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Poor Law (Electors) Amendment Bill

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 3 April 1895

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in moving the Second Reading of Bill, said, it was a Bill of only one clause, whose object was simply to prevent the disfranchisement of those men who, under special circumstances entirely beyond their control, were forced to receive outdoor relief and to give their labour in exchange for it. Sometimes owing to a stoppage of work in a great industry, like the coal industry, a very large number of men were in some towns thrown out of employment for a number of weeks, during which time they were obliged to accept relief from Poor Law Guardians. In the town of Middlesbrough-on-Tees in 1892 no fewer than 2,000 men were struck off the register in this way on account of the coal strike in the county of Durham; in his own town about 450 men last winter were forced to accept temporary relief owing to the stoppage of some large works; and in Gateshead in 1893 about 350 men had, under similar circumstances, to accept relief. The objects the Bill was to prevent disfranchisement in these occasional cases. The Boards of Guardians in Newcastle, Gateshead, Manchester, Stockport, Saddleworth, and Darlington, had all passed resolutions in favour of this Bill, and the only difficulty which presented itself was the fact that this question would receive some attention from the Committee which was now sitting. He would undertake, however, if the Bill passed the Second Reading, that it should not come before the House again until the Report of that Committee had been presented.

seconded the Motion on behalf of his own and other constituencies similarly situated in London. The extraordinary severity of the recent winter had turned out of work many thousands of honest, hard-working people, especially in the south-east and east of London. He had known cases of people who had never received parochial relief before, who, when they learnt that this would disfranchise them, had refused to accept the relief they so sorely needed.

did not think this was a subject which could be adequately discussed in the short time at their disposal. It raised very large considerations of public policy, in addition to which, while the Committee on Distress from Want of Employment had this question very prominently before them, it would very seriously embarrass them if the House were to give any decision on the subject now. Under these circumstances, and without going into the merits of the Bill, he hoped the hon. Gentleman in charge of it would not press it to a Second Reading.

said that, although he felt great sympathy with all that fell from the hon. Member for Rotherhithe, it ought to be remembered that those who received outdoor relief would, under the Local Government Act, be electors of the candidates or members of parochial or local councils. Was that fair to the ratepayers and taxpayers? He thought it was a very dangerous principle. When the Local Government Bill was before the House they were told that no apprehension need be felt in regard to this matter, because the receiving of outdoor relief would be of itself disfranchisement. Now, however, that security was proposed to be done away with. This Bill would interfere with the very foundation of the Poor Law. They were told by the hon. Mover that the cases would be exceptional, but there was no provision for exceptional cases, and the eases were, very numerous, as the Member for Rotherhithe had himself stated. Was it fair to the taxpayers that a considerable number of men who received relief should have the power of voting for those who were to dispense the relief, and thus voting for their own relief? The disability, he pointed out, was only temporary. He cited the authority of Miss Octavia Hill to show that the lower classes were very bitter about the administration of outdoor relief, and urged the House not to be too lenient in regard to the matter.

said, the Bill was not simply one of detail—it concerned the whole administration of the Poor Law of this country. It had already been stated that this question was receiving the special attention of the Committee upstairs, in addition to which he urged that if they were going to amend the Poor Law, and alter the basis on which it was founded in 1834—a measure which everybody agreed did incalculable good to the poorer classes—they were bound to do it as a whole, and by a comprehensive measure. The present Bill savoured of political popularity. He yielded to no man in sympathy with the poor themselves, but all those who worked amongst the poor agreed that any alteration in the basis of the Poor Law would be a disaster to the poor themselves. The hon. Member was still speaking at Half-past Five, when the Debate stood adjourned.