake in not including in it any alteration in the Poor Law system; but when he (Mr. Llewellyn) began to remember what an alteration of the Poor Law system would involve, and had come to reflect on the fact that the administration of the law would have had to be placed in the hands of a new authority, he realized that this was not the time to make any alteration. He should not have ventured to say this much had it not been his advantage to have had in the country some experience of the Poor Law. He had been for 20 years a member and for 14 years Chairman of one of the largest Boards of Guardians in the West of England; and he could, therefore, say with some authority that to hand over to a new Body having no knowledge whatever of Poor Law affairs—the work of the present Boards of Guardians—would be to inflict on them a task which there could be no hope of their discharging with the efficiency and economy of the present Boards. There were many points connected with Poor Law administrations, which to touch on at all without affecting a thorough alteration would be a great mistake. There was the law of settlement and removal for instance. He did not mean to go into that subject more than to say that to hand over the duties of the Guardians in connection with the law of settlement and removal whilst the law remained in its present condition would be a great blunder. In addition to that, there was the difficult subject of the amalgamation of areas and workhouses to be dealt with, and the consequent economy which would be introduced. That matter had to be taken in hand when the question of the re-organization of the Poor Law was sought to be dealt with at all. Another question which had been touched on in several quarters during the second reading debate was as to the different assessments. They had in the country at this time an Income Tax assessment, a County Rating assessment, and a Union assessment—three distinct assessments. That in itself was a subject for a Bill, and if they went into it thoroughly it would take them a great deal of time to set it at rest. Well, those were his chief reasons for coming to the conclusion that the Government had done wisely in abstaining from dealing with the Poor Law question, and from handing over its administration to the new authorities. He himself had no fear as to the ability of the District Councils to deal with the question—no one who had had any experience of Poor Law work had any right to entertain such fear. Some hon. Members spoke as if they thought that the Government were inclined to shirk the question. An hon. Member who had spoken just now spoke in that strain—as if the Government were doubtful of the ability of the new Councils to undertake Poor Law work. He could not believe that such was the case, however. He believed they would have men elected to the new Councils capable of taking hold of and attending to these matters. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) seemed to think that perhaps one of the reasons why the Government did not hand over the administration of the Poor Law to these new District Councils was that they feared the new Boards would be too soft-hearted. Well, he did not believe that they would be so at all. It had been a charge against the Guardians in this House that they were too hard-hearted, and it was customary to ridicule them from the Benches opposite—especially to ridicule ex officio Guardians. Allow him to say—and in so doing he did not wish to be thought disrespectful to the hon. Members he alluded to—that it was a distinct disadvantage, so far as the understanding of this matter was concerned, to be associated altogether with towns; for hon. Members in that position, not having mixed with the Poor Law Authorities, were apt to think that there was a distinct line between the ordinary Guardians and the ex officio Guardians. He could only say that he had been associated as an ex officio Guardian in assessment work, and in matters affecting highways, sewers, drainage, and so on, and had never known any line to exist separating the elected Members from the ex officio Members. When once a gentleman having the leisure and the will to identify himself with this work took this work in hand as an ex officio, he seldom heard of the line separating him from his colleagues, and the line was altogether wiped out when he began to work with the elected members. He himself, during the years he had worked with the elected members of the Boards of Guardians, had altogether lost sight of the fact that there was any distinction whatever. He had thought it right to say this in vindication of the country Boards of Guardians. Where it was the custom for ex officio members who did not usually present themselves to attend meetings of the Boards whenever there was a job to be effected or an election taking place, or for any such like purpose, he thought it was very much to be resented. No one could deprecate and resent such conduct more than he did. Whenever they made a practice of taking part in the ordinary work of the Boards their ability was recognized, and they were on equal terms with their elected colleagues, but when they confined their attendance at Board meetings to such occasions as the election of officials, their appearance then was dishonourable. He should not have thought that the question of the distribution of outdoor relief would have formed part of this discussion; but the subject had been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Instruction, and by others, and he thought he might be allowed to say this much—that whilst he considered the proposal of the Government in the shape of a capitation grant for indoor relief a wise one, still, he was bound to say, at the same time, that he had his fears that under certain circumstances, and in certain cases, it might lead to hardships on the part of the Guardians and have an evil effect on the poor. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board spoke just now of his experience in connection with the Metropolitan Unions. Well, he had no experience of the Metropolitan Poor Law arrangements at all, but he was given to understand that in the Metropolis outdoor relief was the exception, and indoor relief was the rule. That might be so, and that system would be carried out in the rural districts also if they had the advantage which they possessed in London. In London they had the Charity Organization Society, and other societies to assist them largely in bearing the burdens of outdoor relief. There were many persons who were able and willing to pay attention to outdoor cases, and so those hardships, which were entailed by the application of a too rigid work test, were avoided. In the country districts they had no such organization as that. One hon. Member had referred to the subject of the advantage of clubs to the poor, and had said that it was the fault of the poor that they were without resources in their old age when they had had the opportunity of joining benefit societies, and had neglected it. But he would point out to hon. Members who made use of that argument that we had not yet done with the generation which had not possessed the advantage of clubs, and a great many men who were now in receipt of outdoor relief were men who, in a great many cases, had subscribed to clubs which broke down just at the time they wanted assistance from them. He believed that to do away with the system of outdoor relief—but he saw he was getting out of Order by dealing with this subject, and, therefore, he would defer his remarks upon this point to another occasion. He had risen chiefly for the purpose of saying that the Government had acted with great wisdom in not including in their Bill the question of Poor Law relief. But if they had now put off dealing with the question, he hoped it was only with the intention of taking it up again on some future occasion and bringing about a re-organization of the system. He trusted that when finally the Poor Law system of the country was handed over to the District Councils, those Councils would be able to carry it out, as he believed the Guardians in the past had carried it out, not only to the satisfaction of the ratepayers, but to the satisfaction of those to whom it was applied.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

said, he wished to express his great regret, not only for the fashion with which the Government had refused to accept this Instruction, but at the reasons they had given for such refusal. They at once rendered any discussion upon this Instruction utterly purposeless by saying that if it should be carried they would withdraw the Bill. That was, of course, an intimation to the whole of those who supported them on the Opposition side of the House that they were expected to vote against the Instruction, and to give a judgment upon the question without any discussion at all. But the reasons the Government had given were worse than this. The reasons with which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) had concluded were reasons which would prevent anyone from considering in the future that there was anything of a radical character connected with the proposals of Local Government reform, for he announced that to touch a man who, as owner and occupier, had 12 votes, and to reduce him to one vote, was something too awful for the occupants of the Treasury Bench to contemplate. Now, he (Mr. Bradlaugh) congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on that declaration, which was one which he (Mr. Bradlaugh) would take care, as far as he was able, to let the country understand as being the view of the Government in relation to the Poor Law question.


said, he was obliged to the hon. Member for giving him notice of what he was going to do in the country; but if he proposed to make in the country the statement which he had just made in the House, he (Mr. Ritchie) thought he would make a statement which was not at all correct. He (Mr. Ritchie) never said anything of the kind. In pointing out the nature of the change which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) proposed, he stated that that was one of the things which he (Mr. Stansfeld) proposed, and that it was at least an important one. Further than that he did not go.


said, he thought he heard the word "terrific."


No, no!


Or the word "terrible."


No, no!


said, he was sure he was mistaken; but, in any case, what he had said was his impression at the moment. At any rate, the manner of the right hon. Gentleman was terrifying when he was dealing with this question.


No, no!


said, that was the impression conveyed to him, but he was very glad to be set right. He understood now that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the reduction of the 12 votes to one vote, not as the most important reason for refusing this Instruction, not as one of the reasons for refusing it, not as a matter at all influencing him in any way, but as something so light that he desired to repudiate it, having tried to make an impression upon the House with it. Then, what was left? The great difficulty of introducing the Poor Law system into the Local Government reform at all. The whole scheme of reforming Local Government was difficult. Every one of the propositions in the Bill which had been debated for so long was difficult. He (Mr. Bradlaugh) had listened with admiration to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and had marked the skill with which they had dealt with these intricate matters, and the only excuse for a measure of Local Government reform was that it should either be complete in itself at first, or that it should contain the possibilities within it of being made complete. But, by refusing the Instruction of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board proposed to perpetuate the difficulty, or, at any rate, if he did not propose to perpetuate the difficulty, he would succeed in doing it. The right hon. Gentleman intended to keep the method of election, which he repudiated in his Bill, of plurality of vote. He declared it to be bad by the method proposed in the Bill, but he intended to allow it to continue side by side with his new method. The right hon. Gentleman said he desired to get rid of it; but that desire, it seemed to him (Mr. Bradlaugh), would be better shown by action than in words. They had under their eyes at the present moment, and within a few yards of them, abundant illustration of the evils of this method of plural paper voting. There had been this week an illustration of the difficulty in distributing the papers to the voters entitled to take part in the election of Guardians, and they heard declarations, he would not say of fraud, but of gross abuse on the part of the police in distributing the papers. There were occasions over and over again, in which charges of tampering with the papers arose, which could not possibly be made if the election of the Guardians was put upon the same footing as the elections proposed upon the County Councils. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that possibly this might be a fresh mistake—that it was indefensible to propose to elect two Bodies—that was to say a Body to deal with Municipal affairs, and a Body to deal with the Poor Law system—on the same suffrage. Why was it absolutely indefensible, except that it was absolutely inconvenient to the present Government to undertake it? What other indefensibility was there about it?


said, he did not know whether the hon. Member was asking him a question, but he looked as if he was. The reason was: if it was desired to constitute two Bodies on the same suffrage, and the same franchise, to deal with two subjects, the better plan would be to entrust the one Body with both duties.


said, that in that he quite agreed, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman who proposed this Instruction would much rather have one Body to deal with the whole matter than two. It was because they understood that the Government were not prepared to do right at once, but would continue doing some error, that they were endeavouring to put in their way a means of getting themselves right to some extent, instead of perpetuating their sin. He (Mr. Bradlaugh), however, would not occupy the time of the House by going any further in this matter. He desired, however, to emphasize the fact that when he addressed his constituents on this matter, he should notice that the present Government were not bringing forward a real and complete measure of Local Government reform; but that, under cover of being deterred by the difficulties of the subject, they were keeping alive side by side an old and a bad system and a new system, and preventing themselves from opening the door to a sound reform.

MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

said, he was glad the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had emphasized so clearly the determination of the Government to wreck the whole of the Local Government scheme, which was the main scheme of the Session, rather than accept this Instruction. When the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board declared that he would withdraw the Bill if this Instruction were carried, he practically announced that he would prefer the wreck of the whole Legislative Business of the Session to the adoption of the principle of this Instruction. It was well that the country should understand that—that they should understand that rather than simplify the method of electing Boards of Guardians, and doing away with the present system of plural voting, the Government were prepared to sacrifice their principal measure of the Session. And yet the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had not said anything in defence of the existing system; and, as had been already pointed out, he was abolishing this old system of election in regard to Local Boards of Health, and was only retaining it in connection with the elections of Boards of Guardians. Hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House who supported the Government were not to be allowed to vote on the merits of the question before the House, but were to be subject to the penalty of wrecking the whole Local Government scheme which was now before the country. The right hon. Gentleman had said that no doubt their might be advantages in amalgamating the work of Boards of Guardians with that of the District Councils. He appeared afraid that it would create serious dangers; but, in spite of those dangers, he was looking forward ultimately to that arrangement. The right hon. Gentleman's speech went in that direction, or it pointed to nothing at all, because he was opposed to having separate Boards of Guardians elected by the new franchise that was being created in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Somersetshire (Mr. Llewellyn) seemed still to regret that the Government were pursuing the course they were now taking, though he confessed that he had changed his mind on the subject. The hon. Member had told the House that, on mature reflection, he would not be willing to hand over the duties of the Poor Law Guardians to a Body without experience; but he went on to state that he did not fear for a moment either the ability or the knowledge of the District Councils. He distinctly said he was sure that the men elected to the District Councils would be men fully qualified to discharge the duties at present performed at the Boards of Guardians. It should be remembered that the hon. Member's objection would always apply, because whenever the Poor Law system was reformed and the method of election was altered it would be necessary to hand over the Poor Law administration to those who had not had thorough experience of the system. But he (Mr. M'Laren) thought that the main argument that they must rely upon was, in the first place, the thorough badness of the present system of election of Guardians, and the fact that it did not work well in experience. If it worked well in practice they would be much more disposed to put up with it than they were. But on its own merits it was indefensible. It had been said that a person might have 12 votes at an election of Boards of Guardians, six as owner and six as occupier; but, as a matter of fact, he might have 24; 12 for his business premises and 12 for his dwelling house. He himself had once had 13 votes; 12 for his business premises—for the firm with which he was connected, and one for his residence. Practically, if a man was only rich enough, and only had property enough, he might have 24 votes—a gigantic suffrage. But, in addition to that, there was the system of proxies. If a man did not care to exercise the vote himself he could give his proxy to some committee or club, and the vote would be tendered without any knowledge on his part. The present system of voting was extremely faulty; if the papers were accurately distributed by the policeman, it did not necessarily follow that they were accurately collected. In fact, there was every possible drawback to time present mode of electing Guardians. The method did not work well, and that was the chief argument against it. There was probably no set of representatives who did their work so badly as Boards of Guardians, who, in many cases, were corrupt and used their privileges for interested motives on behalf of themselves and their friends. For that reason, if for no other, the House ought to endeavour to give them the benefit of a more close intercourse with their constituents, and all hon. Members must regret that the Government hesitated to take the very wise step now proposed. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) told his constituents and the country some time ago that the motto of the Government was trust in the people; but that motto had been repudiated that night by the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie)—the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to trust the people in regard to the election of Boards of Guardians, and he had given various reasons for that. He had said that the very delicate functions which Boards of Guardians discharged could not at present be safely entrusted to freely-elected Boards. In that he (Mr. M'Laren) disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman; he did not think that there ought to be any objection raised to the acceptance of the Instruction moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld). The Instruction would not encumber or overload the Bill; but it would simply abolish a method of election which was condemned by the whole of the country, and which must, before many years were over, be swept away.


said, that the object aimed at in the Instruction was not to hand over to the new Councils the administration of the Poor Law, but merely to equalize and simplify the existing mode of voting. For his own part, he wanted to see plurality of voting abolished, because it was a relic of class legislation and class privilege, and he was disappointed at the refusal of the Government to discuss the question on its merits. That refusal would let daylight into the real intentions of the Government.


said, that the complaint of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) that the Bill did not deal with plural voting showed that he had not read the Bill, because, if he had, he would have found that which he stated the Government regarded as too terrible to contemplate was included in the Bill at the present moment. The Government had dealt with the question of plurality of voting in connection with the Local Boards.


said, he had stated that he heard the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) say so, and although there might have been some confusion in his hearing his impression was still the same.


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman said so—he was satisfied he did not—he must himself have been oblivious of one of the great merits of his own measure, because he had already done what he was charged with having left undone. A more serious charge was that the Bill not only was incomplete, but that it did not contain the possibilities of being made complete. That statement he altogether traversed. Nobody ever contended that the Bill was complete; but that it contained the possibilities of being made complete everybody would admit who did not look at the question from a mere Party point of view. There was every possibility of bringing within the purview of the Bill all the parts of Local Government, and the proposal before the House would not facilitate in any degree whatever the making more complete the reform of Local Government. The Government had nothing to fear from letting light in upon their proposals. They did not distrust the people; but they realized the vastness of the whole question of the administration of the Poor Law, and they held that the new Councils should have time allowed them to realize and understand the duties and responsibilities they were called upon to administer before overloading them with additional responsibilities. He hoped that, the Government having stated its intentions, the House would now be allowed to go into Committee.

MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)

said, he did not propose to detain the House for many minutes, but simply desired to answer something that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) had just said. The hon. Gentleman boasted that the Bill, as it now stood, was against a plurality of voting. He thoroughly agreed with the hon. Gentleman that there was a provision in the Bill which was against a plurality of voting in elections to District and County Coun- cils; but the hon. Gentleman entirely forgot to state that the system of plurality voting was to exist in the case of the election of Boards of Guardians. He (Mr. Gardner) did the Government the justice to say his opinion was that, when they first contemplated this Bill, they certainly contemplated including the Union in their measure. It would be in the recollection of the House that during last Session the Government proposed a Boundary Commission to determine the very difficult question of areas, which pointed to the inclusion of Unions in the Bill; but that during the Session they had thought fit to throw over the Boundary Commission altogether, and not to present its Report to the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope) had said that that had been done simply in accordance with the feelings of the counties; but some more severe critic of the right hon. Gentleman than himself might point out that the Government had thrown over the Boundary Commission, because they did not wish or intend to include the question of the Unions in the Bill now before the House. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) had said that the whole of this subject was to be left to the County Councils. That seemed to him (Mr. Gardner) to be rather a dangerous system than otherwise; it might be very good for a Nationality or a Province to form a Central Body first, and then leave it to work out its own scheme of Local Government; but in regard to so small an area as a county, he thought it could not be so good a measure. What the Government proposed to do was to constitute a County Council, and hand over to that Body the formation of the Local Government of the county over which it was to rule. That seemed to present a very serious difficulty—


The hon. Member does not seem to be addressing his remarks to the Instruction moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax.


said, that he was merely arguing that the mode of voting which was proposed by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Stansfeld) would simplify the companion measure of that which was now under consideration. If the Government would accept the simplification of voting now suggested, they would find it far easier to carry the greater Bill, and far easier to work that Bill when carried. At any rate, he must protest against the exclusion of the voting for Boards of Guardians. That exclusion would be deeply felt in the agricultural constituencies, and it was a matter which would detract much from the feeling of gratitude for the Bill which the people would undoubtedly otherwise have.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 128; Noes 214: Majority 86.

Abraham, W. (Glamorgan.) Grove, Sir T. F.
Gully, W. C.
Allison, R. A. Harrington, E.
Anderson, C. H. Hayden, L. P.
Asquith, H. H. Healy, T. M.
Atherley-Jones, L. Holden, I.
Balfour, rt. hon. J. B. Hoyle, I.
Barbour, W. B. Hunter, W. A.
Barran, J. Illingworth, A.
Biggar, J. G. James, hon. W. H.
Bolton, J. C. Kay-Shuttleworth, rt. hon. Sir U. J.
Bolton, T. D.
Bradlaugh, C. Kenny, C. S.
Bright, Jacob Kilbride, D.
Broadhurst, H. Labouchere, H.
Bruce, hon. R. P. Lawson, Sir W.
Brunner, J. T. Lawson, H. L. W.
Bryce, J. Leake, R.
Burt, T. Lefevre, rt. hn. G. J. S.
Campbell, H. Lewis, T. P.
Cavan, Earl of Lockwood, F.
Channing, F. A. M'Donald, P.
Childers, right hon. H. C. E. M'Laren, W. S. B.
Maitland, W. F.
Clark, Dr. G. B. Mappin, Sir F. T.
Coleridge, hon. B. Menzies, R. S.
Conway, M. Mundella, rt. hn. A. J.
Conybeare, C. A. V. Neville, R.
Cossham, H. Nolan, J.
Cozens-hardy, H. H. O'Brien, J. F. X.
Craig, J. O'Connor, T. P.
Crilly, D. O'Keeffe, F. A.
Crossley, E. O'Kelly, J.
Dillwyn, L. L. Parnell, C. S.
Dodds, J. Pease, A. E.
Duff, R. W. Pickard, B.
Ellis, J. Pickersgill, E. H.
Ellis, J. E. Picton, J. A.
Ellis, T. E. Plowden, Sir W. C.
Esslemont, P. Powell, W. R. H.
Fenwick, C. Power, R.
Ferguson, R.C. Munro- Price, T. P.
Flower, C. Provand, A. D.
Foljambe, C. G. S. Quinn, T.
Foster, Sir W. B. Reed, Sir E. J.
Fowler, rt. hon. H. H. Roberts, J. B.
Fry, T. Robinson, T.
Gardner, H. Roe, T.
Gaskell, C. G. Milnes- Roscoe, Sir H. E.
Gill, T. P. Rowlands, J.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Rowntree, J.
Graham, R. C. Russell, Sir C.
Grey, Sir E. Samuelson, G. B.
Schwann, C. E. Whitbread, S.
Shaw, T. Will, J. S.
Sheil, E. Williamson, J.
Stansfeld, rt. hon. J. Wilson, C. H.
Stevenson, F. S. Wilson, H. J.
Stuart, J. Wilson, I.
Sullivan, D. Winterbotham, A. B.
Summers, W. Woodall, W.
Sutherland, A. Woodhead, J.
Thomas, A. Wright, C.
Thomas, D. A.
Trevelyan, right hon. TELLERS.
Sir G. O. Marjoribanks, rt. hon. E.
Wallace, R. E.
Wardle, H. Morley, A.
Wayman, T.
Agg-Gardner, J. T. De Cobain, E. S. W.
Allsopp, hon. G. De Lisle, E. J. L. M. P.
Allsopp, hon. P. De Worms, Baron H.
Ambrose, W. Dimsdale, Baron R.
Amherst, W. A. T. Dixon-Hartland, F. D.
Anstruther, Colonel R. H. L. Donkin, R. S.
Dorington, Sir J. E.
Anstruther, H. T. Dugdale, J. S.
Ashmead-Bartlett, E. Duncan, Colonel F.
Bailey, Sir J. R. Duncombe, A.
Barry, A. H. S. Dyke, rt. hn. Sir W.H.
Barttelot, Sir W. B. Edwards-Moss, T. C.
Bates, Sir E. Egerton, hon. A. J. F.
Baumann, A. A. Egerton, hon. A. de T.
Bazley-White, J. Elliot, hon. A. R. D.
Beach, right hon. Sir M. E. Hicks- Elton, C. I.
Eyre, Colonel H.
Beadel, W. J. Fellowes, A. E.
Beckett, W. Fergusson, right hon. Sir J.
Bethell, Commander G. R.
Field, Admiral E.
Bigwood, J. Fielden, T.
Bolitho, T. B. Finch, G. H.
Bond, G. H. Fitzwilliam, hon. W. J. W.
Bonsor, H. C. O.
Bristowe, T. L. Fletcher, Sir H.
Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F. Folkestone, right hon. Viscount
Brookfield, A. M. Forwood, A. B.
Bruce, Lord H Fowler, Sir R. N.
Burdett-Coutts, W. L. Ash-B Fraser, General C. C.
Gathorne-Hardy, hon. A. E
Burghley, Lord
Caldwell, J. Gathorne-Hardy, hon. A. E.
Campbell, R. F. F.
Carmarthen, Marq. of Gedge, S.
Clarke, Sir E. G. Gent-Davis, R.
Coddington, W. Giles, A.
Coghill, D. H. Gilliat, J. S.
Collings, J. Godson, A. F.
Colomb, Capt. J. C. R. Goldsmid, Sir J.
Commerell, Adml. Sir J. E Goldsworthy, Major-General W. T.
Compton, F. Gorst, Sir J. E.
Cooke, C. W. R. Goschen, rt. hon. G. J.
Corbett, J. Gray, C. W.
Corry, Sir J. P. Green, Sir E.
Cotton, Capt. E. T. D. Grimston, Viscount
Cross, H. S. Gunter, Colonel R.
Curzon, hon. G. N. Gurdon, R. T.
Dalrymple, Sir C. Hall, C.
Darling, C. J. Halsey, T. F.
Davenport, H. T Hamilton, right hon.
Dawnay, Colonel hon. L. P. Lord G. F.
Hamilton, Lord E.
Hamilton, Col. C. E. Mayne, Admiral R. C.
Hamley, Gen. Sir E. B. More, R. J.
Hanbury, R. W. Morrison, W.
Hardcastle, F. Moss. R.
Hartington, Marq. of Mount, W. G.
Hastings, G. W. Mowbray, R.G. C.
Havelock - Allan, Sir H. M Mulholland, H. L.
Muntz, P. A.
Heathcote, Capt. J. H. Edwards- Murdoch, C. T.
Newark, Viscount
Heaton, J. H. Noble, W.
Heneage, right hon. E. Norton, R.
Herbert, hon. S. Paget, Sir R. H.
Hermon-Hodge, R. T. Parker, hon. F.
Hervey, Lord F. Planket, rt. hon. D. R.
Hill, right hon. Lord A. W. Powell, F. S.
Price, Captain G. E.
Hill, Colonel E. S. Raikes, rt. hon. H. C.
Hill, A. S. Rankin, J.
Hoare, E. B. Richardson, T.
Hoare, S. Ridley, Sir M. W.
Holloway, G. Ritchie, rt. hon. C. T.
Houldsworth, Sir W. H. Robertson, Sir W. T.
Hozier, J. H. C. Robertson, J. P. B.
Hunt, F. S. Robinson, B.
Isaacs, L. H. Ross, A. H.
Jackson, W. L. Round, J.
James, rt. hon. Sir H. Russell, T. W.
Jarvis, A. W. Selwyn, Capt. C. W.
Jeffreys, A. F. Shaw-Stewart, M. H.
Jennings, L. J. Sidebotham, J. W.
Kelly, J. R. Sidebottom, T. H.
Kerans, F. H. Sidebottom, W.
Kimber, H. Smith, rt. hon. W. H.
Knatchbull-Hugessen, H. T. Smith, A.
Stanhope, rt. hon. E.
Knightley, Sir R. Stanley, E, J.
Knowles, L. Swetenham, E.
Kynoch, G. Tapling, T. K.
Lafone, A. Temple, Sir R.
Laurie, Colonel R. P. Theobald, J.
Lawrance, J. C. Thorburn, W.
Lawrence, W. F. Tomlinson, W. E. M.
Lennox, Lord W. C. G. Townsend, F.
Trotter, Col. H. J.
Lethbridge, Sir R. Waring, Colonel T.
Lewisham, right hon. Viscount Watson, J.
Webster, Sir R. E.
Llewellyn, E. H. West, Colonel W. C.
Long, W. H. Wharton, J. L.
Lowther, J. W. Whitley, E.
Macartney, W. G. E. Whitmore, C. A.
Macdonald, right hon. Williams, J. Powell-
J. H. A. Wilson, Sir S.
Maclean, J. M. Winn, hon. R.
Maclure, J. W. Wodehouse, E. R.
M'Calmont, Captain J. Wolmer, Viscount
Madden, D. H. Wood, N.
Malcolm, Col. J. W. Wortley, C. B. Stuart-
Mallock, R. Wright, H. S.
Marriott, right hon. W. T Yerburgh, R. A.
Matthews, rt. hn. H. TELLERS.
Mattinson, M. W. Douglas, A. Akers-
Maxwell, Sir H. E. Walrond, Col. W. H.

Motion made, and Question, "That Mr. Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair,"—(Mr. Ritchie,)—put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

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