Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Sir ROBERT PRICE
In rising to move that this Bill be now read a second time, I think it well to say that if the House gives that stage, I shall promptly move that it be referred to Committee of the whole House, which would be a suitable way of putting it off to a more convenient season for further consideration. This Bill is founded upon the Minority Report which was issued after the conclusion of the sittings of the Commission on the Poor Law, which sat from 1905 to 1909. Both the Majority and Minority Reports are extremely able, but, in my judgment, there is on the whole more hope about the Minority Report than about that of the Majority. It is for that reason I think it well, having been fortunate enough to obtain by the Ballot first place this Friday, to bring in a Bill on the lines of the Minority Report, the matter being such as should receive the early consideration of this House. There is no question about the enormous interest taken in the subject, and I feel certain that discussion here to-day—I do not know whether it will further the object of either one body or another—will at all events throw a great deal of light upon it. Both the report of the Majority and of the Minority wish to upset largely the present conditions which govern the Poor Laws. They wish to alter the area of Poor Law administration, to abolish boards of guardians, substituting something for them. The Minority Report has for its object—and that is what I confess attracts me—the prevention of poverty rather than the relief of it. The present law is designed for only the relief of destitution after it has actually occurred. I wish it to be distinctly understood, in moving this Bill, that I make no reflection whatsoever on the humanity, ability, and industry of guardians throughout the length and breadth of the country in administering the Poor Law. I certainly make no reflection, either, on my right hon. Friend (Mr. Burns) or his predecessors at the Local Government Board, who have, I believe, done all in their power to make the law and the system work well. I do not believe, however, that the system itself is a good one, and of late years we have passed many Acts of Parliament, and many things have been done here, which tend to show that the feeling throughout the country is not so much that we should have a deterrent law of relief law, but that we should have a preventive system by which, as far as possible, pauperism may be avoided. We have passed several measures with the object of getting rid, as far as one can get rid of it, of unemployment. We passed old age pensions, and altogether I think there are hopeful prospects of an improvement of the conditions under which the poor are to be treated. The condition of rural industries is not only very bad but it is uneconomic. We have mostly small mixed workhouses, and classification is quite impossible, and where, owing to the buildings being designed for a very much larger pauper population than really exists, the expense per head is enormous.Only this morning I received a letter which informed me that a man whom I happened to know, and who has a wife and ten children, being unable to pay his rent, lost possession of his house and had to go into the workhouse—probably because of those very eleven good reasons, the wife and ten children. When that family of ten children and the father and mother have to be kept, and the cost be reckoned out at the average rate of 7s. 6d. per head, it will amount, on paper at all events, to an enormous expenditure on that family. We want to prevent an occurrence of that kind, where a man is weighed down by obvious causes which must lead to destitution, by causing the relief to precede the period of destitution instead of following it. We all know cases where prevention could occur and stop cruel cases of poverty. There are such cases in. the rural districts. I know a man who was not entirely able-bodied, but was able to cultivate his little bit of garden, and sell his vegetables to his neighbours. For that purpose he had a pony and cart, and did odd jobs as well as an unlicensed carrier, and in those ways made a living. The pony died, and, what is called in that country, a "brief" was got up. The Member was naturally asked to subscribe, and I think also the prospective Unionist candidate. As a result another pony reappeared. If that man's friends had not assisted him he would probably have had to go to the workhouse. I think it is a very essential thing that we ought to have some system which is sufficiently elastic to allow of relief to be given by a public authority in order to avoid such cases as those. That, as I understand it, is one of the objects of the system recommended by the Minority Report and which is set out in the Bill. It deals with the whole subject of distress and tries to trace out the causes, and stop those causes. In many cases, and in fact in most cases, they will be beyond human control. In those cases I do not know that matters will be very materially different from what they are at present, but in a great many cases prevention is possible, and particularly in child life. In my judgment, and I believe in the judgment of all of us, this is the most important matter, and if without extravagant or absurd expenditure we can deal with it on business lines, it is well worth doing. The scheme of the Minority Report, which is carried out in this Bill, provides, of course, for the doing away with boards of guardians, and the altering of the present Poor Law areas, and the making of the county, and the county borough, the Poor Law areas throughout the country. The duties, as far as sickness, health, children, lunatics, and old people are concerned, will be in the hands of these new authorities or in the hands of their committees, which either exist or are to be newly appointed. The duty of taking over the able-bodied, which is quite another department of the question, is to fall to the lot of the new Minister for Labour, who at the very outset of this Bill is created. He is created at the outset, no doubt out of respect for his noble qualities and high office, but he does not occupy the stage for more than a few moments. He retires in favour of the local authorities and reappears at the end of the Bill when the unemployed question comes to be considered. The scheme is to transfer to this new local authority, the county council, the Poor Law duties now undertaken by the guardians. In addition we stop a good many of all the admirable circulars of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Burns), which have done so much good work in the past. Especially, in this connection, I should like to refer to his recent circular, which is one of the best and most enlightened documents that ever proceeded from the Local Government Board. For all that my right hon. Friend's connection with the subject by no means ceases, and he plays a very prominent and important part in the proposed Bill. The county council, as the new authority over health, has the duty of searching out and finding cases of impending destitution before destitution actually occurs. For that purpose it is obviously necessary that it should have the very fullest local information. There is a clause in the Bill which encourages the use of existing charitable agencies, voluntary agencies, and otherwise, and there is power given to appoint sub-committees of all kinds. The guardians have a very great grievance in thinking they are going to be disturbed, but any man who is now a member of a board of guardians, and who really takes, as very often they do, a great interest in the condition of the poor, I am sure will have a place either amongst the co-opted members of the health committee which the Bill entitles the county council to set up, or amongst the numerous sub-committees throughout both the town and country districts which the county council must undoubtedly have if they are going to carry out the duties imposed on them satisfactorily. It is their duty to seek out and find cases of destitution before destitution actually occurs. In the early part of the Bill we have a clause which removes the disfranchisement which now attaches to people who are in receipt of relief, and to my mind that is a very proper and reasonable clause. We do not disfranchise people for getting old age pensions, and I do not see why we should disfranchise them for getting relief, even though it cannot be called an old age pension. We have a provision later in the Bill in the unemployed portion which provides that men in detention colonies should be allowed to vote. Why should a person lose a vote because he happens to receive a contribution from the country which will not be called any longer relief under this Bill any more than a pensioner I have never been able to understand. Therefore that disqualification no longer applies if this Bill is carried. Then the county council will proceed to form a health committee, which will be very like the education committee that now exists in the county council. It will have six co-opted members, and of those two shall be women. That health committee will have the duty of looking after the children and the aged and the sick. We come now, perhaps, to the most important of all of the questions, and that is that of the children. The children of the poor, of the very poor, are extremely to be pitied, in the first place, because, although very often the fact that the parents are poor is due to their own fault, the fact that the children are miserably poor is not their fault in any way, and not only does that make them the object of the greatest sympathy, but those children are going to be our citizens, and it certainly is not only our duty but our business to see that they have a reasonable chance of becoming satisfactory citizens. The health committee I have already described is to have transferred to it the present duties of the boards of guardians with respect to children. They will have put upon them the present children of school age in our workhouses throughout the country and other institutions of the same kind, amounting, I think, to something like 45,000 children, or about three per cent, of the present school population which they have to look after. Although I have the greatest sympathy with these children, as it is a terrible beginning to their lives for them to be workhouse children, in all probability their position is not so bad as that of children of people in receipt of outdoor relief. There are many more of these children. According to a return of two or three years ago, there were 237,000; so that probably there are somewhere about 240,000 children belonging to people in receipt of outdoor relief. Their position is extremely bad. They are almost uniformly underfed; they are mostly badly clothed; a very large number of them have small ailments which are never looked after, and very often grow into permanent deformities. They generally live in houses which are insanitary, and very often with parents who deserve all they have got, being drunken or dissolute people. The homes are frequently not fit places for children at all. It is quite obvious that an Education Authority, to look after those children properly, will have to do what has been done in a large number of towns already. They will have to attend to their material requirements, as well as to their education. Undoubtedly they will have to feed and clothe these children if good results are to be secured. I quite agree that it undoubtedly means an increase of cost, but there is a great deal to be said on the other side. As a matter of fact, when you have children who at a comparatively early age are poorly fed, badly clothed, and living in insanitary dwellings, you are making for yourselves paupers a little later on in life. If you look after them, and save a large proportion of them from that fate; although you are spending money to-day, you are saving money for the future. No one can possibly say whether the two sides will balance, but you have at any rate a very real asset, partly of human happiness, and partly of real economic value, on the credit side of your balance-sheet. Now with regard to the sick. It is undoubtedly often the case that when a man gets the seeds of consumption he cannot afford to lay by. Very often.he cannot afford to go to his own doctor. The poor are very conscientious about paying their doctor, often much more so than about paying other people. They do not go to the doctor unless they think they can pay him. A man may be in a club, and then, of course, he may consult the club doctor. But the general result is that these complaints go on getting worse, and the chances are that such a man as I have described infects other members of his family and some of his neighbours before he is forced, through not being able to work, to go to where he must finally finish—that is, if he lives in a town, the workhouse infirmary, or, if he lives in the country, the workhouse. Only the other evening I was speaking to a lady who went to a sanatorium; I do not know which, but let us say Mundesley, in order to give Norfolk an advertisement, and she has been cured. There is no reason why these cases taken in good time should not do as well amongst the poor people. The initial extra expense of seeking out these cases and even of giving a man a short residence in a sanatorium, as suggested in the Minority report, in order to teach him the methods by which to live, would be an enormous economy in the long run. A man of that sort in the workhouse is not only a burden to the State itself, but lie probably leaves behind him a family who will be even more burdensome. That being so, I have no hesitation in saying that a system by which cases of sickness amongst poor people are sought out in their early stages and properly treated would be of enormous value to the country. Then comes the question of cost. No one can tell you how much it would be. It is going to cost something quite considerable, but not anything enormous. The figures I have seen quoted as to the probable cost of this Bill if carried into law are almost as comic as it would be if I said that it would cost nothing. As a matter of fact, there will be some cost, but you would have an extremely good asset on the other side, even from a business point of view. With regard to lunatics, their present treatment is very unsatisfactory. The scheme of the Bill is that they should be altogether under the properly qualified committee of the county or borough council, as the case may be. Then we come to the aged. For some of the aged institutional treatment is perhaps a necessity under the circumstances. Power is given under the Bill to allow outdoor relief in the shape of old age pensions, varying in amount at the discretion of the local authority. I hope they would be of a sufficient amount to keep the aged people, not as they are now kept on outdoor relief, which is so regulated as to make it absolutely necessary that they should have some outside source of supply. The theory of the law is that outdoor relief is not to be given unless people are destitute; but in practice it is given on the understanding that some other money will be forthcoming from somewhere to supplement the half-a-crown a week, and the stone of flour, on which it is very often quite impossible for two people to live. I am going very rapidly through the proposals of the measure. It is an enormous Bill, and as a large number of Members are anxious to speak I am going thus sketchily through it in order to leave time for other Members. I want to reintroduce to the House the Minister for Labour—a very important personage. He is to have£5,000 a year. [A laugh.] I can see that hon. Gentlemen opposite think I am going to be the first Minister. Certainly he is to be quite a first-class Cabinet Minister. He is to have his proper staff, and he is to have plenty to do. He is to have all the functions that appertain to the able-bodied poor, and those likely to be destitute—such questions as the unemployed, etc.—transferred to him from the various other Departments. I do not know whether the other Departments will be as annoyed as the boards of guardians are at losing some of their functions; but it is quite possible that some of them would not be sorry to transfer them to the Minister for Labour. The Bill does not make any new demand upon the taxpayer for new works. It goes on the same lines as the Development Act of last year. It makes it the duty of the Minister to try and make occupations dovetail into each other. The effect of it all is that this Minister is to do his very best to bring about regularity of employment. Of course, it will be quite impossible to ensure such a thing; but he will have the power to establish teaching institutions where men that are ignorant of the work that is offering can obtain instruction. He will have a very important and absolutely necessary institution, and that is the detention colony. We undoubtedly have amongst us certain people who do not want to work. If they were not born tired they became tired very soon after their birth. For them one has no particular consideration. There is no particular object that I know of in making their life particularly agreeable, and I dare say the Minister for Labour would not make his detention colonies perfect paradises. I do not see why he should. The general meaning of the whole of this is that there will be a Minister whose duty it is, as far as possible, to regulate employment throughout the country, putting in the lean years any work that he has got to do. This is very good economy, too, because he will probably get it done a bit cheaper at those times than others. Altogether he will do his best to prevent the plague of unemployment. How far any of these measures can get rid of unemployment I do not know. But I am sure the whole House will be very anxious to do anything that is reasonable to forward an attempt to check the growing, or at all events, the very considerable evil of unemployment which we see all round.
Has the Minister for Labour to have power to send people to these detention homes?
Sir R. PRICE
I do not know exactly what the legal process would be, but there is power to establish detention colonies. A matter in which I know the House will take a great interest is as to what are the financial calculations. Quite frankly, the financial calculations in these cases are extremely difficult to arrive at, and it is not really possible to make anything like an accurate estimate. The amount which is now given for Grants to board of guardians in England and Wales is£2,600,000—the figures for 1907–8. They are about the same now. That, of course, includes£461,000 under the Agricultural Bates Act. There are practically no Grants—or only some very small Grants—in aid for health purposes. There is a Grant for£1,800,000 for lunacy. The figures in the Bill are that in lieu of these Grants, amounting to something under£3,000,000, there should be a Grant of£5,000,000. Four millions of this would go to the health authorities, the county and borough councils for general health purposes, and£1,000,000 to the councils on account of the Lunacy Acts. In Scotland the figures correspond in proportion to the population. Training establishments are going to cost money—it is difficult to say what. Probably, when in full running order, the cost will be£l per man per week. If you train as many as 100,000 in the year—each for four weeks—that will be£400,000. Double the number of men will be£800,000. That will be spent to very great advantage.As to detention colonies, I hope they will not be nearly so largely popular, and that there will only be a small number of men in them. The proposal is to begin with only one or two small ones, and to provide accommodation for 1,000 at a time. That will be 4,000 men, counted during the course of the year, for an average of three months each. The cost will be£50,000 a year. The schemes of migration and emigration will cost money. We allow entirely as a matter for discretion what amount of money shall be spent. If on a large scale it will be a great deal. But we think it will be under a million a year. Assistance to unemployed insurance provided for in the Bill is estimated to cost£500,000. Put these latter together and you get about£2,000,000. I quite admit that it is a large sum, but it is very very far removed from the large sums talked about by some persons. You see sums running up to£70,000,000 or£80,000,000 spoken of. As a matter of fact the total cost of our services, including education, is now£70,000,000 annually. It sounds a terrible figure in cold blood, but we pay it. The added cost of a scheme of this sort, although quite substantial, is not going to be quite as extraordinary as suggested, and there is, as I have said, a very substantial asset on the other side. I will simply conclude by moving that the Bill be read a second time. Whether we pass this Bill or not, I hope we shall do something that will effect real good, and make it more easy to prevent destitution, which is so prevalent all around us. And if this Debate leads in any way to that result I do not think this Friday afternoon will have been spent in vain.
Mr. J. W. HILLS
I think the House will agree that the hon. Member who brought forward this Bill has done so at an opportune time, because, although we may agree or disagree with the Bill, it is quite certain something ought to be done to change our present Poor Law system. Our Poor Law system has remained unchanged since 1834. I ask the House to look back and to try and realise the state of things in 1834 and the enormous changes that have taken place since then. In 1834 the industrial revolution had hardly started. Steel and mechanical power and the great exodus from the country to the towns had only begun, and the whole case differed from to-day. In fact I think it is quite fair to say that there are three main reasons why we should now review and perhaps change our system of Poor Law. In the first place, all the conditions have changed. The old Poor Law was planned upon a scale that is too narrow for our present needs. The whole basis is that you do not relieve a man until he is destitute. Until he is actually in need neither he nor his wife nor children can get relief under the Poor Law. As time went on the system proved to be too narrow, and there grew up outside the Poor Law a large number of Government agencies largely replacing it. In fact, the tendency of all Governments has been to start new activities outside, not inside the Poor Law. Outside the Poor Law there are now a large number of local and public bodies which are doing work though within the scheme of the framers of the old Poor Law, and which is now placed outside it. In the first place, the whole of the education system is taken out of the Poor Law. Money for the education of children now is paid by the Education Authority out of the rates. I do not think the House realises that in London, for instance, many more children are being fed by the education authority than are fed under the Poor Law, and again, since 1834 we have had public health departments. We have vast organisations spread all over the country. There are doctors, nurses and hospitals, all maintaining people at the public expense and outside the Poor Law. Then we have organisations of borough asylums for the insane. These are now largely in the hands of local authorities, and are not under the Poor Law guardians. The year before last old age pensions were started. These are placed under a separate Department. Then we have the local distress committees, and last year the Labour Exchanges, which are also placed under new authorities. So that we have half a dozen new authorities all started since the establishment of the Poor Law, and all in different ways dealing with the same problems. What must happen? There has been a very large amount of overlapping and duplication of work and an enormous waste of public money. In spite of all this, mixed workhouses remain in the land. It is almost incredible to think of the history of the mixed workhouse. It has been condemned by every body of public men during the last seventy years, yet there it remains, and we cannot get rid of it. As long ago as 1841 the Local Government Board was circularising the guardians, saying, "Break up your workhouses. Do not keep the children there and the insane there." Yet in the majority of small workhouses you have it still. I need not describe it. There you have a collection comprising the honest poor, the man who is old and infirm and unable to work, and along with them you have the loafer and the tramp, the thief, and the prostitute. All these are herded together with the unfortunate poor children, whose parents have put them upon the rates. Can anybody in their senses defend that policy? It has been condemned over and over again. The late Lord Salisbury once said that the hardest things to reform are those upon which all parties agreed, and I suppose this is an instance of that. The test of the old Poor Law was that a man had to be destitute before you could relieve him. The Poor Law Commission would sweep away all that. They say that destitution is not to be the only test. This Bill proposes to split up the present workhouse into five divisions.First of all, boards of guardians are swept away, and in their place the work is transferred to county and borough councils, who would carry it out through committees. All the children would be transferred to the education authority, which now consists of a committee of the county council. The sick and the infirm would be in the hands of the old age pensions committee, the insane would be in the hands of a separate committee, and the unemployed would be placed under the Labour Exchanges organisation on a national not local basis. This scheme provides organisation where organisation is wanted. I think that all parties will agree that something should be done. Let me give the House the state of things with regard to the children. Children now are supported by public money and are dealt with by three different public Departments, and under no less than five or six different authorities, with the result that the overlapping and the waste is incredible. In the first place, the Poor Law guardians are feeding children, then the education, authority are feeding children. Fifty-five thousand children are being fed in London schools. Health authorities supply a certain amount of food and medical comforts to children. We are also keeping a, large number in reformatories and industrial schools, and, last of all, there are the distress committees, having power to feed the families of men out of work. Consequently you have five different authorities now feeding children which are responsible to the Local Government Board, the Education Office, and the Home Office. I notice that the Home Secretary intends to start an authority to see to the clothing of the children similar to the system in Edinburgh and Liverpool, under which the police will report upon the children insufficiently clothed, and although the money will not be found out of the rates and taxes, nevertheless the organisation is to be provided by the State, and a certain amount of public money will be spent on the system. You have three Departments of the Government and five or six different authorities now engaged in supporting and maintaining children. I think this fact has got some bearing on the argument I have sometimes heard about the Minority Report—that it means a multiplicity of officers and a continual inspection of the parents' homes. At the present time there are four different authorities which can and do inspect the children's homes. There is the school attendance officer, the sanitary inspector, the medical officer of health, and now you are bringing in the police. Besides this, the distress committee can feed the children. Therefore all the inspection which some people fear already exists, and the organisation for it is also in existence, although only spasmodically and disorganised. Surely we ought to try to find a system under which there will be some sort of coherence. The scheme of the Bill is to transfer these powers to one authority, instead of carrying them on by all these different bodies. In this way the work is carried on more economically and efficiently. Besides these five Departments there is a co-ordination committee to see that the same man is not relieved twice over, and to see that the functions of the different bodies do not overlap. The borough councils will form special committees to deal with the different groups or cases, and in this way we shall be able to classify the different elements that now seek refuge in our workhouses. The Mover has already explained the Bill in its outline, and I will not go through the functions of the different committees to be set up. I desire, however, to meet one or two objections, and I wish to take the cases which I consider are most likely to be attacked. I wish to meet what I expect will be the strongest line of attack against this Bill. I know it is said that the Bill is Socialistic. [" Hear, hear."] That remark is cheered on both sides, but I think I can disprove any charge of that sort. In the first place, it cannot be Socialistic to prevent the overlapping of authorities. At the present time you are feeding children by five different authorities, and it is not Socialistic to feed them by one authority. After all, if the mere receipt of public assistance is Socialism you have got to repeal the Education Act of 1870 as well as the Poor Law. Now you have got the absolute right of every man to be relieved in order to prevent him from starving. Any man who chooses has now got the right to come down on the rates for maintenance, and so you cannot say that the mere receipt of relief is Socialistic. It is said that these proposals destroy individualism and character, and that people are best left alone. I would say to hon. Members who support that view that they have got against them not only the Minority, but the Majority Report, both of which agree that the present state of things cannot be allowed to continue. Both those Reports agree that the Poor Law has broken down, and that boards of guardians have to go. I think we must go much further and sweep away the old Poor Law as well, because it cannot stand as it now exists. The present system stands condemned on all hands, and has been condemned for a great many years. I think that argument carries us a good long way. Let me take the case of the children. It is said that the feeding of a man's child destroys his character. I want to be quite honest with the House on this matter. I may say that I had great searchings of heart when the feeding of the children question came before the House. I believe I voted both ways in regard to that measure, but now I have made up my mind on the subject. I said to myself, on the one hand, "I can conceive no duty so elementary as the duty of a parent to provide for his offspring." If you take away that duty you destroy the whole basis of national life. On the other hand, I see no sense in trying to teach a hungry child, and between those two views for a long time I wavered. At last, however, I came down on. the side of the child, and I did so for this reason. I do not quite see why the child should be made to suffer for the benefit of the parent. The person who suffers is undoubtedly the child. It is very doubtful whether we shall improve the parent, but it is perfectly certain that if we do not feed the child we shall ruin its health. We are told that the sins of the parents are visited on the children, but it is rather hard to make them pay for their virtues as well. If the House really considers that point all this talk about destroying individualism and character is really beyond the mark. You have to deal here with the future generation, and, though health is not everything, it is really the foundation of a great deal. Unless you can build up there, you are in great danger of producing a bad race for the country. I have given some reasons for thinking the interference proposed by this Bill is justified, and, after all, what does leaving the family alone mean? I was told the other day that a large union in London has just passed a by-law that if a widow is in receipt of relief on the birth of a child she cannot receive it for more than a month unless.she and the whole family go into the workhouse. I suppose keeping the family together means sending it to the workhouse, and I cannot conceive that that will be supported. I am not quite sure that we have not got to reconsider the whole position of the State with regard to the family. Certain things are happening which I do not think are generally known. Investigations show that the family system is failing in its primary function of producing children. The time has come to think out again the relation of the family to the State. It by no means follows if we help the parent and support his child and take the burden of the parent off his shoulders that it must be assumed we thereby weaken the family tie. It may well be that we strengthen it. You cannot regard without disquietude the fall in the birth rate. We have got to the point when the family tie does not answer to the conditions that have been imposed upon it by the State. This is very largely the case as Mr. Karl Pearson shows in the town of Bradford. Each increase in the severity of the Factories Act and in the limitation of child employment means a falling off in the birth rate. People are talking of raising the school age to fourteen years, and children are going to be less profitable. I do not suppose anybody proposes to go back to the old days, and employ children in the mills at the ages of six or eight. If you do not you have to find some alternative. You have got to make the production of children and the maintenance of the family rather less burdensome and expensive. All that is beside the mark, and I only just mentioned it to show that the family question is a much bigger one than is sometimes imagined. I wish to deal in detail with one part of the Bill that I think excites most comment—I mean the Unemployment Clauses. It is well on these subjects to see, in the first place, how far we are agreed, and to clear the ground of all common points. We are all agreed in the first place, about the size of the evil. We spent last Wednesday night in discussing it. All parties are agreed that unemployment is a very real and widespread evil. The next point of common agreement is that everybody in this country is now entitled to maintenance under the Poor Law. No man need starve. We have also got to the point when a national authority is required to deal with this. The method of dealing with it by local authorities has broken down. You cannot wish the local authority to shift the needy family across the frontier into the next parish, and you cannot expect the local authority to support and maintain the out-of-work in order to benefit and improve the next parish. Local information is not enough in the labour market. You now require a national organisation with, of course, local branches, on the same lines as the Labour Exchanges. We have now admitted that in certain cases the State has got to provide work. Since the Act of five years ago we have spent a certain sum of money each year in finding work for people who have not got work. We also admit the duty to organise the labour market, and we are on the eve of discussing a Bill for insurance against unemployment. We therefore admit the duty of the State to insure with the help of contributions, and we also agree that it is not a good thing that distress committees, the education authorities, and the Poor Law guardians should feed the same children. There is a large amount of agreement. We all agree on the size of the problem and on certain main features, and we are all committed to a certain extent to the remedy of the provision of work and insurance against unemployment. I quite agree the Bill goes beyond that, and I wish to deal with the point where the Bill exceeds the minimum on which we are agreed. I need not refer to the clauses which transfer the powers of five or six different authorities to the Minister of Labour. Besides this transference, certain new duties are cast upon him. If the House will turn to Section 70, they will find that those duties are classified under the heads of organisations, maintenance and training, decasualising, insurance and emigration. Section 71 is a general Section that the Minister of Labour is to use his powers in such a manner as he may think expedient for the purpose of preventing unemployment, and Section 85 provides for the spending of Government money on a plan more or less spreading the expenditure over a series of years, Government Departments using their powers of giving work to help unemployment in times of bad trade. I do not think, so far as I have gone, that is a very new or revolutionary suggestion. It simply means that in so far as the Government Departments are employers of labour, they are to so use their powers to steady the demand for labour, and especially to give work in bad times. Section 72 of the Bill, I think, goes to the crux of the difficulty. It provides for the maintenance of able-bodied men who cannot get work, and are without adequate food, clothing, medical aid, or lodging. That is further extended and to a certain extent qualified by Section 82, which provides for receiving homes and residential colonies for the able-bodied. In judging a provision of this kind it is important to see to whom it applies. To some Members of this House it may seem a revolutionary idea that the State should maintain men who cannot get work. But before you come down to that point many cases will have been sifted out. Under the scheme dealing with the unemployed, if a man is out of work he is sent to the Labour Exchange, which is in communication with Labour Exchanges all over the country, and the exchange will find him a job if it can. If he takes the job, his case is disposed of; if he refuses it, then he has to maintain himself, and if he or his family go on to the rates, then he is compelled either to work or to go to a detention colony. He cannot be sent there unless he is first convicted by a police magistrate of failing to maintain himself and family, and he cannot be convicted until it has been shown that a job has been offered him and he refused it. It may happen that that particular man could not be found a job. I suppose, if a cab-driver went to the exchange at Kensington, they would not be able to find him a job as cab-driver. That case is met by starting a training division under Section 82 of the Act. It is, I agree, a brand-new principle that the State should take upon itself the work in certain cases of training men so as to fit them for other work. A large number of the unemployed are people who are out of work by reason of some change of conditions in their particular trade. I am told, for instance, that at Leicester there is a large demand for bootmakers, which cannot be supplied by the local exchanges because, although they have a large number of men on their books who want work, the bootmakers require special work done in which a certain modicum of skill is required. In a case of that sort is it not cheaper to spend a sum of money in training the men? If you do not spend it you cannot get work for the men. They cannot train themselves, for they have no money, and you cannot get the masters to train them. If he cannot be trained, is the man not bound to fall still lower in the scale? I put this scheme forward for discussion. We have to deal with certain evils, and this is one method of dealing with them. It is the best I can suggest. It is a plain and coherent scheme, and it does provide for the unemployed from top to bottom. There is one further point I would like to deal with, and it arises under Section 78, which deals with assurance against unemployment. That Clause, I expect, will excite a certain amount of comment. It provides for insurance by paying to friendly societies or trade unions one-half of the amount which they have expended in the last year in out-of-work pay. It is confined to out-of-work pay. No State money is spent until the actual amount has been disbursed by the friendly societies. This is what is called the Ghent system. It is found in operation in most of the towns in Belgium, and in large towns in France, Sweden and Norway. Section 77 is an attempt to decasualise labour. It is a somewhat drastic Section. It allows the Minister for Labour to declare that a certain trade in a district is a casual trade, and as soon as that Order is made, if it is not annulled by Parliament, no employer can engage men in his trade except through the Labour Exchange. That seems at first sight a drastic provision. But a similar clause has been at work for forty years in the Shipping trade. The master of a ship has to engage his crew at the shipping office in the presence of an official of the Board of Trade. I agree that the object is to prevent crimping. Still, the system has worked successfully for forty years, and it does not restrict the choice of men. The captain can go through the waiting rooms, he can see the men and pick those he wishes as freely as he could do in the open market. Under this Section, if a Dock Company wants labour it would go to the Labour Exchange, it would pick out the men that it wanted, the only requirement being that they shall be engaged through the Labour Exchange. The object of that is this. In the dock trade, in our seaport towns, labour is not organised locally, but you can find work for all men by means of a central organisation. There may be a surplus of labour at some docks, and the men there do not know there is work going on at other docks. Therefore, you want some central organisation to bring the men into touch with the work. Next I come to the question of cost. Very wild statements have been made as to that. The present cost of our Poor Law is£20,000,000 sterling, and the cost of the other services outside the Poor Law including education, old age pensions, sanitation, and health, is£50,000,000 sterling. So we are now spending£70,000,000 on what, in a sense, is relief work. I notice that the Chairman of the late Commission, whose opinion is always entitled to great respect, has put the cost of the present Bill at£50,000,000. I do not know whether that£50,000,000 is the total cost under the present Bill or the increased cost. If that is the total cost it is less than we are spending now, and if it is increased cost it is absolutely absurd. You cannot conceive that this Bill will cost us£50,000,000 more than the existing cost of relief. There are some larger figures. How far will it cost more? The present Grants to the Poor Law, including the cost of reformatories, are some£3,000,000, and both the Reports suggest an increase of this to£5,000,000, so there is an increase of£2,000,000. That will be the lump increase for the non able-bodied poor. How much are the unemployed going to cost? I do not think they ought to cost more than a million, but, at the very outside, let us put it at two millions, and it will be-reduced as men are passed from the training and are passed out into the labour market. I do not think the whole cost, therefore, can possibly exceed£4,000,000— the gross cost. On the other side there are various economies. In the first place, you dispossess all the boards of guardians, and you save the cost of all the separate organisations, and thus you prevent the overlapping and waste which takes place at present, and altogether you introduce a more efficient and cheaper administration. I believe that if you put the extra cost, at the very outside at£3,000,000 that, should be the limit.
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
Is that the estimate of the net additional cost as compared with the existing system of all the changes?
Yes, of all the changes. I do not in the least say that this is a small sum, but I do not think it is in itself a large figure. It is nowhere near the wild figures that have been put forth of fifty, sixty, seventy, or eighty millions. I have spent a good deal of time in meeting objections, and I wish, just in conclusion, to say one word about the object of the Bill and about the future. I quite agree that this Bill does go beyond anything that has been done before. It sets up a national minimum. It sets up a national standard below which we say that life should not fall, and especially I ask the opponents of this Bill to cast their eyes around and see what we have done in that already in all branches of life. We see that the State does insist upon a certain minimum. It inspects our meat and our milk, it inspects our drains, and it seeks to try to look after us in all sorts of ways, and it does insist upon a minimum standard. A great deal of what this Bill does is to bring all that together and to organise an correlate it; but I agree, when all is said and done, this is an advance towards a higher and better standard of life. What we have got to look at, however, is the future of the race, and no topic is more important to its well-being than this, especially in the case of the children. There are many factors now that must cause disquietude in the minds of all thoughtful observers. We cannot be unaffected by the deterioration of our people, and we have to take steps to prevent it, and I recommend this Bill to the House as one part of the work which we can do towards meeting it.
moved, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."It is customary for new Members to ask for the indulgence of the House when they first have the honour of addressing it, and I do so especially to-day because of the enormous size of the subject now under discussion and because of the very remarkable nature of the Bill, and I may almost say the very remarkable circumstances which caused its production. A Commission has recently sat, and a large majority of those Commissioners, after careful thought of the evidence, produced a, well-considered scheme of reform. No sooner had that been done than a small minority started forth and produced another contradictory scheme, which they advertised throughout the length and breadth of the land, and which they endeavoured to force, before either the Government or any Members of this House could have taken up the suggestions made by the large majority of the Commissioners. Now the agitation of those interested in the Minority Report has been, to my mind, unfortunate, as it has for the most part spent its energies in attacking the Majority Report. They have started a crusade, but, as far as I can see, not a crusade against the present system but against the Majority Report. I deplore that very much, because I think that this great and important Question, upon which we are united, namely, the question of the reform of the Poor Law, And its speedy reform, would have been better attempted if we had not been divided into two parties. I wish to come to the very moderate speeches—the very moderate and pleasantly-worded speeches—of the Mover and Seconder of this Bill. They urged it with the very greatest moderation, and I wish that I could have supported the Bill in the same way that I can support everything they said in their general remarks. The main ground on which the Mover and Seconder of this Bill urged its acceptance was that the Minority Report, in the first place, gave more hope than the Majority, and my hon. Friend who sits behind me says that there were other schemes, but that this was a scheme that, on the whole, was a clear, definite, and complete one, and one which for the moment seemed to him beet. He seems to advocate this very far-reaching Bill because there is nothing else in the air, and he thinks nothing else can be done, and there is a large feeling in the country for this Bill simply and solely because they thought this was the only method of dealing with the reform which I agree must be dealt with sooner or later. I cannot agree with the view that this Bill will cure the evils which it sets out to cure. It is simply and solely, to my mind, an administrative revolution, changing the administration, changing the name of existing forms of relief, and I do not believe that the mere change of names and change of administration, and I do not even believe the increased expenditure of£3,000,000, will cure the evils, which are far more deep rooted in our ecenomic and industrial conditions, and also lie in certain moral and social qualities of individuals. What is the centre of the Poor Law problem? I will read a quotation:—
You will not, by setting up a Minister for Labour, by scattering the Poor Law into various committees, cure the evils which lie in the individual or in the social, educational, and other conditions. Let me come now to grips with this gigantic scheme for altering the present state of affairs. I will deal first with the question of the Minister for Labour. The Minister for Labour is a very contentious question altogether, but I will deal with it simply as it is dealt with in the Bill, and show that the Bill marks a very revolutionary step in administration. It hands over the whole treatment of the able-bodied poor to the Minister of Labour without any decentralisation whatever. My hon. Friend says there are going to be five committees of the county council, and one of them is going to deal with the able-bodied unemployed. That is not in the Bill. And the whole of the able-bodied poor are to be dealt with directly by the Minister of Labour—that is to say, there is to be apparently no decentralisation, no elective local body to deal with vagrants and local conditions. The whole thing is to be run from Whitehall, run from the centralised bureaucracy, and that is a scheme which I think is distinctly revolutionary, and which I should like to have very much more argument about from those who sup port the Bill before I can support it. Clause 71 says, "It shall be the duty of the Minister of Labour to prevent the occurrence of unemployment." That is a very remarkable clause to put in a Bill like this. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, when they hear of a case of unemployment in their constituencies, will be bombarding the Minister of Labour with questions every day, quite up to a quarter to four, to know why he has failed in his duty to prevent the occurrence of this or that case of unemployment. It is a most drastic step. He has to do this by granting relief. He may, under Section 72, grant relief, but there are already a number of other authorities granting relief outside. If you are going to continue the present system of relief it is really an innovation, because at present the able-bodied are not, unless they are absolutely destitute, entitled to relief. There is the workhouse test. They are not entitled to outdoor relief, and this points to what is called public assistance, and it is left very vague under this Bill. But there is another form of relief which I do not view with very great pleasure. That is the question of subsidising existing institutions who give unemployed benefits. That seems to say that under this Bill£500,000 a year may be spent at the discretion of the Minister of Labour upon subsidising not all equally, but those who are members of an institution which pays unemployed benefits, and to leave out in the cold those workers who are not members of trade unions. I have always been a strong supporter of the trade union movement, but why should the trade unions of this country always seek to get benefits for their men when the non-union men are to be outside those benefits? That is the second method in which the Minister of Labour has to deal with the unemployed, and he has to prevent the occurrence of unemployment by doing so. That will not alter the industrial conditions, and you will not alter the supply and demand for labour by granting relief. Let us come to the one question which does affect the supply and demand in the labour market, namely, the question of regulating Government work. We are to have a ten years' programme. We have often asked for that in the Navy—we have asked at least for a considerable time— but apparently in future Government works are to be carried out not in accordance with public necessity, but in accordance with the state of trade for the time being, and I am not at all sure that that is a very desirable thing for many of the Government works, especially those under the Admiralty and the War Office. Then we are to have these training colleges and reformatory detention colonies, and where is the control? We are to have no local control. The whole thing is to be done from Whitehall by the Minister of Labour. I wish that in this Bill we could have something a little more definite than just the two sections saying that training colleges may be established by the Minister for Labour and that detention colonies shall be established; We are not given any idea in this far-reaching Bill of the nature of those colonies, what they are to be like, and what conditions are to govern them. I apparently gather that the training colleges are to be something like the works undertaken by the present distress committees—such bodies as the Central (Unemployed) Body, which is abolished under this Bill. The Mover of the Bill said the minority referred to the prevention of poverty, and he quoted as an example the recent legislation with regard to the prevention of poverty, the Unemployed Workmen Act of 1895. One of the first things to be done by this Bill is to abolish that Act. I think I have made it clear that the proposals in connection with the Minister of Labour are sufficiently drastic to warrant our having a little more argument and a little more evidence in support of setting up this new Minister and all the offices connected with him, and giving him these enormous powers, before the House can agree to such a very drastic alteration of the existing administration. I will next deal with the whole question of the non-able-bodied, dealing with the Bill as it treats the non-able-bodied as a whole. The two chief parts of the Bill are Parts 2 and 3, one dealing with the able-bodied by the Minister of Labour with no local control, and the other dealing with the non-able-bodied with local control, that is, with county councils, and this new administration which is to be set up. They propose to break up, as it is called, the Poor Law, and, to my mind, the only effect of breaking up the Poor Law is to make every one of these four new committees, and to make the county councils themselves, Poor Law authorities, making a thing like the education authority, which is an authority supported by the county council for the purpose of education, into a Poor Law authority, which has the power to administer relief, to appoint relieving officers and to make its own investigations, and to go into all the matters which are now gone into by the Poor Law. You are going to have the existing and already overworked committees of the various county councils and county borough councils burdened with all this increase of work, and you have them all scattered. I maintain that if you are going to have county councils as the units, or whatever decentralisation you have, you must have one authority for dealing with the problems connected with destitution. If you are going to have relief officers, you must have one authority. If you do not, you will get even more overlapping than at the present moment. I know there is provision in the Bill for an officer called the registrar of public assistance who is going to have power almost as great within his own sphere as the Minister for Labour. He is another of those autocrats—another of those strange bureaucratic officials—who are going to be put into this organisation. It is to be his duty to adjudicate, to sit, as it were, as a judge, and see whether a case is to be treated and by which authority. He is, so far as possible, to prevent overlapping, and that in itself will be a very difficult task. Take the case of a family in need of relief. What is to happen? If there are children in the family under school age they are to be dealt with by the health authority. If there are children over school age, or of school age, they are to be dealt with by the education authority. If the poor people are aged, they are to be dealt with by the pension officer. If they are feeble-minded or epileptic, they are to be dealt with by the committee for the feeble-minded. I wish information as to one point with respect to the feebleminded. Is it proposed, as it seems to me to be proposed in connection with this Bill, to allow the committee on the mentally defective to give very considerable sums of outdoor relief to the feeble-minded in order that they may live among the people? If it is so, I cannot say that I think that is a proposal which will command very much support. If there is one thing clear, it is that we want more scientific treatment of the feeble-minded and more treatment in proper institutions. Personally I am a strong advocate for the institutional treatment of all but the slightest cases of mental defect. Then there is the question of epileptics, who are to be dealt with by the committee on the feeble-minded. In many cases epileptics are far more suited for the care of the health authority. These are matters of detail, which could be dealt with in Committee. I wish to point out that the main proposal of this Bill is that, in breaking up the Poor Law, you are going to abolish what is known as the pauper taint. You are going by this measure to abolish pauperism by a change of name and by a mere change of administration. The causes of pauperism lie deeper than that, and you will not be able to prevent destitution by a mere change in administration like this. Now let us come to the question on which the promoters put their strongest case, namely, that at present outdoor relief is only given when a case gets too bad. I do not think that will be remedied in the way proposed. I admit that at present the system of giving outdoor relief is lacking in uniformity and in many cases singularly inadequate. One of the largest unions in the country is the West Derby Union, which embraces a population of over half a million. In that union the average outdoor payment is 3s. a week, and the rent of the people who receive such relief is 2s. 6d. per week. We know that in Leicester there are 1,100 women above sixty years of age, and their average is 3s. 6d. A large number of them are working at glove stitching, and the whole amount they are able to earn in wages is 1s. 4d. per week. That was the evidence given before the Committee, and it is an appalling instance of what is called "cheapness of production." The whole question of relief is indeed a very difficult one, and I maintain, if you are going to scatter the giving of relief among the various authorities, you will have just the same difficulties as you have at present. You will again have a lack of uniformity unless you are going to allow the various Ministers in Whitehall to give very definite instructions and to have power to enforce these instructions by law. You will have very wide divergence under the new committees, just as you have had wide divergence under the system of boards of guardians. It will be accentuated by the fact that instead of having one authority at Whitehall you are going to have four. Instead of having the President of the Local Government Board dealing with all these cases you will have the granting of outdoor relief in the case of children of school age ultimately in the hands of the Board of Education; for cases of lunacy the Home Secretary will be the authority; and for cases of health the Local Government Board, it is true, is still to be the authority. But the whole of this complication is part and parcel of a scheme which sets out to prevent overlapping and to pre- vent the continuance of a system which is not uniform. I maintain that what is proposed will not prevent overlapping, and that it will cause a system less uniform and more difficult to deal with. I wish to refer to the important question of pensions. This Bill proposes to do what is nothing more nor less than to pauperise the Old Age Pensions Act. The Registrar of Public Assistance is to be apparently the pension officer. The word in the Bill is "may," but I think the word in the Minority Report is "shall." We learn at the very beginning of the Bill that public assistance includes old age pensions under the Act of 1908. One of the great points of the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 was that it was not a pauper measure. It did not pauperise the recipient, and it did not give him what is known as the undesirable pauper taint. Remember, there is a great feeling among an enormous mass of poor people in this country that it is their social duty to keep outside of pauper rates. It is one of the most laudable facts in the life of the poor that they resist what is technically and legally pauperism not merely because of the deterrents of the workhouse, but because they have under the present system the feeling that if they cast this burden on the rates they are casting their maintenance upon their neighbours and those who live near them. If you are going to make public assistance include old age pensionst—if you are going to have old age pensions governed by the same committee as that which is to deal with local pensions—you are giving an expansion of the system of old age pensions, which was not given in the estimate of the. hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hills) of£3,000,000. He said that possibly a Grant of£.3,000,000 out, of the Imperial Exchequer is all that will be required under this Act; but he left out of account the rates, and it is on the rates that the great burden of this Bill will fall." The real crux of the Poor Law problem lies in the treatment of individual cases by the relief committee, and more especially in the cases dealt with by outdoor relief."
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but the cost of maintenance of an indoor pauper is between seven and ten shillings a week, and any pension given will not be equal to that.
I understand that the argument is that by the increase in the local pensions, the increase in out-relief from other sources, you will reduce the present expenditure from the rates; that by giving 5s. a week, say, as local pension you will enable 7s. or 10s. to be taken off the rates for the maintenance of an indoor pauper. That, again, requires a great deal of consideration. The question is whether under these new authorities and these various committees you will not have a large increase in the number of patients receiving relief. It is evidently intended in Section 12, which is the important Section of this Bill, that relief, being preventive in the future, is to be given to a very much greater number of persons than under the existing system. One word as regards the effect of these pensions upon friendly societies, and upon local benefit societies, and other societies which pay old age pensions in return for the insurance which people have made against old age. This system of local pensions will produce a competition between voluntary agencies and a State subsidy in a very much more aggravated form than we have hitherto known it, and I for one would be very loth to proceed with the proposal for extending these local pensions until we have had a definite expression from the various friendly societies in this country upon this important matter. The Mover of the Bill made a very eloquent appeal on behalf of the children. I absolutely agree with him that the existing treatment of children in workhouses and under the present Poor Law must be altered, and that the sooner it is altered the better. The figures show an extraordinary lack of uniformity of treatment under the existing system. I think that a little more than half the boards of England and Wales have adopted the system of boarding out children. In addition to the boards, which number about 600, about 150 have adopted the system of providing special institutions for the children, but there still remains a very large number of children who are in the workhouse. The workhouses are their only homes. This a most undesirable state of things. What exactly are the proposals of the Bill with regard to that? Do they propose to retain any institutional treatment of the children at all? It seems to me that there are only two possible ways of dealing with the Poor Law children. One is boarding them out, not under the surveillance of the local education authorities, who have quite enough to do, but under a special committee, of whom I think women should form a considerable part. The only other possible way is to have separate institutions for them, large institutions such as some of those big associated Poor Law schools which we have at present. Those we know have proved in many cases a success. Some of the Poor Law schools produce among the boys educated in them an esprit de corps and a determination to succeed in life and to rise from what are called the lowest social circumstances in the social, industrial, and economic scale. I think, in dealing with a subject like this, we should have some more definite scheme than leaving the children to the various education authorities. I am speaking now of the question of uniformity. We know that the local education authorities more than any body change their policy. The hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. J. H. Lewis), whom I see present, knows that the Flintshire education authority has just changed its policy, and its character as a committee. How are we to insure that the same policy is to be continued with regard to the education of the children when the committee itself often changes radically its composition, and not merely its political composition, but its whole outlook on the subject. The more I read the Bill, the more I study its provisions, the more I find it is merely a Bill for altering the existing authorities administering relief. It is a Bill for altering the area and the whole machinery of the Poor Law, without making any real advance towards combating the evil which it sets out, by its very name and title to deal with—the prevention of destitution. That object is one which we all desire to see accomplished in any Poor Law reform, but I maintain that this Bill will not succeed in attaining it, because it sets up a state of bureaucratic megalomania. There are to be new Ministers of Labour, new authorities, new committees of county councils, new committees of borough councils, while the measure goes into all the obstacles to administration, such as the question of urban areas, of educational authorities, of those that are not educational authorities, until I cannot understand how such a cumbersome system of administration, such a strained fabric for marking off the various members of a family, and allotting to them various committees, can possibly succeed in preventing the evils which we all admit and which we are all so anxious to see cured.
Mr. RUPERT GWYNNE
I rise to second the Amendment. During the last few weeks we have heard references made on both sides of this House to new Members. One hon. Member opposite—I think it was the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Lancashire (Mr. Walsh)—made the observation that it would be quite excusable if new Members coming here for the first time were somewhat inflated and somewhat vain, but he advised them to bear themselves if possible with humility. May I say, in rising to address the House for the first time, that I do so with no undue inflation, and certainly not with any vanity, but with all due humility. May I add that if one is to judge from the utterance of the hon. Gentleman who gave us that advice he himself must have for many years enjoyed the privilege of sitting in this House, or humility must be one of the virtues which in the atmosphere of this House soon wears off. In spite of the fact that I am a new Member, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the very able way in which he put forward the position of this Bill from our point of view. I should not under ordinary circumstances have presumed to address the House on a question so important as the whole subject of the Poor Law had it not been that I can claim to have had some experience in the administration of local affairs before I had the honour of entering this more important body. One of the objects of the Bill which we are now discussing is, in fact, to transfer the powers of boards of guardians to the county councils. I have had the privilege of serving on both a board of guardians and a county council for the last twelve or fourteen years in the county in which I live, and I feel I may presume to ask the House to listen to my views in regard to this particular measure. I may say at once that it is with feelings of regret I rise to oppose any measure which has for its object the betterment of our present Poor Law, more especially on the introduction of a Bill like this, which should be regarded from a non-party point of view. I fully realise, after the experience I have had, that there are many necessary alterations required, and the present state of affairs leaves much to be desired. I feel, however, that it should have been more moderate in its terms, so that we might have joined together in trying to obtain reforms which Members, I believe on both sides of the House, deem to be necessary. But this Bill is so sweeping and so drastic, the alterations which it proposes are so great, and its advantages, if I may Bay so, are so small, that I feel bound to oppose it to the utmost of my power, and it is for that reason I rise to second the rejection; of the Second Reading.According to the proposals of this Bill it would seem that it is the object of the framers of it to bring about not only a revolution as regards our Poor Law, but also to try and reform human character. It is needless to say that with the object to prevent pauperism and destitution we are all agreed, but I think it must be admitted that the extension of public aid, coupled with this transfer of powers from one body to another, will not stop destitution, nor can it abolish poverty, an object which certainly could not be accomplished by Act of Parliament. The framers of this measure seem to think that whatever the expense, and whatever experience has shown hitherto, the whole system of the Poor Law should be swept away merely for the sake of making some change. It is not my business to champion the cause of the guardians, or to suggest that their management at present is everything that could be desired, for I admit there are serious drawbacks. I think that in many boards of guardians there is a great lack of classification, and that many changes might be made. Still, I think that many of the charges made against boards of guardians are exaggerated and without justification. The Minority Report gives, as one of its chief objections to the present system, that there is frequent intercourse between the young and the old, the innocent and the hardened. In all walks of life the young and the old must mingle together at times, and so must the innocent and the hardened. Even in this House there are different qualities among the Members: there are the idle and the industrious, and I should imagine there are the innocent as well as the hardened. You can carry classification too far, and if the framers of the Bill carry out their views, if everybody were to be classified and put into different compartments, I wonder very much where the promoters of this measure would find themselves—in what compartment they would be. I think the public, to a large extent, have been led astray by certain, lectures and pamphlets issued by the "National Committee for the Breaking Up of the Poor Law." One pamphlet says:—
If there be any truth in that statement— and I can hardly think it possible that such a state of things can exist at the present time in any part of England and Wales—if there be any justification for charges of that sort, then I ask what are the Local Government Board officials and inspectors doing to allow that state of affairs to exist? It is perfectly possible, under the existing state of the law, to prevent anything approaching what is suggested by this pamphlet, and it is the duty of the Department to take action to prevent it. My hon. Friend who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading seems to have missed one point, though the scope of the Bill is so great that it is one which might easily be overlooked. He told us that one of the great drawbacks of our present system was the overlapping, but I venture to say that if this scheme is carried into effect, overlapping will be far greater than at the present time. Let me deal with the Bill under three heads—from the point of view of efficiency, from the point of view of expense, and from the point of view of those who come under the Poor Law. As to efficiency, the Bill itself tells us, in Clause 12, that, "It shall be the duty of the council of every county, and of every county borough, to ascertain the expense and the nature of the destitution existing among the inhabitants of their area.…" The Royal Commission told us in their Report that in their opinion insufficient inquiry into the circumstances of applicants is the chief cause of the defects on which they lay the most stress. In a pamphlet which has been circulated by the Local Government Board, the guardians are told that upon them devolves the responsible duty of exercising a wise discrimination in each case which comes before them, so as to check and stop future pauperism. This Bill, in order to give us more efficiency, proposes to do away with our present system of guardians. By that system our areas are divided into small districts, and are represented by guardians who are supposed to have a particular local knowledge of each district, and of the people who apply for assistance. This Bill will sweep those away, and instead, will transfer the representation of that district to the county councillor for the whole area. A county council district probably comprises as many as twenty districts, which are now represented by twenty guardians. How is the county councillor to do the work and have the knowledge which at the present time is in the possession of those twenty people? I think that a body like the county council that is already much overworked will find itself quite incapable of dealing personally, or with efficiency, with this question. County councillors already have had educational work added to their duties, which is considerable, and under this Bill, not only is the Poor Law to be transferred to them, but there is also rating and assessment and valuation. If a county councillor representing a particular district is to do justice to that district, that means that he will have to be on all its committees, or otherwise he will leave the people of his district unrepresented as regards those particular interests. It is practically impossible for any county councillor to give up the whole of his time to sit on all the committees of the county council. If he does not do so, his people are unrepresented, and it also means that the whole of the carrying out of the Poor Law will fall into the hands of the officials, and officials who, however capable they may be, have not that particular local knowledge of each particular district, or of the past history of those applying for assistance, or of the conditions under which those people live. The law, therefore, cannot be administered so satisfactorily or efficiently as it is at the present time by people who have particular local knowledge. I do think that, so far as the Poor Law is concerned, it is essential in administering relief that each case should be dealt with on its own merits, and not by any hard-and-fast rule from Whitehall. The only way to deal with those cases is by having people who know the particular needs, and are willing to devote the time to the work. It is perfectly true the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading said that the guardians would be eligible for this new work, and that it will be offered to them. How many vacancies would there be, how many of them would take it, and how many of them would devote the time necessary to going to the county town constantly to carry out that work, which they are now pleased to do under existing conditions? Further, it would discourage that kindly personal interest which we now find in many parts of the country. With regard to the expenses, I do not propose to go into the details of the figures, because I think not only do they seem to be inadequate, but I think it is impossible for anybody to anticipate with any accuracy what the cost of these proposals would be. We must not forget that many of the ratepayers who are called upon to pay rates are themselves very poor, and not far removed from poverty. During the last twenty years there have been some £22,500,000 spent on the institutions which we call workhouses. By this Bill those institutions will be wiped out and that money practically wasted. There will also be the expense of compensating officers for loss of office. And we would have, instead of one existing authority, four, and instead of one staff, four staffs. We would, as well, have the expenses of another institution which has been very lightly passed over by the hon. Member who moved the Bill, and that is the houses of detention or observation. Those are homes which we are told each authority is to possess in order that applicants may be detained while inquiries are being made, and while it is being arranged under which authority they will eventually be placed. That will really mean that an extra establishment will have to be kept up. There is also the additional expense of the transit of the people from all over the county to the particular institution to which they have to go. There is a very important matter dealt with in Clause 77, which provides that the Minister who is to be appointed for Labour can force private individuals to employ labour which they may not wish to employ. I cannot help thinking that that is a proposal which will not commend itself to this House, being an invasion of the freedom of the citizen, and one which makes it impossible for them to carry on their business. The hon. Member for Durham told us that the employers would have a large choice, and would not be bound down to any particular person. Surely if the Labour Exchanges are going to be very beneficial how does he expect that whenever labour is wanted there will be a large choice? If there is that large choice then there is not much evidence that the Exchanges will find work for all. From the point of view of those who require public assistance this Bill imposes a very great hardship. People would be separated from their families, and the older people would be transferred from the districts in which they have lived all their lives in the midst of their friends, and they would be deprived of their daily visits which they at present enjoy under the board of guardians. The Bill in those ways would prove a great hardship to those people, and a very unnecessary one without any compensation. I do think that the present boards of guardians as they exist might be considerably altered, but I think that the union areas should be maintained, and that greater classifica- tion should be insisted on from headquarters, and that the case-paper system should be made compulsory. I should like very much to see the transfer of lunatics and the feeble-minded to a purely medical or a sanitary authority. The history of the Poor Law shows that the wide and indiscriminate extension of public aid has produced demoralisation, dependence, and pauperism; while, on the other hand, the Poor Law administered with care has stimulated self-help. That was clearly shown in the early fifties, after the Commission had sat, when we found friendly societies springing up all round in the local villages and co-operation obtaining amongst the people themselves. When the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hills) told us of the continued state of demoralisation amongst our poorer classes I think he must have been somewhat mistaken, because statistics clearly prove that pauperism has declined from fifty-seven per 1,000 in 1850 to twenty-two per 1,000 in 1908, a reduction of 56 per cent. I do not know how my hon. Friend reconciles that with his statement that we are becoming worse and worse every day. I urge that in considering this question of the Poor Law no drastic changes should be made such as are proposed by this Bill, because the present system, if altered and extended, might be worked with greater efficiency and for the comfort of those in need of public assistance."Often in the same ward all sections of the sick—the tuberculous, cancerous, venereal, the maternity cases, children, senile, and even sometimes infectious."
Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Gwynne) laid stress upon the fear that the proposals of this Bill would restrict the liberties of certain groups of people. I think he was labouring under a slight misapprehension when he suggested that under Clause 71 employers would be deprived of the liberty of selecting the men they might need. It is quite true that the Clause proposes that in certain selected industries, where the unemployment has become chronic, the Minister for Labour should have power to declare that labour should only be engaged through the Labour Exchange; but that does not deprive the employer of the power of selection, because the very fact of the necessity existing for the intervention of the Minister for Labour proves that there is a considerable surplus of labour and that the employer would have a wide field of selection. I think the whole tendency of legislation has been to restrict liberty; but we have to contemplate this question from the point of view whether the liberty sacrificed is not more than balanced by the liberty generally gained. I respectfully suggest that when one comes to close grips with pressing social problems one finds an increasing necessity to restrict some forms of liberty in order to extend the liberty of the common people. It is quite true that the Bill under consideration embodies the main proposals of the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission, and it is idle to deny that these proposals, if enacted, would mean the complete supersession of the Poor Law system as it now prevails. We simply contemplate the substitution or enlargement of the work already undertaken by the various existing public authorities for the prevention of destitution.It is not my purpose to discuss at length the varied proposals of this Bill. I simply emphasise the fact that neglected childhood under this measure is to be the charge of the education authority. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Gwynne) evidently had some apprehension on this question. I regard the feeding of schoolchildren as really a part of their education. As the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hills) in his thoughtful speech pointed out, it is futile to attempt to teach children unless they have been properly fed, and, although it may appear a somewhat costly transaction, nevertheless, viewed from its ultimate aim and purpose, I suggest that it is the most profitable investment the State can make. Then we suggest that sickness and infirmity should be made the charge of the local health authority. That is a wide departure, but our increased knowledge of the causes and sources of sickness compels us to recognise that it is not correct to say that all sickness is due to neglect or moral defect on the part of the individual. Much sickness is a matter of social origin. Recent investigations into tuberculosis have proved that that terrible disease has its origin in insanitation, and in the poverty-stricken condition of considerable groups of our people. It is, therefore, perfectly correct to say that much disease is social in its origin, and that it is the duty of our authorities at least to grapple with that phase of the question. Mental defectiveness is to be dealt with by the defective authorities, and old age pensions by the pension authority. Perhaps the most startling innovation proposed is that unemployment shall be dealt with by a completely new authority. Under this heading, we have to deal with the whole problem of able-bodied destitution. We are beginning to understand that able- bodied destitution and the problem of unemployment are closely intertwined, and that further discussion will show that these two questions are merely two aspects of one great problem. Unfortunately ones experience leads one to conclude that some people regard poverty as an abiding and inevitable element in society. They seem, in my opinion, to interpret the old Biblical text, "The poor ye always have with you," to mean "The poor ye shall always have with you." I have always regarded that as rather a reproach to civilised society than a statement of eternal truth. Unfortunately there are many who have come to the conclusion that society as it is ordained to-day has the effect of keeping the blessed poor eternally poor, and does not extend a proper helping hand to those who have fallen by the way, and does not strike at the real root of the causes of poverty in the land. I am glad that in this Debate we have been able to exclude really controversial issues, because I have already found a disposition in some quarters to mix up, say, the fiscal problem with these proposals. I have refreshed my memory as to what the chairman (Lord George Hamilton) of the Royal Commission stated. He said:—
We suggest that the whole tendency of modern legislation is in the direction of the proposals contained in this Bill. I have already cited the fact that the educational authority is in charge of the feeding of school children; that the old age pension authority takes charge of the aged in the community; that the distress committees set up under the Unemployed Workmen Act, passed by the late Government in 1905, also marks a tendency in that direction. We think now that the nation ought definitely to adopt some principle which aims not merely at the relief of distress, but at the elimination of the great causes of poverty. I am glad to observe the remarkable unanimity on that point, because, whatever may be our speculative differences, I am sure none will take up the attitude that because some are poor they ought to be kept poor, and that, after all, the system under which we live is the most perfect that could ever be ordained. The Poor Law has hitherto failed because of this fact, that it is charged with the relief of, and not the prevention of, destitution. Under the existing system, as the law actually stands, a person is supposed to be absolutely destitute before becoming entitled to public relief. Yet, as a matter of fact, even this system has broken down under the development of industrial circumstances and the pressure of public opinion. We have found that boards of guardians have been compelled even to depart from this policy. Therefore I submit again that the Poor Law as at present it exists is totally ineffective for the purpose for which it was designed. There are some who think that if the State intervenes in these matters that it will rather exaggerate the evil than limit it. That is.the old doctrine. I think it cannot be upheld to-day. I have found when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Durham City (Mr. Hills), in the course of his observations, sought to meet the objection that these proposals were socialistic, that some cheers greeted him. Evidently those cheers were to be interpreted as meaning that there are some hon. Gentlemen who so regard them. Nevertheless. I feel that anybody who carefully studies these proposals will understand that there is no relationship between them and the horrible monstrosities which are paraded at election times. If this Bill does represent what is really to be understood by Socialism, then there are many Conservatives and Liberals who are Socialists, at any rate, to that extent. I feel that the old argument of moral defect in the individual cannot be upheld to-day."After most exhaustive inquiry we have come to the conclusion that no solution of this problem can be found in any of the fiscal proposals."
Sir F. BANBURY
Mr. G. ROBERTS
If the hon. Baronet will bear with me I will endeavour to prove it a little later. We do not deny its existence, but we do say that it is not a complete answer to the cause of destitution in the country. In fact I am prepared to go so far as to say that it plays an extremely minor part in the cause of destitution. Rather it is that defect lies in the organisation of society and the environment in which our people live, which very often compels these people to pass from one gradation to another until a moral defect has been created which might otherwise have been obviated. Much unemployment exists to-day. All parties agree upon that. It does not matter to what school of political thought we belong, or what may be our speculative theories on fiscal reform, etc. We know that the problem of unemployment plays an extremely prominent part in all our political and other discussions. Unemployment to-day is not due entirely to any defect in the moral character of our people. Anybody who is acquainted with the industrial circumstances is aware of the fact that many worthy people find themselves at different periods unable to get employment. I have had some little experience as a trade union official, locally first of all, then in a national sense, and I have found cases where the better a man was, the less likelihood he had of securing employment once lie was thrust out into the labour market. I can call to mind the case of a man who was a skilled and expert workman in that craft in which I used to be engaged. That man's place would have been difficult to fill. Although the staff that the employer had got together was an exceptional one, there was not another man quite competent to fill the position I have indicated. The man was thrifty, careful, and ambitious. I can recall his leaving the employ of this firm to enter the employ of another, where the work was less skilled but more highly rewarded. The man in his new place was a dismal failure. He had to return to his old shop. Subsequently the firm became involved and became bankrupt. That man was thrown out. He found it almost impossible to get a situation elsewhere, and I have personal knowledge that he has fluctuated in and out of places a day or two at a time. He has become demoralised. Such men as this are made unemployables through no direct fault of their own. Again the changing conditions of employment, the improvement of the organisation of industry—with which we do not find ourselves in conflict, rather we recognise it to be inevitable and desirable—the ever increasing engagement of machinery in the domain of industry, and the new processes being invented very often thrust large groups of people out into the labour market. It is also the fact that with the aid of machinery to-day men are producing more than was possible under less scientific services a few years ago. That again is a great factor in the creation of unemployment in our midst. I remember a short time since, for the purpose of an address, I got together different sets of figures relating to the boot and shoe trade of the country. I took that industry because it was an industry that very widely prevails in the Constituency I represent, and also because my family were engaged in it themselves. I found that an 1851, when the population of England and Wales was 18,000,000, that 240,000 people were engaged in that industry, or 135 per 10,000 of the population. In 1901, when the population was 32,500,000, there were only 251,000 persons, or seventy-seven per 10,000 of the population engaged in the industry. That all goes to prove that our productive capacity is much greater than ever with a less utilisation of labour, and I believe one of the most pressing problems of the period is to make every unit of the population not only a competent producer, but also a full consumer, and unless we are able to assure a more equitable distribution of national wealth I am certain we are only tinkering around this question. Our ultimate aim must be to afford to every person an opportunity of utilising their labour, and, secondly, assuring to them that if they work they shall receive such a reward as will make them adequate purchasers of the commodities of other people.We find that the Poor Law system has broken down under the pressure of this phenomenon in our midst. First, it was sought to keep these people entirely free. In our great centres of population this was found to be impossible. Then we had the labour yards, where you set the men to work to earn the relief given to them. A great variety of administration has taken place in this respect, and we know that in some parts of the country it has become a complete sham, because the men have received their relief without perhaps doing adequate work. The labour yard is not a fit institution is which to place skilled or other workmen. It has no reformatory purpose, and it was simply designed in the initial stage to have a deterrent effect, and to keep people from applying for relief. It is sometimes said that we put people to the task of breaking stones so that they may break their hearts as well, and become so demoralised that they are unable to raise themselves up again. Unless we are able to hold out some hope for our people I feel we are not doing our duty to the working classes. It is all very well to preach to people when they are among the submerged, but I have seen respectable, worthy men, who did their work well and played the part of good citizens, who, when out of work, found their demoralisation gradual but sure and certain. We can visualise the lot. of these men tramping from one office to another always meeting with a refusal. It is a trying time even with a little resource and friends to help them on, but without friends and resources they sink never to rise again unless a protecting hand is extended to them. We have to acknowledge that the policy under the Poor Law has failed, and that even labour yards have brought no solution of this question. There is no need to argue the existence of unemployment, or to say that it is of wide dimensions. It is not a problem to be disposed of or dissipated to-day or to-morrw; it is permanently in our midst, varying in degree according to the state of trade in the country. This Bill proposes a course of scientific treatment of those very complex problems, and I believe it is really the first endeavour to thoroughly analyse the cause and effects of unemployment and to provide a solution. Although it may not meet with the approval of every school of thought, I respectfully suggest it is worthy of consideration, and if it should prove that these proposals are not calculated to serve the purposes for which they are intended, at any rate some progress will have been made, because they prove that the one road existing leads nowhere except to show us what should be avoided. We all recognise the necessity of some sort of organisation to deal with these great problems. The Government last year made a start with the Labour Exchanges. Some people seem to decry them because they say they do not increase the available amount of employment by one hour. We have always contended that the Labour Exchanges alone provide no solution of unemployment, and hold out illusory hopes to many classes of the people, but, nevertheless, the start the Government has made is a wise and sane start in the treatment of these problems, they cannot be dealt with without institutions of that character, and I am able to testify from personal investigation to their value. I attended a Labour Exchange in my own district very soon after it opened, and I was astonished to find the amount of success met with. The person in charge told me they had an application for a particular class of labourer which it was thought it was impossible to find in the city, because the industry had completely decayed. But there was one old-fashioned firm who desired a man of that kind, and the man was told to apply to it, with the result that the firm got what they wanted and this particular man got employment, which he would never have got but for the Exchange office. Therefore to organise labour and to help towards the diminution of unemployment Labour Exchanges are a wise part of the organisation. There has been an endeavour to ridicule somewhat the word dovetailing in this connection. Perhaps it may not be the best word for the purpose, but it serves the purpose, and it is thoroughly understood. In our endeavour to decasualise, and to secure that men should get more continuous employment, the word suits me well enough, but if anyone supplies another that serves the same purpose, I certainly will not quarrel. I have found a tendency in many places for men to be called upon to work short time or half weeks, and they have been ready to do so in the belief that they were doing something towards solving the problem of unemployment. Just to develop the point I sought to make, let me say that our ultimate aim and subsequent solution of this problem can only be found in making every worker a full consumer and a full producer. We have found already in connection with the administration of Labour Exchanges that the question of boy labour will have to be seriously tackled when we get to close grips with this problem of unemployment. Unfortunately the extended use of machinery has brought into existence a demand for boy labour, which has resulted in there being ushered into the factories as soon as they leave school a number of boys. They work for a few years at comparatively good remuneration, but they are not qualified to become journeymen. When they attain a certain age they are cast adrift without any training and without any aptitude for establishing themselves on a permanent footing in our industrial system. We regard this as an undesirable thing. I am glad to recognise that many employers are beginning to understand that they must view this matter from a national standpoint, and not from the private profits that may accrue to them. We do not blame individual employers in this matter, because the individual employer, like the individual worker, is a creature of circumstances. What we do say is that this problem of boy labour has to be dealt with, and it is one of the most urgent phases of this great question. It is also one of the most productive sources of the creation of unemployables in the community. When my hon. Friends on these benches promoted the Unemployed Workmen Bill, known as the Eight to Work Bill, it was said we were desirous of creating a set of loafers in the country. I can assure hon. Members in every quarter of this House that we have no more sympathy with the loafer than they have; in fact, we recognise that it is the loafer who very often brings discredit upon our class. Consequently we are prepared to associate ourselves with any legislation which endeavours to filter the dregs from society and at the same time gets rid of the scum at the top. We desire to see the principle of differentiation carried out. First of all by our Labour Exchanges we shall see what work is available, and if we ascertain that there are men unfit to take part in industrial operations we ought to subject them to a course of training and discipline in order that they may enter suitable forms of occupation. It will become a national duty to promote schemes whereby a demand for labour may be created, such as is contemplated in the Development Act of last year. I believe when that measure is sympathetically administered and adequately financed we shall be moving along economic lines, because we shall be opening up new avenues of employment, and in this way we shall enormously enhance the prosperity of the nation as a whole. But after we have done all these things there may be still a margin left known as the unemployable. We do not care so much how you treat them so long as you approach the question from the standpoint of endeavouring to reform them. If you fail in that, then you may place them in the detention colony and regard them as undesirable characters in the community. 3.0 P.M. Do not let us, however, lose sight of the fact that society tends to the creation of unemployables, and before we seek to regard them as criminals let us thoroughly understand the gradations by which they have reached that stage. After all, it is quite possible we may find that society has sinned against them, as they are now sinning against society. I feel that this Bill is a great charter of social reform. It is scientifically based and sound in its proposals. I contemplate that when we come to the direct proposals of this measure we shall come across many controversial points. The proposal to generally limit the hours of labour I know will excite some considerable controversy, but having regard to the enormously increased productivity of labour in conjunction with machinery, I say that a proposal to reduce the hours of labour in order that the workers may share in the advantage is a sound proposal which will tend to reduce the margin of unemployment in this country. We recognise that the House of Commons and Parliament has made a start in this direction. The Labour Exchanges of last year were heartily welcomed, and we also believe the Development Act is a necessary adjunct to a measure of this character. We are glad to have a scheme of State insurance foreshadowed, and all these things mark a growing recognition of the fact that those who are suffering from the evil of present-day conditions will receive the helping hand of the community as a whole. I am glad the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill referred to the fact that relief under the provisions of this measure will not involve disfranchisement. If it is proved, as I have already sought to demonstrate, that much of the destitution in the community is not due to any fault inherent to the individual, we have no right to treat such people as criminals by depriving them of their citizen rights. I hope this measure will be considered apart from any mere party bias. It is not a valid objection to say this is Socialism. All we ask is that the measure be considered upon its merits, and whatever political label you care to attach to it should not affect it, and we ought simply to determine whether it is a good thing and whether it is an improvement in regard to which we are all agreed. I hope the example we are setting will be followed in the constituencies. I recognise that all parties in the State have engaged in a considerable amount of ambulance work. I do not claim that any party has had a monopoly of the desire to help the poor of the community; but it is not quite sufficient to engage in ambulance work. We have got past that, and we have to search out the root causes of this problem. This measure seeks to get at those causes, to eliminate them, and to give people a fair chance of becoming wage-earners and supplying the needs of themselves and their dependents. We have no desire to perpetuate mere relief in the community, and we have no desire to undermine parental responsibility. We are desirous of enforcing to the full the responsibility which legitimately rests upon the parents; but, first of all, let us be sure that the parent is competent and able to discharge that responsibility. Then, if he fails, we are prepared to adopt any method you feel to be necessary under the circumstances. Although it is alleged that we are endowed with an undue broad- mindness, we nevertheless repudiate any suggestion that it is accompanied by a softness of feeling. We are desirous of finding out the legitimate causes of the problem, and of applying an abiding solution to it. I believe if the provisions of this measure become operative we shall be able to say that every child finds a hospitable welcome to our shores, and we shall be able to rejoice that there is no fear of its wanting in its tender years, that as it grows up it will be properly nurtured and trained to occupy its place in the productive community of the country; that, in return for honest labour, it will be assured of the wherewithal to live in comfort, and that, when no longer able to work, the old age pension scheme will be brought to its assistance. Such measures as this do something to make this nation what we really agree it ought to be—a great, a noble, and a standing example to the nations of the world.
Mr. J. P. FARRELL
I have been requested to say a few words as to the attitude the Irish Members take on this Bill. Our position is very simple. After carefully considering the provisions of this Bill we find we cannot support it in the Division Lobby, and, as it is a purely English Bill, we are on this occasion, at all events, prepared to give the English Members Home Rule in the settlement of the Question. As the House is aware, there have been two Commissions dealing with the settlement of the Poor Law system—one a Royal Commission, the Minority Report of which is contained in this Bill, and the other a Viceregal Commission dealing specially with1 Ireland. We have been considerably disappointed that up to the present the Viceregal Commission and its Report have received practically no attention at the hands of His Majesty's Government, but we hope that in the near future time will be found to give effect to the Report of that Viceregal Commission, and that is one of the reasons which actuate us in the attitude we take towards the Bill now before the House. We are prepared to wait the scheme of reform which we hope sooner or later will be put forward by the Members of the Irish Government in this House.It is in my opinion a mistake to destroy the Poor Law guardian system in this country. Instead of extending local government by this Bill, you are, in my opinion, shortening the arm of local government. You are taking from the elected representatives of the people the control of the Poor Law system, and you are putting it into the hands of selected committees of the borough and county councils. That, I think, is a very objectionable principle. I have not sufficient knowledge of the working of the Poor Law system in this country to be able to say whether or not there is much discontent with its working, but if this Bill were to be extended to Ireland we should very much prefer that the old system, or the system under the present Local Government Act, should obtain, and that the elected representatives of the people should be allowed to deal with the affairs of the Poor Law system rather than selected committees of either county or borough councils. I think it must be apparent to anyone who examines the Bill closely that it is not going to effect the economies which those who speak of overlapping and waste expect will result. I think it will have the opposite effect. So far from saving and preventing overlapping, all these committees will be found to be both costly and unwieldy in their operation, and, from that point of view also, I think this Bill is objectionable and ought not to be passed. There is another and a higher ground on which we object to it. We object to interference with the education of the children at all. We think that parental responsibility should be maintained as far as it can, whether the case be that of the poor man, the rich man, or the middle man. We think the educational part of this Bill takes out of the hands of the parent a duty which properly belongs to him. I do not mean to say that there is any underlying motive in the proposition, but we know that a great number of the people in this country belong to the faith to which the majority of the Irish Members belong, and we are averse to allowing anything to be done which may tamper with the religious upbringing of our children, no matter under what conditions it may be done. We regard it as a dangerous thing in its essence to the future of the child, and on that point alone we most strongly object to this Bill. At the same time, we do not think we are called upon to press our opposition beyond this expression of opinion. Ireland is not included within the scope of the Bill, and we therefore content ourselves, having expressed our opinion, with leaving it to the English Members on both sides of the House to settle the question among themselves.
Mr. SILVESTER HORNE
I rise to support, very briefly indeed, the principle of this Bill. May I point out to the hon. Member who has just sat down that, in objecting to the abolition of the boards of guardians, he is not only objecting to a provision of the Minority, but also to a provision of the Majority Report of the Commission. I hold in my hand a Bill drawn on the lines of the Majority Report, and Section 14 provides not only for the repeal of all the Poor Law Acts, but also for the abolition of the boards of guardians, and certainly we on this side of the House imagine that we had arrived at a measure of agreement so far as the Minority and Majority Reports are concerned upon two points—one, the abolition of promiscuous workhouses, and the other the abolition of boards of guardians. It is very much to be hoped that into this Debate there will not be imported a spirit which at any rate sets apparently the majority against the minority and the minority against the majority, because I am quite sure we are all desirous of seizing the main point on which legislative action is possible, in order to bring common-sense to bear on the situation. I propose to ask the House to listen for a few minutes to some remarks on the question of the treatment of children, but, before doing so I would like to deal with the general situation. We have heard a good deal of complaint that the committee which has been formed largely to advocate this measure has been called a Committee for the Break Up of the Poor Law. The term is an unhappy one. It exasperates rather than conciliates those who we want to carry with us in connection with this reform. But there is a good precedent, for the right hon. Gentlemen opposite did absolutely break up the educational system of this country—the School Board system—in the interests of what is called National Education, and therefore, so far as the blessed word "precedent" is concerned, it can be applied in favour of the scheme rather than otherwise. We want to make it quite clear to the people of this country that the new principles and new policy involved in this Bill could not possibly be carried out unless we are prepared to go in for the abolition of the old Poor Law system. Many of us feel strongly we have been wasting an immense amount of our national resources, and the only result has not been a palliative, but the perpetuation of the system of pauperism.We have done a good deal towards the relief of pauperism, but we have done absolutely nothing whatever towards its abolition. I fancy that the Report of the Commission on both sides has inspired new hopes in the minds of a great many who have had to deal with Poor Law administration in the past, that, by an absolute change in the order of things, it may be possible for us, at this time at any rate, to take the first step that will lead to the abolition of destitution in this country. May I now pass from general considerations to the question of the treatment of children? We all agree that the condition of things—the whole problem of the treatment of children under the Poor Law is one which nobody who knows anything about it can contemplate without a good deal of horror, shame, and humiliation. I do not want to weary the House to-day with figures in regard to the whole problem of the treatment of children. We have 237,000 children between the ages of five and sixteen, for whose education and maintenance our various destitution authorities are responsible. Then we have also on our hands in the workhouses of the country something like 65,000 children who are brought up in the atmosphere of promiscuous pauperism, in which, I venture to say, no child can thrive. We have also to deal with this fact that every year 15,000 children are actually born in the workhouses. I ask the House to realise what that means. For instance, you have a woman whose husband is out of work; it may be he is dead. She is obliged by hard work to support her family, but during the period of pregnancy, when she most needs nourishment and is least able to work, she is obliged to live on a minimum of food. Then she goes into the workhouse and the child is born—the child of a half-starved, ill-fed mother. It is naturally anæmic, and it is physically handicapped from the very start. The result is that that child is almost bound to return upon our hands sooner or later, as one who belongs to the class practically of the unemployable. After a few weeks the woman goes back into the town into one of the mean streets, and takes up her old life in the slums, spending hard days in charing. I came across an instance the other day of a woman like that, a woman who had to go out for seven or eight hours daily, fastened her little child into a chair, and left it there until her return. Is it any wonder that the result of all this is. the growth of this great class in the community which is the despair of every social reformer simply because of the neglect of the community towards the child in the initial stages of its life. Go a little further. You will find that this child, ill-fed and ill-nourished, is the despair of your education authorities. Your education authority finds it has to try to teach this product of the Poor Law, and it discovers that it is an impossibility. The child passes through certain stages of school life, under various teachers, and turns out eventually dull and hopeless. Then you have to find that child some employment, but in the end it swells the great ranks of the unemployable of this country. That process is repeated over and over again in this country, every board of guardians is aware of the fact. What is there that lies behind this Bill? It is that we have been spending in this country from £15,000,000 to £20,000,000 on a Poor Law system which satisfies nobody. It does not satisfy those who administer it, and it is regarded with perfect horror by the people who are supposed to benefit by it. There is nothing more brought home to me than this fact, that the modern workhouse, despite all attempts to humanise it and even to glorify it in cases, remains as much the object of hate and horror of the poor people of this country as it was in olden times. Nothing can reconcile them to it. You go to a man who is in a half-starved condition in order to persuade him to enter the workhouse. You do persuade him to exchange his condition of semi-starvation for a condition in which he is well fed, and even has the luxury of going to bed under the electric light. Yet in two or three days' time you get a heartrending letter from him, beseeching you to get him out, because he prefers the old starvation to what he has to suffer in the workhouse. The basis of the fabric of our Poor Law is the workhouse, but I hope to live to see the time when the workhouse will be abolished altogether. I should like to put out the confusion in which we are involved at the present time owing to the overlapping of our authorities in regard to the keeping of children. There are a large number of children whose parents are receiving outdoor relief on account of the children from the various destitution authorities in this country. This relief is given in order that the children may be properly fed and nourished. Then along comes your education authority. The House of Commons passed a Bill which permitted the education authorities to step in and see to the feeding of necessitous children. Thus the children of necessitous parents who are receiving grants in respect of them out of the rates are also being fed by the local education authority. The overlapping is palpable to anybody who has anything to do with the matter. It is an absolute argument in favour of taking the whole question of the children out of the hands of several authorities and giving it over into the hands of one authority, who shall be responsible for the proper treatment and supervision of them, even after they have passed out of the time when the ordinary boards of guardians are supposed to keep a friendly eye upon them. I believe that there is a growing feeling in the country that nothing but this radical and drastic reform will suffice. I do not want, however, to use the word "reform." I think we might have a close time for the words "revolution" and "reform," because the majority say, as a reason for objecting to this Bill, that the proposals of the minority are revolution and the proposals of the majority are reform. I think, therefore, we may give those two words a rest this afternoon. We are all in favour of drastic changes in our Poor Law system which will give even the child who is nobody at his birth something like a chance of holding his own in the world. We do not want to be guilty of making party capital out of the sufferings and necessities of the poor. We do not mean to do it, but we do mean, as far as we can, to bring the best minds of the nation together in support of a scheme of this kind. We are willing to take the best provisions that the minority and majority can give us, but we do believe that the best system of national defence is to make our people physically, intellectually, and morally as strong and stalwart as we can, and therefore we support the Bill which is before the House.
Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
I think it will be admitted by all those who have had the advantage of listening to this Debate that it has not been unworthy, either in the tone of hon. Gentlemen's speeches or of their matter, of the importance—the un-exaggerable importance—of the subject with which we are dealing. At the same time, everybody must admit that a Friday afternoon is not only quite inadequate to discuss a Bill of this kind, but also quite inadequate to discuss any single one of the important clauses of this Bill, so vast is the subject, so great the reform needful even in the opinion of those who take the most cautious view of the amount of change that ought to take place. So closely does it touch our whole system, not merely of Poor Law administration, but of local administration, with all its branches, and so intimately is it bound up with local finance as well as Imperial finance, and with the constitution of the Government in this House, as well as with the local bodies responsible to local voters, that it would be perfectly impossible to do justice to the subject this afternoon. It would not be possible, I think, for the most industrious Government to bring on properly considered Bills concerning the subject which is before us in the course of a Session; and, therefore, all we can say is that a Debate of this kind has great uses in giving hon. Gentlemen an opportunity of expressing their various points of view, and to bring the whole subject before the country. I will not say it will enable the Government to pronounce upon this great question, for I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman will be able, with all his knowledge, to deal adequately with it this afternoon; but, at all events, he will be able to put a large number of the most important considerations that have to be borne in mind before the House, and that great and increasing body of public opinion outside that takes an interest in this vital social question.I think the hon. Gentleman, who has just sat down, though like those who preceded him there was nothing to complain of in the tone or temper of his remarks, was a little unjust as to the results of Poor Law administration in the course of the last seventy years. He said nothing had been done to diminish pauperism. I am afraid there are some branches of the question of Poor Law in which during recent years we appear to have gone back rather than forwards. That is, I believe, at any rate, the opinion of both the Minority and Majority Report, but on the question of pauperism as a whole I take it there can be no doubt that there is less now in 1910 than there was fifty years ago, Again, as to the education of children, I think the hon. Member was a little unjust to many of those great schools under the management of the Poor Law authorities. These schools have done admirable work in the sphere of education, and have sent out children into the world without any pauper taint—children who have, if the records kept by the schools at all approach reality, shown at least as great a power of dealing with the difficulties that meet everybody in life, and most of all those who have to earn their living. They meet these difficulties in a spirit of courage, enterprise, self-help, and all the qualities which one and all of us desire to see fostered among children; and therefore, although it is perfectly true that much remains to be done, do not let us in one universal condemnation pour contempt upon the admirable efforts which have been made in some of the great schools connected with the administration of the Poor Law in this country. There is, of course, one generic question which has hardly been touched to-day, and that is the relation of any change in our Poor Law system, and I think some change is absolutely necessary—the relation that any such change would have to the existing system of local government. We have to remember, whether we like it or not, that we cannot discuss the propriety of throwing new duties upon the county councils without considering the burden and responsibility which already rests upon them, and the capacity of those over-weighted shoulders to bear a new burden in addition to what is already thrown upon them. There may be some ways of overcoming that difficulty; I do not say there are not. I only say it is a difficulty which we shall have to face, and the Minister who brings in a Bill to cure destitution will have to take into account not merely destitution, but the existing responsibilities, duties, and labours imposed upon the body to whom they propose to entrust the new duties which are to be transferred from the present bodies. Great as is the supply of gratuitous labour available in this country, greater than in any other country the world has ever seen, that supply is, I am afraid, not inexhaustible. You must inevitably draw for real hard local work upon people whose everyday business is not of an absorbing character and does not occupy all their strength, energy, power of work, and foresight. You must have a relatively leisured class to draw upon if you want your work to be done. The number of that class is necessarily limited. I do not know that there are any signs of its increasing, and I believe there may be tendencies working in the other direction. In any case, I am afraid the class is limited. The amount of energy at their disposal, whatever their public spirit and patriotism may be, is limited, and as their social work gets more and more complicated, so does the difficulty of finding men to carry it out increase. When I hear the charge made against these Reports—especially against the Minority Report—that they are "bureaucratic," I have to ask myself, unless you are going to pay, where are you going to find the men who are going to do the work? That is one of the anxieties which frankly, if I may speak my mind, greatly oppresses me when I am thinking of all the work that has to be done and all the new work which every social reform throws upon the people who have to carry out the details of that reform. I really rose not to make observations which, on the whole, I am afraid are regarded as rather in the nature of platitudes than of contributions to thought upon the subject, but one of the main objects which induced me to rise was to press upon the House on both sides the great expediency of not allowing themselves to be dragged into any controversy as between the two Reports. It is almost inevitable that when a Commission of this immense industry and ability has been sitting for all these years and have found themselves divided into two camps, each of them showing masterly ability in the treatment of the views which they desire to put before the public, they should themselves begin to exaggerate the differences which divide them. We in this House know well enough that the sharp divisions in the Lobby and the controversies in Debate very often greatly exaggerate the fundamental agreements which by far the larger number of common-sense men in this country really hold in common. So it must be, and so I doubt not it has been. Just reflect upon the immense area over which the two Reports are agreed. I do not know whether the President of the Local Government Board and other competent critics of these matters will think that either Report is impeccable in every respect, or that, even if you take the points on which they are agreed, you would get at all events a foundation of reform against which no word is to be said. I have my doubts even about that, but at all events the amount of agreement is immense. The possibility of dealing legislatively with this problem without introducing this polarity of opinion, this division into parties, surely must be obvious to everyone who has given even the most cursory survey to these great and historic contributions to social science. There is in connection with that advice which I give to the House one particular form of criticism which I hope we shall be careful about, and I think, on the whole, those who object more particularly to the Minority Report are apt to use big words in connection with it like "Socialism," and other expressions which in their mouths, as in mine, would be, of course, expressions of unalterable hostility. There may be, I have no doubt there is, a great deal to criticise in the Minority Report, but I do not think the word Socialism is appropriate, and I think we must all be forced to recognise that you cannot deal with this or any other modern question by the simple method of labels, adopted in such a light heart by our ancestors whenever they were dealing with these matters. They advanced what they called a principle, which saved all further Debate, because if they were in favour of the principle they would adopt it, and those who did not agree with it said, "It is no use arguing with this—it runs counter to one of the fundamental principles in which we put our faith." That was an enormous advantage to legislators. It would have been delightful to live in those easy times, but we do not live in those easy times, and these things differ not in principle but in degree. The question is, where you must draw the line. For instance, one of the commentaries very ably made by an hon. Friend of mine, a new Member of the House, was that the homes of the people would be open to perpetual visits from an innumerable band of inspectors, each responsible to a different authority, each selected by a different body, and each carrying out different functions. I think there is weight in the objection. Will any one suppose that these evils are avoided under the existing system? Even now you have your education authorities and your school feeding and your medical inspection and your sanitary inspection, and all the other engines which we have contrived for dealing with the matters of health and education. All these have the right of intervening in the home and in the family life of our population, and I do not see myself how some such interference can be avoided. It is a kind of invasion of which our forefathers were entirely free. You have only to look at the death rate which our forefathers suffered, even if you look at nothing else, to see that the happy system of family liberty which they enjoyed had its drawbacks. Therefore it really is in that particular respect a question of high practical expediency. It is not a question of abstract principles one way or the other that you may flood the country with officials and that you may found a bureaucracy-ridden community. In all great changes that is a real danger. You cannot stop it by saying that such a thing is against principle. All you can say is that, with the exercise of common sense, reason, and moderation you will not allow the dangers of any system to overweigh the advantages you are going to get. There is one other point of the same kind. I understand that a certain number of critics of the scheme of Poor Law reform say that you ought never to deal with destitution until it reaches the point at which the Poor Law would take account of it as it does at present. I am not sure that I subscribe to that doctrine. I do not think I should be consistent if I did subscribe to it in its real and textual purity. The Government of which I was a Member brought in a Bill which, I think, is the only attempt as yet made by this House to anticipate, as it were, the breaking-up of the family by the application of the Poor Law. I am told that the Act of 1905 has been but a moderate success. I believe that some of its critics—I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman opposite is not one of them—have told us that that Bill has done more harm than good. I have not had any official opportunity of seeing the result of the Act. May I remind the House what the intentions of it were? The intentions were that in a time of exceptional distress, in order to prevent those who in ordinal times had found work, and would find work again, from being turned into members of the pauper class permanently, it was desirable to find some machinery to keep the family together for the sole purpose of tiding over that period. There are undoubtedly dangers in the scheme we proposed. I am the last person to dogmatise about it. It was avowedly experimental. It was an experiment in the direction of anticipating and, if possible, preventing a man getting into the grip of the Poor Law system to the great detriment of his future powers of earning, his future powers of being a citizen like other citizens, and of holding his head high among his fellows as a man who did his duty by himself, by his family, and by the community. I do not regret the experiment, and even if it has failed I am not prepared to say that some other experiment having the same object in view ought not to be even tentatively set afoot and given a serious trial. I do think it is a most intolerable thing that we should permit the permanent deterioration of those who are fit for really good work. Putting aside all considerations of humanity, of morals, and all considerations that move us as men of one flesh and blood and members of the same community, and looking at it with the hardest heart and the most calculating eye it is bad economic policy to scrap good machinery. It is the worst economy in the world. Again, do not let us state too dogmatically that we mean to wait until destitution has actually reached the stage when the Poor Law machinery must come into full play before we attempt to deal with the problem. There is only one other point. I am most anxious to give the President of the Local Government Board full time to deal with this great problem, and therefore I will only say one word about cost. Cost is a fundamental element. It is fundamental in this way. It is not because those who pay are selfish. We have not to consider it from the point of view merely of paying. We have to consider it from the point of view of the ability of the community to earn. We may regard the community in one of its aspects as a great industrial concern, and anything we do which destroys its powers of earning may do far more harm than good in the long run to the very class affected, and may greatly increase the number of that class. I should like very much to know more about the cost of the various schemes. It would be, I think, a most desirable thing if we could have a Budget or authentic document which would tell us how much is now spent by the community out of public funds, Imperial and local, not only upon Poor Law relief, but upon free education and other matters in which the wage-earning classes are primarily concerned. I think the amount is very large, and most of us do not know in the least what it is. I have not the least conception at this moment what it is. If you said that out of the Imperial and local Budget so many millions are spent, not indirectly, but directly, on what goes into the pockets of the children and to the families of the working clases, I could not give an answer as to its accuracy. It must be very large. I am sure myself that it will have to be increased. I do not see how you can carry out any good reform except with an increase, but the idea that you must increase without counting is, I think, a very imprudent view to take, both from the point of view of the community generally, and from the point of view of the classes immediately affected. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman who is to follow me may have framed some financial estimate, not perhaps of a large scheme of the wider scope which I desiderate, but at all events he may be able to say how much is spent in costs properly dealing with destitution, unemployment and want. But I do not believe any of us would grudge any amount if we were quite certain that it was going to succeed. That is the real point. In all these great social experiments we must admit at present that our ignorance is so great that we largely grope in the dark. Our legislation is like the legislation for which we were responsible five years ago. It is largely experimental, and, unfortunately, experimental legislation may be as expensive as legislation which is not experimental. But it may be much less expensive, and I rather hope that if there be an opportunity for trying by the actual test of experience some of the theories put forward, it would be an enormous practical gain to this House. In the eighteenth century, when all these questions were in their infancy, and when all the local government and Imperial government were organised, as they are organised now, there were all sorts of different systems of temperance legislation and poor relief legislation in different parts of the country. Those experiments differed, as it were, unconsciously. They had no machinery for organising or unifying them. I should like to see variety introduced deliberately. I should like to see the local authorities given the opportunity of trying experiments for the instruction of their fellows. They might refuse to use that opportunity. They might say, "We refuse to go to the cost of an experiment which may be a failure," but it would be an immense advantage, I think, if we could put to a practical test some of these things. Already, I believe, under the system of Poor Law relief such as has gradually grown up, the old uniformity aimed at in 1834 has completely broken down. If I am rightly informed, you will find workhouses now in which there is differentiation and segregation, a Poor Law area I was going to say in which differentiation is carried on to the utmost limits. In others you will find all the horrors of the mixed workhouse so eloquently described by the last speaker. That experiment has gone on under the aegis of the Local Government Board: I confess I should like to see those experiments carried further. I think it would be a great assistance in carrying out what is going to be the greatest task ever thrown upon a Government, the task of really trying to remodel this system in accordance with modern ideas, a task which I do not believe can be undertaken in one Session—in fact not even in one Parliament—and which I do not think will be carried to a really successful issue unless the Minister whose unhappy fate it may be to try the experiment has the assistance, not merely of one organised party of the State, but has the co-operation and the goodwill of all.
The PRIME MINISTER
I will not detain the House more than a few minutes. I find myself in a position almost unique in my Parliamentary experience, but none the less agreeable for that reason, the position of agreeing with almost every word that has been uttered by the right hon. Gentleman who has preceded me. The right hon. Gentleman has made, if I may venture to say so, in the course of two days two most useful contributions, not only to the vocabulary, but to the philosophy of politics. Yesterday he promulgated, not in any controversial spirit, in a Debate on another subject, what will hereafter be known as the doctrine of "curvature," a perfectly legitimate definition for rhetoricians under the stress of criticism. And he has now added to that a most important contribution; he has denounced the methods of labels, one of the most illegitimate devices by which impoverished controversialists are in the habit of darkling the waters of Debate. I think that the House and the country owe the right hon. Gentleman a debt of gratitude for having on two successive days made two such important additions to the clarification of Debate. Apart from that. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman in recognising the limitations of the time at our disposal for dealing with one of the most fundamental of all our social problems. I heartily welcome my hon. Friend's successful advance, because, without committing myself, or the Government, or the majority of the House for whom I am entitled to speak to support the particular provisions of this Bill, I think we will all agree that it is eminently desirable that we should have a thorough ventilation of the subject in all its aspects and phases. There are ninety-five clauses in this Bill and a number of schedules—
Sir F. BANBURY
And eighty Acts of Parliament repealed.
The PRIME MINISTER
And there are about eighty Acts of Parliament involved, so that Friday afternoon is not sufficient to cover the whole of the ground. We must, however, make the best of our opportunity. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that the supporters of these measures, urgent and important as the problem is, should not be unduly pessimistic. If we compare our own experience with that of our grandfathers, say sixty years ago, the condition of things shows a marked improvement. Comparing 1849 with the year 1909, we find that in 1849 the proportion of paupers per 1,000 of the population was sixty-two, while in 1909 it was only twenty-six. And though it is unfortunately true that during that period the percentage of indoor paupers has remained very nearly stationary, yet in regard to outdoor paupers we have a reduction from fifty-four per 1,000 to fifteen. Nobody can say, and I do not say, that that is a satisfactory state of things. On the contrary, I agree with almost everything that was said in the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Horne); but there has been an enormous advance by wise legislation, and still more by prudent and sympathetic administration during the last two generations. It is true that at the same time our expenditure upon Poor Law administration has risen very substantially. In 1849 it amounted to a tax of 6s. 8d. per head of the population. In 1909 it had risen to 9s per head of the population. But does anyone really regret that addition? It is due to more humane administration and a wiser application of the true principles which ought to prevail with regard particularly to outdoor relief and the enormous improvement in the policy and conditions which used to prevail both in our workhouses and in all our Poor Law institions. That is a fact which we should not leave out of account in dealing with the situation which we have to confront. I may add another expression of complete agreement with the right hon. Gentleman when he said that if possible we should not allow this matter to degenerate into a controversy between the Majority and the Minority Reports. There is a large scheme of common ground between the two. If you leave out this question of labels, which I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has ruled outside the sphere of controversy, whether this thing or that is Socialism, whether this or that is bureaucratic, you will find in a very large area, I will not say how much, but the larger part of the area, possibly both of legislation and administration, there is a very substantial agreement of opinion between both sides. But on the points on which they are agreed I am not sure whether it is possible or practicable to carry out their recommendations. They have both pronounced sentence of death on boards of guardians. Let us assume they are right, I think you will find that the boards of guardians will die very hard. They are very powerful bodies. With all their defects and shortcomings they after all represent an enormous amount of gratuitous and public-spirited service which has been rendered by men and by women over a long course of years, who do not live in the glare of publicity, who receive few of the rewards which fall to those who occupy more prominent positions both in local and imperial administration, and whose services in many cases we could ill spare from the sphere of local administration. I confess I am old-fashioned in that matter.
Sir F. BANBURY
So am I.
The PRIME MINISTER
We go some part of the way together, but there comes the parting point sooner or later. I confess, as an old-fashioned individual, speaking for myself, I note with some amount, I will not say of suspicion, but of doubt and uncertainty, the substitution of a centralised authority with regard to many aspects of the problem of Poor Law administration, for those who, with spontaniety of impulse, with large local experience, with considerable elasticity of principle in different circumstance and varying cases, have hitherto discharged these duties. But having made these reservations, I must add one thing more, in which I think I shall have the agreement of the right hon. Gentleman. I should like very much—I am speaking now in a thoroughly sympathetic spirit with the intention and purposes of this legislation—to have rather a more accurate estimate of the probable cost than anything we have yet had presented. In a moment I will say what has been done in other directions. My hon. Friend in an admirable speech which he delivered, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, himself admitted that there would be a net addition to the cost of certainly something like £3,000,000 or £4,000,000.
Mr. J. W. HILLS
Three to four millions.
The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. Member very properly admitted that it was merely an approximate and conjectural estimate.
Mr. J. W. HILLS
The PRIME MINISTER
So we are in the range of very great uncertainty as to the amount of the addition that these changes would make to the cost of Poor Law administration. I agree entirely with what was said by the Leader of the Opposition that if you once lay down your principle, if you are once satisfied that you are going to avoid the duplication, the overlapping, the friction, and the waste of the existing machinery—in other words, if you are going to get full value for your money—neither this House nor the country at large would grudge considerable additional expenditure. I do not allude to the question of cost in the least as barring out legislation of this kind, but I do say that before we embark upon it in the practical shape of an Act of Parliament you should be quite sure that you are going to get these advantages, and that the cost will not be more than adequate to the results to be achieved. Let me point out that I am not in any way barring or suggesting the expediency of whittling down, still less of delaying legislative improvements, but since this Commission on the Poor Law was appointed—indeed, since its Report was presented—very large steps have been taken—both legislative and administrative—in the direction in which we all desire to move. Old age pensions enormously mitigate, if they have not completely transformed the problem so far as it relates to old age. That large provision which both parties are now absolutely agreed ought to be maintained, and, indeed, developed it must be by the removal of the Poor Law disqualification, has, at any rate, if not solved, gone some way towards removing one of the most dangerous, if not one of the most urgent aspects of the case. The provision of old age pensions is, as everybody knows, to be followed, and here again I believe, by the universal consent of all parties in the State, since it is not a party question, and the differences which exist do not at all correspond with the lines of party, it is to be followed, and if we can carry out our intentions, it will be continued and developed by a scheme for insurance against unemployment, which again will remove from the area of both legislative and ad- ministrative difficulty which a very considerable part of the problem with which the Commissioners have to deal. I do not represent that as in any way solving the problem. We have got still to deal with invalidity and sickness, and some of the other hazards of industrial life. Surely when these things have, as I believe they will be by the unanimous support of Parliament and the country, been provided for, and provided for, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition most properly said, outside the area of Poor Law administration, entirely outside that area—for old age pensions and old age pension committees have no relation to Poor Law administration—and when you come to deal with those other developments of an insurance scheme, I am sure there will be equal care to see that they shall lie outside the province of this institution in the sense in which it is commonly understood—when you have done that by means of legislation, when you have provided, as we have during last year in the Labour Exchanges, a satisfactory answer to the recommendations. I think, both of the Majority and the Minority of the Royal Commission, when you consider that in the establishment of Trade Boards we have done something, not only for the cure of destitution, but for its prevention with regard to sweated trades—if you take all those things into account, the problem, large as it is, urgent as it is. has been very largely curtailed in dimensions, and a very considerable advance has, at any rate, been made towards dealing with particular cases.Let me point out in the same connection my right hon. Friend who sits beside me (Mr. Burns)—whose work in the Local Government Board I believe will always live in the annals of that Department as one of the most successful pieces of administration in our time—my right hon. Friend has, by his circular letters and Orders, in the first place impressed upon the boards of guardians and the local authorities the necessity of dealing with the problem of outdoor relief in the widest and the largest spirit. He has further, as was prominently brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Horne), been insisting, with all the strength which the central authority can command in its dealings with local authorities, on the importance of removing the children from the workhouses. Excluding the sick, who are necessarily kept in the special infirmaries, and the children under three, who are in the workhouse nurseries under the care to a large extent of their mothers, there remain in the workhouses only a very small proportion of the total number of children under the Poor Law. The Local Government Board is pursuing that campaign with even greater vigour at the present time and for the future than in the past. With regard to the all-important question which lies at the very root of reform of Poor Law administration, the abolition of the mixed workhouse, that is not, of course, a very easy thing to do. There are the workhouses. They have been allowed to grow up; they cost a great deal of money; they employ very large staffs; and the whole local system of administration for the last fifty years has been based on the assumption that they will continue to exist. You cannot abolish them—no Administration can—by a stroke of the pen or by a wave of a wand. All you can do is what my right hon. Friend (Mr. Burns) is and has been for the last four years doing, to encourage guardians everywhere to adopt the system of classification in institutions in substitution for the general mixed system. In all these ways—first, by legislation, actual and contemplated; next, by administration, strenuously and persistently pursued, as it has been by my right hon. Friend—I think we may fairly claim, at any rate, to have somewhat diminished the dimensions of the problem with which Parliament four years ago was faced. We have done it with practically universal consent. I do not think any change of Government or any alteration in the distribution of political power outside or inside Parliament would prevent the prosecution of the work substantially on those lines. Do not let it be supposed that I am speaking in an unduly optimistic spirit. I am not. I recognise that vast and far-reaching changes must still be made before we can bring our Poor Law system—I call it our "Poor Law system," but I should like both the name and the thing itself to cease—before we can bring these complex and independent problems of unemployment, destitution, provision for the aged, the sick, and the young, into harmonious relation one with another, and deal with them upon settled principles which, while not sapping independence and encouraging resort to public relief, will at the same time secure that we, as a community, shall be saved from the scandal of unmerited suffering or misfortune, accompanied by humiliating conditions which are of no advantage to the individual con- cerned and reflect nothing but discredit upon the State which imposes them. So far as it is the object and purpose of this Bill to carry out those principles—and I believe that that is the intention of its promoters—the Government, and I think the vast majority of the House, are in hearty sympathy with it. I am sure my hon. Friends who have been so assiduous in the promotion of this legislation will not expect me to say that these ninety-five clauses and three schedules ought to receive the assent of the House of Commons this afternoon. If I may give them a word of advice, I trust they will continue in the country to arouse public opinion in every direction, and to supply facts and argument which will inform those who are perhaps sluggish in their sympathies, or, at any rate, contracted in their knowledge, as to the urgency of these problems. I can assure them, as far as I know the temper of the House of Commons, that the moment we are able to address ourselves with free hands and full opportunity to the solution of the urgent problems which still remain unsolved, we shall carry with us not the support of this party alone, but practically the unanimous conviction and sympathy of the nation at large.
The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Burns)
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have appealed to the House, and through it to the country, that this question of Poor Law administration and its improvement should not become a matter of label, and that the differences which exist amongst the contending schools of reformers should not be a wall between the Montagues of the Majority Report and the Capulets of the Minority Report.I am the Minister in charge of this Department, who has often appeared as an arbitrator not only between the Montagues and the Capulets inside the House, but between the varying contestants outside, who are under the impression that the Poor Law problem can be disposed of in a short time by a Bill, a circular, an order, or the administration of mere machinery. To these I would say that pauperism is something more than a problem which can be removed by either official agency or by legislative enactment. The causes are deep down in our social, industrial, and economic conditions, and they would be idle indeed who thought that by this or by any other Bill, or by a series of Bills the destitution that unfortunately exists in this and many other countries can be disposed of in the House of Commons on a Friday afternoon. But it is important that if we agreed sentimentally with the speeches that have been made this afternoon that the House of Commons should know what the Bill is that is before it today. It is an entirely different document to that which I am sure the Leader of the Opposition, when he appointed the Royal Commission nearly five years ago, expected to secure and to see Tabled as an embodiment of what we all hoped, and what we all desired, a unanimous Report from the Commissioners. These Gentlemen deserve the thanks of the public for the laborious service, energy, and ability that all of them have brought to this great problem. It is only right that the House of Commons should know that this Bill, which is the legislative expression of the Minority Report, seeks to do that which is diametrically opposed to what the majority of that Commission desire. The majority of fourteen require that there shall be one public authority for all aspects of public relief or public assistance. The minority are anxious—in their own phrase—to "break up the Poor Law." That is not a felicitous way of putting it. It is one that is likely to do their cause some harm. They want to break up the Poor Law, to scrap the guardians, and to institute in their place what they hope will lead to simplicity, co-ordination, economy—as some of them say. As expressed in this Bill, their projects may not lead to the simplicity that they desire, but possibly may lead to diffusion of effort, dissipation of money, and probably the repulsion of a number of people who can give the time to work on a single public authority, dealing with all branches of relief, but could not hope to give it if what is now dealt with by one authority, namely, the guardians, is dealt with by several. The majority desire one public authority, not the guardians. In the Minority Bill the work is to be relegated to the education committee, the mentally-defective committee, the public health committee, the pension committee, and, last but not least, the Minister for Labour. His functions are set out with considerable detail. His labours, in adjusting this problem by the machinery of this Bill, the money he will require to do it, and the enormous amount of service that he will be expected to yield for his first year or two of office, I do not envy. There is, and the House is fully aware of it, a fundamental difference between one public authority, and five committees, plus a Minister of Labour. Having said that, may I say a word for the guardians, as I have a right to do. I dissociate myself entirely from the pessimistic criticism of the guardians' work, and even the darker pessimism of some of the reformers who talk about the guardians. It is only right now, when the guardians are under the shadow of the guillotine, that someone should put in a word not only for their services, but for what the guardians, as a system of relief, have been able to do for the pauperism with which they were created to deal. The Prime Minister has given the House one or two figures, and it is right that I, who am conscious of the details, should add one or two so as to indicate that a great deal of nonsense is talked about this subject as well as an amount of sense. When I am asked to abolish the guardians I want to point this out to the House. In the sixty years—not seventy-five years—of their administration pauperism has dropped from sixty-two to twenty-six per thousand, outdoor pauperism from fifty-four to fifteen, and, better still, child pauperism from twenty-six to seven per thousand. Able-bodied outdoor pauperism has dropped from twelve to two, while indoor pauperism has remained stationary. But the indoor pauperism to-day is not the indoor pauperism that it was when the workhouses were properly termed bastiles. That is indicated by the fact that the cost per head of indoor pauperism has risen from £7 18s. 1d. to £13 5s., and that of outdoor pauperism has risen from £3 11s. to £6 1s. 5d. The vast difference between those two sums indicates not only greater humanity, but a number of things which are very creditable to the community as a whole. In 1849 there were only 200 paid professional nurses in the Poor Law service of England and Wales, and I am afraid some of them were of the Mrs. Gamp type. That 200 has been expanded to 6,500 paid professional nurses. In London 50 per cent, of the indoor poor are now in special institutions, such as infirmaries, aged widows' homes and aged people's homes; and in the provinces over 40 per cent, are similarly treated. The hon. Member for Ipswich very properly referred to the child aspect of this problem. It was right he should have done so, because the little child shall lead. We know in this connection, that 94 per cent. of the children to-day under the Poor Law are outside the ordinary workhouse ward, and of 60,000 indoor children in Poor Law institutions only 650 are educated in workhouse schools. I believe the rest are in elementary schools, district or special schools, and the extent to which the guardians have gone in ministering to the children is indicated by the simple fact that there is one institution which cost £186,000, and where the cost of upkeep is £35,000 per year for 723 children, amounting to a gross cost per week per child of 19s. 3d. That represents different treatment to that which Oliver Twist and his junior colleagues in the old type of workhouse received at the hands of the guardians of that particular day. If one wants to know whether this expenditure of public money and this concentration of energy and sympathy with children is profitable, I have a short answer. I have had the opportunity of opening a new building at the Anerley Poor Law School, and I was asked to communicate this fact, that of 12,732 London Poor Law children who passed through London Poor Law schools in ten years, only fifty-five were returned by the employers to whom they had been sent. Facts and figures like that indicate that the Poor Law is in a new atmosphere, and that in relation to the public, the central department and the guardians, the treatment of children, the aged, the infirm, and able-bodied has entirely changed. It is not now the hard, unsympathetic attitude it used to be, but it is sympathetic, progressive, reasonable, and adaptable to any sensible demand that may be made upon it by the House of Commons or the outside public. It is as well, whilst talking about remedies and palliatives, that we should not altogether forget the sources of that which we try to palliate, and the beginnings of that which we hope by this Bill or other means to remedy. I think the House of Commons ought to know it is my duty, although it is not a pleasure to me, to say that so long as we have the reservoir of pauperism as large as it is and as deep as it is, so long as we have these remarkable figures taken from the judicial and criminal statistics for the whole of the United Kingdom, the causes must not be overlooked. I find, on looking into the judicial and criminal statistics, that there were in this Kingdom last year, 1,143,885 persons who were either indicted, prosecuted, fined, and. after prosecution, dis- missed, who were brought up either for indictable or other criminal offences or misdemeanours, and so long as we have this state of things we must, concurrently with keeping an eye on palliatives and remedies, seek to remove the causes that are responsible for much of the expense and for many of the inmates we have in our lunatic asylums, our Poor Law schools, workhouses, and labour colonies. When I find that 331,000 persons out of 1,143,000 persons indicted in the Kingdom were in that position through drink, we have to recognise that fact, and we have to see if we can devise something better whilst we arc rearranging our workhouses and planning the labour and the penal colony so as to provide some counter attraction to the public-house and some means by which the people shall still further be weaned at an accelerated pace from what the figures I have read to the House reveal. Let us never forget it, much of the disorder, the dirt, the disease, the cruelty to children, the assaults on each other, and the improvidence and laziness owe their origin, either directly or indirectly, to drink. I was speaking to a medical officer of a large London Union workhouse and infirmary, and he told me that in the twenty-five years he had been medical officer for that institution 100,000 men and women had passed through his hands for long or short periods, and in the whole of that period he had not known more than a dozen tee-totallers out of that 100,000. We cannot ignore the fact that in the seventy-five years we have had the boards of guardians, we have only spent £600,000,000 on Poor Law institutions and relief, representing but four years of our gigantic drink bill. I am glad to say we are becoming a more sober nation and that drunkenness is decreasing at an accelerated pace. I mention this only to show that palliatives which do not remedy ought not to engage so much of our attention, time and money as the removal of certain causes of British pauperism, a large amount of which, I believe, has its origin and its beginning in the figures and reasons which I have mentioned. I do ask the House not to exaggerate the difficulty with which we are confronted. Reading the reports of British pauperism, one would be under the impression that every man you met in the street was either a pauper or was on the road to becoming a pauper. Hope, after all, is the element of the solution of this problem, and patience, both with the reformers and with the departments and officers responsible for that solution, is absolutely essential. I do not think this problem is as large as it has been stated in certain quarters. On 1st July, 1909, we had 904,000 men, women and children dependent upon public rates or Imperial taxes for relief in England and Wales, but of these 115,000 were insane, 328,000, or 43 per cent, of the total number, were women, and 242,000, or 31 per cent, of the total, were children. There were 201,000 men, able-bodied, aged, sick and infirm, or 26 per cent. These figures are to be still further reduced in their seriousness. The aged and infirm, the children, and the insane are 85 per cent, of the total population relieved, so that the able-bodied, of whom we hear so much, are not so numerous as has been suggested. In all there were 118,000 able-bodied men and women chargeable to Poor Law relief. Indoor there were 47,000, and, of that 47,000, 25,700 were men and 22,123 women. Of the 25,700 men indoors, nominally able-bodied, only 9,573 were able-bodied men in health in our workhouses, out of an aggregate number of 904,000 in July last year. Of these 9,500, 3,208, or 33 per cent., were in London. It means this, that there are less than 0.3 per thousand of the population, or less than 300 per million of our population, able-bodied men in health in our workhouses. A very significant figure is that even the aggregate pauperism is largely a matter of families, because 124,000 families provided 400,000 persons out of the 900,000, or 47 per cent, of the total pauperism was provided by this relatively small number of families. It is suggested that these able-bodied men in health should be dealt with in various ways. I have not yet come across any specific remedy for inducing an able-bodied man in health who is indisposed to work to take on that which he has hitherto avoided, and to resume industrial habits. Some form of institutional treatment is suggested by all schools of reform. I have been in Germany, France, and Belgium. I think I have seen all the labour colonies, farm colonies, and penal colonies that set out to convert men by compulsory detention in an institution, whatever you may call it, from idleness into industrious habits, and I have found no reliable case where the prison does not degrade and where the colony does rescue. I find on the contrary that where a man is once a colonist he is always a colonist. The experience of Ger- many in particular, to which a number of Englishmen are too frequently going for all sorts of models and illustrations—I personally object to it because this is a freer country; we have been reared in the spirit, habits, and traditions of liberty and freedom, and Englishmen will not reconcile themselves to what other nations will submit to in the way of restraint—I say the experience of Germany is that wherever there is such a system of compulsion it has broken down utterly, apart from the objection to what is practically administrative imprisonment. This is the effect of reports which have reached me from Hamburg, Leipsic, and other places. That is affirmed by my own visits to these places, and I trust that whoever approaches this problem of the Poor Law will see that the aged problem is being considerably modified from the former point of view by the passing of the Old Age Pensions Bill. It is difficult to form an estimate, but I believe there are 34,000 fewer people over seventy years of age receiving relief than would have been receiving it had it not been for the passing of the Old Age Pensions Bill. The aged problem is being looked at from an entirely different point of view; the sick problem in this country is rapidly being assimilated to the standard adopted by outside hospitals; and the Poor Law child problem is on the way rapidly to a successful solution. If it had been possible, and within my power, I would have it provided that the Local Government Board should secure power to interfere between the parent and the child when it would be better for both that the child in its ultimate state should be parted from the parent. I wish it were possible for me to be able to transplant at once, or within the next few months, some 15,000 or 20,000 Poor Law children to many of the Colonies where there are homes waiting for them, not as drudges or as servants, but rather as companions. We are unable to do that because the consent of the parent is necessary before such a thing can be done. It is, however, a matter of serious importance—and those who support this Bill have to consider what it means that someone in the person of a State officer should intervene between the parent and the child—perhaps for the benefit of the child. It is also a matter for regret that we have thousands of parents in this country who never trouble to regard (heir children, as they ought to regard them, from the moment they are taken from them to the Poor Law school until the time arrives when the boy or the girl reaches thirteen of fourteen years and has a wage-earning capacity. Difficult though it may be to solve that problem, I think a way out ought to be found, so that we should be able to have these fine boys or girls educated in the Poor Law schools under our care. Thus their education and their training would not be thrown away by the child being restored to the slum, the mean street, and, perchance, to a degraded means of making its living. Anyone who wishes to deal with the problem like that in that manner may rely upon it that either by enactment or administration or order we should do our best to forward it. The Leader of the Opposition questioned me as to whether it would not be possible for us to provide some estimate of cost of what this Bill would amount to if it were carried into law. It would be only an estimate, but I do not think it is £5,000,000 or £6,000,000. I consider myself that it is nearer double that sum, but there is a gentleman in a better position than either the hon. Member who dissents or myself for giving something like an approximate estimate as to its cost, and that is Lord George Hamilton, to whom the thanks of the community are due for his five years devoted labour as Chairman of this Commission. This is his view. I give it for what it is worth, but the Chairman of a Royal Commission ought to know something about the probable cost of his own Report and any of the others. Speaking of the Report of the Minority, he says:—
I leave that statement for what it is worth. I believe that the minority do not accept it. My own view is that he is nearer the truth than the supporters of this Bill, and I am convinced.that facts subsequently may confirm his view. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to deal with.another point. I can give some figures with regard to this problem. London spends nearly £4,000,000 per annum upon its Poor Law, but that is a small proportion of the total amount of money that is spent upon the Poor Law or cognate subjects, either by public money or by private charity. For instance, neither this Bill nor the Majority Report makes adequate provision for dealing with, not only the overlapping of one branch of Poor Law administration with another branch of public health expenditure, but neither of these two Reports makes adequate provision for the rivalry between outside public charities—overlapping to an extent that one can hardly conceive unless one goes into figures. There are 1,960 institutions in London which have a revenue of £12,000,000 per annum from public charities, but much of that charity is used for what in the Poor Law world are Poor Law purposes—infirmary work, hospital work, special and general relief, many forms of destitution, homes for children, homes for blind people, and so forth. What I want to recognise is that the King Edward Hospital Fund deserves the thanks of every one for doing the work that they are engaged upon, seeing that the public have better value for the money that the general public subscribe, and the Association of Subscribers to Charities are to be congratulated upon having determined that much of the money that has hitherto been wasted both by private and public charity in London, and the recipients of which are private charity to-day and public charity to-morrow, shall be wasted no longer. They alternate it with infirmary relief and Poor Law relief to such an extent that any man or woman who has failed as a bogus company promoter can really have a relatively good time if he knows his way about London and knows how to exploit these various public and private and Poor Law charities. The Local Government Board, the King Edward Hospital Fund, and the Association of Subscribers to. Charities ought to get together and see that the generous public are not exploited, that the ratepayer gets value for the money that he gives for any scheme of Poor Law relief or public assistance, and that the money saved by the prevention of fraud, waste, or extravagance shall go to relieve people who have a good claim upon the community, and are not relieved adequately, as they ought to be, because the wrong type of person is going away with the right person's money. The House may rest assured that so far as we are concerned we will do everything within our power to co-ordinate—I loathe the word—public with what is known as ordinary private charity, and that we shall see that wherever there is reason to do so, public assistance will be given to supplement the efforts of the community. I am grateful to the Prime Minister, to the Leader of the Opposition, and to other hon. Members in all quarters of the House for the kindly way in which they have referred to the efforts of my department in this particular matter—" He held that if fully adopted, it would result in three things—in the annihilation of the family system, in absolute administrative chaos, and lastly, in universal local bankruptcy. The adoption of many of their proposals would cause an addition of something like £18,000,000 per annum beyond existing expenditure, or in all £33,000,000, as against £15,000,000 now for England and Wales."
" For forms of government let fools contest;
For the past eighteen months I have taken both the Majority and the Minority Reports of the Royal Commission to see what was good and practicable in them. And I have tried immediately to apply the recommendations either in the mitigation of poverty or in the solution of this great problem. I am indeed grateful to the House that they have done my Department the honour, and paid myself the compliments they have done in this Debate, and that there has not been one unkind word or criticism of the Department during the past four and a half years, when it has been doing its best to achieve—and perhaps it will achieve sooner than would be done by this measure—many of the remedies so that we may mitigate the pauperism we have in this country.Whate'er is best administered is best."
Mr. HICKS BEACH
I think the House will recognise that the President of the Local Government Board has done his best to bring about, so far as practicable by administration under the present law, the suggestions made in the Majority and Minority Reports. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman testify to the good work done by the existing Poor Law guardians. Both the Majority and Minority Reports recommended the entire abolition of the boards of guardians. But for the statements we have heard to-day from Members of the Government hon. Members on both sides of the House might have been inclined to make up their minds in a hurry that boards of guardians should be abolished. I seriously differ in that respect from the gentlemen who signed the Majority and the Minority Reports. The right hon. Gentleman has testified that the boards of guardians for the last sixty years have done extraordinarily good work. He has pointed out that the number of paupers, both indoor and outdoor, has decreased in a remarkable manner during that period.And it being Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned. Whereupon Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 3.
Adjourned at Three minutes after Five of the; clock, till Monday next. 11th April.