§ (SECOND READING.)
*MR. JOHN BUTTON (Yorkshire, Richmond)
In the absence of my honourable Friend the Member for the Tyneside Division, whose success in the ballot has placed this opportunity at my 186 disposal, it becomes my duty to move the Second Reading of this Bill. I must ask the kind indulgence of the House while I endeavour to explain the reasons, or some of the reasons, which induced the original preparation of this Bill. I believe, Sir, that there is no Member of this House who does not believe that the present state of the aged poor is extremely unsatisfactory. As a matter of fact, so far as I can get information from returns which are not of a very recent date, there are no less than 400,000 persons over the age of 65 years who are in receipt of parochial relief in this country. There are 400,000 out of a total of 1,200,000 and it does seem a strange and appalling thing that one out of every three who reaches the age of 65 should not be in a position to maintain himself, but should have to go to the Poor Law for relief. But, Sir, that is not the only difficulty. We find in our Poor Law system that there is not the slightest difference made between those aged persons who have lived industrious, quiet, and respectable lives, and those poor persons who have dissipated all their substance away. Well now, Sir, of these 400,000 persons, these aged persons, who are in receipt of relief, about one-third are inside the workhouse and two-thirds receive out-door relief. I know that in some Unions it is the custom to distinguish between the better conducted poor and the scum of the place by giving the deserving poor outdoor relief, and only sending the idle drunkards into the workhouse. During the last two years I have visited all the workhouses connected with my own county in North Riding of Yorkshire, and I made special inquiries of the clerks and relieving officers, and I found out that, though a certain number of deserving poor did come into the workhouse, they were extremely few. My impression is that there are not more than 10 per cent, of the aged poor who find their way into the workhouse. But it is to that small number of deserving poor who are compelled to go into the workhouse that I wish particularly to call the attention of the House. The workhouse is hardly a place where persons who, through no fault of their own, have come (o poverty should be sent. Now, what are the conditions of life in 187 the workhouse? I do not wish to speak so much of the large London workhouses, and the workhouses in our large towns. There classification is possible, and it is carried out, and the old people are made as comfortable as they possibly can be, and every attention is shown to them; but that, in small country workhouses, is impossible. In these country workhouses there are not sufficient inmates to classify, and the aged deserving person who is sent into the workhouse has to resort and associate with the drunken, idle scoundrel with whom he would not associate in his own village, and there he has to listen to the foul-mouthed language and the taunts of the drunken idle scamp, and with him the honest, industrious workman has to pass the remainder of his life. I doubt whether the alternative plan of outdoor relief will be much comfort for the old people. The pittance usually granted is about is about 2s. 6d. per week. Well, Sir, an old man or an old woman may possibly live on half-a-crown a week, if he has some daughter or relation who will take care of him, for then the Half-crown will go somewhat towards his maintenance. But I will put it to the House—How can any man or woman of a certain age possibly buy their food, pay their rent, and clothe themselves on thirty pence a week. I venture to say that such a condition of affairs is not a state of things which ought to exist. But to show how the guardians have laid down a hard and fast line with regard to out-door relief, it will perhaps interest the House to be told of an instance which I find in a Union workhouse where the relief rules are issued for the guidance of the guardians. They are printed on a card which sets forth the scale of outdoor relief allowed in ordinary cases, and here is the scale: Under 65 years of age, 2s. 6d.; 75 and under 80, 3s.; 80 and under 85, 3s. 6d.; 85 and upwards, 4s. weekly. Now, Sir, I venture to say that such an allowance is inadequate, and it is not the right and proper allowance as a reward for industrious poor people. Therefore, it was after consideration of these matters that I, some years ago, first formed the intention of trying to draw up some scheme by which cottage homes could be provided in the country where the poor old people could live peacefully and happily, instead of being sent into 188 the workhouse or compelled to receive the miserable dole of outdoor relief. The Bill which is now before the House, and which I will, with the kind permission of the House, endeavour briefly to explain, provides, in the first instance, that the council of any rural or urban district may, with the consent of the county council, provide and maintain a cottage or cottages or suitable house or houses for the necessitous and deserving poor. Now, Sir, in the first place, it is proposed by this Bill to take the provision and the care of the aged and deserving persons from the boards of guardians, and in the next place to hand them over to the care of the parish or urban council. I know great objection will be found to this proposal. It will be said that I am setting up a new Poor Law authority against the existing Poor Law authority. Well, Sir, in my humble opinion the present boards of guardians hardly prove themselves, in rural districts at all events, either sufficiently sympathetic or in any way able to deal with the real needs and wants of the aged and deserving poor in their districts. Of course, Sir, I know it is a great difficulty to start a scheme of this kind. It is a great difficulty, in the first instance, to determine as to who should be the jury to say whether a person is a deserving person or not. Well, I think the only persons who ought to decide that are the people amongst whom the person has lived. With the present machinery of the parish councils, and the district and urban, councils, it does seem to' me that the proper person to distinguish between those who ought to have the privilege of entering those cottages and those who ought to be sent to the workhouse are the persons who represent those poor people in a public capacity, namely, the members of the parish council. I am, personally, not the least afraid of giving this power to the parish council. It may be said that jobbery would ensue, and that in the election of those parish councils persons might bargain with them to obtain permission to go into these cottage homes. But even if that did take place, I venture to think that, in a very short time, as the members of the parish council themselves and the electors found out that it was their great ambition that only their own most deserving and the very poorest of their relations and friends should 189 be permitted to go into those houses, they would very soon take care that those unfit should not be permitted, and gradually, I believe, a good healthy public opinion would grow up in these towns and villages, and this abuse of the system would be extremely limited; and I trust, under the control and authority of the parish council, that any abuse which might in the first instance arise would gradually and entirely disappear. Then, Sir, there is the third clause, which provides that where the population of a district is too small that the county council may amalgamate several parishes together. It is clear that as only about 1 in 300 of the population require to come into these homes, a certain qualification and rateable value would be necessary for the carrying out of the scheme. Probably the number of the population necessary to make the scheme workable would have to be not less than about 2000 persons. In that way, by amalgamating various country parishes, the necessary population would be found. The county council would have the determining power with regard to the number of cottages required for each area, and each district, and would have to appoint inspectors, and would be responsible really for the proper conducting of these establishments. They would send their inspectors constantly to visit these various cottages, and by having power to withdraw the county contribution they would have full power, I think, over the local councils. The cottages would be looked after by some respectable woman, such as a widow, living in the neighbourhood, and who would otherwise be probably in receipt of outdoor relief. That woman would hardly be a servant, and would hardly be an official; she would rather be acting as a daughter to these old people, would look after their wants and the house under the direction of the local council. There is also permission given in the Bill to enable the council to admit into the homes deserving persons who are not actually destitute, that is to say persons who may have some small income of their own, and who, by contributing to the necessities of the home, might be, if the local council think fit, admitted to the privileges of the homes. Then, Sir, with regard to the cost. The cost of these homes would, in the first in- 190 stance, be discharged by the parish council, but it is proposed that the county council should repay the parish council three-fourths of the cost, and then it is hoped, if the Bill becomes the law of the land, that Parliament might be induced to give a contribution to the extent of another quarter of the cost, which I estimate at about £5 per annum for each individual. But the cost is extremely difficult to arrive at, but, so far as I can judge, it would be about £20 a year for each inmate, whether in the larger houses in the towns or small cottages in the country. The £20 for each inmate would apply in a district of 2,000 persons, the rateable value of which was £10,000, because, at all events in the north of England, and it is very nearly the same in all the counties in England the rateable value averages about £5 per head of the population; therefore, taking £20 a year for each of these individuals in such an area as I have described, two small cottages could be erected for the district, one for the old men and one for the old women, each containing four persons. That would provide far eight persons at a charge of £160. Now, a penny rate on £10,000 produces about £40, and so it would mean that a fourpenny rate would be required to maintain these cottages in such a district as I have referred to. The parish itself would contribute a penny of that amount, the county council would contribute twopence, and in all probability, if Parliament made a grant, it would vote £5 a, year per inmate, which would be a sum equal to the remaining fourth share. We must, however, deduct from the £20 a year the present cost of inmates in the workhouses, which, according to the latest return, is about £12 10s. per head throughout England. Now the cost to the rates under the system which I have suggested, and under the measure which I propose, would be £15 per head, leaving £5 to be added by the State. That leaves a difference of £2 10s. per head between the present cost of maintaining these aged persons under the present system, and the cost of their maintenance in one of their homes. The difference between the present indoor cost of the poor and the cost of maintaining a woman or a man in these cottage homes would be, practically, a 191 halfpenny rate, divided, one-eighth of a penny in the district, and three-eighths spread over the county. I do not think that this is a very heavy expense for carrying out what I believe to be a most useful reform. Then, Sir, this is borne out so far as I know, in the West Derby Union, where some small cottages were built for the old married couples, which must be situated, at all events, close to the workhouse. There these old people are given their tea and their various other necessaries of life once a week, and they prepare their own food and take it when they please. They prepare their meals when they please during the week, the tot dinners being sent out daily from the workhouse. The West Derby Guardians, I understand, have found out that the extra cost of maintaining these old people in these small cottages is only 1s. per head more per week than it is in the workhouse. That, Sir, I think bears out what I say as to the very small extra expense of these cottage homes. Now, Sir, it is also proposed by this Bill that where almshouses exist in a district that the parish council may make such arrangements with the trustees of these almshouses that they may be utilised for cottage homes. It is not proposed that the parish councils shall interfere with the government of these almshouses, but a condition would be that the county council inspector would be permitted to visit them to see that they were properly conducted. The Act is not made to apply to Scotland, Ireland, or to the administrative county of London. The reason for this is that there is no machinery there which is applicable to the Bill in its present form, but those who support me are only too anxious that the benefits of this Bill should be extended to those districts, and if any scheme should be proposed by which that could be done we should only be too glad to accept it. Well, Sir, no doubt various objections will be made against this Bill, and it will be said that it is pauperising the people. Well, Sir, I very much doubt whether it is possible to bring forward any scheme for the relief of the aged poor which will not be open to that charge. Old-age pension schemes have always been open to that charge of pauperising the poor. All I say is that the scheme set forth in this Measure will pauperise the people 192 less than any other scheme which has yet been placed before the country. Then, Sir, I am told that we are going to put up a number of very little workhouses in the place of one big workhouse. Sir, if I believed that these cottages would degenerate into workhouses I would not have anything to do with them. I hope, and our belief and wish is, that these cottages shall be real homes, and that they shall have nothing whatever of the nature and formality of the workhouse about them. We desire that officials shall be kept out of them as much as possible, and that the poor old people shall be kept in their own neighbourhood, among their own kinsfolk and acquaintances, in homes of the same character, and dealt with in exactly the same way, as the homes in which they have been accustomed to spend their lives. Then, Sir, we shall be told that there will be some difficulty about the formation of these areas. That may be, to some extent, the case, but surely there are precedents for it. We have school board areas formed by the amalgamation of parishes, and we have also sanitary areas made up by the amalgamation of districts, and I cannot see that there will be any more danger or harm done by the amalgamation of districts and villages in order to provide for these deserving poor than there is for any other object. We are told that we are asking the county to contribute from the general county rate for the benefit of some particular district or locality in that county. But that is the fact at the present time, because the various localities are benefited in a similar way by bridges being built, or footpaths being made, or police-stations being renewed and built in various localities for the benefit of those districts. It is an acknowledged principle in dealing with the county that the county rate is available for the benefit of certain districts. Now I have dealt with the question of the new poor law authority, and I can only say that, in my humble opinion, the authority proposed under this Bill is very much more fit to deal with special cases of deserving poor than the present poor law authorities. Then, again, I am told that I am simply proposing to build pretty cottages for the cultivation of flowers and roses. Well, I should rejoice if around any of these cottages it does become the custom to 193 grow flowers to brighten the lives of these poor old people; and I trust that this will become a very practical and real benefit in the different parts of the country. Now, Sir, I have nothing to add, I think, to what I have already said, and I beg to thank the House very much indeed for the extreme kindness and patience with which they have listened to what I have said. I know that this Bill will be kindly received and thoroughly considered by honourable Members of this House, and I hope that they will give it a Second Reading. We who have promoted this Bill rely upon the principle of the Measure, and the details we are ready and anxious to have submitted to the consideration of a Committee, either of the whole House, or, if the House prefers it, to a Committee upstairs. We shall only be too glad to see the Bill amended and improved, and we shall gladly accept any suggestions which may be made to that effect. I can only say, Sir, that now I leave this Bill in the hands of the House, and I feel that if the House can see its way to pass this Measure, or a Measure of a similar kind, they will indeed earn the gratitude of the industrial classes of this country. By the adoption of this Measure, I feel certain that it will be the means of sending brightness, happiness, and contentment among many thousands of our aged fellow-subjects, and it will enable them to end their days in peace and happiness, which is impossible for them under the present Poor Law system. I beg leave to move the Second Beading of this Bill.
§ *MR. JAMES M. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop Auckland)
I am glad to have the opportunity of supporting this Bill. The promoters of this Bill have not endeavoured to solve the problem of old age pensions, but this Measure does touch, perhaps, the most urgent and the most important part of that problem, namely, the case of the aged, deserving, and necessitous poor. The Old Age Pensions Committee felt themselves precluded from taking into consideration the special claims of that particular class, and the objections which they have urged to the principle of other schemes do not apply to this particular Measure. The case of this special class is, I say, one which is universally recognised as being in particular, deserving of consideration. Only 194 last week, Sir, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, speaking at a Poor Law Conference, used these words, which, I think, are very apposite to this Measure. He said:It was a fact (1) that a very large number of necessitous, deserving, and aged poor were unable to provide for their old age; (2) amongst the people of this country there was, rightly or wrongly, a deep-seated aversion to the workhouse, and to poor law relief; (3) it would be well if some plan could be devised which would relieve the pressing need and save the self-respect of the deserving poor. That was a good object.Now that is the object of this Bill, and for that reason I entreat the favourable consideration of honourable Members to the provisions of this Bill. Those provisions, it seems to me, are simple, easy to understand, and to my mind sound in principle and sufficient for the purpose. The merits, of the Measure seem to me to be briefly these: firstly, it differentiates between the deserving and the undeserving, and it affords a desirable means of relieving the necessities of the former without, attaching to them the stigma of pauperism. Secondly, it places in the hands of local bodies the power and duty of discriminating between these two classes of persons. All the local bodies are composed of those men who, by personal knowledge, and by the means which they possess of ascertaining the characters and circumstances of the individuals residing in the parish who may apply for admission to these homes, are the best fitted to exercise the duty of selection. Then, Sir, another important merit which this Bill possesses is that it will come into immediate operation if it is passed. Now all the Pension schemes put forward, however well devised, for dealing with this problem of relieving the aged poor must be deferred in operation for; a very long period of time. At any rate, this is the case with most of the schemes which have been put forward in the past, and this is the one objection which has been brought against them. This Measure will, at all events, apply immediately, and apply, I think, with a good effect. Then, again, it also has this important element—perhaps the most important consideration which any Measure of this kind should possess—namely, that it 195 gives direct encouragement to thrift and good conduct for the very simple reason that those qualities would be the essential qualifications for obtaining admission to these homes. Those qualifications would be recognised, as I have just said, by the persons who are the most conversant with the habits and circumstances of the applicants for admission. Then, I think, the Bill also provides efficient safeguards against extravagance and careless administration. I have no doubt this Bill requires a certain amount, perhaps a considerable amount, of amendment in detail. I make that admission because I have not been concerned in drafting it, but I do not think that that is an objection which ought to be raised on the Second Reading, because the promoter has stated that he will be only too willing to consider any reasonable Amendment which may be proposed. With regard to the cost, I venture to think that the House, after careful consideration, will observe that whilst this scheme does not unduly increase the burden of the ratepayer, it will only inappreciably raise the burden of the taxpayer to provide the funds which are necessary for this Measure. I would venture to suggest to my honourable Friend that care should be taken not to make the operation of the Bill result in an inducement to parish councils to put more persons into the cottage homes than they would otherwise be inclined to do, namely, by such an arrangement of the funds and financial arrangements as would, at any rate, preclude the parish council from being tempted to avail itself of any advantage, any financial advantage, which it might derive by putting persons into these homes. However, I consider that is a detail which can be very easily remedied in Committee. Now, Sir, I think also that the extra cost of the maintenance of this particular class of person should fall to some extent, and to a considerable extent, upon the State rather than upon the county, for the simple reason that it is a matter of national consequence, and it has become a national demand that these persons should be dealt with as people deserving of support and assistance from the State itself. Therefore, I say that the whole burden of this charge ought not to be placed upon the ratepayers to act as a discouragement and used as a lever 196 against bringing this Bill into operation. I also think that the unit of the parish is a most desirable qualification in this Bill. I mean, taking the parish as the area, the initial area from which the Bill shall operate, because, more than anything else, what the poorer folks in the villages dread and dislike is being taken away from the society and companionship of those amongst whom they have lived all their lives. These things are so obvious to every Member of this House that it would be impertinent of me to dwell upon them. I myself should be very sorry to see amalgamation carried to anything like an undue extent. Then, again, clause 11 of the Bill dealing with the financial arrangements would, I think, require greatly amending for the protection of county councils. Communications which I have received show to me that some fears are entertained by county councils lest an undue and unfair burden should be placed upon them by the rather vague wording of clause 11, but I maintain that that is a detail which can be easily remedied in Committee. It has been said to me in discussing this Bill that it will do a great deal to check private charity in the country districts, and that it will tend to prevent those who now make gifts to the deserving poor cease to do so when this Bill is put into operation. Well, I should not think it would be a very undesirable thing if that happened, because I doubt whether, after all, any good arises from dole charity. But, with all the private charity that is bestowed upon these persons, there is still this state of things to which the honourable Gentleman has already referred, and which demands the attention of Parliament, and that is the large number of aged and deserving poor persons who cannot support themselves sufficiently to enable them to live in anything like comparative comfort. Then, again, there is a great deal of waste in the present system of granting outdoor relief. I feel sure that many of the half-crowns given in outdoor relief might be very much better and more economically spent if 5s. were given in order to enable these poor people to live in comfort and ease to themselves. Now, another expression is, that you must be 197 very careful not to make the lot of the destitute and the indigent pauper better than that of the ordinary labourer. Well, in a sense, you do that now for the inmate of the workhouse, who is better fed and better housed and clothed than a great many of the ordinary labourers. It is mainly the detestation of going into the workhouse and the stigma which attaches to the name of pauper, which has been alluded to by my honourable Friend; it is their reluctance to associate with the class of persons with whom they are brought into contact, whom they have disliked and despised all their lives, that makes them dislike the workhouse so much. There is one thing which strikes me which is objectionable to the intelligent and industrious inmates of these establishments, namely, the fact that not only have they to associate with the persons referred to, but they are called upon to attend to the harmless, weak-minded persons, or lunatics, who are inmates of those houses, and we all know what the effect of that must be to an intelligent man, who has been hard-working and industrious, and desirous of leading a healthy, well-conducted, and useful life, when he comes in his old age, when his power fails, to lead such a life as that. It is really a thing which we cannot contemplate and see without feeling that it is our bounden duty to try and do something to remedy such a state of things as that. I really believe it is perfectly true that hundreds, and indeed thousands, of poor people in this country endure not only privation, but slow starvation, rather than go into the workhouse. Now, those are the people that this Bill will help, and this Bill will do a great deal to alleviate their miserable condition. It offers a great many advantages over the schemes which have been put forward, without containing the attendant drawbacks which are said to exist in those schemes, and it is not a dangerous scheme. But, supposing the scheme did fail, it is not only our right, but our duty, to claim that this plan should be allow-ed a trial. At the worst, I say again, it is not a dangerous experiment, and if it should fail after the buildings have been erected, they would always be available for dwelling-houses, and this scheme will not interfere in any way whatever with the operation of any old-age pension scheme, 198 nor with the arrangements of friendly societies already in existence. I must, ask the House to allow me for one moment to call attention to the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor. That report says—We recognise the great importance of making the distinction suggested, for, while we are fully alive to the evils of granting indiscriminate parish relief, we are convinced that unless more respect is paid to the prevalent and well-founded sentiment in favour of some distinction between the aged who are brought to poverty by no fault of their own, and those who have become paupers through drunkenness, improvidence, and misconduct, the agitation against the present administration of the poor law may become irresistible, and lead to changes undesirable in the interests of economy and morality; and we must express our strong conviction that, even under the most favourable circumstances, poor law relief must be a most unsatisfactory method of dealing with the deserving poor in their declining years.Sir, that Minority Report was signed by five gentlemen, whose names ought to carry weight in this House. It was signed by the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies, the present President of the Board of Trade; by Mr. Hunter, a much-respected Member of this House; by the honourable Member for Wigton; and last, but not least, by Mr. Charles Booth. Therefore, I think something ought to be done for this particular class of persons. This scheme has the advantage of being a practical one, and is one which deserves a trial. Of course, a good deal will be made of the expense which will be thrown upon whatever source of revenue we look to for the operation of this Bill. But is that really the point to which the House of Commons ought to turn its attention? It is not as if we were dealing with a scheme which would involve the expenditure of many millions of money a year, such as the old-age pension scheme would involve. This scheme I estimate will only cost a million and a half of money at the most, and for some time to come it will cost nothing like that amount. But, even putting it at that outside figure, is that a sum which ought-to deter Parliament from attempting to deal with this problem? We are a wealthy country, and how can we better employ some of our wealth than by attempting to provide for these deserving poor. If the Government should 199 decide to support this Bill, they, and also this House, will at least be taking-some step to redeem the pledges by which, at any rate, the majority of the present Parliament were returned at the last election, namely, a definite pledge—I am not speaking in any Party sense—by those who had studied the question, that they would at least do their utmost to remedy the present condition of things, and, in particular, the evil attaching to this most unfortunate class. If, unfortunately, the House should come to an adverse conclusion, I fear it will be regarded in the country as an evidence that Parliament is not in earnest on this subject, and is not inclined to adopt any method even after there has been a long and searching inquiry. The Bill in question is not perfect, but I do maintain that, in an assembly like this, which is full of every class of practical men, this scheme can be very easily made a workable Measure. I do most strongly hope that the House will decide not to refer this Bill to a Select Committee, but will amend it, and deal with it in Committee of the whole House. If it be referred to a Select Committee, I for one should be greatly afraid of losing all chances of legislation during the present Session. In conclusion, apologising for having detained the House so long, I will just say this: It seems to me that this Session is a most favourable one for the House to consider matters of this nature; we shall have time to deal with the Measure, consider it carefully in Committee of the whole House, and, as I hope and believe, pass it into a useful Act of Parliament.
§ *MR. LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
In criticising this Bill I am conscious of the good motives of the honourable Member who has just spoken in support of it, and my honourable Friend who has brought it forward certainly did not minimise the very enormous changes it will effect in the operation of the Poor Law. Sir, it is a new Poor Law. He proposes to create workhouses in every parish, or if not workhouses—certainly public institutions maintained by the ratepayers. And the honourable Member proposes that these communities shall be established to a certain extent on the old conventual principle; that is to say, some should be monasteries and some should be nunneries. As for the old 200 people, who are about to celebrate their golden wedding, one should be put in one house, and another in the other, separately.
§ *MR. LEIGHTON
Yes, there are only to be old women in one, and old men in the other; and the wife is to be separated from the husband. Sir, one of the improvements we have endeavoured to carry out in the operation of the Poor Law is that an aged husband and wife should not be separated in the workhouse. This Bill proposes to upset the Boards of Guardians altogether, to disestablish them. The Boards of Guardians have been criticised most severely. The Boards of Guardians are represented as incapable of settling matters connected with the Poor Law, and yet the Boards of Guardians represent the parishes—the Members of the Boards of Guardians are representatives of the parishes. According to the honourable Member's view the only person who is capable of understanding the needs of the poor is a parochial representative, and yet, when the same man appears on the Board of Guardians, he is no longer able to perform the duty which, under another name—a parish councillor—he would be capable of dealing with. Then it is proposed to add yet another to the many local areas, a new unit, and to introduce into the overlooking of these houses the County Councillor. The County Council Inspector is to be the ultimate authority in the matter. Now, if the Inspector comes to one of these houses and finds it in a dirty, insanitary condition, and all the inmates drunk, and everything in disorder, what is he to do? He is not to put the matter right, but he is to withdraw the grant, and leave the unfortunate people in a still worse condition than before. So it appears to me that from the very outset, as regards management and supervision the honourable Member has entirely failed to propose a plan which would be advantageous to the poor. The deserving poor are the only persons to be placed in these institutions, and they are to be paid £20 a year. Who is to settle which are the deserving and which are the undeserving poor? Now, Sir, this is a very difficult thing to settle. The honourable Member 201 says, "Oh, we will have the Board, we will have this new Board, which shall try these people." They will have these people before them. They will sit as a court of justice. They will penalise this man, but on no evidence whatever—for they cannot call witnesses. "This man," they are to say, "is undeserving; this man is deserving. We will penalise this man and reward the other." There is no appeal. Sir, I do not think it is likely that persons placed in that sort of position, and without better evidence than they can have, will be at all likely to come to a true conclusion in this matter. Really, Sir, I do not think that the honourable Member has taken into consideration the enormous influence for good or bad that a well-administered or badly-administered Poor Law exercises, not upon the pauper s only, but upon the whole of the population. Has he ever read of, or turned his attention to, the condition of the poor before the new Poor Law? Has he ever realised that under the old system these parochial workhouses existed in every parish, and it was this system which degraded the poor, and reduced wages; and raised in some places the rates to 20s. in the £. This system, which was injurious to the poor, because it lowered their wages—this system was got rid of by the new Poor Law, and union workhouses were established. The honourable Member now proposes to return to the old system. Under the old system the magistrates were able to send any poor person whom they thought deserving upon the rates. Well, now, instead of the magistrates being clothed with that authority, he puts up an authority which is even more open to objection than the magistrates, that is to say, the parish council. But who is to look after the unfortunate people who are in these institutions? What sort of superintendence does he contemplate? Why, an outside pauper at 2s. 6d. a week! Sir, we object in workhouses to having a pauper placed as a nurse. He proposes to put every one of these homes under an outdoor pauper, an old woman, who is to be something between a servant and a hostess. It seems to me these institutions will become the very worst conducted houses in the whole of the parish. Sir, what people dislike—what the ordinary labourer dislikes—is to foe put into an institution. Whether 202 the institution is small, or whether it is large, signifies little. What he dislikes is having to live with other people who are not of his own choice. If there is to be a small home of half a dozen people, it would be just as irksome to him to live with the other four or five people as it would to live in a large institution. Everyone knows who has any knowledge of country life that even double cottages are not agreeable to the tenants; they do not like being spied over and looked at by their neighbours; they like an independent and separate dwelling. There is nothing independent here, with a half-crown pauper looking after them, and the inspector of the county council giving orders. None of the furniture is to belong to them. It is all public property. The washing is all to be done at the public expense. A public inspector is to go and see that the sheets are clean; if they are not they will have to be cleaned by order. You cannot place four or five people together under a public authority without inspection. It would not be right. Let me give an instance of a case which happened not very far from my own home, though not in my county, in order to illustrate the necessity and the difficulty of proper inspection. It is the case of an outdoor pauper in a cottage home. It is true the cottage did not belong to the parish, but the guardians gave the man living there beef and mutton, and 5s. a week, and provided him with everything that was necessary to keep him well, and a doctor to look after him, and an overseer, etc. This man was found dead in his house, naked, a rat having bitten his cheek. That is the sort of scandal compatible with the inspection of the overseer, with the inspection of the doctor, with the payment of money for rent and for food. And if old people are to be maintained in independent homes, as they like best, the same thing may happen again. If they are to be domiciled in an institution, three or four of them together, then they will have all the irksomeness they complain of in union workhouses. If you keep them in their home without some one to nurse them and without inspection, then they are in danger of dying from neglect. Why, Sir, this same argument has been used 203 in regard to the boarding out of children. No system can be better if you have good inspection, if you have good persons with whom the children can be placed; but in the boarding out of children how many are the cases which have failed, and how difficult it is, with all the inspection, to get the boarding out of children properly carried out? We can talk exactly in the same way here of the advantage of the home bringing up, and of home influence, and so on, yet these unfortunate children, as we know well enough, are often made the very slaves of those around them, and there is no system of inspection which has proved thoroughly satisfactory all over England, although I know in some particular cases the inspection is good—we have no system by which inspection can be thoroughly carried out and the welfare of these children properly secured. The same thing would happen in these cottage homes. There is another point which the honourable Member has not touched upon. I have spoken up to now of what would be distasteful to the unfortunate inmates themselves placed in these institutions. I now wish to say a word or two upon the effect of this scheme on the wage-earning classes. Are the persons who are to be put in these homes to be allowed to work? Are they to be allowed to do a little work here and there? If they are, you inevitably lower the wages of the whole wage-earning class in the parish. You fall into the grievous error of supplementing wages out of the rates.
§ *MR. LEIGHTON
Why some work till 85, and some till 90. It is just these half workers who lower the standard of wages amongst the whole class whose work they take. This is no theoretical matter; it has been tested over and over again. I give to the honourable Member this instance: The charwomen in a union that I know very well—it all appears in a Blue Book, though I am quoting from memory— in a certain union, the charwomen, the poor widows, were allowed 2s. 6d. a week out relief, so that, together with their 204 earnings of 5s. a week, they might manage to live. Well, the Poor Law authorities at last hardened their hearts, and they said we will strike off this 2s. 6d. from these poor women. The outcry was great. What was the result? The result was that the wages for charwomen all over the union went up from 5s. to 8s. a week, and not only the outdoor pauper charwomen but every other charwoman got an increase of weekly wage. Do you suppose that these people of 65 or over, if they are allowed to work, will not work; and do you suppose that their employers will not on account of that £20 a year make them work for less wages than they ought to receive? Is the honourable Member prepared to act in the same way as the friendly societies act? The friendly societies when they give sick pay or old age pay to a man insist that the pensioner shall not do a stroke of work. I. do not believe that any public authority could enforce that rule here. It is a very wholesome rule, and based on the very soundest economic basis. The proposal of the honourable Member would lower the wages all through the country districts where it is put in force; it would be a downright injury to every agricultural labourer; it would lower the wages in the towns of the unskilled labourer. It has been shown, over and over again, under the old Poor Law, which was administered on principles similar to those suggested in this Bill, that the wages of peasantry were artificially reduced by supplementing wages out of the rates. And the reason I oppose this proposal of the honourable Member chiefly is on account of the injury that it would do to the wage-earning class. Why, Sir, he seems to fall back upon the old-fashioned idea that the almshouses were good things. That was a very common method of charity in the last century, but the almshouses have gone out of favour. Why? Because they were all failures. In Worcester, for instance, there were a great number of almshouses in the last century. Well, the result of their establishment was an influx of poor people to Worcester, on the chance of getting into an almshouse. The standard of pauperism was raised instead of lowered. It may truly be said that the experience of almshouses, which are worked very much 205 on the principle upon which the honourable Member has based his proposal, has not, on the whole, been a success. Sir, the motives of the honourable Gentleman are the motives which animate me—that is to say, to introduce a better classification among the recipients of Poor Law relief. But an electioneering motive also seems to pervade the proposal he has made.
I beg to be allowed to say, as this is a very personal matter, that I first wrote a paper upon this subject 12 or 14 years ago.
§ *MR. LEIGHTON
Sir, if the honourable Member has worked on this subject 12 or 11 years I am astonished that he has not informed himself more of the evils of the old Poor Law, and I do not think he could possibly have brought forward such a Bill if he had read Nicholl's "History of the Poor Law."
§ *MR. BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
I think we can safely leave to the House the speech of the honourable Member who introduced this Bill and the speech to which we have just listened, and form our own judgment as to which of those two honourable Gentlemen possesses the more intimate acquaintance with the Poor Law as it is at present administered in this county. However, I agree with one observation, and one observation only, that fell from the lips of the honourable Member who just sat down, and that was when he said that this is a very important question. Underneath this Bill—an innocent-looking and attractive little Measure which certainly has my warm sympathy—there does lie one of the greatest and most important questions which the House and the country have to face, and that question is this, Are we really willing—I won't say anxious, because, of course, we are anxious, but are we willing?—that the last years of the lives of the honest and industrious poor should be made as comfortable and as happy as possible? Or do we think, out of regard to thrift, and self-help, and filial obligations, and other subjects of great importance, that we do right in still continuing to make These unfortunate creatures eat the bread of bitterness and drink the water of humiliation within the dismal walls of the workhouse? That is really the 206 question. If we want the deserving poor, the aged and deserving poor, to be unhappy—not, of course, because we wish them to be unhappy, but to discourage the others, to keep out of the workhouse, out of the Poor Law, a great number of people who, if conditions were made more tolerable, might come upon it; if we feel that these, things are objections to making the lot of the aged deserving poor as happy as possible—we shall do all that we can to keep them in the workhouse. If, on the other hand, we think that humanity and justice require that their lot should be made as happy as possible, we shall take them out of the workhouse. I do not believe that it is possible, at all events in our great city workhouses, for the industrious and deserving poor to lead happy lives. The rule, the routine, of these huge establishments does not admit of happiness, it does not admit of joy. The iron rule, the stern precedents which have to be maintained in vast establishments of this kind, render it impossible for poor and deserving people there to spend their days in peace. An example of this has just come under my own observation. I mention it because there is no wrong in it; I do not blame the workhouse authorities at all. The incident occurred in the Lambeth Workhouse, a great and huge establishment, which, I have no doubt, is carried on as well as such establishments can be. Within the walls of that establishment are a number of poor women, decent and deserving creatures, who are employed, and very properly employed, in doing the needlework of the house, and for that purpose they were allowed—they are allowed—what is contrary to the ordinary rule of a workhouse, a small work-bag, in which they can put the simple implements of their toil and industry. These work-bags were, no doubt, intended for nothing else, but as a matter of fact they became the receptacles of a great many of the smaller treasures of these people. There were a number of old Bibles which these poor people kept in these work-bags—for we are all, as Shakespeare says, woven strangely of one piece, and it does not matter at all where we live or spend our days, we have some associations which always cluster round us. In addition, there were old photographs, old letters from children across the seas, 207 which, I dare say, owing to frequent perusal, had become greasy and dirty. The attention of the authorities being drawn to the fact that these poor old women were keeping this kind of treasure in their work-bags, the order went out that they must be confiscated. One day when the old women were at their meal these were all carrried away, and when they came back they found out that their bags had been rifled. They complained to one of the lady guardians, a very near relative of my own, who was, very properly and naturally, the recipient of the tale of their wrongs. She inquired of the master. The facts were so. The things were contrary to rule, and had been taken away, and lay in a heap a woebegone, and, I dare say, disreputable heap. And I am told, although as to this I am not certain, that they were sold—such is workhouse economy—and that they realised the handsome sum of 15s. I think 15s. for a discarded heap of human affections was a very high price. I am not blaming the workhouse authorities in this matter, for if you have a great establishment of this sort cleanliness must be the first consideration; but I do say that where such conditions exist, and where such iron rules have to be made, and, if made, have to be carried out, it is not possible for human beings made as we are, to lead happy and cheerful lives. Therefore, if you want to make the lives of these poor people as happy and as peaceable as possible you must take them out of the workhouses. You have got no other course open. I quite agree that that brings us face to face with a great and a grave question. I dare say it will increase the number of persons who come upon the Poor Law. There are a great number of people who are at present only kept out of the workhouses by the self-sacrifice of their relatives, themselves deadly poor, but who, in order that their parents may not undergo this kind of discipline and be subject to rules of this hard though necessary character, make great sacrifices, and contribute to keeping them in some sort of a home, and it may be that they would not do so any longer if any such proposals as those of my honourable Friend were carried out. It is always very difficult to speculate upon human nature. The other 208 night we were told that if seamen were brought within the scope of the Compensation Act shipowners would transfer their vessels to foreign nations and fly a foreign flag. When the death duties were being discussed we were told that millionaires, to avoid these taxes, would give away their property in their lifetimes, and would, in fact, undress before they went to bed. Everything is possible. I am quite willing to admit that there is a risk that proposals of this kind will increase the number of persons who are willing to come upon the Poor Law, but I say that the House has got to face that problem. We have to ask ourselves this question, Are we really anxious and willing that the deserving poor of this country should end their days in comparative honour and peace and comfort? If we are, we must take them out of the workhouse—about that I do not think there can be any question at all. The honourable Member who has just sat down seemed to think that these cottage homes had never been tried, and that they were impossible. If he had listened to the speech of the honourable Gentleman who introduced this Bill, he would have been told of a case, which I myself personally know, of cottage homes which are at present open in connection with the West Derby Workhouse, in the neighbourhood of Liverpool. For many years now the Poor Law in Liverpool has been worked with great humanity and wisdom, very largely owing to the devotion and self-sacrifice of my revered Friend, Mr. William Rathbone, so long one of the most honoured Members of this House; and if you visited the West Derby Workhouse, you would see close to it a number of cottages. They are sensible, humble homes, the front door opening straight into the room, and there is nothing splendid or magnificent about them; but there are to be found living within them aged couples as happy as Baucis and Philemon. That is a happy and reasonable arrangement. Who grudges these poor creatures the necessaries of life? No one. But the necessaries of life may be made sweet or they may be made bitter. If they are made sweet, I do not know why anybody should want more; but if they are made bitter, it is indeed an intolerable hardship. I do, therefore, hope that this House will recognise the great underlying importance of this Measure. Here, for the first time, 209 we find ourselves standing at what I may call the dividing of the ways—we are face to face with the question of how we wish the aged and deserving poor to be treated? If we wish them to be treated in the way I have described, some such remedy as that suggested by my honourable Friend will have to be carried out, and the risks will have to be faced. I do not deny that those risks exist, but, as a matter of fact, I do not expect that they will be found to be in practice as great as some imaginations depict. I, therefore, hope that the House, fully alive as it is to the importance of this question, will give the Measure of my honourable Friend the benefit of a Second Reading.
§ *MR. TALBOT (Oxford University)
The honourable and learned Member win has just spoken contends that whatever happens, the aged and deserving poor must be taken out of the workhouse. What does he mean? Does he mean to suggest that from the day this Bill passes the workhouses are to be emptied?
§ *MR. BIRRELL
I say that the aged and deserving poor who are now in the workhouses should, if possible, be taken out of those institutions. There are many poor people in the workhouses who are not fit to be removed.
§ *MR. TALBOT
Let me ask another question. In his very eloquent and pathetic appeal, the force of which I quite acknowledge, the honourable and learned Member gave an example of how the proposal is worked in the West Derby Union. But how is it done there? I have not seen the homes which the honourable Gentleman so much admires, though I quite admit they are excellent from 1ne description which we have heard of them. I would, however, remind the House that these homes are under the direct control of the Local Government Board. They form part of the workhouse establishments, and are indeed a, humane and sympathetic part of the policy of the board of guardians. As such they are to be commended, but they are not the outcome of a revolutionary proposal, introducing something like an absolute change in the present Poor Law system. Now, in the first place, the honourable Member for Fife has, with all his distinguished ability, laid down doctrines 210 which, if they are carried out to the extreme, would be nothing less than a repeal of the Poor Law, and, in the second place he has shown that under the existing Poor Laws, if they are only carried out in an intelligent and humane spirit, the very object he desires can be attained. Now, Sir, I wish, with the permission of the House, to make a few comments upon the Bill of my honourable Friend, and I think I shall be able to show that the Bill is one which is absolutely unworkable in its present shape at the present time. I know he says that all he desires to do is to assert the principle of the Bill, and that he will allow the details to be settled in Committee; but, unfortunately, I fear we cannot agree with the principle, and, with the permission of the House, I will endeavour to show how difficult it would be to carry it out into operation. I will first of all take the tenth line on the first page of the Bill (Clause 2), which provides for cottages for the use of the "necessitous, deserving, aged poor" who have arrived at the age of 65. The word "necessitous" has a rather recent parliamentary history. We have heard of necessitous schools, an Act for the assistance of which I was glad to help in passing. But I frankly admit that in the working of that Bill one of the great difficulties was to ascertain which schools were necessitous and which were not. In that case the question was decided more or less by experts, but I want to know who is to decide which are the "necessitous" and which are the "deserving, aged poor." An essential feature of the Bill is that you will be required to draw a marked distinction between one class of poor people and another. Then, coming to the fifth clause, I observe that in the case of amalgamated parishes, there is to be a council, which shall have the control of the home or homes and the appointment of the necessary attendants. Who is to be the council of an unamalgamated parish, and who, in such cases, is to carry out the scheme? There is no provision as to that in the Bill.
§ *MR. TALBOT
The parish council is not a body formed for the purpose of managing homes, and I should scarcely like to say that, although it may be able 211 to carry out ordinary business, therefore it is able to discharge the delicate duties of managing such homes satisfactorily. Now I come to the sixth clause. This provides that no home shall be opened as such until the County Council shall have inspected it. How can the County Council inspect homes? My experience of County Councils is that they have no body of inspectors specially qualified for this particular work. Then, according to the seventh clause, the County Council, whenever the number of deserving applicants for admission is sufficient, shall provide separate homes for the aged men and aged women, or such further classification as they may think proper. The clause, it will be observed, says, "If the number of applicants is sufficient." But if not sufficient, then these homes are to contain an admixture of old men and old women; and I doubt whether experience has shown that such admixture of persons, not united by ties of kinship, works satisfactorily. The 8th clause provides that the inmates of a home shall, so far as possible, be treated with regard to "food and other comforts with suitable consideration." Who is to decide such questions? And how is it to be decided what "suitable" consideration is? Now the next is a very remarkable clause which I can hardly suppose would be passed by this House. It provides "that any aged deserving person, not destitute, may be permitted by the Council in charge to enter a home, subject to payment of the total cost, or of a contribution towards such cost." Why, that is setting up a sort of village hotel out of the rates, and it really cannot be a serious proposal. In the 10th clause my honourable Friend provides that no person going to a home shall be considered a pauper or be subject to any such disabilities as persons in receipt of parochial relief. In other words, these people are to have all the advantages which the Poor Law now gives, namely, the advantages of maintenance, of clothing, of medical relief, and are not to be subject to any disability attaching to relief under the Poor Law. Now, Sir, that is nothing less than a repeal pro tento of the Poor Law, and an encouragement of pauperism. Of course, if honourable Members seriously mean to say that, from this day forward, there shall be no such disabilities as exist at the 212 present time, they may advocate such a change, but then, I fear, the Poor Law will come very near to absolute ruin. Lastly, I desire to draw attention to the provision contained in clause 11, which is as follows—The County Council shall pay to the Council in charge of a home within that county three-fourths of the cost of maintaining such home out of the general county rate. The County Council being hereby empowered to satisfy themselves in such way as they may deem possible as to the expenditure of the money; and the County Council shall supply the Councils in charge of the homes within their county with sufficient funds to provide, furnish, and fit up the home subject to their approval; and the County Council may for such purposes borrow in manner provided by the Local Government Act, 1888, such sums as may be required.Or, to put it into simple English, one authority is to provide the money, and another is to spend it. This proposition is so absolutely startling, so absolutely novel, that if my honourable Friend seriously proposes it, I am sorry to say that the proposition does more credit to his heart than to his judgment, and also to the judgment of those who support him; and to say that it is a proposal that is seriously intended to solve the question of old-age pensions is too much for my intelligence to accept.
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
Mr. Speaker, I do not propose to follow the right honourable Gentleman who has just spoken in his severe strictures upon this Bill. I imagine that if he had constituents who had nothing better to look forward to than the workhouse; in their old age, he would not have been quite so severe in the criticism that he has offered to this Bill. I noticed that one clause of this Bill came in for his special severity, and that is that the poor should be treated, with regard to food and other comforts, with special consideration. Does any honourable Gentleman in this House mean to say that the poor should not be treated with adequate consideration?
§ MR. LAMBERT
If, Mr. Speaker, we all wish it to be done, what is the objection to putting this into an Act of Parliament? I, for my part, have not 213 the smallest doubt that local authorities would be able to administer measures in such a wise and sympathetic spirit as to secure that, at any rate, the poor should be treated with suitable consideration. Well, Mr. Speaker, for my part, I welcome this discussion on Wednesday afternoon as being as important a discussion as we possibly could have as regards the question of the aged and deserving poor. When one represents a constituency in agricultural districts comprising old working men, who have worked hard and industriously the whole 'of their lives, and who have nothing better to look forward to than the workhouse, then I say it is the duty of such an honourable Member to support in this House some scheme for the amelioration of the condition of those persons, and I am sure we are deeply grateful to the honourable Member opposite for having brought this Bill before the attention of the House. Further, I look upon it as fulfilling another duty, and that is that it will prod the Government—to use the exact phrase of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Bodmin—to redeem the promises of which they were very prodigal before the last election, with reference to the old and necessitous poor. Remember, Mr. Speaker, that a Bill was introduced here for old-age pensions, which received the promise of unanimous support from honourable Gentlemen opposite. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Bordesley was especially sympathetic in his references to the aged poor. Well, Sir, I hope he will get up in the House this afternoon, and, at any rate, speak in favour of the principle of this Bill if he cannot agree to all the details. As I understand it, we are asked to affirm, in the Second Reading of this Bill, the general principle that the poor shall be treated in a more generous and sympathetic way. For my part, Sir, having that object in view, I wish to support the Second Reading of the Bill. Of course, there are details in the Bill which will have to be considered, and considered carefully. But, Sir, there was one thing which fell from the right honourable Gentleman who has just spoken to which I should like to refer—he said that this Bill must not be regarded as a substitute for a system of old-age pensions, which were so liberally promised by honourable Gentlemen opposite just before the elec- 214 tion, but which we have heard so little about since. I quite agree that it is impossible that this Bill can be taken as a substitute for old-age pensions, and, in fact, I am not sure that the poor would not prefer an old-age pension to the scheme which is contained in this particular Bill. There are very many old people who would like to live amongst their own relatives, or amongst their own family, if they could be sure of a pension, rather than enter one of the homes which tie honourable Gentleman has sketched out in this Bill. Whether that is the case or not, I hope the discussion this afternoon will bring the Government to do something for the aged poor. I trust that the Bill which we are now discussing will be carried to a Second Reading, and that the Government will be urged to take steps to relieve those who in old age deserve something better than the workhouse.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (Yorks, E. R., Holderness)
I welcome the proposal of my honourable Friend who has introduced this Bill as a step towards the solution of a great social question which must soon be dealt with—the question of how to distinguish the deserving and industrious people, who ought to have special advantages given to them in their old age. I say nobody can do that so well as the persons amongst whom they live. In my opinion, if this Bill should pass—I do not say in all its present details—a long step will be taken in the direction of showing Parliament and the country how the question of old-age pensions is to be solved, at all events in the country districts. Two of my honourable Friends have thought fit to criticise the provisions of the Bill, and one of them declared that the Bill was out of harmony altogether with the investigations of the Poor Law Commission in 1834. My belief is that both my honourable Friends have hot really examined the report of that Committee, nor have they diagnosed the reason why the Poor Law came into such a terrible state. I heard an honourable Friend say that one reason was that the magistrates were able to give relief to the poor, and then he said that there was an honourable Member proposing a very much worse policy. I believe he is right; I believe that one of the reasons why the Poor Law has got into such a miserable con- 215 dition is that persons who were never intended by the law to relieve the poor did relieve them. My honourable Friend proposed to substitute other persons who are familiar with every action of their lives and who are, perhaps, with those people throughout the greater part of their career. I have the most complete faith in the ability of the parish councils to decide who are worthy applicants and who are not, and I have complete faith, too, in their integrity, and in their determination not to waste the money of the ratepayers. If the House should think proper to pass the Second Heading of this Bill, as I very earnestly hope that it will, we shall have taken a very great step towards the reform of the Poor Law, for which there is the most ample need, and for which I am certain the time has come. I do not believe that we shall make any effective reform of the Poor Law in the country districts, at least unless we go to the parish authority to decide upon the relief and the way in which it is to be given. The farther you move the authority from the persons concerned in it, the less that authority knows about it, and the less sympathy it has with it. From my knowledge of country homes, I am persuaded that there is no greater mistake in the world than to suppose that country people would spend their money on unworthy persons more than they now do; on the other hand, they would willingly, even generously, I believe, maintain persons in a manner much more suitable than is now done by the authorities of the Poor Law. Sir, I sympathise a great deal with what the honourable and learned Member for Fife said in the opening part of his speech. I think that my right honourable Friend the Member for Oxford University, who followed him, did not fairly interpret that speech. I think he was wrong when he said that it was intended by the promoters of the Bill to remove poor people from the workhouse. I think the honourable and learned Member indicated in his speech that those he wished to remove were the really deserving, leaving ample scope for the workhouse to receive the idlest and the most worthless of all. Sir, I regret very much to see indications that there will be opposition to the Bill of my honourable Friend. I think it will be very much regretted if we do not pass the Second Reading. I say nothing with regard to the speeches of honour- 216 able Gentlemen on both sides about old age pensions at the last election; I had nothing whatever to do with it; but I am persuaded that that question is rising, and ever rising, before the country people. I think they do feel that the Poor Law is not only capable, but is deserving, of a large and generous reform. I believe that the old reform of 60 years ago was siutable at that time to call back the Poor Law from the wretched state in which it had then fallen, and to place it on a better footing. But that has passed away, and now I think the full time has arrived when we may interpret the findings of the Commission in a more generous spirit than has been done during the last 60 years. I confess I cannot understand—it is foreign to me to understand—how honourable Members who have spoken against this Bill could treat the proposals in the sense in which they did, and with what I must call a lack of political generosity. Sir, I can only wish, in conclusion, that this Bill will find a Second Beading, though I quite admit that in many of its details it may be desirable to amend it.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ MR. SOAMES (Norfolk, S.)
Mr. Speaker, the honourable and gallant Member for Holderness remarked that this question of dealing with the declining years of the aged poor is a question that was rising in importance in all parts of the country. I should be inclined to go further than that. Other Members who represent agricultural constituencies will bear me out when I say that there is no question which looms larger in the view of the agricultural labourer than this question of the discrimination between the deserving and the undeserving poor in their old age. And, indeed, those honourable Gentlemen who have made themselves acquainted with the arrangements and the nature of some of our workhouses cannot wonder that the question should seem to the agricultural labourer of such vast importance. For my own part, I am inclined to hold that this Bill is an honest attempt to deal with a question of the greatest importance, because, in my opinion, it puts a finger on the grand blot of the Poor Law at the present time. 217 I do not propose to follow the honourable Member for Oxford University through this Bill clause by clause, but there is one provision from which I am inclined to dissent. That is the provision making the parish council, or group of councils the authority to deal with this question. I do not see any reason why boards of guardians, nowadays popularly elected, should not deal with this question. A larger area would be dealt with with more economy than smaller areas. As regards the question of who are the deserving poor and who are not deserving, the opinion thereon would have to be got from the locality. I cannot share the opinion of two honourable Gentlemen who have spoken, that there would be any difficulty whatsoever in this discrimination. In a country village the lift and the habits of each man and woman are perfectly well known to the whole neighbourhood, and in practice I do not believe that this difficulty would arise. It is proposed in the Bill that the cost of this scheme should be thrown partly on the Imperial Treasury, and although I am not a great advocate of doles from the Consolidated Fund, yet in this particular instance I think it a very desirable provision. For, in the first place, if that is not done, the heaviest cost would fall on the districts where the burden of increased rates would be most felt, and I think we may fairly ask the Government to look on this provision most favourably, and also on that for the discrimination in the treatment of the aged poor, seeing that it figured very largely in the addresses of Members of the Government at the General Election. In regard to where the money is to come from, I would like to throw out a suggestion. There was an Act passed at the beginning of this Parliament called the Agricultural Hating Act. It was passed only for five years, and as it has turned out that while that Act has relieved the burdens of the holders of considerable property, it has increased the burdens of some of the smaller proprietors, I would suggest that at the end of the five years we should utilise the two millions sterling raised under the Act to provide the million and a half which it has been estimated the scheme for cottage homes for the aged and deserving poor will cost. I beg to give my most hearty support to this Bill, and I hope it will receive due consideration in Committee.
§ *MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
I beg to express my hearty concurrence with the principle of the Bill, and I trust that Her Majesty's Government will see their way to support the Second Reading, and refer it either to a Select Committee or to a Grand Committee. The principle of this Bill of extending outdoor relief to the deserving poor has already largely been adopted in Ireland. During the week ending 20th March 1898, some 77,000 persons were receiving outdoor relief, out of a total number of 123,000 receiving poor law relief. The only objection I have to the Bill is that it proposes to leave out Scotland and Ireland from its benefits. I trust that the promoters of the Bill will give this matter their serious consideration, and if it passes the Second Reading, that they will permit Ireland at least—Scotland can take care of itself—to receive the benefits of the scheme. I regretted to hear the right honourable Member for Oxford University, who specially represents the Church in this House, opposing the Second Reading of the Bill. I believe that to Christianity is largely due the consideration we have for the aged poor, and I trust that those who profess Christianity in this House, and who represent the Church of England, will not be found in the Lobby against the Bill. I do not intend to take up the time of the House, which is very valuable to-day, but I express my hearty concurrence with the principles of the Bill, and hope that it will be extended to Ireland.
§ *MR. GODDARD (Ipswich)
I entirely agree with the principles of this Bill, which has my hearty support. I do not suppose that any private Bill, introduced into this House for the purpose of dealing with so large a subject as this, can be called in any sense perfect, but it can be amended in Committee, and it can draw the attention of the Government to a very important matter, and perhaps may be the means of leading the Government to introduce a Bill of their own on a subject such as this. A general impression one hears in regard to doing anything for the relief of the aged respectable poor is, that after all they would not want relief if they had been provident, and it is their improvidence that has brought them into that, position. I do not think, Mr. Speaker, that that is a fair conclusion to arrive at 219 We know that there are a great many of the poor who, in their old age, are brought to seek some kind of assistance like that provided by the Bill, who cannot be accused of improvidence. There are large numbers of working people who have to work for a wage which is altogether too small for them to exercise anything like providence. There are a large number of men who may be called improvident in a sense because of their marriage. It is said that because these men had a small wage, they had no right to enter into the obligations of the married life. But I do not think honourable Members will entertain a suggestion of that sort: that because a man is poor he is to forego the pleasures of a home and seeing his children round about him, in order that he may make some provision for his future. There are a great many men like that, for whom it is an absolute impossibility to join a friendly society or to take other means of saving for their later years. And there is no inconsiderable number of the working classes who have been provident, who have joined friendly societies, and who have taken some steps in regard to the future, but whose hopes have been destroyed by their societies breaking or becoming bankrupt, leaving them at an age when it is absolutely impossible for them to re-enter into any society at all, stranded in their later years without any prospect except the gloomy one of spending their old age in the workhouses of the country. There is another point in connection with this matter which should be noted, and that is the tendency of industrial concerns at the present day to employ only younger men, and really to place on the shelf, as it were, at an earlier age those who are capable of doing a good day's work simply because they are getting on in years. I am told on good authority that working men in large cities actuary go the length of rejuvenating their appearance in order to avoid the suspicion of having arrived at the age when they are supposed to be old, although they are quite as able as ever for their work. I do not know whether that is an absolute fact, but we can see a tendency in that direction, and we hear of notices issued by a large firm who take the view that men of a certain age are no longer suitable to be employed, possibly because they may be more liable to injury or may come on the benefit 220 funds too soon. I do not think we can disregard this fact, that there are a great many honest working men who in the near future will be thrown out of employment, not because they are too old to work, but because in the regard of their employers they cannot compete with the younger men, who are supposed to be exposed to lesser risks. It does seem a scandalous thing that men of that sort should have nothing to look forward to at the end of their lives but the horrors of the workhouse. Objection may be taken to a scheme of this sort on the score of the greater expense thrown on the ratepayers. That is a perfectly fair way to look at the matter. Most people of a philanthropic turn of mind take the right view, that the ratepayers must bear an extra burden in order that the deserving poor should not be thrown into the workhouse. With the increasing weight and influence that is brought to bear on the boards of guardians, these boards are bound to spend more money on workhouses than before, and the difference between the cost of the workhouse system and the cottage home system does not become anything like so marked as it might have been thought. In my own town of Ipswich, a very large workhouse has just been built on the latest models and designs. I am told that the plans have been considered so perfect that they have been sent to the Empress of Russia as the model plans of what a workhouse ought to be. This new workhouse is fitted up in the most elaborate way, and the infirmary is provided with all the latest improvements. In fact, it might be called a pauper's palace, so liberal are the appliances. But it will cost the ratepayers a sum approaching £40,000, and when it is completed it will be sufficient to accommodate over 400 paupers. Now there is a fact to take hold of—the fact that all the workhouses in the future will have to be more or less on this model. I do not say that the whole of the sum I have mentioned will fall on the ratepayers of Ipswich. I know that something will be got back from the sale of the site of the old workhouse, and that something will be paid for paupers brought from other unions. But here is the fact that it costs something like £100 per head for every pauper that is in the workhouse. What is the cost to the community of that £100 for every resident in the workhouse? 221 You have got to pay the interest on the loan, to provide a sinking fund to repay the loan, and it certainly will mean a cost of something like 2s. a week for every pauper in that workhouse. That is a consideration you have got to add to that for the maintenance of the paupers. The rate is already sufficiently high, but when you look at these calculations and consider the difference between the cost of maintenance of the aged poor in cottage homes and the cost of their maintenance in the workhouse, it will be found to be very small indeed. However well-fitted and palatial these workhouses may be into which the aged poor go, they are still pauper palaces, and the inmates will still be paupers. However beautiful outside and however well-fitted inside, they remain workhouses, and the inmates will continue to suffer the indignity of wearing the pauper dress and be regarded by their fellows as mere paupers. I point that out, for the tendency must be to increase the cost of workhouses, and we are perfectly right in looking to other methods by which we can deal in a kindly and humane spirit with the aged poor. There is only another point on which I would like to make a few remarks. I am not going into the question of the details of this Bill at all. It is a mistake to take up at this stage clause by clause and discuss their merits. The principle is what we are discussing. One principle in this Bill is that it enables the local authority to get almshouses that are suitable for the purpose, and use them as cottage homes. I believe that is a very useful provision. I do not know whether the same state of matters exists in other places as in my own town. In Ipswich we have a very important charitable institution called Tooley's Almshouses. The institution consists of 60 houses for the aged poor, but the income of this charity has been decreasing for many years, for it is drawn almost entirely from the rents of agricultural property. The result is that out of these 60 houses, only 30 can be occupied, because the charity trustees have no funds to maintain those respectable poor people who ought to be in these almshouses. That is a very serious position. Here are 30 houses standing empty which were meant for the very class of people who are to be dealt with by this Bill. It is a very happy suggestion that 222 some arrangement may be come to between the local authority and the trustees of such almshouses to utilise these empty houses. It would be better in every sense so to utilise them than that they should continue to stand empty. I offered to pay the weekly sum that was required if the Tooley trustees would take an old lady in whom I was interested into one of these houses. But the only terms on which the trustees would do so was that I should deposit a certain sum of money which would produce the weekly equivalent that was required. That is a very different thing from paying seven shillings a week. I would have had to pay down a considerable sum of money. Very few private individuals could do that, but the local authority could easily do it, for they have all the rateable property behind them, and the almshouses could be utilised for the very class of people for whom they were built. I might say that rather than all these rooms should be altogether wasted, the trustees allow some suitable person to occupy some of the places rent free on their being satisfied that the people had enough money to support themselves there. I would rather see the almshouses used in that way than stand idle; but I would ask, is the class of people for whom the almshouses were intended those who can support themselves? I think, then, that it is a very useful provision in the Bill which allows the local authorities to use these almshouses. On the general ground of principle, I maintain that this Bill is one which we might all heartily approve. Anything that will prevent the loss of dignity to these people, many of whom are really honestly deserving, should be helped forward. I congratulate the honourable Member who introduced the Bill. Whether it gets to a Second Heading or not, it can only help forward a great and necessary reform.
§ MR. GRAY (West Ham, N.)
There was one phrase used by the honourable Member for Oxford University which I cordially endorse. He says that the Bill does infinite credit to the hearts of the honourable Members who brought it forward, but no great credit to their heads or their judgment. So far as I understand it, the eloquent speech delivered by the honourable and learned Member for West Fife was rather an appeal to the heart, and he failed alto- 223 gether to deal with that which affected the mind and judgment. I listened to that speech with the greatest pleasure, but when the honourable and learned Member sat down I was grievously disappointed because he failed to come to close quarters with the machinery by which the laudable object of the Bill was to be carried out. If this were merely an abstract Motion which was before the House, I would vote in favour of it. But it is not an abstract Motion; it does not deal with principle alone. It is a Bill in which elaborate machinery is laid down to carry out its objects. With the principle I am in full sympathy, and I have advocated it on every opportunity. I recognise that there is nothing that the artisans of the country have a keener interest in than this question of provision for old age, and there is nothing they have a greater dread of than the idea of spending the evening tide of life in the workhouse. I am anxious that some scheme should be adopted for separating the deserving but unfortunate poor from the thriftless and undeserving poor, and I agree that the House of Commons must sooner or later pass such a scheme. But I cannot regard the machinery of this Bill as suitable. It bristles with obstacles in every line. There is not a clause in it that would not have to be turned inside out in Committee. I will vote for the Second Reading on the principle that you are endorsing a good object, but if no one else moves that it be referred to a Select Committee, I shall do so, with a view to a suitable scheme being constructed for a future session—possibly the next Session of Parliament. The honourable Member for Oxford University has referred to the difficulty of determining whether a person is or is not necessitous, and I recognise fully the force of the illustration he employed. It is very often the case that a man who can plead with the greatest fluency, and a man who may have some backing at court, would have no difficulty in satisfying the condition that he is necessitous, while a person much more necessitous would fail to get relief. I conceive that there may be an infinitely greater difficulty in satisfying the condition that the person is thoroughly deserving. An honourable Member fays that this Bill aplies to rural parishes, and that those living there would have no difficulty in determining who were necessitous and deserving. That is true, 224 but this Bill is not limited to rural parishes, but includes also county boroughs. What I want to know is who on earth can determine whether a person who has come into the parish in his sixty-fourth year is really deserving. That is one of the difficulties which it would be well to inquire into, and to devise machinery to amply meet. There are means of differentiation between those who have led thrifty lives, and who are by misfortune poor, and those whose condition is due to their own folly; but I sympathise very keenly with the chairmen of the parish councils and the overseers, who would have the lot assigned to them by this Bill of determining whether their next-door neighbour had led a thrifty life and was deserving, or whether he should be allowed to go into the workhouse. There is another matter to which I should like to direct the attention of the House, and that is the question of the cost, which is one, I think, that ought to be very carefully considered indeed. No one can pretend that the poor are equally distributed throughout the whole country. The poorest districts are those where this Bill would be most needed, and, as I read the Bill, a large proportion of the cost would be thrown on the narrow area of the parish. I do not desire to see large responsibilities and large costs thrown on restricted areas. The cost of carrying out such a reform as this should, in my opinion, be thrown upon a wide area, and the responsibilities discharged by a council having wide authority. I should like to know1 why Poor Law guardians are thrust aside altogether, and why the carrying out of the provisions of this Bill should be placed in the hands of the parish councils. Many guardians have devoted their whole lives to safeguarding the interests of the poor, and they are men and women who by special training have acquired a knowledge of the wishes and necessities of the poorer classes themselves. They are, however, to be deprived of all voice in carrying out the machinery of this Bill. I have heard no adequate reason given why this should be so, but I can conceive a very strong argument why they should not be thrust aside. I understand that the persons outside the Bill are possibly two-thirds of the pauper class—one-third thriftless and undeserving, and the other third 225 desiring to receive outdoor relief. These are to continue to be dealt with by boards of guardians, but the other third are to be dealt with by the parish councils. To my mind, that will lead to endless friction between the two authorities. Men will be passed backwards and forwards, and will be held by one authority to come within the Bill, and by other authorities to be outside the Bill, and even greater conflict is likely to arise between the county council which has to pay the cost, and the parish council which will incur it. I believe that in all these matters of local government, the wisest plan to proceed, upon is to place the responsibility and the cost on the one body, and leave them to work out their own salvation. When you place work of this character in the hands of three or four bodies, trouble is sure to arise, and money will be wasted in conflict which might otherwise go to the benefit of the poor. I fully realise that this is a proposal which must be dealt with by the House of Commons. There must be a distinction made between the treatment of those who have been unfortunate, and those who have brought their misfortune needlessly, often almost intentionally, upon their own heads. It is not right that they should be compelled to herd together in a large workhouse as at present. I believe that a large amount of the money which is now spent on these huge barracks in which the poor have to pass the last few years of their lives might be wisely expended in other directions, which would confer a great boon on those whose wages have been small, but who have honestly struggled to do their best throughout life. That is a problem which has my sympathy, but I do not think the machinery of this Bill is calculated to effect that wisely, economically, or with advantage to the poor. I cannot help thinking that there is a section of the community who are often lost sight of—the section upon whom the burden of a local rate falls very heavily indeed. That section seems to me to have been totally disregarded in drafting this Bill. Under this Bill a large portion of the cost will fall on the shoulders of persons who are only separated by an income of a few shillings per week from those who become inmates of the cottage homes. I trust, however, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading in recognition 226 of the necessity of dealing with the question, and that it will be straightway referred to a Select Committee for examination, with a view to legislation at an early period.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR (Forfar)
Mr. Speaker, I do not think the House or the Government can complain of a Measure of this character being brought forward for consideration, as the Bill, in pointing out the grave defects in the operation of the present Poor Law, is simply reflecting in this House the strong feeling winch undoubtedly exists outside as to the want of classification amongst the aged poor in our workhouses. I think it is desirable that before very long the Government should indicate what they propose to do in regard to the Second Beading of this Measure. I do not think there is much difference of opinion on the part of honourable Members on both sides of this House in regard to this Bill. If an assent to a Second Reading means that the House or the Government is committed to the machinery of this Bill, I am perfectly certain that it is very difficult to justify that assent. The Bill creates practically for a limited class of people a new Poor Law and a new Poor Law Administration, and I hardly think the House will be prepared to assent to its machinery. But if assent to the principle of the Bill—I should like to have the principle of the Bill defined by some weighty authority—simply means that we all sympathise with the objects the promoters have at heart, and agree that there are defects in the existing Poor Law system which ought to be remedied, then I must say that there is less objection to that course being taken. It is impossible to leave out of sight, in considering such a Bill as this, the necessity of safeguarding the poorer ratepayers who are struggling with difficulties very much akin to those to which their less fortunate neighbours have been obliged to succumb.
§ MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham)
Mr. Speaker, I think the House has rather wandered on this question. I cannot say that I see in this Bill even the germs of that reform of Poor Law administration which I and so many other honourable Members on this side of the House have advocated in the country. To be quite frank, I do not think the House will add very much to its dignity by giving a Second Reading to this 227 Bill, which is one of the crudest and most amateurish Measures which have ever been brought before Parliament. The principle of the Bill is really that of the almshouse over again—a principle which at the present moment is carried out in most of the parishes in England; and those acquainted with the working of that system know that the very greatest difficulty is experienced in getting the right sort of aged poor to enter the almshouses. I do not think that difficulty will be lessened in the case of cottage homes, which are to accommodate from four to ten persons. The question of expense has been very lightly touched upon, but I believe that a rough calculation places it at something like £3,000,000 a year. This is a serious consideration, and we ought to try and devise some cheaper and better means of solving the problem than to spend a large sum of money on a system which in the past has proved a failure in most cases. I venture to think that if the House does give this Bill a Second Beading it will make itself very ridiculous. We are told that this is an attempt to carry out a great reform in the Poor Law. Well, I look upon this as simply an attempt to set up a kind of gilded workhouse in every parish for the aged and deserving poor. Everyone knows that aged poor people are not very friendly to one another, and if herded together in cottage homes are very likely to quarrel. The cottages spoken of in this Bill are, we are told, to be ordinary working men's cottages—that is to say, cottages of four rooms. How you are to get six or ten aged people and two attendants into a cottage of four rooms passes my comprehension. In my opinion, this Bill is a very ludicrous and unseemly attempt to reform the present Poor Law. If there is to be an old-age pension scheme, the best way to carry it out is by an extension of the system of outdoor relief. The pensions must be brought to the homes of the aged poor, so that they may continue to live among their own people and in their own cottages. We await some Measure from the Government, or from some Member of this House, which will deal with this question in a more statesmanlike manner. I do not think any step forward will be taken by giving this Bill a Second Beading. I am in favour of a reform of the poor Law in the manner suggested, 228 but I am altogether against the proposals of the present Bill, and I hope it will not be accorded a Second Reading.
§ MR. RECKITT (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
Mr. Speaker, in rising to support the Second Beading of this Bill, I do so largely on the ground that it is one which will affect perhaps more deeply the interests of agricultural districts than those of town areas. I notice from my own observation that there is a growing lack of house accommodation in our agricultural districts. It is the case, I am afraid, with those who have spent very possibly the best years of their lives working in a particular district or village, that they find that when they are no longer required to toil on the farm or on the estate, their room is preferred to their company, and I have had more than one case brought to my knowledge where men have been sent from the cottages in which they have lived, probably for over 30 years, to the cold comfort of the workhouse. Cases of this character, although I am glad to think they are few and far between, yet exemplify the necessity which is provided for in the principle of this Bill, of erecting cottage almshouses or cottage homes in our agricultural districts. The building of houses for those who work in agricultural areas is by no means a remunerative investment, and proposals have been more than once made in this House to endow parish councils in order to enable them to become landowners and the owners of cottage property in agricultural areas. This Bill is but a step in that direction, as it proposes that almshouse property should be vested in the parish councils. In a village in my own constituency we have six cottages of this character now in existence. They are managed by the parish council, and the old men and women each have their own rooms, and are given either in money or in goods the food and clothing which are required for their maintenance. They are able to have around them those little possessions which they cherish, and which they are deprived of if they enter the workhouse. They are in many cases able to take to these cottages or rooms a large amount of their own furniture, which they had in more comfortable circumstances. I have often thought, in connection with our present Poor Law system, especially in its application to 229 the aged poor, that a large amount of waste is caused by the fact that we refuse to give relief of any character to the poor until they are practically destitute. That means, in the case of the aged poor, that any small savings they may have been, able to get together are dissipated before they are able to apply for any relief whatever. They have to part bit by bit with their homes, but if the system proposed in this Bill were in vogue that dissipation of their small savings and their furniture would be unnecessary, because it would be possible to utilise in their homes the furniture which they possessed. I sincerely trust that the House will give this Bill a second reading. I have never known a Bill the machinery of which has not been severely criticised by one side of the House or the other; and if the House agrees that something should be done in the way of providing cottage homes for the aged poor, the question of the machinery should not be allowed to stand in the way of reform.
§ MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
Mr. Speaker, it has been generally assumed, I think, by honourable Members who have spoken in favour of this Bill, that in voting for its Second Reading all that we were going to do was to give our vote in favour of an abstract declaration that it was desirable that better provision should be made for the aged poor in their own homes. If that is all, Mr. Speaker, I venture to think there will be no difficulty. It is easy to make speeches here and elsewhere on the defects of the existing poor-law and in favour of more liberal provision for the deserving poor in their own homes, but surely what we have to consider is whether this particular Bill which is submitted for our attention this afternoon is in itself a workable Measure, or, at any rate, whether it is possible to make it a workable Measure, and whether it is likely to attain that common object which I am sure we all have in view. The Bill proposes, as far as I can see, to enable the local authorities to establish almshouses universally out of the rates. It is a great mistake to suppose that the Bill could be brought into action piecemeal. It is obvious that as soon as it is passed immense pressure will be put on the Parish Councils and the other local bodies to carry it into effect in their particular 230 districts, and it is equally obvious that when a certain number of them have provided these cottage homes and put themselves in a position to call on the superior authorities to pay a large proportion of the cost, the other districts will have, almost in self-defence, to adopt the Act themselves in order that they may not be contributing to the advantages of the poor in the neighbouring districts while not getting any advantages themselves. That being so, I think we must all agree that if this Bill is passed its operation will be very wide indeed. It is a fallacy to assume that the only persons who will take advantage of it are those who are paupers at the present moment. I have no doubt whatever that many persons will be ready to go into almshouses who would never think of taking aid from the poor law under existing conditions. That being so, I think we must look forward to this Bill involving a very large expenditure. I should think that the expenses arising from the operation of the Bill would be two or three millions sterling a year; and when it is realised that three-quarters of that sum will have to be provided by the rates, the Bill will be anything but a popular piece of legislation. There are many other objections which could be urged against this Bill. For instance, it will throw into confusion our whole system of Local Government. The Boards of Guardians, the bodies most experienced in dealing with poverty, are set aside by this Bill, and an entirely separate and distinct authority created, for the purpose, I suppose, of maintaining a distinction between the old paupers and the new pensioners. Within their sphere Parish Councils discharge very useful functions, but I venture to think that few will care to undertake the task of distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving poor in their parish. County Councils will bear a large portion of the cost, and theoretically will have control; but rarely would a. Council take the invidious course of refusing assent, when Parliament has sanctioned a liberal provision for the aged poor, and few would be able to resist the pressure that would be brought to bear. The County Councils will have to pay part. The county rates will be swollen enormously, the small ratepayers will be 231 up in arms, and many charitable persons who at present assist others with, pensions for old age, will have their charity grievously checked. They will throw aside all their private obligations, and will place the burden on the public purse. But the great objection I feel is this, that this Bill deals with only one part of a very large question. The general subject of provision for old age is a very large one, which ought to be tackled as a whole. We do not want to be passing this Bill to force into alms-houses people who would be better living with themselves or with their families. We do not want to be throwing a large burden on the rates, and at the same time to put a bar in the way of a well-devised system, of old-age pensions. I am extremely anxious to see some such well-framed scheme brought into force without serious delay, and I cannot vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, because I consider it would be putting a great obstacle in the way of passing a general Bill for old-age pensions. I think the proper way would be to refer this subject to a strong Committee, together with the provisions which it is proposed to make on the general subject of pensions for the aged poor. I conceive that that question is now ripe for consideration by a proper Committee of this House. It has been discussed for years by voluntary Committees; it has been considered by a Royal Commission and by a Commission of Experts; but, admirable as has been their work, they had not much motive power behind them in favour of the object sought to be obtained, and, therefore, I do suggest that a Committee of this House should take the matter in hand. To my mind it matters little whether the Second Reading of the Bill is or is not assented to as an abstract resolution, such as it has to-day been interpreted by so many Members, provided we get an undertaking that the whole subject of provision for the aged poor shall be properly inquired into by a Committee of this House.
§ *MR. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)
The objections which have been taken to this Bill, so far as I have been able to follow the Debate, seem to be twofold. In the first place there are those honourable Members on the other side of the House who object to the scheme upon the ground that they would prefer 232 some other plan which they have named, or some scheme which has not yet been produced, but which is generally referred to as a scheme of pensions for the aged and industrious poor. I should like to ask those gentlemen how long we are to wait for that scheme, which has been so much talked about. I suppose honourable Members on the other side will agree that the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies may be taken as a representative advocate of State pensions for the aged poor. What is the position of the right honourable Gentleman? I have heard that in 1895, the time of the General Election, the right honourable Gentleman, in a speech he made to his constituents, said he had a scheme of pensions for the aged poor, which was so simple that anybody could understand it. I do not know whether he was then referring to the scheme which has been recently alluded to in this House as the scheme of which any Liberal Unionist agent could give details, but at all events he made that statement. Yet in the following year, when appealed to on the subject, he declared that he had never promised any Bill, and that all he had undertaken was to bring the matter before a body of experts. In 1897, being again referred to, he announced that this matter, which he had previously stated to be so simple that anybody could understand it, was so complicated that it would be improper for him to express any opinion until the experts had given their views upon the matter. And only a few months ago, the right honourable Gentleman, answering a correspondent, made it known that his hands were so full of his duties in the Colonial Office that he had no time to spare for any other subject. It is clear, therefore, that as far as the Colonial Secretary is concerned, State Pensions for the Poor have reached an vanishing point. Then I come to the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House. I think a scheme of pensions for the aged and industrious poor was an item which had a very prominent place in his election card. I understand that the right honourable Gentleman has since repudiated all responsibility for that card, and of course he is perfectly entitled to do so; but if that be the case, what becomes of the hope which has been ex- 233 pressed by so many gentlemen opposite that a pension scheme may soon be produced? If the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, or anyone in a position of authority, will state today that during the course of their tenure of office they will introduce a scheme of pensions for the aged and industrious poor, I am perfectly sure that almost every Member on this side of the House will be only too glad to accept it. Personally, I myself would very much rather have a well-devised scheme of that sort than a scheme such as is embodied in this Bill, because for one thing I should infinitely prefer to see the aged and industrious poor enabled to spend the evening of their lives in their own homes or in the homes of their children, by means of pensions which they might procure from the State. But I do not believe that there is a single Member of this House, upon either side, who has the slightest hope that any scheme of pensions for the aged and industrious poor will be introduced by the Government, in spite of the alluring promises made nearly four years ago. Well, in the next place, objections have been taken to the details of this Bill. I cannot for one moment deny that the measure has been so drawn that there are many clauses in it which require to be altered—possibly, indeed, some of the main provision may have to be changed. But, after all, what is the gist and substance of this Bill? It might be said to Ho in the second clause, which proposes to provide a cottage or cottages for the necessitous and deserving aged poor. Is there any honourable Member in this House who does not think that that is desirable? Is there any honourable Member who thinks, after the experience we have had with regard to the word "necessitous" in connection with a very much larger matter, when, if I may remind the House, honourable Members on the other side had no hesitation whatever in swallowing the term, that there would be any difficulty experienced in defining the word by members of Parish Councils, who, of all persons in the world, are most likely to know the persons in their parish who are deserving? If, as we are constantly told when Bills are before this House for Second Reading, we are voting for the principle and not for the mere details, is there any reason why this Bill should not go before a Committee, to be there licked.
234 into shape? Honourable Members on the other side, who are so constant in their pronouncements in the country on behalf of the aged and deserving poor, surely would not object thus, in some degree, to give effect to these sentiments of which they frequently deliver themselves outside this House. This is not a great Measure—it is a very small one; it is one which has already in effect been in operation in at least one part of the country, I understand, without legislative sanction. If that be the case, why should you not have an Act of this character, which, at all events, would enable Parish Councils in those other parts of the country where nothing has been done to do something in a legal and proper manner for the deserving poor within their jurisdiction? I give this Bill my sincere support.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. CHAPLIN,) Lincs, Sleaford
I do not quite understand the object of the honourable Member in dragging into this Debate on Poor Law Reform a controversy upon the subject of old-age pensions, nor do I think it incumbent upon me on this occasion to follow that portion of his remarks. I think there will be a general agreement upon both sides of the House that the subject which has engaged the attention of the House has been worthy of the time which has been devoted to its discussion. Everyone sympathises with the object which the Mover of this Bill has in view. Every humane person desires that a poor man or woman in the closing years of an industrious, blameless life, that persona who' have been hard-working, industrious, and deserving through a long series of years until the time when old age begins to creep upon them, and they find they are no longer able to earn a livelihood for themselves, should have some better provision, and should find a better refuge, when the strength for work has gone, than the workhouse. Nothing is more calculated to excite compassion than the spectacle of aged men or women who, through no fault of their own, through sickness, accident, loss of children on whom they might have relied for aid, or misfortune, depriving them, of their little savings, find themselves at the close of a life's hard work with no home but the workhouse. I am afraid that some such cases, although they are not nearly so numerous as we are led to believe some- 235 times, are to be found even at the present time; and where that is so there cannot be, and I am sure there is not, any difference of opinion as to the desirability of providing better accommodation for them than is now obtainable in poor-houses. In the feeling speech which he delivered earlier in the afternoon, the honourable Member for West Fife said the question we have to decide is whether we are or are not willing, as far as it is possible, to take the aged deserving poor out of the workhouses in the future. The answer to that question is that of course we are all willing to do it, and we are all anxious and desirous to see better provision made for this deserving class. But it is when we come to consider the methods and means of giving effect to that desire that some divergence of view becomes apparent at once in all quarters of the House. To those who have heard the discussion this afternoon it must be evident that the widest difference of opinion has been expressed with regard to the particular remedies proposed by the honourable Member, even by those who sympathise most warmly with his views. I must say that I am not very much surprised at this when I coma to examine closely the proposals of the honourable Member, which have already been pretty well dissected already in the course of the discussion. Approaching the subject myself with every desire to give effect to the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving—a feeding which is shared universally in the Houses—I own that I have the gravest doubts as to whether this Bill is calculated in any degree to achieve the objects which I am quite sure the honourable Member has sincerely at heart. I hope I am not wearying the House very much, but I want for a few moments to examine the Bill from my own point of view. The Councils of a Borough, of an Urban District, and of a. Parish are enabled under the Bill to provide the homes described without any limit or restriction; and anyone who pleases, without restriction either as to his place of residence, birth, origin, or country, is entitled whenever he likes to apply for admission. If he is able to show that he is 65, is necessitous, and has been deserving, then the Council have no discretion whatever as to his admission, because if there is room in the home they are bound to admit him. On that the Bill is imperative. When he is admitted he is to have, under the terms 236 of the Bill, suitable consideration with regard to food and other comforts. I am making no complaint of that. If the Bill had stopped there, and if the Councils had the means of doing this, I think it is quite possible the Bill might have a very wide and considerable effect, for it is quite conceivable that these Councils, being popularly elected, might find it very difficult to resist the pressure of their supporters and friends. My honourable Friend, in the course of his speech, admitted that he rather apprehended abuses in this direction when the Bill first came into operation. All this, moreover, is entirely subject to the consent of the County Council, because the County Council has not only to supply the means for the provision, and equipment of these homes, in whatever part of the country they may be, but when they are provided, have also to contribute no less than three-fourths of the cost of their maintenance and of the maintenance of the inmates. In other words, one authority is to provide at least four-fifths of the fund which another is to spend. There will be very little inducement consequently to economical administration, and the objections to that principle are so vital and obvious that I will not dwell on them. I want the House to consider this question: Is it quite so certain that the County Council under those circumstances will be ready to provide these funds and to give the consent which is required? If they do it in one case, of course they must do it in others, and then you will have this most obnoxious principle enforced all over the country, of one authority finding money and another authority spending it. If, on the other hand, the County Council think it an unwise proceeding, the whole of my honourable Friend's scheme breaks down at once. These are the alternatives, unless we are able to eliminate the County Council altogether from our calculations, which is precisely what we cannot do. The House will remember that Parish Councils are restricted to a rate of not more than 6d. in the £—this having been done by the right honourable the Member for Wolverhampton after much prolonged and careful consideration—and unless we get rid of that restriction—which I do not understand my honourable Friend is prepared to do—these Councils must always remain at the mercy of the County Council. That was why I have very great misgivings, in 237 the interest of the very people it is desired to benefit, as to the success, of the plan, which it seems to me at the very threshold might become abortive. There are other objections1 which it seems to me have not been sufficiently considered. I find that there are no provisions whatever in the Bill for guiding the administration of these new homes. It has been explained in the memorandum which has been circulated, and also by the honourable Member himself, that these cottages are to provide for from four to ten inmates, and there is, I understand, to bean attendant for every five inmates. I think that two or three cottages under such circumstances would amount to something like small workhouses. What, is to be the position of the attendants? Are they to be in authority, in the position of matrons or masters of a workhouse, or are they to be merely servants? If the former, under what regulations are they to act? If they are to be servants, who is to control these establishments and give the necessary orders? Is this to be entrusted to one of the inmates, or are all to be on an equal footing in this respect? I see the possibility of nothing, in that case, but the most glorious confusion in these cottage homes. One other point upon which I should like to be permitted to say a word is this: When they get these homes, is it at all certain that the people themselves will appreciate them? That is a point on which I have the very gravest doubts, for these poor people are not themselves to choose the associates with whom they are to live for the rest of their lives.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD
Yes, it is voluntary, but a person who has been admitted has no choice as to the others who may be chosen to live with him or her in the same house, and life in a cottage with people whose society might be distasteful, and in some cases absolutely repugnant, offers small prospect, of a cheerful and happy time for the inmates of these homes. I have been considering through the course of the winter a question which, if not altogether analogous to this, is somewhat similar—that, is to say, how far it would be possible to provide almshouses for the more deserving poor, and I have given the subject such consideration as I 238 have been able to bring to bear upon it. I have endeavoured to acquire all the information that was available upon the subject, and after very careful consideration I have abandoned that scheme on two grounds. The first ground was the enormous cost it would entail. I have not the figures of that, cost here or I would put them, before the consideration of the House. The other ground was this, that I have been led to believe that there are a vast number of cases in which these almshouses are very far indeed from being popular among the people themselves. Now, what I believe myself is, that the deserving poor, as a general rule throughout the country, would infinitely prefer that they should receive assistance, no matter from what, source or from what quarter that assistance comes, in quite another form. It must not be forgotten, and I think it has been pointed out in the course of the Debate to-night, that, except in the Metropolis, the instances appear to be comparatively rare in which the aged and deserving poor are ever forced into the workhouse against their wishes. That case does not hold good in the Metropolis itself; the Metropolis is subject to different, conditions, under which the aged and deserving poor are relieved out the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. The relief being given in that way, the tendency on the part of the Guardians is to place the aged and deserving poor inside the workhouse if they can. But those conditions do not prevail in the country, and I think I am stating a fact when I say it is perfectly notorious that in the vast majority of cases all over the country the aged poor are not forced into the workhouse against their will. They receive outdoor relief instead. The great blot on the present system is that that relief is given rather indiscriminately sometimes, and at the same time, though that relief is given, when it is given it is very far1 from being adequate. If you were to make outdoor relief adequate, where the unfortunate man or woman is at home, to live on, either in their own home, or in the house of some of their relatives, or anywhere where they can take care of themselves—you may call it a pension, or anything you like—I am perfectly convinced myself that it would, be very much better for them, and more economical for you. And I am perfectly 239 satisfied that the poor themselves would infinitely prefer it. In that case there would still remain to be considered the case of the aged and deserving poor who are feeble, crippled, or suffering from sickness, and who would require constant nursing, and what is commonly known as hospital attendance, for whom, of course, the cottage home would be altogether unsuited; and in any scheme for Poor Law Reform, Which appears to be universally expected, and which must come, some provision must be made for them. The fact is that the more this question is considered and the more it is examined into, the more difficult it will be found to give effect to these proposals, and to the wishes and desires of the honourable Members themselves through the machinery of the Parish Councils. Of that I am perfectly convinced. I should also like to remind the House of this—if it was found to be possible—what you would do would be, after all, only reverting to the whole system which existed prior to the year 1834, the evils of which and the machinery of which are historical, and were universally condemned by all people of the times. Now, I have pointed out some matters to the House in connection with this Bill which appear to me to be deserving of very serious consideration, and though I think they require to be thought out a great deal more than they have been, it is only because I have thought it my duty to point them out as distinctly as I could to the House, and not in the least from any want of sympathy with the views of my honourable Friend. Now, that being so, I may naturally be asked if those are the views which we entertain, and which are entertained by our colleagues as well, how is it that we have done nothing in this matter ourselves? It would not be acourate to say that. It would be very far from accurate to say that the Government had done nothing in the matter at the present time. I may remind the House that a good deal has been done—or, at all events, something has been done already—in the direction desired by honourable Members by improved administration. Shortly after the Government came into office it was my duty to examine into this question, and my colleagues and myself shortly came to the conclusion that it was desirable to call the attention of all the different Boards of Guardians in this country to the desir 240 ability of trying, by means of improved administration, to do something in the nature of drawing a greater distinction between the poor who are deserving and those who cannot be included in the category. As long ago as July, 1896, we addressed a Circular to all the different Boards of Guardians in the country drawing their attention to the desirability of classifying more strictly the aged and deserving poor in the workhouses. In connection with that, we called their attention to what is called the General Consolidated Order, an Order which was passed many years ago, and which provides that Guardians shall, so far as circumstances may permit, divide and further sub-divide the inmates, having regard to their moral character and previous habits, upon any other grounds that might seem to be important. We asked them to give special attention; to this matter, so that all those whose circumstances had become so reduced as to force them into the workhouse, but who had been up to the time of their going there leading decent and respectable lives, should be Separated from others who from their habits or speech, or for any other reason, were likely to cause them any discomfort. We also issued a separate Circular, in which we drew attention to the fact that there should be special facilities given for their friends to visit them, and for them to visit their friends, and that they might, be permitted out for that and other purposes, and, when they desired it, they should also be permitted to attend their own place of worship on Sunday; and, further, we suggested that wherever it might be possible, further arrangements might be made for the improvement of their condition. Some time after that Circular was issued we proceeded to make inquiries in order to ascertain what the effect had been. I am very glad to say that in a great number of cases full advantage has been taken of the suggestions which were made, but I regret that, with regard to the separation of the deserving from the undeserving poor in the greater number of the workhouses of the kingdom, that was found to be Impossible, owing to the structure of the building. In addition to these things, we also drew attention to nursing and attendance. We issued an order in which we prohibited one of the things that it has been proposed to do here—namely, that the attendants 241 should be paupers receiving relief. That was found to be so exceedingly disadvantageous before that we felt it our duty to prohibit them from nursing the sick, and we insisted upon trained attendants being retained, to be there night, and day. And within 18 months of the issue of that circular the suggestions which we made to the Guardians had, I am glad to say, been almost universally acted upon. So I do not think it would be quite accurate to say that little or nothing has been done by the present Government in the direction which the honourable Gentleman who moves the Second Reading of this Bill desires. The question of Poor Law Reform at the time to which I refer was perhaps a little overshadowed by the question of old-age pensions until after the issue of that important report of the Commission. Since then renewed attention has undoubtedly been directed towards this question. This is an instance of it, and an attempt has been made to deal with one branch of that important subject. It is only one out of a great number of suggestions which are being put forward at the present time. Another one is the matter which I have just been referring to. Some people think that something may be done, that the desired reform may be affected by what is called classification in the workhouse, where, the deserving poor should be kept separate, and under different regulations from those who are not included in the category. I say, something has already been done in that direction, but in many cases, I regret to say, the structure of the buildings themselves has proved a formidable difficulty. Then there is another point. I sea that it is stated that there is more accommodation in the workhouses than is needed for the paupers, and that it is now wasted, and might be put to other purposes. I read a most interesting paper upon this subject some years ago, in which it was suggested to utilise all this vacant room by separating the houses and dividing some of them, in which, under one authority, certain of the inmates who were to be selected, by competent authorities, as deserving, should reside. The remainder would be retained in the workhouse. There is a great deal to be said on both sides of this question—arguments that it would be impossible for mo to enter into at any length to-night. I may say, however, with regard to the views that have been 242 laid before the House to-night as to the surplus accommodation in the workhouses, that I have already taken steps to acquire full and correct information upon the point which I hope to be in possession of at no very distant period. I thought, again, as to the providing or separate and new accommodation, apart from the workhouse, by means of almshouses or cottage homes, or infirmaries, or hospitals, for those who might be considered deserving; then, again, there is the proposal of making outdoor relief, given under careful and proper supervision where it is given, adequate and more sufficient than it is at the present time. With regard to the whole of these proposals, or with regard to which of them is the best, whether the desired reform is affected by one or by the other, or whether by a combination of them all—those are all questions I acknowledge which demand, and which, indeed, I may say here, receive the earnest consideration of the Government, of the present time. Having said that, Sir, with regard to the Bill now before the House, and with regard to which the House would desire, I suppose, to come to a, decision this afternoon, I gather from the Debate, so far as I can grasp, what appears to mo to be the very wide and general feeling of this House, that there is a very great desire to affirm what is described on both sides of the House as the "principle of relief." The honourable Members of this House are of opinion that a, distinction ought to be made in the treatment, between the deserving and the undeserving poor. That is a matter in which, so far as I know, there is no difference of opinion whatever between us; and it being understood that that is the principle we desire to put forth by the passing of this Bill, and subject to this Bill, before it goes any further, going before a Select Committee to be corrected in its shortcomings and many defects which so many honourable Gentlemen, have pointed out; so far as I am concerned, I shall offer no opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *SIR W. FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
I congratulate the right honourable Gentleman on the conclusion at which he has arrived. I do not see how he could have arrived at any other conclusion, but, at the same time, in the course of his speech, while he rather sneered at what he called ancient history, he was forced 243 to admit that the question has excited a great deal of interest. I believe his position on this Bill and its fate to-day, and the fate of the Bill itself, are due to the effect of what has taken place in the country with regard to old-age pensions. This Bill I regard as a definite result of the hopes that have been held out to the working-classes of this country by the Members of the present Government, that they should have a certain provision made for them other than the Poor Law in their old age. Now, the right honourable Gentleman has referred with admirable sentiment to the principle of this Bill. I think we shall find that those who vote for the Second Beading of the Bill will confirm this House in its opinion, that the time has come when some steps should be taken by which the deserving poor, when they attain a certain age, shall be placed in a position, by some means or other, whereby they can avoid the stigma of pauperism. There is a desire on the part of the poorer inhabitants of this country that some means should be provided for them outside the Poor Law. I think that the time has come when such provision should be made, although we may, by making that provision, do that which we do not desire —that is to say, make a second authority. I think it is a grave step to take, but it is an inevitable step, and that is evidently the opinion of my right honourable Friend who is going to support the Second Reading. With reference to the details of the Bill, to which he has referred, I should like to say a word or two with respect to the criticisms that have been made upon it by him. I do not think those criticisms are so serious as he appeared to think himself. One of the great defects of the Bill, and one that would have to be remedied before it passes into law, is the absence of any residential qualification on the part of the person who is seeking to obtain relief. It seems to me that some qualification as, to previous residence in the locality should be inserted in its provisions, otherwise it might be that a man might go from one place to another in order that he might be able to find a cottage home when he was no longer able to work. Of course, in doing that he would only be imitating the policy largely adopted by a certain class;, with limited means, who migrate to places like Bedford and Birmingham, where there are large endowed schools where 244 they can get cheap education for their children; and it would not be any special vice on the part of the labouring poor if they followed that example. The right honourable Gentleman also said the one great difficulty was that you have one authority raising the money while you have another authority spending it. That may be a defect, but if it is, then I hope we shall soon have the right honourable Gentleman converted to our opinions on the subject of Grants-in-aid, because that is the very thing which occurs there. Then the right honourable Gentleman referred to the difficulties which some of the inmates would have in the choice of their companions in cottage homes. But those are the difficulties which make the poor house intolerable, to a greater degree, to the deserving poor, and which would be mitigated by such legislation as this, where they would be classified. As the right honourable Gentleman admits, the poor of a deserving character, and of blameless life, are now very often obliged to associate with some of the most worthless characters in the world, who have been brought to that condition by their own vices and dissolute lives. Now, under the system which proposed, this could not be one-thousandth part as bad, inasmuch as every inmate would be selected by responsible local authority. The right honourable Gentleman is agreed that the great principle and the object of this Bill is to keep the aged and deserving poor out of the workhouse. In that admission he gives us our case.
§ *SIR W. FOSTER
It is the principle of the promoter of this Bill, to be perhaps more accurate; he wants to keep the aged and deserving poor out of the workhouse, and that is a principle which the right honourable Gentleman admits when he votes in favour of the Second Reading. I think he has stated as a fact, that the Circular of which he told us has not led yet, and is not likely to lead in the future, to any classification of the poor within the workhouse walls. It cannot be done, because to carry it out you must either take all the workhouses over a large area, so as to classify the inmates in each, or else erect other buildings. I would rather see, Mr. Speaker, if money is to be ex- 245 pended, I would rather see an expenditure of money in the erection of other buildings, for the purpose of keeping these people from the taint of the workhouse poor, than I would see new wings built on to the existing workhouses. The right honourable Gentleman has said that apart from the workhouse, the poor are being relieved out of doors by the Poor Law authority. We want them to be relieved without any reference to the Poor Law authority at all. But when he says there is not this evil in the rural district, then I think, on full consideration, ho will find that it is a most serious evil in the rural district. The aged and deserving poor are drawn into the workhouses there when they can no longer work, and even so lately as last year, I might point out to the right honourable Gentleman, that able-bodied men in full work were drawn in on account of the disgraceful way in which the poor are housed in the rural districts. The housing of the poor in the rural districts is so bad that I know cases of men in full work who had to take their wives and families into the workhouse, because there was no means of providing shelter for them, and t lie men came out of the workhouse every morning to go to work. This went on for some little time, until the matter became known to the local authority, and one man's wife and family were turned into the road, and that man had to become a pauper himself, because the housing of the district in which he lives is so bad that there is no shelter for a wage-earning man's wife and family. I believe under Clause "9" of a Bill like this, that it these houses were erected in the first instance for the aged and deserving poor, if they did not happen to be immediately required for that purpose then they could under Clause "9" be let out to people who could not get decent houses in any other way. The object of this Bill is to enforce a wiser and more humane treatment in the case of the aged and deserving poor, and to extend the law so as to benefit the people of, say, 65 years of age and upwards, who are unable to work, without the pauperising effect of the Poor Law. I believe that this Bill, if it is passed, will enable many a poor family to retain its self-respect, owing to the fact that they have never received Poor Law relief, and that it will brighten the evening of many a poor man's toiling life. It is a Bill which is just in its 246 objects, and I believe sincerely humane in its motives.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
I am glad the right honourable Gentleman wound up his speech as he did, because it proves to us that in his opinion the time has come when this matter must be seriously dealt with. Now, of course, this Bill, like every other upon this subject, although perfect in principle, is full of difficulties in detail. I have had the honour to bring in a Bill on the subject of old age pensions many times; and every Bill that has been brought in was lost because the details were not satisfactory to every Member in the House. There must be difficulties in details, and there must be points in the Bill which must affect people differently, and might be varied so as to accord with the opinions of the different members. We have pledged ourselves, it seems to me, for many years to do something to make a distinction between the deserving poor at the end of their lives, and those who cannot be called deserving. This Bill, though not by any means a perfect Measure, does attempt to do that. It seems to me that the details must be gone into very carefully in the Committee upstairs, so that this should not be made simply a means of outdoor relief to the deserving, necessitous, and aged poor. If the Bill is to really carry out the object which we all wish, then numbers of the deserving and necessitous poor who have spent their lives honourably should have some better means than they have at present, to relieve them in their time of need. I shall certainly support this Bill as being a step in the right direction, though I am sorely disappointed, as a London Member, by the fact that it does not attempt to include London in its operation. That, however, is a question to be submitted to the Committee. I would agree to London not coming within the operation of this Bill, but as a London Member, I should be very much disappointed if it was thought that the London poor are altogether improvident and undeserving. I know that there are many persons in London who have lived their lives and done their duty as well as could be expected of anybody, and I believe that no Bill can be completely satisfactory—that is my opinion—unless you include London in it. But these are matters of detail, and I am extremely 247 glad that the Government is able to see its way to allow this Bill to go for a Second Reading. I think it will be of great use if it only goes to Committee, and I think it may possibly help to lead on to the result to which we are all pledged, and which we all so desire, that there should be some distinction made with regard to the aged and deserving poor. There is one danger even in passing this Measure which we must by no means ignore. We must not let this be considered a final settlement of the whole question upon which the Government is pledged. The Government is pledged to bring in a Measure for the deserving poor. That they have promised to do. It is a step in the right direction, but I believe before the end of the Session the Government will pass a Measure far greater and wider in its scope than this.
§ *CAPTAIN CHALONER (Wilts, Westbury)
As a staunch advocate of the principle contained in this Bill, I cannot but welcome the apparently sudden conversion of the Party who sit opposite, who have hitherto so persistently thrown cold water on any suggestion of a similar kind which has come from the Unionist Party. I believe, Sir, although we are all agreed as to the principles of this Bill, the question we have to consider is not whether the Bill is intended to, and will, have the effect of carrying out the wishes and desires of its supporters and promoter, but the way in which the effect will be carried out. Now, I believe, reading the Bill as I have, that it means nothing more or less than a proposal to change the name of the workhouse. At present there is a great stigma attached to that house, which creates a good deal of dread and horror in the minds of the working classes. But I do not believe that if you change the name of the workhouse to "cottage homes," which would have to be under supervision, that it would in the least remove that dread and terror from the minds of the poor, or meet the object that we have in view, and to which we are pledged. I consider that the Bill is far too indefinite; it does not either say what it is going to do, or how it is going to do it; and I think that all these objections go to show that while we all admit the principle, we ought to take all possible precautions to insure that when the Bill 248 goes before the Select Committee, it shall receive that investigation and examination without which it is impossible for it to become law. I believe this is only the fringe of a very much larger question, and I hope it may prove to be the first step in the direction of a reform of the whole of the Poor Laws of this country. The first step is to open up the question, and get accepted the principle of reform of the Poor Laws, and when that is done it will, I hope, open the way to a much larger and wider measure of reform at the hands of the Government, which shall have as its object and effect to remove the poor from the miseries of the workhouse, and so render their declining days better and happier, by enabling them to end their days in peace in their own cottages, and surrounded by their friends and relations. When the Second Reading is carried by the general consent of the House, as I believe it will, be, I trust it will be taken as an earnest on behalf of the Government that they intend to tackle and deal with this subject during this Parliament, and to pass into law a larger Measure for the amelioration of the condition of the deserving poor.
§ *COLONEL WELBY (Taunton)
I assume that as it is the wish of every Member who, like myself, approves the principles of this Bill, that something should be done upon this question of the deserving and aged poor. I am one of those who believe that the time has come when we ought to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor, who are, I believe, driven into the workhouse, or to the very point of starvation, because they will not face the terror and tyranny of the present system of Poor Law relief. Many references have been made to-day to almshouses. In the borough which I represent there are many almshouses, and I believe it is almost universally acknowledged that those almshouses are most carefully managed, and that the inmates are carefully selected. I am toll that when a vacancy occurs, that at every election that takes place there are 60 or 70 applicants, all absolutely worthy and deserving, for a single vacancy. Those are not from all the country round, but are especially connected with the town in which these almshouses are to be found; I believe that it is the fact that there are considerable numbers in 249 the country, at large, who deserve some better treatment in their old age than that which is meted out by the workhouse. One of the objections to the details of the Bill is, in my opinion, that the area of the parish, or the group of the parishes, is too small to be satisfactorily worked under any such circumstances as this. It might lend itself to buildings being constructed to a larger extent than the old people of 65, who were aged and deserving, with the result that it would no longer be the deserving, but the undeserving who would be selected for these homes. And in that way I believe the Hill would do harm instead of good. But the real difficulty of this question of cottage homes, or old age pensions, is discriminating between the deserving and the undeserving. It is quite true that this Bill shuts out London, and I am bound to admit that I does not think any Bill will pass this House which does not take in London with the rest of the country. But are there not other great cities—Liverpool, for instance, Manchester, Birmingham, and West Ham? How can you discriminate between the one and the other there No doubt it is easy enough to trace a man's career in the 'country, but how is it possible in these large cities, where they have a migratory poor, to discriminate between one and another; to know what a man has been doing; to know whether he has committed himself; to know whether he has been industrious; or a never-do-well. But we must try to apply the same system to the great cities as is applied to the country, even if you exclude London from the operation of the Bill. I know very well that in East London particularly, these men come and go. Sometimes their departure is caused by the work having been finished upon which they are engaged, and sometimes it is owing to the fact that their credit is extended to its limit. How can you trace these people who move so frequently. I say that before you can get to a satisfactory stage of discriminating between the deserving and the undeserving, you must have a universal system of compulsory registration. It docs seem to me that there should be some qualification, some means of tracing a man's career, to ascertain whether he is thoroughly deserving. And if compulsory registration is not effected, then why should we not have some system of voluntary registration, by means of 250 which unfortunate men and women could qualify for a pension, or a cottage home? Whether it be by compulsory or voluntary registration, let the thing be so arranged that it is possible to trace a man's career from the age of 55 to 65, when he applies to become an inmate of a cottage home. It is only by some such method as that that it will be in any way possible to separate those who are deserving from those who are not, and that is the whole principle upon which we accept this Bill. In my constituency there are a large number of friendly societies, and last month at a meeting of these societies a resolution was passed that cottage homes, should be established. Therefore, in supporting the right honourable Gentleman's, condition that this Bill should go to a Select Committee, and voting for the Second Reading of the measure. I am not only expressing my own opinion upon the subject, but by my vote I am representing the opinions of a great majority of my constituents as well.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
The honourable Gentleman expressed a wish that this would not be a Bill for pauperising the poor, but it appears to me that it will be calculated to pauperise the small ratepayer. The small ratepayers' interests do not appear to have been looked at so closely as they might by the honourable Gentlemen who are advocating a difference in the treatment of the aged and deserving poor when they come to a time of need. But there is one thing of which I am exceedingly glad, and that is that it is impossible to make Party capital out of this Measure; but before we leave the subject altogether, perhaps it would be well to see how serious is the step which the House is now asked to take. A very great question underlies the provisions of this Bill, a question which must be acknowledged by all. It must be acknowledged that every parish in every county could demand that the provisions of this Bill should be immediately put in force; and there is not the least likelihood that one parish in a county would stand back whilst the other parishes in the county are taking advantage of this Act. Therefore, like sensible people, we must be prepared to face the cost which must be incurred in providing for the needs of every parish in the country. Another thing which must be faced is 251 the certainty that you will not be able to obtain these cottage homes by any process except that of building them. You may be told that in some cases you will be able to hire them, but every man knows that, your only means of providing them will be to buy the sites and build. Now, I do not know that honourable Members quite realise what that, means. Take a county of 250 parishes; in each of those 250 parishes you have to erect a building which will comfortably accommodate say six poor inmates and one attendant. Now, I have some experience of providing houses for the working classes, and I say I doubt whether you could provide such a building as would suit that purpose under a capital cost of £400. And if that is the case; in that one county of 250 parishes you will have an initial capital cost of £100,000. £100,000 at 2½ per cent is £2,500 a year. You say you will avoid that cost by hiring these houses; but if you hire them at £10 a year, which is about what you would have to pay, the cost is £2,500 just the same. I am not arguing that the cost is excessive, or that the result that you wish to attain is not worth it, but, I do say, do not let us go into the question blindfold, and without some idea of how much we shall hero-after ask the ratepayer to spend upon this scheme. Now, having got the houses in the 250 parishes, you have to find the means for maintaining them, and the inmates. Of course that is generally accepted; therefore you would have, if you had to deal with the illustration which I put to you, to deal with 1,500 people, each home containing six poor inmates and an attendant. The cost per year to maintain each inmate would be £20 a year. Then you have to provide the attendants, which cannot be done at a cost of less than another £200 or £300 a year; then you have the upkeep of the buildings, which you cannot expect will be less than £5 a year, making another £1,200, and this would bring the annual total expenditure up to £31,450, of which the County Council is to be called upon to pay three-quarters, or £23,600. Now a penny rate in the county in many cases does not produce more than £6,000, so that if my calculations are approximately 252 correct, you would inflict upon the county another fourpenny rate. In addition to which the parish itself will be compelled to pay the remaining quarter. Now this is a very serious problem, yet I have not heard a single Member deal with the business side of the question at all. There have been a great many speeches upon this subject, and a great many objections made to the details of this Bill, but no two seem to have been alike. But two great, objects which are always being put forward as necessary to attain, are to, decrease the rates which are an ever-growing burden upon the ratepayers, and simplify the administration of authority by, if possible, putting it into more single hands than it is at present. I have no desire to criticise this Bill, which is a petty measure after all. The debate will be principally useful, because it has secured front the Government a full and fair statement that the great question of the treatment of the deserving poor is one with which they are prepared to deal. It may be that if this Bill is accepted and brought in, it would do great mischief to a, larger and more comprehensive measure which, I believe, the Government will bring in; but I do not think it can be adopted at all unless it is remodelled to a very considerable extent. I can only record my great satisfaction at the fact that the Government are apparently alive to their responsibilities with regard to this matter, and can only hope that before long, within a reasonable time, that we shall receive their views dealing with this question in a more comprehensive way than can ever be done by this small Bill.
§ MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
The honourable Gentleman moving the Second Heading of this Bill raised a question of very great interest to every Member of this House, and the whole course of the debate has shown how deep the interest, is; and honourable Members representing, like myself, Scotch constituencies, cannot help but be drawn into any debate which deals with such a large subject as the better relief of the poor. Now, the honourable, Gentleman, in moving the Second Reading of this measure, alluded to old age 253 pensions, and, although he is not very clear upon the subject of this Bill, he made a direct challenge to Members on this side of the House, and said he did not believe there was a single honourable Member on this side of the House who believed that a Measure dealing with old age pensions would be brought in for many years. I do not want to be in any way discourteous1, but I must say that, knowing how the statesmen on this side of the House are identified with the question, I certainly do believe we shall find before many years are past old age pensions being dealt with in a, satisfactory Measure; but I think this Measure for the better treatment of the deserving poor is somewhat analogous and quite as interesting to many of the Members in this House. We see in Scotland those somewhat bleak and barren buildings which are known by the name of the poor-house, and see the glorious picture which has been drawn in this House, which conjures up to one's imagination a glorious picture of a comfortable country home in the midst of gardens, with brilliant roses over the porch, and we feel sad that this Bill only proposes to deal with the poor of England, and does not propose to extend the great benefit to Scotland. But I think that this Bill does, to some extent, interest both Scotland and Ireland as well, and must have been drawn by a Scotchman. Because, in looking into it, and examining the Bill, you will find that, although the expenses are paid by the rates, there is nothing to prevent a Scotchman or an Irishman from participating in the future in the benefits of these cottage homes. Providing that they attained the age of 65—which age entitled them to be admitted to these rural homes—there was only one qualification which they had to produce: they must be necessitous, and they must be deserving. No one would deny that Scotchmen, as a rule, are necessitous, and the whole of the Scotch nation is deserving. Under these circumstances, if this Bill passes into law in its present form what 254 will you have? I picture to myself the glowing satisfaction with which I can approach my constituents and point out to those who are approaching 65 years of age that if they go into the beautiful neighbourhood of Surrey and Sussex they will find waiting for them cottage homes with flower gardens round them, and an attendant provided by the County Council. It is not even necessary, according to the Bill, that they should be able to show any length of residence in the locality. In addition to the cottage homes, it is suggested that the Government should provide each occupant with £5 a year, so that the old people may be enabled to live in comparative comfort for the rest of their days. One honourable-Member suggests that they should also be provided with whisky from some part of Scotland. I do not agree, of course, with that proposal, but there is nothing in the Bill to prevent even that somewhat advanced suggestion being adopted. The Bill says they shall have "suitable consideration," and I do not know whether, to a Scotchman who has been accustomed to whisky, this beverage might not be considered as a medical comfort by the doctor. I think I have said sufficient to show that the Bill, as it stands at present, is hardly one which the English Members of this House would like to see passed into law. I appreciate the object of the Bill, and I am glad to hear that it will be submitted to a Select Committee. I trust that, as a result of the deliberations of the Committee, we shall have a Measure which will be of advantage not only to England, but also to Scotland and Ireland.
§ SIR J. LENG (Dundee)
Mr. Speaker, although it is not proposed that this Bill shall extend to Scotland, there can be no doubt that if it passes through this House it will soon be followed by a Bill extending it to the north of the Tweed. Therefore, as a Scotch Member, I have, like my honourable Friend who has just spoken, some interest in this Bill The title of the Bill has something very enticing, very poetic, and very philanthropic about it, but it is 255 one of those Measures which aim rather at making people comfortable in their poverty than at raising them, out of their poverty. I should not have entered into this discussion except for the fact that I am acquainted with a town in Yorkshire which is richly endowed with almshouses, with common pastures, and with other means of supplementing the incomes of the working people in the town, and my observations of that town, compared with many smaller towns in Scotland, lead me to the conclusion that if you supplement the resources of the working classes in this way you do much to take away from them a desirable stimulus to improve their position, to rely upon their own exertions, and to endeavour by thrift and industry to prepare for their old age. Relying on the prospect—the almost certain assurance—that on attaining a certain age they will obtain admission to an almshouse, and relying also on the fact that they can pasture their cows and sheep free of charge, the young men of the town I am referring to are induced to remain in the town instead of going into larger centres of industry, or, as young Scotchmen are accustomed to, going abroad to all parts of the world. They remain in a comparatively struggling condition, marry early, and are content to be on the verge of pauperism all the days of their lives. I am not, therefore, so convinced, as many of the Members who have addressed the House to-day, that the principle of the Bill is right. I would much more heartily and strongly support that class of legislation which would stimulate men and women, by relying on themselves, and on their own industry and good conduct, to prepare for old age. At the same time, I am strongly of opinion that the cottage system is in all respects very much better than the barrack system, and I think it would be far better for the poor to be distributed over the country and in the suburbs of large towns than to be herded together in large barrack-like institutions. It is very evident that the details of the Bill now before the House will require very careful consideration, which I have no doubt will be accorded to it when it comes before the Committee.
§ MR. CUMMING MACDONA (Southwark, Rotherhithe)
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the House on the consensus of opinion which seems to pervade it in favour of making adequate provision for the people of this country when they are old, and I am certain that we can with confidence leave the questions of detail to Her Majesty's Government. But I should like to inform the House what has been done in the direction of providing cottage homes by the working-class constituency which I have the honour to represent. Rotherhithe has already agreed, in its Vestry, to build almshouses for the aged poor in that district and I think this is an example which might well be followed by other local authorities.
§ MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
Mr. Speaker, if this Bill is a good Bill, London ought certainly to be included in its scope. Though I do not wish to reiterate the statements that have been made by so many honourable Members, I must say that I am in favour of some alteration in the present Poor Law. I think better classification of the deserving poor is absolutely necessary, but it remains to be seen whether the method proposed in this Bill is the best one to carry that into effect. I was very much impressed by the statement of the honourable Baronet, the Member for Dundee, that when exceptional advantages are held out to the poor it does much to take from them a desirable stimulus to improve their position and to prepare for old age, relying on their own exertions. Under this Bill the people who are to select deserving applicants are those very people themselves. Everybody knows that in the smaller villages the Parish Councils consist of the labouring class, yet it is the labouring class in this Bill who are to choose whether they are themselves to have the benefit, at somebody else's expense, of cottage homes. I do not know that I can go quite so far as the honourable Gentleman the Member for Rotherhithe and say that the financial arrangements of every Bill should be left in the hands of the Government. I believe the Government are ex- 257 tremely capable, but I would not go so far as that. I hope that in the Committee, or in some further stage in this House, tare will be taken to alter the clause to which I have just, alluded. It seems to mo that the proper people to settle whether or not a man is deserving are the present Poor Law Guardians, who should be, as they are at present, subject to the control of the Local Government Board. Almost every speaker has said that he is not at all desirous of supporting a Bill v. hick will in any way pauperise the people, but if the clause to which I have referred is left in, it may very easily have that effect. The placing of the cost of this measure on the County Councils, whilst the benefits are enjoyed by other people, is another serious drawback, and I trust that in Committed this Bill, which undoubtedly does introduce a good principle, will be carefully considered; and that the Committee, while anxious to bring about some amelioration of the lot of the deserving poor, will not by their kindness and good nature be led away into bringing in a measure which will tend to so back to the system of indiscriminate outdoor relief.
§ SIR F. POWELL (Wigan)
Mr. Speaker, I should like to say a few words with, reference to what is being done by the Bradford Union. That large Union is now governed by a Board of Guardians who are introducing at the cost of immense labour the principle of classification. The lot of those who prove themselves deserving and necessitous is made as comfortable as possible, and they are exempted from many of the conditions attaching to life in the workhouse. If that can be done by so large a. Union as the Bradford Union, I do not see why it should not be done by other Boards of Guardians throughout the country. I think we should see whether we could not apply on a larger scale the system which has been adopted with such excellent results in Bradford. The question whether the deserving poor who will come within this Bill should be placed in a workhouse or in some other building is a difficult question. I think they ought to be lodged in separate dwellings, and I am glad that, that is one of the principles contained in this Bill. I feel, however, that 258 this Bill as it stands cannot, become law. There is much that is defective in it. I think more elaborate machinery is necessary. You want relieving officers or other officials who should investigate, each cage, and there should also, be proper supervision of each of these buildings. But these are, after all, questions of detail. I am glad the House accepts the principle that better provision is necessary for the deserving poor in their old age, and as the Bill is to be referred to a Select Committee I gladly support its Second Reading.
§ Question put.
§ Read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.
§ Ordered, that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.— (Sir John Hutton.)