§ Mr. Walter
could assure the House that the necessity which had been laid upon him of making the motion of which he had given notice, gave him as much surprise at first as it had subsequently imposed upon him great anxiety and trouble. Had the petitions, with which he had had the honour to be intrusted last week, been received in a manner in which he thought all petitions which had the rights of humanity and the relief of our fellow-creatures from unnecessary sufferings as their subject matter, ought to be received by that House he should have left them to work their effect upon the public mind, knowing that the subject would be taken up early in the next Session by the hon. Member for East Surrey, whose opinion might have more weight in that House than his own. The hostile manner, however, in which they were received, kindling, as it naturally would in generous dispositions, a resolution to see fair play, he thought he should be deserting those Gentlemen who were kind enough to lend him their assistance on that occasion, and called on him to persevere in bringing the subject under the consideration of the House, if he did not yield obedience to their recommendations. He should not, however, under these circumstances, abuse the indulgence of the House; but whatever might be his own impression, with respect to the new Poor-law generally, he should confine himself to the grievances complained of by the humane gentry, clergy, and other rate-payers of Petworth and its vicinity, as well as by gentlemen in his own county. He had been interrupted when he was saying on the last occasion, that the gentlemen who were chiefly instrumental in promoting the Sussex petition had no original objection to some change in the administration of the old law and of course no bigotted aversion to any fresh enactment which circumstances might require; but they did object to some of the new provisions, and especially to that which laid down the rigorous rule of refusing relief in all cases except in the union work-houses as being in their judgment cruel and 703 impolitic, and tending to the destruction of a valuable peasantry, instead of training up what some were pleased to call independent labourers. He thought that the passages which he read from the speeches of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Whitbread, and which might be strengthened by the opinions of other eminent persons of the same era, could not if duly considered, have failed to strike the House; and though it made no part of his object to defend those opinions, yet it was at least unbecoming to visit those who had been misled by such opinions with all the severities of a new system, which they could not possibly have foreseen and contemplated. About the same time when these speeches were made, originated that notable expedient of making up the industrious labourer's wages, in proportion to the number of his family, out of the poor-rates. The magistrates, however, who first concocted this scheme, were so satisfied with their principles, that they made a record of their own acts, and expressly stated that they had called in the wise and the learned in such matters to their councils, and recommendation the the practice to their neighbours. How was it possible, therefore, that the labourers should not have been misled, and induced to calculate upon the rates as a resource? The magistrates who introduced this system declared it to be inexpedient to comply with the requisitions of an existing law for regulating wages, and put forth these their own rules as a substitute. If the gallon loaf was 2s., a single man was to have 5s.; if he had a wife and child, he was to have 10s. and if seven children, he was to have 25s., and so in proportion. Such was the law of this country practically for forty years; and for these follies our industrious labourers were now made to answer. Not to make his statement tedious, he would come immediately to the new Poor-law. To correct evils thus of their own introducing,— evils that had no foundation in the old poor laws, which if rightly administered, were indeed adequate to every case of idleness or distress,—this tremendous invention of a new Poor-law had taken place, with its train of Commissioners, and assistant Commissioners, &c. And certainly there could not be a more false principle of legislation than to make new laws, simply because the old ones were not put in practice—had sunk into desuetude by the perverse introduction of a method totally foreign to them: but never ought it to be forgotten that the great increase 704 of the rates was owing to these imprudent recommendations to pay wages out of the rates. The new law, then, established a kind of court of high commission, the seat of which was in the metropolis, to govern every parish in the kingdom. It had powers to relax or to enforce the odious principle of forcing the poor into the workhouses. Till lately it did not venture to act upon this new law of imprisonment for poverty; but now, recently, wherever it was attempted to be carried into force, it had invariably been attended with complaints, remonstrances, and a fearful disposition to resistance. He knew of one quarter in which it had been proposed to raise subscriptions for the relief of those who would otherwise be driven by the law from their homes into these workhouses attached to unions; so that they would have at once poor-rates, a host of stipendiary Commissioners to apply them, and private subscriptions as the chief source to which the poor must look for support. He had received a numerous list of cases of extreme hardship in his own county. He would mention an example or two:—One was the case of "a widow, aged 32, who had five small children; she was a respectable and industrious person, and with the assistance of 4s. or 5s. could maintain herself and family. She had been forced into the Bradfield workhouse, where she cost the parish 10s. 6d. weekly, and must be a prisoner there for some years, if this severity were permitted." Another case was that of "a young woman, also having five children, who had the offer of a nurse's place, with the prospect of continued employment in that line, and would have needed very little outdoor assistance; she also had been forced into the workhouse, which was nearly the same thing as sentencing her to seven years' imprisonment." Now, why were these poor women to be imprisoned for several years, or why should individual charity be taxed to relieve them from so grievous an oppression? The rate-payers of Petworth, only wished to be allowed to support the poor according to the principles of humanity, but had received a positive injunction to act up to the extreme letter of the board's order: they had in consequence, refused to act all. "They are assessed (they say) to the poor-rates, and some of them to a very considerable amount; they have severely felt the pressure which has of late years been caused 705 by their great increase, and they are deeply interested in their diminution; but they wish not to see that diminution brought about by a system of injustice and oppression." Next to the bread we eat, the means of recovering us from disease was of the highest importance. It might be said, that a man may help being poor by provident care; how a labourer and his family were to avoid being sick, he could not tell; but, under that affliction of Providence, he read from the Petworth petition, and knew that such was the behest of the new law, as enforced by the Commissioners, "that an able-bodied labourer out of the workhouse, if himself in health, cannot be deemed a pauper, and therefore cannot be permitted to claim medical relief; and by the regulations of the Poor-law Commissioners, the medical officers employed under them are not called upon or required, nor have the guardians the power of directing them to administer relief to any part of an able-bodied labourer's family, be the necessity ever so urgent, even if his wife and ten children were all ill together; and your petitioners beg to submit, that the effect of this regulation, if acted upon, in addition to the entire want of humanity and kind feeling in its practice, must be a source of much suffering to numerous individuals, and great loss of life: and must lead, in many instances, to a wide and fearful extension of contagious disorders." Such being the severity of the new law, it was worth the while to inquire how that House could have been induced to pass it. And here he would say, that it was only through much misrepresentation of its character and effects, that such a law could, he thought, have found its way through that and the other House of Parliament. These were the words of the noble Lord, to whom the conducting of the Bill through that House was confided. He placed them simply before the House, and should say nothing in the way of comment, except that the facts had turned out notoriously and undeniably totally different from those which were predicted and avowed by Lord Althorp. On the second reading of the Poor-law Bill, on the 9th of May, 1834, Lord Althorp observed:—" It was said that the intention of the Bill went wholly to prevent the granting of relief out of the workhouse walls. Now, the fact was, there was no one clause in the Bill to that effect; but on the contrary, a passage expressly declaring that 706 in cases of emergency relief might be given out of doors. The Commissioners were certainly to have the power of recommending the building of workhouses, but so far from all relief of any other description being prevented by the Bill, he believed that when it came fairly into play, the outdoor system of relief might be advantageously increased rather than otherwise."* And in Committee, on the 26th of May and 6th of June, the noble Lord repeated the preceding declaration. His words were:—"All the rights the poor now possess are preserved to them by the present Bill. …. The Bill does not, as has been erroneously represented, go to the extent of saying, that no relief shall be given out of the workhouse.† …. The Bill does not involve the necessity of giving no relief out of the workhouse, or of erecting workhouses throughout the country, without the consent of the majority of the owners of property.‡ …. The power of giving relief out of doors will still remain as before. It would be absurd to suppose that the Bill meant to sanction a general system of workhouses throughout the country."§ And again, on the 10th of June, Lord Althorp said:—"If by this Bill the House were to say, that either now, or at any future time, relief should not any longer be given out of the workhouse, he should consider that the Bill would go a great deal too far, and would be attended with bad consequences. But the Bill did nothing of the kind. The clause did not give such a power to the Commissioners as had been described; if it had any effect, it diminished the power. It appeared to him so unimportant at one time, that he had almost intended not to persevere in it." With respect to the other House of Parliament, he (Mr. Walter) had less knowledge of what passed within its walls; but this was the manner in which the noble ex-Lord Chancellor spoke of its intended operation, even after it had passed the House, and so lately as last March twelvemonth:—"No one ever entertained the intention, or indulged a dream or imagination—there had been no talk of separating husband from wife, or parent from child. Undoubtedly, hospitals would be established in the new union workhouses, and the sound would not be*Hansard (Third Series), vol. xxiii. p. 841.† Ibid. p. 337. ‡ Ibid. vol. xxiv, p. 316§ Ibid, vol. xxiv. p. 346.707 shut up with the sick as heretofore. This was all the separation that could be contemplated. But no child of an age to require parental care would be separated from its parent; no husband and wife be parted; the idea of such a proceeding, he would venture to say, had never entered any man's imagination during his waking moments; and he very much doubted if any one had ever dreamt of such a thing."* Now he had stated the facts with respect to the operation of this measure, as regarded the separation of families. Had "no one ever dreamt of such a thing?" Would to God they had done no more; they had not only "dreamt of it," but carried it into effect with fearful severity. The noble Home Secretary, if he understood him right, in contradiction to all these authorities, asserted, "that one of the general rules made by the Poor-Law Commissioners was, that husbands and wives should be separated in workhouses, and that it was necessary, when an exception was made in that rule, that there should he a special order for it. The propriety of this rule, then, which, in violation of all antecedent engagements on the part of the authors and supporters of the Bill, appeared now to be generally enforced, was the point which the House would that night have to consider. But with respect to the present practice of the Bill as compared with preceding engagements, declarations, and explanations on the part of its authors, the discrepancies were so great and various, that one would really think the whole Bill had been founded on misrepresentation and deceit. For example —the salaries of the three Chief Commissioners, as originally stated by Lord Althorp, were to have been only 1,000l. a-year; he (Mr. Walter) verily believed that it escaped the attention of hon. Gentlemen generally, that these salaries were finally fixed at 2,000l. The Assistant Commissioners were to be in number only nine, or twelve at most, with salaries below 1,000l. At present there were twenty-one of them with salaries of 1,500l. a-year. Now the Boards of Guardians had no pay whatever; but that, as they were beginning to find out, was to be made up to them by kicks and abuse. With this kind of compensation, however, they were so unreasonable as to be dissatisfied, and they were in many cases, as in that of Petworth, refusing to act. He had been informed of many instances also in which* Hansard (Third Series), vol. xxvi. p. 1067.708 rate-payers were beginning to discover, that the money which was under the old law advanced to their poorer neighbours in the way of relief, would, after all their conflicts for the diminution of the rates—should this Bill continue, and be successful in diminishing them, both of which he doubted—these savings out of the rates, he said, would ultimately find their way into the pockets of landlords in the shape of increased rent. He must mention, in passing, that the whole Bill was of such a nature that it was not, and was not meant to be, applied to the whole of England. It was not, as he understood, introduced at all into Lancashire, nor was it to be. Not into Manchester, nor was it to be. What could this mean? What possible motive could there be for its non-introduction into those places which was not equally cogent with respect to Petworth and Sussex—with respect, in fact, to every populous town and county in England? In appealing to that House for the removal of these evils, he could not help still hoping that he was appealing to the natural protectors and best friends of the people. That a contrary opinion was unhappily beginning to spring up, was but too clear. Could Gentlemen hear the statement of the hon. Member for East Surrey the other night, to whom thousands of the inhabitants of Leicestershire had intrusted a memorial to his Majesty against that barbarous order for separation which he (Mr. Walter) could not find words sufficiently strong to stigmatize—could any one, he said, hear without emotion the statement of the hon. Member, that the petitioners were unwilling to lay their grievances before that House, because the subject of the poor was observed to excite distaste and impatience there? Of the millions of people whom the casualties of human life might remove from a state of competence to the necessity of seeking parochial relief, was there one who would not have cursed the Reform Bill—who would not have deprecated that change in the structure and constitution of that House—if they had thought it possible that one of its first fruits was to have been such a Poor-law Bill as the present—a Bill that was to take away the poor from out of the hands of their natural guardians, and consign them to stipendiary strangers—a Bill that was to rend parents from children, husbands from wives—in fact, to violate all the laws of nature; and to substitute in that House the heartless speculations of political economists for the feelings of 709 humanity? He was extremely desirous not to detain the House longer, but he had that morning received a mass of information from various parts of the kingdom, complaining of the severity of the new law as enforced by the Commissioners, and he felt it to be his duty to read some of the letters. The first was from a place in Hampshire, and was signed by four of the guardians of the poor. They said, that "for several years previous to the formation of their Union under the new law, the management of the poor and the business of the parish was conducted to the general satisfaction of the ratepayers. The poor house belonging to the parish was and is now occupied by old and infirm persons, a number of idiots, and many orphan children; the above destitute objects were maintained with the strictest economy, but in comparative comfort; they regret to say, since the formation of the Union, which includes thirty-one parishes, a great and cruel change has taken place; they are now subsisted according to the regulations of a dietary sent down by the Poor-law Commissioners, which allows to the inmates meat or soup three days in the week, but four days they have a scanty allowance of bread and cheese, with water. Was this a sufficient diet for boys arrived at the age of twelve or thirteen years, and who are in constant work in the fields driving the plough from six o'clock in the morning until four in the afternoon? The parish receives 2s. 6d. or 3s. per week for their labour; they are maintained in the poor-house at 2s. 9d. per week each, consequently without any expense to the parish. Now, what we have most to complain of is, on those days when they are allowed bread and cheese only, that they have not a little table beer added. We, the guardians of this parish, have made several attempts to give them such a trifling allowance, but are as often defeated by the chairman and the guardians of the distant parishes, who are total strangers to the character and situation of our poor in the workhouse; we are well assured that the rate-payers are highly indignant that the unfortunate poor should be subjected to that harsh and cruel treatment such as we have described. Again, the relieving officer of this district resides in a distant parish, four miles from this town, so that our sick have to go that distance for a certificate, or wait until he 710 attends one day in the week at the workhouse before they can have medical relief, unless under extreme cases. From Newbury he had received the following statement: —In making out a dietary table for the work-houses of the Newbury union the guardians had allotted to each inmate of the house one pint of small beer a day (half a pint at dinner, and the other half pint at supper time). On sending up the table to the Commissioners in London they struck out this pitiful allowance, and refused to pass the table without also some of the allowance of meat was struck out. The cost of the beer was of the immense value of one halfpenny a pint, and this small quantity is, in my opinion, as well as that of the majority of the guardians, absolutely necessary, because the water near the work-house is considered as unwholesome.Another gentleman had sent him the following account of a disgraceful scene which had occurred in the parish of Montacute, near Yeovil: —Mr. Cox, the clergyman of the parish, was called upon to attend the funeral of a pauper at half-past five, at which no pall was permitted to cover the coffin, and no bell to toll; the consequence was, that many of the people of the parish, chiefly women, opposed themselves, and would not allow the corpse to be brought into the churchyard. A scene of indescribable uproar ensued. The disturbance from half-past five till nine continued, and was increased, by a numerous addition of people. At an early stage of the proceedings the bearers and friends of the deceased had taken their departure, leaving the corpse on the road before the churchyard gate. All that Mr. Cox could say was perfectly fruitless, and the interference of two other clergymen who (hearing of the riot and possessing some influence in the parish) came to assist the endeavours of Mr. Cox, but all was totally unavailing; the overseer could not be prevailed upon by the people themselves to stir from the letter of his instructions received through Mr. Chadwick, and Mr. Cox would not take upon himself to oppose the order of the board. At length he went to the house of the deceased, and proposed to the widow that she should take the expenses of the funeral upon herself, prevailing with her to trust to the assistance of her friends. To this she at length consented; and the matter being thus arranged, the funeral was got over about half-past nine, with bell and pall, more quietly than was expected. The people, however, carried back the corpse to the house, and walked a second time to the church in procession. It is anxiously hoped these instructions to the overseers may be withdrawn; if persevered in, similar outrages may be expected, and may not easily be suppressed, I need not observe that this tumult arose from religious feelings, the poor 711 having been always accustomed to these accompaniments at the burial of their departed relatives; and hundreds of them on this occasion shouted, that if they were to be thus treated by the Church to which they belonged, they would leave it and go to the meetings of dissent, where they should be better treated.The hon. Member concluded by moving a Resolution: —That the House early in the next session, would institute an inquiry into the operation of the act of 5th William 4th., entitled 'An Act for the Amendment of the Laws relating to the Poor in England and Wales;' and particularly with regard to out-door relief, the separation of husbands from their wives, and of parents from their children, in the union work Houses.
§ Mr. Cripps
most deeply regretted that the hon. Member for Berkshire should have made the detail which he had just concluded to the House. He denied the accuracy of the statement that the Bill of which he complained was daily getting more unpopular; on the contrary, he (Mr. Cripps) would presume to state, that both in his own neighbourhood and in other districts with which he was acquainted, the measure had acquired an immense popularity. He had ever considered the Bill as one of great public advantage, and when it was first submitted to Parliament he had thought, and so he thought still, that the country was under the greatest obligation to the noble Lord who had brought forward so strong a measure; but while he thanked that noble Lord and the Government to which he belonged for this Bill, he had never conceived it would be a perfect and unalterable measure. The subject was a most difficult one for legislation, and it was only by bringing the measure into operation, that its defects could be discovered, or the objections to it removed. He would, however, say that a Bill of greater importance had never been passed by Parliament. The hon. Member for Berkshire had laid great stress upon two or three clauses of the Bill, which in his view were objectionable, and on that ground the hon. Member went almost the length of desiring the annihilation, if possible, of the Bill. It was true the hon. Member had not said that he wished to put an end to the measure, but it was plain, from the hon. Member's observations, that he would overset the whole provisions of the Bill, and he regretted that so many hon. Members entertained similar opinions. The hon. Member for Berkshire had referred to the clause providing against the granting parochial relief to able-bodied workmen. He believed that instructions had been issued 712 from the Commissioners, to the effect that it was intended to act to the full on the provisions of that clause. Now, he happened to be the Chairman of a Board of Guardians in a district containing a number of parishes, and comprising a population of 20,000 souls; he had endeavoured to prevent its circulation until the feelings of the House of Commons and the desire of the Poor-law Commissioners should be more fully known, and his object had been to make those capable of labour independent of parochial aid. He had thought it most desirable also that children, even of a tender age, should be employed, and thereby removed from the poorhouse as far as possible. With this view, the guardians, acting upon his advice, had employed children as much as possible without affecting their health, and the advantage of the system had soon been made apparent; and in his district there existed the extraordinary fact, that out of a population of 20,000, he believed that at the present moment not a single child had been sent to the workhouse. As to diet, it was totally different in the workhouse of his district from that stated by the hon. Member for Berkshire, and indeed the complaint was, that the inmates of the workhouse lived too well. The same system of which he spoke had been adopted in the whole of the county of Gloucester, part of Wiltshire, part of the county of Berks, and in the parishes round London, and the result afforded a complete contradiction to the statement of the hon. Member for Berkshire. With reference to the statement of the hon. Member, in reference to medical assistance to paupers, he could remark that one medical officer had stated on paper that paupers were supplied in that respect with every thing that was right and proper to be given them. On the whole, though the Bill might require alteration, it had certainly worked well in the district with which he was connected. It was true that some cases had required investigation, but on inquiry, the complaints appeared to be founded on misrepresentation; and he did not doubt that if other complaints were investigated, it would be found that they stood on similar slight foundation. The hon. Member concluded by expressing a hope that such erroneous impressions as the statements of the hon. Member for Berkshire were calculated to lead to would not gain strength in the country, or lead to any vital alteration of a measure which had worked to the entire satisfaction of the vast majority of the people.
§ Lord John Russell
was very glad the House had heard from the hon. Member who had just sat down the result of his experience on the subject; for he was sure that the testimony of a Gentleman who had regarded the operation of the Bill without prejudice would have its due weight with the House. He did not participate, however, in the apprehensions the hon. Member had expressed —viz., that anything which had fallen from the hon. Member for Berkshire would either have a dangerous or mischievous effect, or would render the Bill unpopular in the country. There had been a time, however, when the reform of the Poor Laws was regarded as a very strong measure, and when it required great boldness on the part of his noble Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord Althorp) to mention such a measure in the House, and to carry it into a law. At that time there existed great vested interests, if he might so call them, in favour of the abuses of the old poor laws. In the first place, there were able-bodied paupers, who liked subsistence without work, better than the wholesome wages of labour. There was also a numerous class of shopkeepers, who found their best market in the parish funds, and who for very inferior articles obtained an exorbitant price. In the next place there was a portion—a small portion, he must say—of the magistracy, who endeavoured to obtain for themselves a false reputation for humanity, who represented themselves as exclusively the friends of the poor, and who promoted, with that view, the abuses of the old poor laws. All these interests were seconded and hallooed on by the efforts of a portion of the press —a portion which lent itself to misrepresentation of the intentions of those who wished to reform the law, and to traduce their efforts, as tending to the injury of the poor. There were, undoubtedly, great obstacles in the way of reform; but it did so happen that circumstances tended very much to the success of that reform. There had been, in the first place, the circumstance, alike honourable to this and the other House of Parliament, that in the discussion of the subject no question of party was mixed up. In the next place, the great body of the magistracy of the country were convinced of the evil tendency of the then existing laws, and were willing to try any fair experiment of reform; and lastly, there existed a very strong feeling throughout the country, that if some strong remedy was not attempted, the abuses of the Poor- 714 laws would be fatal to the property, and finally to the peace of the nation. With these circumstances in his favour, his noble Friend, Lord Spencer, had been enabled to carry the amended system of Poor-laws which he proposed. Among the abuses which that system was intended to remedy there was no more striking or more injurious one than the practice of ekeing out the wages of labour by payments from the poor-rates. This was a practice which had been denounced by every Committee that had investigated the subject; by Mr. Sturges Bourne's Committee in their excellent Report of 1816, by the Committee of Labourers Wages in 1824; again most strongly by the Committee of 1828, and again by the fullest and most complete evidence furnished by the Commissioners of Inquiry into the Poor-laws, who, in numerous papers which he would not detain the House by quoting, showed, by the testimony of unimpeachable witnesses, that the practice tended not only to injure property, and to occasion a great waste of time and revenue, but to destroy the independence of the labourer. This abuse, strong and striking as it was, the hon. Member for Berkshire was now endeavouring to restore to its full vigour. This, and no other, was the object of the motion then before the House. When the Bill for the reform of the Poor-laws was first brought forward, the question arose in what manner the abuse should be met. One proposal was, that out of doors relief should altogether cease within a certain time after the passing of the Bill. This was subsequently abandoned, but he was not incorrect, he believed, in stating, that it was proposed that after a certain time —the 1st of June, 1835, the payment to able-bodied labourers from the poor-rates should wholly cease. When the point came to be discussed and reflected upon in the House, it was argued (very justly as it seemed to him) that the sudden and entire abolition of the practice which had been very general in some parts of the country might prove very injurious, if not dangerous, in its effects; and that it should be left to the Poor-law Commissioners to fix some time, according to their discretion and their knowledge of the different circumstances of different places, at which that new rule should be carried into effect. Accordingly, the Poor-law Bill having been now the law of the land for two years, the Poor-law Commissioners had begun to carry this principle into operation in various places. It had been established in no less 715 than twelve unions in Kent; in many voluntary, in others pursuant to the recommendation of the Commissioners, and in all he believed with the best effect. In many unions in Sussex, too, the same rule had been successfully adopted. He was bound to admit that there were many circumstances favourable to its being carried into effect, among which were the time of year, the improved rate of wages of labour, and the demand for labour in the manufacturing districts, which pointed out to the distressed agriculturist the means by which he and his family might obtain full employment. The hon. Member for Berkshire had adverted to the practice formerly pursued at Petworth. Why this practice was directly opposed to every effort of the Poor-law Commissioners, and every principle on which the Bill had been passed. So long as the labourer lived upon his own wages he was an independent man, with feelings of honest independence in him. Once let him derive a portion of his subsistence from the poor-rates, and this feeling deserted him. He would beg to refer the hon. Member to some questions which were put by the assistant Commissioners to the managers of the poor at Newbury. It had been stated that some of the labourers derived assistance from the poor-rates. The question was asked, "Do the rest of the labourers receive no higher wages than those who obtain parochial relief?" "We believe the wages are the same" was the reply. "Among the large class of labourers" was the next question. "Among the large class of labourers who do not come for relief, is there not a great proportion of married men, and men who have large families?" "Yes — we know there is." "Receiving no higher wages than the others, they still maintain their families — do they not?" What was the reply? "Yes they do, but how they do so we cannot tell. They are above coming to the parish." This was the feeling he wished to maintain. He wished to see the labourers above coming to the parish, and let not the House tell him that those were the enemies of the labouring classes of England who wished to inculcate into their hearts the honest and manly spirit of independence. The reply he had just read was very naturally followed up by the inquiry whether this fact did not lead the person who stated it to the inference that other men might live in the same way, to which interrogatory no answer was returned. He maintained, then, that it was most desirable to establish 716 the new principle wherever it could be established. The Poor-law Commissioners had received no complaints whatever from five-sixths of the unions in which that rule has been applied. With respect to the general case, he relied entirely upon the experience which had been obtained of the working of the new law. Those who had attended the Boards of Guardians, at least those whom he had communicated with, were fully satisfied with the beneficial working of the law, and would by no means assist in the demolition of one of its most important provisions. The Poor-law Commissioners received letters almost daily from various parts of the country—as well from former opponents as supporters of the measure—all stating that the Act had worked better than was expected—that the expectations of those who were most sanguine had been surpassed, and that those who had expected evil had been surprised at the different result which had taken place. It was very easy to bring before the House of Commons or the public, cases which were alleged to be cases of grievance; but he must take the opportunity of condemning the practice which had prevailed at the close of last and during the present Session, of making statements without previous inquiry. In all cases in which a grievance or hardship was alleged to have arisen out of the Poor-law Amendment Act, hon. Members should, in the first instance, make inquiry into the truth of the circumstances, of the Poor-law Commissioners, the Boards of Guardians, or the Home Secretary, before they brought them forward in the House of Commons. Instead, however, of following that course, which was the obvious and fair one, Gentlemen were in the habit of coming down to the House, stating any facts which happened to be communicated to them, and leaving them to make an impression on the public mind, and taking the chance of their being contradicted a week after. This was not a fair mode of proceeding, because, in many instances, it must happen that those who had seen the charge would never see the explanation. He was glad the hon. Member for Finsbury had not yet spoken, because he was about to read a letter for his information from one of the Assistant-Commissioners, in answer to a statement which the hon. Member made upon a former evening regarding the treatment of the poor in the Union of 717 Stow-market. That gentleman went to Stow-market the moment he saw the hon. Member's statement reported in the newspapers, and the following was the substance of the communication which he had sent to him (Lord John Russell): —We found the Board of Guardians preparing a Memorial to forward to the Home Secretary, denying the correctness of the hon. Member for Finsbury's statement, and calling for the name of their accuser. They stated these points;—1st, there were only two married in the workhouse; 2nd, all the other married men were disposed of on out-allowances; 3rd. the two before-mentioned would have been disposed of in the same manner, but for the illness of their wives; 4th, they were separated from their wives because it was necessary that the latter should be in the infirmary; 5th, they were allowed to visit their wives in the day-time; 6th, they availed themselves of that permission daily.With respect to the blind man, in favour of whom the hon. Member for Finsbury appealed to the sympathies of the House, the Assistant-Commissioners informed him, that William Greenwood, in the workhouse of Stow-market, was not blind, but a very capable man for his age. All that he had learned upon the subject, led him to the conclusion that paupers in workhouses, though placed under a good deal of restriction, were subjected to none which was not absolutely necessary. The excellence of the diet used in those places might be inferred from the fact stated by an hon. Member that a friend of his had lived upon the work-house fare for six weeks, and at the expiration of that period found himself in an excellent state of health. He recommended the hon. Member for Berkshire to try the same experiment, and state to the House the result of his experience. At the time the new law was under discussion it was said that it would lead to a system of centralisation unknown before in this country; but the contrary had proved to be the fact. An efficient form of local government had, under the Poor-law Act, been established in every district of the country. He made this statement on the authority of Lord Althorp, who since his retirement from that House had acted as a guardian of the poor. Before sitting down, he would state to the House what had been the expenditure for the support of the poor during the last three years. In 1834, the expenditure was 6,377,000l.; in 1835, it was 5,518,000l.; in 1836, it was 4,711,000l. Thus there was a decrease in 718 1835, as compared with 1834, of 799,000l., and in 1836, as compared with 1834, of 1,596,000l. The sum expended in law bills, in 1834, was 258,000l.; in 1836, 171,000l., exhibiting a decrease of 87,000l., and the total decrease of of money expended under every head up to the 25th of March 1836, as compared with 1834, was 1,794,909l.
§ Mr. Robinson
was not sorry that this subject had been brought under the consideration of the House. He admitted that it was very easy to say, that certain parts of the Poor-law Amendment Act worked ill, and thus to hold it up to the objections of the poor peasants, but he did not say that that was the object of the hon. Member for Berkshire. He had not heard any remark from that hon. Member which could show that he had any other object than that of bettering the condition of the poor. The question which they had to consider was, whether the measure of the Poor-law Amendment Act was not too abrupt a measure, and had not been brought too suddenly into operation? On that point he would observe, that the Act could not have been carried into operation under circumstances more favourable than those which had occurred. Let the House recollect what those circumstances were. There was a greater cheapness of provisions, and a greater extent of employment, than had been known for many years. These facts would account for the great diminution of expenditure under the Poor-law system, and he thought, therefore, that it was not right to attribute the saving of 1,796,000l. solely to the operation of the Amendment Act. He had not opposed that Act as a whole measure, but there were parts of it to which he was then and still was opposed. He was opposed to that principle of it, which he hoped neither the guardians, nor the Commissioners, nor the House would sanction in practice—namely, that able-bodied paupers should under no circumstances be entitled to relief. That principle, if acted upon in every case, must be most cruel and unjust. He would admit that it would be right and salutary to say to the able-bodied man that he ought to support his family by his own exertions, but it would be worse than cruel to tell him, when he was able and willing to work and could get no employment, that he and his family were to be excluded from all relief. Of what use would the poor man's health and strength be if he could not get employment? He 719 thought he had understood the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) to say, that the Poor-law Commissioners had acted on that principle since 1835, and that no relief should be given to such parties "out of the workhouse." If he had understood the noble Lord correctly, he must again, as he had on a former occasion, protest against the principle of placing men in a kind of penitentiary merely because of their inability to procure employment. As to the principle of separating the pauper wife from the husband, he thought it was revolting, that it was calculated to throw odium on the whole measure in the estimation of the country; but he trusted that either of those principles would not be carried out in every case. There was another part of the Bill to which he objected—the bastardy clause. An hon. Friend near him said that it was one of the best parts of the Bill. No doubt his hon. Friend thought so, but he (Mr. Robinson) must say that it was a most unjust, he would add iniquitous, principle to exempt the man, who was at least an equal partner in the guilt, if not the more guilty, from all responsibility, while the onus of the support of the offspring was thrown exclusively on the woman, except when they became chargeable on the parish. He had never heard any one argument which could convince him of the justice of that part of the Bill.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
said, that after the statement made by the hon. Member for Berkshire, he should be glad to have some further explanation from the noble Lord (Lord John Russell). To him it appeared that the noble Lord had not given an answer to the case. The noble Lord had spoken of the evils of supporting able-bodied paupers, and also of paying wages out of the poor-rates. All that he admitted to be hard, as a general principle—but the cases were not provided for by the Poor-law Amendment Act. He admitted, that the Act said, that the family of an able-bodied pauper should not receive relief from the poor-rates—but in the progress of the Bill that principle was found to be so objectionable, that a power was given to the Poor-law Commissioners to modify the Act according to circumstances. The principle, however, was too much acted upon. If it was to be made applicable to more than one union, he had understood that the fact was to be laid before Parliament, and as no such return 720 was made to Parliament, he must take it for granted that no such rule was laid down. In one case, in Sussex, the same rule had been applied as in Petworth, but when the guardians remonstrated they got a letter after an interval of thirty days, telling them that they were not to act on the rule. Now he wanted to know why a different rule had been laid down in the two cases, and why the departure from the general rule had not been laid before Parliament? He had not been an advocate for the Poor-law Amendment Bill, but having become the law of the land, he would admit, that it was an experiment which ought to have a fair trial, and, therefore, if the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire had been for an inquiry into the particular case which he had stated, he would vote for it, but the motion for a general inquiry he could not support. Under all the circumstances, he thought it would be premature for Parliament to pledge itself to any such inquiry.
§ Lord John Russell
, in explanation said, that the Report, which would have included the case mentioned by the noble Lord, had been delayed because all the returns were not yet ready. As to the case of Petworth, he would observe, that it was left to the Poor-law Commissioners to fix the time when the principle of confining relief to in-door paupers should be acted upon; and from the statement that had been made as to the cheapness of provisions and the demand for labour, it was pretty clear that they had chosen the very best time for working out the principle.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
said, that what he wanted to know was this—why if a different rule had been laid down in more than one Union than that which was followed in the others, the circumstances and the cause of it had not been laid before Parliament as the Act directed?
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that the case of the blind man and his wife, to which allusion had been made, was not at Stow-market, but in the Union of Bosmere and Cleddon (as we understood), but the principle to which he objected had been acted upon in other places. In the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, it was a rule that aged and infirm husband and wife should not be in the same apartments without a special order from the Commissioners. He had had several communications on the subject 721 of the working of the Act. In one it was stated that a poor woman who was attended by a surgeon, who gave his advice and assistance gratuitously, had had her allowance from the parish stopped, because she was not attended by the surgeon appointed by the guardians of the poor. In another case at Chipping Ongar, a poor man was attended by a surgeon for a disease of the heart. The Surgeon in this case, who also gave his aid gratuitously, stated the utmost quiet was necessary for the patient, and advised him not to go to the work house, where such quiet could not be obtained. The poor man, who had before received parochial relief, was refused any farther aid, unless he became an inmate of the work house, and but for the subscriptions of a few labouring men in his neighborhood he must have died of starvation. His wife was obliged to go out to service, and their child was sent out to nurse. These were matters which called for inquiry, for decidedly they were against the spirit of the Poor-law Amendment Act. As the noble Lord had promised to inquire into these matters, he would not go further into them at present; but the cases he had mentioned, and there were many such, required a remedy. He admitted that the old poor law system was bad, so bad, that it was thought no change in it could be for the worse, but the Poor-law Commissioners had shown that there could be a worse system, in the refusal of relief to a sick pauper, because he or she was not attended by the medical practitioner appointed by the parochial board. It was said, that this Act had given general satisfaction; but to whom?—to the ratepayers, but not to the poor; nor would it until the whole subject had been fully inquired into. He must say, considering the statements which had been made, that the poor could not and would not be satisfied till an inquiry was instituted. If the noble Lord believed the statements he had himself made, why did he object to inquiry? He and every party with whom he acted must be delighted with the proposed investigation, if they believed that the Report of the Committee would be satisfactory. If they believed that one half of what they had stated could be proved before a Committee, they could not, consistently with common sense, and with the principles of justice, refuse inquiry. It bad been said, that low diet was 722 absolutely necessary to the preservation of the life of the paupers, and that it was for that reason that such a system had been adopted. Now, he would ask those who recommended this diet, he would ask hon. Members of that House, if they would be willing to place themselves on such an allowance of food as had been fixed in the Gloucester workhouse—a weekly allowance of forty-two ounces of bread, fifteen ounces of beef, eight ounces of cheese, twenty-four pounds of potatoes, four pints and a-half of soup, and ten and a-half pints of gruel? This allowance was hardly sufficient to keep the miserable inmates from starving, and yet they had been told, that it was sufficient to sustain them comfortably, and to keep them content and well satisfied. He should only say, that if they were satisfied, they deserved the treatment. Would any one tell him that treatment such as this was merited by the industrious workpeople of England, who spent their lives in providing necessary articles of consumption, and preparing luxuries for the community? It had been denied, that the workhouses as now constructed, had the appearance of gaols, and yet most of them were so made as to prevent the inmates from holding any communication with persons on the outside. Alterations had lately been made in the upper windows of the Gloucester workhouse, which had the effect of absolutely preventing its inhabitants from seeing any thing that passed on the outside of the walls. The object of the Poor-law Commissioners undoubtedly was to convert the workhouses into prisons, to place the paupers in the position of prisoners, and to subject them to every species of hardship and degradation, with the view of preventing them from seeking that asylum in the hour of distress. It was said that poor men ought to be prepared for misfortune, and that they ought to have enough to maintain them in their old age, and the Lord Chancellor, when he introduced the Poor-law Amendment Bill into the House of Lords, had even gone so far as to declare that there should be no such thing as an asylum for the aged and infirm in this country; because every man possessed of common sense must know that old age would overtake him. How was it possible for a poor man to save such a sum as would be necessary to provide for him in old age, so long as the rate of wages continued so low as at 723 present? In the West of England wages were only 7s. a-week, and he knew two parishes of Leicestershire and Dorsetshire, where they did not rise above 6s. a-week. It was understood that the new Poor-law would be brought into operation in these parishes, where it was expected to confer great benefits, both on the rate-payers and the poor. So far from this being the case, he was satisfied that in the end the rate-payers themselves would find this law to be one of the greatest curses ever inflicted upon them. It created a feeling of exasperation between the labourers and the rate-payers which he should be glad to see appeased, but which he believed never would be appeased, till the guardians had more power, and the Commissioners less. The guardians were themselves rate-payers, and he could not conceive why they should be restrained from doing what they pleased with their own money. They were elected by rate-payers, and they were themselves rate-payers, and if they chose to give assistance to the poor and the infirm, he could not see that Parliament had any right to decree that they should not give that assistance in the shape of poor-rates. The House might resolve to adhere to the present law, let the consequences be what they might; but let there only be a scarcity of corn, or a difficulty in procuring employment, and every atom of property would be endangered by the feeling of hostility which would be created. There might be reasons why the House should not adopt this resolution; many persons might feel reluctant to pledge themselves to inquiry at the commencement of next Session; but he could tell them, that at the beginning of next Session, such multitudes of petitions would be presented, that whatever the feelings of the House might be, the investigation could not be got rid of. An inquiry must be conceded sooner or later, and if the statements which the noble Lord and his Friends had made could be substantiated, then they were bound by every principle of justice and even expediency to go into the inquiry, and satisfy their opponents that the law was working for the public benefit.
§ Mr. Cripps
wished to say, in reference to the Gloucester workhouse, that he was not aware of the precise nature of the allowance given to the paupers, but supposed it to be the same as in other workhouses.
§ Sir Harry Verney
said, that though favourable to the new Poor-law, he was sensible that, in order to produce beneficial effects, it required to be carried into execution under favourable circumstances, and with the fullest co-operation from every class of the community. He was convinced that the effect of the former system was to injure and demoralize the labouring population. With regard to medical relief, he thought that the part of the measure which related to it required much consideration.
§ Mr. Maclean
presumed, that regulations made by the Poor-law Commissioners for the guidance of the lately-formed unions did not come within the definition of general rules, because the Act required that, before they could be received as such, they must be submitted to the consideration of the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and afterwards receive the sanction of Parliament. He understood that the paupers were in many instances prevented from attending divine service at their own parish churches. If this were so, he presumed that it must be by some special regulation, as it contravened the principle of the general rules formerly laid down for the Commissioners. He then read an instance where the clergyman of a parish wrote to the Commissioners on this point, and received for answer that they had deemed it requisite, for the better guidance and conduct of the union, that the paupers should be kept within the walls of the workhouse on the Sabbath. Surely there ought to be no difficulty in allowing paupers to attend the parish church? In every union chaplains were appointed for the purpose of performing divine service within it; but there must be considerable difficulty in finding chaplains who were not the resident curates or ministers of the parish, and it would bear extremely hard upon the minister to insist that he should perform three full services in the same day. He could not but regard this practice of interdicting paupers from, attending the parish church as in all respects injurious, and militating against those principles of reverence for divine worship which ought to be implanted in the breast of every native of a Christian country. He believed that there was hardly a single case tried at a circuit, in which the judge had not to impress on the mind of the criminal that his crime arose from neglecting, in the first instance, to attend divine worship on the Sabbath. He believed that this circumstance more than any 725 other would tend to excite in the minds of the poorest and virtuous portion of the labouring classes a spirit of disaffection against the Act, and that it would accumulate their grievances to an amount almost intolerable. He could not sit down without expressing his hope that some course would be adopted which would put an end to those exposures which they were now accustomed to witness in courts of justice, and which, in his opinion, tended more than anything else to demoralize the population. Nothing could be more coarse, more disgraceful, more discreditable, than to see a young woman dragged forward in a court to confess her own shame, compelled too to produce somebody to corroborate her own shame, in order that she might extort 1s. 6d. a week from somebody who might probably, after all, not pay it. Nothing could be more disgusting than such exhibitions, and he believed there was as much open perjury now as there ever was. The consequence of this was, that the courts of justice were crammed with young ladies and gentlemen, whose fancies were of the most prurient and glowing description, who came not to learn what the state of the law was, but to investigate the real state of their neighbours' morals. The hon. Gentleman concluded by saying, that he hoped the noble Lord would consent to grant a commission of inquiry into the working of the present Poor-laws.
§ Mr. Harvey
was gratified to observe the attention paid by the House to a motion which had little to recommend it, except that it proposed to inquire into circumstances which deeply affected the feelings and interests of a class who were not directly represented in that House. The noble Lord had observed that the author of the Bill, the noble Lord who was at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer, deserved the confidence and respect of the country for following out a measure which concerned the interests of millions with such singular energy and promptitude. He was sorry to see that the exertions then made had produced such exhaustion in the Government that no more energy was left for anything else; for were but a tithe of the determination and perseverance which had marked their conduct of the measure applied to matters of mere numerical calculation, they would not now find the order book crowded with measures which remained to be considered, partial in their operation, and dubious in their utility. It had been said that the labourers throughout 726 the country were assuming an attitude of moral firmness and virtuous independence which could not be too highly extolled. It was gratifying to find that this was the case, because virtuous independence in the industrious classes was the sure foundation of sound institutions, and the best guarantee of wholesome government. Surely, however, this principle ought to be applied to those who were protected by political power as well as to those who were respected only so far as they might become dangerous from their numbers. Why had the noble Lord and his colleagues so strenuously resisted the efficacious application of this principle, when he brought under the consideration of the House those state paupers who were at the present moment actually deriving a scandalous sustenance from those very persons whose condition the House was now rather considering than commiserating? The hon. Member for Finsbury bad suggested that it might be well if hon. Members would have recourse for some time to that dietary course so much extolled when followed in our local prisons, as workhouses were properly characterised. He would make a proposition which would perhaps be more acceptable, inasmuch as it was less personal. Instead of calling on hon. Members to make so dangerous an experiment, he would suggest the propriety of subjecting to this severe regimen all state paupers, whose names could be found on the list of pensioners—a step which would effect a great saving to the state, and the moral influence of which would be extremely advantageous. This debate had spread out too much into generalities, to the prejudice of the main question before the House, which was an inquiry into one of the most important measures that had ever received the impress of legislation. That man would be a bold and rash man who should say that the Poor-law Bill had no merits, but he would be still more rash and unfeeling who should assert that it had no defects. No measure embracing such great interests, and introducing such vast changes, could possibly be perfect. At present many circumstances combined to render its operation pacific, but a time might come when provisions would be dear and labour scarce, and the feelings of the labouring community would be exasperated by their sufferings. If ever that time should come, and the table of the House should be covered with petitions demanding a redress of the labourers wrongs, the manly sense of the House would be appealed to to resist pe- 727 titions founded on numbers only, and they would be called on to wait for the period when they might deliberate with fairness and tranquillity and legislate with impartiality of feeling and independence of mind. This, then, was surely an auspicious moment; at present a singular sunshine and serenity happily overspread the land, it was only here and there that the voice of discontent was heard, and it appeared that the great measure might fairly undergo inquiry without either the imputation of fear or the apprehension of menace. Why, then, not show the labouring millions that the House had some sympathy for them, why not grant them an inquiry at the commencement of the next Session? This would disperse that mist of prejudice which enveloped the measure of the noble Lord and his Friends—it would reveal the monument of his wisdom pure to the public gaze, and it would enable him to apply to its blemishes those remedies which mature experience and careful reflection would suggest. This motion was recommended on every ground, by wisdom, by kindness, by Parliamentary independence, by just sympathy for the poor. This motion was not brought before them at the instance of petitions signed by thousands, many of whom might not be able to write their own names, emanating from some busy manufactory, and seeking to control them rather by force of numbers than of reason. The petitions came from those who were well acquainted with the working of the measure, who well knew its defects, and whose judgment was not likely to be led away by their interest, since their interest led them to regard it favourably. He had himself presented a petition from the Board of Guardians of the parish of St. George the Martyr, Southwark, who declared that the orders and regulations laid down by the Commissioners were too severe, and so repulsive in their operation to their better feelings, that they could find no security but in violating them. The petition at the same time called the attention of the House to the fact that the Board were not at liberty to give occasional and passing relief to men of industrious habits, who might be for a short time out of employment, though anxious to obtain it. Such a man might apply for relief, and he was told that he could not obtain it unless he entered one of those vast prisons, for prisons was their proper name. He was confined there like a criminal, for the place contained all the elements of punishment—a 728 man could not enter it without fear, nor leave it without reproach. Was the House so luxurious in its notions as to declare poverty to be a crime? It was such treatment as this that galled the feelings of the people. He wished to call particular attention to one provision of this Bill. If a man had a wife and children, the object of his affection, the pledges of his love, he could obtain no relief unless he was thrown with his family into one of those local dungeons. He was accompanied by his wife, but not as his companion —by his children, but not as the objects of his care; when he arrived, he was separated from both. Was this humanity? Was it an illustration of the principles on which the law was said to be founded, the principles of Christianity? Was it not rather an insult to the heart of man? He must protest against the establishment in the Commissioners of a power unknown to the constitution. The present was the favourable season for inquiry. Distress might come, and in this country; from the fluctuations of commerce, we were peculiarly liable to it; if once the giant arm of the people were stretched out, and their nerves strengthened by their sense of wrong, it would be impossible for the House to deliberate with the calmness and impartiality which became them. If no higher motives stimulated them, let them at least, for their own security, consent to grant that inquiry which the people entreated.
§ Sir Broke Vere
supported the resolution. Since the house had delegated such extraordinary powers to the Commissioners, he thought they were bound in justice to take care that those powers were not abused. They were at present unacquainted with the rules laid down by the Commissioners for the management of the poor, nor had a copy of those regulations ever been laid on the table, though the Act required that they should be submitted to the consideration of the House. He thought that the Commissioners ought instantly to be called on for an explanation of this part of their conduct. With regard to the attendance of paupers at their own parish church, if this could not be permitted without occasioning irregularity, he thought that a chaplain should be appointed to each union.
§ Mr. Villiers
said, that as the only Member who had been one of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the Poor-laws, he wished to address a few words to the House on the question before it. What, he would ask, were the facts of the case? He believed that only two petitions had been presented 729 complaining of the working of the new law. On the other side 277 unions, all voluntarily formed, had surrendered the exclusive privileges which they formerly possessed, and adopted the regulations of the Commissioners. What, then, became of the arguments used by the hon. Member for Southwark, founded on the distress and discontent of the labouring population? The hon. Member for Finsbury had declared his opinion that a satisfactory case had been made out. Now he had rarely heard greater inconsistencies of reasoning than those of the hon. Gentlemen who supported the resolution. The hon. Member for Berkshire objected to any regulations of the Commissioners at all. The hon. Member for Worcester objected not to the rules but to the application of them, while the noble Lord objected to the Bill, and to the discretionary powers granted to the Commissioners, but wished the measure to have a fair trial. Where was the evidence to show that the Bill really bore so hard upon the poor? The hon. Member for Finsbury had lately objected to the evidence brought before the Agricultural Committee, because no labourers were examined. He had always made it a rule to examine persons belonging to the labouring class on every part of the inquiry, and he could venture to assure some hon. Gentlemen that the poor were far more intelligent and better informed on this subject than they believed. A very large portion of them took the same view which honest and intelligent men in general had of the operation of the former system, and saw that the whole was nothing but a cunningly-devised scheme to keep the rate of wages low and to humble and degrade the labourer. They said, we don't want to receive parochial relief, but the farmers give us starving wages, and then tell us that we must go upon the parish. They saw their neighbours receiving relief, and in much better circumstances than themselves, and they had no alternative but to follow the example set them. If this was the case, surely the House ought to look with some distrust upon the statements of men who wished to revert to the old system. The statements of the hon. Member for Finsbury, with regard to the medical relief, were entirely erroneous. The hon. Member had said that formerly the poor were visited by medical men, but that this was not now the case. The fact was, that the poor had never been allowed 730 to choose their own medical man. Under the old system, surgeons used to contract to supply all the poor of the parish with medical attendance at rates far too low to compensate them, and used to make up for this by charging extravagantly high for attending other persons. What he had wished to see accomplished was, to put an end to parochial jobbing and to the fraudulent practice of degrading the labourer by keeping wages extremely low. Those who wished to raise the wages of the poor and maintain them in comfortable independence, were better friends to them than those who consented to dole out to them a miserable pittance in the shape of parochial relief. The English labourer, in his opinion, was far more likely to be honest and virtuous under the present system; for the surest way to raise the moral character of the labourer was to make him independent. In Sussex, Suffolk, and other counties, the effect of the alteration in the Poor-laws had been to raise wages. Let him not, then, be told that the labourers were not in a much better condition when they had higher wages and lived independent, than when they had low wages and were dependent for part of them on what was doled out to them from the workhouse. He wanted a system of Poor-laws that would raise wages and make the labourers independent; but those who wished to revert to the old system wanted to make the labourer dependent and to lower his wages. They had had experience of the effects of both systems; let those who wished for the latter system vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire.
§ Mr. Brotherton
begged leave to state one or two facts connected with this subject that had come to his own personal knowledge. He must say, however, that he would not presume to offer any opinion upon the working of the Poor-law Act, he would merely refer to what, in some instances, had been its effects. They all knew the fluctuations to which trade was liable, and that a great number of able-bodied persons might at once be thrown out of employment, and unless the overseers or guardians of the poor had some means of remedying the evils that must in such cases arise, it must occasion great and severe distress. What had been the operation of this Bill in the agricultural districts he was not prepared to say, but in the manufacturing districts it had 731 worked well. That he must confess. Still its operation had been attended with hardship. He had opposed the Bill when it was passing through that House, on account of the fears he entertained with regard to the effects it was likely to have in the manufacturing districts. He thought now that some alterations might be made with regard to the separating husband from wife, and the parent from his children; and also with regard to the in-door paupers being allowed to attend places of worship. At the same time he was bound to say, that these practices had not originated with the Poor-law Commissioners. He was aware that they had been partially practised before this Bill was introduced, but not to so great an extent. He might, perhaps, entertain a warmer feeling of humanity towards the poor, in consequence of his being more particularly connected with the labouring classes than many other hon. Members. He might be better acquainted with their feelings and wishes. He recollected, when he was overseer, twenty years ago, an old man and his wife were ordered to be separated from each other. They applied to him, and he recollected well the old man saying "I and my old woman have been living together these fifty years, and I would rather suffer death than be separated from her." There was another circumstance also which he recollected. When the new Poor-law Bill was first passed into law a poor woman called upon him to request his interference with the overseers in order to obtain for her mother 1s. a-week to enable her to live with her daughter, and not go to the workhouse. She was anxious that her mother should remain with her, but unless this shilling was continued, she stated that she should be unable to support her aged mother. On another occasion a number of persons came to him; one of them, an old man, stated that he had been in the habit of attending the parish church for thirty years, and that he had applied for permission to attend there, but was not permitted; and another old man said, that he had been a member of a certain dissenting congregation for the last thirty-five years,—that he dissented from the principles preached by the chaplain of the workhouse,—that he had applied for permission to attend his own place of worship, but was not allowed to do so. These facts had made a deep impression on his mind, and 732 he hoped that they would make an impression on the House. The rules of the Poor-law Commissioners would, if carried into operation strictly, have an effect on the poor which it was not desirable they should have. He had been anxious to state these facts; he had thought of them with regret at the time, as they were in many instances revolting to human nature. He hoped that not another year would be suffered to elapse without some alteration taking place. He hoped that the matter would be taken into early and serious consideration, and that the required alteration would take place.
§ Mr. Plumptre
had, during the last year, attended a union in his neighbourhood, and but for this long and tedious Session, would be attending it this year. He could testify, as far as his own observations enabled him to do so, that the Poor-law Act had operated very beneficially. He agreed with the hon. Member for Berkshire that the reduction of poor-rates was a matter of minor consideration. He believed, however, that a reduction of poor-rates had been effected to a very consider-able extent—to the amount of fifty per cent. Still he allowed that this was a matter of minor consideration. The Bill had worked well in those districts in which a feeling and considerate man must wish to see it work well. He believed that it was considered to work well in the opinion of the people themselves. It could not but be expected, that in a bill by which so great a change was to be effected from the old system some places would feel it with greater severity than others. No one could more deeply regret than he regretted that such should be the case, but he believed that in general the Bill had worked well. It worked well, inasmuch as it was gradually raising up in the people a better and more independent feeling, and it was doing away with that perpetual drain which, under the old system, was not gradually consuming, but devouring the country. The present system encouraged those feelings amongst the population which he was desirous to see encouraged. He knew this to be a fact—that when, before these alterations, the parent had been negligent of his children, and the children of their parent, that under the present operation of the law the parent was taking care of his children, and the children of their parent. The workhouses were not intended to be nurseries of idleness and luxury— 733 they were intended rather as places to be avoided, and this was what he wished to see established. With regard to diet, he could say, that it was, in the union he was acquainted with, very good, and in many cases the portion that was allowed was found to be more than sufficient. With respect to the rule of the Poor-law Commissioners, which prevented paupers from attending divine worship, he was ready to acknowledge that if there could be some relaxation in this particular point, he was prepared to adopt it. The preventing old persons, who had been accustomed to engage in public worship in some particular place, and who felt that they were so engaged not more from desire than from duty—the debarring such persons from going out of the house to attend such places of public worship was a great hardship, and if the rule could be relaxed it was greatly to be desired. If the parties abused their privileges, those who were guilty of such abuse might be punished by being checked from the exercise of such privilege for a certain time. They could not expect to see immediately all the good accomplished by this Act which they all wished to see, but he believed that they might expect, that in a very little time the present Bill would lead to that desirable end; and he had reason to believe, that the poor themselves acknowledge that the present system was raising up among them a spirit of independence, and a desire to maintain themselves, which did not exist under the old system.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
felt such strong objections to the Poor-law Act altogether, that he conceived he was only discharging his duty in voting for the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire.
§ Mr. Arthur Trevor
felt it his duty to give his support to the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire. There was a great deal in the Poor-law Act that was a gross infringement on the liberties of Englishmen, and degrading to their feelings and character. Various cases had come to his personal knowledge of great hardship and oppression, which loudly called for inquiry. He should not feel that he was discharging the first duty that every Member of that House owed to the poor if he did not support the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire.
denied, that the present system of Poor-laws tended to raise wages or to make the labourer independent.
§ Mr. George F. Young
was not about to enter into any details on this subject; he merely rose to ask what was intended by the charge brought forward by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton against those who, like him, intended to support the proposition of the hon. Member for Berkshire? The hon. Member said, that they were actuated by a desire to lower the rate of wages, and to restore the abuses of the old system. He, for his own part, utterly repudiated this charge. He wished to call the attention of the House to a fact that struck him as remarkable, and which had not been referred to by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The noble Lord had stated, that there had been a diminution in the sum expended in the relief of the poor in the years 1835 and 1836 of 1,500,000l. The difference between the two years was not less than l,500,000l. He had, since he had heard the noble Lord, gone into the library, and he found, by the returns, that the amount expended in 1832 was 8,683,461l., and in 1833 the amount was 6,798,880l. By this it appeared, that before the Poor-law Amendment Act had passed, there had been a diminution of 1,800,000l. in the amount expended in the relief of the poor, and he therefore thought it rather too much to ascribe this progressive diminution to the circumstance of the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act. The noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in reply to a question put by the hon. Member for Berkshire, stated, that the 17th section of the Poor-law Act required the Commissioners to lay before the House, within a week after the commencement of the Session, a copy of any general rule that might have been made by them. Now, if any general rules had been made, it appeared very extraordinary—at all events, if any had been made, the House had a right to know why the requisition of the Act itself had not been complied with.
§ The House divided on the original question: Ayes 82; Noes 46—Majority 36.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adam, Sir Charles||Ball, N.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Baring, F. T.|
|Bagshaw, John||Barnard, E. G.|
|Baines, Edward||Bellew, Rich. M.|
|Baldwin, Dr.||Berkeley, hon. F.|
|Bernal, Ralph||Lefevre, Charles S.|
|Bewes, T.||Lennard, Thomas B.|
|Blake, M. J.||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Blamire, W.||Lushington, Dr. S.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Lynch, A. H. S.|
|Brabazon, Sir W.||Mangles, J.|
|Brodie, William B.||Morrison, J.|
|Buller, Charles||North, Frederick|
|Burdon, W.||Parnell, Sir H.|
|Butler, hon. Pierce||Parrott, Jasper|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Pinney, William|
|Cavendish, hon. C. C.||Plumptre, John P.|
|Cavendish, hon. G. H.||Poulter, J. S.|
|Chichester, J. P. B.||Power, James|
|Collier, John||Pryme, George|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Rickford, W.|
|Crawford, W.||Rolfe, Sir R. M.|
|Cripps, Joseph||Russell, Lord J.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Sanford, E. A.|
|Divett, E.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Donkin, Sir R.||Seymour, Lord|
|Etwall, R.||Steuart, R.|
|Ewart, W.||Strickland, Sir Geo.|
|Folkes, Sir W.||Talbot, J. H.|
|Forster, Charles S.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Halford, H.||Thomson, C. P.|
|Harland, W. Charles||Thornley, T.|
|Hawes, Benjamin||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Hawkins, J. H.||Villiers, C. P.|
|Heathcoat, John||Warburton, Henry|
|Hector, C. J.||Ward, H. G.|
|Hobhouse, Sir J. C.||Williams, W. A.|
|Horsman, Edward||Wilson, Henry|
|Howard, P. H.||Wood, C.|
|Hutt, William||Stanley, E. J.|
|Labouchere, H.||O'Ferrall, R. M.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Attwood, T.||Kemp, T. R.|
|Bainbridge, E. T.||Maclean, D.|
|Beresford, Sir J. P.||Maunsell, T. P.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Morgan, Chas. M. R.|
|Blunt, Sir C.||Palmer, George|
|Boldero, Henry G.||Polhill, Frederick|
|Bonham, R. F.||Richards, R.|
|Brotherton, J.||Richards, John|
|Brownrigg, J. S.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Dennistoun, Alex.||Ruthven, E.|
|Dick, Quintin||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Dunbar, George||Stuart, Lord Dudley|
|Duncombe, T. S.||Thompson, Col. T. P.|
|Eaton, Richard J.||Trevor, Hon. Arthur|
|Elley, Sir J.||Vere, Sir C. B. bart.|
|Fielden, J.||Wakley, Thomas|
|Forbes, Wm.||Whalley, Sir S.|
|Freshfield, James W.||Williams, William|
|Gladstone, Thomas||Winnington, Sir T.|
|Hardy, J.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Hawkes, Thomas||Young, G. F.|
|Hodges, Thos. Law||TELLERS.|
|Humphery, John||Walter, John|
|Hurst, R. H.||Harvey, D. W.|