HC Deb 17 April 1834 vol 22 cc874-98
Lord Althorp

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the existing laws for the relief of the Poor in England, said, that most undoubtedly the Motion which he was about to introduce for the consideration of the House, was one of as great importance as any that had ever been submitted to its notice. The present state of the Poor-laws of this country had long been a subject which had occupied the attention and engaged the minds of the ablest men in it, and various attempts had been made from time to time by persons very conversant with their operation and effects to amend those laws, to remedy the evils, and to correct the abuses engendered by them; but hitherto unfortunately all such attempts had uniformly been unsuccessful. Such was the state in which his Majesty's Ministers, when they came into office, found the present system of Poor-laws. They found, that for many years complaints had been made as to the mode in which the administration of the Poor-laws had affected every class more immediately connected with or interested in the soil,—the landed proprietors, the farmers, and the poor themselves; they found that the administration of the Poor-laws had been injurious in its operation to every one of those classes; but, most of all, it had been injurious to the labouring classes themselves. Such being the case, his Majesty's Ministers thought it their imperative duty, as a Government, to apply themselves at once to this question, and to consider what course they ought to pursue with a view to remedy the evils connected with it—evils of long standing, and of serious injury to the country at large. After giving the subject that consideration which its importance demanded, they felt, that the best course to adopt in the first instance was, to issue a commission of inquiry. There had been already, they were well aware, many committees of inquiry in that House upon the subject, and a great mass of information had been in that way collected with regard to it. But such a mode of proceeding, it was obvious, always carried this defect along with it—that all such information being collected from gentlemen who had come up generally as volunteers to give evidence on the subject, each prepared with his own particular system as the grand remedy that ought to be adopted, it was greatly deficient in facts, while it was abundantly contaminated with opinions and theories. They had collected a vast deal of valuable information as to opinions on the subject, but not so much as to the facts connected with it; though he need not remark, that the latter species of information was by far the more important of the two, and was indeed indispensably necessary to guide the Legislature to anything like a sate and sound system of reformation. Under these circumstances, his Majesty's Government thought that the best mode was to issue a commission to make inquiries in the country districts of the south, in order to ascertain what was the cause why in some parts of the country the Poor-laws were considered a benefit by parishes, while in others their operation had been ruinous and destructive, and why, in some agricultural districts, certain parishes existed in which the Poor-laws appeared to do no harm at all. In issuing such a commission of inquiry, his Majesty's Government conceived that this benefit (no small one) would at all events be reaped from its labours—that having a general view of the state of the Poor-laws and of their administration, and a large body of important facts connected with that administration, thus laid before the country, those parishes throughout the kingdom, where injurious effects had arisen from their operation, might profit by the experiments made in other parishes where different effects had followed, and might adopt the improvements which the examples of such parishes suggested to them. He would confess, that he himself had been one of those who, in the first instance, thought that the experiment of issuing a commission would be able to carry them nothing further than this, which, however, he conceived would be in itself a great benefit for the country—namely, the exhibiting the proofs how an improved management had produced an improved state of the Poor-laws in certain parishes, while in others bad management had been productive of the most calamitous results. He was ready to admit, that, having experienced the failure of so many attempts of the Legislature to remedy the defects and abuses of the Poor-laws, he had not been sanguine that any legislative attempt which he might make would be more successful. It was under these circumstances, and with a view to guide the Legislature in its decision on this important subject, that the commission of inquiry had been issued; and he was borne out in saying, that the report of that commission was a most valuable document. It had shown to the whole country what was the state and operation of the Poor-laws in different parts of it. It had shown to the country what great improvements might be made in that state by exhibiting the trial and consequences of alterations and improvements in the administration of the Poor-laws in various parishes, while it furnished at the same time a frightful picture of the horror and misery occasioned in other parishes by the mismanagement of those laws. Even in that respect, leaving other considerations for the present out of account, the Report of the Commissioners would be productive of the greatest advantage to the country, and to no class more advantageous than to the labouring population. He believed that, in fact, it had been already productive of much good; he believed that the Report of the Commissioners—that was to say, the abstract of the evidence collected by them that had been published last session—had already operated in the most beneficial manner. It had been disseminated throughout the country; gentlemen in various districts had profited by the examples and facts which it furnished, and already improvements in the administration of the Poor-laws had been effected in several parishes. He must say, how- ever, that the principal advantage produced by the Report of the Commissioners was this—that it had exhibited such a picture of the bad effects of the Poor-laws in many districts of the country, that he did think it had now become the bounden duty of the Legislature to interfere and endeavour to remedy an evil fraught with the most destructive consequences to the whole community. He had already said, that the effects of the Poor-laws had been injurious to the landed proprietors, injurious to the farmers, and, above all, injurious to the labouring population. He would now assert, and he would appeal to the facts detailed in the Report of the Commissioners for the confirmation of what he stated, that the effect of the Poor-laws tended directly—he meant to say, that the present administration of the Poor-laws tended directly—to the destruction of all property in the country. It had been said, that this would lead to an agrarian law—it would lead to worse than that. An agrarian law was the division of property, but the present state of the Poor-laws in this country tended to the destruction of all property. He could not conceive any thing more fatal to the very class for whose benefit those laws had been enacted, than to allow them to go on in their present destructive course, without an attempt on the part of the Legislature to put a check on them. He begged, however, that in making that statement, he should not be understood as expressing his disapprobation of a well-regulated system of Poor-laws. So far from that being the case, he was of opinion, that a well-regulated system of Poor-laws would be productive of great benefit to the country. He was aware that he was now expressing an opinion contrary to the more strict principles of political economy. Indeed, those principles went further, for they even prohibited, the exercise of private charity itself. The more strict principles of political economy implied that every man should be left to provide his own subsistence by his own labour—that he must know what his family cost—that he alone should provide for them; and that he ought to make a provision for the calamities which sickness and misfortune might bring upon him out of his previous savings. Such was the doctrine of political economy. But as long as we were accessible, not only to the feelings of religion, but to the dictates of humanity, we must be convinced that the support of those who were really helpless, and really unable to provide for themselves, was not only justifiable, but a sacred duty imposed on those who had the ability to assist the distressed. It was, therefore, to the abuses of the system of Poor-laws, not to the system itself—it was to the bad administration of those laws, not to their principle—that he objected. For a long period of years, the administration of the Poor-laws was free from the evils and abuses now connected with it. He believed, that he was correct in stating, that the present bad effects experienced from the administration of the Poor-laws dated their commencement from about the beginning of the present century, and that they originated in measures intended for the benefit of that class of the community—the labouring population—to whose interests and welfare they were now most destructively opposed. A feeling at that period had got abroad, that discontent existed amongst the working classes of the country, and a principle was then adopted in legislation, which, though no doubt well intended, and though it might be said to be a very humane principle, had been productive of the most baneful effects. He was now alluding to the 36th George 3rd, in which the principle was laid down, that the relief to paupers ought to be given in such a manner as to place them in a situation of comfort. Now, however we might wish to place all our countrymen in a situation of comfort, to give such relief as that described in this statute, was, he considered, the duty of private charity, and should not be provided for by a compulsory rate. The effect of this law was, to give the Magistrates the power of ordering relief to be given to the poor in their own dwellings. That had been followed up by the Magistrates acting upon the same principle, which was so consistent with every good feeling of human nature, that it was impossible to blame them; and yet it was a great mistake, though originating, undoubtedly, as he had already said, in the best feelings that animate mankind. The consequence of it had been, to lead from bad to worse. All feelings of independence on the part of the labourers had been almost entirely extinguished in many parts of the country, and the result had been, that, instead of placing the paupers in a state of comfort, all the labouring population in many districts of the country had been reduced to a state of deplorable misery and distress. That the present was a question of extreme difficulty no one who had given it the slightest or the most cursory attention could for a moment doubt. The length of time during which the operation of this system had been going on, in its consequences producing throughout whole districts of the country that distress which it was intended to relieve, rendered it impossible to expect that at once, or by any rapid measure of legislation, we should endeavour to counteract the evils engendered by it. The greatest caution was undoubtedly necessary in dealing with such a question; at the same time, the present system could not be allowed to continue. The consequences to which it tended were so frightful—the dangers incurred by leaving it as it was were so urgent and so great, that the Legislature was bound boldly to meet the difficulties of the case, and, while they acted with the utmost caution, to adopt right principles, and unflinchingly carry them into execution. They had the advantage, in legislating on this question now, that they were not working entirely in the dark, because, in many parishes in the country, a good system in the administration of the Poor-laws had been already adopted and acted upon. They could see how the system, improved and well-regulated, had worked in those parishes; they could see the advantages which had been there derived from it, and they were thus enabled to refer to experiments already made, to guide them elsewhere in the work of reformation. He was ready to admit, that it did not follow, that, because such experiments, tried in isolated and individual parishes, had been successful, that, therefore, the same alterations, if adopted all over the country, would be attended with equal success. It was obvious, therefore, that to legislate successfully on this subject, to benefit by the examples already set, and the experiments which were now witnessed in successful operation, the House must act gradually, introduce the improved system into different parishes step by step, ascertaining its effects in its progress, and thus more certainly insure its final success. He was aware that there were many difficulties in following such a course, because they could not expect to find, in all parishes, the same zeal and ability which had caused improvements in particular parishes. To force improvements, which had been voluntarily made in one place, into another, very much enhanced the difficulty of legislating on the subject. He believed, that the number of parishes in which an improved system had been already, either entirely or partially, adopted, amounted to 100. In Berkshire, it had been adopted in two parishes; in Buckinghamshire, in one; in Cornwall, in one; in Devonshire, in one; in Dorsetshire, in one; in Hertfordshire, in three; in Lancashire, in one; in Nottinghamshire, in fifty-four; in Suffolk, in twenty-four; and in Brecon, in one parish. It appeared, therefore, that the experiment had been tried in every part of the country—in some districts, even, which had been extensively pauperized; and, in every one of them, he believed, the experiment had succeeded as far as it had been already tried. Notwithstanding such facts would justify them in acting on such an experiment—so generally, and, in so many different places, tried with success—yet still he would say, that they should proceed with the greatest caution. If they should attempt, in an Act of Parliament, to fix a time when an alteration of the present system should take place, they might find themselves placed in this difficulty—that it might be fit to direct a change of the system at an earlier period in some parishes than others; that, in some districts of the country, though the evils inseparable from the present system had already begun to show themselves in all places, they had not yet reached the height in some which they had in others; and, certainly, it would be impossible, at once, to apply the same system to parishes almost pauperized, and parishes where the evil was not so pressing, nor the distress so great. The course which, under such circumstances, he was about to recommend to the House for its adoption, was, he was free to admit, an anomalous one, and one which went to establish a new and a great power in the country. He would, however, ask the House to consider the alternative which they had between the measure he now proposed and leaving things as they were. He would again entreat the attention of the House to the frightful consequences of the present system, if it should be allowed to go on as it was proceeding. If it should proceed in its course of destruction for the future as rapidly as it had hitherto done, and that rapidity was likely as it went to be accelerated, what would be the result? At present some parishes had been actually abandoned, so heavy was the pressure of the rates, and so great the evils of mismanagement. The consequence was, that the neighbouring parishes were compelled to support the poor of the deserted parishes, they, too, would soon be reduced to a similar situation, and this pauperism would stride with increased and every-day increasing rapidity throughout the land. He felt justified, therefore, under the circumstances, in submitting the present measure to the House. It was a measure he conceived, at all events, grounded upon prudence and caution. It was absolutely necessary that there should be a discretionary power vested in some quarter to carry into effect recommendations calculated he hoped, to introduce sound principles and the fruits of salutary experience into the administration of the Poor-laws. The principal subject then for them to consider was, where that discretionary power should be placed. If they vested it in the local authorities, or in the local magistracy, however well intentioned they might be, deprived as they would be of those sources of general information and comparison open to a board of Commissioners, and however excellent their motives, biassed as they must be by local prejudices and local feelings, it was plain that such a quarter would not be the fittest one to invest with a discretionary power for carrying the measure into effect. It was therefore his intention to propose, that his Majesty should be authorized to appoint a central board of Commissioners, vested with such power for that purpose. It would be necessary to invest the Board with extraordinary power, to enable it to accomplish the object proposed, but that power would be subject to the constant control of the Parliament and the Executive Government. There was one part of the administration of the Poor-laws which, however difficult it might be to effect, yet was essentially necessary, and without which no discretionary power ought to be extended, and that was, to fix a day (and that day he should propose, in the measure he sought to introduce, to be in one of the summer months of the next year, when the agricultural labourers would, of course, be in full employment), when the allowance system, as it was called, should entirely and altogether cease. He was aware of the great difficulties which might be suggested to this proposition, but having for many years acted as a magistrate in a county in which the allowance system had been adopted, from his own experience of its operation, he was perfectly satisfied that so long as that system was permitted to exist, it would be impossible to carry into effect any suggested improvement, or to bring the Poor-laws into a better condition. The present was not the first time by many that he had advocated such a measure in his place in Parliament, for the purpose of preventing persons employed by individuals receiving parochial relief. He had supported a Bill which had been repeatedly brought before the House by his hon. friend the member for Shrewsbury; indeed, he had ever thought that such was the first step necessary to bring the Poor-laws into a proper state. He begged the House to consider on what grounds it could be thought that such a change could produce that difficulty and danger which he had reason to believe was so feared by some hon. Members. He admitted, that at first sight the proposition might appear difficult to adopt, but it was well to bear in mind that the payment of labourers as much by the parish as was paid by their employers was, in many and innumerable instances, wholly derived from the parochial funds; so that the farmer gained an advantage which he ought not to gain—namely, that of receiving assistance for the payment of those whom he employed. Against any difficulty which might be opposed to the abrogation of the allowance system he would set off the advantage to be derived by the farmer from obtaining independent labourers, and if he lost a little money by paying full wages instead of employing men paid partly by the parish and partly by himself, he thought the advantage of having superior labourers, and his work better and more cheerfully done, would be found fully to compensate the pecuniary loss. He thought no man could doubt but that the change in the system would be productive of benefit and advantage to the labourers themselves. It was possible it might appear to some hon. Gentlemen that the agricultural labourer, having at present an addition from the parochial funds to the amount of the wages paid by his employer (that addition being regulated according to the number of his family), the effect of taking away that assistance would make it impossible for him to maintain himself and family. He (Lord Althorp) did not think such would be the case, for he believed, nay, he felt confident, that as the labourer regarded the parochial assistance now added to the wages he received from his employer as making the total wages to which he was entitled for his labour and industry, a very short time would elapse after the removal of that assistance before wages would rise to an equivalent amount, and as soon as that was the case, the situation in which the labourer would be placed would be infinitely preferable to that in which he at present stood. He repeated, therefore, that before it was possible successfully to proceed with the amendment of the present system of Poor-laws, whatever difficulty might appear, it was absolutely necessary to get rid of this most leading error—the allowance system—an error which was the foundation of almost all the evils arising from the existing system. Having stated thus much, he again came to the consideration of the discretionary powers with which it would be necessary to vest the Central Commissioners. He need not say, that an immense advantage would be obtained by the establishment of an uniformity of system throughout the country, and therefore he proposed, that the Commissioners should have power to make general rules and orders as to the mode of relief and for the regulation of workhouses, and the mode of relief afforded therein. He admitted, that these were great discretionary powers to be given to any body of men, but he should propose, as a check against any abuse, that before any such rule, order, or regulation so proposed by the Commissioners should be valid, it should be submitted to the Secretary of State, and remain forty days, and it could only be brought into action if during that period an Order in Council, issued for that purpose, did not prohibit it from being carried into effect. He observed some hon. Gentlemen seemed to dissent to this portion of the proposition; he admitted, that by this measure he was asking for extraordinary discretionary powers, but at the same time he must contend that it would be utterly impossible to carry an improvement in the present system of Poor-laws into effect without acting upon great discretionary powers. If any hon. Gentleman would find a better authority in whom to vest these powers, he should be happy to attend to any suggestion to that effect; but as he believed no better or more competent authority could be established, he hoped the objection would not be generally supported by the House. To return to the powers which he proposed to vest in the Board of Central Commissioners; they would be enabled to make general rules and regulations subject to the approbation, or, he should rather say, the non-disapprobation of the Secretary of State and the Government, in the manner he had already stated—to have power to make specific rules and orders for the regulation and mode of relief of the poor in separate districts and parishes—to form unions of parishes in order to make larger districts—to arrange classifications of poor in the same or different workhouses, and also to have a general power of control in such unions as might be established without their consent, and to dissolve unions which might now exist. As to the unions when formed, each parish in such unions must maintain its own poor, or contribute to the general fund the proportion of expense which it had heretofore borne itself. He did not mean to say, that it was not intended to empower individual parishes, if they so thought fit—that was to say, if the vestries in each parish should agree to such a proposition—to make a different arrangement, but he thought it was desirable that parishes should have power to unite for the purpose of parochial settlements, and for the Poor-rates altogether. Such a power, however, ought not to be vested in the vestries of parishes themselves, as such a body could not be considered competent to form satisfactorily or safely such unions. He should also propose, that the Commissioners should have authority to suggest to parishes or unions of parishes the propriety of adding to their workhouses, or of building new workhouses, as circumstances might require. In the present state of the agricultural interest of this country, he should be sorry to place in the power of any body of men the authority of compelling the expenditure of any large sum of money, but he at the same time should wish that the Central Commissioners should be invested with power to call the attention of parishes and unions to the state of their workhouse establishments, and to suggest to them the propriety of adding to those formed, or building, separate or distinct establishments. He should also propose, that in certain cases a difference should be made in the constitution of parochial vestries. At present these bodies were composed of rate-payers and no one else, and in many instances the means of a large expenditure was inflicted on those who had no vote in the vestry. He should, therefore propose, that with respect to raising permanent sums of money, such as for the purpose of facilitating emigration, and improving and building workhouses, the landlord as well as the occupier of land should have a vote in the vestry. It was only equitable that such should be the case, because where the occupier had not been long in possession of a farm, and had very little interest in the expenditure, it was most desirable that the permanent interest in the land should have a vote in these cases. He had already stated, that from the conclusion of the last century up to the present time, the Magistracy of this country, though acting with very good feeling of humanity, had in the administration of the Poor-laws fallen into considerable mistakes, and he had himself, in his own situation of a Magistrate, not unfrequently felt bound to act upon bad and erroneous principles in this respect. With this view he should propose, that justices should not in future have the power of ordering parochial relief to persons in their own houses—he meant outdoor relief to the poor. This would not be an alteration of the present law, but would be a restoration of the law to the state in which it was previous to the year 1796, a period since which the abuses in the management of the Poor-laws had very considerably increased. He had now submitted the main and principal part of the propositions which he had to propose for the adoption of the House. The House would now see, that the effect of this measure was, to stop the allowance system—to deprive the Magistracy of the power of ordering out-door relief—to alter in certain cases the constitution of parochial vestries—to give large discretionary powers to the Central Commissioners—and to carry into operation further regulations which might be found essential, in order to improve and bring into a good state and condition the present system of laws regulating the relief of the pauper portion of the community. There remained, however, two other subjects to which he should also wish to call the attention of the House. The first point was with reference to the existing law of settlement. He need not say to those who were acquainted with the subject, that the present law was most complicated in its character, involving great litigation, and consequently considerable expense, to every parish in the country. In addition to these evils, a still worse effect arose from the present law; he alluded to its interference with the free circulation of labour. The worst portion of the law was that which gave a settlement by hiring and servitude, but he was inclined to say, that every mode of acquiring a settlement ought to be abolished except only those of birth or marriage. With regard to the mode of fixing birth as the test of settlement, he should say, that the children should follow the settlement of their parents until they attained the age of sixteen years, and that after that period their settlement should be fixed at the place of their birth. To the proposition as to settlement he only anticipated two objections. The first was the hardship which would be inflicted upon an individual who had quitted the place of his birth in early life, and in another parish supported himself for a long series of years by his own industry, by his removal when fallen into want and decay, and thereby become chargeable on the parish, to the place of his nativity. He was aware that such might be the case; but he did not think, that when a man had supported himself in a distant parish from that in which he was born, by his industry and labour to an old age, it would be likely that he would be so destitute of friends that his removal would be permitted. The other objection was not intitled to so much weight as that to which he had alluded. It was generally considered that the best labourers were those who did not belong to the parish in which they exercised their industry, and that the effect of making birth the test of settlement in all cases would be, that such labourers would always come back to their own districts. From his own experience he could say, that he had seen as good labourers in the parish of which they were natives as those who did not belong to it; but even if the latter were the best servants, as was supposed, he did not think that any man would speculate on a settlement sixteen years hence, and on that speculation abstain from his giving employment to those whom it would be most to his advantage to have in his service. He, therefore, conceived the fears which might be entertained from a change in this respect were merely imaginary, and, in his opinion, the advantages to be gained by the removal altogether of local settlements otherwise to be acquired, were so great as completely to counterbalance the objections which he had anticipated. One of the advantages to be gained would be the complete simplification of the system; the apprehensions at present entertained by the farmer of hiring a man for longer than fifty-one weeks lest he should gain a settlement would be abolished; the removal of his clothes from the house of his employer within that period for a day would become unnecessary, and, therefore, it would follow that the farmer would not hesitate to take the labourer best calculated to suit his purposes, and consequently the labourer who best deserved it would obtain employment. These advantages were of themselves important; but to them must also be added the immense diminution in the expenses of litigation on questions of settlement, because by simplifying the law the difficulty of proof which at present prevailed would be almost entirely removed, while, at the same time also, it would give a freedom to labour which would be beneficial to the whole population of the country. He had also already spoken of another alteration in the present law, with respect to orders of removal, and of appeal therefrom. He would propose that it should be provided in the measure he hoped to introduce, that no order of removal should take effect until a copy of that order, and of the examination upon which it had been pronounced, should have been served upon the authorities of the parish to which the removal was contemplated; and he should further propose that every notice of appeal should set forth the precise grounds upon which it was to be sustained, and also that it should be provided, that on the trial of such appeal before the Quarter Sessions nothing should be pleaded or discussed, and no points raised beyond those stated in the notice given in the manner he had suggested. He need not say, that the first of these measures would have a very considerable tendency to prevent litigation, inasmuch as the parish which was sought to be burthened with the maintenance and support of a pauper would be enabled to ascertain whether or not it was properly chargeable; whereas, under the present state of things, it was well known that removals of paupers were made under mistake, and those mistakes were not discovered until the appeal was brought before the Quarter Sessions. The second regulation which he proposed also was calculated to prevent litigation, because by such explicit statement the parties sought to be affected would be enabled to judge whether they had any prospect of success by opposing, and if not, the order would necessarily be abandoned. Such would be the case as to the amount of litigation between individual parishes; but he must remark that by the change he proposed, the advantage would be still greater by the union of parishes, which would diminish considerably the number of pauper removals. There still remained another point bearing upon the subject of the existing Poor-laws, and on which, though he had long felt considerable difficulty, he felt himself forced to come forward on the present occasion to state the opinions entertained by himself and the Government: he alluded to the law as it now stood relating to illegitimate children. On this topic he did not hesitate to say, that the present state of the law in this respect was a direct encouragement to vice and immorality, and that the effect of imprisoning the reputed fathers of illegitimate offspring, frequently the finest young men in the country, was to demoralize and corrupt them, and the consequent mischief and injury inflicted upon the whole community was incalculable. He begged hon. Members to consider the state of the law as it at present stood. If a woman chose to swear, that she was pregnant of an illegitimate child, the party whom she charged upon oath as the father was ipso fasto liable to be committed to prison until he could find security for the maintenance and support of the child. Now, hon. Members must know the difficulty to which a labourer in husbandry so situated would be exposed, and that difficulty in finding securities not being surmounted, the effect of the law was the committal at once of the individual to prison for five or six months, there to be associated with the very worst characters. He would, therefore, take away such a power of imprisonment, and at the same time make the mother liable for the support of her child, in the manner and mode of a pauper widow. He felt most completely the difficulty and delicacy of the subject, but he was equally confident that it might be proved to demonstration the proposed change, so far from increasing demoralization, would be in every manner beneficial to the country at large. He believed he had now gone through all the various important topics which would be embraced by the Bill which he hoped to have the honour to introduce. He was fully aware of the importance of the measure—no man felt that more strongly than he did, but he believed—nay, he was confident—if it was successful, that the benefits to the country would be very great. He was, however, aware of the fact, that by the proposition he had now submitted, the Government exposed themselves to the opposition of those who pretended to be the friends of the labouring poor; he, however, would fearlessly assert that the measure he had proposed was designed principally for the benefit of that portion of the population of the country; and they would, he was satisfied, be the gainers by the measure if it were successful. He confidently anticipated that it would have the effect to restore the British labourer to that degree of independence for which he was once proverbial, and to raise him from the condition of a pauperized slave. So far from the labourer being apprehensive as to the effect of the abolition of the allowance system, he believed he would hail it as a great boon. The labourer ought to be remunerated for his industry according to his own merits, and not on a scale regulated by the number of his children; by this change, therefore, the advantage would be given to the most industrious and meritorious. At present no difference existed between the good and the bad, both were in the same situation as to remuneration, if such could be called the subsistence derived from the abuse of these laws. It had been said, that poverty ought not to be visited as a crime. In that sentiment he most entirely agreed; but it was impossible to prevent it as a misfortune. In every attempt which had been as yet made to remove that misfortune, instead of confining it to those who suffered under the chilling hand of poverty, the misfortune had been extended to almost every other class. It was with these views, and in the hope that the House would give it that calm and deliberate attention which the momentous importance of the measure demanded, he should conclude by moving "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the law relative to the relief of the poor in England and Wales."

Mr. Richards

was understood to compliment the Government for having undertaken this arduous task, but, at the same time to complain that the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had not taken that large and comprehensive view of the difficulties and nature of the Poor-laws which the present occasion demanded, nor pointed out the means by which those difficulties were to be removed. The noble Lord had seemed to impute to the mal-administration of the existing laws all the abuses which prevailed, but had not uttered a single syllable in opposition to the principle upon which those laws were founded. The causes of distress had not been touched upon by the noble Lord—a most important question to bring to the consideration of the subject of the Poor-laws. He would not trouble the House with the effects which had been produced by the change in the currency, but must remark that much of the distress and the evils arising therefrom were to be attributed to the alternations between poverty and distress, which had afflicted this country, and caused much of the pauperism complained of. He must also express his regret that in calling the attention of the Legislature to the state of the Poor-laws, in England, the noble Lord had not referred to the want of similar provisions for the relief of the poor of the sister kingdom, the population of which sought employment in the manufacturing towns, such as Manchester and Glasgow, where the great majority of labourers were from Ireland, and the market of labour was thus glutted and overstocked by the want of relief to the pauper population of Ireland. He had anticipated that the noble Lord would have afforded some hope on the present occasion that a measure of relief for the poor would be extended to the United Kingdom. He was disposed, however, to believe that the plan of the noble Lord would remedy some of the disorders, the inconveniences, and the evils consequent upon the present system of administering the Poor-laws, but he did not think that any measure could be effectual which did not comprehend some uniform plan of relief for the poor of the whole empire.

Sir George Strickland

would bear his humble testimony to the effective and impressive manner in which this question had been brought before the House and the country by the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). From the measure the noble Lord intended to introduce, the country would have to date a new era of happiness and prosperity, and it would be deeply indebted to the present Government for bringing it forward. The report on which the noble Lord had based his intended Bill, was drawn up in the most able manner, and no praise was too great for the talent, zeal, and industry which had been exerted by the Commissioners who drew up that report. He differed widely from the hon. Member opposite in thinking that the noble Lord ought to have mixed up the question of Poor-laws in Ireland with the present plan. Let the amended system first be tried in England, and then, if the practical working of it were attended with beneficial results, a similar system might be with firmness and consistency, introduced into Ireland.

Colonel Torrens

begged to congratulate the House on the measure which the noble Lord proposed to bring forward, and he thought that no passage in the speech of the noble Lord was more deserving of approbation than where he said that the alteration was principally intended, not for the benefit of the landlord and the capitalist, but for that of the labourer and the agriculturist. This was a sound view of the subject. It was one of the means of increasing the productive powers of the country. He looked upon this, and upon the commutation of tithes, as part and parcel of one great legislative measure now going forward for the improvement of the country. It was a most wholesome measure, and those who opposed it were the most bitter enemies of the people. He was aware that a clamour might be raised—that the passions of the people might be excited against this great, difficult, and delicate measure, but he thought it was proved to demonstration that this measure would not injure the poor man, but on the contrary tend greatly to his advantage. He begged pardon of the House for the imperfect manner in which he had touched upon the subject—he should hereafter be ready to enter upon it more fully, and meanwhile he would give the Motion of the noble Lord his humble but earnest support.

Mr. Edward Lytton Bulwer

had paid a great deal of attention to the subject, and as it happened that in the course of the last year he had formed a plan nearly coincident with that proposed by the noble Lord, he should of course give the present Motion his earnest support. The administration of the Poor-laws in America furnished a good example of the efficiency of the plan. Those Poor-laws had been introduced into every state but one, and it was found that in those states where a strict workhouse discipline was kept up the practice worked uniformly well, and on the contrary, that in the states where these wholesome regulations had been departed from, the practice had uniformly worked badly. He would venture to recommend that one of the Commissioners should be a Member of that House that he might be enabled to communicate information to the people. On one point he must observe, that he thought that the proposed alteration of the laws respecting bastardy would not be altogether palatable to the people of England, though he thought it would produce the best results. Nothing could have so demoralising an effect as a system under which a woman with three children was a fortune to any working man who married her, and one with six was absolutely a great heiress. He had nothing further to do on that occasion than thank the noble Lord for the admirable manner in which he had brought forward his admirable proposition.

Sir Samuel Whalley

said, that as a guardian of the poor in a parish which relieved eight or nine thousand paupers weekly, he felt himself entitled, without presumption, to speak with some authority upon this subject. He fully approved of the general principles which had been laid down by the noble Lord, except as to one point, that which related to the appointment of a Central Board, with powers to ride over those bodies who had administered the present Poor-laws well, and were therefore better qualified than any others could be for administering a system intended to remedy their defects. Where the laws had been improperly or viciously administered it would be well to apply a controlling power: but with such bodies as that to which he belonged he was sure that any alteration limiting or abridging their authority would be injurious. He denied the soundness of that principle which said, that the poor had a right to claim sufficient for their sustenance at the hands of the State. On the contrary, the true principle of Government was, that the ruling power was bound to protect every man in the full enjoyment of the fruits of his own labour, and it was a perverted principle which allowed another man who could not support himself to come upon his neighbour's means. The Legislature must, therefore, return to the sound principle of abolishing all regulations, whether in the shape of labour-rates or in any other form which would give relief out of doors; and then, with a proper management of the workhouses, he would undertake to say the labouring classes would soon be restored to their independence and to the station which they had a right to occupy. With regard to the proposed alteration of the Bastardy Laws, he thought that would operate as a direct premium upon vice and immorality. By the present law young men were deterred from incurring the liabilities which it imposed, but when they were taken away he thought there would be no sufficient check upon them, and the hardship of throwing upon the woman the maintenance of her offspring would lead to still worse crimes. He was convinced of the necessity of some measure, and was grateful to the noble Lord for the Bill; but to those parts he had alluded to as objectionable he should offer tire strongest opposition in his power.

Mr. Hume

said, that if there were any one thing more necessary than another to the complete success of the measure, it was the uniformity of the plan proposed. In every instance the overseers of a parish should have the power, when a sturdy pauper came before them and demanded relief, and said, he would do this and he would do that, to hold up an act of Parliament over him. Indeed the whole success of the measure depended on the system of discipline maintained in workhouses. With respect to bastards, he thought it clear enough that young men were not deterred from—what he meant was, let the woman know the responsibility and the penalty, and she would take care not to run the risk of either. In the metropolis, under the present system of administering the Poor-laws, some women drove a regular trade in illegitimacy. If a woman got one bastard, it was well; she got an allowance for the support of the child, and she went on to increase her family and her means; and by the time she had furnished the parish with half-a-dozen children, she made quite a little fortune for herself. His hon. friend (Sir Samuel Whalley) did not seem to know the state of the law in Scotland on that head. There the responsibility rested with the woman, and although this state of the law did not entirely prevent the birth of illegitimate children, yet it led to this—that a woman very rarely, if ever, had a second illegitimate child. His own opinion was greatly in favour of this point, and he hoped his hon. friend would reconsider his opinion on that part of the subject.

Mr. Hardy

said, one of the necessary consequences of the plan of the noble Lord would be, the appointment of a Registry of Births. He approved generally of the measure, but it would be necessary to make some alteration in it, so as to make provision for the settlement of paupers.

Colonel Wood

approved of the plan of the noble Lord, and anticipated the happiest effects from its adoption throughout the country. It was extremely desirable to set at liberty as much as possible of the labour of the lower orders of society, in order that it might be brought into the most suitable market under every possible advantage. He believed, that would be the consequence of the measure of the noble Lord. He begged to thank the noble Lord and the Ministry for the measure. The question of Poor-laws was no party question. The lower orders in different parts of the country could not fail to perceive, that this was a measure in which they were specially interested, and that it must prove highly beneficial to them. The existing system of Poor-laws did much to pauperize the working classes. It was a very injurious provision in the present system, that the labourer might be partly supported by the wages he received from his master, and by the allowance granted him by the parochial authorities. That was one which must be done away with. It was of the utmost importance to the beneficial working of any system of Poor-laws, that every labourer be paid either solely by his master, or by the Officers of the poor. The noble Lord would be aware, that he had recommended this as a necessary provision in the Poor-law system some years since. There was another provision in the plan of the noble Lord of which he also very much approved. That feature was the one which related to bastardy. The present law on that head was very injurious to the mothers of illegitimate children, as well as expensive to the community. The necessary tendency of it was, to blunt the feelings, and deprive of all sense of shame, the unfortunate women to which it applied. It dragged them and their misfortunes before the public gaze, and made them reckless in future. The female sex stood much more in need of protection in this respect than our own; and the effect of the alteration in the Law of Bastardy would be to afford them this protection. He thanked the noble Lord for bringing forward the measure, and he sincerely hoped it would be productive of all the good effects which were anticipated from it. There was one suggestion which he would throw out, before he sat down, and that was, that he thought it would be much better to have the plan divided into two Bills, as there might be some hon. Members who might highly approve of certain principles and details in it, who might yet disapprove of others. By that means their objections to it as a whole might be done away with. This, however, could be done afterwards. The measure could be brought into the House in the first instance in the shape of a general Bill, and then be divided into two Bills.

Mr. Ward

did not rise for the purpose of going into a general discussion of the question. He simply rose to express his concurrence with the hon. member for Middlesex as to the necessity of establishing one uniform system of Poor-laws thoughout the country. He was satisfied, too, that without a Central Board such a uniformity could not be established; and he therefore looked upon that Board as a necessary part of the plan. From what he had seen in his own parish, he trusted that the plan of the noble Lord would be attended with the happiest effects.

Sir Thomas Fremantle

thanked the noble Lord for the system of Poor-laws which he had that evening brought forward. He highly approved of the plan; but he was afraid, that hon. Members generally were not aware of the difficulty that would be experienced in carrying that plan into effect. The part of the measure which he most approved of was that which related to the establishment of a Central Board of Commissioners, to administer the law in the respective parishes throughout the country. The Magistrates had at present a most unpleasant and difficult task to perform; and he, as one, would most willingly throw from his own shoulders, to those of the Commissioners, the responsibility which rested on the Magistrates in the administration of the Poor-laws. Little would he envy them the office of administering those laws. The applications for parochial relief had of late become so numerous—the expenditure so heavy—and the abuses so great—that most Magistrates would be glad to be relieved from the responsibility which rested on them in reference to the Poor-laws. It had been said by an eminent Statesman, that we had outgrown our institutions. This was particularly true as regarded the workhouse system. He was glad therefore to find, that the workhouse system was to be extended, and that the allowance system was to be discontinued. It had been very properly stated by the noble Lord, that though there might be a seeming harshness in carrying this regulation into effect, yet there was reason to believe that some means would be found to give assistance to those paupers who were really deserving of charity. He hoped that any landed gentlemen or farmers who might constitute part of the Board of Commissioners, would say to those able-bodied paupers who applied for relief, "We can't give you parochial aid, but we will try to find you employment. He was glad that the Board of Commissioners were to superintend the management of the workhouse. He had himself seen many instances of gross mismanagement under the present system of Poor-laws in workhouses. He had no doubt, whatever, that that Board would administer the proposed system to great advantage. With respect to the regulation relative to bastardy, all he would say was, that in enforcing that regulation great caution would be necessary. Before he sat down, he begged to call the attention of the noble Lord to one thing of great importance, which he had omitted, and that was the necessity of appointing an Auditor of the parish accounts. If an Auditor were not appointed, great abuses would inevitably occur. The public money would be squandered away in a very improper manner, and matters would get into disorder. They would most probably find, when too late, that their money had been mis-spent. They might then shut the door when the steed had been stolen. He again begged to express his approval of the measure generally.

Mr. Slaney

also approved of the proposed system, and expressed the great pleasure he felt at the unanimity of the House composed of Gentlemen who differed on almost every topic that came under their notice. He trusted it would restore the English labourer to his old station of independence, when the best workmen would be the best paid, and the best behaved man would be the best off. This it was well known was not the case at present. He was entirely in favour of the Central Board and of the new system for the management of workhouses, in which he especially praised the arrangement by which the several classes would be separated, the old and helpless being placed apart in a state of comparative comfort, the able-bodied compelled to work, and the children provided with the means of education. He was only sorry, that the noble Lord had not adopted a recommendation of the Commissioners to the effect, that the owners, instead of the occupiers, of small tenements should be rated.

Mr. Tower

was anxious that means should be devised for employing the labouring poor in the cultivation of the waste lands of Great Britain and Ireland. Every Englishman ought to be considered as having a right to cultivate his native soil, and live by his own industry.

Mr. Cripps

wished to say, that he was in favour of the principle of having the owner instead of the occupier of small tenements rated.

Mr. Estcourt

suggested, that it would be well to have the law relating to settlement carefully considered and totally remodelled. He was sure that the country would be deeply indebted to the noble Lord for abolishing settlements by hiring and service. The noble Lord seemed dis- posed, however, to confine the right of settlement to the place of the man's birth. He apprehended that it would be well to have two circumstances either of which should constitute a right of settlement—birth or actual possession—not occupancy of land or tenements in a parish.

Mr. Poulett Scrope

expressed his hearty concurrence in the measure proposed by the noble Lord.

Lord Althorp

said, he felt it his duty not to surfer the question to go to a vote without expressing his thanks and gratitude to the several hon. Gentlemen who had addressed the House. As to the observation of the hon. member for Marylebone, who hoped, that the Commissioners would not interfere with parishes that were well regulated, he had to say, that he hoped they would not. The only mode in which he trusted they would deal with such parishes would be by following their example. When a parish was really well regulated, it need not entertain the slightest apprehension of interference upon the part of the Commissioners. He further had to state, that additional Commissioners would be necessary to communicate between the country and the Central Board. He did not propose that any Magistrate should have the power of ordering relief beyond the bounds of his own parish; and where vestries were too small, and parishes inconsiderable, it was intended to unite them with other parishes.

Mr. Baring

asked the noble Lord his intentions respecting the Labour-rate Bill?

Lord Althorp

was understood to state in reply, that although on a former occasion he had expressed his assent to the principle on which the Bill was founded, yet that now, having a project for an effective Reform of the Poor-laws in progress, he did not think it desirable to touch the measure respecting which the hon. Gentleman had made inquiry. [An Hon. Member asked whether it was intended that all parishes should have a workhouse?] It was intended that the Central Board should have a large discretion on this point. He could not now say positively whether it would be proposed that every parish should be compelled to have a workhouse, but he certainly thought it most desirable that such should be the case. He was sanguine enough to hope, that there would be very little difficulty in inducing parishes which had no workhouses to supply the deficiency by building or hiring them, which would be the least expensive arrangement.

Sir Charles Burrell

said, however good the Bill was, and he had no doubt that it was brought forward with fair intentions, and would relieve many of the evils now complained of, yet he thought the Bill would be much improved if there were introduced a clause in it empowering parishes, if not rendering it incumbent on them, to give employment to the adult and well-conducted labourers. Such a clause he thought necessary to be introduced; for if the willing labourer could not get employment what was to be the result? He would not starve, and if he got no work then he would adopt a course that would not be, perhaps, very consistent with either law or public safety. The extra parochial labourer should undoubtedly have some asylum afforded to him in employment, if not in relief. It was necessary to give the labourers employment if it was designed to keep them amenable to the laws and to preserve social order. If any principle of coercion were introduced into the Bill he would oppose it.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.

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