HC Deb 01 February 1832 vol 9 cc1097-100
Sir Robert Peel

remarked, that such being the case, they should not have departed from that good old principle of not announcing any measure in the King's Speech, which the Government was not, at the time, prepared to bring forward. He had another question to put to the noble Lord, as to when the estimates for the present year would be ready to be laid before the House. According to a resolution of the House, which had originated some years ago on that (the opposition) side of the House, if Parliament met before Chrismas, the estimates for the ensuing year were to be presented on or before the 15th of January. This was the first year that that resolution had not been observed. He wished to know whether any distinct and specific grounds could be laid for such a departure from it.

Mr. Weyland

was also anxious to take this opportunity to put a question to the noble Lord. He wished to know whether it was the intention of his Majesty's Government to propose any measure for the amelioration of the Poor-laws, or of the condition of the labouring classes of this kingdom; or, if such was not the intention of Government, whether it was the intention of the noble and learned Lord upon the woolsack, who stood pledged to the matter, to bring forward any such measure on the subject?

Lord Althorp

, in reply to the question of the right hon. Baronet, as to whether specific grounds existed for not having the estimates of the year already on the Table of the House, had to state, that although Parliament had met in this instance before Christmas, and although, under such circumstances, according to a resolution of the House, the estimates should have been presented before the 15th of January, yet, that as Parliament usually did not meet until February, the estimates were not in such a forward state as to admit of their being presented at that time. He would, however, pledge himself that they should be placed on the Table of the House at the earliest possible period. With respect to the other question that had been put by the hon. Member opposite, it related to a subject of the deepest and gravest importance. That hon. Member had asked, whether his Majesty's Ministers were prepared to bring forward, on their own responsibility, any measure for the purpose of effecting an alteration or amelioration in the Poor-laws of this country. In reply to that question, he had to state, that the subject had been under the serious consideration of his Majesty's Government. They had looked into all the reports of the different Committees, and had examined the mass of evidence that had been laid before the House on the subject, with a view to see whether, from that evidence, and from the reports of the Committees, any thing could be collected so definite and clear as to point out the proper mode of proceeding on this subject, or to lay a distinct foundation for any measure with regard to it. He must be allowed to say, that the general question of the Poor-laws was a subject of such great magnitude, and involved such a variety of important, considerations, that any Member of the Government, or of that House, would not be justified in bringing forward a measure that would apply generally to the whole collective system of the Poor-laws of this country. The proper and the better course would be, to bring forward some measure that should apply to the amendment of such parts of the Poor-laws as clearly required amendment and alteration. He must observe, that all the evidence which had been taken before the different Committees on this subject had been derived from gentlemen who came before those Committees with preconceived opinions on the subject, and who seemed to want a knowledge of the working of the different systems that prevailed in different parts of the country. Such a knowledge as that, was absolutely necessary before they would be justified in bringing forward any measure for the amendment of any portion of the law which might clearly require consideration, but with regard to which any mistake might be productive of much evil. Under such circumstances, his Majesty's Government was of opinion, that the best course to pursue was, by means of investigation and inquiry on the spot, to find out the effects of the different systems as they existed in different parishes throughout the country; and accordingly commissioners were to be appointed for the purpose of ascertaining how the different systems worked in different parishes throughout the kingdom. That was the state in which the question at present stood. It did not appear that this comparative inquiry as to those different systems would take up much time, and when the result of it was before Ministers, they would then be able to determine whether they could propose any measure on the subject.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

was of opinion that the reason assigned by the noble Lord for the non-production of the estimates up to the present time was any thing but a satisfactory one. He apprehended the cause of the delay was, that Ministers were fully engaged with their Reform Bill; but the finances of the country in their present deranged state, when there was an actual deficiency of revenue ought surely to have engaged their attention.