HC Deb 13 September 1893 vol 17 cc1117-32

"That a sum, not exceeding £90,621, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1894, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Local Government Board."

SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)

said, he was sorry he was not able to remain in the House last night, owing to the physical restrictions put upon the House by the Government, to hear the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, when he replied to him upon the question of the acquisition by Boards of Guardians of land on which to set the unemployed to work. He should now, however, like to protest against the doctrine which he understood the right hon. Gentleman laid down—namely, that Guardians were to be restrained from exercising powers which they possessed by law, because those powers had not been exercised for 60 years, and because, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, it was desirable that the use of those powers should be conferred by fresh legislation. Everybody knew that it would be difficult to pass legislation of that kind through the House. It would require a large amount of belief in the efficacy of the experiment to induce many Members to support such a Bill even in the present Parliament. He thought it was a fortunate thing that it had turned out that the law had given those powers, and he deeply regretted that when Boards of Guardians were willing to try the experiment of obtaining land, and setting those out of employment to work upon it, and giving them reasonable wages, such an interesting experiment could not be tried.

MR. BYLES (York, W.R., Shipley)

said, he, too, had been disappointed with the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board last night. He had understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that although these Acts of Parliament existed, and although he had ascertained by conference with the Law Officers of the Crown that they were still in force and could be made operative, yet, for his part, he could not advise that they should be put in operation without fresh legislation. He had thought at the time, and he thought still, that it was rather a piece of good fortune that the House of Commons should find itself with some Acts of Parliament in its locker which it could take out and use when it wanted them. No doubt the policy of the Poor Law had been very largely altered when the new Act was adopted, but they had arrived at a time when the question of the unemployed had become a very difficult and a very acute one, and one which, if it had not already, must very shortly call for effectual treatment. He wished to ask the President of the Local Government Board whether he did not think that at least a portion of the ancient Acts to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, and especially that enabling Boards of Guardians to acquire lands up to 50 acres with the object of employing men upon it in useful remunerative employment, might not be put in force? He thought that Act might with advantage to the nation be revived, at any rate, experimentally. Various schemes for dealing with the unemployed existed. He was interested in one in Westmoreland, where a young Unitarian minister, who had studied this question all his life, had devoted himself to obtaining voluntarily money with which to purchase land on which to employ men at remunerative work. The principle on which this scheme was worked was that the men employed should produce what they consumed, and consume what they produced. Thus there was no necessity to go into the open market, or to displace outside labour. The idea was that the Poor Law Unions should adopt the same principle in dealing with the unemployed in their districts. Surely it was a solu- tion of the unemployed question to which Parliament and the Department should not close their eyes.

MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

said, that before the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board replied he should like to ask him if there was any record of the transactions of the late Government which went to prove that during the six years they were in Office they made any effort to relieve the distress amongst the unemployed which was then much more acute and general than at present? Had any effort been made by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, who were now professing so much sympathy with the unemployed, to carry out the Act referred to? He should like to know when the right hon. Gentleman discovered the existence of the Act.


I did not make the discovery.


said, it was unfortunate that the Act was not discovered when the right hon. Gentleman was in Office, because this looked very much like the usual attempt on the part of the "outs" to prove that the "ins" were sinners above all men, and that the "outs" were the party to whom the country must look for reforms and relief.

MR. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)

said, the remarks of the hon. Member who had just sat down were absolutely undeserved by the late Government. The hon. Member was mistaken in thinking that the "outs" desired to return to Office on the application of an Act which had not been in use for 60 years. It would be found that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge had a very small following in making this demand, and he regretted that his right hon. and learned Friend had unwisely returned to the charge. He would again express the earnest hope, in what he believed to be the best interests of the unemployed, and also of the wage-earning classes generally, that the President of the Local Government Board would not depart from the wise and statesmanlike position which he had assumed on this question. If the unemployed were to get work, it should be not at the expense of the poor rate, not from the Board of Guardians, but from Imperial funds, voted for the purpose, and placed at the disposal of a Public Department; or it should be done, as was being done now, by private enterprise. Some hon. Members seemed to think that the cultivation of land was perfectly easy, and that a man had only to get a spade and so many square yards of land to get a livelihood. As one connected with the land all his life, to his pecuniary loss, he said there could be nothing more ridiculous. If a distressed watchmaker could not break stones he could not perform the hard work connected with farming—he could not hold a scythe, and cut a crop of hay and pitch it into a wagon. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had the interests of the unemployed at heart, as everybody on the Ministerial and the Opposition side of the House had. He therefore hoped that the President of the Local Government Board would give no more sympathy to the proposed experiments by Boards of Guardians than he gave last night. After all, it must be remembered that the Guardians administered funds compulsorily raised for the benefit of the whole community, and if dangerous experiments such as were suggested were to be carried out at all they should be conducted by private enterprise, and not by public officials by means of public funds derived from the rates.


I think I have some ground of complaint against the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, who put a question to me last night similar to that he has put to-day, and who, when the time came for me to reply—and it certainly was not at a late hour—had left the House. I do not find fault with the right hon. Gentleman's private engagements taking him away from the House, but I do complain that he should, on the strength of a necessarily condensed report of my speech, have attributed to me language which I had not used and a policy which I have no intention of adopting. The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to make some political capital by attributing to one of Her Majesty's Ministers, who has a very difficult and delicate duty to perform, a policy which he has never enunciated, and which he certainly has no idea of following. I must repeat what I said last night as to the position in which I find myself placed. Last evening I stated that, to the surprise of myself, of every lawyer, and of most practical men, the Law Officers of the Crown have advised the Government that when the Poor Law system of 1834 came into existence certain obsolete clauses of the original Act of Elizabeth remained in force. One of these clauses is singularly favourable, no doubt, to providing labour at the public expense; but another is by no means favourable to our modern notions of the freedom of the subject, inasmuch as it empowers Overseers or Guardians to apply to the Magistrates to inflict punishment on those of the unemployed who refused to work. The Law Officers of the Crown held that these laws were still in force. What was the position of the President of the Local Government Board under these circumstances? No applications had been made to him by any Board of Guardians to put these laws into force. It is very doubtful whether they can be put into force without the sanction of the Local Government Board. The question is, whether the Local Government Board should take initiatory steps under these circumstances? I said there were two questions to be considered. In the first place, the application of these powers would involve a great change in the administration of the Poor Law—a change which would practically amount to a reversal of the whole policy of the Poor Law during the last 60 years, and the restoration of the eleemosynary character of the relief which was given prior to 1834—and I said that if such a proposal was to be made, I would not, as an individual Minister, undertake the responsibility of making it, but that so great a change must be made by Her Majesty's Ministers as a body. I said further that, assuming that the Cabinet as a whole were in favour of making the change, it was a Constitutional question as to whether so great a change should be made by the action of any Government, of whatever Party that Government was composed, without the distinct sanction of Parliament. I shall not shrink from exercising what I may call the ordinary and well-understood powers of the Department entrusted to my care, and I have not shrunk from doing a certain number of things in the course of the last few months; but there are limits to administrative discretion, and I think that such a question as the reversal of the policy of the Poor Law which has prevailed for the last 60 years ought to be submitted to the House of Commons, and decided by no other Body. To that policy I mean to adhere. It will be for my Colleagues in the Cabinet to decide, first, whether they intend to initiate this great change; and, secondly, whether, if they do so intend, they will or will not submit their policy to the approval of the House of Commons. As to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for the Shipley Division (Mr. Byles), I can only say that my sympathies are all in the direction he mentions. I wish to make no distinction whatever between myself and any other Member in this matter. I believe there is no man in the House who does not regard this question of the unemployed as one of the gravest questions that could possibly be considered, and I view the difficulties and complexities of the situation as strongly as any man can do. Anything I can do, consistently with the proper discharge of my functions, I should be most happy to do in endeavouring to help Boards of Guardians to grapple with the difficulty. It has been pointed out that Boards of Guardians are called upon to administer funds which are compulsorily exacted in the way of rates from the whole community. They cannot be generous with other people's money, however they may deal with their own. If Parliament should be of opinion that the proper mode of administering these funds is to carry out the experiments that are suggested Parliament will have the responsibility, and it will be the duty of the Guardians to act accordingly. I do not think anyone will say that I ought to act in so grave a matter as this without the concurrence of my Colleagues, but do not let anybody impute to me that I am in any way indifferent to the gravity of the question, or have any want of sympathy with the efforts that have been made to provide relief for the unemployed. I said last night that I was prepared to recommend the Government that when the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor made their Report—and I expect the Commission will report before the end of the present year—it should be reconstituted, or another Commission should be constituted for the purpose of inquiring into the larger question of the whole administration of the Poor Law, which I admit ought to be brought into more perfect conformity with the requirements of the day than a law passed so long ago could possibly be. I trust that the House will see there was no other course open to me than that which I have followed.


said, he wished to explain that the employment he had spoken of was remunerative employment.

MR. THORNTON (Clapham)

thought it his duty to inform the President of the Local Government Board of the fact that a very large number of medical men in London were adverse to the importation of foreign rags. That adverse opinion was not mitigated by the statement that certain scientists had resolved that there was no danger to be apprehended from imported rags. He had been told by medical men that it was perfectly certain that from time to time disease, and especially small-pox, had been brought to this country by means of rags, and there was no reason, in their opinion, why cholera should not be so brought.

MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

said that, having called the attention of the President of the Local Government Board to the consideration of the Poor Laws early in the Session, he hoped the Government would see its way either to introduce a Consolidation Bill early next Session, or, at any rate, to put Members in possession of the facts of the case, by producing a digest of the Poor Laws.


said, he had no doubt that the unemployed had the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. H. H. Fowler), but it would have been very much more satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman had been able to announce some definite views on the part of the Government in reference to the unemployed. He had come that afternoon from a manufacturing district of Yorkshire, where the distress was very great indeed, and where many men who were quite willing to work had been compelled to go into the workhouse, in order that relief might be afforded to their wives and children. If the Government appointed a Commission it would be the end of next year before anything could be done. The question was one which pressed for urgent consideration. The hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Cremer), who had suddenly displayed an interest in this question, was one of those who spoke and voted against the Amendment to the Address at the beginning of the Session. He was glad that, although somewhat tardily, the interest of the hon. Member had been now directed to the question, and he would urge the President of the Local Government Board to deal with it as promptly as possible, and not to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission.

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said that, although he did not often agree with the President of the Local Government Board, he had seldom heard a more common-sense speech than that which the right hon. Gentleman had just delivered, and he hoped he would not sanction any of the suggested experiments with ratepayers' money, especially when it was remembered that a scheme of Municipal Law Reform had been tried in Paris and had failed. The idea of putting those who had been brought up in towns to work in the country was ludicrous. The farmers could not make agriculture pay when they had the assistance of ordinary agricultural labourers, and it was absurd to suppose that anyone could make it pay when the work was carried on by men who knew nothing about it.

Resolution agreed to.

Resolutions 11 to 14 agreed to.

Resolution 15. That a sum, not exceeding £13,129, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1894, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Her Majesty's Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues, and of the Office of Land Revenue Records and Inrolments.


said, he had placed on the Paper a Motion for the redaction of the Vote yesterday, and he should have been in his place to move it, had it not been for the unfortunate death of Her Majesty's Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests. Inasmuch, however, as some of his hon. Friends had raised the question last night, he felt it his duty to say a few words to-day on the subject. Before doing so, he wished to impress upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the advisability of appointing in the place of the gentleman who had just died a practical man who had some knowledge of the subject he had to control. The Treasury were not so conversant with this subject as they might be. Had they known more about it, in all probability he should not have had to carry on a contest with the authorities for 10 years, as he had done. He had to record with satisfaction the fact that the Government had now, to some extent, endeavoured to meet him, although not to the extent which the importance of the question deserved. In Wales the system prevailed of granting long leases, and leaseholders who wanted to mine had to obtain a lease from the authorities before doing so. His complaint was that the Office of Woods and Forests would not fix the mining royalties for the whole of the term. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer had certainly consented to fix the royalties for five years, but that was not a sufficiently long period for opening up a mine. At the end of the five years, when a large amount of capital had been spent on a mine, it would be necessary to go to the Office of Woods and Forests again, and have the royalties fixed just as the Commissioners pleased. As there was some question as to the impression entertained by the Royal Commission respecting the amount of the royalties charged, he might say that the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Burt), who was a Member of the Commission, had expressed the opinion that the Commission had in their mind's eye the fact that 1 per cent. was the amount to be charged. The hon. Member for the Rhondda Division (Mr. W. Abraham) and other Members of the Commission had expressed a similar opinion. He contended that the royalties on these mines should be charged upon the profits. There was the question also of affording employment to labour. One mine in which he was not interested was obtaining a return far in excess of any mine in South Africa or the Australian Colonies. In another mine, where over 100 men were employed, there were 40 square miles of this auriferous country, and it was only natural that officials of the Office of Woods and Forests, with salaries fixed by Act of Parliament, should not desire this area to be opened up lest their duties should be increased. It was admitted on all hands that if there was any possibility of gold being produced in the United Kingdom at a profit, every possible encouragement should be given to it. It was an extraordinary thing that a man could go to any part of the Australian Colonies, and for a fee of 10s. could take all the gold he could get and be paid a handsome reward for having discovered it; but that in Whales a man could not mine on his own land without being harassed by officials, driven in the Court of Chancery, or having his property locked up for ever. He trusted he should receive an assurance that inasmuch as the company's leases from the landowners existed for 32 years from June last the Government would fix the royalties for the same period of 32 years at the amount they were now, and not put them in the unsatisfactory position of having imposed on them at the mere caprice of any permanent officials higher royalties than should be levied. He moved to reduce the Vote by £100.

Amendment proposed, To leave out the sum of "£13,129," in order to insert the sum of "£13,029,"—(Mr. Pritchard Morgan.)

Question proposed, "That the sum of '£13,129' stand part of the Resolution."


I am a little surprised and somewhat disappointed at the tone the hon. Member has adopted towards Her Majesty's Government, for if anybody has done what he could to satisfy another man, I have done that for the hon. Member. From the first I regarded with the greatest possible favour any arrangement which could be made for the purpose of encouraging gold mining in Wales, both to increase the gold production and to give employment in a poor country; and as soon as I entered Office in the present Government I used my authority for the purpose of fixing the royalty at 1–100th instead of 1–30th, which the mine-owners had previously paid. The hon. Member has enjoyed the benefit of that reduction, and has expressed his gratitude; but he has been informed that the Government could not come to a final decision until they had the Report of the Royal Commission on Mines. The conduct of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests has been impeached, but only two or three years ago a Select Committee of the House investigated the whole conduct of the Department, including its action in this matter, and a more complete vindication it would be impossible to have had than was contained in the Report of the Committee. Then came the Report of the Royal Commission on Mines, which said— To sum up the opinion we have been requested to give upon Mr. Morgan's complaints, it does not appear to us that the royalties received by the Crown upon gold, which have amounted in all, from the year 1836 to April 1891, to less than £7.000, have interfered with the investment of capital in gold mining. We consider that the Commissioners of Woods have throughout the proceedings into which we have inquired dealt with the Crown rights in as liberal a manner as was consistent with their duty. They have had the assistance of two most competent professional advisers in Sir Warington Smyth and Mr. Forster Brown, and they have shown, by the reduction they made in the royalty payable under the lease of the Clogan Mine, as well as by the modification they proposed of the royalty payable by the Morgan Mine Company, that they are prepared to give an equitable consideration to the altered circumstances of mines, and not to take their stand upon the strict letter of agreements. Our conclusions upon this subject concur with those of a Select Committee of the House of Commons upon the Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues of the Crown, which sat in 1889 and 1890, and in whose Report there is the following paragraph with regard to Welsh gold mining:— During the last few years the Commissioners have granted a large number of licences to explore for gold in Merionethshire, on a royalty of l–15th of the ore extracted if obtained on Crown land, and of l–30th to landowners if obtained on private lands. The results do not appear to have been encouraging, as of a large number of projected mines only three or four are doing anything, and none have so far been successful. It has been complained that the Crown royalty is too high, as a reason for this want of success. The late Sir Warington Smyth, who, until his death, acted as Mineral Inspector and adviser to the Commissioners, gave conclusive evidence that this complaint is not well founded. He called the attention of the Committee to a prospectus of a Gold Mining Company with a capital of £210,000, out of which £190,000 was to be given to the promoter, who had, no doubt, spent some money upon it, but whose bonus of £190,000 rendered it next to impossible that the company should succeed as a commercial undertaking. The company referred to in this paragraph is the Morgan Gold Mining Company (Limited), and the promoter referred to is Mr. Pritchard Morgan. It is, I think, quite plain that the mining royalties could not be said to have prevented the success of that undertaking, especially when you compare the £7,000 got in royalties with the £190,000 paid to a promoter. I wish to say distinctly that Crown property is national property, and we are bound to deal with it as property in which the whole community is equally interested. To suggest that the Commissioners discourage mining, or any other industry because it would give them more trouble, is an unjust, unfounded, and unworthy insinuation. I have always recognised the principle that we ought to regard this matter in the general interests of the community, and that industries, when they are struggling in their commencement, ought to be encouraged. That was why I only asked for a nominal royalty for the first five years. If the industry succeeds, not being overloaded with promotion money, and ultimately becomes a profitable undertaking, I think it ought to pay its contribution to the Public Exchequer, and therefore there ought to be a terminal period for the nominal payment. If the term of five years is not sufficient, then it can be reconsidered at the proper time; but I should like to see the mining tried as a fair commercial experiment. I cannot say that has yet been done, for the reason I have already stated.


I wish to tell the right hon. Gentleman some facts which he does not appear to know. There have been £120,000 expended on the Morgan Mine. I spent £30,000 looking for this gold before I saw a speck of it as large as a pin's head, and the Government never interfered with me for four years. The company has paid a dividend of £10,500, and the Woods and Forests Department has received royalties to the extent of £3,000 in hard cash, or 30 per cent. on the amount paid in dividends.


I have no doubt, if the hon. Gentleman says so, that that is true. I take my stand on the principle I have enunciated—that these industries ought not to be interfered with by a burden in the early years; but when they develop into a profitable undertaking, I think on all fair and just principles they ought to pay their contribution to the Public Exchequer.


said, he knew nothing whatever about the promotion of this company, or the amount paid to the vendor, but he could not understand why royalties should be levied by the Crown upon the production of gold or any other article. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would agree to limit the royalty to 1 per cent. over the whole term of the lease. The mine-owners would still contribute to the Exchequer, because the income derived from the mines would be taxed as other incomes were.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon, &c.)

said, he did not wish to argue the point raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he wished to remind him that the present Government had not made the reduction of 1 per cent., for it was made by their predecessors—who brought the royalty down from 3½ per cent. to that figure; and he trusted the Government would see their way to extend the reduced royalty for the whole period the contract had to run. He had visited the mines himself, and found that they gave employment to 200 very poor people, who altogether supported a population of 1,000. He hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would see his way to give his favourable consideration to the whole matter.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

said that, in his opinion, the royalty paid to the nation was a very proper thing. In gold mines abroad—in South Africa, America, and elsewhere—everyone who was commencing mining had to pay what amounted to a considerable royalty. The real point in this matter, which deserved more consideration than apparently the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given it, was that the gold royalty of 1–100th which was to be raised after five years should be raised solely on the profits. However satisfactory the Report of the Royal Commission on Mining Royalties might be in regard to Wales, in Cornwall the Commission was regarded as a farce, and its result as absolutely worthless. The Commission, so far as Cornwall was concerned, was composed of landlords and land agents, and, therefore, the grievances of Cornwall never received any consideration from it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Resolution agreed to.

Resolution 16. That a sum, not exceeding £30,287, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1894, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings.


said, there was a sum of £320 on the Votes for supplying double sashes to the windows of the Tea Rooms, Dining Rooms, and Reading Rooms of the House of Commons. He understood the work had not been done, and he wished to ask the First Commissioner of Works whether the money had been returned to the Treasury, or used for some other purpose? He also wished to know whether the structural alterations recommended by the Kitchen Committee in order to provide proper facilities for cooking would be carried out? So far as he could see, the offices devoted to the Kitchen were not fit for the purpose. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also tell him what decision he had come to with regard to his suggestion that more seats and the means of obtaining temperance refreshments within the grounds should be provided for visitors to Hampton Court Palace Gardens? So as to accentuate his inquiry as to the £320, he would formally move to reduce the Vote by a sum of £320.


The subject which the hon. Gentleman last touched upon does not come under this Vote.


said, it was true that £320 was voted last year for making double windows in certain rooms of the House. He understood the money had been spent in doubling the windows in the Tea Room. He would consider the question of structural alterations in the Kitchen, which he admitted was in some respects not all that it should be. He had considered the subject of refreshments at Hampton Court, and he had decided against it, as there were many refreshment houses in the neighbourhood, and it might interfere with the enjoyment of the people in the Gardens. He had made arrangements that seats should be provided.


said, it was reported that the First Commissioner of Works had inspected the part of the House in which it was suggested that alterations should be made in conjunction with an official who was opposed to any structural alterations at all. He therefore hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would preserve an open mind upon the subject until the Committee had had the opportunity of laying their views before him.

MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

asked whether the right hon. Gentleman had considered the suggestions made with a view to additional accommodation being provided for the hanging of hats?

[No reply was given.]

Resolution agreed to.

Subsequent Resolution agreed to.