HL Deb 04 August 1905 vol 151 cc240-2

rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the fact that demands are constantly made on borough councils to provide employment to able-bodied men, and that such demands are constantly granted at the expense of the rates, and without regard to the provision made and the conditions required by the Poor Law, the Government will consider the desirability of appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the Poor Laws of the country, the law bearing on the administration of relief, the administration of poor relief, and the constitution and efficiency of the bodies engaged in that administration, and, taking due account of the circumstances of the present time, including the number, conditions, and administration of voluntary and endowed charities, to report what amendments, if any, should be made in the laws and in the system and administration of public and voluntary relief.

The noble Earl said:—My Lords, I desire at the outset to express my pleasure that His Majesty's Government have seen it to be right and proper to appoint such a Commission as is referred to in my Question. The wording of the Question is not my own. It is the wording of those who are more competent than I am to consider the questions dealt with. The Charity Organisation Society and other bodies have met and talked the whole thing over, and the notice was sent to me in the form of a Question for me to ask with the full approval of all those who are interested in, and have taken great pains to study, questions of Poor Law.

As regards the question of the unemployed you have plenty of object-lessons. You have the object-lesson which was afforded by the lax administration of our Poor Law in England seventy years ago. Again, to take a case abroad, there was the result of State action in France in 1848, as shown by the failure of the Ateliers Nationaux, or public workshops, established by Monsieur Louis Blanc in that year. The establishment of those workshops produced the following results—the stoppage of private trade, the demoralisation of workmen, impending bankruptcy of the Government, and the forced abandonment of the national workshops. On February 28th, 8,000 men were supposed to be out of work; March 15th, 14,000 employed; March 20th, work for 12,000 found (half - time); March 22nd, cost 50,000 francs per diem; April 1st, 40,000 men employed; April 16th, 66,000 employed, cost, 94,500 francs daily; May 25th, 87,000 men employed; June 20th, 115,000 men employed; credit of 3,000,000 francs voted by Chambers, with more to follow. June 28th, national workshops closed. This followed by insurrection; Cavagnac Dictator; 12,000 workmen killed in the streets of Paris. That is what occurred in France in the year 1848, and I would specially call your Lordships' attention to these wise words spoken at that time by Monsieur Lamartine. He said— To decree the right of each individual to all manner of work was to decree the absorption or confiscation of capital by taxation (rates) and its destruction, which was equivalent to the absolute annihilation of labour. He did not suppose there was in the assembly any one so wild as to preach the abolition of capital to multiply work—in other words, the drying up of the spring in order to increase the How of water. My Lords, I hope the Government and your Lordships will take these wise words well to heart. I think all who have the welfare of the poor at heart ought to be grateful to the Government for their action in consenting to the appointment of a Commission. As everything depends upon the constitution of the Commission, I hope the Government will keep off it all what I would call "goody-goodies," no matter in which House they may sit.


My Lords, the noble Earl has long desired that an inquiry should be held into the working of the Poor Law, and it is, therefore, particularly satisfactory to me to be able to refer him to the announcement lately made by the Prime Minister that such an inquiry is to take place. It will be a full inquiry, and I am justified in saying that it will cover the whole field of the Question which the noble Earl has put on the Paper. That being so, I do not think that I am called upon to take notice of the observations which he made in asking the Question. I am not yet able to tell the noble Earl how the Commission will be constituted, or whether that particular class to which he takes exception will be excluded from it, but that it will be a full and adequate inquiry I have no doubt whatever.