HC Deb 02 June 1815 vol 31 cc581-7
Sir Egerton Brydges

moved the second reading of the Bill to prevent the Removal of Chargeable Paupers, till a final adjudication of their respective Settlements.

Mr. Atkins Wright

objected to the Bill, not because he was adverse to the principle, but because he feared that its provisions were impracticable. He thought that the whole of the Poor Laws required a revision; and that till some clear and comprehensive alteration of the whole could be made, it was in vain to apply partial remedies, and patch up a faulty system. He was afraid that the clause, which gave opportunity to parishes to be heard in the first instance against an adjudication by which they might be fixed with the pauper's settlement, would foment, instead of allaying litigation, and would be attended with a great deal of trouble both to parishes and magistrates.

Mr. Nicholson Calvert

was favourable to the principle of this Bill; but he feared that the complexity of its machinery would render it far less beneficial in its effects than the hon. mover supposed. He dreaded the number of hearings and re-hearings that it would cause: he was afraid that it would stir up attornies in the first instance, to contend with one another, and that the time and attention of magis- trates would be consumed in judging between opposing interests, which would have no other good effects than in filling lawyers' pockets. He wished well to the measure, if it could be exempted from these objections.

Mr. Western

disapproved of this measure, as he had done last year, in toto. He saw in it endless difficulties: he could not comprehend its machinery; and if he could, he could not see cui bono it was created. He thought that parishes might thus be called on to oppose, at a great expense and inconvenience, adjudications before magistrates; and the consequence might be, that it would turn out that the pauper's settlement was not with them, but with some third parish; and so it would be proved that they never ought to have been summoned. And then another parish might be called on in the same way; and so it might go on from parish to parish. He therefore highly disapproved the Bill.

Mr. Wynn

really felt sincere reluctance at giving his opposition to any measure which had in view so beneficial an object, as that proposed by the hon. mover of this Bill. But he much feared that the present Bill would have a very contrary effect from that which was contemplated. The clause which provided for calling on parishes to resist adjudications, was pregnant with seeds of contest and trouble. He thought that if removals did not take place, as now, in the first instance, parishes would lose the benefit of ascertaining a pauper's identity by his presence among them; and that they ought not to be put to the expense of taking a long journey to cross-examine a pauper, and satisfy themselves by a personal examination. As the law now stood, the pauper was brought home to their doors for this purpose, and they had all the benefit of it in case of appeal. For thus they could better judge, whether there was ground for such appeal: while, so long as he was in the custody of the removing parish, they could not have an equally free and impartial examination of him.

Sir Egerton Brydges

was not a little surprised at the arguments which had been urged in opposition to this Bill. He rather thought hon. members must have totally misunderstood both its nature and provisions. Its principle was founded on the most incontrovertible justice. It would scarcely be contended in these days, and it did not seem to be contended, that it was right to expose a pauper to be bandied about from one end of the kingdom to the other, upon an ex-parte adjudication, which was liable to be reversed; when all this cruelty, and all this expense, would be incurred for nothing: and when in case of appeal, whether the order was reversed or confirmed, the pauper would be called back again from the place to which he was removed, at best, in the character of a witness. But it was contended, that the machinery to effect this amendment was complex. He really doubted, if hon. members who made this accusation could have attentively read the Bill. There was no complexity in the machinery; there was not even novelty except in one clause, which was so far from being essential to his grand object, that it might be struck out without leaving the smallest chasm. Indeed, the clause alluded to, which gave occasion to all the arguments that had now been urged against the Bill, was not his own: it had been inserted in his Bill of last year, at the instance of the learned member for Oxford (Mr. Lockhart) and adopted in substance, but a little simplified in its manner, in the present. This clause provided, that after a first examination into a pauper's settlement, justices should give notice to the parish where the pauper's settlement appeared to be, that they would proceed to an adjudication on a future day, in order to give such parish an opportunity of being heard in opposition to it, if they chose so to do. This provision appeared to sir E. to be salutary. It was now urged, that it would tend greatly to increase expenses, and to encourage litigation in a premature stage: that attornies would be called into battle against attornies; and that witnesses would be brought from one end of the kingdom to another, to contend before magistrates in petty session, who would be bewildered by conflicting arguments, and after all make decisions which would be still liable to appeals, and expose the parties, at another great, expense, to agitate the question over again at a quarter-sessions. The member for Essex (Mr. Western) was alarmed at still additional evils: he conceived that all this premature battle might end in the discovery that the parish, thus urged to contend at great trouble and cost, had nothing to do with the pauper; and that the settlement was in some third parish. But did the hon. gentleman forget that such a discovery would not have been made but for that contest? And that if the parish bad avoided the evils of this opposition, they must have had the greater evil of supporting the pauper himself, so erroneously thrown upon them, till they could get rid of him on appeal? But if it was the opinion of this House, that the evil of this clause was greater than the good; if it was fairly liable to the objections thus brought forward, surely it afforded no ground for condemning the whole Bill: it might be struck out in the committee, without the least affecting the unity or principle of the Bill. For his own part, he had no wish to adhere obstinately to it: he would willingly sacrifice it, rather than create even a doubt on the other parts. As to the latter, he implored the House again to cherish the great object he had in view. He pressed upon their attention the anomaly which the law, as it now stood, exhibited on a subject affecting the essential happiness of perhaps not less than one third or one-fourth of the whole population of England. On other points even of the most trivial nature, no judgment could be obtained upon ex-parte statement, or ex-parte evidence; nor could any judgment be executed till after appeal, or hill the time of appeal had expired.

But here, on a question, on which depended the well-being, the domestic comforts, the moral feelings, the power of independent livelihood, the very character of almost every poor person in the kingdom, and perhaps his posterity for generations, an ex-parte decision was made, probably on the most imperfect evidence, to be carried into instant execution! Upon that decision a pauper, his wife, and his children, were to be packed off like felons for transportation; lifted into a cart, and dragged away from their home, to be a mark for the finger of scorn, through half the villages and towns, perhaps from the eastern point of Kent to the Land's-End! Is this enormous evil still to go on, after it has once been brought under the consideration of Parliament? Are minor difficulties, if such exist, to stand in the way of an amendment, for which there is such an imperious call? Can little objections about machinery, even if real, much less if imaginary, stand in the way of an endeavour to take away injustice of so extensive a nature? But where are the obstacles? Is there any obstacle to the effecting the delay of an order of removal? Is there any machinery required for a passive act—an act of omission? It could not be said, that this measure had been hurried through the House. The whole of it was involved in that Bill, which he bad last year the honour to introduce; and which, after much discussion, had passed through every stage except the third reading; and which last step he had declined to move, merely because the House had arrived within two days of the termination of the session; when it was obvious, that if it passed here, it could not have time to go through the Lords.

There had been urged an argument in favour of the existing law, with regard to immediate removals, and which filled him with some surprise. It was said, that a parish to which a pauper was adjudged, ought not to be deprived of the benefit of ascertaining his identity by his presence among them. Could it be seriously contended, that any number of settlement cases turned on questions of identity?—Nay, was it within probability, that a single instance of that kind could occur? How many scarce possible coincidences must there be to create such a case? A pauper, to effect this, must fix on some parish for his settlement, where he must first be aware that another of his own name had been at some time or other settled; and then invest himself in at least the colourable circumstances of that man's person and life! But were this question not only possible, but probable; can it be believed, that a parish would wish to purchase this benefit of examination, such as it is, at the expense of having a pauper and his family to support till they can get rid of him on appeal; when, according to the Bill now in discussion, all that intermediate burthen would be totally taken away from them! He once more, therefore, intreated the House, that if they admitted the principle of this Bill, they would allow it to be now read a second time; and if there were any objections to the clause, or the machinery, they might be argued, and altered in the committee.

Mr. Horner

thought the hon. baronet deserved the respect and thanks of the House for the pains he had taken, and the unshaken assiduity with which he had given his mind to a measure of such vast importance to the community. It was therefore with great reluctance, that he felt himself compelled to differ with him as to the means which this Bill provided for effecting his purpose. He was much afraid that it would not answer the end proposed. The machinery appeared to him liable to great objections, inasmuch as it seemed rather to encourage, than to appease litigation: but if it really would cut short litigation, it would only hasten the time at which the pauper might be removed; an event, which it seemed one main object of the hon. mover to delay. He should be most happy, if the great amendment in view could be brought about: but he really feared, that practicable means of effectuating the desired object had not yet been devised. The hon. member threw out a hint by which he thought the object might in part at least be effected, free from the difficulties which struck him in the present Bill.

Mr. Lockhart

was somewhat surprised at the suggestion of the hon. member who spoke last, because he himself had, in a former parliament, brought in a bill containing precisely the same plan as that which the hon. member now proposed, which had the misfortune to experience his decided opposition to it; and the bill was unfortunately thown out. He himself did not approve of all the machinery of the present Bill. He thought a great deal of evil and wasteful contest might arise from the clause which gave opportunity to parishes to oppose adjudications in the first instance. But as be approved the principle of the Bill, he should not oppose the second reading.

Mr. Whitbread

had always been in favour of bills to ameliorate the condition of the poor. He had supported the hon. baronet's Bill embracing similar objects last year, and he should support this. He must say that its machinery did not appear to him as practicable as he could wish; but he begged the hon. baronet not to be discouraged: it was impossible but that the agitation of such questions should do a great deal of good. The public mind was thus, step by step, drawn to a due attention to objects which required their continual deliberation. He himself had not been so fortunate as to carry the great measure which he proposed some years ago with similar views: but he did not repent of the attempt; nor did he doubt that, though it failed, the very discussion of it had produced important benefits. As to the great schemes of general revision which hon. members talked of, and the arguments for delay which they founded on them, he considered them as nothing more than plausible pretences, to get rid of a measure al- together. It was only by touching small parts at a time that we could hope gradually to amend a branch of the law so complicated, so wide, and involving so many conflicting interests. He should therefore certainly vote for the second reading of the Bill, thinking that if there were objections to its details, they could be best discussed and altered in the committee.

The House then divided: For the Second Reading, 55; Against it, 23: Majority in favour of the Bill, 32.