HL Deb 20 May 1870 vol 201 cc1049-54

(The Lord Privy Seal.)

Order of the Pay for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that in 1867 a Bill was passed under the auspices of Mr. Hardy, who was then at the head of the Poor Law Department, the object of which was to produce a degree of equalization of rates in respect to the poor in the metropolis by placing certain charges on the Common Fund; and by the present Bill it was proposed to extend that principle still further. Before explaining the details of the Bill, he would state the result of the Act, known as Mr. Hardy's Act. The result of that Act was to put the cost of lunatics, education of children in district schools, fever hospitals, medicines, and drugs, and a large sum for the salaries of officers, and other items of expenditure on the Common Fund. The measure had now been in operation for three half years. For the first half-year the sum charged to the Common Fund for these purposes was £130,000; for the second half-year, £170,000, and for the last half-year the charge had increased to £200,000—an increase partly to be explained by the fact that at first the Act was not brought fully into operation. The various items might be shortly stated. For the year ending Lady Day, 1869, the maintenance; of lunatics cost £160,000; the medicines and surgical appliances, £9,000; the salaries of officers, £103,000; the children in district schools, £91,000; the expenditure under the Houseless; Poor Act was £12,000; and registration and vaccination fees amounted to £15,000. The consequence of the operation of the Act had been, besides the equalization of the rates, that children formerly maintained in the workhouses, where their education could not be attended to in the most desirable way, had to a great extent been removed to district schools. This was an object which Parliament had long desired to attain, but it was not effected in any satisfactory degree, until by Mr. Hardy's Act an inducement was held out to the local administrators of the Poor Law in the metropolis to erect district schools, whereby they obtained a contribution from the Common Fund. Another result of the Act had been an increase—and a desirable increase—in the salaries of the officers. Various parishes had previously felt great reluctance to increase the salaries of the medical and relieving officers, even when such increase was required for the proper administration of the Poor Law; but now, when proper salaries were provided, the actual effect had been to decrease the expense of the administration of the law. The present Bill extended still further the principle of placing certain charges on the Common Fund. Owing to the construction of railways, and the changes brought about in the habits of the richer classes in the metropolis, the burden of the poor rate was not so equally distributed as formerly. The City of London was now almost exclusively occupied by warehouses and places of business, and by a very small number of dwelling-houses, so that a small number of persons only remained in the City during the night; the labouring men who worked there during the day slept in Bethnal Green and other distant places, and obtained relief there when sick or out of work. But the poorer classes in those outer parishes formed part of the same population just as much as if they resided in the same Union, and it seemed fair to throw the rate over the whole district so as to produce a more equal distribution of the burden. On the other hand, he should be sorry to see a complete equalization of the rate, as that would take away from the different local authorities a strong incitement to local management and the exercise of economy. Therefore in this matter he desired that steps should be taken cautiously, and that he thought was done by the present Bill. The proposal was that a certain proportion of the expense of the maintenance of in-door paupers should be thrown on the Common Fund, the amount to be repaid to the local Guardians out of that fund to be limited to 5d. a day for each pauper. The total expenditure for the in-maintenance of the adult poor in workhouses—excluding lunatics and vagrants—was estimated to have been, during the year ended in Lady Day, 1869, £285,000. Taking £285,000 as the total cost of in-maintenance, under the clause of the Bill which provided that 2s. 11d. should be paid in respect of each pauper out of the Common Fund, the total charge on the Common Fund would be £170,000, and the charge upon the individual parishes would be £115,000. In round figures the result would be that about two thirds of the charge would be borne by the Common Fund and about one-third by the parishes. The aggregate sum at which the metropolis was rated yearly to the relief of the poor was £1,400,000; and of this £400,000 was now chargeable on the Common Fund under Mr. Hardy's Act; an additional sum of £170,000 would be so charged under this Bill. The result would be that under that Act and this Bill rather less than half the total charge would be thrown upon the Common Fund, and the remainder of the charge would be borne by the separate local funds, as at present. It might be objected that the Bill introduced a principle applicable to all England, and which would lead to a consolidated national rate. On behalf of himself and the present Poor Law Board, he wished to say it was not intended that this Bill should lead to any result so greatly to be deplored—rather than that should happen they would forego the advantages to be derived from the operation of the Bill. One subsidiary advantage of the proposal was that Guardians would be encouraged so to administer relief as not to bring the poor into the workhouses—because the accommodation would be limited, as it was provided that each workhouse should be certified in respect of the number it would accommodate, and if that number were exceeded no claim on the Common Fund could be entertained. That would give the Poor Law Board a control over the numbers to be housed in each building, and, at the same time, the arrangement would deprive parishes of the inducement to build workhouses in order to put the poor in them. The total average cost of each pauper in the metropolitan workhouses was nearly 4s. 10d. a week, and the total charge that would be thrown on the Common Fund was 2s. 11d. a week. There was, therefore, left a considerable margin within which Guardians might save by good management, or lose by bad management. Another important provision under the Bill was the power given to the Poor Law Beard to enforce its requirements on any refractory Union by withdrawing the contribution upon the Common Fund, instead of, as at present, having to resort to the cumbrous remedy of a mandamus. An analogous power was possessed by the Home Office in reference to the management of prisons—if its requirements were not complied with, the contributions from the Consolidated Fund could be withheld. He trusted the Bill would receive the favourable consideration of the House.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Privy Seal.)


concurred generally in what had been said by the noble Earl. When he (the Duke of Richmond) was at the Poor Law Board very great complaint was made that parishes which benefited by the labour of the poor who did not live in them escaped the burden of their relief. This Bill would do something to remedy that state of things by, to some extent, equalizing the rates over the whole metropolis. He was glad to hear the noble Earl say that he thought the Bill went far enough in the direction of equalization and centralization, for equalization would be a dangerous principle to carry out over the whole country. He thought that 5d. a day was rather a large sum to be repaid in respect of the maintenance of a pauper in a workhouse or asylum. He did not know whether their Lordships had power to change the figure, but he would suggest to the Government the propriety of considering whether the sum might not be reduced to 4d. in "another place." Altogether he was satisfied with the Bill.


hailed the Bill with great satisfaction, considering it to be founded on the best principle, and calculated to lead to approximate equalization of rates and their just and economical administration. He had always desired an approximation to equality in the rating of the metropolis, and therefore he would give the Bill his cordial support.


said, that at first sight the object of the Bill seemed to be extended centralization in the system of Poor Law relief. From his own experience in connection with a country Board of Guardians he could say that the system of common Union rating had had the most prejudicial effects in most of the rural districts. It had taken away from the inhabitants all interest in their own poor, and had thus thrown upon the rates a number of persons who used to be employed. He admitted that in the metropolis the same reasons did not apply, for in the metropolitan parishes people did not know their own poor; but in the counties the breaking down of the parochial system had had a most prejudicial effect.


expressed his satisfaction that the principles of the Bill should have been approved of by two noble Lords of such experience in the administration of the Poor Law. As to the limit of 6d. to which some exception had been taken by the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond), it stood at 6d. in the Bill as originally framed; but that being thought too high it was reduced to 5d. At 5d. the amount cast upon the common fund would be £170,000, at 4d. it would be £135,000; but as the point had been carefully considered he could hold out no hope that the suggested reduction to 4d. would be made. As to the objection that the Bill was an approach towards a general system of centralization in the administration of the Poor Law relief, he could assure the noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) that not only the Government did not wish to commence such a system, but were entirely opposed to it. He could only oppose the experience of the noble Lord as to the injurious effect of Union rating by his own; for as Chairman of a Board of Guardians, he had observed no falling off in the attentions paid to the poor. Things remained in that respect much as they were.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.