HC Deb 27 April 1911 vol 24 cc1980-2049

Mr. GOLDSTONE moved, as an Amendment, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words, "this House endorses the unanimous condemnation of the administration of the Poor Law contained in the majority and minority reports of the recent Royal Commission, and is of opinion that the present administration of the Poor Law does not meet modern requirements and demands the immediate attention of His Majesty's Government."

There is no one in the House who will not agree that this question of the Poor Law is a most complex and difficult problem. We have to administer in education, in Poor Law relief, and in public health services an amount which totals no less a sum than £60,000,000, and so far as the Poor Law is concerned we have to deal with something like 1,700,000 people, who in one form or another, come in contact with the Poor Law authorities every year. In such a wide field as the administration of the Poor Law I do not disguise from myself the difficulty there is in making a proper selection of the subjects which it is desirable to raise; but for the purposes of debate, so far as I am concerned, I have selected three topics—the question of children and the Poor Law, the question of public health, and, in the third place, the question of general mixed workhouses. In dealing with the first subject, the question of children, the Poor Law authorities are legally compelled to deal with destitute women who are expecting to give birth to children, and we find that no less a number than 15,000 babies are born in workhouses every year. I think Mrs. Sidney Webb has rendered signal service when she has called attention to the very serious problem which is associated with the birth of so many children in the workhouses, for she has shown as a result of investigation that a child born in a workhouse stands one-third less chance of living than a child born even in a slum in Plaistow. There are children in the workhouses to-day being kept in top stories, who hardly ever know what it is to have a perambulator ride in a sunny lane, and who are removed from the joys of childhood, flowers and smiles, and kept up in the top stories of workhouses, there perhaps spend the earlier years of their lives, and returning very likely to end their older days of life in that mixed workhouse which has received the general condemnation of majority and minority alike.

Children inside the workhouses of school age in the United Kingdom number something like 10,000 in the general and sick wards, 9,000 of which of school age are found inside the workhouse itself. It is true, so far as London is concerned, that the right course is being adopted of removing the children from the workhouses, but in something like 500 of 670 provincial poor law authorities the children are not being taken out, and there seems little suggestion that they should. I suggest that the President of the Local Government Board might very well do what is within his power and issue an order which shall command that children of school age shall not be detained in the workhouses more than a week without the special permission of his inspectors, granted on his authority. The majority said in their recommendations that effective steps should he taken to secure that the maintenance of children in the workhouses should be no longer recognised as a legitimate way of dealing with them, that there should be closer supervision of children in receipt of outdoor relief, that care should be taken that the total income, from whatever source, is sufficient to afford proper food and clothing and housing conditions for the whole family, and that the public assistance authorities should ascertain that the children are being properly nourished. What do we find as a matter of fact? The poor law guardians give out, in the way of doles, one shilling, perhaps to 1s. 6d., per head of the children who are being maintained by a widowed mother at home, and there are no less than 170,000 of those children. The consequence is that the mother is divorced from her proper function and has to go out to the workshops to endeavour to increase this miserable pittance in order to bring the children up in anything like decency. The guardians say that from 4s. to 5s. per week is the proper amount when they board out children; if that be so, so far as the guardians are concerned, why not a similar amount for children who are under the care of their mother living at home?

This to me is a very startling figure, that at three years of age the out-relief children are as tall and as heavy as the average child, but after that age they are at every age smaller and lighter, and the figure becomes greater with increasing years, and the figure is greater in weight than in height. It would appear to me that this arises from the application of a wrong test of efficiency in Poor Law administration. The test of efficiency would appear to be that the guardians have reduced to a minimum the amount which they expend in outdoor relief of all kinds, and that the Board of Guardians is adjudged to have discharged its duties to the best purpose when it has reduced to an absolute minimum what it administers in the shape of relief of all kinds. I do think that a circular would be possible from the President of the Local Government Board suggesting that the amount of 1s. or 1s. 6d. per week should be raised to an amount equal to that which is given when the Board of Guardians themselves board out children. Then the overlapping which has arisen in the treatment of children is some thing which calls for immediate and radical attention from the various Government Departments concerned. We have the Poor Law authorities, and there I think the Local Government Board ought to intervene. We have the local education authority dealing with millions of children and spending something like £30,000,000 annually, either in rates or in taxes. We have also the Home Office administering something like £600,000 and dealing again with children in another state—industrial schools and the like. I pass now to my second point, that of public health, and here again overlapping is rampant. You have the Public Health service under the control and direction of the Medical Officer of Health. You have the Poor Law hospital; and you have again the local education authority doing a magnificent work in medical inspection, in the feeding of necessitous children, and now taking a lead in setting up school clinics. But the result is that there is therefore an overlapping in authorities, and a great deal of inefficiency due to people escaping the attention of any one of those authorities, and disease passing unnoted, and thus spreading amongst the populace.

4.0 P.M.

Take the case of the man suffering from phthisis, and let us imagine him living in one of the East End unions of this great City. There is a voluntary hospital, and he may get there; there is a Poor Law hospital, and he may go there; but he goes there as a last resort because the administration is punitive, rather than preventive. He knows full well that if he takes advantage of Poor Law aid he is punished to the extent of the loss of his vote, and incidentally it is felt, particularly by the poor, that they should only go to the Poor Law authority as a last resort. Then you have the opportunity, perhaps, of the man being dealt with by the local medical authority, but between them all, I am informed on credible authority, that probably in some of the parishes where consumption is rampant only 5 per cent. of the cases get dealt with through the shuffling off by one authority to the other of the three bodies who each desire to shoulder the authority and expense on to the others. The consequence of this overlapping is inefficiency, and a less proper condition of public health than there should be. When it is remembered that one-seventh of pauperism is due to consumption, this House must realise that the overlapping should cease at the earliest opportunity, and that efficient administration should take its place to deal with this great white scourge from which our people suffer. Another difficulty which comes into the matter is lack of uniformity between town and town; a man living in some towns can be dealt with without the punishment of the loss of his vote, but should he live in another that is not so. There is a lack of uniformity as between the central authority and the three different authorities, and again as amongst those different authorities. We really ought to have power conferred upon our public health authority of seeking out cases instead of there being this waiting by the authority for the application. Just as we seek out infectious disease cases, so it seems to me that in the public health service there ought to be a searching out of any disease which makes for want of efficiency in the people. Passing to another phase of the same question of the public health service, the maternity side in cases of outdoor relief, let us consider what happens there. Some poor woman sends for a midwife, and then it is felt necessary to call in a doctor. The doctor is not called in except as a last resort, because the husband realises that the guardians may come back to him and take steps to secure the price of medical attendance. What is the result? The poor woman in a time of extreme difficulty is sometimes left when she ought to be attended to and have the best care possible. What one of us here would not, in the case of some animal in a similar condition, prepare some little nest or corner where it might bring forth its young? But what about the case of the poor woman? When we are told that the birth-rate is diminishing, would it not be in the highest interest of the State, the highest Imperialism, that lives which come to us should be looked after? Lives which come to us and which ought to be saved to make the country's greatness are allowed to lapse, disease intervenes, blindness is sometimes known to follow, diseases come which might be prevented by proper attention at birth—all because there is this punitive element in the Poor Law administration, instead of a helpful, preventive influence being the greatest force behind it. Surely the way out is to give the assistance first, and let the consequences come after if you do not get back the money which has been expended.

Then as to the mixed workhouse, its character, and possibly its defects. In the mixed workhouse people of all grades of character, from those who are vicious to those who enter the workhouse because there is no other shelter, are herded together, and the vicious, unfortunately, exercise their influence on those who are there temporarily because they have been driven to enter by dire necessity. There ought to be some possibility of dissolving these diverse elements in character. There-are more actually certified imbeciles and lunatics, apart from the feeble-minded, in the workhouses of a mixed character today than there were a few years ago. We have men and women mixed, each uncomfortable in the presence of the other, with a life of monotony which I should think it is difficult for any of us here to realise. I think an order might be promulgated prohibiting the keeping in a general workhouse for more than one week, without the special permission of the President of the Local Government Board, of any person actually certified to be of unsound mind. I shall never forget a visit I paid to a workhouse and the shame I felt as the old women stood up, "in the interests of good discipline" forsooth, because a visitor had entered. I never felt so disposed to apologise to old persons as when I saw them standing in my presence. When I asked privately for the reason, I was told that it was in the interests of discipline, as it might be unfavourably commented upon if this kind of thing were not seen when an inspector from the Local Government Board visited the place. I am not endeavouring to attack the present President of the Local Government Board. I believe that he has done better than many who have occupied that position. I believe that he attempts to administer a system which perhaps in his heart he condemns as heartily as we do. But I believe the evils of the general mixed workhouses require attention and could be dealt with by administration apart altogether from legislative enactment.

The workhouse as it exists to-day stands, so far as the poor are concerned, for the cheerless solitude of the friendless. In old age companions there will be, but they fail to comfort. Food, monotonous in kind, served not in the most comfortable conditions, and warmth there will be. But in these aggressively spotless surroundings, in this shelter which is not a home, there is not that feeling of fellowship which should comfort the declining years of the aged. It is this monotony and the unstated but implied suggestion of blame in having to resort there, which makes the workhouse the goal only of the despairing and the indifferent. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Local Government Board will crown his strenuous career by terminating during the lifetime of the present Government the reproaches levelled, with so solid a foundation of truth, at the administration of the Poor Law. He could by the benevolent compulsion of a generous encouragement secure that in the administration of the Poor Law it should no longer be regarded as a crime to be poor, and that success should not be regarded as attained when a Board of Guardians has reduced the giving of relief to a minimum. The prevention of destitution should be the object to be attained, and this can best be achieved by dealing in an adequate manner with the children. I will conclude with some lines from Lowell, on "Freedom." Is true freedom but to break Fetters for our own clear sake, And with leathern hearts, forget, That we owe mankind a debt? No! True freedom is to share All the chains our brothers wear, And with heart and hand to be, Earnest to make others free. I beg to move.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


In rising to second this Amendment, I trust I shall get that considerate treatment which is, I am told, universally meted out to those who speak in this House for the first time. I wish I had the same confidence that I could do justice to this very important subject which has been so ably introduced by my hon. Friend. I desire to deal particularly with the able-bodied men and women who have to come within the clutches of the Poor Law. The Royal Commission of 1834 manifestly intended to deal with the able-bodied, and recommended that separate institutions should be provided for old age, sickness, and children. I suggest that had that course been pursued the experience gained in the years from about 1840 down to the present time would have been of great value, and would have prevented a tremendous amount of self-respect being lost, and a tremendous amount of suffering being endured. The recent Royal Commission on the Poor Law reports that the dominant characteristic of the workhouse is its promiscuous herding together of all ages, sexes, and classes. I think that those words, expressing so forcibly the opinion of the Royal Commission, are in themselves a justification for this House taking into consideration the state of the administration of the Poor Law. I cannot do better than quote a few words of one writer when commenting upon the Report of the Royal Commission. Speaking of the workhouse he said:— It has become what it was never intended to be. One form of treatment is meted out indifferently to sturdy able-bodied men, to those whom sorrow and privation have deprived of hope and courage, to tottering age and helpless infancy. Its portals are open alike to those who have been brought low by sheer misfortune, and to the vicious and the criminal. As you read the Report of the Royal Commission you feel, as this writer feels, that there has been, and, if allowed to continue, will be, something very seriously wrong in the administration of the Poor Law. The Commission further declare, and I ask hon. Members to take particular notice of these words, that boards of guardians are simply destitution authorities, and only step in when the evil is complete and the pauper is so deprived of material resources that his life is in danger. That is perhaps the groundwork of my argument, that some machinery should be brought into being to prevent the able-bodied men from ever entering the workhouse at all. I know it will be a very difficult matter; I know that some will perforce get there; but what I feel is that those who have to go there should have a separate institution of their own.

From the period when a man becomes unemployed to the period of destitution there is not a single agency or a single helping hand that can be stretched out to keep that man's head above water, until he is compelled to seek what in the bottom of his heart is repellant to him. What we really want is during that period some system of organised agencies which would prevent that man pursuing the downward course to destitution and unemployability, and, what is worse, to the state of vicious-ness which we find in that class of people and which every Member of this House would wish to see removed from our society. The Report goes on to make the very remarkable statement that 100,000 people become destitute for the first time in each succeeding year. For the first time! Surely this country is great enough, big enough, rich enough, good-hearted enough, to take steps to prevent this recurring year after year. If the ever-increasing amount of machinery and the commercial speeding up means the throwing out of work of many able-bodied men, and the increase of the number of people coming to destitution year by year, what is going to be the future state of our society? I plead here that we should look upon this destitution with all its attendant horrors, as being like a cancer working into the social life of our country, and the sooner remedial measures are brought into being to arrest the progress of this state of things the better it will be not only for society in our time, but for future generations. I wish to point out to the House another very remarkable fact, and that is that the workhouse does not get rid of destitution. We want machinery to deal with these features. I am not here putting in a single plea either for the "work-shies" or for the incorrigible. I am one of those who believe that every man ought to take his fair share of work in this world, and that in those particular cases where men are likely to become a drag on others it should be seen to that they do sufficient work for, at any rate, their own independent living, those who refuse to work their average should be dealt with in a very summary fashion. But there is always a chance for a man when he can see the hope of better things ahead; when he realises that there are people and agencies that take an interest in his welfare.

What I have said equally applies to women—and more so. It is calculated that there are 60,000 able-bodied women receiving out-relief in England and Wales. The majority of these are not free to engage in industrial employment owing to having the care of children. I do not want to mislead the House in any way by quoting figures, for when I decided to second this Resolution I decided not to quote figures unless necessary. But we must of necessity quote some, if just to show the magnitude in some or other of the matters which we have in hand. The majority of these 60,000 are not free to engage in industrial work. That in itself gets to the point raised by my hon. Friend. What are these women to do? They have children to keep, and in many hundreds of cases sick husbands as well. They have to do this on the 1s. 6d. or 1s. 9d. per head as the case may be, that they can get doled out in the shape of out-relief. Where the women can get some little employment, it is that that I should never for one moment like to see one of my children come to, either laundry occupation or occupation with very little pay, and that extends over as many hours as the woman can spare from home. What, under these conditions, is becoming of the womanhood of the country? What is to become of the children who are dragged with insufficient food all these years while the mother is working for them? The Report says that there are 50,000 widows with 125,000 children. I claim, however, that these women should never be included in the return of able-bodied women at all. The woman who has the care and the upbringing of children should be able to see that her home is kept intact, and that the children are brought up under the influence of the mother, who should be assisted with adequate relief, so that the family may live together until the children come of age. It is a crime against civilisation to drive women to earn money in industry at the expense of their children. Women who have husbands in employment have their share of work, but it is doubly hard when the wage-earner is taken away from them, and they have to bear the brunt of the family up-bringing. Labour wards and test-houses have proved a failure to meet the case. This may be partly because men have got too far in their state of destitution. Be that as it may, I believe that we can prevent, or do a lot to prevent, a great deal of that recurring if the proper agencies are put to work. I hope that the efforts for the decasualisation of labour may alter the present situation somewhat. In these wards the good and bad are mixed together. The good and the willing workers receive the same treatment and the same rigid diet as the "work-shy." I do not wish to quote anything that would hurt the feelings of the President of the Local Government Board. I am not arguing from the standpoint that either the right hon. Gentleman or the Local Government Board is at fault in the matter. It has taken years and years, and Government after Government have passed the matter over, for us to get at the state in which we are in the present time. It would be folly for any man to blame any one Government or any one Department for the state of things which we find to-day. The same remark applies equally to those gentlemen who have sacrificed leisure in doing service on Boards of Guardians, the work of which, in this country, has never been recognised by the public as it ought to have been. The case of Belmont Workhouse where eighty men mutinied—I am quoting from the answers given in this House on the matter—proves the failure of the present system, and I only mention it to prove that failure. It is not an isolated case, but one of the most recent. There is another thing in connection with the administration of the poor-law. When a man has to seek shelter at a workhouse his wife and children are perforce dragged with him to the workhouse. If anything can be done at the same expense wasted today in this administration it ought to be done to keep these people in their own homes.

The Commission also are unanimous in recommending the abolition altogether of workhouses. Let me read another opinion on this matter:— The workhouse has even failed to reach the standard of uniformity common to the whole country. Some have marble halls and elaborate fittings; others do not provide the barest elements of decent life. In some the administration is so harsh and severe that poor persons endanger their lives, and the lives of others, by delaying to apply for admission; others are so lax as to undermine the independence and moral stamina of the inmates. Moreover, the workhouse sometimes encourages the very kind of life which it was intended to prevent. Men can enter it and leave it as they like. It is made possible for a whole class of 'ins' and 'outs' to be kept in existence. If this be true there is no question of what is the duty of this House. If any one of these findings is true, our duty is perfectly clear: to recommend the abolition of the workhouse, and to recommend that separate institutions should be set up under separate management—firstly, for children; secondly, for the aged and infirm; thirdly, for the sick; fourthly, for the able-bodied; fifthly, for mothers; sixthly, for Vagrants; and seventhly, for the feebleminded. A large number of these latter are in some workhouses mixed up together. I had a similar experience to that of my hon. Friend in this matter. I happened to be in the women's portion of a workhouse, and in that ward there was a feeble-minded woman who had come into the workhouse to give birth to her third child in that institution. What are we doing that persons of weak intellect should be allowed continually to do this kind of thing? No respectable woman who applies to-day for relief desires to be herded with people of these various types.

Surely we have made out a case where we ought to get some sympathetic consideration from the Government! I am far from blaming any one person or any one Department. My only desire is that some real effort should be made to improve the condition of the people who are in the position I have indicated, having drifted down and down until they have swollen the ranks of those who, even if they want to work, are physically unfitted. Recently the County Councils Association expressed their willingness to take their fair share of the burden of administration. I was very pleased to see that. My chief desire is to treat our men and women who have become so unfortunate as to require assistance as if they had a human conscience. Not only do we desire to do that, but we desire to give them every encouragement to keep up their humanity. If we do that, we shall prevent thousands from losing their self-respect and their inclination for work, and prevent them from drifting into a vicious and worthless mass of humanity, There is no party move in connection with this Resolution. I am satisfied that is transparent to everybody in the House, and what I do plead for is that every Member of this House should be determined that he does his share to remove some of those black spots, and if we do that we shall have earned the blessings of future generations.


I very rarely rise to address this House, and I should not get up now to say a few words on this subject, but for the fact that I spent the best twenty-two years of my life in endeavouring to administer the Poor Law wisely, and that for eighteen years out of these twenty-two I was chairman of my Board. I wish to imitate the very moderate and sensible tone of the speakers on the other side, and to express my hearty agreement with the terms of this Resolution. When the Poor Law was placed on its present basis in 1834 we were suffering from very grave evils, much more so, I think, than now. The men who had originated the treatment of our poor under the Poor Law were very able men, and their motives were very high, and they did a great deal of good. But a great change has passed over our social life in these seventy years, and I think we are all agreed that the time has arrived, and that it arrived some years ago, when it was absolutely necessary to reconsider this whole question. I am always in favour, and always have been since the county councils were established—and that is the opinion of both the Minority and Majority of the Poor Law Commission—that the care of our poor should be handed over to those bodies. They are representative bodies, popularly elected, doing splendid work, and they are the bodies that ought to have the care of our poor. I do not say a word against the term "Guardians of the Poor"—there could be no nobler title—but I believe the men elected on county and borough councils would do the work as well and more efficiently than it is done at present if they worked through statutory committees, with a well-paid clerk, who should advise them on matters of law and precedent. I think a great deal of the power should be handed over to that statutory committee, whose decision should be communicated to the whole body. It may be said that one objection to that suggestion is that the county councils are already overburdened with work, and that a lot of additional responsibility was thrown upon them lately, and that it would not be wise to give them more to do. I think that objection would be fully met if the statutory committees had the power to co-opt men and women who gave proof of the desire to act and had the adaptability to do so, and to deal with the difficult questions affecting the Poor Law. I think in that way the work of the county and borough councils would not be very largely increased.

The question about the classification of the poor is a very urgent matter, and it is one that I think might be carried out without any great difficulty. I speak entirely of London, because my experience of the Poor Law in the country is very slight. The previous speaker wished to see workhouses abolished. We may abolish the term workhouse, and in the institutions which we should retain for use the word "workhouse" would cease to be the term applied. I should like to see houses for the aged, the infirm, and the blind. These houses should be homes where such old and afflicted people would be admitted and kindly treated. It would be no hardship to provide infirmaries in that way to which the people could be moved very easily owing to the very cheap transit in London by our huge metropolitan railways. In that way a great deal of the evils arising out of the herding of the poor together would be got rid of. Some of the workhouses would, of course, be retained and reserved for people who do not want to work. These people should be placed in these institutions, compelled to do some kind of work, and the discipline should be very severe.

When I was in America, many years ago, there was a plan there which seemed to me to be a wise one. I do not know whether it would suit our English notions. There was a process, I think it was in the State of New York, by which any man out of work, yet willing to work, could call upon the nearest magistrate and sign away his liberty for three months. The magistrate countersigned, and the man was committed to a house, where he was detained for three months at some suitable employment. There was this proviso, that the man was allowed to write letters and, if any former employer of his thought to make use of him by giving him employment, he could come and find out at once. That scheme, with some modification, might usefully apply to certain men in this country willing to work, but unable at the moment to find work. Then, with regard to the feeble-minded, the case cited by the hon. Member opposite was a most painful one of a feeble-minded woman who came to the workhouse to be delivered of her third child.

That does seem an evil which ought to be got rid of, but it is very difficult to-define what is a feeble-minded person. We have no right to restrict the liberty of people, no matter how silly they may be, except the feeble-minded are of such a character as that a doctor would say they ought not to be abroad. While the present state of things is allowed such dreadful occurrences as that mentioned by the hon. Member opposite will happen. I remember a very similar case, but it was that of a man, father of a family. He was feeble-minded, and for a great part of his life was shut up in an asylum. But he was harmless, and occasionally the superintendent let him out, and he went home. No less than seven children were born to that man, all more or less feeble-minded; but the guardians of the poor had no power to shut him up when the expert let him out—they had no right to interfere with him, nor with his wife. I mention this to show the extreme difficulty there is in treating the feeble-minded. I express the hope and confident belief that the present President of the Local Government Board, in whose ability, hard work, and sound statesmanship I for one strongly believe, and who has full knowledge of both the Minority and Majority Reports, and who has heard many speeches and has had many communications upon the subject, will deal with this question in a masterly way, and if he does so he will receive warm support from all parts of the House.


I have been connected with the administration of the Poor Law for twenty-five years, and I have been for many years chairman of a Poor Law board. I yield to no Member of this House, not even to the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion, in my desire to do what can be done to relieve the necessities and distress of the poor, but I am of opinion that it can be better done by extending the present power of the boards of guardians rather than by abolishing these bodies, and administering the Poor Law through the county councils. I have been a member of a county council for twenty-two years, and I am bound to say that we are already very greatly burdened with work, so much so indeed that we have to delegate largely our present duties to officials rather than to exercise that constant and close supervision which is desirable in the administration of county work. While I have the greatest respect for officials, I am of opinion that if the administration of the Poor Law is placed in the hands of the county councils it will devolve ultimately, and that quickly, into the administration of the Poor Law by officials rather than as at present by guardians, who have intimate knowledge of the cases they have to deal with, and know the localities and circumstances which enables them in my opinion to deal more fully, sympathetically and justly with the poor than the officials of the county councils could. Therefore I do hope that we shall devote our attention rather to improving the present system than doing away with Poor Law Guardians, and putting the administration of the Poor Law into the hands of the county councils.

A previous speaker referred to five or six different institutions. I am aware that this was recommended by the Poor Law Commission, but I would point out, with all due respect to the members of that Commission, there were very few of them who had any personal knowledge of the administration of the Poor Law, and it is only those who have full knowledge of the Poor Law that are in a position to consider the case of the poor with minute and practical knowledge and sympathy.

If we had these five or six different institutions it would mean the division of families and the breaking up of family life, and the poor have their feelings towards the members of their families just as well as other classes. I am sure, from experience, that there would be great objection on the part of the poor if the father was sent to one institution, the mother to a second, one child to a third, and another child to a fourth. There would be great feeling on the part of the poor against any such proposal. I am glad to know that the conditions in our workhouses have greatly improved, and we are grateful to the President of the Local Government Board for doing what he can to still further improve those institutions. I am a member of a rural board of guardians, and I do not hesitate to say that the members of that Board have devoted more time, care, and generally more anxiety to the performance of their duty than I have met with on any other public body which I have ever been a member of. Those people are prepared to carry on this work, and under these circumstances would it be wise to take that work out of the hands of those people who have a personal knowledge of it in order to put it into the hands of the county councils who have not got that personal knowledge, who would have to depend very largely upon the advice of their officials, and who would lack the knowledge which is necessary to deal sympathetically and considerately with the claims of the poor. We have under the Tavistock Board of Guardians a certain number of inmates entitled to old age pensions, but thirty out of thirty-four of them prefer to stay in the workhouse. I know that in the case of many rural boards of guardians a great improvement has been made in the administration, and many of the poor are better off than they would be living in cottages. Of course, I want to see better housing of the working classes, and I would like to see out-door relief given upon more liberal terms, but we should not destroy these institutions which have served a good purpose, the members of which are anxious to go on with the work and are looking to the President of the Local Government Board and this House for further powers of classification and better treatment of the poor. I am satisfied that as regards the rural districts the poor will be better off under the present system than under county council control and management.

The case of the feeble-minded is a very important aspect of this question. We have on different occasions appealed to the Lunacy Commissioners with a view to having a separate institution for the feeble-minded, but we have been met with the reply that we must establish conditions much similar and equally expensive to those required in dealing with lunatics. We think we should have an institution which would be a considerable improvement for the feeble-minded, in which conditions would prevail to meet their case without requiring a very expensive system like that of a lunatic asylum. We have also a very difficult question in regard to the subject of vagrancy, and I hope something will be done to meet that case. I know the President of the Local Government Board is not very favourable to Labour colonies, but this question has to be grappled with. In the Tavistock Union we built wards with large separate cells for each man to do his own stone-breaking in, in order to keep them separate and give them more healthy conditions. I feel that while we must deal generously with the real bonâ fide working-man, at the same time we have to deal differently with those who may be said to be looking for work and hoping at the same time that they will not find it. I think those men ought to be made to work. Some of these men have through adversity got down and cannot get up. Those men ought to be provided with a course of healthy food and reasonable labour in order to regain health and strength and power to earn their living. There are, I repeat, others who have no desire whatever to work, and they ought to be made to work. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will try to bring before Parliament some scheme to deal with the vagrancy question, which is a very serious matter in the country districts. I know this evil is encouraged by gifts of food and sometimes money, partly through sympathy. Sometimes we see a poor fellow on a wet day badly clothed, and he may ask us for money, and, although it is wrong theoretically, we can hardly do anything else than assist him, for otherwise he would be practically in a stale of starvation. We want some scheme devised whereby these men can get work and have remuneration, and then the public will cease supporting them by giving sometimes out of charity and often, in the case of women in cottages by the roadside, out of fear of what would happen if they did not give them something to pass on. I hope the President of the Local Government Board will endeavour to deal with this question.

While I yield to no Member of this House in my anxiety to still further develop the care taken of the inmates in our workhouses, I feel sure that if we have extended powers we can do all that is desired even by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway at very much less expense than will be the case if workhouses are abolished and the administration of the Poor Law is put into the hands of county councils. I think hon. Members will agree with me that county councils already have enormous duties to perform. They carry on a very laborious work, and some of the best men in the counties are engaged in it, and I am afraid they will hesitate about continuing members of those bodies if we put the administration of the Poor Law into their hands in addition to their already very important duties. If we do that I am afraid we shall drive some of the best men out of the work altogether. From every point of view—first because I believe by giving the present boards of guardians extended powers we can improve the condition of the poor; and secondly, by a more liberal administration of outdoor relief, after careful enquiry, giving the deserving cases help rather than breaking up their homes, I believe we can improve still further the application of the Poor Law in the interests of the poor, and do it on much more economical terms than will be the case if we do away with workhouses and concentrate the administration of the Poor Law in the county councils. I hope the President of the Local Government Board will continue to extends to boards of guardians every facility for increased classification and for the better treatment of the people under their charge. Then I am satisfied it will be better for the poor to continue under those conditions than it will be for the work to be taken out of the hands of the men and women who are now performing those duties. Let me here say what valuable work women have rendered on boards of guardians, more especially in regard to their sympathy with fallen women and with the children. Here we all come to recognise that it is desirable we should do all we can to take the children away from the workhouse atmosphere and surroundings. We can do that well under our present system, if we have facilities for that purpose. While I am in deep sympathy with the effort of the hon. Member who has moved this Resolution to better the conditions of the poor, I must say that I believe it will be calamitous to the poor, and lead to a very heavy financial burden on the ratepayers, if workhouses are abolished and the work concentrated in the county councils of the counties. In some of the larger urban unions perhaps a different treatment may be necessary, but even there, if those unions have extended powers, I think they will be able to deal with this difficulty better than the county councils.


Like the hon. Member who has just sat down, I have been a member of a board of guardians. I have also had the honour of serving on the Poor Law Commission. I need not bother the House with my own personal experience as a guardian as evidence in support of this Resolution. My own experience is supported by the knowledge gained from witnesses and from observations made on this subject in every part of the country. What are the facts in regard to the Poor Law administration which led the Commission unanimously to report in condemnation of the present administration. Widely as I differ from the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Local Government Board—and probably on another occasion I take the opportunity, from my point of view, of severely criticising his administration—yet at the same time I may say that the Commission took no stock at all of the fact that he was at the head of that administration, and we came to our conclusion because we believed that the present Poor Law methods were based on an altogether wrong assumption, that assumption being that you must leave the poor until they reach the point of destitution. The Commission unanimously came to the conclusion that that is an altogether wrong point to start from, that the real thing to do is to prevent people from becoming destitute, and that the money we are now spending annually on the poor in the United Kingdom, amounting to between £16,000,000 and £18,000,000, is very largely wasted because we wait for the point of destitution before we commence applying our remedy.

5.0 P.M.

On that Commission there were those who represented advance views as a guardian like myself. There was also the representative of one of the model boards of guardians in the Kingdom, Mr. F. H. Bentham, the Chairman of the Bradford Board of Guardians; Miss Octavia Hill, the Rev. H. Russell Wakefield, Mr. Phelps and others, who have been Poor Law Guardians. I remember there were four of the principal officers of the English, Irish and Scotch Local Government Boards, and therefore when a body like that reports to this House and the country that the Poor Law has broken down, that it has been administered on wrong lines, and we ought to administer it from an altogether different standpoint to that which we have been adopting for the last sixty or seventy years, I say that those of us who are guardians and who form the Local Government Board ought not to think of our dignity in the matter, but we ought to consider it from the point of view of actual facts. Let us for a moment consider it from the point of view of sickness. My hon. Friend laid a good deal of stress upon this point. I suppose everyone here will agree that when persons are sick they should get assistance or relief at the earliest possible moment. The other day, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, there was an inquest in Shoreditch where an unhappy child died, and at the inquest it was stated the guardians refused to give assistance in the home where the child lived because of the badness of the parents. The Commission unanimously say that is a wrong principle altogether. It may be true the parents were to blame, but society, through the board of guardians, ought not to visit the sins of the parents on the child in that way. At present, however, that is all the boards of guardians can do. It is not their business to relieve under any other condition than that of destitution. There are tens of thousands of people throughout England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland in this condition, and the medical investigators appointed by the Commission reported one after the other that the huge sums of money spent on putting up quite palatial infirmaries are very largely wasted, because you deter people from coming until it is too late for the things you put at their disposal to be of any real benefit to them. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I would respectfully ask him to go into the Library when he has some leisure and take down the report of Dr. McVail and Dr. Parsons, who both reported that the real blot on the medical service of the Poor Law was not that it was not an able service, and not that the men and women who carry it out were not devoted men and women, but that the principle on which you apply medical Poor Law relief was such that people waited to come to you until the very last point had been reached. Reference has also been made to the suffering inflicted on women at times of child-birth, and something has been said about the cost in this matter. I beg to point out the investigators reported that in very many instances the child was born a cripple, and was a burden, therefore, upon society for life. It is not economy to say to a mother, "We will not give you the assistance you need unless you come to us as a pauper and enter our building."

Let me tell the House what I have witnessed going about the country. I went into homes in the huge industrial district which has grown up in South Wales during the last half-century, where they are receiving doles of Poor Law relief. A man, for instance, suffering from phthisis, will be getting, with his family, 10s. per week. I saw families of five, six, and seven, of all ages, ranging from two upwards, living in one solitary room without any ventilation. When I appealed to the authorities as to why these cases were dealt with in that manner, the medical officer, who took me round, said: "What are we to do? These people will not move out of these houses. There are no other houses for them to go to, and we have no institutions into which we can put them." I say you might as well have put the 10s. into the sea for all the good you were doing, because the man, being there, was simply infecting his own family with the disease from which he was suffering. Then I saw children living in what were called institutions. I am not going to say any harsh words about guardians, but when we opened the door of the institution I have in my mind the four of us who were visiting wanted to run away. The stench of the day room was simply intolerable, and yet babies were being brought up under that kind of condition. We asked the reason, and it was because the Poor Law authorities thought they ought not to spend money on building a bigger institution. I could give case after case of a similar character. Since the passing of the Act of 1834 the whole of the great public health service of this country has grown up. If I catch small-pox or scarlet fever you take very good care to deal with me at the earliest possible moment. The majority of the Commission might not agree as to the authority to be set up, but we all agreed that the person who is sick, whatever kind of sickness it is, ought to be taken hold of and dealt with without any regard to means.


I particularly said that boards of guardians must have extended powers in order to deal with this question, and then they would be better able to deal with it—better than county councils.


I will come to that later, if you do not mind. I want to emphasise my point by telling the House something that happened in Hamburg. We are being continually referred to Germany. I spent, with the rest of my colleagues, from four to five weeks trying to investigate as far as we could in the time, the conditions prevailing in Germany. We interviewed the doctors in Hamburg, and a friend of mine said to one of them: "Are you not afraid of breaking down the independent spirit of people by giving them free medical relief in this fashion? The old German doctor gave us the correct answer. "Disease and sickness is something that is ugly and ought to be got rid of wherever you find it. Instead of our wanting to keep people away, we invite people to come to us and get rid of disease and sickness as soon as we can." The hon. Member opposite says the county councils and the town councils have not time to do this work. I would point out to him that every town council and every county authority has to provide certain hospitals and certain treatment for certain kinds of diseases, and the Public Health Committee only needs to have added this service, which is similar to the service it is now performing, and it can carry out the work in a more efficient manner than is being done now. It will carry it out more efficiently, because it will carry it out from a different point of view. The present public health authorities administer from the point of view of prevention all the time. Socialist as I am, I do not want the people to have the liberty to live in dirt and disease, and I want the public health authority to have absolute power to go into homes and take out people who are suffering in this kind of way. I would take people who will not go, because they are a danger, not only to themselves, but to the whole community; and the liberty of the individual must be subordinated to the need of the whole of the men and women who make up society. I want to urge that it would not overload the public health authorities in the manner suggested by adding this little burden. I have been a member of a public health authority and a Poor Law guardian, and I am speaking from actual experience.

The next thing I want to say is with reference to children. A strong case has been made out by my hon. Friends with regard to children. Is the House aware it has been stated, not by persons like myself—I may not be believed, because it may be thought I exaggerate—but by people who were appointed and paid to investigate that there are 15,000 to 20,000 children in England and Wales who are getting outdoor relief and who are living under vicious immoral conditions. That of itself is quite enough to condemn the administration of the Poor Law. I know the hon. Member opposite has as good and as kind a heart as myself or any other man, and he will not deny that boards of guardians expect a mother to bring up at least one or two children without assistance.


Excuse me, that is the law. I say we must have extended powers.


I would respectfully, suggest that the hon. Member should learn the law. I am not a lawyer—the Lord forbid—but I would beg to point out that is not the case. Boards of guardians have absolute discretion as to whom they should relieve and as to how they should relieve, always supposing they can prove the person is destitute. You need not make a mother keep one child. You need not make the mother even keep herself. The educational authority now deals with medical inspection and with the feeding of children. It is a monstrous proposition that an able-bodied man may have his children fed at the public expense and have them medically treated at the public expense and not be a pauper, whilst a widow, because she needs a little more social service through her children, is to be branded as a pauper. You have all the machinery now for dealing with these children of widows, and I want to emphasise the fact that we must recognise it is not all the bad women who lose their husbands. You cannot say it is a woman's own fault that she becomes a widow and becomes dependent upon the community. I would press this very strongly. You do not need two authorities in order to deal with a tiny fraction of children who need dealing with under the Poor Law. You have the big educational authorities dealing with meals, and you can easily turn on to them the care of this very tiny fraction of 130,000 or 140,000 children scattered throughout the country.

I want to say a word on the question of the workhouses. It is often said a workhouse is a very comfortable kind of institution. I have visited nearly every one of the big workhouses in the country, and of all the horrible places I think the workhouse is the most horrible. It is so infernally clean. There is no decent dirt about it at all. You get up by a bell, you get your breakfast by a bell, you get your dinner by a bell, you get your supper by a bell, and I was going to say you go to the other place by a bell. It is a bell all the time. Your life is ruled by routine. Going round visiting these expensive palaces—I do not know why, but workhouses are more expensive to build than many a rich man's house—it has often been said to me: "What have you to say against this place? Is it not clean and comfortable?" and the rest of it. I say to anyone here that when workhouses are homes of rest for worn-out Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers, then I shall consider they are decent places for a working man to go and end his days. Not one of you here would die in the workhouse if you had your choice—not even in the best and most up-to-date building, and that in itself is quite enough condemnation for me. But when you look at the large number in our workhouses in the day and feeding rooms, you will find there herded together the harmless lunatic, the imbecile, the epileptic, the aged person, and sometimes the able-bodied man, a great mixture of people, each of them a nuisance to the other. I ask you whether you think we cannot do something better with the money we spend? Just think what it costs to keep them there. It is often said that we in England have progressed as far as we can. But Scotland, which is not very strongly represented here just now, even Scotland has done better than we have with regard to the aged and the children. In that country children are hardly ever taken into institutions, and, with regard to the aged, the Scottish have developed in a very fine way the principle of keeping these people in small homes rather than in huge palaces. Here in our own country the extraordinary position is this. This House has settled that when you are seventy you shall have an honourable old age pension. But if you are a few days under seventy, you are not an honourable person; you must have pauper relief.

I want to suggest to the House it is time that that thing was ended, and that we insist that boards of guardians should approach the question of the aged poor from exactly the same point of view as they approach it when these people reach the age of seventy, and say, frankly and freely, that they are a charge on the community and that any invalided person, pending the passing of the scheme we are going to have for aged and invalided persons, ought not to be maintained in any institution, but, wherever possible, should be maintained in their own homes. I will not trouble the House about the able-bodied. Some other time we may have an opportunity of discussing that, but I would like to say this. The Vagrancy Committee have reported that vagrants cannot be dealt with by the local authorities. I ask hon. Members to keep that in mind. The Vagrancy Committee has said that they ought to be dealt with in a national manner all over the country, and taken away from the Poor Law authorities. I go a step further and say that your dealing with the able-bodied is too good for the bad and too bad for any decent man at all. Your workhouse administration—however brutal it may have been, has never choked off the men you wanted to choke off. When you remember that one workhouse master put an inmate to count the bricks in his cell as a task, and when you remember that your latest experiment has broken down in London, surely it is time we found a more excellent way of dealing with these matters. The Member for East Birmingham (Mr. Steel-Maitland) rather twitted us on these benches with wanting apparently to deal only with ambulance methods. He said we took very little stock of the real problem underlying this great question. I want the House to understand that I at least only want ambulance and hospital methods while there are victims of our industrial system.

I would join with hon. Members in any earnest attempt they may care to make to get rid of casual intermittent labour in the only ordered way it can be got rid of. But in the meantime I want to appeal to this House. We are spending days and weeks on this Parliament Bill for good or for evil, but we have not come up against this problem of poverty all the time. My colleagues and most of you also do, at election times, come up against it. But what are we doing here in regard to it. Here is a report representing three and a half years' hard and ungrudging work on the part of men and women, aided and backed up by some of the most skilful investigators in the country. What has this British Parliament done in regard to it? Two years have elapsed since the issue of the report, yet nothing has been done. This shows the interest of hon. Members in this great social problem. I venture to say, with the greatest possible deference, that I have heard discussed here no question of more paramount importance than this one which goes to the root of society. If we are going always to say that at the root of society there is to be this mass of poverty and destitution, then I reply you can never be really moral. The state of the country can never be really sound while that condition remains, and I should like to appeal to the House, not to deal with this matter from any party point of view, but to let us act together and say to the Leaders on both sides that we will not tolerate postponing this question any longer, but that we intend to join in a really effective demand on the Government to give us time to commence work on this tremendous problem of poverty and misery. For my part I do not want to be in this House merely to talk about constitutional changes. I do not want to be here merely to discuss our Empire beyond the seas. The Empire I want to consider, and which I invite hon. Members here to consider, is the Empire of the poor, poverty-stricken people who need not be poverty-stricken, but who are driven down by the dead weight of your economic and commercial conditions. I want to see men and women lifted out of that. They can be lifted out of it. Let us join in discussing and settling this problem once and for all.


I am sure the House has listened with great interest to the speech we have just heard. I quite agree that it is no use saying the Constitution of the country is sound so long as your Empire rests on such a basis of poverty and misery. If you are going to start dealing with this question you must start at the bottom. It is for that reason we all regret that two years have passed since the Commission reported, and not a single step has been taken to move this question on. It is a very important question. How much longer are we going to wait? If we are content to wait two years we may as well wait ten years. Time goes by, but all this time the children are growing up in insanitary homes under bad conditions. These are the citizens on whom we have to depend for the future. You are losing a whole generation. We cannot afford to do that. I rose with the intention of dealing with one part only of this large and complicated subject. I wish to deal with the question of the children. I should like to see the children entirely removed from the scope of the Poor Law. I should like to see them handed over to the educational authorities. I believe it is not within the scope of order to discuss that now, as it is a legislative and not an administrative matter. I will therefore pass on to point out to the right hon. Gentleman certain matters in which by the action of his Department he may improve the present state of things.

There are 250,000 children now under the Poor Law, and that does not represent the total number. I should say that there are something like half a million altogether who come under it; it is therefore a large question. It would not, however, be a very great change to hand them over to the educational authority, because that authority is already dealing with millions of children. Apart from that, I want to deal with two or three small points of administration. The first is the out-relief given to children at the present time. That is so small as to be perfectly useless. We know that the children who are fed by the Poor Law are, as a rule, below the average of the general community in both brain and body. That is entirely a question of feeding, and in these matters, unless you spend money generously, it would be far better to keep it in your pockets.

The next question has reference to Poor Law schools. There the great vice is that the children come in and go out very frequently for the reason that their parents are not on the Poor Law; they are there only for a short time. I suggest to the President of the Local Government Board that he could standardise and systematise that in some "way. There again you are very largely wasting your money, because it is no good keeping the children for three weeks or a month. You want to get control of them, and keep them under proper authority. Thirdly, I come to our old friend, the question of mixed workhouses. It is somewhat extraordinary that we, in this year, should still be attacking these workhouses. I believe there are now 20,000 children living in workhouses, children of school age, and, since the Commission reported, not one single child so far as I know, has been taken out. More than that, the number is not decreasing. Surely it is not necessary to labour that point. The previous speaker pointed out the evil of the workhouse, and everybody, who knows anything about the subject, knows that while these places are bad for the grown-ups, they are still worse for the children. Yet great as is the evil, often as it has been attacked, nothing still has been done. The next point I wish to bring to the attention of the Committee is the chaos which exists at present in regard to children who are subject to three different Departments of the Government. First of all there is the education authority, then the Poor Law authority, and then the police authority. The result is that there is almost indescribable chaos and that a very large amount of overlapping exists. In London no fewer than three different bodies are engaged in feeding children of school age, and in some cases the same family are being fed by two, and I am told in some cases the same child is being fed by two authorities. There again I do appeal to the President to take some action. Surely he can do something and there are resources at the command of his office which will enable him to devise some scheme for preventing this overlapping, which all means waste of money, because all this work can be done inside the scope of the present Poor Law. I hope we shall hear something about this in the speech which we shall soon listen to, I believe I should not be in order in discussing the Report of the Departmental Committee which was appointed by the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like to ask whether we are to have an opportunity of discussing it. A good many of us have read that report with shame.


I will answer that question at once. The Prime Minister promised an opportunity on the Estimates.


I apologise, and will leave-the subject, except to say that perhaps we shall not get that opportunity.


You have no right to assume that.


Sometimes Estimates are closured and they do not come under discussion.


We never have that.


I have not been very long in the House, but I have sometimes taken part in that remarkable performance which takes place every year whereby we vote millions in the course of an afternoon, and nobody gets a chance of discussing anything at all. I hope, however, that we shall have some chance of discussing that report.


Yes, you will.


Before I sit down I wish to say a word or two in regard to the Report of the Commission, or the two Reports of the Commission They both agree that the great channels of pauperism are unemployment, sickness, and neglected childhood. Surely we can do something to close that last avenue. It is by far the most important, and do not let us be put off with the ordinary official reply that this has been done here and that has been done there when we know that nothing has been done, and we are where we were two years ago. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly sincere in his desire to see a better state of things, but may I ask him to impress that desire on his officials, and to see that we get something done. The question has been threshed out for a great many years, and especially in this year, and since the report of the County Councils Association we do see the means of agreement between the conflicting schools of thought on this subject. I ask the President of the Local Government Board to take advantage of that circumstance, and I can assure him that all parties in the House will give him their unqualified support.


The speeches to which we have listened faithfully reflect the dissatisfaction which undoubtedly does exist to a very large extent in the country as to the present state of the Poor Law, and it is a dissatisfaction to which I do not think the Government can very long turn a deaf ear. I do not know what steps the Government propose to take—whether they propose to abolish the guardians or merely redistribute them—but I hope that they will at all events break up the Poor Law so far as to place the feeble-minded and the unemployable under the charge of some central national authority because these unfortunate people present a problem which can only be solved by continuity and uniformity of treatment. There can be no improvement in their condition so long as they are in the charge of isolated authorities who work on their own individualistic lines and principles, and are often antagonistic. I fear we shall have to wait for any far-reaching reform a considerable time, because the Government is no doubt much too busy for the next Session or two to take up anything so uninteresting as the Poor Law. It is a subject which cannot possibly add to their popularity, and which might possibly detract from it, but there is no reason why, because we are not able to have a far-reaching or drastic reform, we should mark time in the matter of Poor Law reform. I cannot help thinking that what we might do is to go ahead on lines which are well known amongst those who desire reform, and I believe that the reform which will bear the quickest and the best fruit will be that the President of the Local Government Board should make a more vigorous use of the power which he has already in his hands.

I know this is not exactly the proper time to advocate the extension of the bureaucratic system, but if we are to have a bureaucratic system, to my mind, it may as well be an effective one, and under the present state of the Poor Law the Local Government Board has all the unpopularity of a bureaucracy without any of its effective operation. I should like to know how it is that in spite of the circulars which the right hon. Gentleman issued a year ago, not only are there still 20,000 children within the precincts of the workhouse, but I am informed that there are actually boards of guardians who are contemplating the extension of accommodation within the precincts of the workhouse. The circulars which the right hon. Gentleman issues from time to time give, no doubt, very excellent advice, which is followed, no doubt, by some of the more progressive and up-to-date boards of guardians; but, as far as the backwoodsmen of local government are concerned, they offer an absolutely deaf ear to the advice given, and I should like to see the President of the Local Government Board take to himself such powers as the President of the Board of Education has to deal with a matter of this kind. The President of the Education Office can withdraw a grant when he is dealing with the backward education authority, and the President of the Local Government Board who pays the salaries of some of the officials might by that means make some of the backward boards of guardians toe the line more effectually than they do at present. In regard to the feeble-minded, the epileptics, and insane, there are few sadder sights in the world than to see them sitting round the precincts of the workhouses, and I think that the fact that they should be in this present day herded together in this manner is a disgrace to our civilisation. What is particularly pitiable is the position of the same epileptic who in the intervals of his disease is quite sane. These people ought to be treated in the open air and given regular employment, but, as Dr. MacVeagh pointed out in his Report, they are obliged to loaf about in idleness, and they become a burden to themselves and to the community.

The reason why this problem has not been tackled before is that petty jealousies have prevented boards of guardians from combining to erect suitable institutions for these people. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has power to make boards of guardians combine, but if he has I think he ought to use it, and if not he ought to take the power to himself, because these unfortunate people cannot be properly treated as long as the present Poor Law exists. There is also the question of health. It is, of course, as absurd to say that you can prevent disease as that you can prevent destitution, but I cordially agree with what fell from the hon. Gentleman opposite when he said that there was an enormous amount of disease and an enormous amount of money which might be saved if the services in connection with the health of the people could be handed over to some proper State authority. I am perfectly certain unless that is done you cannot have any great improvement in the condition of the health of the poor, so far as Poor Law relief is concerned, and so long as Poor Relief is administered on principles which are exactly the opposite of those on which every properly constituted health authority should be based. It is important that disease should be treated and diagnosed as early as possible; but the deterrent effect of the Poor Law makes that impossible. Nobody comes to the Poor Law until he is obliged, and there is in consequence an enormous increase of disease and an enormous aggravation of disease also. The relieving officer and the district officer never go to see a case until they are sent for, while, on the other hand, the health authority—the health visitors and sanitary inspectors—are from the nature of their duties constantly in touch with the poor. There is another principle which is, of course, disregarded—namely, that the sick should be treated in healthy surroundings; but the district officers have no power, as-everybody knows, to treat under healthy surroundings those at present diseased. Another principle which is, of course, disregarded under the present system, is that all disease should be treated from the standpoint of prevention; but that cannot possibly be done by an authority whose only duty is to administer for the relief of distress. Dr. MacVeagh summed up the whole question in an admirable manner. He says:— Lazy drunken loafers are taken into the workhouse to be cleaned, fed and tended during their recovery from a debauch, or prostitutes come in to be treated for the foulest diseases and go out again to resume their old career. Persons suffering from the most serious transmissible maladies are afforded relief without prevention of opportunities to inoculate the healthy or contaminate the next generation. Weak-minded girls or dissolute women enter the workhouse to be delivered of illegitimate children, and go away again to return time after time in the same condition. Phthisis cases are maintained in crowded unventilated places, where there is unconstrained facility to convey their disease to their off spring These questions go much further down in the minds of the people than all these questions that we are squabbling about at the present moment. I hope the time will not be long delayed when the Government will take up these questions in earnest, and when they do I shall give them my most hearty support.


Though I am sure, like many other Members on both sides of the House, one agrees with a great deal of what previous speakers have said, we must in fairness recognise that the statement that nothing has been done is hardly correct. When we consider these questions thoroughly we must of necessity consider the genesis of pauperism. I am sure we shall spend our time to very little advantage if we content ourselves with endeavouring to deal with the evil effects of pauperism. It is impossible to deny that the treatment of school children is-something which is directed to one of the chief causes of pauperism. The same applies, of course, to the schemes of insurance and pensions which have been, or are shortly to be, before Parliament, so that one must be quite fair, even to a Department of the Government which we all criticise pretty freely at times. To say that nothing has been done is really decidedly inaccurate. In regard to the administration of the Poor Law with reference to children, I hope the Government will proceed to deal with that class of children who are, and will be, no doubt, throughout the whole of their lives, a burden upon the Poor Law. I have here the record of one particular family, which was gone into most thoroughly, and it turns out that the youngest generation of the family is represented by three children, two of whom were illegitimate, one has been in prison various times, and the third is in a workhouse school. The mother of the children was illegitimate and a pauper, the maternal grandmother was illegitimate and a pauper, and the maternal grandfather was a pauper. That is to say the Commission established that a very large section of pauperism is due to the fact that we have a number of people free to multiply their species who are mentally deficient from their infancy, and it is very necessary, I think, that steps should be taken to deal with the feeble-minded as early as possible.

Nevertheless, the causes of this mass of pauperism, which is thoroughly discreditable to the community, go very much further. The relative stationariness of pauperism during the last few years, as recorded in this Report by the Local Government Board on "Public Health and Social Condition in 1909," notwithstanding the great increase of national wealth, is very remarkable. When we come to look at the changes of occupation of the people we find something which explains this phenomenon to a very great extent. We find, for instance, that the number of agricultural labourers has declined from 3,400,000 fifty years ago to 2,000,000 now This is inevitably reflected when we go to any labour exchange. I was myself in a labour exchange in the east of London the other day, and the manager said, what I suppose they say in every exchange, that we have not much difficulty in placing men who are skilled at all, but we have endless application from porters, and caretakers, and packers, and jobs of that kind. When we come to look at the applications to the distress committees we find at once that a number much greater than any other class of trade is that of general or casual labourer. We have had the depopulation of the country districts on the one hand, and a great increase of the casual labourers in the urban areas on the other. One is the inevitable reflex of the other. These people come up mainly unskilled and no reform of the Poor Law in itself will be enough to deal with this phenomenon, and it will be unfair for us to blame a Government Department which administers the Poor Law which deals with the result of poverty. Here is one of the prime causes of it, and until we as a House deal with this migration from the country to the towns so long must we inevitably have a great burden on the Poor Law in our cities. If we take an average family in a poor district and consider in the light of one case the genesis of pauperism, we soon see certain directions at all events in which the law requires amendment urgently. Take for instance many houses such as exist in London where three or four or even more families live in the same house. In many there is one cold water tap in the back yard. It is an absolute fact, which nothing can get over that it is difficult for the inhabitants in that house to be properly clean. A considerable number of children are reared in these houses and a goodly proportion of them will be defective in one way or another. In the majority of cases the fathers of families in these houses have relatively small wages and are casually employed. They have no place to go to for amusement except the music hall or the public house, and, though I fully recognise all the evil which arises from drink, as long as people have to live under conditions of this kind they must, human nature being what it is, seek relaxation and amusement so that when we come to deal with the root of the problem we are also necessarily engaged in tackling the housing problem. In this respect it would not be fair to say that nothing has been done, because we all recognise that a very great deal has been done, and powers have been obtained to do very much more.

To come back to the household I am considering the children, at the age of eleven or twelve on the average, are some inches shorter and some pounds lighter than they ought to be. In one-room tenements they will be so much more, and in two-room tenements so much less. All we have to do to ascertain the extent of a fact of that kind is to turn to this or any other Blue Book of the kind and find what a mass of people inhabit two-room tenements. There are over 2,000,000 of them. It is obvious that here we have of necessity growing up in our midst armies of children who are physically below par, who will not be able to take proper advantage of the education provided for them, and who will of necessity swell the ranks of the casual labourers. In a report which was issued a short time ago by the Board of Education, we see that we have something like 6,000,000 children under our educational authorities, and we find—the records being confined to those entering school and to those about to leave school, and not applying to the intermediate grades of children—that about 600,000 children attending our elementary schools are subject to serious defects of vision, and we have something like 300,000 children with defective hearing. Follow any child which is subject to either one or the other of these defects. It is less alert than another child and less useful to an employer, and it means of necessity that so long as this state of things continues we must have incompetent workpeople in the community. Here again it is not fair to say that nothing has been done, because apart from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has greatly reduced the number of children of school age in workhouses, the efforts which are now being made for the treatment of school children do of necssity strike at the root of a very great mass of the poverty which is a burden to us at the present time.

A particular matter which I should like to refer to is consumption. An hon. Member opposite said we could not do much in the way of preventing disease, or something of that kind. I must absolutely and completely disagree with him in that. There is no condition which is a burden on our people which we could more easily prevent than consumption. At present our Poor Laws spend something like £1,500,000 in dealing with this disease, and the amount of national loss which is occasioned in the families throughout the length and breadth of the land must be incalculable. It is impossible to assess exactly the amount, but it must be a colossal sum. Here it is necessary to see how the Poor Law at present deals with these cases. I am speaking now of the father of a family—a man who gets consumption, we will say. He does not leave off work if he can avoid it. He gets worse and worse, infecting his whole house in the meantime, and finally he goes to his club doctor, and at that time you can do nothing for him So far as the majority of these people are concerned you might as well sign their death certificate in advance. Before this man can be relieved by the Poor Law he must have got to that stage, and the great expenditure of the Poor Law in dealing with this disease is inevitably made, under our present system, in relieving this kind of thing. It is obvious that we are dealing with this particular man in the wrong place. He should be treated as early as possible; and in connection with this matter, one recognises that the scheme shortly to be produced will afford a magnificent opportunity for eradicating this disease in this country. And thus more will be done in respect of sickness to do away with poverty than by any other measure which has hitherto been before this Parliament. I refer, of course, to insurance against sickness.

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But this report shows quite well that in the case of children—and there are sixty thousand children with this disease in our schools—they can fairly easily be cured, especially if you take them early. To take a man from his work is of course a difficult matter. It means that the income of the family is depreciated weekly. In the case of a child that does not apply at all. There is no obstacle to treating a child as soon as you find out that it has this particular complaint. If we add all these various physical disorders together and see the mass of weakness to which they inevitably give rise it is perfectly evident that no mere tinkering with the administration of the Poor Law will be sufficient and that we must strike radically and thoroughly at the root of the evil. I do not listen with any measure of satisfaction to some of the denunciations of the Poor Law which are commonly indulged in. We recognise its very serious defects, but I think if we spend our energies in denouncing the existing Poor Law we shall not achieve very much. There are certainly directions which do not immediately concern the Poor Law at all, which it is very necessary that this House should take into consideration at the earliest possible moment. Take the case of the man to whom I have alluded—the father of a family who has contracted consumption or any other disease. He is taken into the workhouse, and there the cost of his maintenance is enormous, and if we add to that the enormous administration expenses, it is obvious from the point of view of economy that we are wasting our money in regard to this thing. It would be very much more economical to ascertain what was the matter with the man, and as soon as possible to put him under such conditions as he could recover, instead of maintaining him in the last days of his existence. In this respect the Local Government Board have recently taken a step which is admirable. They have decided that institutions to which men go suffering from phthisis shall notify the local authorities. At the same time the Board have provided that this shall not militate against a man in regard to his employment.

Here is a side of the question which is inevitably associated with any reform of the Poor Law. All these insurance schemes work two ways. It is often alleged that men from forty-five years of age or a little later are out of work because of the Compensation Acts, and I believe that in many cases the older men have great difficulty in getting employment in consequence of the operation of those Acts which every one intended to be beneficent. This applies also, I think, to any measures taken to ensure early notification of conditions of this kind. It must be carefully borne in mind that such notification should not militate against a man in his everyday employment. But there can be no gainsaying the fact, whatever criticisms we make of the administration of the Poor Law as it stands to-day, that no mere alteration in the methods of administration will suffice. We must of necessity take other methods if we are to strike at the roots of pauperism. We have millions of people growing up in our country at the present time, who from their cradle onwards are striving against their own frail bodies, and it is not open to them to have any fair hope of enjoying in a reasonable measure those pleasures of labour, health, and leisure, which should belong as a right to all those who are worthy to belong to the children of men.


I want to call attention to the question of the administration of the Poor Law in connection with the medical profession. There are a great many places in the country districts of England where the salary which is paid to the Poor Law Medical Officer is totally inadequate for the amount of work which has to be done. I think that the most important thing, perhaps, that the Poor Law has to deal with at all is the question of medical relief. I can relate my own experience which has extended over a considerable number of years in this country. I was once parish medical officer of a district in Yorkshire and during the time I was there I noted the details of the work I did and the amount I was paid. I found that I was getting 1d. per bottle for medicine and 4d. per visit in a radius of four miles. I sold my practice. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has made improvements in many ways in connection with the Poor Law, but to my mind he has done absolutely nothing to improve the question of medical relief. Having no personal interest in the matter after I sold my practice, I wrote to the Local Government Board stating that I considered it a wrong and wicked thing that appointments should be sanctioned by the Board where they knew that a man was only going to get that amount of money for looking after the poor people under his charge. I looked after them while I was there, and I am absolutely certain that the gentleman who bought my practice is looking after them still. But to do that he is spending money out of his own pocket which the ratepayers should pay. The community should see that a private individual is not put to the expense of doing what is local government work. You may come across a medical man who may neither have the wish nor possibly the ability so far as finances are concerned to do the work, and to pay money out of his own pocket. I must say I was very much surprised that I got no satisfactory reply from the Local Government Board. The gentleman who succeeded me was appointed at a less salary than I had, and the consequence is that the people in the district to which I refer are now absolutely in the hands of this medical man, who fortunately, is charitably inclined, and does the work. That is not an isolated case. Similar cases are to be found all over the country. Medical men are taking appointments, not because they are being paid sufficiently, but in a great many cases in order to keep other medical men out of the districts. I think if the Local Government Board have to sanction the appointments of medical men they ought to go into the matter and see that the work is paid for reasonably and satisfactorily. In the case to which I have referred I sent particulars to the Local Government Board, and got no satisfaction whatever, and the system is going on.

Another matter which comes under the management of the Local Government Board is this. When a person is suddenly-taken ill in London his friends have to look for a relief officer, and a great deal of bother and trouble takes place. I think there ought to be power given by the Local Government Board to some authority, say to the police officers in the London districts, so that if the child of a working man is taken suddenly ill during the night the necessary medical aid may be obtainable. That working man may be earning 30s. to £2 a week, but on a Friday night, when his child is taken ill, he may have no money, and he cannot get medical attendance unless he finds a medical man who is willing to get up in the middle of the night and take the risk of not being paid for so doing. I say that in big towns any person who has no money to call in a doctor ought, to be able to get an order for relief. If this Empire is going to be maintained you have to take into consideration the physique and the health of the people who in the future are going to govern. I hold that the present system of medical relief is absolutely wrong. It is niggardly. Doctors are not paid for their medicines, and the result is that the cost has to be paid out of their meagre salaries. You cannot expect medical men to go on as they have done in years gone by when trade was good and when the profession was not so overrun as it is now. The members of the medical profession do much philanthropic work in this country, but now there is the greatest possible difficulty for a medical man to make both ends meet. It is wrong to expect them to go on acting in this manner, and I trust that the Local Government Board will take into consideration the whole system under which they sanction appointments of men who are underpaid and who are being sweated. I trust that something will be done to see that boards of guardians pay proper and satisfactory salaries for the work that is being done.


I think my Noble Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) was a little hard on the President of the Local Government Board, and I should like to point out that as the law stands to-day it is exceedingly difficult for any Local Government Board to get their Orders carried out in practice by boards of guardians. I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. J. W. Hills) and several others who have spoken as to the new authority which I think must be set up before the Poor Law problem is solved. In connection with the question of reform from within of the existing administration I think the hands of the Local Government Board are in many ways tied. The President of the Local Government Board issued an Order last year with respect to the boarding out of children, and he is going to issue an Order this year as to outdoor relief. But how is it possible for him to see that the Orders are enforced by recalcitrant unions? Many unions can only be made to carry out even elementary reforms by what may be called a system of blackmail. I think it is rather hard on the right horn Gentleman to say that no attempts have been made in the last few years. I am the last person to wish to defend any action of the present Government, but I do think that the Orders issued last year, and the efforts made by the President of the Local Government Board in the matter of children in particular do deserve recognition, for this reason, that they are sympathetic, and indicate an earnest desire to deal with the problem while the reform of the administration and the whole basis of the thing is still under consideration. There was one definite suggestion in the speech of the hon. Member who brought forward this question: He asked would it be possible for the Local Government Board to issue an Order dealing with the 9,000 children of school age who are still in workhouses? I simply rose to urge that particular point; that is a definite proposal, and one that should receive the most careful consideration. The President of the Local Government Board has been most anxious and worked hard to get the children out of workhouses in London. Everybody admits that there are children in country workhouses and workhouses in other towns who might be got out of those workhouses if similar methods were employed, and if similar work were put in by the Local Government Board. I know that it is arduous work, and that these 9,000 children will probably be the hardest to get out of the workhouse in the end, but I think that the suggestion that it should go out in the Order is one worthy of consideration.

I would ask the President of the Local Government Board whether he is contemplating at this moment any further issue of Orders dealing with Poor Law reform before the whole question comes up for legislative treatment. I feel confident that the day must come when we will have a Poor Law Reform Bill of some kind. But does he contemplate any Order similar to the ones issued during the last few years, and are there any Orders dealing specifically with the subject which has been raised this afternoon, namely, children, public health, lunatics, feeble-minded, and vagrants? I know it is difficult within the terms of existing laws for these Orders to be enforced, but if an Order goes out with the sanction of the Local Government Board, very often after the advice and the publication of the Report of a Departmental Committee it does speed up the slack union to have it issued, and merely having this advisory document does help on the matter of Poor Law reform. One of the great difficulties of boards of guardians who desire reform is that they have no definite proposals to look to. I have spent many hours wading through the reports and appendices of the recent Commission on Poor Law and it is exceedingly difficult to get definite proposals. Certain Orders issued by the Local Government Board have been very helpful in suggesting to those guardians who are anxious for reform means which can be adopted, and I would like to ask the President of the Local Government Board what he contemplates issuing in that form in the coming year, or as long as his administration may last.


I rather differ from the opinion expressed by the previous speaker, as to the advantage of issuing more Orders under the present system, and for that reason I wish to support the proposal that has been made. I do so because if the system is bad the issue of new Orders is only bolstering up the old system, and, even if desirable in themselves, they tend to crystallise the existing state of affairs, when it ought to be swept away. The next reason is, although all of us realise that the President of the Local Government Board has been wholly and genuinely in earnest in dealing with these questions, yet when the result of all his dealings and attempts at amendment is really no better than the present state of things, and when we know that it can be no better despite all his efforts then surely the fact that he has done his best—and everyone realises he has—under present conditions, does not mean that the administration of the whole branch of our social system under this head is to be whitewashed, and is to have a certificate of goodness given to it. The fact is if the present conditions were inadequate formerly, practically every day that passes makes the present possibilities of administration more and more inadequate. Originally, no doubt, there was the assumption, and there was a great deal of truth in it, that any man who wished for work would be able to get the work. That, perhaps, was true decades ago, but the whole course of industrial development has made it more and more clear with the growth of big towns—that the old assumption, whatever truth there was in it then, has not got any truth in it now, and the more developed the great centres become the more it is true that the old assumption on which the Poor Law Commissioners based their original report, no longer holds good.

No doubt the inference is, as one of the Members for an East London Division has said, that we ought to try to remedy the causes of it. But, given the state of affairs as they are, it means that the administration of the Poor Law has got to deal with affairs much more closely and with much more discrimination instead of on the ordinary broad lines adopted fifty years ago. The result of that difference from the original assumption is that it can be no longer assumed that if a man wants work, therefore he can get it, and this means that all the boards of guardians for merely humanitarian reasons have been tinkering with the old severity of the Poor Law; and the fact that you tinker humanely with an old and severe system, does not mean that yon meet all the various gradations of circumstances that come before you. It means exactly, in the phrase of the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), that you probably fail in your objects with regard to both the good classes and the bad classes of the people who come before you and in the phrase he used, which he quoted from a report which in all due humility I submitted to him, the Poor Law has become too bad for the good, and too good for the bad.

The development of industry moreover has affected not only the methods to be-applied but the administrative machinery that applies them. It has shown the impossibility of boards of guardians administering the law with their present composition. They differ almost entirely from any other governmental body that I think we have in this country. Here, for instance, in the public departments we-have the head of a changing department with a skilled staff under him, who definitely and avowedly do their work subject to his general direction, responsibility, and control. In municipal government you have something slightly-different. You have a committee charged with dealing with certain functions of municipal authority with the chairman at their head. But the chairman and committee consider and report on the work that is brought before them by their officer. In the boards of guardians, however, you have got a body which is supposed to act from personal individual knowledge on the part of each guardian, or some guardian of each individual case that comes before them.

In the old rural conditions of sixty years ago, in some rural districts now, and even in one or two urban unions, where the members of the boards of guardians give up their whole time to the work, this theory may conceivably be carried out. But as a whole it is perfectly impossible under the present state of affairs that what was the real underlying assumption of the boards of guardians could really be carried out in practice. The result is that in the unions that are best administered, the real administration is carried on by giving the go-by to the old hypothesis of the members of the boards of guardians each doing detailed investigation, and the work is carried out by the relieving officer instead. The result on administration of the fact that the old theory has become entirely divorced from modern conditions leads to one or two pretty general conclusions. The first is that the present administration is unsatisfactory and that even if the President of the Local Government Board were to issue Order after Order to the best of his ability, it will continue to remain unsatisfactory until the Government will let us, say, leave the constitutional question alone and get to business in the matter of Poor Law reform. Another result it leads to is that there is a really complete need of specialised treatment in the best sense of the word, and a new form of administration is needed to give that treatment. We know that in union after union there is segregation and greater segregation and the efforts of the President of the Local Government Board are devoted to that end. What really is not to be blamed, I think, in the present administration, is that you should have an ad hoc authority; but even if there should be an ad hoc authority at least it should be able to delegate the specialised treatment to those bodies that can best carry it out, the public health authority for cases with regard to the sick, and the educational authority with regard to the children at school. Moreover, there is really no difference between the two reports referred to in the resolution on this matter, because, although the Minority Report profess to give up an ad hoc authority in the beginning, they come back to it in the end, sub rosa, and set it up just as the Majority Report openly and avowedly do at the outset.

Together with the lack of specialised treatment, the great defect is you car never get away from the disparity of circumstances, and that there is need for greater discrimination. I am always surprised at the amount of discrimination and the amount of sympathy that the relieving officer can show. I think the amount of knowledge and of sympathy which he has is marvellous, under conditions that I should have thought would have tended to rob him of both, but at the same time, here we are, and case paper or no case paper, there is never the certainty and never will be the certainty that the proper case is given adequate relief. The whole assumption, whether it is in Manchester or in London or elsewhere, which has to be adopted by the relieving officer, is that the unfortunate individual to whom he is going to give outdoor relief has really got some additional income; if he has got it, it means that he is dishonest and that it is not disclosed, while if he is honest and has not got it then he has a greater hardship to put up with. The one thing that has to be faced is that there must be some means—I do not think either of the reports have faced this properly—some real means of discriminating quickly, so that ordinary boards of guardians in administration can get over the type of difficulty which came across my attention in Hackney. There you have got the decent man sleeping out on Hackney Marsh until he is half dead with exposure sooner than be brought into Hackney workhouse, while at the same time there is another cheery individual who uses the workhouse as a winter club and goes out in the summer and informs the master and the guardians—a fact of which they are well aware—that he knows the law just as well as any guardian or any clerk, and that they could not prevent him doing exactly as he wished. This is no reflection on Hackney. It is a reflection on the system which puts a Poor Law authority in such a position.

Another point in administration is the overlapping, and the need for regularisation with regard to medical relief. Whatever may be done, at present, if a man in the east of London wants medical relief he goes to a hospital, and yet remains a free and independent citizen. If he is in the south of London—and here I quarrel with the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. J. W. Hills), because the Camberwell Infirmary is not a penal settlement; it is just as good almost as any general hospital—


I did not refer to Camber-well Infirmary; I never mentioned it.


I am sorry I misrepresented the hon. Member, but I may take it that the Camberwell Infirmary is an exception to the general description which some hon. Gentleman gave. Though the Camberwell Infirmary is as good as any general hospital, if a man goes to it for treatment—and, on the whole, he does so without reluctance—he at once loses his vote. Surely that means, instead of sending out one general order after another, that, from the medical point of view, we should recognise that the treatment should be brought up to the level not only of modern social conditions, but also to the level of what is dictated by the increase of modern medical knowledge. Here we have at present certain infectious and notifiable diseases which do not pauperise those who are treated for them, whereas in the case of other diseases the pauperising disability is not removed. It is clear that phthisis is an infectious disease which should be dealt with just as other notifiable diseases are dealt with at present, and the policy is clear, though it might not be popular, that there ought to be the possibility of compulsory removal to some place of treatment. It would not be so unpopular if it could be made perfectly clear that pthisis should be put on the same basis as scarlet fever, because it is almost as infectious, and creates infinitely more hardship. Phthisis, like other incapacitating diseases, like rheumatism, ulcerated leg, or heart disease, should be segregated out under our modern knowledge, and should be differentiated from the ordinary medical case of a man who is run down, and should be treated accordingly. In conclusion, I would submit that the time has arrived when we should really have this question brought before us in a really comprehensive measure; indeed, the time is really over-past. The evils of administration are growing worse every day, and here we have a golden bridge between the two sides which ought to lead the Local Government Board with confidence to come forward with some scheme. As to the constitutional question, why cannot the Government lay it by for a time, and do something which would be much more advantageous? Why should not the people treat them as the cardinals are treated when they are electing a Pope? Let the accredited representatives be mewed up—the Conference came near it—till they agreed on their pontifical selection. But let other business go on meanwhile.


Several speakers this afternoon have spoken as if the Local Government Board could and should at once remove pauperism, and also poverty from which pauperism springs. A number of them, by the tone of their speeches, apparently think I am a sort of Prince Fortunatus, showering gold universally, where I am not a benevolent despot imposing my will illegally for good purposes upon the legally constituted authorities, who would rebel against me if I were to follow out half the bureaucratic suggestions made notably by the Noble Lord the Member for Nottingham (Lord Bentinck). I am to be, in the opinion of some, a law unto myself, imposing my will for good, and if I were to adopt the suggestions which come from some quarters, they would result in greater evils a few years hence than some of the difficulties we labour under at this moment. But others go further than that. One or two, to my surprise, although I recognise the kindness of their tone generally, say that nothing has been done to mitigate either the inequalities of poverty or the disabilities of pauperism during the past two years. One hon. Member, who should have known better, said that no single practical or effective step has been taken in two years. They ask me to exercise our existing powers, and I am regarded as an Eastern despot, bureaucratically enforcing my will upon people who would be better without it, even though the intention be good. But it is impossible for these Gentlemen, who so conflict in their criticism and their advice, to be consistent in either or both at once. The fact is that the Local Government Board cannot be expected to remove by administration the causes of misery and of destitution; these are economic in their origin and social in their operation.

Many evils that we hear of to-day spring rather from our faulty industrial system than from any lack of sympathy on the part of the Government Departments or administrative bodies. Many disabilities that we hear of to-day have been inherited through generations and centuries. To remove them will take a longer time than I shall be in my present office or any President of the Local Government Board; in fact they will not be removed by any legislative enactment, however large and comprehensive, and however well codified and drawn, so soon as many people think. But I have a right to be held to my administrative liability, duty, and responsibility, and I would ask hon. Members to look at the Motion. In the light and terms of that Motion I have not found to-day, and I have listened patiently to all that has been said, a single charge of omission on the part of the Department which is concerned with the administration of the Poor Law, and not a single charge of omission, except one raised by the hon. Member who represents an Irish constituency, in regard to his own special case in connection with the Local Government Board. I know all about that case. I think I exercised in its treatment an impartiality which I thought I was incapable of displaying before I took office. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman sold his practice, which indicates that there was some advantage in being a Poor Law officer under the Local Government Board. The hon. Gentleman very properly said that since my Presidency I have sought to improve the salaries and emoluments of medical officers, and to improve their capacities and opportunities to help the sick poor. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, if all he says about Poor Law appointments be true, namely, as to harshness of treatment and poverty of allowance by boards of guardians, there would not be the almost indecent rush that there is on the part of medical men to come within the area of my benevolent despotism.


I would like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that this particular practice had a Poor Law practice attached to it for years for the simple reason that there was no other doctor in the district.


I think the fact that he held that monopoly would enable him to exact almost any terms. I think on examination it will be found that my hon. Friend is labouring under a hardship more imaginary than real, and he perhaps, under all the circumstances, was anxious to follow a noble example, and that was to serve his country on the floor of this House rather than to sell and prescribe medicine for people in Yorkshire. I prefer to take the more charitable view. I am supposed to sit still, as I have done, to listen, to be patient, and to submit to the various streams of criticism that have been poured upon me to-day. But I propose to state my defence against the criticisms that have been made, and deal with a few suggestions. But I must tell the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Steel-Maitland) that I am surprised at the speech he made, because he knows better. He sins against the light, because he is one of the few distinguished and capable men whom the Poor Law Commissioners employed for special inquiries, which he conducted with that assiduity and capacity which he shows in this House on many occasions. But when he tells me that certain things ought to be done which are not done, and when he disagrees, as he docs, with one Poor Law Commissioner on several points, and with several of my critics on others, and when he finds Royal Commissioners and investigators stating that they are unable to come to something like common agreement on vexed points, how can I be expected in five minutes to change the face of pauperism, and remove that poverty which is the cause of pauperism?


On a point of Order, I would suggest to the President of the Local Government Board, with all due deference, that our wrangles have come to a conclusion in the county councils association's report.


Before I deal with that, I would recall the hon. Member's attention to the fact that he said circulars are of no use; but I can assure the hon. Member that, so far as children are concerned, I never did anything in my life, either by circular or by Order, which has borne more fruitful results than the circular as to children which was sent to the Poor Law authorities over a year ago. The hon. Member said Orders are of no good. He knows very well that I cannot exercise what powers I have a right to put in force unless I issue an Order now and then, and he knows that until this subject is treated legislatively in all its aspects I have a right to do good whilst the responsibility is on me. He knows very well also that Orders secure uniformity of treatment, and that a circular persuades, advises, and often compels local authorities to take things in hand. I shall lose no opportunity, therefore, of doing good until Parliament deals with this question as a whole. The hon. Member further says that alterations, whatever they may be, will be of no avail. I would urge him to withdraw the words "no avail" and say "little avail," or I would even say "some avail." I quite agree with hon. Members below the Gangway that many evils that I am supposed to remove are the results of the social system, which no Poor Law administration could possibly abolish, and can only to a slight extent mitigate. Is he in favour of the Collectivist solution of the Poor Law problem—namely, the nationalisation of all the land and means and instruments of production. If so, then I can assure him that the bulk of his fellow-countrymen are not with him on that particular point, and are rather inclined to agree that my transient yet curative treatment is one which provides remedies in a practical and sensible way.


I hope I gave the right hon. Gentleman, as everybody else did, full credit for the reforms he has carried out, while at the same time trying to express, within the limits of order on the terms of the Resolution, that administration, though it can be slightly amended, can never be made right until we get, what would have been out of order to refer to, full legislation on the subject, and that that was what we are all really aiming at. If the right hon. Gentleman had only been here last night he would have recognised that my hon. Friends below the Gangway and myself, though we differ in some respects, and, without agreeing as to the collectivist solution, do agree that the causes should be altered, and we were both willing to make suggestions to that effect.


No doubt many of the reforms the hon. Member would like to have can only be attained by legislation, but to-day we are discussing administration, and, in the main, administration alone. Let me give the hon. Member an instance that will be more congenial to him. He quoted the case of a phthisical patient in some London infirmary. I will take Camberwell, as I think it was there. The hon. Member ought to have known that an Order which he thinks little of, and which he brushes on one side, enables that now to be done. No one has mentioned it, but I think I have a right to claim it for my Department. We have made consumption a notifiable disease. Against strong pressure from many quarters, I thought that the 35 per cent. of the total consumption which is dealt with in Poor Law administration ought to be made notifiable, and it was so made eighteen months ago. The effect of it has been reflected in a considerable diminution of consumption, due to the fact that that notification sets in motion machinery the effect of which is that immediately a phthisical patient in a workhouse is found to be suffering from elementary consumption or from serious consumption that patient now, but not formerly, is notified to the medical officer of health of the district, and beyond him to a committee of benevolent ladies who formerly could not be invoked in this useful public service. The result is that by the efforts of the public health authority plus nourishment and attention, often the taking of the children away, all those agencies of an ameliorative, and in may cases preventive character, are brought into operation as the result of this Order issued eighteen months ago. On that I took a great risk, because it is said in another part of the United Kingdom that the notification of consumption has done a great deal of harm to some men who were consumptives. Therefore the matter has to be done cautiously, and by experiments. So satisfied were we of the success in notifying the 35 per cent. of consumption in the Poor Law that we have since required the notification of another 35 per cent. who go not to the Poor Law infirmary, or to the workhouse, but who go to the general hospitals and consumptive hospitals. Six weeks ago I brought an additional 35 per cent. in with the result that in secrecy and under bond of confidence every man treated for consumption not under the Poor Law but at the special or general hospitals in London or the provinces, is notified to the local authority with the result that his disease is mitigated. Possibly if it is in the elementary stage steps are taken by seeing that he has good food if he cannot go away, but preferably to send him to a sanatorium where he can be permanently relieved or get effective treatment.

That leaves but 30 per cent. more to be dealt with and those form a very, very difficult case. They are a class of people who do not appeal to the Poor Law and who do not go to general, or public, or special hospitals. If the 35 per cent. brought in six weeks ago show the promise of the previous experiment I think I will have the House with me if I make that additional experiment, and if the facts warrant me I am prepared to submit to any criticism as a result of a piece of benevolent despotism of that special kind. I mention those instances to show how unconsciously and unfairly our department has been subject, either to misapprehension or to criticism. I come to the other point in which the hon. Member was not alone, as several hon. Members said we ought to change the venue of pauperism and transfer it from the guardians to the county councils. This is not the day or occasion on which I intend to deal with this, but I want to point out that pauperism means pauperism, call it by whatever name you label your dependence, and the mere transfer of pauperism and poverty and the accumulated heritage of sickness, invalidity, and degeneracy that we have had transmitted to us through centuries is not going to be disposed of by transferring their treatment from the board of guardians either to an overworked town or county council, or to any other authority that you may set up in substitution. That is not a subject for discussion to-day, but I do ask hon. Members to think between now and the time that that problem is discussed, and to realise that on this subject the Majority and Minority Reports differed. It is true the county councils have expressed themselves in one resolution as being favourable to the transfer. The boards of guardians are opposed to it. I have heard nothing from the London County Council upon that particular subject.

In these days, when we are increasing, and I do not put this dogmatically or finally, when we are giving, as we have done, not only small holdings and pensions, but military organisations, housing, and educational duties to the town and county councils, it is a moot point as to whether the county councils are in a position to take over absolutely all the duties that the Poor Law authorities now discharge. I want to point out to hon. Members below the Gangway that in talking of pauperism to-day we are not talking of the same thing that was talked about many years ago. We are apt to lose sight of where pauperism to-day is compared with where it was when the much-abused; Poor Law authorities of 1834 were created. I am a man of fact. I believe, with my distinguished namesake, Robert Burns, that— Facts are chiels that winna ding Carlyle said:— Give me facts, feed me on facts. They are the only things that influence life. Here is one fact underlying much misunderstanding in speeches and misinterpretations in observations to-day; here is one fact which you cannot dispose of and for which the much-abused boards of guardians deserve great credit. In 1850 we had 62 per 1,000 of our population paupers. In 1906 that figure of sixty-two was reduced to twenty-six. Since I have been President of the Local Government Board the twenty-six has diminished to 18.7. Facts are chiels that winna ding. That is the total of pauperism. When I deal with out-door pauperism it is even better still. Out-door pauperism was 54 per 1,000 in 1850. It was 15 per 1,000 in 1909, and it is only eleven at this moment.


Old age pensions?

7.0 P.M.


Yes, but the hon. Member must not quote the Government remedies and then not credit them for introducing them as a means of solving pauperism. My hon. Friend had better hear my story out. Children, of whom we have properly heard a great deal to-day, have been reduced in these years from 26 per 1,000 to seven, and able-bodied out-door relief has been reduced from 12 to only two per 1,000, or almost a negligible quantity. Indoor patients, with better treatment, better hospitals, and better nurses, remain at practically a stationary figure. Those are the facts, and we ought to give them, because we spent £600,000,000 since 1834 upon solving this and cognate problems. I am surprised, all things considered, that relatively so small an amount of money has done so much good when you consider what little good has been done with larger amounts that have been spent on war, desolation, and anti-social purposes. Having given the numbers, I also give the cost per head, because that indicates the difference in method of treatment. The cost per head has risen in round figures from £7 18s. to £13 for indoor pauperism, which means better doctors, more nurses, better food, and better accommodation, while for the out-door the amount has grown from £3 11s. to £6 2s. Per head of the population of the whole kingdom the cost of our pauperism on diminished numbers has increased from 6s. 8d. to 8s. 4d., while the rate required, which shows how wealthy we are becoming, has dropped from 1s. 8d. to 1s. 6d. I mention those facts to show how pauperism in many aspects has yielded to progressive, scientific, and more humanised treatment under the much-abused boards of guardians. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone) in the light of some of his observations in the House I want him to realise these simple facts, and that Poor Law expenditure on the indoor poor has increased 33 per cent. on the sick and infirm from 25 to 30 per cent., and on the out-door 45 per cent. In London the cost per week per pauper in workhouse infirmaries has risen from 14s. 3d. to 20s. or over, and the workhouse infirmaries in London and in all the big towns are comparable with the best of the general hospitals to which both poor and rich subscribe.


Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the rate on administration has been higher than the rate of expenditure on the people themselves?


That can be easily answered, but it must be answered in several ways. A person in extremis may want hardly any food at all, and even the food he does want may be less costly than other food. But he requires a doctor of the highest skill and three shifts of nurses, so that the small amount that is saved on food has to be paid five or six times over in skilled attendance. It is universally admitted that in regard to doctors, nurses, and food, the infirmaries of our poor institutions—this was said even by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who is an extreme critic—are abreast of the best general hospitals.

I come to the general suggestion that, notwithstanding what we have been doing by administration, by circular, and by Order, in the absence of a legislative enactment dealing with the Poor Law on the lines of the Majority or the Minority Report, pauperism shows no sign of abatement. I have dealt with the cost in money and with the general diminution, but I must ask the House to listen to these facts. Since 1905 total pauperism in numbers has diminished by 22 per cent., outdoor pauperism by 33 per cent. In London total pauperism has diminished by 14 per cent., outdoor pauperism by 37 per cent. I will take an East End district, which I may frankly say is Poplar. Poplar has had its total pauperism reduced since 1905 by 36 per cent., and its outdoor pauperism by 56 per cent. That is something of which the House ought to be proud and with which the Local Government Board is pleased. I will add another thing which hon. Members often forget. From 84 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the total pauperism with which we have to deal is not pauperism of the industrial character which has been described. It is due to physical, mental, or other disability. From 12 per cent. to 18 per cent. is more or less mentally defective. So far as the problem of the able-bodied is concerned, out of 900,000 people dependent upon rates and taxes for their subsistence, I am glad to say that we have in all our workhouses less than 10,000 able-bodied men in health. I rejoice that by administration we have been able considerably to reduce pauperism and disability during the last five or six years.

I will now deal with a point raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone), in his excellent and kindly speech. He said that we ought to concentrate on the children. "A little child shall lead them" is a good Scriptural saying, and a very fine social maxim. We are rarely wrong in the House of Commons when we deal with the children. But to listen to one or two speakers one would think that children were still herded in mixed workhouses, as they were when Oliver Twist was flogged and Little Dorrit was punished. What are the facts? I will quote London, because, in many respects, it is a more difficult area to grapple with than the provinces. Out of the 22,700 children that there are in London in all forms of Poor Law institutions, only 1,062 are in the workhouse proper. Of these 771 are under three years of age, and they are far better at the breast of the mother than they would be if taken away and put into either a palace, a hospital, or a home. Fifty-eight are in the sick wards, leaving in the workhouse proper only 229 children over three years of age out of nearly 23,000. Of these 229, 140 are in three unions, namely, Islington, Wandsworth, and Lewisham.

These facts and figures I do not say absolutely refute, but they are a sufficient answer to the suggestion that in the matter of the children the Local Government Board has not been discharging its duty. If I am asked to deal with the children in England and Wales, nearly as good but not quite so good a result as in London can be shown, because London has command of a number of institutions which a benevolent despot like myself, in the matter of children, can commandeer and put to other and better uses. The House of Commons will be pleased to know that in consequence of the diminution of infectious diseases which we have witnessed in this big city of ours within the last few years, we have had placed at our disposal magnificent public institutions, which we are increasingly filling up, not only with the children that we have taken from the workhouse, who formerly were there, but with children whose parents were too proud to take them to the workhouse or to the general hospital. We are persuading parents to send the children into these new hospitals so that the children can get better, effective, and, I hope, permanent treatment for their passing ailments. Therefore, in the matter of children, by Order, by Circular, and by the reports and persuasion of our inspectors, in London we have got practically all the children out of the workhouses, and in the provinces within the next three years I sincerely trust the same result may be secured.

With regard to the children boarded out, not a single complaint has been uttered. We have a large number of children boarded out—many thousands. Hon. Members know that I have appointed four new lady inspectors, who last year inspected over 300 institutions besides scattered homes, with enormous advantage to the children so inspected. So far as the children themselves are concerned, I say, speaking as a Minister at this Box, that I envy, or would have envied when I was a child, anything like the food, the clothes, the comfort, the treatment, and the kindly care that a Poor Law child now gets, whether in a barrack school, a scattered home, a cottage home, or any other Poor Law institution. What is the test of that? It is that indoor children in institutions have spent upon them from 9s. to 25s. per week; in district schools, from 10s. 2d. to 13s. 7d.; in barrack schools, from 10s. 4d. to 18s.; in cottage homes, from 12s. 9d. to 25s. 2d.; in scattered homes, from 8s. to 11s. 2d. As to their education, at this moment, out of 70,000 children in institutions under the Poor Law, not more than 400 are educated in workhouse schools proper, and then mainly because they are mentally defective and have no right to be sent to public elementary schools, where they might become the butt of stronger and healthier children. The children go either to public elementary schools or Poor Law schools, with results that in many respects are exceedingly good. What is the test of their goodness? Out of 12,700 children passed through London Poor Law schools in ten years, only fifty-two have been returned to the boards of guardians by their employers as being of bad character or unfit for their particular work. Neither Eton nor Harrow, Rugby nor Winchester, can show anything like so good a record of conduct as our Poor Law children do when they have been sufficiently long under the jurisdiction of that at one time flinty-hearted Pharaoh who has now become the benevolent despot whom the House is anxious to press forward to even greater despotism than he has yet shown.

I need really say no more on administration. But it has been suggested in one or two ways that what has been done by administration, by circular, and by Order-is not enough. I never said it was. But I had hoped that on this vexed problem we might have got, as we should have got, a united Report from the Poor Law Commission. I regret that before the country at this moment you have the Majority Report, the Minority Report, Mr. Charles Booth's scheme, and the county council scheme, whilst the guardians object either to some of the four or in many cases to all. I would ask the House to remember this fact. If I am asked to recommend to the Government some of the schemes—and I am recommending certain proposals with regard to the Poor Law—I must ask the House to remember what Lord George Hamilton has said about one of them. Speaking as Chairman of the Royal Commission, he said of one report:— It would mean annihilation of the family system; it would end in absolute administrative chaos and result in universal local bankruptcy. [A laugh.] The hon. Member cannot dispose of the Chairman of a Royal Commission by a laugh.


How have you disposed of them before now?


You cannot dispose of a man like Lord George Hamilton by a passing laugh. We know Lord George Hamilton here. He was appointed, and he did his duty exceedingly well as Chairman of the Royal Commission, and when he tells me that one scheme of Poor Law reform or transmutation, call it what you like, will cost from £18,000,000 to considerably more, I ask hon. Members who are continually pitching into the Government for their extravagance on everything to remember that we cannot be economical and carry out one of the proposals submitted by the Royal Commission. Having warned the House that any change will be costly, not to say extravagant, may I, as I am entitled to do, put another aspect of the case? That is this: There is not so much cause for regret that in the eighteen months which have elapsed since the Commission reported nothing legislative has been done, but much that is administrative and good has been achieved. Why do I say that? I say that because the issues of the problem are changing very fast. The remedies suggested are varying. You cannot get amongst Poor Law reformers now but what they admit that in the last eighteen months certain things have happened which were not previously within their knowledge, and which have altered the problem considerably in its scope, character, and complexion. The problems submitted only six years ago are being met in other ways. The Majority Report, in my judgment, even now is to a certain extent somewhat archaic. The Minority Report, in the light of certain things which have been done recently, is somewhat obsolete, and if the Government had adopted either, or both, or a combination of the reports—


They are usually called revolutionary.


Yes; we know the people who do not understand: the pinch-beck revolutionists. They have not the courage of the Girondists, who had the decency to go to the scaffold when asked. The recommendations of the Minority have been rendered almost obsolete by other methods, and the Government have been arriving at much better results by Government action during the last four or five years. In bolder manner the Government are trying in a more generous way to solve the problem of pauperism by removing the causes of destitution. Hon. Members may be impatient, but they have got to listen to facts. Since the Reports were issued in 1909, 1,000,000 people who were either potential or actual paupers have been given a State bounty, instead of being asked to accept a Poor Law dole. That is considerable progress in a short time. That is responsible for the diminution of 22 per cent. of the total pauperism, and 33 per cent. of the outdoor pauperism. This is a more excellent way than by institutionalising men, segregating mankind into draught-board squares, co-ordinating and classifying them into institutions, and, by a process of restriction, detention, and supervision, making any form of relief of that kind infinitely worse to a man of free spirit than making him a prisoner at Dartmoor or at Wormwood Scrubbs. So much for the aged. £13,000,000 have been spent in the last two years in relieving and transforming from pauperism into State pensioners 1,000,000 of actual or potential paupers. That is a solid achievement.

I come now to the other question. I am asked, "But what have you done for unemployment and the distress arising from it?" I will tell my hon. Friends who for the last five or six years have done me the honour of confirming me in my beliefs by the vigour of their criticisms. [Laughter.] Well, I am quite prepared to leave to an impartial public as to whether they were more wrong than I was right, and I am convinced that the arbitrators will be on our side. [An HON MEMBER: "They always are!"] Yes, that is the disagreeable fact. As to unemployment, a million of money has been spent in relief work. With what result? We have come to the conclusion, after five years spending of money, that both the Majority and the Minority came to, that relief works were worse than no remedy at all. They accentuate the evil, and did more harm than good. I have survived the opposition in upholding that view four years in advance of the people who are now converted to my previously sane belief. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] If hon. Members object to the word "previously "I will withdraw it, and say "presciently" sane belief. But some will say, "What is the Government proposing to do on the question?" I have only this to say: The Royal Commission condemned relief works, and we confirm their belief. The Royal Commission, both sections, advocated the institution of Labour Exchanges to organise the applications from individual workmen for work and to regulate the work of employers for workmen. That scheme has been launched and has been subject to much criticism, a great deal of it unfair and unreasonable. I believe that five years hence those who oppose Labour Exchanges will be as much converted to their wisdom as they are now to the folly of relief works. The Government has a right to be told: "That is not sufficient." To that we say "agreed!"

The Government propose this year to establish a scheme of compulsory insurance for unemployment, to guard against the fluctuations which are inevitable in industry. As the scheme will disclose when the President of the Board of Trade gives it to the House about a week hence, we contend that what we have done by pensions plus Labour Exchanges, and then will submit through the agency of the unemployment insurance, will be a good and solid advance upon either what the Royal Commission, Majority or Minority Report, was in favour of. Quite as good, we have been asking—and I have been doing it in and out of season—the local authorities of the country to regularise the work they do. Local authorities spend £150,000,000 per annum in all forms of public work. I believe if the public authorities regularise that work more than they now do, and they are doing more than they did—and all the steps I can take to bring pressure to bear upon them to carry it out I am doing—if they regularise this enormous amount of public work it will bring untold benefits to the navvy, the bricklayer's labourer, and to the general and casual labourer, who is frequently out of work because no attempt is made either by the local authority—nor in the past by Government departments—to regularise the total amount of public work that is to be secured. My last point or two is this: Suppose we were to carry out everything the Majority and the Minority Reports recommended; suppose we were to adopt the view submitted from below the Gangway and from hon. Gentlemen opposite, they know full well that there would still be much left to do, that neither the Minority or the Majority Report thought of or suggested a way out of.

Our suggestion is that we have a right to have, concurrently with all we have mentioned, whatever our schemes may be, policies on other matters than those directly bearing upon the Poor Law. We have got to have a land policy that will stop the townward trend. It is not my fault that that land policy has not been more progressive, and it is not the fault—[An HON. MEMBER: "Whose fault is it?"] I will answer the hon. Member if he will listen. Whose fault? I say that it is no mean achievement in two clear years to have taken 101,000 acres from the rural domain of this country, and to have planted on them from 9,000 to 10,000 small holders.


made an observation which was inaudible.


The hon. Member has had his day; this is not his day It is no small achievement, and one that relatively pride may be felt in, that in two years these thousands of small holders have been transferred from being labourers into small holders, at a cost of £2,000,000. I believe that in the development of that policy, and not by any form of improved poor law, we shall find a better and sounder remedy than in half the nostrums we hear of outside, and the many visionary speculations I have had to listen to in the last five years. If in the next five years we do for England what the Irish Land policy has done for Ireland, if in the next five years we are able to develop our housing policy, and grapple with our housing difficulties as the Irish Local Government Board has done, it will be well. The Irish Local Government Board have grappled with the housing of the Irish labourer, and in five years have built over 30,000 cottages at a cost of £6,000,000, with untold benefit in the reduction of disease, tuberculosis particularly, an improvement almost beyond the idea of what some of us thought could be done in so short a time. It is our business to tell the House that beyond Pensions, Labour Exchanges, Unemployed Insurance, and a Land and Housing Policy, all of which should be accelerated and improved, we still have left the greatest difficulty, which has hardly been touched by any speaker today. People talk of pauperism as if it were a matter of wages; as if it were a matter of moral or physical disability. It is not so at all. Pauperism in its main elements is a matter of sickness and ill-health. How do I prove that? We spend £15,500,000 on Poor Law in England and Wales, for which my department is responsible. Thirty per cent of the total pauperism on which we spend these millions is due to sickness, and to sickness alone. Fifty per cent. of the cost of pauperism is due to sickness, and to sickness alone. Whatever you do in the way of converting guardians into councillors, of calling Poor Law public benevolence, and pauperism State assistance, unless you grapple with sickness, with ill-health, and invalidity, a good deal of the causes of pauperism will remain, and the Government hope to deal with this in an infinitely more statesmanlike and bolder and more generous way than was ever conceived or dreamt of by either the Majority or Minority Reports. It will propose, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, bolder and more generous methods, and it will submit a scheme in principle, plan, and policy which will not pauperise, but will protect character, and will minister to minds diseased and bodies distressed. Its ultimate result will be that insurance, concerted, organised, scientific, will attack poverty and destitution. We hope to convert pauperism into self-supporting invalidity and convalescence, so that by this process we may reduce sickness, diminish invalidity, and apply rational methods to wasteful and prolific disease.

That is my reply to the criticisms made. I have been asked to submit what the Government plan is with regard to many of these proposals. I ask the House to rest assured that until these schemes are introduced and passed the Local Government Board will continue to help the aged, to improve the conditions of the sick poor, and especially to concentrate upon improving the condition of the children. We shall continue to do our best to strike a blow at disease and sickness and to improve the general conditions of life by diminution of the death rate. The wonderful diminution in infant mortality in the past five years by 45 per cent., and other improvements which we all desire, will tend to secure for this country that the poor man shall no longer be handicapped in the markets of the world by deteriorated physique, and shall be no longer subjected to the misery of life destroyed and crippled by lack of that original good health which ought to be the heritage of everybody. So far as regulation and administration can continue this improvement we shall do our best. I hope by this rough general truthful sketch of what the Board is doing by administration, and the Government intends to do by unemployment insurance and invalidity, I have answered the suggestions made and replied to the criticisms offered, I am convinced I have the general concensus of opinion in the House with me when I say that so far as the administration of the Local Government Board is concerned I have answered with satisfaction and, I hope, with kindness and courtesy the various criticisms directed against it.


The President of the Local Government Board has made an interesting speech, and has expressed the hope that he has answered the points of criticism developed by those who took part in the Debate. I can assure him he has done a great deal more. He has touched upon a great many points no one else touched upon. He has answered criticisms never directed against him, and he has imparted an air of finality into the Debate. We all of us welcome the breezy speeches the right hon. Gentleman delivers, and we would not have him alter his method or his manner for a moment. No one will deny the importance of the questions raised in the most temperate and excellent speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would be the last to complain of the tone which the Debate has taken. The matter under discussion is of such extraordinary importance that it is obviously difficult for any of those taking part in the Debate to confine their observations within the limits of order necessarily imposed upon us by the circumstances in which the matter is brought forward. The points raised are most worthy of examination and discussion. The Debate has been carried on necessarily with reference only to the administration of the Poor Law as it-exists. On that account our field of vision is narrowed. We have been unable until the right hon. Gentleman sets us the example, which I do not intend to follow, of surveying these wider areas of the social system of the country which we would desire to do if the subject was brought on in other circumstances.

I want to refer to one or two observations made in the course of the Debate, and to touch very briefly upon the questions opened up by the speakers who preceded me. There were three main questions developed in the course of the afternoon, one relating to children, the second to mixed workers, and the third to matters of public health. The right hon. Gentleman had a good deal to tell us that was exceedingly satisfactory with reference to the question of the children. We were all glad to hear of the great advance made in the direction of taking the children out of the workhouses and in the improvement and the conditions under which they are boarded out, and in the improvement of their education. The advance, which has been steady in the last twenty-five years in that direction, has perhaps been accelerated in the last five years. I could not help noticing that the figures the right hon. Gentleman gave in regard to the children had reference to the area of London rather than to the area of the country as a whole. I should be glad to know if the ratio of progress has been as rapid and marked in the country as a whole as in the case of London. I cannot help thinking that the strong and vigorous personality of the right hon. Gentleman himself has had a good deal to do with stirring up of boards of guardians in London, and if that be the case we owe a great debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman, as some of us have reason to believe.

The right hon. Gentleman made reference to the question of mixed workhouses, but I am sorry he did not tell us what his policy was with regard to that extraordinary question. A question based upon that matter showing the difficulty, or rather the reluctance some unions have in complying with what they conceive to be the policy of the Local Government Board has been brought to my notice. I understand some of the unions have been anxious to add to the existing workhouses with a view to making some progress with the classification of inmates. I understand it is the policy of the Local Government Board to direct local authorities to build large new workhouses rather than to improve and add to the old ones. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would give us some indication that those who take this view of his policy are mistaken, because I think it may be possible to bring about classification if he would allow existing institutions to be enlarged rather than to compel the building of new and expensive workhouses in which the mixed system would continue to exist. The hon. Member who seconded this Motion touched upon what I think is one of the greatest evils to be found in the system of mixed workhouses, namely, those unhappy women of feeble minds constantly coming in to give birth to illegitimate children. The regularity with which they come in is almost inconceivable. The hon. Gentleman asked how long are we to continue to allow this state of things to exist. Surely something might be done to classify those people and to segregate them and to prevent them continuing the deplorable life in which so many of them pass their days. I am well aware of the difficulties of classification. Some people speak of it as if it were the simplest thing to divide the people into a series of watertight compartments; to divide the able-bodied men from the infirm, and to divide the feeble-minded from the sane. I believe the difficulty of classification is very great, and it is a matter of supreme difficulty to draw a line of demarkation between these various classes. But difficult though it be, we ought not to lose any time before attempting a solution. We should not allow the mere difficulty of a problem to prevent us from attempting to solve it. An hon. Member who spoke earlier referred to the efforts which the authorities in the county of Devon have made to deal with this matter, and he commented upon the difficulties thrown in the way of the local authorities which they found to be almost insurmountable. I doubt if Parliament could devote its energies to any question of greater magnitude or importance than to this problem which we found so difficult last year.

The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), in a speech to which I listened with great interest, and which he made with great self-restraint, and which lost none of its effectiveness on that account, deal especially with matters relating to the question of public health. I listened to one sentence that fell from his lips with a great deal of sympathy. He said, "Socialist as I am, I would not allow a man or a family to live in dirt or disease." With that the whole House will agree. The hon. Gentleman thinks that power should be given to the local authorities to take a man suffering from disease and living in conditions of overcrowding by force if necessary, and bring him to hospital; but the difficulty is this, Where are the hospitals? You may say it shall be no longer lawful for a man suffering from disease to live in one room with his family and to breathe infection by day and by night. You may turn him into the street, but if there is no hospital accommodation you compel him to go to the workhouse. The remedy for that, as I understand it, would involve legislation, and it would be out of order for me to discuss the steps which might properly be taken to provide the necessary hospital accommodation for all those men we think ought to be taken into the hospital. I think, however, that something might be done by the Local Government Board. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand (Mr. Long) was President of the Local Government Board he made a start in this direction for the first time by giving local authorities power to erect sanatoria in which cases of phthisis might be treated. I hope the President of the Local Government Board will have figures at his command to show that the steps taken under the auspices of my right hon. Friend have been successful, and if so I hope he will take steps to extend that system. The hon. Member for Hoxton (Dr. Addison), who speaks with great authority on these subjects, touched upon an aspect of this problem which we all keep present to our minds. He said that when you take a man suffering from phthisis or some other disease, when you can get him into the workhouse infirmary or into some institution where he may receive medical relief, it is too late to get at him, and the wrong time. The hon. Member said you ought to be able to attack his disease earlier in order to prevent it rather than cure it. I think something will be done in this direction by the system of insurance to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded.

The hon. Member for Hoxton referred to the action of the Local Government Board, and said some people say nothing has been done and that it is not fair to say that. He also pointed out that the true method of preventing destitution is to tackle the cause of poverty at its root, and that the cause of poverty lies, to a very large extent, in our present social system. The hon. Member also gave his experience of a visit to one of our Labour Exchanges, where he was told that while it was comparatively easy to find occupation for skilled men out of work, it was almost impossible to find work for men who were unskilled. Further, he traced the difficulty of the presence of large numbers of unskilled men to the influx of unskilled labourers from the country districts into the towns, and the cheers with which his remarks were greeted, show that his remarks were generally assented to by hon. Members. What is the best way of preventing these men from leaving the country and coining into the town? The best way is to keep them in the country, and the best way to accomplish that object is to reform your fiscal system as well as your social system. The policy of the Government has failed to keep these men in the towns. The right hon. Gentleman, towards the end of his speech, referred to the policy of the Government with reference to small holdings. I see no signs in the figures given to us by the Board of Agriculture of any success attending the policy of the Government in that direction. I know there have been various signs of impatience on the part of hon. Members who have taken part in this debate at the delay which has taken place and at the fact that nothing has been attempted. I do not wonder that hon. Members feel impatient when the Majority and Minority Reports of the Royal Commission disclose such a state of things as would make anyone who has any regard for the interests of his fellow men impatient at the delay in any attempt to improve their condition.

It would, however, be a fallacy to allow our natural impatience to hurry us into premature or inconsidered action. We have had no opportunity since the Royal Commission reported, about two years ago, of discussing this question, because the Government during the whole of those two years has made itself master of the whole of the time of the House, and has deliberately refrained from giving us any opportunity of considering the question. Therefore there has been no occasion upon which this subject could be raised or adequately discussed, and no opportunity for a debate which might have guided the steps and strengthened the hands of the President of the Local Government Board in his administration of the law. While the limits within which the President of the Local Government Board can bring pressure to bear upon the various local authorities may be narrow, I am happy to acknowledge frankly and fully the steps that he has taken, and I admit, with all the pleasure in life, that a great deal of the work he has done has been of great value to the community as a whole. But while I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's zeal, energy, and excellent intentions in the steps he has taken, the results are trifling compared with the magnitude of the problem which is suggested in the Motions we are now discussing. I do not believe that this great question is going to be settled for some years to come; in fact, I do not believe it will be settled at all by the party now in power. The Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) made an appeal to the House to take some steps to deal with this great question, and other hon. Members have reechoed that appeal. I do not believe we are going to get any opportunity to do so because the Government by squandering the time of the present and mortgaging the time of the future by reckless schemes of constitutional reform are denying both to the House and themselves the opportunity of giving to this great and complex question that consideration which it demands and deserves.


At first I did not intend to intervene in the Debate. A good many aspects of this problem have been touched upon, and I have listened with patience to discover whether anyone would refer to the vital cause that lies at the root of present-day destitution. Dealing with this question of prevention, the right hon. Gentleman's first reference was one to old age pensions. It appears, however, to me that we must go deeper down to find out what the cause is. These are the days of preventive treatment. The time was when in medical science medical men were content with making a diagnosis and applying a cure, but the modern medical man thinks it is his duty not only to diagnose and cure but to find out the cause and to instruct his patients in the cause in order to prevent its occurrence in any other members of the same family. The basic cause of destitution is not to be found in our social system; it is not to be found in our land laws, and it is not to be found in the wages system. The basic primary cause of destitution is physical, mental, and moral defects in the individual. The figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman show that sickness is largely responsible, and that nearly 90 per cent. of those who are now inhabitants of Poor Law institutions are there because of some physical defect. Those who do not suffer in this way can meet difficulties. Every difficulty which the President of the Local Government Board has met has stimulated him to higher efforts, and because he was strong mentally and physically, those difficulties have proved only a stimulus to higher effort. But, notwithstanding the defects of our social system, our land laws, and the wages system, a normal individual under those circumstances may overcome them, grapple with them, and succeed.

8.0 P.M.

With regard to physical, mental and moral defects, nearly 80 per cent. of them are hereditary. We are breeding from defective stock. There has been a remarkable decline in the birth-rate in all civilised nations. One of the most remarkable phenomena of modern times is this decline of the birth-rate. This has not taken place uniformly amongst all classes of the community, but amongst our best people. It has not taken place at all amongst the worst people. The birthrate goes on undisturbed amongst defectives, mental and physical. Since most defects are hereditary, we find to-day that this remarkable phenomenon exists, that the increase amongst the defectives is greater than ever it was in proportion. If we class the community into the fit and the unfit, that is those on the one hand who are fit to toil and carry their own burdens and fit to produce healthy and normal offspring, and, on the other hand, those who are unfit to bear their own burdens and carry their own weight and unfit to produce healthy, normal offspring; if we classify the community in that way and not as to their social merits or demerits, but simply as to fitness, we will find that the birth-rate has declined in a remarkable way amongst those who are fit, while it has been undisturbed amongst those who are unfit. Further than that, all our Christianising and humanitarian influences tend to make the unfit more fertile. If you go down into the slums and pick out defectives, and, because of humanitarian effort, tide them over difficulties that would crush them out, and then teach, protect, and isolate them, you may bring to the child-bearing period of life an enormous number of both sexes who would otherwise be crushed out. I am not complaining of this. It is our duty, in obedience to our humanitarian and Christian instincts, to save these defections wherever they are, but it is also our duty to see that the State is not burdened by an increasing fertility of these defectives. If you classify those who are a burden upon the State into those who have acquired their defects and those who have been born with them, you will find quite 80 per cent. of those who are defective suffer from their defects because of the law of heredity. Because of the instances which the right hon. Gentleman opposite gave, and which some of the speakers below the Gangway gave, and because of the utmost freedom accorded to all those defective classes to propagate their kind we find the number of defectives is still increasing at a remarkable rate, whilst others who are normal and fit are decreasing. It seems to me it is the duty of the State to get right down to the base and not to be content with any tinkering or constant readjustment which is no real remedy at all, and to say that those who are defective must be isolated. Those who are weak-minded, those who suffer from lunacy and are mentally defective, should not be allowed to propagate their kind. That is rot only so in the State's interest, but it is also so in the interests of the individual. Nothing can be more cruel than to allow defective parents to bring into the world those who are condemned to suffer either because of hereditary disease or of those hereditary mental and moral defects which unfit them to grapple with their circumstances.

These considerations take the Debate, I know, deeper down to some of those vital problems with which it is very difficult to deal, but other countries are grappling with them along those lines, and in many of the States of America they have passed laws which prevent the propagation of defectives. Whilst we are forced to use the machinery we have at hand and to perfect it so far as we can, still we should look further ahead and to the time when it will be possible to prevent these cases at their fountain head. This is one of the most important aspects of this problem, and deserves our careful consideration.


I listened with great interest this evening to the speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, which was in his most inimitable manner. The House of Commons has probably seldom heard my right hon. Friend more completely contented with himself, his Department, and the world in general, or heard him pour such ridicule upon everybody else. If I may follow for a moment the remarks which he made, it appears to me that, while describing the Minority Report as obsolete—a Report which, as one hon. Member opposite very properly interposed is usually described as revolutionary—he managed apparently to reject both the Majority and Minority Reports of the Poor Law Commission and to commit in advance the Cabinet and His Majesty's Government to the maintenance of the status quo. That was how I understood him. It would be foolish, of course, to ask a Minister to declare in advance what may or may not be the policy of the Government upon matters of detail, but I think he was asked by the hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite what was his view of the unanimous Report of both the Majority and dissentient Minority of the Commission upon general mixed workhouses. There is not a dissentient note in the Report of the Commission upon that point. Again, both Reports, without condeming the admirable work which has been done by those bodies, recommend the complete abolition of the boards of guardians. The right hon. Gentleman, so far as I was able to read his policy from his incidental observations, entered into a defence of boards of guardians, not merely on account of the public-spirited work which they have done for so many years, but as being the authorities rather than any congested county or other council to carry out the work. If that is so, and he does not frankly accept the abolition of general mixed workhouses as recommended in both reports, it appears to me he has rejected not merely this expensive and, in his view, unworkable policy of the Minority Commissioners, but also the policy of the Majority Commissioners as well.

I noticed with interest that he argued at large against relief works. I am afraid his disorderly friends below the Gangway—and I include myself among the number—a little lost patience at certain times during those remarks. At this date, after all the instruction we have received, and we certainly—I say it with perfect frankness and sincerity—have received a great deal of instruction in these matters from my right hon. Friend himself, who speaks with peculiar knowledge, I do not know that anybody presumes to advocate what is generally called relief works. He properly called attention to the consensus of opinion among the Majority and Minority Commissioners against relief works. If he thought it worth while drawing attention to that, are we not perfectly entitled to argue, when the Majority and Minority Commissioners agree, not merely in condemnation, but in practical constructive policy, that they should also receive the sympathetic attention of the Government Department. The right hon. Gentleman was even controversially unfair to the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Steel-Maitland), who, as he properly said, was one of the very able investigators appointed by the Commission, and who, as I myself know, is certainly not a partisan in these matters, having maintained a proper, open, judicial, and statesmanlike mind. He was compelled to rise in his place and insist on interrupting my right hon. Friend when he was giving what I must describe as an absolute travesty of the hon. Gentleman's view. After all, he was trying to do what a great many other people in this country are trying to do as well, and that is to put an end to all the miserable sectional squables between the dissentient parties upon the Commission. As a very great Churchman with whom I had a conversation the other day said, it is a scandal and a shame that the Government of the day cannot find time, not to introduce a revolutionary measure, but to take what is best in both reports and frankly admit the case for legislation.

I was very much exercised by my right hon. Friend's language about this Bill which is to be introduced for Invalidity and Unemployment Insurance. I think nearly all of us in this House are supporters of such a scheme. My right hon. Friend put forward not merely the scheme which we associate with the name of the President of the Board of Trade, but also the invalidity scheme, which we associate with the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as though it were an alternative, and indeed, a final policy. I desire to say with all the strength of which I am capable that I do not believe any Poor Law reformer regards that invalidity scheme as anything like a final settlement. We therefore continue the demand in the words of the Resolution, and we shall not be satisfied if, when the Parliament Bill is out of the way, the Government do not apply themselves to the solution of these grave social problems.

If they continue to regard what has been done in the past as a satisfactory solution and maintain the status quo as against the two great capital recommendations of the Poor Law Commission, I believe, in the well-known words of the Foreign Secretary, it will be death, disaster, and something worse for the Liberal party.


It is perhaps necessary the House should see the point of view of a local administrator. It is all very well for Members to regard the head of a great Government Department as a suitable object for criticism, but it seems to me a great deal of the criticism arises from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman works at the Department, studies the facts, and has a most excellent memory as well as a good knowledge of the poor, got from a lifelong experience. I am not here to say he is perfection, or anything of that kind, but I am an admirer of a vigorous administrator, and, whatever may be said of the right hon. Gentleman, it has never been suggested that he is overawed by officials or that people can pull him about like a puppet on wires. I have never heard it suggested even by his enemies that there is some mysterious individual in the Department who calls the tune to which the right hon. Gentleman dances. I speak on this question with some degree of interest, because I happen to be at the present time a Poor Law guardian.

And, it being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.