Front Page Titles (by Subject) 49.: The Metropolitan Poor Bill  14 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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49.: The Metropolitan Poor Bill  14 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. 1861–2. Reported in The Times, 15 March, p. 5, from which the variants and response are taken. Mill was the first speaker in debate on the third reading of the Bill
(see No. 45).
i wish to make only one or two observations. This Bill effects a great improvement in the existing state of things, and the chief thing to be regretted is that it does not go further. (Hear, hear.) The right honourable Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne-Hardy) has reserved to himself1 the decision of a point which he was urged by several deputations to decide by the Bill itself—namely, the extent and boundaries of the districts, each of which is to have an asylum to itself.2 I wish to urge upon the right honourable Gentleman the importance of making these districts large; as large as the present or future Parliamentary districts. Less than this will not answer the purpose; and I hope the right honourable Gentleman will give us this evening some idea of what are his purposes on this subject. Another point of more importance is, that there should be created, to stand between the Poor Law Board and the local Boards, an intermediate representative body, which might be intrusted with the aexecution of those rules and principles which concerneda the metropolis as a whole, and which, although elected, might have the exercise delegated to it of some of the functions now reserved to the Poor Law Board. I much regret that the right honourable Gentleman has not taken powers to establish such an authority, for we know that he is himself favourable for it.3 The value of large bodies representing large constituencies, as compared with small bodies representing small districts, is indisputable. I will at present confine myself to suggesting one or two practical cases in which it will be found of importance. Take the case of an epidemic likely to affect the whole metropolis, but for the present confined to a single district. In that case the resources of the entire metropolis could, through the administration of the general Board, be applied to the district in which they were wanted. Something like this was done lately in apprehension of a visit of the cholera, by the establishment of a central committee sitting at the Mansion House.4 That committee centralized the charity of the whole of London. Again, there is the case of bsevereb destitution confined to certain districts. In these cases the buildings and beds in some parts of the metropolis are empty, while in the districts suffering the distress they are crowded. The value of a central or intermediate Board between the Poor Law Board and the local bodies, to superintend the application of the resources of the whole metropolis to the immediate exigencies of the distressed districts, is in such cases obvious. This function might well be discharged by a Central Board composed partly of the ratepayers’ nominees, and partly of persons selected by the Commissioners. Another most important consideration is that referring to the providing of food, medicine, and other necessaries for the hospitals. In many cases, also, relief is most advantageously given in kind, which makes it very important that provision should be made for obtaining the best articles possible. To make contracts for the supply of these things is an operation for which no local or small body can be by many degrees so fit as is a central body either in point of efficiency or economy. Jobbing, which is inseparable from hole-and-corner proceedings, need not be apprehended in the case of a body representing the whole metropolis, making purchases on a large scale, and entering into large contracts competed for by opulent firms, for these transactions, being of a public nature, would be carried on under the eyes of the world, and subject to public criticism. No one can dispute, and the right honourable Gentleman must be perfectly aware, that efficiency and economy in contracts are better secured when the body which makes them must do so with publicity—when it stands conspicuous in the public eye. To any one disposed to object to the suggestion for creating an intermediate or central elected Board, like the one I am speaking of, that it is a step on the road to centralization, I would say that if the establishment of such an intermediate body be denied, the denial of it would be a far greater step towards centralization. The powers which such a body is best qualified to exercise have become indispensable. They will therefore be necessarily assumed by a purely Government Board, without any elected body at all—by the Poor Law Board. These are the suggestions I offer to the right honourable Gentleman, and the reasons by which I support them.
[After a few more observations, including Gathorne-Hardy’s that they might institute such a Board if the need for new powers became apparent in the next year and a half (cols. 1864–5), the Bill was given third reading.]
[1 ]By Clause 6 of the Bill.
[2 ]See, e.g., “The Metropolitan Poor Bill,” The Times, 7 Mar., 1867, p. 6, which reports the views of the deputation from the vestry of St. James in Mill’s constituency.
[a-a]TT] PD administration of the law concerning
[3 ]See Gathorne-Hardy’s speech of 8 Mar., cols. 1610–11.
[4 ]See “The Distress of East London,” The Times, 21 Jan., 1867, p. 4.