§ [TWENTY-SEVENTH NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 19 (Election and qualification of Guardians).
§ MR. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)
moved an Amendment limiting the period of office of Poor Law Guardians to one year, the whole Board to go out of office on the 15th April in every year. He asked, in the first place, if he would be entitled on this Amendment to use arguments which would also be applicable to the holding of office by rural District Councillors, as he was desirous that their case should also be dealt with?
§ MR. STEPHENS
said, he would, then, confine himself to the terms of the Amendment, which dealt with one of the most serious and dangerous innovations proposed by Clause 19. In meeting the the arguments of those who were opposed to the change in the administration of the Poor Law because they feared widespread pauperism by reason of the impulsiveness or rashness of the elected Boards, the President of the Local Government Board had urged that he himself held the key of the situation by virtue of his Rules and Regulations and prohibitory Orders, and that he really controlled the administration of the poor relief. It struck him at the time that the right hon. Gentleman might have gone much further, because by the provisions which he had introduced he was thrusting the pick of the ratepayers from any part—either for mischief or for good—in the administration of relief. The ratepayers now elected the Guardians for one year, and they all went off together but under this clause they would be elected for throe years, and only one-third would go off every year. Under that arrangement the ratepayers would he submitted, retain no control over their representatives, for during the yearthe new elements would be fused in the 448 general body and would adopt the views of that body. The clause as a whole was an enormous stride in the direction of centralisation, and now was the time to ask whether such wholesale centralisation was desirable or wise, and whether the changes that would result from it were foreseen by the Committee. There was very considerable risk in allowing a Government Department in London to absorb nearly all the control over Poor Law administration, and to centre in its hands practically the whole responsibility for that administration throughout the country. When they had an army of unemployed knocking at the door of the Local Government Board Office the Government might realise the gravity of the change which might be established by this clause. The Local Government Board had this year issued Circulars respecting the provision of employment, but very little result had been obtained. As a matter of fact, the Board was destitute of the local information which would enable it to deal properly with the question of the unemployed. In the country districts there was very seldom indeed any contest for positions on Boards of Guardians. The extreme control and centralisation maintained by the Local Government Board was of a kind to disgust most men and prevent them obtaining a seat on the Boards of Guardians. Yet many of the servants of the Union were servants not of the Guardians, but of the Local Government Board. He believed the Guardians had power to discharge a domestic servant and to dismiss a nurse or a porter; but the schoolmaster, the schoolmistress, the master, the matron, and the district medical officer were all the servants of the Local Government Board. Men had not much encouragement to assume positions of nominal responsibility when they were allowed so little real responsibility and were fettered by the Central Body in a manner which was so offensive. There was another matter which made positions on Boards of Guardians distasteful to many. A Guardian in the country must be practically prepared to start at 10 in the morning and spenda whole day in some distant place. There was generally speaking in a parish one person who was willing to undertake those duties—generally the parson or a large farmer. The Government might alter the franchise as much 449 as they liked, but they would not get many persons under such circumstances to accept service on a Board of Guardians. It was said by some hon. Members that a system which worked well in the boroughs ought to work well in the country districts. There was, however, no analogy whatever between the two cases. In the towns the representatives knew every part of the area with which they had to deal, and it was easy to take a complete view of the representatives on the one hand and the represented on the other. In a country Union most of the Guardians had nor been in four-fifths of the parishes of which the Union was composed and were as ignorant as the Local Government Board itself with regard to local conditions. In urban districts under the system of long terms of office, with one-third of the representatives going out at a time, the interest in local affairs had very much decreased. Nearly all the elections turned on some personal basis, and the meetings which used to be held to give the inhabitants of a district an opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of each other and of the fitness of various people to deal with local affairs had been abandoned. No doubt the Ratepayers' Associations had been set up, but such Associations found that they could do very little, inasmuch as the long terms of office, with the provision that one-third of the representatives should retire annually, made almost any form of obtaining relief from maladministration impossible. The real effect of adopting the provision that the term of service should be three years, and that one-third of the members should retire annually, would practically be to catch the ratepayers in a trap, and he was not himself in favour of either nobbling the ratepayers or destroying their interest in local affairs. The Local Government Board had been a comparative failure, and he should like to see a return to the old state of things where relief was administered by bodies representing small areas.
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'three years' stand part of the Clause."
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
The hon. Member who has just sat down complained very severely of the attitude and conduct of the Local Government Board. The Local Government Board have a very difficult part to play in the course of these Debates. On some nights we have Members urging that the largest powers should be given to the Local Government Board; that they shall be authorised to nominate Guardians in every Union in the Kingdom, and that they can be trusted to exercise such power with discretion and justice; whilst on another night an hon. Member says that the Board are a failure in their Poor Law administration and that their action constitutes a gigantic monument of useless centralisation. If you, Sir Julian Goldsmid, had not called him to Order, the hon. Gentleman was evidently going to declare his preference for the state of things which existed prior to 1834.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
A century ago then. At all events, what we have to deal with is the system administered to-day. The hon. Member has raised a very serious and important question as to the term of office of Guardians—namely, whether they should serve for three years or for one year. As the Committee is aware, under the present system Boards of Guardians are elected for one year only in most cases. The Local Government Board has power, however, to substitute for the period of one year a period of three years, and we have already made orders on the application of the largest Unions in the Kingdom by which the Guardians are now elected for three years. This has been done in upwards of 100 Unions—pretty nearly one-sixth of the whole number—there being a clear indication on the part of the public in these localities that they prefer a triennial to an annual election. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this. No doubt one is the great expense of annual elections, and another is that continuity of the administration of the Poor Law is secured if the Guardians are left undis- 451 turbed for three years. The view of the Government is this: There are two objects to be aimed at—first, continuity of administration, and, secondly, keeping the Guardians in touch with popular feeling and sentiment. The scheme we have proposed to the House is not a scheme of our own, but a scheme based upon that which has prevailed in our Municipalities since 1835—a scheme which has worked admirably, of which I do not think anyone has complained, and which I am sure no one would propose to alter—namely, that the period of election should be for three years, but that one-third of the Members of the Board should go out every year. By adopting this plan you secure on the one hand uniformity and on the other the pressure of public opinion on any question that may arise. We propose that this system shall apply to both our Urban and Rural District Councils, and that the same system shall apply to the Boards of Guardians. There is a feeling that it is desirable that these Bodies should all go out together. Last night I had to say, in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Bodmin Division (Mr. Courtney), that I was not much enamoured of the present method of electing School Boards, nor am I in love with the way in which they escape the pressure of public opinion for three years. I think that, irrespective of the cumulative vote, Mr. Forster would have done well to have followed the example of the Municipalities. Therefore, as far as School Boards are concerned, they are not a precedent I should he disposed to follow. I would appeal to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney), and to other Members who have attached supreme importance to a wise administration of the Poor Law, that they should endeavour, as far as possible, to preserve continuity of administration in reference to the bodies which are now dealing with it. If the whole of the members of the Boards of Guardians were to go out at one time you would run the risk of having an entirely new Board elected. A sudden gust of popular opinion upon some engrossing question which might arouse a good deal of excitement might, at all events, materially affect the constitution of the Board. The Board would thus be placed very much in touch with public opinion at the moment of 452 election, but would be exempted altogether from the pressure of public opinion for three years. These are the reasons which have made us bring forward our present proposal. I will not go into the question now at any length, because the policy of the Government may be summed up in one sentence. We think it desirable to secure, on the one hand, that the Boards of Guardians should retain some continuity of administration by electing for three years men who may be experienced in administration, and we also think it desirable that public opinion should be brought to bear upon them annually by the election of one-third of their number. We shall not increase expense in this way. Practically no rural parish will have more than one election in three years, although there will be an election every year in different parishes in the Unions. I do not deny that there are some difficulties in the way of the adoption for the country districts of the system which has hitherto prevailed only in towns, but I see no insuperable difficulty. I think that, with the aid of the County Council, we shall be able to get very workable groups of parishes by which the triennial system may be carried out. This is no Party question, nor is it one on which I am going at present to dogmatise to the Committee. The proposal we make, however, is that which, after careful consideration, we regard as the best mode of carrying out this election. I shall listen with great interest to what hon. Members may say on the subject; but, as at present advised, I see no reason whatever why the Government should recede from the position they have taken up, and, therefore, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.
§ SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, he confessed he entirely agreed with the Government in the proposal to make the election of Guardians triennial, but he thought they should adopt in its completeness the analogy of the County Councils and the School Boards. He had come to this conclusion from the experience which had been forthcoming of the working of the triennial system with regard to the County Councils. No fewer than 100 Boards of Guardians out of 640 had taken advantage of the power given to them of having triennial elections, and out of the 100 there were 453 only 13 in which it had been arranged that one-third of the Board should retire annually. In all the other cases the whole of the members were elected triennially. In Lancashire a most remarkable group of Unions had adopted the triennial system with the provision that all the members should go out together; it included such towns as Barrow, Blackburn, Burnley, Manchester, Oldham, Ormskirk, Prescot, Preston, Stockport, Ulverstone, and Warrington. In Yorkshire there was another group of most important Unions who had adopted the same system, including Barnsley, Bradford, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Sheffield, and Wakefield. He himself was an ex officio Guardian in Bradford, and he had not heard a word of complaint as to the working of the system.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
will the hon. Baronet give the names of those Unions in which the system of triennial election with one-third retiring annually has been adopted?
§ SIR F. S. POWELL
said, he would read the list with pleasure. The Lancashire group included Bolton, Bury, Lancaster, Salford, Toxteth Park, and West Derby, whilst in Yorkshire there were Goole, Halifax, and Pontefract. He did not think the analogy between the boroughs and the Unions was quite complete. The borough formed one Union and was divided info wards under the Municipal Corporations Act, and he found by experience that a redistribution of wards created no friction; but if an attempt were made to divide a parish or group of parishes into divisions for Poor Law purposes, the result would be to break up parochial activity and the corporate life of the parishes, which everybody desired to maintain. He, therefore, thought that the analogy between the two cases failed.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
entirely supported the view of the Government with regard to the throe years' period, but wished to guard himself from the supposition that he did so on the same grounds as his right hon. Friend. Whilst he was in favour of triennial elections he entirely dissented from the proposal that one-third of the members should go out year by year. It was not possible that such an arrangement could be made in multitudes of Unions without involving questions of boundary, of grouping, and 454 of the arrangement of the lists, which could not well be solved. In his district triennial elections had been found amply sufficient to secure full attention on the part of the public to the matters dealt with by School Boards.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
said, it was a strong argument in favour of the retirement of the Boards of Guardians all together every three years that out of 100 oases which had been mentioned in the Report of the Local Government Board for 1892–3 in only 13 did the Guardians retire by thirds annually. He believed that the retirement of the whole Board at the end of three years would produce more competition for seats and would arouse more public interest in the election than the retirement of one-third of the members annually. The former scheme would also result in a saving of expense, because there would be only one set of elections instead of three every three years. A reference to Clause 47 of the Bill would show that complications would ensue under the scheme proposed by the Government. When the areas were set tip each area would be divided into three parts, and the Guardians and Councillors for each part would retire in rotation, the elections each year being over the whole of the area, and not over a third of the area. The Select Committee of 1878, which considered the position of Poor Law Guardians, recommended retirement at the end of three years. They felt that the triennial system would reduce the personal inconvenience of voters who attended the poll, and, further, that the triennial retirement of the whole Boards would reduce the cost, and that the turmoil of elections would recur only at long intervals. They therefore came to the conclusion that Guardians of the Poor in England should be elected for three years, and that all should retire together. It was also suggested that difficulties might arise in applying the Local Board system to parishes the number of whoso representatives was neither three nor a multiple of three. The Local Authorities (Voting and Qualification) Bill, which was backed by eight Gladstonian Members, contained a clause dealing with the term of office of Guardians, and proposing that Poor Law Guardians and 455 members of Local Boards of Health should be elected for a term of three years, and should then retire together. There was, therefore, support on the Ministerial side of the House for the proposition that the whole of the members of Boards of Guardians should retire together at the end of three years.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he did not think that the proposition that all the Guardians should go out every year would get much support from either side of the House, because its adoption would lead to continual electoral excitement in parishes, where as soon as one election had been finished another would be thought of. Besides that, a single year was not a sufficiently long period in which to carry out any particular policy, or, at all events, to see the results of its adoption. He attached great importance to continuity of policy on Boards of Guardians as well as on County Councils. At the same time, when all the members of a Local Body were liable to go out every three years an undue influence was given to the permanent officials. Although, as a rule, the great majority of the retiring members were re-elected, one could not always be sure that that would be the case, as some question of policy might crop up which might lead to the displacement of the whole body. He was quite aware that there were more difficulties in the way of an annual retirement of members in parishes than existed in reference to Town Councils, but he believed those difficulties could be readily overcome. Under the scheme of the Government there would be only one election in each parish in every three years, so that there would be only one expression of popular opinion in that parish during the triennial period; but elections would take place in other parishes in the district, which would show whether the policy adopted had the approval or non-approval of the electors. The advantages of this system would be counterbalanced by any little expense which might be incurred. There would be some difficulty when the number of members could not be divided by three, but that difficulty might he overcome without much trouble. The system proposed by the Government had worked in the Municipalities without a flaw, and had been found to be useful in regard both to continuity and to the ascertain- 456 ment of public opinion on the policy adopted. Instead of producing violent changes and leading to a reversal to-day of the policy of yesterday, it led to a gradual improvement in policy. Under these circumstances he hoped the Government would adhere to their proposition; and so much was he in favour of their plan that he should have liked to see it applied to the Parish Councils as well as to the Boards of Guardians. It must be remembered that the administration of the Boor Law was going to be vitally altered, and it was, therefore, of the more importance that an opportunity should be afforded for the expression of public opinion every year. Every argument founded on experience was in favour of the system professed by the Government.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
This is one of those matters of which there are so many in this Bill, as there must necessarily be in any Bill of the kind, which raise no Party difference between the two sides of the House, and which are matters of machinery on which most of ns have our individual opinions. I am anxious to express mine because they are not entirely in accordance with those which are, I think, held by my right hon. Friends who sit near me. In the first place, I entirely agree with what fell from the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) as to the very great difficulties the Government will have to deal with if they adhere to their proposition of annual retirements of one-third of the members of the Boards of Guardians. There are difficulties of boundaries and difficulties of other kinds which I think, when they are practically tackled, will be found almost insuperable. But I do not wish to dwell on that point at the present moment. What I would say, however, is this: that I think the analogy drawn by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) between the Union and the Municipality is entirely erroneous. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Sir F. S. Powell) so well remarked, it is the custom for people living in one town to act and think as one body, and if there be any feeling that the Town Council has misconducted itself in any way that feeling will pervade the whole Municipality and will be found in those wards in which 457 there are retirements just as much as in the wards in which there may he no retirements. In some cases I think the whole number of Town Councillors in certain wards retire annually.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
That is so in some cases, but not in all. I am acquainted with Municipalities in which I think the whole number of members for certain wards retire in some years and the whole number for other wards in other years. In the case of the different parishes of a Union the interests and sympathies and feelings of the inhabitants may absolutely differ one from another. A Board of Guardians may do something which injuriously affects the interests of some parishes, but is very popular in others. I do not think, therefore, that there is any force in the analogy which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn between the Board of Guardians and the Town Council, and I believe that when we come to debate this question we are very likely to be forced to a choice between election for three years without annual retirements and election for one year. I am not at all sure that the continuity in administration which the right hon. Gentleman and, I suppose, the Committee generally desire will not be quite as well secured in practice by an annual as by a triennial election. This, at any rate, is perfectly certain: that in a great majority of the Boards of Guardians in the country at the present moment the same men are elected year after year to perform the duties of Guardians without any contest whatever. I could quote other cases of the same kind. Take, for instance, the wardmotes of the City of London. There you have an annual retirement of, I believe, all the Town Councillors of Loudon, and you will see year after year the old members re-elected without change except when new members are elected in place of those who do not wish to sit again, so that practical continuity of administration is secured just as much as if the election were for a longer period. It is even more secured, because I think a triennial election is far more likely to provoke contests than an annual election would be. I very much ques- 458 tion whether there is not likely to be greater administrative change under a body the elections of which occur at wide intervals than under a body where the elections occur annually. We are making what appears to many of us to be a vital change in regard to the persons to be chosen to administer the Poor Law. That change is much more likely to be felt at the first than at future elections. If the Poor Law has been administered hitherto in a manner which is unpopular with those who will in future have the preponderating power in the choice of the Guardians of the Union they will certainly be anxious to make a radical change in the composition of the Boards at the fist election. What, then, should we have under a triennial system without annual retirements? We should have the Board of Guardians established for three years, without any responsibility whatever to the electors during that time, and capable of doing infinite harm not only to the ratepayers, but also to the poor by maladministration for that period. For these reasons I confess that personally I should prefer to retain the existing system under which the election is annual, with power to the Local Government Board, on proof that it is desired in the locality to extend the period of office for three years. I feel most strongly that we have to choose now between an election for a term of three years certain and an election for one year certain, and it is for that reason that I have ventured to trouble the Committee with these observations.
§ * MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that annual elections would lead to fewer congests than triennial elections. He believed that the number of contests would be quite as great, whilst the opportunity of having contests would be much multiplied. If they adopted the new system they must adopt it for better and worse, and must, trust to the members of the Boards gaining experience during the three years, and feeling that responsibility which attached to most men when elected to such an office. They must, trust to them not to abuse their powers during the three years, and to properly fulfil the duties with which the electors had entrusted them. He could not believe that the precedent alluded to by the right 459 hon. Gentleman with reference to the election of Common Councillors in London quite stood on all-fours with the case of the body which was now being considered. The electors would be of a very different kind, and he did not think that the occasions for contests should be unnecessarily multiplied. The Committee must not be too much led away by the precedent of the Municipal Corporations Act. They must remember what they had been in danger of forgetting on many points in this Bill—the great difference between town populations and country communities. In towns public opinion affected the whole mass of the people, whilst in the country the circumstances of parochial life made the waves of opinion very various, and caused them to be much broken up. All the precedents for the scheme proposed in the Bill were purely urban precedents. They were those of Town Councils, Local Boards, and a very limited number of Boards of Guardians. Out of the long list of 100 Boards of Guardians that had adopted triennial elections, as had already been pointed out by the hon. Member for Wigan (Sir F. S. Powell) there were only 13 which had chosen to adopt the system of retiring by thirds, and what he thought had not been pointed out was that those 13 almost without exception included districts with a very large urban population. On the other hand, a great many of the Boards which had chosen the mode of retiring all together were bodies not with urban, but with scattered rural populations. Moreover, there was the precedent of the County Council, which he did not think had been mentioned by the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler), but which was fully debated in the House of Commons live years ago, and which had proved to be a success. There was also the precedent of the School Boards, which certainly in country districts had given satisfaction, and further there was the precedent of the very large majority of the Boards of Guardians which had been mentioned. In view of these precedents and of the difficulty of arranging the various parishes into groups for purposes of elections, he certainly thought the general balance of argument was in favour of the simpler plan. It was said that bodies elected for three years, and going out all 460 together, would not be sufficiently sensitive to popular opinion, but be thought that, considering the way in which they were to be elected, they would not lose touch with the electors. With regard to continuity, he thought there was more room for doubt. It was quite true that one element of continuity—namely, the ex officio members, was being got rid of. But as the Boards were to be reconstituted on thoroughly popular lines, Members must have the courage of their opinions, and must take the Boards for better or for worse. The advantages of the triple system were not very great, and they would avoid a great deal of complexity by adopting a system which he thought would give more general satisfaction in the different parishes, and which in practice had been found to work successfully in the counties and rural districts.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said, he was not himself an enthusiastic admirer of the Bill, but he thought there were some good provisions in it, and that the present section comprised one of its few lucid intervals. He spoke for perhaps the most distressed districts in England, South-East Essex, where the land was going out of cultivation absolutely by parishes. The Amendment would multiply expense by leading to many elections, and that was just what people in his district did not want. They had very little money, and they would have none at all if the expenses were increased. In South-East Essex the rates and taxes now amounted to 10s. an acre, and, therefore, if the Amendment came to anything, the best thing they could do would be to retire from business altogether. Perhaps his bon. Friend would not take his Amendment to a Division, but, if he did, he (Major Rasch) was sorry to say he should have to vote against it.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
said, that, as much allusion had been made to the School Board elections, and, as he had gone through more of them perhaps than any other Member now in the House, he desired to offer a very few remarks to the Committee on the subject. He presumed that the Amendment really touched the principle of the subsection, the point of which was that the elections should be for three years, and that one-third of the body should retire 461 annually. By that plan two advantages would undoubtedly be gained—one being what was called continuity of administration, and the other the constant, incessant touch of the members with public opinion. He granted that these were advantages, but, on the other hand, there was this disadvantage: that under such a plan no body of men could be made responsible for what had happened. This, to his mind, was a disadvantage of the very gravest character. If there were a fixed term for a reasonable number of years, responsibility could be brought homo to those who had served up to the time of the election. Those who had been in office could be made answerable for the success or failure of a particular policy, and he submitted that a sense of responsibility in those who carried on the administration was the best possible incentive to good work. If that incentive wore taken away the ratepayers could not possibly bring home the responsibility to any one body of men. There would be no such thing as a policy propounded and carried out by any particular set of men, and no set of men would have any chance of showing what they could do, or of presenting any result of their administration for the approval or disapproval of the ratepayers. The great body on which he acted, the School Board of London, had often been referred to in the course of the Debate. A year hence he and his colleagues would have to explain to the ratepayers of London what they had done, and they would be judged, and praised or condemned, accordingly. But, suppose one-third of their number retired annually, there would be so much of in-coming and of out-going that the Board as a whole could not be held responsible, whereas under present conditions their responsibility was complete. The cardinal and essential point of any administration under a representative system was that someone should be made responsible. But if there were these constant retirements, no one would be responsible for anything, for there would be no body of men who could be brought to the bar of public opinion for judgment. There was a great advantage in having a fixed body of men for a fixed term, be it short, or be it long, so that the electors, who were the ultimate masters, and whose money had been spent, 462 might be the judges of the conduct of those whom they had elected to represent them. In no other way could responsibility be brought home to the persons who were properly answerable for the results. For these reasons he was opposed to the Government plan. The right hon. Member for Bodmin seemed to think that if they had those complete retirements from the Boards at the end of a certain term, too much power would be thrown into the hands of the officials. That was not their experience on the School Board of London. The old members who were re-elected kept a check on the paid officials who served the Board with a fidelity worthy of all praise. As to the question of having a term of one or three years, he was in favour of three years. If men were given a term of three years they would have a chance of exhibiting the stuff of which they were made and their capacity for administration. Unless they were given some such term they would have no chance of doing so. He admitted that there was a great difference between town and country. His experience in this matter was more urban than rural, but if it should be desirable to have annual elections rather than triennial, they might hope that the same body of men would be re-elected with some individual changes. However, except this should happen he would be against annual elections, because, among other things, it would be open to the objection that they would have a constant and perplexing series of elections throughout the country. How the parishes could go through the turmoil of these elections year after year he could not imagine. He would far sooner run all the risk of triennial elections, because, as he had shown, when all the members of a Board retired together they could be brought more effectively before the bar of public opinion, whoso judgment they must obey.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
There; appears to be a difference of opinion on this point, and no doubt it is difficult to supply a possible solution. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment suggests that there should be annual elections and a general retirement, while my hon. Friend who has just sat down prefers triennial elections and a general retirement. I must confess my own decided 463 preference for the plan proposed in the Government Bill. The hon. Member for Somersetshire appears to think that in country districts the difficulties with regard to the election of a third annually will be very great and that the system will not be understood. But surely the complication is not so great as to be likely seriously to embarrass country electors. It is a very simple matter after all, and I cannot believe that the practical difficulties are great. If the practical difficulties of the Government plan are not great, its advantages appear to me to be very great. We have been contending for some nights that, in order to preserve continuity of Poor Law administration, it would be desirable to retain the ex officio element as the natural bond of connection between one Board of Guardians and another which may succeed it. The Government plan goes some little way to meet the difficulties which so many of us apprehend from the destruction of the ex officio element. It does give this advantage, that one Board of Guardians could be dove-tailed into another; could gradually grow out of another, and may succeed another without any break in the continuity of administration. That, I think, a great advantage, and the hon. Baronet who spoke last has not at all convinced me by his arguments, although they wore drawn from a personal and valuable experience. The hon. Baronet said that if we allow a third of a Board to retire annually there is no single occasion on which the conduct of the Board as a whole would come before the electors. That is true; but there is no such thing as the responsibility of the whole Board to the whole of the electors, though there is the responsibility of individual members to a portion of the electors. There can be no responsibility under the representative system, but an individual responsibility, and that will be retained whether members retire as a whole or by annual retirement of a third. One of the things of which some are afraid is that Boards of Guardians may be elected during some period of popular excitement upon topics irrelevant to Poor Law administration. Well, occasionally violent opinions may be held and violent language indulged in, and there may be imported into elections considerations which ought to be entirely absent from 464 the minds of the electors when Guardians of the Poor are to be chosen. That is a danger which cannot wholly be avoided. It is a danger which will affect the third which happen to be elected in that year of popular excitement, but the two-thirds happily elected before will not be touched by it, and therefore that sobriety of administration which is so desirable will be preserved. I admit that these two considerations outweigh all the arguments, valuable as they are, which have been urged by my friends on this side of the House and by hon. Members opposite. For that reason I think the Government have been well advised in making the proposal in the Bill, and I hope, if the matter is brought to a Division, they will find the great mass of the Committee disposed to support it.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, that this at least was a subject which might be debated without any Party or political feeling whatever. It was really a matter that could be approached from various standpoints. Those who feared expense would desire that the election should be every three years instead of every year. He was not one of those who desired to see expense unreasonably incurred; but he was bound to say that there seemed to be no reason why, if the elections of Guardians were to be annual, they should not take place on the same day as the election for the Parish Council and the District Council. The President of the Local Government Board had pointed to the example of the Urban Municipalities, in which one-third of the Councillors retired every year. The right hon. Gentleman—if he would forgive him for saying so—looked at these questions through urban spectacles, and was unable to regard them from a rural point of view; and however excellent those proposals might be in Urban Municipalities, it by no means followed that the same facility and complicity of work would be obtained in urban districts. He believed that enormous difficulty would attend the application of the Government's proposal. As he understood the system, it would be the duty of the County Council to divide every Union into three equal divisions. He objected to that, because it would create a new local area. They had been striving for years to get rid of overlapping areas, and to establish areas which were understandable; but these 465 proposed groups of parishes would be now areas and, on that account, open to objection. He was quite aware of the value of continuity of administration, but they would have to look for that in the re-election of the Guardians, who had shown themselves to be the wisest and best administrators. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol had said that he was in favour of annual elections, as it was to he feared that at the first elections a clean sweep would be made of the old and experienced Guardians. If that be so, was it not reasonable to fear that the now body of men, without experience, might try to introduce into the administration of the Poor Law the evils which the Poor Law Inspectors were endeavouring to correct? He could quote passages from the Reports of the Inspectors to show that the most difficult and delicate tasks to be discharged by Boards of Guardians required persons of experience—
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The hon. Baronet is now going far beyond the question. We are discussing, first, whether the election shall be every three years, or every one year; and, secondly, whether the retirements shall be one-third every year or the whole every three years.
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
It is not a question of the administration of poor relief. The question is the election of Guardians.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, he desired to accept the ruling of the Chair completely; but the election of Boards of Guardians meant election of those who had to administer the poor relief—
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
There is no such question before us. That has been discussed by the Committee abundantly. Hon. Members have confined themselves to the true question before the Committee, and the hon. Baronet must do the same.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, he had come to the conclusion that there was much to he said in favour of the Amendment before the Committee. It would leave things more as they were; it would be the better and more wholesome system, and he would, therefore, support it.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, he thought the question whether the elections should be annual or triennial, or whether one-third of the Guardians or the whole should go out together, was really of no importance if the rest of the Bill wore to stand as it was, because, undoubtedly, under the Bill every Board of Guardians was put in the hollow of the hand of the President of the Local Government Board, and would be mere puppets of the right hon. Gentleman.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he was venturing to suggest that the election of puppets was not a matter of importance—
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
Those are not the proper terms in which to treat the serious question before us.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he would endeavour to adopt the tone suggested by the Deputy Chairman; but he was afraid that it would be difficult to treat seriously the cases of those Guardians who would be elected for throe years according to the Bill, but who, according to certain clauses in the Bill dealing with the powers of the Local Government Board, would have practically no powers of their own.
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must confine himself to the Question before the Committee, which is, whether the elections shall be annual or triennial.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, that if popular election was to be of any value the period of election should be for one year, and that it should cover the whole of the Board of Guardians and not merely one-third, as was suggested by the clause. He could not understand how anyone framing a Bill and endeavouring to preserve the popular rights of the inhabitants could conceive the idea of allowing one-third to go out of office annually and not the whole. If they allowed one-third to go out and left in two-thirds there was no more certain mode of perpetuating any clique that might exist in the Board. This system of allowing one-third of a body to retire alone had always boon found 467 to perpetuate cliques. He knew that was called continuity, but the electors might not wish for continuity; they might be desirous of breaking the continuity, and he was sure the Committee would not suggest that the system should be adopted in regard to this House or any serious public deliberative assembly, even though the most important interests were submitted to it. If they were to make the Guardians the creatures of popular election, then do not run away from their principle; do not be afraid to allow the electors to return all the Guardians at one and the same time, otherwise they defeated the purpose they professed to desire. It seemed to him that the Guardians would be placed in a cruel position by other clauses in the Bill; but if they rejected this Amendment their position would be cruellest of all, because it would leave the two-thirds practically under the thumb of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) would come properly as a proviso at the end of the clause or as a separate subsection.
§ SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, he wished to move the following Amendment:—In page 13, line 6, to leave out from the word "years," to the end of the clause, and insert the words, "and their election shall be triennial and not annual, and the enactments relating to the office and election of Guardians shall be modified accordingly.He would not repeat the arguments he had already used on former Amendments, but he might remind the Committee that he then drew a distinction between the case of boroughs and the case of Unions. He might add that from his own experience he found that in his borough it was possible to divide the borough into wards without any dislocation of any public sentiment; but he believed that parishes could not be grouped and dealt with without severe dislocation. In the case of a municipal borough there was an election in every ward every year, but in the case proposed by the Government there would be an election in one-third of the Union only in every year. It was in consequence of these differences between the case of 468 boroughs and the case of Unions that he ventured to move his Amendment.
In page 13, line 6, to leave out from the word "years," to the end of the clause, and insert the words "and their election shall be triennial and not annual, and the enactments relating to the office and election of Guardians shall be modified accordingly."—(Sir F. S. Powell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'and one-third as nearly as may be' stand part of the Clause."
§ SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, he hoped the Committee would be guided by the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Manchester (Mr. A. J. Balfour), and retain in the Bill this provision for securing continuity. He heard the observations against that which were delivered by his hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles), but it appeared to him that if there was one subject on which continuity was more desirable than another, it was in relation to the administration of the Poor Law. They had heard much about the danger of relaxation, but he could conceive a worse danger, and that was, sudden changes and reversals of policy, He could conceive nothing more demoralising than Poor Law administered in one way one year and in an opposite way in the succeeding year, and for that reason he trusted that the proposal in favour of continuity would he maintained. Some observations had been made that the example of the boroughs was not conclusive, but there was this to be said in its favour; that it was a wide example and was the result of long experience. In the case of some boroughs, they had practically what were rural communities, and in boroughs they had another security for continuity that was wanting here, and that was the existence of aldermen. It had been said that the present elections were annual. That was true, with some exceptions, but it should be remembered that the ex officios existed in the past, and, in a sense, secured continuity. He considered that the proposal in the Bill was far better than the Amendment.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
said, he was sorry that matters had taken their present form, as he was afraid it would be impossible for him to move the Amendment standing in his name. He 469 intended to support the Amendment of the hon. Baronet, and he was glad of this opportunity of making one or two observations on the proposal of the Government. So far as the proposal of the Government was concerned, he would undertake to say that in practice it could not be given effect to. Anyone who knew anything of boroughs knew that the essential principle of the present arrangement was, that every year all the boroughs should be consulted, and for that purpose the boroughs were divided into wards of three members or multiples of three. In each year a third of the number of members of each year went out of office, so that all the town was consulted, and it was possible, therefore, to get an expression of opinion of every town on any matter that might arise. That was impossible here, for no one in his senses proposed they should begin by giving every parish three members, and yet that was the essential principle in regard to the retirement of a third. If they gave to every parish three members at least, and to other parishes the proportion they ought to have, the effect in his Union would be to have a Board of Guardians consisting of 114 members. That fact, he thought, disposed of that idea altogether. But they were left in this condition. The Government proposed that one-third should go out, but did not propose that one-third of all the parishes should go out; the Government proposed that one portion should retire, so that in one year the members for a portion of the Union—which might be 20, 30 or 40 miles from the other end of the Union—should go on, the members of the central portion of the Union, for example, should go out the next year, and in the third year the other end of the Union should have its members retire, and then it was gravely and seriously suggested that they got in that way continuity. Let them suppose that some burning question disturbed the Union—he did not know what it might be, for in his time he had never seen, during a quarter of a century of public life, any burning question that raised much feeling in any of the Unions he had had to do with, but he wished the Committee to suppose a case. In his opinion, if there were any such thing it was more likely to arise in connection with the sanitary affairs of the Rural Sanitary Authority. It might be that the 470 one-third that went out might be opposed to a particular course, whilst the two-thirds who remained were in favour of it. Those who went out could not add to their number, and therefore they were in exactly the same position as before, although the opinion of the whole Union might be with them. Then as to continuity, it was suggested that when they got the new method of voting there would be some sad changes. He knew, on the contrary, the same sort of men would be elected as were elected at present, and the same sort of policy would be carried out. In his district he was sure it would not make the difference of more than a man or two, and therefore if continuity depended on the confidence of the voters they would have continuity. His experience had been that when a man had served on the Board of Guardians intelligently and bad attended to his duties, no matter whether he were Whig, Radical or Tory, squire or shopkeeper, he was approved by the ratepayers in 99 cases out of a 100, and so it would be in this country so long as Englishmen inhabited the land. The objection he made to the alternative proposal of the Government mainly sprang from the extension he had been able to give to important details in working it out. Taking the Sunderland Union—and he took it because be happened to know it better than any other Union—it consisted of a number of parishes. As he understood his right hon. Friend, he was going to draw two lines through it so as to lint certain parishes into each group, one of which be would call A, another B, and another C; all the Guardians for A would come out in 1895, all the Guardians for B would come out in 1896, and all the Guardians for C would come out in 1897. Let them see how that would work out. First of all, the present condition of the Union was this: They had one parish which returned 16 members, another returned six members, another returned five members, three returned two members, and they had one which returned four members. He thought it would be evident to every Member who followed him that as to those parishes which returned one member, inasmuch as they were going to leave the parish to vote for its member, those parishes could only vote once in three years. Take the case of parishes that 471 had two members; the parishes were still to vote for the two members; therefore it was clear they could vote the first and the second year, but in the third year they would have no Guardian to vote for. [Cries of "No!"] Necessarily it must be so unless they elected two Guardians together, and that would make his case the stronger, because then in this double parish they would vote one year, and for two years they would have nothing to do. Now let them take the parish that had 16 members. It was very clear they would have to elect five one year, five the next year, and six the next year. [An hon. MEMBER: No, they might elect them all in the one year.] His hon. Friend suggested they should vote the whole 16 in one year. [An hon. MEMBER: No, the whole 37.] Certainly that might be done, but he presumed the plan of the Government would be to divide the Union into convenient portions, and if they did that they would have all the cost and trouble of an election three times instead of once, and what he would suggest to the Government was that they should have the elections once in three years, and have them altogether throughout the Union. But what was to be the plan now? In the Sunderland Division they would have the A election of Guardians one year, the B election the next year, and the C election the following year. Then they came to the District Council, which was to have an election one year in one part of the district, and another year if in another part of the district, and, therefore, they would have every year a series of elections disturbing, practically, the whole area, whereas their hope had been to have the elections once in three years, and so got rid of them. But there was another objection to the proposal of the Government—namely, the question of boundaries. He thought his right hon. Friend would find that in many parts of the country the difficulties as to boundaries would be insuperable, and still more so as to lists. In a borough there was a list prepared in wards, but under this plan of the Government the borough would have to be divided into sections for the purpose of the Guardians election, and, therefore, they would have to make the list into sections. Guardians voted by parishes, boroughs voted by wards which were not parishes, and the inevitable effect of the 472 arrangement would be that they would have to have in many towns, and probably in many country districts, a new list; that was to say, more trouble for the officials and enormously increased cost to the ratepayers. He had followed this thing out pretty fully, but it was difficult to fight his right hon. Friend, reinforced as he unfortunately was by the Leader of the Opposition. Nevertheless, the many difficulties he saw in this matter, the enormous increase of cost and trouble that would follow from it, made it so serious in his eyes that he should support the Amendment, though he was sorry to oppose the Government. His own judgment was that the scheme the Government proposed would be found to be impracticable when they came to deal with it in detail, and, as a matter of fact, it would not secure the opinion of the whole constituency each year upon any matter of importance that might arise. He hoped that the hon. Baronet opposite would press the matter to a Division; he might be defeated to-day, but he would certainly meet with his reward, as in 12 months it would be necessary to introduce an amending Bill to put the matter right.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
did not think the Amendment would read or carry out the object the hon. Baronet desired; but, at all events, he was quite willing, if the Rules of the House permitted, that the decision of the Committee should be taken on the point. His hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) not only expressed himself with ability, but also with great strength. He could assure the hon. Member that, in his humble way, he did consider himself to be in possession of his senses, and, being in possession of his senses, he made this deliberate proposal to the Committee which the hon. Member said that no man in his senses would make. He was bound to say, modestly and good-humouredly, that he claimed that attribute of common sense for himself and the Government he had the honour to represent. Having regard to the great ability of the Leader of the Opposition, it was a very great consolation to him to find that when he was charged with making a proposal which no man in his senses would make, that such a man as the Leader of the Opposition was with him in the same miserable plight, since 473 the right hon. Gentleman supported the Government in this matter. His hon. Friend had evidently not considered Clause 47. The hon. Member had given them the case of Sunderland, and he was quite aware that was not an easy case to deal with, but he had the greatest confidence in the capacity of the County Council of Durham and the Town Council of Sunderland, and he believed those Councils were quite able to deal with the difficulties the hon. Member had pointed out. The hon. Member had put before the Committee the difficulties of this case. If the hon. Member read the first sub-section of Clause 47 he would find the Council could deal with the number of parishes in Sunderland in making their scheme, and he would also find in the third sub-section the Council could group the parishes as it thought proper, and he (Mr. Fowler) ventured to think it ought to group them, as he thought 16 was too large a number for any single area, to have of representatives on any Board of Guardians. If there was any difficulty he was quite sure the Local Government Board would be glad to assist in removing it. There were difficulties in introducing a reform of this character. But the principle of the Bill was uniform, and he ventured to say was of easy application—namely, that there should be in every Union a complete change in the Guardians of that Union only once in three years. That change should not take place altogether, but in certain parishes of that Union there should be a change in 1895, in other parishes in 1896, and in certain others in 1897. What his hon. Friend meant by boundaries he was at a loss to understand. The boundaries would remain as they were, and the parishes as they were. Under Sub-section 3 the County Council was to say what parish was to vote in the first year, what parish in the second, and what parish in the third. The hon. Member regarded the whole proposal with some scorn as reflecting on his (Mr. Fowler's) administrative capacity. As he had said before, he did not, wish to dogmatise on this question; he put before the Committee what the Government regarded as an administrative reform, and he attached the greatest importance to a continuity of administration. He did not believe that in future 474 the elections of Boards of Guardians would be conducted as they had been in the past, and he did not think it right that they should be. He thought it light that there should be brought to hear, as there would be in future, on these elections the influence of an intelligent mass of public opinion which had not hitherto been brought to bear, and it was therefore desirable that provision should be made against sudden changes of policy. He took his stand on the tried experience of the Municipalities. He knew nobody who had experience of the work of Municipalities who would say that this system had broken down. It worked well, and there never had been any abrupt or rapid change in the policy of the Municipalities. One of the successes of their municipal administration had been this continuity of policy. That was the ground mainly upon which he recommended this change to the Committee, and he would venture to submit that this question had been very fully discussed on a former Amendment Although the question was now technically before the Committee, and although he did not wish to limit the discussion, he thought the question had already been very fairly threshed out, and he therefore asked the Committee to come to a decision on the point.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that because this subject had been discussed before it was a matter which could be altogether dismissed without any further discussion. There were certain difficulties to which it was necessary that attention should be called. He, for his part, entirely agreed with the Leader of the Opposition in his preference for an election for three years, with an annual retirement of one-third of the Board. He looked upon it as an advantage in the direction of continuity of policy, but in the proposal for the grouping of parishes and for the provision of triennial retirement in rural districts he saw difficulties which had been admirably described by the hon. Member for Sunderland, and which were real and practical and substantial. The Committee, he submitted, could not dismiss this question as they were invited to do by the President of the Local Government Board after a short discussion, and on the assurance 475 that what had worked well in the Municipalities would of necessity work well in the rural Unions. The first principle that, underlay this practice in boroughs was the division of a borough into districts as nearly equal in population and characteristics as they could be, so that the system of annual elections by one-third became very easy. But the proposal of the Government with regard to the machinery for carrying out this principle was, he thought, most inadequate and rather clumsy. As the hon. Member for Sunderland had pointed out in the case of the Municipalities, by the retirement annually of one-third of the Council the constituency had an opportunity of expressing its opinion as to the action of those elected, but that opportunity would not exist at all if the scheme of the Government were adopted. Under the scheme of the Bill it might be that the whole of the Guardians would retire in that part of the Union where the electors wished that there should be no change, while in the other two divisions the ratepayers might desire to express their opinion on the administration of the Board, and would be unable to do so for one or two years. Strongly though he felt himself in favour of an election for three years, with an annual retirement of one-third, unless they could amend the machinery which was provided by Clause 47, he believed that the proposal would fail in securing the object which the Government themselves had at heart. The result of the proposal might be that they would have the representatives of one area coming out when the constituency did not wish for any change, while in another area, where those who elected the Guardians desired to have some opportunity of expressing their opinion upon the administration of business, the Government practically said they could not have such an opportunity for another year or two years. The proposal had been shown to be absurd, not to be practicable, and was condemned on the face of it. He believed it would be practically impossible for the County Council to carry out the duties thrown upon it in connection with this proposal before it would come into operation. Suppose the Bill received the Royal Assent in three months, the County Councils would have to make themselves acquainted with its provisions, and would have to meet to 476 consider them before they could begin to make arrangements for carrying them out. He could not help thinking the Government had tried an impossible task in this matter. They had tried to assimilate two things which were totally dissimilar. The Government had attempted to combine in this Bill municipal and non-municipal arrangements. It would have been wiser to have had nothing to do with municipal arrangements, or else to have adopted them altogether; and if they had chosen to say that the Unions should retire in this system, it would have been better to have laid the obligation on the County Council of dividing into wards, and they would then not have had this capricious wholesale retirement of whole parts of the Union.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but that is not in the Bill. The hon. Member is proceeding entirely on a wrong assumption of what the Government, do. We are not proposing to divide the areas.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, it was true that the Union was to be divided into three divisions, and it was to be assumed the County Councils would exercise common sense in dealing with the Union. He should be glad when they came to Clause 47 to avail themselves of any light which the hon. Member might throw on the position.
§ MR. W. LONG
should be very glad to give the right hon. Gentleman any assistance in his power. It was not, however, his duty to make these divisions clear, that being a duty which rested with those who were responsible for the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman made it a matter of complaint that they should deal with this question now, he would point out that the whole essence of the question depended upon whether the Government arrangement for division of the Unions could be properly made. It was impossible to separate Clause 47 from the clause they were now discussing. He felt that they had pointed out to the Government a real and substantial difficulty in regard to this matter.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, that he had had upon the Paper an Amendment which would have secured the re-election of the Guardians en masse every three years, but he did not move it because as it was put down it was associated with the cumulative vote, and, apart from the cumulative vote, he did not hold any clear and definite opinion on the subject. He confessed he had been very much puzzled as to how one should decide on this question, and he thought they were very much apt to be led astray by analogies drawn from experiences which were not altogether applicable. They had been referred to the experience of Municipalities, and the experience of towns had been brought to bear on a problem which, for the greater part, was confined to rural rather than to town districts, and what might be excellent work to these towns was not always so excellent and so applicable to the country. When they passed the Local Government Act of 1888 the question arose how the County Councils should be elected—whether they should be elected for three years and all the members should go out even third year, or whether they should be elected for three years and one-third should go out annually. It was decided that all should be elected every three years, and he believed that that had worked very well in rural counties. His hon. Friend below him (Mr. Storey) said "everywhere;" but he would put it as a doubtful question whether in the Metropolis, which was really a Municipality, the municipal precedent might not have been wisely followed by having one-third of the members of the London County Council to retire annually. The position of Hoards of Guardians was very different; he suspected they were not free from gusts of opinion sweeping away the majority or the whole body on such questions as vaccination and anti-vaccination, and it was the possibility of that he wished to avoid. On the other hand, the advantage of continuity of policy might be too dearly purchased by the extreme inconvenience of the machinery to be adopted. The Committee ought to be guided to some extent by the action of Boards of Guardians themselves, of whom something like five-sixths had decided in favour of all members retiring triennially. In spite of 478 the strong arguments in favour of continuity of policy, he felt bound to support the simultaneous retirement and election of the whole body.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had appealed to experience on this subject. He had pointed out that the County Councils were elected for three years and were all elected together, and he had further pointed out that many Boards of Guardians had appealed to the Local Government Board for an extension of the annual term, and had shown their preference for a triennial election and the going out of every member. Which of them in the face of experience would set up a system of which they had no experience? He did not intend to undervalue experience, but he thought the value of experience had been driven too far in the course of these discussions. He would follow the example of the President of the Local Government Board and quote the prolonged and great experience of Municipal Institutions. It was not probable in the case of County Councils, with the variety of subjects and the complicated issues they had to deal with, that there would be gusts of passion changing the membership so completely as to interfere with continuity of policy. But the House had distinctly provided for the continuity of policy on the County Councils by the organisation of Aldermen. There had been a great deal of criticism of the system of Aldermen. He did not say that it was perfect, but it had the great merit of carrying on the traditions of one County Council to another County Council. In Boards of Guardians there were no Aldermen, nor anything corresponding to them; and therefore the lessons which they proposed to get from the County Councils broke down. Then there was the other case of experience—the case of the Boards of Guardians themselves. Within the last few days it had been demonstrated—in the course of the Debates—that the new Boards of Guardians would meet under conditions differing widely from the conditions of old Boards of Guardians which would under the experience which we had had of the old Boards absolutely useless. Having thrown away every plan by which continuity might be maintained, surely the Committee might adopt the expedient which had worked 479 well in Municipal Councils. He could not say whether the machinery for carrying out the policy of the Bill would work well or not, and they could discuss the machinery only on Clause 47; but the Committee would stultify themselves if they voted on this clause with reference to the demerits of Clause 47. He did not, however, wish to drag in Clause 47; but he should feel bound to support the Government proposal, as it tended to remove some of the objections to the Bill, reserving to himself full freedom to discuss the machinery for carrying out the proposal when Clause 47 was reached.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
said, they were in this unfortunate position: that those who had given some attention to the subject bad not only shown that the plan of the Government was unworkable, but bad failed to suggest any alternative plan of their own. After the first election, with plenty of time before them, it might be possible for them to devise some scheme, but he failed to see how a scheme was to be devised for the first election.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
said, he meant the register. How were they to get the register? On the whole, he had failed to see how the scheme was to be carried into effect, and it was for this reason, rather than on the question of principle, that he should support the hon. Baronet if he went to a Division. He would, however, suggest to the hon. Baronet to withdraw his Amendment in favour of the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Bodmin, lower down on the Paper, which was in a much better form.
§ SIR F. S. POWELL
asked leave to withdraw his Amendment in order to propose in substitution the words of the right hon. Member for Bodmin, which were the same in substance. [Cries of "No!"]
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
pointed out that the words the Committee would divide on were the words contained in the Bill. Those who voted with the hon. Baronet would vote for the omission of these words, and it really did not make any difference, as regarded that Division, what words were proposed to be substituted.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, he had already expressed his opinion on this subject, which, unfortunately, was not the same as the opinion of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. But he thought that, after what had fallen from the hon. Member for West Derby and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean—perhaps the two men in the House who, with all respect for the President of the Local Government, Board, had studied this question more than anyone else—it must be seen that it was absolutely impossible to carry out the Government proposal.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
said, he had spoken before and had given all the reasons he could against the Government's proposal. His object in rising now was to allude in a very few words to the theory advanced by the Minister in charge of the Bill with respect to the experience of the School Board of London. If the right hon. Gentleman indulged in the luxury of making statements which provoked reply from certain Members, and led to the prolongation of the discussion, he and not they was responsible. In defence of his proposal the right hon. Gentleman had said that the working of the School Board of London showed that, owing to the absence of a provision for the annual retirement of a proportion of the members, there had been sudden and abrupt changes of policy on the Board. [Cries of "Question!"]
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
said, they were discussing the question as to whether there should be those annual retirements. The right hon. Gentleman quoted certain practices of a certain body; he was replying to the right hon. Gentleman, and he assorted that he was perfectly in Order. The right hon. Gentleman had said that, owing to the absence of this provision, there had been abrupt changes of policy on the School Board of London. He denied it. He supposed that what the right hon. Gentleman alluded to was the constant struggle going on between the Progressives and the Moderates as to certain expenditure.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
said, he would not go into details, but he denied the statement 481 of the right hon. Gentleman. If there had been these changes of policy on the London School Board, why were the Moderates taunted by their opponents that they had failed to make any change and that they preserved the continuity of policy? He hoped he was in Order in adding that if he had taken up a few minutes of the time of the Committee, it was all owing to the Minister in charge of the Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 123; Noes 89.—(Division List, No. 403.)
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
moved to add to the clause—(7.) If any casual vacancy in the office of a member of a Board of Guardians occurs by death, resignation, disqualification, or otherwise, such vacancy shall be filled up by the remaining members of the Board, if a quorum, at a special meeting of the Board to be called for the purpose.He said, the Amendment would provide for a case where a vacancy occurred, say within a month of the usual time of election, and would save the expense and trouble of an election in the ordinary way. The proposal had the support of the Select Committee of 1878.
To add at the end of the Clause—" (7.) If any casual vacancy in the office of a member of a Board of Guardians occurs by death, resignation, disqualification, or otherwise, such vacancy shall be filled up by the remaining members of the Board, if a quorum, at a special meeting of the Board to be called for the purpose."—(Mr. Lees Knowles.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he admitted that some power of the kind might be necessary, but could not accept the Amendment, because if a vacancy occurred, say a mouth after the election, a parish might practically be disfranchised for the rest of three years. He would see whether the provision contained in the Act of 1888 could be made applicable in this case. That was, that where a vacancy occurred within a short period of the time of election, that vacancy should not be filled up.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, that perhaps the difficulty would be met by amending the Amendment. He moved, 482 after "otherwise" in the Amendment, to insert—Within a period of six months before the expiry of the term of office of the said member.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, this would be a useful addition to the Amendment. Would it not be worth while, in considering this sub-section, to make a rule that when a vacancy on the Guardians occurred during the first year of office the new election should fake place at the end of the next year when the parish interested was electing Councillors?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he did not like to accept an Amendment of the character of that before the Committee offhand, although it appeared to be satisfactory. It should be considered in connection with the Act of 1888. He would ask the hon. Member to withdraw the Amendment on the understanding that the Government would insert in the Bill similar provisions with reference to these elections to those in the Act of 1888.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
In page 13, line 9, to add as a new subsection—"(7.) A Board of Guardians may elect a chairman or vice chairman, or both from outside their own body, and any chairman or vice chairman so elected shall be an additional member of the Board."—(Mr. H. H. Fowler.)
§ Question proposed, "That the Subsection be there added."
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
This additional sub-section of which the right hon. Gentleman has given notice, is the only outcome, so far, of the protracted discussions which have taken place on the retention or abolition of ex officio and nominated Guardians. We on this side have endeavoured to place our views on this question fairly before the Mouse and the country. We have never contended that it is oven desirable to retain the ex officio Guardians in their present form. We have admitted the anomaly of the existing system as fully as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board himself. When he told the Committee of the large number of ex officio Guardians in some Unions and the small number, or even complete deficiency, of such Guardians in others we did not question his figures. It is 483 obvious that in course of time the system has become replete with anomalies, audit is no wonder that the Government have thought it necessary to make some alteration in it. I would further say that no doubt there have been circumstances in the present unfortunate position of many agricultural districts which have induced—nay, have compelled—a large number of landowners who formerly took an active and prominent share to the great advantage of everybody in the district in the administration of the Poor Law—an onerous and by no means agreeable task—to absent themselves from their homes, and to cease attendance at the Boards of Guardians. Therefore, I for one have not suggested that it is possible to retain the existing system of ex officio Guardians. I have suggested that the right hon. Gentleman has made a serious mistake in abolishing nominated Guardians, because it has been conclusively shown that in the Metropolis, where the Poor Law Board since 1867 has had the power and duty of nominating persons to sit on the Boards of Guardians in the different Unions, the Poor Law administration has been improved and rendered more humane by this system; that all the objects which the Legislature had in view in 1867 in giving that power to the Local Government Board have been amply fulfilled, and that nothing would be more wanton than the change proposed in the law by the Government divesting themselves of the power which in 1867 was found so absolutely necessary, and which had conferred such benefits on the poor of the Metropolis. But in spite of our arguments, the right hon. Gentleman carried a provision abolishing nominated Guardians also. But, Sir, there is one point which over and over again we have attempted to press on Her Majesty's Government, as a vital part of this question, and it is this: that in some shape or form there should be a power to retain on Boards of Guardians those persons and that class of persons who have, since the enactment of the new Poor Law, done such admirable work in guiding the Boards of Guardians on which they sit towards a better, wiser, and more economical administration of the Poor Law. Well, we have made various proposals over and over again on this subject, and the only concession to that view which the 484 right hon. Gentleman has made has been that he has added to the original proposals of the Bill this Amendment: that a Board of Guardians shall be able to elect not only a chairman, but also a vice chairman from outside their own body. I would remind the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman has never questioned the premises on which we have argued. He has never questioned that much good has been done by ex officio and nominated Guardians in the past. he has only said in reply, first, that the elected Guardians in the future will be equally able and economical in their administration (although absolutely the contrary was proved in the Metropolis); and, secondly, that those virtues in Poor Law administration, if neglected by Boards of Guardians, shall be secured in some mysterious and totally inexplicable way by the Orders of the Local Government Board. He has never denied that it would be advisable, if possible, to retain elements which have done so much for the good administration in the past of Boards of Guardians. He has met all our proposals for that purpose with a non possumus. Now, I contend that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal is an entirely inadequate solution of the question. It is true that in many cases at present—very many cases—ex officio Guardians are chairmen or vice chairmen of Unions. In those cases I think it is by no means improbable that Boards of Guardians in the future will, in order to retain their valuable services in the Unions for which they have already done so much, elect those gentlemen to occupy the positions which at present they hold. But what security have we that anything of the kind will be done in future when those gentlemen have ceased to hold their positions? Is there not every probability that nothing of the kind will be done? Is it likely that the Boards of Guardians will go outside their own body and choose a chairman or vice chairman from among those who have never had a chance of taking any part in the administration of the Poor Law because they have not been elected Guardians? The Corporations of our great cities and of our small towns have power now to elect Mayors from outside their body. They never exercise that power except. 485 on the occasion of some anticipated Royal visit, or something of that kind, when, perhaps, they may require the services of some neighbouring gentleman who is able and willing to spend a large sum of money on entertainments. The Secretary to the Local Government Board shakes his head. I should be glad if he would take part in this Debate, and give us instances in which Corporations on ordinary occasions have made these appointments.
SIR W. FOSTER
I was not shaking my head in denial of the right hon. Gentleman's general statement, but of the reason he gave for the selection of gentlemen from outside to fill the office of Mayor.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I will not press the point further; but it is not very likely, I contend, that Guardians will go outside their own body and select strangers to fill the most prominent and honourable positions on the Board. I know that proposals have already been made with a view to extending the operation of the sub-section which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested to the Committee to add to this clause. I confess that, for my own part, I should have been glad if, instead of proposing this as an additional sub-section to the clause, the right hon. Gentleman had considered the matter further and had brought it up as a new clause. I do not want on this question to raise again the issues that have already been debated at very considerable length, or to occupy the time of the Committee by reiterating arguments which so far have had so little effect upon the minds of Her Majesty's Government. But I believe that the right hon. Gentleman himself is ready to appreciate the services rendered in the past by ex officio and nominated Guardians, and I believe that if he could see a way in which those services could be recognised and made available in the future he would be most desirous to meet our views. And, therefore, it is in no hostile spirit that I have placed on the Paper the Amendments which appear there. I do not wish to press them now in anything of a hostile spirit. I would sooner that the Government took a little longer time to consider the matter, and would endeavour, if they can, to meet us at a future stage by making some change in the proposed sub-section which would 486 really carry out what I understand to be the object which the right hon. Gentleman has in view in placing it upon the Paper. The right hon. Gentleman must see that there is something to be said with regard to the difficulty to which I have alluded—namely, that it will be practically impossible for those who have acted hitherto as ex officio or nominated Guardians to turn out those gentlemen who have held the place of elected Guardians in their parishes. He must see that there is some real necessity for a change in the Bill in this matter. Therefore, Sir, while I have thought it my duty to press the matter again upon the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, I do not propose now to move the Amendments which I have placed upon the Paper. I prefer to raise the matter at a later stage, and now I will content myself by asking the right hon. Gentleman again to consider this whole question carefully, and to give if he can a favourable reception to the suggestion which I have made in order to meet what I think, the right hon. Gentleman must admit, are difficulties before the elected Board of Guardians in the future, and also to meet the views not only entertained by those who deem it their duty to press them upon his notice in the Committee, but also most strongly felt by gentlemen outside the House who have taken throughout their lives an active and most useful part in the work of Poor Law administration, and have even given very little attention to Party politics because they are devoted to that work, and whose opinions, I will venture to say, cannot safely be neglected by any person that has at heart the proper administration of the Poor Law in this country.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I am sure I quite appreciate the spirit in which the right hon. Baronet opposite has made the remarks he has just delivered to the Committee. I will not go over the ground again as to the policy the Government have pursued, on which he is rather severe; but I understand that what he suggests is that the Government should now consider the proposal he has lint on the Paper, and which, I think, is the first time a proposal on this subject has been made in the course, of these Debates from the Front Opposition Bench. There have been proposals made 487 on the Opposition side which have been supported by the Front Bench opposite, but I think that no direct proposition has emanated from that Bench.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
No; that was as to secondary elections and not on this question. But the right hon. Gentleman has now put upon the Paper a proposal emanating from him in his position of one of the Leaders of the Conservative Party with reference to adding two other members in the shape of co-optation to the Poor Law Board. What I understand the right hon. Gentleman to suggest is that that question should not be discussed this evening; but that the Government should undertake, as they will do, to give it their careful consideration before they express their opinion upon it. That, I think, is a course which the Government have no reason to complain of. I think it is a course they ought to adopt. It is due to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that we should regard every proposal they make as resulting from their anxiety to solve this problem in the best way it can be solved. I therefore hope we shall not have a Debate on the subject now, but my Amendment will be allowed to stand as it is, on the distinct understanding that by the time the right hon. Gentleman brings forward his proposals the Government will be able to state their final decision on the subject.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, he had looked very carefully through the Bill, but could not find any allusion in it as to the length of the term of office of the chairman.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, he did not think there was any statement in the Bill to that effect. The chairman might be elected from without, and, if so, he would not represent an electoral area, and would not require re-election. He would suggest the insertion, in reference to the chairman, of some such words as these—Who shall, unless he resigns or becomes disqualified, continue in office until his successor is elected.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
said, he thought it only right that one 488 private Member on the Literal side should express an opinion upon the very important speeches of the right hon. Baronet and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board in which it had been practically intimated across the Table that it was proposed to accept the principle of the Amendments standing in the right hon. Baronet's name. Without entering into the merits of the question he (Mr. Channing) wished to say most distinctly that the President of the Local Government Board would have to reckon with a very considerable amount of criticism on that side of the House if, after the long struggle that had been maintained in order to vindicate the principle of direct election of Guardians, that principle was in any way surrendered at any stage of the Bill.
§ MR. BURNIE (Swansea, Town)
cordially supported the views of the hon. Member who had just spoken. He could only approve of one way of getting on the Boards of Guardians, and that was by going direct to the ratepayers. He disapproved entirely of the principle—which was not democratic—of allowing people to get into positions of this sort by back stairs. He agreed that there were many ex officios who had done admirable service. Those men, he was sure, would only have to go before the electors, and they would be promptly returned again. He knew it was said that in the case of Municipal Councils occasionally they went outside to elect Mayors. For his own part he had always disapproved of that, and had protested against it on Municipal Councils. He had never known any good result from departing from the principle of a Municipality electing the Mayor from its own body. He did not think any good would result in the case of District Councils.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would not be dismayed by the two speeches which had just been delivered. A very reasonable appeal had been made to him to reconsider his position with a view to making his concession more effective, and he (Sir R. Paget) trusted, in the interests of the Bill itself, that the conciliatory spirit the right hon. Gentleman had displayed might remain uninfluenced by the 489 protests of the right hon. Gentleman's followers, for he was sure that the was out of the present difficulty was by the broad path of conciliation. It was quite evident that Boards of Guardians would not go outside to find two gentlemen to till offices of dignity, and, therefore, unless the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol was adopted there never would be two co-opted members of any Board. The offer of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was, from a practical point of view, somewhat illusory, and it would be more satisfactory if he would withdraw his new sub-section until he was able to announce the views of the Government on the suggestion made.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, he would appeal to the Committee to adopt the advice of the President of the Local Government Board, and not to discuss the matter further. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he had met the proposal. He had not pressed his Amendment for the reason that it had only appeared on the Paper that day, and the Government, therefore, had had little or no opportunity of considering it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Question proposed "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ MR. W. LONG
Before this clause is added to the Bill I would say two or three words in reference to the position we on this side of the House have fell bound to take up with regard to the inclusion of the Poor Law in this Bill. hon. Gentleman sitting on the Benches opposite, during these Debates, have said that the action of hon. Members on this side of the House has been unfair, and actuated by a desire to wreck the Bill. That view, its I have said before, is not correct. I desire strongly to repeat what have stated over and over again, that we have acted throughout, with reference to Clause 19, from no desire to postpone the consideration of this measure its a whole, or to prevent the Government extending to parishes and districts the form of local government already possessed by the counties. In the views we have expressed on this question, we have had the support of 490 many gentlemen in the House who speak with great authority on these matters, but we especially have bad the support of gentlemen outside the House who have devoted the whole of their active life to the administration of the Poor Law, and who are convinced that this change—a change which the Government say is only a change of election—will be a change of those who are to administer the law, and of the administration itself, which will completely alter the principles that have hitherto guided Boards of Guardians. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has told us over and over again that the principle of the great Poor Law of 1834 is to be maintained in the future, and the hon. Member for Sunderland and others have told us that there will be no great difference, between the new Guardians and the old; but everybody who is familiar with recent electioneering practices in rural districts must know perfectly well that it has become the practice not merely to hold out hopes to the agricultural labourers on a change in the administration, but to indicate that such a change ought to be made, and that it is desirable, in the interests of the whole community, that the whole principle of administration should be altered from indoor relief to outdoor relief. Everyone who is familiar with the rural districts knows very well that these statements have been made repeatedly, and also knows that this question of outdoor relief as against indoor relief is brought very much to the fore by some politicians in rural districts. The hon. Member for the Spalding Division shakes his head. No doubt he is intimately acquainted with the rural districts, and I am glad to hear from him that, so far as he is concerned, he has heard nothing of this. My remarks do not apply to him, but they do apply to gentlemen familiar with very large portions of the country. There is no doubt whatever that the temptation to depart from the strict administration of the Poor Law must be a very great one indeed, for it is almost impossible to put the principle of a strict administration of the Poor Law in such a form as to make it palatable to those who look upon it naturally with aversion, and who believe that a. more generous kind of administration would 491 be better for themselves and others. Our honest belief and conviction has been that if you change the Boards of Guardians, as you propose to change them in this Bill, you will undoubtedly run very serious risks, and in some Unions, at all events, there will be a departure from the practice which we believe has been a good one for all concerned. It is because we believe that, and represent those who firmly believe it, that we have pursued the line which we have pursued. When we are blamed for the line we have taken I ask the Committee to remember that we have this conviction. When complaint is made that we have occupied too much time, I ask the Committee to remember what has been the attitude of the Government towards us. They have found themselves unable, owing to their own convictions and those of their supporters, to make any concessions to us, and consequently we have not been in the position of opponents who find that a portion of that which is asked is given, and are, therefore, prepared to give something in return—under protest, and with criticism, but without any long fight—something they do not believe in. We have been practically compelled to submit to a change being made in the laws governing the administration of the Poor Law in this country in one clause of a Bill, and we have said that such a change ought not to have been made in this Bill at all. This is not the time to make it, and, if it were, it should be made in a separate measure devoted entirely to the Poor Law of the country. We have said more than that. We have said that if you had taken that course you would not only have facilitated the passage of your Bill, but you would have been able to deal with the Poor Law in a much more satisfactory way than yon will now be able to deal with it. You are told there is nothing to prevent you dealing with the Poor Law in another measure, and you say—"Look at the history of legislation in this House; see the difficulty of passing Bills! We have the opportunity of dealing with this question now, and having got it we will make the best of it. If we once lose sight of this clause what chance will there be of our ever again being able to effect this change?" I say there would be a much greater chance. The desire for popularising 492 Boards of Guardians would have acted as a lever for dealing with classification, and changing altogether your workhouse system—in a manner pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax in a great speech he made some years ago—I think in 1878, on the introduction of the County Boards Bill by the President of the Local Government Board of that day. The right hon. Gentleman indicated how desirable it would be to enable classification to take place and consequent improvement in the Poor Law. Not only has this classification not taken place, but if you stereotype your existing system of small Unions dependent only on the limited area over which they have control and power of rating, you may talk about classification and improvement, but you will never get it. You will be talking about that which is a practical impossibility so long as things remain as they are. By the action you are taking you are making the improvement more difficult than it is now. You say there will be no difficulty in dealing with this question on some future day; but there will be this difficulty: that you will have established these Local Authorities and given them this administration, and they themselves will naturally object to having it taken away or having it so altered that they themselves will either be removed or reduced in numbers. This is not the proper time for me to trouble the Committee with, or the House with, any suggestions which I might desire to make, or which others have made, and which find favour with me as to what these changes should he; but I confess I feel—speaking as one on this side who takes great interest in this question of Local Government, and especially in this great question of the administration of the Poor Law—inclined to complain, when I find that allegations are freely made, sometimes by those who ought to know better, as to the action of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House in regard to the policy we have followed on Clause 19 when we know that if it had been embodied in a separate Bill, as it ought to have been, such a change would in discussion have occupied as many weeks as it has now occupied days. Apprehensions have been expressed on both sides of the House, and the answer of the Government—as to which I am not entitled 493 to complain has always been—"Yon complain of that which is not going to happen; yon anticipate a danger that will not arise. We are not attacking administration, but only dealing with administrators." The colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board are glad to take refuge in that logic. They have naturally supported him in carrying out this fragment of a policy which they wish to see eventually adopted. We, on the other hand, believe, as I have said, that you are embarking on a dangerous course. For my part, I am not in the least afraid of the working classes, if they can only be familiarised with the effects of what they are doing, but I am afraid of the working men in districts where they have not become familiar with the control of the various Societies to which reference has been so frequently made. It is one of the great misfortunes of our small rural districts that they are unable to take that active participation in the control of many of their own Friendly Societies. We know that in even the smallest towns a different state of things prevails, the working classes having a different appreciation of the responsibility of managing trusts and of seeing that money subscribed amongst themselves is properly spent. In the agricultural villages doubt whether you will find a full appreciation of what an unwise administration of the poor rate would mean. The Committee knows that the administration of existing Boards of Guardians is not by any means perfect. The greatest possible variety exists in the way in which the Poor Law is administered all through the country, yet there is a general consensus of opinion that since 1834 there has been an enormous advance in the administration of the existing system of relief. We believe that the working classes have especially benefited thereby, and that a wise administration in the interests of all is infinitely preferable to a lax administration. If we hold these views as strongly as we do, and if we believe that we hold them with justice, and if we are not only animated by these personal convictions, but believe that we stand here representing many others who have laboured all their lives in this work, but are not themselves able to speak in 494 the House, who share our fears—and these gentlemen are worthy of credence and should have great weight attached to their opinions—we ought not to be blamed for the course we have taken on Clause 19. Hon. Gentlemen ought to realise that the matter is a great and important one, and they ought to allow that we have done no more than our bounden duty in protesting against the inclusion in this Bill of the Poor Law or any portion of it, and in endeavouring by every legitimate means to engraft in the Bill Amendments which, if they had been carried, would have minimised the risks. I say we are justified in raising a protest—although, owing to the circumstances of the time, we cannot make it as emphatic as we would like—against the passage of a clause which we believe to be unnecessary and risky, and which might have been omitted altogether without any injury to the progress of the District Parish Councils Bill.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
said, he desired to make one or two observations with regard to this clause as it now stood before it was added to the Bill. He wished the hon. Member who had just sat down to realise that the bulk of men on that (the Ministerial) side of the House were as keenly anxious as he could be that the Poor Law should be properly administered. If the hon. Member was unable to take quite the same view with regard to ex officio Guardians as that held by hon. Members below the Gangway on the Ministerial side of the House, he should remember what the experience of many of them was. There were hon. Members opposite whose experience led them to believe in the usefulness of the ex officio element. Well and good; but, on the other hand, he (Mr. Storey) and his friends objected to the retention of that element, and had found that the Poor Law had been admirably administered by Boards of Guardians on which ex officio members had never shown their faces, and therefore they did not attach the same importance to the presence of those members on the new Boards that hon. Members opposite did. At the same time, he should like to make one observation. He understood that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Bristol had proposed that the Boards 495 should have power to nominate two members other than the chairman and vice chairman, and that some pledge had been given by the President of the Local Government Board that that proposal would be considered. What he thought about the matter was this: that if they gave up the principle of election pure and simple it was not worth while quarrelling with hon. Gentlemen opposite as to whether the two nominated Members should be the chairman and vice chairman or two ordinary members of the Board. He did not imagine it would be proposed that the nominated Members were to be the chairman and vice chairman and two others. [Several hon. Members: It is proposed.] He hoped not. He spoke in the presence of hon. Gentlemen who were familiar with Boards of Guardians throughout the country, and he unhesitatingly said that if the numbers of existing Unions were multiplied by two, the product would exceed the average number of existing ex officio members who attended upon their Boards. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had made an observation complaining of something he (Mr. Storey) had said, but he would ask hon. Members sitting around him whether they believed he would wittingly have been guilty of the discourtesy of saying that no man in his senses would have made this proposal for dividing the parishes. If he had said anything like it it was not because he meant it, but it had fallen from him in the exuberance of speech. No one knew better than he did the ability of the right hon. Gentleman, the interest he took in these matters, and the amount of careful consideration he must have devoted to them. He believed, however, that the effect of the Amendment introduced into the clause by the President of the Local Government Board, directing that the parishes in a Union should be divided into three groups for the purpose of each group electing one-third of the Guardians every three years, would be to render it impossible for the Bill to come into operation in 1894. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was always fair and straightforward, but if he had been Machiavelli he could not have done more good service to himself and more disservice to 496 the Government than he did by supporting this proposal. This matter of the lists of voters would make it utterly impossible to get to work. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, had said that there did not need to be any change at the first election. Well, if they were going to make a re-arrangement under which one-third were to retire together they must make a change to begin with, for towns especially. They must have a list of electors. What list were they to have? It could not be the municipal borough list alone, because that consisted of householders only. It was arranged in wards which were not coterminous with the boundaries of the parishes. Then what must they have? The parish list? That they had; but when they came to divide it into wards, they wanted it the same as the list for municipal purposes. It might be said that that division could be made by cutting up certain streets. Nothing of the kind. There was the question of owners of property who would have to be picked out; and he would defy the Local Authorities to achieve all these things in time to have the elections next year. He did not say this without a disposition to try and falsify his own prophecy. He supposed that if there was an enterprising County Council in the Kingdom it was the County Council of Durham. It was a Radical Council, and when it came to deal with this Bill he could give the Committee his word that it would be as expeditious in the exercise of its powers as possible. But, honestly, he did not believe that, with all their ingenuity, they would be able to get the Bill into shape for the elections next year. If that was the case in Durham did it not show that, in the case of County Councils that were not well affected towards the Bill and who would not expend superfluous ingenuity in getting it into working order, it would he certain not to come into operation next year? He had thought that the sensible thing to do was to adopt the existing law and custom; that was to say, of triennial elections. They would then have had the lists all ready. There would have been no trouble in the matter, and they would have got along next year pleasantly. However, the President of the Local Government Board and the 497 majority of the Committee had decided against him. All he could say was that he did not accept the decision on Clause 19 as final in the matter, he did not object to the change the right hon. Gentleman had made in it, but he could not see how, in its present shape, it could he immediately operative. Though admirable in its declarations it was unworkable in practice, and on that ground he was afraid he should have to take a later opportunity of asking the House to reconsider the matter.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
said, that having given this subject the greatest consideration, and worked personally as a Guardian for the last 25 years, he could not agree with his hon. Friends near him. He considered himself a much better Democrat than they were, for he had much more confidence in the power of Democracy than to suppose that it could be overpowered by the admission of a, small minority, which would make the representation of the body more complete. He thought his hon. Friends were making a great mistake. Their view was too microscopic. They saw only one idea before them in the narrow vista of direct representation. He was certain that no man who had studied Democracy and its effects, not only in this country but in others, would say that that was true Democracy or that it was wise. Democracy was one of the greatest powers, and might be one of the most beneficial. They had seen what it might be under Washington, and they had seen what it might be under General Jackson and Buchanan. They had seen how the application of the direct vote to a multiplicity of things had taken all real power out of the hands of the Democracy, and given it into the hands of "bosses." They had seen extravagance which would ruin this country in live years. The feeling was now growing in America, to a ridiculous degree in the opposite direction from that in which his hon. Friends were going. Real Liberalism was not confined to one narrow idea. It had not one little Holloway Pill as a panacea for every ailment of the body politic. In order to make this country great and free, and comparatively pure in its electoral system, they must take steps to combine in the management of public affairs not 498 merely one class, but every class and every kind of ability, otherwise they would find that by attempting to rely only on one class and one mode of election, they would fall, as other Democracies had fallen, into corruption. He spoke in the interest of the whole population. He was no sympathiser with capital. He spoke from what, be had seen among every class, including the lowest. He had studied their interests, not from above, but working up from the bottom. He had done it with a, view to carrying out those reforms of local government which he thought they might well carry out, but which they could not carry out if they confined themselves to one mode of selection or election.
§ MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
said, that the Debate had proved that this clause was liked on neither side of the House. He himself objected to it, principally for the reason that it entirely reversed the whole mode of election and composition of the Boards of Guardians who had to administer Poor Law relief. It had never been contended that the present Guardians had administered this relief badly, and yet they were to be abolished. They were told that there would be no continuity between one Board or another, unless the Guardians went out periodically by one-third. But that was not the experience of those who were acquainted with the administration of the Poor Law. He was both an elected and an ex officio Guardian, and in the two Unions with which he was connected in the last 12 years he could only remember one contested election. That was to say, there was no contest each year, the continuity went on from one Board to another, the old members of the Board continuing from one Board to another. And so he had hoped that, in the case of these new District Councils, if they had the elections every three years—and he quite approved of triennial elections—that they should have gone on without the constant elections which had been prophesied, and of which the right hon. Gentleman seemed so afraid. But now they heard that the whole Board was to be constantly changed by the retirement of a third at a time. They would thus get an entirely new composition of the Boards of Guardians, and that was a very important consideration when they 499 recollected that the ex officios had been abolished. Was it not a fact that in most Boards of Guardians in this country the ex officios were the most useful, and very often the wisest and ablest men on the Board? Only a short time ago the Vice President of the Council on Education, speaking on the subject of ex officio members, stated that out of 648 Unions in the whole country the chairmen of 249 were ex officios, and the vice chairmen of 109 were also ex officios, therefore they had 358 out of a total of 648 Unions where the chairmen and vice chairmen were ex officios. That, at any rate, proved that the ex officio Guardians had received the confidence of the Boards of Guardians throughout the country. It was, therefore, a retrograde step to abolish these gentlemen, who had done such good work in the past, and who, he was afraid, would not be on the District Councils in the future, as they would not, in many cases, care to go through the trouble and turmoil of a contested election. He should regard this as a great misfortune. Again, the property qualification appeared to be abolished altogether by this clause. Not only was plural voting swept away, but the principle of property representation was swept away. That was a very important point to bear in mind, because on these Boards of Guardians the chief matter that would have to be discussed was the administration of the Poor Law by applying the rates in relief thereof. He contended that the men who were elected on these Boards should be, to a great extent, representative of the rate payers. The ratepayers were the men who had to provide the money for this indoor and outdoor relief, and they should be thoroughly represented on the Board of Guardians and elected to the Boards. With regard to outdoor relief, he was afraid that in the various parishes the elections would take place on this outdoor relief cry. There were many men, like the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, who had made the question of the administration of the Poor Law the study of their life. There was a great difference of opinion on this subject, and all who had been Guardians must be aware of the great difficulty there was in knowing when to grant and when to withhold outdoor relief. Indiscriminate outdoor 500 relief pauperised people, and did more harm than good. It was a very difficult question, and would be rendered even more so by being made the subject of a contested election, because one man might be run who would promise indiscriminate outdoor relief, whilst another man who might go on the sound principle of saying he would withhold such relief in cases where such a step would be warranted would be an unpopular candidate. The man who would promise to give outdoor relief would be the man who would be popular among the electors, for they would be the very people who would wish for outdoor relief. They would not be the ratepayers, who would consider twice about granting outdoor relief, because they would not wish to pauperise the people or increase the rates in their respective parishes. The people who would be the electors under this Act would be the people who would hope to get outdoor relief by electing popular candidates, whose election, he was afraid, might lead to a great scandal in many cases. He thought hon. Members, before they gave their votes on this clause, ought to consider the matter very carefully. Up to the present time they had had their Poor Law administered by responsible people, who had done their best. He believed that in the majority of cases the Guardians had taken the very greatest trouble in this matter, and had given or withheld outdoor relief according to their knowledge of human nature, and, at any rate, in an independent and thoroughly trustworthy manner. In future they should have an entirely new class of men on these Boards, and they would be swayed by popular opinion. They would be elected to go and vote away this money in one particular manner, and he was afraid the result of the administration of the Poor Law would be very much worse than it had been. He only hoped that these new Boards of Guardians would be composed of the very ablest men that they could get. Up to the present time the great majority of the elected Guardians in the county districts had been farmers. They were the men who knew very well the wants and needs of the people in their respective localities; but would there be many farmers on the new Boards of Guardians? 501 Were not farmers sometimes thought to be hard taskmasters? and if that was the case in these hard times, when they could not afford to give the same wages that they had hitherto given, did hon. Members imagine that the labouring classes would vote for farmers being on the Boards of Guardians? He thought not. There would be a reversal on this matter; the farmers would be almost eliminated from the new Boards, and in their places would be put labourers, who would think they could do more for their fellow labourers by outdoor relief. If it was the fact that by enlarging outdoor relief they could improve the condition of the labourers he and his friends should vote for it. Every man who lived in the country would like to improve the lot of the labourers; but did outdoor relief do so? Did it not, on the contrary, often pauperise the people, and do a great deal more harm than hon. Gentlemen thought? They knew by experience, prior to 1834, what injury was caused by the indiscriminate granting of outdoor relief. And by whom was that indiscriminate outdoor relief given? By the farmers, because it saved their labour bill. Half the labour of the parishes at that time was paid out of the outdoor relief, and therefore farmers could get labourers at a lower wage. As a, result, the rates went up—in some instances they were as high as 20s. in the £1; land became unworkable, and many farms became derelict. He hoped under the new Boards of Guardians that the rates would not be extent as to make it impossible for farmers or labourers to live on the land. What they desired was to get the best men on the new not men Boards of Guardians, not men who would think merely about their own ends and their own personal popularity, but men who would be thoroughly honest and independent, and actuated with a desire to do the best they could with the powers entrusted to them by this House. If they went to a Division on this clause, he should vote against it on the ground that it reversed the whole of their Poor Law administration; that it would alter things not for the better, but for the worse, and would lead to the Boards of Guardians of the future not being managed with the same economy and the same administrative 502 ability that had characterised management in former days.
§ MR. A.J. WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
said, he had not opened his lips during all this Debate, nor had he moved any Amendment. He could not, help thinking from all be knew of his constituents that that line of conduct on his part would very much commend itself to them, and would probably add a few hundreds to his majority. He thought they would expedite matters considerably if his example were followed more generally on both sides of the House. He did not intend to detain the Committee long on the present occasion. He would not express any opinion about Parish Councils, though the constituency which he represented comprised a great agricultural district—the largest agricultural district in South Wales—consisting of 84 parishes. He preferred to reply to some expressions which had been used by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool on the 18th of December. The hon. Gentleman indignantly denied the statement of the Attorney General that the landlords had not shown much consideration for the farmers; and said that such a statement was disproved by the information which had been obtained in connection with the elections for the County Council. The information which he had been able to get in his own district was peculiar. In his own immediate neighbourhood, since the Local Government Act had been passed, he found that squires had not been very forbearing, for in no less than three cases they stood, and ruthlessly stood against tenant fanners. In one case the tenant farmer himself was a strong supporter of the Tory Party. He was the largest tenant farmer in the district, and yet one of the local squires determined to oppose him. He was glad to say that that tenant fanner had become a Radical from that day, and was now one of his strongest supporters. There was another election for the County Council about to take place in the same Division. Another squire had come forward to oppose the Radical candidate, who had himself been a working labourer, and was now one of the leading agricultural implement merchants in the district. He was 503 going down the next day to help in the campaign against the squire, and the text of what he would say to the meetings would be the Debate on the 19th clause of the Bill. He would enlarge on the length of time that had been absorbed in the discussion of the clause. The main issue involved in the clause was contained in the first line, and was whether ex officio Guardians should in future be dispensed with or not. Upon that one line there had been no fewer than 18 Amendments, the discussion of which occupied from the 15th to the 28th of December. Notwithstanding, after the point had been at last settled, it had been again raised, and had led to great waste of time by the repetition of the same arguments over and over again. The reason was that the Conservative Party had endeavoured by every possible device to prevent the people from getting full control over the expenditure and administration of their own money for the relief of the poor. He had listened with great interest to the speeches delivered on these Amendments. He should be the last person in the world to suggest that the proposed change was not of very great importance—indeed, in some respects it was most revolutionary; but he thought he would be justified in telling his friends in his constituency that the real issue was settled on the first Amendment to the clause, and that, after that, all the time—the days upon days—had been spent in repetitions of arguments and speeches—
I must call the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that he must confine the discussion to the clause itself, and not deal with the history of the clause.
§ MR. A. J. WILLIAMS
said, he would endeavour to keep to the clause as a whole; still, he thought he might draw attention to one or two Amendments—
§ MR. A. J. WILLIAMS
said, he would not go into the details of the clause. That would be doing what he objected to in other people. The Committee had now got to the last section of 504 the clause. Upon that last section again the question of the ex officio principle had been raised. Here they had had a concession which was the largest the Liberal Party could be reasonably expected to make—
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I rise to Order. I would submit that the hon. Member does not in the least know the Question before the Committee. He is under the impression that we are called upon to divide on the Question that the Amendment of the President of the Local Government Board be embodied in the clause.
§ MR. A. J. WILLIAMS
said, the clause as it stood included the Amendment which the President of the Local Government Board had moved, and he conceived he was perfectly in Order in discussing that. They quite understood what had been going; on, and he hoped the Government would stand firm. The remarks which had been made by the hon. Member for Sunderland on this subject were perfectly true. He hoped they were not going to have over again a discussion of all the matters which had been already dealt with ad nauseam—Poor Law administration, property qualification, and plural voting—for they did not want any more of it. He felt it his duty at this stage of the proceedings to venture humbly and respectfully to urge upon the Government, whom they were so loyally supporting, that there was a Standing Order, which he thought they had too long forborne to put in force, but which he hoped the responsible Minister of the Crown would, if necessary, apply.
SIR H. FLETCHER (Sussex, Lewes)
said, the hon. Member for South Glamorgan began his speech by telling them that his action during these Debates would probably add several hundred votes to his side at the next Election. Well, the Opposition would like to see a General Election as soon as possible in order that the hon. Member's fond hopes might be realised. The hon. Member had also told them that to-morrow he intended to go down to his constituents 505 and explain Clause 19 to them; but the hon. Member had not said much about it during the short time he had occupied the attention of the House. He wished, however, to devote himself as closely as possible to this clause, which they had been discussing for the past few days. He had listened to nearly the whole of the discussion on the clause, because for nearly 23 years he had been one of those much-abused members of society—an ex officio chairman of his Board of Guardians. He was not going into the question of ex officios being continued or not, but he wished to say a few words on the general subject. The Committee must recollect that the old Boards of Guardians, which were now to a certain extent to be abolished, had been composed of elected members who were the principal ratepayers or farmers in their various parishes, but be bad seen during the past few years many of those members gradually passing away from their places on the Board, some by death, but a great many others owing to other circumstances. Agricultural depression had been one of the main causes why farmers who had occupied the position of Guardians for many years had been obliged to give up their farms. He thought, he saw now, not only in his own Union but in many other Unions, a different class coming in to those who had hitherto occupied the position of Guardians, and under this new arrangement there was no doubt that still a very different class of men would come in. The action of the right hon. Gentleman in reducing the property qualification lo £5 would give further opportunities to men of a different class in life to come in as Guardians. He believed the right hon. Gentleman had power—he had said so himself—to reduce the qualification to a rating of 40s.; but, in his opinion, it was low enough at present. The danger to be apprehended in future was that a person might be elected by the popular vote because he happened to be the hero of the hour or day for some cause or other, while he might for other reasons be totally unfitted to fulfil the duties of Guardian. This Bill would make a very great change in the administration of all matters connected with the Poor Law, and the Opposition had simply done their duly in resisting as 506 far as they could a great many of the innovations proposed by this clause. The word ex officio had been thrown in their faces, and they bad been asked why they did not stand for popular election. Might he point out that in many cases where an ex officio member had been a regular attendant at his Board he would not like lo displace elected members who had taken an interest, in Poor Law matters. He should be the last to ask any one of the 38 elected members on his Board to make way for him in order that be might represent the parish on that Board. As to the qualification of women to sit on Boards of Guardians, he might say that two Indies bad been members of his Board for some years, and they had done their work in the most kind, humane, and charitable way, and were not led away, as some ladies might be, by their tender hearts. But if husband and wife were to sit on the same Board, which had been suggested by the President of the Local Government Board the other day, difficulties might ensue, and quarrels might arise between them if they voted differently upon particular measures, and the husband might have to go to the wall. Another matter in this clause, concerning which he saw great difficulties, was the question of whether the new Guardians should be elected for three years, according to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, and one-third of them go out annually, he thought that for many years to come it would prove to be almost impossible. They were told that there were to be three areas in each Union, and one area was to come out every year. he would like the right hon. Gentleman to inform the Committee bow the areas were to be taken, and which was to go out first, because the parishes were to be grouped, he believed the right hon. Gentleman said, geographically. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER: That is not so.] He was glad to hear that, because he thought there would be much difficulty. He would not, however, go into it now, because it would come up on another clause; but be thought he was quite in Order in alluding to the question of the triennial election of Guardians, with one-third going out each year, as it was connected with this clause. Up to the present they had had annual elections of Guardians, and the right 507 hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir M. Hicks-Beach) said that he, for one, thought it almost better to continue that mode of election in the future. Well, he entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend. Judging from his own experience, it had worked well in the past, and he was certain that with one-third of the body of Guardians going out each year, there would be many contests for the office, and great expense would be imposed on the parishes and the ratepayers. Hon. Members opposite had alluded to contests for the places on the Boards of Guardians, but he could say that during the past 15 years he had only had in his Union one contest amongst the rural Guardians, and that was the case of his vice-chairman. It was, as the case referred to by the hon. Member for South Glamorgan (Mr. A. J. Williams), a contest between a tenant farmer and a squire. On this occasion the tenant-farmer beat the squire, and he believed the hon. Member said, when making his little joke, that his friend was formerly a Tory, but was now a Radical. In the case to which he (Sir H. Fletcher) referred, it was quite the reverse; the tenant-farmer was a Conservative, the squire was a Radical, and now the squire had become a good Unionist. He had now made his slight protest against this Clause 19, and he had done it in what he believed to be in the interests of his colleagues on the Board of Guardians. He felt sure that when the time came difficulties would arise that were not seen by the right hon. Gentleman at the present time. No one knew better than he did that the administration of the Poor Law was a difficult task, but this was a radical change, and one he felt that would not be of the great benefit the Government at the present time supposed.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, there were a great many points on this particular clause to which one would naturally wish to draw attention. He thought the speech they had heard from the hon. Member for South Glamorganshire (Mr. A. J. Williams) was a most remarkable one. The hon. Member said he was about to address a meeting to-morrow, and that the text of his speech would be Clause 19. He could wish that the hon. 508 Member would deliver to the meeting tomorrow the speech he had delivered to-night on this clause, or, if not, that he would allow one of his (Mr. Lees Knowles) hon. Friends sitting around him—and he was sure there were many who would be glad of the opportunity—to help him in addressing the meeting. The hon. Member said they wished to prevent the people from getting control over their own money. He was sure that was far from the wish of any hon. Member on that side of the House. What they desired was this: that those who payed the piper should call the tune; that those who paid the rates should have the chief voice in the distribution of the rates. There were many points to which one might allude on this Clause 19, but he thought that a great, if not the greatest, misfortune was, that under this Clause 19 in future there was to be no ex officio or nominated Guardians. Against the majority of the other side he would have no chance with the Amendment which he had on the Paper, and which he had hoped to be able to move; but by that Amendment he proposed that gentlemen who were now ex officio or nominated Guardians, so long as they remained qualified as Guardians, should continue to act. When the hon. Member for South Glamorgan (Mr. A. J. Williams) attacked plural voting, voting by proxy, and the ex officio Guardians, he seemed to have forgotten the fact that all these were the creations of his own Party; they were established in 1834 by the Radical Party, and not by the Conservative Party, and therefore, in defending the ex officio Guardians, they were defending the creation by the hon. Member's own Party. He regarded these ex officio Guardians as of great value; they were a, small number of gentlemen who had given valuable assistance and advice, and who afforded a temporary safeguard against lavish expenditure, and it seemed to him at the present time they were acting in rather a graceless way in discarding them so roughly, forgetful of their past services; it seemed to him they were tossing them on one side as they might toss a squeezed orange—they had got all the good out of them that they could, and now they were to be suddenly rejected. There was no allegation 509 of past mismanagement; there was no allegation of neglect—no allegation of past misconduct on the part of the ex officio Guardians. They were appointed, in the first instance, by the Party opposite—and he was sure at the present time they recognised the past wisdom of the Party opposite—because they were presumably acquainted with the law. They were men of education, men of property; they lived in the places where they acted; they were familiar with Poor Law relief; they were a permanent element on these Boards of Guardians, and they acted as a sort of balance against those Guardians elected from year to year. Moreover, they had ample time to give to the discharge of their duties. They gave their time in fulfilment of that work which they looked upon as a duty, and before the Committee which sat in 1878 to inquire into the whole of this subject evidence was given which showed that those Guardians who had served with ex officio Guardians were the backbone of the Boards of Guardians. It had been stated that in some cases the ex officio Guardians had not attended as regularly as they might otherwise have done; but the probable reason for this was that, not being able to guide the Boards of which they were members, they were not disposed to waste their time by attendance. On the other hand, in those cases where ex officios had been elected chairmen of Boards of Guardians they had rendered such service that their services had been specially recognised in the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, who had made provision for the retention of these gentlemen where it was the wish of the Board to retain their services. With the adoption of the principle of "One Man One Vote," he thought there would be an inducement for the ex officio Guardians to attend more regularly. What they feared was that without the ex officio element there might in the future be extravagance as regarded outdoor relief. They must remember that it was proposed under this Bill to do away with almost all qualification and to introduce the principle of "One Man One Vote." A man might be a ratepayer or he might not be a ratepayer; he might 510 be rated at £250 a year or he might be a lodger paying his 2s. a week and not a farthing to the rates, and yet they were all to he on the same footing, and one was afraid that when the voting was carried so low as that there might be a temptation to be lavish in the distribution of outdoor relief. They knew that recently the President of the Local Government Board had issued a Circular to Local Authorities in which he suggested that temporary outdoor relief should be given to able-bodied men. That proposal had created quite a flutter.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, it seemed to him that, for the sake of argument, work in this case was practically the same thing as outdoor relief.
* THE CHAIRMAN
That is not the Question before the Committee; the Question is, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, he was showing that this clause abolished ex officio Guardians, whom they looked upon as a protection in regard to expenditure, and what they were afraid of was that in the future there would be lavish expenditure in the matter of outdoor relief. That was the aim of his argument, and what he pointed out was that the right hon. Gentleman had issued this Circular.
Order, order! That Circular is not issued to the Boards of Guardians, and in my opinion is not material to this subject.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, he would merely point out that a friend of his, who was a member of a Board of Guardians, had published with reference to this Circular—
Order, order! That has nothing to do with the Question before the Committee. I must really ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to keep to the subject.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, he he would not further allude to the Circular, but he would point out that the tendency of the present policy of the Local Government Board was to encourage further expenditure in the matter of outdoor relief. His friend, who was a member of a Board of Guardians, wrote to say that the present policy of the Local Government Board threatened to undo the uphill work of the last 20 years. In reference to the Marylebone Union, his friend said that in 1871 there were 1,874 persons in receipt of outdoor relief, and in 1891 there were 317, and the number had since sunk to 186. Thus, in the last 20 years the expenditure upon outdoor relief had greatly decreased, and his friend went on to say—
That is not material to this clause; I have already pointed out to the hon. Member the question of outdoor relief and indoor relief is not material to this clause, but that so far as the clause deals with ex officio Guardians he is in Order.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
said, in that case his point was that he thought the abolition of the ex officio Guardians was a matter of serious import, because the ex officio Guardians had prevented lavish expenditure, and if they had not attended so regularly as they might have done in the past, there was now an inducement for them to attend more regularly in the future. The ex officio Guardians control the expenditure. He would not have it unduly controlled; but, there should be regulations with regard to the expenditure in order that it might not be too lavishly and improperly made. He protested generally against this clause, and particularly against this abolition of the ex officio Guardians.
§ * MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
desired to say only a very few words now that they were about, as he hoped, to add this clause to the Bill, and he was sure when they had done that there would be a very widespread feeling of satisfaction among the people. They (the Liberals) promised the people at the General Election that they would do what they could to bring local government to every cottage door, and if 512 they had made an exception in respect to that part of local government in which the peasantry took the liveliest interest they would have been most bitterly disappointed. They were now about to raise the Board of Guardians up to the high level of municipal life. He confessed that he had listened with surprise, and almost with shame, to some of the objections which had been raised to this course. No Member had been able to point to a single sphere of government in which the introduction of the popular method of election had resulted in retrogression, and not in the purification of administration. Reference had been made to the miseries which were endured before the new Boor Law was passed, and hon. Members on the Conservative side appeared to apprehend a renewal of those evils, but they forgot that those evils arose under what was not a popular system of administration at all, that was the arbitrary power of Magistrates at that time in regard to the Poor Law. A reformed and popularly-elected Parliament made it one of its first duties to reform the Boor Law, and the abuses soon disappeared. What they were doing now was simply to carry still further the popular principle which reformed the Boor Law. He believed that the effect of the clause would be to further humanise and improve the administration of the Poor Law. He congratulated the President of the Local Government Board on the fact that this great reforming clause was about to be added to the Bill.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
desired to join his protest to that of his hon. Colleagues against this clause as a whole, and he did so now, he thought, for the fourth time in obedience, as he considered, to the mandate he had received from the electors who had sent him there. One of the hon. Members who had spoken seemed to think that the Poor Law Guardians who would be interfered with or displaced by this clause were, perhaps, in some parts of the country falling off. In his division of Surrey, however, they were still strong, still popular, still respected, and still effective, and his friends feared that by this clause a number of good men would be displaced who had 513 given satisfaction to their countrymen; that the grand system which had grown up now for two generations or more would be broken up, and that there would probably be a certain amount of extravagance under this clause. But this extravagance would not be the worst part of it, because if it should occur it would be followed by demoralisation, and it was that they wore more afraid of than the expenditure of the money. It was the moral rather than the financial evil which they apprehended. The Government had rejected the propositions which had been made in favour of plural voting and cumulative voting. As to the concessions, of course they were thankful for that which related to lady Guardians; but the other concessions, such as that they had just voted upon, they regarded as nominal and almost worthless. Finally, they protested against the doctrine that this was merely a change of trustees, and would not affect the trust. They said that both went together, and that if they altered the position of the trustees, who were the Guardians, then they must alter the position of the trust—namely, the Poor Law relief; therefore, this clause was not admissible in a Bill of this kind which related to Parish Councils, and ought not to be taken up except as part of a comprehensive consideration of the whole of the Poor Law system. On these grounds he desired, firmly but respectfully, to add his protest against this clause, and to warn the Government that it would be opposed by him and his friends, both inside and outside that House, to the bitterest end.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
, in opposing the clause, said the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had often assured them that what he desired above all things was to support the principle of what was called the new Poor Law. That was exactly what he (Mr. Stanley Leighton) and his friends desired to do, and they had pointed out over and over again that what the Poor Law Commissioners and the supporters of the new law approved of was a Board of Guardians which did not depend wholly or entirely upon elections. They knew that public and popular election was a good thing, but they did not believe that it could always 514 and invariably produce the result which they desired. It was in order to support these principles of the new Poor Law that they (the Opposition) had been struggling during the last few days; it was on those grounds that he felt himself bound by his duty towards his constituents and his own sentiments with regard to the management of the Poor Law on this last occasion on which the opportunity would be afforded to make his protest against the clause as it stood. The clause destroyed the principle upon which the Poor Law rested. The pillar upon which the Poor Law rested was the new constitution of the Boards of Guardians. That constitution, as was pointed out by the Poor Law Commissioners, was to give representation to the tenants and to confer an influence in the distribution of the rates on the owner in some degree proportionate to his interest in the right administration of the law. But how did the principle find itself worked out in this clause? It was wholly ignored. The Commissioners went on to say—The principle being that while adequate means are provided by law to compel the performance of all the Act requires, the actual administration shall be entrusted Id and controlled by those whose interest it is that more than the law requires shall not be granted.The President of the Local Government Board had over and over again told them that he himself, and not the Boards of Guardians—the Local Government Board and not the Local Board of Guardians—was to be the real administrator of the trust of the Poor Law. This new change had been made without consideration and without inquiry. He defied the right hon. Gentleman to bring forward the opinion of any men who had for a long time been engaged in administering the Poor Law in support of the Government's proposals. He defied him to bring forward the Report of any Commissioner in support of the Government's scheme. On the contrary, the published Reports of all the old Commissioners had been unanimously in favour of the existing arrangement which this clause profoundly altered, and not a single one of the Poor Law Inspectors could be found to approve the change. The clause was utterly irrelevant and unnecessary to a Parish Councils Bill. 515 It had been dragged in without necessity, and had prolonged their proceedings without any adequate advantage. It was a retrograde measure, and it barred the door to future reform. Those who had long interested themselves in Poor Law reform had all endeavoured to move in the direction of the classification of workhouses and in throwing over a larger space the payment of rates and of drawing up within counties rather than in Unions a great deal of the administration of the Poor Law. These were matters which would be of vital importance to the administration of indoor relief, but the proposal of the Government barred the way to those reforms which all interested in the proper administration of the Poor Law had endeavoured to bring about. Moreover, this clause almost excluded the chance of farmers being placed upon the Boards of Guardians, or at all events it jeopardised the position of the farmers. Instead of the unity and simplicity they had ail hoped to gain by the Local Government Bill they found that this measure would introduce all sorts of difficulties, and by creating not one area for Poor Law administration, but two areas made up of the urban and the rural districts, they would be confronted with a serious obstacle. The Member for Sunderland had told them that such a plan would be totally unworkable, and that alone would be sufficient to make them vote against the clause. He believed the clause would operate harshly on the poor, and it might even have the effect of lowering their wages. At any rate, he knew it was a clause which had been carried by a political majority of Members whose constituencies were utterly uninterested in the Bill.
§ * MR. STEPHENS
was understood to ask whether the present system of surcharging Guardians for any errors in administration was to be retained. As an elected Guardian he had been surcharged a good many times, and he thought it was very interesting to know whether, if the property qualification was to be abolished, that method of administration would be retained. He believed their forefathers in their wisdom had a definite object in view; not that of electing persons for the mere reason that they had greater means than others, but in order to get 516 hold of persons who could give compensation to the ratepayers if they made default of duty in any way or refused to serve. The old records showed that fines of heavy amounts had been imposed upon those who declined to serve or were guilty of some default in the discharge of their duty. Perhaps he might say that however anxious they might be to support the new Poor Law, he did not think the state of things before 1834 ought ever to be used to fend off any enlargement of popular control. The facts would not bear that interpretation. It would be found that all the matters to which the great waste and extravagance were to be attributed were really not put in force at all by the parishes and never came into existence until long after parochial administration was utterly overthrown by Gilbert's Act, the Act of 1782. He was in favour of a small area where those who had the distribution of outdoor relief could realise the consequences of what they were doing. He hoped the concession now in contemplation by the Government would be made.
§ MR. FISHER (Fulham)
, in rising for the first time to protest against this clause, he must say that having listened almost throughout the entire Debate, he was struck with the singular failure on the part of the Government to make out a case for any such reform as they now proposed. He was himself in favour, on many grounds, of Parish Councils, and he thought a case had been made out for some new system of local government in our parishes. But whilst he had listened for many weary days and nights to these Debates, he had never discovered any sound argument for altering the present state of things as regarded Poor Law administration. There were, perhaps, many parochial reforms which might be introduced into the Poor Law, and which might well be made the subject of a separate Bill, but as regarded the administration of the Poor Law itself, he had not seen or heard any evidence that the state of things that was about to be established would be likely to benefit the districts for which it was sought to establish it. The hon. Member for Sunderland, in a very crafty Amendment he moved the previous night—which was accepted in part by the Government, and which probably would 517 not have been accepted if it had been moved by the hon. Member for Salford —said that he moved that Amendment on two grounds—namely, of economy and the diminution of elections. But the whole of this new clause must operate against economy. The one class of people who were interested in economy were the ex officio Guardians, and if they were abolished and did not seek re-election, as they probably would not care to do, the very men who were interested more than anyone in keeping down the rates would not be on these Boards. If the people over these small areas could realise that they themselves could be hard hit by au increase of rates they would be willing to trust them, but the difficulty was to bring home this knowledge to them, just as it was almost impossible to bring home to the people represented in the Imperial Parliament the fact that they would suffer by a large increase in the Income Tax. It was for that reason, almost as the principal reason, that be was personally opposed to this new arrangement. He contended that under the proposal of the Government they would not have those elected as Guardians who would be interested in keeping down the rates, and to keep down the rates was in the interest of the poorest people themselves if they could only be persuaded of it. He would have been glad to have welcomed the arguments of the hon. Member for Sunderderland if he did not know he was one of those who had always supported every single extension of local franchise, which had been the most expensive possibly of a popular character, and he could not help thinking the time was coming when the Party opposite would be led to support not only payment of Members of Parliament—
* THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! That is not material to the clause, and I hope the hon. Member will confine himself to the clause.
§ MR. FISHER
was very sorry his sentence had been cut short, for it would have been seen that what he was about to say was in Order. It was, that if they sought some new system such as this, got rid of the ex officio Guardians, and had all the Guardians elected, they would 518 very soon have a system by which no voluntary work would be undertaken at nil, and by which they would have an agitation for the payment of all those who did voluntary work of any kind; by County Councillors, District Councillors, and Members of Boards of Guardians. In such circumstances it did not be in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to use this cry of economy. Then, as to the multiplication of elections, he thought that was one of the great evils. One might think from what they were doing that they were election-mad. They would have elections for Parish Councils, District Councils, and County Councils. He believed the Party opposite would, if they could, set up a School Board in every parish, and at this rate it would be one of the duties of the County Councils to increase the accommodation in lunatic asylums for those driven mad by ever-recurring elections. The greatest evil of all, however, was the tendency to get rid of the services of country gentlemen, to drive them from the position of usefulness they bad so long occupied, or to put them to every possible inconvenience in the discharge of the duties they had so efficiently performed. No case had been made out for the proposed change, and it was one that would greatly increase the difficulties of agriculture, whose burdens it was the common desire of all to lighten as far as possible.
§ MR. W. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
said, he was opposed to the clause in toto. He had waited for an opportunity in order that he might state his objections. Every Amendment that had been proposed had been more or less in the nature of au alternative, and, therefore, open to objection. The clause proposed the abolition of ex officios, and it dealt with the mode of election and the qualifications of elected Guardians. The first question he would ask was— What had all this to do with local government? The Poor Law was quite a different thing from local government. It was a question by itself—another branch of the question—and did not come in connection with the ordinary affairs of local government. The Bill professed to deal with local government in England and Wales, and it did seem to him questionable whether a clause of this kind 519 properly found a place in it. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board attempted to justify the clause, and he would like to examine some of the reasons he adduced in favour of it. The right hon. Gentleman had not shown any justification for the destruction of the ex officio element. He did not even attempt for a moment to establish a case; he did not attempt to show that it was necessary for the purposes of reconstruction and for the sake of uniformity. In extending a local government system Parliament gave Local Boards to urban districts; but in dealing with rural districts it apparently felt that it would be too much to have a separate authority for each, and so, for convenience sake, it adopted Boards of Guardians and made them Rural Sanitary Authorities. If this clause was negatived, as he hoped it would be, he should be prepared to propose a clause providing that the Guardians should have nothing to do with the Rural Sanitary Authority. The right hon. Gentleman was not consistent in his attitude upon this question, and he would point out to him that he would have interference by the Boards in matters that did not concern them at all. That would be an anomaly. He ventured to submit that there were distinct objections to combining the two functions. One was the importance of the Poor Law itself, and the impossibility of the Guardians doing work beyond that which came to them under that law. Anyone who had experience of Boards of Guardians would know that it would be too much for them to undertake any additional duty. But there was an even stronger objection—that they would have every question of local government mixed up with questions of Poor Law. So that at the elections questions of this character would be raised, having nothing whatever to do with Poor Law administration, and the electoral machinery would be in the one set of hands, and these people would control the election of Guardians, not on Poor Law questions, but on others. Even Members of this House would be subject to this machinery. He thought there was no evidence that the change proposed would be for the benefit of the poor, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman had admitted that so far as he had gone. It was difficult 520 to ascertain the ground upon which he I had proceeded in discussing an Amendment which had been moved to the effect that certain County Councillors should become ex officio Guardians. How did the right hon. Gentleman deal with that proposal? He said there was no connection between the duties of the County Council and those of the Guardians. Then he (Mr. Ambrose) would ask how it was that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to put these outside duties on the Guardians, duties that did not belong to them at all? He had had the honour of listening to the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions, and he admired his courtesy and fairness, and he acknowledged that his services in the cause of local government would make his name remembered by all who were interested in it—and they all were interested. But he had never heard the right hon. Gentleman condemn his own Bill as he did in dealing with this clause. He had made a retrograde movement, and he did not think it would be pretended that the change was one calculated to improve their system of local government.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, he was unwilling that this clause should be added to the Bill without his saying a word or two by way of expressing his opinion upon the questions which it raised. He would intrude upon the Committee as briefly as possible. He recognised the justice of the Chairman's ruling regarding the discussion of the clause—that the clause was confined to the administration of the Poor Law. It was true that the clause did not touch the subject-matter of the Poor Law. It merely reformed the body now charged locally with the administration of Poor Law relief. But was it possible to over-estimate the importance of the character of a body charged with such a function? He admitted that when the conditions of a trust were strictly defined a change in the persons composing the administrative body was of comparatively small importance. But, in respect of the Poor Law how wide was the discretion of the administrative body? If they wanted evidence of that they had only to look round the country and see the diversities of administration that prevailed. He would take as a special illustration of the way in which bad 521 administration might bring a population into a state of degradation, and might require a most vigorous and unusual effort to redeem them from the gulf into which they had slipped, the action taken in reference to the Poor Law administration in the East End of London 26 years ago, when power was granted to the President of the Local Government Board to nominate Guardians in that district in consequence of the laxity in the granting of relief and the extravagance of the popularly-elected Guardians. [An hon. MEMBER: No!] He was speaking of the period before 1867. The policy that had been adopted rescued those Unions from the conditions to which they were reduced—
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, what prevailed then prevailed now. There had been a great development in the administration of the Poor Law since 1834: and they had gone a long wav from the ideas of the original Commissioners. He had no particular prejudice with respect to the bodies now charged with the administration of the Poor Law which would deter him from examining their constitution and engaging in their reform. He had never had any affection for ex officio Guardians, who, as a, body, bad shown their appreciation of their duties by abstaining from attending. Rut they had always found on Poor Law Boards one or two scattered units who had been there as ex officio members, who had led and directed their own Boards, and whose influence had made itself felt not only in their own Unions, but in neighbouring Unions to the advantage of Poor Law administration, which had improved and developed from 1834 to the present time. The hon. Member for the Oswestry Division was a gentleman who was a conspicuous example of one who had rendered services such as he had in mind; the hon. Member for Carnarvon was another, and MR. Albert Poll was another conspicuous Member of the class to which he referred. The presence of men like these on Poor Law Boards did not prove that all ex officios who had attended useful additional members, but they did show that by a different process to 522 popular election persons had been brought on the Boards who had saved them from faults which they might easily have committed, and had raised the standard of independence among the poor to a higher level than it had ever reached before. This was why—without any prejudice in favour of ex officios, but from a knowledge of what they had done—he regretted the total absence from the clause, as it now passed from them, of any machinery for insuring that Poor Law Boards in future should contain persons who would make the Boards representative in the fullest sense, and secure those elements of character, experience, integrity, and independence which, he feared, would not always be obtained by the process of popular election. These were the reasons why, without any prejudice in favour of ex officios or plural voting, he objected to the clause as it stood. He also objected because, inserting the clause as now framed in the Bill, they would retard rather than promote that reform and reconsideration of the Poor Law for which the times were ripe. Happily, there was now going on—and had been going on for some time—a movement in this direction. Conferences had been held, general and local, showing a most praiseworthy spirit and sincere desire to amend the Poor Law in all its branches and administration, and to raise up the character of the labouring poor, and to make the people of the country more thrifty and independent, and more free from the fatal tendency to rely on public assistance. There had been discordant opinions expressed, and excellent suggestions had been made, showing that the time was ripe for careful inquiry and organised effort to bring out the results of recent experience in a true scheme for the administration of the Poor Law in the future. The treatment of the sick and of the aged, the treatment of children, which was one of the most important branches of the Poor Law, and the of inmates so as to enable the poor houses in one vicinity to combine together and reorganise their administration were subjects which were ripe for inquiry and settlement; but he feared that by the present legislation they were putting obstacles in the way of these matters being dealt with satisfactorily, 523 and strengthening the separation of the different Unions. He hoped the necessary reforms would be secured in spite of these obstacles, but they would have to be obtained under greater difficulty, and with a larger expenditure of time and labour through the steps they were now taking. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had shown that this unfortunate clause, which so rashly interfered with a subject so important, was totally unnecessary. It might have been detached from the Bill without any difficulty, leaving the measure a perfect and complete scheme for the re-organisation of the local government of the country. If the clause was struck out now they might go on and complete the District Councils. It would not make the slightest change in the Bill; but the Poor Law Guardians would remain charged with their original functions, and no more, whilst the sanitary and other functions which had been accumulated on them would be charged upon the District Councils. The clause could be taken out without great dislocation of the Bill. It was unnecessary to the measure, and could be removed without any tearing of the measure asunder or considerable difficulty. It had been said that the administration of the Poor Law by freely elected bodies would result in a more rigid observance of the principles of the law; but he could not understand how anyone who followed the current of public opinion on these matters could entertain that view. The arguments which had been submitted to the Committee in the course of the discussion of the clause had appeared to him to have no reference to the conclusion sought to be built upon it. They had been told that the managers of the different Friendly Societies administered their funds rigidly, and no doubt that was true; bat the position of those managers was entirely different from that of persons popularly elected, who would be charged with the administration of funds contributed by the public. Did they not see at the present moment a movement in the Metropolis and the country which was altogether antagonistic to the main principles of the Poor Law as reformed in 1834? What, if one might put it in a sentence, was the principal idea which governed the 524 framers of that law? It was, that the acceptance of public relief was at the best a misfortune, at the worst a social offence. Was that principle a popular principle to-day? Was it not rather that the acceptance of relief was perhaps a necessary part of the organisation of our public life, in so far as it reached the extent that all should accept it when they arrived at a certain age. If that was the principle which was to operate in public elections, and which was to animate the administrative bodies in the future, then whatever might be done by the Local Government Board, however strict the regulations, it would be found that the administration of the Poor Law would go back to something like what it was before the great reform of our grandfathers' time, and the degradation of the moral standard of independence of working men, from which they wore never absolutely free, would be in great peril of being reproduced now as it was then. They were not free from the faults or the virtues of their forefathers. They ran so closely together that they might find under the guise of virtues faults repeated which those forefathers unwittingly committed, and which had brought about a position from which they with difficulty escaped. He had only one more thing to add, and that was this. He thought the experiment now being tried was unparalleled in any civilised country. He did not know that they would find anywhere, whether on the Continent of Europe or in America, the administration of the Poor Law and public relief assigned to a body elected by the method contemplated in this clause. In France the body which discharged these functions was not so elected. The Guardians of the Poor in the States of New England were not so appointed, nor did he know that even in the Australian Colonies they would find a parallel to the suggestion contained in the clause. Here they had, as far as he knew, for the first time, the suggestion that the administration of the Poor Law should be assigned to a body elected by mere majorities of masses of popular electors, without any safeguard in the body so elected, without any safeguard that there would be found in it a free element—without any safeguard that they would find in it any of those 525 individuals upon whose presence the sound administration of the Poor Law for the last 60 years had depended, who by character, by independence, and by the power of realising not merely the immediate consequences of benevolence, but the future and ultimate consequences of their action, had been able to save the persons committed to their charge from the evils into which they too easily slipped and with which they were continually exposed, he apologised to the Committee for detaining them on this important subject; but having in view the absolutely unnecessary character of the clause, and the unparalleled character of the machinery, looking at the momentous issues which depended upon the true administration of this branch of the Poor Law, he could not allow this clause to be adopted without entering once more his protest against it.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said, that when this Bill was first proposed for their consideration he had regarded it with a sincere desire to see it become an accomplished fact; but when he came to look through its various provisions his thoughts naturally centred on Clause 19, and he was filled with apprehension and distrust. He had advocated on many public platforms the improvement of the Poor Law system by classification in workhouses and in other directions, and it was because he feared this clause would lead to the postponement of such improvements that he deplored its introduction into the measure. He took it that the measure was nothing at all if it was not a practical, workmanlike, businesslike, Bill. They did not want to introduce much of sentiment or theory into it. They all desired to see economy in these matters, so long as it was combined with good administration, but here was a change of system. They must be able to show that it was an improvement; but in the matter of economy they did not say the system they were destroying had been extravagant. All they could say was that the new one they were setting up would not be an extravagant one. So far as economy went, they were not going to gain anything. The only chance was that they would not be worse off. The next point 526 was that they should have a continuous system of administration of the Poor Law. Well, they had that continuous system under their old management. They could not get it more continuous under the new Amendment, and they stood a very good chance of making it a system of fits and starts instead of one of continuous level administration. Therefore, so far as that point was concerned, they were changing the certainty of good administration and a continuous system for the possibility of a creaky and uncontinuous system. The next point was that anyone who believed in Poor Law at all wished to have a perfectly fearless and impartial administration of the Poor Law. By the confession of the sternest critics on the other side of the House they had hitherto had a fearless and impartial administration. Could they improve it under their new system? All they could say was that they sincerely hoped that it would be as good, but they did not know that it would be, and they did not expect that it could be better. Therefore, whether as regarded economy, continuity, or fearless and impartial administration, the Government and its supporters did not pretend that they wore going to improve the existing system; all they hoped was that that which they were about to set up would be as good as that which they were taking down. Therefore, from a practical point of view, he did not see that they had set out any good reason for this change. But an important point was whether on the Boards they had the representation which they wished to see. He took no exception to the arguments which had been adduced on that point. They had been fair and worthy of the occasion, and worthy of the best answer the Opposition had been able to give. The question, therefore, was whether the new elective representation which was to take the place of the old system would be a practical improvement upon it in the interests of the country and the localities that had to be represented. They were told that the present ex officio members would stand again, and, being elected, would bring the same capacity and power to bear upon these questions that they had brought to bear hitherto. He was not certain of that. He was not quite sure that in the rural districts—for it was in 527 those alone that in these days of falling rents and greater difficulties, when the squires' houses were standing empty by the score and the tenants' houses by the dozen, they would see the readiness on the part of the class who had hitherto been ex officios to seek election that some hon. Members opposite seemed to anticipate. If the ex officios had failed he should be glad to see them swept away. But that was not the allegation. They had done their duty well, and as au hon. Member on the Opposition side had said, like a squeezed orange they were going to be thrown away. If they were of no use let them go. If the time of usefulness of the ex officio Guardians had expired by all means let them go, but he certainly thought that, considering the way in which they had admittedly discharged those duties, they might have been more generously treated in the course of the Debate. Some hon. Members had spoken of them in disparaging terms, and it was strange that now that the Magistrates were about to be deprived of their ex officio duties they did not see the same readiness on the part of those hon. Members to compete for the Magistracy that they so extravagantly exhibited a short time back. Hon. Gentlemen opposite used this argument: the re-awakening of a genuine lively interest in self-government throughout the rural districts which at present lay dormant if it had any existence at all. He himself should join in the satisfaction of hon. Members opposite if any such re-awakening occurred. Those who were practical minded amongst them, however sanguine they might be, must be content to wait for a longish process of years before they saw this interest of the rural population become lively and real. It was true it could not become lively and real if it had not au awakening and a beginning, and if this change was an awakening and a beginning he, for one, would be glad to welcome it. But, on the whole, had the Government been able to put forward any real reason for this enormous change which they proposed to effect in the administration of the Poor Law? They were not, apparently, going to improve the economy of administration, the continuous system, or the good representation that appertained to the present Poor Law government. It seemed to him, 528 therefore, that the alteration contemplated by this Clause 19 was gratuitous and unnecessary. He feared that the measure as it stood was a crude and an ill-digested attempt at unnecessary legislation, and it had been brought forward by a Government who were sacrificing the substance of a good administration of the Poor Law in order to secure the shadow of democratic advance. He thought the exchange of the one for the other a very unsatisfactory reason for attempting that which would cause an upset in au administration which on the whole had worked well. These were the reasons which would make it necessary and incumbent on him to vote against the clause.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have been, present and have taken part in many Debates in this House—Debates on the result of which have depended the fates of Governments and the destinies of great Parties in the State, but I do not believe that any Debate has ever occurred in this House—at all events, in my time—which might be more pregnant of consequences —I fear evil consequences—to the community than the one in which Ave are now engaged. Certainly no one would guess that from the appearance which the Committee presents at the present moment. We sit hero a wearied Assembly. [An hon. MEMBER: No, no.] An hon. Member denies that. He may be endowed with a better constitution than most of us; but we sit hero for the most part—with a few happy exceptions—a wearied Assembly very few in number, and certainly a very inadequate representation of the Commons of England. And yet we are engaged in deciding, as I am well convinced, a problem, which ought to tax the whole energies of the House, after the fullest inquiry and most careful investigation, before we venture upon a decision which will be fruitful for good or evil for many generations to come. I am well aware that the Government take the view that in introducing this measure they are but nibbling on the fringe of a great subject, and that the clause they have introduced and gratuitously shovelled into the middle of this Bill is one which does not touch the essence or central principle of the Poor Law. But the whole of the essence of 529 the Poor Law consists in its administration, and the mode of the administration must depend upon the machinery by which it is to be carried out, and any Bill which revolutionises that machinery from top to bottom must be described, however it may appear on the surface of the Bill, as a revolutionary measure. Now, under what circumstances do we attempt to carry out this gigantic task? I have already alluded to the character of the attendance in the House—a character equally marked on the other side as on this. In both cases we find that many of those most qualified to assist the Committee by reason of their residence, their habit, and their education, and who are most conversant with all the problems raised by the Poor Law, are absent, and are necessarily absent. Can we wonder with the House of Commons sitting 11 months out of the 12, and when they are asked to decide these problems in the middle of Christmas week, that such should be the result? If we have been hampered as a representative Assembly by the circumstances under which we meet, no less are we hampered by the fact that we have not obtained from the Government any adequate information which might guide us in coming to a decision on this all-important question. On every previous occasion on which it has been attempted to deal with the Poor Law we have been aided by an inquiry by a Commission on the subject, and yet a Government which cannot touch the question of old age pensions or the treatment of the aged poor without a Commission have blindly plunged into attempting to effect an enormous change in the Poor Law administration without an inquiry, without taking the trouble to inform themselves of the difficulty of the position or giving us the least chance of informing ourselves. Sir, I do not think that so grave a responsibility as this has ever been taken upon their shoulders by a responsible Administration in so light a spirit; and we have no right to expect that legislative efforts of this kind will, in practice, obtain a greater measure of success than as a matter of fact they deserve. If I come to consider, not merely the circumstances under which this House meets, not merely the information at our command, but also the spirit in which the Government themselves have met us, I 530 confess that my gloomy anticipations are only darkened by the contemplation of the facts presented. I have known many Governments dealing with many difficult questions, but I have never known a Government dealing with a question as difficult, who showed a more obstinate resistance and a more settled determination, whether right or wrong, that, at all events, no concession should be made to the Opposition. I think that is an unfortunate spirit in which to discuss a problem of this kind, for let the Committee recollect that this is not a question upon which a Party should be divided or which should form a natural subject of controversy between the two sides of the House. Some hon. Gentlemen have talked as if the Conservative or Unionist Party had some special privilege to maintain in connection with the administration of the Poor Law or some interest to serve in seeing that the law was administered in a judicious spirit. But nothing could be further from the truth. This is not a question of a Party; it is not a question of privilege; it is not a question of the rich against the poor; it is not a question of the classes against the masses of Unionist against Separatist. This is a question upon which, if we only knew our own interests, every man would have but one object in view, and would have but little difference of opinion as to the instruments he should choose by which those objects should be obtained. I have heard this matter argued as if it were a mere question of ex officio Guardians. No one, however, so far as I know, cares one farthing about the privileges given to ex officio Guardians, except solely in so far as they may assist the proper administration of the law. What, I would ask, does a man get in the way of power, privilege, or authority by the fact that, being a Magistrate, he may attend the Board of Guardians? Such a man gets nothing; but, in cases where he attends, the country gets much. This is not a question of privilege, but a question solely of Poor Law administration, and what I say of ex officios I say also of plural voting, though I am not now going to argue that. If I did I might give reasons which I think could be urged with great force why those who try rash and foolish experiments and interfere with a method of 531 election which, however antagonistic it may be to prevalent theories, has worked well in the past should recollect that if any voice has been raised in this House it has, again, not been upon a question of Party against Party, of Unionist against Separatist, of rich against poor, of class against class, but it has been simply and solely a question of Poor Law administration, in which rich and poor, truly, are both interested, but in which the poor are interested even more than the rich. And what is the result? The result is that wherever, throughout the whole country, you find a man who has devoted his time, his money, and all that he holds dear, who has sacrificed many personal interests and conveniences to the administration of the Poor Law, that man, for certain, looks with dismay at the experiment which the Government are now trying. I challenge the Government, I challenge the occupants of the Treasury Bench to find one man of the class I have described—one man like Mr. Albert Pell, for example, whom I refer to because his name has been mentioned before, who has really made enormous personal sacrifices in the cause of Poor Law administration—I challenge you to find one such man who does not look at your experiment with apprehension. Those men may be wrong in the view they take on this subject. All prophets, even the most inspired, may be wrong on this matter, but these men are the best and most disinterested judges, and they are unanimous in condemning your experiment. Yet you put them aside as if they did not exist. You have ignored their opinions, trampled on their warnings, and poured contempt on their advice. Again, I say I cannot conceive the spirit in which the Government have plunged into this insane experiment against all the advice that has been tendered to them both from within and without the Office over which the right hon. Gentleman opposite presides, and the still greater amount of advice they might have obtained. I am told that, in the opinion of many gentlemen, the natural good sense of the people of this country, however you might order them or manipulate them in regard to their electoral machinery, is so great that the result is certain to be good. Well, Sir, I should not have the courage to go through all the many labours of political 532 work if I did not believe such to be the case in the long run. But von must not, however, put too great a strain upon a machine, however good—["Hear, hear!"] —and let me further remind hon. Members who cheer that remark, and who seem to think that English good sense will got over every difficulty, that men have to learn their business before they can perform it. I do not deny that every class in this country is capable of learning its business; I do not deny that the lesson has been learnt by being burnt into them by painful experience, that the electorate may then be able to bear the burden without discredit. I do not deny that, but I would remind the Committee that the people who are capable of learning lessons are also capable of forgetting them. How completely we have forgotten the great lessons which have been driven into us and which compelled us to adopt the Poor Law Act! So it may be, I am afraid, in the future. We shall find, no doubt, in the future that here and there, in this or that parish, they will try the experiment of outdoor relief. The rates will increase. The burden on the local ratepayer will be augmented, and the demoralisation of the people will be increased pari passu. The lesson will be learnt by slow and painful degrees; and the inhabitants of that district will drag themselves out of the mire of pauperism into which they have been plunged by their own reckless act, and for a space they will pursue a more wholesome policy. But, again, the lesson is sure to be forgotten. A new genera-ration will arise to whom the old fallacies of Poor Law administration will commend themselves as they commended themselves to their forefathers; and the same weary circle will be repeated with the same disastrous consequences. I may be unduly apprehensive. ["Hear, hear!"] I hear the hon. Member for Battersea, who is more sanguine than I am, cheer that observation. I would point out to him that the experiment is of a character which, if he will look at it in the dry light of reason, hardly deserves to succeed. What is the experiment? The experiment is not to make those who vote the relief pay for the relief, but to enable those who receive the relief, or whose relations may receive the relief, to impose the 533 cost upon a small class. That is not the case in the towns, I admit. I fully believe that you might to-morrow with perfect impunity hand over to the Town Councils or some similar bodies in our great Municipalities the whole administration of the Poor Law. I do not think there would be any tendency in those places to misuse the powers given. But let the hon. Member for Battersea call up in imagination the condition of a rural district, owned by, perhaps, one or two men, and fanned, perhaps, by half a dozen; in which the two who own and the half-dozen who farm pay every single penny of the rates, and yet will be outvoted as ten to one by those whose relations may possibly receive the relief, and who may themselves look forward to receiving the full benefit of outdoor relief. I am as sanguine about the nature of Englishmen as the hon. Member for Battersea, but I think he will admit that as long as human nature—even English human nature—is what, it is, you will be throwing a temptation upon these men to misuse the powers which you grant; and you have only yourselves to blame if it should unhappily turn out that their virtue is not of so high a temper as we all hope it to be. I do not put it higher than that. I only say that your experiment is rash and unnecessary. It is an experiment undertaken without adequate information. It is an experiment considered in the Mouse of Commons utterly incapable, in the special circumstances, of doing its duty in the discussion of the question; and it is an experiment, therefore, which, if it succeeds at all, will do that which its initiators have no right to expect. For my own part, I most earnestly trust that my forecasts and somewhat gloomy anticipations may prove wholly erroneous. I have fought this clause in no Party spirit; and I make the speech which I now make in no Party spirit. But I do feel that I should look back upon tonight's Debate with the sense that I had not done my duty in a very critical period of my country's history if I had not taken this opportunity of saying that, as far as I am concerned, I will not be responsible by anything that I do or say to encourage the Government in the reckless course which they appear absolutely determined to pursue. When you, Mr. Chairman, 534 put the Question, "That this Clause stand part of the Bill," I shall give my most hearty vote that it be excluded from a measure in which, as far as I can see, it has no logical place whatever, and from which it might be perfectly well left out without in any way marring the symmetry of the scheme which the Government have presented.
§ MR. ACLAND
The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by saying that he looked upon this day as possibly pregnant with evil consequences for the country. He added that no one would guess it from the state of the House at the present moment. That state of things may be owing to the fact that this is the seventh day on which we have been engaged in discussing this particular clause. We have heard so many arguments for and against the policy of the Government that I believe they are entirely exhausted. But I wish to say one or two final words as to the reasons which make me believe that, so far from doing injury to the administration of the Poor Law, we should be doing it a much more serious injury if we left out of a Bill like this the whole administrative part of the question, and left the present administration of the Poor Law exactly as it now is. The right hon. Gentleman says he believes that if the administration of the Poor Law were in the hands of the Town Councils in our towns the work would be pretty well done; so that his fears are mainly connected with the rural part of this question. If we had left the question entirely alone we should have left, especially in the rural districts, the Poor Law system in a condition which would make it especially a target to be shot at by all kinds of reformers who believe in the various popular reforms tending to a fuller representative Government which has gradually taken place during the past few years. We should have left it in this condition, that while we removed from the Guardians their work in connection with sanitation and much else that is connected with the welfare of the people in the country parishes, the Poor Law alone would be left in this position —with a large body of ex officio Guardians, many of whom seldom or never attend the Boards; with Boards elected upon a plural vote, which practically 535 gives the agricultural labourer very little to say in the election of Guardians; and with a voting-paper system, instead of the ballot, which has practically led to the fact that the people have been very little consulted as to the kind of Guardians they desire to have or desire not to have. I say without hesitation, to have left the Poor Law administration of this country in that condition would have been to leave it open to more dangerous attacks than ours from those very reformers you are afraid of. Again, in all local government work in the rural districts—and I do not agree with the hon. Member for Harrow that this is no part of local government work—one of the great things you have to set before you is simplification; and one of the objects of this Bill is simplification in the matter of elections and the work done by popular representatives. Therefore we make district councils and rural boards the same body, and we give them two kinds of work to do—the administration of the Poor Law and all that is connected with sanitary work. In such a case it is surely better that the whole of them should be elected jointly, with both these purposes in view. The Member for West Derby (Mr. Long), who takes a warm interest in the improvement of our Poor Law administration, and has a genuine sympathy with the poor, is afraid that what we are doing will lead to reckless expenditure, and will bar the door against improvement. I do not believe anything of the kind. I believe that, elected as these men will be, we shall find among them a real desire to do justice to the poor in the best way, and that there will be the same kind of improvement in administration as we found in London after the election of the Loudon County Council. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh. The London County Council is always a butt at which a few hon. Members opposite are always inclined to laugh; but, for my own part, I take a very different view of their work, and, considering the short time it has been in existence, I believe it has set as fine an example of administrative work as any body we have ever had. I do not believe, as the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken appears to believe, that we shall have parishes which will go in for reckless outdoor relief, and which, as has been said, will 536 ultimately have to drag themselves out of the mire in order to get back to adequate and good administration. I have sat on Boards of Guardians, and from my experience I have never realised anything of what we have heard as to what the Guardians of the future are going to be—I never realised that I and my fellow-Guardians were so much above our ordinary fellow-men as we appear to be. It seems that because we are abolishing ex officios and doing away with the plural vote, we shall get a totally different human nature in these Boards of Guardians, and that men who have devoted themselves with the greatest self-sacrifice to the Public Service will be shut out of public life. In my opinion, as far as good administrators are concerned, we no more put them aside than the people of this country, under a popular system of election, has put aside country gentlemen who would make good Members of this House. Then we are told that if the kind of persons who will be elected under the Bill are alone to control Poor Law administration, we shall be in danger of getting back to the state of things which existed before 1834. I see no reason why we should expect any such thing. If we watch all the various forms of popular administration, we shall see in the main a steady improvement. Hon. Gentlemen seem to assume that the voters will, at some time or other, think that they or their relations will want outdoor relief, and that, although they may not be a majority, they will begin a policy of voting outdoor relief in the widest possible manner. I see no reason to anticipate that at all. A great deal has been said about economy, but there is a true economy and a false economy. The methods of Poor Law administration on some Boards of Guardians have been, in my opinion, very false economy. The whole question of the treatment of the old is a question of great importance. We have had some figures by way of testing the administration of the Poor Law in connection with outdoor relief, but figures are very misleading. You must consider the different circumstances of different parts of the country, the proportion of old people in districts which are old and in districts which are new and growing, and various other questions 537 as to the relative conditions of Boards of Guardians before you can apply any reasonable test of what is good and what is bad administration. We totally differ as to our prophesies as to the future. For my own part, I would adopt the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. He said that there should be some form of nominated or ex officio members, in order that we might get men of character, independence, integrity, and wisdom. I believe that when this clause has been once got to work, all the fears that are now expressed will be found to have been groundless. We shall get as many men of integrity, independence, character, and wisdom as we have at the present time.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 114; Noes 63.— (Division List, No. 404.)
§ Clause 20 (Names of county districts and District Councils).
§ MR. HALLEY STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)
said, he begged to move—In page 13, line 11, after the word "authorities," to insert the words "and Improvement Commissioners.As at present constituted the Improvement Commissioners were wholly distinct in many important respects from the Urban Sanitary Authorities, and he had placed the Amendment on the Paper as the first of a series with the view of obtaining an assurance from the Government that the question of the representation of the Improvement Commissioners in the new District Councils would be fully considered, and that even if a supplementary provision was necessary to secure that representation to an adequate extent, it should be introduced.
In page 13, line 11, after the word "Authorities," to insert the words "and Improvement Commissioners."—(Mr. Halley Stewart.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, he merely rose to express a hope that the Government would not accept this Amendment too readily. A considerable number of small towns were wholly or 538 partly under the jurisdiction of Improvement Commissioners; and to those bodies a whole code of very difficult and complicated law was applicable. Apparently the hon. Member desired by his Amendments to bring the whole system within the scope of this Bill. To do that would be to overweight the measure to a very large extent. He trusted the Government would not agree to the proposal.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir J. RIGBY,) Forfar
said, he would explain to the hon. Member that the Amendment was unnecessary. Whilst the Government thought it right to change the name of the Improvement Commissioners, they did not propose to interfere with their jurisdiction. They would remain exactly as they were before. It was only in respect of the audit of their accounts that he apprehended the Bill would be applicable to Improvement Commissioners. He would suggest that it was not desirable to press the Amendment. Full consideration would be given to any point he might desire to bring forward; but, as he had said, that was only one small point that they need apprehend any interference with the Commissioners' power.
§ SIR F. S. POWELL
said, he would ask whether the franchise relating to Improvement Commissioners would be altered by the Bill.
§ SIR J. RIGBY
said, the Commissioners would come within the operation of the clause dealing with the franchise for District Councils. With respect to their powers, authority, and jurisdiction, no difference or change was contemplated.
§ SIR R. PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
asked whether they were to understand that the same franchise would apply to the two sets of Local Authorities. Would they be elected on the same franchise?
§ SIR J. RIGBY
said, the Improvement Commissioners would in future come under the designation of Urban District Council.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
said, that when his constituents heard that the franchise for the election of Improvement Commissioners was to be altered he thought they would be astonished.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
was understood to inquire what the exact meaning of the definitions were in Subsection 1.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
moved to omit Sub-section 3 in order that he might ascertain whether the expression "this and every other Act of Parliament" was intended to apply to future Acts, or what reason could be given for introducing a definition sub-section here.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out Sub-section 3.—(Mr. Tomlinson.)
§ Question proposed, "That Sub-section 3 stand part of the clause."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, in the Local Government Act of 1888 a great many references were made to District Councils, and these words were necessary to explain them.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 21 (Chairman of Council to be Justice).
SIR J. GRORST (Cambridge University)
moved to insert at the beginning of the clause the words "Subject to the approval of the Lord Chancellor." He would point out that when the Mayor of a borough sat as a Magistrate within the borough, his jurisdiction was far more limited than that which it was now proposed to confer on the Chairman of the District Council. Under the clause as it stood the person so elected a Magistrate would have jurisdiction, not only within the area of the District Council, but within the whole county, and not only over the rural districts, but over all the boroughs within the county. That, he submitted, went far beyond the precedent of the Mayor of a borough, who had only 540 jurisdiction to a limited extent within his own borough. He would direct attention to the Statute regulating the appointment of a Mayor as Magistrate by virtue of his office.
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to again upon Monday next.