HC Deb 27 November 1837 vol 39 cc318-38

Lord John Russell moved "for a Select Committee on the distribution of relief to the poor in England, under the orders of the Commissioners." The noble Lord said, he did not expect that the lahours of the Committee could effect much before February, but he thought it advisable to have the subject entered into as early in the Session as possible.

Mr. Wakley

said, he had a notice of motion on the books, "for a Select Committee to inquire into the administration of the medical department of the parochial unions which have been formed under the provisions of the Poor-law Amendment Act;" but, as he was anxious not to prejudge the inquiry about to be instituted, he would not press the point; he hoped, however, that the noble Lord would instruct the Committee to devote their earliest attention to that very important branch of their inquiry.

Lord John Russell

said, he could hardly undertake to move such an instruction now. The operation of the system of medical relief to the poor was a subject which must necessarily come under the consideration of the Committee; but, at the same time, he thought that it was a subject so intimately connected with the other features of the case that it could hardly be separated into a distinct subject for inquiry. He would only add, that he should be ready at all times to inquire into any facts connected with the medical department of the Act which the hon. Member or any other Gentleman might be inclined to submit to him; and then, if the hon. Member was not satisfied, he could resort to his original proposition, and move an instruction to the Committee on the subject.

Mr. Darby

wished to draw the noble Lord's attention to a point connected with the operation of the poor relief upon which great feeling was expressed, particularly in the county of Sussex. There were there, as in all parts of the country, a great number of labourers who had married under the old system of Poor-laws, and had families of children which they were unable to maintain, and it was earnestly desired by them that the board of guardians should have the power to admit some of their children into the house. This was a matter in which he thought it was absolutely necessary something should be done before the Committee terminated its inquiry.

Colonel Wood

did not precisely see the range to which the noble Lord proposed that the inquiry of the Committee should extend. On the appointment of the Committee last year, the noble Lord stated, that he wished the inquiry to be as wide a one as possible; but, on the present occasion, he saw that the words of the motion limited the inquiry to "the distribution of relief to the poor under the orders of the Commissioners." Now, as the relief of the poor under the Commissioners was closely connected with the workhouse system, and unions were extending all over the country, he wished to know whether the noble Lord proposed that the inquiry should extend to the operation of the workhouse system? A very strong feeling prevailed throughout the country against the kind of relief administered in these buildings, and against the further erection of them, many of which, he must say, looked more like prisons than the abodes of the aged and infirm.

Mr. Liddell

said, that as considerable objections were felt in the north of England, and in his own neighbourhood in particular, to the introduction of the measure in question into that part of the kingdom, be could not allow the present opportunity to escape without making a few observations upon it. It was against the workhouse system that the objections to which he referred were generally directed in the north; and he was sure that many persons were anxious for the success of the greater portion of the Bill, provided its more obnoxious provisions were got rid of. It was impossible not to see that many parts of the Poor-law Amendment Act were absolutely penal—and although he was willing to give the Commissioners credit for having met and checked the great evil of able-bodied labourers becoming burthens on the public, yet there was sufficient mischief in the measure to allow the people in the north of England to pause before they admitted it into their part of the country. Me was willing to admit that the Bill had, in many places, been carried into effect with much discretion and consideration; but, as one objection to it in the north, he might mention the fact that it would compel persons connected with its execution very constantly to go long distances over a rough and difficult part of the country, which guardians could not be expected to do without some sort of compensation. As to the principle of the Bill, it was much in accordance with the old law as it existed in the northern counties, and he was prepared to show that many of the Unions about to be formed there, particularly in Durham and Northumberland, were not necessary. The hon. Gentleman then quoted from certain returns in his possession connected with the northern districts, from which it appeared that, in the Unions already formed there, the number of those who received out-door relief was infinitely greater than of those who were relieved within the workhouses. The same relief was, in fact, administered under the new system as under the old—and, under such circumstances, where was the necessity for covering that part of the country with workhouses? Again, the strongest impressions had prevailed upon the subject of the bastardy clause. In the town of Sunderland the parochial allowance of two hundred children had been suddenly stopped—and strong and dark rumours were afloat of children having been found dead. The Bill had led to the most cruel privations, and in many instances to starvation. Under these circumstances, then, he did hope that its more mischievous clauses would be brought effectively under the investigation of the Committee, for, although the workhouse system had been cried up as having remedied the evil of able-bodied labourers receiving parochial relief, yet it should not be forgotten that a very great demand for labour had existed at the time the Bill came into operation, and had stepped in to the very timely assistance of the Commissioners, leaving it still to be determined whether the workhouse system had been of such great benefit as it was stated to have been. The old law had been carried into effect in many parts in a manner generally satisfactory to the public, and he had himself heard numerous individuals testify to its beneficial effects. He did hope, therefore, that the objections to which he had alluded would be brought under the notice of the Committee, and that that Committee would be an unbiassed and impartial one.

Mr. Hume

had heard with regret the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, particularly at a time when so much excitement prevailed in the country upon the subject of the Poor-law Amendment Act—and he rose to allude to statements, of the truth of which, in his opinion, the hon. Gentleman ought not to leave the House without being called upon to give some more satisfactory proof. The hon. Gentleman had stated that in the town of Sunderland alone two hundred children had been suddenly deprived of parochial allowance, and that strong and dark rumours were afloat that several had been found dead. Now, he was at a loss to divine what the hon. Gentleman meant, unless he intended to infer that these children had been deserted by their parents. But let him ask the hon. Gentleman whether he, as a magistrate, had made those inquiries into the truth of these statements which his duty and position demanded of him—or had he made them for the purpose of throwing discredit on the Act? He was sure that the Government would be highly pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman's explanation, and he could assure him—and he was borne out in the fact by returns in his possession—that, with respect to the bastardy clauses, there was no part of the Bill which had been attended with such satisfactory results as the changes which related to that particular subject. He considered the hon. Gentleman was bound to make out a better case than he had done.

Mr. Liddell

had a paper in his possession relating to the statements he had made, and which had been communicated to him by an individual in whom he placed the most implicit confidence. If he were to name him, which he certainly should not do unless under an order from the Chair, he was convinced there were very many Gentlemen who would come forward and corroborate his statements. With respect to what he had said in connection with the bastardy clauses, the rumours he had referred to had most certainly prevailed, and had appeared in the public papers. With respect to his duty as a magistrate, he must inform the hon. Gentleman that he was not a magistrate of the county of Northumberland, though he was of Durham, or he should most certainly have attended most particularly to the working of those clauses of the Poor-law Act which he regretted had been the cause of so much dissatisfaction.

Mr. Hume

asked the hon. Gentleman whether he could specify when and where one single case of a child having been found dead had occurred?

Mr. Liddell

replied, that he could not at that moment specify a particular case—but he could show the hon. Member papers in which the rumours had publicly appeared.

An hon. Member

stated, that he knew an instance which was by no means a solitary one, of an individual who had himself been a rate-payer for forty years, and who had now arrived at a time of life when, owing to his inability to work, he had nothing to look forward to but parochial relief, and who stated that he contemplated a residence in the workhouse with horror.

Mr. Goring

regretted, that the Government were not prepared to modify these clauses, as they had the effect of preventing the Bill in many places from being carried into execution. The regulations were dif- ferent in almost every union, and he could only attribute this to a wish on the pàrt of Government to have an opportunity of talking of their reduction of the Poor-rates. He must say that he now considered an uniformity of system was quite hopeless. He fully believed this to be the fact. He knew many instances in which the guardians had applied to the Commissioners to alter the regulations, but in vain; but he did not see how the Government could refuse to give a special power to the Guardians to judge of the peculiar wants of the people in particular districts. As far as his own county was concerned, he felt himself compelled to impress upon the noble Lord (John Russell) the necessity, before the winter set in, of giving the Commissioners and Guardians a discretionary power in administering the provisions of the Act.

Mr. Guest

said, that his constituents considered it a very cruel case to separate those who were bound together in the bonds of affection when in distress, and hoped the inquiry would be full and impartial. That he was sure would please the Commissioners too, for they only performed their duty.

General Johnson

said, that when he considered the power which the manufacturers in the large towns had of turning great numbers of workmen out of employment, and that those persons would have no other places to go to but these prisons of workhouses, he did think that the oppressive orders of the Commissioners would produce the greatest dissatisfaction in the country. He thought that employment, instead of being augmented, was reduced by this measure. [No, no!] Let those who cried "No" prove their assertions. The Bill, he was persuaded, would never do in the manufacturing districts.

Sir Harry Verney

said, that the Act had been the most useful and beneficial to which he had ever given his support. The hon. Gentleman opposite might perhaps have lost a few votes through it, but if he had lost twelve elections by it, he would never have refused to speak well of an honest measure—Supported as it had been by so many hon. names on both sides of the House. He perfectly remembered the advice which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, gave to an hon. Gentleman on that side of the House on a former occasion. The hon. Gentleman had brought in a Bill of which the right hon. Baronet disapproved, and in his observations on that measure the right hon. Baronet said, that if, instead of introducing useless measures, the younger Members of that House would take up the report of the Committee on the Poor-law, and go through it carefully, and with a view to discover a remedy for the grievances and crying abuses of these laws, they would not only be doing that which would be useful, but in fact conferring an important benefit on their country. He always paid the deepest attention to whatever fell from the right hon. Baronet, being anxious to learn from his acknowledged wisdom and experience, and he had accordingly adopted his suggestion. No subject, he felt convinced from his inquiries, could be taken up by hon. Gentlemen with greater advantage to the community at large, and for this reason he was most anxious that the fullest and most extensive investigation as to the operation of the Poor-laws should take place. The hon. and gallant Officer, the Member for Oldham, had complained that no benefit had arisen to the labouring classes from the Poor-law Amendment Act, but the hon. Gentleman on the contrary, was prepared to contend that not only the labouring, but every other class, had been materially benefitted by that measure. While it had operated beneficially as respected the labouring classes, it had materially raised the character of the farmer. It bound up their interests with those of the working classes, and it had even done more—it had rendered the country gentlemen more useful and valuable members of society. As regarded the labouring classes, he thought it could not be denied that it had not only benefitted them in a pecuniary point of view, but tended materially to elevate their character. This he could assert from personal knowledge of the state of the poor in the neighbourhood in which he resided, and therefore it was, that he was desirous the country generally should have the benefit which had accrued in his own part of the country from these laws.

Mr. Cripps

was sorry to hear such speeches as had been delivered by hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House on this subject that night. He did not suppose that their object was to create mischief, but they must permit him to say, that they evidently could not intend by what they stated to do any benefit to the country. He was astonished to hear many of the statements which hon. Gentlemen had made. An hon. Member opposite had asserted that the effect of the new Poor-laws was to lessen rather than increase the wages of the labouring poor, and that statement had surprised him, because he knew that the practical operation of the system furnished conclusive evidence to the contrary. On inquiry he believed it would be found that there were few parishes in which the wages of able-bodied labourers were lower than the wages given in parishes generally, and the reason was obvious. If a labouring man, his wife and family, were taken into the workhouse, they could not be maintained for less than a guinea a week, and this was a punishment so severe on the rate-payers that to be relieved from such a burthen as a guinea a-week they would gladly pay 8s. rather than 7s. as wages to those whom they employed. He was not a Member of the Committee of last year, and he had hoped that some hon. Gentleman who was—that the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Kilkenny for example—would have got up and stated some of the facts which had appeared in evidence before the Committee. Day after day, week after week, and hour after hour, they heard of some dreadful case of oppression, and therefore it was only right the public mind should be set at rest with respect to such rumours. He believed them to be unfounded. He had differed from the hon. Gentleman the late Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) on this subject, and he had not hesitated to say, that it was most unjust to depreciate a whole system because of the existence of a few isolated abuses. He recollected having asked that hon. Gentleman how many unions he had visited and what was his answer? Why, he said that although he had gone to the work-house of one only three times he condemned the whole system beyond everything. He was curious to ascertain whether or not the objections of the hon. Gentleman to the new Poor-laws were well founded, and had therefore within the last ten days inspected, in company with a noble Lord to whom the neighbourhood was much indebted, the work-houses of the Wokingham union, in Berkshire. Nothing could possibly be better or more perfectly managed, and this the Noble Lord to whom he alluded readily admitted, although he declined to write his name in the book kept for registering the opinions of those magistrates and others who visited the workhouse as to the system adopted in it, on the ground that, having been hostile to the alteration, he could not regard it otherwise than with enmity. This was a union containing a population of 23,000 inhabitants, and not only here, but in every other union with which he was acquainted, he found that the farmers were most regular in their attendance at the board of guardians. He considered this a great advantage. With respect to medical relief, he had no doubt that this was a subject which would be taken into consideration by the Committee whenever they met. He was glad that the plan suggested in reference to medical relief last year had not been adopted, and he felt convinced that if any error existed in that branch of the administration of the Poor-laws it would speedily be rectified. At present he thought hon. Gentlemen ought to abstain from pronouncing any censure on the system.

Mr. Christopher

wished to call the attention of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the House to the practice which the Poor-law Commissioners had adopted of forming very large unions. He attended the board of guardians of the union in the neighbourhood in which he resided, and by the desire not of the board of Guardians but of the magistrate he had represented to the Commissioners the great inconvenience of forming such large unions. He regretted to say that they had not attended to his recommendation. The union to which he alluded, which was in the northern part of the county of Lincoln, extended to a distance of from eighteen to twenty miles from the town in which the work-house was situated, and it was consequently utterly impossible that the aged or infirm could go such a distance to seek relief. Neither could it be expected that the guardians could be punctual in their attendance at the meetings of the board under such circumstances. He had also another objection to such large unions, and that was, that where there were a great number of guardians it was impossible that matters could be deliberated upon without party feelings. This was a serious evil, and while it existed, and it must exist in all large unions, it would be impossible to go on with the business in a manner satisfactory to any party. He begged it to be understood that he had no wish whatever to throw impediments in the way of the working of the new system. On the contrary, he was the vice-president of one of the district boards of the union in which he resided, and he was bound to declare that the system worked well in that union. He had only risen to impress upon the noble Lord and the House the inexpedience whenever it could be avoided of forming large unions.

Mr. Baines

thought, the alarms which had been raised as to the operation of the new Poor-laws were without foundation in truth, and this had been proved to be the fact with respect to the representations which had been made of the working of the system in the south. The result of the inquiry by the Committee of last year had shown that the whole of the charges which had been brought against the Commissioners and guardians had broken down, but still he was glad that the Committee was to be re-appointed, because he was persuaded that any investigation that might take place, would tend to convince the public that the new Poor-laws would operate as advantageously in the north as they had done in the south. The sooner the existing prejudices against the system were removed the better, because they must all be aware that in many parts of the country those prejudices were likely to break out into open outrage. He had not supported the new Poor-law Bill, but from the experience he had of its working, he did not hesitate to say that it would be as advantageous to the north as it had been to the south, although, perhaps, less abuse existed under the old system in the former than in the latter part of the country. Whether the new Poor-laws operated well or ill was a fact which the Committee could easily be able to ascertain, and for his part he was most anxious that they should investigate and probe into the whole system, and every part of it. l'>y this means he was satisfied that the unfounded prejudices which were entertained upon the subject would be removed, and a proper remedy applied to any error or evil which might be proved to exist. He thought that hon. Members ought to observe great caution when they spoke on a subject so inflammable. This ought not to be dealt with as a party question, and he must be permitted to express the surprise which he felt at hearing hon. Gentlemen assert that no benefit had resulted to the poor from the new Poor-laws. If they had read the evidence taken before the Committee of last year, they would have found that the system had conferred great and substantial advantage on the poor; but while he said this he would not deny that abuses might exist, which called for and ought to be remedied. The hon. Member for Fins-bury had very properly brought forward the subject of medical relief, and there were other branches with respect to which, he had no doubt, inquiry would elicit im- portant facts, and enable the Commissioners to get rid of all those minor abuses which constituted the subject of complaint. There were reforms which might be called for—which might be necessary—but to effect them there was no occasion whatever for inflammatory speeches. He was now willing to admit, that many important benefits had been derived from the operation of the new Poor-laws, and he would not say so if he were not convinced of it, having been one of those who voted against the Bill. Had he not been convinced of this he would have retained his former opinion; but, knowing that opinion was erroneous, he did no more than his duty in the avowal which he made, that the view which he had taken was wrong. He was satisfied, that if the new Poor-laws were administered in the same spirit as they were enacted, most essential advantages would result from them, not only to the poor, but to the rich; and therefore it was that he felt surprised at the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for Old-ham, that no benefit had accrued to the labouring classes from their operation. The hon. and gallant Member could not have read the evidence taken before the Committee, or he never would have made such an assertion.

General Johnson

said, there was no evidence in the report of the Committee which went to show, that the labouring classes had admitted that they had been benefited by the alteration of the Poor-laws.

Mr. Hodges

was exceedingly glad that the Committee was to be revived, because he considered the inquiry of last year an imperfect one. He hoped that the whole subject would now undergo investigation, and that no one question connected with it would be left untouched.

Mr. White

said, that as the hon. Gentleman, the Member for North Lincolnshire, had alluded to the working of the new Poor-laws in the union with which he was connected, he (Mr. White) begged to say that in the Sunderland union, a union that embraced a population of 50,000, the system had also operated most beneficially to the poor. He was the president of the board of guardians of the Sunderland union, and therefore he had an opportunity of seeing how the Act worked, and from his experience he was enabled to assure the House that the alteration did confer great advantage on the great body of the poor. He had reason to know that money was given out of doors; and as to the workhouse of the union, no establishment of the kind, he verily believed, could be better or more admirably conducted. He admitted that there was a feeling against the Poor-law Bill at Sunderland, but be denied that it prevailed to any thing like the extent that had been asserted. When he canvassed the borough he represented, he was known to be the chairman of the board of guardians of the Sunderland Poor-law union. He was asked whether he was in favour of the new Poor-law, and notwithstanding he uniformly declared himself in the affirmative, he had no reason to regret his avowal. With such sentiments he could not feel otherwise than glad at the re-appointment of the Committee, because he was most anxious that if there were any harsh features in the new law they should be softened, but then he trusted that this would be done in a proper and becoming manner.

Lord John Russell

was very glad that he had given way to the hon. Member for Sunderland, not only because he was able to speak with confidence of the working of the new Poor-law Act from his observation of it as chairman of the board of guardians of a most extensive union, but also as he afforded a complete reply to the observations of the hon. Member for North Durham, as to the dark rumours that prevailed in Sunderland, and as to the effect that they had had on the minds of the people of that place; for if such a state of things did prevail, that hon. Gentleman was more likely to lose his election as a well-known defender of the new Poor-law than any other Gentleman.

Mr. Liddell

The hon. Member for Sunderland had not contradicted any of his statements.

Lord John Russell

was prepared to contend that the statement of the hon. Member was virtually contradicted by the observations of the hon. Member for Sunderland; for the hon. Gentleman, when he alluded to what he was pleased to call the dark rumours afloat respecting the new Poor-law, directly alluded to the union of Sunderland. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last, who was chairman of that board of guardians, told the electors who returned him that he would stand by the principles of the law, and, not withstanding the rumours which the hon. Member opposite alleged to prevail, the hon. Gentleman was returned. He would advise the hon. Member to pay as little attention as he did himself to such rumours, unless he could have them from some creditable source; and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would, as a Member of the Committee which was about to be appointed, take care to examine into the facts which would be adduced before it, and not as he had stated, take assertions without inquiring into their truth from the public prints, and which the hon. Gentleman seemed to consider as absolute and sufficient authority on this subject. He should, however, be glad to show that the mere publication of such statements was not to be taken as authority on the subject. As a proof of this he would refer to what had been stated to a large assembly in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield, and which had been taken from the same source as that upon which the hon. Member relied. It was asserted that a man who was in one of the union workhouses in Cambridgeshire asked leave to go out, as he might obtain employment, and on doing so he requested that his wife might be allowed to accompany him. Upon his making this request he was told that his wife was dead, and had been buried a fortnight. Such a statement as this, made at a large public meeting, and going forth uncontradicted, no doubt was calculated to have a great influence on the minds of the multitude. The Poor-law Commissioners, on inquiry being made of them as to the truth of the case, stated that they altogether disbelieved the case, but they would take care that an investigation should take place. They immediately sent to all the unions in the county of Cambridge, inquiring whether any such occurrence had happened; and the reply from one and all of the unions was, that nothing of the kind had taken place in that neighbourhood, and that it was also added that it was not possible that anything of the kind could have occurred without its being known. Application was then made to the persons who had put forward the original statement to give the names of the persons from whence they had learnt it, that further inquiry might be made. On the name of the person who had furnished the statement being given, inquiry was made of him as to his authority; and he stated, in reply, that he had heard it from one of two gentlemen with whom he was accidentally in company, and who were strangers to him, but that they did not say that it occurred in the county of Cambridge, nor indeed did they name any particular place. He was then asked whether he could tell the name of the party who had told him, or where he was to be found; and he replied that he could not tell anything further about it, as he had heard the statement from some person he had never seen before, and whose name he did not know. Thus, then, it was put forth, without hesitation, and on the authority of a person whose name was not even known, that this circumstance took place in some union workhouse somewhere in the country, and it would have been taken for granted had not the Commissioners directed inquiries to be made into the subject. Thus, then, this pretended statement of facts, so much calculated to excite the public mind, was put forth unhesitatingly at a large public meeting. The hon. and gallant Member for Breconshire asked, whether it was intended to make inquiry into the management of workhouses. He would, in reply, observe that they would proceed as they did last year to inquire into this as well as other parts of the subject, and that, no doubt, the management of workhouses, as well as other matters under the control of the Commissioners, was a proper subject of inquiry. He had used the words of the motion which he proposed last year for the same reason, namely, that he did not wish it to be supposed that the majority of that House were anxious for inquiry merely with the view of abrogating the law, but that it should inquire into the operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act under the control of the Commissioners, and especially into the administration of the relief of the poor under the orders and regulations issued by them. The House would see that by his motion all that had been done under the administration of the law could be inquired into. He had thought that the nature of the inquiry that took place last year, as well as the nature of the proposition that he then made, showed that there was no objection to the most extensive and searching investigation. At the same time he thought that the great principle of the Poor-law should always be kept in view, namely, that a clear and obvious difference should be made between the allowance made to the destitute and the wages paid to able-bodied labourers. He believed that no one would deny that the most prevalent abuse of the old system throughout the country was the mixing up the payment of the wages of labourers with the amount of the relief given to the destitute poor. The hon. and gallant Member for Oldham said that the labourers did not acknowledge that they had received any benefit from the operation of the New Poor Law. He did not mean to assert that any labourers had substantially stated they had obtained benefits from the new law, but still he thought that the House had conclusive evidence that the labouring classes had been materially benefited, both as regarded their condition and their character and conduct by the working of the new law. As a proof of this he would mention some, certainly not of the most striking, facts on this point, which came out in evidence upon the Committee last year. The cases to which he alluded were those in which he had himself put questions to the witnesses, and elicited what he was about to state. In one of these cases under the old law there were two labourers in a parish; one of them was an idle, dissolute person, and was far from being an able workman, while the other was a skilful and industrious labourer; and it was stated that the idle labourer, by doing merely nominal work on the roads, received more from the parish than the industrious and skilful labourer, who worked extremely hard, did from his employer. It was stated in evidence that considerable irritation was excited in the mind of the good and steady workmen that he did not earn so much as the idle and dissolute labourer. The case had been reversed since the New Poor Law Bill came into operation; and the labourer, who was less skilful and industrious received a lower scale of wages. He would ask whether this was not a good lesson for the labourers of this country, that they should know that they would be rewarded for their exertions in proportion to their skill, steadiness, and industry? In another case that came before the Committee last Session, of two men who belonged to a benefit society, and who had saved money out of the proceeds of their industry, they, however, found out that in consequence of the operation of the allowance system, they were not better off than the labourers who were improvident and idle, and who spent all their money in the beer-shops. The consequence not only was, that these men ceased to save, but they drew out all the money that they had saved, and went to the beer-shops and expended it in dissipation. Since the change of the law, however, had taken place these men had found the benefit of belonging to the benefit society, and of saving from the produce of their labour. This was another proof that under the new law habits of frugality and industry had been encouraged instead of encouragement being held out to dissipation. Therefore, when he was talking of the beneficial operation of the new law, he did not so much allude to the four millions of money that had been saved to the rate-payers as to the improvement that had been effected in the character of the labouring classes, by showing that a sufficient reward was given in the wages paid to the industrious, and also that that which was formerly given to the idle, should be given to the steady and industrious. The question then was, what was the distinction that they wished to draw between the condition of those who received wages for their industry and those who were in a state of destitution? The great abuse of the old system was, that they did not make a distinction between the condition of the labourer and the destitute person. Now, the Commissioners thought that the best test that could be applied to make the distinction was the workhouse; and, certainly, experience had proved that the workhouse was a very effective and good test between, on the one hand, the able-bodied labourer, and, on the other, the destitute pauper. The effect, also, of the application of this test in the south of England, had been to raise the rate of wages. One of the objects of their inquiry should be as to whether this should be made a general and universal test. He did not, however, mean that it was the best or most proper test in such a case as had been mentioned by the gallant General (Johnson), when by the stoppage of a number of mills and factories, hands were thrown out of work, and great temporary distress was experienced in a manufacturing district—he did not mean to say, that in such a case all the persons who were thus destitute thould be sent to a workhouse, or that he should prefer that mode of relief to any other that could be devised. In such cases, he thought some other test might be applied, provided it would give security that they did not give relief to those who did not require it. Provided that a sufficient test was afforded of the distinction between the destitute and the non-destitute, the object of the law was attained. An hon. Member had asked, whether relief might not be afforded to those who were married before the passing of the act, by taking a certain proportion of their children into the workhouse. In consequence of the applications that had been made on this subject, the matter had been referred to the Commissioners. The Assistant-Commissioners had made a number of reports on the subject, and the conclusion they all arrived at, coincided with the opinion he entertained on the subject. All the Commissioners agreed, that the practice of taking into the workhouse some of the children of those who were married before the passing of the Bill, would lead to the re-adoption of the allowance system, and was likely to lead us back to the old system, which had just been got rid of with so much difficulty, and which had entailed so much mischief on the country. The Commissioners, as he believed most truly, stated that it was not possible to make such a distinction between those who were married before the passing of the law and who had since been married; and even if it could, the distinction would not be kept up. But there were other objections of the strongest nature. The taking away the children from their parents, and rearing them in the workhouses, with a view of affording relief to the latter, would do more than anything else to destroy the ties which should ever exist between parents and children. This was his own impression on the subject, but it was a matter for the Committee to decide, on investigating the subject. An hon. Gentleman had alluded to the great size of the unions that had been formed by the Commissioners. The Commissioners entertained a most favourable opinion as to having unions of great size, as they thought that such unions were much better managed than smaller unions were. He, however, thought that this was a fit subject for further inquiry, as he admitted that there were strong objections to such extensive unions, as the guardians were necessarily brought from a distance before they could be assembled, and they, therefore, might not meet so often as was desirable; and, although the relieving-officers might be most exemplary in their conduct and behave extremely well, still it was desirable, for the sake of the poor, that they should be under the superintendence of the guardians, who should have every facility of meeting together. Under these circumstances, he thought that nothing but overwhelming necessity should render them favourable to the establishment of those large unions. He had said so much on this subject, so far as regarded the operation of the law. It was said by the hon. Member for Kent, that the subject was not properly investigated before the Committee last year. This, he was satisfied, did not arise from any want of attention on the part of the Members of the Committee, for he had never seen a Committee which paid more attention to a subject which it had to investigate than that did; but he must repeat now what he had occasion to say last year, that the time of the Committee was wasted by the great number of frivolous complaints which they had to investigate, and unnecessary witnesses which they had to examine. He hoped that, by a more judicious use of their time, the labours of the present Committee would be lightened, and the whole subject thoroughly investigated within a short time; and when they had seen how the law had operated in the agricultural districts in the south of England, and the great grievances that had been got rid of by it, they should proceed to consider in what manner the law should be carried into effect in the great manufacturing districts in the north of England. He was aware that the same abuses did not exist to nearly the same extent in the manufacturing districts as formerly prevailed in the agricultural districts. With reference, however, to the allowance system, it prevailed to a greater extent than was imagined, and the Assistant Commissioners almost uniformly found, that in a union composed of fifteen or sixteen parishes, there were three or four parishes in which there existed a tendency to this abuse. It was not necessary, therefore, to make such great changes in the manufacturing districts in the north, as it had been found absolutely necessary to effect in the south, before a remedy could be applied to the abuses that existed. The relief in the. unions in the north would be granted under the control of the board of guardians, rather than under the vestry. By this means, no particular or individual parish would be allowed to introduce the abuse which resulted from the allowance system, but the whole control and expenditure for the relief of the poor would be placed under the direction of the board of guardians for the union, which, in all cases, would be a much more enlightened body than the parochial vestry could be expected to be.

The motion agreed to, and the Committee was nominated.