§ Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is a monumental work. It contains 245 Clauses and 11 Schedules. It is one of the largest pieces of consolidation work which has ever been attempted in this country, and I think the gratitude of the general public, and particularly those concerned in the administration of the Poor Law, is due to the Parliamentary counsel and the other officials concerned who, with extraordinary skill, and with immense pains and labour, have carried through the gigantic undertaking. The consolidation of the Poor Law has been long demanded. As long ago as 1739 a book was published which declared that the consolidation of the Poor Law was required. A hundred years later the Poor Law Commissioners stated that it was one of the things particularly required; and the majority Report of the Royal Commission of 1909 repeated that consolidation ought to be embarked upon immediately. Here we have a consolidation Bill embracing the relative parts of more than 100 Acts of Parliament from the time of Queen Elizabeth down to recent years.
I do not think it is customary to have any particular Debate upon a consolidation Bill, but I see there is a Motion for rejection down upon the Order paper, and I understand that arises out of opinions held by some hon. Members opposite that the Bill has omitted certain provisions in old Acts which ought to have been included. In the drafting we have followed the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee, which has examined the Bill Clause by Clause. I wish to give hon. Members opposite the assurance that it is not our intention that this should be anything but a consolidating Bill, and that we have no desire or wish to change the existing law, and if they can show us that we have treated something as obsolete which is not in fact obsolete, we shall be quite open to conviction upon the subject. I understand that there is, in particular, one Statute, the one which gives powers to guardians to set boys to work at wages in the cultivation of the land, which they 1148 desire to see restored, and they have been able to find some evidence that that particular Measure, which was thought by the Joint Committee to be obsolete, was, in fact, operative within recent times. We shall accept that view, and if hon. Members will consult with us as to the wording of the necessary Amendment to put that Statute into the Consolidation Bill, we shall be very ready to meet them on the subject. On that understanding, I hope they will not feel it necessary to oppose the Second Reading.
§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
All Members on this side will welcome Poor Law consolidation. It is very desirable that the law should be consolidated, but we have felt somewhat perturbed by the fact that certain provisions which were not actually operative at the present time but which might quite well be made operative, have been repealed in the Consolidation Bill. It is true that some of the powers of the Poor Law are not widely exercised at the present time, but we understand that the right hon. Gentleman, in pursuing his constructive policy, hops to deal with this problem in the near future. If it be that the powers now vested in boards of guardians are to be transferred to county councils, then certain powers which are now enjoyed by boards of guardians but which they have, for various reasons, been unable to operate would become very valuable powers in the hands of those authorities. It is true that in a Consolidation Bill the powers which are obsolete in the sense that they can be no longer applied may well be dropped, but we feel that there are a number of provisions now in the law which ought to be maintained.
If the right hon. Gentleman, as I understand him, undertakes that after consultation with Members on this side, Amendments can be moved in Committee to ensure that this Bill is a Consolidation Bill and no more, then we shall have no objection to his getting, the Second Reading of this Measure to-night. We feel that, as the Bill stands at the moment, it is not strictly speaking a Consolidation Bill, but is, in effect a Consolidation and Amendment Bill and that Amendments are made in a direction which will limit the powers of authorities who are in future to be concerned with Poor Law functions. If the right hon. Gentleman says that he is prepared to undertake 1149 that this Consolidation Bill shall be only a Consolidation Bill, then we shall be glad to give the Bill a Second Reading to-night.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Thursday, 23rd June.—[Mr. Chamberlain.]