§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
My Lords, I have to ask your Lordships to give your assent to the Second Reading of this Bill. It will probably be within your Lordships' recollection that two years ago a Bill identically the same as the one now before your Lordships was rejected on the Motion for the Third Reading. I felt that that result was largely due to the exact extent and scope of the Bill not having been presented to your Lordships, and that I was to some extent answerable for such omission. Since then those in charge of Poor Law administration in this country have had a further two years experience of the working of the present law, and now, for the second time, this Bill is presented to your Lordships for consideration, having passed through the House of Commons without opposition. When I remind you that the other House has twice unanimously passed this Bill and presented it to your Lordships, I hope I shall not be misunderstood, for I do not for one moment suggest that the judgment of this House should in any degree be sacrificed. To 1459 my mind it would be an evil day for this House and for the Constitution if your Lordships did not enter into a consideration of every Bill that came before you. But I think I may venture to say that the fact that the House of Commons have twice unanimously passed the Bill ought not to be disregarded. There is one other matter with regard to the nature of this Bill to which I desire to call attention. In one sense the Bill is a money Bill, as, if it is carried, the rates may be increased to a slight extent. Whilst not wishing for one moment to belittle the rights and privileges of this House I add that fact to the unanimous decision of the House of Commons in urging your Lordships not to reject this Bill without full consideration.
May I, in a few words, give to your Lordships the history of the matter which is now brought before you? As early as 1870, when my hon. friend Viscount Goschen was President of the Local Government Board, attention was called to the fact that the law was not obeyed by Boards of Guardians. That law was, of course, the old Poor Law, that destitution, and destitution only, was to be relieved, and everything received by the applicant had to be taken into account. Lord Goschen had learnt that this law was being disregarded and that Boards of Guardians were in the habit of granting relief out of the poor rates to persons who were receiving payments by reason of their membership of friendly societies. A circular on the subject was issued to Boards of Guardians. I do not know whether my noble friend's memory carries him back so far, but it is the fact that no regard whatever was paid to that circular. Boards of Guardians took no heed of it, and the result was that the matter had eventually to be dealt with. The Act of 1894, which was presented during the time Mr. Lefevre was President of the Local Government Board, legalised that which was previously illegal; it allowed Boards of Guardians, in the exercise of their discretion, to pass unnoticed the amounts received from friendly societies and give relief without consideration of such payments. To that Bill Mr. Lefevre, representing the Local Government Board of the day, gave his adhesion. From his experience and knowledge of Poor Law administration he admitted that the law 1460 could not remain in its then position. He consented to the Bill passing, and gave his reasons for so doing, describing the measure as a wise one and calculated to promote thrift. The Bill passed through the House of Commons without dissent. It came to this House, and, with the assent of the Leaders on both sides and with only one speech delivered against it, it passed into law. Now, I think, we shall find, before this debate closes, that every opponent of the Bill, the Second Reading of which I am now moving, is compelled by force of logic to say that the Act of 1894 was wrongly passed. But since 1894 that Act has been in force, and under it Boards of Guardians have discretion left to them to consider in their allotment of relief whether they will or will not take into consideration any such sum as the applicant may be receiving by reason of his membership of a friendly society. There comes the evil that has to be remedied. We have had nine years experience of that Act, and we have now the statement of the President of the Local Government Board that that law is most unsatisfactory, and that this Bill, which takes away the discretion of the Guardians, ought to pass into law. The Act of 1894 has got us into a wrong position. We have got into the middle of the stream. We cannot stop there; we must go forward or go back. We cannot go back because the House of Commons stands on the bank and will not allow us to land. That House has passed this Bill, which is a Bill for advancing, unanimously; therefore, we must go forward. It may be that before admitting that I have established that proposition, you may ask me to show why we cannot remain where we are, in the middle of the stream. I think I shall be able to convince your Lordships that it is impossible to remain in that position. I assume that there is not one Member of your Lordships' House who does not desire to do his utmost to assist thrift among the poorer classes. That, surely, is not a matter now to be made a subject of discussion. We hear on all sides that everything ought to be done to encourage thrift, and that it is the duty both of the Legislature and of individuals to promote it. We also hear much in the air—I am 1461 afraid it is only in the air at present—that much ought to be done to differentiate between the deserving and undeserving poor. My Lords, this Bill affords a practical opportunity of encouraging those who deserve well.
What is the position with regard to the law which this Bill seeks to amend? In the first place, the present law does not encourage thrift, for if a man has invested his money in a friendly society and subsequently needs outdoor relief, that money may be taken from him. Under the law as it at present exists, the Poor Law Guardians have absolute discretion in the matter—a discretion which is exercised in one sense in one place and in a different sense in another, so as to render the treatment of the poor a matter of geography rather than of justice. Is it not likely that unless there is some amendment of the law men will hesitate before investing their money? There are obvious reasons why a labouring man who has exerted sufficient self-denial to provide in some limited manner for his old age should not be penalised by being placed on the same level with a spendthrift. There are at present uncertainty and inequality which are unworthy of our laws. This is a point which should not be left to Boards of Guardians to determine differently. You are subjecting the people of this realm to different laws according to the will of different Boards of Guardians, and not according to the wisdom of Parliament. Is it becoming to leave to Boards of Guardians the determination of the broad question of policy whether this allowance ought or ought not to be made? I ask your Lordships to take the responsibility of deciding that matter. Then if the discretion is to be exercised in relation to individuals, according to what standard is it to be resolved whether A or B is, or is not, to be penalised in this way? Is it to be a question as to his moral life, or as to whether or not he attends church or chapel? I venture to say that such a discretion ought not to be exercised by Poor Law Guardians. If a man has been thrifty and saved money for himself in his old age, the right to receive it ought to be governed by principle and not by 1462 the views of particular individuals on the local Boards of Guardians.
When this matter was discussed two years ago I endeavoured, in the few words I then addressed to your Lordships, to instance the effect of this uncertainty in men's mind. I asked your Lordships to consider the position of two men. One man meets another, and asks, "Where are you going?" and he replies, "I am going to the friendly society to pay in my money. I want to provide against sickness and for old age." The other man at once says, "What a stupid fellow you are. I have got the same amount of money in my pocket, but I am going to spend it in the public-house. If I were fool enough to go with you to the friendly society and invest my money I may never get it back. The friendly society people would wish to give it to me, but the Guardians may take it from me. They will take your money, which you have saved, and apply it to the purposes of the rates. Then you will get nothing but what the rates will give you; I shall get that without making any provision at all. I am going to have my quarts of beer and enjoy my money, and I shall be in exactly the same position as you will be." This state of uncertainty, if allowed to exist, will prevent men from being thrifty. You want to drive men away from public-houses, and encourage them to make provision for their old age, yet every discouragement against thrift exists in the present law. Surely, a Board of Guardians which deducts the amount of a society's allowance from what they would otherwise have given to the recipient, are doing everything in their power to prove to the poor that there is nothing to be gained by saving, and to show them that it is better to obtain from their money as much enjoyment as the present day will afford, rather than to practise economy merely for the future benefit of the ratepayers.
I know it will be said that if you pass this Bill you will be making an exception on behalf of the friendly societies. Well, you did that in 1894, and no Member of your Lordships' House objected to it then. It passed without opposition, and not one of the present opponents of this Bill took the slightest objection to the Act of 1894. By that Act you gave an advantage to friendly societies only, and the object of this Bill is to extend that 1463 principle. A Bill has been introduced into the House of Commons, and is down for Third Reading—it has been unopposed up to that stage—which seeks to exempt also the pensions of soldiers and sailors from consideration when granting outdoor relief. I have no right to discuss that Bill to-day, but here is an extension of this principle coming up for your consideration. I am told that there are Members of this House who have great sympathy with the military profession, who are opposed to the Bill now before your Lordships, and I ask them to say whether, when the Bill to which I have referred comes up for discussion, they will oppose it. I venture to think that this Bill has greater claims on your Lordships' consideration than any Bill which may be presented for the exemption of the pensions of soldiers and sailors, for that which is sought to be exempted in the Bill I am now moving is the result of a man's own voluntary savings. Pensions of soldiers and sailors are not obtained by individual exertion or sacrifice, but come automatically. I am somewhat encouraged by the fact that when the Act of 1894 was before your Lordships the then Leader of the House, Lord Kimberley, and also Lord Salisbury, agreed that the Bill was a permissive Bill; but Lord Salisbury, in his speech giving assent to that Bill, put forward his view that there ought to be compulsion. He would, he said, support a compulsory Bill compelling Boards of Guardians to pass over unnoticed and not deduct pensions of soldiers and sailors. I am told that there is a great weight of authority against this Bill, but I would point out that the experience, not only of Mr. Lefevre, but also of the present President of the Local Government Board, has shown that there is a demand in the interests of the proper administration of the Poor Law that this Bill should pass into law, in order to make the application of the law equal and certain, and so prevent any man being left in doubt as to his position in relation to his act of thrift. My Lords, I feel that the opinions of those who oppose this Bill are entitled to the greatest weight, but one can be guided only by the light within one, and as from my conscience I believe this Bill to be 1464 beneficent in its provisions, I venture in all confidence to commend it to your Lordships' favourable consideration.
§ Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord James of Hereford.)
§ THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
My Lords, as two years ago I was the means, by moving the rejection of a similar Bill to the present one, and of preventing it from passing your Lordships' House, I think it may be convenient if I now state to your Lordships the course which I propose to take on the present occasion. I am not going to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, for two reasons. In the first place, I agree with my noble and learned friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill that, although this House has a right to act upon its own judgment in any matter that comes before it, at the same time it is the desire of all of your Lordships to pay consideration to what passes in the House of Commons, and I should not like, myself, to take the extreme step of rejecting without inquiry a Bill which has come up twice practically unopposed, from the House of Commons. My other reason is that I am so great a friend of friendly societies and thrift generally, that I should like to give the friendly societies an opportunity of stating their case more in detail and with greater support of facts than it has already received. Therefore, my Lords, I propose to move that this Bill be referred to a Select Committee, in order that the principle of the Bill may be considered by the Committee, and, if there is any technical difficulty as to the form of my Motion, I am prepared to add such words as may give to the Select Committee full power to enquire into the principles of the Bill.
My reasons for thinking that art enquiry is necessary I will venture to put before your Lordships. In the first place, no one who has paid any attention to the subject can deny that this Bill, although my noble and learned friend has endeavoured to hang it on as, an essential corollary of the Act of 1894, introduces a new principle into Poor Law administration. Never before has 1465 it been proposed to interfere with the discretion of Boards of Guardians in dealing with cases of relief that come before them. This Bill takes away that discretion, and it takes it away in one class of cases only, namely, in respect to benefits up to the amount of five shillings received by members of friendly societies. Can it be supposed, my Lords, that if the very important principle contained in this Bill receives the sanction of Parliament it will not be extended in all directions? Is it possible to prevent its extension to other kinds of thrift besides the thrift of subscribers to friendly societies? My noble and learned friend alluded just now to a Bill which has passed the House of Commons extending the same principle to pensioners. Where is this principle to end if the discretion of Boards of Guardians is once interfered with? This is a matter of the gravest moment. Mr. Brabrook, the Registrar of Friendly Societies, whose report is here on the Table for any of your Lordships to consult if you desire to do so, has pointed out the danger even of going so far as the Act of 1894 went in respect to interfering with the principles of Poor Law administration. So far, my Lords, as regards the principle. I doubt if any of your Lordships can deny that there is an important principle involved in the Bill, and that the full effect of admitting that principle has certainly not been touched upon by my noble and learned friend who moved the Second Reading, nor, so far as I have seen, in the speech made by the President of the Local Government Board in the House of Commons, a copy of which has been circulated to your Lordships.
If, then, it is admitted, as I think it must be admitted, that the Bill involves an important principle, what is the justification of it? Where is the necessity of passing this Bill? The Act of 1894 permitted Boards of Guardians to take into consideration the benefits received by members of friendly societies if, unfortunately, they have to apply for relief. My noble and learned friend has produced no instance whatever in which it can be shown that Boards of Guardians have not taken advantage of the option given to them, 1466 and have neglected to take into consideration the claims of subscribers to friendly societies. I have watched very carefully all the discussions on this Bill. The question was brought, in March of last year, before the great meeting of Boards of Guardians, of which my noble friend Viscount Cross was the Chairman. On that occasion this Bill was advocated by Mr. Frome Wilkinson, the President of the Friendly Societies' Association, but he did not produce one single instance in which it could be said that Boards of Guardians had not paid attention to the claims of friendly societies. I consider that the very foundation of this Bill depends on the proof of the neglect of Boards of Guardians to take those claims into consideration. Therefore I say, no evidence whatever having been brought forward by my noble and learned friend, no evidence whatever having been stated in the House of Commons by the President of the Local Government Board, who makes an assertion of which he gives no evidence whatever, there should be an inquiry in order to produce that evidence. My noble friend Lord Lamington, who has taken great interest in this question, asked the Government the other day whether they had any information to produce on this subject, and the answer was that they had no information. Hence we may assume that the conclusions of the Government are based upon no evidence, and therefore the very foundation of the Bill would fail unless evidence could be produced before a Committee to substantiate the case for it.
I think that in the eloquent language of my noble and learned friend praising thrift, in which I entirely concur, he avoided discussing the question whether this Bill is really in the interest of friendly societies. Now, my Lords, I take it that the opinion of Mr. Brabrook, the Registrar of Friendly Societies, is as good an opinion as there can be on that matter. Two years ago the President of the Local Government Board informed me that Mr. Brabrook's opinion was against the Bill. He has been kind enough this year to assent to my Motion to lay that Report upon the Table, and I commend it to the notice of noble Lords. In my county there lives one of the highest authorities in England upon 1467 friendly societies. I refer to Sir Wyndham Portal, who started the Hampshire Friendly Society on a thoroughly satisfactory footing, and who, during his whole life, has been a supporter of friendly societies. I asked him his opinion of this Bill, and I will venture to read to your Lordships what he says, because I know that his name and authority in this matter will carry weight. He says—Notwithstanding that the national conference of friendly societies were of opinion that the Bill should pass, I, as having administered Poor Law relief for fifty years, am still of opinion that guardians should be left with a free hand to administer outdoor relief as they deem expedient, dealing with each case on its merits. They have now the power of dealing with friendly society cases as seems best in their judgment, and I hope this freedom of action will still be permitted. With regard to the effect of the Bill on friendly societies, I think that, although the large societies will not be affected, it will encourage small and weak clubs and check thrift instead of encouraging it.At any rate, that is an opinion from a most competent authority, who believes that the Bill will not encourage thrift. The same line was taken, I noticed, the other day at a meeting of friendly societies at Newcastle. The chairman said they did not at all approve of this Bill, and thought it was not of any use to friendly societies. Will noble Lords consider for a moment what the effect of this Bill may be, and how it may be absolutely injurious to those members of friendly societies who are obliged to apply for Poor Law relief? A Board of Guardians may say "We are forced by law to omit consideration of this five shillings, and shall be obliged to give what we consider extravagant relief to an applicant, and relief on a scale perfectly unfair to other applicants." Is it not possible that they will refuse outdoor relief altogether, and that the Bill, though intended to be an advantage to friendly societies, may very likely be to their disadvantage? That is the view of the clerk to my own Board of Guardians in the country.
There is another point: How does this Bill affect the desire which every one who is in favour of sound friendly societies has that there should be a change in the terms of a great many of the policies, that instead of a man going in for a policy for sick-pay for 1468 life he should go in for a policy for sick-pay up to a certain age and afterwards a pension for the remainder of his life? This Bill, being confined to sick-pay, will have the effect of deterring people from going in for the sounder policy of thrift, and of inducing them to increase their contributions for sick-pay. The strongest point, I think, that was made in the eloquent speech of my noble and learned friend was the argument he used that the present condition of the law deters people from joining friendly societies. He put the case very clearly. He said—Here is a man who thinks of joining a friendly society. He says to himself, "When I get old and want relief, shall I get assistance from the Poor Law?" He asks the office, and they tell him that there is nothing fixed in the matter. The guardians might consider his case and they might not. My noble and learned friend has put that forward as likely to deter persons from joining friendly societies. The point is that it is not put forward by the friendly societies themselves. The friendly societies have issued to your Lordships their view of this Bill, and their reasons for asking your Lordships to agree to it. What do they say in regard to this matter? I suppose my noble and learned friend will admit that they are more likely to know than he is, the feelings of people who join their societies. They say—The persons chiefly affected joined the societies many years ago.… The very object they had in joining was to avoid the necessity in their old age of applying to Boards of Guardians.The same thing obtains now. Do you suppose a man joins a friendly society for the purpose of going also on the poor rate? It would be a miserable state of things if that were the case. This circular of the friendly societies goes on to say—We are in a position to assert that those who join friendly societies at the present time are actuated by the same motives.So that the friendly societies themselves do not endorse that part of my noble and learned friend's speech. So much, my Lords, for the Bill as it affects friendly societies. I think I have shown your Lordships that there are matters which fully justify my Motion 1469 that there shall be an inquiry into this matter. There was one subject to which my noble and learned friend omitted any reference whatever, namely—the alteration in the principle and the manner in which the Boards of Guardians of this country look upon this Bill. What do the Boards of Guardians think of the Bill? Two years ago there was a meeting of an association of Boards of Guardians which passed a Resolution in favour of the Bill, but since that time there have been two important meetings. There was a meeting in the Autumn of 1901 of the South Eastern Poor Law Conference, of which my noble friend Lord Avebury was chairman, and they came to a decision against the Bill. There was also the meeting, to which I referred before, and of which Viscount Cross was chairman, of some 500 representatives of Boards of Guardians representing certainly 200 different Boards. Of that number only forty-five were in favour of this Bill after a full discussion, and after it had been very ably advocated by Mr. Frome Wilkinson, the President of the Friendly Societies' Association. I say that Boards of Guardians should be allowed to state their case. They ought not to be ignored in this matter, and I think that the President of the Local Government Board should also be there to state his case. He says in his speech that the permanent officials of his office are in favour of the Bill. I think we ought to know their opinion. We ought to know what the Poor Law inspectors think of this matter, and that is another reason why there should be an inquiry.
My noble and learned friend, I thought, said that if the Act of 1894 was right this Bill naturally follows, and he quoted some words of Lord Salisbury's—I do not know exactly to what they referred, but they could not have referred to the Act of 1894—on the matter. I consider that the position of this House to the Bill of 1894 was a very strong reason to justify your Lordships in having an inquiry before passing the present Bill, because the Act of 1894 passed this House on the distinct understanding that the discretion of Boards of Guardians was not to be interfered with; and the only thing 1470 that this Bill does is to interfere with that discretion. The words used by Lord Salisbury were—In my view the thing should be done according to the circumstances of each case and according to the discretion of Boards of Guardians. There are cases in which it ought to be done, and others in which it ought not to be done. It, ought to be quite clear that it is absolutely in their discretion.That was the view of Lord Salisbury. The last formal inquiry into the subject was before the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor, who stated in the Report which they presented to Parliament—We are of opinion that it would be undesirable to interfere, either by Statute or Order, with the discretion vested in guardians as to the manner in which relief should be given, since it is in our view of essential importance that guardians should have power to deal on its merits with each individual case.Now, I do not think a stronger expression of opinion from a more competent body could be produced.
I should like to say a word upon the position of the Government in this matter. Two years ago, in moving the rejection of the Bill then before your Lordships, I said 1 thought that a matter of this importance ought not to be allowed to be passed on a Bill introduced by a private Member, but that the Government, if they thought an Amendment of the law was necessary, should take the responsibility of fully considering the matter, and bring in a Bill on their own authority, stating the reasons for it and presenting to the House the full information upon which their conclusions were founded. Two years ago the question was left an open one by the Government. When my noble and learned friend communicated to me his intention of moving the Second Reading of this Bill he told me that the Government were strongly in favour of the measure. I therefore thought it was only right to consult the noble Duke the Leader of the House, and ask him what the intentions of the Government were in respect to this Bill. The noble Duke said, in reply—I have spoken to Mr. Walter Long about the Bill. As Lord James told you, he supports the Bill, but we shall not make it a Government question or have Government tellers.I therefore thought that we should have the same free discussion on the matter 1471 as we had two years ago, and I was very surprised yesterday to receive a little paper, vulgarly called a whip—it was a three-line whip — from the Unionist Whip, to this effect—Your Lordship's attendance is particularly requested to support the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill.Of course I was greatly surprised at getting this after the assurance I had received from my noble friend, and I wrote him a note on the subject. My noble friend sent me a very kind letter in reply, in which he said he was extremely sorry, but he had forgotten all about the assurance he had given me three weeks ago. I am perfectly certain that no man in England could have less desired to mislead me or any one else, than my noble friend. I know his character so well that I believe he was exceedingly sorry the thing had happened, and it was an entire accident on his part. I do not make any complaint. My noble friend was kind enough to suggest that if I was put in a position of any disadvantage in the matter I had a perfect right to ask that the Second Reading should be postponed. But I know the inconvenience that would be caused by such a step. Moreover, when I put it to your Lordships that three weeks ago there was to have been no three-line whip, and now there is a three-line whip, I feel confident that, whip or no whip, your Lordships will listen to the arguments, and vote according to the manner which you think right. Therefore, I put myself entirely in your Lordships' hands, but I say that this incident, of which I do not complain, is, to my mind, the strongest argument I can bring before your Lordships as to the necessity of an inquiry into the Bill. If the noble Duke the Leader of this House and the President of the Local Government Board only three weeks ago thought the Bill was one that might be let an open question in your Lordships' House, and if, after three weeks, the attitude of my noble friend and the right hon. Gentleman has changed, and they consider that it should be made a Government Bill, I think your Lordships will say that there is, shall I say, some little doubt, some little vacillation and want of consideration of a very important subject, and that there 1472 should be a calm inquiry into the merits of the Bill. That is the last word I have to say on the subject. I propose to move the reference of this Bill to a Select Committee, taking care by any Amendment of the Motion, to enable the Select Committee to go thoroughly into the principle of this Bill.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The DUKE of DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, I rise rather for the purpose of making a very short personal explanation than of following my noble friend in the argument which he has addressed to the House on the subject of this Bill. I need not say that I deeply regret that my noble friend should have had any reason to complain of the communication made to him with regard to the Bill. It is perfectly true, as my noble friend has stated, that three or four weeks ago he wrote to me and asked whether this Bill would, as on a former occasion, be made a Government measure; and in reply to that letter I said that after communication with Mr. Walter Long I was informed of the fact that Mr. Long supported the measure, but that it would not be a Government Bill, and that there would not be Government tellers. In the same note my noble friend asked me for some information, a part of which has been laid on the Table of the House. When a few days ago I had a message from Mr. Walter Long that he hoped very much that this Bill would not be again thrown out in this House, and that a Government whip would be sent out, I am bound to confess that I had not at the time the slightest recollection of the communication which had passed between my noble friend and myself, and that if I had been reminded that any correspondence had taken place I should not have recollected anything about it except that he had asked for certain information and I had taken measures to ascertain whether that information could be given. I must point out, as to the assurance which I gave my noble friend, that it is not contravened by any action of Government in the letter. This Bill is not a Government measure, and the Government tellers will not act in the event of a division being taken. I most fully and freely admit that if I had had the 1473 slightest recollection of this correspondence I should at once have told my noble friend that we intended to send out a Government whip, so as to prevent the possibility of his being placed at any disadvantage. I need not say that I most deeply regret that my noble friend should have had any reason to make this complaint, and I fully admit my responsibility in regard to it; but I cannot see, even as matters at present stand, that my noble friend has been put in any position of disadvantage. As we know now, it was not his intention to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. All that he proposes to do is to move that after the Second Reading the Bill shall be referred to a Select Committee. If my noble friend's supporters are not here in consequence of the misunderstanding which has taken place, it is perfectly competent for my noble friend at the next stage of the Bill, when the Motion is made, that the House go into Committee upon it, to move an Amendment that the Bill go to a Select Committee. I am bound to say that I cannot follow the arguments of my noble friend as to the expediency of this course. My noble friend does not propose to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill; that is to say, he allows the House, without opposition, to assent to the principle of the Bill. If it does that, it will have assented to everything. The Bill only contains one clause.
§ THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
I am quite prepared to move that it be referred to a Select Committee as an Amendment to the Second Reading. I put it down in that form, but I was told at the Table that it was not com petent for me to do so.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I do not know whether it would have been competent for the noble Lord to do it or not. But by assenting to the Second Reading of the Bill he will have assented to the principle, and all that a Select Committee could do would be to consider the provisions of the Bill, and, if necessary, suggest Amendments. I do not know whether the noble Earl could have taken a different course or not; but, at all events, I submit that no argument whatever can be brought forward in favour of the course he now suggests. If he still thinks this a 1474 desirable course to take, and that he has been placed at any disadvantage by the misunderstanding that has taken place, it is equally competent for him to move his Amendment when we go into Committee on the Bill as it is for him to move it at the present stage. As I have said, I did not rise to follow my noble friend in the arguments he has addressed to the House. I only rose to make this personal statement. If the debate should be continued, the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland is, I believe, informed as to the views which are taken upon the subject by the Local Government Board, and I do not think any useful object will be achieved in my attempting to anticipate the observations he may think it necessary to address to your Lordships.
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
My Lords, before I address some remarks to your Lordships with reference to the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord James, and to the principle involved in the Bill, I should like to ask your Lordships exactly how we stand, because it appears to me that we might get into a tangle. The question is—are those who, are opposed to the Bill without the information before us to vote in support of the Bill, having been warned by the noble Duke that it would be practically impossible for us to enter upon a discussion of the principle of the Bill, and of all the matters relating to the Bill? What I personally would recommend to those who are opposed to the Bill is that unless, before this debate concludes, there is some clear statement made as to what will follow after it has been read a second time, and to what extent we shall be precluded from any further inquiry, they should vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. It appears to me that the case for inquiry is a strong one. The speech which the noble Lord has just delivered shows that we ought to be informed on two or three branches of the subject, and I must say that, this not being a small Bill, as I should wish to show to your Lordships, but a Bill involving a very considerable departure from principle, I think it would be right that your Lordships should have before you more than, the meagre but eloquent statement of 1475 my noble and learned friend Lord James. He has made certain statements, but we have absolutely nothing before us to show how the Act of 1894 has worked. Before I come to that part of the subject, I would wish, like my noble and learned friend, to recapitulate, in the shortest possible phrases, the present position. My noble and learned friend went back to the year 1870, when, inspired by much the same views as animate me at the present moment, I saw the danger of the particular tendency which has the approbation of my noble and learned friend. Notwithstanding the circular which was issued by the Local Government Board, certain Boards of Guardians exercised a certain discretion, and in special cases they departed from the principle of the circular, and dealt with those cases according to the special circumstances. It appears to me, though I have been a strict administrator of the Poor Law, that there is a vast difference between saying that in all cases funds derived from friendly or other societies should be deducted, and considering individual cases occasionally.
I should be very sorry if any remarks I make to your Lordships on this occasion should be considered to be dictated by any kind of hostility to the great friendly societies, which have done untold service to the country—a service which I myself, on one occasion, recognised in a great assembly of representatives from these friendly societies. I investigated at one time their origin; I have seen how self-government was at the bottom of their success, and how they carried self government and self-help side by side, but not in partnership with the Poor Law; and one of the great claims they have on the gratitude of the country, is that, side by side with the Poor Law, and without availing themselves of its provisions, they have voluntarily encouraged their members to make provision for their, later days, and for times of sickness and distress. This Bill, and the course they are taking, seems to be a departure from the traditions of the friendly societies—a departure which they did not make when the old age pension question was investigated, because at that time they said, "No, let us stand alone." I am surprised that, 1476 in this small matter—it is small, I believe, as regards numbers—they have departed from their traditions. The Act of 1894 simply legalised discretion. My noble and learned friend says that because discretion is legalised, therefore discretion should be taken away. The substance of his plea is that those who voted to legalise discretion should now vote to make it compulsory. I confess I do not see that. But see how the germ has increased. See what an insidious process this is. First, the Boards of Guardians act on their own discretion, sporadically. Then you legalise it, and then comes a speech from the President of the Local Government Board in which he actually admitted that the friendly societies have a right to have this five shillings considered. I think that is a dangerous process.
The noble and learned Lord gave the reasons why, in his judgment, the Bill should be passed. They were, I think, two. The first was the injustice of some obtaining, and others not obtaining, this advantage, and the second was the disagreeable position of having Boards of Guardians discussing whether this man or that man should be entitled to such favour. With reference to the latter, my noble and learned friend showed very little confidence in the administrators of the Poor Law. One might have thought that he was speaking of seventy years ago when all the abuses which he described took place. Boards of Guardians are not now influenced by such motives as whether a man goes to church or chapel or to the public-house. They would administer this discretion, I believe, with precisely the same justice as they display at present in regard to the outdoor relief system, which has stood the test of many years. Now, what evidence has the noble and learned Lord given? We should like to know how the Act of 1894 has been administered, and how much the friendly societies have lost through the uncertainty as to this five shillings which, as they allege, has existed during the last nine years. If my noble and learned friend is correct, during the last nine years you would have seen a falling off in the numbers of friendly societies. Do they complain that the absence of the privilege which is now asked is weakening the tendency to come 1477 into the friendly societies? I do not know whether any evidence can be given on that point. Are they less flourishing? My noble friend says, "You take away this five shillings." He puts it as if the five shillings was simply withdrawn from them. But I take it that is not at all the universal case. He continually spoke of the five shillings vanishing, as it were, and therefore discouraging men from joining friendly societies; but I can scarcely believe that that is the case. That is a matter upon which we want information.
Now, as to the question of the justice of the proposal in the Bill, savings invested in friendly societies are only a very small proportion of the thrift of the country. I would put this to my noble friend. One man has invested in the Post Office Savings Bank, and another has invested in a friendly society. Both are in receipt of the sum of five shillings weekly. According to this Bill we are to compel the guardians to take no cognisance of the five shillings received from the friendly society, while they are to deduct the five shillings received in respect of savings in the Post Office Savings Bank. Then there are those who invest in cottages A man receiving five shillings per week from cottage property which he had been able to acquire, would have that five shillings deducted, whilst the recipient of five shillings from a friendly society would not. The same applies to the five shillings which might be given weekly by an employer to his late labourer. That five shillings would be taken into account when he received Poor Law relief, and it could be made an excellent argument by the employer that it would be no good giving this five shillings to a labourer, if when he was thrown on the rates the advantage of the five shillings was lost. Thus we come to the great principle which underlies the whole Bill. I contend that you cannot treat this Bill simply from the point of view of the friendly societies. I do not think you can say that they shall be put in such a privileged position that their form of thrift shall be the only thrift that shall receive preferential treatment. I can quite understand that friendly societies may desire this Bill, from the very point of being able to show the advantage of investing in a friendly 1478 society rather than in the Post Office, Savings Bank or in any other form of investment. That conversation which my noble and learned friend invented between a friendly society member and the man who goes to the public-house might equally be held by a champion of a friendly society and the man who goes to invest in the Post Office Savings Bank. He would say, "What folly to invest in the savings bank. You will get that five shillings deducted. Come and join the friendly society." If your Lordships think that is wise, I would only say "Pass a Bill of this kind with your eyes open." It is saying o friendly societies, who, I agree, deserve well of the country, "We will encourage you to this extent, that people shall have an inducement to invest in your funds and not in any other." That is a question that I should really wish answered. It requires an answer. The principle of the Poor Law is that it shall supply adequate relief of necessities, and the definition of "necessities" has, I am glad to think, been amplified as the country has become more and more humane. Necessities have got a much wider definition, and the deterrent effect of the Poor Law has been softened to a very great extent. There have been many reforms, but the one bedrock of the Poor Law is the adequate relief of necessities; and the moment it is laid down by an Act of Parliament that there is to be adequate relief of necessities, plus a payment of five shillings in certain cases, a blow will be struck at the whole system of the Poor Law. My noble and learned friend admits it.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
What I admitted was that the Act of 1894 struck the blow to which my noble friend refers.
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
No, because you did not make it universal. You left it to the discretion of the Guardians according to the circumstances of individual cases. I frankly admit that I am opposed to the Act of 1894. This little innocent Bill of one clause, which has been, after all, very little discussed in the other House, in other words enacts that the principle of the Poor Law shall no longer be the adequate relief of necessity, but that something else shall 1479 be added wherever a man has invested in a friendly society. I say that that entirely undermines the Poor Law system. My noble and learned friend alluded to the Bill with reference to the pensions of soldiers and sailors. That Bill is to come before us. Again I say that if we are to go forward we should do so with our eyes open. I think it would be far wiser to postpone a Bill of this kind, which is giving a monopoly of subsidised thrift to friendly societies, until the country has had an opportunity of really considering to what extent should be the relations between the product of thrift and Poor Law relief. I very much object, by a small Bill of this kind, to make an attack on what I believe to be one of the mainstays of our social structure.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I am one of those who certainly do not want to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. But some of us will feel obliged to vote against the Bill if we are absolutely precluded from making further inquiries into the details of the subject. It seems to me that the speech of my noble friend Lord Northbrook was absolutely conclusive as to the need of our having before us the evidence of those who are qualified to speak from different standpoints with special authority on this subject. No man living is better able to speak on friendly societies, soundly managed, than Sir Wyndham Portal, and if he is opposed to this Bill, and prepared to give evidence, it seems to me almost essential that we should hear him. The Boards of Guardians, too, have an absolute right to be heard further on this subject. I learn that the great mass of English Boards of Guardians, as represented by their united gathering, have practically spoken by a very large majority against this Bill in its present form. It does not follow that no form that the Bill could take would be acceptable to them. I venture to think that it is quite essential, if we are to go forward at all, that we should go forward on fuller information than we possess at this moment. The high forensic ability with which the noble and learned Lord introduced this Bill to-day, fascinated the House; and yet I venture to doubt whether he really convinced your Lordships. He failed, as I think, to meet the objections which have been widely 1480 expressed outside, and to which Lord Northbrook has given forcible expression. The noble Lord told us that we are crossing a stream. Is it not more true to say that we have advanced along a roadway, and have reached the stage at which it is exceedingly desirable that we should decide whether we intend to go further along the line we have been following, or whether we should now turn to the right or to the left? I venture to hope that we shall not be put into the difficult position of being obliged to vote against a Bill which comes to us with the high authority that this Bill already possesses. We have been told that the House of Commons has passed the Bill without difficulty, and almost without discussion. Quite so; but this is explained in part by the fact that it is a Bill which gives a unique privilege to those admirable bodies our great friendly societies, as contrasted with other modes of thrift or of insurance against sickness, and, with all respect to the House of Commons, we are obliged to remember that members of friendly societies undoubtedly form a very important portion of the constituents of this country, and I venture to believe that this House is the place, above all others, where we ought to be able to deal with a question of this kind without being biassed by the consideration as to whether our action would be popular or not. I therefore hope most strongly that we shall be allowed to read the Bill a second time on the clear understanding that the whole subject will then be considered by a Select Committee. I am not quite clear whether I rightly understood the noble Duke to say that it would be impossible, if we gave the Bill a Second Reading, to discuss in a Select Committee the question of this special privilege to friendly societies and to them alone. But I think it has often happened that after a Bill has been read a second time it has been referred to a Select Committee, where some leading principle in it has been, in the light of further information, more adequately considered. I hope the Bill will be read a second time to night and referred to a Select Committee with the view of producing a really workable measure.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
In rising to address the House on this occasion I do so with an unusual amount of diffidence, because I deeply feel the complicated and to some extent difficult nature of the task which is imposed upon me. No one will lightly set his authority on matters of Poor Law administration against that of the noble Earl who spoke first after the noble and learned Lord had moved the Second Reading of the Bill. Nor, I think, will anyone with a light heart set his authority against that of the noble Viscount on any economical questions, or on matters affecting the administration of the Poor Law in this country. Yet I venture to think, by the course which has been taken—taken in perfect good faith—by the noble Earl who suggests the reference to a Select Committee, we are on this occasion placed to an unusual extent in a tactical difficulty. The course which this House very often takes when it desires to affirm the principle of a Bill and then to refer it to a Select Committee, is to agree to the Second Reading of the Bill upon the distinct understanding that it will be referred to a Select Committee for full consideration in all its details. But I have never before been confronted with the situation when avowedly the House, or, at any rate, some members of the House, seem inclined to put off from the House as a whole the responsibility of coming to a decision upon that principle itself. This Bill is an unusually short Bill, and my position in regard to it and in regard to the question of procedure is this, that if you read this Bill a second time you read it for the purpose of affirming, not only the principle, but every detail, because, after all, there is only one clause in the Bill. If you read the Bill a second time you say you are prepared to take away from Poor Law Guardians a certain discretion; you say nothing more nor less. The speech of the noble Viscount was avowedly a speech against the whole policy of this Bill. If it was anything at all, it was a speech against the Second Reading, and it ought logically to be followed by a Motion to reject the Bill on Second Reading. I greatly doubt whether any evidence before a Select Committee would change the life-long 1482 convictions of the noble Viscount in regard to this matter.
I think it would be inconvenient to read this Bill a second time and to refer it to a Select Committee. Personally, I think that if you want more information, the better thing would be to reject the Bill and to move for a Committee; but I do not advise that course, because personally, and speaking on behalf of my colleague the President of the Local Government Board, I am in favour of the Bill. I think it a good Bill, and I am going, before I sit down, to endeavour to make out a case for it as it is presented to the House. If it is desired to raise a question of principle, obviously the proper course is to move a Motion against the Second Reading, and if the promoters of the Bill have the issue before them of whether they will assent to a Select Committee or take their fate upon the Motion for the rejection of the Bill, that, I venture to say, is rather a question for them to decide than for me. I venture to put to the House that this is a good Bill, that it is the logical conclusion of what was done by Parliament in 1894, and that it is by no means so large a step as has been represented to the House for tactical purposes by those who have spoken before me. Large issues have been raised to the prejudice of this Bill. There is nothing in the Bill to exempt from the penalties of the Poor Law those who take Poor Law relief. The noble Vis count laid great stress upon the fact that it takes away a certain amount of discretion from Poor Law Guardians. The noble Earl who spoke first, and who wants the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee, quoted from the Report of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor, and said that they had reported against taking away any discretion from Poor Law Guardians as to the manner in which such relief is to be given. Well, this Bill does nothing of the kind. All that the Bill does is to say that if the Poor Law Guardians resolve there is a case for outdoor relief, that in fixing the amount of outdoor relief they shall not take into account the pension from a friendly society; but there is nothing in this Bill, nor in the existing law, to dictate to the Guardians in any 1483 way whether the particular case before them is or is not a proper case for outdoor relief.
I will address myself for a moment or two to the question whether this simple matter would really relax Poor Law administration. I speak with diffidence because I have no English experience in the administration of Poor Law relief. But I have been concerned in it for a very long period in Scotland. I shelter myself under the authority of the President of the Local Government Board, and also under the authority of his predecessor, drawn from the opposite Party. Speaking with all the responsibility which belongs to his office and with all the experience which he has of the administration of the Poor Law in England, Mr. Walter Long said in another place that this Bill had been carefully considered by his Department, that it had been carefully considered by men of large experience in the administration of the Poor Law and that, having given it such consideration as I have described, the weight of his opinion was that the Bill ought to pass. In his opinion this Bill, if it becomes an Act, will strengthen rather than weaken the administration of the Poor Law. I say for myself that I am now, and have been all my life, for a strong administration of that law. I am for making those who are unthrifty, those who waste their substance in the prime of life, feel the penalty; but I venture to say that if the administration of the Poor Law is to be strong it must also be discriminating, and I cannot conceive anything which will make the Poor Law more unpopular, and which will make its administration more difficult, than to say that you are not to take into account the antecedents of the man who comes before you for relief and the efforts which he has made to save himself from having to apply for relief at all.
It is my opinion that this is a Bill which would encourage thrift. I believe it would encourage it because it would take away a certain proportion of the uncertainty which now surrounds the question whether a man who saves will get the benefit of his savings. I am told that it is unfair to do it in regard to this particular form of thrift only. The 1484 noble Viscount behind me said that it gives an undue preference to this particular form of thrift. There is one great difference between this particular form of thrift and the others which were mentioned, a difference which was entirely passed over by the noble Viscount and the other speakers. The noble Viscount said that some men prefer to invest their savings in cottages, and some to lay up a store in the Post Office Savings Bank. But there is this great difference between them—that the balance in a Post Office Savings Bank may be withdrawn and spent, the cottages may be mortgaged or sold and the proceeds wasted, but this money, paid in the prime of life, perhaps with great difficulty and saving, when once paid into a friendly society cannot be withdrawn. It cannot be got back for drunkenness or for riotous living. It must be taken in the form of sick-pay or the benefit of it is lost altogether, and it is of importance that the working men of this country should be told that if they adopt this form of saving, which puts their savings beyond their own personal control, they will get a benefit which in the other form of thrift they will not get. Remember, this particular form of saving gives no addition to a man's income during the long years he is in the prime of life. Another man might draw out interest from the savings bank or get rent from his cottages and make his life easier thereby, but in this case he is saving against the possibility of difficulty and sickness. If a man does not fall sick he gets no benefit from his self-denial during the whole of his life; therefore I say there is a difference in favour of this form of thrift against the others which have been mentioned.
Now I ask this broad question of the House, Is it fair in the case of a man who has made an effort to be thrifty and to keep himself off the rates to tell him that he shall get no benefit and shall be treated in the same way as a man who has made no effort at all? I wish that some noble Lords who speak so glibly in this House would attempt to argue it with the man who has made this effort and finds his effort taken away from him. The point of discussion to-day is not really this very small question of whether this very diminutive amount 1485 of discretion is to be taken away from the Guardians, but whether they would not like to go back on the policy of 1894. I venture to say that it is impossible to do that. It would be unwise to do it even if it were possible; and I think, as I have said, that it is only a very small addition to what was done in 1894—an addition which is amply warranted by the experience of the last seven or eight years. And beyond that I rest my case on the statement of the President of the Local Government Board. It is not easy for any one, however much he might be anxious to do it, to supply the sort of evidence which is asked for. There are Boards of Guardians all over the country, and they do not report the whole of their proceedings to the President of the Local Government Board, and he cannot tell, except in a general way, how the Act of 1894 is administered. He cannot tell the number of cases in which the discretion under that Act has been used and the number of cases in which it has been refused to be used. I do not think the noble Earl who commented on the answer given to Lord Lamington a few days ago meant to imply that the President of the Local Government Board was withholding information which he had. I felt the force of the request which the noble Lord made for information, and I personally pressed my colleague to see whether he could not endeavour to give some return which would satisfy the request. I was told distinctly that, these records being scattered all over the country, it is not possible to present the weighty case which they believe exists for this Bill in the form of evidence of that kind.
It seemed to be doubted by the noble Earl whether this Bill was really in the Interest of the friendly societies. He quoted the views of the Registrar of Friendly Societies and of Sir Wyndham Portal. Those gentlemen are great authorities, but I think at this time we may allow the friendly societies to speak for themselves, and without doubt those societies believe that this Bill would be for their interests, and desire to see it passed. I press the view that this is really not the large alteration with which the opponents of the Bill seek to frighten the House. 1486 It is really an extremely small matter after the Act of 1894. Upon the point of whether the House will pass it with or without a Select Committee I can only say this, that for my part I believe it would be a totally unusual course to throw off upon a small Committee, however carefully selected, and with whatever weight of authority it might be appointed, the decision of a matter which, if not very large, is still a matter of principle, and ought to be decided by the House. I cannot, of course, advise the promoters of the Bill as to what course they should take. I hare endeavoured to state the views of the Government in respect to the Bill. We think the Bill ought to pass. If there is a Motion for the rejection of the Bill I shall vote against it; if, on the other hand, it is passed, I shall be very pleased; and if after it is passed there is a Motion for reference to a Select Committee, then I think it is fair to tell the promoters of the Bill they must take their choice as to what course they will pursue, and whether they will run the risk of rejection of the measure at a subsequent stage. I sincerely hope the Bill will be read a second time.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The Earl of MORLEY)
My Lords, as I took some part in the discussion of this measure two years ago, I am unwilling to give an entirely silent vote on the present occasion, especially when I find that, so far from the lapse of the two years having influenced me, as it has influenced the noble and learned Lord who moved the Second Reading in favour of the Bill, the events that have taken place since, and, still more, what I have heard during this debate, have made me stronger in my opinion that the Bill is an unsound one. I should like to say one word upon the position in which the House finds itself at this moment. I think I may say that it is one almost without parallel. It is proposed that the Bill should he read a second time and then referred to a Select Committee, but, unfortunately, the Bill has the peculiar characteristic of having only one clause, and I do not quite know whether it would be right for a Select Committee, however influential and carefully chosen, to cut the clause out of the Bill, the principle of which bad been assented to by the House. But 1487 there is an alternative which I would venture with all submission to suggest to the House, and it is this, that the Second Reading should be postponed, and that my noble friend should alter his Motion and refer the general question of the relation of the Poor Law to friendly societies to a Select Committee, and that when that Select Committee has reported, the Bill I should be taken up again in its present stage. I make this suggestion because it seems to me that the House is rather in an impasse. I so entirely sympathise with what fell from the most reverend Prelate, that the Bill should not pass through this House, even though it has come to us twice from the House of Commons, without inquiry, that I for one should certainly vote "not content" unless we had some assurance that this Committee will be given.
I should like to make a few remarks, upon the Bill itself. I say that my opinion is as strong now against the Bill, as it was two years ago, and I have heard nothing from the noble and learned Lord who moved the Second Reading, or from my noble friend the Secretary for Scotland, to shake me in that opinion in the slightest degree. There are two points taken by those noble Lords, and the point they apparently lay the greatest stress upon is that this Bill is a necessary corollary of the Act of 1894. I totally and entirely deny that. My noble friend Lord Northbrook quoted what fell from Lord Salisbury on that occasion, but I should like to quote also some words which fell from a noble Earl, than whom no one had a greater experience of Poor Law work in this House—Lord Kimberley. When that Act was passed he said it could not be defended on principle, but only because it made legal a practice which had largely prevailed. He therefore recommended that discretion should be left in the hands of the Guardians, and that the practice should not be allowed to stand on the deliberate negligence of the Local Government Board. That is an entirely different thing from taking away the whole of the discretion of the Guardians in the matter of this five shillings sick pay. In spite of what my noble friend behind me said as to the exaggeration of the point, I do say that it is a very important and very dangerous innovation upon the principle on which our Poor Law rests. The principle of the Poor Law I take to be the necessary 1488 relief of destitution. If we once get beyond that we know not where we are going. The noble and learned Lord, in his eloquent speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said that we were in the middle of a stream and that we were being carried on. My Lords, I do not like drifting without having a course laid down and without having some one at the helm to steer us in the direction in which we wish to go.
It seems to me pretty clear, from what, has been said to-night and from many indications in the past, that this is, though a very small point, a very important point in a large and important subject, and I think it is of the utmost importance that before we leave the principles on which the Poor Law has been worked, and worked successfully, for nearly seventy years, we should know what we are about. I have the greatest respect for the friendly societies. They have performed an immense amount of valuable work throughout the length and breadth of the land, and no one has a greater admiration for them than I have. But why are we to select the man who has subscribed to a friendly society in preference to the man who has invested his savings in other securities? My noble friend behind me said that there is a distinction to be drawn between the sick-pay of a man who belongs to a friendly society, and the receipts of a man who has invested his money in the Post Office Savings Bank, in building societies, or in other securities, as he can draw it out. But if he has it at the time he applies for Poor Law relief, why is it to make the slightest difference in the amount of relief he is to get from the guardians whether his income is obtained from one source or another? That argument seems to me to be entirely futile. I listened with admiration to the eloquent eulogy on thrift with which the noble and learned Lord charmed the House in his opening speech, but I confess I listened in vain for some argument that would convince me that this Bill would encourage that splendid and most desirable quality. I very greatly doubt if it would. I speak with all humility, for I would not be presumptuous enough to put my opinion against that of the great leaders of the friendly societies. But there is a certain amount of opinion in the country that a Bill of this kind will not do all 1489 that the friendly societies hope it will do for them. The Report of the Royal Commission of 1874, of which Sir Stafford Northcote was a member, contained these words, and they are as true to-day as they were then—The tendency of holding out such favours to members of friendly societies, is to encourage men to insure for less than their real need with the friendly societies, and to count on Poor Law relief to make up the sum required for their support.Is there not some danger, if you select those who are enjoying the advantages of payments from friendly societies, to be preferential paupers, that you encourage them to insure for as small a sum as possible, and not to insure for an adequate amount? Is there not also the danger that you would encourage them to invest their savings in sick-pay rather than in the much more desirable form of old-age annuities? I have given what seem to me good reasons for opposing this Bill in its present form. I should be unwilling, after the manner in which it comes to the House, to give a bald vote against the Bill; but unless there is some clear understanding before the vote is taken that there will be some inquiry into the relations of the Poor Law with friendly societies, I shall certainly feel it my duty to give my vote against the Bill.
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I feel that I must say a few words on this highly important subject. First of all, let me say that I do not speak as representing one side of the House, for I conceive that this question is not a party question. We are not treating it as such on this side, and I do not myself agree with the views held with regard to it by some of those who sit behind me. With regard to what the noble Duke said, I understood that he indicated that this would still be left an open question on his side of the House.
§ EARL SPENCER
I am glad to hear that. Now I come to the suggestion which has just been made by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, and I for one most earnestly hope that your Lordships will listen to his suggestion 1490 and postpone the Bill in order that a Committee may be appointed to inquire into the matter. I will give the reasons why I hold this view and feel strongly about it. I quite admit that there is a technical difficulty with regard to reading the Bill a second time and then referring it to a Select Committee, but the suggestion of the noble Earl avoids that. This subject is an exceedingly difficult one. I confess myself that I should feel very great hesitation in rejecting a Bill which had twice come up from another place, and against which on the last occasion there was not one single word said. But there are other considerations. In my belief, we want more information. I admit the difficulty that exists in leaving this discretion in the hands of Boards of Guardians, and having one decision by one Board and another decision by another; but I hardly think my noble and learned friend was just in the way in which he referred to the administration of the Poor Law. The noble Viscount opposite, who speaks with such great authority on the subject, has already referred to that, and I support his view, because I do not think it is fair to the administrators of the Poor Law to say that they would be actuated by such consideration as whether or not the applicant belonged to church or chapel. I have not lately had to do with the active work of Poor Law administration, but in former days I attended regularly for years Poor Law Boards, and I must protest against such a view being taken of the way in which they carry out their duties.
While reluctant to vote against the Bill, I fully admit that there are some very strong reasons why the Bill should not be passed. There is one at the very outset. As far as I know, nearly every skilled administrator of the Poor Law in the country is in favour of the view taken by my noble friend Lord Northbrook. I do not say every one, but my belief is that the wisest administrators of the Poor Law are against the alteration of the law as it now stands. They desire that this discretion should be left. On the other hand, we are told that the President of the Local Government Board is in favour of making the change. No doubt he has many advisers, but we see that one of 1491 the most important of his advisers, in a paper which the President very generously laid before Parliament, is strongly against this change, and we do not know how far other persons connected with the Local Government Board may be of the same opinion. There is another consideration which weighs a great deal with me. This question of the Poor Law is one of the most important with which the country has to deal. I do not for a moment say we have any fear of falling back into that extraordinarily lax administration of the Poor Law which did such damage to the thrift of the country and the position of agricultural and other industries. At the same time, we ought to guard the wise administration of the Poor Law with the greatest possible care. I do not like the idea of nibbling at this question, of making one change, and leaving a great many other things almost identical to be dealt with by later legislation.
I agree with what my noble friend Lord Northbrook said, that this is a Bill which ought to be initiated by His Majesty's Government, because it is of such enormous importance. A good deal has been said about the different investments which a working man may make. I certainly cannot go the length of the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland in drawing such a marked distinction between this investment and others. I think the noble Earl, Lord Morley, effectively answered that. As long as they have got this value, either in a house, in the Post Office Savings Bank, or in any other investment, they ought to be considered, if you are going to consider them at all, just as much as those who belong to friendly societies. We are certain that this is only a step in that direction. If the principle of this Bill is a right principle, and Parliament adopts it, Parliament will not rest there. I do not agree that this is a mere extension of the Act of 1894; it would be a natural extension if you included pensions and amounts received in respect of savings in the Post Office Savings Bank, and other investments. I venture to say that it is only right that when you see that such changes may be made, you ought not to nibble at little changes like this, but, if it is necessary, do it on a broad basis, and by a full and comprehensive Bill. I do not wish to delay your Lordships longer, 1492 but I do think that it would be of the utmost importance that we should inquire into these matters and see whether there has been any great inconvenience and hardship occasioned by this variety of administration in different unions. I should like also to ascertain exactly what the views of the friendly societies are on the subject. I would urge that the suggestion of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees should be accepted. I think it would be for the advantage of the country, and enable your Lordships to have information which you do not now possess. I hope we shall hear that His Majesty's Government are willing to postpone the Second Reading in order that my noble friend may bring forward some effective proposal for submitting this great question to a Select Committee.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I do not know whether I may be permitted by the House to trespass for a few moments again, my former observation being more in the nature of a personal explanation than a speech in reference to the Bill. In regard to what the noble Earl has just said, I do not think it is for His Majesty's Government to advise the House as to the course which they should take. It is for the promoters of this Bill to say whether they are prepared to accept any of the suggestions which have been made to them. I think that in the course of this discussion some progress has been made in the direction of making the position a little more clear. It is perfectly open to any of your Lordships to hold that this is a change which ought not to be made without further inquiry by a Select Committee, or otherwise. If any of your Lordships hold that opinion, I submit that the proper course for them to take is to reject this Bill, and to move for such an inquiry as they think ought to be held. On the other hand, my right hon. friend at the head of the Local Government Board and his colleagues are of opinion that a sufficient case has already been made out for the adoption of this measure, and if my noble and learned friend Lord James is not willing to postpone this Bill until the indefinite time when some inquiry 1493 may have taken place, we shall certainly take the course of supporting him in the Second Reading of the Bill. But the course which I think is absolutely out of the question, and which I trust your Lordships will not be induced to take, would be to give a Second Reading to the Bill, thereby establishing its principle, and then commit it to a Select Committee to determine upon its future course. It is, I think, for the noble Lord in charge of the Bill to say whether he is willing to postpone it until a Parliamentary inquiry shall take place. If he is, of course we shall all assent to that course being taken; but if he thinks it better to invite the House to pronounce a definite opinion at once on the principles of the Bill, we shall support him in that course.
My Lords, as I gave evidence before the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor, and, as I have for a great many years past been vice-president of my friendly society in Wiltshire and a constant attendant at the Board of Guardians, I trust that your Lordships will permit me to say a few words on this Bill. I quite accept the fact that the bulk of the members of friendly societies are in favour of the Bill, but I maintain that all thinking men are not in favour of it. Our ambition is to induce friendly society members to practise thrift and avoid coming upon the rates, and we think that this Bill does in an indirect manner, induce members of friendly societies to seek the aid which we wish them to avoid. I must say I feel very indignant at the terms in which the noble and learned Lord who introduced this Bill has thought it right to speak of Boards of Guardians. No friendly society member ever comes before us without our first asking him distinctly whether he has adopted any means for thrift or not, and if a man tells us that he has not done so, he has the workhouse offered to him; but I never yet have known a single case of a man who has proved to us that he has adopted some means of thrift, whom we have not always more than met half way. It is unjust to take out of the hands of the guardians the power of judging every case upon its 1494 merits, and to stultify their actions in the way this Bill proposes. I will instance one case to show what I mean. A man comes to us who, when he is at work, earns thirteen shillings a week. He has five shillings from a friendly society, but has a wife and four children. If we are not to take into account the five shillings he receives from his friendly society, we must give what we consider sufficient out-door relief—namely, nine shillings. That sum, with the five shillings he is already receiving, would make fourteen shillings, and therefore that man, by your order, would get one shilling more than he would if he were in active employment. If we had that case before us and the law remained as at present, we should give him seven shillings a week, which would make his income a shilling less than he would receive if he were in active employment. This Bill will not benefit friendly societies, and will do harm to Boards of Guardians by placing members of friendly societies in an invidious position.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
My Lords, I have not the slightest wish to reply upon the general discussion. I would, however, say, in regard to what has been stated by the noble and gallant. Lord, that it was not my intention at all of suggesting that there was any miscarriage in the administration of the Poor Law by the guardians, and if my words are referred to it will be seen that I made no such intention. I merely stated what could possibly be done with regard to procedure; I am sorry I cannot take the course suggested by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees. That suggestion comes very late, and if it were followed the Bill would be lost for this session. The chances of the ballot in the other House enabled the promoters to pass the Bill into your Lordships' House in time for consideration this session. If I adopt Lord Morley's suggestion it may be years before the promoters would be lucky enough to secure a similar chance in the ballot. The wish of the promoters is to take the decision of your Lordships upon the Bill. With regard to the other course, may I ask Lord Northbrook what it is he is going to leave to the Select Committee? Is he going to allow seven Members, four voting one way and three 1495 the other, to bring up a Majority Report to this House recommending that the Bill ought not to be read a third time l If we acted upon such a Report, would we not be giving up our responsibility, and if we did note what is the use of a Committee 7 I regret not to be able to accept the suggestions that have been made, but
§ THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
My Lords, I beg to give notice that after Whitsuntide I shall move that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the relations of friendly societies and other forms of thrift to Poor Law relief, and to report their opinion as to the desirability or otherwise of making any alterations in the present law. My intention was to have moved this as an Amendment to the Bill, but there were technical difficulties. I feel that this House
§ I fear there is no alternative but to fight this out to a finish, and I, therefore, ask your Lordships to say " content or " not content."
§ On Question, their Lordships divided:—Contents, 50; Not-Contents, 57.1495
|Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.)||Radnor, E.||Hawkesbury, L.|
|Devonshire, D. (L. President.)||Saint Germans, E.||Heneage, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||James, L. [Teller.]|
|Fife, D.||Waldegrave, E.||Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and|
|Portland, D.||Westmeath, E.||Mount-Earl.)[Teller.]|
|Rutland, D.||Kenyon, L.|
|Churchill, V.||Knollys, L.|
|Clarendon,E. (L.Chamberlain.)||Powerscourt, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Aberdare, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Allerton, L.||Ludlow, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Craven, E.||Balfour, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Battersea, L.||St Oswald, L.|
|Howe, E.||Brodrick, L.(V. Midleton.)||Suffield, L.|
|Lathom, E.||Burton, L.||Wandsworth, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Welby, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Congleton, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Portsmouth, E.||Denman, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Goschen, V.||Hatherton, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore)||Herries, L.|
|Sidmouth, V.||Kelvin, L.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Leamington, L. [Teller].|
|Abinger, L.||Lyveden, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Aldenham, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Barnard, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Carnwath, E.||Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Muskerry, L.,|
|Cowper, E.||Blythswood, L.||Napier, L.|
|Crewe, E.||Boyle, L. (E. CorkandOrrery.)||Newton, L.[Teller.]|
|Dartrey, E.||Calthorpe, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Carysfort, L. (E. Carysfort.)||Robertson, L.|
|Jersey, E.||Chelmsford, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Morley, E.||Ventry, L.|
|Northbrook, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clan-william.)||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss).|
|Powis, E.||Windsor, L.|
|Romney, E.||Colchester, L.||Wrottesley, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Stamford, E.||Crawshaw, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||De Mauley, L.|
|Cross, V.||Glenesk, L.|
§ should not dispose of the question with out having the inquiry which I was anxious should take place.