§ Mr. Godson
rose to propose a Resolution in the nature of an instruction to the Committee. In the course of the discussion on Friday evening, whilst hon. Members had spoken against some of the provisions of the Bill, they had generally expressed themselves in favour of its leading principles. It appeared to him, on this account, that this measure ought to be subdivided into two Bills, each to be considered distinct from the other. He would propose, that all that part of it which was concerned in repealing past statutes, and enacting new ones in their stead, should form a separate Bill by itself; whilst that which related to the appointment of the Central Board, and the power with which they were to be invested, should be in another Bill. The question would thus be divided under two distinct heads,—first, the laws which would be enacted; and secondly, the authorities by which those laws were to be administered. During the debates on the Reform Bill, which had been so much altered during its discussion in that House, it was maintained, and very reasonably too, that it should be divided into two enactments; that the question of disfranchisement was enough for one Act, and the question of registration enough for another Act, if not for another Parliament. When the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) brought forward his measures for the reform of criminal law he did not lump all crimes and penalties together, but judiciously classified them, and placed one order of offences with their concomitant punishments in one Bill, and another in another. So should it be in the present case; arrangement was desirable. When it was considered that the seven million of taxes levied on the country as a provision for the poor were to be placed under the control of a single party,—when it was considered how many subjects and enactments were to be jumbled together in the Bill,—emigration, vagrancy, poor-houses, a Board of Commissioners with power greater than that of the King or Legislature, bastardy, and settlement;—when it was considered, that not less than 484 Acts of Parliament were to be repealed or greatly altered, and that 1,800 cases were advanced in the Report on which to found Legislative Acts applicable to each case; when it was considered that all these great changes were proposed to be effected by one single sweeping Act of Parliament,—he felt called on, as a 954 Member of Parliament, representing the opinions of a large and intelligent constituency, to interpose his voice and influence against such a wholesale and sweeping measure. When he saw Commissioners, whose power out-topped that of any known tribunal in the country, armed with the formidable authority of appointing Deputy Commissioners to support the views of their superiors, and that these Commissioners were to have the power of making laws without any appeal—an authority that the King or Parliament separately did not possess,—then he felt alarm at this project of a Reform Ministry. But it was not nine Deputy Commissioners who might be appointed; an order of the Treasury might create by its single fiat ninety-nine.
§ The Speaker
said, that the hon. Member was not speaking to the exact Motion before the House, which was, whether a power be delegated to the Committee of the whole House to divide the Bill into two Bills or more. He admitted, that the hon. Member was putting his arguments with force; but he should remind him, that they were not exactly pertinent to the subject at issue, and could not, at this stage, receive an answer. The hon. Member was speaking to the principle and general efficacy of the Bill, not to the Motion.
§ Mr. Godson
said, that he meant to speak, and imagined he had spoken, to the question. He said, that the Bill gave the Commissioners unconstitutional and unknown powers; it invested them with kingly, judicial, legislative, and administrative functions,—a power beyond precedent or public safety; and he contended, that there should be a separate Bill from the Bill which went to amend the Poor-laws. He did not say, whether the present measure by itself was good or not; its principle he did not touch on; and so far he felt he was in order. It was, he maintained, too much when a power of such vast extent was to be given to three men, who were authorised to debate and decide with closed doors, in contempt of all the formularies of the established Courts of Law, and the wise safeguards thrown around the protection of the subject. Evidence—fact—everything they were at liberty to dispense with; they were free to do everything, and bound to do nothing. That was, in his opinion, a sufficient reason why those powers should 955 be set forth in one Bill dedicated to that object alone.
§ Lord Althorp
here rose. It was unfair to the movers and supporters of the Bill to be called on to answer statements that should rather be reserved for another stage of the proceedings.
§ Mr. Godson
It was not surely unfair for him, representing an intelligent, enlightened, and, he might say, wealthy constituency of 10,000 persons, to express his opinion and theirs on the tendency of the Bill. If his arguments were so good [A laugh]; yes, if so good, that it was found very inconvenient by the noble Lord to answer them, why should the noble Lord attempt thus to check him on a point of form, or, if so bad, why should the noble Lord check him in his injudicious course of argument?
§ The Speaker
said, that the hon. Member did not seem to apprehend the exact nature of the question before the House. When the House went into Committee, then would be the time for him to show that it was expedient to divide the Bill into two or more Bills. If his arguments were good before the Committee, his moving for any instructions to them would be unnecessary.
§ Mr. Godson
said, that he would not then occupy the time of the House longer. The two parts of the Bill were of sufficient importance to be made the subjects of separate legislation. He would then only move his Amendment:—"That before going into Committee on the Poor-laws Amendment Bill, it be an instruction to the Committee to separate that Bill into two or more Bills,—Bills to amend the old laws and enact new laws; and one Bill to provide an executive power, for a limited time only, to carry the Poor-laws with uniformity into effect throughout England and Wales."
seconded the Motion, and reminded the House, that he had originally proposed such a measure, which had also been recommended by the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster. He had not voted on the second reading, because, on the one hand, he did not think the Bill could be modified so as to render it unobjectionable; and, on the other hand, because he did not like to oppose the Ministers, who had manfully come forward to grapple with a subject of the greatest difficulty and importance. He thought, that the Bill should be di- 956 vided, because, in one part, it constituted a new system of Poor-laws, and in another established a Board, with power to make the necessary regulations. The law of settlement was materially changed; and he apprehended that, in manufacturing districts, the alteration would be strongly resisted. In his opinion, the law of settlement should be made the subject of a separate enactment. As regarded the provisions of the Bill relative to bastardy, he was confident, that if the maintenance of illegitimate children were imposed solely on the mothers, it would become necessary to establish in every part of the country schools of industry for foundlings. He contended, that it was impossible to hope to carry the Bill into operation without some such provision; and this alone was a reason why a Bill distinct from the present measure, and embracing the law of settlement, ought to be passed. There was another matter introduced into this Bill unconnected with the Poor-laws; he alluded to the Vagrant-law. In the Commissioners' Report on vagrancy, the Assistant Commissioner, who drew up that Report, seemed to entertain the strangest opinions. Mr. Chetwynd observed, that in the year 1821, the Committee which then sat recommended a total alteration of the law of vagrancy; and a Bill was introduced, the principle of which was this,—to abolish the system of passing vagrants to their parishes. It appeared that, against Mr. Chetwynd's wishes, a clause was introduced into the Bill, enabling the visiting Justices to pass vagrants from one part of the country to another. The General Gaol Act was passing through the House at the same time, which gave the power to pass prisoners from their place of confinement to the place of their last abode. Now, these clauses of these two Acts were repealed by the present Bill; but then another power was given, enabling the Commissioners to do the same thing. He must beg the House to pardon him for going into such details; but he did not see how he could properly explain the course he intended to pursue without troubling the House with these particulars. Complaints had been made to the Secretary of State for the Home Department of the indiscriminate use which Magistrates made of the Gaol Act and the Vagrant Act for the passing of vagrants. It had been his intention last year to bring in a Bill to repeal these 957 clauses. Instead of the Commissioners having additional powers given to them, he thought that the shortest course would be to repeal, by one Bill, the objectionable clauses in the Vagrant and Gaol Acts, and restore the law to what the hon. and learned Member who introduced the Vagrant Act intended it to be,—viz., a law solely for the punishment of vagrants, and not for circulating them all over the kingdom. He thought it highly desirable that the present measure should be divided; and, as a security against any loss of time, he did not see why some of the measures—for instance, one relating to the Law of Settlement, or to the Bastardy Laws, or to the Vagrancy Act.—should not originate in the other House, where such Bill or Bills could be passed, pari passu, with the measures carried through the House of Commons. He should say, that the Bill ought to be divided into four Bills. First, the establishment of the Central Board; secondly, the alteration in the Law of Settlement; thirdly, the amendment of the Bastardy Laws; and fourthly, the remedy proposed of the evil resulting from the Vagrant Act; this last being a matter that had been allowed to creep into the Bill, though, properly speaking, it had nothing at all to do with it.
§ Lord Althorp
said, it was true that, in this Bill a great number of important subjects were detailed, and, no doubt, many of them were measures that might be made the subjects of separate Bills; but, in his judgment, it was no reason for objecting to consider all these subjects in one Bill, to say, that they were each of them of great importance. If they were matters connected together, by their bearing on one common subject, that appeared to him to be a very sufficient reason for retaining them all in this Bill. The hon. member for Kidderminster had illustrated his objections to the proposed plan, by referring to the course pursued by the House on two former occasions. He alluded to the inconveniences which he said were admitted, during the Debates on the Reform Bill, to have resulted from that not having been a divided Bill; and he alluded also to the Amendments of the Law introduced by the right hon. member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel), and to the great convenience that resulted from the principle of division having been there acted on. Now, as regarded the former case, the object of the separation which took 958 place was, to afford time for the boundaries to be fixed; the last instance was not in the least analogous. The Bills of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) were on totally distinct subjects,—they did not at all depend one on the other; but all the parts of the present measure depended one on the other. If the principle of establishing a Central Board of Commissioners were right, it would probably be approved by this House; and all the other provisions of the Bill, in a great degree, depended on the adoption of that principle. The other provisions of the Bill, then, depending on the establishment of the Central Board, there was an essential connection between the two, as they at present stood. If the two parts of the Bill were divided, one part might pass, and the other might not pass, and the Bill that did pass would be rendered useless by the failure of the other. The House would see, that the proposition of the hon. Member would perhaps lead to very great inconveniences. As to the different points to which the hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House alluded, they were questions that would more properly be entertained by the Committee on the Bill. He hoped the House would not consent to adopt a course which might render the provisions of the Bill, which the House should pass, totally inoperative. He had now replied to the proposition of the hon. member for Kidderminster. The other hon. Gentleman took a different view. He wished to divide the Bill into four parts. As regarded the two first, he agreed with the hon. member for Kidderminster, and that proposition had been replied to. But vagrancy was said to be a distinct subject; surely, however, it was a mistake not to consider this intimately connected with the other parts of the Bill. Nor could there be any doubt but that the laws relating to Bastardy and Settlement were connected most distinctly with the administration of the Poor-laws. In legislating on the subject, to collect all those measures in one Act, would be more convenient than to separate them. He was quite certain, that to include them in one Bill would occasion a great saving of time to the House. Under these circumstances, he had a decided objection to the instruction moved by the hon. Gentleman.
said, the noble Lord had denied that there was any analogy between the present measure and the measures of 959 the right hon. member for Tamworth; but there was a very decided analogy between the present Bill and the Reform Act. When the Boundary Act was brought forward, it naturally excited a great deal of jealousy on the part of the opponents of the Reform measure. To meet the objections, it was suggested, that there should be a distinct Bill introduced relative to the Boundaries, and that they should be arranged by Parliament, instead of being left to be fixed by Commissioners. Now, there was a similar provision in this Bill; one portion of the measure relating to the boundaries of parishes, which it was proposed that the Commissioners should prescribe. Whatever the Government did with regard to the other subjects, he did hope that Parliament would itself undertake this business, instead of leaving it to the Commissioners. He must say, he thought the hon. Gentleman had made out his case, notwithstanding he had been placed in a very difficult predicament. The noble Lord had certainly shown some soreness on the subject, which was accounted for by his admission, that he found it difficult to meet the hon. Gentleman's arguments. The noble Lord said, he did not like the arguments, and it was quite obvious that he could not answer them. One part of the Bill gave a new description of power,—a power unknown to the Constitution. He never could have thought that such a measure could be brought forward by an Administration professing liberal principles. The portion of the measure to which he alluded might be properly described, if it were said to be for the putting down of all parochial and local government, and for delegating the power to impose taxes on the subject to certain Commissioners to be appointed by Parliament.
§ Lord George Somerset
admitted, that there were too many subjects introduced into this Bill; and if he were as anxious to support many of the clauses as he found it to be his duty to be anxious to oppose them, he should be equally desirous that the Bill should be divided into several parts. Having got through the first forty-six Clauses of the Bill, amongst the remainder there were many which involved subjects of the greatest importance, each of which might fairly take up the House a long time to discuss. There were several fresh questions that would arise—questions which, so far from having 960 been settled, could hardly be said to have been yet agitated. One of the most important of these related to the cessation of all allowances to able-bodied persons except under peculiar circumstances; and then the Commissioners were to have the power of annulling the order under which the allowance was made. He would mention one or two of the other provisions of the Bill. The husband was liable to maintain the wife's illegitimate children. There were clauses affecting vagrants. The Apprentice-laws were to be altered. The Militia-laws relating to relief from the parish were also to be altered. Emigration was embraced in another part of the Bill. The Laws of Settlement were involved—grandfathers and grandmothers were to be liable for the support of illegitimate grand-children. And power was given to call for a particular mode of rating. He thought he had stated enough to show the excessive inconvenience that would result from the House being called on to legislate in one body on so many important subjects. He wished it to be distinctly understood, that he did not oppose the Bill from any party feeling. He thought this was a question on which all parties ought, if possible, to unite. He sincerely desired, therefore, that the Bill should stand or fall on its own merits.
§ Mr. Frankland Lewis
said, if a Motion were made empowering the Committee to divide the Bill if they should think fit to do so, he should be disposed to give it his support. But the instruction moved appeared to him to be of a mandatory character.
§ The Speaker
said, he believed that any Member would find it very difficult to discover a precedent in which there was a mandatory instruction as to what a Committee of the House should do. The object of moving an instruction was to give the Committee the power to do that which, without the instruction, they could not do. The question could not be mooted without that power was given, and having been given, it was for the Committee to decide whether they would exercise it.
§ Mr. Frankland Lewis
hoped he should not be condemned for wasting the time of the House, since he had elicited the important explanation just given by the right hon. Gentleman. But he hoped he might still be allowed to make an observation or two on the words of the Motion. They appeared to go further than was 961 proper, according to the authority the House had just heard. He still felt some difficulty. [An Hon. Member: "It is perfectly clear."] It might be clear, or immaterial to the hon. Gentleman, but to him it was not satisfactory. What he wished to insure was, that they should not go into Committee bound to "foregone conclusions." [The paper containing the Motion was here handed to the hon. Member.] He perceived, that the Motion which had been moved differed in its terms from the Motion of which the hon. Gentleman had given notice. He, for one, did not object to the Committee having the power to consider the question of division.
§ Sir Robert Peel
had no very strong opinion as to whether an "instruction" should be proposed to the Committee or not. But at all events, he could not see why the noble Lord should refuse to consent that such an instruction should be given. If the House went into Committee without an "instruction," no matter what might be their opinions afterwards of the propriety of dividing the Bill—they would not have the power of doing so. Why might not the noble Lord then concede that the "instruction" be given—reserving to himself, however, the right of opposing in Committee the division of the Bill? For his own part, he thought there were advantages, in some respect, in having all the code in one Bill. He did not, however, mean to say whether or not in this case a division might not be attended with advantages.
Sir Matthew White Ridley
could not agree with the right hon. Baronet, that there was no ground for opposing the Amendment of the hon. member for Kidderminster. If the House agreed to the Amendment, it would be virtually agreeing to the suggestion conveyed in the instruction. In his opinion it would be better to include the entire measure in one Bill.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that if the House agreed to the Amendment it would be expected that they recognise the convenience of dividing the Bill. He was, therefore, opposed to the Amendment of the hon. member for Kidderminster.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ On the Question being put that the House resolve itself into a Committee,
§ Mr. Robinson
rose to move the Resolutions of which he had given notice. He exceedingly regretted, that his Majes- 962 ty's Ministers seemed to feel it their duty to press this most objectionable Bill through the House during the present Session. He was well aware how little importance would be attached to his opinion, but he must solemnly entreat them to beware of proceeding with so much rashness and precipitation on the present important occasion. He could not help considering the immense majority by which the second reading of the Bill was lately carried, as an indication rather of the desire of that House to legislate generally on the momentous subject of the Poor-laws, than as any approval of the specific measure which Government had introduced. In this view he was confirmed by the expression, then pretty general among hon. Members, of the inexpediency of passing such a measure; and he should be very much surprised, looking at the state of public opinion, if Government should be able to carry into effect such a Bill. Admitting, as he was ready to do, the necessity of some legislation on the subject, he would ask was the case really of such pressing urgency as to call upon the House at so advanced a period in the Session to pass hastily a measure of such grave importance, and which would affect so extensively the interests of every class of the community? Why, the Bill had not yet been circulated throughout the country, so as to enable Magistrates and other competent persons to form a correct opinion of its merits; one-half of the hon. Members of that House had not even read it, and none had yet had time to consider sufficiently its various provisions and to communicate with their constituents on the subject. It was most fit, therefore, if not absolutely necessary, as indeed he hoped those who differed from him as to its merits would think, that the Bill itself should lie over till the commencement of another Session; lest by now dealing with this important subject they should pass it in such a shape as might produce the directly reverse effects of those which its promoters so sanguinely entertained. He gave the noble Lord and Government credit for determining to grapple with this vital question, inasmuch as the evils which attended the present system threatened the welfare, if not the very existence, of the community; but he did not agree with the noble Lord in the propriety of proceeding with so much recklessness. The noble Lord seemed to think, that it 963 was desirable to press the measure through on account of what was going on out of doors. Undoubtedly the public attention was beginning very seriously to be called to this question, and there were very general expressions of opinion on it throughout the country. The noble Lord might designate it clamour, and his present haste might have arisen from an apprehension that the Legislature might find itself in such a condition that it would be necessary to yield to that clamour. He should be sorry if such should ever be the case: but the reason why he required delay was, that, public clamour existing, time should be afforded by considering the provisions of this Bill to collect the deliberate voice of the people on this important measure. He lamented beyond his powers of expression the introduction of such a Bill as this; because it was nothing more than an admission, after all they had heard of the prosperity of the people, that they had now, at length, arrived at a condition in which it was necessary to establish throughout the country a regular, unlimited, legalized, and permanent system of pauperism. He would not trouble the House by entering at present into a general detail of the provisions of the Bill; but he would venture to say, that a more extraordinary measure had never been introduced within the walls of Parliament, a measure which conferred powers altogether unconstitutional, and hitherto unknown to the history of the country, on a body of irresponsible men, having the powers of delegation to others, irresponsible like themselves—powers which went to take away from the people their right of control over their own affairs, of appointing those who should levy taxes on them, and determining their amount—powers which gave the right of establishing workhouses all over this once happy country, and thus producing a state of things which would most materially increase the discontent which at present so alarmingly prevailed among all classes of society. Hon. Members seemed so anxious to pass this Bill, that they appeared to entertain no doubt as to the success of the workhouse system; he declared to God if he entertained no more than doubts on this point, he should have been most willing at once to go into Committee; but let him call the attention of the noble Lord to this subject, and let him inquire how much legislation there had already 964 been with the view of amending the system of Poor-laws in the country. The present was not a Poor-law Amendment Bill, it was entirely a new law for the management of the poor. What had the Commissioners themselves (out of whose Report the measure had arisen) stated? He found in their last Report these memorable words, which ought to be impressed on the minds of all, and restrain the impatience of hon. Members with which they heard suggestions against this measure:—"The history of the Poor-laws abounds with instances of legislation, which have been worse than unsuccessful, which have not merely failed in effecting their purpose, but actually produced effects in a decidedly opposite direction, creating what they were intended to prevent, and fostering what they were intended to discourage." Well would it be for the House, and well for his Majesty's Government, although he believed their intentions were good, to consider whether this Bill would not be as great a failure as any of those which had preceded it. Indeed, he feared it would be the greatest of all failures. If hon. Gentlemen should run away with the impression that it was owing to the mal-administration of the Poor-laws alone, that the country was reduced to its present state of degradation, they would commit a very grievous error. Undoubtedly, that mal-administration had greatly aggravated the evil; but it was owing to the condition of the poor that the laws were badly administered. If the Magistrates and overseers had found it impossible to administer the Poor-laws within the intention of the Legislature, how were the Commissioners and their delegates to administer them, the causes remaining unaltered, but by a system of coercion and severity which he trembled to contemplate? Of course he would not impute intentional severity or cruelty to any man; but unless some effectual means were devised for ameliorating the condition and promoting the improvement of the poor, the very nature of the thing rendered it impossible to carry such a measure into effect without a system of severity which must tend to alienate the minds of the lower class of society from Government, and greatly aggravate the evils of their present condition. But, besides the extraordinary powers conferred on the Commissioners, the Bill went to create an enormously large expense throughout the country. If 965 it were conceived, that the Commissioners would be enabled to economize the present expenditure, he must say, that in addition to the now necessary disbursements, there would be all the new expense of the Commissioners themselves and their host of assistants, which admitted of no limitation whatever. Then there was the establishment of workhouses all over the country; not as places devised for the temporary reception of those whom accidental circumstances might throw out of employment, but for their permanent and fixed residence, there to be subjected to stinted provisions and severe labour. The Bill seemed to treat poverty as a crime. He was disposed to admit at once, that for a man who was indisposed to work, hard labour and scanty provisions in a workhouse were good enough; but the hardship he alluded to was the separating a man from his family who had committed no crime, and placing him in the workhouse on a stinted allowance of food, as if he were a complete pauper, because he had been by casualty deprived of his regular employment. Such was the amount of labour in excess as compared with the demand in this country, that there would always be a vast number of persons whom, under the provisions of this Bill, the Commissioners would have power to send to the workhouse. The hon. Member read an extract from a letter which he had received from a gentleman in one of the ridings of Yorkshire, for the purpose of showing, that while the woollen and worsted manufacturers in that district, who were employed, received remunerating wages, an immense number were altogether idle: indeed the trade had sunk from a state of universal activity within a few months to almost unprecedented stagnation, greater than ever it had attained in 1825 and 1826. He quoted that passage for the purpose of showing that they would necessarily, and not from accidental causes, have hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the country to deal with under the Bill, which ought not, therefore, to be lightly considered. The Commissioners themselves admitted, that their Report had been drawn up in great haste, and consequently was very imperfect. Never had there been a case in which the House having been put in possession of so voluminous a Report, was so hastily called to adopt its recommendations. The Bill, too was so multifarious, 966 it was enough to bewilder any one's mind to read it through; and to legislate on it this Session would be an act of indiscretion amounting almost to insanity. His object in advocating delay was not by any means to defeat legislation; he was anxious that the Poor-laws should be amended, but the House ought not to proceed on so important a subject, until after full inquiry, with caution and deliberation; and it was impossible for any one to convince him, that the necessity was so urgent as to justify the passing of such a Bill before the ensuing Session. Then they might expect to produce a measure which would justify the expectations of the country, and which by practically remedying the existing evils of Poor-law Administration would work safely, permanently, and beneficially. But if, unhappily, that House should proceed in its measures only coercively and repressively with reference to the condition of the poor, without at the same time taking into consideration the various causes still in active operation that had contributed to degrade and pauperize them, they would legislate not only unwisely, but, he would venture to predict, most unsuccessfully. Had they not produced by former misdirected legislation much of the evils and mischiefs which they were now called on to remedy? They had passed laws out of number which had injuriously affected the lower classes, and now after they had reduced them to great poverty and distress, although he had no sympathy with Trades' Unions, and with those who, having plenty of employment, abandoned it without cause, and endeavoured to embarrass both Government and the community—he spoke of the really industrious classes of society, agricultural, and manufacturing, and he asked after having done so much to degrade and depress them, was the House to do nothing effectually to relieve them? Had not the numerous enclosure acts, particularly in the agricultural districts—had not the abolition of small farms—above all, had not the inequality of taxation done much to produce the present unhappy state of things? That was a point, however, on which he would not enlarge, having given notice of a specific motion on the subject; but he would ask, had they done anything in the present Session to improve the condition of the labouring classes? On the contrary, he could enumerate some measures which indirectly were likely to pro- 967 duce very injurious effects on them. He found among the voluminous papers to be seen in the library on this subject, a report which had emanated from a Committee on which the noble Lord (Lord Russell), one of the members for Devonshire, had sat in 1814, and which contained this remarkable passage, which it would be well to carefully consider at the present moment. It stated, that "There are two motives by which mankind are governed—the one the hope of improving the condition of themselves and their families, the other the fear of punishment; the one is the principle of free trade, the other that of slavery; the one, because engendering frugality, sobriety, and family affection, places the labouring classes on a friendly relation with the rest of the community; the other causes as certainly idleness, improvidence, vice, and keeps thereby the labouring classes of society in perpetual dissension, strife, and jealousy." Why did they not do something in the first place, then, to improve the condition of the labouring classes, instead of endeavouring to stimulate them to exertion, by holding over their heads in terrorem the accumulated evils of the noble Lord's workhouse system? He had shown the extended prevalence of want of employment in the agricultural districts, and he was sure, the House would go along with him when he said, that it was their bounden duty to apply their minds to that crying and aggravated evil with a view to devise an efficient remedy. He contended, that they should not proceed, as by the Bill before them they were proceeding, to legislate on that delicate and important subject, destitute of any but very imperfect information, and without consulting their constituents. They had gone on for a long time under the existing system of Poor-laws, and, in his opinion, they had much better endure them a little longer than expose the country to all the evils of rash and premature legislation. He did not scruple to say, that during the present Session, there would not be time to consider and complete any measure sufficient to effect a reformation in the management of the poor of this country; for it was not merely carrying a Bill through that House; but, as every one knew, it was necessary to get all Bills through the other branch of the Legislature; and, as was equally well known, all those proceedings demanded 968 time. There was one of the clauses in the present Bill which he could not but regard with horror and indignation—he alluded to the bastardy clause, which went to relieve the seducer from the burthen of maintaining the offspring of his own crime, and imposed that burthen upon the poor helpless victim of that crime. A wealthy father might thus enjoy impunity, while the father or the grandfather of the seduced female would be made to endure the consequences of that deep offence against the laws of morality of which another man was guilty. Another provision of the Bill to which he entertained the strongest objection was that which took away from the rate-payers that wholesome control over their own funds, which they alone could exercise with advantage, and transferring it to paid Commissioners who had no interest in its due and economical application. The result of all that, must be the establishment of a system of legalized pauperism from one end of the country to the other, and the evil must go on being augmented and aggravated until Parliament should be called upon to legislate anew under circumstances probably more disadvantageous than even the present. If the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) would only do him the favour to read his Resolutions, he could but admit, that they might be affirmed by his Majesty's Government without its having the effect of laying them open to any charge of inconsistency. At all events, whether the noble Lord agreed with him or not, he should feel it to be his duty to take the sense of the House on the Resolutions then before them. He was anxious to put his own sentiments on record, and to afford other hon. Members an opportunity of doing the same. The subject with which they had to deal was one of great difficulty and of much hazard, especially in times when the number of unemployed persons was from day to day increasing, and likely very much to increase, by reason of the improvements constantly going forward in machinery. The benefits of those improvements were enjoyed by the higher classes, and they ought at least to make some return to those at whose expense those advantages were obtained. To look at the mass of unemployed but able-bodied men at present to be seen in this country was most alarming; but what did the promoters of this Bill propose to do with them? Nothing 969 more or less than to shut them up in a workhouse. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following Resolutions:—
- "1. That the Report of the Poor-laws Commissioners affords conclusive evidence of the deplorable condition of a large portion of the working population, highly detrimental to the interests of all classes of the community, and especially injurious to the honest, well-disposed, and industrious poor.
- "2. That, in order to apply an effectual remedy to long-existing and complicated evils, so deeply affecting the well-being of society, it is the bounden duty of a just and enlightened Legislature, when proposing to enact new laws with extraordinary powers for the suppression of idleness and vice, cautiously and deliberately to look into the causes which have operated or contributed to produce a state of widely-spread pauperism, demoralization, and crime, alien to the habits and feelings of a nation, otherwise in a state of unexampled wealth and improvement, and blessed by Divine Providence with the greatest abundance.
- "3. That this House, therefore, will, by all possible means, endeavour to improve the moral and social condition of the labouring poor by the promotion of beneficial employment, the encouragement of industry, and the removal of those burthens which press upon the productive classes with peculiar severity, in order to restore that harmony, goodwill, and respect for the constituted authorities, which alone can render the nation prosperous and happy."
§ Sir Samuel Whalley
seconded the Motion, and maintained, that if the Bill were founded on good principles, it would stand the investigation of public opinion, which had always been found correct in the conclusion at which it arrived. He thought, that early in the next Session of Parliament, they would be more likely to approach this subject calmly and dispassionately, and he hoped that the noble Lord would allow it to stand over till then.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he would beg to remind the House, that the direct question was not whether they should negative or affirm the Resolutions of the hon. Gentleman, but whether they would pass these Resolutions instead of going into Committee; if they voted for the words of the 970 original Motion, they did not negative the propositions of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman had certainly clearly stated his object to be, that the Bill should not pass this Session; but that some other measure should be introduced hereafter. Upon this, the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment was consistent, because he had voted against the second reading of the Bill, whereas the hon. member for Worcester, he believed, did not. But, as to the opinion of the House whether they should proceed or not with this measure, its decision on the second reading made it incumbent on it to do so. According to the rules and forms of the House, the principle of the Bill was then recognized. At least he might assume, that the decision of the House, by an immense majority, was, that a measure to amend the Poor-laws should proceed. He, therefore, did not think it necessary to argue against the Resolutions; because he conceived, that the House had already decided, that some measure for the alteration of the Poor-laws should be persevered in this Session. When it should reach the Committee, it would be for that Committee to say, whether the clauses were such as should be adopted; and the Committee having decided upon the clauses, it would be for the House to declare whether this Bill was such a one as should be adopted. The hon. Gentleman had said, that a great deal of the distress had its origin in bad legislation. He admitted the fact, though he did not agree with the hon. Gentleman as to what the bad legislation had been; but he believed it to be their duty to legislate upon the Poor-laws; and therefore he did not think, that there existed any reason why they should not proceed. He would not, however, go into that question; but he would beg again to remind the House, that if they voted for the original Motion, they would not negative the propositions of the hon. member for Worcester, many of which were complete truisms; and he would merely add, that he thought it would be right to attempt, at least, to remedy the evils of the present system.
§ Major Beauclerk
said, that, in supporting the Resolutions proposed, he could not conceive he was putting off a discussion on the best means to amend the Poor-laws; and he had it from the mover of those Resolutions, that such was not his object, but, on the contrary, he wished to improve the 971 condition of the poor. The House would find, that they were rushing into a wrong course—that the workhouses would not hold all the men who were without assistance or legal claim of any kind. He never could agree to a Bill which went to invest powers in individuals which would destroy the Constitution of the country. It was plain, that if they put the proposed powers into the hands of a few individuals, without any limitation of time as to the duration of their office, they gave those parties more power than the Romans had given to their Dictators. Here was a power given which might be turned against the liberties of the country. He believed the object of his Majesty's Government was good, but they must take care that the result of the measure should be also good.
§ The House divided on the Amendment—Ayes 11; Noes 135; Majority 124.
|List of the AYES.|
|Beauclerk, Major||Walter, J.|
|Evans, Colonel||Whalley, Sir S.|
|Faithfull, G.||Williams, Colonel|
|Gully, J.||Lalor, J.|
|Robinson, G. R.||Ruthven, E.|
|Scholefield, J.||Vigors, N. A.|
§ The House went into the Committee.
§ Lord Althorp
wished to inform the House that there were four provisions in the Bill, with respect to which it was his intention to propose some alterations. It would be recollected, that he had stated on a former evening, that it was not the object of Government to give the Central Board one fraction of power more than was necessary to insure its efficiency. Since that occasion, he had taken into consideration the propriety of making some alterations in the measure now under the consideration of the Committee. As the Bill at present stood, the Central Board of Commissioners possessed all the immunity of Judges of the land; but one of the alterations which he intended to propose would, to a certain extent, limit that immunity. It would leave them open to a criminal prosecution, while it protected them against having separate actions brought against them for facts done in their capacity of Commissioners. He thought this alteration would have the effect of diminishing the objections which were felt in some quarters to the appointment of these Commissioners. He cer- 972 tainly did not flatter himself that it would reconcile the gallant officer and the hon. Gentleman opposite to the measure. (Colonel Evans and Sir S. Whalley.) It was also his intention to propose, that the Commissioners should be deprived of the power which the Bill now gave them of committing persons for contempt, and that that offence should be taken cognizance of and be punishable by two justices of the peace. Another alteration to which he wished to call the attention of the House was one, more of form than of principle. The Committee were aware, that by the Bill, as it stood at present, the proceedings of the Commissioners were directed to be annually laid before Parliament. Of course, in those proceedings would be included all the general rules which the Commissioners might think proper to make. But it would probably tend to prevent any misapprehension on this head, if, in this part of the Bill, it was declared, that copies of all the general rules, which under the provisions of the Bill would not come into operation until the expiration of forty days after they had been laid before the Secretary of State, should, when they came into force, be laid on the Table of that House. He was aware, that this alteration would not invest the House with greater authority than it at present possessed; for it might at any time rescind any of the general rules framed by the Commissioners; but the effect of the proposed change would be to draw the attention of the House to the general regulations as they came into operation. He had only another alteration to propose, which deserved great consideration, because it applied to a very important clause in the Bill. The Bill declared, that after the 1st day of June, 1835, no allowance should be given to able-bodied persons in employment, upon any consideration whatever. He was, however, induced to think that such an enactment might lead to great inconvenience, and it was therefore his intention to propose, that, on the representation of the guardians or overseers of the poor of any parish, that the carrying into effect of that clause of the Bill would produce inconvenience, the central Board of Commissioners should have the power of suspending its operation in such case. He repeated, that his reason for proposing this alteration was, because he thought much inconvenience 973 might possibly arise if, in a pauperized district, the allowance at present received by a large number of persons should cease at a particular day. He therefore proposed to give the Commissioners a discretionary power to suspend the operation of the clause in extraordinary cases. At the same time it would not alter the principle of the Bill.
§ On the Question, that the blank in the first clause, appointing Commissioners be filled up with the word three,
said, that he did not object to the number of Commissioners, neither did he object to the principle of the Bill; on the contrary, he approved of it, and he thought his Majesty's Ministers were entitled to the thanks of the House and the country for having grappled with this great and important question. He looked upon the Poor-laws in their present shape as the most crying evil under which the country laboured; and unless they were checked by arresting pauperism in its progress, they would, in a little time, absorb the whole rental of the country, and establish an Agrarian law of the worst and most injurious description—a law which must end in the starvation of the people, and the depopulation of the country. But while he approved of the principle of the Bill, he must observe, that he thought it too stringent, and that it was the duty of the Committee to render it less so. He thought, for instance, that if, by a clause, they could induce a greater co-operation of the parishes, it would materially increase the efficiency of the Bill. In his opinion, however (and it was to propose an Amendment to this effect, that he rose), it would be right to limit the duration of the Commission; and he would therefore beg leave to move that the appointment be for a period not exceeding five years.
§ Lord Althorp
said, the hon. and gallant Member's clause would, in his opinion, interfere with the working of the Bill, and he considered, that there was no necessity for it. If there was any thing in the Bill which prevented the removal of the Commissioners, or of any of them, at the end of five years, or of one year, it would be a different matter; but there existed nothing of the kind. The only effect of the clause would be to put an end to the Board at the end of five years, which it would be perfectly competent to the House to do without it. 974 As the only object of the Bill was the advancement of the public interests, he trusted, that every Amendment would be brought forward and discussed in that spirit, without reference to party feeling. He should himself be very glad if, in carrying these objects into effect, they could do without the appointment of these Commissioners; but he doubted the possibility of that, though if the feeling of the country should be strongly pronounced against them, they might be removed. He thought the time would come, when the country would express its satisfaction at having the services of the Commissioners; but, if it should be found desirable to remove them, the House possessed at all times, within itself, the power of doing so.
§ Lord Sandon
thought, that if a Central Board was necessary, its appointment ought to be of a temporary nature; he would, therefore, support the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member. He agreed with the gallant Member, in thinking that it would be necessary to incorporate a great number of parishes. If anything was calculated to make the Bill less objectionable to, and less opposed by, the people, it would be the wish manifested by the noble Lord to limit the power and duration of these Commissioners. He would not confine himself to five, in preference to any less number of years, but he would press upon the noble Lord the necessity of limiting as much as he could the power given by the Bill.
§ Mr. Edward Buller
said, he also had given notice of an Amendment to one of the clauses of this Bill. The reason by this unpopular, and, he would say, unconstitutional measure was now proposed, was because the House felt themselves in the same situation in which they were placed last year with respect to the Coercion Bill. They were urged in each instance by the necessity of the case. But here they ought to make the measure as gentle in its operation and limited in its duration as possible. He had the greatest respect for his Majesty's present Ministers, but changes would take place, and let it be remembered, that whatever power they gave to the Commissioners on this occasion, they were placed at the disposal of the Crown. The Secretary of State would be behind the scenes governing all. Then let the Committee look at the pa- 975 tronage given to the Crown by this Measure. There was the appointment of the Commissioners, Assistant-Commissioners, Secretaries, Clerks, Assistants, and so forth. There was also another power given by this Bill, which he viewed with alarm. It was true that the Commissioners had not the appointment of the overseers in the different parishes; but then they were to have the fixing of their salaries, and the power of dismissing them. This was a very great power to be brought into action upon a new election, and therefore that power ought to be limited in every reasonable way. He would say, let the appointment of these Commissioners be for a period not exceeding four years, and if that time should be found to be too short, Parliament possessed within itself the power of extending it. There was yet another reason which induced him to take this view of the case. The time might come when the House should be enabled to dispense with these Commissioners, and, after having cancelled the law, return to the ancient and constitutional mode of administering the Poor-laws.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
said, that hon. Members talked of this measure as being unconstitutional, and objected to the powers to be vested in the Commissioners, without knowing the nature and extent of those powers. He certainly could not vote for limiting the duration of the commission at the present stage of the proceedings, nor until he knew what the nature and extent of those powers were.
thought, it was the duty of the Committee to decide, in the first instance, whether the appointment of the Commissioners was to be temporary or permanent. The Committee would judge of the increased power which this measure gave to Government, when they considered that it would place under their control a sum nearly equal to one-half of the money disbursed for the current expenses of the country. The money available for the actual service of the year was, he believed, from 16,000,000l. to 18,000,000l. a-year, and the Poor-rate amounted to about half that sum. This was a great temptation to Ministers to keep up this commission as long as possible. It gave them a controlling power over the whole parochial expenditure of the country. On these grounds he hoped the appointment of the Commissioners 976 would not be permanent, but temporary. It might be urged that, in mentioning five years, the House implied that the Commissioners were to be continued for at least that period; but that objection would not hold good for a moment, as it would always be in the power of the Legislature to abrogate the law. This was a most unconstitutional power. It gave to the Commissioners ample control over the whole parish property of the country. Nay it gave them the control over the parish authorities also; they were to have the power of directing parishes, whether they were willing or not, to unite one with another; they were also to have the power of directing them to erect large workhouses at a great expense, and this in spite of any opposition they might be inclined to offer. These were powers and principles hitherto unknown to the British Constitution. It had always been held hitherto, that the people were the best judges of their own expenditure. A commission, without these extraordinary powers, to recommend a uniform system to parishes, might be very advantageous; but, with extraordinary power he doubted its utility and at least it was incumbent on the House to render it temporary.
said, it would, perhaps, be more to the satisfaction of the House if he withdrew his Amendment, until the House was in possession of the extent of the powers to be vested in the Commissioners.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ On the Question being again put, that the number of Commissioners should be three,
§ Sir Henry Willoughby
said, he entertained a jealousy of giving powers so extensive to any set of Commissioners, and the more so when he found they were irresponsible for their acts. He would ask the noble Lord whether he had any objection to adding ex-officio Commissioners to the others? If not, he would propose, that the Lord Chancellor, the First Lord of the Treasury, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, be added to the Commissioners; which would have this good effect, that as it was essential to have some persons present who were held responsible for this part of the Government, the House should have the advantage of asking a question at any time on the subject. He wished to know whether the 977 noble Lord (Lord Althorp) had any objection to this addition to the Commission? it was in conformity with the appointment of the Board of Control.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the addition proposed by the hon. Baronet would be a mere nominal thing. The case of the Board of Control had been mentioned, where some of the King's servants were members; but they did not attend, and were not responsible for the acts of that Board. He thought it disadvantageous to appoint any persons as members of a Board who did not attend to its duties; and certainly it would be altogether out of the power of the three Ministers named by the hon. Baronet to attend the sittings of these Commissioners. The proposition had been under consideration, and it was thought advisable not to adopt it. He thought, too, that it was not advisable to have persons connected with the Administration on the Commission.
was not surprised at finding Ministers so little inclined to be joined with the Commissioners. As the case stood at present, the Ministers were to have all the power without the responsibility. If the Commissioners, or any one of them, were to misconduct themselves who, on that (the Ministerial) side, was to get up and answer for them? He saw no one, and, looking at the case in this point of view, he hoped the hon. Baronet would divide the Committee upon the proposition. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) certainly had an alternative, which was, that, as he intended to limit the powers of the Commissioners, the consideration of that part of the case might be postponed for the present until the House had an opportunity of knowing what the powers vested in the Commissioners were to be.
§ Lord Althorp
denied, that the Board would be an irresponsible Board; the Ministers would be responsible if they did not remove any of the Commissioners proved to have acted improperly. Besides, the House itself had a check over the Commissioners, inasmuch as they could not receive any salaries without its sanction. He would then observe, that he would not answer attacks which would have the appearance of making this a personal contest. It was sufficient for him to know, that no man in his senses could for a moment imagine, that any Ministers, however corrupt, would introduce a measure like that before the House for the sake of patronage.
§ Mr. E. Buller
said, he had not charged Ministers with having introduced this measure for the purposes of patronage; all he did say, was, that a great share of patronage must necessarily grow out of it.
§ Lord Althorp
had not alluded to the observations of the hon. Member who had just sat down, but to those of the hon. and learned member for Dover, who had charged Ministers with looking mainly to the power which would be conferred on them by the Bill.
was glad to hear any hon. Member on the other side of the House allude to the patronage created by this Bill. He had done so on a former evening, and got laughed at for his pains. He was opposed to the appointment of these Commissioners with such powers; he objected to this tyrannical Bill; and was determined to resist those who seemed resolved to put down all opposition. He would not be put down by any such attempts; their only effect upon him would be to arouse him to increased energy. There was one thing which he begged the Committee to understand—the noble Lord might carry that Bill by a majority (and, indeed, he could command a majority on almost every question in that House), but he wished it to be understood, that in the short discussion which took place on the Bill, every speaker (save the noble Lord himself) expressed his dissent and his disapprobation of the powers given to the Commissioners, and to the patronage; but Ministers wished to enjoy it, that they might longer retain their places. As to patronage, let the Committee look to what was said by the Commissioners themselves. "The powers," said they "which we recommend to be vested in the Commissioners, is a power now exercised by 15,000 sets of public officers," and they went on to say, that such Commissioners should be removable by the Lords of the Treasury. If this was not additional patronage and power, he knew not what was. It was a perfect imperium in imperio, as had been well observed by an hon. Member in another part of the debate. It would be recollected, that Mr. Fox proposed the appointment of a Commission like this for governing the affairs of India. The Commission was to consist of seven Members, but the proposal created so much alarm, that the Ministry from whom it emanated were overthrown. But he would say, that this Bill gave to Ministers 979 more patronage than that proposed by Mr. Fox would have given to the then Administration. It would give them the power to make and set aside laws at the will of three nameless individuals. Surely these persons ought to be men of high rank and standing in the country—men whose characters might be taken as pledges of their ability, integrity, and good faith—as men incapable of abusing the trust reposed in them. Then they were to have the power of levying taxes on the people. The money hitherto raised by numberless Acts of Parliament was now to be raised on the order of three nameless individuals. Who would say, that this was not a great and mighty power to vest in them? And yet the noble Lord had himself stated, that he did not know who the Commissioners were to be! Never, surely, was such a proposition made before by any Government. He had stated, on a former occasion, that he was not sufficiently acquainted with the present administration of the Poor-laws to speak to the merits of the Bill on that point; but there were many who supported the Bill that were as ignorant of the subject as himself. His opposition to this Bill was founded on broad constitutional principles—on principles which would not permit him to surrender his judgment or relinquish his hostility. The hon. member for the City of London, and the hon. member for the Tower Hamlets, who had supported the second reading of the Bill, took airs upon themselves as if they were doing a very virtuous act in acting against the wishes of their constituents. He had the satisfaction of acting, on the present occasion, in perfect concurrence with the wishes of his constituents. But whatever might have been the wishes or opinions of his constituents, such was the light in which he held the Bill, that support it he never would. He considered that the House had disgraced itself by assenting to the second reading, when not an individual who had spoken upon it approved of its provisions. He should feel it his duty, at the proper time, to move an Amendment, that, after the word "appoint," these words should be inserted—"shall be lawful for his Majesty to nominate fit and proper persons, of the legal profession, to assist his Majesty's Attorney and Solicitor-General in causing the functions hereinafter mentioned in this Act to be carried into efficient and strict execution."
Mr. Wolryche Whitmore
felt called upon to say a few words upon the clause, because it appeared to him, that the House had been hardly dealt by, in reference to the Bill before them; for when hon. Gentlemen took upon themselves to assume, that unconstitutional powers were to be delegated under it, they were almost sure to excite prejudices in the country, which would not be fair or justifiable to its promoters. Being one of those who saw no such unconstitutional powers delegated by the Bill—who anticipated most beneficial effects from its operation—who saw the necessity of strong, but not unconstitutional, remedies for great and increasing evils, he called upon hon. Members to treat the measure with something like fairness, and not to attempt to crush it by words and names alone. He really did not understand what was meant by an unconstitutional principle, if such could be found in that Bill. True, a great change was contemplated; but this did not necessarily originate or involve the establishment of either an unconstitutional, or a tyrannical principle. True, they were going to give to another body a great power over a large class of persons and a vast amount of property; but he would ask, whether those persons would not be much more accountable to that House and to the country, than the individuals who had now the control of the taxation levied for the support of the poor. There lay the question; and he answered by saying, that responsible as the Commissioners would be to the Secretary of State and to that House, he for one preferred such a security far beyond that lax and uncertain one which the present system afforded. Was it not obvious, that the Board as at present to be constituted would have the eyes of the whole country always upon them, and have every act closely scrutinized and canvassed? And did any man in that House really believe, that they would wish to abuse their powers, or that, if they were besotted enough to attempt such folly, the Government would not instantly and peremptorily interfere? But, supposing even that the Government did not interfere, where were all the county Members? Where were all the Representatives of the boroughs and large constituencies? Would they not, without a minute's delay, interfere and put down such attempt? He really believed it would not be desirable to limit the duration of the Board. This, however, 981 was not the time for discussing the merits of the Bill; but still he felt bound thus briefly to state his own opinion after the sweeping and easy assertions which were made against it. He believed its results would be beneficial; that it would be found neither unconstitutional in principle, nor tyrannical in operation, but otherwise; and if hereafter he should find his opinion wrong, he could only assure the House, he would be one of the first to demand its revision. He called upon the House, and upon the country, not to mind mere assertion, but to weigh the Bill well in their own minds; and above all, to look fairly at it, and allow others to do the same; and then he thought they would find in it the means of eradicating many of the worst parts of that system under which they had so long been suffering, and which not only was absorbing, in a frightful degree, the property of the country, but, what at least to him was far worse, plunging it deeper and deeper into almost hopeless demoralization.
§ Mr. Godson
was glad one hon. Gentleman could be found to assert, that the Bill was neither unconstitutional nor tyrannical, because it put the point at issue, and he really thought, if it were discussed and settled, the noble Lord opposite could better enter into the several clauses. When he was interrupted by the Speaker, he was showing that the Bill had better be divided into two parts, and that the power which was to be given to a Commissioner was greater than that granted to a Judge of a Supreme Court. Suppose a Commissioner did wrong, the aggrieved party was not to have his action, for an immunity was granted to the Commissioner. Was he then to petition the House of Commons for redress? [Lord Althorp: Indict him.] The noble Lord said—Indict him. He gave them a round-about power to punish, but he gave the man injured by the Commissioners no redress. An action could not be brought, but, the aggrieved party must proceed by indictment. He had no objection to that, but he wanted more. If they would once establish the law—once lay down the rules by which the Commissioners were to be guided, then there might be some guarantee for their conduct in this liability to indictment; but in the 13th clause he found they were to have full power to make laws and regulations, which were to have the same force as if enacted by the King, Lords, and 982 Commons; and yet they were told, that it was not unconstitutional to grant such power to these Commissioners, because they might be indicted for their abuse of it. But what would be the practical operation of this Bill? Under it the same men would make the law, would administer it, and might apply to a Court of Justice to enforce it; they might also be the accusing parties, and bring parties before them for the infraction of their regulations. Thus they were at once Legislators and Judges, and at the same time usurped the power of the King's Attorney and Solicitor-Generals; and yet an hon. Member was heard to say, that this was not an unconstitutional power. Why, what was the Constitution? It was high time to make such an inquiry. Was not one of its principles, that the legislative, the administrative, and executive powers of the country should be separate? Had they not at all times, when free Government was recognized, felt a great jealousy in intrusting these powers into the same hands? The House itself had acted upon this feeling, in always sending those whom they felt it necessary to impeach, for trial to the House of Peers. A Judge who sat on the trial of a man could not bring him before him for trial. That must be the act of others. Until this Bill, no one ever heard of such a combination of legislative, administrative, and executive powers, in any State pretending to freedom. What was the definition of a tyrant? Was it not that of one who could make laws and execute them, or unmake and change them, at his own will and by his word? The Commissioners were to have this power. They could make, and unmake rules—pardon, or not pardon those who were guilty of the infraction of them at their pleasure. Why, he saw no difference between the power of any arbitrary despot, and that of the Commissioners, if this Bill should pass in its present shape. But another objection was to the permanence of their power. Such a change as this should be only for a limited time, in order to see its operation. When it was found necessary to suspend the Constitution, it was done for a limited time; but here, where the Constitution was to be suspended in most important points, no time was fixed during which the suspension was to continue. Was this to be perpetual? Under these circumstances he would oppose this clause.
§ Lord Althorp
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman must have misunderstood what fell from him. In what part of the Bill did the hon. and learned Gentleman find that the Commissioners were at the same time to make laws and to sit in judgment upon them? By clause 86 of this Bill, it was provided, that all the penalties under it were to be levied, by complaint made before two justices. In no one instance had the Central Board to act as justices. They had the power to make rules but not laws. They were to act as justices of the peace for the execution of the Poor-laws, and there was a particular clause which limited their power as justices to this. Notwithstanding what had been said by hon. Gentlemen, he was prepared to maintain, that the measure was not unconstitutional. There were some Acts of Parliament and many local Acts which conferred as great powers as this Bill did. He was first attacked for the extent of power conferred, and now he was attacked for proposing to reduce it. The hon. Gentleman had made an attack for diminishing the powers of the Commissioners; but if those powers had been left complete, there would be still greater complaints. If the power of punishing for contempt were left to the Commissioners, the hon. Gentleman, and hon. Gentlemen generally on the opposite side of the House, would declaim loudly against that part of the measure.
§ Sir Samuel Whalley
maintained, that the Commissioners had a double power even as regarded the subject of punishment. In the first place they had the power of removing the assistant overseers, and, in the second place, by another clause, namely, the 40th, they could remove the masters of workhouses. He begged to ask the noble Lord, whether that was not clearly and distinctly vesting in the Commissioners a double power of punishment? He would object to that part of the clause which appointed three Commissioners, unless the noble Lord, by some alteration as to their powers, removed his objections. Over these Commissioners, it appeared to him, there would be no control, and he considered that it would be better to increase their number.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
was extremely desirous to know, whether it was the intention of the hon. and gallant member for Westminster to press his Amendment to a division. If such were the hon. and 984 gallant Member's intention, it would not be necessary for him to detain the House with more than one or two words.
§ Colonel Evans did not mean to persevere in his Amendment.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
felt, therefore, that it was necessary for him to detain the House with a few observations. He should like to know precisely and definitely the powers which were to be vested in the Commissioners. Though a judicial power should be with held from them, still, as it seemed to him, they would be possessed of powers perfectly tyrannical. Being parties in the matter, they had the power of repealing laws and putting into execution others, which savoured more of legislative authority than any other power he had ever heard of. He had frequently heard of the tyranny of governments; and he knew that, in some cases, it had been productive of beneficial results; but it was for the first time that he heard the principle of tyranny used as an argument for a measure in the House of Commons. He confessed, that the Report of the Commissioners on the Poor-laws was drawn up with much care and research, and that they had exerted themselves to obtain extensive information; but at the same time that he made this avowal, he felt bound also to state his opinion, that the Commissioners seemed to have a predetermined disposition to grant enormous powers to the Central Board, and to overthrow that mode of relief which had been for many years established throughout the country. Now, when he saw this disposition on the part of persons interested in the Bill, he felt the more anxious to be informed of the extent of the power to be granted to the Commissioners. He could not consent to any measure that would delegate to them an important part of the duty of the Legislature. He firmly believed, that not only the poor, but even the rate-payers themselves, would be affected and injured by the passing of the proposed measure. For these reasons, he could not but feel extremely jealous as to the powers that were about to be vested in the Commissioners. He did not doubt but Government would be careful to select fit and proper persons for the task; but still he should like to know the precise extent of their powers. He should also be glad to know how these Commissioners were to be paid, and to what extent. Were they to be officers salaried by Act 985 of Parliament, or were they not to be paid at all? This was no unimportant consideration. When the House was called upon to pass a measure they should see what were the salaries and powers they were about to confer on the persons the Bill involved.
§ Lord Althorp;
The power of the Commissioners would not be by any means so great as the noble Lord and other hon. Members thought. Their power would be limited, and they would be allowed to act only as Justices of the Peace for the purposes of this Act. At the same time, there was a proviso in the 10th clause of the Bill, which prohibited them from acting as Justices of the Peace for the recovery of penalties incurred under the Act. They would not, therefore, have the power of acting as judges in cases in which they might be looked upon in the light of parties concerned. He thought that their having the power of removal from office of agents employed under them ought not to be looked upon, taking the matter in a constitutional point of view, as vesting in them a power of punishment. There were many persons who possessed a similar power. He admitted, that the measure gave to the Commissioners great discretionary powers, but he really could not see how these powers could be designated with any truth tyrannical. They would be subject to the control of the House of Commons; and it was the first time in his life that he heard anything denominated despotism which was subject to that control. A despotism of such a description must necessarily be extremely limited. The noble Lord asked a question respecting the salaries of the Commissioners. His answer was, that, whatever were to be the salaries, they would be voted annually in Committee of Supply. Such a suggestion had been adopted, in order to give that House more control over the Commissioners in making rigid inquiries as to their conduct, than it could otherwise have possessed. When the vote for their salaries was moved for, the House would have an annual opportunity of investigating their conduct.
§ Mr. George F. Young
could not reconcile it to his conscience if he allowed the clause to pass without calling the attention of the House to the unfavourable situation he and other hon. Members would be placed in, if the Amendment of the 986 hon. and gallant member for Bolton were withdrawn. He would not at present argue, whether the powers proposed to be vested in the Commissioners were unconstitutional or not, but at any rate all must admit that they were enormous. Those powers should be limited, and he had not yet heard it explained whether they were or not to be perpetual. Such an explanation was highly important, since they might concede powers for a time which they could not think of doing, if those powers were to be perpetual as to time, and unlimited as to space. It clearly appeared to him, that they were called upon to legislate universally, upon facts which existed only partially, and in a few counties. It would be very well if some few counties or parishes were made to comply with the provisions of the proposed Act. He had a petition from the place he had the honour of representing, signed by 27,000 of the inhabitants. They did not object to the principle of the measure, but they objected to some of its details, and more especially to the provisions about allowance, since they considered it unjust that such a provision should be extended to the county of Northumberland, in which the system of allowances had never before existed. Unless Government gave him some assurance that the measure should be limited in its operation, he should offer his most strenuous opposition to giving the Commissioners such enormous powers as were contemplated by the proposed Bill.
§ Colonel Evans withdrew his Amendment.
§ Mr. Slaney
entreated hon. Members who should oppose the measure, to do so calmly and coolly. He acknowledged the abuses of the present Poor-laws, and he believed that they were pretty generally acknowledged. Government had been called upon to introduce a measure to remedy those abuses, and when they resolved upon bringing in such a measure, hon. Members ought to give them some credit and not listen to popular clamour. With respect to the defects of the Bill, the hon. and gallant member for Westminster thought, that the powers vested in the Commissioners might be used for unconstitutional purposes. The evils that were to be remedied were great, and, to remove them, was it not necessary that large powers should be vested somewhere? 987 It was an error to suppose, that the powers about to be granted to the Commissioners were so extensive as to enable them, if they so wished, to do away with the existing laws. Those powers were intended to enable them to make regulations, so as to prevent the abuses that had crept in against those laws; but they would not be able to abrogate them. If the Commissioners were to have the power of laying down written rules as to how the money should be disposed of, according to Act of Parliament, he would ask whether their having such power would be called tyranny? The powers of the Commissioners were to have only reference to the relief of the poor, and to the executing certain Acts of Parliament which directed how that relief should be given.
§ The question as to filling up the blank with the word "three" was carried.
§ After several verbal Amendments had been made, the Question was put, that the Clause as amended, stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Jervis
said, that he felt it his duty to move that the clause be rejected, as he felt that that was the best mode of opposing the appointment of Commissioners. He wished to caution hon. Members, that it would be too late to object to the appointment of Commissioners, should they be unsuccessful in their opposition to the objectionable clauses. There were many parts of the Bill relating to the Commissioners to which he did not object, but they were so mixed up with those parts to which he had insuperable objections, that he was satisfied, that the best course that he could pursue, would be to move that the whole of that part of the Bill be rejected. It was not his intention to object at length to the provisions relative to the appointment of the Central Board; nor would he follow the example of other hon. Members in designating the powers conferred on that Board as tyrannical or despotic, nor in using other harsh terms; but he believed, that none would deny that a great degree of power was conferred upon it. He objected altogether to the principle of centralization. It was admitted, that the Report of the Commissioners was founded on a state of things which prevailed only in certain districts, and to remedy the evils which existed in these districts a certain course was to be adopted; and therefore there could 988 be no reason to adopt this new system for the whole country. He had always been of opinion, that those who paid the rates should have a direct control in their administration and distribution, but by this measure all control would be taken from the rate-payers. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen might say, "No, no," but he contended such would be the effect. Although persons contributing to the rates would have some ministerial control, they would have no positive control, because the distribution of the rates would be subject to be controlled by the rules and regulations issued by the Central Board. The fact was, that the rules relative to the distribution of the rates would be framed by those who were unacquainted with the local interests. It must be obvious, that local circumstances must have an important influence on the distribution of the rates. He need hardly say, that unless there was a paramount control in the Central Board, it would be totally unfit to effect the object in view. In his opinion, the principle of centralization was most improper, and would be most oppressive in its operation. It was a principle adopted from other countries, which the Ministers professed themselves anxious not to imitate in other matters. On the one hand, the House was called upon to depart from this principle in framing Local Jurisdictions by the establishment of Local Courts, and on the other, it was proposed to place the administration of the Poor-laws under the control of a Central Board. The evils of the Poor-laws had arisen from their mal-administration under the direction of the Magistracy; but he was satisfied, that an improvement might be brought about without making such a sweeping change as was now proposed. He felt the strongest objections to the principle embodied in the clause, although he believed, that his Majesty's Government were actuated by the purest motives in bringing forward the Bill; but he was satisfied, that they were mistaken as to the effects that it would have. He objected to the powers conferred on the Central Board; but before he went into his objections in detail he wished to observe, with respect to the Amendment which the noble Lord proposed to introduce in the Bill, that it left the measure, in his opinion, still liable to the most serious objections. It had been very justly observed by one of the 989 leading Journals of the day, that the persons who would have to administer the Bill would necessarily become irresponsible from having the power of the Judges conferred on them. It was proposed to lake away from persons feeling themselves aggrieved by the conduct of the Commissioners the power of recovering damages. Instances might occur in which persons might be illegally confined or subjected to degradation and disgrace through the mal-administration of the Poor-laws by the Commissioners. The noble Lord proposed there should be no remedy by civil action, but that an individual feeling himself aggrieved, might proceed by indictment. He (Mr. Jervis) would ask, what would be the effect of such an enactment with regard to a poor man? He would have no opportunity of vindicating his character, but proceeding by indictment, which would be attended with an enormous expense to him, as it was to be recollected that the cost of proceedings was to be thrown on the complainant. When they were considering this part of the measure, they were bound to remember that persons placed in such situations, might make an improper use of the powers intrusted to them. What would be the situation of the poorer classes under such a system? It would operate as a virtual denial of justice. The poor man might be injured in his health or in his character; and yet the whole expense of the proceeding by which the noble Lord proposed, that he should obtain redress, was not to come out of the county rate, or any other fund, but out of the poor man's pocket; and whatever wrong might be inflicted on him, he would not be able to obtain one shilling as compensation. It appeared, therefore, to him, that the principle of the clause was liable to the greatest objections. It had been stated, and he (Mr. Jervis) thought properly stated, by the noble Lord (Lord Granville Somerset), that the Commissioners had, by the means of issuing their rules, the power of altering the laws of the country. They had the power of making general rules, notwithstanding the existence of local Acts; and, by this means, such rules would be constantly framed inconsistent with the interests of particular districts. Again, these rules were to come into operation before they were submitted to Parliament. The noble Lord should recollect, that objections were 990 last year made to allowing the highest legal authorities in the country to make rules and regulations as to the practice of the Courts of Law without the sanction of that House. So strongly did the noble Lord feel this, that he proposed that the rules of practice to be agreed upon by the Judges when solemnly assembled, should not be valid until they had been six weeks on the Table of the House, by which means opportunity would be afforded to any Member to object to them who disapproved of them. Might not a similar caution be used with respect, to the general rules to be framed by the Commissioners? It might be said, that they would be laid before Parliament within a certain time, but the evil in many cases would be inflicted before it was possible to bring the matter before the House. The noble Lord must, at least, admit, that the Commissioners should not have more power than was intrusted to the Judges of the land. There was another point with respect to these Commissioners to which he objected, namely, that although they had no judicial functions to discharge, they were to have the power to commit for contempt. Such a power did not exist in any ministerial authority in the country, and it would be most objectionable to establish such a principle. The noble Lord said, that he had security against the improper exercise of this power, at least, to a considerable extent, namely, directing that, before committal, there should be a summary conviction before two Justices of the Peace, and that these ex-officio Judges should not act as Justices of the Peace in such cases. This was, in his (Mr. Jervis's) opinion, a very imperfect security. For instance, an assistant Commissioner, living in a particular district, might take a prejudice against a poor man, and might, for some alleged offence respecting the Poor-laws, take the poor man before any two Justices of the Peace who were the Commissioner's friends, and get him convicted; and, however improper such conviction might be, the only mode the poor man was to have of vindicating his character was by indictment. He (Mr. Jervis) contended, that no committal should take place without the intervention of a Jury. He then came to the general powers conferred on the Commissioners. He was anxious to have a direct answer from the noble Lord as to whether or not the Commissioners were to have the power of 991 repealing existing statutes relating to the poor? He thought, that it had been stated by the noble Lord, that they were not to have such a power; but if they had not, there could not be an uniform system in consequence of the number of Local Acts. If, therefore, they were not to have this power, instead of one general rule, there would be one system in one county and a different one in another. It appeared to him, that it was proposed to delegate to the Commissioners authority which the House of Commons had no power to give. It was proposed to confer on the Commissioners, not only the power of framing rules which were to have the force of laws; but also to repeal any Act of Parliament, or any rule of common law, which had hitherto been agreed to by the general consent of mankind. The only check upon the power of the Commissioners was the authority of the Secretary of State, who would not be responsible for any of their rules. It appeared to him, that delegating the authority of the Legislature in that way was foreign to the Constitution of the country; and he protested against adopting such a principle, especially with regard to laws which concerned only the poor. The noble Lord might just as well, when he proposed the appointment of the Commissioners, have recommended, that they should be appointed to make laws relative to the poor, only subject to the control of the Secretary of State, as to have adopted the course which he had. The noble Lord might, on the same principle, propose that the House should delegate its powers to Commissioners for tithes, or any other matter, as an easy mode of getting rid of the difficulties of legislation. The objections to such a system were in his mind insuperable. He admitted, that great evils had arisen as regarded the Poor-laws from injudicious and inconsiderate legislation on the subject. This was in consequence of legislating for the exigency of the moment, without regard to fixed principles. He thought, however, all the evils might be removed by some attention, and a slight alteration of the law. But, even if they were liable to such evils from improper management under the present system, would they not be liable to greater evils under the proposed plan of the noble Lord? Those who would be intrusted with authority under the noble Lord's plan would not have the same 992 information, nor the same interest in carrying the laws into effect, or in promoting their good administration, as those in authority at present had. He objected to allowing the Commissioners the power of making rules and regulations. He also objected to the nature of the offices to the holders of which this power was to be delegated. If he understood the Bill, the Commissioners were merely ministerial officers; but they were to have indemnities and securities which were never granted to any officer of the State or the law. The Assistant Commissioners also were to have the same privileges and indemnities, and yet were not to be appointed by any proper authority, but by the Commissioners themselves, to whom such extensive powers were to be delegated. It ought to be remembered, that the same degree of indemnity that was to be given to these Commissioners, was not allowed to many who had powers delegated to them not of a ministerial nature; for instance, in the case of the unpaid Magistrates, to whom the country was so much indebted, but who were constantly liable to have actions brought against them. Again, the police officers of the metropolis were not protected, but were liable to actions for an improper administration of the law, and actions of the kind were continually brought against them. When they found that such a state of things existed with regard to the Magistrates and other officers of justice, were they not entitled to view with considerable jealousy the protection extended to these Commissioners in the exercise of the most extraordinary powers conferred upon them? Would the noble Lord consent for a moment to propose a measure to extend similar protection to all the unpaid Magistrates of the country? Would he consent to invest the Magistrates with such powers and authority as those which he proposed these individuals should have? He had endeavoured to state as shortly as possible the grounds upon which he objected to the clause. He objected, in the first place, to it, because it took from the parties who contributed to the poor-rates the control over the administration of them. He objected, secondly, because it gave enormous and irresponsible authority to those Commissioners, which was dangerous in practice and unconstitutional in its extent; and also because it took from the House all authority in the administration 993 of the Poor-laws, and divested it of all power of legislating on the subject. On these grounds, then, he intended to take the sense of the House on the question, and he thought that he only did his duty in pursuing that course. The hon. Gentleman concluded with moving that the clause be left out.
§ Mr. Ewart
understood his hon. friend to object to the principle of centralization, which he (Mr. Ewart) held to be the very essence of the Bill. His hon. friend objected either to the principle of centralization, or to the means by which it was proposed to carry it into effect. If the objections of his hon. and learned friend were confined to the latter point, they applied to the machinery and the present was not the time to discuss them. If his hon. and learned friend objected to the principle, he was prepared at once to meet his hon. and learned friend, who objected to centralization, that it was not indigenous in this country, but originated in another. If, however, the principle were worth any thing, the objection of his hon. friend was merely a local argument. His hon. friend said, that they were acting contrary to the principle of centralization in establishing Local Courts, and wished to act upon it in the administration of the Poor-laws. In one case the principle of centralization might be necessary, and in another local authority would be more advantageous. The principle of centralization, however, was not new in this country, for it was acted upon in the case of Benefit Societies. General rules for the government of these Societies emanated from aboard; and why not general rules for the administration of the Poor-laws? If the principle were good in the one case, why should it not be advantageous in the other. The question they had to consider was, not whether the powers to be conferred were extensive or not, but whether they were necessary. He certainly agreed with his hon. and gallant friend, the member for Bolton (Colonel Torrens), that it would be better to limit the powers of the Commissioners to three or four years, when, if the system worked well, it would be easy to renew the powers. He would give his cordial vote for the clause.
§ Mr. Richards
did not object to centralization as a principle, but did not approve of its adoption in this case. The people of England had been accustomed 994 to the administration of the Poor-laws in their respective parishes, for the last two centuries, and he thought that they should still have a control in the administration of them; for although there were undoubted instances of abuse they were on the whole not badly administered. He thought that the noble Lord (Lord Althop) had acted injudiciously in not having the Report of the Commissioners generally circulated throughout the country before he brought forward the Bill. If he had done so, much of the violent opposition which had been manifested to it in many parishes would have been prevented. He believed, however, that most of the abuses in the administration of the Poor-laws might be remedied without altering the whole system, and adopting a plan to which there was so much opposition throughout the country. Under these circumstances, he should vote for the Amendment.
§ Lord Althorp
said, in reference to the proposition of the hon. Member that the rides framed by the Commissioners should not come into operation until they had received the sanction of the House, he thought the delay by adopting such a course would considerably impair the efficiency of those regulations, though he admitted, that it would not alter in any material degree the general provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member had also objected, that he had not gone far enough in taking away the immunities proposed to be granted to the Commissioners. Now those immunities had been taken away entirely except in cases of actions brought against them when acting as a Board. That was the only case in which he proposed, that the Commissioners should be exonerated from Liability. The Assistant Commissioners were to have no indemnity of the kind, but only such as was usually granted to Justices of the Peace. The hon. Member had alluded to the taking away from the Commissioners the power of committal for contempt; but the hon. Member had spoken of contempt in the usual sense of the word, instead of the legal sense, which meant an obstruction offered to the proceedings of the Court, by refusing to give evidence, &c. In the next place, the hon. Member had objected to the power invested in the Central Board, of making rules. It appeared to him, that such a provision was 995 absolutely necessary. The question for the House to decide was, whether they should continue the administration of the Poor-laws under the present system of separate Magistracies throughout the country, each acting upon different principles and under different feelings; or whether they should bring the whole under one uniform system? It appeared to him, that it was most desirable that such a general principle should be adopted. It was well known, that in different parishes different arrangements had been adopted, and found to work with different degrees of success. No one general regulation could be found to apply equally to all parishes. Under the present state of the law the parishes in the south did not know what regulations had been adopted and with what success by the parishes in the north; and the northern parishes were equally ignorant of the arrangements of the southern parishes. But if one Board of Commissioners were appointed to overlook them all, it would be their duty to see, that the measures which had been found successful in one place should be adopted in another; and he thought that under such an arrangement they had a better chance of arriving gradually at a perfect administration of the Poor-laws than by any other means which could be suggested. It was admitted on all hands, that the present state of the Poor-laws stood in need of great change—and that the authorities by whom the laws were carried into effect should be also changed; otherwise he could see no reason why the amended Poor-laws should not be perverted in the same manner as the former laws. It had been said by an hon. Member that many measures for the regulation of the Poor-laws had from time to time been passed without any beneficial effect. Now it appeared to him that the reason of that want of success was, the fact of there beings no superintending authority to see to their execution. So convinced was he of this, that he should say even of the present measure, if it were not to be enforced by some such duly-appointed authorities it would prove equally nugatory as former measures. He fully admitted, that the word "centralization" was a new word in our Legislation; but hon. Members should not be afraid of it solely on that account. The question was, whether it would be a good system to have one duly-appointed body as the seat of Go- 996 vernment to manage this important part of our internal administration, or whether it would be desirable to have different parochial authorities, all working upon different principles, and consequently none of them acting with one common view or understanding upon the matter? Upon these considerations he did hope, that the Committee would consent to the establishment of the Central Board, and grant them such powers as might seem necessary to carry the principles of the Bill into effect.
§ Sir James Scarlett
said, he admitted the advantage and the propriety of having a uniform system of management. He thought such a plan exceedingly desirable. It would be extremely advantageous to have some central body for the purpose of watching over the execution of the law. One of the greatest defects of the administration of the present Poor-laws consisted in the local prejudices, and local feelings, and local occasions, which presented themselves everywhere, and caused a difference in the system adopted in different parts of the country. He agreed in the opinion that it was vain to hope that two or three districts could be well administered if the majority were ill-managed. The evil was advancing through the country, and it could not be corrected, but by the introduction of a better system. He did not, therefore, see any objection; but on the contrary, could conceive great advantages, as he had said, from the existence of a Central Board for superintending the execution of the law and taking from the local functionaries what appeared best in their various modes of practice. But that was quite a different question from investing that Local Board with legislative powers. The powers which he objected to were to be found in the 13th section and some of the preceding ones. From the provisions of those parts of the Bill, it appeared to him, that its effect was, that whereas Parliament had hitherto made certain rules and regulations for the administration of the Poor-laws, which had proved inefficient, therefore Parliament should no longer exercise that function, but should delegate it to Commissioners to be appointed by the Crown, who should make all the rules and regulations for the management of the poor. According to these provisions the Commissioners might Repeal any of the Statutes which related to the support of the 997 poor. As these Commissioners were to have the power of altering the laws, subject only to the veto of the Crown, assisted by the Privy Council, it was nothing more nor less than appointing a new Legislature. By far the greatest proportion of the people of this country who could be affected by the practical administration of any law, were liable to the effects of this measure, because the number of persons who could be affected by any other law was trifling—it was as nothing in comparison with the daily and hourly occurrences in which the Poor-laws were called into operation. Thus the House was now actually about to provide a new Legislature to take the charge of the principal branch of our domestic economy. That appeared to him to be a great power to intrust to three, or any other number of Commissioners. Would it not be more expedient if Parliament would adopt a uniformity of practice, and appoint Commissioners to watch over its administration? He knew, that the maladministration of the law, in particular instances, often grew into a habit, from want of an effectual authority to control and regulate it. Some measure for collecting information as to the best practical means of administering the law would be productive of great benefit, and to that extent, therefore, he repeated, he had no objection to a Central Board. He believed, that the Magistrates would, by such a regulation, be relieved from a very unwilling jurisdiction and great contumely, and the overseers from much contention and odium. But he could not conceive, that the people of England would submit with patience to the establishment of a Board with such powers as were proposed. It appeared to him that, according to the provisions of this Bill, the Commissioners might repeal Acts of Parliament. Was that the intention of the House? If it were, it would be better to declare it, specifically. The Report, on the Poor-laws showed, that in those places where the Poor-laws were best administered, they afforded examples worthy of general imitation. What would be more expedient than to take the best parts of the present system for a guide—to frame a general rule founded upon them—to make it temporary, and to provide Commissioners to see that it was duly enforced? Instead of this, permanent Commissioners were to be appointed, who would be subject to 998 no control of Parliament, and were to have no check but their own discretion. Under these circumstances, how could the House be sure that the law would be uniformly enforced? If the House wanted a system, let it declare the system itself. Let it take the best of the existing system, and appoint Commissioners to carry it into execution. With that he was sure the people would not be discontented, and the Magistrates would experience great relief. There was one great inconvenience which he had long felt to exist in the administration of the Poor-laws. A friend of his, who had great opportunities of making himself practically acquainted with the subject, was always of opinion, that the power vested in Magistrates of granting relief against the inclination of the overseers and the vestry, was a very mischievous provision. It was, no doubt, well intended, but it had produced most disastrous results. An hon. friend of his had pressed him much to introduce a Bill to alter this part of the law, but he (Sir J. Scarlett) had not time to give up to the subject, and he was also of opinion that the duty belonged expressly to his Majesty's Government. His hon. friend had himself prepared a measure on the subject, in which he made a provision that orders for relief should be signed by two Justices. Why should not such a regulation be now adopted—or why should it not be said, that in all parishes where there was a local vestry the Magistrates should give no relief unless sanctioned by the vestry? As an instance of what might be effected by good management, he would state a fact. A friend of his, who was now a police Magistrate—he meant Mr. Walker—had had, for a good many years the superintendance of a township at Manchester, in which when he commenced, the Poor-rates were 1,740l. a-year, but in two or three years he reduced them to 500l. not only without exciting any discontent, but even having acquired much popularity amongst the poor themselves by his proceedings. One mode in which he effected this saving was, by stipulating with the Magistrates that no appeal from the order of the overseer on application for relief should be attended to. They having great confidence in him assented, and the plan had produced the benefit which he had mentioned. Instances of individual hardship must of necessity occur under any system, but it would be 999 much better for the general interests if the power of giving relief were made to rest with the churchwarden and vestry, who were better acquainted with the circumstances of the poor in their parish than any other persons could be. He himself had known an instance in which an overseer, from motives of humanity, employed a man on his own farm, but the man refused to work, and got an order from a Justice of the Peace to receive 4s. 6d. a-week. Such a system could not be good. He should not trouble the House any further, but, conceiving this to be a precedent of innovation which would tend to introduce a despotism into the country, and believing that the general opinion expressed of the power given to these Commissioners was the true one, he could not consent to vote for this clause, connected as it was with the other clauses of the Bill, but must join with those hon. Gentlemen who opposed it.
§ Mr. Pease
said, if he had had any doubt before of the necessity of appointing Commissioners, it would have been removed by the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down. He was satisfied that by the functions of the Commissioners the Magistrates would find themselves relieved from much trouble and ignominy, and the poor would be much benefited.
§ Mr. Slaney
said, that if the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Norwich were adopted, it would be necessary to have all the rules first laid down at great inconvenience in that House; but what would be still worse, they must all be brought into operation simultaneously in all parts of the country. Now, the circumstances differed in different parts of the country, and the Commissioners would be able to adopt the regulations to each district—to feel their way—to introduce the alterations by degrees, and not to cause a feeling repulsive to the new rules. It was necessary to give a discretion at present which, however, need not be continued after a good system had been introduced.
§ Mr. Benett
objected to the powers given to the Commissioners as too extensive, and the expenses by which the measure would be attended as too large. He should not consent to it unless the powers of those functionaries were limited.
who spoke amidst much noise and interruption was understood to 1000 say, that it was advisable that a different system should be adopted in town parishes to that in country parishes, and that the system adopted in Scotland of levying the Poor-rate, one-half from the occupier and the other moiety from the owner of the tenements, had been found highly beneficial. He was sorry to trespass upon the House—but as it was a most important subject, he had used his best endeavours to offer his sentiments to the House—notwithstanding the indecorous interruption of hon. Members who came down to the House without having prepared themselves with any information upon the subject about which they proposed to legislate. He did hope that House would not persist in this sort of conduct, else, in justice to himself and other hon. Members who ventured to speak their sentiments, he should feel himself compelled to move an adjournment. He thought, that a vestry appointed from those possessing property in the parish would, if the system were generally introduced, work much good, and obviate the necessity of the dangerous innovations contemplated by the present Bill. There was no occasion for the present Board, or of enclosing men whose only offence was unavoidable poverty within the walls of a workhouse. If the pauper were turned out as he went in, then the Bill would do no good. It would be better to find lodgings and work for the labourer than incarceration and half-starvation.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
remarked, that the hon. and learned member for Norwich had put a construction upon the 13th clause of the present Bill which, in his judgment, it did not bear; on the contrary, he must deny, that any such legislative powers as had been stated were conferred by it upon the Central Board of Commissioners. The powers thereby given were confined to the carrying into effect the other provisions contained in the Bill; they were most clearly defined, and limited to the objects of the measure. At the same time, he admitted, that these powers were extremely large, and ought to be watched and carefully scrutinized before they passed through the Committee. In the course of the present debate he had not heard any plan to amend the present system suggested by any hon. Member who had yet spoken, and it was clear, from the state of England at present, that twelve months ought not to pass before ge- 1001 neral powers were conferred somewhere to amend the existing Poor-laws. If those laws were longer suffered to be administered as at present, the result would be, that the proprietors of land would be expelled from every nook in the country. It had already been seen, that both Magistrates and Overseers of the poor were frightened and intimidated to the concession of all that paupers required, not because the concession was just or in any degree called for, but because they had no power to resist the demand. Hence was it essentially necessary to erect a body distinct and separate from the local authorities to remedy these evils and to establish a uniformity of practice—in point of fact, it was called for to carry into full effect and operation the Statute of Elizabeth, and to get rid of the system established by the aberrations from that law which from time to time had taken place.
§ Sir James Scarlett
begged to state in explanation, that he had not confined his observations on the 13th section of the Bill, but had taken the provisions of that section in connexion with those contained in the 35th. The latter clause, after referring to the Statute of 22nd George 3rd, provided, that the Commissioners to be appointed should have power "to make any new or other by-laws, rules, orders, and regulations, to be observed and enforced as they, from time to time, should think fit; and to alter at their discretion, any of the rules, orders, and regulations contained in the schedule to the said recited Act, or in any local Act of Parliament." Taking the provisions of the two clauses together, he repeated, that the Commissioners would be invested with legislative powers.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that at present Justices of the Peace were armed with similar power. The clause alluded to was the only one that gave such power; and when they came to that in Committee it was time enough to examine it. His right hon. friend said, that it was desirable to take away the present power of Magistrates. That was the object of the Bill.
Mr. Hughes Hughes
said, he was opposed to the despotic power of the Board more than to the Board itself, badly as the Board was constituted, and indeed its very constitution was highly objectionable. The Board might consist of three Commissioners, or only one—[The hon. Member quoted the clause of the Act, which 1002 was to the effect that, in case of death, or of removal, or resignation, it was lawful for the Government to appoint a successor or successors, and that in the meantime, the existing Commissioner or Commissioners should be empowered to act and exercise the same functions as if there were three]. The singular number, "Commissioner," mentioned in the Act showed clearly that all the tremendous power of that Board might be, at the pleasure of Government, vested in one person. He would strongly object to any Board that was not amenable to Parliament.
§ Sir Samuel Whalley moved, that the Chairman Report Progress.
§ Sir Henry Willoughby
asked, if the Central Board were established, what would be the condition of the poor. The power of the common vestries, which were generally composed of farmers and tradesmen, who had a sympathy for and an influence over the poor, would be taken away; and that intermediate power between the poor and the rich being taken away, and the management and support of the poor being left to strangers and a distant and despotic power, the consequences would be dreadful. It was the unanimous opinion of all dispassionate witnesses, Magistrates, overseers, farmers, and others, that the result, of the present Bill would be starvation to the poor. The admission of the noble Lord was enough to convince any one of the terrible evils of the measure when he admitted, that the Board would have nothing to do with individual relief. The great mistake seemed to be, that they did not carry legislation far enough. They should not hand over to any Board that power which the House should exercise. Improvements might be made in the Bill; but why should the House abrogate its proper functions? The evidence and the Report were jumbled together, and the apparent design of both was to show, what was already evident, that the present system was bad, and the only remedy was the proposed bad Board.
§ The House divided on the Motion of Reporting Progress—Ayes 17; Noes 312: Majority 295.
|List of the AYES.|
|Attwood, T.||Gully, J.|
|Buckingham, J.||Halcombe, J.|
|Evans, Colonel||Hughes, H.|
|Faithfull, G.||Robinson, G.|
|Fielden, J.||Walter, J.|
|Williams, Colonel||O'Connell, M.|
|Baldwin, Dr.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Blake, M. J.||TELLER.|
|Butler, Colonel||Whalley, Sir S.|
§ The first Clause, as amended, was agreed to.
§ The House resumed. The Committee to sit again.