§ SIR H. HAVELOCK-ALLAN (Durham, S.E.)
I beg to ask the President of the Local Government Board whether his attention has been called to the fact that, in consequence of the dispute in the coal trade in the county of Durham, great distress prevails in the south-east of Durham, and the north-east of Yorks, and especially in the towns of Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, and the Hartlepools; that owing to this distress, many thousands of industrious working men, ordinarily in receipt of good wages, have been for several weeks thrown out of employment through no fault whatever of their own, and by causes over which they have no control, and have thereby been obliged to accept relief from public funds, and will thereby lose their votes at the next General Election; and whether, under these circumstances, he will consider the advisability of passing a short Act through both Houses of Parliament in order to relieve these men from being disfranchised at the coming Election?
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
I greatly deplore the distress which has been caused throughout the districts named in the question by the attitude of the colliers at present on strike. It is undoubtedly a matter of regret that one of the consequences of this strike should be that persons themselves not responsible for it should be driven to have recourse to the Poor Law and thus for a time be disfranchised; but my hon. and gallant Friend asks the Government to take a step in order to avert this consequence, which is of a very grave character. If the Government were to propose that, because these persons were driven to have recourse to the Poor Law by causes over which they have no control, the consequences which are involved by the law as it stands at present with reference to the franchise should not follow, it would be very difficult to oppose similar relief being given to all those who, at any time, by causes for which they are 7 not responsible, were driven to seek relief at the hands of the Guardians. Such a principle may be right or wrong, but it is a very serious and important change in the law which ought not hastily or without full consideration to be proposed. In addition to the question of principle, there would be great difficulties of detail to which I need not now allude. I hope I have said enough to show to my hon. and gallant Friend that, although the Bill might be what he calls a short one, it involves such serious questions both of principle and detail that it would be impossible to hold out any hope of its passing through Parliament this Session even if it were considered advisable to deal with the matter in the way suggested.
§ SIR H. HAVELOCK-ALLAN
Fully concurring in the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's answer, may I ask him will he consider the possibility for the future of devising some means of discriminating between the cases of men ordinarily in good circumstances, and who may be driven to receive exceptional relief, and the cases of those who are habitually in receipt of relief, and therefore are not entitled to the franchise?
§ *MR. RITCHIE
As I have endeavoured to inform the House, that is a principle totally foreign to the existing Poor Law, and I cannot myself hold out any expectation that I shall be prepared, with the knowledge I at present possess, to ask the House to consider and deal with exceptional cases produced by such causes.
§ MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in the draft of the Bill for the further Amendment of Local Government this question is dealt with?
§ *MR. RITCHIE
I think it would be quite contrary to usage for a Member of the Government to give an explanation of the details of a Bill not yet before the House.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
Has the right hon. Gentleman any objection to give time for the discussion of the question upon the Bill I have given notice to introduce?
§ *MR. RITCHIE
That is a question which should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House; 8 but I think, with the engagements the Government now have, my right hon. Friend would find some difficulty in giving time for the discussion of a Bill which must involve a long and intricate debate.