Front Page Titles (by Subject) 47.: The Metropolitan Poor Bill  8 MARCH, 1867 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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47.: The Metropolitan Poor Bill  8 MARCH, 1867 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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The Metropolitan Poor Bill 
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 185, cols. 1608–10, 1616. Reported in The Times, 9 March, p. 7, from which the variant and responses are taken. Mill indicated in a letter of 9 March to Chadwick that his comments were “imperfectly reported,” though the account in the Morning Star—which Hansard would have used in his collation—was “the best” (LL, CW, Vol. XVI, pp. 1254–5). Mill spoke during Committee consideration of the Metropolitan Poor Bill (for which, see No. 45). Clause 5, on which Mill first spoke, and which was approved, read: “Asylums to be supported and managed according to the provisions of this Act may be provided under this Act for Reception and Relief of the Sick, Insane, or Infirm, or other Class or Classes of the Poor Chargeable in Unions and Parishes in the Metropolis.” Mill’s second intervention came on Clause 9—“the Managers shall . . . be partly elective and partly nominated”—immediately after speeches by Chambers and Torrens that are summarized in the text below.
(Chambers’s amendment was defeated.)
mr. j. stuart mill said, he was too much alive to the extreme difficulty of carrying any measure for the improvement of the law or its administration to be over critical in regard to the present Bill, as it was brought forward with a real desire to improve the administration of the Poor Law,1 and really did so in many important particulars. But he wished to make a few observations, chiefly for the purpose of eliciting the views of the right honourable Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne-Hardy), and of entering a caveat in respect to principles of administration which seemed to him true and just, but which that measure was very far from carrying out to the extent which he was persuaded the House and the country would come in time to think desirable. He wished to ask the reason why the Bill, in the new system which it originated, preserved so much of the fractional character of the old system. Why was it necessary, for example, that there should be one set of managers for asylums, and a different set for dispensaries? Why were asylums to be provided according to districts marked out by the Poor Law Board, while dispensaries were to be provided according to parishes and unions? Both of those institutions, being kindred institutions, must be managed in a certain degree on the same principles, and those who were capable of managing the one must be capable of managing the other. Why was it thought necessary that the management of every separate asylum should be under a separate body, and that every separate dispensary should be under a separate management? No doubt, the right honourable Gentleman meant that there should be the same system of administration for them, and trusted to the powers reserved for the Poor Law Board for establishing it.2 But it was a sound rule that the administration of the same kind of things ought to be, as far as possible, on a large scale, and under the same management. A Central Board would be under the eye of the public, who would know and think more about it than about local Boards. It would act under a much greater sense of responsibility. The number of persons capable of adequately performing the duties in question was necessarily limited, and such persons would be more easily induced to undertake duties on a large scale than on a small one. It was probable that a considerable number of powers now reserved to the Poor Law Board might safely be exercised by such a Central Board; which would, to that extent, preserve the principle of the administration of the local affairs of the people by their own representatives. (Hear.) He was not one of those who desired to weaken the power of the Poor Law Board to guide local authorities, and supersede them when they failed in their duty, for Poor Law administration is not a local but a national concern. But there was much force in what was said by some local authorities, who did not object to the main principles of this Bill, who admitted that its proposals were necessary, who applauded the right honourable Gentleman for making them, yet had fair ground for urging that they ought to have the opportunity of themselves doing what was required, and that interference should take place only when they had failed. With a view to future legislation it would be well worth considering whether the administration of the relief of the sick poor for the whole of London should not be placed under central instead of local management, the Central Board to be constituted by election, or partly by election and partly by nomination. He did not wonder that the right honourable Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne-Hardy) had not chosen to leave the sick poor in the hands of the vestries. Vestry government was hole and corner government, and he hoped the time was coming when they would not tolerate hole and corner administration for any purpose whatever. He hoped, before long, to have the opportunity of bringing this matter before the House in connection with the general subject of metropolitan local government. Of course, some of the vestries had suffered wrongfully for the deficiencies of those who had done worse; but it was in the essence of hole and corner government to be comparatively irresponsible, inefficient, jobbing, and carried on by inferior persons—objections which would not apply to a Central Board. With a Central Board in existence, the duties of the vestries would be those of superintendence rather than of execution. A numerically large Board was unfit for executive or administrative duties, but admirably fitted for looking after those who were intrusted with such duties. Administrative duties were best intrusted to a single hand, which should be responsible, and, if possible, paid (hear, hear); and the executive administration of the Poor Laws should principally devolve on paid officers, who would be watched in the districts by the vestries, which would consist of ready-made critics superintending others with a vigilance with which they did not like others to superintend them. (Hear, hear.) aIn this way an addition might be made to the provisions of this Bill for securing appropriate superintendents.a The proposal to make the asylums medical schools, and thus to secure to them a high degree of publicity and the constant supervision of skilled persons, did the greatest credit to whoever suggested it, and was a proof of a real capacity for practical legislation.3 (Hear, hear.)
[In the discussion of Clause 9, Thomas Chambers moved an amendment to the effect that all the managers should be elected. McCullagh Torrens, while expressing great anxiety that the Bill should pass, argued in favour of the amendment, asserting that opinion outside the House was unanimous that control should not be taken out of the ratepayers’ hands.4 ]
Mr. J. Stuart Mill said, he agreed with the honourable Gentleman, and did not see any reason for the provisions in the Bill by which the Poor Law Board were empowered to appoint a certain number of guardians.5 According to his view, the guardians were, or ought to be, quite competent to perform their duties without any assistance from the Government of any kind; but in the case of the appointment of a manager, in whom special skill was required, popular election might not be altogether so satisfactory as the appointment of a responsible functionary. He was therefore fully disposed to support this particular clause, although he should oppose, with his honourable Friend the Member for Finsbury, that part of the Bill which left the nomination of the guardians in the hands of the Poor Law Board.
[1 ]4 & 5 William IV, c. 76 (1834).
[2 ]Gathorne-Hardy spoke on introducing the Bill on 8 February (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 185, cols. 150–75), and on moving its second reading on 21 February (ibid., cols. 771–80).
[3 ]By Clause 29 of the Bill as amended.
[4 ]William Torrens McCullagh Torrens (1813–94), M.P. for Finsbury, Speech on the Metropolitan Poor Bill (8 Mar.), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 185, cols. 1615–16.
[5 ]By Clause 79 of the Bill as amended.