HL Deb 24 April 1879 vol 245 cc962-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that this Bill had been sent up last Session from the other House of Parliament, and had received Amendments in their Lordships' House; but those Amendments not being acceptable to the other House, the Bill dropped. Since then, very numerous meetings had been held and many Petitions presented to Parliament in favour of the measure; and the Bill having been again introduced, it had passed again with unanimity through the House of Commons. The character of the measure had, he believed, been misunderstood. The Bill did not propose to alter but to restore the Poor Law of 1834, by ridding it of an interpolation introduced by a section of the Act of 1876—the very same Member who introduced that section being the author of this Bill to get rid of it. The Bill proposed to amend the 23rd section of the Poor Law Amendment Act (1876) so as to allow moneys to which any pauper having a wife or other relatives dependent upon him might be entitled to as a member of any friendly or benefit society to be paid to, or applied to, the maintenance of such family. The 23rd section of the Act consisted of four paragraphs; the first, enabling trustees to pay over to guardians annuities due to paupers, had no application to friendly society payments; the second, enabling guardians to recover from a pauper lunatic member of a friendly society their expense in relieving him from benefit payments due to him, had no application to any paupers except lunatics; the third enabled magistrates to enforce the previous provisions by their order; and the fourth restricted those provisions to relief given on loan. The Bill proposed to prevent the section from applying to money due from a friendly society to paupers or pauper lunatics having a wife or other relatives dependent on them. But the section did not apply to friendly society payments to any paupers except lunatics, and their Lordships agreed last Session to accept its application to pauper lunatics. So far, therefore, as the Bill applied to that section they were all agreed. But the Bill went on to say that moneys due to paupers with wives or dependent families should be applied by the friendly or benefit societies to the maintenance of the wives and families, and so met the special complaint of the petitioning societies, which was principally against the interference of Poor Law authorities with friendly societies of 1876, which gave a litigious authority to guardians to attach their members' insurances. There was also another reason for this Bill. The innovation of 1876 had been mistaken by some justices to give them power, under the 3rd paragraph, to force friendly societies to pay their members' money over to guardians, under the 1st paragraph, which had nothing to do with friendly societies. It was better not to leave this mistake to be set right, at great cost of litigation, by Courts of Law, but to make the law clear. At first sight, it appeared that allowing any moneys payable to paupers to go to their families was a violation of the principle of the Poor Law that relief should be given only to destitution. But such had not been in practice the interpretation put on the principle of the Poor Law, but the reverse. The original Act expressly invented the mode of relief by loan to meet cases of contingent income. The idea was that a man receiving weekly income, if temporarily he became in need of relief, should not pauperize his whole family, and might repay his own relief by subsequent earnings. Sick pay subscribed for through life by a poor man against occasional incapacity had never been considered as exclusively for his personal benefit, but a provision for his family at moments when he was unable to provide them with bread. Guardians also were by express instructions bound to consider the necessities of the family. They had, indeed, always the power as well as duty to take all the resources of the family into their account in apportioning their relief to any applicant; but not so as to be exhaustive of all provision for the family. He had it on the best authority that the usual practice of guardians as to sick pay due to an applicant for relief was to estimate it at one-half if there were a wife and family. For instance, if the society paid a pauper 10s. a-week and the guardians thought the family required 10s., they would allow the applicant 5s., leaving 5s.to go to his family—estimating the payment due to him from the society at one-half its actual amount in consideration of the wife and family. Their motive in adopting this version of the law was that it operated in the encouragement of these societies. The Poor Law Commissioners, in their first Report, said that the best influence of the new Poor Law was that it had increased provident societies and deposits of labourers who had been previously paupers; and the guardians had not only the sense now, but the express instructions, not to change the aspect of the law in so disastrous a manner as to discourage these societies. But was sick pay, which the poor subscribed for against a day of incapacity to work, and which was only to be paid them on their associates' judgment of their claim duly accruing, by any stretch of interpretation capable of being considered actual property or assets, such as the Poor Law required to be exhausted before relief was given? It was a payment contingent on the case and on the judgment of the society of the case being made out, and was in every sense precarious, and certainly incapable of being exhausted before it was even paid and was only possibly due. But he might press this argument much further, and say that the subscriptions of the poor to a provident association were of the nature of a voluntary poor rate. They were ejusdem generis and only distinguishable from a legal poor rate as self-imposed and not enforceable by law. It was also material to consider that this voluntary poor rate was undertaken by many who were too poor to be liable to the legal rate. It was really a voluntary rate-in-aid and so much in relief of the legal rate, and a present to the ratepayers of the country to an amount which had been estimated at £2,000,000 a-year, besides the still greater gain to the country that it came from the very spirit of self-reliance which the Poor Law sought to rally against the fatal spirit of pauperism, which it tried to the utmost to reduce. If, then, this Bill, so far from violating, redeemed the spirit of the Poor Law from its violation in 1876; if it removed a most mishievous irritation between the guardians of the poor and their best allies the provident societies; if it left the guardians as able as ever to adjust their relief with the resources of the poor, but not by attacking the societies; if it restored the law's letter to its most successful practice and did justice to the most precious efforts of the poor to supply their own relief, he hoped their Lordships would not hesitate to give a second reading to a Bill so fraught with good.

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


said, he still felt the objections to this Bill which he expressed last year. Its principle was in contravention to the whole system on which Poor Law relief was granted—namely, that they were only to tax others for relief when the persons to be relieved were in such a state as to be unable to maintain themselves. When a man had the means of maintaining himself, it was most unjust and unfair to call upon others to contribute to his maintenance. The case had been put of a pauper whose wife or family had some means independent of him. He could not see why money due to him from the friendly society should not be paid to the guardians to be applied towards his relief. It was true the House last Session went to the extent of allowing it in the case of pauper lunatics; but why? Because the cost of maintaining a pauper lunatic was so great. But there was no adequate reason for carrying the principle any further. He did not intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill, because he thought it was possible, as was done last year, so to amend it in Committee that the objectionable features might be removed. He should, when the Bill reached Committee, move such Amendments as he considered reasonable and just; and he trusted their Lordships would not be induced to depart from the well-established principles of Poor Law relief.


said, he took some part in the opposition to this Bill last year, and, without going into the question again, would say that his objections to its principle had not been removed.

On Question? Resolved in the Affirmative.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday the 2nd of May next.