« VorigeDoorgaan »
the attacks on the Government were stimulated by the announcement on February 15, that Lord Charles Beresford would retire from the command of the Channel Fleet on March 24, after two years' service-three years being the usual term. This was explained as preliminary to the redistribution of the fleet (post, p. 49), but was popularly ascribed to his disapproval of Admiralty policy.
Thus the prospect for the session was dominated by the questions of the strength of the Navy, of the Budget, and of social reform. The day after Parliament met another formidable series of subjects for legislation in the last-named sphere for more than one session was provided by the publication of the Report of the Poor Law Commission appointed in December, 1905, with Lord George Hamilton as chairman. The Commission contained a number of high authorities on the subjects with which it dealt, including various high Poor-Law officials, Mr. C. S. Loch of the Charity Organisation Society, Professor Smart of Glasgow, and three well-known ladies-Miss Octavia Hill, Mrs. Bosanquet, and Mrs. Sidney Webb. It held over 200 meetings, heard 1,300 witnesses, sent out special investigators, and visited many unions and institutions in the three kingdoms; and its evidence and other material filled forty volumes. The Report volume was the largest ever issued by a British Royal Commission; and the mere summary of its contents occupied three pages of the Times. It is impossible here, therefore, to give more than a bare indication of its contents. But it may be said that it contained a majority and a minority report. The former, signed with some reservations by fourteen of the eighteen Commissioners, was largely statistical and historical, dealing with the history of Poor-Law administration before and since 1835, the causes of and remedies for unemployment, and the reorganisation of charity; and it made 239 recommendations as to reform. Briefly, the majority of the Commissioners held that the Local Government Board should have more direction and initiative in assisting local authorities in relief; and that these latter should be entirely reorganised. Boards of Guardians should be abolished and replaced by a "Public Assistance Authority" in each county or county borough, with Public Assistance Committees under it with delegated powers, one Committee (in the first instance) in each existing union area. The poor rate would be a county or county borough rate. The Public Assistance Authority would be a committee of the County or County Borough Council, half being appointed by that body from its own members or otherwise, the other half appointed from outside it, and consisting of persons experienced in "public assistance" (the recommendations avoided the terms "poor" and " poor" and "charity "), and one-third retiring each year. Women were to be eligible under either head. The Public Assistance Committees were to be appointed by the authority, and to include representatives
of the local Urban and Rural District Councils, and of the Local Voluntary Aid Committees of which the Report contemplated the formation. Of these Public Assistance Committees at least one-third should ordinarily be women, and the members should be experienced in "public assistance". One-third should retire annually, but should be re-eligible. For London the general scheme was modified as follows: half of that half of the Public Assistance Authority which was to consist of non-members of the County Council "skilled in public assistance" was to be appointed by the Local Government Board, so as to secure representation of the medical and legal professions, employers and workmen, hospitals and charities, etc.; and the Public Assistance Committees would contain some borough councillors. The poor rate, moreover, was to be made uniform throughout London.
The Public Assistance Committees in each area were to take their powers from the Authority; they were to inquire into cases for assistance, administer aid in conjunction with the Voluntary Aid Committees, and supervise the public charitable institutions within their areas. These would be of seven kinds, the old workhouses being abolished: institutions for (1) children, (2) the aged and infirm, (3) the sick, (4) able-bodied men, (5) ablebodied women, (6) vagrants, and (7) the feeble-minded and epileptic. In each subordinate area, alongside the Public Assistance and Voluntary Aid Committees, there was to be a Labour Exchange and a State-aided organisation of unemployment insurance. The unemployed would be dealt with by the Public Assistance Authority; but those who required detention and discipline would be transferred to Labour Colonies under the Home Department.
The Commission, while admitting many exceptions, found the work of Boards of Guardians generally unsatisfactory, and concluded that general workhouses, the consequence of the existing small areas, were often ill-administered and normally demoralising. Out-relief was given in doles, and often inadequately, and sometimes "subsidised dirt, disease, and immorality. The elective system failed to get a sufficiency of competent guardians, and little interest was taken in the elections. It was claimed by the Commission that their scheme would ensure the co-operation of local and private charity with the public authorities; members of the public assistance bodies would sit on the Voluntary Aid Committees and Councils, and vice versa, and the Charity Commission would receive widened. powers and be affiliated to the Local Government Board. In each county or county borough the Voluntary Aid Committees would be under a council, formed under a scheme approved by the Charity Commission, and containing, besides members of the Public Assistance Authority, trustees of endowed charities, representatives of registered voluntary charities, trade associations, friendly societies and co-opted persons; this body would
advise, and collect funds for, the Voluntary Aid Committees in its area; and these latter would aid cases unsuitable for public assistance, or referred to them by the Public Assistance Committee of their area. They would investigate, aid, visit, and register cases, and would be eligible for grants from the Public Assistance Authority, but would also raise money by subscription. Disfranchisement on account of public assistance would be confined to those assisted for more than three months in the qualifying year, and reception of medical relief should not disfranchise. Careful classification of the recipients of relief, now officially to be described as "necessitous," not "destitute,' and different treatment of the different classes, were throughout contemplated, and the appointment of a temporary commission under the Local Government Board was recommended to bring the new system into working.
One of the most impressive portions of the Majority Report dealt with unemployment and the efforts hitherto made to relieve it. It was pointed out that in spite of improvements in economic conditions, machinery and the stress of competition demanded more skill than most workmen possessed, and tended to throw out men at an increasingly early age. Thus there was a mass of casual unskilled labour, swelled by the skilled men thrown out of work by changes in manufacture; there were no means of getting such men fresh employment, and the total amount of the unskilled labour was unknown. The workhouse and labour-yard tended to produce inefficiency and degrade the efficient outdoor relief, unemployed relief funds, and municipal relief works, were similarly unsatisfactory, and tended to concentrate instead of dispersing inefficient casual labour; the Unemployed Act of 1905, while useful in that it prepared for a diagnosis of the evil and a classification and dispersal of the unemployed, had in fact perpetuated the old evils of provision for the casual labourer by relief works, and had failed to continue to attract charitable funds. The Commission saw remedies for unemployment: (1) in better education, a higher age of leaving school, and means for diverting boys from unskilled occupations ending with manhood (an evil on which special stress was laid), by technical training, and advice to parents; (2) in a national system of Labour Exchanges, in the "regularisation of employment" by public bodies (in getting their own work done at slack times) and in Unemployment Assurance, which should be voluntary, and conducted by trade unions and provident organisations subsidised by the State. For the various classes of unemployed various treatment was proposed, including detention for the loafers and emigration.
The Minority Report of 500 pages, signed by four Commissioners-the Rev. H. Russell Wakefield, Mr. F. Chandler, Mr. George Lansbury, and Mrs. Sidney Webb-started from the same basic conceptions as the majority, but went a good deal further and produced a more systematised and uniform scheme.
Holding that the regular "destitution authorities "-the Boards of Guardians—were having their work overlapped and encroached on by "specialised authorities," i.e., the Education, Health and Asylums Committees of the County and Borough Councils, and the Old Age Pensions Committees, and also by unsystematised charitable work of various descriptions, the minority held that the functions of the Guardians (and the poor-law functions of the Scottish Parish Councils) should be transferred to the County or County Borough Council and exercised through its committees. The provision for the ablebodied and the non-able-bodied requiring relief should be wholly separated, the latter being dealt with by the committees of the council; and under each County or County Borough Council there should be a registrar of Public Assistance with a staff, who should register cases requiring relief, assess and recover the charges made by Parliament for the purpose, and sanction the grants of "Home Aliment" proposed by the committee. The various committees would be under separate Government departments. The duty of organising the national labour market so as to prevent or minimise unemployment should be laid on a special Ministry of Labour, which should arrange a ten years' programme of Government work, to cost 4,000,000l. a year, but to be undertaken only in "the lean years of the trade cycle," and carried out by ordinary labour paid at ordinary local
The chances of acceptance of the Minority Report were obviously remote. Towards the vast schemes of the Majority Report a beginning was made during the session by the Labour Exchanges Bill; the rest was left for future years.
The Ministry met Parliament slightly altered. Sir Hudson Kearley, who had become Chairman of the Port of London Authority (refusing the salary), was replaced as Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade by Mr. H. J. Tennant, M.P., who was well-informed and interested in Labour questions; and Mr. Sinclair, the Scottish Secretary, had been raised to the Peerage as Lord Pentland.
THE SESSION UNTIL EASTER.
IN grey cold February weather with a few gleams of sunshine, the King and Queen opened Parliament on Tuesday, February 16. As usual, they were heartily cheered; and a procession of wives and children of the unemployed, headed by women agitators, was kept at a safe distance from the Houses of Parliament. Bearing minatory banners, and accompanied by a car on which was a representation of a dilapidated cottage-"The Englishman's Home"-it marched from Cavendish Square
through Oxford Street, Bond Street, Park Lane and Belgravia to
Two of the
The Royal Speech began with an emphatic reference to the cordiality of the reception of the King and Queen at Berlin, and its expected effect on Anglo-German friendship. Mention was next made of the Waterways and Fisheries treaties, and of the renewal of the arbitration agreements with France, Italy and Spain. The state of affairs in Persia was declared imperatively to demand the introduction of "representative institutions in a practical form." The Government had no desire to depart from the principle of non-intervention, but was exchanging views with the Russian Government in view of their common interest. The prospect in the Near East was declared to have improved. Sympathetic reference was made to the Italian earthquake, and to the aid given by the fleet. The conclusions to be reached by the International Naval Conference would be embodied in legislation. Satisfaction was expressed at the reception of the proposals for improving Indian administration, and legislation was promised. Reference was also made to the work of the South African Federation Convention. An unusually long paragraph stated that, owing especially to the new provision for old age and the increase in the cost of the Navy, the expenditure of the year would be considerably increased, and its consideration would leave less time than usual for other legislation. The legislative programme included the Irish Land Bill and the Housing and Town Planning Bill, postponed from 1908, and a Welsh Disestablishment Bill. The recommendations of the Poor Law Commission were stated to be under consideration. Other Bills would deal with labour exchanges, wages boards in trades "in which the evils known as 'sweating" prevail," Parliamentary elections, and registration in London, the inequalities in the system of Old Age Pensions, the landing of fish caught in prohibited areas (which would be forbidden), the law dealing with inebriates, the supply of milk, and the hours of work in shops. The speech concluded with the customary invocation of the Divine blessing.
In the House of Lords the address was moved by the Earl of Liverpool, and seconded by Lord Hemphill.
The Marquess of Lansdowne followed, commenting as usual on the Speech, paragraph by paragraph, and noting with special satisfaction the success of the Berlin visit and the treaties with the United States. As to Persia, he said that representative institutions were not a panacea for the troubles of Eastern countries, and he agreed, though with some reserve, that the situation in the Balkans had improved. A spirit of reasonableness seemed abroad among the Powers, and the Government deserved credit so far as they had contributed to improving the