§ The second Clause was read.
§ Sir Samuel Whalley
objected to this clause, and proposed to move a clause in lieu of it. With the permission of the Committee, he begged to remind it, that, on a former occasion, it had been decided that there should be a Board of Commissioners. It did not, therefore, rest with him to dispute the decision of the Committee, to which, indeed, he was bound to bow. He, however, called upon the Committee to modify this Board, and to make it as little objectionable as possible. The Legislature had always endeavoured to grant such institutions as should be consistent with the general feeling of the Committee. It was important, in making changes of this nature, that they should adapt them to the habits and manners of the people. The wiser plan would be, not to change altogether, but to engraft improvement upon that which already existed. All who read the history of a free people must be aware of the dangers attendant on great and radical changes. In any alterations about to be made, the safer way was, to inquire whether the existing machinery was improveable, and if so, seek from that what assistance it might be calculated to afford, and not throw away what might be available for useful purposes. During the discussions on the Slave. Emancipation Bill, it was argued that it was absurd to imagine any benefit could result from that measure, unless that measure should meet with the co-operation of the local authorities and assemblies in the colonies. Arguing on the same principle, he maintained that, without the co-operation of the parochial authorities, no benefit could be anticipated from the intended change in the system of our Poor-laws. But he would ask the House how they could expect co-operation from the existing local authorities, when every day, and every hour, only convinced the House that all the local authorities were against the proposed measure? ["No, no,"] Had any parochial authorities presented petitions to the House, praying them to pass this Bill in its present shape? Had not almost every 1277 vestry in town and country petitioned against it? ["No, no,"] He was not prepared, perhaps, to say, that they had all actually presented petitions against the Bill, but most of the parishes in the country had either done so, or were preparing to do so. It was said, that the Poor-laws were administered chiefly by Magistrates; if they were, he was not one of those to join in the senseless clamour against that respectable body of men. On the contrary, when he thought of the fact that that body comprised 10,000 persons; that instances of oppression were scarcely ever heard of; when he thought of the powers which they exercised—of the discretionary powers with which they were invested, and how little those powers had been abused by the many,—he would maintain, that this country was under great obligations to her Magistracy, and that no country in all civilised Europe possessed such a body of unpaid functionaries of justice. He would ask the House to reflect why they were about to degrade in the eyes of the country and of Europe this body of men? Upon what ground were they about to declare them inadequate to administer those duties which they had hitherto discharged? Upon what ground were they now to declare the incompetency of those Magistrates, and to depose them from that authority which they had hitherto exercised? The Bill did all that. When it should pass, there would not be a country gentleman who would not become a mere cipher in the district where he might reside; and this they would find to their cost to be the case. The working classes of this country were now treading fast on the heels of the class above them; and was this the time to make experiments upon those institutions which had brought the country to her prosperity? Was this the time to disunite the bonds of society, and to make the poorer classes look to a new and inferior class of Magistrates for protection, rather than the gentlemen of the country, for whom they entertained a high respect? He would ask the House what authority they were about to substitute for that which now existed? They knew if a cockney wandered far from the land of Cockaign—with what feelings of contempt he was looked upon by the farmer! Now, he would ask the Members to picture to themselves a man in the twofold character of a cockney and an attorney in the 1278 person of a Commissioner—and he would ask them also, what would be the consequence of such an Assistant-Commissioner—(a little dapper gentleman, perhaps), entering a parish vestry in the country, to tell the farmers how they should manage their poor, &c.? At present, the responsibility of the overseer was lessened by the assistance of the vestry clerk; but the overseer was not wholly protected; and hence it was always difficult to find a man eligible to the office who would take it. Such being the present state of things, he would ask, what would be their position in future? In the first place, all their influence would be gone—it would be transferred into the hands of the Commissioners, and the Assistant-Commissioners. The desire to have the power of an overseer would exist no longer. In the next place it was to be remembered, that no man liked much to put himself under the authority of another. But the vestrymen under this Bill, would be subject to the complete control of these Commissioners; they would be bound to obey their commands with infinitely more subserviency than any servant of any hon. Gentleman he then addressed; they would be placed under greater restraint than any soldier could be, and there never could exist so degraded a state of slavery. Theirs would be a more degraded state than that of the slave, because he now had not the fear of excessive punishment before him—["No, no,"] He said this advisedly. If the servants of hon. Gentlemen misconducted themselves, they might be dismissed; but the overseers, who received no reward for their services, were made liable under the Bill to be fined, to be imprisoned, and indicted for misdemeanour. He implored the House not to embark precipitately in this business. Why, the indictment for misdemeanour alone might ruin many a tradesman; and if a man unwittingly disobeyed the commands of the Commissioners, he might be committed for contempt, by Justices of the Peace. He would ask whether hon. Gentlemen could expect any other result than that either parties would refuse to fill parochial offices, or else that those offices would never be properly maintained? The whole 16,000 parishes of the United Kingdom, he was satisfied, would be placed in a state of inexplicable confusion. There would be none to carry the orders and regulations of the Commissioners into 1279 execution; there would be almost a servile war; and those fires which were now nearly extinguished would again blaze through the country. If any man would tell him that a man with a grain of sense in his head would consent to take upon himself the exercise of parochial authority, under such circumstances indeed, he would say, that he knew nothing of human nature. It had been said, that this plan resembled the plan adopted in France. He denied this; and he would show, by an extract from the foreign evidence published as an appendix to the report of the Poor-law Commissioners, what the French system of inspection in respect to the Poor-laws was. The hon. Member accordingly read the following passage:—'The Mayors, by virtue of their office as Presidents, have the right of inspection of the state of the funds and of the books of accounts of all establishments for relief of the poor. The Inspectors-General and Ordinary of the Finances have the same right at the requisition of the Prefêt, Sous-Prefêt, or Mayor. These inspectors make their visits quite unexpectedly; they require to see all the books of accounts as they exist at the moment they arrive; as, by law the receivers are bound to cast up the accompts at the end of every day, the minutest error may be instantly detected. In addition to this, the Minister of the Interior, in the year 1828, formed a Special Commission for the inspection of bureaux de bienfaisance and foundlings. An official letter was then addressed to the Prefects, stating that the extraordinary increase of the number of foundlings, the augmentation of expenses, the various abuses of which complaints were made by the Prefects, the resolutions of the general councils of departments, and reports on the administration and accompts of charitable institutions, left no doubt, that great irregularities existed, and that it had become indispensable, to re-establish order and economy: it was determined therefore, to form a permanent inspection of hospitals, bureaux de bienfaisance and the state of foundlings. The object of the mission embraced the examination of every part of these establishments, and was directed to give to the Government information of the exact state of the administration of public relief, of the resources and wants of each 1280 establishment, and to propose, in concert with the local authorities, measures requisite to improve their system of management. The administrators were informed that it was not intended to examine their proceedings with an injurious suspicion, but to exercise that benevolent superintendence which forms one of the obligations which by law, the Government is bound to discharge as guardian of all institutions of public utility. The inspectors are instructed not to control the administrators in their proceedings in an arbitrary manner, but to offer them useful hints, and such information as may call their attention to those legal principles which ought ever to guide them in their honourable labours. The object of the Government has been, as much as possible, to leave the administration in the hands of the local authorities' That was nothing like the proposed plan; and he would suggest to the Committee, to adopt the French mode. The Board here ought to be similar to that in France—it should not control the local administration of the Poor-laws, but merely direct and guide it. No one could doubt, that if a circular were sent round to every Magistrate requesting him to refrain from any course which might be inexpedient, and to adopt an efficient course, that every Magistrate would obey such a direction, and have influence enough to carry into effect the intentions of the Legislature; whereas there would now be a constant determination evinced to throw up office. He would read to the House the clause he meant to propose in lieu of clause 2.And be it enacted, that it shall and may be lawful for the said Commissioners, and they are hereby required to prepare for the consideration of Parliament a Bill or Bills for consolidating all existing Statutes relating to the relief of the poor, comprising such alterations in the present laws, and such additional laws and regulations as they may think expedient.The House would bear in mind that they had been told that these Statutes amounted to 800. The Amendment was continued thus:—And the said Commissioners shall and may, from time to time, prepare such further Bill or Bills as they deem necessary. And the said Commissioners shall and may frame a form or forms of accounts to be observed by all parishes in England 1281 and Wales, for keeping the parochial expenditure under distinct heads; and abstracts of the total expenditure under each head shall, once in every year, made up to such period as the Commissioners may direct, be transmitted by all parishes to the office of the Commissioners in London, in order to their being there arranged, and laid before Parliament.He meant further to provide, that every parish should make up annually to the Board of Commissioners, a return of their population. By these means, the House would be put in possession of the most valuable body of statistical information; for that which was now obtained by orders of the House was generally imperfectly obtained. He further proposed:—And it shall and may be lawful for the said Commissioners, and they are hereby required, to ascertain what parishes it may be expedient to unite for the purpose of having one or more workhouses for their common use, and, for that and other purposes, to prepare such Bill or Bills as may be necessary. And the said Commissioners shall have the power of examining the accounts of all parishes, and of ascertaining that the returns made to their office are correct, and of offering such written suggestions and advice to boards of guardians and to vestries as they may think proper. And it shall be lawful for the said Commissioners to visit all workhouses at such times as they may think fit; and they are hereby authorised and required to enforce the observance in all parishes in England and Wales of such rules and regulations respecting the relief of the poor, the appointment of overseers, the keeping of accounts, the management of workhouses, and the education and apprenticeship of children, as are or may hereafter be made by the authority of Parliament. And if any person shall withhold or suppress any parish books or accounts, or obstruct the said Commissioners in the inspection thereof, or neglect or refuse to make such annual returns within six weeks after the time appointed by the said Commissioners, or refuse to permit the said Commissioners to visit any workhouse or workhouses, or any part thereof, or neglect or refuse to observe and comply with such rules and regulations as aforesaid, such person shall, upon conviction before any two Justices, forfeit and pay—for the first offence, any sum not exceeding 5l.; for the second 1282 offence, any sum not exceeding 20l. nor less than 5l.; and, in the event of such person being convicted a third time, such third and every subsequent offence shall be deemed a misdemeanor.He thought, that if this clause were passed, it would work more benefit than could be effected by any body of persons, even though invested with the most absolute authority. He disclaimed having been actuated by any party feeling in taking the course which he had done. Cheerfully would he, and so would others, give up all authority, if they could be convinced that the exigences of the State required them to do so. But he declared, that he foresaw the demoralising effect which this measure, if carried, must have on all classes of the country—he dreaded the evils which must result from its attempted operation, and the blow which it must strike upon the Constitution.
§ Sir Eardley Wilmot
rose and said, that he would not delay the House one minute; but it was impossible to refrain from offering one observation. The hon. member for Marylebone supposed, that this measure was intended to degrade the Magistracy of this country. Now, as one of that body, he must observe, that he was perfectly certain, from his own knowledge of the noble Lord, and of his Majesty's Government, that they were the last persons to attempt to degrade the Magistracy of the country. And, so far from thinking that he or other Magistrates were degraded from having their duties lessened, he felt obliged to his Majesty's Government for relieving them from the discharge of a painful duty. If the hon. member for Marylebone supposed, that the Magistrates were ambitious of having their duties increased, he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) must say, that the hon. Member formed a very erroneous estimate of their character.
§ Mr. Ewart
had listened, with some surprise, to what had fallen from the hon. member for Marylebone, nor could he see that those disquisitions into which he had entered respecting "power," were exactly called for. Indeed, he thought, that in entering upon the matter of the authority vested in the Magistrates, the hon. Member had thrown away a great deal of eloquence. It was sufficiently evident from the report, that the Magistrates had not wisely exercised the powers which were vested in them; therefore it was for the interest of the public that these powers should be 1283 vested in other hands. The doubt on the subject, it any existed, was fully removed, by the report as to the danger which resulted from the free exercise of those powers. He was, himself, one of those who were disposed to give the least possible power to accomplish the object which they had in view; and if he could see any means by which the powers of the Commissioners could be greatly abridged, he would accede to such a proposition cheerfully. He thought, certainly, that the duration of the Bill should have a definite period; and he trusted that the noble Lord would do all in his power to modify the powers of the Commissioners.
§ Lord Althorp
thought the hon. Member had not exactly spoken to the subject before the House. It appeared to him, that the object which the hon. Gentleman had in view, was, that the Commissioners should not have the power to make rules and regulations, but, that in each and every case, an Act of Parliament should be required. This, as he apprehended the object, was, that a separate Act of Parliament should be passed for every separate union of parishes, which should be effected, and a separate Act for other purposes applicable to parts, and not to the whole, of the country. Now, this would involve the Parliament in interminable legislation. The hon. Gentleman appeared to have misunderstood what he (Lord Althorp) had, on a former occasion, stated with respect, to the committal of parties for contempt. He had stated, that the power of committal should be taken away, and that the party guilty of contempt should be punished by two Magistrates under the 86th clause. The objections which he felt to the clause proposed by the hon. Gentleman, were—first, that the House had, on a former occasion, decided that a Central Board should be established; and that almost the only duty which they would have to perform (which might be done without their aid) would be the consolidation of the laws affecting the regulation of the poor. This was all that was required of the Commissioners under this clause. But it appeared to him, that some discretionary power should exist; and he thought, that the danger of confusion in the country would be increased very much, if there were not a discretionary power vested somewhere. Then, as to what the hon. Gentleman had said with respect to the Magistrates (though he 1284 thought the hon. Member had been answered by his hon. friend, the member for Warwickshire), he would observe, that he was perfectly satisfied, that so far from feeling that they were degraded by having their duties diminished, they would rather rejoice at it. The hon. Gentleman had maintained, too, that if a circular were sent round to them to the effect which he had proposed, they would be ready to comply with the directions therein given. He was sure, that no inducement would be wanting to urge the Magistrates to assist in carrying this measure into effect. The hon. Gentleman contended, that many boards and vestries had petitioned against this Bill, and he knew that many had done so; but he did not think it surprising that persons, in the first instance, who expected their powers to be reduced, should oppose a measure of this nature. In proof of this, indeed, he need only refer to the disquisitions of the hon. Gentleman himself. Again, the hon. member for Marylebone said, that no one would prove to him, that any man would act under this Bill; but he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought it was for the hon. Gentleman to prove that fact. The Amendment proposed went against the whole principle of the Bill, and, therefore, he must oppose it.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
said, the House had determined by their preceding votes, that the leading principle of the Bill should be considered in Committee; and, therefore, he did not think it expedient, to attack it by this sort of side wind. He did not think, that the censures of the hon. member for Liverpool upon the hon. member for Marylebone were deserved. If there could be any question upon which a disquisition upon the authority of certain parties could be relevant, it was this. He considered, that it would be extending a boon to the Magistracy of the country to relieve them from the several duties they were at present called upon to perform; but it was never contemplated that they should be relieved from the performance of those duties, by the appointment of a Central Commission in the metropolis, under this Bill.
said, the ultimate object of appointing this commission was certainly not to take from the Magistracy the exercise of the powers at present vested in them, but to create a uniformity of practice throughout the kingdom, and to en- 1285 force obedience to the law—objects which the Magistrates had hitherto been unable to effect. It was complained that this Bill would establish an autocracy on the part of the Commissioners; but this complaint, he believed, was principally raised by those who were themselves anxious to establish autocracies in parish vestries. He was one of those who thought the appointment of the Commissioners ought not to be of an unlimited duration. He thought a period of five years would be sufficient, and he would suggest that it should be limited to that period; and as the most general information would be necessary on the part of the Commissioners, he thought the Commission, which ought to consist of five instead of three persons, should be selected from different parts of the country. He would say, let England and Wales be divided into five districts, and let one Commissioner be selected from each district. The hon. member for Marylebone had called their attention to the French system of Poor-laws, but he should bear in mind, that it was not the intention of the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) to give to the Commissioners any power beyond, or contrary to the law.
adverted to the Bill introduced by Mr. Whitbread in 1796 for the better Regulation of Labourers' Wages, and pointed out the effect which the Bill of 1819 respecting the currency had upon the value of money, and all money transactions, and was proceeding to observe upon the hardship of depriving poor labourers of that parish relief to which they had been accustomed to look up for the last forty years, and compelling them to go with their families into work houses. The hon. Member was proceeding to discuss the general question, when—
§ Colonel Davies
rose to order. He put it to the hon. Member whether he was in order in staying the business of the Committee by entering into a discussion as to the general principle of the Bill?
§ Mr. Hodges
said, he was, perhaps, a little irregular, but he felt that the interests of thousands of hard-working and deserving individuals were at stake, and he felt it his duty to point out the injury they were likely to sustain under the operation of this Bill. He hoped the noble Lord who introduced the Bill would give this part of the subject his most serious consideration. Great efforts were making in many parishes in the country to ameliorate the condition of the poor; and he thought it would be unfair and unwise to interfere with those parishes by this Bill. He would not detain the Committee further at present, as another opportunity of delivering his sentiments would present itself.
§ Sir Samuel Whalley
would, with the permission of the Committee, withdraw his Amendment.
It was next proposed and agreed to, that the Commissioners, "or any two of them" might sit from time to time, &c., the blank to be filled up with the word "two."
The following words were then proposed to be omitted:—"And the said Commissioners shall respectively have all the protection and indemnity to which the Judges of a superior Court of Record are by law entitled."—Motion agreed to, and words ordered to be omitted.
The next proposition was, that in the passage giving the Commissioners the power to call and examine witnesses, the following words be omitted:—"The attendance of all parties and witnesses, and such other persons," &c.—Agreed to.
On its being proposed to insert words, giving power to the Commissioners to call before them all those "who shall be in any way concerned or employed in the administration of the laws for the relief of the poor,"
Mr. Hughes Hughes
said, he considered it his duty to take that opportunity of stating that he understood, for he had not yet seen it, a petition against several of the provisions of the Bill, and particularly against the despotic and unconstitutional powers proposed to be given to the Central Board of Commissioners, which the clause then under the consideration of the Com- 1287 mittee would create, was unanimously agreed to at a Special Court of the Corporation of Guardians of the Poor of the eleven united parishes of the City of Oxford, and had been sent to his hon. colleague for presentation to the House, but he happened to be absent from London.
§ Lord Althorp
begged to acquaint the hon. Member, that the petition to which he referred had been presented by his hon. colleague that afternoon.
Mr. Hughes Hughes
said, he was ignorant of the fact; but he begged further to state, that he had received private information from Oxford, on which he could rely, that, unless the Bill should be greatly modified, and, in particular, the powers proposed to be given to the Central Board and their Assistant-Commissioners materially altered, not a single individual of responsibility and intelligence in the city of Oxford would be found willing to take upon himself the duties of a Guardian of the Poor of that city. Eleven of the parishes were united; uniformity of assessments, of rating, and of parochial relief and management, therefore, existed throughout the city, and no complaints or calls for attention had been made. The Corporation of Guardians unanimously objected to having placed over them the unconstitutional boards of control sought to be established; and, if the Bill should pass into a law in any thing like its present form, the Commissioners might go down to Oxford and execute all the parochial duties of that city themselves, for, he repeated, no respectable and intelligent inhabitant would be found to undertake them.
Several verbal Amendments were made in the Clause.
On the Question, that the clause, as amended, be agreed to,
§ Mr. Hodges
moved a proviso, to the effect, that nothing contained in the Bill should be construed to authorize or empower the Commissioners to interfere in the affairs of any parish in which the Poor-rates had been reduced within the last two years.
§ Lord Althorp
would object to the proviso, on the ground that the reduction of the rates in a parish might have taken place from many causes rather than an improvement in the management of the poor; for instance, such reduction might have occurred from better employment, 1288 or from a reduction in the price of provisions. He hoped his hon. friend would not press it.
§ Mr. George Frederick Young
thought the principle of the proviso a good one, though it was carried too far. He knew instances of two parishes in Northumberland, in which the rates had been reduced in the last year, in the one from 5s. to 3s. in the pound, and, in the other, from 3s. 4d. to 2s.
§ Mr. Tower
addressed the Committee amidst much interruption. He was understood to approve of the principle of the Amendment moved by the hon. member for Kent. He thought, that in all cases where the rates did not exceed a certain amount upon the rack-rent, the commissioners should not be authorized to interfere. He referred to the case of Staunton Rivers in his own neighbourhood, where several parishes had been incorporated for the purpose of having a common workhouse, and great inconvenience had been sustained in consequence of the incorporation.
deprecated the interruptions which had been given to the last speaker, and complained, that they came with a very bad grace from hon. Members, who had made several speeches themselves in the course of the evening. He was disposed to support the Amendment on account of the quarter from whence it came; for he well knew, that the hon. member for Kent was better versed in the practical operation of the Poor-laws than any of the gentlemen from whom the Report on the Poor-laws had emanated. The hon. member for Kent was acquainted not only with the operation of the Poor-laws in Kent, but also with their operation in the neighbouring county of Sussex, where the Poor-laws were said to work worse than in any other portion of England. From that circumstance he presumed, that the hon. Member knew that some improvement in the practical working of the Poor-laws had recently taken place in Sussex. The noble Lord had objected to this Amendment, on the ground that the diminution in the amount of the Poor-rates might be occasioned, not by any improvement in the management of the parochial funds, but by an increase in the value of money. Now, if the hon. member for Kent would reconsider his Amendment, and shape it so as to meet the objection of the noble Lord, he had no 1289 doubt that the Committee on a future occasion would give a favourable reception to his proposition. He knew, that in three or four of the metropolitan parishes so large a sum as 150,000l. had been saved within the last two years by improved management. He might be told, that before long that management would retrograde. He was anxious that such a result should not occur, and, on that account, would leave those who had the greatest interest in the economical management of the parish to watch over its pecuniary disbursements. He hoped that the noble Lord would attend to the Amendment of the hon. member for Kent.
§ Lord Althorp
was well aware, that everything which fell from the hon. member for Kent on the subject of the administration of the Poor-laws was deserving of the most serious consideration; but he had already stated the grounds on which he did not think it advisable to accede to his suggestion. He was sorry, that so much interruption should have been given to the hon. Member who had spoken last but one; but the fact was, that the hon. Member did not speak upon the clause under the consideration of the Committee, but upon the clause for the better regulation of workhouses, to which they had not yet arrived.
§ Mr. Hodges
said, that his reason for proposing this Amendment was founded upon his conviction, that if this Bill should be made a law, and the Government should proceed to put it in force, they would paralyze the laudable endeavours which were now making in different parts of the country to restore a right administration of the Poor-laws, and that thus there would be thrown upon the Government an immense amount of labour. He would withdraw his Amendment for the present, and would endeavour to put it in a shape that would better deserve the attention of the Committee.
§ Mr. Baines
said, that there were many parishes in which this medicine could not be applied. In a parish with which he was well acquainted—a parish which was one of the largest in the country, and in which the Poor-laws had been best administered—the parishioners had sent him a petition, in which they stated, that they must necessarily understand the administration of the Poor-laws in their own parish better than the Central Board of Commissioners. They therefore deemed 1290 it to be improper that the Commissioners should be invested with powers to interfere with them, who had not fallen into any fault. They likewise considered it to be unwise to introduce Commissioners into parishes where the Poor-laws were well administered. For his own part, he thought that this measure to a certain extent was a wise measure: but, nevertheless, he could not disguise from himself, that in many parishes where the Poor-laws were well administered it would not be considered as a relief, but as an annoyance. If a Resolution to this effect were carried—that the Commissioners should not be authorized to interfere with parishes where the poor-rates did not amount to 2s. on the rack-rent, it would be productive of considerable relief.
said, that as he came from the same part of the country with the hon. member for Leeds, he would beg leave to intrude his sentiments upon this subject on the Committee. In the parishes in his immediate neighbourhood the poor-rates did not exceed 1s. 6d. in the pound; but the system of rounds-men had crept in, and there was no knowing how far it might extend. Now, under these circumstances, the recommendation of the hon. member for Leeds was, that instead of remedying the evil at once, it should be allowed to increase until the poor-rates amounted to 2s., and that then the Commissioners were to be called in to cure it. He contended, that if the parishes were going on in the right way, the Commissioners would not think of interfering with them.
§ Mr. Baines
said, that in the parish to which he had alluded, the evil of roundsmen was entirely unknown.
The Earl of Darlington
said, that hon. Gentlemen had complained of the severity of the remedies provided by this Bill. Now, allowing that the remedies were severe, still it did not follow, that they would be applied in cases where no disease existed. If a case of necessity for arming the Commissioners with these powers could not be made out, they ought not to have them. But where the evil was obstinate and of long duration, it could not be extirpated except by the application of extraordinary powers. In parishes which were well administered, the Commissioners would not interfere—for instance, it was not likely that they would interfere in a parish like that of St. George, Hanover- 1291 square, where such great improvements had been made in the practical operation of the present system. But in parishes where the Poor-laws had been ill-administered, it would be necessary that they should interfere, and to make their interference useful and beneficial, their powers must be of an extraordinary character.
§ Sir Henry Willoughby
contended, that, under the 13th Clause, the Commissioners must exercise their powers in every parish in the country. He thought that the hon. member for Kent had taken an inconvenient period to raise the important point which he had just brought forward; but it was an important point, and if the hon. Member did not. resume it, he would do so before the Bill got out of Committee.
The Amendment was, by leave, withdrawn.
The 2nd Clause, as amended, was ordered to stand part of the Bill, as were the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Clauses.
On the 6th Clause, which gives power to the Commissioners to appoint Assistant-Commissioners, for the purpose of carrying; the Act into execution, being put,
said, that as the Committee had now come to the Clause for the appointment of Assistant-Commissioners, he would state the reasons why he considered it objectionable, and why he thought that it would be preferable to have visitors for each county appointed by the Magistrates at Quarter Sessions. This Clause enabled the three Commissioners of the Central Board to appoint nine Assistant-Commissioners. Now, if these nine Commissioners were to work with the Central Board, then the number of them was too large. An hon. Member, in the course of the evening, had said, that, in his opinion, there ought to be five Commissioners to form the Central Board, and in that opinion he was much inclined to concur, But, if the Assistant-Commissioners were to be ambulatory from parish to parish, and were to attend the different vestry meetings in the country, then that number was ridiculously small; for they could not perform the duties which they were called upon to perform in different and distant parts of the kingdom. He hoped, that the Committee, before they sanctioned this Bill, would look a little at its practical working. He supposed, that the Central Board would 1292 commence its proceedings by issuing its orders and instructions to the vestries of the different parishes in England and Wales, and by pointing out the mode in which they would have them remedy the various evils arising from the mal-administration of the old law. In one of the Reports of the Central Commissioners, this account was given of a parish in the county of Nottingham:—"It has remedied many of the evils arising from the present system by uniformly refusing to make up wages out of the rates." Now, he considered it certain, that one of the first instructions issued by the Central Board would be an instruction to have that plan adopted in every parish. Indeed, the 46th clause, which enacted, that, after a given day, allowance to able-bodied persons in employment should cease altogether, would make it imperative upon the Central Board to issue such an instruction. The account of the parish to which he had just alluded then proceeded to state, that the remedy was rendered more effectual by the determination of the vestry to take into the workhouse all applicants for relief, along with their families. Now, would the Committee ponder upon the consequences likely to follow from the adoption of such a plan throughout the kingdom? The overseers, being compelled to take in labourers and their families, must set to work all parties who could not find employment for themselves, and that would be a matter of no slight difficulty, In case the labourers found fault with the work on which they were set, or with the quantum of price which they were to receive for it, to whom were they to apply for relief? If application were made to the Magistrate, the Magistrate would be compelled to tell them, that he had no power to interfere at all. Gentlemen might think, that the Magistrates had interfered improperly in the management of the Poor-rates; and he would admit, that, in some places, the Magistrates had afforded assistance to applicants in ways which had produced the evils of which the country was now complaining. The scales of relief which they had sanctioned were improper, but they bad originated in the best intentions. Unless there were some appeal from the power of the overseer, the consequences of this new enactment would, he feared, be dreadful. He, therefore, proposed, that the Magistrates at Quarter Sessions 1293 should have the power of appointing one or more visitors, who, by the direction of the Magistrates at Petty Sessions, before whom any complaint was made of the inadequacy of relief, should inquire into the circumstances of the case, and report his or their opinion thereon to the Central Board. The effect of this would be, that the applicants would know, that their cases were fully and fairly inquired into, and would feel that if they had a grievance, it would be known and remedied by the Central Board. He proposed that, in each county, convenient divisions should be formed, for each of which a visitor was to be appointed; the visitors to be paid by the different parishes which they might visit. Every visitor was to visit each parish in his district once a-year, and to report its condition to the Central Board. The Petty Sessions should have power to require the services of visitors at any extraordinary season, if necessary. He meant, that extra visits should be paid when the circumstances of parishes were thought to require them. Those were the Amendments which he proposed in lieu of that part of the clause which authorized the Central Board to appoint nine Assistant-Commissioners. He was satisfied, that more than nine Assistant-Commissioners would be required when the Bill came into operation; in his opinion, it was more probable, that 100 would be found necessary. The clause he proposed to introduce was, in effect, the same as that contained in Mr. Pitt's Bill of 1796, with respect to visitors for the counties. He might, here observe, that the principles of the present Bill very much resembled Mr. Pitt's measure, by which it was proposed to have a permanent warden of the poor in every parish. The Magistrates were to appoint for every parish a guardian, who was to visit it annually, report its condition to the Privy Council, and take his instructions thereupon. It appeared from this, that Mr. Pitt, in 1796, admitted the same principle of control over the administration of the Poor-laws as was now proposed to be adopted. The hon. Member concluded, by moving to omit all the words after the first word "and" in Clause 6, for the purpose of inserting his Amendment, to the effect before stated.
§ Lord Althorp
observed, that, the hon. member for Brecknock seemed to think it the duty of the Assistant-Commissioners 1294 to visit every parish in the kingdom, and therefore that nine would not be a sufficient number; but it would not be required of the Assistant-Commissioners to visit each parish in the way supposed, and he (Lord Althorp) apprehended, that nine would probably be found sufficient to carry all the provisions of the Act into effect, by enforcing the general rules to be established by the Commissioners for the government of parishes. It was only in peculiar cases, that, the Assistant-Commissioners would be required to interfere particularly. It was desirable, that the Assistant-Commissioners should not be confined to particular districts, but that they should have a general knowledge of the system and practice, and be acquainted with the circumstances and condition of different parts of the country. The effect of appointing local visitors would be, to produce a greater degree of interference than could otherwise occur, or than might be necessary in many cases. He thought that the Bill would be found to work well without the aid of such local authorities, and, therefore, that it was not desirable to appoint them, at least in the first instance, before the operation of the proposed machinery should have been tried. He was clearly of opinion, that it was desirable, that the appointment of the Assistant-Commissioners should rest with the Central Board, and that it should be responsible for its appointment. On the best considerations he had been able to give the hon. Gentleman's proposition, it did not appear to him necessary to adopt it; should it at some future period be found necessary to enlarge the machinery of the system, it would be time enough to adopt such a course when the occasion seemed to demand it.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
was of opinion, that, if the Assistant-Commissioners were to attend local vestries and see the regulations of the Central Board carried into effect, it would be impossible for so small a number as nine individuals to perform those duties; but if, on the contrary, they were merely to be considered as officers acting under the Central Board, and occasionally inquiring into alleged malversations of the local authorities, in his mind nine Assistant-Commissioners were far beyond the number required by the necessity of the case; and he should say, that five would be amply sufficient. 1295 But the whole Bill was such as to show, that, if the measure were intended to be of any practical use whatever, it would be necessary to go more minutely into its provisions; and he, therefore, thought, that there was great weight in the observations of the hon. member for Brecknock. It would be desirable, if local visitors were appointed by the Magistrates at Quarter Sessions, that they should be under the control of the Central Board. He approved of the local authorities having the appointment, and the Central Board being invested with the control of the Assistant-Commissioners or visitors. Persons appointed by the Magistrates would have the advantage of local knowledge; and, upon that and other grounds, he thought the hon. Member's proposal more eligible than the original plan. He wanted to learn from the noble Lord (Althorp) what he proposed to be the amount of the salaries of the Commissioners and Assistant-Commissioners. Although economical considerations were not all in all in a measure like the present, yet it was important, before sanctioning the appointment of a Central Board of three individuals, and nine Assistant-Commissioners, a Secretary, Assistant-Secretary, Clerks, and other officers, it was desirable for the country to know what it was to pay for this machinery.
§ Mr. Aglionby
objected to the appointment of Assistant-Commissioners or visitors by Magistrates at Quarter Sessions. He thought it desirable that they should be appointed by the Central Board, and that they should be directly under the control of that body, with a view to produce unity of purpose.
said, that the Central Board being responsible for the execution of the provisions of the Bill, it would be naturally anxious to appoint fit persons as Assistant-Commissioners; this did not apply to the case of the Magistrates, who would feel less anxiety on the subject of appointments that involved them in no responsibility. The Board must necessarily possess greater knowledge of the subject, and be more aware of the proper qualifications for Assistant-Commissioners, than the Magistrates possibly could be; and, on those grounds, he thought it right to oppose the Amendment.
could not conceive, that nine Assistant-Commissioners would be sufficient to exercise the proposed superintend- 1296 ence over the local concerns of so many parishes. The noble Lord seemed to think, that matters would be regulated principally by general rules; but such could not be the case with respect to the erection of workhouses, the union of parishes, and other steps, which it would be impossible to take without the personal superintendence and presence of the Assistant-Commissioners. Under these circumstances, he thought, that some plan much nearer to the proposition of the hon. member for Brecknock than to the original clause would be found necessary. If, however, there were to be only nine Assistant-Commissioners, the principality must put in its claim that one of the nine should be a person who could speak Welsh, as otherwise it would be impossible, in many instances, to communicate with the overseers. He agreed in the proposition, that the Assistant-Commissioners should be appointed by the Central Board rather than by the Magistrates, who could not be so well acquainted with the object of the measure as the chief Commissioner, and might be swayed by partiality and local interests in their appointments.
§ Mr. Grote
observed, that the clause did not prevent the appointment of a greater number of Assistant-Commissioners than nine, if the Treasury should think fit to increase the number, so that there could be an extension of that part of the machinery of the measure, if necessary. He thought, however, that the Assistant-Commissioners to be appointed would be able to do a great deal, considering that in a number of parishes there need be no interference. He would only add, that he should have no confidence in the efficiency of the Assistant-Commissioners unless they were appointed by the Central Board.
Sir Matthew White Ridley
thought that it had been justly objected, that if the Assistant-Commissioners should be appointed by the Magistrates, there would be room for local partiality, and individuals might be appointed who were imperfectly acquainted with the great principles and objects of the measure. One merit of a Central Board was, that it was free from local partiality and prejudice, and would act on general and uniform principles. It was right that the persons filling subordinate situations under the head Commissioners should be in the same situation. On these grounds he felt 1297 inclined to oppose the Amendment, the tendency of which was, to do away with some of the advantages referred to.
Sir Thomas Freemantle
agreed in what had been so repeatedly stated, that the object of the measure was to produce an uniform system; but it was admitted, that a number of different systems were at present in operation, and he thought that if on a certain day one uniform plan were attempted to be enforced everywhere, the measure must be inoperative, and the whole country would be thrown into commotion. He thought it necessary, in order to carry the Act into effect, that there should be some persons acquainted with the local circumstances of particular districts, who could give appropriate advice to the Commissioners on the subject. If every parish were to apply to the Central Board, there would be no end of the correspondence, and it would be impossible to expect a satisfactory result. It would be desirable to have local officers appointed who could give assistance, with a view to carry into effect the regulations of the Act. He was inclined to give the appointment of such officers to the Magistracy, thinking it would reconcile the overseers and vestrymen to the system, and believing that they would rather communicate with such officers than with strangers. In conclusion, he wished to observe, that he thought the auditing of accounts very inadequately provided for in this Act. It would be well to convince overseers that if money was improvidently expended they must be the sufferers, and he thought that local officers might be advantageously employed in auditing the accounts.
§ Lord Althorp
remarked, that if the Assistant-Commissioners were appointed otherwise than the Act proposed, and with the view to local interests, a greater number would be required than the clause specified. He objected to the proposed change on that ground, and because he thought it desirable that the number of Assistant-Commissioners should not be greater in the first instance than was absolutely necessary. He thought it would be even better to set out with a less number at the commencement of the measure than might be ultimately necessary. The number could be increased hereafter, if it should be thought necessary. He was of opinion that the appointment of the Assistant-Commissioners should be in the 1298 Central Board rather than in the Magistrates. With regard to the auditing of accounts, when they came to that part of the Bill, if more strict provisions should be necessary on the subject, they could be introduced.
was anxious that the noble Lord should clearly explain the nature of the powers that were proposed to be intrusted to those Assistant-Commissioners. According to the statement of the noble Lord, the Commissioners were to make general rules for the guidance of parishes, and those Assistant-Commissioners were to be sent throughout the country to see that those rules were acted upon in the different parishes, to Report what departures had been made from them, and where correction might be duly administered. If he was correct in the interpretation which he had put upon the powers which this Bill proposed to invest in the Assistant-Commissioners, it appeared to him that the number of them would be neither too few nor too many. If the noble Lord would say, that the interpretation which he (Mr. Lloyd) had put upon that part of the Bill was correct, it would tend to allay a growing indisposition in the north of England to this Bill.
said, that it appeared to him that the powers to be vested in those Assistant-Commissioners were nearly essentially and virtually the same as the powers vested in the Commissioners themselves. These Assistant-Commissioners would be Justices of the Peace. Even practically speaking they would have greater powers than the Commissioners themselves, for it would be competent for them to be present at all vestries, and to take a part in all their proceedings. He thought that this was the most objectionable clause in the whole Bill. The power that was given to those Assistant-Commissioners to be present at, and to control, the proceedings of vestries, would justly excite the universal jealousy of the country. The Bill, it would be seen, enabled the Commissioners to delegate all their powers to those Assistant-Commissioners whom they should appoint. The number of Assistant-Commissioners whom the Board were to appoint was limited to nine; but the First Lord of the Treasury might appoint 19, or 199 Assistant-Commissioners if he thought fit. He thought that this clause was more objectionable than that which appointed the Commissioners.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the gallant Officer was mistaken in supposing that any power was given by the Bill to the Assistant-Commissioners to control the proceedings of vestries. They were not empowered to vote at vestries, they were only empowered to attend at them, and to offer such suggestions as they might think it well for parishes to adopt. The Central Board would have the power of making suggestions to parishes as to regulations which it would be desirable to adopt. The hon. member for Stockport was perfectly correct in the manner in which he had explained the powers to be vested in the Assistant-Commissioners. The Assistant-Commissioners would be invested with powers to see that parishes and parish officers did not wilfully contravene the provisions of the Act, and did not neglect to carry into effect the instructions of the Central Board.
§ Mr. Slaney
said, that it was admitted on all hands that the manner in which the Poor-laws had been administered in various parts of England had been most injurious, especially to the humbler classes themselves. Their administration was different in different parishes, in different counties, in different hundreds in the same county. It was absolutely necessary, under such circumstances, to endeavour to introduce an uniformity of practice in the administration of the Poor-laws. That uniformity of practice could alone be obtained in the manner proposed by the present Bill. The Government proposed for the purpose the appointment of a Central Board, to lay down rules to show how Acts of Parliament should be carried into effect—not to originate, but to follow up, and enforce the execution of, the Acts of the Legislature. In order to enable those Commissioners to see that the rules laid down by them were carried into effect, it was necessary that they should appoint Assistant-Commissioners. The discretionary power which was vested in the Central Board was one for the exercise of which that Board would be responsible to the Government and to that House.
§ Mr. Hodges
said, that the machinery of this Act was obviously insufficient to carry it into execution. It required not the spirit of prophecy to be enabled to foretel that the rules laid down by the Central Board could not be brought into operation by any machinery provided by this Bill; that many parishes would, under 1300 the circumstances, be obliged to do what they could for themselves; and that should the rules be altered by them, there would be an appeal to the Commissioners, and that they would find themselves at a standstill. He hoped that in such a case circumstances would not arise to render it necessary to summon that House suddenly together. Such an unpleasant emergency might, under such circumstances, arise; it was by no means impossible, nor even improbable. One effect of this measure would be to wean the people of the country of that feeling which they at present entertained of looking up to their neighbours for protection. That was a circumstance, he apprehended, more worthy of the consideration of hon. Members than they seemed to be aware of. He could state it as a fact, that the flame had been already kindled among the people in his part of the country; that the feeling was now working in their minds, that if they should be deprived of the assistance of their neighbours, as they would be by this Bill, they were determined to unite for their mutual protection. He thought it his duty to state that fact to the House. He hoped, though he did not expect, that means would be provided to insure the carrying of this measure into effect. He must say, however, that the novel powers created by this Bill could not be carried into execution without, he feared, outraging all the feelings and sentiments of the English people.
§ Mr. Robert Palmer
would suggest, that the machinery for carrying the measure into effect should be rendered more efficient. He did not see how three Commissioners, acting as a Central Board, with nine Assistant-Commissioners, could carry the regulations arising out of this Bill into effect throughout all parts of the country. It was desirable, that there should be some local authority to superintend the execution of the Act in the various districts of the country. He did hot think, that it would be a good thing that the poor, who at present looked up to the local Magistracy for protection and relief, should be as it were deserted by them, and thrown upon some distant Board of which they knew nothing. It appeared to him that, by connecting the local Magistracy in some degree with the superintendence of the execution of the act, much benefit would accrue. He would suggest to his hon. friend that it would be more 1301 advantageous to propose his suggestion, not as an amendment on the present clause, but as an addition to the Bill on a future occasion.
§ Mr. Hawes
said, that at all events nothing connected with the administration of the Poor-laws should be left in the hands of the local magistracy, for if one fact more than another had been established by the Poor-law Report, it was, that the interference of the local magistracy in the administration of the Poor-laws had been productive of the most injurious consequences. If the rates had been diminished in amount, and if the condition of the people throughout the country had been elevated, then, indeed, it would be a different question; but it was a well-established fact, that the Poor-rates had been enormously increased, and that the moral and social condition of the people had been greatly lowered. With regard to what had fallen from the hon. member for Kent, he would say that we should be more liable to difficulties and to violence without this Bill than with it.
remarked, that when the hon. Member suggested, that the local Magistracy should have nothing to do with the execution of this Bill, he should also have proposed to relieve them of other duties that devolved upon them, so that when they saw the ricks around them on fire, and a rural mob goaded on to violence, the local Magistrates should not be called in to put such proceedings down. No body of men had performed more important services to the country than the local Magistracy; and he firmly believed, that such a class of persons were not to be found in any other nation in the world. He was ready to fall in with the suggestions of the hon. member for Berkshire. He would withdraw his Amendment on the clause for the present, intending to propose it, or something like it, as an addition to the Bill. He thought, that the Magistracy might be connected with the Central Board in this way—that they might at quarter Sessions elect three visitors, the names to be sent up to the Central Board, to choose one out of them; or that, having elected one visitor, the name should be transmitted to the Central Board, and that if it did not approve of the choice, the Magistrates should proceed to the election of another. That would make a connecting link between the Central Board and the Magistracy in the different districts 1302 throughout the country. The noble Lord did not seem to understand the practical working of the measure, for he had talked of Magistrates having the power of auditing the overseers' accounts. Now, that was not the case. They were merely signed by two Magistrates at petty Sessions, who thus affirmed the rate as legal, but they exercised no practical control over its imposition. He hoped that the Central Board would establish one uniform system for keeping parochial accounts throughout the kingdom. He begged to observe, that at present, the peasantry were accustomed to look to the Magistracy for relief and redress against the overseers. When the poor man thought that the overseer gave him too hard a task, or did not afford him sufficient relief, he looked to the Magistracy for redress. When this measure passed, if passed in its present shape, the Magistrates would be obliged, in reply to such an appeal, to say, "I can't relieve you; you must go about your business." He feared that the consequence of that would be that the people would take the remedy into their own hands. If they did, they should not call on the Magistrates to put that remedy down. He would postpone his Amendment, with a view to introduce it in a subsequent part of the Bill.
§ Lord Althorp
maintained, that the Magistrates had the power at petty Sessions of striking out or disallowing items in the overseers' accounts.
§ Mr. Clay
said, that, generally speaking, the power exercised by the Magistrates at petty Sessions, in reference to the accounts of the overseers, was purely Ministerial, though there was no doubt that they had the power if they chose, to disallow the rate. He hoped to God, that the noble Lord would not listen to the suggestions of those who wanted to have the appointment of the Assistant-Commissioners transferred from the Central Board to the local Magistracy. If they should be transferred to the Magistracy, they would be made snug things, and gentlemen would be found going about the country a fortnight or three weeks before the appointments took place canvassing the Magistrates for them. The appointments should be left in the hands of the Central Board, so as to leave entire complete responsibility upon them. The 1303 proper execution of the measure depended upon the employment of vigilant agents, and that was the only way to secure it, As to the number of Assistant Commissioners, the Bill did not limit the number to nine. There might be fifty-two, or one for every county in the kingdom; at all events, as many as would be necessary could be appointed. In carrying the measure into execution, the Central Board could only commence in the first instance by feeling its way—beginning with portions of the country, and thus proceeding gradually to apply its provisions to the whole kingdom.
§ Sir Charles Burrell
defended the Magistracy. The system in the south of England might not be so good as in the north. It was the opinion of the farmers in the south of England that if wages got up, there would be no getting them down. But the Magistracy were not consulted, and they had no power to regulate the price of wheat. He took upon himself to say, that the Magistrates had been hardly dealt with. If they had erred, they had erred on the side of the poor, and their error arose from other circumstances.
The Amendment was withdrawn, and the blank for the number of Assistant-commissioners was filled up with the word "nine." The clause was agreed to, as were Clauses 7 and 8.
Upon Clause 9,
§ Mr. Frankland Lewis
thought that the Assistant-Commissioners should have sufficient power delegated to them to act promptly in special cases. He mentioned an instance in the north of England, where the Magistrates of one district had decided that a class of persons should have relief, and the Magistrates of another district had decided the contrary way. In such cases the Assistant Commissioners ought to have a power to interfere. With respect to the details of the measure, he thought that legislation de minimis in such a case as this was bad. It was impossible in a law to follow out in detail all the remedies for the evils arising out of the mal-administration of the Poor-laws. By giving the authority conferred by this Bill, we should get what was wanted—a consistent and harmonious administration of the law. What was complained of was, that there had been an abuse of a good system of laws upon this subject. Let Gentlemen consider, and compare the evidence respecting the administration of 1304 workhouses. In Reading and other places, it was stated, that paupers lived in the workhouse better than tradesmen in their own houses. Where this was found to be the case, the Assistant Commissioners ought to be able to direct more work to be given to the paupers, and that they should not be so well fed. If the House would read the Reports, they would find a reason for every clause in the Bill, and he cordially thanked the noble Lord for bringing it in. It was a great mistake in any one to imagine that the Bill was for the benefit of the rich; on the contrary, it was to snatch the poor themselves from the degradation and misery which the present law brought upon them. If Gentlemen would look fairly into the Bill, their objections would shrink to nothing. Irresponsible power! Think of the power of overseers under the present system. They could make taxes to any amount they pleased. The assent of the Magistrates to rates was a mere illusion. At the end of the year, the money was gone, and the rate must be made. With respect to the deteriorating influence of the existing Bastardy-laws, he could state that in the county he represented (Radnor), it appeared from official returns, that one in eight children were bastards. The Bill contained the elements of hope. He did not mean to say, that the measure was perfect; but he certainly thought that it would establish a system infinitely superior to that which existed at present. It was most absurd to allow Magistrates to have the power of ordering relief to be given to the poor. It was singular that though this power was conferred upon the Magistrates by the Statute of Charles, for the express purpose of checking the expenditure of the overseers, who it was alleged, had been too ready to grant relief, the Magistrates themselves had afforded relief with ten times as much facility as the overseers had ever done. The power which the Commissioners would possess would not be despotic, they would not overrule the law, but only explain it.
§ The clause was agreed to, as were Clauses 10, 11 and 12.
§ The House resumed. The Committee to sit again.