HL Deb 21 April 1904 vol 133 cc811-29


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in 1894 the Legislature legalised a practice already adopted by a great number of hoards of guardians of giving outdoor relief to applicants without taking into consideration money that they received from friendly societies. What this Bill proposes to do is to make that practice universal, but only as regards sick pay, and only as regards sick pay up to 5s. a week. This Bill is well known to many of your Lordships. It. has twice passed the House of Commons unopposed, and it has twice, I regret to say, been rejected by your Lordships; but last year it was only rejected by the very narrow majority of fifty-seven to fifty, and I think I am entitled to say that the opposition on that occasion was not either very fierce or very determined. On that occasion my noble and learned friend Lord James of Hereford was unfortunate enough to be opposed by Lord Northbrook, who led the opposition to this Bill, but he merely opposed the Bill on one point. He expressed the opinion that there was not sufficient information to hand as to the working of the Act of 1894. Lord James was unfortunately opposed also by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition on the same ground, but I hope that the Bill will on this occasion be read a second time, as both these noble Earls will, I understand, explain to the House that they do not intend to continue their opposition to the measure.

The attitude of the supporters of the Bill has always been that there is no necessity for more information than we have got. Since the year 1894 we have had experience of the working of the Act of that year, and our experience has been this, that although, no doubt, there have been some differences of opinion between boards of guardians, still, in the main, those boards have availed themselves of the option given them by the Act of 1894. Surely, as my noble and learned friend said last year, uniformity is desirable in the matter of the administration of Poor Law relief in regard to friendly societies. Under the present system, as my noble and learned friend explained, whether a man does, or does not, get any benefit from sick pay from a friendly society depends rather upon geography than upon the justice of his case. It does not only depend on the particular board of guardians that may have to settle this question, but, where the board is equally divided in opinion, it depends on whether or not certain guardians happen to be present at the particular meeting which settles the case. Therefore you may say that whether a man gets the advantage of his thrift in subscribing to a friendly society or not, depends not only on geography, but also on the chance presence or absence of a particular member of a board of guardians. That is to say, at present the matter is a mere lottery. What the friendly societies say is this, that there is no sufficient inducement for a man to subscribe to friendly societies in order that he may obtain sick pay. He does not know whether he will obtain any benefit. He may obtain a benefit, but he may not.

The noble and learned Lord put the case last year of two men talking over the matter. One of them said, "I am going to pay into a friendly society and I shall get sick pay of 5s. a week if I am ill," and the other man replied, "I shall not pay in, because when I'm ill the board of guardians may take into consideration the fact that I get 5s. a week from a friendly society and give me no more. That is to say, if you pay into the friendly society and I do not, we may both get exactly the same when we are ill." Certain objections have been taken to this Bill. It has been objected to on the ground that it, in point of fact, proposed a revolution in the principle of the Poor Law, and that it is inconsistent with the Statute of Elizabeth, which enacts that the only claim to outdoor relief is destitution. Whether this Bill is or is not consistent with the Act of Elizabeth does not seem to me to be before your Lord ships to-day, because, if it was wrong to say that thrift ought to be taken into consideration in granting outdoor relief, that wrong was done by the Act of 1894. Again, if it is said, as it is said, Why do you give special privileges to friendly societies over other forms of thirift? The answer to that is that that preference has already been given by the Act of 1894. Moreover, it appear to me that even on its merits there is a great deal to be said for special privileges being given to friendly societies, for they save an untold amount in the rates through the thrift they inculcate among the poor. If you pass this Bill more people will pay into these friendly societies, and consequently fewer of them will come upon the rates.

I would again emphasise the fact that this is merely a Bill to deal with sick pay which stands on a totally different footing from any other kind of relief granted by the friendly societies. The difference was very well put by Sir Hugh Owen, when he was advising the Government to bring in the Bill of 1894. He said— Sick pay is in some degree destined for the restoration of the health of the subscriber. That is a very special and important reason why you should be specially indulgent in the matter of sick pay. Boards of guardians can give what is necessary, but not more than is necessary, and the difference between what the board of guardians give and the 5s. that the man may get out of his friendly society is this, that the extra 5s. will be just about what he would have to pay for a nurse. The result is that a man who subscribes to a friendly society has the advantage himself of getting better sooner and more completely, and that is an advantage which is shared not only by himself and his family but by the community generally. This Bill legalises nothing that was not legal before.

In connection with this Bill I have two great grounds for regret. First of all, I regret very much that the Bill was not introduced again by my noble and learned friend opposite, and I regret still more that it was not made a Government measure, as it clearly ought to have been, because the Government have over and over again blessed the Bill. Last year, in the House of Commons, Mr. Walter Long, representing the Local Government Board, said— The Bill has been considered by my Department, which is responsible for the Poor Law administration of the country. It has been carefully examined by experts and men of great experience in the administration of the Poor Law, and I have most carefully considered it myself. In addition to that the Bill was most carefully considered by the Cabinet as a whole, and it was decided that it was worthy of the support of this House, and one which we sincerely hope to see accepted, and placed upon the Statute-book. This year we have got further than the opinion even of the President of the Local Government Board. Speaking on 23rd March, the Prime Minister, referring to this measure, said— The Government entirely approve of the Bill and will do all they can to further its progress. I am told that I have made an error in tactics in introducing this Bill first in the House of Lords. If I have committed that error I am not solely responsible, because I am acting according to the wishes of the friendly societies. And, my Lords, I think there is a good deal to be said for the point of view that the friendly societies take up. They are disappointed—deeply disappointed—that your Lordships should have twice refused to pass a Bill that had practically the unanimous assent of the House of Commons. Notwithstanding that disappointment they desire to treat your Lordships' House with the utmost respect and to be perfectly conciliatory in this matter, and they have deemed it more courteous not to press a Bill again upon your Lordships through the House of Commons. What good would that do? Your Lordships know the opinion of the House of Commons upon it. It would add nothing to its authority to send it up again through the House of Commons, and the friendly societies think it better to ask your Lordships' House on its own initiative to give the Bill a Second Reading, They are confident that this House will give all the weight that ought to be attached to a Bill that comes up, as this Bill has come up, twice from the House of Commons. It is no use accentuating what your Lordships know perfectly well already. In conclusion, therefore, let me express my very earnest hope that at the third time of asking your Lordships will be pleased to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and will not again bitterly disappoint the hopes of 4,000,000 of the most thrifty and best-conducted working people of this country.

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


My Lords, on two occasions I ventured to think it my duty to present to your Lordships certain reasons why I thought that further information was necessary before your Lordships agreed to the Bill, the Second Reading of which has just been moved, and I think perhaps it is right that I should state at once what course I propose to take on the present occasion. The noble Lord has indicated to your Lordships that the Prime Minister has distinctly stated in another place that it was his intention to use the whole power of the Government in order to support this Bill. That being so, it would be putting your Lordships' to unnecessary inconvenience if I were to bring forward a Motion for its rejection in this House. I know the power of the Government in your Lordships' House, and I think it would be wrong for me to take that course. But in arriving at that conclusion I am bound to say that nothing in the speech of the noble Lord has in any way altered the opinion which I have held regarding the Bill.

I wish also to say a few words in defence of the conduct of your Lordships with regard to this Bill, because that conduct has been partly impugned by the noble Lord who has just sat down, and it has been freely attacked outride this House. In the year 1894, as the noble Lord has said, a Bill was introduced into this House by a private Member to legalise the proceedings of boards of guardians in not taking into consideration, in awarding outdoor relief, the receipts of the applicants from friendly societies. That Bill gave a discretionary power to boards of guardians, and when it was introduced the noble Lord who was then Leader of the House—my noble friend the late Earl of Kimberley—said he thought the Bill was wrong in principle, but at the same time it was desirable to pass it in order to legalise a practice which had grown up. The noble Lord, the then Leader of the Opposition—the late Marquess of Salisbury—spoke still more strongly on the matter. Lord Salisbury said on that occasion that, in his opinion, the discretion given to boards of guardians should be absolute. Therefore the Act of 1894 passed your Lordships' House on the distinct understanding that the concession given in respect to members of friendly societies should be discretionary, and should be considered by the guardians when they came to deal with each individual case. That is the position of your Lordships in respect to the Act of 1894. That Act had only been passed one year when there was a very important Royal Commission on the Aged Poor, which made the following recommendation— We are of opinion that it would be undesirable to interfere, either by statute or Order, with the discretion now vested in boards of 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. That was in 1895. Notwithstanding that, the Bill was passed on the distinct understanding that the power should be discretionary. Notwithstanding the, opinion of that Commission, from that day to this there has been a constant attempt on the part of the noble Lord and others with whom he has acted in this matter to change that principle, and to make it compulsory upon boards of guardians not to consider the friendly society sick pay of any applicant for outdoor relief.

The first compulsory Bill was introduced only two years after the discretionary Bill was passed. For several years those attempts were opposed by the Government.† Suddenly, however, a change took place. In 1901 there was a qualified support of the Bill on the part of the Local Government Board in the House of Commons, and when the Bill came up to this House the matter was considered to be an open question. Noble Lords were not to take it as a Party question, and it was intimated that Members could vote according to their lights. On that occasion there was a majority of two to one against the Bill—the same Bill as that which the noble Lord has now introduced. Last year the Bill again came up to this House and we decided that we would not attempt to throw it out. but we thought we had a right to receive some further information before being asked to pass a Bill of this importance.

I do not think that any of your Lordships will deny that to pass an Act absolutely debarring boards of guardians from considering the merits of individual cases that come before them for relief is a great and substantial change in the principle of the Poor Law. That being so, we desired that a Select Committee might be appointed to hear the reasons that friendly societies had to give for introducing the Bill, and to see whether they could establish the ground they took—namely, that sufficient consideration was not given to members of friendly societies by the different boards of guardians. The division which took place last year on the Bill was considered to be a division on the question whether there should or should not be a Select Committee for that purpose. A small majority was in favour of a Committee, and it became my duty to ask your Lordships to agree to the appointment of a Committee. I regret to remind your Lordships that the friendly societies intimated, through my noble friend Lord Portsmouth, that they would decline to give any evidence before the Committee, even if your Lordships were to appoint it. In those circumstances, I considered that it would have Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], page 1252. been futile to ask your Lordships to agree to the appointment of a Committee. That is how the question stands in regard to your Lordships' House, and I do not think anyone can say that your Lordships have treated this question otherwise than with great calmness and with great consideration, and I assert that in no speech that has been made on this Bill, although we doubted its propriety, has a word been said against the great value of friendly societies. I have myself on several occasions in this House and elsewhere expressed myself in favour of those societies. As far as your Lordships' position in the matter is concerned, I think it would be exceedingly unjust to charge your Lordships with any hostility to friendly societies in consequence of the manner in which you have treated the Bill. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading said that in his opinion it is right to give a preference to friendly societies. That is just one of the questions upon which inquiry is absolutely necessary. Your Lordships are aware of the mass of savings of the people of this country quite apart from friendly societies. I find that the sum of £322,000,000 represents the funds of provident societies and Post Office and other savings banks. If we take £30,000,000 from that for the money in the Post Office Savings Bank, which may be represented as invested by people of the better class, there is a sum of nearly £300,000,000 remaining. Would your Lordships be surprised to know that out of these savings there is only some £38,000,000 in the friendly societies? I doubt whether it is right or just, if this is a proper measure, that those who have savings of other kinds should not have exactly the same privilege as those with savings in the friendly societies.


My argument was that that preference had been already given in 1894, and that it was not given for the first time by this Bill.


At any rate this measure raises a question of very great difficulty and importance, and one which in the opinion of those of us who supported the appointment of a Committee should be inquired into. The capital of the friendly societies is probably not a fifth of the whole of the savings of the people of this country, and I say that it is a question for inquiry whether other savings should not be treated in a similar manner. But as the friendly societies declined to give evidence before this Committee we were precluded from receiving the information which, in my opinion, was absolutely necessary before such a measure should be passed. The noble Lord also gave as a reason for this Bill that there should be a uniform practice throughout the country. We have always asked the friendly societies to produce any evidence of cases in which boards of guardians have not given sufficient consideration, since the Act of 1894, to savings invested in friendly societies. Not a single case of hardship of that kind has been brought forward, and we thought that as they had not chosen to produce any such case there ought to be inquiry so that your Lordships might be satisfied that there was some justification for an alteration of such great importance in the administration of the Poor Law. The noble Lord said that friendly societies were of opinion that the present condition of the law deterred persons from becoming members of those societies. He stated that when a man joined a friendly society he wanted to know whether his sick pay would be considered supposing he had the misfortune to apply for parish relief. I have to say, in answer to that statement, that that is not the opinion of the friendly societies. The friendly societies, in their statement which was put before your Lordships last year, distinctly denied that anyone joined a friendly society with the view of coming on the parish for parochial relief. The reason a man joined a friendly society was, they said, that he should not come on the parish. These are the words of the friendly societies in the paper sent the your Lordships in defence of this Bill— 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 the hoard of guardians. they went 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. Therefore the idea put forward now, that the administration of the Act of 1894 by boards of guardians can be any deterrent to persons joining friendly societies, appears to be answered by the statement of the friendly societies themselves. I consider that thrift and support out of taxes or rates ought to be separate altogether one from the other, and that is another reason for the view we took last year that this matter should be inquired into. I should not have adduced any arguments against the Bill, it not being my intention to ask your Lordships to refuse it a Second Reading, had it not been for the speech of the noble Lord in introducing it. In one observation of the noble Lord I entirely concur. I refer to his statement that a Bill of this importance should have been introduced by His Majesty's Government and not by a private Member. I can conceive nothing worse than amending the Poor Law in very important parts by Bills brought in by private Members. I venture to submit to His Majesty's Government that this is a matter of great public importance, and one deserving of inquiry. It cannot stand where it is. It will be followed by other Bills of a similar kind. The whole question is one which should be looked into by His Majesty's Government, and while I protest again against the principle of the Bill, I venture to add to that protest an earnest appeal to His Majesty's Government not to leave this important question to private Members, but to deal boldly themselves with a question which vitally affects the interests of the people of this country.


My Lords, I will not take up the time of the House by repeating the arguments which have been already used this evening, but I wish to confirm what has already been said during the course of this discussion—namely, that in the view of His Majesty's Government it is desirable that this Bill should be read a second time. If any doubt arises in our minds on this occasion, that doubt is due not so much to the contents of the Bill as to the circumstances in which it has been introduced. I understand that two other Bills dealing with the same subject, and presumably promoted from the same source, are before the other House of Parliament. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill gave us a very considerate explanation of the reason for which a third Bill was introduced to your Lordships' House this evening. Whether there are other more obscure reasons, possibly of a strategical character, which have led to the course which has been followed, I will not pause to inquire. The subject is perhaps not one into which it would be in accordance with the rules of order that I should enter. As to the Bill itself, it seems to us that the question of principle has been long ago disposed of—I mean by the Bill of 1894; and, indeed, before the date of that Act I understand that it was not unusual for Poor Law guardians to distribute outdoor relief to persons who were in receipt of pay from friendly societies. Under the Act of 1894 a person may receive pay of that description, and to an extent exceeding the amount of 5s. and it may be pay other than sick pay, and nevertheless he may, and, in fact does, receive outdoor relief from the guardians. In our opinion it is desirable that this practice should be regularised. We think it inconvenient that in one union such relief should be freely given and not in another union.

The noble Earl who spoke last, and who has often addressed us with authority on this subject, suggested that the matter was one with which His Majesty's Government might them selves have dealt, and that a Government Bill upon the subject should have been placed before your Lordships. Well, my Lords, Parliament has already three Bills dealing with the matter, and I really think that we might well hesitate to add a fourth to their number; but, in any case, it is quite clear that it would be impossible for us to add to our programme of legislation for this session a Bill of this kind. The Bill is brought forward by private Members, and, believing as we do that its proposals are reasonable, knowing as we do that it is supported by the friendly societies, that it has been carefully examined by the Local Government Board and is approved by them and their advisers, and that it has twice passed the House of Commons virtually without opposition—knowing all this, we consider it would be desirable that the Bill should be read a second time by your Lordships.


My Lords, as my vote and action last year have been referred to by my noble friend, I think I may be allowed to explain my present position with regard to the Bill. I have never been an uncompromising opponent of this measure. Last year was the first occasion on which I voted against its Second Reading, but I fully admit that I have always had very grave doubts whether the Bill was founded on true principles. I agree to a great extent with what my noble friend behind me has said, and with what has been said on former occasions by the late Lord Salisbury and by my respected friend, the late Lord Kimberley, and I should like to explain why it was I took the action I did last year. I came to the House having these doubts, but I had practically made up my mind to vote for the Second Reading. I believed that the Bill ought to have been brought in by His Majesty's Government, because it was a matter of very great principle, and I do not think that the noble Marquess has to-night given sufficient importance to the influence of the Government in this matter when he said that, as there were already three Bills in the hands of private Members, it was not necessary that the Government should introduce another. We all know that when the Government takes up a measure of this sort it has far greater influence in Parliament. I had other doubts on the subject. I felt that this Bill only touched the fringe of the question, that there were many other ways in which a thrifty man put by savings, and that to deal only with subscriptions to friendly societies would not be going far enough. I thought there was also considerable doubt as to how the various Poor Law guardians had dealt with the subject, and, therefore, when my noble friend Lord Northbrook proposed that there should be a Committee, I at once stated that I should support the reference of the Bill to a Committee, where I thought very important information would be gained, and great authority obtained either for or against the measure. That was my position last year, and I was very much disappointed when Lord Portsmouth informed the House that the friendly societies would not give evidence before a Committee. That, of course, justified Lord Northbrook in not persevering in his proposition, but I was placed in the position of having voted against the Second Reading in the belief that it would be referred to a Committee. Now we come to the present session. It is quite true that two Bills have been proposed in another place. The national conference of friendly societies very clearly stated why they wished the Bill introduced in this House. They thought it was more polite and considerate to your Lordships' feelings not to have it again pressed upon you on the ground that it had been passed a third time in another place. I feel that if your Lordships reject this Bill you will be placed in a position of considerable embarrassment, and of opposition, not only to the unanimous wish, twice expressed, of the House of Commons, but also to the unanimous opinion of the enormous number of members who belong to the friendly societies. I. therefore, think it would be wrong on the part of your Lordships, even if you entertain, as I do, even now, considerable doubt as to the policy that is contained in the Bill, to oppose what appears to be the unanimous vote of the other House and the great desire of the friendly societies. I hope your Lordships will not divide on the Bill but give it a Second Reading unanimously.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House and from the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition it may be thought unnecessary for me to add anything, especially as there is to be no division; but I feel that the arguments expressed by my noble friend Lord Northbrook ought not to pass unnoticed. It is quite true that the Act of 1894 only gave a discretionary power to boards of guardians in this matter, but I would point out that in every reform we must proceed progressively. If it is shown that a permissive power, after it has been tried for ten years, is unsatisfactory owing to the power being permissive, surely it is not unreasonable to ask that it should be made compulsory. It has been asked over and over again in the debates in previous years, and my noble friend Lord North-brook has repeated the question to-night, Why do you only give this preference to friendly societies? Savings in the Post Office Savings Bank and in building societies and other institutions have been referred to, and it has been asked why they should not all be similarly treated. What I would say to that is, Do not let the best be the enemy of the good. If this privilege ought to be extended, then let it be the care of my noble friend Lord Northbrook and those who think with him to propose its extension and see how-far the principle can be applied.

The principle of this Bill is that what friendly societies pay, up to 5s., shall not be taken into consideration by the guardians when outdoor relief is applied for. It must be remembered that the 5s. a week paid by friendly societies is paid weekly, and only in case of sickness, and, therefore, we have a safeguard which is absent in the case of savings banks and other forms of savings. The capital sum of such savings can be withdrawn and may be spent in riotous living, in which case, of course, a man ought not to receive contemporaneous relief from the ratepayers. There is no analogy between the two cases, but if my noble friend can point out, during the progress of the Bill, any condition of things that answers to a friendly society paving a member 5s. a week while sick. I am certain the promoters of the Bill would cheerfully extend the principle they seek to apply to friendly societies. The aim of the Bill is to aid men who wish to be thrifty and careful. Take the case of a labourer in a rural district. He can ill afford to save, and may be tempted to spend his money in drink or in other ways. He asks himself whether he should obtain that which would afford him satisfaction for the moment, or pay the 6d., or whatever it may be, into a friendly society. What is the argument that will be used? He will ask himself, If I pay this into a friendly society, shall I get it back in sick pay if I want it? In one sense he does, but he does not get it back in the full sense, for he is in no better position than his neighbour who does not contribute to the friendly society, because his neighbour will also receive 5s. from the board of guardians. If your Lordships refuse the principle of this Bill, you will be saying distinctly that you think it just that a man who is thrifty and pays into a friendly society should not be one wit better off than the man who spends his money in the public house and does not make any provision for sickness Moreover, the advantage which the member of a friendly society would receive would be that he would have more than the bare necessities of life, which is all that the guardians can provide in outdoor relief, and he would therefore feel more self respect and would not regard himself as an absolute pauper. There is this other point, that by giving him this increased advantage in sickness his speedier return to health is secured, with the result that the ratepayers are the earlier relieved of paying outdoor relief. I am sure your Lordships will be doing well in holding out the hand of assistance to these men by accepting the Second Reading of this Bill.


My Lords, I had not intended to say a single word on this measure. I spoke upon it last year and suggested some objections to it, and I took part in the division by which it was thrown out. I agree in the main with what: Lord Northbrook has said, that it would be best that your Lordships should allow the Bill to puss without a division. I should have been silent but for the speech which has just been delivered by my noble and learned friend,a speech which requires an answer seems to me, because of the very eloquence and feeling which he threw into it. A great part of the noble and learned Lord's speech was in favour of thrift generally. It was not in favour of the friendly societies only, but of thrift generally, and so far as it was in favour of thrift I am sure every Member of your Lordships' House would agree with it. But the cardinal point of the Poor Law should be kept in mind—the relief of distress; and as soon as that distress is mitigated up to a certain point the action of the Poor Law ought to cease; and the best way is to leave the working classes to carry on their system of self-help which, with the assistance of friendly societies, will be most likely to promote their welfare. The friendly societies have become one of the glories of our land by keeping themselves entirely free from the action of the Poor Law and Government action, and thereby they have been a manifestation of the power of the working classes to govern themselves. It is not a wise step to weaken one of the fundamental principles of the Poor Law in order to give to friendly societies privileges they do not need. Hut the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord James will be quoted by the working classes as a direct invitation to put friendly societies before all other forms of thrift.


I did not say that.


But my noble and learned friend's whole argument was directed to show the superior advantages of friendly societies over every other form of investment, and it would be a serious thins for your Lordships to endorse any particular investment and indirectly to advise the working classes that this form of investment is superior to all others, Government savings banks included. My noble and learned friend pointed out that if a man spent his money in drink he would be as well off as if he invested it in a friendly society. But it is not necessary for him to spend it in drink if he does not invest it in a friendly society. There are many other forms of investment provided for the working classes of which they have availed themselves to the full extent. I entreat your Lordships, not in reference to this particular Bill, but to the whole of this class of Bills, to fasten upon the question how far this taking into consideration other forms of income when dealing with distress is to be carried. That is the real root of the question. This Bill is the triumph of an instrument often derided, but a most successful instrument—it is the triumph of that which we call the thin end of the wedge. In 1894, power was given to boards of guardians to exercise their discretion. That is sufficient, in the judgment of many, to lead up to the present Bill. My noble friend said we had not shown that it has failed or led to any abuse. On the other hand, we have no evidence that it has done any good. That was one of the reasons why my noble friend pressed for information last year. My noble friend next pointed to the anomaly that it should depend on the discretion of guardians whether the sick pay received from friendly societies was taken into consideration or not. Surely my noble friend knows that the whole question of outdoor relief implies a large discretion left to the guardians. They do not always give the same amount to every person who applies. They have to act according to their discretion, and it would be as logical to say that every one given outdoor relief should have a fixed sum or otherwise the discretion of the guardians might produce injustice, as to say that, because there is a certain anomaly created by boards of guardians taking different views on this question, therefore it should be made compulsory. We have not seen the last of this question. Other questions of this kind will arise, and, though they may seem small in themselves, may by a wider and wider application weaken the whole structure of the Poor Law, which has cost so much to defend, and the administration of which has on the whole been a great success.


My Lords, it may perhaps seem rather treating the House as a debating society to discuss a question on which there is to be no division, but I felt inclined to rise after hearing the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord James, and I wish to follow on one or two slightly different points the remarks of the noble Viscount opposite. I wish first of all to say that I do not believe for one minute that any little advantage derived from a more indulgent administration of the Poor Law-has the slightest influence in inducing thrifty people of the working classes to join friendly societies. The history of the growth of friendly societies shows that any benefit to be derived in this way has had absolutely no influence. What is the history of friendly societies? They grew from small beginnings in the eighteenth century; they developed in the nineteenth century; and all those people joined the friendly societies at a time when there was no Poor Law benefit to be derived whatever. No doubt since 1894 there has been some advantage, though, as we are told, the advantage varies according to the disposition of boards of guardians; but will anyone say that the great societies have found the number of members joining in any way stimulated by this small hypothetical benefit? It is, of course, easy to understand why there is this practical unanimity in acquiescing in this legislation, for there are behind this movement these very powerful organisations with 4,000,000 adult members, mostly voters. But, apart from that, do noble Lords really believe that they are substantially stimulating the cause of thrift by this legislation? I feel perfectly sure that the best working men do not expect, and would be ashamed to be told that they did expect, to have recourse to the Poor Law. If the Poor Law is used as an engine for stimulating thrift there will be a tendency to drift into all the evils of the old Poor Law. If you are going to have a discriminating system of aid according to the meritorious character of the recipient and not according to his destitution, then it is perfectly clear that you cannot stop at selecting one particular form of thrift which you shall reward. Lord James said there was a marked difference between sick relief, paid week by week, and other forms of thrift represented by savings; but I would like to ask whether there does not come quite as serious a pinch from quite as unavoidable causes as sickness. Do not the great out-of-work benefits which the trades unions grant to their members represent quite as unavoidable a calamity? That money also is doled out week by week, and if it is meritorious to encourage men who make provision against, loss of employment by sickness surely it is quite as meritorious to favour men who make provision for loss of income by being thrown out of work. In this Bill you are only encouraging that class of the community who earn the best wages and are best able to take care of themselves. Practically no women are, in friendly societies, secured against illness. If there is a body of people who really make a noble effort to maintain themselves by their industry it is widows. Are you going by-and-by to give them some special facilities? I feel sure that it is by a rigorous keeping of the Poor Law to its primary duty, which is the relief of destitution, that we shall best administer to the development of the self-respect, thrift, and energy of the working classes.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.