§ Mr. Brotherton
was anxious to offer a few observations on the question before the House. He trusted that they would enter upon the discussion free from any party spirit, and with a desire to ascertain what they could adopt which would be best for the country, and be compatible with a just consideration for the condition of the working classes. When this measure was originally before the House he had voted against many of its provisions. He considered the powers given to the Commissioners far too extensive, and a violation of the power of local self-government. In the borough which he represented a meeting had lately been held, at which resolutions were passed condemnatory of many parts of this Act, and particularly of the extensive and arbitrary powers conferred on the Commissioners. Having read some extracts from the resolutions referred to, the hon. Member proceeded to say that he thought that a discretionary power should be left in the hands of the guardians as to the administration of relief in particular cases. The powers of the Commissioners ought 1066 not to supersede those of the guardians. The general supervision of the Commissioners would no doubt be useful, but that was all that would be necessary, for the Board of Guardians ought to have the discretionary power of deciding with respect to relief. He had always objected to this change of system, as particularly unnecessary and inapplicable in the manufacturing districts. In those districts, owing to the continual fluctuations in trade, the poor rates had constantly varied in amount, at some periods rising to double what the amount was at other periods. The rule that there should be no out-door relief was an oppressive and arbitrary rule, and was accompanied with a severity which ought not to be inflicted on the industrious artisan who was reduced to distress by no fault of his own. The State was supported by the labour of the people, and, in a manufacturing and commercial country like this where, owing to the fluctuations of trade, the labouring classes were liable to be put out of employment, and where the State provided relief for the destitute, he thought that such a provision ought to be administered in a manner that would not reduce those for whom it was intended to a level with criminals. They were commanded by a sacred authority that they should not harden their hearts against the poor; and they were assured that the greatest blessings would await that country where the wants of the poor were attended to. The laws of England declared that every man in this country had a right to support, but the Poor-law Amendment Act was a departure from the spirit of those laws. The professed object of that Act was to reduce the poor-rate, and to bring about an improvement in the state and habits of the labouring population. He admitted that, to some extent, it had had the effect of reducing the rates, but he objected to the means by which that result had been accomplished. There was the total denial of all out-door relief, the constant confinement in the workhouse, and the separation of the husband from the wife, and of the parent from the child. To keep up the semblance of local authority the guardians were elected; but at these elections every landholder was entitled to vote by proxy. It was said that these means were adopted in order to throw the people on their own resources. This perhaps might be a just principle in some cases; but not generally applied. If men 1067 became unfortunate and destitute by their own misconduct it was right that they should suffer punishment; but the evils and distresses that were attendant on a manufacturing population did not exist from any fault of their own. They were derived from the vicissitudes and uncertainties of trade; from the fluctuations of our monetary system; and from the operation of bad laws, too often made rather with a view to private interest than to the general benefit of the community. Even in the agricultural districts the poor had been greatly abridged of the privileges they had heretofore enjoyed, for in many places they had had small allotments of land, which was not the case at present. It was difficult to defend the poor among the rich, but he should like to see some other system adopted. He should like to see those laws repealed which pressed on the lower classes, and taxation in general equalised. One part of the law he especially objected to—that, namely, which prevented the guardians of the poor from granting relief while any little property remained; and he should be glad to see more discretionary power given to the guardians. He wished the House to consider only the hardship inflicted on the poor hand-loom weaver, who, owing to the rapid progress of machinery, was reduced to great straits, and who must sell his loom and every thing in his house before he could be admitted to the workhouse. That was only one instance among many of the hardships which the poor must suffer if the Act were carried into full effect.
§ Mr. Cripps
congratulated the hon. Member for Berkshire, on having brought this question to an issue, and said he was exceedingly glad that the noble Lord had in a great measure acquiesced in the view of that hon. Member, by granting a Committee of Inquiry, in order to see what the effect of the present Bill had been. With regard to the numerous documents which had been read by the hon. Member for Berkshire, he did not mean to say they were incorrect, but that he distrusted them, as detailing cases into which full investigation had not been made, and which, in many instances, had been collected from the poor themselves. He was exceedingly glad that they were to have a Committee upon the subject, in order that the public might be furnished with a more correct and satisfactory account of 1068 the working of the measure, than that which they could collect from newspapers, in which not one out of ten paragraphs headed "Poor-law Amendment Act," had anything to do with it. He found fault with the hon. Member for Berkshire in condemning this measure, while from his own admission, it appeared he had not attended above fourteen or fifteen union meetings out of seventy or eighty. Indeed, he thought that hon. Member had an antipathy to the Bill itself, when he avoided attending those meetings; but had the hon. Member been present at even one half the number that he had attended, the hon. Member would have had reason, as well as many others who had also a great antipathy to the measure at first, to change his opinions respecting it. He (Mr. Cripps) had known several who were originally opposed to the Bill, to have changed their opinion regarding it after having attended those meetings, and seen its details investigated. Not one tenth part of the charges which had been made against the guardians, had been brought home to them. He had himself investigated some of them, and was astonished at finding them so satisfactorily cleared up. No Bill ever did or could have worked better than it had done in the union in which he lived, and he confessed he did not see any cause why it should not work with equal benefit and success in other unions. He acknowledged that he had not exactly followed the rules laid down by the Commissioners. He had, for instance, occasionally deviated from the rule, that no person in health should receive assistance unless in the workhouse, and on another occasion, had taken a portion of a very large family into the workhouse, which was attended with beneficial results; at the same time, that great caution should be observed in thus deviating from the rules, lest doing so might be attended with abuse. When it was considered, that by the present Bill, a saving of upwards of 2,000,000l. had been effected out of 7,000,000l., all should allow that it was a most desirable measure. He did not mean to say that that fact alone rendered it so, but when he felt convinced that the saving went into the pockets of the poor, he thought he was justified in calling it an admirable measure. That the Bill had been a great advantage to the country was clear, and though some hardships would necessarily occur 1069 in the dealing with so difficult a matter, yet he believed, that in general, the carrying of this measure into execution had not been, go far as he knew, attended with any cruelty or hardship. Therefore, desirous as he was, that a Committee should be appointed, yet he could not but think that the noble Lord had, by his amendment, given latitude enough to find out every defect in the Act, to have all things corrected which required correction, and to make it, as he did not doubt it would be made, as complete as any measure that ever yet passed the Legislature.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
Notwithstanding the almost prescriptive right which the hon. Member for Salford had acquired, as to obtaining art adjournment of the House at a certain hour, he had on Friday night last moved the adjournment, even though the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, was so anxious that the debate should then terminate. He had insisted upon that adjournment, and he stated then what he now repeated—namely, that he considered the present motion to be one of vital importance, and though but a few evenings before, a debate had been adjourned for three successive nights, on the Irish Municipal Corporations Bill, still he conceived, that on a law affecting so great a portion of the population of this country, as the Poor-law Amendment Act, it was not too much to require the noble Lord to assent to the adjournment, in order that full and complete consideration should be given to this important subject. He had not persisted in that course having the vanity, to think that anything which fell from him would have the effect of changing or influencing a single vote; but as he knew that several hon. Gentlemen, well acquainted with the subject, were prepared to address the House upon it, and to enter into a full discussion of its merits, he was fully borne out and warranted in requiring that they should have an opportunity of doing so. He had listened with great attention to the observations which had fallen from his hon. Friend who had just sat down, and he assured him, that for him he entertained the highest possible respect, though he differed from him on the present occasion. What had been his hon. Friend's statements with regard to this Bill? Why, in the first place, he remarked, that the statements which had 1070 gone forth in the public prints were highly coloured, and but little to be relied on. He begged to ask why, if that were so, the numerous statements, such as that made by a Gentleman of the name of Bull, and published in the public papers yesterday, were not answered? They remained, however, unanswered, still less were they contradicted; and he therefore had a right to assume that they were facts. If they were not founded on fact, it was the duty of the Government to have given their immediate and particular attention to them. The fact, however, was, that the public papers were teeming daily with statements of great cruelty, oppression, and hardship, under the operation of the new law. The hon. Member had said, that the statements made to the House were highly coloured by those hon. Members who were prejudiced with regard to the Poor-law Amendment Act, but the hon. Member had not attempted to show that any of them were incorrect. Another argument was, that the new Act had effected a great saving to the country, and it was therefore contended, that the measure ought to be the object of general admiration. This he denied, and on the contrary he deprecated the measure as one which no saving could justify. The poor people could not resist the measure, for, to use a homely phrase, "it was not likely that they would quarrel with their bread and butter," and though the hon. Member for Oldham had said he would recommend resistance, he (Colonel Sibthorp), as a magistrate and a citizen, would not ask the people to oppose that which was the law of the land. The hon. Member for Cirencester stated, that this excellent and humane law" could not by possibility work well, if left to the management of individuals in the country, and that the assistance of a Board of Commissioners, and Assistant-commissioners was essentially necessary. But he forgot to mention, that the omnipotency of the Commissioners was such, that the Board of Guardians could not give anything more to the paupers of their district, than was in conformity with the orders and regulations of the Commissioners, who were also empowered to decrease the allowance granted by the guardians, and few unions could be carried on without voluntary contributions. This appeared to be the case, even in the union over which the hon. Member himself presided; but the 1071 same ability voluntarily to assist did not exist in every union. The fault, however, did not lay with the Commissioners, but in the law which they were called upon to administer. He knew one of the Commissioners, and was convinced that a more excellent man did not exist. The Commissioners, however, did not create the law, but had merely to carry it into full force and effect. There was, however, to him, in the very name of Commissioner, something so discordant and horrible, that, coupled with the host of Commissioners, and Assistant-commissioners, at an expense of 38,000l. or 39,000l. per annum, he felt he had a right to examine into, and to question whether there was not a possibility of doing without all of them, and therefore, if that ground alone presented itself, he should vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire, and for an examination into the operation of the law. But the amendment of the noble Lord (whose absence, and its cause, he lamented) appeared to him to- be of a very limited kind. He had always been disposed to suspect any amendments that came from the present Government, but this in particular showed a disposition on their part, to shrink from investigation. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer smiled, but the right hon. Gentleman had often himself shown a similar disposition. He, however, begged to ask, if the principle of this measure was as good as was contended by the other side of the House, why should they not go fully into the inquiry, as required by the original motion? The refusal to do so carried with it a suspicion that the principle of the Act was not good. But the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), in allusion to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Berkshire, stated that the Commissioners were wholly unacquainted with the facts and statements which that hon. Member had put forward. That ought not to be, for it was the duty of each Assistant-commissioner in the country to be acquainted with, and to furnish an account of, every case and every complaint that occurred in the district. The noble Lord had dwelt on the evils which in 1829, arose from the old laws relating to the poor. He did not deny that such was the case, but he contended that the evils arose, not from the old laws, but from their bad administration. The law, the 43rd of Elizabeth, was an excellent 1072 law, and it appeared with an increase of population during the last three years, 1834, 1835, and 1836, there had been a diminution in the amount of poor-rates of upwards of 2,500,000l. That fact told rather in favour of the old law; but his Majesty's Ministers stepped in, and with great haste, and with a sort of steamengine, which sometimes blew up and destroyed the parties, for whose benefit and advantage it was employed, set about altering the laws, which were beginning to work well. The measure now under consideration, which the noble Lord considered as a real blessing on the country, might by and by explode, and do much mischief. If it was a real blessing, whence arose all the complaints which existed,—how were the numerous letters which had been read in the course of the debate, showing that the measure did not confer all the benefits that were boasted of, to be accounted for? Though the noble Lord had spoken of the extreme benefits which the New Poor Laws had produced during the prevailing epidemy, yet the noble Lord had admitted, that had it not been that private charity had stepped in to aid the laws, the unions would not have had a chance of success. As to the blessings of the measure, he would state a few facts which would enable the House to judge of their extent and character. He had taken the trouble to go into one county, and personally to examine into the operation of the Bill. He had found one man, whose previous character and conduct had been free from imputation, of the age of eighty-four years, at the very close of life, receiving, as a weekly allowance, from the Union, the sum of 1s. 6d. and two loaves of bread, each weighing four ounces five penny-weights. He found another man, without a stain upon his character, seventy-eight years of age, receiving the same allowance; another seventy-seven, years of age 3s. per week and four loaves; another, aged seventy-seven 2s. per week and four loaves; each loaf being considered worth 6d. It was said that the operation of the Bill had materially altered the amount of the poor-rates, and that, consequently, subscriptions were were raised from the farmers and others for the assistance of the poorer classes. He objected to such a result. Though a farmer might have formerly said to the labourer, "I cannot afford to keep you in employment, paying 8s. or 10s. in the pound for poor-rates;" yet still, if the 1073 rates were now reduced to 2s., the landlord could step in and say to the tenant, "You can now afford to pay me more rent for my land." How, then could the farmers assist the poor? On the whole, he objected to this principle. There was another case which he had only received that day. It was that of a person named James Cock, a cripple, forty years of age, who for himself and wife had been allowed 1s. per week and seven pound of bread, worth about 14d.; but this poor man had, without any reason assigned, been struck off. So also had a poor widow with four children, who had been allowed only 3s. per week and fourteen pound of bread. The last he would mention was that of a man, who was paralysed, and seventy years of age, his wife nearly the same age, and their daughter. Their allowance had been 3s. per week and seven pound of bread. Now these were the cases showing the amount of relief afforded—an amount which, if increased by the Board of Guardians, would be disallowed by the Commissioners. When such cases as these were allowed to exist, the strictest inquiry was necessary, not only as to the principle, but as to the working of the Poor-laws, and determined as he was to support the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire, the House would, he hoped, consent to it, for otherwise the question would be blinked, and the poor would find that they pleaded in vain to that House, the only tribunal from which they could hope for justice.
§ Mr. Alston
hoped the hon. Member for Berkshire (who was about to leave his place) would give him his attention for a few moments, while he stated to him the results which had been effected by the New Poor-law Amendment Act in the county of Hertford. Since the Act had come into operation, he had taken an active part in the proceedings under it, and whether he looked to the comfort, the contentment and the character of the poor in all relations, father, mother, and children, he was confident that the Poor-law to them had been the source of the greatest improvement that ever benefitted the lower classes of the community. The county of Hertford was one which would well show the result of the operation of the measure, for its population was amongst the most dense of the kingdom. He had endeavoured within the last few days, and since the present motion was 1074 announced, to procure every information as to the result of the formation of unions, and the operation in other respects of the entire measure; and that he might make no mistake in the figures or anything else he was about to communicate to the House, he would take leave to read some of those results. He should first begin with the union of the town of Hertford, and the total saving or decrease in the poor-rates effected there since the Act came in force. The annual average expense previous to the new Bill was 8,202l., out of which there had been reduced no less a sum than 3,054l. 3s. 4¾d., and he had been informed by a letter he had received from the chairman of the Board of Guardians, Sir Culling Smith, that amongst the immense and dense population of the town and neighbourhood of Hertford, which formerly nobody could approach without seeing a mass of destitute, unemployed, and unfed beings, there was now scarcely to be seen a single individual in that condition. Now, as to the Union of Hatfield; that Union, though with one exception, the smallest in the county, was distinguished for its admirable management, and the following had been furnished him by one of the Board of Guardians as the result of the operation of the new Bill. From this, it appeared, that the expense under the Poorlaw previous to the Union was 3,117l.; the expenses now were 1,729l.; showing a reduction by the operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act of 1,444l. per annum. The total annual decrease in the expenses for the poor for the entire county of Hertford was 31,713l, being a decrease on the total rates of 37½ per cent. It was, perhaps proper to mention, that the Union of Hatfield was under the greatest possible obligation to a noble Lord resident there, whose exertions in the cause of humanity were above all praise; and he would undertake to say that a better behaved body of the poorer class could not be found anywhere. To show the improved condition of the labouring population, he need only mention one fact communicated to him by Sir Culling Smith, as having occurred in that gentleman's own parish. He had directed the surveyor to repair some parts of the roads, which was promised, but on going past some time afterwards, he found it was still unrepaired, and on applying to the surveyor to know the cause, he was informed, that 1075 it was owing to his inability to get any men to work, for even the paupers were now fully employed in agricultural labour. He could assure the House, from his knowledge of his own district, that the lands of Hertfordshire, were now in much better cultivation than they were formerly; that a much larger quantity of labourers were now employed upon it, and that all showed subjugation to the law and general content. He had been actively employed as a magistrate in the county for twenty-five or thirty years, and he begged to say, that since the new law came into operation, not a single complaint had been made by a pauper on any cause whatever. The Union of Bishop's Stortford was formed of twenty parishes, and he had received a letter from the vice-chairman of that Union, stating, that since the adoption of the new Bill, able-bodied paupers had disappeared as if by magic; that formerly they had from thirty to sixty able-bodied paupers receiving relief in each parish, but that now there were in the workhouse of the Union but seven for the whole twenty parishes, and that none were relieved out of the house. In the thickly populated parish of Bishop's Stortford, which alone averaged formerly from fifty to sixty able-bodied paupers, he was informed that the greatest number they had ever had since the new system was three. The next Union to which he begged to advert, was that of Watford, consisting of seven parishes. There the effects of the new Bill had been most beneficial and satisfactory to the people. The same was the case with respect also to the Union of Royston, where the rates were last year reduced more than one-third, and all parties were content. The work-house of that Union, which comprised a very large and populous district, now had 136 inmates, of whom sixty were orphan, bastard, and deserted children; all the others could find employment enough, and the farmers of the Union had desired him to inform the House, that considering the measure, not only as it regarded themselves as landlords, but also as it regarded the poor, who they considered had a right in the soil, they were decidedly of opinion that the Act was of the greatest possible advantage to them (the farmers), and a been and blessing to the poor. With regard to what had been stated by the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln, as to the amount of allowance to paupers 1076 under the new Bill, he begged to say, that it was much better than the scale of allowance adopted in his county under the old law. He observed the hon. Member for South Essex present, and hoped the hon. Member would excuse him if he referred to the state of the Union of Saffron Walden since the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act; for though that Union was in the county of Essex, he (Mr. Alston) resided much nearer to it than did the hon. Member opposite. Saffron Walden was a large town and parish full of trade, and he had heard Lord Braybrooke say that previous to this Bill ninety or one-hundred paupers were unemployed and turned to work on the roads or taken up by farmers at a lower rate of wages, but though no railroads were now in progress, and though only the common and usual state of things existed, there was not at this time a single labourer unemployed. He would not detain the House further than to say that this Act, in the state it now was, was as beneficial a measure as ever was given to the country, and he was sure that if it had not been enacted, all parties, farmers, traders, and paupers would now be in a state of ruin. Such were his sentiments. He did not object to the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire, but he preferred the amendment of the noble Lord, because the motion touched the principle of the Bill. He agreed to the inquiry, but with the noble Lord he objected to any attempt on the principle of the measure. Before he sat down, he thought it was due to the Commissioners to read the last paragraph of the report addressed by the union of Royston to the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department. That report stated, "That the union felt it their duty to express the high sense they entertained of the assistance which they had derived from the guidance of the Commissioner and assistant commissioner of the district, to whose judicious superintendence alone they attributed the success of their exertions." Until he had heard it hinted the other day in that House, he had heard nothing but entire approbation of the conduct of the Commissioners, and that they had given immediate attention to every communication made to them. He should vote for the amendment of the noble Lord with the fullest satisfaction.
§ Mr. Robinson
was at a loss to comprehend how it was that his hon. Friend, the 1077 Member for Cirencester, and other hon. Members, who spoke with such confidence of the benefits of the Poor-law Amendment Act, could, for one moment, contend for a limited and not a full inquiry; for every one of their arguments, and all the extraordinary effects attributed to that Bill, were but so many additional reasons why a full, fair, and impartial investigation should take place. What had the Government to fear from any inquiry, however general, if the Bill had really produced the results which had been stated? He had been one of those who had opposed the Bill, when in progress, through Committee; he did so, not from a conviction that a change was unnecessary, not that the mal-administration of the former law had arrived at such a state as to render a change imperative, not that he thought the Government who had undertaken the Herculean task were censurable, but rather deserved the thanks of the country for grappling with a question which no former Government would venture to undertake, but he objected in Committee to the restrictions imposed on granting relief. Since, however, the passing of the Bill, he had never felt it to be consistent with his duty to hold it up to disrepute. Such conduct he held to be highly inconsistent with the duty they all owed to the State and to the Legislature of which they were Members. But while he was willing to admit, because it was utterly impossible to deny it, that a large saving had taken place in the rates, and even a great improvement in the condition of the labouring population, it remained to be made out, for it was not a necessary consequence, that all these effects were fairly attributable to the operation of this Bill. Surely, no man would deny that these effects were chiefly owing to peculiarly favourable circumstances, among which were three successively abundant harvests, the cheapness of provisions unknown in this country for many years, together with an unexampled demand for labour; so that, even if the Poor-law Bill had never passed, a great portion of the good effects spoken of would have followed, from circumstances with which they had no connexion. It appeared that there was not much difference of opinion in the House on matters of fact; that they were pretty well agreed upon them; but that was a reason which would induce him to vote for the motion of the 1078 hon. Member for Berkshire, rather than for that of the noble Lord, because he considered that on this question it was very desirable, not only that there should be a total absence of everything like party feeling, which he was happy to say had been the ease in a great degree, but that the inquiry should be entered upon in a manner and spirit, and with such an extensive range, that the enemies and opponents of the Bill should not have a pretext for saying it was more a delusive inquiry than one calculated to arrive fully at the truth. He held in his hand a statement that was taken before the Agricultural Committee of last year, from which it would appear how much the Poor-rates had been reduced before the passing of the New Poor-law Bill, and there were many districts in which, by an improved administration of the old system of Poor-laws, very considerable savings were effected in the rates without the aid of the new system. Mr. John Ellis stated, in answer to questions put to him with respect to the reduction of rates in the parish of Anstye, where he himself had lived, that prior to the year 1818 the Poor-rates were l,440l.; in 1820, they were reduced to 1,281l; in 1830, to 9761.; in 1834, to 641l.; and in 1835, to as low a sum as 516l. There was a reduction of nearly two-thirds in the course of ten or twelve years under the old Poor-laws, yet the noble Lord would attribute all the savings, amounting to 2,464,000l., or upwards, entirely to the magical effect of the working of the new system. He could not agree in the noble Lord's statement. It was perfectly true that the rates had been reduced, but that reduction ought by no means to be solely attributed to the new Poor-law Bill. The hon. Member for Cirencester, who was entitled to great credit for the attention which he had paid to the subject, and the time he had devoted to the interests of the Union to which he belonged, bad admitted that if the Poor-law Bill, as it had been enacted, were rigorously acted on it could not be beneficial. He did not mean to say, that the Bill might not produce great good, but he believed the truth concerning it would be found to he between the extremes of the two parties who had debated its principles and operations, one of which attributed extraordinary and almost supernatural benefits to it, and the other characterised it as excessively cruel, 1079 calculated not only to do no good, but pregnant with every species of mischief. But there was ground for apprehension, that however this Bill might be calculated to effect good prospectively, it never would work well under adverse circumstances. He believed, with the hon. Member for Salford, that to attempt to carry this Bill into effect in large manufacturing districts in times of scarcity of employment, and dearness of provision, would be attended with consequences that were frightful to contemplate; but upon whom would the blame of such consequences be thrown? Upon the Government of the day, to be sure. It was a great misfortune, in his view of this question, that the noble Lord should declare that substantially there was no difference between him and the hon. Member for Berkshire, and yet that he should oppose his motion. If there really was no difference between the noble Lord's intention, as he (Mr. Robinson) had gathered from his speech, and the hon. Member for Berkshire, why not make the reference of this important question to the Committee unaccompanied by any asperity or display of feeling calculated to prejudice the inquiry? He had never joined in any clamour against the Bill; he entertained a strong feeling upon the question certainly, but he deprecated any division whatever upon it. What was the reason that the noble Lord would not agree to the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire? He confessed that he did not think it a very satisfactory, or statesmanlike reason. It appeared that there had been imputed to the hon. Member for Berkshire, and to a newspaper with which he was supposed to be either now, or had been formerly, connected, some statements with respect to the Poor-law Bill that were calculated to produce a strong feeling of disapprobation in the minds of the noble Lord and his Colleagues; but was that a reason, because the hon. Member for Berkshire, or The Times newspaper, had been guilty of some indiscretions in treating of the New Poor-law question, therefore he would not agree to refer the question wholly to a Committee, while it was acknowledged in the same breath that really there was no material difference of opinion between the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Berkshire? But it seemed that the noble Lord had also another reason, founded on what was said by the hon. Member for 1080 Oldham. He must say that if the sentiments of any hon. Member could justify the course pursued by the noble Lord, they must be such as those delivered by the hon. Member for Oldham; for it was rather too much for a Gentleman who had been returned to that House, and he begged to be understood as speaking of that hon. Gentleman with the greatest possible respect, having heard much good of him, but he thought it too much for a Gentleman who had been returned as a Member of the Legislature to declare in that House that he had availed himself of opportunities to excite opposition out of doors to this measure. He did not know whether, in the absence of the noble Lord, there would be any objection to comply with the suggestion which he had ventured to throw out. He thought it quite easy for the noble Lord to meet the view of the hon. Member for Berkshire. The noble Lord had said he was willing to allow an inquiry, but he would not allow the principle of the Bill to be touched. He would remind those hon. Gentlemen who cheered that remark, that if one half of the statements which had been made that night were true, no hon. Gentleman would ever induce Parliament to repeal that Bill. But he maintained that it would be just as objectionable to appoint a Committee with the limitations implied by the noble Lord as it would be to appoint a Committee with a view to seek the repeal of the Bill. The Committee ought not to be fettered; they ought to inquire minutely into the effect of every part of the Bill. The country would be satisfied with nothing less. He was convinced, if the Committee was appointed in accordance with the noble Lord's motion, while he gave that noble Lord credit for sincerity of intention, it would not satisfy the country, but it would be the means of bringing the report of that Committee into disrepute, and to produce dissatisfaction in the country, and he would rather see no Committee appointed at all than such an one. What did they want with a Committee? Why have a Committee at all if the Poor-law Bill was working as it was said to work by some hon. Gentlemen opposite? But then the noble Lord had said he did not want a Committee, but as there was so much clamour out of doors, and the hon. Member for Berkshire had insisted on pressing his motion, he was willing to grant one, but it must be under 1081 certain restrictions. That might be denied, but according to the noble Lord's speech, he maintained that he wished to have the functions of the Committee limited barely to matters of detail and to the rules and regulations of the Commissioners; and that it would be competent for any Member of that Committee who might entertain opinions favourable to the Bill to interpose an objection on a question being put to a witness, tending to show that the operation of the Bill was not so good as had been represented. He did not find fault with his Majesty's Government for declaring their intention to adhere to the Bill, and only to admit such modifications as time and circumstances might render necessary; but at the same time he maintained that there was no reason why the House should not institute a large and full inquiry into the question. He did not believe that there was a disposition in the country to call for the repeal of this Bill. He believed there was a very strong feeling existing in the country that this Bill, if attempted to be carried into effect with rigour, would inflict such hardships on the poor in particular cases and under peculiar circumstances, that it was not desirable the Bill should be so acted upon. He did not attempt to bring any accusation against the Commissioners. He knew one of them at least, and he knew the characters of the other two; and he believed that men more fitted for the difficult task they had to perform could not have been selected. But the real question was, were the guardians in the different unions to have a discretionary power? The hon. Member for Cirencester had stated that he had taken upon himself the exercise of a discretionary power; but if that course were adopted in times of difficulty by the guardians of the different unions, it would involve all the evil consequences which were said to have arisen under the whole system. He begged most distinctly to express his disapprobation of some parts of the Bill. He protested against the compulsory confinement of persons in the workhouse in seasons of temporary difficulty, when a little assistance out of doors, united with the support they might derive from their friends and relations, might enable them to return to the means of obtaining a livelihood. He protested also against much of the discipline of the workhouse system—the separation of hus- 1082 band and wife under any circumstances, and of the parents from their children; the necessity of those persons attending religious worship within the walls of the workhouses, and their being restricted from attending other places of worship, were all of them matters of severe discipline which were exceedingly repugnant to his feelings. There was another part of the Bill, the bastardy clause, which excited a sense of horror and disgust in his mind; and when they talked about a repeal of the Bill with respect to other parts of it, he declared to God he should not think it of much use to go into any Committee which might not be at liberty to inquire into the operation of a provision which imposed on one party, who was guilty in common with the other, but who was the weakest and generally not the most guilty, all the burthens and evil consequences of the guilt of both. He would not join in the cry against this Bill, which had been got up out of doors: but he hoped that hon. Members on both sides of the House would find some means of coming to terms on this question, so as to preclude the necessity of a division, especially after the House had been told that there was really no difference of opinion between the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Berkshire, but that the noble Lord rested his opposition to the motion on some alleged indiscretions of either the Mover or the Seconder.
§ Mr. Edward Buller
having derived considerable information respecting the operation of the Poor-law Bill from persons on whose authority he could rely, felt it his duty, considering the importance of the subject, to relate some of the facts which had come to his knowledge to the House, by way of illustrating how far the Bill had been found beneficial to the labouring classes in the places of which he should speak. The first place to which he wished to direct attention, was Stoke-upon-Trent, the population of which was 45,000, who were chiefly engaged in the earthenware manufacture. The parochial affairs had been ill-conducted for years; so bad had the state of things become, that the parochial officers continued to hold their situations after they had been guilty of peculation to a large amount. The parish was governed under Sturges Bourne's Act, and had a select vestry. All the officers, as they were under that Act, were appointed at a general meeting 1083 of the rate-payers, and could only be discharged at such meetings. But, whatever might be the conduct of an officer, he contrived, by causing a partial collection of the poor-rate and other means that were well known to parish jobbers, to secure a majority of the rate-payers in his favour, and thus he would set the vestry at defiance. The expenses of the parish amounted sometimes to 14,000l., but never less than 11,000l.; and such was the extent to which abuses of various kinds prevailed both in the workhouse and in relation to the out-door poor, that great injury was done to the property and interests of the parish. It was at a time when the vestry, parochial officers, and rate-payers were all quarrelling among themselves that a respectable body of the inhabitants applied to the Poor-law Commissioners for the introduction of the new system; and he must say that it had been attended with most satisfactory results. From the month of September to November last year, about 1,200 persons were thrown Out of employ, but the manner in which the new Bill was applied, enabled the board to supply the wants of the poor, with better effect than they ever had been supplied before. The doors of the workhouse were opened, or relief offered, to all who were not members of trades' unions. Every applicant who was able, whether husband, wife, or child, was compelled to appear before the board, before any relief was afforded them; thus all imposition was frustrated. There were 239 persons belonging to labouring families who had received relief at their own houses because they were unable to go to the board-room. There had been, he could assure the House, a great decrease in pauperism in Stoke-upon-Trent since the introduction of the New Poor-law Bill. The hon. Member for Southwark had stated, that the 2,000,000l. saved in the amount of the poor-rate, had been wrung from the aged and infirm, from the patriarchs of the land, who had been compelled to surrender twenty-five per cent. of their scanty allowance, or go into the workhouse. If such had been the operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act, there was no epithet in the vocabulary of vituperation which he would not willingly join that hon. Member in fastening on the measure. But that was far indeed from being the fact. Was the hon. Member so utterly unacquainted with all the circumstances of the case— 1084 had he so passed his whole life, in some peaceful valley and sweet Arcadian shades as absolutely to know nothing of the jobbing of parish-officers, and that by the distribution of relief they had contrived, in many instances under the old system, to realise property to a very considerable a-mount? It was because the Commissioners had put an end to jobbing of that sort—because they had introduced many great reforms, that so much opposition had been raised against them. But there was another source from which great savings had resulted. Before the Bill came into operation, the major part of the able-bodied labourers in the eastern counties were paupers on the parish. In the twelve unions of East Kent they amounted to 3,000, and were now reduced to five. In the county of Sussex there were many able-bodied labourers receiving parochial relief, and the number of them was already reduced to 124. Besides, was it not clear as noonday that what was saved in rates must be spent in wages? in the one case they were applied to support idleness, in the other to maintain industry, and thereby give increased value to property, increased demand for labour, increased employment, increased wages, and augmented comforts to the poor. The report of the Commissioners, in fact, put an end to the whole question. It was impossible the Commissioners and the Boards of Guardians throughout England could have combined together to publish a collection of falsehoods so gross and palpable, and yet so immediately to be detected, as their report must be, if the Poor-law Amendment Act had not already proved itself to be most advantageous to the country, not more in producing an immense saving of parochial rates, than in raising the character, improving the condition, and increasing the comforts of the labouring population. No one but the beer-shop-keeper had any reason to complain of the operation of the Bill. Its tendency was to draw the labourer from the haunts of vice, and, elevating his character, to restore him to the endearments and comforts of home. Having supported the Bill in its principle through all its stages, he should not shrink from whatever responsibility or unpopularity might now attach to it. He regarded it as one of the most valuable Acts which a liberal Government had ever introduced, and a reformed Parliament carried, in 1085 spite of all the clamonr of a daily press—in spite of the power of journalism, which had been so industriously brought to bear against it.
§ Major Beauclerk
was unwilling to trespass on the attention of the House, but he could not reconcile it with his public duty to omit the present opportunity of urging his Majesty's Government, with those who had preceded him, to enter upon this inquiry fully and fairly, and go into the whole bearings and operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act. He did not maintain that the old law was good in practice; it was quite the reverse, it was abominable, and Government deserved well of the country for having devised and introduced any practicable amendment. But whilst he was ready to adopt this Bill as far as related to its provisions for the prevention of idleness and profligacy, there were undoubtedly other parts of it harrowing to the feelings of humanity, and tending essentially to defeat the safe and efficacious working of the whole system. The principle of the old law was, that assistance should be given to the destitute—to those who were unable to work, or, being able to work, could not procure employment; poverty being regarded, not as a crime or a disgrace, but as a misfortune. He voted for the Committee on this principle, that he wished to see this Bill so amended as to allow assistance to be given where assistance was deserved or was absolutely necessary. He would vest that discretion in the Board of Guardians which they ought to have for discriminating characters, to give to the honest and industrious, but not to the idle and profligate. He was aware that many who called themselves political economists might differ from him, and maintain that the workhouse system promised to work out some great beneficial change in the character and condition of the labouring poor, which he should be most glad to see. But while human nature was human nature, poverty and improvidence would, he feared, still be found to prevail; and although they should punish idleness and profligacy, they never would be able to pass a law which would prevent young men from contracting improvident marriages, or preclude the possibility of a temporary suspension of employment, so that poverty and misery should not require assistance. He did not mean to go into individual cases 1086 but there was one remarkable circumstance which struck him so forcibly that he could not omit noticing it, and which should lead them to look narrowly to what the Commissioners said, as proceeding in some degree from an interested party. The Commissioners "augured well of the success of the Leicester union from the temper which persons of all parties had shown towards the measure." "The guardians have met and proceeded cheerfully to the dispatch of business, feeling themselves not compelled to be the unwilling instruments of establishing a system of which they disapprove," &c. And yet what was the fact? Only three days ago he himself had presented a petition signed by 8,500 individuals connected with that borough, the majority of the guardians themselves expressing their abhorrence of some portions of the Bill, and their determination not to carry them into effect; while the hon. Member for the borough also presented a petition from 3,400 persons on the other side of politics to the same effect. He did not wish to make any attack on the Commissioners, but he could not help expressing his belief that they would never be able beneficially to carry out the principle of the Bill if relief were restricted to the workhouse system, and nothing but the workhouse. The hon. Member for Berkshire could have no motive in reference to this subject but to secure a full and fair investigation into all the bearings of the question. It was therefore his duty to stand by that hon. Member; party feeling had nothing whatever to do with the matter; Whig, Tory, and Radical should have one unanimous feeling, to do all they could to advance the comfort, happiness, and prosperity of their fellow-countrymen.
§ Sir Stratford Canning
did not intend to enter at all into the details of this question. He was not in Parliament at the time it was carried through the House; but, although he could not appeal to his own experience, he was unwilling to believe that what had been stated by the hon. Member for Southwark could rest upon any solid foundation. Although it had been said that the poor had no friends, and, in one sense, no representatives in that House, he maintained that their interests were always advocated and most feelingly responded to. This was not the time for discussing the merits of the Poor-law Amendment 1087 Act, although on the one side, looking to the information which had reached them, there were strong reasons to believe that a great deal of good had resulted during the experiment which had hitherto been made of its operation, while on the other, with regard to the fears and anxieties which were entertained, although the poor-rates had been essentially diminished, much pressure had been occasioned on the poor. When they recollected the circumstances under which the Bill was carried, two results might naturally be expected to follow. It was hoped there would be a great reduction of the poor-rates, accompanied with important advantages to the poor, elevating their character and improving their condition; but, at the same time, there was no denying that very extensive and extraordinary powers were assigned to the Commissioners under whose direction the Act was to be carried into effect; and the transition from the old law into the new was likely to be attended with a considerable degree of pressure on those who were to come within its operation. But the question in its present shape did not seem to involve the merits of the Poor-law Amendment Act, all parties agreeing that inquiry should take place before a Committee. Looking at the wording of the respective propositions, indeed, he saw sufficient to indicate an essential difference between them; and that was to a considerable degree enhanced by the hon. seconder of the motion informing the House that he contemplated the repeal of the measure altogether. His wish was, that the principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act should not be prematurely thrown into doubt, and the public mind unsettled on the subject; at the same time he wished that a fair and impartial inquiry into its operation as administered under the Commissioners, and to the fullest possible extent, should be immediately set on foot. If he were assured by Government that such, too, was their object—that the inquiry should be extensive, that it should extend, for instance, to the question of medical treatment, the extent of unions throughout the country, the bastardy clauses, every thing connected with the regulations the Commissioners had, in their discretion, promulgated as the principles on which the Act was to be carried into operation, he for one should be satisfied for the present. Should the result of the inquiry be to confirm the suspicions entertained against the 1088 Bill, it would then be time enough for those who viewed the subject in the same light as himself to stand forward and use their efforts to procure its amendment. But considering the great magnitude of the evil to be corrected, considering the extreme difficulty of the case, and the short period, comparatively for the importance of the object, the Act had been allowed to be in operation it was most desirable that the public mind should not be unsettled, and therefore, as affording free scope for examining into all its merits, he should support the amendment of the noble Lord.
§ Sir S. Whalley
contended that the Poor-law Amendment Act had effected great improvements in the administration of the law, and tended greatly to improve the moral condition of the poor. At the same time he wished that inquiry should take place, in order to ascertain whether the principles of the Bill might not be somewhat modified in their operation.
§ Sir R. Peel
thought the question really at issue lay within the narrowest limits; and he could state what his opinions were in five minutes much more satisfactorily to himself than if he spent two hours speaking on the subject. He considered the whole question to turn on this—what will be the impression of the public mind from the course they were about to adopt? The terms of one motion might differ very little from those of the other, the inquiry they might institute might differ very little from another inquiry, but the real question at issue was—what construction the public, those who had to administer the law, those to whom the law was to be administered—what construction they would put on the vote the House was about to come to and on the intentions that vote would manifest? If they intended to repeal the Poor-law Amendment Bill, if they intended to prejudice the operation of that measure, their course was perfectly clear; if, on the other hand, they intended to maintain it, to see that a great experiment had a fair trial, and give the moral aid of their support to those who had to administer very unpopular functions, then he said they ought to be exceedingly cautious that they did not create in the public mind perhaps an erroneous impression, that they had doubts on the subject, and wished to shrink from the application of the measure on the most plausible grounds imaginable. He apprehended the great object of the change made in the Poor-law was not to 1089 save expense to the rate-payers. He attached very little importance to the results as derived from that measure affecting merely the question of the diminution of a pecuniary charge. It was stated, that 2,000,000l.or 3,000,000l. had been saved by the Bill; he did not undervalue the amount of the saving, particularly in this respect, that they could make no reduction in unwise expenditure without improving the condition of the lower classes. In that respect he attached much importance to the saving which had been effected; but the principle advantage to be derived from the measure was to elevate the moral condition of the poor, promoting their independance and raising them in the social scale—holding out to them the hope that when industry was combined with good moral character there was a certainty of providing for their own subsistence and that of their families. Having given to this measure, when first introduced, his cordial support, he must say he had yet heard no facts which could induce him to regret the course he had then taken, or incline him to prejudice the operation of the Bill. He did not believe it was possible to make a great change in the old administration of the Poor-law, and contend with a system of abuse so rooted and so extensive, without provoking great opposition. There was a great deal of interested opposition to contend with—there was also a great deal of opposition springing from the most honourable and laudable feelings of real commiseration for the poor—a commiseration directing itself rather to individual and personal suffering than taking a comprehensive view of the condition of the poor, and laying a foundation in hope of permanently bettering their condition. But, far from saying one word reflecting on those who looked merely at individual suffering, and most anxious to apply an immediate and practical remedy, still knowing that there was great opposition to contend with, and fearing, if those parties intrusted with the application of this law had reason to believe that the support of one branch of the Legislature was taken away from them, whatever difficulties now existed in the way of the operation of the system would be aggravated to a tenfold degree, if the slightest suspicion were excited that they were themselves doubtful of the efficacy of the principle, and meditating its infraction, it was most desirable to avoid any step which 1090 might appear to throw doubt on the permanency of the law. He believed that, in the application of this system it had been almost impossible to avoid many cases of individual hardship, and being desirous of ascertaining those cases and providing without delay a remedy for them, but being perfectly determined to adhere to and support the principle of the Bill, while he ascertained how he might best mitigate the severity of its operation he would vote against the original motion. He gave the highest credit to his hon. Friend, the Member for Berkshire, who introduced the subject, from a sincere desire to benefit the condition of those who were entitled to the sympathy and most indulgent consideration of that House, yet differing entirely from him as to the impression which would be made on the public mind, he felt bound to say, as some unpopularity might attach to the avowal of a frank opinion—and being quite unconverted from his original opinion in favour of the principle of the measure, he was most anxious that it should have a fair trial. He believed, that its ultimate result would be to rescue the country from an evil which was progressive, and which, if not impeded in its progress, was fraught with most awful consequences not only to property, but to the independence and moral condition of the poor. He should not hesitate to give his vote in favour of the amendment of the noble Lord, which appeared best calculated to maintain the principle of the Bill, and yet at the same time, by admitting extensive inquiry, would enable them to devise the most practicable remedies for mitigating" its pressure.
§ Mr. Roebuck
wished to avail himself of the present opportunity of expressing art opinion on this question, because he believed that the interests of the labouring classes were deeply involved in it; and the expression of an opinion of his on the subject might have some weight with those classes, as regarded whom he was willing to take his full share of any odium that might fall on him for advocating the Bill. He was one of the early supporters of the measure; and he begged to assure the hon. Member for Southwark that he voted for it with a perfect knowledge of what he was doing. He adhered to the principle then laid down; and had heard no argument or evidence adduced in this House or elsewhere, which was calculated to make him now shrink from the principle which 1091 he recognised and openly avowed at the time when the Bill was originally introduced. Many hon. Gentlemen who professed a great regard for the labouring classes had impugned this Bill as a cruel and inhuman Bill. He should give it his support—not because it had diminished the parochial expenditure—but for reasons which he considered of much greater importance. There were two classes of persons who were included under the name of the labouring classes; these were the industrious poor, and the poor who were not industrious. Now he believed that the interests of the industrious poor were deeply involved in this Bill, and it was as a friend of the industrious poor that he would vote for the maintenance of the principle of the Bill. He made these remarks in consequence of the extraordinary language of his hon. Friend, the Member for Southwark. He had been addressed personally and called on to explain how he could consistently support the principle of self-government and at the same time the principle of centralization to be found in the measure under discussion. He would reply, that nothing was easier. He divided the Bill into two parts—first, there were the regulations which it provided, and next, there was the machinery by which they were to be carried into effect. He was prepared to support the principle on which the regulations were founded. There were two difficulties before them. There was the formidable one of any man being allowed to suffer from want; and there was the great difficulty of making such a provision against want as would not have the effect of destroying the industry of the population. He wished to relieve want, and in doing so, to avoid generating idle habits. He thought they ought to give relief to all who really wanted it, but not in such a way as to induce them to neglect the means of providing by honest industry against a state of destitution. With this view he would draw a distinction between the classes receiving relief. There were the old and impotent poor, and the industrious and able-bodied poor. Now, he bad no personal knowledge of the fact, but he had received some account from his constituents, of whom he had made inquiries on the subject, in which he found a contradiction of the assertions made this night, and on the former night of the debate, for his constituents told him, that in 1092 their neighbourhood, a large body of the old and impotent poor were maintained out of the house. He believed that to be the principle of the Bill. An hon. Gentleman shook his head, but he asserted it to be the principle of the Bill. And the magistrates who formerly had the power, and who called on the House now to give it to them, they might compel the giving of relief to the old and impotent poor out of the workhouse. He hoped that the poor never would be taken into the workhouse indiscriminately; but he conceived it to be quite necessary that the able-bodied poor should receive their relief in the workhouse. He made this assertion, willing to incur any odium that the expression of such an opinion was calculated to bring upon him. He had now a few words to say with respect to the machinery of the Bill. Some of the hon. Gentlemen who had spoken on this subject would make them believe that the question of relief was one which solely interested those persons in the parish who gave relief to the poor belonging to that parish. He, for one, would resist this view. He would say that the poor belonged to the nation. The provision for them wa9 a national concern, and it ought not to be left to any locality to say whether they would relieve the poor or not. It was a principle of the State that none should die of want, and he would not yield that to any locality whatever. He therefore thought the Legislature had done wisely in creating a set of Commissioners, who would exercise the necessary control to enforce certain fixed principles, while they left to the locality to decide with respect to the particular persons who should receive relief. Certain rules were laid down by the Commissioners, and persons were appointed local guardians, whose duty it was to act in conformity with those rules in their particular district. Thus they combined self-government with the principle of centralisation. They gave to the central body what belonged to the whole state, and they referred to the locality that which was of a peculiarly local character. In conclusion, the hon. and learned Gentleman said, he would oppose the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Berkshire, and seconded by the hon. Member for Oldham, believing that the present measure had greatly improved the habits of the labouring poor, by creating in them an honest pride, which would not allow them to receive undue assistance 1093 from any man, not even from the State. He had formerly expressed it as his opinion that such would be the effect of the Bill, and that opinion he would unflinchingly maintain.
§ Sir James Graham
, having taken an anxious part in the original discussions on this measure, were it ten times more unpopular than he believed it to be, should be ashamed of himself, if, on the present occasion, he shrunk from taking his full share of any odium that might attach to its supporters. He had stated his opinion as to the general policy and the particular enactments of the Bill, and the result of his experience was, that he not only approved of the general policy, but he considered the particular enactments indispensable. He did not think this a fit opportunity for discussing the policy of the Bill. The question before the House lay in the narrowest compass, and he was ready to adopt the opinions of his right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel), who observed, that there were only two questions before the House: one was, should there be an inquiry? and the other was, what should the nature of that inquiry be? As to the first question, whether there should be an inquiry, there was hardly a difference of opinion throughout the House. He would say that, in the abstract, the terms of the reference should be as wide as possible, saving the principle; but if they carried the motion of the hon. Member for Berkshire, seconded by the hon. Member for Oldham, a moral feeling would get abroad which would render it impossible to continue to work the measure as heretofore. The inquiry as proposed by the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, appeared to him to be perfectly satisfactory. An idea prevailed in the county he represented, that no good would result from an extension of the measure to his district. He differed from his constituents in that respect, and he was convinced that by an inquiry into the subject—but it must be a full inquiry—he was convinced, he said, that if they went into an investigation of the peculiar circumstances of his county, his constituents would be satisfied that the measure would be found most salutary there, as well as in other places. Looking, however, to the terms of the reference, he should be of opinion that, if they abided by them strictly, the peculiar circumstances of his district would scarcely come within the limits of 1094 the inquiry; but if the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could assure him, in the absence of the noble Lord, that it was the noble Lord's intention the inquiry should be full and complete, that it should include such matter as he had adverted to, stopping short only of the principle of the Bill, he should give his most cordial, instead of his reluctant support to the amendment of the noble Lord.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
should not have occupied the attention of the House but for the question which had been put to him by the right hon. Baronet, and on the answer he should give he thought the votes of many hon. Gentlemen would depend. He would further say, that if his reply should induce hon. Gentlemen to feel, that consistently with their principles, they would support the measure, if he should be able to satisfy the Mover himself of the original motion that he could consistently consent to withdraw his motion, hon. Gentlemen would see that he should obtain an object of considerable importance, by the disposal of this question by an unanimous, rather than by a qualified, expression of opinion. He should be ready on the part of his noble Friend, feeling the immense importance of an unanimous opinion, to adopt the suggestions thrown out, if he did not feel that, for the purpose of purchasing that unanimity, he was endangering the principle itself, if not within the House, most assuredly outside its walls. If the House were to show itself ready to inquire not only into the details but into the principle, it would be thought out of the House that there existed a disposition to retract as regarded the principle, that they doubted the policy of it, and that they were going into an inquiry which, more or less, would have a tendency to the retracing of their steps, and the adoption of the old system. He considered that danger to be much lessened by the course which they proposed to take. His noble Friend, when he originally introduced the measure, took his stand with perfect reliance on its justice, its policy, and expediency. He was supported then, as he had been on the present occasion, by the hon. Member for Middlesex, by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and by the right hon. Baronet who sat below him, as well as by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, Gentlemen whom he named because they all represented various classes, and the 1095 House obtained from one and all of them an admission that they were friendly to the principle of the Bill, and were determined to maintain it. He believed that the point which remained for consideration was, whether they were disposed to go into a full, and fair, and just inquiry into the operation of the Bill. With regard to this part of the subject he begged to say it was not the intention of his noble Friend, in moving the amendment, to exclude from the inquiry any one question that was not directly opposed to the principle of the Bill. He would try the case by the question put by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham). He said it was a question whether this Bill ought to be applied to the northern parts of England, and he wished to know whether that was a matter which might be considered and discussed in this Committee. His reply was, that that was really within the fair scope and object of the Committee of his noble Friend, and so far from seeking to exclude such an inquiry, he believed that the result would be as favourable as the result of the whole inquiry would be favourable to the principle of the Bill; and that instead of shaking the confidence of the people in the administration of the poor-laws, it would increase their confidence and confirm the measure in their good opinion. It was stated on Friday night by the hon. and learned Member for Southwark that he had presented a petition, not important perhaps, on account of its numerical strength, but entitled to great weight, inasmuch as it was signed by Gentlemen of great influence, the guardians of the poor in the large parish of St. George, Southwark. The hon. Member said, that these guardians, comprising eighteen persons, at the head of their district, had remonstrated against the introduction of the Act into their parish, and objected to being compelled to administer its provisions, and their petition was presented by the hon. Gentleman as against the Poor-law Amendment Act. Now, how stood the fact? It was true that there was a Board of Guardians in that parish. But the petition was agreed to at a meeting of which no notice with reference to the petition had been given: it was agreed to at eleven o'clock at night; and so far from the meeting having consisted of the eighteen Members of the Board of Guardians, there were only seven of the eighteen members present, and only five of those 1096 seven voted in favour of the petition. Yet that petition, signed by five persons out of the eighteen, and agreed to at eleven o'clock at night, was presented to this House by the hon. Member for Southwark as the petition of eighteen guardians of the poor; and on such grounds as those were the people of England to be called on to oppose the Act? He should not go further in the question, nor would he presume to urge the hon. Gentleman who made the motion to withdraw it; but he thought it would be much better, both with reference to the inquiry itself and to the public interest, that the amendment should be carried unanimously by the House of Commons, than that there should appear any difference of opinion as to the principle.
§ Mr. Robert Palmer
had come down to the House that evening fully prepared to support the motion of his hon. Friend and Colleague, and though before a Committee of free inquiry some of the statements might be found exaggerated, he felt sure that by nothing but a full and fair inquiry would the country be satisfied. He had certainly thought the terms of the noble Lord's amendment were not sufficient to warrant the expectation that it would be sufficiently so, but after the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had in such strong terms stated the views of Government as to what extent that amendment would allow of, it appeared to him to go as far as possible, and as was consistent with maintaining the leading principles of the measure. His hon. Friend, the Member for Berkshire, had done himself great credit in bringing the subject under the consideration of the House, and he thought he might congratulate him on the turn the debate had taken, and the explicit declaration of the Chancellor, from which he would perceive that he had forced Government into the concession he sought. He hoped, that under all the circumstances of the case, he would desist from pressing his motion, and would adopt the advice of the right hon. Members for Tamworth and Cocker-mouth, more particularly as he would have the opportunity of bringing the points he had advanced under the consideration of the Committee.
§ Mr. George F. Young
had joined with the hon. Member for Berkshire in giving his conscientious and continued opposition to the new Poor-law Act when it was before 1097 the House, and he would now support the hon. Gentleman's motion for inquiry into its operation. He had ever considered that that Act violated the inalienable right of every Englishman—namely, the right to receive support from the soil on which he lived. He regarded it as a measure repugnant to every law and feeling of human nature. He denied that by granting the fullest inquiry, they would do any thing contrary to or in violation of the principle of the Bill. The noble Lord proposed that the inquiry should only extend into the operation of the rules and regulations of the Commissioners, and not to the extent called for by the hon. Member for Berkshire, and which the voice of the country demanded. He did not rely upon the mere figure statement made by the noble Lord, that the poor-rates had been reduced from6,000,000l.to 4,300,000l.; all such statements he looked upon with suspicion, for nothing was easier than to make out a case by such means. If they looked to the returns for three years before the Bill passed, they would find that there had been a progressive diminution of the outlay. He thought that it was unfair to impute the reduction merely to the operation of the law, which resulted from the sympathetic operation of various other causes.
§ Mr. Wakley
hoped that the House would permit him to urge the importance of making one part of the subject with respect to which he had given notice, an important part of the inquiry, namely, the medical branch of the subject. If an inquiry took place it was a matter of importance that it should be a free and full inquiry, and pursued without any feelings of excitement. He hoped that the hon. Member for Berkshire would withdraw his motion, as he thought that it was of great importance that the House should be unanimous. The hon. Gentleman had been requested by many hon. Members who were favourable to the Bill to withdraw his motion, and now he (Mr. Wakley), who was as hostile to the Bill as the hon. Member himself, requested him to do so. If the inquiry as proposed by the noble Lord should prove that the working of the Bill was bad, he trusted that the hon. Member would at once move for the repeal of it. In conclusion he trusted that hon. Gentlemen would go into the inquiry with unprejudiced minds, and that the only object that they would have in view would be to elicit the truth.
§ Mr. Hardy
assured the House he would not detain it two minutes, but having previously to the present discussion put a question to the noble Lord opposite, he was anxious to put the same question again to the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his vote on the question before the House, would depend on the answer he might receive. The noble Lord proposed that an inquiry should be entered into with respect to the regulations promulgated by the Poor-law Commissioners; but something, more than that was, he thought, necessary, and something more seemed also to have been indicated by the right hon. Gentleman himself. [Cries of "Divide."] He was determined to be heard if he should remain there till morning.—["Oh! Oh!"]
§ Mr. Hardy
The noble Lord opposite made no allusion in the course of his speech to the operation of the bastardy clauses; and as no instructions had been issued with regard to them by the Commissioners, he was afraid that the noble Lord's proposition would exclude the operation of those clauses from the consideration of the Committee. He therefore wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed to allow an inquiry to be gone into with regard to the manner in which those clauses had operated? If such was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, he would vote in favour of the amendment proposed by the Government; but if it was meant to prevent any consideration of the operation of those clauses, he should feel bound to vote for the original motion.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
trusted the House would allow him to answer the question put by the hon. Gentleman. He had no hesitation in saying that he should consider the inquiry about to be instituted incomplete if the operation of the bastardy clauses were excluded from it. He begged to add, that he anticipated in that branch of the inquiry the same result as in every branch.
§ Captain Boldero
as he lived near the residence of his hon. Friend (Mt. Walter) in Berkshire, was enabled to state (and he felt the more bound to do so after the taunts which had been thrown out about the non-attendance of that hon. Gentle- 1099 man at the Union of Hurst) that his hon. Friend was a true friend to the poor, and it would be well for them if they had a hundred such friends in existence. No pauper—no person in distress, ever went to the door of his hon. Friend and came away without relief. He was sure that his hon. Friend had brought forward the question solely with the view of ameliorating the condition of the poor: and if the motion went to a division, he should feel it both a duty and a pleasure to vote with the hon. Member for Berkshire. He wished to mention one fact relating to the operation of the Poor-law Act. [Confusion.] He would be heard if he remained there till two o'clock in the morning. [Increased confusion.] He was acquainted with a parish in Wilts in which a large benefit society was established. One of the members of that society was seized by a disease which had been so very fashionable. [Laughter, "Name! Name."] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but the present question was one which interested the whole kingdom. He asked the hon. Gentlemen who interrupted him whether they desired to put down argument by clamour? The sick member of the benefit society to which he had alluded applied to the parish for relief, but he was told that no relief would be afforded him in consequence of his belonging to a benefit society. What was the result of the treatment? The benefit society was destroyed. Some hon. Gentlemen had raised a cry of "Name." Did they wish him to name the town where this sick person was refused relief? ["No, No." "Name the disease."] A general meeting of the society was called, and the members resolved that their funds should not be appropriated to the diminution of the poor-rates, and be placed under the control of the guardians of the poor. The consequence was, that the whole society was dissolved, and the funds, amounting to between 800l. and 900l., were divided among the members, according to the term of their subscriptions. Some of the members received as much as 16l.Now he would ask the House, whether, if the benefit societies existing throughout the country should be dissolved, a great injury would not be done to the active, industrious, and prudent class of society? He trusted that this subject would be brought under the consideration of the Committee, He consi- 1100 dered that these benefit societies ought to be protected, and not discouraged. There was another point connected with the Poor-law Act, which he trusted would be brought under the consideration of the Committee; and that was the interdicting the poor incarcerated in workhouses from attending their accustomed places of worship.
§ Mr. Walter
said, that it appeared to him that the House had reason to complain that his Majesty's Ministers had not sooner intimated their intention of giving up the points in difference between himself and the noble Lord. If the noble Lord on a former night, or if the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the present occasion, had given him an earlier intimation that they were ready to waive the points on which they had formerly insisted, but which they had now explicitly abandoned, they would have saved the House the trouble of much of the recent discussion. He had only a word to say on two or three matters which had arisen in the course of the debate, before he consented to the general wish of the House by withdrawing his motion. The noble Secretary for the Home Department, in the speech which he delivered on a former evening, had complained that he had not given to the Poor-law Commissioners any information respecting the allegations which he intended to prefer against them but the noble Secretary had misstated his reasons for withholding from them that information. He had told the Commissioners that his business was with that House, and not with them, and that they might disfigure the facts which he communicated to them, as he knew them to have disfigured facts communicated to them from other quarters. But even if he had been willing to give them the information they required, it was not in his power to have given it, inasmuch as he was not himself in possession of all his facts until the morning of the very day on which he made his motion. The noble Lord had also twitted him with his non-attendance at the Board of Guardians for the Wokingham Union. He would tell the House that he was not aware till the noble Lord had informed him of the circumstance that he had attended so often as ten times the meetings of that board. He wished hon. Gentlemen to recollect that from the end of the month of January to the commencement of the 1101 month of September last year he had been engaged, like themselves, in the performance of his parliamentary duties; and for two months afterwards he was engaged in visiting his constituents. There were only two occasions on which he recollected having attended the meetings of that Board. On one of those occasions he had entreated the Board of Guardians not to erect the large workhouse for the union near the roadside, in the vicinity of the town of Wokingham. He had been successful in the application which he had made to them, and he believed that they were now very glad that they had taken his advice. On the other occasion he had urged his objections to that part of the regulations which went to separate husband and wife, parent and child. In that opposition he had been unsuccessful. He also discovered very soon, that the Board of Guardians could not act independently. The Board of Guardians determined to give the two medical officers of the union—there ought, from the size of the union, to be three or four—100l. a-year each, and half-a- guinea on every midwifery case. The Central Board intervened and recommended that the medical officers should have no more than 80l. a-year in future, and no more than 7s. 6d. in midwifery cases. It was extraordinarily discouraging to have to attend a board whose resolutions were liable to be superseded by a set of outlandish Commissioners. The noble Lord had informed the House that the Wokingham Board of Guardians had expressed a favourable opinion of the operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act. He admitted the eulogium; but, with the usual fairness which characterised these proceedings, he had omitted certain points in it, which he would now give. The Board of Guardians observed that "in their opinion the Guardians might safely be invested with somewhat of a more discretionary power in certain instances than they now possessed, particularly as respected the dietary for the aged and infirm in the workhouse." The Board were also "strongly of opinion that some discretion might be given them in extreme cases to relax the rule which forbids relief to all able-bodied paupers, except in the workhouse." They also directed their clerk to "write to the Poor-law Commissioners to crave from them that the Guardians might be permitted to raise the allowance to 1102 their aged and infirm poor up to the level of another union, which gave twenty-four ounces of bread per week more than them-elves;" and this very Board, so vaunted of by the noble Lord, as approving of the operation of his Poor-law, were anxious to be informed (these were their words not a fortnight ago) "upon what principle it was that the aged and infirm paupers in the Wokingham union workhouse were to be deprived of those proper and essential necessaries allowed by the Commissioners to the poor of the Bradfield Union, and to express their hope and earnest wish that the Poor-law Commissioners would, upon reflection, and upon the broad basis of equal justice, remedy the apparent hardship." He was happy to inform the House that he had reason to believe that the announcement of this discussion had had the effect of producing for the aged and infirm paupers that additional allowance. As he intimated at the commencement of his observations, he did not intend to press his motion to a division. He hoped, however, that the House would watch with jealousy the names of the committee, and that it would not give to them its unreserved confidence.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
observed, that as the hon. Member seemed to fancy that the time of the House would have been saved had the same intimation been made to the House by Ministers on Friday night as had been made to them just now, he must only recall to the minds of hon. Members the fact that his noble Friend had on Friday evening made the very same declaration which he had himself made that evening.
§ Motion withdrawn, amendment carried, and committee appointed.