* THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
My Lords, I have to present between 200 and 300 petitions from Poor Law guardians and others against the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill; and to ask His Majesty's Government whether any opinions have been obtained upon the subject from the Poor Law inspectors; and, if so, whether they will be presented to Parliament. As the petition is a short one, I will venture to read it to your Lordships. The petition showeth as follows—That the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) I Bill, which is shortly to be considered further by your right honourable House, proposes that in granting outdoor relief to a member of any friendly society the board of guardians shall not take into consideration any sum received from such friendly society as sick pay except in so far as such sum shall exceed five shillings a week.That no evidence has been produced and no sufficient reasons have been furnished for interfering, as this Bill proposes, with the discretionary power of boards of guardians in dealing with applications from members of friendly societies under existing Statutes and the Order of the Local Government Board.That it is stated that the proposed Bill is an extension of the principle of the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) Act of 1894.That the Act of 1894 was in principle discretionary, and was passed in order to legalise a practice, already adopted by many boards of guardians, of giving special assistance to members of friendly societies, and not as a permissive measure, accepted with a view to further legislation, limiting or withdrawing in these cases the discretionary power of boards of guardians.That the proposed Bill is thus contrary to the Act of 1894 and inconsistent with it.That the proposed Bill will react injuriously on friendly societies, for it will give to persons in receipt of sick allowances, which are often in practice old-age allowances, a statutory right to additional outdoor relief, and it will thus attract members of these societies to the Poor Law, and prevent the development of the societies as independent bodies competent to meet the needs of their members on the lines of sick and old-age assurance.That the proposed Bill is a serious infringement of the Poor Law, inasmuch as Poor Law relief is legally available for the destitute only and for the provision of the necessaries of life, and not as a reward for thrift and saving.1181That if the principle is adopted of granting additional poor relief to members of friendly societies as a statutory right, the claims of other persons who have been thrifty besides those who belong to a friendly society can hardly be resisted, and that such a far-reaching principle should not be accepted in regard to only one body of men, such as members of friendly societies, without a full investigation of the whole subject, and without regard to the extension of the principle in the future.Your petitioners therefore humbly pray your right honourable House that, as the proposed Bill affects such large public interests and leads to such large changes in the law, your right honourable House should not adopt the proposed Bill; but if the matter is further proceeded with, should urge on His Majesty's Government that a full and independent public inquiry should be made into the working of the present system of Poor Law relief and its adequacy in meeting all legitimate claims upon its resources at the present time.This petition is signed by Sir Wyndham Portal, ex-president of the Hampshire Friendly Society; Sir John Hibbert, president of the North Western Poor Law Conference and one of the highest authorities in this country on matters affecting Poor Law; Captain B. T. Griffith-Boscawen, chairman of the Central Committee of Poor Law Conferences—a body recognised by the Local Government Board as representing Poor Law guardians all over the country; Mr. Joseph Brown, president of the Poor Law Unions Association; Sir William Chance, Bart., hon. secretary of the Central Committee of Poor Law Conferences; Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, and others. I may say that I had nothing whatever to do with the getting up of this petition. It was initiated by Sir William Chance, who, as hon. secretary of the Central Committee of Poor Law Conferences, had a perfect right to bring this matter before the various boards of guardians in the country. This petition, besides being signed by gentlemen who are not officially associated with the administration of Poor Law relief, has also been signed by the chairmen of between 200 and 300 boards of guardians all over the country. Sir William Chance received 316 replies to the circular he sent to the different boards of guardians, only sixteen boards expressing an opinion in favour of the Bill. Now, my Lords, who are these chairmen of boards of guardians? They are the gentlemen who throughout the country are giving their time to the Administration of the Poor Law, and if 1182 the opinions of any persons are to be taken on matters affecting the distribution of relief, surely the opinions of these gentlemen should be considered with respect and attention. Almost without exception the petition has been signed by the chairmen of all the boards of guardians in the Metropolis—by the chairmen of Chelsea, Bethnal Green, Edmonton, Fulham, Hackney, Greenwich, Kensington, Lewisham, Paddington, St. George's-in-the-East, St. George's, Hanover Square, Marvlebone, Southwark, Stepney, Strand, and White-chapel boards of guardians. It is signed also by the chairmen of boards of guardians in the most important towns in the Kingdom, including Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Bradford, Brighton, Burnley, Cardiff, Chester, Derby, Dover, Durham, Reading, Southampton, Sunderland, and Swansea.
I do not intend to again go into the arguments of this Bill, which has already been before your Lordships, and been fully discussed. I will confine myself to presenting these petitions, and to asking His Majesty's Government whether any opinions have been obtained upon the subject from the Poor Law inspectors, and, if so, whether they will be presented to Parliament. His Majesty's Government were kind enough to present to your Lordships' House the opinion of Mr. Brabrook, the Registrar of Friendly Societies, which was unfavourable to the Bill, and after this demonstration of opinion from Poor Law guardians against the Bill, I think inquiry should be made as to the Opinions of the Poor Law inspectors. If your Lordships do not see your way to comply with the prayer of the petition, and reject the Bill, I trust that His Majesty's Government will make a full inquiry into the working of the present system of Poor relief, and that as a result they will somewhat modify the position they have hitherto taken in respect to this Bill. The Bill has been read a second time in your Lordships' House; but owing to an expression of opinion on the part of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that it touched the question of privilege of the House of Commons inasmuch as it involved an increase in the rates, the Bill has not been further proceeded with in this 1183 House. I do not think it is likely that it will come before your Lordships again this session; but I trust that His Majesty's Government will procure the opinions of the Poor Law inspeetors upon the subject, and lay them before Parliament in case this or a similar Bill is presented for consideration next year.
Moved, "That the petition of Sir Wyndham Portal, Baronet, and others, be printed"—(The Earl of Northbrook.)
§ * LORD JAMES of HEREFORD
My Lords, having taken some interest in this Bill, I should like to put one or two Questions to my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture before he replies to the noble Earl. There seems to be a demonstration in force against the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill which was before your Lordships, the object of which demonstration I do not quite appreciate, because, as my noble friend said, this Bill vas withdrawn from the consideration of the House on the ground that it was a breach of privilege. So far as I know, it is not intended that the Bill should be again considered in this House until it comes up to us from the House of Commons, and therefore the great industry which has apparently been involved in obtaining these signatures serves no practical purpose whatever. My noble friend stated that the petition was largely signed by chairmen of boards of guardians. I should like to ask him whether the petition has been signed in these cases by any vote of the board of guardians as a whole, or whether the support is merely the individual support of the chairmen.
THE EARL of NORTHBROOK
Some chairmen have signed on behalf of the board of guardians, and some individually.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
I wish to ask my noble friend Lord Onslow, who represents the Local Government Board on this occasion, whether he has any return of the boards of guardians who have accepted the principle of this Bill, and carried it into effect by refusing to make any deduction in respect of the amount received from a friendly society by the applicant for outdoor relief. I understand that three-fourths of the 1184 boards of guardians have accepted the, principle of this Bill. If that is so, it would be interesting to know how far the boards of guardians themselves have been parties to these petitions. My noble friend is anxious to have the opinion of the Poor Law inspectors on this Bill. I should like to know, whether when the House accepted the principle of the Act of 1894, there was any such interest shown in the opinion of the inspectors. The opposition to this Bill has preceeded from one source. The Charity Organisation Society are for some reason antagonistic to it, and they have spared no trouble in setting their great machinery to work to oppose the Bill in every possible way. I am not, however, very much frightened by their opposition. This Bill has twice passed through the House of Commons without any substantial opposition being raised against it. The Charity Organisation Society have not been able to find one representative in the other House willing to bring forward their views. I am confident that the more public opinion is tested the greater will be the support which this Bill will receive, and it is bound sooner or later, and, I hope, at no distant date, to become the law of the land.
* THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES. (The Earl of ONSLOW)
My Lords, I am sure you will not wish me to enter into any discussion of the merits or demerits of a measure which has already been before your Lordships, and the debate upon which, according to the Minutes of your Lordships' House, stands adjourned. I believe that we are waiting for a measure of a similar kind to come up from another place for our consideration; and I may say, in passing, that if that Bill is successful in getting through the House of Commons and coming up to your Lordships' House in the course of the present session it will have had a fate which the promoters of many Bills this Year will heartily envy. I am not going to offer any opposition to the Motion of my noble friend that the petition should be printed and circulated with the Votes. My noble friend behind me, Lord James of Hereford, inquired whether the Bill had not already been 1185 approved by three-fourths of the boards of guardians in the country. I do not think it would be correct to say—
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
I said I understood that three-fourths of the boards of guardians had accepted the principle of the Act of 1894.
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
No doubt it may be said that the Act of 1894, which left discretion to the guardians, has the support of three-fourths of the boards of guardians in the country, but a curtailment of that discretion would no doubt be looked upon in a very different light. At the same time it is correct to say that a very large number of boards of guardians have, until quite recently, either been wholly indifferent to this Bill or in favour of it. The Somer-setshire Board of Guardians sent out circulars some years ago to 650 unions, and the replies showed that ninty-eight were in favour of the proposal, thirty-six were against, whilst eighty-six were neutral and the remainder took no notice whatever of the circular. I believe that some six boards of guardians have made representations to the Local Government Board against this Bill, and about the same number in favour of it. I think that clearly shows that there has not been, until quite recently, any very active interest shown in the matter by the boards of guardians, who appeared quite content to leave it in the hands of Parliament. But lately the matter has been brought more prominently to their notice, and the result is the somewhat formidable packet of papers which. I see by the side of the noble Earl. My noble friend asked whether any opinions had been obtained from Poor Law inspectors, and to this the reply is that the Department are constantly receiving reports, and these reports are treated with the utmost confidence. It is most undesirable to lay before Parliament the opinion of inspectors for or against any particular measure, and I do not think the Local Government Board would be well advised to depart from the practice of treating these reports as confidential, the Government being responsible for any action taken by the Department. My 1186 answer to the last Question, therefore, must be in the negative.
* THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
My noble and learned friend Lord James referred to the principle of the Act of 1894 having been very generally accepted by boards of guardians, but I must be excused for saying that he did not fully state the case. The petitioners object to this Bill as interfering with the principle of the Act of 1894. That Act was, in principle, discretionary, and was passed in order to legalise the practice, already adopted by many boards of guardians, of giving special assistance to members of friendly societies, and did not limit or withdraw in these cases the discretionary power of boards of guardians. This Bill is contrary to, and inconsistent with the Act of 1894. My noble friend said that the boards of guardians throughout the country had accepted the principle of that Act. There is no doubt they have, and rightly so. Those who oppose this Bill have never objected to the Act of 1894, and are glad that boards of guardians have made use of it. My noble and learned friend said the Bill was not opposed in the House of Commons. I would remind him that it was opposed in the first instance by the Government, and that it was also opposed by a very prominent Member of the House of Commons, Sir John Dorington, and others.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
I said on the last two ocasions it went through the House of Commons unopposed.
THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
The noble and learned Lord may be correct as to that; but I believe the Bill slipped through after midnight and unnoticed. I would not for a moment press the head of any Department to produce papers if he thought that that course would be in the least degree injurious to the public service; but as the President of the Local Government Board did not object to giving the report of Mr. Brabrook, the Registrar of Friendly Societies, I did not anticipate that the production of the reports of the Poor Law inspectors on 1187 this matter, which is not confidential, could involve any important principle.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly. [No. 162.]
House adjourned at five minutes before Five o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.