HC Deb 09 May 1894 vol 24 cc718-33

That all Friendly Societies should support in the most earnest manner the Bill introduced into Parliament by Mr. Strachey, empowering Poor Law Guardians to grant outdoor relief to members of Friendly Societies irrespective of amounts receivable from Sick Societies."

He thought, after reading such a letter, he need not urge any argument as to Friendly Societies being unanimously in favour of this principle. The Friendly Society which brought the question before the Conference, the Hearts of Oak, brought it not only on the question of sick allowance, in regard to which he believed that Society was able to be generous, but they supported it as much as anything upon the principle that they were seriously affected by the present state of the law as regarded old age pensions. The Hearts of Oak had adopted the principle of old age pensions, by which after a certain age and after paying certain contributions its members were allowed a pension of 4s. a week. The Hearts of Oak Society considered it was a great hardship that one of their members who by his own exertions and thrift had secured for himself in his old age a pension of 4s. a week, if compelled by necessity to apply for outdoor relief, should at once be met with the statement by the Guardians that they should deduct the whole of the amount he had earned by his industry for his old age, from any assistance they thought he ought to receive according to the necessities of his case. Last year the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India, who was then President of the Local Government Board, said that from the Government point of view there was no objection to this Bill, but he argued that there ought to be delay. The right hon. Gentleman's plea was that this question had been referred to the Commission on the Aged Poor; that Commission had sat 36 times, and he expected it would report in ample time next year for legislation. The Secretary of State for India, as reported in Hansard, made that statement on the 14th of June, 1893. But the Commission on the Aged Poor had not reported yet, and he had failed to learn from any possible source when it was likely to do so. Even if they wore told it was likely to report soon he did not think that that would be a ground for delaying the passage of the Pill through this House, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, on a later date than that—namely, on the 26th of August, 1893, writing to him (Mr. Strachey), said the Commission had concluded its sittings, and he expected it would report in October, 1893, so that there would be ample time for legislation in the following Session. Since that time five mouths had passed; there had still been no Report, and all this time injustice was being done to members of Friendly Societies, and it was very hard they should be expected to wait in this indefinite sort of way. There was a great feeling among the members of Friendly Societies that the Government were trying to stave the matter off, and that they did not take sufficient interest in it. He did not think that was the case for a moment, but he thought the Government would be ill-advised if they were again to put this Pill off, or not do more than permit the Second Reading to be taken simply because of a hypothetical Report of this Commission. This matter was one that ought not to frighten the Local Government Board. Although the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board might express his sympathy with the Pill, he rather thought they should find the Local Government Board would object to it becoming law. He would point out, however, that it was not compulsory but permissive; and who, he should like to ask, would be better able to exercise a discretion and judge of the cases than the Boards of Guardians on the spot? They might be sure that the Guardians would not make this extra allowance in undeserving cases. The present state of the law was such as to be a direct discouragement of thrift. In counties like Somerset, and Wiltshire, and Dorset, and others in the West of England, where wages were low, members of Friendly Societies were only able to subscribe such an amount as would enable them to get, perhaps, for throe mouths 5s. a week, and then they would be cut down to a smaller sum. If a man, through sickness or accident, became incapacitated from following his employment, it was perfectly ridiculous to expect him to support himself and family on 5s. a week; and therefore a man was inclined to ask himself if it was worth while joining Friendly Societies when he found that the man who did not join was in as good a position as he before the Board of Guardians in the matter of relief. The man who did not join would get, say, 10s. a week from the Guardians, whilst the man who did join a Friendly Society would only get 5s., and thus was penalised to this extent for having throughout his life practised the utmost self-denial in order that he might make some provision for sickness. It could not be urged that this Bill would discourage thrift, because its tendency would be to directly encourage it, whereas the present state of the law discouraged thrift. If the President of the Local Government Board could see his way to support the Bill entirely it would not only be a source of satisfaction to the great Friendly Societies who supported it, but it would be a great inducement to men to join Friendly Societies and also to go in for old age pensions, as in the Hearts of Oak Society, which would be an important step in the right direction. If he resisted this Bill the Local Government Board would be throwing a direct impediment in the way of men making provision for old age pensions. He hoped, therefore, the Bill would meet with the favourable consideration of the President of the Local Government Board, and he begged to move that it be read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Strachey.)

COLONEL GUNTER (York, W. R., Barkstone Ash)

supported the Bill. Speaking from an experience of more than 20 years as the Chairman of a, largo Board of Guardians in Yorkshire, he said he had found practical difficulty in dealing with this very subject in a way which would be to the advantage of the men themselves and also to the ratepayers. When a man became incapaci- tated through illness he very often required nutriment and nourishment to bring him round more than anything else, and if he had a family, even if he got 10s. a week from a Friendly Society to which he belonged, he might require another 10s. from the Board of Guardians to put him right. There was no doubt it was far cheaper to the ratepayers to give a man 10s. a week for a month than dole out relief to him at the rate of 2s. 6d. a week for three months. The real object of the Bill was to bring into practical working a better system, and he hoped that not only would the House give it a Second Reading, but also pass it into a law. If they took away the desire of men to belong to Friendly Societies they would take away from them a great boon which the)' obtained by their membership. If a man who did not belong to a Society fell ill he did not send for a doctor, in the hope that the illness was slight and would soon pass over him. The result was that he often got worse and came to the Guardians in such a low physical state that it was a considerable time before he was restored to health. But if a man belonged to one of these thrift Societies the doctor came at once to see him, ordered him proper nutriment and nourishment, and if the 10s. a week he might receive from a Friendly Society was not enough to support him and his family, he ought to be able to come to the Board of Guardians, who, if they were sensible people, would allow him another 10s., which would bring him round far quicker than if a small stipend were doled out to him barely sufficient to keep body and soul together. He hoped the Bill would pass the Second Heading and subsequent stages, and become law.

MR. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)

sincerely hoped the President of the Local Government Board would not only support the measure, but do his utmost to help it to pass into law. He trusted the Local Government Board officials would not interpose in the matter at all, for surely it did not require a Royal Commission on Aged Poor to tell them what to do. It was the duty of the Government and of legislation to foster thriftiness and providence in every possible way. The law at present was a direct incentive against thrift, and irrespective of what any Royal Commission might say, it was the duty of the Government to induce men to do what they possibly could to join Friendly Societies so that they might help themselves and free themselves from the degradation of becoming paupers if they were incapacitated for work. This measure did not fetter the action of Boards of Guardians in any way. In two mouths more they hoped to have reformed Boards of Guardians, and he hoped that the President of the Local Government Board would trust such Boards and say they might decide for themselves whether a man was deserving of more humane treatment because he belonged to a Friendly Society. Under the present system it almost seemed that a man who had been a sober, industrious, and provident citizen and joined a Friendly Society was not as worthy of proper treatment as the thriftless and improvident. They had heard a great deal about the classification of indoor paupers. If it were necessary TO classify indoor paupers it ought to be necessary to classify those who received outdoor relief. Any measure like this, which would tend to the more humane treatment of those who had helped themselves, was deserving of every support, and he hoped this Bill would therefore receive the support of the President of the Local Government Board and would soon become law.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N)

thought it very gratifying to find a consensus of opinion on both sides of the House in favour of this very small but very important measure. The law as it stood was rigid in the extreme, and it was at the present time an absolute disqualification for any consideration on the part of persons in distress if they were in receipt of money from Friendly Societies. This Bill was intended to do away with this anomaly, and to do away with the disqualification that because a man had endeavoured in some way or other to provide for himself—it was true not sufficiently for all his wants—he should be in a worse position than his neighbour who had done nothing for himself. He had sat for many years on a Board of Guardians, and he had always felt the system had been one of encouragement of persons who came before the Board to try and prove they had done nothing. When persons asked for relief they did not try to show that they had made every effort for themselves, but their great aim was to show they had done nothing stud had got nothing. That seemed to him to be the wrong way of looking at it. The aim of relief should be to give relief to a man when he was in distress in proportion as he deserved it by his previous life. If he had spent a bad, thriftless, extravagant, or dissipated life he should be relieved, but only under drastic conditions. Where a man had done his best, however, to provide for himself and his family, he ought not to be put in a worse, but in a better, position than his thriftless and improvident neighbour when he came before the Guardians for relief. He advocated it many years ago when he tried to have outdoor relief placed on a basis of thrift. He believed that was the only way, or one of the most efficacious ways, of attacking that very serious evil. They should take count of human nature as it was: and when they thought that a man earning a constant wage should, when young, join a Friendly Society, they should, at the same time, consider that the man would naturally calculate what were the advantages to be gained from joining a Friendly Society, and when he saw that he was really worse off by joining, he would argue, "It is of no use my joining this Society, because if I should ever come to trouble I should be in a worse position than if I had not joined the Society." He believed that if the Bill were passed it would have the effect of lessoning the number of applications for relief, for with the existing discouragement against joining Friendly Societies removed, numbers of people would crowd into those Societies, and thereby contract habits of thrift that would place them above the necessity of having to go for help to the rates in time of sickness and distress. He had, therefore, no hesitation in saying that the present state of the law was a great discouragement to thrift, and surely that was reason enough why it should be altered. He did not think that the question of old age pensions should be mixed up with this subject. It should be treated separately. This question, in his opinion, did not bear at all on the old age pension question, and he hoped the President of the Local Government Board would not run off with the measure on the ground that the Commission on Old Age Tensions had not yet reported. The Bill was not a compulsory measure. It left everything to the discretion of the Guardians, who were the only people who could know the merits of each case, and really he thought that if the Guardians considered that a man who had endeavoured to provide for himself by joining a Friendly Society was on that account deserving of assistance in a time of trouble, they should be allowed legally to give it to him instead of, as at present, winking at the law or setting the law at defiance. He was not a lax administrator of the Poor Law. On the contrary, he was a very rigid administrator, but he thought that if this Bill were passed it would tend to the cultivation of habits of thrift amongst the people, making the people more prosperous and, therefore, less liable to have recourse to Poor Law relief.

MR. BARLOW (Somerset, Frome)

said, that the Bill was heartily approved of not only in his own constituency, but all through the country. Since the Bill was printed, he had received a large number of communications—all expressing approval of the principle of the Bill—from various parts of the country. There seemed to be a prevailing impression that the present state of the law was a direct incentive to a neglect of thrift. That view was held by a large number of the working people, and it directly militated against the success of the Friendly Societies. The work of the Friendly Societies could bo viewed only with favour by those who believed in teaching the agricultural population that they ought to lay up for a rainy day, and surely, then, everything that tended to interfere with the success of the Friendly Societies should be removed. This subject was one which he had had occasion to study, and he was certain that the passing of the Bill would be hailed as a measure not only of justice but good policy. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not only grant the Second Heading, but take measures to secure that the Bill became law dining the present Session.

MR. S. HOARE (Norwich)

said, he was glad to join his voice to what seemed to be the general testimony of the House in favour of the Bill. The law at present actually made it a disadvantage to a man to belong to a Friendly Society, and if the House removed that anomaly, it would be doing a good work in the interest of thrift. It often happened that a member of a Friendly Society required relief; and it was hard on that man, who had done his best to provide for a rainy day, that he could get no assistance from the rates, while his unthrifty neighbour had no difficulty whatever in getting relief. When they considered how enormously the rates were relieved by the operation of those Friendly Societies, they should encourage their extension in every way. But many people did not now join Friendly Societies, because they realised the fact that in times of trouble the thrifty man got no relief. He hoped the Bill would pass into law, as he believed it would be of great advantage to the great Friendly Societies, and would be only an act of justice to those who belonged to them.

* SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

desired to add only a few words to the general expression of opinion in favour of the Bill. He wished to point out that the circumstances of the County of Durham were somewhat peculiar. The miners were almost all members of one large Provident Society, and the railway men were members of another. The Railway Companies and the mines paid one-half or three-quarters of the rates in some parishes, and yet railway men and miners were practically debarred from getting relief out of the rates. Boards of Guardians recognised that in times of difficulty a little help, in addition to the provision which a man had been able to make for himself, resulted ultimately in relieving the poor-rate, for such help enabled him to get back to work the sooner and thus to support his family. The existing law really imposed a penalty upon thrift, for the man who was not a member of a Friendly Society and had no savings could get a much larger amount of relief than the man who was a member of one of these useful and excellent Societies. Boards of Guardians in Durham, knowing the hardship often inflicted by the existing law, and being unable to grant sufficient relief to a man in consequence of his being a member of a Society, frequently relieved him indirectly by assisting his wife or some other relative. He believed that the Bill would have the effect of saving rather than of increasing the rates, for it would encourage people to join Benefit Societies. It would be perfectly safe to leave the question of relief to the discretion of the Guardians who, in country districts—unlike the Guardians of large towns—were, as a rule, quite familiar with the merits of the cases brought before them.


The interesting question raised by this measure was considered by the Local Government Board in 1870, when my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, was President of the Board. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Wells Division of Somerset had asked why Boards of Guardians were not justified in granting relief in such cases as are contemplated in the present measure without taking into consideration the amounts which the persons concerned may receive from the Societies with which they are connected. My right hon. Friend directed a letter to be written to the hon. Member for the Wells Division, in which I find the following paragraphs. First, as to whether Boards of Guardians were legally entitled to take the course suggested, the letter states:— In answer to these precise questions as to the legal bearings of the case, I am directed to state that, in the opinion of the Board, the Guardians would not be justified, according to the strict law applicable to such cases, in giving to the widow in question any further relief than such an amount as would, together with the sum she was receiving from the Benefit Society, render the amount of her weekly income equal, and no more than equal, to that amount which the Guardians hold to be necessary to relieve the destitution of a person similarly circumstanced, but who has no other means of support. The letter further states— In the opinion of the Board, it would not be expedient to administer poor rates, which are levied from all classes down to those on the very verge of destitution, in such a manner as to cause them to be recognised by the working classes of the country as a provision substituted by the law of the land for that which, in the absence of such a system, they would be willing to provide for themselves and their families through the medium of Benefit Societies. The Hoard regard the prosperity and extension of these Benefit Societies as a matter of extreme importance, and would be anxious to encourage their establishment by all legitimate means. But the Board, as at present advised, believe that this encouragement could not safely be given by allowing the poor rates to be treated as a subsidiary fund. The Board cannot shut their eyes to the fact that the only safe basis on which the system of Benefit Societies can rest, under the present system of the legal right to relief, is, that they afford the means of providing, in times of distress or disability a more eligible, respectable, and liberal maintenance than that supplied under the Poor Law, and that they should be still regarded as a mode for avoiding the degradation of parish support, rather than as conferring a title by which a claim to such support may be established even beyond the line of actual destitution. That was the opinion of the Local Government Board on the question in 1870. That letter was printed and circulated; but it does not appear to have been acted upon generally by Boards of Guardians; for in spite of this declaration of the Local Government Board, it has undoubtedly been the practice in the country to act in opposition to it. I believe I am right in saying that the vast majority of Boards of Guardians, when a case affecting a member of a Friendly Society is brought before them, do not limit their relief to the difference between the amount obtained from the Society and the amount which would be granted ordinarily in the shape of outdoor relief. The strict law is, therefore, not being carried out in most cases; in fact, the number of cases in which it is being carried out is extremely small. I do not find that the Local Government Board have ever taken any steps, beyond writing the letter to which I have referred, to enforce the strict view of the law; nor have auditors ever surcharged any Board of Guardians for payments made to members of Friendly Societies. The question, then, arises whether it would not be wise to bring the law into harmony with what is the general practice. There may be opposite views taken on the subject. On the one side the strict economists may say it would discourage thrift to induce people to rely on the rates for relief in times of distress. But we have had to-day an expression of the opposite view from all parts of the House—namely, that the law as it at present stands really discourages thrift. For my own part, I hold this last view of the case. After careful consideration I have formed the opinion that the proposal contained in this measure may be adopted without any danger, and therefore I shall support the Motion for the Second Reading. But as the question has been under the consideration of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor, and is closely connected with the subject of old age pensions, I think it would be well to postpone the Committee stage until after the publication of the Report of the Com mission—assuming, of course, that the Report will be issued within a reasonable time. Considering the fact that the Commission is now actually considering the Report, it would be only respectful to the Commission; and it would be expedient to wait, at all events for a short time, until we have the conclusions of the Commission before us.

MR. HARRY SMITH (Falkirk, &c.)

said, he rose to protest against the exclusion of Scotland from the benefits of the Bill. He heartily supported the measure; he thought it was required in Scotland as well as in England; and he hoped that in the Committee stage Scotland would be included within its purview.

SIR R. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)

said, he failed to understand why the further stages of the measure were to be postponed until after the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission. There was no doubt that the present Rule as to relief in the case of members of Friendly Societies did to a large extent deter people from joining such Societies. He maintained, therefore, that there was a pressing need for this legislation. In that view the President of the Local Government Board said he was in full agreement. The right hon. Gentleman agreed that the Boards of Guardians should have a discretionary power with regard to those applications of relief. The right hon. Gentleman further said that it was the general practice of the Boards of Guardians to act contrary to the opinion of the Local Government Board expressed in their Circular Letter; and that it would be well to bring the general practice into harmony with the law. If that were so, why should they wait for the Report of the Royal Commission? There was no necessity for delay in coming to a determination in such a matter. All the Bill would do would be to leave the matter in the discretion of the Guardians. It did not say that they should not take certain matters into consideration, but that they should not be bound to do so. He did not desire to prejudge any question it might be desirable to postpone until the Royal Commission had reported. Still, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would not stand in the way, so that it might be said that, practically speaking, the measure was unopposed.

MR. CAINE (Bradford, E.)

said, he was surprised at the position taken up by the President of the Local Government Board with regard to the Bill. The reasons he had given for that position were illogical and absurd. Speaking as a member of the Lambeth Board of Guardians, and knowing something of the work of the Clapham and Wandsworth Board, he could tell the right hon. Gentleman that both Boards felt strongly with regard to the Bill. They were very much interested in any proposal to rescind the Circular to which attention had been drawn—a Circular which, on the evidence of the right hon. Gentleman himself, was taken no notice of by Boards of Guardians. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider his position, and would not ask the House to wait until the Report of the Royal Commission had been issued, especially as the subject was hardly germane to that under discussion by the Commission at the present time. Not a single word had been said against the principle of the Bill, even by the right hon. Gentleman himself. There was a universal concurrence of opinion on both sides of the House in favour of this reform, and he trusted that the Committee stage of the Bill might be taken at the earliest possible date.

MR. RANKIN (Herefordshire, Leominster)

said, he hoped the suggestion of the last speaker would be carried out, and that there would be no delay in passing the Bill into law. The country owed a debt of gratitude to the Friendly Societies. The number of people in receipt of poor relief in the country had enormously decreased of late years, and he had no hesitation in saying that the greatest factor in that decrease had been the action of the Friendly Societies. It was hard that those who had brought about that state of things should not have some such benefit as the Bill proposed to give them. But he had risen more for the purpose of suggesting that the consideration of this Bill would form an occasion when something should be done towards fulfilling the object that most of them had in view with regard to old age pensions. He agreed that that subject was not altogether connected with the Bill, but he thought the House might engraft on the measure a provision which should enable any person who had made a certain provision for old age to receive a certain amount of outdoor relief. There was nothing the labouring classes, especially in the agricultural districts, dreaded more than the ultimate necessity of having to enter the workhouse when past work. If they felt they would be likely to secure the advantages which would be afforded them under the Bill, it would operate as an inducement to them to obtain old age pensions, and if they did that it would greatly relievo the rates of the country. Seeing that the Bill had been received with approval by both sides of the House, and by the representative of the Local Government Board, he trusted that the Bill would pass, and that the promoters would assent to the suggestion he made.

MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)

said, that the line the President of the Local Government Board took up would leave them with the Circular of the Local Government Board in existence, the same being ignored by Boards of Guardians, and the House of Commons reading this Bill a second time, thereby approving the conduct of the Guardians in ignoring the Circular. The right hon. Gentleman, if he wished to wait for the Report of the Commission before going into Committee on the Bill, should at least withdraw the Circular. It seemed to him (Mr. Heneage) that the best course to pursue would be to pass the Bill through all its stages as rapidly as possible, to show the Guardians that even if the Circular was not withdrawn it was at least practically superseded by the law. The limitation of the duration of the Act would be a question for Committee.

MR. WARNER (Somerset, N.)

said, he wished to add his protest against any delay in carrying the Bill, and to remind the House that there was a measure brought in last Session which would have become law had it not been for waiting until a Report was presented. The Bill would not affect the whole of the Report of the Commission. It would, no doubt, to a certain extent overlap it; but if they laid down a principle that they were never to pass a Bill overlapping a subject which was being inquired into by a Commission or a Committee there would be an end to all legislation.

MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

said, he begged to express the heartiest concurrence with all the principles of the Bill save one—namely, that it did not extend to Ireland. He trusted that those in charge of the measure would agree to extend it to Ireland.

MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)

said, there was nothing in the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The Royal Commission would be glad to have this point, or any other point, determined for them by the House. If the House this afternoon came to a decision to read the Bill asecond time-—as he hoped it would—the Royal Commission would have a clear lead, and would be relieved from any doubt or difficulty they might entertain in preparing their Report on that point.

MR. J. LEIGH (Stockport)

said, that a large portion of his constituents in Stockport were interested in Friendly Societies, than which he did not think there was any better or stronger agency for the encouragement of thrift, and for the general benefit of the town itself. He, therefore, hoped the President of the Local Government Board would afford them the luxury of passing this Bill into law.


said that, after the strong expression of opinion which had been given, he would undertake that if he found that the Royal Commission did not report within a short time before the end of the Session, then he would endeavour to give facilities for making progress with the Bill. But, inasmuch as the Commission was now considering its Report, and was investigating this very subject, he thought it only respectful to that body to wait a short time in order to see the Report issued.

MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said, the light hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) did not seem to see that the Royal Commission could not record any opinion on this point without either approving of the principle of this Bill or going beyond the scope of their Commission. They might affirm that the present state of the law as to outdoor relief discouraged persons from entering Friendly Societies, and therefore was a hindrance to the creation of old age pensions. In that case they would be endorsing the principle of this Bill. If they did not think this particular law was such a discouragement or hindrance, what occasion would they have to allude to it at all, seeing that it dealt with sick pay and not pensions?


said, that the Government distinctly sympathised with the object of the Bill, and hoped that it would become law during the present Session. Hon. Members said that there was no necessity to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission; but whenever any step was proposed to be taken affecting labour it was said, "Wait for the Report of the Labour Commission." In the present instance the President of the Local Government Board made a very reasonable proposition. He proposed that they should wait for the Report, but that if it did not seem likely that it would be presented in time for legislation steps would be taken to assure the progress of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Webster) would admit that that was a reasonable proposition.


I do not.


said, he supposed the hon. and learned Member did not desire more than that the Bill should go through this Session.


said that, as the House was unanimously in favour of the Bill, he failed to see the necessity of waiting for a lead from the Commission.


said, that at any rate the Bill would now be read a second time, and between now and the next stage the Government would be able to communicate with the Royal Commission and consider the position.


said, that he was quite pleased at the unanimous support the Bill had received. While agreeing with the principles of the Bill he regretted that they had not been carried a little further. He did not wish to hamper the measure, but he would point out that there were other cases where the Guardians should have a discretionary power given them to make outdoor relief: such, for example, as that of an old soldier whose pension was insufficient to keep him in food and lodging, and who was therefore compelled to seek refuge in the workhouse. If money had been earned by the poor by thrift or good service it should not be a bar to their receiving assistance. At any rate, the Guardians should have a discretionary power in the matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday, 21st May.