§ Sir Robert Peel
, before the discussion on the Poor-law Amendment Act was entered into, had a petition to present on the subject from the medical practitioners of Bucks, complaining of the state of medical treatment and practice under the Poor-law as at present administered. He wished to know from the noble Lord if he was prepared with any amendment to the Act with respect to medical treatment. Of course inquiry would go far to point out the nature of that remedy.
§ Lord John Russell
was prepared to resist any motion which would go to the repeal of the Act, or to any extensive change in its machinery or its details. At the same time, he was willing to go into an inquiry as to the working of the measure by the commissioners, though he had no doubt that it would be found that the commissioners had acted on sound principles throughout. There were, however, many highly respectable individuals who differed from the rules laid down by the commissioners with respect to medical treatment; and in the committee for which he should move as an amendment to the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire, an inquiry would be gone into on that subject, with the view of seeing whether an improvement might not be made in the working of the Bill in that respect. In the inquiry an opportunity would be given to the Poor-law Commissioners of stating the grounds on which they acted. If, in the result of the inquiry, any amendments 987 could be suggested for the working of the Bill, he would not object to them.
§ Mr. Walter
said, that in rising to make the motion of which he had given notice it was his desire that the House should thoroughly understand that he had not himself sought the duty which he now undertook. Whatever might be his opinion of the character and consequences of the measure, to which he should call the attention of the House, on its first issuing from the original Board of Commissioners, and on its subsequent introduction into Parliament; and, however he might then have given it all the opposition in his power, yet, having done this, and the Bill having been passed into a law, he, of course, felt it his duty to bow to the decision of the majority which was against him, and therefore for a long time, studiously avoided any recurrence to the subject. At length, however, he was called from this state of acquiescence, by the complaints of his own constituents, in the first instance, and then by those of others through the country, who thought they could confide in him to attempt the removal of those mischiefs, and the alleviation of those hardships, which he had foreseen, and had foretold, would be the consequences of the Bill if it were carried into a law, and which consequences were then beginning to be felt. What he was now doing—though he did it on the maturest consideration—was really little more than obeying the calls which had been thus made upon him. He was conveying the sense of his poorer fellow-subjects, the people, to the people's House of Parliament—for such, he hoped that House would prove itself to be. But he was doing more than this; for those complaints had received such sanction from persons of higher rank, and more accurate means of observation — from the clergy he would say particularly, and from many eminent members of the magistracy—that they were not only the cries of suffering, but also the voice of reason and reflection. Upon these grounds, he called the attention of the House to them; and he entertained the more ardent hope of success, because there was nothing to oppose to these cries of Complaint, and these cool and rational observations of which he had spoken, but what he considered an ill-understood view of their own interests, taken by those who had to support the poor, and the stern 988 rules of a something called political economy. Though, in the first instance, he was opposed to the Bill altogether, and though, even last year, had any Gentlemen of decided influence in the House, proposed its entire repeal, he would have given him his support; yet he confessed that, under existing circumstances—under a consideration of the vast machinery which had been set at work from one end of the kingdom to another, he thought it his present duty to confine himself rather to an attempt to modify and abate certain evils of the system—to knock off some of the shackles upon its movement —than to aim at a total repeal of the Act, or a complete removal of the machinery that had been put into operation. He would not repeat the arguments of last year, but would briefly call to the recollection of hon. Members, the origin of one of the evils which had given occasion to the immense change which had been introduced into the state and character of the Poor-laws. The magistrates of the southern counties, in the year 1795, instead of obeying the law then in existence for regulating wages, chose to introduce a practice of their own, directing that wages should be apportioned to the numbers of the agricultural labourer's family, and that the poor-rate should be brought in aid to supply any deficiencies that might occur. The demoralising effect of this process was obvious: it banished prudence, and prudential considerations, from the marriages of the poor, and drove them into premature wedlock for the sake of raising their wages, under the pretence of large families. Such, he said, was the effect; but surely the remedy was not to be found in a totally new Poor-law, but in the recall and removal of that specific, though illegal practice, which had occasioned the mischief. He was saved much trouble in characterising this Bill, by the confessions respecting it, made at the time by the two great advocates and panegyrists of the measure in the Upper House. The right rev. Prelate who presided over the commission, on the question of an additional clause, relating to the establishment of provident institutions, spoke thus of the whole measure:—His Lordship said, that he was anxious for the introduction of that clause, "because," said he, "it is about the only one in the Bill that bears a kindly feeling towards the poor on the face of it." The 989 Lord Chancellor said, "that the chief point involved in this Bill, was, whether their Lordships should retain their properties or not. It was the opinion of the Commissioners—and in that opinion he concurred—that if this measure, or a measure similar to it, were not speedily adopted, the property of this country would shortly change hands." The Government organs of the press made use also of similar language—"We require a dictatorship for a time." From these three sources any one might clearly come to the result, what kind of a Bill it would be. It was to be. inflicted by despotic power—it had nothing in it indicative of a kindly feeling towards those who were to be its victims, and it appeared to have been founded chiefly on the false assumption, that unless it was passed, all the property of the country would go into other hands. The Bill, it was said, was to establish an uniform system throughout the country. Had such been the case, or was it likely to be so? Let the squabbles which had so frequently taken place between the parishes and the commissioners, sometimes one gaining a point, and sometimes another—let these squabbles, he said, and their contradictory issues, answer the question. Uniformity of system, indeed! Why, how far did their system extend? In many of the most populous districts, and where, if it had been good for anything, it ought to have been first imposed, it had not been introduced—no attempt had even been ventured upon to introduce it. In some populous districts, the Commissioners had been pelted and driven away by an indignant population. In other places, the guardians, impelled by a humane principle, had set the Central Board at defiance. In order to constitute a uniform system, the law itself ought to be uniform. But they had been told in this law, that the Commissioners themselves might relax its stringent operation; that was, in other words, they might apply it partially. Was that uniformity? The truth was, that what was meant by this relaxation, was, that the Commissioners were to impose it on the timid and weak, but to abstain where they dreaded opposition. The evils of the new system were of two kinds: as of every other tyrannical operation, there were the two extremes. The confinement was intolerable, and therefore they who had vainly attempted to bear it, or who had shrunk 990 from the hopeless experiment, were flung upon the wide world. Hence came the encouragement, and all the snares and artifices which had been practised with regard to emigration. It was admitted on all hands, that there should be no compulsory emigration; that was to say, they all agreed that no Act of Parliament could be passed to force the people to emigrate. Why, then, did they do by a side blow, what they confessed must not be attempted Openly? It was true the people were not carried off by force; but fraud, deception, and unfounded representations, constituted the worst kind of coertion. If their workhouses had been endurable under the new system, who would have thought of breaking all the ties of kindred, locality, and everything else that binds man to the place of his birth, and to all its kindly associations? Having broken these ties, and he must say, through the injustice and severity practised on them at home in their native country, what must be their feelings towards that country in foreign regions? If they continued to love it, so much the more unfeeling must that system have been which forced such hearts away. That they might feel the movements of indignation and revenge for such treatment, and that they might convey such resentments to their posterity, was but too probable. General Stewart, in speaking of the compulsory emigration of the Highlanders, many years ago, said, "I have been told by intelligent officers who served in Canada during the last war, that they found the Highland emigrants more fierce in their animosity against England, than even the native Americans." His remarks upon this subject must be understood to extend only to Poor-law plans of emigration, the motives of which had been made obvious. Now, how stood the case with our Poor-law Commissioners? The victims of their expatriation were really crushed, if he might use the expression, out of their native land by harsh treatment. He would read passages from their own report, from which it would appear that the principle of their success in inducing to emigrate, was the poor having nothing at home to look to but those vast prisons—the union workhouses. They said—"In the case of any real surplus of population being found to exist, we have already announced our intention of endeavouring to provide for 991 it, either by emigration to some of our colonies, or by migration to some home district, in which an effective demand for labour might be found to prevail. In conformity with the intention thus expressed, we have thought it necessary to enable many parishes in the south-eastern districts of England—particularly in Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex, and parts of Wiltshire, where a redundancy of labour was most complained of—to raise the necessary funds for the conveyance of numerous emigrants, who have proceeded chiefly to Toronto, in Upper Canada." It appeared that the whole number of persons thus driven from their country, under the superintendence of the Commissioners, last year, was 5,140; of whom upwards of 3,000 were taken from Norfolk alone. A friend of his saw 217 of them packed in a single waggon. Gentlemen might laugh and think this incredible, but he had made a calculation, and found that the weight in such a waggon would be about seven tons. The proportions of able-bodied men, to women and children were not stated; but some idea might be formed on this subject, from the statement of the proportions sent from Downton, in Wiltshire. It appeared that out of 200 persons sent from that parish, there were only "seventy lads and able-bodied men;" the remaining 130 must therefore have been women and children, and in case of a father's death, what was to become of the survivors? Nor did it appear, upon the Assistant-commissioners' own showing, that this emigration was necessary; for he added, "It is a matter of very great difficulty to ascertain, even with an approximation to truth, the actual existence of a superabundance of labourers. I can instance scarcely a single parish, in which there is not ample employment in the summer season. In winter, men are too frequently discharged, not because there is not profitable labour for them, but because their services can be spared, and the small occupiers of land are too distressed to incur expenses, not absolutely indispensable." — He would now read to the House a few of the cases which had been sent to him. He would begin by reading the letter of a highly respectable gentleman, a clergyman and a magistrate in the county of Sussex, because it seemed to comprise the whole process and working of the Bill in that gentleman's neighbourhood;—"The 992 Poor-law Report says much on the beauties and benefits of migration to Manchester. I will mention the case of a family belonging to the adjoining parish. The man is aged forty-seven, and his wife thirty-eight. They have seven children, the eldest a girl of fifteen, in place, the remaining six are to maintain. Being out of work five weeks before last Christmas, the man applied to the Board for work or relief. They told him they could give him neither; he must seek out and get work. At last the Assistant Poor-law Commissioner said, "Why don't you take all your family, and go to Manchester; you will there earn 1l. a-week?" probably thinking that the man would object to this. But not so; the man replied, "I am an old soldier. I care not where I go, so as I can get a living; I am ready to go to Manchester, or anywhere else.' "Very well (says the Commissioner), you shall go." So fine formal papers were procured, duly filled up, signed and countersigned by minister, officers, &c, and the parish promised to pay his expenses. The man, in the interim, is put on the roads at 9s. per week, whereon for himself and family to luxuriate till the order should arrive from a person called the migration officer, for him and his family to start for this promised Eldorado. But weeks passed away, and no answer from the said functionary arrives. The Assistant-Commissioner writes in vain. At length, towards the close of January, he desires the clerk of the union to write also. The reply is, there is no work for the man now; possibly there may be in the spring! Thus has this poor fellow been kept on the tenter-books, ever since November, on 9s. a week, though sometimes, by special favour, he is permitted to go to the stone-quarry, and earn 10s., but he must not earn more; and thus bursts this migration bubble. My informant calculates, that if the man's wages are 10s. a-week, after providing flour and rent for his family, he has 1s. 1d. a-week for clothes, shoes, and fuel, for eight persons, and only 1d. a-week for the same purposes, if he has only 9s. a-week. But when the Assistant-Commissioner discovers that the Manchester humbug will not go down, he says, "Well, but you can go to the rail-roads—they are at a stand for want of men!" The answer to this is, the railroad work is such as stiff-limbed men of between forty-five and sixty cannot undertake, being quite new to them; and if 993 they could, the wages that can be earned are not such as will enable a man to live out at quarters, and send home enough to sustain a wife and six children. "Well, then, (says the Commissioner), let the young men go to the railroads; they can earn there great wages!" So the young men are refused either work or relief, or assistance to emigrate, and are told to go to the railroads. To the railroads they go; they come back. "What do you want?" "Work." "Work! why I thought you had gone to get work on the railroad?" "So I did." "Well?" "I could not get any." "I do not believe a word you say; you are idle, so you may starve." Such is the kind of dialogue that takes place. Now let us look to the facts. This circumstance, of young men having gone to the railroads for work, and having come back again, saying they could get none, having been several times brought to the notice of the Petworth Board of Guardians, they sent their relieving officer to Winchester, for the express purpose of ascertaining the real truth. He returned, and reported that there was no work to be had. The leading principle and practice of the new law seems to be, to harass the poor man, to make him run about from place to place, from one functionary to another whether he wants medical aid, relief, or work, until at last, utterly worn out, he sits down in hopeless despondency. His informant next mentioned the case of a day-labourer's wife, the mother of six children, all under twelve years of age, who was suddenly taken ill. Her husband was obliged to leave his work, to apply to the relieving officer for medical assistance for her, but was informed that it could not be granted. Why? "Because this union gives relief to the man only, not to his family." The man represented this answer to the Board of Guardians, and, strange as it may appear in a Christian country, the Board approved of it. His informant, referring to the report of the Poor-law Commissioners, adverted to the notoriousfact, that they brought forward no evidence but that of their dependents —that they did not mention the season, or even month of the year at which the evidence on which they relied was given— that they made an assertion, which was perhaps applicable to harvest time, "that the poor are now all employed," applicable to the whole year—and that they garbled or suppressed the evidence they 994 received, just as suited their own purpose. Of this his informant mentioned one instance, so extraordinary, that he could not refrain from mentioning it to the House. "The clerk to the Petworth Union," said the rev. gentleman, "wrote a letter to the Commissioners, stating, as might be seen in their report, that 'the people were much more orderly, &c, than they had been heretofore, in the town of Petworth.' All this was true, as far as it went; but the Commissioners had most dexterously availed themselves of the beginning of that letter, thereby to prove that all this amelioration had been produced by the operation of the new law; but they found it convenient to stop short at that precise point of the clerk's letter, where he went on to observe, that this state of tranquillity was owing to the parish having been recently placed under the provisions of the Police Act, to a regular system of police having been established, and to the town being lighted. The disorders which attack the poor come on suddenly, are rapid in their progress, and fatal in their consequences, unless attended to early. The forms necessary to obtain relief are so tedious, and so difficult, that the patient incurs a serious risk of dying before they are complied with. Suppose a labourer's wife to be attacked with inflammation, and her hushand to have to leave his work, and to run about from one officer to another, to get the necessary forms completed, she may be dead before those forms are gone through, even allowing the Board to be softened at last, and to give directions for the attendance of the surgeon. In fact, the sole object of some people seems to be, to diminish the expense, no matter how; and if the population happens to be diminished by the consequences of the process, why, in the minds of many persons, it is an additional recommendation to it. A case occurred last week in this parish. A widow with a family was taken violently ill with the prevailing disorder. I was informed of the fact, went to see her, and found her in a very bad state. The relieving officer I knew was from home; and though, under the Gilbert Act, I had been visitor of the parish for twenty years, yet, under the new regime, I possessed no power. However, in passing through the town, I fortunately fell in with the union doctor, to whom I stated the case, observing, that I had no power to give an order for his attendance. He kindly 995 said he would see the poor woman without delay. He did so, bled her, and administered such medicines as he judged necessary. The poor woman is now convalescent; but had it not been for the fortunate circumstance of my finding the doctor, and the still more fortunate one of his being a man of humane feelings, she would probably, ere this, have been no more. A most cruel practice is followed under the new system, which is, to deny to the pauper what frequently is the only solace of his departing moments—the hope that his dust will be gathered to the dust of his forefathers—that his remains will be placed by the side of a father, a mother, a wife, or a child, who have gone before him. But no; this is a luxury of feeling, an overflowing of hope, not to be permitted to approach the workhouse bedside. Where the pauper dies, there he is to be buried. And in perpetrating this cruelty to the pauper, a great injustice is superadded, not only to the officiating clergyman, but also to the rate-payers of the parish which has been so unfortunate as to have an united poor-house established within its precincts. The clergyman is called (and attempts have been made to compel him) to bury all who may die in the said House; and the parish, be it small or large, is to be taxed to find burial room. Another piece of injustice is also committed. These unhappy people are brought to an union workhouse, elderly persons, who from their time of life, and increasing infirmities, may think their end approaching: persons broken down by long illness, or who have met with some alarming accident, may much wish for the attendance of a clergyman: mothers, anxious by the doubtful state of their new-born offspring, are desirous that they should be baptised without delay. Some or other of such persons are constantly sending to the minister of the parish where this union house is situated, to entreat him to attend them. If he is a man of humane and Christian feelings, he will not hesitate to go to these afflicted people; and in doing so, will feel within his own breast a reward, far beyond all that the Poor-law Commissioners can give or refuse; but looking at the matter in another and secular point of view, what right have any set of men thus to act? Do these Poor-law Commissioners work for nothing? No; upon what principle, then, of common honesty, or common practice in the ordinary affairs 996 of life, do they expect of the clergy generally, that they should gratuitously attend to calls thus unjustly made upon them? [Cries of "Read, read," and interruptions.] The interruptions, said Mr. Walter, within the walls of that House—even if they amount to the howlings with which the neighbourhood rung two nights ago, shall not prevent me from making known the cries of the poor out of it.
rose to order. The hon. Gentleman was reading a speech to the House; it was, in effect, reading a speech, and he submitted that that was contrary to the regulations of the House—it was a breach of order. As to the communication stated to have been received from a clerical magistrate in Sussex, he had only to say, that in Sussex there were no clergymen in the commission of the peace.
§ Mr. Walter
replied, that he believed the letter came from a gentleman who was both a clergyman and magistrate—such certainly was his impression.
§ The Speaker
said, that it certainly was contrary to the practice of the House, and a breach of order, for any hon. Member to read a speech, but, at the same time, there could be no doubt with respect to the liberty of reading documents, extracts, or communications.
§ Mr. Walter
said, he was merely reading a letter—he was literally reading a letter which had been addressed to him. The hon. Member then proceeded to read as follows:—Ten days ago I was suffering from an attack of cold, and thought that the prevailing epidemic was coming upon me. I had just been sent for, to a house, where the mother was dead, and the daughter-in-law dying of the disorder. In my return from thence, in the damp of the evening, I was met by a messenger, saying that a child of a woman who had been brought into our united workhouse, from a parish eleven miles distant, was dying, and she wished it to be baptised. I conceived that I had nothing whatever to do, rigidly speaking, with this poor infant; it belonged not to my parish; it had been obtruded into our workhouse without any act or consent of mine; and I was not bound to be chaplain to all who might thus be sent thither. A chaplain ought to have been provided by those who made these arrangements. But, on the other hand, I reflected that a child was not to die unbaptised, that a mother was not to be made wretched, because a set of brutal, or, to use a mild term, thoughtless men, had, in the language of the Poor-law Commissioners, made 'an order,' and with the right liberal spirit of 997 the day, left all the rest to chance, the god of their fondest worship: so I went, at much risk to my own health, and baptised the child, and on the same principle I have buried their dead; but I strongly protest against being called upon to do either, and maintain that, where masses are brought together under this new law, neither commissioners nor guardians have any right to lay an additional burthen upon the minister of a parish, or to call upon the parishioners to find burial room for as many as they may be pleased to send thither, to look for their last earthly location.Another clergyman had furnished him with the following case:—The union to which my parish is annexed, is the Paulerspury and Stoney Stratford Union, consisting of fifteen parishes, a population of about 8,000, and the guardians all renting farmers and tradesmen.''
§ Mr. Walter
said, that these interruptions were really most unhandsome on the part of the hon. Member. The last letter which he read to the House was from a clergyman well known to him. As to the remark of the hon. Member for Sussex, respecting the form of his documents and extracts, he conceived that he had a right to use them in the form most convenient to himself. He should now, with the permission of the House, proceed with the letter:—The board is held now once a fortnight at Stony Stratford, the extreme point of the union which extends nearly nine miles. There was only one relieving officer and one medical man till the spring of 1836 (when another surgeon was appointed to the union); consequently many of the paupers had to send eight miles for relief. In 1836 I made several representations to the Poor-law Commissioners of repeated instances of cruel and oppressive cases. One man had to send near twenty miles before he could obtain any medical assistants. No distinction is made between the honest, industrious labourer, the old and infirm pauper, the idle and dissolute. The allowances to the poor are by no means equal to their absolute wants. One instance will suffice for all. An industrious, sober, and hard working labourer, with a wife and three young children, had no work for seven weeks; he went for relief or work to the board, but could find none; he asked my advice; I told him to go to the board of guardians; for several weeks they would neither give him relief nor work; at last they allowed him four small loaves for himself his wife, and three young children, and they told him to walk every morning for bread from Pury to Stratford (six miles), then to Yardly Gobion, nearly five 998 miles, and the distance to his house was four more; this he did for many weeks. Another man, of good character, complained to me that he had no work, and no adequate means of supporting himself and family; I sent him to the board, and the following conversation took place between the pauper and the chairman, a tenant of the Duke of Grafton's and a parishioner of mine;— 'What is your name, and what do you want?' — 'Work or relief.'— 'Who sent you here?' — 'Mr.—.' 'Why did not Mr.—come himself, or employ you, or lower his tithes?' This wise remark was made at a time when there were weekly robberies and fires in the neighbourhood. I went up to London immediately, and named to one of the Central Board myself the conduct of the chairman; he merely observed, 'If this be true, it is very bad.' The poor were living, from 1835 to the spring of 1836, in a poor-house not weather proof, the rain pouring in on the wretched inmates as they lay in their beds; no means of religious instruction, no classification, or employment for the paupers. The sick poor of Ashton and Hartwell have been grossly neglected by the relieving officer. A poor sick pauper of Hartwell (I speak on the best authority) died in consequence of the carelessness of the relieving officer and board of guardians.Another clergyman wrote thus from Stoke Ash, in Suffolk:—I shall lay a simple statement of a case before you, which, occurring as it did in ray own parish, and verified as it has been upon oath before me, will serve to show the cruel, tyrannical, and merciless operation of that act which professes to have been instituted for the benefit of the truly distressed poor. An able bodied labourer in the parish of Stoke Ash, in the county of Suffolk, having a family of ten children (two at service, eight were living at home with their father and mother), without employment and without victuals, applied on Tuesday, the 15th of November last, to the board of guardians at Eye, to request some relief, and was refused. On Thursday, the 17th, he was compelled to leave his wife and family to seek for work. On Tuesday, the 22d, his wife informed the relieving officer she was going to the board of guardians to apply for relief, as her husband was gone from home after work, and she had no victuals; he said, she might return home, the guardians would not relieve her, and she did return home without money or food. Subjoined are a number of affidavits which show the severe privations which the woman had fortitude enough to endure rather than be immured with her family in the workhouse during the seven weeks and a half her husband was absent. He returned home, it appears, on the 8th of January, 1837, having been absent seven weeks and three days. He could only get ten days and a half work the time he was gone; of course he brought no money home. His wife and family had very little else to eat but dry bread the time he was 999 absent, and some days only turnips. When he came home he had no employment, and could get no relief from the board of guardians, until Tuesday, the 24th; he was ill, and his wife applied. They had no money or victuals, and waited until four o'clock before she got any allowance. She had then to go to the relieving officer for the order of four stone of flour; he would not give it to her that night, but forced her to go the next morning to Mendlesham for it (about seven miles there and back again). When she returned home she had to bake and could not get it ready for her children before six o'clock, and they were without victuals from Tuesday morning to Wednesday night. Friday is the day fixed upon for the relieving officer to pay the poor of my parish; they are to meet him at two o'clock: On Friday, the 11 th of November, they assembled at the usual place of receiving their allowance. He did not come before six o'clock. He told them he would not pay them that night, and ordered them to meet him on the Saturday at two o'clock. They went,—he did not attend, but went to another House where he had never paid them, and left their allowance. The relieving officer comes into the parish without knowing the state of the poor, and pays those only who are upon his book. I hope you will endeavour to do away with such men. Why not pay a salary to the overseer of the parish, who knows their distresses? Where that system is pursued of not relieving able-bodied labourers who have large families, they must inevitably perish. Flower is 2s. 4d. per stone, labour 1s. 6d. per day, and I do assure you our labourers with large families are starving.''There were two other cases in the same communication, but being unwilling to trespass too far upon the indulgence of the House, he should not read them. He wished now to call attention to the statements he had received respecting the Union of Droxford. The hon. Member then read as follows:—The Union of Droxford comprises eleven parishes, containing a population of near 10,000, mostly paupers and labourers. Just before Christmas last the guardians reduced the number of their relieving officers from three to one. The consequence has been a great increase of suffering to the poor? for instance, the parish of Hambledon, having a population of more than 2,000 persons, is visited in a hasty way by the relieving officer twice in the week, Mondays and Fridays; and the medical man there states, that he has had during the past month fifty applications for attendance and immediate want of relief at the beginning of the week, which were obliged to remain unattended till the officers should come on the Friday. I leave you to judge what extreme distress must thus ensue, when families are afflicted with illness which requires prompt relief. Many of the poor are situate six and seven miles from the relieving officer's resi- 1000 dence, and he 'from necessary press of business has never visited a great many of the most distressed and afflicted families. The guardian of a neighbouring parish came to me a few days ago to ask me to try and influence the poor to migrate to Manchester, when he stated that according to the present scale of parish relief, it was impossible for the poor to live without stealing. I can mention the names of several clergymen in this neighbourhood who, though at first decidedly in favour of the Poor-law Act, have declared to me, that many families in their parishes have been reduced to the greatest state of destitution, and must have been nearly starved except for private charity. Three children were sent from the Fareham Union workhouse the week before last to Waltham poor-house, a distance of about seven miles; when the children arrived (they came in a cart) they could not stand, the medical man was sent for, and there appears no disease in the children, but prostration of strength from want of food. The ages of the children are four, five, and six. I have seen them all this day; they look beyond description wretched, and two have marks on their bodies of having been severely beaten, which the children state they have been, and kept without food.Another gentleman wrote to him thus from Berkshire:—The Commissioners report that allowances have been easily stopped, and without producing murmurs and complaints. True; but this is due in a great measure to the patience and fortitude with which the poor have endured their privations. A gentleman who has the best means of knowing, in the Bradfield Union, told me on Saturday, that the distress and sufferings he witnesses are inconceivable. I, this morning, procured the particulars of the subsistence of one family in my parish; half an ounce of tea, half a pound of sugar, one pound of lard, one pound of cheese, besides dry bread, for man and wife, and four children. These people endure, and therefore the Commissioners say there is no distress. In the Bradford Union the Board advances loans. Brown, whom a medical person will not pronounce able-bodied, is paying back a small sum given in relief to him when he was ill in the summer. His wife carried six-pence out of the remaining eight-pence halfpenny last week, and was told, she must, without fail, bring the other two-pence halfpenny. I have spoken with persons connected with boards of guardians in different counties, and have been answered, 'We go on very well,' but with the additional observation, 'we have no such practices' (viz. those of the Bradford Union); 'we have been obliged to fight the Commissioners a good deal, and resist their orders.' One gentleman, from Cambridgeshire, said, 'The success seems to depend on there being a good board of guardians, who will not be driven by the Commissioners.' Now I am writing on this subject, I cannot help advert- 1001 ing to a letter in the first report of the Commissioners, from Mr. Thomas Stevens, the new Assistant-Commissioner of Bradfield: he says, 'I have just signed a distress warrant to seize the goods of J. Lovegrove, who earns 12s. weekly, and has refused to support his mother. I hear that the goods have been disposed of, and there is not sufficient to answer the distress. Upon the constable's return to this effect, we shall commit him to prison for the full term allowed by law.' This was done. Now Lovegrove's case was this—his mother had been allowed 1s. per week, he doing all the rest for her. He was sitting an excellent example to young men, and had been some time engaged to a very respectable young woman, but he put off his marriage in order that he might be able to do something for his aged mother, and get together something previous to marriage. There are many observations in that report very harsh towards the poor, and arguments which appear to me quite unsupported by facts.Lovegrove was since, married, and was no longer called upon to make an allowance to his mother.The treatment of the helpless poor in Bradfield Union (his correspondent continued) is as follows:—A widow woman, very infirm and old, half a gallon of bread, one ounce of tea, half a pound of sugar and 1s. 4d.,— 2s. 7d. Allowance to a man and wife, the man being very slowly recovering from influenza, and much debilitated—these are people of sixty-three or thereabouts—one gallon of bread, one ounce of tea, half a pound of sugar, three pennyworth of oatmeal, one pound of mutton, and 1S. making 3s. 8d. Case of a man and wife with four children, young people, but the man ruptured and asthmatic, therefore not able bodied. In the autumn the man was confined two weeks by sickness; the wife the second week applied for assistance, and received bread, tea, and sugar, to the value of 4s. 8½d. This money they have been made to repay during the winter by sixpence at a time. The board gives no assistance to widows under sixty out of the workhouse, so that a poor woman left with four or five children is obliged, like the widow Kerridge, to go to prison, with little or no prospect of release, for six or seven years. One poor woman, lately bereaved of her husband, has eight children, two daughters at service, who pay her rent, a third, aged seventeen, who can only occasionally get work, two boys, aged fifteen and thirteen, who earn five shillings between them, and three younger, who cannot work, get no assistance, and are half starved. Another widow has four young children, and three grown up; her husband had been confined to his bed with a very painful disease for some years before his death; upon his decease all allowance to her was stopped; she has lately been ill three weeks; she was given during one week only two gallons of bread, one ounce 1002 of tea, half a pound of butter, half a pound of sugar—3s. 8d. She was very ill when I saw her, and allowed to be so by the medical attendant, but there was nothing for her. I give you the whole weekly consumption of two families:—1st. A man and wife, and four children—five and a half gallons of bread, half an ounce of tea, half a pound of sugar, one pound of lard, and one pound of cheese. A man and wife, and five children—besides bread, one ounce of tea, one pound of sugar, one pound of lard, half a pound of butter, and six pennyworth of bacon occasionally.A highly respectable gentleman at Newbury sent him an account of the following inquest, held at Welford, in the county of Berks, the beginning of this month, on a poor woman named Lucy Watts, sixty-two years of age. She was a widow, her husband having died about nine weeks previously. She was found dead in her bed. The verdict was,That the said Lucy Watts had been very infirm and sickly for some time past, and a cripple in one hand and one leg; that she was very badly off, having barely the necessaries of life to subsist on. She was refused any allowance by the Board of Guardians, except the offer of going into the poor-house, which she refused, saying, she had rather die at home, if her neighbours would but look to her a little. There was only a crust of bread in the house, which belonged to her son, who received only 4s. 6d. weekly wages. She had no fuel, having been obliged to cut down a plum-tree in her garden to boil her kettle. The neighbours consider she died from want and neglect, not having the necessaries of life to subsist on, although a very honest and industrious woman.That was the verdict of the jury. The coroner held an inquest on the husband also (about nine weeks previously),A poor, old, miserable, half-starved man, who was seeking for work, but whom nobody would employ; and who, from a slight bite of a dog, which occasioned the loss of blood from his leg, fainted at the door of the farmer's house where he was requesting work, and he sank from exhaustion the same evening.The gentleman who sent him this account, says—Dying they are in great numbers, and die they will, sooner than go into the bastile, as they call it, as did the poor woman herein mentioned.A gentleman, who has served the office of overseer of the poor for the parish of Stoke Damarel, which comprised the borough of Devonport, informed him, that in that parish, which contained a popula- 1003 tion of 35,000 souls, the Board of Guardians had determined to reduce the number of relieving officers from three to one.What has been the result? The parish is now in a state of excitement owing to a public declaration of the overseers, that in their opinion the poor are dying from want of proper relief—which the relieving officer declares he cannot properly attend to, while the overseers, are forbidden to relieve at all. In our neighbourhood last week a pauper died from neglect; a coroner's inquest sat, and the verdict was, that the relieving-officer had neglected him. The relieving-officer pleaded forgetfulness—but the fact is, that he is overwhelmed with duty, to save salaries, in order that the Poor-law Commissioners and their assistants may have large ones.A magistrate wrote from Dolgelly, and said—An Assistant-Commissioner has been here, and having had his Board of Guardians appointed (which was obtained by interested persons, who wanted the lucrative offices),he has ordered an union of twelve parishes, one and all of which are against it, believing that it will add greatly to their expense, and in the same degree decrease the comfort of the poor people. They are, to be sure, numerous, owing to their longevity, but from their former poverty of living easily kept. In this parish, which contains nearly 4-19ths of the twelve of the union, there are 530 out of much more than 4,000 inhabitants who receive relief, but they receive only 1,348l., being not quite 51s. a-head per year, or not 1s. a-head per week, and not nearly 2s. in the pound on the rack-rent. Upon inquiry, I am sure it will appear that the other parishes are not in a worse position, but some of them better. Can any alteration mend this? Nothing but starvation can; and I am satisfied that most of our poor would starve rather than enter the workhouse. It is on the score of humanity that I appeal to you to save the hearts of my poor old neighbours from being broken. I really heard from good authority this morning, that a poor woman near me had become deranged through fear of the workhouse.The hon. Member next read a letter which he had received from the Mayor of Morpeth:—.In that part of the country where I reside, in Morpeth, in the county of Northumberland, there has lately been a union formed for that town, called the 'Morpeth Union,' embracing sixty or seventy neighbouring townships, I was appointed a guardian, and from what I have seen of the working of the measure, I am fully convinced that a more cruel and unjust Bill never passed the House of Commons. I have seen the feelings of the aged and infirm wounded in the most brutal manner, and their pressing wants ridiculed and neglected. I can 1004 only in this brief note allude to the general workings of the Bill; but I shall mention that there have been very recently two suicides in this union by labouring men, from poor-law oppressions. The Board of Guardians for this same union have only a few days ago resolved, that the common decencies of Christian burial shall not be observed, as heretofore, towards deceased paupers. This has created, both in town and neighbourhood, a strong and unmingled feeling of indignation and disgust; but whether this public expression will effect the rescinding of the order, I cannot say. I could mention individual cases of great hardship, but as you will have a greater number of similar ones from other districts, I shall not trouble you with matters of detail. The whole of this legislative measure is, in my humble opinion, pregnant with cruelty and violence, makes war upon the most defenceless class of society, and tends to tear asunder all those tender feelings and sympathies between the middling and lower ranks of life, which are so necessary towards maintaining the real happiness and strength of a state.Some of the most interesting and affecting cases which he had received in illustration of the privation, hardship, and oppression inflicted on the poor by the present system of Poor-laws, had been furnished him by Mr. Lewin, a very respectable occupier of land at Wickham Market, in the county of Suffolk. He must decline, however, entering upon them at present, because they would detain the House too long were he to go fully into their details, and he should be loth to weaken their effect by an imperfect abridgment of them. He summed up his letter thus:—I have an account of several whole parishes where more than half those who actually want relief, and used to get it, are now deprived of the benefit of the poor-law altogether, and something like half the number, all the oldest and most helpless, are only left on their books, and these are screwed down to an average of 15d., and some to 14d. per week, and if they have only 6d. to pay for rent, then they have little more than 1d. each per day to live on! and they dare not complain. If they do, they have nothing, but the prison workhouse, where the living and treatment have, as they believe, in many instances, brought on diseases from which the parties have never recovered, and they say they may as well perish outside a prison as perish in. Can any man, with such facts before him, say this is working well for the poor? I must beg it to be clearly understood, that these are not a few individual cases. I have similar cases of some hundreds, and they are samples of many thousands, and are taken from several different unions and counties,1005 He should fatigue the House were he to detail half the cases of cruelty and hardship which had lately come to his knowledge arising out of this Bill. They had had petitions presented to them from thousands of persons, including clergymen, magistrates, guardians of the poor, and others, the best judges, praying for its amendment. He knew of some guardians, one the chairman of a board, who, from humane feelings, were induced, with great difficulty, to retain their situations. With respect to the last report of the central board, on which, doubtless, great stress would be laid, he should only say, that he had reason to believe that many of the statements would be disproved. To a certain extent he had the means of doing so in his possession. It was a part of their duty to Support that system which supported them. It would be very odd, if twenty-five commissioners, receiving salaries amounting to 39,000l. per annum, could not get up a work laudatory of their own exertions. That, however, was a matter for the consideration of a committee with unrestrained powers, which the noble Lord would not grant. The noble Lord might depend on it, that he would find it very difficult to make the public disbelieve that the most powerful, if not the only reason, for this refusal, was to screen the Commissioners, and prevent the exposure of their false and exaggerated statements. Nor would this opinion of the public be at all unreasonable, when it was recollected how many deceptions had been practised on the subject of this law. The country had been told by Lord Althorp that outdoor relief would be extended by the Bill rather than otherwise, while Lord Brougham went so far as to say, that he doubted whether any one had ever even dreamt of any separation between husband and wife, and parent and child. How had these promises been kept? The House had also been told that the Chief Commissioners were to have only 1,000l. a-year, whereas they received double that sum. The Assistant-Commissioners were to be only eight or ten in number, with 800l. a-year; there are now twenty-two of them, with 1,500l. a-year. Ought not the cause of these costly charges to be examined into? The Commissioners had increased their own salaries; but had they made a corresponding increase to the pitiful allowance of the poor? At that moment ha had in his pocket a copy 1006 of a humble petition from a Board of Guardians to the mighty Commissioners, praying to be allowed to give the aged poor an additional allowance of two ounces of bread per day. They had already once had a refusal. This was the last thing he should have expected from a Ministry which was pledged to diminish patronage, not to originate fresh fountains of it; which was bound to confer privileges on the people, not to diminish the few and little necessaries of the most helpless part of them, and to consign them to strangers. On the subject of improvident marriages, on which so much had been said, and which had been so strongly deprecated as the source of evils in this country, he hoped the House would allow him to read part of a letter from a personage whose name must be familiar to many in that House; he meant the Styrian friend and correspondent of Captain Basil Hall, and who had many opportunities of observing the consequences resulting from the prohibition of any other than what were called prudential marriages among the poor. This personage, a lady, too, of Scottish extraction, thus wrote:—We have no poor (that is, in the province of Styria), which, owing to the question in England respecting the Poor-laws, is deserving of being noticed. No man is allowed to marry till he can prove he is able to maintain a wife and children: and this, with the law of celibacy of the clergy, and the security required by a pecuniary deposit of the military before they can marry—almost an act of celibacy—are checks on population, which would make the hearts of Mr. Malthus and Miss Martineau burn in them for admiration. The result is, the entire demoralisation of the people. The mask of religion helps nothing. At the last grand jubilee in the next parish seventy-two pairs of single women adorned the procession, dressed in white, and covered with garlands and flowers. In eight months forty-four of them were in the family way. Madame Nature is not a political economist, and she does not let her laws be outraged with impunity.From every account that he had heard, he had reason to infer that a great increase of the crime of infanticide had taken place in consequence of the New Bastardy Law; and this result was foreseen and predicted by seventy-one members of the other House. He would content himself with reading one clause in the Leicester petition upon the subject.We cannot omit, also, expressing our un- 1007 qualified dissent from the principles of (what are termed) the bastardy clauses in the Act; offering, as they do, in our view, a direct premium for infanticide, and consigning in many instances, as they must, helpless and deceived females, to permanent degradation and misery.And among a mass of evidence to the same effect, he would also select the verdict of a coroner's jury last summer—That the infants were found indecently exposed; but whether born alive, or otherwise, there was no evidence; and the jury were of opinion, that the desertion of the children by the parent, was attributable to the injustice and demoralising effects of the bastardy clause of the new Poor Bill.The House would be pleased to observe, that these and other cases were incidental evils only, which he was obliged to pass over rapidly, in order to leave himself time for the other heavy evils of the system. One of those heavy grievances was, the magnitude and extent of the unions. Originally, it did not appear to have been intended to comprise more than five or six parishes within one union. Such an arrangement might have allowed the helpless inmates to indulge a hope of seeing their friends on some occasions or other. But now they had been extended to thirty, forty, and even fifty parishes. It was, therefore, a day's journey for a wretched son to go and see a confined mother. But this evil was well anticipated in a humane protest of a right rev. Prelate, and several Members of the Upper House, who, after enumerating the various demerits of the Bill, which they styled unjust and cruel to the poor, proceeded thus:—We think that the system suggested in the Bill, of consolidating immensely extensive unions of parishes, and establishing workhouses necessarily, at great distances from many parishes, and thereby dividing families, and removing children from their parents, merely because they are poor, will be found justly abhorrent to the best feelings of the general population of the country.What would their Lordships have said, if any one had suggested the possibility, that exclusion from public worship, would have been added to the pains and penalties of poverty? To show how little credit was due to the statements made in the last report of these Commissioners, he would read to the House the contradictory accounts which they themselves put forth respecting one particular union —the Biggleswade Union. One individual said;— 1008I consider the new Poor-law acts remarkably well, and is one of the best that was ever passed by any Legislature. The check it has put upon drunkenness, with the incentive given to make the best they can of every shilling they receive, is truly wonderful. Our beer-shops were crowded on the Sabbath, from morning till evening; and now I believe very few enter them at all on that day, and almost all go to some place of worship. We are paying our labourers 1s. per week more than we did previously to the advance in wheat. We now give them 8s. per week. I believe there never was more contentment between the employer and the employed than at present. The number of misdemeanours has greatly diminished.But a second witness said:—They frequent the alehouse quite as much. I think it quite out of the question for a man with a family to save money out of 8s. a-week. Their rents average 1s. 6d., and clubs 6d. a-week, to deduct from that sum.A third person said:—Poaching, and petty depredations, have increased in this parish, double to any former year.A fourth said:—I am not of opinion that poaching, and petty depredations, have at all diminished; but that the greater crime of sheep-stealing has increased to a tenfold degree.And with respect to the beer-shops, another person said:—They increase daily in number, and the quantity of money spent in them by the labourers is very great. I may be wrong, but I consider them, as at present, constituting the chief obstacle to the assumption of orderly and domestic habits by the labourer. He can hardly return to his cottage at night without passing by one of them; and when he sees a companion or two there, and a comfortable room, and a blazing fire, and knows that he shall be met at home by all the wants of poverty, it is a great temptation to him to enter in and enjoy its luxuries.As great stress had been laid upon the improvement of wages, and the raising the character of the independent labourer —as the economists styled him—it was admitted in the report, that in most parts of the country, his independence was raised to the noble sum of 8s., 7s., and even 6s. per week. He knew that in two counties at least, the chairmen of quarter Sessions had found themselves obliged to address the grand juries in the way of complaint, respecting the lowness of wages. Indeed, could anything be more clear, brief, and cogent, than the reasoning, that the more the workhouse was rendered an object of dread, to a lower 1009 state of poverty would the poor man submit, rather than go into it? With respect to these official reports, he had already shown the suspicion with which they ought to be received. Gentlemen might recollect the mention, the other night, by the noble Lord, in introducing his Irish Poor Bill, of a parish called Cholesbury. He adduced that parish as an example or warning, in legislating for the poor of Ireland, as he believed another noble Lord had formerly done for the poor of England. This parish also made the most prominent figure in the report of the Commissioners. But neither of the noble Lords, though they stated that all the farms in that parish had gone out of cultivation under the old system, added the important fact, that "all the farms" consisted of only two in number, of fifty acres each. The whole parish contained only 110 acres of arable and meadow land. But his objection to this law—and it was a fundamental objection—was, its total variance with the principles of every other law, and with the general maxims of the constitution. When he looked at the persons from whom it had sprung—his Majesty's present Ministers, he was lost in astonishment. Was it not their constant boast, and did they not celebrate it in all their toasts at political meetings, that the people were the source of all power? and now they invented a law, and would diffuse it over the whole realm, that they and their Commissioners were the source of all power, and the people its victims. The unconstitutional extent of the powers given to the Central Board, was well described, and justly reprobated, by a Gentleman well known to many Members of that House, and of the highest character —the Rev. Mr. Cookesley, who was a guardian of the Eaton Union. In an address to the rate-payers, he asked whether they desired their representatives (the guardians) to be mere servants:—To be a mere court to register the edicts of a superior Board of paid Government Commissioners. I must (says he) profess my astonishment, that the people of England should have submitted to the exercise of such powers as these Commissioners exercise. They are such powers as no body of men, since the days of the Star Chamber, have legally had in England, and such as no body of men ever ought to have had. Had the Boards of Guardians been open Courts, these powers could not have been put in operation; for public opinion would have compelled the 1010 Board to act with independence, in resisting the outrageous authority at present enjoyed by the Poor-law Commissioners.He goes on—The new Bill professes to be a Bill for the better provision for the poor; but I have yet to learn how this better provision can consist with a total violation of their feelings. The aged pauper who has spent his manhood in labour, thinks as much of his own arm-chair and his own fireside, and he loves the smile of his kindred and his friends, as much as richer men love their enjoyments. I know not how many hearts may be broken if this system of incarcerating the aged in workhouses is to be carried into general execution. Your Board of Guardians a few weeks since came to the resolution of letting the aged paupers out of their prison for a few hours during the day. But of this they were afraid of informing the Poor-law Commissioners, as they must prohibit any such infringement of their barbarous rules and regulations. Is it your pleasure (says he) that your aged poor—the creatures who flee to you for protection from famine— who trust to your benevolence and mercy— should be thus treated? Will you submit to these mandates of a savage relentless economy? The windows in your workhouses are built at the tops of the walls of the rooms. Why? Lest the poor should have the blessing of looking out of them—lest they should forget for a moment that they were in a gaol. Is this a wanton deliberate act of cruelty, or is it a benevolent instance of better provision for the poor?' Some time since the circumstance of a person having lived for some weeks upon workhouse diet was mentioned with pride in the House of Commons. Would this same man had fattened on it within the walls of a workhouse, shut out from the view of everything but the wretchedness of himself and fellow-sufferers. I am almost tempted to wish that the man who first hit upon this infernal scheme of shutting out the sight of our common earth from the view of the poor had been condemned to live in one of his own dungeons for life. One topic more, and I have done. There are about ten idiots in our workhouse. If I could fancy an aggravation of the miseries of incarcerated poverty, intense and tremendous, it would be this simple addition of idiotcy. Upon their companions falls the duty of attending them. In our house, at this present minute, if a man is dying, his wife cannot see him, if he be an inmate.Thus while the Ministers had been putting the country in commotion about establishing Municipal Corporations in Ireland, which they said were necessary upon the principles of self-government, they had been destroying self-government in every parish in England, and consigning the anything but self-government of those parishes to Commissioners sitting 1011 here in London. Before the House came to a decision on this most important subject, he conjured gentlemen to think of the changes—of the dreadful reverses of fortune, to which families, apparently the best established, were subject even in the highest ranks of society. But more especially in the middle classes, for which they should particularly legislate, were such reverses of daily, ay, in this populous realm, of hourly occurrence. He implored the House not to withdraw respectable tradespeople, or industrious labourers and artisans, in town or country, when they fell into difficulties, from the official kindness, and even partialities, of those who have known them in better circumstances—the guardians and overseers of the several parishes to which they belong. If it were attempted to cast any imputation upon the motives of those who deprecated the new system, he hoped they might be allowed to answer, that they were only treading, at however great a distance, in the steps of the illustrious men who were at the head of both parties in this House in the bygone generation, who only recommended the removal of abuses from the old system, but strict adherence to the principle of the system itself. Mr. Whit-bread strenuously advocated the right of the poor to have work, and that at adequate wages; he said "his creed was, that no excuse should be left them for doing wrong." Mr. Fox suggested the propriety of an association to raise the price of labour. "It was not fitting (he said) in a free country that the great body of the people should depend on the charity of the rich." Mr. Pitt said,That the law which prohibited relief, where any visible property remained, should be abolished. That degrading condition should be withdrawn. No temporary occasion should force a British subject to part with the last shilling of his little capital, and descend to a state of wretchedness from which he could never recover, merely that he might be entitled to a casual relief.His humane provision their new law again abolished. They were forcing British subjects to part with the last shilling of their little capital, and compelling them to descend to a state of wretchedness from which they could never recover. If this horrible wrong were to be re-imposed, let it be re-imposed by the local authorities, if they had the hearts to do it. Let not strangers, let not Londoners, be called in to inflict 1012 the misery on those they never saw before. The Commissioners themselves acknowledged that the "pauperised labourers were not the authors of the abusive system, and ought not to be made responsible for it." Was tearing them from their homes no responsibility? They were told by the sacred word that they ought to do to others as they would wish others to do to them. Let any Gentleman who heard him think what it would be to be separated from his wife at an advanced age, under a melancholy change of circumstances, and to be placed in a workhouse, where he could only see her occasionally, and under permission, during the remainder of their joint lives; for if in advanced years a poor man and his wife entered the workhouse, it was very certain that they could never come out from thence till they were removed by death. The Commissioners stated that this acceptance of the workhouse was the only test of destitution, and therefore that it was an indispensable requisite of their measure. Severe was the test, indeed, and how great must that destitution be—greater, he would say, than one Christian ought to inflict on another, before the offensive relief was applied. Was there any maxim of religion or morality which said, thou shall not relieve a poor man "till he is in the last state of destitution," and that the proof that he is so shall be his being driven to accept so wretched a been as their relief held out? On the contrary, the word of wisdom said — "Make not an hungry soul sorrowful, neither provoke a man in his distress. Add not more trouble to a heart that is vexed, and defer not to give to him that is in need." He disclaimed any intention to repeal the Bill. The difference between his proposition and that which the noble Lord chose to grant was this—he was for a full inquiry, which, if the Commissioners' reports were just, the noble Lord could have no occasion to fear. The noble Lord was for a partial inquiry, which, he would venture to say, would not and ought not to be satisfactory to the people. The hon. Member, in conclusion, moved "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act, and to report their opinion to the House."
§ Mr. John Fielden
said: I have always condemned this Bill, I have voted against it on every division during the time when it was passing, and I am here to night to 1013 complain of its working now that t is a Jaw. The Commissioners are now trying to introduce this Act into Lancashire and Yorkshire, and I tell the noble Lord he may as well attempt to conquer the world, as attempt to effect that object. I have attended meetings of the people in those counties, preparatory to resist the introduction of this Act, and I will state to the House the reasons why I am prepared to act my part in that resistance. My own opinion is, that the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire should have been for a total repeal of this Act. The noble Lord says, that the Bill is working well—it is not working well; but if it were so, why need there be any dread of that full inquiry which my hon. Friend asked for? Why, if it is working so well as the noble Lord says, need he oppose my hon. Friend's motion for a full inquiry? In page 6 of their report, the Commissioners state that the complaints made by the labouring people are not so much against the diet as against the imprisonment and the separation of man from wife, and parent from child that they endure in the union workhouses; and I put it to every Member of this House, whether that complaint is not a just one? And I put it to his Majesty's Attorney-General whether, according to the law of England, so severe a punishment can be inflicted where there is no other crime than poverty? I should like to hear his Majesty's Attorney-General justify this by any law that is recognised in England; I call upon him to state that law, if it is in existence; and I call upon the House to join us in demanding a full inquiry into the facts. I assure the House that the approach of the Poor-law Commissioners has created extreme dread in extensive districts of the north; I have myself received many petitions for this House upon that subject, both from Lancashire and Yorkshire, and a remonstrance from the town of Hudders-field, passed at a meeting attended by 20,000 persons. From one township I have received a copy of the resolutions passed at a meeting, which I will read to the House. The hon. Member read a series of resolutions, one of which was to the effect, that the object of the Poor-law Amendment Act was to grind the labouring people down to the level of our unfortunate brethren in Ireland. Another was for raising funds to protect those who may suffer from any resistance 1014 they may offer to the Commissioners. Another was also for the purpose of raising funds, in order to carry on a system of passive resistance to them after the manner recommended by Lord Fitzwilliam and Lord Brougham—namely, "by buttoning up our breeches-pockets, and stopping the supplies." The main object of this Act as it is announced to us by the Commissioners themselves in their own reports, is to cause all out-door relief to the able-bodied to cease. The able-bodied man, if destitute of the means of living, must go into a prison before he can demand assistance. If he possesses anything— furniture, goods of any description—he must sell that, before he can claim aid as a destitute man. My hon. Friend has put it well to the House in the words of Mr. Pitt, "How unjust and how cruel this is;" and I call upon the House to recollect, before it suffers this new system to proceed, that the labouring man has no control whatever over the price of his labour, and that this House has constantly refused, under an affectation of principle to regulate that price for him in such a manner that he may receive a due reward for the labour that he performs. When I first came into this House, knowing intimately the sufferings of an immense body of workmen, the handloom weavers, from an insufficiency of wages, I attempted to procure for them some interference from this House which should improve their condition. I procured a Committee to be appointed, before which I proved that those workmen labouring from morning until night could earn for themselves and their families not more than the pittance of two pence halfpenny per head per day. This House refused to act upon my suggestions to regulate the rate of wages they should receive; and now I put it to the House whether, if one of these hard working men, through sickness or accident, becomes incapable of labour, it is just to treat that man as a criminal in the mode of giving him relief? Is it just to make this man go into an Union workhouse and put on a prison dress, and submit to separation from his wife and children before you will aid him in his sufferings? I deny that it is; and as I have found that this House is unwilling to do that which is to keep the people from poverty, I will resist this Act, which punishes them for being poor. Now, Sir, as to the means which are put in force to thrust this Act 1015 upon an unwilling people. In page 5 of the Poor-law Commissioners' second report, they state those means in these words:—Partial riots have occurred in different counties; but, by the aid of small parties of the Metropolitan Police, (who, by the provisions of a most useful Act of the last Session, can now be sworn in and paid as special constables in any county of England,) occasionally aided by the support of military force, these disturbances have been put down, without any considerable injury to property.So that here is this well-working Act of the noble Lord, which satisfies the country, and yet which requires this new military force to carry it into execution. I want nothing more, Sir, than this to convince me that the Act is one which the country would never submit to without these unconstitutional means. But before I proceed further, Sir, a word as to this Act, for although I was a Member of Parliament, and attended pretty constantly to my duties last Session, I was not aware until I read these words in the Poor-law Commissioners' report that such an Act was upon our statute book. I have inquired of several Members, who all of them told me that they were as ignorant as myself—nay, one of them said, he would swear there was no such Act. It is, nevertheless, an Act, and it is one of the proofs of the mischiefs of that midnight legislation which we carry on within these walls. Consulting the votes of this House, I find that the Act was brought in after twelve o'clock at night by the hon. Fox Maule, the Under-Secretary to the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department. The object of the Act is clear enough; the Poor-law Commissioners hail it as useful, and it is doubtless useful to the Poor-law Commissioners. We have got, Sir, by stealth, and at midnight, that rural police which I trust we never could have had by the light of day. Already I see by the newspapers that this London police has been sent 220 miles down into the country to quell the Cornish miners, who were resisting the new Poor-law. I do not forget, Sir, the words of Sir James Scarlett with respect to the Poor-law, when it was passing through this House. I remember his saying of the Central Board of Commissioners, that it was an imperium in imperio, and that the people of England would be never made to submit to it. He little thought, per- 1016 haps, that the noble Lord would, by his Under Secretary pass a law through this House at midnight which should establish an unconstitutional force so palpably for the express purpose of coercing the people into obedience to the dictates of this imperium in imperio. I say unconstitutional, because I have the authority of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) himself for calling it so. I hold in my hand an Essay on the English Constitution, written and put forth to the world by Lord John Russell, and in describing the sort of force that would be the destroyer of the English Constitution, he has held up to our eyes as a warning the picture of that very force which the Poor-law Commissioners describe to us as a "usefu1" reality. But, Sir, these are the words, and they are contained in p. 379 of his Lordship's book:—It is in this point of view that the increase of a standing army is really dangerous, and the encouragement of military habits most pernicious; and the reptile is the more to be guarded against, as it would approach without the rattle which gives warning of its vicinity, and serves as a preservative against its poison. A standing army which destroyed the freedom of England, would not march by beat of drum to Westminster and dismiss the House of Commons; it would not proscribe the House of Peers, and deluge the streets of London with the blood of her magistrates. It would appear in the shape of the guardian of order; it would support the authority of the two Houses of Parliament; it would be hostile to none but mobs and public meetings, and shed no blood but that of labourers and journeymen. It would establish the despotic power, not of a single king, or a single general, but of a host of corrupt senators and half a million of petty tyrants.''Now, what I anticipate is, that this new force will be sent down to the peaceful valley of Todmorden, where I have all my life lived, there to coerce me and my neighbours into subjection to these three Commissioners; but I, in my turn, warn the noble Lord against making us feel this abandonment of his own principles. I tell him, that it will be resisted, and moreover, I don't shrink from telling him to his face, that I myself will, if necessary, be a leader in the resistance. If it is come to this at last, that the sheriff's wand and constables staff are no longer effective in preserving the peace, and if this new law is to be the cause of that destruction of the constitution which the noble Lord himself has so well described, resistance has be- 1017 come our duty, and I am prepared to perform my part. Quitting this, however, and coming back to the question of whether there should be a full or only a partial inquiry, I call on the hon. Members for Bath and Liskeard, who spoke so much and so ably the other night upon the necessity of allowing a system of self-government to operate in Ireland, to aid me and my hon. Friend in obtaining a full inquiry into the operation of this Act, which is destroying self-government in England. I remind them of the principles they promulgated only a few nights since; and in order to show them and the House that we are capable of managing our own affairs, I will show, by quoting the Poor-law Commissioners' acts on the one hand, and our acts on the other, that we are quite as capable as they, and want none of their assistance in the management of our poor. I hold in my hand a statement put forth by the guardians of the Bridge Union, in Kent, showing the receipts and expenditure for the quarter ending the 29th of September, 1836. The population of the Bridge Union is 10,636, or the l-l,316th part of the whole population of England and Wales; and I find from this statement, that the total sum expended in that quarter, for in-door maintenance, and out-door relief, is 610l. 15s. 5¼d.; four times this would be 2,443l. 5s. 9d. for the whole year. Now, 1,316 times this is 3,214,988l., the actual amount that would be expended for in-door maintenance and out-door relief in England and Wales, if every parish were similarly managed. But then we have to add the establishment charges— the cost of the machinery of management; that item, according to the same statement, amounts in the Bridge Union for the same quarter to 1,143l. 15s.; four times this makes it 4,575l. for the year, and 1,316 times this is 6,020,700l. for the whole of England and Wales, when it shall come under similar management to that of the parishes comprising the Union of Bridge. The sum actually spent on the poor in this Union for one year, and extended over England and Wales, would, according to this, amount to 3,214,988l., and the establishment charges to 6,020,700l., making together 9,235,688l., a larger sum than ever has been collected in the name of the poor, even when it was customary to pay county-rates, and highway-rates, out of the sum collected as poor-rates. I 1018 will now compare this expenditure with the actual expense of the poor in two townships, where the poor are relieved without having this expensive establishment. The township of Oldham, which I have the honour to represent, is one, and the township of Todmorden and Wallsden, where I was born, and lived all my life, is the other. For this purpose I have taken the year ending March, 1836, the last year that the accounts are made up to. The population of the township of Oldham, according to the census of 1831, is 32,381, or 1–432d part of the population of England and Wales. The sum disbursed to the poor was 2,194l. This, multiplied by 432, the proportion of population which Oldham bears to England and Wales, will be 947,808l.; so that, under the management that prevails at Oldham, the expenditure for the actual relief of the poor, if extended over England and Wales, would be 947,808l., while, if all were conducted in proportion to the expenditure of the Bridge Union, the expenditure in actual relief for England and Wales would be 3,214,988l. and the establishment or machinery to bring it about would cost 6,020,700l., making together 9,235,688l. Now, I will compare this with the expenditure of the township of Todmorden and Wallsden, where I served the office of overseer of the poor in the difficult year 1817. The population, according to the census, is upwards of 6,000, or 1–1,233d part of the population of England and Wales. The sum disbursed to the poor was, in the year ending March, 1836, 403l. This multiplied by 2,333, the proportion of the population which my township bears to all England and Wales, give 940,199l.; so that England, managed in the manner adopted at Todmorden and Wallsden, would pay in poor-rate 940,199l. The returns from Oldham and Todmorden I have had from the parish officers. They have been audited, and passed by the magistrates and rate-payers; but it is very singular, that they do not agree with the returns given by the Poor-law Commissioners to this House, printed on the 19th of August last, and now in the hands of hon. Members. I beg the attention of the House to this, for, I assert, that here is a paltering with the truth that demands inquiry. In the Commissioners' return I find, under the head of "Expended for the relief of the poor in the township of Oldham, in the year ending 25th of March, 1836," 2,516l. 14s.; 1019 whereas, the accounts I have received say, "Paid to the poor 2,194l. 0s. 7d., that is, 332l. 13s. 5d., or twelve per cent. less than the Commissioners reported. But, Sir, I find the misrepresentation not confined to Oldham; for in the same return, the Commissioners state the expenditure of the poor at Todmorden and Walsden to be 434l. 7s.; and according to the return made to me by the overseer, the sum so expended is only 403l. I have no means of putting the whole return to this test; but, in these two instances, I find the Commissioners make a serious misrepresentation of the amount expended on the poor in places not yet under their control; and I ask if this, even, is not a good ground for inquiry into their doings? I feel confident I am not deceived by the overseers, and I find in the report of the Commissioners another return, which, on the face of it, raises a strong conviction in my mind that it is false. In 1835, they state the total expenditure for the township of Oldham to be 4,568l., and the total sum levied in rates 3,747l., leaving a deficiency in the amount of rates levied of 821l., under what they state to have been expended; and, in 1836, they state the whole expenditure to be 3,889l. 15s., and the total sum levied at 3,351l. 4s., showing a deficiency of 538l. 11s. under the sum stated to have been expended: thus, according to this, the good people of Oldham run into debt to the amount of 1,359l. 11s. in two years, which I am sure they would not do. The hon. Member concluded, by impressing on the House the absolute necessity of a thorough and searching inquiry; and with that view, he cordially seconded the motion of his hon. Friend.
§ Lord John Russell
rose to move an amendment. In the first place, he begged to thank the hon. Gentleman, the seconder of the motion, for explaining to the House its real object. He thanked the hon. Gentleman for explaining, that the real object of the motion was, the repeal of the Poor-law Amendment Act. The hon. Gentleman had told them, that that Act was defective from beginning to end, and that it was now sufficiently obvious that, be the circumstances whatever they might, the Act was totally and completely incapable of being carried into full operation; and therefore he, for one, demanded its repeal. This declaration, no doubt, was sufficiently candid, but the hon. Mem- 1020 ber's conduct would have been much more so, if, instead of bringing forward a motion of this description, he had moved at once for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal the Poor-law Amendment Act. He expected, indeed, that that was the real object of the motion, although the hon. Member for Berkshire did not openly say so; and it was with that view, that he (Lord John Russell) gave notice of the amendment which it was then his intention to move. The hon. Member for Berkshire had stated, that that amendment was proposed with a view to screen the Poor-law Commissioners; he said, "The Government are interested persons in this matter, and it is no wonder that they should wish to screen their agents from inquiry." By way of answer to that assertion, he would read the words of the amendment he meant to propose, and the House would then see, whether the object or effect of that amendment could be to screen anything that had been done from a full and fair inquiry. These were the words of the amendment, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the administration of the relief of the poor, under the orders and regulations issued by the Commissioners appointed under the provisions of the Poor-law Amendment Act." Now, these words, he conceived, were sufficiently comprehensive to admit of an inquiry into the whole of what had been done under the new law, and would enable the Committee to convince itself, even to the minutest particular, of the manner in which that new law had been carried into operation. It might inquire into the establishment of unions, into the propriety of having the administration of relief confined to workhouses, into the manner in which the relief had actually been administered in those houses, into the dietary established under the directions of the Commissioners, into the restrictions imposed upon the inmates of the workhouses, into the character and extent of the medical attention and relief afforded to them (upon which the hon. Member for Fins-bury had expressed so much anxiety for an inquiry); and further, it could inquire as to whether the Poor-law Commissioners had been too expensive in their proceedings under the provisions of the Act, whether it were fit that it should be applied generally to the whole country, or whether it would be beneficial that it should be confined to certain districts only, in which 1021 the a buses of the old Poor-law system were aggravated and notorious; and, finally, it might inquire whether it were expedient to carry the new law into effect in the north, in the counties of Westmoreland and Cumberland, or in the manufacturing districts to which the hon. Gentleman, the seconder of the motion, belonged. He asked the House, then, whether, when he proposed such an inquiry, it could be possibly stated, that he had it in view to screen the Commissioners. The hon. Member who made this motion, and who accused the Commissioners of wishing to hide their proceedings—of being persons well paid, and anxious to secure their salaries—was himself a sort of representative of an enormous union, and he had endeavoured to make out a case against the new law, which no doubt they would see admirably reported to-morrow, with a number of statements of facts, statements of evidence, which he must own he very indistinctly heard, and which, if he had heard, he must also own it would at that moment have been out of his power to reply to; and he would tell the House why. Whenever any complaints had been made either to him (Lord John Russell) or to the Poor-law Commissioners, he or they directed an immediate inquiry to be made, to ascertain the correctness of the representations made to them, and in every instance it was required that the guardians of the Union to which the complaint related, should return an immediate answer to the inquiries made of them. But when the Poor-law Commissioners saw that the hon. Member for Berkshire was about to bring forward a proposition in the House, they inquired of him whether he had any particular statements of fact to make, because if he had, they would be ready to institute an inquiry, for the purpose of ascertaining what the statements were on the other side. The hon. Member for Berkshire declined to give the Poor-law Commissioners any information upon the subject. The hon. Member said, it would prejudice his case if his statements were inquired into; and, he added, that he had no belief in the statements contained in the reports of the Poor-law Commissioners, and therefore he was unwilling that any statement of his should be sifted, before he brought forward his motion in the House. He hoped the House would be satisfied if he did not make an answer at that moment to many 1022 of the complaints which the hon. Member for Berkshire had brought forward from clergymen and gentlemen living in different parts of the country, with many of which he was wholly unacquainted. It was for this reason, that it was quite impossible that he could be aware of the statements that the hon. Member intended to make; and also, from the reason he had already stated, quite impossible that the Poor-law Commissioners could be furnished with any answer, or any statement, with regard to the facts the hon. Member might choose to bring forward. Having stated thus much, with regard to the particulars that the hon. Member for Berkshire had gone into, he would advert a little to the general statement made by the hon. Member by whom the motion was seconded, and whom, he feared, he must lead from the peaceful valley, in which, like Rasselas, he had so long resided, He was obliged to state to the hon. Member, when he brought him out of that happy valley, that there was, before the Poor-law Amendment Act passed, a state of great poverty, misery, and crime, in many districts of the country, owing to the abuse of the old law, and he would read to him some passages from a petition presented to that House by a relative of his (Lord John Russell's) who at that time was one of the members for the county of Bedford. It was a petition from the magistrates and gentry of Redburnstoke, in the county of Bedford, complaining of the operation of the old Poor-law system, and stating at great length the evils that had resulted from it. The poor-rate, they stated, had been rapidly increasing for the last ten years, and amounted at that time to nine shillings an acre, whilst poverty and pauperism were daily becoming greater and more widely spread. Hence, evils of the worst complexion arose as well to the landholders as to the paupers; heavy rates were imposed upon the one—idleness, insubordination, and crime increased with the other. The petitioners concluded by observing, that the system, if allowed to continue, would affect the whole body of agricultural labourers, and produce a state of universal and inveterate idleness wholly incompatible with the due cultivation of the soil. That was the state of things that existed in 1829, and it was impossible not to see that if such a system were allowed to go on, those idlers who would not labour on farms, but were employed by 1023 day on the roads, and at night resorted to poaching, would, in the end, establish a system of terror, by which the overseers and farmers would be prevented from checking their career, and thus, whilst the morals and industrious habits of the labouring classes were destroyed on the one hand, the value of the property of the country was impaired on the other. He confined his illustrations at that moment more particularly to the county of Bedford, because it happened that he was better acquainted with it than any other; and he had heard farmers in the county say, with regard to labourers out of employment, "We could very well give them employment; but they are men of such bad habits and character, that if we were to let them into our farmyards they would be sure to rob us." This was the state of the agricultural labourers in many parishes in England prior to the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act—a state most unnatural in this country, because the disposition of English labourers was to work, and work hard, to earn an honest and independent livelihood. It was nothing but the vicious sys. tem which the hon. Member for Oldham wished to restore that had induced the naturally industrious labourers of England to abandon their former course of good husbandry, and to adopt the idle and profligate habits which had latterly disgraced so large a portion of them. If he wanted proofs of that fact, he was abundantly supplied with them in all the reports of the Poor-law Commissioners, and in all their experience of the last three or four years during which, the Act, contrary to what might have been expected from the difficulties that stood in the way, had in many parts of the country been carried into full operation. It was found, indeed, that the difficulty of carrying the Act into operation was almost everywhere much less than could have been anticipated; and what was the reason? It was this—that the former system was bad in itself, and wholly inconsistent with the industrious habits of the people. Therefore, the new law being more in unison with the natural bent of the people the adoption of it became easy, and that which they had been told could not be carried into effect for many years, nor without great resistance, had, in many parts of the country, been carried into full effect, and with a degree of resistance only which hitherto had certainly not been very 1024 formidable; and he sincerely hoped that the resistance which the hon. Member for Oldham threatened them with in his happy valley would turn out to be of a no more formidable character than that which they had already encountered. With respect to the union which comprehended the very district of which he had just read an account, there was a report of the Poor-law Commissioners not yet published, but which would soon be delivered, showing the condition of that, district at the commencement of the present year. He begged to quote a passage from it:—The board of guardians of the Ampthill union represent to us, that a reduction in the poor-rates has been effected to the extent of forty-five per cent; and this not by depriving the aged and infirm or helpless widow of any comfort, but rather, as can readily be proved, by conferring upon them many important benefits, and in truth increased allowances; while on the other hand the habitual sturdy, able-bodied paupers' habits of idleness have been put to the test by the offer of a well-regulated workhouse, where a comfortable maintenance is provided.''He was ready, as he had already stated, to submit to any inquiry on the subject, he was ready to appoint a Select Committee, to investigate the matter; but he must, at the same time, declare his own conviction that there never was a greater blessing conferred upon the great mass of the people of any country than that change of an old and abused system, which change, reducing very considerably expenses on the one hand, enabled the farmers and cultivators of the soil to employ more money in productive labour; whilst on the other it enabled the labourer to return to his ancient habits of independent industry, and induced him to look at present and for the future to his character, as the source of his profitable employment and well-being, and deterred him from continuing to be the degraded dependent on parish labour and parish pay. Although the hon. Member for Berkshire had undertaken to bring the subject of the Poor-law Amendment Act under the consideration of the House, it was, nevertheless, obvious that he had hardly paid that attention to its operation, even in his own district, which a' Gentleman incredulous of the well-working of the Bill ought, above all others, to have paid. There were, nevertheless, instances of gentlemen whose impressions or prejudices against the Bill had vanished when they came to acquaint 1025 themselves with the mode in which it operated. In the last report of the Poor-law Commissioners there was a particular instance of this. A gentleman named Grant, who had been of opinion that this act was of a most oppressive and tyrannical character, and that under its provisions, the sick, the aged, and the infirm would be severely ill-treated, happened by accident to be elected a guardian, and thus to have a full opportunity of seeing what the operation of the Act really was. Accordingly, having been some time in his office of guardian, he wrote a very long letter of detail to the commissioners, stating that he had carefully watched the operation of the act; that he was convinced of its beneficial effects; and that, so far from acting with severity or hardship upon the aged, infirm, or rich, it placed them in a situation infinitely better than any that they had ever previously enjoyed. He did not mean to say, that the hon. Member for Berkshire would have been convinced in the same manner, but it would, at all events, have been quite as becoming in him if, previous to bringing forward a motion of this description—a motion the real object of which was, repeal the new Poor-law system—he had attended with something like interest or care to the working of that new system in his own neighbourhood. The union to which the hon. Member belonged, and of which he was one of the guardians, had sent a report to the Board of Commissioners praising and recommending the operation of the Act, and pointing out the improvement it had wrought in the character and condition of the labouring class. But it appeared from the minute-book of the union that the guardians had held seventy-nine meetings, of which Mr. Walter was present only at ten. The report states,—He attended nine times between the sixth and sixteenth meetings, while the general arrangements were under discussion; he was present again at the forty-third meeting, but, with that single exception, he has kept away from the board during the whole period in which the real business of the union has been transacted, namely,—the relief of the paupers.Was it possible that a Gentleman who set himself up as an opponent to the new Poor-law system—who set himself up as the great advocate of the poor—could see persons in his own district, within a few miles of his own residence, transacting 1026 business relating to the poor, blindly persuaded that they were relieving and doing good to the poor—was it possible that he could see them pursuing this mistaken course, and not attend the meetings—not to declaim against the Act as a vicious Act,—not to give himself the airs of a great legislator, but to interpose on the part of the poor, and to prevent their being treated in the manner the hon. Member had described? As he had already stated, he could not, on that occasion, attempt to follow the hon. Member through all the various cases he had brought forward. He would, however read a few extracts from some of the many addresses he had received upon the subject.—[Here the noble Lord read passages from two reports made from the Biggleswade union, the Wickham union, the Royston union, and several others, in which it was stated, that the poor-rates had been reduced from forty to fifty per cent,, whilst the moral and physical condition of the poor was materially and strikingly improved.] He need not, he thought, quote any more extracts from these addresses. Indeed, the only difficulty in the case, if he felt at all justified in detaining the House at as great length as the hon. Member for Berkshire, or the hon. Gentleman who seconded the motion, would be to compress within any moderate compass the voluminous mass of evidence with which he was furnished, from persons of all classes—persons of the highest rank filling the situation of chairman to these unions, and persons of the humblest rank, labourers, aware of the benefits they derived from the operation, and clergymen acting officially on the boards of many of the unions, all tending in the strongest manner to show the great advantages that had resulted from the measure. Not pretending to go at any length into the details with which he had been supplied, he would just state generally, what appeared to have been the decrease in the poor-rates within the last two or three years. In 1834 it appeared that the total amount expended for the relief of the poor was 6,300,000l.; in 1835 it was 5,500,000l.; in 1836 it was 4,700,000l. The total expenditure for the three years, therefore, was 16,500,000l. Had the expenditure continued the same as in 1834, the total expense would have been 18,900,000l., so that the total saving up to March, 1836, would be 2,400,000l. 1027 The Commissioners added, that although the amount expended for the year ending March, 1837, could not yet be ascertained, it was, nevertheless, certain, that a further diminution had taken place. On comparing the expenditure of fifty-nine unions for the quarters ending Christmas, 1835, and Christmas, 1836, it was found that for the first of these periods the expenditure amounted to 88,949l., whilst for the last; it amounted only to 74,058l.; showing a diminution of seventeen per cent. It might, therefore, not unreasonably be expected that the expenditure for the relief of the poor would not exceed 4,000,000l. for the year ending March, 1837, instead of 6,300,000l., its amount in 1834. One remarkable test of the beneficial operation of the new system had been lately afforded. During the prevalence of the influenza, which unfortunately had occasioned so many deaths in all parts of the kingdom, it was generally found in the workhouses that the care taken of the poor, and the medical relief afforded to them, had made the mortality considerably less than could have been expected. Colonel A'Court stated, with respect to the medical relief given in Hampshire and Wiltshire,—Since the prevalence of the influenza in my district, I have used every exertion personally to visit the several unions in it, and I have already attended two-thirds of the boards of guardians. I am, therefore, enabled from authority to assure you, that in no single instance have I heard of the slightest complaint, or neglect, or insufficiency of attendance on the poor on the part of the medical gentlemen, who, though worn down with fatigue, appear to me to have performed their arduous duties in the most praiseworthy and exemplary manner.As a further test of the management of the poor in the workhouses, they sent a circular letter to the twelve unions in East Kent, the workhouses of which together contained 2,200 inmates, one half being aged and infirm, the other half principally children, inquiring what had been the mortality from the influenza. The return made to that circular letter showed that only seven paupers had died of that malady. He must say a few words with respect to the treatment in the workhouses so far as regarded the able-bodied. It seemed to be imagined by those who complained of the operation of the Poor-law Bill that there ought to be provided in every workhouse the means by which every working 1028 man with his wife and family might be supported with the same comfort as a man in full employment. He thought this opinion was formed upon a false notion of the nature of the relief that ought to be given. It was not pretended by the authors of that Bill that when men who were able to work were found in the workhouses, they were to be treated in exactly the same manner as they would enjoy themselves in their own separate cottages; or (as it was assumed) that they were to be kept upon better diet, be better sheltered, and better clad, and enjoy more comforts and more liberty than the independent labourer. This would be holding forth to the independent industrious labourer a motive to be idle. It would be saying to him—"If you labour you will live hardly, and your wife and family will be-ill supported by your earnings; but if you choose to be idle and to come into the work-house, you shall there be better fed, sheltered, clothed, and provided for.'' The intention of the Legislature in establishing the workhouse system could only be to say to the able-bodied labourer, "It is your duty, it is your interest, to seek for work if it is to be found; and if work is not to be found, then, so far as saving you from destitution, so far as furnishing you with sufficient food and medical attendance goes, we will provide for you; but we do not pretend to make your existence in the same degree comfortable as the existence of an independent workman." The tendency of the system adopted by the Legislature was not, he imagined, to have a vast number of able-bodied labourers kept idle in the work-houses or in the "bastiles," as the hon. Member called them. The object of the system he conceived to be to make all men seek for work. Formerly it was a great advantage to the poor man to have a wife and family, because it gave him an additional claim on the parish; but now if a man wished to support a wife and family, in order to do so with comfort he must seek for work and not go into the workhouse. That, in fact, had been the result of the new system; for in one of the most pauperised districts where the Poor-law Commissioners had carried the law most completely into effect, he meant East Kent, the result shows this to be the case. In East Ken out of 160,000 inhabitants, fifty-five had been the maximum of able-bodied labourers in the workhouses at the same time. 1029 But it was said that it was cruel to force the disabled and infirm into the workhouse. This, he admitted, was a matter into which a committee might very properly inquire: that was to say, they might make inquiry with regard to the conduct which the Commissioners had pursued. He, however, believed that if any such inquiry were made, it "would be found that the conduct of the Commissioners had been eminently prudent and cautious upon this point. To those who said that the effect of the new law had been to send all the disabled and infirm into the workhouse he had a most complete answer to give. He could refer to returns which had been received from eighty-eight unions, showing that the number of in-door paupers was 8,850, while the number of out-door paupers was 54,417. In these eighty-eight unions nine-tenths of the disabled and infirm received out-door relief. This was the working of that cruel system which was represented as making every person who was disabled and infirm, whatever might be his age, go into the workhouse. He was willing to confess his belief to be, that when the new system should be brought into full effect, out-door relief would be entirely abolished, except in cases of sickness and other special cases where it might be proper and wise to continue that mode of relief. Out-door relief ought not to constitute part of a permanent and general system. But while entertaining this opinion he still contended that in introducing the new system the Poor-law Commissioners had not proceeded imprudently, rashly, or with harshness, but had with due caution and consideration endeavoured to effect the practical abolition of a system which had been so inveterate in all kinds of abuse. A question had been raised with regard to the kind of relief afforded in the workhouse. Upon this point he had several testimonies which he would mention to the House. In the return from the Eastry Union it was stated that the amount of annual payments by the twenty-six parishes in the union for the year ending Christmas 1836 for illegitimate children was fully 300l; whereas there was not now a single instance of payment of illegitimate children. The amount of poor-rates collected in the same twenty-six parishes, for the year ending 25th March, 1835 was 16,960l. The amount collected in the same twenty-six parishes in the year 1030 ending 25th of December, 1836, was 8,965:The poor in the union workhouse the report continued, are amply provided for: their diet is wholesome, substantial, at the same time fully sufficient. Their cleanliness is a matter of great consideration; they receive the utmost attention, when needing it, from the very able medical Gentleman who superintends the medical department. Their clothing is suitable; their moral and religious improvement duly attended to; and their general comforts most indubitably exceed by far what they could possibly enjoy elsewhere. The children of both sexes are reared and trained in a manner far surpassing those of independent labourers, generally being well attended to, having both schoolmaster and schoolmistress, and are properly instructed, both morally and religiously so: thus imbibing habits the reverse of what would most probably have possessed them, had they been at large.And now with respect to another point, namely, the savings of the labourer. Under the old system, it was not the interest of the labourer to save money. If he did so, he was generally told that he could not receive relief from the parish. The consequence was, that he spent his money, and then he entitled himself to out-door relief, which out-door relief was a great object of desire with him. Since the passing of the new Poor-law Act, however, a much greater disposition of saving had been manifested among the labourers. He would take the liberty of reading an extract from a letter which had been received from a gentleman with whose name Members were well acquainted, and whose authority, he considered, was of more weight than that of the hon. Member for Berkshire. It was from a letter written by the well-known Poor-law reformer, Mr. Whateley, of Cookham. He said:—At Cookham they have called for a rate of 3d. in the pound, instead of one, as it used to be, at 2s. 6d.; and when the snow was fire and six feet deep, I contrived to walk to the savings' bank at Maidenhead (though I was more than three hours in performing the journey of three miles), being the bearer of 10l. 13s. to deposit there against the exigencies of the next winter. This sum was contributed by the poorest of the poor, and collected in pence. Had it been suggested to any one of these depositors a few years ago, that they might contrive to save a penny, the suggestion would have been considered an insult; now it would be equally insulting to suspect that their contributions could at all inconvenience them— such is the change of feeling.1031 I do (said the noble Lord) very humbly and respectfully recommend to the hon. Member for Berkshire the example of Mr. Whateley. I am sure if he would attend to his own union, and go a little more frequently to the Board of Guardians; if he would advise his labourers to lay by money; and if two or three years hence he should be able to come down to the House and say, that he had done as much good as Mr. Whateley, I think he will deserve the thanks of this House for his praiseworthy exertions. He would read but one more extract, and that was from a communication received from a gentleman who had only recently become acquainted with the workings of the Poor-law Act. It was from Mr. Woolley, a gentleman of great skill as a land-surveyor, and who had been appointed an assistant tithe commissioner. The statement of this gentleman was contained in a letter to Mr. Gulson:—I wanted to talk with you on the almost magical effect I find produced by the new Poor-laws in the south. There I had seen the evil in its 'riotings'; I saw no chance but ruin or change — prompt, effectual, decided, radical change; I began to fear the thing had been pushed too far, the remedy too long deferred; but I am perfectly delighted to find that I was mistaken. The change has been made, and the effect is more than any one could have hoped. I have, in my professional engagement as assistant tithe Commissioner, been much in Sussex and the weald of Kent. I have seen the effect on the poor-rates, the character of the population, the improvement of the land—such a change! I have talked with all sorts of persons, of all sorts of opinions, on other subjects, and have heard but one opinion on this—that the measure has saved the country. I am sick of the pitiful cry attempted to be raised against the measure, and especially at the supposed inhumanity of it. Let any man see the straightforward walk, the upright look of the labourer, as contrasted with what was before seen at every step in those counties. The sturdy and idle nuisance has already become the useful, industrious member of society. No man who has not looked well into human nature, and the practical working of the wretched system of pauperism, can form an idea how different is sixpence earned by honest industry, and sixpence wrung from the pay-table of a parish-officer. I am fully convinced that the measure has doubled the value of property in many parts of the kingdom. This is important; but pounds, shillings, and pence will not measure the value of the change in character which is already visible, and which, I am well convinced, will develope itself more and more.This was from a practical man—a man 1032 accustomed to go over the country and converse with all sorts of persons in the pursuit of his profession; accustomed to see farmers and labourers, and therefore well able to judge of the matter of which he spoke. But the observations which Mr. Woolley made were not peculiar to him, neither were they confined to any particular political party. He was happy to say, that persons of all opinions in politics had been found among the members of the Poor-law unions, and that men of the strongest political opinions, whether ultra-Tory, ultra-Radical, or anything else, had taken the most active and beneficial part to carry the new Poor-law into effect, and of thereby doing the utmost good to their neighbourhood. Well, then, seeing this, and seeing the principle of patriotism with which these men have acted, he was sick of the pitiful cry which had been raised by persons who were either totally ignorant of the operation of the Act, or had wilfully blinded themselves to its effects, or were industriously endeavouring, for some sinister purpose or other, to excite discontent in the minds of the people by grossly exaggerating the object and tendency of the measure. The hon. Gentleman who seconded this motion, spoke of petitions that were about to be presented on this subject, and, as far as he (Lord John Russell) could learn, those petitions came from places where the Poor-law had not been introduced. It was very easy for persons to go into those places and talk of the tyranny of the Commissioners; to speak of the restrictions imposed on the rate-payers, and describe how they were bound down by the harsh mandates of the board; but all this was a gross misrepresentation of the Poor-law Act, the real object of which was to establish self-government—a principle found to be so useful in all matters of local concern. What was the case formerly? The idle labourer, complaining of the overseer who refused him relief, went to some distant magistrate and made out his false tale of distress. The magistrate, knowing nothing of the matter, made an order for relief, ignorant of what the effect would be. But what was now the case? The magistrate was now a member of the Board of Guardians; he met his brother guardians at the board, where they conferred together as to the actual facts of each case; and where the pauper merited relief they granted it to him, while the impostor was detected and turned 1033 adrift. Thus, matters were gone into by the board with practical sense and practical judgment. The consequence was, that a kind of local government was established, acting certainly under such general rules and general directions as the intelligence and experience of the Poor-law Commissioners had prescribed, but with respect to details, acting according to the judgment of the magistrates, the country gentlemen, the farmers, and the rate-payers connected with the district. This, in his opinion, was a good, a wholesome, and a rational system. This was a mode of local government by which he hoped that those abuses which formerly prevailed would never again occur. For his part he hoped he should never see the day when this House would countenance a motion such as the hon. Member for Oldham, at the close of his' speech, had hinted at—a motion for repealing the Poor-law Amendment Act. He was ready to admit that there were questions into which a Committee could very properly inquire. They could inquire whether the Commissioners had acted to the best of their judgment. In this he was inclined to agree with the hon. Member who had brought forward the motion. With respect to one thing of which the hon. Member for Finsbury spoke last year, namely, with respect to the mode of medical tenders, and the pay for the attendance of medical officers, he would make one observation. The intention of the Commissioners was (and it was a very right intention), that the Boards of Guardians should not show any favouritism by appointing particular persons, or by giving larger salaries than were necessary. He, therefore, considered the best way of acting was, that the boards should determine that tenders should be made for medical attendance, at the same time it should never be a rule that the lowest tender should be accepted. It would, however, afford a means of forming a notion of what tender might be accepted, having regard to the qualification of the person. But he owned that he doubted whether it would not be better for the guardians to determine (if upon inquiry it were practicable) what degree of medical relief should be given, and then to appoint a person to give that amount of medical relief. This was a point, however, upon which the Poor-law Commissioners might be right, they having investigated this subject from day to day, 1034 and from week to week, with unceasing industry. They were persons whose names were well known and deservedly respected —Mr. Frankland Lewis, Mr. Lefevre, and Mr. Nicholls; they were persons known for their knowledge, for their intelligence, and, he must say, for their humanity. He, therefore, should hesitate very much before he thought that any opinion which men not so intelligent, and not so qualified for the task, might form on this subject, was superior or even equal to the opinion of those who had for a long time devoted their entire attention to it. At the same time there were matters (as he had before said) fit for inquiry before the Committee which he should have the honour of proposing, and where he hoped the reasons, the opinions, and the authority of such men as Dr. Kennedy, Colonel A'Court, and others, would be listened to with every attention. He was perfectly ready, for one, and he was sure that they were perfectly ready on their parts, to have such an inquiry. His conviction was, that the more this system was looked into, the more it would be confirmed and strengthened in the opinion of the Parliament and of the country. He foresaw that it would be so confirmed; and he should always consider it a matter of pride and satisfaction that he had a part in proposing such a measure. He begged to move, as an amendment, "that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the administration of the relief of the poor under the orders and regulations issued by the Commissioners appointed under the provisions of the Poor-law Amendment Act."
said, that he should certainly not vote for this inquiry with the intention to effect a repeal of the present law. If he might venture to say it without giving offence, he would observe, in reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, "save me from my friends," for that speech had done more to damage the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire than anything else. He believed the hon. Member for Oldham had conscientiously uttered his opinions. He could not think that the words of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord would give so extensive a range to inquiry as he thought it ought, and entertaining the same opinion as the hon. Member for Berkshire, and wishing to give that inquiry as free a range as possible, he 1035 thought that hon. Member was fully justified in trying to attain that object, thinking that the noble Lord intended to limit the inquiry much more than his speech seemed to imply. When the Poor-law Bill was passed, he thought few persons expected it was to be indiscriminately applied to every part of England, or that his Majesty's Ministers would direct the whole of England and the principality of Wales to be divided into unions in order to carry the Act into effect throughout the whole country. If he understood the noble Lord's amendment, it would not be competent for the Committee to inquire into this part of the application of the Act. He could not but think that the division of the north of England and in the principality of Wales into Poor-law unions was wholly and entirely unnecessary. In the north of England and the principality of Wales, with which he was more particularly acquainted, the great evils that existed in the southern counties were not known; the wages of labour were not paid out of the poor-rates; the system of rounds men, which was so ruinous to the country, and all that maladministration of the law, were quite unknown there. He thought his Majesty's Ministers deserved thanks for introducing a measure with the intention of providing a remedy for those evils where they did exist, but the application of it was not necessary where the evil was not felt. The workhouse system was almost entirely unknown in Wales; it was uncongenial to the habits of the people, and he was quite satisfied that if it were enforced there, if workhouses were built, and the poor were dragged away from their cottages and their friends to be thrust into those places which were so abhorrent to the feelings of the people, the measure would create general disgust in the principality. He was, therefore, anxious to have a clear understanding as to whether the noble Lord intended to allow the Committee to go into that part of the subject, because, if there was to be no restriction of the inquiry in that respect, he should be disposed to entreat the hon. Member for Berkshire to withdraw his motion. He had no right to urge that hon. Member to take that course, but he thought, if the noble Lord would consent to allow the inquiry to have that extensive range which he had suggested, that the object of the hon. Member would be in a great measure secured. Yet if the 1036 hon. Member persisted in his motion, conceiving that he could not do otherwise with justice to the subject and to his own feelings, he (Colonel Wood) would certainly vote with him. He would call the attention of the House to an extract from one of the instructional letters of the Poor-law Commissioners. The hon. Member read the extract—to the effect that no distinction was to be made between the deserving and the undeserving, but that destitution only was to form the ground of relief. Such was the order which had issued from the Home-office, but in this respect he thought the old system was better, for on a reference to Sturges Bourne's Act it would be found that it was distinctly provided that magistrates should order relief to the able-bodied poor, reference being also had at the same time to the character and conduct of the applicants, thus making a broad distinction between the deserving and the undeserving. If a Committee were appointed, he hoped this point would form a subject of inquiry and consideration. Me would conclude by repeating, that he hoped the hon. Member for Berkshire would withdraw his motion.
§ Mr. Harvey
observed, that having presented several petitions to the House, and one that day from an important portion of his constituents, who, from their situation, were able to speak with more propriety on the operation of the Bill, than some other persons, he could not suffer those petitioners to he under the censure which the noble Lord had cast upon those, whom he charged with raising up a pitiful cry against the Poor-law Act. If there was any cry, it was the cry of humanity to that House, against one of the most cruel, heartless, relentless, and selfish Bills, that was ever devised and passed into a law. The noble Lord had stated what no one doubted, that the operation of this Bill had been highly favourable to a certain class, that it had reduced the poor-rates from 6,000,000l. to 4,000,000l., and that it had doubled the value of property. It was so; no one doubted it; and the acceptance which that measure obtained, in the House and out of it, amongst a certain class, together with certain sympathetic circumstances, that were very apparent in that House now, justified that opinion. But this was the real question—had it operated with equal, or with any advantage to the other party, 1037 to those who were to be the recipients of parochial relief? If it should turn out, on subsequent inquiry, that while property had been aggrandised in value, and a large deduction effected in the amount of the poor-rates, a corresponding advantage had accrued to the people at large, by reducing the income of the poor thirty-three per cent., which had been taken away from the aged and infirm, and helpless for the most part, then, he should say, that no one would hail with more satisfaction the result of such inquiry. But every one in the House ought readily to sanction a motion for that purpose, because such was not the opinion of those who were the best judges of the measure, those who had witnessed its operation, and who were prepared to prove the correctness of their opinion. He had stated that he had that day presented a petition from an important portion of his constituents—not important from their numerical strength, but from the influence of their station, they being the guardians of the poor of one of the largest and most populous parishes in the metropolis —St. George's, Southwark. They consisted of eighteen persons, who constituted the Board of Guardians of that parish, and who, as it must be known to every gentleman by whom the public papers were perused, had been among the most strenuous opposers to this measure, and had remonstrated against the introduction of the Act into that parish, and still further against the character of those laws which they were compelled to administer; and, without travelling into detail, or exposing himself and those whose cause he advocated, to being charged with raising a pitiful and senseless cry against this measure, he would state to the House the reasons of the petitioners for the hostility they entertained towards it. The noble Lord had taken an advantage which displayed the dexterity of the pleader, rather than the candour of the statesman; he had assumed that, because the hon. Member for Oldham had seconded the motion for an inquiry, that therefore, as a necessary consequence, be was seeking to obtain the repeal of the Poor-law Act. What was that but acknowledging that a free and full inquiry would produce that effect? But was it not a boast of the noble Lord, that instead of such a result, it would have the effect of soothing hostility, and creating a general impression 1038 that the law was for the benefit of all? What consistency, then, did the noble Lord display in offering any opposition to the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire? Because the hon. Member had said, that an inquiry would lead to the disclosure of certain facts, which might probably bring about a repeal of the law, therefore the noble Lord had assumed at once, that the object in view was a repeal of the law, and nothing less. He must repeat, that such an argument partook rather of the dexterity of the pleader, than that of the candour of the statesman. But the petition which he had presented from the guardians of St. George's, Southwark, had prayed for the object submitted to the House—the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the operation of this measure, and the chief reason for preferring such a prayer to the House was, their experience of the bad effects of its administration. When hon. Gentlemen said they had given this Bill their sanction, they should recollect they hardly knew what they did sanction, because that Bill was hurried through the House ith singular and unaccountable rapidity, under going little or no discussion. He ventured to repeat, that there never was a measure so sweeping in its object, and affecting so many millions of the subjects of these realms, passed with so much precipitancy, and so little discussion. But, be that as it might, hon. Gentlemen who had given that measure, if they pleased, their most disinterested support, their most deliberate consideration, with no other anxiety than to better the condition of the poor, never contemplated that the result would be the saving of 2,000,000l. in 6,000,000l., and doubling the value of their estates, never suffering such pitiful feelings to cross their minds, but being wholly influenced by a desire to improve the condition of the poor, and labouring men could now with the most perfect consistence, if they thought proper to do so, discover abundant reason to suspect the accuracy and propriety of the various rules and regulations which had been promulgated from the Board of Commissioners, under the authority of that Bill. It was the first time that ever such enormous powers as those Commissioners exercised, were deputed to any three other men. They might merit even more than the high dignity which had been conferred on 1039 them, but he must say, that neither they, nor any other three men, ought to have the power of making and administering laws affecting all the property, and the greater portion of the population of the kingdom. His constituents had felt themselves placed in a humiliating situation, in consequence of being called onto be the humble administrators of this law, for be it remembered, that those guardians might be composed, for aught he or any one else knew, of men who were sufficiently competent to fill the office perhaps of chief Commissioner, or at least of those about him; yet they felt that they had nothing to do but to follow those directions which the Poor-law Commissioners thought proper to issue, without any appeal to their own judgment, or opinion as to the peculiarity of the circumstances of the case before them. But such was not the design, nor was it ever even intended to be the design, of the office of overseer, churchwarden, or guardian of the poor; and it was therefore, that those men who had been elected to the office of guardian by their fellow-citizens, on account of their competency, protested against the arbitrary interposition and domination of the Poor law Commissioners. But the noble Lord had gone to the fullest extent as the advocate of this measure, and justice must be done to him for the firmness with which he opposed and denounced what he called the pitiful feeling which was evinced towards it. He had laid down the broad rule consistently with the resolution of the Commissioners, that destitution, the most pitiful and absolute destitution, must be considered as the sole and exclusive ground of relief; and though it had been said, that a greater number of persons were receiving out-door relief at the present moment, than there was to be found in the workhouses, it should be borne in mind, that this state of things did not arise from any dictate of humanity, or influence of Christian feeling, but from the fact that the Poor-law Commissioners had not yet caused to be erected a sufficient number of workhouses of adequate capaciousness to receive the poor. But it was a rule, that as fast as these bastiles, as they had been very appropriately called, were erected, they were to be peopled by those persons who applied for out-door relief. Who were those persons? The noble Lord had told the House that 1040 this Act not only worke well for property and its possessors, but that it kindled a spirit of independence and self-satisfaction in the industrious poor; but let the question be asked, from whence that great saving of 2,000,000l., of money deducted in two years from the amount of 6,000,000l. had come? It must have produced a great effect somewhere, and when it was considered that it formed so large an item in the income of the poor, it was scarcely possible to hear it mentioned, without believing that it had been wrung from the poor by this cruel and arbitrary law. ["No, no."] He said "yes," but other Gentlemen said "no;" the proof, however, was to be found in the facts. He had presented a petition a few days ago from Kendal, signed by 1,600 persons, and he then ventured to give some reasons for agreeing to the prayer of that petition. One of those reasons was, that the poor were not represented in that House, and it should be remembered, that the labouring poor were the authors of all their wealth; without their industry their estates would be tenantless, and their rent-rolls mere ciphers. In presenting the petition from Kendal, he had called the attention of the House, by way of illustration, to some facts well worthy of their attention, and now he would observe, that there was every reason to believe, that a large portion of the saving of which the noble Lord boasted, was the result of an arbitrary and heartless appeal to the aged and infirm, to decide between no relief, and confinement in a union workhouse. He had read a list of old men, patriarchs, and old women of eighty or ninety years, who had fertilised the fields of the landowners in past time by their ceaseless labours, but who had received in the time of their infirmity 2s., and some 2s. 6d. a-week. What did the Commissioners do through their agents? These poor creatures hobbled up to the table of authority, and there they were told that unless they were prepared to throw back 6d. out of 2s., to add to the mighty fund transferred to the landed aristocracy—unless they were prepared to give up twenty-five per cent.—let those gentlemen hear that who so boldly resisted the giving up of ten per cent. when it was demanded out of their incomes—those poor creatures were called upon either to give up twenty-five per cent. out of their miserable pittance, or 1041 take up their abode in those mansions which had been prepared for their comfort and rest. Was not that a fit subject for inquiry? Did they not feel themselves bound to investigate into the effects of a law so unworthy of a Christian country, and of any Government that presided over it? But the noble Lord, in his anxiety to tell them what had been saved, had committed an error. Allow him to say that the noble Lord had overstated the mark, because the whole quota of the poor-rates was but 6,000,000l., and it had been reduced to something more than 4,000,000/., and the noble Lord had led the House to imagine that the whole saving had arisen under the administration of the new system; but it was quite the reverse, because it would be found on inquiry that very extensive savings had been effected by judicious improvements in parishes which belonged to no unions, and in which the new system had not been introduced. Here, then, was a fundamental error which required correction. The noble Lord had presumed that every opponent of the Poor-law Bill must necessarily contend that there were no defects under the administration of the old law. That was quite a mistake; there were many defects; but they were not the offspring of the law itself, but of a system which had become lax in its operation in the progress of time. But the evils of that system were never declaimed against by those who supported the new one, so long as everything went on agreeably to their own feelings with a kind of false success. During the period when the returns laid on the table of that House stated the Poor-rates to be upwards of 8,000,000l., while their rents were paid, and their corn fetched a high price, and they basked in the sunshine of prosperity, who ever heard anything said about promoting the comforts of the poor? But as soon as they found by numerical experience and financial testimony that something must be done to protect their own interest—when they were told by their tenants that ongoing over their accounts they found rent to be the largest item, tithe to be a great item, and poor-rates an increasing item, where did they, the country gentlemen and landed aristocracy he meant, look for relief? Nothing was done, no committee of inquiry was called for to investigate into the state of rents or the depression of tithes—no, but they 1042 turned round and found a ready relief in the arms of the helpless poor, and found succour among those who had not power sufficient to make themselves feared, and had no representatives in that House. It was not his wish to throw unjustifiable blame upon any set of men, but he could not help saying that all the evils of the present Bill which the poor endured were the result of their conduct towards those unwilling and helpless victims of it. He would lay down as an axiom, as firm as nature, and as ample as heaven, that every man that lives had a right to live on the soil. If, by their conventional arrangements, such a thing was rendered impracticable, but they were reaping the advantage of it, they were bound to indemnify the poor, and protect them from every evil entailed upon them by a system to which they were not a party, and which was not intended for the benefit of any but those who made it. Were they, then, to be told that this provision of nature, which runs through all the lines of a bountiful Creator, was to be turned into a spirit of persecution, and that those who happened to be poor were to be the objects of punishment and degradation—for punishment the present system undoubtedly was? What were the punishments at the present moment? That delinquents should be sent to prison for seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days; when the crime was of a deep character, that they should be placed in solitude, and that they should have bread and water for their provision, in the hope that their correction might lead to their moral improvement. But how did they serve the poor, the aged, the patriarchs of the land? Their orders, for he had read them, declared that no relief should be administered out of the workhouse. It was nothing to say, that there were relaxations; that arose only from a want of sufficiency of accommodation. But the decrees had gone forth, and as fast as they could carry them into effect, workhouses were to arise in every part of the kingdom—workhouses, prisons substantially, houses of correction were not more so, and the discipline was to be of the same character as that which distinguished the penal code. Let the House look at some of the provisions which this fourth estate of the realm, the Poor-law Commissioners had promulgated, and which were binding as any statute which had received the sanction of the three 1043 estates. Those rules or laws positively enacted that there should be no relief but under circumstances of the extremest emergency; that no relief under such circumstances should be administered out of the walls of the prison; and that it should be of such a nature that it was impossible to make it less or of a worse character, if we were dispensing it to the criminal. The gallant colonel referred to a resolution which had received the sanction of the noble Secretary for the Home Department. It was there laid down, in answer to the application and remonstrance of a Board of Guardians, that they were to give no relief within the walls of a workhouse, which should have any reference to the merit, the delinquency, or even the vices of the parties. They were to give to the most vicious all that they could mete out to the most meritorious. In short, they were confounding all the great distinctions of moral propriety and vicious habits; and yet the noble Lord presumed to contend that all this was popular, acceptable to the people, and likely to establish a feeling of independence. The people of this country would deserve to be called anything but independent if they should submit tamely to such a system. There might be a feeling at present of tacit acquiescence arising from circumstances of passing prosperity, but when they had introduced the system to act on great masses, and brought it into play in all its contemplated severity, the noble Lord would find that not only in the peaceful vale, but on the mountain top, and in all the manufacturing districts — in fact, wherever humanity had a heart to bleed, the principle of such a measure would be universally repudiated. Now was the time when inquiry should be made in the most searching and scrutinising spirit. He hardly knew what the noble Lord meant when he said that his amendment invited the most searching inquiry. The amendment which he moved and the speech he uttered were certainly at variance with each other. As he read the words of the motion, they seemed only to point to an inquiry into the administration of the funds by the Commissioners— that was to say, the rules, the orders, the laws, were to be taken as incontrovertible, and the inquiry was only to extend into the mode and manner of the distribution of the funds. There was no 1044 need for such an inquiry. They all knew how that part of the system had been administered — with the most barbarous and heartless severity. He only wished that some of those hon. Gentlemen whom some accident had thrown into that House, and who supported such a resolution as this, might be thrown for a season into one of those buildings, which would perhaps moderate them into decency, and render them fit representatives for that, if not for any other place. For his own part, he believed if the House occupied seven days and seven nights with this discussion, they would not bestow upon it a consideration at all out of proportion to its merits and importance. Upwards of 2,000,000 of their fellow subjects were deeply and personally interested in it; it affected their feelings, it involved their interests. It was due to them—it was due to their petitions—it was due to their prejudices— it was due to their ignorance, if they pleased so to call it, that the amplest and most searching inquiry should take place. It was important the House should know what the noble Lord precisely meant by his amendment. He was quite satisfied if the noble Lord admitted that it would be competent to inquire into the appropriateness of the different resolutions and orders which had been made and carried into effect—if they were permitted to hear evidence from intelligent guardians how the system had worked, and how it influenced their own minds and those around them, the investigation would be at once honest and useful. But, if into the Committee which the noble Lord might nominate, no one should be allowed to enter who presumed to have any unbecoming disinclination to the present system, however they might be looked up to by the people, and representing howsoever large constituencies deeply interested in the question—if the Committee were to be a packed Committee, the terms of the inquiry being restricted, it would only be adding insult to the injury the measure had already inflicted. But he was not so inclined to receive the noble Lord's speech; he looked at his speech more than to the resolution itself. Before sitting down he was anxious to state, that when the Poor-law Bill was under the consideration of the House, although he had not given the subject that attention which its importance now appeared to deserve, he did vote for the measure; accompanying, 1045 however, that vote with this expression, as its reason—that he supported it under the conviction that they could not maintain the Poor-law Amendment a Bill and the Corn Laws conjointly. An why did he say so? By and by, when they came to balance the 2,000,000l. stated to have been saved as the result of the measure, he was much inclined to think, they would find it on the other side. Because, if they once said to an industriouus man, youthful in years, vigorous in health, in inclination willing of all things to work, and only desiring to be compensated for his labour—if they said to such a man when he was not in a condition to find employment, "You can have no relief but by going to the workhouse—the rival of the county gaol, where you will find the same diet assigned to the criminal as to yourself; where, if you are married, you must go with your family—and when you get there you will not even have the poor comfort of intercourse—where, finding yourselves the participators of the same inconveniences, you may become reconciled by common sympathy—the father to take up his bed with the sturdy beggar, the wife torn from the tenderest ties and placed in a separate apartment, and the children, if upwards of seven years of age, the forced inmates of another prison-house;" —if they once said this to a man capable and willing to work, that such must be his lot when disease or absence of employment overtake him, had he not a right to say, "If you throw me back on my labour, which is my properly, at all events you have no right to pass a law which shall diminish its value when converted into produce?" The labouring man is obliged to expend 6s. out of his 10s. for a lump of bread, which but for their laws he would get for 3s. and 6d. How hardly, then, did their unequal and arbitrary taxation bear on this class of the people! He hoped the hon. Member for Berkshire would not be deterred from pressing his inquiry, of all others the most important, and which, in his opinion, was intimately connected with the Poor-law. He did not know, in altered circumstances, what trammels might be thrown around him, but it was his duty to show to the House and to the country, how, after having plundered the man of his means of support by means of the Poor-law, they should at the same time rob him of one half of his property. Industry was as 1046 much property as acres. It was that which gave permanence, stability, and increase to all other property. Upon the article of tea alone, he saw from official returns the amount of duty was upwards of 4,000,000l., and that upon malt of 5,000,000l., making 9,000,000l., more than one-third of the interest of the national debt, thrown on the labour of the working community. Now, could it be said, as of the duty on tobacco and spirits, that those articles were demoralizing—for tea to women and beer to men were as innocent as essential articles of general consumption? Of this he was assured, that they could not maintain the present system of arbitrary and unequal taxation, the Poor-law and the Corn-law Bill co-existing at the same time. He could not sit down without thanking the House for the exemplary and honourable attention which throughout the discussion had been paid to this subject.
Mr. Sergeant Goulburn
However reluctant at all times to obtrude himself upon the attention of the House, co Id not content himself with giving a silent vote upon this question. It appeared to him a subject of very vital importance, in which the feelings of all classes of the community, and he could speak particularly with regard to his own constituents, were deeply interested. He had the honour of presenting a petition that night, signed by 2,600, comprising almost all the respectability of the town, which he represented, coinciding with him in politics; and the hon. Member for Surrey (Major Beauclerk) a few nights since had presented another petition from that town, subscribed by a large number of those who differed from him in political opinions; and he was sure he was speaking their sentiments, in common with very many persons in this country, when he said there were many parts of this subject with respect to which there ought to be a full, fair, and most searching inquiry. It struck him as a remarkable fact, that whereas the amendment of the noble Lord fell far short of his speech, undoubtedly the hon. Member for Oldham and the hon. Member for Southwark greatly went beyond the purport of the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire, of which they were the supporters. It seemed to him that it would be very advisable if some middle course could possibly be devised. As he understood the terms of the noble 1047 Lord's proposition, the Committee would be restricted from going into any inquiry as to the principle of any part of the measure whatever; and that was a limitation to which he, for one, could not bring himself to submit. He wanted a full, fair, searching inquiry into very many points of the principle of this measure. He wished to know how it bore upon the aged, the infirm, and particularly the sick. He wished to inquire into the working of those clauses, commonly called the bastardy clauses, with respect to which the noble Lord had not stated anything; and he, for one, was anxious to hear whether the Committee would be debarred from inquiring into and considering the propriety of their continuance. He agreed with the noble Lord in the commendation he had bestowed upon that part of the Bill which related to the able-bodied labourer compelling him to work, at all events not to be idle at the expense of others; but it did not follow that he approved equally or at all of that part of the system which placed the aged, the infirm, and, above all, the sick, so frequently in circumstances of extremest hardship. With regard to medical treatment alone, the noble Lord said, he did not see why a man who could not maintain himself should receive better medical attendance than he could have at home. But with great deference, he ventured to think that a man reduced by poverty, without any fault it might be of his own, and when sickness and infirmity assailed him, was entitled to the best medical assistance that could be procured. The rule, however, was precisely the reverse under the present system. In the petition which he presented it was stated that the office being farmed out to the lowest bidder, one of two things invariably happened, either it was given to some individual of nominal eminence, who devolved on some inferior person the care of the poor, or a young practitioner required it, who frequently learned his profession at the expense of the poor. In that state of things, he asked, were they to be at liberty to inquire into the principles of the Bill, or were the principles at all events to be upheld, and were they only to be allowed to inquire into the practical administration of the law by the Commissioners? If that was all they had to do, he saw no necessity whatever for the inquiry. He knew the Commissioners to be gentlemen of the highest honour and 1048 most humane feelings. But that was not the question. The real question was what was the law—what were the principles on which it proceeded, and how it should be applied in all cases? He should vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire, although he did not altogether subscribe to all the sentiments of those who had supported it, because if his Committee were granted a full, fair, and satisfactory inquiry must be the result; whereas, looking at the words of the noble Lord's motion rather than his speech, the investigation might be stopped on the most important points.
§ Mr. Hume
had been anxious to speak after the hon. Member for Southwark, because it appeared to him that the hon. Member was mixing up with his speech matters entirely foreign to the subject, and likely to lead the House from the matter before them. If the hon. Member at a fitting time would bring before the House the subjects either of the operation of the Corn-laws on the industry of the country, or of the unequal manner in which taxation pressed on the poorer classes, he would find no man more anxious than he to support the propriety of reviewing the whole of these questions. But the impression which the hon. Member appeared desirous to convey was, that the new Poor-law had the same effect in bearing on the industry of the country which Corn-laws and unequal taxation had. It appeared to him that such was in no respect the case, and that the epithets which the hon. Member had used in designating the measure— epithets which it had been much better to have withheld—were altogether apart from the real merits of the case. He (Mr. Hume) had voted for that measure because he found that the poorer classes of the community—those who lived by their industry—were, in consequence of the abuses which had existed under the former working, rapidly sinking in the scale of society. The system of indiscriminate relief had worked great evil. He thought the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend had not done fairly in quoting the acts of cruelty that had taken place. It was notorious that acts of cruelty in the administration of the Poor-laws before this measure passed might have been selected from every week in the year. He repeated, then, that it was not fair to select evils now as evidence of the bad working of the Act when, before it passed 1049 evils existed, and to a much greater extent. The question was, whether the principles of the measure were correct, and whether they had been properly carried out by the Commissioners. The powers they had vested in the Commissioners were undoubtedly of an extraordinary character, but the evils to be remedied were equally extensive and alarming; and they were now in a condition to inquire into the manner in which they had exercised them. If he thought the inquiry was to be limited in any way, so as not to include the principle of the Bill, and the application of that principle, he, for one, would not support it. He was for the fullest and most complete inquiry. [Major Beauclerk: Then, why support an amendment?] He should support the amendment of the noble Lord, because the original motion was moved and seconded by Gentlemen who declared themselves hostile to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Berkshire, had done everything in his power, for the last three years, to damage the Bill, and resist its operation. He had declared himself hostile to the principle of the Bill again and again. In a Committee of which he had the management, they could not expect a fair inquiry into the principle or working of the Bill; everything would be done to overturn it at once. His seconder, too (the hon. Member for Oldham), had opposed the Bill originally; he was one of the twenty who voted against it. He believed the hon. Member was strictly honest in his views; but when he stated, that he had advised the Act should be resisted, that he had called upon those over whom he had any influence to use force against force, and not to carry its provisions into effect; and that, happen what would, they should never be introduced into his happy valley, was it possible for those who approved of the principle of the Bill to consent to go into a Committee, leaving the direction of it in the hands of such uncompromising opponents of the Bill in every shape and form? But he understood the noble Lord to pledge himself, by his speech, to admit every inquiry that should not go to repeal the Bill, His hon. Friend complained, that destitution had been laid down as the principle on which relief should be given. He always understood that it was the principle of the 43rd of Elizabeth, which was acted on at the present day; and was it possible that his hon. Friend, could attack 1050 a principle so well founded? His hon. Friend said he had presented a respectable petition, complaining of the operation of the Act, from the vestry of St. George's, Southwark. He recollected only last year this same vestry finding fault with the Commissioners for having enforced certain regulations they had passed respecting the sale of bread. What was their complaint against the Bill? They complained not of the quantity of the bread, nor of the quality, but they were dissatisfied because it was supplied by contract. Bread was furnished by contract at a cheaper rate, and equally good in quality. Fivepence per quartern was, he believed, the contract price; but the bakers of the parish used to obtain 7d. for it. If this single act was an evidence of their general proceedings, their petition was worthy of very little attention. He said very little, because all petitions were worthy some; but the weight of petitions and the weight of evidence on the other side was worthy of, at least, an equal degree of consideration. He did not deny that there might be great improvements suggested in the present system by the proposed inquiry, but that inquiry ought to be conducted with a view not to overthrow, but to amend; not to destroy, but to improve. His hon. Friend said, that two millions of persons formerly received out-of-door relief, and he (Mr. Hume) believed that the gin-shop and the beer-shop used to obtain the larger portion of the funds so disposed, instead of the poor families that ought to have received it. The Act deprived the gin-shops not only of the tax which the poorer rate-payers paid, but put an effectual stop to the accompanying idleness and dissipation. If the testimony could be believed which was afforded by the different unions in favour of the Bill, it appeared that instead of the reduction which had taken place in the pecuniary allowances having been attended with that general distress which was attributed to it, a very great improvement had taken place, both in the physical and moral condition of the poor. He thought that his hon. Friend had not acted with candour in designating the Act as an Act which groun the poor man. He believed it as much calculated to benefit the poor man as the rich; he believed that it would improve the moral condition of the poor, and encourage industrious habits; and he hoped his hon. Friend did not mean to abolish the distinction which ought always 1051 to be preserved between industry and idleness. He believed the Act had worked most beneficially for the great majority of those who received relief. Were they not bound to protect those who occupied a station in society just above that of the poor man, from paying money for the support of the dissolute and the idle? In the Poor-law Administration Act, this principle was decidedly laid down—the principle that destitution, he should rather say want, alone ought to entitle to relief. He complained, therefore, that his hon. Friend had not taken that view of the subject which he ought to have done, and had put the case in an unfair light. If he recollected right, the discussion which this measure received had been most bitterly pounced upon by certain public journals; the alarm had been sounded by The Times a month before the Bill passed into a law; and it had continued, day by day, attempting to terrify the people into opposing it. He was surprised that a man of his hon. Friend's discernment could be misled by its alarmist cry. He considered the passing of the Act as a great triumph over the attempts which the journals made to render it an object of hatred and loathing to the public. Those journals had attempted to write down the measure; they had prophesied they would be able to write it down; and up to this moment they had carried on their rancorous opposition to it, retailing every story that could injure it, however improbable, and no doubt inventing some. He had himself seen stories, which had been contradicted from authority, repeated again and again. He had no doubt that, on examining the volume which the hon. mover had read to the House that evening, if name, time, and place were given, it would be found to consist of the rakings of The Times for the last twelvemonth. If the Commissioners had not properly exercised the powers intrusted to them by the Act, the Committee proposed by the noble Lord would point out in what respects they had failed to do so, and it would be the duty of the House to correct their errors. Notwithstanding all the opposition to the Act in particular quarters, he was happy to say that it was generally popular in the country. He would be the last to treat the sick or the aged with severity, and when the Bill was passing through that House, he had said that a change of such immense importance could not be carried into effect 1052 without great suffering to individuals; but he had maintained at the same time, that the Commissioners and the guardians must be left to the exercise of the discretion with which they were vested, in order to make that hardship as light as possible. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the motion, had asked him, how he could support the hon. Members for Bath and Liskeard in their opinion of the advantages of local administration, while he sanctioned this measure? Now, he contended that the Act established a system of local administration, and the only drawback to it was, that the accumulative votes given to the rate-payers rendered its operation uncertain. He admitted the existence of ex officio guardians to be an evil; he believed they, in some cases, out-numbered the regular guardians; and it would be a question for the consideration of the Committee, how far the power vested with them had interfered with the due exercise of those which were lodged in the Commissioners and guardians. The administration by guardians, appointed by the ratepayer to protect his interest, was essentially local; and as to centralization, he looked upon it as a mode of superintendence necessary to insure uniformity in the operation of the system. He had seen men intrusted with the administration of the rates in country parishes, afraid to refuse demands which were made, in consequence of the outcry which was raised, and every person who wished honestly to discharge his duty in the application of the rates, must be pleased to be controlled in the exercise of it, in order to be enabled to carry into effect the intentions of the Act itself. In this respect, the Act had succeeded better than he could have conceived possible. He was satisfied they would effect an improvement in the condition of the working classes, in their moral character and in their happiness, which no man would have anticipated four years ago, and that those who paid rates, as well as those who received them, would be benefitted. Under these circumstances he should give his cordial support to the amendment of the noble Lord, believing that they should thereby secure the fullest and fairest inquiry.
§ Debate adjourned.