§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *MR. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
said, that in moving the Second Reading of this Bill he desired to point out that there was no subject which caused so much irritation in rural parishes as the present method of electing Poor Law Guardians. If the residents in our larger towns had not been able, by means of their greater numbers, to defeat the pernicious system, and if they had been subjected to the annoyance and annual disappointment experienced in the rural districts, there would long ago have been a radical reform of the law in connection 1494 with the election of Poor Law Guardians and of Local Boards. But it was not alone the annoyance and irritation thus suffered which had induced the promoters of this Bill to bring it in. What they were most concerned about was the entire absence in rural districts under the present system of any real or effective control by the people of the district over the election of those who practically dominated the last days of a large number of men who had all their lives worked hard for wages which did not allow them to put by anything for their old age—and, to the shame of England he it said, there were at the present moment numbers of such men in every parish in the country—men who had served their country faithfully and well, and yet were stigmatised as paupers, deprived of their rights of citizenship, and compelled to eke out existence on a miserable pittance. If the House would permit him, he would remind it of what John Ruskin said on that matter. Ruskin said—A labourer serves his country with his spade just as a man in the middle ranks of life serves it with his sword, pen, or lancet; if the service is less, and therefore the wages during health less, then the reward when health is broken may be less, but not, therefore, less honourable, and it ought to be quite as natural and straightforward a matter for a labourer to take his pension from his parish, because he has deserved well of his parish, as for a man in higher ranks to take his pension from his country because he has deserved well of his country.He knew that whilst in many rural districts the deserving poor were treated with very scant courtesy, there were some others in which they were subjected to almost brutal harshness. On a former occasion he referred to cases within his own knowledge and constituency in proof of the statements he made, but he found subsequently that the people he had named were subjected to much petty tyranny in consequence, and he would that day, therefore, content him with asking hon. Members on each side of the House to recall to their own minds such cases as they must be familiar with. What they complained of, and what they sought to remedy by the Bill, was that no matter how harsh a Guardian might be there were no powers by which the people of the parish might remove that man. The interests of the Guardians were usually directly opposed to 1495 the interests of the poor. Such men had only to preach the keeping down of the rates to be sure of the support of owners and large occupiers, and to be able to swamp all the other residents of the district. He was speaking, of course, of thinly-populated districts where, under the present system, the squire and the parson and three or four farmers were able to defeat at least 40 cottagers, even if those cottagers dared oppose them in open voting. He was aware that 60 years ago, when the present system was established, property was the god of legislators. He was not advocating, or intending to advocate, any attack upon the rights of property, yet he ventured to say that he would be a bold man who would stand up and place the rights of property before the right and humanity. He spoke on behalf of the poor agricultural labourer, whose wages in a great many districts were so low as to preclude any hope for the future beyond parish relief and the mated, detested workhouse. He appealed with confidence to hon. Gentlemen opposite, for only a few days ago they were regretting what they were pleased to call the absence of any mention in the Speech from the Throne of any measures for the amelioration of the condition of the agricultural labourers. As far back as 1878 a Select Committee sat to inquire into the method of electing Poor Law Guardians. The inquiry was a most exhaustive one, but he believed he was correct hi saying that not one of the recommendations of the Committee had yet been carried out. The Committee reported that the abuses and inconvenience of the voting paper system were very grave. It was stated in evidence that whereas the voting paper system was cheaper generally than the Ballot system, yet with triennial elections the Ballot south he cheaper than the present voting paper system with annual elections. In a further paragraph the Committee recommended that the Guardians should be elected for three years, and that they should all retire together. All these suggestions they had embodied in the Bill before the House. In regard to the franchise, they had followed the precedent set by the late Government in their Local Government Act, so that one register might suffice for Parliamentary, County Council, Board of Guardians, and Local Board 1496 elections in counties, and corresponding elections in boroughs. Again, following the precedent of the Local Government Act, they proposed that occupiers only should have votes and each elector should have but one vote in the same union. As to qualification for candidates, they had adopted the Municipal Corporations Act as their basis, every elector being qualified for election. This surely was only reasonable, for while a man might be elected to this House without any sort of qualification whatever, might be elected a Town Councillor if a burgess, might become a member of a School Board if of full age, might be a County Councillor if an elector, yet it was at present necessary for him to be rated at some fixed amount before he could qualify as a Poor Law Guardian. As women now worked with Boards of Guardians with advantage to time work of the Boards and great benefit to the poor, the Bill proposed to make them eligible for election on both Boards of Guardians and Local Boards. Following out the suggestions of the Select Committee, the Bill provided that both bodies should be elected for a term of three years, and all retire together. To prevent unthinking people putting the parish to trouble and expense, the Bill provided that each nomination should be signed by 10 duly-qualified electors. Although the Municipal Elections Act, 1884, was supposed to apply to elections of Guardians and Local Boards, it had not done so in practice, and was, therefore, embodied in the Bill. The voting in all the elections would be taken by ballot, and as there were parishes which contained only five or six electors—he knew a parish having only one elector—it was proposed to group them together, or to add them to adjoining parishes. One Guardian would be given to not less than 50, and not more than 500 electors, and between 500 and 1,000 two Guardians, and one Guardian for every additional 500 electors. He might add, he thought that in large towns this scale would have to he modified. Those were briefly the main provisions of the Bill. The promoters would be very glad, indeed, to accept the assistance of hon. Gentlemen opposite in perfecting the details; but they intended to stand by its main provisions, i.e., equal voting power, the right of every elector to be elected, and the vote by Ballot. He might be told 1497 the Bill would place the power in these districts in the hands of the occupiers. It was true that it would do so. It was what they intended, for, after all, veil as they might, it was the occupier who paid the rates. They had no fear that these people would be extravagant in the matter of relief, but they believed they would do justice to the poor. He did not anticipate that hon. Gentlemen opposite would offer mach if any opposition to the Bill on account of its democratic character, seeing that at the General Election they flooded the country with thousands upon thousands of leaflets claiming that the Conservative Party had in rural districts given the control in local matters to the representatives of the people, and that they had joined with the Liberals in securing to the labourer in the country his vote. The Bill would be hailed with satisfaction by residents of our villages, it would be accepted as proof that Parliament was not suspicious of the people to whom it had freely given the right of voting, and that it deemed it not only impolitic, but unjust to nullify those powers by means of plural votes at the disposal of the wealthy, as was now the case in electing Guardians and Local Boards. He thanked the House for having listened to him with so much patience, and concluded by moving the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now reel a second time."—(Mr. Logan.)
§ *SIR J. DORINGTON (Gloucester, Tewkesbury)
remarked, that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill spoke of the harsh administration of the Poor Law under the present system, but he should have remembered that when the law was under a much more restricted management than it had been in recent years, when it was much more strongly dominated by the owning classes, that relief was much more lavishly administered with most ruinous results in various parts of the country. So far from it being advantageous to the working classes to have easy access to poor relief, it was found to be destructive to their interests, and. to produce nothing but lower wages and almost universal pauperism in the districts in which the relief was lavishly administered. In a parish not very far from where he re- 1498 sided the poor rate under the old system rose to 28s. in the £1, which prevented anybody in the district making any profit, and the parishioners all became more or less paupers. That condition of things was swept away by the wise administration set up in 1832, and the House ought to be very careful before interfering with the system then adopted. He would have thought the hon. Member could have discovered much better grounds for the Bill in the extraordinary anomalies that distinguished our electoral system. It was absolutely necessary that the system of electing these Local Bodies should be brought more in accordance with the system which obtained ill. Parliamentary elections, and he ventured to suggest to the hon. Member who brought in the Bill that the Government had promised to bring in a measure for the establishment of District and Parish Councils, and in connection with that the whole subject of voting for Local Bodies would necessarily come up for revision. In these circumstances he thought that it was inopportune to bring forward such a measure as this, which merely dealt with the fringe of a great subject, while it was quite within the bounds of possibility that Boards of Guardians might be abolished altogether, or cease to exist as such, to reappear in another name, before this Bill could become law. They knew that the late President of the Local Government Board contemplated the substitution of District Councils for Local Boards, and the establishment of a new system of voting. The House would, to some extent, be wasting its time in threshing out a question which would be raised later on in a Government Bill. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill had spoken of the necessity for assimilating the vote for Local Biddies with that which existed for Parliamentary purposes, but in his opinion there was no such absolute necessity, because there was a great difference between local administration and Parliamentary government. In the case of local administration, care must be taken that those who contributed the largest share to the rates should have, at all events, some control over the expenditure; otherwise it might be possible for the expenditure to be managed in litter disregard of the well-being of the 1499 property of the district by which the bulk of the rates was paid. Therefore, he held that in any scheme of readjustment care should be taken to ensure that the Board was properly representative of all classes, for it was only right and just that those who contributed the money should have a voice in its administration. He would willingly admit to the Boards the representatives of the labouring classes, for experience had shown him that where all classes had reasonable access to the Council Chamber, a good effect was produced. He did not believe that the labouring classes were unreasonable in their desires. Even in such matters as the extension of outdoor relief they might be right from their own point of view; but when they met in the Council the representatives of the other side they might be convinced by arguments fairly put before them that the rules generally laid down for the restriction of outdoor relief were founded really in their own interest and not in the interest of the wealthier classes. He regarded with some anxiety—and no doubt the President of the Local Government Board also did so—any prospect of altering our Poor Law administration in the way of allowing unrestricted outdoor relief. The result of such a change would be most unfortunate not only to the country, but to the poor who would he affected by it. Might he suggest the lines upon which, he thought, a safe reform of the voting power should proceed? He would suggest that plural voting should be done away with in all cases, that ex officio members should be done away with, and that instead or these securities, or safeguards, there should be a distinct owner's representation, coupled with a division of the rates between the owners and the occupiers. In that way they would ensure access for both sides to the Council Board. These were the lines upon which he would like to see reform or the voting power proceed. The present plan of having different systems for the elections of members to County Councils, Local Boards, Boards of Guardians, School Boards, and Vestries showed an anomalous state of things which required readjustment, but he hoped there would not be a protracted discussion on the measure before the House, because he held that these things could only be satisfactorily dealt with in a Government Bill.
§ *MR. J. BENNETT (Lincolnshire, Gainsborough)
, speaking as one who had had considerable experience in agricultural districts, thought the hon. Member who introduced the Bill might well be satisfied with the contribution made to the Debate by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tewkesbury Division. The measure could not have found a better supporter, and it was a happy circumstance that any Opportunity had been found—in the break in the Debate on the Bill for giving better Government to Ireland—to bring forward the question of giving greater facilities for self-government in English rural districts. The hon. Baronet had suggested that the dealing with this question should be left in the hands of the Government, but he failed to see why they should hinder the great work to Willett the Government were pledged in order to get it to deal with this question whets they had a chance of pushing it forward themselves. Anything which had a tendency to place in the hands of the people greater facilities for local self-government would be hailed thankfully by all of them. After all, all they asked for in this Bill was what was granted to people in corrupt boroughs 58 years ago. It seemed to him that the Liberals of that day were grand men and went for grand measures. There was that noble measure, the Reform Bill of 1832, and then they had the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which was the very charter of local self-Government. The Bill now before the House simply asked that the election of members to Boards of Guardians and Boards of Health should be placed on the same satisfactory foundation as that for Municipal Corporations; it asked that they should concede to the inhabitants of rural districts the privileges conferred upon those in urban districts 58 years ago, and study such a proposal as that could not be described as revolutionary. Surely it could not be maintained that this measure was asking anything more than had been found successful, safe, profitable, and advantageous in tie boroughs. Why, then, should they delay extending it to the villages?
§ *MR. J. G. LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)
said, that be believed it was a custom which had almost grown into law for a new Member to appeal to the indulgence of the House, and he had to make a claim to that indulgence—a claim rendered the more necessary by the fact that he had had no time since his attention had been drawn to the Bill to prepare anything which in a House containing orators like those whom he saw around him might he called a speech. But he was anxious, representing as he did a rural constituency, to make a few observations on the measure before the House, for he knew that strong opinions were entertained in the country in regard to it. When he looked at the measure he found it had a title with a very neutral tint. It was called the "Local Authorities (Voting and Qualification) Bill"; but its real and full name ought rather to be, "A Bill to deprive those who pay the bulk of the rates of all power over their expenditure." Such a measure as this ought not to be brought in by private Members, but by the Government of the day. When he looked at the back of the Bill he found upon it the names of hon. Members who were not connected—largely, at any rate—with the ownership or occupation of the land. In bringing in the Bill they were, so to speak, taking the bread out of the mouth of the Government they were returned to support, and he hoped before the Debate concluded that some Member on the Treasury Bench would get up and rebuke hon. Members for bringing forward this Bill in the face of the allusion in the Queen's Speech to the proposals which were to be made for Local Government reform, including the creation of Parish Councils. Those who brought forward the present Bill appeared hardly satisfied with it, and they seemed to hail with pleasure some of the suggestions of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tewkesbury. Did not this appear to be a case for compromise; would it not be better for the hon. Baronet and the lion. Member for the Harborough Division to put their heads together and bring in a better Bill—one on which both Parties could agree? But he 1502 would deal with the Bill itself. It would effect a revolution in the management of affairs relating to rural districts. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading laid great stress on the fact that this measure would deal with rural districts, and declared that in the towns and in populous places they had already succeeded in avoiding the disagreeable consequences of the present state of things, while the poor rural districts were left suffering. But what was the state of things which lion. Gentlemen proposed to revolutionise? The hon. Member for the Gainsborough Division said the Parliament of 1832 consisted of grand men who brought in grand measures. But he would like to point out that one of the grand measures passed by that Parliament in 1834 was now to be practically revoked by the present Bill. He thanked the hon. Member for teaching him the words "They were grand men in 1834, and brought in grand measures." Why, those "grand measures," they were now told, were anomalous, leading to injustice and brutal harshness in their enforcement. How was the House which passed this "grand measure" in 1834 constituted? The Conservatives were in a very small minority; the Radicals had it all their own way, and therefore it was the Radical Party who, in 1834, established plural voting, vote by proxy, and ex officio Guardians; and it was hon. Members of the same Party who now proposed to do away with those provisions. What he contended was, that if all the safeguards that those who paid the rates should assist in Spending them were to be swept away, if the decree of separation pronounced between taxation and representation was to be made absolute, it ought to be dome by the Government of the day. He did not know how far it was permissible in that House to draw illustrations from the Sacred Scriptures, but it seemed to him that the landed interest was in the position of the two Midianite Princes, Zebah and Zahnunnah, who implored Gideon to slay them himself, and not entrust the matter to others. There was no hurry for passing this Bill, as an election could not take place under its provisions until a year hence, and therefore it would be much better to wait, and allow the Government 1503 to deal with the whole question, rather than seek to reform rural administration piecemeal. Now, what were the grievances of which hon. Members opposite were demanding the immediate removal? The first was the power of magistrates to sit as ex officio Poor Law Guardians. Was there anything cruel in that? He had had considerable experience of Boards of Guardians; he knew that the ex officio members were always welcome at their meetings and not infrequently a magistrate acted as chairman with the hearty concurrence of his colleagues. It might be that magistrates would not be prepared to come forward to be beaten at the election by some cheap-Jack—some man of straw who was bidding for popularity and making lavish promises to spend rates to which he contributed an infinitesimal sum. Was a country gentleman to live in an atmosphere of perpetual election, to contest for seats on County Councils, District Councils, Parish Councils, Boards of Guardians, Highway Boards, and many more Bodies to be established when the full scheme of radical harmony in our villages was in working order? He knew that these changes were pleaded for on the ground of symmetry, but how many monstrous inequalities had been raised on that ground? The hon. Member who brought in the Bill quoted Ruskin. He would quote an equally high authority—John Stuart Mill, who said—In the peculiar constitution of English society, I have no doubt of the beneficial effect of this provision for ex-officio Guardians.Take, next, the plural vote, and he would ask—Was the maintenance of the plural vote so shocking to this love of symmetry of which he had spoken, so great an eyesore to the advocates of a dead-level-throughout Society, that they could not bear with it even for a short time longer, until the present Government were able to deal with the matter? The plural vote was created by a very Radical Parliament in 1834, and it had lived for the last 50 years through many Radical majorities in this House. It would appear that some Members of the Party opposite were not only breaking away from their present leaders, but were cutting away all connection with the old leaders of the Radical Party; for John 1504 Stuart Mill, speaking of local government, said—There are the same strong reasons for plurality of votes as in the case of the National Parliament, and there is not so decisive an objection in the inferior as in the higher body to making the plural voting depend on a mere money qualification; for the honest and frugal dispensation of money form so much larger a part of the business of the local—than of the national Body that there is more justice as well as policy in allowing a greater proportional influence to those who have a money interest at stake,He turned now to the second objection to the present state of things—the system of voting papers. It had always been considered that more men and women voted when the poll came to them than would vote if they bad to go to the poll, The Select Committee in 1878 on the election of Poor Law Guardians came to a decision absolutely adverse to the views of those who brought in this Bill, so far as the system of voting papers was concerned. In the Report he found these words—Your Committee have, therefore, after carefully weighing the different bearings of the question, come to the conclusion that it is not advisable to extend the system of election by Ballot to the election of the Local Authorities included in this inquiry,And though they said the present system required amendment, they reported altogether against the substitution of the Ballot for the system of voting by papers. They gave the following reasons: The inconvenience to the voter of personal attendance at the polling booth, the increased expense on the rates and on the candidate on account of the necessity of providing against personation, and the probability of the elections being regarded as political. He was not at all sure that hon. Members opposite would be sorry to see in rural places local questions fought upon political grounds, but he and his friends were not at all in favour of the extension of political considerations to their local affairs. The next objection to the present system was the system of voting by proxy. The creation of the power of voting by proxy showed plainly enough that there must be a large number, of owners of property who did not live 1505 in the areas over which the Boards of Guardians were elected, awl therefore this Bill was a gigantic disfranchising Bill. If there were few of such owners who availed themselves of the right, was it worth while to inflict a maximum of injustice on them with a view of gaining a minimum advantage in favour of symmetry? In 1878 the Committee reported in favour of the vote by proxy. This Bill was introduced by a syndicate of Radical Members who sat for agricultural constituencies, and he had no doubt it was brought in for the purpose of endeavouring to prove to the agricultural labourer that Codlin was their friend and not Short. He, as an agricultural Member, considered it his duty to oppose entirely any proposal which was likely to tend to the increase of the rates. Then, again, he objected entirely to this Bill, because it introduced fresh confusion into the areas of local government. It was a reasonable scheme that there should he one Elective Body in each locality for all local business instead of the present system, and it was one worth waiting for if they could get it in its completeness. A locality might possibly be able to provide One Board of competent men for dealing, with all these twitters, but it could not be expected to provide five or six. As to the extension of local self-government, whatever district was chosen, they might depend on it it would not be the Poor Law Union. It was absolutely impossible to adopt the Poor Law Unions as their unit for District Councils, because there was such a difference of size, and nearly one-third of these Unions cut the boundaries of the counties. Could not the hon. Gentlemen opposite wait till the Government which they supported fulfilled their pledges? What were they afraid of? Was it the memory of broken pledges in the past, or was it the shadow of an impending, Dissolution? All Parties might agree that this was not a matter which ought to be attended to by a private Member; and being a matter which tended in the direction of increasing, the burdens upon the already suffering agricultural interest, and a matter which the Government were pledged up to the hilt to deal with, he thought it was not at all desirable to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ *MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
said, the Bill which was before the House was one which claimed the attention of all interested in the rural constituencies; and representing as he did a large rural constituency, he rose to give this Bill his full and outspoken support. They had heard from the opposite side of the House two speeches in answer to that of his hon. Friend who introduced this measure. They had been speeches which, while they had differed in some very important particulars, had been fully in accord in one. They said that those who represent agricultural constituencies on his side of the House, and Liberals generally, had been wasting the tune of the house by introducing this measure. Well, he would remind hon. Members of the speeches they heard front them only last week. The newly-elected Member for Liverpool, speaking on this day week, said—There were many hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House who had been returned to Parliament on an agricultural platform, and who during the General Election never tired of telling the country electors what they would do for them if returned. In that Debate, however, they remained silent, and showed no eagerness to redeem their promises.They did not speak for the purpose of delaying legislation; they preferred to speak when they could speak in support of legislation to allay grievances. Anyone who knew the rural districts of this country must know that there were at the present time a large number of grievances, be they well or ill-founded. They who represented agricultural divisions upon the Liberal side, and who have promised—or, at any rate, had made proposals and pnimised—to do their best to carry them out, now, as they believed, had an opportunity of allaying some of these grievances. The present system of election to their Boards of Guardians was extremely unsatisfactory; and he was pleased to hear that one of their opponents—the right hon. Baronet the Member for Gloucestershire—had the courage to state that he was against the system of plurality voting. But how was that met? They heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Thanet Division the cry of "Oh, no!" Well, they said "Oh, 1507 yes," and he would tell the right hon. Gentleman why they said "Oh, yes." They believed that plurality of voting was unfair to the people at large. They believed it to be a form of class legislation. What was the present system? It was that a man who owned a village was allowed to have as many as six votes, whereas the poor man in the village had only one vote. He said that the poor man had just as much interest in the good government of his parish as the wealthy man. He went further, and said that he was even more greatly interested. To him matters of sanitation were of far more importance than to the rich man. The squire—and they did not blame him for it—took care to see that his house was put in proper order. He was able to get a doctor, whereas the poor man was dependent upon the doctor chosen by the Board of Guardians. Then, again, with regard to the water. The squire had good water in his house, and he must say that in many cases he was charitable enough to see that his poorer neighbours had good water too. But they did not want them to depend on charity. They wanted the people to have a large voice in the government of their parishes. Therefore, they said it was still more to the interest of the poor man than of the rich to have a full voice in the administration, and that there should be equality of voting for the Boards of Guardians. Then there was the matter of poor relief. Although they heard many pleas from the squires to-day they did not hear that it was necessary for them to go to the workhouse for relief. They heard that they would have to reduce their studs, but they did not hear of their having to go to the workhouse. They said, therefore, that it was more a question for the poor man than for the rich as to how the Poor Law should be administered. So much for the electors. Now he turned to the elected. In their opinion the money qualification which now existed was unfair to the poorer classes of this country. They owed a debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. He had done something to show that he was in favour of Liberal administration. Before he turned his attention to this matter there was a money qualification 1508 ranging, he believed, from £40 to about £10. In general it was about £25. Now he had reduced that to £5, and he did not hesitate to say that there were a large number of Members on this side of the House who would like to see the money qualification abolished altogether. He would appeal to them if in these days it was right to have money qualifications, and if they held it was, he would say then why not have a proportional money qualification; why give the wealthy classes an undue advantage over the poorer classes by having this money qualification? His own opinion was that the poor man had as great a stake—even a greater stake—in the country than the wealthy man, and he believed he would be just as much against any undue and wanton expenditure of the rates as would be any wealthy man; therefore, he said that that argument might be entirely put on one side. Let them look at this from a higher standpoint—of justice to the people, and if they did that he thought they would see they would be wise in widening the field from which they chose those who were to be the governors of the country. They wanted to choose their representatives not from one class, but from all classes of the people. Then there was another important provision in the Bill introduced by his hon. Friend—namely, that no one should be allowed to act unless he was chosen by the people to act. At the present time, they allow their Justices of the Peace to take part in the proceedings of the Boards of Guardians simply because they were Justices of the Peace. He hoped it would not be thought he was antagonistic to the Justices of the Peace. He might claim to be a benefactor, as he hoped to bring in a Bill called the Justices of the Peace Bill which was for the better government of the Justices of the Peace; therefore, he was rather their guardian, friend, and protector than their enemy. But he did not believe they should be allowed to go out of their Courts to the meetings of these Guardians and there thwart the opinions of the representatives of the people; therefore, he was glad to see this particular provision in the Bill. But the Member who last spoke, the hon. Member for Yorkshire, said it was not a hardship there should 1509 be these Justices of the Peace on our Boards of Guardians. He held it to be a very great hardship, and he said these men, when they were sitting on our Boards of Guardians, were nothing more nor less than legal trespassers, and he believed that had they a system a election extending to them it would be the better for all concerned. ["Oh, oh!"] The hon. Member opposite evidently did not like the elections and had talked about the atmosphere of elections. Those on that (the Liberal) side of the house did like the atmosphere of elections. He did not, however, wonder at hon. Gentlemen opposite objecting; they preferred the climate of selection to the atmosphere of election. He believed these Justices of the Peace would be in a far stronger position if they were able to enter on Boards of Guardians as chosen representatives. They would not then come in With lame and halting step knowing they had no right to be there; they would then come in, in much the same way in which Members entered this House, though he would not say with the rapidity with which they entered it the day before yesterday, and they would be in a far more secure position than they were in now. It was because he believed this measure to have in it the essential characteristics of liberty for the people; it was because he believed it conferred a further extension of representative government, that he gave it his candid and outspoken support.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he thought that all must agree the present system of conducting the elections was not satisfactory, and he thought that most, if not all, hon. Members on that side of the House would agree to the proposition that the time might arrive, and was arriving, when something should be done to change the present clumsy and awkward system of electing Guardians, but whether the principles in this Bill were what they should desire was another matter. He had had something to do with the election of Guardians in the district in which he lived, and he agreed that the system of filling up papers and collecting them from house to house, and the manipulation it led to, was most undesirable, and he, for 1510 one, would strongly support a better system. This Bill, as he understood it, was not applied solely to country districts, but to all elections, and, from that standpoint, for London it would be very important. The election of Guardians for London was at present most unsatisfactory, quite as unsatisfactory as it could be in the country, but there were several points in this Bill which seemed to him to be very objectionable. He did not agree with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken concerning what he called "the legal trespassers," the magistrates; he soled not see why men in that position should not enter the Board of Guardians with as touch right even as the elected Guardians, and he had known cases in which the presence of the magistrates as ex officio Guardians had been very beneficial in the discussions upon the various subjects from time to time considered by Boards of Guardians. He thought it would be unfortunate to do away with the presence of magistrates on the Board altogether. But the mode of election for Boards of Guardians was one which he did not approve of, and he thought there was something to he said against the plural voting. Some might agree that the present mode was rather out of date, but the system, as given in Sub-section 2 of Clause 2, he thought would lead to the "caucus" system of elect which he should strongly object to. The system was that everybody should only give one vote for each of the number of candidates to be elected. He thought that that was very likely to lead to a "ticket" system of election, which he thought would be very dangerous and unsatisfactory to the body of candidates; therefore he thought some protection should be afforded by which the minority vote would he secured. He could understand how by manipulation a certain "ticket" would be successful, and, therefore, it would bean entirely Party vote, it Won Id be a Board of Guardians elected for some specific Party purpose, which would result in a very great evil. He thought a system should be adopted by which the minority vote could secure representation. Another point he objected to was the election for three years of the whole Board. It seemed to him that that would break the continuance of the Board, and was open to very great objection, and that instead 1511 of that a third should go out every year, so as to keep up the continuity of the Board of Guardians, and not break it, as they did in this House. But he only rose to say he should not oppose the Second Reading of the measure, inasmuch as he thought the time had come to modify their mode of election. He reserved his right to modify many of the provisions if the Bill ever got into Committee.
§ *MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. J. G. Lawson) met the Bill with a nonpossumus, but the hon. Member who spoke after him, and who was not new to the House, and the hon. Baronet the Member for Gloucestershire, who also was not new to the House, seemed to think it was not possible to act in the manner the hon. Member for Yorkshire proposed, but that a compromise was desirable. The hon. Member who spoke last but one on the opposite side of the house offered two objections to the Bill. First, he said the Bill included a subject that was going to be dealt with by the Government themselves at a later period of the Session. No doubt that was to a considerable extent the case; but he could not help thinking that taking a vote on this question so far from hampering the Government would strengthen their hands, especially if the House of Commons, coming fresh from the constituencies, should as its first act support a Bill brought forward by a private Member, and record their vote in favour of the important principles involved in the measure. With regard to the second objection of the hon. Member, and that of the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Bartley), he wished to make one or two observations. There were three important principles involved in this Bill which were included in the Resolution brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) in connection with the Local Government (Electors) Bill in 1888. The first was as to the qualification of the Guardians themselves. That, in part, had been met by the very bold and beneficent action taken by the President of the Local Government Board a few weeks ago, and he trusted it might be 1512 extended still further. In regard to this point, a question asked by one of the hon. Members for Brighton might be noted. The hon. Member for Brighton asked the right hon. Gentleman what protests had been received from Boards of Guardians with regard to the reduction of the qualification to the uniform qualification of £5? and the right hon. Gentleman answered that out of nearly 660 Boards of Guardians only 80 or 85 had entered their protest against the reduction of the qualification; and in view of the commencement of agitation with regard to the subject, and in view of the fact that in some instances considerable pressure was employed, he did not think that protest of 80 or 85 amounted to much. On the next point, with regard to the voting papers, in view of the recommendations of the Committee of 1878, and that this subject had formed matter for consideration on two subsequent occasions, and in view of the opinion expressed on the opposite side of the House, it seemed to him there could not be any serious difficulty regarding the abolition of the system of voting papers, a system that was cumbrous and often led to the loss of votes, and sometimes also to the addition of votes. But what were they to substitute for the present system? The present Bill proposed the substitution of the Ballot, which meant the affording of some amount of security and freedom which electors did not now possess in regard to parochial matters, and on that he thought there clearly could not be any considerable amount of difference of opinion. On the subject of plural voting there was most difference of opinion, as was pointed out by his hon. Friend the Member for Devonshire (Mr. Luttrell) in his very able speech. The proposal on that subject by the hon. Baronet the Member for Gloucestershire (Sir J. Dorington) was met by that emphatic "No" that came from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet (Mr. James Lowther), who clearly showed a difference of opinion upon that point. What he wished to point out was this: that hi the present Bill the three great principles for which they had contended in the past were all three embodied in the Bill. They had the abolition of the property qualification; the abolition of 1513 the system of plural voting, and substitution for it of the system under which every man should have one vote, and only one; and, thirdly, they had the security of the Ballot. In addition to the abolition of the property qualification there was involved the abolition of the ex officio system, on the working of which he must ask leave to differ from some of the opinions that had been expressed on the other side of the House. He did not wish to say that every detail of this Bill was not open to re-consideration on the Committee stage. In a measure of this kind there were questions of areas and other matters that required careful consideration; and, also, he did not altogether agree with the limitation of the scope of the measure to Boards of Guardians and Local Boards of Health. He would have preferred, as in Bills Nos. 2 and 3, dealing with the same subject, that in regard to the scope and area of the Bill that it should have included all Local Authorities of whatever kind, whether they were Improvement Commissioners or Parish Vestries. He trusted that every hon. Gentleman on that side of the House would give an unhesitating support to the principle of the measure; and if they might judge from some utterances that had fallen from hon. Gentlemen opposite, it was quite possible that not only the hon. Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley) but some others might abstain from voting against the measure.
*MR. ABEL SMITH (Herts, E.)
said that, like his hon. Friend below him, he thought that some reform was required. He was an ex officio Guardian, but he was quite prepared to give up his right to that position. He was in favour of the election of Guardians for three years. He had the honour to serve on a Committee which considered that subject some years ago, and which he believed unanimously recommended that change in the law. He would not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but would reserve his right to modify the Bill in some of its provisions.
§ *MR. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
said that, speaking as a landlord himself, he was not at all frightened at this Bill, and he rose to say that he gave it his most 1514 hearty support. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Milton (Mr. J. G. Lawson) seemed to think the Bill would cause a revolution in Local districts, and went on to say that the abolition of the ex officio members would deprive the Boards of Guardians of the landlords and squires. He seemed to think it would be the case in rural districts that they would have gentlemen, whom he described as "cheap Jacks" and "carpet-baggers," coming down and ousting the squire at these local elections. He (Mr. Strachey) did not think that was at all likely to happen. If such persons stood against the landlord and squire he thought that the landlord or squire would not suffer any more than he did when at the last General Election he himself had to withstand the attacks of one of those persons whom the hon. Gentleman opposite described as "cheap Jack" or "carpetbagger." They were told that increased rates would be the result of the passing of this measure. That he thought was a libel upon the working-classes, because his experience of working-men had been quite to the contrary; that when they had anything to do with making the rates they had been the very men who went in for economy, and very naturally, because any, even a small, increase in the rates was keenly felt by them. He had generally found that the men sitting upon Boards of Guardians who were the most ready to vote for large increases of expenditure were the large ratepayers, and especially the ex officio Guardians. He said this from his own knowledge, because he sat as an ex officio member, and thought he did not approve of all that had been said by the hon. Member for Devon (Mr. Luttrell), he thought at the same time they should get rid of the ex officio element. If this were done, the squires would still be returned as members, but by the free choice of their own parishes. Then they were told it was most objectionable to alter the franchise; in fact, the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Thirsk were the same as were used by his Party before 1885, when it was said the country would be ruined because it was proposed to give votes to the agricultural labourer; it was exactly the same kind of argument, and no doubt the same principle 1515 that actuated them then actuated them now—the distrust of the people. Fortunately they had been able to pass that Act giving the agricultural labourer the right to send Members to this House, and there was no doubt they would have an opportunity of extending the right to the agricultural labourer of representation in his local Parliament, whether it was District Boards, Parish Councils, or, as now, County Councils. He heartily approved of the general principle of the Bill, and should give it his support, though he was a landlord and a squire.
§ BARON FERDINAND DE ROTHSCHILD (Bucks,) Aylesbury
said, that for some time he had taken a part in the administration of county affairs, and he thought there was no doubt that during, the last six years it had been abundantly proved, at the time of the General Election and upon other occasions, that the education of the agricultural labourer had so much improved that it was, he might say, absolutely necessary that he should have an opportunity of taking part in local administration. He, for one, was in accord with the hon. Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley) in his objection to the plurality of votes and in his opinion that some alteration should be made in the system in respect to the election upon Boards of Guardians. But he had an objection to the Bill upon two grounds: In the first instance, it had been said by an hon. Member that this Private Bill ought to form part of the Government Bill which they were to have front the President of the Local Government Board. Considering that the Government had promised them the creation of Parish Councils in the present Parliament, he thought they ought to wait until then in order to see the scope of the Government proposal, and whether it would include the principle contained in the Bill of the hon. Member which was now before the House. His second objection to the Bill was this: Supposing, after all, that the Government Bill for the creation of District or Parish Councils should not become law during this Parliament and the Bill of the hon. Member should become law, they would see the manipulation and alteration of the present Local Govern- 1516 ment of the country in a half instead of a whole measure; they would see these Boards re-constituted and re-modelled, and they would see them composed mostly, if not entirely, of men who would have the representation without bearing the taxation of the country. They would be occupied with altering as much as they possibly could the present system of workhouses. He was quite sure that every hon. Member who represented agricultural constituencies must have seen during the last General Election that if there was one thing, in this country on which the agricultural labourer had set his heart, it was au entire re-modelling of the present workhouses. He would not go into the details of that system, as it would not be in Order, but he thought it would be a great mistake to enable these men who had repudiated this system to be allowed to share in the administration of a system to which they entirely objected. He did not wish to oppose the Bill so far as to vote against it, but he hoped it would he withdrawn pending the introduction of a Government measure.
§ *MR. T. C. WARNER (Somerset, N.)
said, the reason given by the hon. Member who had just sat down why they should postpone this Bill was that they should wait for the Government Bill dealing with Parish Councils. They had also heard this argument from one or two gentlemen on the other side of the House; but would there be any assurance given them that if that were done, and if the Parish Councils Bill were introduced, there would be no obstruction of its progress? If there were an assurance on that point they might put this Bill aside and come at once to the more complete Bill; but there were already ample signs that neither the great Conservative Party nor that Party which was so anxious for the good of the labouring classes, and particularly of the agricultural labourers, and workers—a Party whose leader had only come in to hear the fag-end of this Debate—would aid them very considerably. The Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. J. Collings) had been twitting them on their failure to bring in measures of relief for the labourers; but they had a Bill before them now which they had pledged them- 1517 selves to introduce, and which they would try to pass into law. All sorts of objections had arisen on the details of the Bill. He did not think gentlemen opposite had advanced one real objection to the abolition of plural voting. If Tory democracy—or democracy in any sense—had a meaning, it was that the labourer should govern in his own district, and he trusted Members on the Liberal Benches would endeavour to redeem their pledges by voting to give the labourer if not three acres and a cow, the right to which he was entitled—that of managing his own affairs. He urged that all sides of the House might reasonably support this measure.
§ *MR. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
Before saying anything of the Bill in principle or in detail on behalf of those who sit on this side of the House, I would like to remove a misapprehension which I think has arisen among gentlemen opposite. The House has listened with great pleasure to the speeches which have been delivered for the first time by new Members. We may not agree with all they have said or with the opinions they have given expression to, but we at all events welcome their appearance in this House, and we also welcome the fact that they come here to take an intelligent part in these important local questions A misapprehension seems to have arisen among hon. Members opposite as to our position. The hon. Member for Somerset, for instance, said that he as a landlord did not fear the consequences of this Bill, and was not, therefore, afraid to vole for it. Now, so far as I could. observe, no criticism has been offered on the principle of this Bill; there has been no opposition from gentlemen behind me which could he taken as inspired by fear as Id the results of legislation on these lines. I say it with regret, but it is a fact which has doubtless escaped the notice of gentlemen opposite who have claimed to represent the landed interest, or the agricultural interest—namely, that the right of the ex officio element to sit on Boards of Guardians has not been regarded as a great privilege, and that a large number of those so entitled, by virtue of their posi- 1518 tion as magistrates, have never attended at Boards of Guardians. It is not, therefore, as if we were giving up a cherished possession—it is not in that light that we approach this question. It is from a totally different point of view. In the few remarks which I intend to address to the House I shall venture most respectfully to address myself to the right hon. Gentleman who so ably presides over the Local Government Board. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not accuse the late President of the Board (Mr. Ritchie)—whose absence from the House all who know him will regret, and none more keenly than I do—of any want of appreciation of the necessity for bringing local administration into keeping with the principles and conditions governing the Parliamentary representation. In the large measure which we were privileged to introduce into Parliament in 1888 we tried to give some earnest of our views in that direction. It is not from any fear of change or any objection to principle that we on this side have criticised the measure of the hon. Gentleman. Hon. Members may hardly have realised the importance of the administration which is to he dealt with by the Bill. I, for one, endorse the views of gentlemen behind me who have spoken in the Debate—that if it is desirable, and if the time has come, for a change from existing condition of things—which I, with others, admit is anomalous—then I say with my friends who have addressed the House that this change should be proposed and should be carried through by a responsible Government and a responsible Minister. I may he told that I exaggerate the importance of this subject; but it is not from a personal point of view, I assure you, Sir, that I address myself to it, but because it is part of the work of the Department with which I was connected in the late Government. I ask any hon. Gentleman who is aware of what local administration means whether anything could be more important than the administration of the Poor Law, and whether this is not, a question which, if trifled with or dealt with in a wrong or improper manner, might not have a most serious and lasting effect On the community at large? Appeals have been made, —appeals, no doubt, that came from the hearts of those who made them—on behalf of the agricultural labourer. The 1519 agricultural labourer, Sir, has as many friends on this side of the House as he has on the other. There is as strong a desire here as there is there—that his lot should be improved. Are you perfectly certain that that would be the result of this legislation? We have been told that the administration of the Poor Law is a matter of greater importance to the labourer than to the squire. If that be so, we should not undertake any reform of the law unless we are satisfied that beneficial results may be anticipated. We should, first of all, inquire what the effects of legislation are likely to be. The Member for the Tewkesbury Division of Gloucester referred to the history of the Poor Law. He reminded the House of the condition of the country previous to the passing of the Poor Law of 1834. What was it led to the passing of that law? The condition of matters in the Country was very serious; distress prevailed very widely, and a Commission had to be appointed to report on the condition of the country. I hope the House, and gentlemen opposite more particularly, before embarking on the difficult course of reform, will study and digest the Report of these Commissioners of 60 years ago. They will find reasons why they should proceed carefully and with the greatest possible caution in this matter. I know there are some who will say, "You are afraid to trust the people." I am not afraid to trust the people, and I have given proof of my willingness to trust them by my share in the passing of the Local Government Act. But, Sir, what position are men to be placed in who are called upon to elect Boards of Guardians in the poorer rural districts—in the smaller rural unions? In the urban unions I do not know that the effect will be appreciable; it will not co one way OF another, and, at any rate, I do not include them now; but what, I ask, is be the position of the men in the small rural unions? There will be a temptation to the electors to support those men who will promise to use their votes to obtain the largest and most generous grants of outdoor relief for friends and neighbours. To that temptation the electors would be exposed. It would not be a temptation for people to enrich them- 1520 selves at the expense of the rates: I believe that would be scouted by the working classes of this country; this, however, would mean giving assistance to others. I am not going to embark on any discussion of the principle of this Bill, as I have said, nor shall I detain the House with a discussion of the general principle of the Poor Law. I would point out, however, that before the passing of the Poor Law Act of 1834 the condition of the country was remarkable alike for its misery and its pauperism, and, while we cannot claim that the Poor Law Act is solely responsible for the steady improvement that has taken place, there can be no doubt, I think, that better administration, and more careful inquiry, have largely contributed towards the improvement of the condition of the workers and labourers of the country. What I fear is that if the voters are exposed to risks such as I have described, the result might be that we would get Boards of Guardians elected upon a promise to grant promiscuous outdoor relief. The House would do well to pause, or at least to act cautiously, in dealing with this very important detail of local government. I am not now referring to Local Boards. I do not want to discuss the Bill as regards them at all. I rose simply for the purpose of pressing upon the Government the importance of the subject with which they have to deal, and I hope we shall have an expression of opinion from the right hon. Gentleman indicating his views and those of the Government on this great subject. I may remind the House that the chief ground upon which this measure has been submitted for our support is mainly that, it may improve and better the condition of the workers. You can improve that condition by giving the workers a better day's or week's wage than they have now. You will not improve their condition by hurriedly bringing into existence Local Authorities elected upon a new basis, elected practically on a new theory, who will, or at all event may, forsake the principles hat have guided the administration of the Poor Law for 60 years. I have been reminded of some words that I spoke the other day in the House of Commons. I am rejoiced to find that one hon. Member took note of what I said on that 1521 occasion, and I take it from what he has said that it is his intention to redeem the pledges that were made in sufficient number at the last Election. But I would ask if you are not satisfied with the course suggested by the hon. Member for And Buckinghamshire (Baron de Rothschild)? Do you want to carry a real reform, or do you merely wish to be able to say that you have done something in this House? You say that you want to improve the condition of the country. I do not think this is a necessary Bill—it deals only with the change in the electoral system; but if a scheme dealing with, the Poor Law question is to be introduced by the Government, we should wait for it; I would ask that it should embrace Poor Law administration generally—any Bill, that is, that the Government may bring in. During our 60 years' experience of the Poor Law, as we know it, there have been great changes in this country. Principles—the principles of the Act—are bettor understood now than they were in former days; you have a larger number of workhouses than are now, happily, required in many districts. With larger unions why should you not have a change your number of workhouses? Why should there be so many? I believe there are no difficulties in relation to this question that are insuperable. There are no difficulties that could not be got over by a reform of the Poor Law such as I have suggested, which would have for its object the merging of some of the smaller unions and the creation or larger unions carrying larger responsibility, and thereby minimising the risk of pressure upon Guardians by individual requests for out-door relief. I think that in this way you would reduce the rates. You would bring absent economy, the great cost of the Poor Law at present being the establishment charges. I believe you could bring in a large measure that would not merely deal with the so-called grievances of representation, but reform the whole system front top to bottom. I believe then your proposals would be cordially supported by Members in all parts of the House. Members on all sides would rejoice to see an improvement of the Poor Law system, whereas a scheme put forward on the initiative of a private Member 1522 will be resisted not because anyone is afraid of the changes proposed, or because anyone believes they would lose privileges which they value, but because they contend that it is a serious charge. It may have good results or bad results; they, therefore, ask the House to proceed with, caution and care in dealing with the Poor Law, which is so closely connected with the best interests of the country. Anything that is done in this direction ought to tend to the strengthening of the administration, and ought to teach the people to be more self-reliant and independent, and to lean less on the law for support. It is our business to indicate to the people in our legislation and in our speeches what our experience teaches us is the right course to follow on questions of this kind; and I respectfully submit that there is nothing mote vital to the best interests of the working classes of the country than that the Poor Law should be prudently and justly administered. I would suggest, therefore, that the hon. Member should withdraw the Bill, and that it should be left to Her Majesty's Government to initiate legislation on the subject.
§ *SIR CHARLES W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest, of Dean)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has gone very wide of the Bill in his admirable remarks in regard to the Poor Law. I may be allowed to express my concurrence in much that has fallen from him on the subject of the Poor Law; but, at the same time, to pass by his observations, because they seemed to have very little bearing upon the Bill before the House. The hon. Member praised—as it, merited—the admirable speech addressed to the House early this afternoon by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tewkesbury Division of Gloucestershire (Sir J. Dorington), who is also Chairman of the Gloucestershire County Council. There was a great difference between that speech—which I am sorry there were so few Members present to hear—and that of the hon. Member who has just sat down. The latter said that evils might—he did not say would—result from the adoption of the principle of the Bill, but the hon. Baronet did not take that line; he did not suggest that 1523 any of those evils were likely to result; on the contrary, he told us that he was willing to adopt, generally speaking, the principles proposed, and the only suggestion he made in his speech for the amendment of the Bill was that if the rate were divided between owner and occupier the former should be represented.
§ SIR C. DILKE
I fail to understand what was the bearing of the latter part of the remarks of the hon. Member if he does not object to the Bill.
§ SIR C. DILKE
The hon. Member for the Tewkesbury Division did not suggest that the Bill should be accompanied by such a reform. There is a case, curiously enough, where a system of election has been established by a local Act very similar to that proposed in this Bill. There is One Poor Law Union in England in which there has never been a qualification, and in which there have been none of those incidents against which the hon. Member's speech is aimed, and none of the evils of lavish administration at which the hon. Gentleman opposite has hinted—indeed, there has been the greatest possible objection shown there to anything in the nature of lavish administration of Poor Law relief.
§ SIR C. DILKE
Chichester. Coming to the Bill, I should like to say it seems to me rather to err on the side of not going far enough than on the side of going too far. It would be easy to abolish all qualifications and all plural votes in all local elections, and that could be done in a form that would be shorter than this Bill. I am not entitled to refer to other Bills on the Paper to-day, but this could be done elsewhere, and in fewer words than are proposed in the measure now before us. As regards the necessity for passing this Bill, the hon. Member for the Aylesbury Division seemed 1524 to think that it would not much matter if the measure were greatly delayed. He believed the Government would not have time to deal with the matter this Session, and thought that if they did not no one would be any the worse off. Well, we think this is a pressing matter, and that there are many evils connected with the present system, which have not been pointed out to-day, which show the necessity for a speedy change in this direction. The measure has been discussed to-day as though it concerned rural districts alone; but, as a matter of fact, all the miners in the country, a great number of the ironworkers, and many of the boot and shoe makers of the country live outside the Corporation boroughs. To all these people this Bill applies. Therefore, nothing can be of more importance to them. The measure also, in some degree, applies to the industrial classes in London and throughout the United Kingdom, and there are pressing cases which lead us to desire that it should come speedily into operation. Under a curious provision of the existing law there is one set of qualifications in a town whilst the population is below a certain limit, and another set when the population exceeds that limit. Thus, in Kettering, where they have just passed from the one scale to the other, the most valuable members of the Local Board have had to give up their seats. Merthyr—one of the most important industrial towns in England or Wales, which since 1832 returns two Members of Parliament—has never hail a Corporation, because the coal-owners have over and over again opposed it. At the present moment no working man can be a member of the Governing Body of Merthyr; but, if this Bill passed, every working man would be qualified. I can name another case—a great industrial county division—in which the whole of the industrial population live outside the Local Board district (in rural parishes, as they are called, though they are not rural at all), and they are unable to exercise any local power at all, because some persons have 12 votes as against their one, and are able to over-rule them at elections. These are the reasons why we think this Bill should pass. I am sorry that it does not propose to sweep away all qualifications. The financial question has been referred to. By the 1525 wise action of the President of the Local Government Board the qualification for Guardians has been lowered. Now, there are many districts in which the Boards of Guardians are the only financial authorities. Here the qualification continues high in the case of the Local Authorities which have no financial power, and is non-existent in the case of those which regulate the whole finance. There is one argument which, it seems tome, will answer many of the bogeys that have been conjured up in one or two of the speeches we have heard this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman who last spoke made a wise and cautious speech, in so far as he did not commit himself to saying that any of the dangers he feared would flow from the passing of the Bill. He seemed to think that they might flow from the Bill, and the hon. Member for Aylesbury seemed to think that they would. Surely the position that is occupied by the County Council is a pretty good answer to these gentlemen. Here we have the hon. Baronet the Member for Tewkesbury speaking as the Chairman of the Gloucestershire County Council—a highly conservative Body. All through England we see County Councils of a conservative description elected by the votes of the people, consisting of men who are ex officio members of Boards of Guardians. I am not one of those who think that the doing away with the qualification and the abolition of the popular vote would bring about any considerable change in the character of the persons who would be elected on these Boards. I do not believe there would be a revolutionary change, but one or two working men would get upon the Board, and their presence would be beneficial. Even the present ex officio members would be all the better for being elected by the popular vote, for I think they would do what the members of the County Councils show an inclination to do—namely, discharge their business in a popular way.
*MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I hope we are about to have some declaration of opinion as to this Bill from Her Majesty's Government. I confess, without going for the moment into the merits or demerits of the Bill, in my judgment it is one which, if submitted 1526 at all, ought to he submitted to Parliament on the authority of the Government of the day. What is this Bill? It is a Bill for the repeal of an Act of Parliament upon which has rested for some two generations the Poor Law administration of the country. We have been reminded this afternoon that this is a subject which has been engaging the attention of the Government, and on which they are prepared to legislate. In that ease we have a right to ask why Her Majesty's Government sit by and allow a measure dealing with this important subject to be taken out of their hands and introduced into the House of Commons upon the responsibility of an absolutely irresponsible Member of the House? It has been assumed that there is a general concurrence of opinion on the Opposition side of the House in favour of the abolition of what is erroneously called the plural vote, but which may be called more aptly the multiple vote. One hon. Member spoke somewhat disrespectfully of that high Liberal authority, Mr. John Stuart Mill. The hon. Member for the Eye Division of Suffolk (Mr. Stevenson) said that Mr. Mill had defended the plural vote, but that he dissented from him, and he went on to deprecate Mr. Mill as an authority on Liberal principles by saying—
§ *MR. F. S. STEVENSON
That is not what I said. I began by saying that no one had a greater respect for Mr. John Stuart Mill than I had; but if quoted as an authority in favour of the plural vote, he might also be quoted as an authority in favour of Protection in rising colonies.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
And a very sound doctrine, too. I am sorry to say that my Parliamentary experience carries me far enough hack to remind me that on several occasions I was an humble supporter of Mr. Mill. I voted with him in favour of the representation of minorities, the absence of which representation in our Parliamentary system I consider most deplorable. I regret, as a humble supporter of Mr. Mill in days gone by, to see an hon. Member sitting immediately behind Her Majesty's Ministers endeavouring to discount so high a Liberal authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, who spoke so ably 1527 just now, made reference to the abolition of certain provisions which now apply with regard to the election of Poor Law Guardians, and he spoke, I think also of the multiple vote as an institution which in the nature of things was hound to go. He gave as a reason that that principle was—as I think most unwisely—discarded in the preparation of the Local Government Bill. I must remind my hon. Friend that all his friends and supporters on this side of the House are not so thoroughly enamoured of every line and clause of that measure as my hon. Friend is disposed to think. In the view of a great many Conservatives throughout the country a great mistake was made in not embodying in the Local Government Bill the principle of the multiple vote which was drafted in the Sturges Bourne Act. The hon. Member in charge of the present Bill actually proposes to abolish the ownership vote altogether—that is to say, abolish the vote of men who actually defray a very large portion of the cost incidental to the administration of the Poor Law, and who day by day are subjected to heavier local burdens of every description. Authorities high in Liberal Councils always in days gone by uniformly maintained that representation and taxation should proceed co-extensively. That was the doctrine propounded under the guardianship of the old Whig and Liberal Party. What has become of that doctrine now? We find the proposal now made to throw still more and more the burden on the ownership class, while their voting power is reduced to a farce. Talk about the person who pays the piper having the right to call the tune, why, in this case all that the owner is allowed to do is to pay. Therefore, I think I am justified in saying that this Bill is founded on entirely unsound ground. I do not deny that there is a great deal that requires amendment and re-consideration in the present system of election of Poor Law Guardians. I myself attach very little importance to the ex officio element. I make the confession that as a Justice of the Peace of many years standing my attendances as au ex officio at meetings of the Board of Guardians have been extremely limited, and that, I think, is the general experience of Justices of the Peace. There has 1528 been no attempt made on the part of the Magistracy with the idea of overshadowing or counterbalancing the elective element. I think that is the last charge which should be levelled against the Magistracy of this country. In regard to voting papers, in my opinion they are distributed far too near the day of the polling. They are usually distributed the day or the day but one before the day of polling, which, to my mind, does not give adequate opportunity for the exercise of the right to vote. In this and in other respects the machinery employed is capable of development and improvement. Nor am I prepared to deny that a case has been made out for the introduction of voting by Ballot. In times past I did not constitute myself a very vociferous advocate of the Ballot; but I said at the time, when I questioned the wisdom of engrafting it on our political system, that in my judgment the time would come when mob law and intimidation would make the Ballot a valuable safeguard; and I confess that recent electoral history, and the position of political affairs during recent years, has confirmed me in the wisdom of that forecast. Under the compound householder system the ordinary voter—the so-called "ratepayer"—pays practically no rates at all. The ratepayer, naturally enough, does not realise that he is incurring any risk of making inroads into his own pocket by the periodical disposal of other people's money, and that is the great evil against which the House ought to be on its guard. But I would make an appeal to Her Majesty's Government. This is a subject that never has been allowed to drift on to the floor of this House, except under the distinct charge of a Minister of the Crown. I mean to say that the reform of so great an institution as the Poor Law administration of the country has never been allowed to remain in the hands of a private Member; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Local Government Board will take his stand upon that firm ground, and will not be led away by the idea that the multiple vote and other safeguards can be done away with without taking adequate measures for the protection of the minority, who pay the bulk of the 1529 money employed in Poor Law administration. Some reference has been made to what is called "the Tory Democracy." I confess myself I do not know what that means, but this I do know—that there is throughout the country a very strong reaction against revolutionary doctrines, even if supported by so-called Conservative politicians. I hope we shall have some assurance that this matter will be taken in hand by Her Majesty's responsible Advisers, who will make themselves responsible to Parliament for any reform that it may be proposed to carry out.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
Before I refer to the provisions of the Bill, I should like to pay my tribute of admiration to the new Members who have taken part in the Debate this afternoon. We have to welcome some most valuable additions to the debating power of this House, and I hope that on future occasions we shall have the advantage of still further assistance from those hon. Members. I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in his criticisms on the Local Government Act, or his references to the history of earlier legislation. I must say, though, that, however divergent or discordant may be the political opinions expressed on the other side of the House, there is never any doubt as to the genuine, consistent, intelligent, and effective Toryism of the right hon. Gentleman. We are asked to state the intentions of the Government with reference to this Bill. The measure is not one for reforming the principles of the Poor Law. A great many speeches have been delivered dealing with that branch of the question, and we have been cautioned by one hon. Member as to the view the Government ought to take with respect to the Poor Law. I should be very sorry, in the position I hold, to say one word in any way depreciating that wonderful monument of wise legislation which was constructed some 60 years ago, under the circumstances that have been so graphically described to the House by an hon. Gentleman opposite. The advantages, not only economic, but 1530 social, that have accrued to this country front the carrying out of the Poor Law cannot be exaggerated. Her Majesty's Government have not shown any disposition to interfere with the working of that law. I was blamed a few days ago because the Government did not, immediately on their accession to power, proceed to effect certain alterations in Poor Law administration. My answer was, and is now, that the Government will proceed slowly and tentatively in dealing with so important a question. Feeling, as we do, that one of the most difficult and perplexing problems of the day is that of the best mode of dealing with those whose pauperism arises from old age, we have appointed a very strong and representative Commission, which has already commenced an important, as I believe it will be a successful, inquiry into that question. All the Government have done is really to endorse what Lord Salisbury said in another place—namely, that the time has arrived when there should be a careful inquiry into the administration of the Poor Law. Neither in this Bi11 nor in any Bill that may be proposed to the House shall we propose any alteration in the principles of that law. To-day we are dealing merely with the question of machinery. The Bill relates quite as much to other Local Authorities as to Poor Law Guardians. It proposes to put into the shape of law two or three great principles. I have been very much struck this afternoon with the general assent, if I except the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with which these principles have been received. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading wants to abolish ex officio Guardians, and everybody who has spoken to-day has been in favour of their abolition. They have said that practically they exercise a useless function. It has been pointed out that those who might be supposed to be the strongest in their doubt of popular Government did not take the trouble to discharge the duty of ex officio Guardians. The next object of the Bill is to abolish the system of plural or multiple voting. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir F. S. Powell), who is one of the highest authorities on Poor Law administration, admitted at once that this system was absolutely indefensible. The House of 1531 Commons knows that you cannot maintain the propriety of giving a right of multiple voting in one class of elections when you withhold it from every other class of elections. As to the Ballot, I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. James Lowther) that there are dangers from which, in his opinion, it is proving a protection. If the Ballot is desirable at elections of Members of Parliament, and members of County Councils, I think it is also desirable at elections of Poor Law Guardians. Every opponent of the Bill has said he would reserve his criticism with respect to details. I take precisely the same position. I am going to vote for the Second Reading, according to the well-known House of Commons practice, with the object of affirming the principle of the Bill without pledging myself to the details. Some hon. Members complain of piece-meal legislation, but I would point out that some of our most valuable enactments have been obtained in a piece-meal fashion. Some of the most useful measures that have been put on the Statute Book at the instance of the Government of the day have first been brought forward by private Members. I do not disguise from the House that the Government intend to introduce a Bill dealing with the principles of local Government. A few days ago a sustained attack was made on Members who represent agricultural constituencies because it was said that they had not redeemed their pledges on that subject. This, however, is the first chance they have had to do so, and they are about to vote for this Bill. The hands of the Government will be very much strengthened, and its path very much smoothed, if the House of Commons will this afternoon affirm the principles of this Bill—namely, that ex officio Guardians and plural voting should he abolished, and that the Ballot should be applied to the elections of Guardians. These broad principles of the Bill are principles which we think deserving of the approbation of the House. I should like to make the position of the Government perfectly clear on the question of the Poor Law. The administration of the Poor Law is one thing, the principles of the Poor Law are another thing. We have not found that any institution in 1532 this country, from Parliament downwards, has been in any way impaired in its efficiency through having infused into its administration the popular element and popular responsibility. I do not shrink from applying this element to the Poor Law. The hon. Member for the Tewkesbury Division (Sir J. Dorington) said the Poor Law would be better administered, in his opinion, if we had a greater combination of the different classes on Boards of Guardians. There is, in our opinion, room for ample reform in that respect. I hope that, as a result of the inquiries the Government are prepared to institute, they will hereafter be in a position to submit to the House measures which will not constitute a reversal but a development of the great principles adopted in 1834, and which, while leaving intact the great and solid principles on which the Poor Law is founded, will adapt that law to the circumstances of the times in regard to many details of administration which, while they are of paramount importance to-day, were not of such great importance half a century ago—measures which will bring the Poor Law into line with other enactments, and which, while lightening the burdens of the rates, will perhaps infuse a brighter spirit into the administration of the Poor Law in cases where poverty has been brought about by circumstances entirely beyond the control of those who suffer from it. That is a very great and difficult question, and no one voting for this Bill will in so doing express any opinion upon it one way or the other. The policy of the Government on that question is a policy of inquiry. No one can say that the Commission which has been appointed is a Party Commission, or one composed of men who are not eminently qualified for dealing with the question; and I believe that from that Commission will emanate a Report which will be of enormous value to those on whom it may hereafter devolve to guide the administration of the Poor Law. I hope that the House, while reserving its opinion on questions of detail, will give practically a unanimous vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I do not desire to disturb the harmony which appears generally to 1533 prevail on both sides of the House. But I wish to guard myself from the suspicion that by assenting to the Second Reading I in any way preclude myself from dealing with all the subjects which come under the purview of the Bill should it ever reach a later stage. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down drew a distinction between the administration and the principles of the Poor Law. It seems to me that it does not matter what your principles are if your administration is bad; and if this Bill is likely to impair the administration of the Poor Law it will be very poor consolation to us to know that the principles of that law remain unimpaired. In assenting to the Second Reading of the Bill I merely assent to the proposition that some Poor Law reform is not only desirable but, perhaps, necessary. This is no new principle of the Party to which I belong. I have myself on several occasions publicly declared my view that some reform is necessary, although I agree that no responsible statesman should meddle with the Poor Law without carefully considering every step he takes. I think it ought not to be regarded as an axiom, that the Poor Law passed 60 years ago is an invulnerable Statute which ought never to be interfered with. I do not pledge myself to more, in assenting to the Second Reading, than the broad proposition that some reform of the Poor Law is desirable, and that such reform ought, as soon as possible, to be undertaken by the Government.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for February 16th.