HL Deb 08 August 1905 vol 151 cc547-82


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, my first duty is to apologise to your Lordships for the late hour at which the Bill has been placed in your Lordships' hands. I had hoped that it would have been with your Lordships early this morning, but I understand that the King's printers regard the Bank Holiday with more respect than your Lordships' House do, and for that reason there was a delay of some hours. The subject with which the Bill deals has been constantly before the public of late, and I think most of your Lordships are familiar with the proposals of His Majesty's Government so far as their general scope is concerned. This Bill, however, differs materially from the Bill as originally introduced, and is, I venture to think, of a much less controversial character. I may, indeed, say that if the Bill on the Table of the House had been the Bill in its original shape I should scarcely have ventured to stand here and ask your Lordships to read it a second time in the last moments of the session. But, my Lords, we believe that the Bill in its present shape represents a great consensus of moderate opinion, and we are not without hopes that it will commend itself to your Lordships' House.

I think the first question which I have to endeavour to answer is, what reason is there for which legislation of this kind should be attempted? I think the answer is that experience has shown that there is from time to time a great body of unemployed labour with which the ordinary Poor Law is inadequate to deal in an appropriate manner. The case is that of unemployment due, not to the inability of the unemployed persons, not to their unwillingness to work, not to any fault of their own, but to the temporary and accidental condition of the labour market. The question that has to be answered is whether persons in this position are to be left to the operation of the ordinary Poor Law, whether they are to be subjected to its penalties, and to the stigma which always to some extent attaches to the receipt of poor relief, or whether some effort should not be made to enable them to resume their place in the wage-earning community.

I believe the general opinion in the country is that the time has come when the Poor Law, the old Poor Law, should either be supplemented or materially altered, and I cannot help thinking that some proof of this is afforded by the chorus of approval which met the proposal of His Majesty's Government that a Royal Commission should be appointed to examine into the operation of the present Poor Law. But, my Lords, a Royal Commission is, as we all know, a somewhat dilatory remedy, and in our view it is necessary to take some steps to deal with the situation which may present itself pending the Report of the Commission. We have, therefore, thought it our duty to set up machinery which will render it possible to discriminate between that kind of unemployment which is due to the condition of the labour market, and the ordinary distress with which the Poor Law is expected to deal, and we propose that means should be found of dealing with the former outside the Poor Law, and by some process which shall not expose the persons who may receive assistance to the penalties which now attach to the receipt of poor relief.

We are encouraged in this by the success of the experiment which was tried last winter by Mr. Long, the present Chief Secretary for Ireland,then President of the Local Government Board. Your Lordships are aware that he, if I may say so, improvised machinery for this purpose, and did it with a very great measure of success, and I think the best proof that I can give your Lordships that the organisation which he set up for this purpose was successful is to be found in the fact that out of between 40,000 and 50,000 applicants, fully one-half were set on one side as unfit for the receipt of special assistance, which was given only to those whose cases, after careful examination, showed that they were worthy of being so assisted.

The function of the bodies which we propose to set up will be three-fold. It will be their business, in the first place, to endeavour to bring together the persons who stand in need of work and the work, wherever that work may be found. In the second place, they will organise and direct the agencies by which relief and employment are now given; and, in the third place, they will endeavour to make an intelligent and careful distribution of the resources of which the local authorities are now able to dispose, those resources being derived on the one hand from voluntary contributions and on the other from contributions derived from the rates. I may say, in passing, that under this Bill you will find that resort to the rates is limited with the utmost care, and may be made for very restricted and specific purposes only.

It is, perhaps, important to point out that these proposals are not, after all, so great an innovation as would at first sight appear. In point of fact, during the last twenty years the local authorities have been in the habit of giving employment, or assisting in giving employment, from the rates. In the Metropolis alone last year no less than £110,000 was spent in this manner, and in January of the present year, out of eighty-nine large towns, no less than seventy-four were affording employment by way of relief for exceptional distress. I may say even more than that, because this practice has been encouraged from time to time by Parliamentary Committees, and even to some extent by the circulars of the Local Government Board. But, my Lords, it is obvious that this kind of intermittent and spasmodic assistance must be in some respects incomplete and unsatisfactory, and in our view these efforts should be systematised, and the object of the Bill is to do this.

We have, accordingly, set up a scheme which your Lordships will find fully described in the Bill—a scheme dealing, in the first place, with the Metropolis, and then with areas outside the Metropolis. The organisation in London will consist of a central body for the whole of London, and a distress committee of the council of each Metropolitan borough, including the City. The distress committee will consist of members of the borough council; of Poor Law guardians; and of experienced persons in the relief of distress. The central body will consist of representatives of each distress committee; members of the London County Council; members co-opted by the body; and in certain cases of members nominated by the Local Government Board. Then, my Lords, there is a provision under which boroughs and districts in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis is may be brought into the London organisation, either on the application of the council of the borough or district, or without such application if the Local Government Board think it expedient.

Passing from London to the large towns, we propose that, in the case of boroughs and urban districts with a population of over 50,000, a single body should be constituted which will unite in itself the functions of the central body and the distress committee. In the case of smaller boroughs and urban districts with a population between 50,000 and 10,000, a similar organisation may be set up if the council of the borough or district makes an application for the purpose, and the Local Government Board consents. In the country a separate organisation can, by Order of the Local Government Board, be set up for any county or part of a county, but no borough or district which has an organisation of its own under the former class can be included. There is another provision which, in the case of a county not covered by any of these organisations, renders it possible to establish a special committee of the county council, but in these cases the function of the committee will be only the collection of information. That is, in outline, the scheme of the Bill.

The duties of these bodies will be as follows. The distress committees will inquire into the conditions of the labour market. They will be, as it were, the intelligence department whose business it will be to keep touch with these questions, and to inform themselves in advance if there is any likelihood of severe stress or absence of employment. They will receive applications, but only on requisition from the central body, and it will be their business to discriminate between ordinary applicants and those whose unemployment is due to the temporary causes of which I spoke a moment ago; and in cases where it is clear that the unemployment is due to the condition of the labour market, the distress committee will be authorised, either itself to obtain work for the unemployed persons, or to refer those persons to the central committee.

Now, my Lords, I wish to dwell upon the careful restriction which attaches to the provision under which the distress committee is able to obtain work for an unemployed person. They may only do so if they are— satisfied that any such applicant is honestly desirous of obtaining work, but is temporarily unable to do so from exceptional causes over which he has no control, and if they consider that his case is capable of more suitable treatment under this Act than under the Poor Law. I think those words constitute in themselves a sufficient security against the abuse of the discretion thus given to the district committees. The central body will superintend the operations of the distress committees. They will take over the labour bureaux and exchanges. They will assist the unemployed either by removal or emigration, or by obtaining for them temporary employment. Here, again, I wish to quote the actual words of the clause, which, I think, show that this function is to be performed under adequate safeguards. The clause enacts that— The central body may assist such person by providing, or contributing towards the provision of, temporary work in such a manner as they think best calculated to put him in a position to obtain regular work, or other means of supporting himself. The financial arrangements are comparatively simple. The funds, both of the distress committees and of the central body, will be under the control of the central body. These funds will be derived partly from voluntary contributions and partly from contributions from the borough rates; but it is laid down in the Bill that that portion of the funds which is derived from the rates is to be ear-marked and is only to be spent for establishment charges, for purposes of emigration or removal, and for the acquisition of land. I dwell upon that because your Lordships will observe that although land may be acquired under this clause for the purposes of the Bill, the Bill does not authorise the payment of the wages of those employed upon the land out of any monies derived from the rates.

I cannot help believing that a great part of the provisions which I have endeavoured to describe are of a very uncontroversial and harmless kind. I cannot believe that anyone will take exception to the proposal that an endeavour should be made to bring together the persons who desire work and the work which requires to be done. Nor, again, can I believe that anyone will object to the attempt to discriminate between ordinary cases of pauperism and that temporary destitution which arises from the disturbance of the labour market. Nor is it very likely that your Lordships will be critical of proposals designed to provide machinery which will anticipate periods of distress, and the existence of which will place the local authorities in a position to deal promptly with that distress when it arises instead of hurriedly extemporising measures of relief. But, my Lords, on the other hand, I am aware that there are certain provisions of the Bill which are regarded with genuine alarm by those who remain faithful to the doctrine of the old Poor Law, and I know that, in particular, great apprehension is felt at the idea that the rates are to be used for the purposes of giving assistance outside the limits of the Poor Law.

I suppose that the provision of the Bill which is likely to be attacked from this point of view is the clause which contemplates the acquisition by these central bodies of land for the purpose of what is described in the Bill as farm colonies. Indeed, it is very easy to draw an imaginary picture of the kind of evils which might result from the abuse of an arrangement of this kind. It is easy to picture to ourselves an imprudent purchase of land for such a purpose, the collection upon it of a large number of idle and improvident people, the payment of inferior labour at the wages of efficient and properly-qualified labour—we can imagine the recipients of such assistance deluding themselves into the belief that they are not receiving charity but are earning an honest livelihood. We can conceive that in such a condition of things there might grow up a body of privileged paupers, who would suppose that they had a claim upon the public for chronic assistance at the cost of the rates. I think the answer to that is that this experiment has already been tried, and it has been tried with success. Those of your Lordships who care to study the documents which have been presented to Parliament will find it interesting to read accounts of operations of this kind which have been in progress with excellent results.

Again, I would remind your Lordships that on these farm colonies no sums derived from the rates can be used in payment of the wages of those employed. If the central body really does act up to the clause which I quoted a moment ago and employs these people solely with a view of qualifying them for work elsewhere, and of bridging over the interval that may elapse before suitable work may be found for them, I cannot bring myself to believe that any serious harm can be done. Besides this, it has to be borne in mind that the whole of these operations are to be carried on under the eye—I might almost say in the tutelage—of the Local Government Board, and your Lordships will find in the fourth clause of the Bill a very full description of the different subjects for which the Local Government Board is empowered to make regulations. Let me say here, in passing, that amongst the Amendments which were introduced into the Bill last night was one which I think will commend itself very much to my noble friend behind me, Lord James of Hereford, because the Bill now provides, at the end of Clause 4, that all regulations made under this Act shall be laid as soon as may be before Parliament.

I may perhaps be asked why is it necessary that rate-provided money should be used at all for the purpose of these farm colonies and for other purposes under this Bill? We have felt that if this machinery was to be set up at all, if it was to be of a standing character, it was impossible to leave it entirely dependent upon voluntary contributions. The stream of charity might at any moment dry up, and the whole of your organisation might find itself without the necessary financial support. We have, therefore, thought it necessary that for certain limited purposes, and those purposes alone, the machinery set up by the Bill should be supported out of the rates.

I think I have given your Lordships a sufficiently general sketch of the contents of the Bill. It only remains for me to say that, in our opinion, the case is an urgent one, and that it would have been extremely dangerous for us, with the winter ahead of us, to take no step to provide for the destitution which has arisen from these causes, and may, I am afraid, arise again. It would be impossible for us to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission, and in the meantime to offer to these unemployed people nothing but the stoneyard of the workhouse, and the penalty of disfranchisement, Again, we feel that it is inconvenient, and not without danger, to encourage the local authorities to continue to distribute, in a somewhat irregular and haphazard manner, the relief which they have lately been in the habit of distributing. Therefore, my Lords, we are proposing this Bill to you as a temporary and interim measure. Your Lordships will see that the operation of the Bill is to be for three years only. We regard it as the least that can be done to meet a serious case; we believe that it has the general support of the other House of Parliament, and we are not without hope that in this House also it may receive the encouragement which we believe it to deserve.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)


My Lords, I do not propose to enter in any great detail into the measure the Second Reading of which the noble Marquess has just moved. The noble Marquess began his speech by explaining why we had not received copies of the Bill until this afternoon. I quite accept the noble Marquess's apology. At the same time I have to say that this is another plea which we may urge in favour of greater justice being done to your Lordships' House, because it is a very grave objection that we should be considering a measure of this kind without having had an opportunity of seeing the measure, as amended in another place, before we came down to the House this afternoon. The noble Marquess has explained clearly the provisions of the Bill. There could hardly be a measure more bristling with difficulties than this one, or a measure which requires greater consideration on the part of all those who are interested in the welfare of the working classes.

I at once say that this Bill deals with a very great and growing evil—I mean the enormous danger that exists owing to the number of unemployed at various seasons of the year. That is a very serious matter. It seems clear that the present laws of the country are not sufficient to cope successfully with this danger, and it is a danger which may increase and be of very serious moment if not dealt with. This evidently was the view of His Majesty's Government at the commencement of the session, for in the King's Speech they referred to this matter and showed that they thought it one of very great and pressing importance. I will venture to read to your Lordships the paragraph in the Speech. The gracious words of His Majesty on this subject were as follows— Legislation will be submitted to you for the establishment of authorities to deal with the question of the unemployed. I have noticed, with profound regret and sympathy, the abnormal distress which has been caused by the want of employment during the present winter. Arrangements of a temporary character have been made to meet the difficulty, but it is expedient now to provide machinery for this purpose of a more permanent character. The noble Marquess spoke to-night in the same sense; but I cannot help referring to what has been done in respect to this matter during the present session.. Those words showed significantly the importance which His Majesty's Government at that time attached to this measure. May I, therefore, ask you to consider how this Bill has been treated in the other House. It has been treated in what I may call a most dilatory manner. Those connected with this matter were encouraged to believe that this powerful Government—powerful not only in another place, but in this House—were going to deal with the matter promptly. But how did they deal with it? The First Reading of this Bill was taken on April 18th, and the Second Reading was not put down until June 20th. It was then carried by a majority of 217. The Committee did not sit till August 4th, and it was only late last night that the Bill passed its final stage through the other House. What does that mean? It certainly indicates that, at certain stages of the Bill, His Majesty's Government began to think that they could not carry it on. Why, I ask, did they delay this great measure so long? This measure was important to satisfy the expectations of all those connected with this subject in the country. Why was it that the Government deferred passing this Bill from month to month, and only at the last hours of the session sent it up to this House? I cannot find any explanation for that. No doubt there was very strong opposition to it from their own Party in another place, and this may have deterred them; but, happily, they were aroused at the last moment, and though it was popularly believed that the Government were not going to carry this Bill to a conclusion, they have proceeded with the Bill in a somewhat attenuated form. I blame the Government very considerably for this. They put the Bill aside and ran the risk of not being able to carry it this session, although they passed other measures of much less importance. They passed what I may call fifth-class measures without endeavouring to proceed with this measure which was promised in the King's Speech.

Now, I should like to say a few words as to the position in which your Lordships stand with regard to this measure. Your Lordships' House is generally supposed to represent chiefly the landed interest. I need hardly say that the landed interest has much concern in this matter; but this House represents also the legal interest, the commercial interest, and many other interests. But there is one interest it does not represent. It has no representative of those who are most affected by this Bill, who possibly take the greatest interest in it, and who are represented now to a very considerable extent in another place—I mean the working men. I say this because I think this fact ought to induce your Lordships to consider this Bill with the greatest possible care and consideration, and pay some attention to the views that have been put forward by the representatives of working men. Anybody who has read the newspapers will have read pathetic, interesting, and able speeches, expressed, with perhaps one solitary exception, in the greatest possible moderation, by the representatives of working men in another place. Their views, I am quite certain, though many on both sides of the House may not have agreed with them, had considerable influence on what was done in the other House.

I shall not continue that argument, but I think I have said enough to show how necessary it is for your Lordships to consider carefully what the representatives of the working classes have said, and not throw away their arguments hastily. The working men represent one school of thought connected with this matter That school of thought may not be the one which is most familiar to us. The most intelligent among the working classes may not have studied the economics of this question and the Reports with regard to the old Poor Law which are familiar to many of us. They think that this Bill does not go far enough, and that greater latitude should be given for payment of men who are unemployed.

Then I turn to the other school of thought, I have always been very familiar with that school. I have been brought up in what may be called the strict school of political economy with regard to the Poor Law, and I value very much what the new Poor Law did, knowing and having read of the terrible condition of affairs that existed before the present Poor Law came into existence, and how nearly all property was wrecked and how the independence of the labourers and their wages were affected by the disastrous action of the Poor Law in those days; I do not for a moment say that we are in anything like that condition of things now; but I think we are bound to recollect that, and bear that in mind, modifying those views by modern thought, but without breaking the great canons which were shown to be necessary for putting labour provided by the guardians and free labour on a proper footing.

This Bill opens up a new field of legislation. I dare say there are some besides myself who remember the passing of the Union Rating Act, which made a gigantic change in the whole administration of the Poor Law. Many of your Lordships may know, or have heard of, the evils which the old Parish Rating Act created in rural districts. I remember well how parishes were cleared, by owners who owned the whole parish, of cottages in order that the cottage tenants should not be a burden on their particular parish. This also encouraged and forced a great many of the guardians of the parish, and generally the occupiers also, to throw on village works, the roads for instance, the labour which they did not want. There they kept the most infirm labourers, and the best labourers had not a free market from which to get their wages. The evils of that were proved to be very great. Those evils were met by a bold measure, which swept away the parish rate and gave union rating in its place. No greater benefit was ever conferred on the rural population than by that Act.

I quote this to show that changes are necessary as matters advance, and as the requirements of modern society demand. Changes must be made, and I venture to think that great changes may have to be made with regard to this very question of the unemployed. I welcome the appointment of a Royal Commission to consider the question of the Poor Law. The noble Marquess said a Royal Commission was dilatory, and that therefore it was necessary to carry this Bill while the Royal Commission were sitting; but what I want to know is, why was it that this Royal Commission which was so necessary to go to the bottom of the Poor Law, was not appointed three or four years ago? If it had been appointed then you would have had the results of the Commission before Parliament prior to the introduction of this Bill. I think the Government have a very great responsibility on them for not having boldly looked forward to what was needed four or five years ago. They have had ample opportunity for doing this, and I blame them very much for not having done it.

I am not going m detail through this measure. The Bill is a mere skeleton and the skeleton will have to have flesh put upon it. The noble Marquess says it is a temporary and ad interim measure. It may possibly, at the end of three years, be withdrawn, but I doubt very much when once you advance in this direction whether you can draw back. This is a measure that people on one side think does not go nearly far enough, but which people on the other side think has the seeds of very great evil in it, and is only a first step towards the State being made responsible for finding work for all unemployed persons. I hope that is not so. I do not believe it is so. At all events, at the present moment the actual Bill cannot be accused of doing any such thing. What I sincerely hope is that it will be worked with great care and with great consideration for all those who are put under it. I certainly am not prepared to oppose the Bill, or to pronounce very strong opinions against the clauses of it. The action of the Government has made it imperative that this Bill, or some measure of this sort, should be carried. I venture to say that if a measure of this sort were not carried there would be great danger perhaps in the near future; and the responsibility of that, on the Government first and on Parliament afterwards, would be very serious. Some measure of this sort was necessary. I sincerely wish the measure had been brought in and discussed at an earlier period of the session. We might then have had some chance of fully considering it, and a great and lasting addition might have been made to the Poor Law, which would, while escaping the evils which we all know occurred under the old Poor Law, still have maintained the independence of working men. I shall say no more upon the Bill, but shall support the Second Reading, and I hope your Lordships will do the same.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships are going to give a Second Reading to this Bill. It has had an eventful history, and one of the most interesting episodes in its career has been its last. I think I am right in saying that the Bill became for the first time available for your Lordships' perusal, with the important Amendments inserted last night in the other House, some fifty-five minutes before the noble Marquess rose to-day to move the Second Reading.


Not important Amendments.


Does the noble Marquess not regard as important the wholly new clauses inserted last night applying the Bill to Scotland and Ireland? There are other Amendments. I plead guilty, however, to not having been able, in the fifty minutes allowed us, completely to master what the Amendments are. The noble Marquess has frankly told us the explanation of the delay as far as the last episode is concerned. That was only the last stage in a history which was more eventful in its earlier periods. There was a time, not many weeks ago, when the Bill was believed by everybody to be almost at its last gasp, and by some supposed to have actually passed away; but when it regained vitality it regained it in a form which o many of your Lordships seemed to be healthier and sounder than that in which it appeared in the first instance. It has now been shorn of the provision which enabled rate-aid to be used for the direct help of the unemployed. I am not going into those changes now; for good or evil they have been made. I myself think that the significance of the change between the former condition of the Bill and its present condition is somewhat less than is commonly supposed; not that the change is not an important one as regards some large principles which are involved, but as regards its practical working I think it is possibly very easy to exaggerate the difference between the former state and the present.

The Bill in its earlier stage of existence provided rather for the extension to certain public bodies of powers already possessed by some bodies than for the inauguration of any new or very far-reaching principle of director immediate rate-aid. That possibility of direct provision from the rates is gone. Whether it will reappear with the Royal Commission, the announcement of whose birth is being so cordially welcomed, it is impossible to say. Presumably part of the duty of the Commission will be to investigate both the incidence and the application of rates for the relief of the poor, and among the subjects before it will be included relief for the unemployed; but those prospects are mere speculations into which we need not plunge to-day. What I desire to urge is this, that it is misleading and most shortsighted to say, as is sometimes said, and as has been said in the last few days, that the Bill in its present form has become insignificant or useless because of the change which has been made. I do not think so in the least. It seems to me that the Bill is neither insignificant nor useless, and that if wisely worked it may be productive of very great good even during the period in which the Royal Commission is conducting its deliberations.

What the Bill does is to establish statutory machinery for dealing with this question as contrasted with the voluntary machinery which has already been for some little time in operation, and the very establishment and existence of that statutory machinery gives to the machinery itself a different status altogether, alike in the view of those who are administering it, and in the view of the English people at large. Its statutory and permanent constitution meets the very difficulties which we have experienced. We want the machinery which is to apply itself to the relief of distress of this sort to be in being before the moment when the distress arises, and to be in effective being when it is called upon to do its work. Among the many disappointments which attended the useful work done last winter by the voluntary committees which were appointed under the sanction of the Local Government Board, was the late date at which it was possible for these committees to get into active work. Half the winter was gone before it was practicable for them to do the very work which they were set to do. That waste must always recur where the organisation has not been perfected beforehand. Then comes the question of how that machinery when in force is to be made as effective as possible, and I think everyone who has looked into the facts will agree as to the greater efficiency which must attach to machinery, even if it be for only administering voluntary funds, when that machinery and the men administering it have statutory origin and a legal authority in the land.

We have all heard it said that if the organisation which did so much last winter were compelled to set to work again upon a purely voluntary basis it is improbable that the best members who have served before would be willing to serve so readily again. They want to have a more official status than they have had for doing such important work as that which they have been endeavouring to do. There have been in existence at the same time, in every winter when there has been distress, no small number of rival charitable funds. What is needed is that there shall be some big central body which shall harmonise, control, or even, if need be, keep in check, the vagaries of different organisations of a purely voluntary sort, and which shall act with the authority behind it which comes from connection with the State and with the officials of the State. The definite work which is to devolve upon the body which thus gains a new status in the country is specified with great care in the Bill, and has been referred to by the noble Marquess in moving its Second Reading.

There is one point to which allusion was slightly made by the noble Marquess upon which I should like to say a single word—namely, the promotion of labour exchanges all over the land. It is impossible to overrate the gain that may ensue from something like a uniform system, and something like common information and knowledge being available all over the land in connection with the establishment and work of labour exchanges. I believe that no single factor in the Bill which we are now considering is of more importance than the way in which it will henceforth be practicable to have labour exchanges of an official kind at work throughout the whole country. That is one of the gains which I, for one, anticipate without hesitation will follow from the enactment of the Bill in its present form. At this moment the destitute unemployed in a great city have one of three courses open to them—to go upon the rates under the Poor Law, to go and beg, or, in London, to go to the borough councils; and there are no small number of men who would feel most rightly unwilling to accept either of the first two alternatives, and who are quite unsuited for the remedy which is suggested by the third. To these men we shall come, under this Bill, with a new offer of practical and non-humiliating assistance to enable them, in a period of temporary distress, to get information first, and then probably, as the result of information, work.

Everyone who has studied the Report of what was done in London last year by the voluntary associations then at work must have felt how hopeful were some of the experiments then made, how desirable it is that the local authority should be encouraged to repeat them, and how greatly the power of repeating them and the opportunity for doing so will be facilitated by the measure which is now in your Lordships' hands. I earnestly hope that during the three years for which this Bill is primarily, at all events, to be in force, it will be used to the full. The Royal Commission has, as I have said, been universally welcomed. The noble Mar- quess spoke of it, I think truly, as a somewhat dilatory remedy, but I believe in this case it may turn out to be in the long run a most efficient remedy, because I think there are not a few large and sound principles which have come to be better understood during the years which have elapsed since the whole subject was last considered, and that those principles will be found capable of application in many ways which may be suggested by an efficient Royal Commission.

We are striving by this measure to meet difficulties which, however unavoidable as we now stand, are in a large sense not very creditable to our community as a whole, and which are apt to lead to the adoption of heroic and adventurous remedies, not always likely to be crowned with success. The manner in which the whole subject will be approachable by the public authorities to whom this Bill will give a new power will, I think, enable them to deal with all these matters better than they have been dealt with hitherto. I honestly believe that, rightly handled, the difficulty is not an irremediable one, and that this Bill will go a long way towards remedying it. At all events, we are, by passing this Bill, recognising the obligations which rest upon us all as regards the weakest members of our community, and I, for one, wish all success and look hopefully forward to the operation of the measure.


My Lords, I hope I may be allowed to say a few words before this discussion closes, because, although reassuring as it has been in some respects, I confess. I am not able altogether to share the views of those who apparently have agreed to regard this as a very small and very harmless measure. I am bound to say that if anything would make one tend to look with favour upon a measure such as this, it would be the temperate and judicial speech with which it was commended to your Lordships by the noble Marquess. The noble Marquess began with an pology to your Lordships for the treatment of this House in regard to the time at which we have been able to get possession of the measure we are now engaged in discussing. I tried to get an exact copy of it about two o'clock this afternoon and failed, but on coming here at half-past three I found the measure had arrived from the printers one minute before that time. The noble Marquess apologised on the ground that the King's printers set great store by their Bank Holiday. I do not want to interfere with the Bank Holiday of the King's printers—I am as fond of a holiday as anyone—but a Bank Holiday is not a thing which comes without warning, and I must say I think His Majesty's Government, in the course of last week, might have recollected that the first Monday in August is one of those festivities, and that unless they took preliminary measures to ensure the Bill being presented to your Lordships' House in due time, it was most likely we should be run into the very difficulty in which we now find ourselves. It is no use, of course, saying any more about that; but if some of the—shall I call them germs?— which exist in this Bill pass without notice and without criticism, it must be remembered that some of us who take an interest in these subjects have not had what I may call an adequate opportunity of examining the provisions of the Bill.

The noble Marquess was studiously anxious to minimise the importance of most of the provisions which are contained in the Bill, in so far, at any rate, as it has been alleged that they constitute a new departure. He said, very truly, that under this Bill not much will be taken from the rates. The words he used were that it might almost be regarded as an uncontroversial and harmless measure. But, my Lords, it has a history, and it is impossible, in discussing and considering it, to forget that as originally introduced in another place it contained provisions which certainly alarmed me very much, and which I venture to say, if passed into law, would have, revolutionised Poor Law relief in this country. The noble Marquess read with great approval the provisions of the Bill which defined the persons on whom the attentions of the new authorities may be bestowed. I wish to ask some Questions about that in a few minutes; but I venture to make this preliminary observation in regard to that argument, that it is easy enough to lay down conditions which ought not to be contravened, but the difficulty is to make sure that those conditions will be observed. The point of difficulty in my mind is not altogether whether the conditions as laid down in the Bill are in themselves wise and prudent, but whether it will be possible to have them carried out under all the difficulties of administration.

The noble Marquess did use one expression which somewhat alarmed me. He talked of those who are faithful to the principles of the old Poor Law. I may be doing him an injustice, and if so he will contradict me, but I rather understood that those who were faithful to the provisions of the old Poor Law were a different class from himself and His Majesty's Government.




I am glad to hear that disclaimer, because I was going on to say that, so far as the main part of his speech was concerned, he advocated this Bill not as a departure from the principles of the Poor Law, but as a necessary supplement to it, owing to the efflux of time.


I said many people had come to the conclusion that the time had come for either amending or supplementing the Poor Law.


What alarmed me was that there was a kind of implied difference between the speaker and His Majesty's Government, for whom he was speaking, and those who are faithful to the strict principles of the old Poor Law. I am not ashamed to say that I am absolutely faithful to the strict principles of the old Poor Law. I believe that the Poor Law was right in the fact that it made destitution the test before one could get assistance from public funds. I draw a distinction between assistance from public funds and assistance from private benevolence. The idea in old days was that assistance from the rates came from an unlimited fund, that everybody had a right to get it. I believe also that there are people who will take advantage of any fund, and no doubt there are many who will take advantage of private charity; but I am certain that those who are concerned in the relief of distress will bear me out when I say that many who will take undue advantage of relief from public funds will shrink from doing so from private charity, and will accept a refusal from those who are administering private charity with less difficulty than a refusal from those who are administering a fund they think is derived from the rates. It is on that account that I, for one, rather regret that the administration of this new fund is to be put into the hands of a public authority. I believe it will be much more difficult to have it wisely administered in that way than if it was done by proper co-operation between private benevolence and public funds.

I welcome, like others, the idea of an inquiry, but I welcome it for this reason, that I believe that if the inquiry is fairly carried out it will do much to set up in public estimation again those principles of the old Poor Law, to which I am faithful, and upon which I think the proceedings of His Majesty's Government during the present session have to some extent cast undue discredit. I hope that will be the result of the inquiry. The reason why I perhaps look more askance at this Bill than many noble Lords is that I do see in it the germs of new principles. I do see in it the raising of expectations which, in my opinion, cannot be fulfilled without disaster to the community. I do see in its history and in the Bill a sort of support given to the idea that members of the community temporarily out of employment have a right to look for employment from the community. I will not touch upon that, because it is not perhaps germane to the Bill as it is at present before us; but the employment so given must be either of a remunerative or of an unremunerative kind. If it is remunerative employment which is worth the money given, then I say it is much better done by private enterprise; and if it is unremunerative employment, then we are verging on the dangers which brought this country into the state in which it was before the Poor Law was put upon its present basis. I dislike, as I have said, the creation of the new authority, and I think that there is a danger of overlapping, a danger of quarrels between the old and new authorities; that there will be still more of a stigma on those who are sent to the Poor Law than is the case at the present time, and that the difficulty of discrimination will be very great indeed. There are also the threatened further burdens upon the ratepayer. I have great sympathy with the payer of local taxation. I think he is frequently made the scapegoat of Parliament. He often has obligations put upon him for which he did not ask and which he has not a good opportunity of thoroughly discharging; and until the perils of this procedure are brought home to Parliament and to the Treasury there will be no real defence against extravagance.

I think too much also in this Bill is left to regulation. The noble Marquess referred to the regulations, and if your Lordships will look at them you will see that the whole letters of the alphabet are exhausted, or nearly so, in the number of things which the Local Government Board may do, and which, in my humble opinion, ought to have been included to a much greater extent in the Bill than they are. I think that is a criticism which it is fair to make.

With regard to the question of discrimination, I would like your Lordships to have the words of the clause fresh in your minds. Those who may be the objects of this new relief are to be— Persons who are honestly desirous of obtaining work but are temporarily unable to do so from exceptional causes over which they have no control. That sounds extremely good, and it is, so far as it goes, absolutely right. But, my Lords, it is very general in its nature, and I should like to ask such questions as these: how long must a man be out of work before he is a fit object for relief—a week, a fortnight, a month, or what period of time? Again, are the new body to look for any indications of foresight or providence on his part, or is it sufficient that he is out of work and has spent his wages from time to time as he has earned them? Is a man to be considered worthy of this new form of relief because he has refused to accept work which is not according to tradeunion conditions? Whether these are matters for regulation by the Local Government Board I do not know, but I do think that these matters should be much more defined when you are starting a new scheme of this kind.

I will give one instance. Any of your Lordships who have read Mr. Charles Booth's book will know that he divides the poorer classes in the Metropolis into various categories. He points out that there are some trades called seasonable trades, the members of which get large wages while the season lasts, and there are others poorly paid, but whose remuneration goes on all the year round. There are some trades whose work lasts through the summer and autumn months. I will give one instance—the house-painter. His wages average from 30s. and 35s. to 40s. a week for the time he is employed, probably only forty-two weeks in the year. There are others whose employment goes on all the year round, but who do not get more than £1 or 21s. a week. It is quite clear that the latter is not a fit object for this new relief, for he is in regular employment and would be barred by that condition. The other man, who is earning between 30s. and 40s. a week for forty-two weeks in the year, is the richer man and much better off; yet, as this Bill is drawn, there is nothing that I can see which would prevent the new body giving relief to that man during the slack season when there is no painting to be done, and the funds out of which he will be paid will be contributed to by the man who is only getting £1 a week. Therefore, the richer of the two will be able to get benefits under the Bill, whereas the poorer man will be made to pay.

It is all very well to lay down, on paper conditions for this sort of thing, but it is very difficult indeed to carry them out. It is for that reason more than any other that I look with perhaps a greater amount of mistrust on this Bill than some of those who have preceded me in this discussion. There can be no doubt of this, that, as introduced, the Bill undoubtedly gave a great impetus to the idea—the erroneous idea—that the man out of work had the right to look for employment from the community. I shall now be told, of course, that this is out of voluntary funds. I admit the difference; but the administration is not voluntary, and what I am afraid of is that the man who is temporarily out of work will go to the new authority, and will not inquire whether the funds are from the rates or from private benevolence. If private benevolence dries up, you will then have this argument used: 'Oh, this has been, in operation now for a certain number of years. Private benevolence is exhausted; you cannot go back and you must supply the authority with funds from the rates.' The principle of Poor Law relief is destitution. When destitute a man has a right to relief; but the principle of the old Poor Law, to which I attach the greatest importance, is that his position in getting relief is not to be as eligible as the poorest of those who are independent of all relief. What I am afraid of is that sooner or later, and I am afraid sooner rather than later, that principle will be infringed, and you will discourage those who are making a great struggle to keep themselves independent, because they will see those whom they know to be better off than themselves getting relief, and you will thus gradually sap and undermine the spirit of independence that exists in the community at large.

I agree that there is a higher duty on the community than the mere relief of destitution. One good thing under this Bill, to my mind, is that it may possibly afford a means of giving relief at the stage before destitution, before the mischief is done, when the home can be kept together, and that is an entirely laudable object; but I do say that that is a thing which is better done by the co-operation of voluntary charity and not by a public authority. I believe that persons popularly elected, are the worst fitted to administer that class of aid. I believe that the mere fact that it is done voluntarily, and not because they are members of a public body, gives those who are helping their poorer brethren a standpoint of advantage for doing it which is lost the moment it is done simply as a duty, and not as an act of Christian benevolence. I feel that strongly, and I believe that many of those who have been associated with this class of work in the Metropolis will say the same thing. I know that it is no use opposing this Bill at the present stage and that your Lordships are certain to pass it. I am not altogether sure that, in all the circumstances in which we are placed, if I had the power I would move to reject it. I am not at all sure that we should not be doing greater harm by rejecting it than by passing it; but I do make this most earnest appeal to the Government, that they should watch the operation of this measure with the greatest care and should exercise the tutelage of the central authority over local bodies and thus not allow any of the old difficulties to arise

I want to say a word or two about the application of the Bill to Scotland. I have not had an opportunity of giving my noble friend any notice of the Question which I should like to ask, because I only saw the application of the Bill to Scotland within the last couple of hours; but, perhaps, if not to-day, at any rate to-morrow, the noble Marquess will be able to give me some information about it. I should like to ask whether any consultation was held with the Local Government Board for Scotland, which, as your Lordships know, has its head office in Edinburgh, before it was resolved to apply this Bill to Scotland. It came upon me as a very great surprise. Here is a Bill, suited, no doubt, to English circumstances, the whole phraseology of which is English, and at the very last moment, apparently without any intimation to the Scottish Members in another place, the Bill is suddenly applied to Scotland. I should like to ask your Lordships what you would think if a Bill framed for Scotland according to Scottish needs was suddenly, at a moment's notice, applied to England in this way. The thing is almost unthinkable, and I am not sure that the differences between Scotland and England in Poor Law matters have been considered.

Our whole history is different, our method of administration is different, our unit of administration is different. Our unit of administration is the parish and not the union. It was only during my tenure of office as Secretary for Scotland that the last twenty or thirty parishes came under the public administration of relief at all. Up to that time many of them had done it voluntarily. These things cause great practical difficulty. I see that, according to the Bill, boards of guardians are to have certain representation on the new distress committees, but they are not to be more than one-fourth of the whole body. Now, boards of guardians, by the application of the clause to Scotland, are said to mean in Scotland parish councils; but in the case, say, for instance, of the county of Aberdeen, which has fifty-three or fifty-four parishes, how is each unit of administration to be represented on the central body? The thing is absolutely impossible.

I should like also to know what is to happen to burghs of between 20,000 and. 10,000 inhabitants, and what is to happen to those under 10,000? There must be some reason for it, but I should like to know why Sub-section 3 of Section 2 is not to apply to Scotland. It seems to me a very harmless provision, and I do not see why, if the Bill is to be applied as a whole, that sub-section should not be applied to Scotland. All these are rather more Committee points than Second Reading ones. I can only say that I hope it wïll be understood that although those of us, among whom I count myself, who are faithful to the provisions of the old Poor Law and mistrust this whole policy do not divide the House on this occasion, we must not be held as being committed to all the provisions which are in this Bill. We agree to it as an experiment in the strictest sense of the term, and we express the hope that its operation will be most carefully and earnestly watched by the Local Government Board of England and by the Secretary for Scotland.


My Lords, I should not have troubled the House with any observations to-day but for two reasons. In the first place, last week the noble Earl at the Table (the Earl of Wemyss), fixing his eye upon me, read me a lecture upon State workshops, and I wanted to make some sort of answer to that appeal which he made to me on that point. In the second place, I think you will all feel that on a great London matter like this the Bishop of London ought to say a few words to the House. I, therefore, want to assure the noble Earl that not all Bishops are Socialists, as he seemed to imply; and I may say that the writer in The Times, who more or less hinted that the Bishop of London had addressed his clergy in a circular upon this matter, was entirely mistaken. But, while all Bishops are not Socialists, most of them have had a very considerable experience of life among the working classes and of the relief of distress.

In East London, let me assure your Lordships, we are only too well aware of the danger of pauperising the people and of undermining their character, and I remember that the cry of 1889 was, "Save us from another Mansion House Fund." But, while we recognise the dangers from this, we also see the terrible misery which comes through lack of employment. I could tell your Lordships, if this were the proper place, some stories from life which would touch your hearts. I will only mention one. I remember going to visit a home where I was told great distress existed. The poor woman denied that there was distress until the children came in from school. The two children on returning, jumped on her lap and said something to her. I said, "What are they saying to you?" She replied, "They are asking for bread and I have none to give them," and burst into tears. Therefore, we who work among the poor are in a position to know the demoralisation caused by non-employment, and how the sober man who cannot get work gradually takes to drink, and the steady man goes down in character simply because he can find no work. Our business, therefore, is, with our eyes fully open to the dangers painted by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, to find out whether it is possible to come to the rescue of the poor in time, and without pauperising or demoralising them, prevent their homes from being broken up.

I find three things in the Blue-book which has been presented to Parliament which encourage me to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. The first is that there is a section of the community, not the loafer and not the idle, the members of which are unemployed through no fault of their own. The second is that these men when given a chance have behaved admirably well. Out of 1,208 who were employed on one work 729 worked right through, 310 found other employment, and only 100 had to be set aside for drink or laziness. At the London County Council parks, out of 692 employed, 582 worked right through, sixty-four had the prospect of work and left, and only thirty-two were discarded for laziness and drink. At the Garden City, out of 268 employed 208 did their work admirably, forty-five were fair, and fifteen were indifferent. Still more remarkable, the superintendent reports that the road-making done by these men was as good as that done on the other parts of the estate under contract. And the third thing which comes up clearly is that undoubtedly many thousands of homes were saved by the experiments of last winter. Therefore, it seems to me that an experiment like this is worth any amount of theory. This system has been tried, and it certainly succeeded last winter.

I must say I see three great dangers. The first one is, as was pointed out in a letter to The Times, I think it was yesterday, that the halfpenny rate, which will produce £100,000, will be only enough for the establishment charges, and therefore the money will go entirely to officials. I particularly ask His Majesty's Government to try to find a safeguard against that danger. The second danger is that the public will not subscribe when these boards are set up; but then surely this largely depends on your Lordships. If, when the Bill is passed, there is no grist brought to the mill, surely we, in this House, ought to be the leaders in subscribing to the unemployed fund. We have it in our own hands to set the example of bringing that grist to the mill which will alone enable this scheme to be of any effect at all. And then, in the third place, there is the danger of the superior pauper; but if there was a provision that only for two years should anyone be employed in this way, we should be saved from that danger, which no doubt is a real danger. Therefore, in spite of the fact that my experience in East London convinces me of the real danger of undermining the independence of the people—and no one feels that more than the working men themselves— I believe that, with these safeguards, this Bill will do a great deal to prevent many thousands of homes from being broken up, and will be a real help to the working classes.


My Lords, I must say I view this Bill not entirely without misgiving, and to a large extent for reasons akin to those given by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. If you have in the body politic a very serious sore, such as the existence of a large number of unemployed, it is not, I think, always wise to try and cover up that sore or treat it with an anæsthetic when more heroic remedies are required. It seems to me that the mere existence of a large body of unemployed is in itself an evil of which the community ought to take notice, and ought to devote itself to trying to remedy. It ought not to be looked upon as a normal state of things for which we should have some regular permanent relief. It is due to some fault in the economic conditions of labour, and I think we ought to devote ourselves, if possible, to trying rather to remedy the cause of the existence of large bodies of unemployed than perhaps to aggravate the disease by making the position of unemployment easy, and removing from ourselves that constant prick on the conscience of the nation which has been given by the demonstrations of unemployed labourers. I can quite understand that when one comes actually face to face with the cases one may feel that a great deal of good may be done, and very often is done, by giving the unemployed work to do which maintains their self-respect, and enables them again to become labourers in the ordinary way when the opportunity occurs; but there are undoubted dangers incurred by a large State system of this character, and a system which will probably become a permanent one. It is a very easy matter to say that this is to be tried purely as an experiment. that we are to understand that it is an experiment, and that at the end of three years we are at liberty to discontinue it. We shall probably find that will be impossible. We have already had threats made that if this Bill were not passed there would probably be riots and demonstrations. We may perhaps in the future have threats made that if rate-aid is not given, there will be further riots and further demonstrations; and it will probably become extremely difficult, in fact, I think we ought to recognise that it is impossible, that any Bill of this sort should be passed now without leading inevitably at no distant date to arrangements for the relief of the unemployed at the expense of the rates. We can have very little doubt, I think, that when this system of distress committees is set up the sources of private charity will not increase. I think it is very likely that the general body of the public will think it has something to do with the State, and will say, at any rate, it is easy to introduce an amendment throwing the charge on the rates. The provision from private charity will become less, and the cry will be made-that in order to make this system effective and large enough to be complete and useful it will be necessary to fall back on the rates. The only reason why rate-aid was not proposed in this Bill was stated to be for want of time to discuss such a measure in another place.

There is another evil effect which may result from a measure of this kind. That is, it may operate in such a way as to cut down the wages which ought to be paid by employers to workmen. Employers ought to pay men who work for only a portion of the year such wages as will keep them for the whole of the year. I will take the very case that was given by Lord Balfour of Burleigh—the case of the house-painter. If, under this Bill, that workman is to be able to come on this relief fund because he is out of work during the dull season, the man who employs him will say he no longer requires such high wages as before, and the employer will pay him smaller wages in consequence. Therefore, this relief would go in reduction of wages which should properly be paid by the employer. There is, again, another evil which I think might result from this measure, and that is the attraction of unemployed labour to the towns. I am not clear that it is intended that this labour should be deported into the country and set to work on farms, but, if not, there will be a tendency for unemployed labour to flock to districts where this relief is in operation. For these reasons I think we ought to recognise that if we pass this measure to-day we shall inevitably be landed in a system of relief which will involve aid from the rates.

I think we ought to turn our attention, not to relieving a number of unemployed workmen by a permanent system as if the unemployed were people who ought always to be with us, but to seeing what is the reason for unemployment and whether anything can be done to remedy that state ox things. It is a reflection upon a community that there should be unemployed able-bodied workmen in that community; indeed, one might go further and say it is a reflection that there should be any able-bodied paupers in a community willing to work but not able to get it. Very just observations were made by Lord Balfour of Burleigh as to the definition of the person who is entitled to the relief. The words are— Any applicant honestly desirous of obtaining employment but who is temporarily unable to do so from exceptional causes over which he has no control. I did not gather whether or not the person to whom this relief work is to be given is to be destitute or at the end of his resources. Apparently that is not necessary, but the clause proceeds— And consider that his case is capable of more suitable treatment under this Act than under the Poor Law. The case could not, of course, be treated under the Poor Law at all unless the applicant was destitute. I should like to know how those words affect the earlier part of the sentence. Then there will be pressure upon these committees to extend that definition, and to extend the interpretation of it in practice. I think the interpretation given to it by different individuals will be very different, and there you have a danger that the administration of this clause will go further than those in charge of the measure imagine. Therefore, I think there is a danger in this Bill; and I hope that His Majesty's Government and the Royal Commission will bear in mind the various dangers to which a measure of this kind may lead.


My Lords, I wish to say one or two words on this Bill. Those who have been in Australia have had a certain amount of experience of the unemployed problem. I see two or three Australian Governors present, and I suppose their experience was the same as my own. The problem was always faced with great courage and with a certain amount of success. What was generally done was this. Men were sent up country and put upon the land, and were paid from 5s. to 6s. a day. That, I suppose, would be reckoned as a very Socialistic state of things; but I am bound, after hastily reading this Bill, to agree with Lord Balfour of Burleigh when he said that it certainly contains some Socialistic germs. For instance, the Bill says that a separate account shall be kept of all expenses incurred by the central body in relation to the acquisition, with the consent of the Local Government Board, of land for the purposes of this Act. That, I take it, is that land can be bought for farm colonies. I do not say whether it is right or wrong, but certainly that provision has a Socialistic germ in it.

On the other hand, I understand that no money is to be paid under this Act for the wages of the men who are sent to work upon this land; so you have a sort of half-and-half Socialistic measure. You buy the land, but you say that you cannot possibly go so far as to pay the wages of the men who are to make that land profitable. I suppose you are going to get that money out of the pockets of charitable people, who in times of difficulty and distress are glad to subscribe to assist men out of work; but we have been told in this discussion that one great danger of this Bill is that it will, at the very least, check private subscription. Here you are, therefore, with farm colonies without any money to work them, and private subscriptions checked by the very Bill you are bringing into solve this difficulty. If such a Bill as this had been introduced in any of the colonial Legislatures it would have received very short shrift.

The noble Earl behind me talked of the danger of the Bill, and pointed out what his ideas on the subject were. I think he ought to welcome the Bill. The Bill is neither insignificant nor useless; it does a very important thing; it asserts for the first time a most important principle. This Bill admits for the first time the principle that honest working men shall have an opportunity of obtaining employment in times of difficulty and distress. I must say that is a principle which commends itself to most people. I am very glad that the Bill, even at the seventeenth hour, has been rescued somehow or other from the limbo into which it was consigned. I am very glad it has been resuscitated, and I hope and believe it will pass your Lordships' House without opposition.


My Lords, I regard this Bill as a step in the right direction, and I feel that the Government deserve every credit for taking the bull by the horns. This Bill may be partly business and partly charity, but at any rate it has secured a great measure of support in the country. We have a right, though, to ask ourselves who is to blame for the present state of unemployment. I say that it is greatly due to the shameful manner in which we have neglected the interests of the working classes. That Party there (pointing to the Opposition) is as much to blame as anybody. If they had only listened to their own leaders they might have had the reins of Government many years ago, and this country would never have been in the state in which it now is. What did the late John Bright, one of the greatest of Liberals, say about the working classes? He said, on March 8th, 1849— I would willingly support any proposal which went to the reduction of those taxes on raw material which stand in the way of manufacture and labour and close the market on the industry of our artisans. Only a short time ago the Leader of the Liberal Party said that one-third of our population is on the verge of starva- tion; yet (pointing to the sparse attendance of Liberal Peers) that is the number you can get to listen to this important debate. You can count them on your fingers. The Bill which your Lordships are engaged in considering to-day is the result of ignoring Mr. John Bright's advice. Everything has been sacrificed in this country on the altar of Party politics. I do not think there is a noble Lord in this House except the noble Earl at the Table (Earl of Wemyss) who is independent of Party politics. Thirty years ago we were the richest nation in the world; we are not so now. It is impossible to deny that fact. Every year the landlords in this country who reside on their property do all they can for the unemployed, but it is impossible to do much unless we are aided by the Government of to-day. The burden of rates is steadily increasing, and there is no doubt that the present political situation is a very grave one for this country. Our working classes are appealing to Parliament to look after their interests, and all I can say is— Oh, the wrongs that might be righted if we would but see the way, If we would but hear the pleadings of the suffering ones who pray.


My Lords, I understand that no opposition is to be offered to the Second Reading of the Bill, and I therefore do not propose to detain your Lordships with many observations in reply. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh asked me one or two Questions with regard to the application of the Bill to Scotland. I think I shall perhaps best consult his convenience —I shall certainly best consult my own— by asking him if he will kindly put this Question to me to-morrow, when I shall be prepared to answer it. My noble friend went on to suggest, misunderstanding, I think, completely an observation that fell from me, that we have thrown entirely behind us the principles of the old Poor Law, and he described me as suggesting that there was a distinction to be drawn between the advocates of this Bill and those who remained faithful to the principles of the Poor Law. I may have expressed myself imperfectly, but nothing was further from, my thoughts than to suggest anything of the kind. On the contrary, speaking for myself, and, I believe, for most of my colleagues, I say that we fully admit the great value and importance of the principles of the old Poor Law. I do not think it is too much to say that the Poor Law saved the society of this country, and what I did intend to suggest was, not that we desired to abandon those principles, but that in our opinion the time had come when the whole of this problem required to be reconsidered. There can be no doubt that the conditions under which labour is employed at this moment differ widely from the conditions under which labour was employed at the time the present Poor Law came into force. Large numbers of men are taken on and are got rid of suddenly, much more with reference, perhaps, to the dividends of the company with which the enterprise is connected than with any reference to the interests or convenience of the men themselves; and surely it is not too much to say that that is a problem which we ought to look in the face with a view of, if necessary, modifying the present state of the law.

My noble friend also suggested that the rules which are referred to in the Bill should be included in the Bill itself.


I hardly went so far as that. What I said was that there were too many things of importance left to regulation, and that a great many more should have been laid down in the Bill with greater precision than they are.


I am glad my noble friend qualifies the statement. Considering that the mere enumeration of the subjects as to which the Local Government Board may make regulations covers one page and a-half of the Bill it is obvious that if the rules themselves were to be embodied in the Bill we should have had one of the most unwieldy and impossible statutes ever presented to Parliament. The fact is that in this matter you must trust a great deal to the discretion of the Local Government Board, and as that Board will act under the supervision of Parliament I do not see why my noble friend should have so many misgivings as to the manner in which it will interpret the Act.

The noble Earl who leads the Opposition complained of our delay in bringing this Bill before your Lordships. I notice that whenever the noble Earl criticises our conduct of public business he always assumes that it is the Government of the day which is the master of the time of Parliament. I am afraid that is a complete fallacy. The explanation of the delay is not far to seek. The noble Earl himself told us that when the Bill was first introduced it bristled with controversial subjects. A fundamental difference of opinion declared itself with regard to many of those subjects, and there is no doubt that at one moment the prospects of the Bill's passing into law were of the most hopeless description. But as the session went on reasonable men of each way of thinking came to the conclusion that the Bill was one which ought not to be lost, and a compromise was arrived at which is embodied in the Bill now before your Lordships. I think I am right in saying that the Labour Members, of whom the noble Earl spoke in terms of high appreciation, were amongst those who were most anxious that the Bill should not be lost. I have merely noticed these paints in passing, but I see no reason for detaining your Lordships further.

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