HC Deb 10 June 1834 vol 24 cc344-52

The 45th Clause was put.

Mr. Poulett Scrope

rose to propose the amendment of which he had given notice. By this Clause of the Bill it was provided it should be lawful for the Commissioners, by such orders or regulations as they should think fit, to declare to what extent the relief to be given to able-bodied persons or their families may be administered out of the workhouse of the parish, &c. At present, this power was placed in the hands of the justices of the peace, but, it was now proposed to take it from them, and to vest it in Commissioners who would be resident in London. He thought the objections to this alteration were very great, and he proposed that the power should remain with those who were on the spot, who, he contended, were much better able to decide in what cases relief ought to be administered. By this Clause, if a labouring man fell sick, or was deprived by other causes of his ability to support his family, and required a little temporary relief, he would be driven with perhaps a large family, into the workhouse, from which it would be impossible to say when he would return. This would be a very great hardship, and he was fearful would be attended with the most injurious consequences. For example, let the House conceive the case of the sudden stoppage of any large manufactory, from the failure of the owner, or from any sudden revulsion of trade. If the men so thrown out of work, could obtain no relief unless they went into the workhouse, they must be either starved or degraded and ruined for ever. In this commercial country unfortunately, such cases were of frequent occurrence. A similar observation applied to widows, to orphans, illegitimate children and others, who for a little temporary relief, which could be administered at the discretion of persons on the spot, might be confined to the workhouse for the rest of their days. The next objection to the Bill was, that it proceeded on a false principle of economy, for by forcing a whole family to seek protection in the workhouse, expenses to a much greater extent must be necessarily incurred to the parish, than if they were relieved at their own home. The temporary relief required would be small, but by being confined to the workhouse, they would be prevented from obtaining employment, and consequently remain a much longer period a burthen upon the parish. Besides, in many instances the members of the same family might be separated and placed in different workhouses, by which means the expense would be greatly augmented. Another necessary effect of this Clause would be, considerably to increase the number of inmates in workhouses. Persons of good character, by being driven to the workhouse from want, must necessarily mix with the mass of all sorts of persons who would be congregated there; they would thereby become greatly demoralized; they would acquire habits of indolence, and being unable to extricate themselves, the whole country would ultimately become pauperized. No one was more anxious than he was for an amelioration of the present system of Poor-laws, but he thought the pressure of the rates was greatly exaggerated in many quarters. The increased value of the revenues of the country was in a much greater proportion than the increased charge for the support of the poor, and the relative proportion of the amount of poor-rates to the population of the country was no greater now than it was in the year 1688. The hon. Member concluded by moving as an amendment, "that no rule or order of the Commissioners shall prohibit the guardians of unions from giving relief out of the workhouse to such of their sick or impotent poor, and to such widows, orphans, and illegitimate children, as they may think fit so to relieve."

Lord Althorp

was understood to say, that it had been supposed by the hon. Member who had just addressed the House, as well as many other hon. Members, that this Bill was not intended to improve the condition of the poor, but merely to afford relief to parishes. The great object of the Bill was to improve the condition of the poor; and if he thought it would not produce that effect, as well as be a relief to the parishes, he should certainly not support it. It was not merely for the House to consider what was the amount of the poor-rates compared with the population of the country since 1688; the question was, whether it would be practicable by this Bill to give the Commissioners the power in every case to say whether relief should be given at the workhouse or not. If by this Bill the House were to say that either now or at any future time relief should not any longer be given out of the workhouse, he should consider with the hon. Member that the Bill would go a great deal too far, and would be attended with bad consequences. But the Bill did nothing of the kind. The Clause under discussion did not give such a power to the Commissioners as the hon. Member described; if it had any effect, it diminished that power. It appeared to him so unimportant at one time, that he had almost intended not to persevere in it. With respect to relief being given to persons who were sick, to orphans, or widows, or others who might require relief out of the workhouse from some temporary cause, a dis- tinct provision was made. All the cases put by the hon. Member came under this provision, for they were clearly cases of emergency. But if the House were to look at the state of workhouses, as they at present existed, and the crime and degradation which now prevailed in them, he could easily understand the objection of the hon. Member to sending widows, orphans, and children to them. But, under a good regulation of the workhouses, which he trusted would be the result of the present measure, he did not think in such cases, where persons were really destitute, there would be any objection to relief being given only in them. Wherever the workhouse system had been introduced under good regulations, so far from their being objected to by the poor of the parish, the persons who had introduced that good system, and who presided over the workhouses, had become extremely popular with the paupers. As an illustration of this, the noble Lord referred to the parish over which the reverend Mr. Whateley presided. The question he conceived to be, whether the House should say the Commissioners should in no case have the power to prevent relief being given out of the workhouses. He thought it desirable that they should possess that power. He knew they had given great discretion to the Commissioners by this Bill, but it was to be exercised subject to great responsibility. Such being the case, he hoped the House would not agree to the Amendment of the hon. Member.

Mr. Cobbett

said the Bill gave all manner of power to the Commissioners without limitation; the House would give them power to do that which no hon. Member would do. The hope was to make the landlords what the heritors were in Scotland, by means of three Commissioners, who were to be stuck up here in London to bear all the blame. He wanted to know what was intended by the present Bill? It would be supposed from what was last night stated by the noble Lord, that the only object was to reduce the rates. [Lord Althorp: I never said that.] Well, then, it was one of the objects of the Bill. But the fact was, that all the gentlemen in the country had declared that such a Bill was not wanted, and could not have such an effect. What was to be done, according to the recommendation of the Report? No relief was to be given to able-bodied men out of the workhouse; and if placed in it, husbands Were to be separated from wives, and parents from children, and no communication was to be allowed between relation and friend. Besides this, they were to wear a badge; in short, the object was, to render the attainment of relief so irksome that they might be deterred from seeking it. Was that legislating for the protection and benefit of the poor? He should like to know what power the House had to pass such a law, and, before the discussion was closed, he would put that power to the test. The noble Lord had said a great deal about the Scotch Poor-laws, and that there were no paupers in Scotland. But there were not a few Scotch vagrants who flocked into this country, and put it to immense expense in sending them back again. But where would the English vagrants go for relief when the cruel Scotch heritor system was adopted here? In Scotland the poor were starved, which he could prove on credible evidence; and he had a letter before him, stating that where there prevailed a disposition to relieve the poor, it could not be done without having recourse to the provisions of the Cholera Act. He trusted the hon. Member would divide the House on the Amendment.

Mr. Wolryche Whitmore

hoped the House would not agree to the Amendment. The hon. member for Oldham said, one object of the Bill was to get rid of a portion of the taxation of the country. Undoubtedly it was; but when the hon. Member said, it would all go into the pockets of the rich, he begged to remind him, that these laws equally pressed as heavily upon the middle classes as upon the rich; and he believed, that the passing of the law would not do so much good to any class as to the superior and well-behaved workman himself. Unless some stop were put to the evil, the poor themselves would, in a very few years, be the greatest sufferers.

Mr. Mark Philips

was of opinion that, in large manufacturing towns, when it happened, from any accidental circumstances, to be impossible immediately to find employment for the poor, the operation of this clause would be very injurious. Before the labourers went to the workhouse they would be compelled to sell all their furniture, hand-looms, &c.; and, having disposed of everything they possessed before they obtained relief from the workhouse, they would have no prospect of ever returning to their work, as the most they would be allowed was a penny a-day from the workhouse. It would, therefore, be three years before they had even a bed to lie upon, and they might never be able to obtain a loom, which was the means of getting their livelihood. All this evil might be averted by a temporary relief out of the workhouse.

Lord Althorp

said, the next clause of the Bill would be found to apply to such cases as the hon. Member had alluded to.

Mr. Grote

said, the Amendment went to this—to give the guardians of the poor the power to say, what relief should be given in a parish and what should not, and the House had to decide whether the discretion should be placed in the hands of the Commissioners, or whether it would be better to intrust it with the guardians of the poor. Agreeing, as they all did, that some relief should be given out of the workhouse, and as the power must be intrusted somewhere, he thought the House would perpetuate the evils the Bill proposed to remedy, if that power were given to those who had hitherto exercised it so much to the injury of the country. He, therefore, hoped the House would not agree to the Amendment.

Mr. Halcombe

said, the House would be forgetful of the legitimate object of Poor-laws if it placed such a power in the hands of the Commissioners. They had seen, from the Report, what views were entertained by the Commissioners on the subject of affording relief to the poor, and they had every reason to suppose, when the power was given to them, it would be exercised in conformity with those views. With respect to orphans, he put it to the House whether it would not be consistent, with justice and humanity, to pass some enactment allowing relief to be given them out of the workhouses?

The Earl of Darlington

supported the Amendment. It was not, in his opinion, inconsistent with the general provisions of the Bill, which, he believed, would be found to work beneficially for the poor themselves.

Mr. Benett

thought, that the guardians, being better acquainted with the characters of the poor in their respective districts than the Commissioners, ought to have the power of deciding to what individuals outdoor relief should be given. He believed that, if the Amendment were carried, it would have the effect of conciliating the feelings of the poor. To adopt it was also desirable on economical considerations; for, in many instances, the aged poor were content to receive half-a-crown a-week from the parish funds in aid of their maintenance out of the workhouse, whereas, if they were compelled to reside within the workhouse, a much larger sum of money must be expended in their support.

Mr. Hawes

admitted, that the poor-rates had decreased during the present and last year, but this decrease was attributable to the attention which had been bestowed on the administration of the Poor-laws in consequence of the inquiries of the Commissioners. Certainly no class of persons were more dissatisfied with the existing mode of administering relief to the poor than the poor themselves, as abundantly appeared from the Report of the Commissioners. He was in favour of giving to the Commissioners the discretion proposed to be vested in them by the present clause; for, considering their responsibility to that House, and the publicity which must attend their proceedings, he did not fear, that they would abuse the power intrusted to them. He believed, that the putting an end to out-door relief was an act of humanity.

Mr. Slaney

would be ready to admit the force of the hon. member for Lambeth's observations, if they were confined to the practice of giving relief out of workhouses to able-bodied labourers. But the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Poulett Scrope) had no reference to that practice, having only for its object to create an exception in favour of the aged, infirm, and impotent poor. So far he (Mr. Slaney) was willing to go with the hon. Member; but with respect to orphans and deserted children, he thought that they were the very persons who ought to be sent—not to poor-houses as at present managed—but to well regulated workhouses, such as were likely to be established under the proposed system.

Lord Althorp

said, that the clause, as it stood, effected exactly what the hon. Member contemplated by his Amendment; for it contained a proviso enabling the guardians of the poor in all cases of emergency to depart from the regulations of the Commissioners, but requiring that, within fifteen days after every such departure, they should report the same, and the grounds thereof, to the Commissioners. With respect to widows, he saw no objection to placing them in workhouses, if those workhouses were well regulated. The question then was, in whose hands should the discretion of granting or withholding out-door relief be placed. He admitted, that the guardians were likely to have great local knowledge; but it should also be recollected, that they were not unlikely to be influenced by intimidation, particularly in pauperized districts. This, then, was a good reason for giving the proposed discretionary power to the Commissioners in preference to the guardians.

Sir Henry Willoughby

would support the Amendment, and only regretted that it did not also include the aged poor. He did not think it fitting to give any person the power of confining the whole of the aged poor of the country in workhouses. Neither was he of opinion, that the guardians of the poor were proper persons to be intrusted with the discretion it was proposed to give them. They were interested parties, and would be disposed to keep down the poor-rates. He, therefore, thought, that some local authority should be established to transmit the complaints of the poorer classes to the Central Board in London.

Colonel Wood

said, that, in the county which he represented, there existed no workhouses; but he should vote for the present clause, because he believed, that the Commissioners would not order the erection of workhouses in those parts of the country where they were not called for.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 40; Noes 148—Majority 108.

List of the AYES.
Attwood, T. Langston, J. H.
Benett, J. Mills, J.
Bethell, R. O'Connor, F.
Briscoe, J. I. Price, R.
Brotherton, J. Robinson, G. R.
Collier, J. Scholefield, J.
Cripps, J. Slaney, R. A.
Davenport, J. Thicknesse, R.
Duncombe, W. Throckmorton, R.
Egerton, W. T. Tower, C. T.
Faithfull, G. Vernon —
Fancourt, Major Walker, R.
Feilden, W. Wallace, R.
Fenton, J. Walsh, Sir J.
Fielden, J. Walter, J.
Gaskell, D. Wilbraham, G.
Godson, R. Wilks, J.
Halcombe, J. Williams, G.
Hardy, J. Willoughby, Sir H.
Hodges, T. L. TELLERS.
Irton, S. Scrope, P.
Mr. Edward Buller

proposed an Amendment to relieve the guardians of the poor from the obligation of paying out of their own pockets the expenses incurred by them in granting outdoor relief, unless those expenses were sanctioned by the Commissioners.

Lord Althorp

opposed the Amendment, but thought the subject worthy of consideration. Perhaps it might be possible to effect the hon. Member's object in some unobjectionable manner.

Mr. Cobbett

said, the whole object of the Bill was, to deter the poor from seeking relief. He had heard of an overseer in Sussex who cut off the hair of two women who applied to him for relief, put degrading badges on them, and in this condition marched them through the village to the parish church. Now, the Commissioners recommended that badges should be put on the paupers; and, though they did not recommend the cutting off the hair of those who applied for relief, yet give them but the power, and they would soon turn head-shavers. During the riots in the agricultural districts, these head-shaving overseers did not escape punishment; and it was with great pleasure that he heard of the manner in which they were treated by the people. He intended to propose, as an Amendment to the present clause, a proviso prohibiting any regulation being made for separating the male pauper from his wife or children, or for shaving the heads of, or for putting odious badges on, poor persons applying for relief.

Mr. Bernal (the Chairman) stated, that the hour had arrived (3 o'clock) when it was necessary to adjourn.

The House resumed, and adjourned.

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