HC Deb 10 July 1835 vol 29 cc426-30

On the Question that a sum not exceeding 42,841l. to defray the charge of salaries and expenses of the Commissioners appointed to carry into execution the Acts 4 and 5 William 4th, for the better administration of the laws relating to the poor in England and Wales,

Sir Samuel Whalley

deeply regretted that the country had not received any thing in the shape of an adequate compensation for this vote. The Measure under which this Commission was in operation had justified all his predictions. In the country the attempt to introduce it had almost all failed, and it had caused the greatest excitement. Amongst the agricultural population of Sussex it had acted like a fire band — it had distracted the labourers from their work —it had alienated them from all comfort, and the peasantry feared that they were to be reduced to a state much worse than that of the emancipated negro. He was quite sure that the Legislature had no such intention when they passed the Bill, but such were its effects, and the peasantry must be disabused of the impression which had seized their minds as to the intention of the measure. He must repeat that the Commission had been an unnecessary expense, for which the country would never receive any adequate return.

Mr. Pease

had the most sanguine expectation that this measure would answer well, and that though great disgust had been evinced at it at first, yet that within six months he was satisfied that the Bill would be acknowledged to be one calculated to raise the pauper to his proper standing as a constituent part of social society.

Mr. Hume

could not help expressing his regret at what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone, because his statement was one inconsistent with fact. Again it was extremely unfair, at a moment when the Government and these Commissioners were labouring to bring the poorest classes of the community into the state in which they ought to be, that hon. Gentlemen should give utterance to assertions which could only be productive of great evil out of doors. He (Mr. Hume) was not aware that this subject would have come on that night, or he should have been prepared to prove to the House that of which he was perfectly satisfied—namely, that this measure had been successful, where fairly tried, beyond his most sanguine expectations. If there had ever been a question nearer his heart than that of Reform, it was to bring the great mass of the people from the degraded condition into which they had fallen. But would his hon. Friend state what had been done in London in consequence of the adoption of the principle contained in this Bill? There had been a great reduction even in that hon. Gentleman's own parish, though they had pertinaciously opposed the law in the first instance. Yet, acting upon the principles of the Poor-law Bill, the result had been highly beneficial and had operated much to the credit of the Gentlemen by whom it was carried into effect. He should be very sorry indeed in any way to strengthen, and much less to give any confirmation to, the opinion that this measure was intended to oppress the poor man. He believed that if ever there was a measure calculated to bring men to their proper condition or state, aye, and to raise their wages—and to make a man depend upon his own industry, instead of the eleemosynary assistance afforded by the old Poor-law system, it was this same Bill. The expenditure incurred was large, but in carrying into effect so important a plan he would ask what was the charge if the object desired were accomplished? It was clear it would be impossible to render the plan effective with inadequate means. He questioned whether in the parishes of St. George and Marylebone alone the saving did not amount to more than this sum. He rose, however, to express a hope that as the system worked on, it would not be necessary to have so large an establishment of Commissioners, and therefore that the Government would dispense with a great portion of the expense. He objected to the salary of 2,000l. to the three first Commissioners; at the same time he should be sorry to starve the efficiency of the Commission by any niggardly economy.

Mr. Robinson

said, that as one of those who had objected to this Bill, he wished it to be understood that he had never opposed it as a measure wholly. But he called upon the House not to believe, too hastily, that a sufficient time had been allowed to enable them to see how the Bill had operated. It had been put into action under peculiarly favourable circumstances—there had been a vast deal of employment in the country in the manufacturing districts during the last year, and food had been very cheap, therefore, the Poor-law Bill had not hitherto been worked under any trying circumstances of the country. Let the House look to what might occur at a time of scarcity of employ, and dearness of provisions. Again hon. Gentlemen must not attribute all the savings which had been made in various parishes solely to the operation of the Poor Law Bill. With reference to the Bastardy Clause, that, he was convinced, must be revised at some time or other.

Lord John Russell

would not follow the example of the hon. Gentleman by entering into the details of the Poor Law Amendment Bill; but he would state that the Commissioners would shortly make a Report as to the manner in which they had enforced the law, and his opinion was, that the tenor of that Report would surpass the expectations of the warmest advocates of the Bill. But with reference to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesex, as to the amount of remuneration to the Commissioners, he must say that a less sum than that proposed could not be given to these Gentlemen. When the Question was first brought before Parliament Lord Althorp named a less sum; but the first object of the Government was to select those persons who were best calculated for the trust, and he considered it essentially necessary that those persons only should be employed who were well qualified for the duty, and therefore they should not make the salaries too low. If these Gentlemen had neglected the provisions of the Bill, or had endeavoured to carry it into effect too abruptly, the law would have become unpopular, and they would never have been able to restore it to that influence which it ought to have, and to remedy the evil. The Government conceived that with a view to carry the measure into effect, the salaries now proposed to be given were not too much for the eminent services to be performed. They were of opinion that at any moment a change could be effected in this case, and he should be sorry to expose the plan to damage for the sake of a few hundred pounds.

Mr. Clay

did not think the expense, considering the great services performed, too much. All the information was now concentrated in one focus, as to the state of the poor over the whole kingdom: it applied to every parish. Now, if the cost of the Commission were for one year 30,000l., in a pecuniary point of view the measure was desirable; but they were to look at the fact, that the Commission was calculated to raise the moral condition of our peasantry, and the advantage could not be calculated by considerations of pounds, shillings, and pence.

Mr. Law Hodges

said, he did not rise to oppose the grant, but having, when this Bill was before the House, declared his hostility to it, he could only say that his opinions had undergone no change whatever. He hoped, however, that the experiment might turn out well.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

observed, that the question was not whether the poor were less contented or not, nor was it necessary that they should enter into the merits of the measure; but the question simply was, whether the Committee should agree to the grant proposed. Now, whatever might be said to be the merits of the Commissioners, he believed them to be great; but it was impossible that their efforts could be attended with beneficial effects, if hon. Members of that House took every opportunity of lowering the Bill in the opinion of the public, by entering into a discussion upon it. It was a Bill which had been introduced under the sanction of the Legislature, and deserved and must have a considerable trial before an opinion could be fairly formed of its value.

Mr. George F. Young

begged to call the attention of the Committee to the fact, that what had been said by those hon. Members who opposed the Bill was provoked by the observations of the supporters of it, because they had gone much farther than was necessary: therefore those who had expressed their dissent ought not to be taunted with an attempt to influence the public mind. For his own part, he would only say that he had never ceased to proclaim himself, throughout all the proceedings on that Bill, as one of its opponents; and he, as well as the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Robinson) entertained great doubts as to the practical operation of the measure, in other less fortunate circumstances, than those in which it had commenced.

Lord Granville Somerset

could not admit that the Bill had operated so successfully as had been represented; but, as other opportunities would be afforded for considering its merits, he would not say one word more on that point. His hon. Friend had severely reprehended those hon. Members who had expressed their opinion that the measure was not working well. Now he (Lord G. Somerset) could bring forward many instances where the practical working of the Bill was by no means such as it had been attempted to be shown to be.

Vote agreed to.

36,800l. was proposed for Secret Service money.

Mr. Hume

hoped that the time would arrive when they would be able to do away with Secret Service money, as they were now able to carry on a Government without patronage. He should enter his protest against the vote, but should not divide the House upon it. Vote agreed to.