§ [TWENTY-FOURTH NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Sir J. GOLDSMID (Deputy Chairman) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 19 (Election and qualification of guardians.)
In Page 12, line 30, after the word "guardian," to insert the words "but each Board of Guardians shall have the power to elect from time to time as additional members of their body such number of Justices of the Peace resident in their district as they may think fit, not exceeding one-sixth of the number of members of such Board."—(Sir R. Paget.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR J. DORINGTON (Gloucester, Tewkesbury)
said, that when the Debate was interrupted on the previous night he was in the act of pointing out that the Amendment was, of all the proposals on the Paper, the one best suited for securing continuity of Poor Law administration. The suggestion of the Government that the chairman and vice chairman might be chosen from outside was open to the objection that persons might be selected, not because they were necessarily desirable, but because they might be useful for political reasons. He desired that they should avoid the poison of polities in Poor Law administration. 215 In the past they had secured that object very largely in consequence of the presence of the ex-officio element. The ex officios had rendered good service in the past; their presence at Board meetings had been recognised and welcomed, no jealousy had been shown of them, and it would be remembered that one of the Inspectors of the Poor Law Board in his evidence in 1878 said—The ex officio members attended regularly, they were received with courtesy, and did very useful work.'He specifically asked if there were any jealousy in regard to them, the Inspector gave an emphatic negative, and added that on the contrary in his district an ex officio was generally elected as chairman. The objection to the present system was the possibility of large numbers of ex officio Guardians, who did not usually take part in the business of the Board, coming in for special reasons. That he admitted was an abuse of the system, and so far as he had any personal influence he had tried to stop it; it did not at any rate occur in his own Union. His experience was that a certain small number of ex officio Guardians attended the meetings regularly, and his desire was that the moderating influence which they exercised should be retained. The administration of the Poor Law largely depended upon the excellent examples set in certain places. These examples had always emanated from ex officio Guardians of remarkable ability and power, who had been able to influence their Board by their wise and sound knowledge, and had so directed its operations that the administration of their Union had become a model for all England. He had cited the case of the Hatcham Union, which not only had done good work for itself, but had set such a good example that the Pauperism Returns for the whole County of Shropshire compared favourably with those of other counties. In 1836, in the Hatcham Union, they had 1,395 paupers to deal with, or about 7.3 per cent, of the population. Soon the number was reduced to 577, while in 1853 it came down to 365, or only 1.9 of the population. There was a very remarkable feature in the history of this Union, which showed that it was no accidental piece of administration that produced that great 216 change. In 1871 the Union of Shrewsbury was added bodily to the Union of Hatcham, its population being 27,000 persons. That raised the number of; paupers to be dealt with from 365 to 1,062, and the question arose whether it was possible to do with an urban population that which had been so successfully done with a rural one? The policy did: prove successful. By 1872 the total number of paupers was diminished to 584, and by 1890 to 421. Those were striking results of successful administration, and he might add that the influence of the example was beneficially felt in many other Unions. He had before him the ease of another and totally different Union—one in Berkshire, Brad-field. In 1871 the number of paupers there was 1,258; in 1889 it was 130. The expenditure in 1871 was £10,800; in 1888 it was only £7,600, and the percentage of paupers to population 1. 2. What was the result of the example set by Bradfield Union? The adjoining Union—Reading—was an extremely bad one before 1836, and in 1889 it was specially mentioned because of its high percentage of paupers—3.1. Yet, thanks to the example set it, that percentage has fallen now to a little over 1 per cent. There could be no doubt that the influence of Bradfield was spreading into other districts, just as the influence of Lancashire had spread into Shropshire. His only object in referring to these cases was to show how largely administration was the basis of Poor Law reforms, and that when an able man was secured—for the condition of things at Bradfield was solely owing to the exertions of Mr. Garland, an ex officio—he was generally drawn from the ex officio classes. If they ever were content to stand on the elective element alone, it ought to be proved that it had done as much good as the nominated element. Personally, he did not think it would bring them out of the ordinary ruck of administration. Bodies elected for short periods would not be inclined to try new experiments, and it would be impossible for them to make Poor Law administration a popular matter. They said that everybody should submit himself to a popular vote, but if that was to be done fairly and with good results, the subject to be administered must be capable of 217 popular treatment. He was afraid they could not persuade an ordinary man of the poorer class that to refuse him half a crown was more to his interest than to give him one. How could they put that proposition popularly? If they could show him (Sir J. Dorington) how that could be done, he would at once give in to the principle of popular election. But certainly it could be shown that the giving of half a crown was as mischievous to the man himself as it was to his neighbours. The Report of 1834 showed that in consequence of the liberal outdoor relief many parishes in England had been reduced to absolute bankruptcy. The land was deserted, and everybody expected to have relief provided for him. In many cases the resources of adjoining parishes had to be called in to eke out the substance that was disappearing in the parishes in which the Guardians existed. That state of things disappeared as soon as a stricter system was adopted, and it was only known now as a dream of the past. The movement in favour of popular bodies was not a new phase of public opinion. In 1726 outdoor relief was absolutely prohibited. People had learnt at that time that it was an unsatisfactory method of dealing with the problem of the poor. So successful was that prohibition that pauperism to a large extent disappeared. In 1796 an Act was passed' by which outdoor relief was not only permitted but almost directed to be given, and in 36 years from that date a condition of things arose which was a scandal to the country and a dreadful disaster to the poor and to the nation. They were now in jeopardy of entering again on the old mistaken course of outdoor relief through popular elections. The President of the Local Government Board said that there was the safeguard of the central administration. But if they had central administration he did not see what was the use of talking about popular government. The two things would not go together, and there must be a certain amount of latitude. In the Poor Law Report of 1878 it was said the ex officio Guardians had felt themselves trammelled and hampered by the Poor Law Hoard, and if that were so it would be much more the case with these popularly Elected Bodies. How was the right hon. Gentleman going to adminis- 218 ter the Poor Law more stringently than heretofore? He could only do it by multiplying the Inspectors of Poor Law Boards. These officials could attend meetings of Hoards of Guardians now. They could not vote, but could only advise and give general directions, and those functions they exercised with great discretion. Their advice was admirable; and very useful, but the extent to which I they could give advice was limited, and when they were vis a vis with popularly Elected Bodies, and they endeavoured to draw the strings too tight, he thought the authority of the Central Office would be likely to snap and become a failure. These were the reasons why he thought they should make some serious attempt to preserve the ex officio clement. He thought it was vain to say that the ex officio Guardians who had been in the habit of attending the meetings would be elected under the system of popular election. Of course, they would not be elected, as it would necessitate the turning out of their own friends who had been elected, and had stood the brunt of the elections. They would have to say—"Jones or Brown, will you go away so that I may continue to attend?" That was not the way to begin a new Board. The present ex officio Guardians would have to stand outside in most cases, unless by means of some such proposal as that of his hon. Friend, or possibly by the action of the chairman, they were brought in again. He could not imagine why the Government set themselves so stiffly against a proposal of this kind. There was no question of privilege in it—no one thought it a matter of privilege to serve as a Guardian. There was a wide distinction between town and country parishes. In the town districts, unless the population consisted exclusively of the poorer class, there were always sufficient persons of independent means and considerable education who were willing to undertake the duties of elected Guardians, but in the, country districts the persons from whom the present ex officio Guardians were drawn were not well suited for popular election by reason of their position and their relations to the people among whom they lived. In justice to themselves these gentlemen would not be likely to put themselves in opposition 219 to those whom they were likely to meet at a contested election. He believed the proposal before the Committee had a certain amount of advantage in it. It would be absolutely free from the objection to the present ex officio Guardians, which was that on special occasions they attended in large numbers a Board which they did not usually attend, to alter the character of the vote of that Board. That was an abuse which he would like to put an end to, and if the present system were to continue he thought he could suggest a remedy. On all these grounds, and on many others that might be suggested, he ventured to hope that the Government would make some serious attempt before the clause passed to give an effective representation on the Board to those who, up to the present, had been ex officio members, and had done good service to their country and neighbours.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
said, he did not intend to make another speech, but he would urge the Government to make a slight concession to those who feared danger from the Bill as at present framed. Could they not do this? They might surely be allowed to choose two outside persons, not as chairman and vice-chairman, but as ordinary members, if they desired to do so. That would effect what hon. Members wanted. As the hon. Member who had just spoken had pointed out, they only wanted two or three men to strengthen the administration, and act as a check to the elected members. The difficulty was to bring home to the men whom it was desirable to have on the Boards that it was their duty to attend and work. If they had to go through an election they would not serve.
§ MR. GODSON (Kidderminster)
said, that as an ex officio Guardian, who was not in the habit of attending the meetings of the Board of which he was a member, he desired to say a word or two on behalf of ex officios, more especially on behalf of those on the Board in the district he represented. The argument of hon. Members who proposed and supported the Amendment was that the presence of the ex officios on the assessment committee was most valuable, and it was desirable that it should not cease. The 220 elected Guardians would, no doubt, represent the feeling of the localities and possess a knowledge of local difficulties and local requirements. But the ex officos, in a sense, represented a wider area in the county. They were known in the districts outside their own, and were able to bring to bear upon the work of the Boards a varied and wide experience. He submitted, therefore, that unless power was given to put such persons as were contemplated in the Amendment on the Boards of Guardians and on the assessment committee, there would be great danger, not that the localities would not be well represented, but that a general and broad view of the wider districts surrounding and beyond the localities would not be taken. This point was one which had occupied the attention of the Board of which he had spoken. They held that it was almost vital that they should more or less have representatives of this class on the assessment committee. He, therefore, supported the Amendment.
§ MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)
said, he hoped that the Government would not give way in regard to this Amendment.
§ * MR. DODD
said, he was glad to hear that the Government had no intention of giving way. He considered this a most unfortunate Amendment, and he did not at all agree with the arguments by which it had been supported. It had been recommended, because it was desirable to avoid amongst Guardians the poison of politics. Well, the way to avoid the poison of Party being introduced into these elections was not to elect Guardians from the body of county Magistrates, who nearly all belonged to the Tory Party. The county Magistrates were at present elected by the Lords Lieutenant in the counties. They were not themselves in any way elected by or representative of the people. The mode of appointment was most unfortunate. All suitable citizens should be allowed to take part in the business of, and have a voice in, the election of Guardians and of all other Public Bodies, and the system of electing a person because he belongs to a particular class should be done away with.
§ MR. W. LONG
said, he regretted that the hon. Member who had just sat down had thought it desirable to introduce an element which hitherto they had all been anxious to avoid into the discussion of this question of Poor Law administration. It might be that hon. Members on the other side, many of whom spoke with a considerable degree of local experience and knowledge of that particular department of local government, entirely disagreed with the Opposition as to the administrative result of the present proposal of the Government, but, at any rate, they had not thought it necessary hitherto to introduce into the Debate that element of Party politics which had just been introduced by the hon. Member for Essex. A comparison might well be drawn to the advantage of the Opposition side of the House between the speech of the hon. Member and that of the hon. Baronet the Member for Gloucestershire (Sir J. Dorington). If an additional argument were required in support of the view of Members of the Opposition, it would be found in the speech of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire. There was no one in the House or out of it who spoke with greater authority on these questions of Poor Law and county administration, and he (Mr. Long) ventured to say that this statement would be confirmed by Gloucestershire gentlemen who were as sturdy Radicals as any to be found on the Ministerial side of the House. They would be ready to testify to the impartial and honest character of the work which the hon. Baronet had performed as a Poor Law and county government administrator. The hon. Baronet had supported the Amendment in no sense because the Magistrates were drawn from a particular class. Everybody who would take the trouble to study the question of Poor Law administration on the spot for himself, or to read any of the numerous books which had been written on the subject, would see that Poor Law administration stood on a different footing from any other part of the local government system. It was impossible for anyone to become acquainted with the difficulties and labours of Poor Law administration in a short time. It could not be 222 learnt from books or hearsay. It could only be acquired by incessant, arduous attention to the duties on the spot, and the greatest possible injury might be done to the working classes by a failure to appreciate the difficulties which presented themselves. Constant attention was necessary, and constant effort to steel themselves against their natural inclinations. Instead of acting from feelings of pity and commiseration, they should have in view nothing but good government. Nothing short of that would enable a man to become a wise and good administrator of the Poor Law. Almost at the moment the hon. Member for Essex was making his speech he (Mr. Long) had been reading a letter he had received that morning from the clerk of a large Board of Guardians—a gentleman who had always acted with the Party now in Office—who called attention to a particular illustration in his own Union of the view which the Opposition had been advancing. The chairman of the Board in question had been chairman for 30 years, and was an ex officio Guardian; and the chairman of the Assessment Committee, who had occupied the position for 25 years, was also an ex officio. The former gentleman was a Tory, and the latter a Liberal, and neither of them would stand for a contested election. No doubt parallel cases could be quoted. In the selection of ex officio Guardians to act as chairmen or vice-chairmen, or as chairmen of Assessment Committees, no regard was had to those political differences of which so much was heard in the House. The effort of the Boards was to get men of experience and natural aptitude. To his mind an unwise administration of the Assessment Committee would be almost as unfortunate as an unwise administration of Poor Law administration. The work was difficult and detailed, and it was necessary that it should be performed by those who had had some experience in the matter. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had said that his Party were determined that these matters should be governed by popular election, but he (Mr. Long) had pointed to a case in which two important members of a Board of Guardians who had served long and honourably, and who had the confidence not only of the Board but of their 223 neighbours, would decline to stand a contested election. They would say—"We are too old to enter upon contested elections in which we have not hitherto taken part; you must find other people to undertake our work. If that were one of the first results of the Bill on the Boards of Guardians and Assessment Committees the result would be disastrous and an injury to administration. He could not for the life of him understand why it was that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board and his Colleagues would not give way in some little degree on this point. By giving way they would not be infringing the principle of popular representation, because it was certain that the men would be chosen, not because they were Liberals or Conservatives, but solely because they were capable Poor Law administrators. Men of experience would be secured. The present ex officio system was, no doubt, unsound. He had said that on the introduction of the Bill and again on the Second Reading, but it was a mistake to confuse two totally different things. No doubt a few of the ex officios who had taken a prominent part in the work of the Hoards of Guardians were good administrators, and there would be a great risk of losing their services unless some provision was now made whereby they could be added to the Boards. It was not always the best men who went through the strain of a contested election. It was not, indeed, the best men who were always returned to Parliament—if it were, he, for one, would not be there representing as he did a portion of Liverpool. They might disperse the existing army of men who enjoyed the confidence of their neighbours and were familiar with the work of the Board of Guardians, and were willing to carry it on; but unless they admitted into the councils of the Boards some nominated or ex officio element, they would never recover the strength so lost. Whatever hon. Members opposite thought of those who advocated the retention of this nominated or ex officio element, they were endeavouring to act solely in the interests of good government and wise administration. They pointed to the fact, which had been referred to over and over again, that the ex officio element had been 224 a worthy one. It was open to some objections which it was not necessary to enter upon; but those who had done the work had done it well, and in such a way that they deserved the confidence both of their fellow-Guardians and of their neighbours generally. It was desirable that the Government should make some provision which would make it absolutely certain that a certain proportion of these men should be maintained on the Boards of Guardians. It was no use for the President of the Local Government Board to say that this clause was occupying too much of the time of the Committee. The clause ought to have been a Bill in itself; it ought to have been split up into a variety of clauses, and much more time than it was receiving ought to have been devoted to it. The Government were going; to alter the administration of the Poor Law because they were going to alter the administrators, and he (Mr. Long) and those who thought with him were of opinion that they would be doing well if they made some provision for the addition of the ex officio element to the now Boards of Guardians.
§ * MR. ROUND (Essex, N.E., Harwich)
said, that as an ex officio Guardian—although one who had been unable to attend to his duties this autumn in consequence of the action of Her Majesty's Government—he did not wish to give a silent vote on the Amendment. The hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex had expressed himself strongly against the Magistrates. The hon. Member was entitled to his opinion, but he (Mr. Round) begged to say that he and those who thought with him did not want the right of co-opting conferred upon the Guardians in order that they might select persons from a particular class, but to enable them to choose useful men to assist them in the discharge of their duties. It was said that the best men who formed the ex officio element would be elected in the future; but he did not think there would be room for them. The services of many Justices who had been able administrators at Quarter Sessions had been lost to the counties when the Local Government Act of 1888 became law, although it was said, when the Act was passed, that those men would be elected. 225 There were two notable instances in the first County Council elections in Essex, where two Justices most conversant with Quarter Sessions duties failed to secure election—they were picked men, and their services were lost to the County I Council, and so it would probably be with the Poor Law elections as now proposed by the Government Hill. In his experience as an ex officio Guardian he had noticed that very often the ex officio Guardians were more inclined to be lenient towards the poor than the elected Guardians. The reason, perhaps, was that the elected Guardians had very rightly thought more of the ratepayers' interests than the ex officio Guardians did. He thought, therefore, that in the interests of the poor it would be a great mistake to dispense with the services of the ex officio Guardians altogether. He should, therefore, vote for the Amendment, and he trusted that before the Bill was passed the Government would find some way of meeting the very strong wishes expressed on the subject on the Opposition side of the House.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he took it that the Mover of this and other Amendments were not wedded to the particular form of the Amendments they had moved. He was not among those who shared the fears so largely hold by some Members, but he was bound to say that those who had read the Report of the Commission of 1834, and, more particularly, the evidence on which that Report was founded, were naturally impressed with the terrible state of things in existence before the present Poor Laws came into operation, and must have some sort of sympathy with the fears of gentlemen opposite respecting a return to that state of affairs. The then condition of things not only affected the moneyed classes, but reduced the working men to a most deplorable social and economical position. If the Government wanted to pass this Hill, why could they not make a slight concession to the views of the men of great experience who had urged objections to the clause as it stood? They had already surrendered the principle in allowing the chairman and vice-chairman 226 to be appointed from outside. Why did they not conduct the Bill as every other Bill which it was desired to pass was conducted? His right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) knew that where there was a very strong feeling about a minor matter, urged by men who were entitled to speak on that matter, it was the invariable practice of every man who desired to get his Bill through to make some concession. The attitude adopted by his right hon. Friend gave colour to the suspicion that ho did not want to get his Bill through. It seemed to be sufficient for a section of Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House that any Amendment should be moved from the other side, and they must oppose it whether it was good or bad. He feared that the Government were giving themselves into that section of Members, who, as a rule, were men with absolutely no experience in local government. This was not a quest ion of ex officio members, but of the election by Boards of Guardians of persons from the outside.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he had no doubt that the Mover of the Amendment, as well as those who had placed other Amendments on the Paper, would give way if the Government would move an Amendment of their own, which would secure the very small concession now asked for. All that was desired was the adoption by the Government to a little larger extent of the principle which they had already assented to. He had never been an advocate of the election of people from outside, but experience obliged him to admit that that system had answered well. Take the question of Free Libraries. For seven years he was chairman of the great library institution in Birmingham, and he ventured to say that the institution would never have succeeded without the special and expert knowledge and the great assistance that was derived from men who were not known to the outside world sufficiently to give them any chance in a popular election. It was acting the part of the purest doctrinaire to say that, in spite of all experience, the Government ought to maintain the position they 227 had taken up. In the management of King' Edward VI.'s Grammar School the assistance given by persons selected from outside had resulted in extraordinary success in the administration of the institution. He thought, the Government might with grace grant the proposed extension of their own principle. The attitude they were now adopting was resulting simply in a waste of time. The Government had taken the opportunity afforded by the introduction of a simple Local Government Bill, which they might have passed without opposition, to engraft on it three or four Bills—
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he was going to show why the Government should give way on this very small matter. The Government themselves were the great obstructives on this question, inasmuch as they refused to make any concession. The Opposition would not be tied down to this particular Amendment, but they wanted some extension of the principle assented to by the Government. It might be that the object of the Government in refusing all Amendments was to spin out the time, to overload the Bill so that it would have to be put right in another place, and then to go to the country and say that the Parish Councils Bill had been rejected.
§ THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Mr. ACLAND,) York, W.R., Rotherham
The right hon. Gentleman says he will not be tied down to the Amendment under discussion. I wish, without going into the general matter he has introduced in his speech, to point out that this is purely a matter of procedure. Last night we rejected, by about two to one, an Amendment providing that any Board of Guardians should be empowered lo maintain co-optative members in the proportion of one member to six elected Guardians, and that there should be no ex officio Guardians.
No; the right ion. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) is perfectly right. The question was put to leave out Sub-section 1 in order to insert the words referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, but the last words he has mentioned were not in the Amendment.
§ MR. ACLAND
No, the last few words were not. But we negatived the proposal that co-optative Guardians could be appointed.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
On the point of Order, I submit that what we did vote upon was the striking out of Sub-section 1. I declined to vote for that, though I was perfectly ready to support the Amendment.
That shows that the Amendment was negatived by implication. When it is proposed to strike out anything in order to insert something else, and the Committee refuses to strike out anything, the Amendment is negatived by implication.
§ SIR J. DORINGTON
My hon. Friend the Member for the Wells Division of Somerset (Sir R. Paget) intended, and so stated, to move to amend that portion of the Amendment which was not put.
§ MR. ACLAND
I believe that the Chairman confirms my statement—that what we negatived last night was the proposal to enable Guardians to nominate co-optative members. [Cries of "No!"] It is all very well for Members to say "No," but I have the support of the Chairman in that statement.
§ MR. ACLAND
And on the question of fact, as I have stated, I have received the support of the Chairman.
§ MR. ACLAND
What I wanted to say was that, having negatived that proposal, I believe it would not be in our power to make any further proposition in that direction, nor do we propose to make any, because our final proposals on this subject were made last night. We are limited now to the discussion of whether the co-optation should be from 229 Justices of the Peace. That, and that only, is now the question under discussion, and we do not think it necessary to repeat again the arguments which have already been slated. Having said that we could not accept the wider proposal—the proposal to co-optate at large—we need not say that we refuse to co-optate amongst the Justices of the Peace. We therefore refuse to argue the question any further, not from any discourtesy, but because we have already argued the question very fully.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, it was quite true that the Amendment now under discussion was one to allow the co-optation of additional members from amongst the Justices of the Peace, but no one know better than his right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill that the disposition of a particular Amendment was often very much facilitated by a statement of the views of the Government on questions allied to that Amendment. His right hon. Friend said last night that he was willing to allow the co-optation of two additional members as chairman and vice-chairman. If his right hon. Friend could see his way to allow the two members who wore to be co-optated to be freed from the necessity of filling the posts of chairman and vice-chairman, he might dispose of this and many other Amendments. The principle of co-optation was not only justified by the nature of the case, but was justified by the experience of our kinsmen across the Atlantic. In the United States they had resorted to popular elections in the widest and freest form, and yet at the same time they had everywhere adopted a modification of popular elections, so as to firing in persons chosen at secondhand. Such a modification was employed in the ease of school trustees, in the selection of persons charged with different branches of local administration, such as sanitation and water supply. It would really facilitate progress very much if the Government would carry out his suggestion. He did not see what obstacle was in the way of their doing so. They had consented to allow two persons to be brought in from the outside, but they insisted that they must, be the chairman and vice-chairman. Elected members were not likely, except in the rarest possible 230 cases, to introduce outsiders on the Board for the purpose of offering them such positions of honour and distinction. He could only say that, if his suggestion was adopted and the modification introduced, he thought they would get more rapidly through the clause.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he thought his right hon. Friend could not hare been in the House last night, for, had he been present, he must have known that the questions which he had now raised were then answered by the Government. His right hon. Friend was, he thought, even more out of Order than he generally was in these Debates. The matter had been thoroughly threshed out in the four nights during which it had been considered. If the Government could not accede to the proposals of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it was not because they wanted a lax administration of the Poor Law, but because they wished to uphold its good administration. It was a novel doctrine to say that no measure ought to pass through that House unless the majority were prepared to give way to the minority on vital questions.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he would hardly be justified in asking the Committee to agree to Amendments which his judgment did not approve on the ground that such agreement would facilitate the progress of the measure. The Government had not approached this question without full and most careful consideration and an earnest desire to meet, as far as possible, the views of those Members of the House who were experienced in Poor Law administration. They had made a proposal respecting the co-optation of chairmen and vice-chairmen, and to that proposal they were prepared to adhere. The Committee bad already decided in favour of their views by a majority of about two to one. He really must put it to the Committee whether they should go further after a four days' discussion. Were the Government to be blamed and censured because they would not repeat their views over and over again? He could only say that they held those views, and were prepared to stand by them.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
said, that he had received communications from his constituents which compelled him to speak out on this question. A large section of his constituents viewed the sub-section which was passed last night with the greatest alarm; but that alarm would be mitigated in some degree if the present Amendment were passed. In his part of Surrey they were very apprehensive of a possible return to the evils which existed before 1834. If men were to be brought in from the outside to serve on Boards of Guardians, Justices of the Peace ought to be chosen. In his opinion Justices of the Peace had not been appointed to their positions for Party reasons. There had been as many Liberal Lord Chancellors in this generation as Conservative Lord Chancellors, and one Party was as much responsible as the other in the appointment of Magistrates. The small concession which the Government had made was a very little sop to fling to the Cerberus that sat on the Opposition Benches. In fact, this so-called concession would really effect nothing at all.
§ Mr. H. H. Fowler rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 117; Noes 60.—(Division List, No. 393.)
§ Question put accordingly.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 60; Noes 119.—(Division List, No. 394.)
§ MR. J. GRANT LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)
said, he had to move an Amendment providing that—Any ex officio or nominated Guardian who is, at the passing of this Act, or has been within five years thereof, chairman or vice-chairman of any Board of Guardians, shall continue to be an ex officio member of such Board.He only asked for the irreducible minimum of concession—namely, that those gentlemen who, as ex officio Guardians, had been held by their colleagues to be so useful that they had been appointed chairmen or vice-chairmen should continue on the Board. He would like 232 to point out the difference between ex officio Guardians in the chair and ex officios who had not held any position of that kind—
§ MR. HALLEY STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)
rose to Order. He submitted that the Committee had already decided that no ex officio or nominated Guardians should be sanctioned, and that the hon. Member was now traversing the decision arrived at.
§ MR. J. GRANT LAWSON
said, he would point out that in the Southampton Union there were 48 ex officio Guardians, with 18 elected members, while the Plymouth Union had 50 elected members, but no ex officio members; and in order to show the beneficial influence of ex officio chairmen in the management of the Union he would like the House to know that in the Southampton Union there wore 2.6 outdoor paupers to every indoor pauper, while in Plymouth, with no ex officio Guardians, there were 3.7 outdoor paupers to every indoor pauper. His Amendment did not deal with the future management, and there was no claim for perpetuity of privilege. His desire was simply to give a good start to the new Boards. Besides, he thought it was only a matter of courtesy that the gentlemen who had served in the capacity of chairmen and vice-chairmen should not be sent about their business in this summary manner; but that they should be given a period in which to exercise their knowledge and experience for the benefit of the Boards as they would be constituted under the Bill.
In page 12, line 30, after the word "Guardians," to insert the words "appointed after the passing of this Act, but any ex officio or nominated Guardian who is, at the passing of this Act, or has been within five years thereof, chairman or vice-chairman of any Board of Guardians, shall continue to be an ex officio member of such Board."—(Mr. J. Grant Lawson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
said, he must invite the attention of the Committee to the position in 233 which it was now placed. Last night the Committee passed a proposal to the effect that ex officio members should cease; but it was suggested on the other side of the House that either the Opposition should suggest, or the Government should suggest, some accommodation consistent with the principle that no ex officio members should remain. The Government made an offer, and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) accepted it. But since that proposal had been agreed to the course pursued by hon. Members was to invent every species of Amendment for the re-introduction in some form or another of ex officio members, and upon every one of the Amendments was repeated the same speeches and the same arguments. The speech of the hon. Member was simply an elaborate and careful resumé of every one of the speeches made during the last four days. All speeches delivered that afternoon had been arguments in favour of the ex officio members, and there was no reason that he could see, except the exhaustion of the ingenuity of hon. Members, why the Committee should not go on for 365 days more in mere permutations and combinations of suggestions for upsetting the agreement arrived at, and which the Leader of the Opposition had accepted as satisfactory.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, he thought the hon. Gentleman told him there was no acceptance of the agreement in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, the hon. Gentleman could not deny that there was no agreement; and if there was to be a deliberate attempt, as soon as an agreement was arrived at, by hook or by crook—by what he would call an abuse of the Forms of the House—to defeat the arrangement, then it was impossible for progress to be made. The Amendment was in deliberate contradiction to the Resolution passed yesterday, and if this was not obstruction, he did not know what was. The Government had said that upon these Boards of Guardians there was not to be ex officio members, 234 as such, and therefore they could not accept this Amendment. They had declared their views over and over again, and it was perfectly idle to think that further discussion would lead them to alter those views.
§ MR. W. LONG
said, ho did not know what object the right hon. Gentleman had in view in intervening at this period of the Debate. If his object was to accelerate matters, he had selected a singularly unfortunate way of doing it. He had chosen to make an attack upon the Opposition, and to accuse them of obstruction, and had said that the Leader of the Opposition had accepted a proposal emanating from the Government in satisfaction of the subject under discussion. His right hon. Friend was absent while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, but he was now in the House, and could speak for himself. He (Mr. Long), however, ventured to say that the Leader of the Opposition did nothing of the kind. All he said was that the proposal of the Government, as far as it went, was one to which the Opposition were prepared to agree. Ho did not say that they were prepared to agree to accept it in satisfaction of all claims put, forward from that side of the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also said that Amendments had been devised and moved for purely obstructive purposes.
§ MR. W. LONG
said, if the right hon. Gentleman did not say it, his words sounded very like it. At all events, the right hon. Gentleman believed this Amendment had been moved from some obstructive tendency. The suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to this—that the House was to agree upon one proposition which might he approved as a matter of principle but not in detail, and they were not to say anything more in favour of any other proposal on the subject. Well, his (Mr. Long's) view was that hon. Members were bound to bring forward proposals founded on the views taken by their constituents. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to realise the deep interest that was taken by the country in this 19th clause. The President of the 235 Local Government Board spoke of a two to one majority; but he must remember the period at which they were forced to discuss the clause, and the circumstances under which they were met to-day. For his part, he claimed the right to state the views that he entertained on all these important proposals, and, if his hon. Friend went to a Division on this Amendment, he should certainly support him.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
said, he had a very lively recollection of what took place last night. The Government hinted that they were prepared to meet the Opposition half-way by allowing that, in addition to the chairman, the vice-chairman of the Board of Guardians should be selected from outside, and an appeal was made to him by the Government that he would give his opinion upon the proposal. Although the appeal was not very regular, he told the House that the proposition was in itself perfectly inadequate to meet the object which the Opposition had in view; but that, no doubt, so far as it went, it went in the direction of carrying out that object. That assurance he was ready to repeat; but the Government were mistaken if they thought the well-founded alarms which existed could be removed by allowing one member, and only one member, more to be elected from outside. Had the right hon. Gentleman not closured the last Amendment he had intended to put certain questions to the Committee with regard to the present position which would have exhibited clearly the necessity of something more being done than had been suggested. They were agreed—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, at all events the Government agreed that if they were to meddle with the machinery of the Boor Law, it would be impossible to maintain the existing system of ex officio Guardians without change. A second point of agreement was that ex officio Guardians had in many parts of the country done a work in the interests of Poor Law reform the value of which could not be exaggerated. There was a third point—that if they insisted upon having a system by which ex officio 236 Guardians were either excluded altogether, or could only be chosen in place of the ordinary Guardians by going through all the worry and labour of a contested election, they would exclude some of the best and most desirable members who could be found. Had they not some right to appeal to the Government to do something more than make a concession, which he would not characterise as illusory, but which was very small and insignificant? This is the appeal we made to them, and it has also been made by my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment. The Radical Party—those who particularly pride themselves on being Radicals of the orthodox type—object to this proposal because they appear to think it is a Tory scheme, and that there is some mysterious form of Party advantage obtained. What on earth have we as Party men to gain? Absolutely none. Whether the Amendment, be accepted or rejected cannot matter one farthing to the comfort, dignity, or political influence of any single Member of the Party. We only desire to safeguard the interests of the public, and it is evident that we cannot desire anything else. The very fact that we have advocated some retention of the ex officio element may be urged against country Members who have taken that course, but at all events it is perfectly evident that in the action which we have taken we were actuated by motives wholly divorced from Party and political issues. What arguments have either the Government or those who sit behind them brought forward against this Amendment? I put it to the Radical Party, or to that sprinkling of them who happen to he present, whether they think they have any reason to be proud of the line which they have taken up? The argument brought forward by the Opposition has been directed solely to good Poor Law administration. To what have the arguments on the other side been directed? No hon. Member has had the audacity to suggest that we shall have better, or even as good machinery as now when we have passed the Bill. The only thing pretended has been that, upon certain abstract, doctrinaire, and somewhat threadbare principles, it is impossible to have any form of co-optation. Is that common-sense? 237 Is it a businesslike way of approaching the subject? Is that a way in which we can raise ourselves in the eyes of the public? All the arguments drawn from prolonged personal experience are on one side; and on the other nothing but empty platitudes, scarcely fit to be repeated upon a public platform. I trust that the Government will see that, both from the point of view of Parliamentary expedition and from the permanent interests of Poor Law administration, they should go a little further along the path the advantages of which, I think, they have shown some indication of seeing. I trust I have now made myself perfectly clear upon this matter.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman has appealed to the Government, and I must ask the Committee to consider what is the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman himself has taken up. Only a few days ago I asked hon. Gentlemen opposite to state what, in their view, would be a proper solution of the difficulty. From that day to this the right, hon. Gentleman has not stated what that solution is, and the Government Lave in vain endeavoured to extract from the right hon. Gentleman any proposal to which they would adhere, and to come forward and make that proposal to the Government. What is the use of the Government making any fresh proposals when the proposal which they have made is apparently accepted one day, but rejected the next? The Government Lave, both publicly and privately, endeavoured from day to day to get at the mind of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite. We have even given them a proposal which we hoped would settle the matter. It would be perfectly idle for us to put forward any further proposition; for no sooner would it be made, and apparently accepted, than it would be rejected, and we would be then told it was insufficient. If this matter is of such supreme importance as it is stated to be, why have right hon. Gentlemen opposite not made up their minds about it?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman has repeated now what I suppose ho said before, when f was not in my place—namely, that we had expressed last night our intention of accepting his proposal, and that to-day we have 238 receded from it. I expressed last night my intention of accepting it if I could get nothing better. We accepted it as better than nothing. We have been telling the Government for days past what our position is. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells moved an Amendment in favour of which my hon. Friend next me (Mr. Long) spoke, of which the Member for Bodmin and the Member for Carnarvonshire expressed their approval, and of which I should have expressed my approval if I had not been cut out by the incidents of the Debate. We defended it in argument and voted for it. What more could we do? That was rejected. Then my hon. Friend behind me made another proposal, one of far less value, I think, and necessarily so. I should certainly vote for that if it comes to a Division. It was a strange statement for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make, when he said that no proposition had been made in response to his invitation. The Government must have known that their arguments would not satisfy the Opposition, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was really putting the saddle on the wrong horse.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
said, that the Opposition had been put in rather a difficult position by the attitude the Government had taken up. Only an hour ago the President of the Local Government Board made a most unyielding speech; but now the Chancellor of the Exchequer had got up, as he got up the other night, in a much more conciliatory manner. The Chancellor of the Exchequer drew on unfortunate Members of the Opposition to make propositions; and they were then thrown overboard. He protested against the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The action of the Opposition in this matter had been the action on every great Bill—at any rate, over since he had been in Parliament. If he had learnt anything as to the method of carrying out this process, it had been learnt from hon. Gentlemen now sitting on the Ministerial side of the House. It was absurd to charge the Opposition with obstruction. [Ironical Ministerial laughter.] He was only saying what hon. Gentlemen said a few years ago almost in the same words. He had often looked forward to the 239 opportunity when he should have to say it.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
said, he did not propose to argue the question again; but if his hon. Friend thought proper to take the sense of the Committee on the Amendment, although he was not an enthusiastic advocate of the particular proposal, yet by way of protest he should give his vote in favour of it.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 54; Noes 112.—(Division List, No. 395.)
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again,"—(Mr. H. H. Fowler,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Wednesday next.