12 AUGUST 1905, Page 7


.N:L'S well that ends well, and when we remember how ill the Unemployed Bill began this reflection is more than usually consoling. Almost every one, indeed, has some cause to feel satisfied with the final form of the measure. Consistent Conservatives see their party no longer associated with a strangely revolutionary project. The inconsistent Conservatives, of whom Mr. Balfour is the type and leader, can please themselves with attributing to the Liberals an opposition which was only dangerous because it came principally from their own side. The Labour party see the next Government compelled to deal with the subject afresh in three years from the date of the Act. And men who distrust Bills drawn mainly for electioneering ends, and raising more difficulties than they profess to remove—a class happily to be found in all parties—have the satisfaction of knowing that before that time comes we shall be in possession of an immense body of informa- tion in the evidence collected by the new Poor Law Com- mission. No failure on the part either of those who nominate the Commissioners or of the Commissioners who are appointed can deprive us of this benefit. We shall know what the most competent experts think on the new and difficult problems with which the Commission will be confronted. The Report may be prejudiced, wrong- headed, one-sided. It may take no account of plain facts, and go wandering after theories which have no applica- tion to actual life. But the evidence will be there in any case, and in that there will be the raw material upon which all useful conclusions must in the last resort be formed.

• To say this is not to imply that it is unimportant how the Commissioners are chosen. The evidence and the Report have each its office. From one point of view the evidence is of more consequence, since it must be the foundation of even the ablest Report. But from another point of view the Report takes precedence of the evidence, because it will be read in whole or in part by many who will never see the other. If we were all keenly interested in the subject, and capable of weighing testimony against testimony and opinion against opinion, Reports might be dispensed with. We should all, in fact, be Commissioners. As it is, very many of us are quite unable to turn a vast series of Blue-books to any useful purpose. We hardly know so much as where to buy them, and if we do get as far as this, we are at the mercy of each succeeding witness. Each theory of the cause and cure of want of employment seems good until the next has been read, and in the end the only feeling left is one of thankfulness that it is not we who have to pronounce between them. This conscious incompetence is greatly helped by a strong Report. Such a Report is to the general public what the summing up of a Judge is to a jury. It disentangles and emphasises what is important. It brushes away rhetoric and senti- ment, and recalls the reader to the region in which each action has its natural consequences, however confidently the actors may count on escaping or averting them. We are not at all inclined to underrate the difficulties attending the choice of the Commissioners. Mr. Balfour has set himself a task the fulfilment of which will make heavy demands alike on his judgment and on his courage. He will be implored by some to make the Commission large and representative. If he yields to this pressure, the evidence may almost as well be published without the Report, since the Report will add nothing to what the evidence tells us. A representative Com- mission is neither more nor less than a packed Commission. The official representative goes in to defend his depart- mental methods. The Labour representative goes in to advocate what he thinks the interest of his clients. It is quite right that these opinions should be laid before the Commission, but the proper place for those who expound them is the witness's chair. What becomes a Commis- sioner is not strength of partisanship, but openness of mind and the power of arriving at conclusions without fear and without favour. Complete absence of opinion on the subject-matter of the inquiry is not to be hoped for ; indeed, if it implied, as it probably would, a corresponding absence of interest, it could hardly be desired. What is really wanted in a man who has to inquire into mixed economic and social problems is independence of mind. If he has this, he will be ensured against the adoption of a theory merely because it commends itself to his party or school, or because to reject it is to risk being blamed for want of sympathy with this or that class of sufferers. A Member of Parliament may seemingly think himself justified in voting for a Bill which he believes will at worst be mischievous, and at best harmless, on the plea that to refuse to do so will be set down to indifference to the condition of the poor. But a member of the new Poor Law Commission who allowed this motive to influence him in signing the Report would. have entirely mistaken his duty. He is placed on the Commission first to dis- cover, and then to tell, the truth as nearly as he can, and to do this he must be prepared to disregard any misconceptions to which it may expose him. Greatly as we disliked the Bill in its original form, we do not share the regret expressed by some Members that it has not been dropped. We do think that it was expedient to continue and extend the organisation which Mr. Long created last year. Had this not been done, a great deal of time would have been wasted, and a good deal of money would once more have been spent in wrong ways for want of knowledge how to spend. it more wisely. As it is, when the winter comes offices will be open for collecting information as to possible demands for labour, and Committees will be ready to receive and expend any voluntary contributions that may be sent to them. We may hope, therefore, that there will be no repetition of the wanton distribution of alms without inquiry and without discrimination that did so much harm to West Ham last year. The Christmas of 1905 will not beat, or even rival, the record of drunkenness established at the same season in 1904. We are not without hope, indeed, that the customary appeal to private charity will call forth a very much larger sum than it did last year. Whether the ratepayer helps an unemployed man out of the rates or out of his own private purse makes no difference to the man helped. In both eases he receives money which he has not earned. But if he receives it from the ratepayer's private purse he knows it to be charity, whereas if it comes out of the rates he regards it, or will soon come to regard it, as a right. The machinery of the present Bill will for a time, at all events, secure us against this misleading confusion.

Lord Hugh Cecil put this with great force in the House of Commons yesterday week. Wages given under the Bill as originally framed would have been charity "masquerading as payment of a debt." The State, in the person of the ratepayer, would have paid wages it did not wish to pay for work which it did. not want done. If there is any real need for foreshores to be reclaimed, or for derelict land. to be brought once more under cultivation, it must be because the community will be benefited. by what is done. In that case it is quite right that the community should pay for such work, but it will do so to more advantage if it goes into the labour market and gets the best workmen it can find. If, instead of doing this, it gives the job to an unemployed man, not to benefit itself, but to benefit him—not because it wants the land on which crops are once more to be grown, but because the man it employs has nothing to do—it is in no sense a genuine transaction. What the workman is put to do is no more work than turning a crank or walking up a treadmill is work. It pretends to be work because those who provide it are in search of an excuse for not treating the man who does it as what he really is. The object is to conceal the character of the act from the actor. The man must not know that he is getting relief from the rates ; he must be deceived into thinking that the work he is doing is work which had to be done by somebody, and that his good fortune consists in being at hand just when the necessity arose. If it were possible to keep the whole thing dark, there might be something to be said for this way of dealing with the unemployed. They would not know that they were unemployed for whom there was no demand. They would merely have happened to be on the spot when workmen were wanted, and so have secured the engagement. In this way their self-respect would be kept intact, and they would not know but what they were earning their wages in the ordinary way. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to keep the most innocent and thoughtless of working men under this deluding belief. He would at least know that if the State had wanted to get the work- man for its purpose, it could have found numbers far better qualified than he could hope to be, without, at all events, a considerable spell of training. There would be no keeping away from him the fact that he was employed, not because he was a competent workman, but because he had nothing to do, and consequently nothing to eat. Express it in any way you like, you will not alter the fact that money paid for work of this kind is relief, and not wages. Happily the changes in the Bill, the fact that it is only to remain in operation for three years, and the appointment of a Royal Commission give us an interval in which to struggle against the adoption of this mis- chievous principle.