HL Deb 16 July 1903 vol 125 cc834-8


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I would point out that it consists of only one operative clause, and that clause simply provides that a board of guardians, in granting outdoor relief to any pensioner of the Army or Navy otherwise entitled to such relief, shall not take into consideration the amount of his pension except in so far as it exceeds 5s. a week. I am aware that this Bill in its provisions follows somewhat closely another Bill which met with an unfortunate reception at your Lordships' hands recently, but I would point out that this measure affects another class of the community altogether. This Bill touches a class who have done good service for their country, and have very possibly been wounded in that service, and it is designed with the object primarily of enabling those men to keep out of the workhouse. There is nothing which acts more prejudicially against recruiting than the fact that a man who has served in His Majesty's Army or Navy should be forced, through no fault of his own, to go into the workhouse. It has been said in another place that one man in a workhouse prevents ten men enlisting. I will not go so far as that, but there is no doubt that the knowledge that an old soldier or sailor is in the workhouse does prejudicially affect recruiting in the district in which that workhouse is. There is nothing, so far as I know, that these men dislike more than the idea of having to go into the workhouse, yet undoubtedly the smaller pensions which are granted by the Government are not sufficient to enable them in some instances to keep out of it. I should like to learn that His Majesty's Government had in contemplation a measure which would enable a sufficiently large minimum pension to be granted to those who have suffered in the service of the country to enable them at any rate to keep out of the workhouse, I am of opinion that this burden should fall on the Imperial Exchequer rather than on local rates, but if no Government measure is forthcoming, I think it is necessary that a minor measure of this kind should be introduced. I beg to move the Second Reading, and I trust your Lordships may be favourably disposed towards it.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Granby.)


My Lords, I rise for the purpose of moving the rejection of this Bill I happened to be out of the House when the noble Marquess began his remarks, but I imagine that he referred to the fact that your Lordships had already disposed of a Bill this session dealing with the same object In the first place, I protest against the Poor Law system of the country being attacked by nibbles. Thai is quite the wrong principle to go upon. If the Poor Law system is unsatisfactory, let the Government have an inquiry by a Royal Commission or some other body, but it should not be altered in this way by small Bills introduced from time to time. The noble Marquess expressed his admiration for those who had fought and suffered for their country. I am sure we are all agreed in thinking that the defenders of our country deserve the best treatment that can possibly be given to them, but I do not see why soldiers and sailors should be selected for favours above other classes of the community. If they suffer for their country, it is the duty of the War Office to see that they are properly rewarded; and, as a matter of fact, a wounded soldier receives a pension in proportion to his disablement. The Government are not at all backward in the endeavour to prevent such a man becoming a pauper. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill in the other House said it contained exactly the same principle as the Friendly Societies Bill. But there is the vital distinction, that the arguments in that case in favour of the Bill were founded on the fact that the Bill would encourage people who had observed habits of thrift on their own account. In this case, however, it is the Government who have exercised, thrift for the men. Colonel Blundell said in the House of Commons that the Bill was brought forward with the general intention that a pensioner should receive the benefit of the thrift which was exercised for him, and at his expense, by the State during his service. Therefore a pensioner is in the same position as a member of a friendly society, with this distinction, that in his case the thrift was practised by the Government on his behalf, and not by the man himself. I have another supporter of my Amendment for the rejection of the Bill in Lord James of Hereford, who said, in moving the Second Reading of the Friendly Societies BillI think this Bill (Friendly Societies Bill) has greater claims on your Lordships' consideration than any Bill which may be introduced for the exemption of Army and Navy pensioners, for that which is sought to be exempted in the Bill I now move is the result of a man's own voluntary savings. The Poor Law system of this country is founded on the principle that every one is entitled to relief in distress, quite apart from his merits. A certain amount of disparagement was thrown on boards of guardians in the recent debate, but I think they are just as likely to show a kindly consideration to their fellow men as any of us in this House. I think, therefore, that we ought to adhere to the present principle, unless some more powerful arguments are brought forward. Not a single instance has been advanced that the present Poor Law regulations impose any hardships on soldiers; and certainly, if the proposal of the Bill is accepted the cost should fall upon the Exchequer rather than upon the rates, as it is entirely a matter of Imperial concern.

Amendment moved— To leave out 'now' and to add at the end of the Motion 'this day three months.'"—(Lord Lamington.)


My Lords, I rise to support the rejection of this Bill. The one thing that your Lordships and Parliament should be careful about is how you in any way tamper with the Poor Law and its administration. If your Lordships will look back some seventy years to the state of England at the time when the Poor Law Commission was appointed you will find that through the lax administration of outdoor relief a state of demoralisation existed throughout the whole agricultural population which was really shocking. We read in the evidence that men said— Damn work, curse work, blast work: why should I work when I can get 10s. from the rates and do nothing? That was the state of things which existed seventy years ago. We still have sentimental complaints of the harsh administration of the Poor Law, but I believe in the polity of being cruel to be kind, and that if the law, especially with regard to outdoor relief, is firmly administered poverty will decrease. If there is one man in England more than another who knows all about this question it is the able Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, Mr. Loch. I wrote to him asking him if he would kindly send me his opinion with regard to this Bill so that I could it read to the House. I received an answer from the Assistant Secretary stating that Mr. Loch is out of town, and that practically this Bill is the same in principle as the other Bill which was introduced by my noble and learned friend Lord James. In a paper on the latter Bill Mr. Loch wrote— There is no clause in the Bill repealing or amending the Act of Queen Elizabeth; yet in fact it is a partial repeal of that Act. And he went on to say— It may be desirable to reform the Poor Law, but it is hardly desirable to reform it in such a way as to extend materially the incidence of pauperism, and to create a large new class of privileged paupers. To create what is practically a new Poor Law by casual Amendments, based on side issues, cannot be other than injurious and unjust. We hear of people objecting to go into the workhouse. About ten years ago I visited the workhouse of my own county. I found it charmingly situated on the banks of the river, and overlooking some beautiful woods. The only articles wanting were armchairs. We provided the inmates, who had been compelled hitherto to sit on benches in rows, with cheap armchairs, and then there was nothing whatever to complain of. A workhouse is by no means a penitentiary, as some people imagine. If the Poor Law is wrongly administered, if there is any serious complaint against it, let it be inquired into. We live in an inquiring age, and it may be desirable that a small Commission similar to the one which inquired into the state of the Poor Law seventy years ago, should be appointed to impure into the whole question of the administration of the Poor Law and outdoor relief. Then we shall know whether a general measure for simplifying, and what is called making more humane, that administration is necessary.

On Question, whether "now" shall stand part of the Motion, resolved in the negative; and Bill to be read 2a this day three months.