HC Deb 28 March 1928 vol 215 cc1191-227

I beg to move, That this House asks the Government to give consideration to the question of taking steps to restore some measure of disqualification of recipients of poor relief for voting at elections of boards of guardians. I should like to preface my remarks in moving this Motion by saying that I always have considerable sympathy with anyone who tries to address the House immediately after Question Time, and that, perhaps, I may be permitted to extend a certain amount of sympathy to myself in trying to do the same thing this afternoon. The subject of this Motion is, I am aware, a matter of considerable controversy. I do not wish to cause too much controversy, and I hope that any impressions of that kind that I may create by my remarks will be put right by those who follow. In looking over past Acts, and recalling the Reform Bill of 1832 as too old, and the Poor Law Bill of 1834 as equally too old, I came to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law and Relief of Distress in 1909, and on page 64 of that Report I find this general statement: The question how far relief from the public assistance authority should disenfranchise its recipient is more closely connected with the relief of the able-bodied than with any other class of recipients of public assistance. We hold generally to the principle that those who, either from misfortune or otherwise, have failed to manage their own affairs successfully, ought not by law to have power to interfere in the management of the affairs of others. But public assistance often assumes a transient form, and we are not disposed to disenfranchise wholesale and unconditionally all who receive it. We, therefore, recommend that only those persons be disenfranchised on account of public assistance who have received assistance, other than medical relief, for three months or more in the aggregate in the qualifying year. That, I think, states the case that I have in my mind a great deal better than I could state it orally or in writing.

If the promised Bill, which the Minister of Health in 1926 proposed should be introduced in the following year, is to be held over, it is being held over for some reason which none of us in this House so far seems to understand. We are anxious to get that Bill, because the control of elections ought to be in the hands of those who understand and have studied the subject. It happens that during the last London County Council election a great deal of influence was brought to bear upon the voters in the various constituencies throughout London in the direction of recommending them in no circumstances to vote for Municipal Reformers, and stating that their living depended on supporting the so-called Labour party. It also happened that in South Poplar one of the relieving officers was a Labour candidate. The State is asked to bear burdens which it ought not to bear. It ought, in my view, to be the desire of every citizen to endeavour to bear his share of the burden to the utmost possible extent. In view of the statement which I have just read from the Report of the Royal Commission, it follows, I think, from the fact that so many able-bodied men are coming on to the Poor Law, that they are not trying to carry the burden as some of them might do. There is competition for places on the boards of guardians; there is competition between one board of guardians and another, especially where they have access to the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund; and altogether we are creating, without any doubt, a state of pauperism in a certain section of our community which is destroying the moral fibre of its citizens.

When I was in America, a friend of mine, who knows this country very well, said that he wondered how Great Britain could expect to recover her status while she permitted and encouraged laziness amongst the able-bodied to hamper her progress. I felt that there was considerable reason in that, because it vas exactly my own view. The teaching in our schools all too infrequently advocates that sturdy independence and self-reliance which used to be characteristic of the British race. Thrift seems to be no longer a preached creed; it seems to be one of the creeds that recently we have been doing our best to forget. One of my special points in bringing forward this subject to-day is that the burden on industry has become intolerable by reason of the local rates which our industries have to bear. There are sheltered municipal workers up and down the country who are put there by people who have helped to put the guardians in the places which they occupy, and, when any section of sheltered employés is in receipt of wages which it does not legitimately and economically earn, that naturally depresses the chance of the energetic and careful worker who is doing his level best to keep himself and his family in their natural independence.

4.0 p.m.


On a point of Order. Is it in order in the course of this Debate to discuss the wages and conditions of municipal workers, when the Motion refers only to disfranchisement in the terms set forth on the Order Paper?


I think that an hon. Member when introducing a Motion is entitled to describe what he thinks is the state of affairs which he wishes to reform. He cannot put his Motion forward unless he is allowed to do that.


I am, personally, more concerned with the industrial supremacy of this country than anything I can mention, and anything that any hon. Gentleman can suggest by means of which we can redeem that supremacy ought to be done, and every possible effort made to that end. There is one section of the community with whom I have the greatest possible sympathy, because their wages have been depressed. I refer more particularly to the engineers, especially the engineers as I know them in the North of England, whose wages have been very much depressed because works cannot pay by reason of the heavy local taxation to which they are subjected by the operations of the guardians.

It might not be out of place to refer here to the removal of the disability that took place when the Representation of the People Act, 1918, came into operation. There had been a Speaker's Conference previous to the introduction of the draft Bill, and in 1917, when the matter was subjected to a general discussion on the Floor of the House, there was a ridiculously thin House. Clause 8 of the old draft Bill was one that had been recommended by the Speaker's Conference, and it suggested a certain modified measure of restriction. I think I am correct in saying that a Mr. Whitehouse, who was then the Leader of the Labour party—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It was the Leader of the Labour party, anyhow, who put up a very strong opposition to the Clause, and, generally, the Clause was protested against by a very strong section at that time—as strong a section as could be expected in that ridiculously thin House—and eventually it was accepted and passed by the action of the then Home Secretary—I think Mr. Hayes Fisher—but being accepted and the disability removed, I remember very well a remark that was made by the ex-Financial Secretary to the Treasury (now Lord Cushendun), who made some very apposite and trite remarks on the removal of the disability. He made the prophetic statement that he thought it would be subject to considerable abuse in the long run. I imagine that if he looked back to-day he would think how very correct was his anticipation, because it absolutely fits the case to-day.

There is a business axiom, and I think it is a common-sense axiom—because all business is simply common-sense; some people do not seem to know how to exercise it, and some do—the business axiom that franchise should be given for service rendered. I think that when the franchise is given to a citizen of any description, some responsive service ought to be given back by that citizen to the State, and in the case I am mentioning concerning the able-bodied, that is not being done. When I am speaking about those who receive Poor Law relief, I would like it to be understood that I am referring exclusively to those who are known to be able-bodied paupers. I would like to make a suggestion to the Home Secretary, because it refers to a Bill which is coming before the House to-morrow, and it is entirely apposite to this question. There is one section of the community that is bled white by certain sections of local administration, and has no voice whatever in the spending of its own money. I think it is high time that, inasmuch as we have given votes to paupers to pay themselves in relief indirectly, the limited companies which, in many districts, provide the funds, ought to be given some say in the administration of those funds, more especially when I read the statement which my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has made in various places, that some of these limited companies in some East End districts pay as much as 38 per cent, to 40 per cent. of the total rates, and have no voice whatever in the administration thereof.

I would suggest that we cught to give a mandate to the Government to do something to remedy one of the evils created in 1917–18. I know we were then in the shadow of the War. Everything was being subjected to that shadow, and I do not wonder at it, but that time has gone by. Some of those who shout the loudest suffered the least. But the fact is, that we are creating in our midst, by reason of that administrative error, as it might be called, a body of professional able-bodied paupers which, in some districts, reaches an alarming percentage, and, inasmuch as we have them about us, some remedial measure ought to be considered to put that glaring injustice right. I want it to be understood that I am making no reference whatever to the distressed industrial areas. There are some areas, especially in the part of the country from where I came, where trade has suffered very seriously, and has been lost through no fault of the men themselves, nor, for that matter, of the employers, and I wish I could say that of the coal trade. But inasmuch as there is this serious disability which we have to face, I would not like it to be thought that I would impose, if I had the chance, any particular disability upon them in any shape or form except by reason of the fact that there is a section of their community, in certain parts of London, simply taking advantage of the position which was created in 1918. There is no doubt that we want very badly the Poor Law Reform Bill, and the present onerous work of the guardians ought to be taken away with the least possible delay. That section of our community which is like a dismantled ship, which seems to have nowhere to go, and is drifting about at the mercy of the wind and waves, is that part which it ought to be the determination of His Majesty's Government, and every individual both in and out of this House, to do the best he possibly can to correct and thereby help to remedy the difficulty connected with our industrial depression, so that work could be found to make able-bodied paupers an impossibility.

Amongst that section, ambition, as we knew it in our early days, seems to have disappeared. When I first came to London as a boy I had no money to play with. I had a pound in my pocket and made it do, but I came to London with the ambition to succeed or get out. Some measure of success came from working not six or seven or eight hours a day, but 16. Ambition seems to have gone, pride seems to have gone from the individual very largely, and lassitude and dull carelessness appear to have taken their place. That is a very deplorable state of affairs which, judging by the remarks of some hon. Members on the Opposition benches, seems to create a certain amount of amusement. Abuses of the Poor Law are not exaggerated. A little while ago the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. B. Smith), addressing some Bermondsey friends, made the remark that if the men with whom my Motion deals were disfranchised at the guardians' election, it would make all the difference to the election. I do not think it worth while, perhaps, to refer to the remarks of the vice-chairman of the West Ham Board of Guardians, but what he very bluntly said to the disparagement of his colleagues for many things they had done was illuminating.

I have tried in, perhaps, a halting sort of way to bring before the House a state of affairs so that it may stand some chance of recognition and be dealt with by the Government at the first possible opportunity. I have tried, in the few remarks I have made, not to be provocative, but to state the ease as I know it, and as I have seen it in operation. I have had a lot to do with municipal life. If I have stated a case that deserves some attention at the hands of the Government, I have fulfilled the object with which I accepted and carried out this Motion. I should like to close with a reference to an old and very unlamented friend of my boyhood, who tormented me many and many a time, and say "Q.E.D."


I beg to second the Motion.

No Member of the House and no member of any municipal authority can be unconscious of the use and the misuse of the franchise in connection with elections of boards of guardians, borough councils or county councils. My work is not confined to six, seven or eight hours a day or even to 12. I possess one advantage in having at one time occupied an official position with a board of guardians, and the revelations there were enough to stagger any ordinary man. To-day, things are much worse than they were 30 years ago. In those days one was confronted with contractors who thought they could do what they liked. Sometimes they did and sometimes they did not. Then they came in conflict with the officials of the Local Government Board. To-day things are very much worse because there is a system of what might properly be described as wholesale bribery. Human nature being what it is the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will realise perhaps even more than I do that if specious promises are made you are apt to get the support of a certain section of the community. He speaks from experience. I do not.

My hon. Friend, in moving this Motion, generalised. I should like to specialise and give one or two actual cases. In London and in Westminster a charge of something like £800,000 was levied from each city last year as a contribution to the Common Poor Fund. They had practically no control over the expenditure. Holborn contributed £140,000. They have no control over the expenditure except in an extraordinarily limited degree. Much of the money has been squandered. Is it fair to mulct the people in one part of London and make them pay an additional 1s. in the £ on their rates in order to relieve Poplar and other boroughs? You can get extravagant boards of guardians with a pauper vote. If you examine the records you will find that where the largest ratepayers are there you will get representatives who will take care of the ratepayers' money just as they do of their own. It is so easy to be charitable with other people's money. One of the great evils to-day is that it is allocated to representatives who are voted in by the pauper vote. We in other parts of London feel very acutely that a very grave injustice is being done, and it ought to be removed as speedily as possible. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston, (Mr. Wheatley) when he was Minister of Health pronounced a very great truth when he said No form of relief so surely demoralises a neighbourhood when unwisely administered. Is there anyone experienced in social work who would for a moment pretend that the rates are wisely expended in certain boroughs? Anyone who has done any social work knows that a certain proportion of money, whether expended from rates or from charity, is bound to be unwisely expended. What good you do with one hand you can undo by creating an evil with the other. It is surely unfair to mulct the City of London in £874,014 and Westminster in £883,003 and to spend £500,000 of that in another area in London. What are the guardians doing in the districts where there is an abnormal proportion of the population suffering from distress? I refer hon. Members to the Report of the Ministry of Health. It is from that book that I have culled my information. In that Report the inspector used these words: Under the administration of the Bermondsey Guardians it has been possible for a man who has been convicted of defrauding the guardians and assaulting, the police, and has done very little occasional work, to be maintained in an unsatisfactory home for six years. This could not go on for six years without the knowledge of the receiving officer, and there can be no doubt in, anyone's mind that that was duly reported to the guardians.


And to the Minister.


It may have been. One knows that many cases have been reported to the Ministry and one admires the undaunted firmness with which the Minister has dealt with certain very glaring cases and he seems to have been very unwearying in exercising the prerogative he possesses. In some parts of London the tremendous amount of relief has aroused a storm of passion amongst those who have to contribute. It is not only large employers who have to pay these rates. They fall heavily upon others. Hon. Members opposite forget that as the rates go up they are transferred to the rents and it is spread not over a small group of individuals but over the whole community. Why should decent honest craftsmen who are the great majority, have a tribute levied upon them to support lazy, idle, worthless fellows who go to the guardians and draw nearly as much money as the operatives in a skilled trade? I am not speaking so much on behalf of employers of labour as on behalf of the working men of London. Operatives in the building trade have no desire to support such cases as I am now going to give. Here is a man described as a lazy fellow and a very unsatisfactory case. Relief was given him for three years varying from 44s. 6d. to 52s. 6d. a week. Here is another case. The relief began in February 1921, at the age of 23. Seven years afterwards, the man was still receiving that relief and the only work he has done in four years was a little hop picking and four months' fruit picking. Here is another case of a man aged 26 who has been receiving 44s. a week since 1921. I am giving the report of His Majesty's Inspector, and I am doing this in order that I may illustrate my own experience. There is another man who was dismissed from his job for theft, and he has been receiving 44s. 6d. a week since his discharge, and he has done no work since. May I deal with another portion of London? The Inspector goes on to report upon Greenwich and Deptford: One person in 15 of the population of Deptford and one person in 18 of the population of Greenwich are receiving Poor Law relief. It is obvious to anyone who has gone through even one election that if he were to promise "If you will return me, I will see that your rents are reduced" or, in the candidature for the office of guardian, that "your relief shall be increased," he might be assured of the votes of a certain section of the community. That is not the section of the community which I desire to encourage. It is the section of the community I desire to discourage, because, to my mind, they are human parasites. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are fond of talking about parasites among the rich, but I would remind them that there are parasites at the other end of the scale.


You admit the others as well.


May I give the case of a man who has been in receipt of relief since September, 1921. [An HON. MEMBER: "Go back to the Army!"]. I do not mind going back to the Army if the hon. Gentleman will come with me and undergo the same service as I did. Here is the case of a man who has been in receipt of relief, and his fellow ratepayers have had to pay £537 to him alone. Here is another man with a wife and four children. He has drawn £677 19s. 6d., and in addition has had boots and clothing. There is another case of a man who has not done a day's work for 4½ years and who has received £423 in relief, plus clothing. One can go on and give dozens of cases, and my hon. Friends opposite know it. There is another case of a man who received £580. Surely, it is not fair, right, just or proper that that type of man should be put on terms of equality with the decent, honest citizen who works and toils and struggles to make two ends meet. I submit to the House that it is time that that condition of affairs was brought to an end. You will find little better condition of affairs existing in Shoreditch. I have chosen London in order that I may get an answer, if possible, from some hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent those constituencies. If you take the proportion of people in receipt of relief in the whole of the United Kingdom, you will find that they did not number more than 296 per 10,000, but if you take a place like Shoreditch you will find the average was 831, or one in 12.

Surely, there is something very discouraging in the social work, something very wrong, and I am looking with confidence to hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite to support this Motion in order to bring to an end something which we all admit is indefensible. In 1927, more than 56 per cent. of the persons in this country in receipt of relief had been receiving it continuously for over one year. My hon. Friend suggests that a Bill should be brought in to the effect that a man should be disfranchised after he had been in receipt of relief for about three months. I believe that that is a general idea held by members of boards of guardians in London. We are not referring to sickness benefit. We are referring to those cases where men de not want work.


Would the hon. Gentleman mind giving us the authority for the statement he has just made regarding the 56 per cent.? He has quoted from some document.


I am quoting from the eighth Annual Report of the Ministry of Health, namely, for the year 1926–27. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any later figure than that, because the returns have not yet been issued. That is the document. There are men in receipt of relief who are known to frequent racecourses; there are pickpockets and the like. Why should these men enjoy the same privileges as the operative, the clerk and the men honestly employed? As the Ministry of Health inspector states: there is the greatest perplexity concerning these people. the men who never attempt to work and who are living, in fact, on the exertions of their fellow men. Why should they enjoy the same privileges as those who put in eight, ten, or twelve hours' work a day? In Woolwich, the story is very little better. The inspector reports that one-third of the out-door relief is given to able-bodied persons in contravention of the Relief Regulation Order, 1911. It might be said that it is the duty of the Minister of Health to see that those Regulations are observed and enforced. Even a Minister of Health cannot check and control every abuse in the numerous municipal administrations under his charge, but it is in the power of this House to bring to an end the condition of affairs revealed in the document which my hon. Friend opposite has produced. In showing the approximate effect on the local rates, he referred to the recipients of the various funds and also the amount credited to each union, and I think that if one would only study this question he would be bound to come to the conclusion that the evil is so great and so far-reaching that no time should be lost in bringing us back to a sane condition of affairs. I know that some hon. Gentlemen believe that they are helping the unfortunate, but I think they are floundering about in a sea of folly. They are not really helping. Much of what they are doing is only helping the lazy, the idle and the indolent, and I am quite sure that they do not desire to do that. I would call the attention of the House to the fact that there is a desire growing up among certain sections of young men to get a job where the work is put out.

I do not pretend that I possess a greater genius for administering the work of boards of guardians than any hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I would suggest that they should give very serious thought to the contingent of loafers who exist in London, and who, I have no doubt, exist in the provinces as well. [Interruption.] I hope hon. Gentlemen are not cheering me. It is a very pleasant interruption. There is a certain type of guardian in London at least—[Interruption.]—I really do not know whether this is an exhibition of wit or of folly, but it seems to me to be rather an indication of imbecility. There is a certain type of guardian who shows and displays incompetence and who is unacquainted with the really deserving poor. I think the sooner their services are dispensed with the better. I am sure that we ought to be grateful to the Minister for putting in temporary acting guardians to replace those so-called popularly elected representatives. They—the temporary guardians—have managed to send a lot of those idle persons back to work and considerably to reduce the expenditure which had been incurred by their predecessors. It appears to me that the reasons set forth by some of the so-called elected guardians did not possess the intelligence of a glohigerina. They are almost as idle and worthless as the men they help to support. [interruption.] These ladies and gentlemen are in possession of our purses. [Laughter.] Well, they are! Incapable of producing wealth themselves, they squander the fruits of our energies. They do not realise apparently, that, when rates are driven up, there is such a thing as taxes, and that one way of getting money from our purses is to add to the rateable value of the property from which extractions are made for rates and taxes. In that way, the unfortunate householder is hit twice if he happens to hold property inhabited by the working-classes. He knows that the waste of money is going to be reflected in the amount of rents charged to the unfortunate operatives who live in those houses.

I think I have shown that there is a reason why this matter should be raised, and I commend it to the distinguished Minister sitting on the bench in front of me. I have not exaggerated the situation in the least. I want an opportunity to be given to the decent working men of London, and one of the ways to help them is to bring about a reduction of the rates. That cannot be done, as long as you allow the idle and the worthless to manipulate, through the ballot box, the return of ladies and gentlemen who indulge in practices which help nobody; who are not concerned really about the working classes of this country, who are not concerned about commerce and, apparently, are not concerned very much about anything, except a little self-glorification. It is an intolerable condition; it is one which we resent in London, and I hope that action will be taken to ensure that this Motion will receive recognition by the Government.


I rise to oppose this Motion, which has been put forward in two of the most doleful and uncharitable speeches that I have ever heard in this House. The two hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Motion are colleagues of mine in the representation of London constituencies.


Lucky fellows!


They will be luckier still if, after their speeches have been read by their constituents, they continue to be my colleagues in the next Parliament. The hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. G. Harvey) said that he wished the House to give a mandate to the Government to disfranchise from voting at guardians' elections persons who receive Poor Law relief. That is an admission of a point which I was going to make, that the Government at present possess no such mandate. The Conservative party did not at the last General Election propose that if they were returned they would take away votes from any section of the electors of this country. I challenge both the hon. Members whether at any public meeting in their constituencies during their election campaigns they invited the electors to vote for them in order that those votes might afterwards be taken away. I challenge them to get up now and tell this House that they ever mentioned this question at a public meeting in their constituencies at the last election.


If I had had an invitation from the hon. Member I should have been happy to do so.


That is about as good a reply as I could have expected from the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Kennington preserves a masterly silence.


What bearing has it?


I will explain what bearing it has. I say that this Government has no mandate to do what the hon. Members demand, and that neither of the two hon. Members nor any other Conservative Member of Parliament went to his constituents at the last Election and said: "Vote Conservative, and when von have put us in we will take away your votes if you receive Poor Law relief." No mandate has been received from the electorate by the present Government, and I submit that it would be a gross breach of democratic decency if the Government were to interfere with the electoral law in this respect before another General Election has taken place. If, on the other hand, they choose to insert this proposition as part of their programme at the next election, and if they are again returned, the situation will be different, but at present they have no mandate to do it.


Had the Labour Government any mandate to lend £44,000,000 to Russia?


We never lent it.


I doubt, Mr. Speaker, whether you would allow me to give a full reply to that question, but I think I could give a good reply, if it were in order. I am very anxious, however, to keep as close as I can to the terms of the Motion. I want to analyse the classes of people against whom the two hon. Members have directed their arguments. Who are the people who receive outdoor relief whom the hon. Members seek to disfranchise?


The able-bodied.


Able-bodied! It is as well that we should know exactly what the hon. Member is proposing. Am I to understand that old people who receive Poor Law relief are to be allowed to go on voting?


On a point of Order. The Motion that I moved related entirely to the proposition of the Royal Commission of 1909, which I read to the House.


The Motion says: That this House asks the Government to give consideration to the question of taking steps to restore some measure of disqualification of recipients of poor relief for voting at elections of boards of guardians. I gather from the hon. Member that the old people are to be allowed to vote. The disabled are to be allowed to vote. The able-bodied are to be disfranchised. If I am wrong, perhaps I shall be corrected. A great many ex-service men are still able-bodied. The hon. Member no doubt realises that. Therefore, he is definitely proposing to disfranchise able-bodied ex-service men who have received Poor Law relief. Is that true?


Grossly inaccurate.


I have asked the Mover of the Motion. Will he contradict me when I say that he wishes to see able-bodied ex-service men who receive Poor Law relief deprived of the vote? Is that true?


Within a certain period of the election only. The Report which I have read says so. Within a certain period prior to the election.


Within a certain period prior to the election, but within a certain period after the War. I note that important admission from the hon. Member. He said that when the present law was instituted we were living under the shadow of the War. He has got out of that shadow now, but a lot of other people have not. The hon. Member having said that the present law was instituted when we were living under the shadow of the War, proceeded to say, "That has gone by.' The country will be glad to understand from this Debate exactly what it is the hon. Member and his friends have admitted. They are out, among other things, to deprive of the vote, so far as elections of boards of guardians are concerned, those men who fought for their country and had the luck to come back. That is what they are out to do. These men are to be allowed to go on wearing their Mons Stars and their War medals, but they are to be turned out of the polling booths. They are to be allowed to march to the Cenotaph on Armistice Day, but they are not to be allowed to march into a place where they can record their votes. We are getting a wonderful, new interpretation of the patriotism of the Tory party.

Mr. TASKER rose——

5.0 p.m.


The hen. and gallant Member for Islington East (Mr. Tasker) is addressed according to the courtesies of this House as an hon. and gallant Member. He served in the Army and he has retained his title, as he is quite entitled to do, in his subsquent political and public life. Does he think that it is right, does he think that it is decent to come to this House and to propose that men who, perhaps, served in the same unit as himself during the War and who since that time, through no fault of their own, have been compelled to go to the guardians for relief, because they have nothing else to live upon, should be branded as men unworthy of citizenship; that the last rag of the garment of citizenship should be torn from their backs by the Tory party, the party which at the General Election prates about its patriotism and its concern for the ex-service men? Does he think such conduct is right? If he does, then I sympathise with his moral obtuseness. We have now extracted an admission that one of the desires of the two hon. Members is to disfranchise able-bodied ex-service men. They can tell that to the British Legion.

I will go further. Who are the rest of the population whom it is proposed to disfranchise? Able-bodied men such as those about whom we had a Debate last Monday arising out of the conditions of distress in the coalfield; miners who, through no fault of their own, see all the pits around them closing down, and who were described in fitting language-by the Minister of Health during that Debate, when he said: You cannot have such distress, such unemployment and such impoverishment as obtain in South Wales to-day without their having some effect upon the health of the people, but it is not merely physical; it is very largely psychological. That is, I think, the tragedy of the situation, that people's hearts are broken, and they no longer have the courage, the spring and the spirit which enable a man to face up-to his difficulties, and feel confident that he can overcome them. They are disheartened and they are discouraged."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1928; col. 841, Vol. 215.] That is a very fair and very true statement by the Minister of Health as regards the situation of that unfortunate population. To-day is it proposed by way of heartening them and of encouraging them to say: "Although it is not your fault that you are in this condition, you are not going to be allowed the ordinary rights of citizenship any longer. You are going to be deprived of the right to vote at guardians' elections"? These men have been punished through no fault of their own but through the impact of economic forces. If we ask who is responsible for this condition of affairs it would be possible to argue the matter and to show that the fault is the fault of His Majesty's Government, through their handling of the unemployment problem or, rather, their failure to handle it, through their return to the gold standard, through their manipulation of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, and through that wonderful Measure which was to have brought benefits but which has brought in many cases grave disadvantage to its beneficiaries, namely, the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age (Contributory Pensions) Act, which has in a great many cases forced people to go to the boards of guardians for relief because it has deprived them of their unemployment benefit. The blame for the condition under which large bodies of able-bodied unemployed men are at present living, or striving to live, rests not upon their own shoulders but upon the shoulders of His Majesty's Government, which is supported by the two hon. Members who have brought forward their specific this afternoon.

One word about the amazing doctrine, if such it can be called, which lies at the root of the two speeches which we have heard to-day. One hon. Member said that the franchise should be connected with service rendered. If that doctrine were carried through to its logical conclusion who would be left upon the register? Which of us, as Shakespeare says, should escape whipping, if that doctrine were carried to its logical conclusion? We have heard about the sheltered trades and about classes of so-called sheltered workers. What about the classes of sheltered investors, the sheltered rentiers? What about the people who draw large sums of money every year as interest upon invested money which very often has nothing to do with any savings they have accumulated but is merely inherited from their fathers, or their aunts or their friends, and which represents no effort, no service rendered by those people, either in the present or in the past. Turning to the question of ex-service men again: On what possible grounds can it be maintained that the principle of franchise according to services rendered is going to bar out able-bodied ex-service men, who defended the ratepayers in the City of London and Westminster on whose behalf a large part of the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, East, was made. He said that storms of passion were aroused in the hearts of certain people in the City of London and Westminster because they had had to pay a few pence more in the £ in higher rates in order to make up the scales of Poor Law relief paid in Deptford and Greenwich, and the other places which he mentioned. This doctrine of franchise according to services rendered is one which it will not pay the Conservative party to press too far. Then as to the kindred doctrine, the doctrine that it is immoral to vote for people if you think that as a result you are going to get some advantage. Let us examine that doctrine. It is very immoral, said the hon. and gallant Member for Islington, for people to promise that "if you vote for me you will get some advantage." He never makes promises of that kind himself.


I never made promises like that during the election.


I have not had the opportunity of indulging in research into the hon. and gallant Member's election address, but I shall be greatly surprised, if I did so, if I did not find some promise or offer to induce the people of Islington, or a section of the people of Islington, to return him to this House.


I will send the hon. Member a copy of my election address.


And I will send the hon. Member a copy of mine in exchange. Is it immoral to vote for anyone if you think you are going to get any benefit as the result of your vote? What about the promises of a reduction in taxation? Perhaps the hon. Member did not make any promise to reduce taxation to the electors of Islington? He says he made no promises of this kind. He is very fortunate so far as the last two Budgets are concerned, because after the reduction of the Super-tax there was nothing much left to give to anybody else. But many Super-taxpayers are in pocket to the extent of about £1,000 a year as a result of the first Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Is it contended by the hon. Member that it was very immoral for any Super-tax payer to vote for a Conservative candidate because he believed that the Super-tax would be reduced? I never heard that suggestion made before.

With regard to the safeguarding proceedings: The electors of boards of guardians were described by the hon. Member as human parasites. Is there any reason why we should not apply the same term to those people who come to this House, or to hon. Members of this House, asking that their businesses should be helped by the Government of the day by getting a little relief from uncomfortable foreign competition by means of import duties? Is it going to be held that all the promises made during the Tariff Reform campaign were essentially immoral They were all promises to a section of the community, that if they would vote Conservative they would get higher dividends or higher wages. One might go through practically all the economic questions which come before the country at election time. Landlords vote for Conservative candidates because they hope to get relief from agricultural rates. Some people vote for the Labour party, or the Conservative party, on the question of the beet sugar subsidy because they think they will be better off than they were before; and I could go on and take any single question of an economic character and apply this doctrine in such a way as to show that anybody who is going to get any benefit whatever by the adoption of any economic policy whatever has no right to cast a vote because it would be immoral.

You cannot single out this one particular question of the election of guardians. It is simply a particular case in a general problem which faces us under a democratic government where economic issues are at stake. The proposal put forward this afternoon is a very mild form of a much stiffer proposition which, if we are to believe the "Times," was seriously considered by the Cabinet a little while ago. There were daily communiques in the "Times" a few weeks ago, statements if you like, of the discussions in the Cabinet.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)

indicated dissent.


The right bon. Gentleman will be able to give an account of this when he comes to reply; he will be able to explain how it was that every day for some considerable time there were statements in the political columns of the "Times" saying that the Cabinet had been considering the question of the disfranchisement of people in receipt of Poor Law relief. First we were told that the Cabinet had practically decided to deprive those people in receipt of Poor Law relief both of the municipal vote, and also of the Parliamentary vote. We were told that there was a strong majority in the Cabinet in favour of doing this, and the Minister of Health in a speech in the country said that for himself he was strongly in favour of disfranchising people who received Poor Law relief so far as municipal elections were concerned. The Attorney-General made a statement to the same effect. Evidently there was division in the Cabinet, and the "Times" retailed the position to us daily. We were told that what brought the matter to a deadlock was the administrative difficulty, how it would be worked out in practice; and we now observe that in the Bill which the Home Secretary is to introduce tomorrow there is no provision for disfranchisement at all. But this proposal this afternoon is the thin end of the wedge which the majority of the Cabinet was in favour of.

The real solution for this particular problem, in so far as it is a special problem at all, is not to attempt to take away the vote from large numbers of people who stand in more need of the vote in order to defend themselves and their interests than the rest of the community If we gave votes according to the needs of the people we should give the poor man 100 votes and the rich man one vote, because the rich man can find many other means of bringing pressure to bear on the Government. The real solution is that which has been advocated for more than 20 years past, a reform of the Poor Law and the abolition of boards of guardians. More than 20 years ago this was proposed by Mrs. Sidney Webb and the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), and it has since been adopted by practically every party in the State. It is now agreed that boards of guardians should go and their duties should be distributed amongst other popularly elected authorities, whether in regard to the sick or the children, or the old people or in regard to the able-bodied. The present Government have given us a pledge. I do not want to press it too hard, for they have given so many semi-pledges that we do not know how many are to be considered binding, and within what period of time.

They have given pledges in regard to Factory Bills and Poor Law Bills, and the Government are committed some time or other, if they remain in office, to deal with this question of Poor Law reform. I am not saying that we expect to be in agreement with all the proposals they may put forward, but we shall all be in agreement with the proposal that boards of guardians have had their day, that they are not suitable bodies or fitted to perform the large number of functions dealing with a large number of different classes of distressed people, and that they should be swept away and their functions distributed amongst other popularly elected bodies. If that were done the special case put forward this afternoon would utterly fall to the ground. It should be quite impossible for the Government which is pledged to Poor Law reform to accept a Motion of this character, which is simply leading us off along another line altogether, and which is highly objectionable in itself. Still I am glad the question has been proposed, and I do not think my hon. Friends on this side of the House will find fault at all with the fact that it has been brought forward. I hope hon. Members who have brought it forward will have the pluck to go to a division. Let them go into the Lobby, but we shall go into their constituencies and explain to the electors the course they have proposed this afternoon.


I hope I shall be pardoned for trespassing on the time of the House for a few moments on this subject. I have had some 30 years experience as a member of a board of guardians and my experience is rather more favourable to them than the expressions which have been used in regard to the Poor Law system by the hon. Member who has just sat down. It may be that they will be swept away, but I think they have discharged their duties and responsibilities remarkably well. There are two reasons why I am unable to support the Motion now before the House. In the first place, I do not think it really comes within the range of practical politics. It is all very well to theorise, but my experience is that you cannot go back, and once you have given a vote it is impossible to take it away. It may be said that it is a proposal to revert to the old system. That may be so, but that argument might also be adduced in favour of a return to capital punishment for sheep stealing. It is an argument that does not carry much weight. If it was within the range of practical politics, there is still one reason why I should have to oppose it.

Every hon. Member will agree that one of the most essential things at the present moment is to try to bring all sections of the community together in a friendly manner for the welfare of the State, and I cannot imagine anything that would be more disastrous than to propose the disfranchisement of men simply because they have received certain money from boards of guardians. It would create more class hatred than anything else. It would be said that we were taking votes from those who have not and allowing those who have to retain their voting power to the full. Such an impression as this would do more to bring about class hatred than anything I can conceive. It is said that this proposal only refers to the election of boards of guardians. I do not really see how it would work. As far as voting is concerned, you cannot make fish of one and fowl of another.

Take my own example. I have been for 30 years a member of a board of guardians, and I have had the privilege and honour of sitting in this House for nearly 10 years, and I cannot imagine anything more unfair than to say to a man: "You are much too poor to vote for me as a member of a board of guardians, but you are quite rich enough to vote for me as a Member of the House of Commons." That is not very complimentary to hon. Members of this House. I know that the argument will be used that there is a difference between the functions of a Member of Parliament and the functions of a member of a board of guardians, and that a man has a more direct interest or hope of getting something from a member of a board of guardians than from a Member of Parliament. There I entirely disagree. We must face the facts. How can you take away the vote from a man simply because he does not pay any rates, and say that he is not qualified to vote for the guardian who spends the rates, yet at the same time say to that man: "You can vote for a Member of Parliament, although you do not pay a farthing in taxation"? In other words, the man is told: "You can vote far a, Member of Parliament who supports that taxation and who may legislate in a way that would certainly advance your personal interest just as much as any member of a board of guardians could do. "I cannot think that you could disqualify a man because he does not pay rates and yet allow him to vote for a Member of Parliament although he does not pay any taxes.

I am not quite clear how far the Motion goes. An hon. Member asked whether the proposal would apply to "the old pauper," so-called. I imagine that it would, but I do not know. It seems to me rather ridiculous that you should allow an old-age pensioner to vote for a member of a board of guardians, and at the same time deprive the man who is one or two years younger of the opportunity of voting, simply because he gets half the amount of the pension from the guardians. It is quite illogical and almost impossible to work. But there are other reasons which this House would be wise to weigh. I have no doubt that the action of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion has been very much prompted by the conduct of a certain number of boards of guardians in this country. I am not going to attempt to criticise what those boards have done or not done. This is not the occasion to do so. Assuming that there are some boards of guardians which are unduly extravagant, I am the very first to admit that an unduly lavish expenditure on the part of boards of guardians might lead not only to an increase of pauperism but would be had for the State. At the same time it must be remembered that there are boards of guardians who err on the other side. My experience as a member of a board of guardians is that sometimes what seems extravagant on the face of it is not always extravagant in the result.

Boards of guardians have very many difficult duties to discharge. They have to weigh the interests of the ratepayers and the interests of those who seek assistance. In some cases where boards of guardians go on the strong principle generally known as "offering the house," in other words when people who come for relief are invariably told, "We can give you no out-relief, but you can go into the house," it often means that some of the most hard-working and deserving men who have fallen on evil days would rather starve than go into the house. What is the result? It is bad for them and it is bad for their wives, for they live in semi-starvation, but it is far worse for the 'children. As an old bachelor I cannot speak with very much experience of children, but I can speak with a little experience of horses, and I know one thing. If you starve a foal it is about the worst piece of economy imaginable. You will never get a good horse. What applies to foals applies also to children. If you starve these poor unfortunate youngsters you cannot expect them to grow up and to pull their full strength in the service of the nation. All these points have to be very carefully considered by boards of guardians. My experience has taught me that members of the community, of all classes, whether rich or poor, should have a say in the appointment of guardians.

There are some boards of guardians which tend to be extravagant, and there are others which err on the other side. but on the whole I think that we get a fair representation. I for one would be strongly opposed to a proposal that would deprive a man, merely because he has to receive Poor Law relief, of a say in the election of guardians. We have heard a great deal to-day about the ne'er-do-well, and the able-bodied loafer. Unfortunately there are a good many of them about. My experience as a guardian has been this: There are a great number of men who have to come to the guardians, not because of their own fault, but very often through bad training or some difficulty of that sort. Apart from that, the men who have to come for relief are very often men with large families. Young married men very often carry on without help in one way or another, but when a man has a wife and three, four or five children, and he is out of work for two or three months, he is forced to seek relief. To describe such people as necessarily ne'er-do-well is taking a rather harsh view of the situation. At any rate I think that the argument that they ought to be deprived of the vote for the guardians on account of their being ne'er-do-wells, is rather a strange argument when, as I understand, they are still to retain their votes for the election of Members of Parliament.

We all know that poverty is a great misfortune. It is not always a crime. Therefore we should hesitate more than once before we attempt to urge the Government to bring in any Measure that, after all, would amount to this: A man may be a decent citizen and a really hard-working man, but because he falls out of employment, or because his domestic responsibilities are very heavy and he cannot weather the storm, and then has to go to the board of guardians to ask for a few shillings a week, it seems a very hard thing indeed to deprive him of one of the cherished rights of citizenship. I am one of those fortunate people who, when they go to bed, know that if they wake up in the morning they will have enough on which to live. I do not say that that is any merit. I may be called one of the idle rich, but I am not very rich. None the less, I am thankful to think that I am in that comfortable position. If any evil day did come upon me, and I had to go to the guardians to receive a little assistance from public funds, I hope that none of my friends, when I was down, would take away my vote. I have trespassed for some time on the kindness of the House, and I am thankful for the patient hearing that has been given me. I have spoken because I can claim to have had some experience of the administration of Poor Law relief.


I am very glad to have an opportunity of saying a word or two on this Motion, because last year I framed a Motion on rather broader terms, but unfortunately, owing to the operation of the guillotine, it could not be discussed. This subject is one that has been talked about a great deal, particularly during the past year. It is a very good thing that the private Members' days should be occupied with the discussion of subjects which are of general interest, even though the Mover or Seconder may make himself liable to abuse from those who disagree with him. This is not entirely a party issue, for I know that my own view is not shared by many Members of my own party with whom I am generally in complete agreement. I hope the question will be discussed as far as possible without prejudice, because it is one of those questions in which the most violent things can always be said on either side. On the one side it is said that there is wholesale bribery and corruption on the part of guardians, and on the other side that those who support a Motion like this want to take away the franchise for their own ends. I am certain that neither of those statements is in the least true. There is very much more in the question than mere party statements of that description.

The fact that this particular disqualification was in being up to 1918, shows that it was considered till then that such a disqualification should operate. The question should be very carefully considered now, after we have had an opportunity of seeing it working for something like 10 years; we should decide whether the removal of the disqualification has been a success or not. The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Dalton) said he did not think that any of us had mentioned the subject at the General Election. I can assure him that I and other Members on this side were in favour of such a Motion, and that we make no secret in our constituencies of the fact that we are in favour of the disqualification. In fact, in my own constituency, as far as I know, the general idea is approved, and the line that I am now taking is generally approved by all the people there, rich and poor. I do not think it is fair to say, as the hon. Member did, that this Motion is moved on behalf of His Majesty's Government, for, honestly, I do not know what line the Government are going to take and what the Home Secretary will say later. The hon. Member for Peckham also made some remarks about the Super-tax. It is not fair to suggest, as is frequently done by members of the Labour party, that the Government reduced the Super-tax for the rich man, and did not do anything for the poor. Hon. Members who say that do not mention the fact that the Super-tax was reduced at the same time as the Death Duties were increased, and the two things balance each other. That is an absolute fact, and to disguise it is to try to get away with one of those half-truths that are so very helpful at election times, but not of much assistance in this House.

I hope that the Motion will be carried and that the disqualification of the man in receipt of poor relief will be restored. I do not intend to go at length into all the cases that have been brought up, of what is called corruption in local government. We have had enough Debates on that subject, particularly in connection with the prayers which have so often been moved in relation to the Guardians Default Bill. It is generally agreed on all sides of the House that where the existence of such scandals is proved, the sooner they become impossible the better. The only thing we have to decide is, what is the best way to do it? My own opinion of the principle involved in this Motion is that it is morally wrong for anybody who receives money from the guardians to vote at an election in which the amount of that money is an issue. That is rather different from the broad lines taken by the hon. Member for Peckham. The whole issue is whether a man who actually receives money shall be allowed to vote for the guardians who is to have the power of saying whether the sum of money is to be more or less than it would be if some other person were elected. On a recent Friday we had an interesting discussion on the totalisator, and I was interested to hear hon. Members opposite cheer the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) when he said that he considered it morally wrong that the Jockey Club should have the running of the totalisator, out of which they were to receive certain pecuniary profit. I believe the same principle is involved in this Motion.


Starvation is involved.

Captain HUDSON

No, it is not, When hon. Members cheered the remark I have just mentioned, why should they not support this Motion? The argument always brought forward by opponents of a Motion of this kind is that we, when we are fighting elections on questions of Protection or Safeguarding, promise certain things to the people if they return us, but I cannot see that that is in the slightest degree a simile. What about those who ask the electors to vote for Free Trade because it would mean a free breakfast-table? If promises of Protection are corrupt, surely the promise that Free Trade would give a free breakfast-table is just as corrupt.


I did not suggest that these things were corrupt. What I said was that, since these things were frequent and seemed to be inevitable in the course of General Elections, in which economic questions came under review, I did not see how any special line could be drawn in regard to the subject of the Motion.

Captain HUDSON

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for his explanation but where I see the difference is this. In the case of the Protection Election, we said we thought Protection would bring more work to people. We did not say it would bring more doles—to use the common expression. If, on the other hand, we had said that by means of Protection, we would get a great sum of money and that we would divide it among the electors, giving each so much cash, then that would have been similar to the case of these people voting for the guardians. It is the actual giving of a sum of money by the guardians who, when elected, have it in their power to say how much or how little is to he given to people who have voted at the election. It is for that reason that boards of guardians are the only bodies to which such regulation as is suggested here would apply. On the question which has been raised of ex-service men, I think that, free from all rancour, Members of all parties are for the most part, keen on doing what they can for the ex-service men. I have many friends among the ex-service men in my constituency as no doubt the hon. Member for Peckham has in his constituency but I do not think it. quite fair that when any administrative or legislative question of this kind arises, affecting a body of people, hon. Members opposite should say to us, "You are doing this to the ex-service men who fought for you during the War."

What about the ex-service man whose rates have been put up owing to this extravagant relief. That ex-service man might well say to us, "Why do you allow my savings to be taken from me in rates, to be paid to these people many of whom never fought in the War at all." He has just as much right to be considered as the ex-service man who would, according to hon. Members opposite, come into this category and would be deprived of his vote. The ex-service man in that case would only be deprived of the right of voting for the man who was giving him the money which he was drawing in Poor Law relief. I think it is time that the argument about the ex-service men ceased. It cuts both ways. Again it is said that we are proposing to take away votes from people because they are poor. We only want to take away votes from people who have to apply for relief. It is not because of their poverty, but because of the relief which they are drawing—we are only seeking to prevent them voting for the people who actually give them the relief. I am in favour of the Motion, as I think the majority of London Members are in favour of it. If it were passed, we should get rid of a lot of anomalies which now exist. There would be no need for Default Bills or Emergency Provision Bills and I believe local government, would be put on a sounder basis. I hope, therefore, the House will support the Motion on the grounds which I have just stated.


The House was very much moved by the speech of the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir R. Newman). He dealt with this question, not from any party point of view, but from the more important point of view of humanity. Therefore, we understand why it is that the organisation of the Tory party is being directed against the hon. Member, so as to prevent him being returned once more as a Member of this House, at the next General Election. It has been refreshing to have had a discussion on this Motion which has shown us the real Tory mind. The Mover and Seconder have taken their courage in their hands and have expressed the mind of the Conservative party here, as they would not have the courage to do to the electors as a whole. The question which we are discussing, according to the Motion on the Paper, is the misuse of pauper votes at guardians' elections. I listened carefully to the speeches of the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. G. Harvey), the hon. Member for Islington East (Mr. Tasker) and the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken. and I have failed to discover that they have given one instance of the misuse of pauper votes.

The hon. Member for Kennington expressed himself in favour of a certain part of the Report of a Royal Commission of 1909. That recommendation according to the hon. Member's own words, was directed against persons who had failed to manage their own affairs successfully. That is a very fine phrase when we remember that the majority Report of 1909 was signed by, among others, the late Lord George Hamilton. We can appreciate that he was one of those persons who had not failed to manage his own affairs successfully when we remember the considerable sums which he drew from the State, as a pensioner of the State, though he was not only entitled to vote on every possible occasion, but was also entitled to be a Member of this House. We can understand how he would direct his wrath against those persons who had not done as he had done, but who had failed to manage their own affairs successfully. If there were any arguments for this Motion at all, if there had been any change in the administration of the boards of guardians due to the enfranchisement of persons who were in receipt of relief, then it would be reflected in the elections which have taken place. If there had been, in district after district, a lavish distribution of relief as a result of this, if people had been able to get something by taking the trouble to record their votes for particular candidates, once in three years, the result would be reflected in much higher polls in the elections.

I have taken the trouble to look up the returns in London and I have made a comparison between 1913 and 1925. In 1913 there was a disqualification of all persons who had out-door relief and I give the following figures which include some of the boards criticised here this afternoon. In the case of Bermondsey, in 1913, when there was a disqualification, 40.1 per cent. of the electorate voted, but in 1925, when we had a considerable extension of the franchise, only 29.7 per cent. voted. It does not seem as though the newly enfranchised people, who were getting this lavish relief, were rushing to record their votes. Taking the same dates, we find in Camberwell a slight increase—21.5 per cent. to 23.3 per cent. In Chelsea the figures are 24.2 per cent. in 1913 and 20.7 per cent. in 1925; Holborn 26.1 per cent. in 1913 and 21.7; per cent. in 1925; Poplar 43.3 per cent. in 1913 and 35.5 per cent. in 1925. For the whole of London in 1913, 21.3 per cent. of the electorate voted and in 1925, 19.8 per cent. voted. These figures show that, in any circumstances, there is no case to be made out for any alarm as regards the effect of enfranchising persons in receipt of out-door relief.

Some criticism was offered by the hon. Member for Kennington in regard to the action of the South Poplar Labour party in having as one of their candidates and now as one of their representatives on the London County Council, a gentleman who is also a relieving officer. I may say a word in regard to Mr. G. W. Mills, the gentleman in question. Before the South Poplar Labour party selected him as candidate, they made careful inquiries and found that gentlemen occupying exactly the same position—namely, relieving officers to boards of guardians—who were members of the Conservative party were sitting on public authorities. Following the principle that what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander, they supported Mr. Mills, who was returned. But the fact that Mr. Mills is a member of the London County Council has no relation to this question at all, because the London County Council is not an authority which deals with public assistance. If the proposed reform of the Poor Law comes into effect and the administration of these matters is transferred to the London County Council, and if Mr. Mills is still a member of that body and still in his present employment, he will, of course, be faced with the alternative of giving up his business or going off the county council. But that is one of those arguments which are put forward not really with any bearing on the Motion before the House, but rather to raise a sort of fog of prejudice to obscure the real issue.

As a matter of fact, what is at the bottom of this Motion is a fundamental difference which lies between the party opposite and the party on this side. The party opposite regard the franchise as a privilege; they regard it as being based on property. They regard property as he permanent thing in life and human beings as being only incidental to property. So far as we are concerned, we regard the franchise as a right, and property, to us, is the incidental thing in life. The thing that really matters is the human being, and we claim and put forward and hold with all the intensity of which we are capable that the mere fact of being born into the world gives every child the right to all that God and nature have sent into the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "Without responsibility?"] The child has no responsibility for being born and is not asked to come into the world, and the fact that it does come into the world entitles it to what is in the world for it to have. That is fundamental so far as we are concerned, and we say that every person has a right to be a citizen and, having that right, is able to exercise the responsibility which seems to concern the hon. Member opposite so much. The hon. Member for Kennington is trying to disfranchise certain people, but he should study the history of the party to which he himself belongs, because, if his party had been able to have their way some hundred years ago, the hon. Member for Kennington would not have been able to sit in this House or to have the power to vote for a Member to sit in it. The party opposite has always stood for privilege, but we stand for the people as a whole.

This Motion has only been brought forward to try and befog the issue. The hon. Member for Kennington himself said very correctly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Dalton) has pointed out, that we are now out of the shadow of the War. After all, the great majority of these men who are on out-relief at present went cheerfully to the War and went fighting throughout that War, and at that time there was nothing too good for them. Ladies and other members of their class were always willing to treat them, to give them cigarettes, to pat them on the back, and to say what fine fellows they were; but to-day they are described in the terms used by the hon. Member for East Islington, as idle, thriftless. Their work is over, and they are no mere wanted now to do the fighting. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish!"] I am talking of what these men who are now on out-relief did in the War. Their service was very acceptable then, but now that it is no longer wanted, hon. Members opposite are determined to prevent them having any kind of citizenship, and are quite prepared to see them starve. If the terms of this Motion were implemented. it would mean that these ex-service men would be disfranchised in every sense of the word, because this is a Motion which is all the time against the poorest section of the community. it represents the Tory mind, which is opposed to every humane feeling, and I hope it will be rejected with contumely by this House.

Marquess of HARTINGTON

It is very disagreeable indeed to me to find myself in disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Harvey) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. Tasker), and in agreement with the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Dalton), but it is some little consolation that, if I find myself in agreement with that hon. Member, it is for none of the reasons which he adduced, for a more pitiful piece of casuistry than that by which he attempted to show that the object of this Motion was to deprive the ex-service man of his vote, I never heard in my life. Nothing in this House is more nauseating than when hon. Members of the Labour party attempt to drag in the ex-service man, as they do on any and every occasion, when they think they can make a debating point out of him. As I say, I find myself in disagreement with the two hon. Members who have introduced this Motion. There is, obviously, a very great deal to be said for disfranchising any man who is in receipt of relief, but if you are going to start on disfranchising them, I think it is extremely hard to say where you are going to stop. Our present system of government does not really rest upon the fitness of the individual to vote. I think most hon. Members in this House, towards the end of an exhausting election, would come to the conclusion that very few people indeed in the country were fit to have a vote—[An Hon. MEMBER: "Or to be a candidate!"]—or to be a candidate. The hon Member for Peckham suggested that the rich man should be disfranchised.


I did not suggest that anybody should be disfranchised. What I said was that if this Motion were carried into effect, logically you would also have to disfranchise, large numbers of other people as well.

Marquess of HARTINGTON

The hon. Member suggested that the rich man should have one vote and the poor man 100 votes, which is, after all, much the same thing as disfranchising him, and obviously you could go on to numerous other categories. There is a strong case for disfranchising municipal employés, government employés, and anyone who does not pay rates or is not a ten-pound householder, but we have definitely and long ago abandoned that system, and we have embarked, for better or for worse, on the system of adult suffrage, of giving every individual in the country a vote. It seems to me that to attempt to go back on that system is merely going to be more dangerous rather than safer. That experiment of adult suffrage is undoubtedly a great and dangerous experiment. It has been tried before, but it has never succeeded before in the history of the world, and no one can say whether that experiment is ultimately going to succeed, but if you are going to confuse the issue by attempting to create artificial safeguards, you run the additional risk of persuading those electors who know what the issues are that they need not bother to vote. That has been the trouble in the past. Again and again you have had very bad boards of guardians returned on a poll of far less than 50 per cent. of the total number of electors entitled to vote. That is the real danger, and if, by the method suggested in this Motion, you allow people to have a false sense of security, you will do a definite disservice to the cause of efficient local government and to the cause of economy in local government, which is so very necessary.

That, after all, seems to be the real issue. We have embarked on this great experiment of adult suffrage, and if that experiment is to succeed, the electors of this country should remember the great truth—their votes at the last General election showed that they know the truth to-day—that low rates, low taxation, and a thriving industry are vastly more important to the working people of this country than all the nostrums advanced by hon. Members on the Labour Benches and than the most abundant flow of municipal wet nursing. A thriving industry cannot exist for long without low rates and low taxation, and the working people of this country, of whom hon. Members above the Gangway are always pretending to be the exclusive friends, know it to-day, except in some exceptional areas, and there they are learning their lesson. Unless the electors remember that, if they once begin on any large scale to be tempted to vote for Socialism, this great experiment which has been embarked upon will fail. The encouraging thing is that they are learning it. Again and again we have seen districts which have learned it. West Ham and Poplar are learning it to-day, and so is Sheffield, and the people generally are learning that lesson. The policy, for that is the policy, roughly speaking, of the Socialist, of robbing the rich to subsidise the poor, will in the end bring poverty and distress to the poor themselves, and unless the electors remember that, the experiment of adult suffrage as applied to local government will fail. I believe they will remember it except in minor instances, and I believe that this Motion, if carried, would tend to obscure the issue and for that reason would be dangerous to the local government of the country.

6.0 p.m.


It is true that this Motion is couched in very cautious terms, and asks for a very limited disqualification, but I am not alone in thinking that it represents, nevertheless, a type of mind which, if it had its way, would wish to carry this matter to its logical conclusion. It is clear that it is only part of a very much larger question which affects the whole fundamental character of the British people and the British Constitution. The British people are in many ways a curious people. There is one thing about them, and that is that they have an intense appreciation of the fact that they have a part to play in the life of the country. They appreciate the fact that they enjoy the status which we call citizenship. One of the symbols of citizenship is the right of exercising a vote, and if you take away from them that symbol, you are doing something which will do incalculable harm to that spirit of pride in our country to which I have referred.

It seems to me that, apart from other questions, this Motion is peculiarly untimely at the present time. Owing to the stress of modern conditions, the number of people who are in receipt of Poor Law relief is larger than it is in normal times; and it comprises undoubtedly a very large number of people who are in that position through no fault of their own. They are there because they cannot get work, and because they cannot get work they cannot earn money, and for that reason they have nowhere else to turn. It seems to me that when you get so many people of that type in this position at the present time, it is really adding a great hardship to them to say, "In addition to the misfortune which you already have, we are going to impose on you the further misfortune, and even the disgrace, of depriving you of the right of expressing your views in the ballot box." As a matter of fact, the importance of the question has, I think, been exaggerated. I believe the number of people in receipt of poor relief is about 1,000,000, and of that number 75 per cent. are women and young persons, so that the number of people who would be affected, even if you put this Motion into operation, would be so comparatively small that the number of elections which they would be likely to turn one way or the other would be practically negligible.

But there is another and a larger aspect of the question, to which the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Dalton) has already referred. It is that, if there is a problem, which I do not admit, it is not to be solved by any pettifogging Motion of this character, but it is to be solved by the Government, as a Government, doing what they have said they will do, namely, tackling the whole question of Poor Law reform. Apart from that, there is another question of a wider nature. We hear a great deal about corruption. I think it is greatly exaggerated, but if people, and if boards of guardians and other bodies, resort to devices of a corrupt character, they will bring punishment on their own heads. I have sufficient faith in the common honesty of the British people to believe that no corruption on a great scale is taking place, or can take place, under our constitution. Therefore, I very much hope that the House will reject this Motion.


There are only two or three remarks that I wish to make on this subject. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will not listen favourably to the proposal which is made in this Motion.

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