HC Deb 20 February 1838 vol 40 cc1362-413
Mr. Fielden

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for a repeal of the Poor-law Amendment Act. The hon. Member, who was sometimes inaudible, was understood to say, that he believed this to be one of the most important questions that had ever been submitted to the consideration of that House, that question being whether the poor of the kingdom should have those rights restored to them which had been wrested from them by the Act passed for the amendment of the Poor-laws in 1834. In that question was comprised a second, and that was whether this Act should be continued until the poor were roused to rebellion, and until such a state of things was brought about that there would be no security for either life or property in this country. What were the abuses of the old system? Payment of wages out of rates, and increase of taxes thereby. But what caused this? Taxation! In 1795 it was proved by Mr. Davies, a clergyman of Berkshire, that a reduction of no less than fifty per cent. had taken place in the wages of agricultural labourers; that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a day Labourer could earn a quarter of wheat for twenty-one days' labour. At the average price of labour, and the average price of the quarter of wheat for the last twenty years, a man could not earn a quarter of wheat under forty days' labour. What means had we provided to remedy this? The New Poor-law workhouses as "a test" of destitution, and a complicated machinery to affect an uniform system of administration, and correct evils and abuses dissimilar, and requiring different remedies in different parishes. This uniform system was impracticable, which the departure shows, for there has been a departure from the original "test." Originally there was but one, now there are two, the first being relief only upon condition of being shut up, the other latterly adopted at Nottingham, where the people have had out-door labour given to them by the parish at task, and without a minimum of wages. This tends to show that the original test is a failure even in the opinion of its inventors, and also to show, what is contended by the opponents of the new law, that a law of this kind to work well should be administered by those who raised the rates, and that the local government ought to be restored which had been destroyed by the new Act. The new law was unnecessary: the people were of that opinion, the payers of rates as well as the receivers of relief. There were few petitions for it, and many against it. But it had been admitted, that the operation of the old law was good in some places. What he (Mr. Fielden) contended was, that it might be just as good elsewhere; and that if abuses had crept in, they ought not to be attributed to the poor, but to those who mismanaged their affairs. It was singular that the Poor-law Commissioners had spoken well of the working of the old law in the borough of Oldham, which would be seen in their report. In those places it was said the rates were moderate, and there was no reasonable objection to the old law. Now, he asked, why could not those who complained of the operation of the old law in other places have adopted that system which had been used at Oldham? If they had so done, what necessity was there for the new law? Now, he begged the attention of hon. Members to the results of inquiries which he had made into the returns of the Poor-law Commissioners themselves, to show how far there had, after all, been any advantage in the new system over the old. From returns, continued the hon. Member, published by the Poor-law Commissioners, the poor-rates were the highest in 1818, being then 7,870,801l.; year ending March 25, 1832, 7,036,967l.; that ending March 25, 1835, 5,526,416l.; that ending March 25, 1837, 4,044,741l., showing a decrease between 1818 and 1835, of thirty per cent., between 1832 and 1835, when the rates were every year decreasing twenty one per cent., and between 1835 and 1837, of twenty per cent. When payments to be made out of the rates before the new law, and since then have been paid out of other funds, are taken into account, it is questionable whether the new law has effected any reduction of rates at all, and in this opinion I am confirmed by the reduction of rates in Lancashire, and in the West Riding of the county of York, where agitation prevails. In Lancaster (county) the decrease in rates between 1835 and 1837 is seventeen and a half per cent.; in the West Riding of Yorkshire, twenty-one per cent. In a return made to the House of Lords, and ordered to be printed, on the 22nd of May last, the expenditure is given for in-door maintenance and establishment charges for one year, ending December 25, 1836, in 125 unions, comprising 2,312 parishes, and a population of 1,666,150, all that return embraces; and I find by this return that the maintenance of the in-door paupers averages 5l. 11s. 1d. per head for the year—that is, 2s.d. per week for each person in these union workhouses, and I find that the establishment charges average 9l. 15s. 8d. per head for the year, or 3s. 9d. per week for each person in those workhouses, So that the cost of maintenance and establishment charges of each person in your union workhouses is 15l. 6s. 9d. per annum, or 5s. 10½d. per head, per week By the same return I find that the establishment charges in these 125 unions amount to 2l. 2s.d. per head on the whole population of the unions. And by a return in the last report of the Poor-law Commissioners, the rate per head of expenditure for the relief of the poor on the whole population of Lancashire for the year ending the 25th of March, 1837, is but 2s. 9dper head that is, only 6¼d. per head more than the establishment charges alone in those unions; and in the township of Oldham, which I have the honour to represent, the rate of expenditure for the relief of the poor for the same period is only 1s.d. per head on the population of that township; that is, 1s.d. per head, less than the estabment charges alone amount to on the whole population of those 125 unions. Why, then, should this law be forced on my constituents by bullets and bayonets? They wish to know why. From the same returns of the Commissioners I find that in eighteen counties the rate of expenditure per head, with reference to the population, in the year ending the 25th of March, 1834, was less by twenty-eight per cent. than the expenditure was in eighteen other counties under the operation of the New Poor-law in the year ending the 25th of March, 1837, and in which latter eighteen counties, a reduction in the rate of expenditure of forty-two per cent. is said to have been effected since the new law was passed. In the former eighteen counties, too, the highest rate in any one of them is less than the lowest rate in any other one of the latter counties, in which the saving of forty-two per cent. had been effected. This shows that the Poor-law Amendment Act was unnecessary. Then what was the principle of this Act, and what effects on the able-bodied did its framers contemplate? The principle was, that the paupers should in no case be eligible unless they were more miserable than the lowest class who live on their labour. ["Hear, hear!"] He wondered what hon. Members meant by crying "hear, hear!" He feared they had little idea of what the tendency of such a principle must be. What were the effects contemplated? First, conversion of paupers into independent labourers, and reduction of rates; second, rise of wages; third, the diminution of improvident manages; fourth, increased content of labourers, and diminution of crime. But there were certain special effects in the eye of the original Poor-law commissioners. First, supplying a self-acting test to the merit of all claims; second, showing the requisite line of distinction between the class of independent labourers, and thereby checking the tendency to the indefinite extension of pauperism; then removing from the distributors all discretionary powers, and thereby diminishing abusive administration. Now, had the agency employed worked out the principle, and produced these effects? It was true, that the self-acting test had been adopted, and that the rates had been in some places greatly reduced by this new law. It was true that the discretionary power had been taken away, but had wages risen? Had there been a return to content? Had crime been lessened by the new law? That was the question that called loudly for an answer. Upon the point of crime, what was said by Mr. Adey, in his second Report? In the second Report of the Poor-law Commissioners (1836) Mr. Adey quotes. Mr. Since, of the Biggleswade union, who says the Act is working exceedingly well for all parties, and in confirmation says—"I challenge inquiry amongst the poor themselves, where indeed the inquiry ought to be made." He then quotes from written testimonials of several of the principal occupiers of the union; and of these one says—"I think they frequent the beer-shops as much or more than ever." Another—"I am sorry to say, that sheep-stealing and other depredations have been more prevalent since the system commenced than ever was known before." Another—"They frequent the alehouse quite as much as ever. Poaching and other depredations have increased double to any former period." Another—"I do not feel able to answer as to their frequenting the alehouses, or as regards poaching, &c., as to any alteration." Another—"The alehouses are, I think, more frequented than ever. I am not of opinion that poaching and other depredations have at all diminished, but that the greater crime of sheep stealing has increased tenfold." Another—"I think poaching and other depredations have been quite as numerous, and sheep-stealing is spreading more every year." The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had been pleased to challenge him by referring with exultation to the unions of Biggleswade and Amp hill. The noble Lord had referred to these as furnishing proofs of the extraordinary good working of the system. He had expected that this working would turn out to be not very good; but he was bound to confess, that the working had turned out to be even much worse than he had expected. He had sent two persons down into that neighbour hood to make inquiries, in order that he might be the better enabled to accept the challenge of the noble Lord. He had wished to have more evidence, and evi- dence of a very different kind from that which had been produced before the Committee. He had proposed to get evidence from twenty-one unions in which it had been alleged that the saving had been the greatest; that wish, however, did not meet with the approval of the Committee. He was permitted to take the three first unions on the list; those happened to be Amp hill, Woburn, and Bedford. He had sent two intelligent persons into those unions in search of information. What was the result of their inquiries? It was this, and further inquiry, if made by the Committee, would show whether the statement were true or false—that deaths in Amp hill workhouse had been quite frightful; that in those unions widows, orphans, and the aged, have had their allowances cruelly reduced; that wages had -not risen, but, on the contrary, that they also were reduced, while the head-money, as it is called, had been taken away; that hundreds of labourers were out of employ, and that there were not more employed than there were previous to the new law; that bastardy had increased; that the poor were suffering distress to an extent never before known amongst them; that they cannot get a sufficiency of food of the poorest sort; that their furniture is going; that their bedding is going; and that they are reduced to the last shift, of selling their clothes to buy bread. This is very horrible. All this, however, he expected to hear. But there was something infinitely more horrible than this—something so horrible that he hardly knew how to allude to it, though his duty to the country forced him to do so. He believed, that the case to which he alluded was not the only case of the kind which might become the subject of their inquiry. He believed, that the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) was aware of the existence of another case of the same description. There had been abominations practised in the workhouse of Ampthill of the most horrible description. He had been told, that the porter of that workhouse had made it a place for the corrupting of the male youth of the country. Several youths had been spoken of as the objects of this man's wicked attempts. It appeared, that one youth had been committed to gaol, perhaps to be tried for his life, on the charge of having inflicted severe wounds upon the person of this porter; but if report spoke true, it would appear also, that the conduct of this porter towards the same youth had been such as to make the porter liable to be tried for a capital offence. The youth being in gaol to be tried, the porter had left the neighbourhood, and, as was alleged, had altogether disappeared, although he, as the prosecutor, should, as a matter of necessity, be expected to be foremost at the trial. He contended, that the management and discipline of the workhouses were most illegal and unnatural. He wondered how hon. Members could, with patience, endure the thought of the savage separation of the people, and of the details of the almost worse than starvation which they were obliged to undergo. As a specimen of the latter, that is, the dietary system, he begged to refer the House to the description given by Mr. Bowen, which appeared in The Times newspaper of the 9th instant. That gentleman's description referred to the effects of the water-gruel of the Bridgewater union; among other things he stated as follows:—"It did not affect the poor people so much at first; but after the use of it for a few days they became terribly bad; it ran away from them while standing upright, as they took it. It affected them upwards and downwards; all the way down stairs, across the hall, and down the garden path was all covered every morning, and the stench was horrible all through the house, making the people ill and sick who had not got the diarrhœa." He had received a letter only that morning from a gentleman in Bedfordshire, who was a guardian, who said that he had been favourable to the new measure when it was first proposed, who liked it then, because much good was promised to be effected by it, but who now, having judged from experience of its working, had found it to be so bad in effect, that he had become as strong an opponent of the measure as he was at first favourable to it. He implored the House to consider well what he had been saying to them; he had hoped to impress upon them that of which he himself had felt quite certain—that this atrocious law would never be tolerated by the people of England. That was as sure, as it was sure that effect would follow cause; and if hon. Members should insist upon forcing this law upon the people, he must, for himself, frankly assert that he would not give much for the estate of any Gentleman in that House. The hon. Member, after thanking the House for the patience with which they bad listened to his lengthened details, concluded by moving for leave to bring in a bill to repeal the Poor-law Amendment Act.

Mr. Wakley

, in seconding the motion, expressed the great satisfaction he felt at the statements which had been made by the hon. Member for Oldham, who had completely developed the injurious working of the bill. At the same time, he did not consider it at all necessary to go into details for the purpose of sustaining the motion with which he concluded. It appeared to him, that the law was so objectionable in principle, so tyrannical in its enactments, so obnoxious to the habits of the people, and so hostile to the spirit of the English constitution, that it should never have been sanctioned by that House, and ought not any longer to continue on the statute-book. The motion of the hon. Member was recommended by its simplicity. It proposed no bit-and-bit reform; it went at once to the root of the evil, and sought entirely to eradicate the mischief. He believed this act never would give satisfaction to the people of this country. In the whole of its arrangements, in the whole of its spirit, in its entire mechanical discipline, it was utterly hostile to the best wishes and feelings of the people. They were told of the benefits it had produced on the one side, and the mischief's it had occasioned on the other. It was, then, a matter of conflicting testimony; but, admitting that all the advantages described had emanated from it, he was prepared to contend equal advantages would have resulted without the introduction of such a law, and it was upon that ground he would discuss the principle, without thinking it necessary to go into minute details. According to the testimony of Mr. Gray, one of the guardians of the Chichester union, who had been examined before the Committee, it appeared that the rates in 1832 amounted to 6,399l., and in 1837, to only 2,216l; and where had there been a greater reduction in any of the unions which had been established? But was the Chichester union under the regulations of the Poor-law Commissioners? Was it, in any respect, regulated by the mandates of the triumvirate of Somerset-house? It was regulated by an act which had been in existence more than eighty years. Nor was there any plurality of votes in this case; but every rate-payer went to the poll and gave one vote for the election of those persons who were to distribute the funds. That was the old English fashion, and, reformer as he was, he had lived long enough to know, that there were reforms which were not improvements, and many changes, he believed, were made most unreflectingly—in some instances, exceedingly detrimental to the interests of the people. There was no dissatisfaction in the Chichester union, either among the rate-payers or rate-receivers; everything was conducted in perfect goodwill and harmony, and they wanted not the interference of the Poor-law Commissioners or their agents in that union. But how had the reduction been effected? Was not the principle the same? Had not regulations similar to those recommended by the Commissioners been adopted and carried into effect in that union? He did not object to grant that for the sake of the argument. But if, in point of fact, such rules could be carried into effect without the intervention of the Commissioners, what did they want any more with the cumbrous machinery, the extravagant expenses, and the unconstitutional powers of the establishment at Somerset-house? More unconstitutional powers certainly never were designed, fabricated, or carried into execution; for, in point of fact, the regulations of the Commissioners had all the power of statutes passed by that House; what they said was law, their resolutions became the law of the land. Was there ever any thing of the kind in England before? There never was any thing analogous to it, and the sooner they got rid of the system the better for the security and happiness of the people. He took his stand on the Chichester union; he would not move from it; and there, without the interference of the Commissioners, without their control, without any of their agents, every benefit they could derive under the existing law had been fully and completely attained. He, for one, therefore, should vote for the repeal of the bill. Sure he was the people of England would raise their voice most indignantly against the continuance of the unconstitutional and tyrannical powers of the Commissioners beyond next year, when by law they must expire. The sensibilities of the public mind were, at length, being awakened to a full knowledge of the danger to which they would be exposed by the con- tinuance of the present system, and therefore he was quite satisfied it could not be renewed. Why, he asked, had the unions been created of such enormous size? He firmly believed it was to cut off the people from all opportunity of making application to the board of guardians. No doubt it might be said, they could apply to the relieving-officer; but he was in all cases the paid agent, the tool, the slave of the guardians. The poor had nothing to do with him, they neither elected him nor could they dismiss him; and, if that officer gave an unfavourable report to the board, and relief were denied, how could the poor, at a distance of seven or eight miles, probably in a state of infirmity, personally communicate with the board of guardians? Some of the unions were twenty miles in length and sixteen broad; their enormous size did strike him as if it had been intended to preclude the poor altogether from applying to the board. He believed, many supported the present system on the ground that it was necessary to make the law severe to induce the people to raise their demands for such wages as would procure for them the necessary comforts of life. But in that case it should have been carried into operation with more moderation. Its severities should not have been enforced all at once. They should not have treated poverty as a crime, instead of a misfortune. But they carried the law in its utmost severity to one place, while in other places they had been extremely lax. In the great manufacturing towns where the people congregated, where they consulted together, knocking their heads together in order to get knowledge out of them, there they had been extremely lax; but in the rural districts, where no combination existed, the tyrannical law was enforced, and the able-bodied labourer was refused the slightest assistance outside the walls of their dark and gloomy gaols. How different had been the treatment of the labouring poor in Nottingham and in Holbeach, Lincolnshire? In Nottingham there was a large and vigorous population; and when the law was about to be introduced last year, the Whig gentry, thinking it rather a delicate experiment at a period of great pressure, generously entered into a subscription for the purpose of easing the poor rate. The sum of 5,0001. was raised, in order to sustain and employ the poor, that there might be no inconvenient clamour with reference to the introduction of this Bill. In August last, the money being expended, they said, the principle of the Bill must be enforced; and was it enforced? No such thing. The able-bodied labourer was provided with work, and paid out of the rate as in olden times under the 43rd of Elizabeth. In Holbeach, Lincolnshire, the guardians had made application to the Commissioners; they had sent up a humble memorial to Somerset House, praying that in the extreme pressing severity of the season, so many being out of employment, the board might be allowed to exercise their discretion and give the able-bodied labourer and his family some relief. What was the answer of the commissioners? ''You sha'nt do it." No; it was not done with regard to the agricultural labourers, who were prevented by the severe inclemency of the season, by the rigors of the climate itself, and by no fault of their own, from working. This was the answer: "Break up your establishments, sell your furniture, abandon your cottages." If such had not been the language of the commissioners, they should in common honesty have used it, for in point of fact such was the practice; for what else could these men do; he was speaking of evidence which had been given before the Poor-law Committee within the last week, and the board of guardians could only say, if they spoke truth—"Our masters in London sent us down word we cannot give you relief, you must come into our gaol or be frozen to death." He did not know whether the people had died or been admitted into the workhouse; but a more inhuman decree never issued, under such circumstances, from any body of men, or one which should more excite the honest indignation of every Englishman. He wished to know why, if the principle of this Bill were so worthy of adoption, it had been deemed so flexible that in Nottingham assistance should be given out of the poor rates to the labourers in the shape of wages, while at Holbeach it was entirely withheld? No doubt the commissioners were present, as they always were, when their misdeeds were discussed in that House, and he hoped some hon. Gentleman would take care to ascertain from them why one rule had been applied to Nottingham, and the reverse to Holbeach. There was another point to which he would just advert. In what condition were the people in reference to the Poor-law inquiry now in progress? In order to sustain the law there was a plentiful supply of public money; there were the commissioners, their agents, the whole organisation of the Executive Government and Somerset House; while, in opposition to the Bill, there was neither money, ability, organisation, nor evidence. They had no means of getting evidence. In the Committee last Session, he had moved, that two or three individuals should go into the different unions, and ascertain, by inquiry among the people, the actual working of the law, find out who were opposed to the Bill, and send up their names to the Committee, in order that they might, if necessary, be called in evidence. But in support of that motion, fair, rational, and moderate, as it must appear, he was supported by only four of the twenty-one Members of the Committee, To enable the poor to make any case the utmost exertions had to be made by one individual Member of the Committee, Mr. Walter, last year. That gentleman had to embark his money and devote the whole of his time to the collection of the necessary evidence; but no such burden ought to have been thrown on the pocket or responsibility of any single individual. If the money of the country were employed on one side in propping up a law, the beneficial or injurious effect of which was under investigation, the public money ought to be employed also on the other. To allow the whole organization of the Government and supplies of the public money on one side of the inquiry, while every facility was withheld from the other, was a mockery and a disgrace to that House. He was glad this motion had been brought forward in its present simple form. Abuses there might be under the old law, and so there might be under the new, but unless they could be proved to spring naturally and necessarily from the system, they proved nothing at all. Without, therefore, entering into details, he attacked the bill on its general principle; all the good which had resulted from it might have been attained without the statute by milder means, in a way more satisfactory to the people, and more congenial to all their habits and feelings. He should therefore vote in favour of the repeal of the Bill.

Viscount Howick

I am very glad Sir, that the hon. Member for Oldham has brought this question before the House fairly and simply,—I am glad, Sir, because those representations which have been made in other places, and in a somewhat different tone, of the effects and nature of the existing law respecting the administration of relief to the poor, being this night brought forward here; an opportunity is thus given to us of meeting the assertions and statements which have been so lavishly and so unfairly made. I feel, however, some difficulty in dealing with the statements and with the speeches of the hon. Mover and Seconder; for, after having paid the utmost attention to the remarks of the hon. Members, I feel altogether at a loss to understand what is the system of Poor-law administration which the hon. Gentlemen desire to see introduced; and, further, what are the specific objections which the hon. Gentlemen have to urge against the existing law. The hon. Member for Oldham began by complaining, that by the Act passed in 1834, the rights formerly possessed by the poor had been wrested from them, and yet, very soon afterwards, the hon. Gentleman went on to assert, that there was no occasion for the introduction of the new law, because the old law was frequently exceedingly well administered; this good administration being, in fact, nothing but an enforcement of the principles of the Act which he condemns. The hon. Member for Finsbury admitted this, for he asked, what necessity was there for this law, when it was seen that all the principles on which the Commissioners proposed to act, the system which it was their duty to enforce, could be, and had been, successfully acted on without their assistance or advice; and the hon. Member cited the case of the Chichester union in proof of his assertion, thus making the proved goodness of the system an objection to the law. I wish to understand whether it be the machinery to which the hon. Gentleman objects, or the principles on which relief is administered by means of that machinery. [Mr. Wakley: to both.] The hon. Gentleman says "to both." But if so, the hon. Gentleman is not at liberty first to object to the machinery, that it is unnecessary, because the system of relief prescribed by the Commissioners could be and was acted upon without their assistance, and then to turn round and condemn the system. If the objection be to the system of relief, I wish to know what it is in that system to which the hon. Gentleman objects. The Act of 1834, introduced some new arrangements and some new machinery for enforcing an adherence to the ancient principles and long-recognised practice of this country, respecting the relief of the destitute; but I utterly deny that the system of relief which was sanctioned in the new Act is any departure from the good and ancient practice of this country, or from the proper administration of the Poor-law existing up to 1834. The hon. Gentleman protested loudly against the repeal of the 43rd Elizabeth, but he ought to be aware that that law, far from having been repealed, still remains in force—that the whole object of the Act of 1834 is to enforce the due and proper application of the principles established by the Act of Elizabeth. Nay, more than this, I say that under the machinery created by the Poor-law Amendment Act, there is not at this moment in existence any different system of relief from that which previously existed in every well-administered parish,- particularly in the north of England. The hon. Member for Oldham indeed admitted this when he asked, why should the Commissioners put the new law in force in the north of England, when the former Poor law has always there been so well administered. I am quite ready to agree with the hon. Gentleman that in general in the north of England such is the case, but there are also many parishes even there where great abuses have prevailed, and in parishes where this was not the case, there must always exist under the old law a strong tendency to similar abuses, and a constant danger that they may at any time break out. But as it is the system of relief which is more particularly objected to, let us compare the system of relief now prescribed with the long-recognised system of well-administered parishes under the law as it stood previous to 1834. The hon. Member for Oldham is well aware that in the town of Nottingham, to which allusion has been made, the system of administering relief to the poor has not been altered under the existing law, but that in the largest parish of that town, St. Mary's, it continues to be carried into effect in precisely the same manner and by the same individual who administered it for several years previous to 1834. In that large and populous manufacturing parish, even before 1834, the system of confining relief for the able-bodied, almost exclusively to the workhouse was in full operation. The same was the case at Sheffield, at Derby, and many others of the large manufacturing towns. Nottingham has been mentioned as a striking instance of a manufacturing town in which the Commissioners have not ventured to enforce their laws. I have heard with great surprise from an hon. Gentleman, who had been present in the Poor-law Committee, who has heard the evidence there of the Assistant Poor law Commissioner employed in the district in question—I have heard, with great surprise and astonishment, the statement which that hon. Gentleman has made this evening. The hon. Gentleman states, that in Nottingham neither the gentry nor the Commissioners have dared to enforce the law, because they thought it would be dangerous to do so in a place where the poor could assemble together, express their grievances, and combine to concert modes of resistance to that oppression which was unhesitatingly practised upon the poor in the agricultural districts. What are the facts respecting Nottingham? In that town, up to a recent period, the relief given to the able-bodied has been almost exclusively confined to the workhouse. But, in consequence of the revulsion in trade some eighteen months ago, great and severe distress prevailed in the town. Still, for a considerable period, the system of workhouse relief was adhered to. The guardians and the Poor-law Commissioners agreed in the expediency of adhering to that system of relief as long as it could possibly be maintained. A considerable sum, the residue of a former subscription, raised at a period of distress, together with additional subscriptions, was employed in the meantime in alleviating, as far as possible, the distress which existed; but, in the application of this money, the greatest pains were taken to adhere strictly to the principles of the Poor-law Amendment Act. Relief was given only in return for labour, and the remuneration was made so low, compared with what the parties could have earned in the ordinary course of trade, that no man who could get employed elsewhere would throw himself voluntarily on this resource. This sum was, however, expended in course of time, and this fact was stated to the Commissioners, who at once said, "The workhouse being full, it is not the principle of the new Act that relief should be refused to those who are entirely destitute," and they at once gave permission to the guardians to continue the system, heretofore carried on by voluntary contributions, by money raised under a poor-rate. But in doing this, the guardians still used the workhouse as a test, where they conceived it necessary, of the reality of the grounds which parties urged in their applications for relief. Whenever an applicant was notorious for improvidence or idle habits, relief was refused him, except in the workhouse: in cases where the distress did not seem attributable to such causes, relief was given out of doors, but still, as I have already said, in return for labour. The hon. Member for Finsbury compared the case of Nottingham with that of Holbeach, where he states that, though the distress was equally great, any relaxation of the law had been refused. The hon. Member says, out-door relief was refused at Holbeach, because, with a rural population, it was safe to do so; though in the similar case of Nottingham, the Commissioners had not refused to depart from the system of in-door relief. I am astonished that such a statement should have been made. I have shown that the ground on which the rule has been departed from at Nottingham is, that the workhouse is not large enough to receive more inmates; but at Holbeach, there being no difficulty in receiving paupers into the workhouse, application was made during severe weather of the last six weeks to relax the rule. The Commissioners, acting on what I consider to be a sound discretion, refused the application, and on this ground—that if they admitted the principle of giving relief out of the workhouse before it was necessary, the farmers and others, who were employing the labourers at no immediate profit, would at once throw them on the rates. The effect would have been this, that the good workmen, who, though there was no great service rendered by them during this weather, were employed in consideration of the services they would render hereafter—those persons would have been thrown on the rates, and must have been maintained, not by those who wanted and would be benefited by their labour, but by the parish at large—by the smaller tradesmen and others, who ought not in justice to be called on to pay for a portion of the labour which would be required in the course of the year for the cultivation of the land in their immediate neighbour hood. The Commissioners also saw another evil which would result from their consenting to relax the rule, the effect of doing so would be to take away the motive labourers now have to lay by money in the time of harvest, and in other sea- sons when they earn good wages, to provide against the not very unusual occurrence of snow in January. But in adopting this course they knew that no man would be exposed to destitution; they knew that the workhouse, with food and shelter, was ready for those who might be suffering real and urgent distress. I must here notice another statement of the hon. Member for Finsbury, which must have been not a little startling to those Members of the Committee now sitting, who remember the particular part he took in the investigation of only a few days ago. The hon. Member says, that the guardians, when relief is asked for, refuse it unless the applicants get rid of their cottages, sell their little furniture, and, in short, break up their whole establishment, and go into the workhouse. Will the House believe that that statement is not only not warranted by any facts given in evidence before the Committee, but that, on the contrary, it was proved in the course of an examination in which the hon. Gentleman himself took part, that the very opposite practice prevailed. Mr. Gulson, the assistant Commissioner, in answer to many questions that were put to him in reference to this point, said that no board of guardians with which he was acquainted had in a single instance required the applicant for relief, reduced to distress by a temporary want of employment, to sell his furniture or part with his cottage before they would give relief in the workhouse. He stated that the only case in which the possession of furniture was made an objection to persons being received into the workhouse, was that of an individual who had furniture on a scale much beyond what could reasonably be required by a person in his station, and who was thrown on the community for maintenance. He had silver spoons and other articles of plate, the possession of which was considered quite inconsistent with his being maintained at the public cost in the workhouse. Such is the substance of Mr. Gulson's statement, and my argument is, that the existing system is the same in principle and in detail as that which prevailed previous to the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act, in those districts in which the poor-laws were best administered, as at St. Mary, Nottingham, Sheffield, Derby, Cook ham, and a variety of other places. The hon. Member for Oldham has adverted to the complaint so often repeated, of the separation of man and wife in the workhouses; but it is remarkable that, in the same speech in which the hon. Member urged this objection, he had referred with approbation to the system pursued previously to the passing of the new law at Oldham. I have turned to the evidence taken by the Commissioners of inquiry, with respect to the administration of relief in Oldham in 1833—a parish with which the hon. Member is particularly well acquainted—and it appears from that statement (a statement which during a period of five years has not been impeached) that in the workhouse at Oldham there was a complete separation of the sexes, except in the cases of old married people, who were allowed to live together. Young married persons were always separated. The hon. Member for Oldham was, I believe, himself the overseer for that 'town; he therefore was a party to this separation of the sexes. [Mr. Fielden: I was overseer of Todmorden.] I beg pardon; I fancied the hon. Member had said that he was overseer at Oldham: but the hon. Gentleman has, at all events, professed great satisfaction with the administration of the Poor-laws in that district, before the passing of the last Act. The hon. Gentleman told us, that the object of his motion is to return to the old system of relief of the poor. If that were the case, why did he propose simply the repeal of the Act of 1834? Why did he not bring forward those monstrous cases which occurred previous to 1834, and apply to them the principle, that, "those whom God had joined no man ought to put asunder?" Why did he use these inflammatory topics to excite indignation against the present system, when they were equally applicable to the system pursued at Oldham long before the Act of 1834 was thought of? And why did he altogether abstain from a reference to the same system adopted formerly, not in Oldham alone, but in the majority of the workhouses in the manufacturing districts? In most parts of Lancashire, I believe, this system prevailed before 1834 as well as at present. The hon. Member told us, that the workhouses are prisons. Are they more prisons now than they were before the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act? In what respect are they prisons? The real hardship of a prison consisted in this—that persons could not get out of them when they wished; while the inmates of the workhouses can leave them when they think fit. They are refused, indeed, the liberty of going in and out at their pleasure. Being maintained at the expense of the industrious portion of the community, it is thought expedient that they should have this relief subject to such restrictions as will prevent them from entering into competition with those who are entirely dependent on their labour for support, but I never heard before that it is assimilating a workhouse to a prison to refuse people relief unless they comply with the necessary regulations. Relief is tendered on certain terms, but acceptance depends on the poor themselves. In a large number of the unions in the southern parts of the country, the expenditure for the poor has been reduced, as the hon. Member admits, forty two per cent.; but, said the hon. Gentleman, "notwithstanding this large reduction, the expenditure is still greater than it is at Oldham." No doubt of that; but what does that prove? Why, this; that so inveterate are the old habits of pauperism in the south of England, that even under the new system of 1834, it has not been possible to effect such an efficient ad ministration of the Poor-laws as existed previously in some parts of the north. The new system has been now less than four years in operation, and is it very surprising that in so short a time it has not been able to correct all the evils which had grown up in the long course of the former maladministration? Surely, the fact brought forward by the hon. Member, instead of being an argument against the measure of 1834, is one of the strongest arguments that can be urged in its favour. I beg pardon of the House if I do not deal with the speech of the hon. Gentleman very systematically; but really, though I gave my best attention to it, I was unable to find out the thread of the hon. Member's argument, nor have I succeeded in discovering what was the point that he laboured to prove. I have endeavoured, in vain, to ascertain what the hon. Gentleman wishes to substitute for that to which he objects. Being unable to discover the connexion of the hon. Gentleman's argument—though, no doubt, it has a connexion—I am obliged to remark upon his observations one by one, without being able to show that they bear any relation each to the other. Some of the objections of the hon. Gentleman were founded, he said, on his own inquiries. It appears, that he had employed certain persons to go from house to house in Bedfordshire to inquire for grievances, and their statement was, that the allowances of aged persons had been reduced, and that the greatest distress existed. No doubt the persons employed by the hon. Gentleman made their inquiries fairly enough; but still the result can hardly be satisfactory until it has been submitted to the test of inquiry, and till an opportunity has been given of ascertaining what answer can be given to their statements. I cannot help thinking, therefore, it would have been fairer, if the proofs of the injurious effects of the new Act had been brought from parts of the country the state of which has been the subject of public inquiry before the Committee appointed to inquire into the operation of the law. The late hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), the coadjutor of the hon. Member for Oldham, on this question, caused an investigation to be instituted with respect to those places which, in his judgment, afforded the most striking examples of the evils of the present system. And what was the result? The state of those unions was particularly examined into, and my impression is, that the evidence in those cases so selected by Mr. Walter himself went clearly to prove this, that whatever might be the condition of the able-bodied labourer, at all events the old, the sick, and the infirm, have larger allowances, are more indulged, and are, in all respects, better off under the new system than under the old. I am sure, that the hon. Member for Oldham will not say, that this was not proved by the evidence of last year. I cannot consider it, therefore, a satisfactory way of attacking the Act to make these sort of ex parte statements of particular grievances brought up from parts of the country into which no inquiry has yet been made. Even if the facts be true, the Seconder of this motion has fairly admitted, the Act is not to be condemned on account of the existence of a few cases of abuse. The hon. Member for Finsbury has justly observed, that unless the opponents of the measure can show that it be the tendency of the Act to produce these evils—unless it be proved that they grow naturally out of the Act—nothing would be established against the system. Under the new, as well as under the old system, some cases of hardship or neglect may, no doubt, be found to exist. The utmost vigilance, on the part of the authorities, cannot prevent some such cases arising: but it remains to be decided, whether, under the new or under the old system, those cases are of more frequent occurrence? The hon. Member for Oldham said, that no petitions have been signed by the agricultural labourers in favour of the continuance of the Act; that the only petitions of this kind which have been presented, are from those interested in the reduction of rates. I am not able to say how that fact may be; there are no documents before the House to show, whether the petitions which had been presented are signed by agricultural labourers or not; but I must remark, that it is unusual for persons, suffering no grievance, and who do not require any change to be made for their benefit, to take the trouble of petitioning the House. [Mr. Fielden: Petitions were sent against the law from the agricultural districts.] The hon. Gentleman says, there are petitions against the Act. No doubt there are. Those who had to complain have petitioned; but those who had not to complain, and who saw that there existed no disposition on the part of the Legislature to make a change, have had no motive, no temptation whatever to address the House; and I am prepared to expect that no petitions, or that very few, have been presented, signed by agricultural labourers, in favour of the Act. But I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman, is he prepared to show, that in those parts where this Act has come into the most decided operation, there exists on the part of the agricultural labourers any discontent or dissatisfaction? [Mr. Fielden: "Very great?"] The hon. Gentleman says, "very great." What are the symptoms of it? Even during the past year, which was one of almost unexampled pressure, what proof was there in the agricultural districts of a general and wide-spreading discontent? Does the hon. Member find anything approaching to the state of things that existed in the year 1830? The country had then the full benefit of that law which the hon. Gentleman wishes to restore; they were in the full enjoyment then of all the blessings of that system of poor relief, which it was the desire of the hon. Gentleman to bring back to them. In that year, what was the condition of the country? Has the House forgotten the frightfully alarming state of things in the winter of 1830, when a large portion of the people were in open insurrection, approaching almost to the capital itself—when outrages of the worst description were committed in the most daring manner all over the south and west of England—when nightly fires were blazing, and almost universal alarm for the safety of their property had seized the agricultural inhabitants of the country? The present state of things was happily very different from that, and in my opinion the change is mainly to be attributed to the very Act which the hon. Gentleman laments. I am confident, that the present improved condition of the south of England is in a great measure attributable to the Act passed in 1834 for the amendment of the Poor-laws. The House will see the importance of fully considering what was the state of the country at the former period to which I have adverted, because, with that before him, the hon. Gentleman says he is ready to repeal the Act of 1834, and has even distinctly recommended a return to that practice which, under the former law, was the chief cause of all the mischief which prevailed. The hon. Member has advised us to return to the allowance system, since he said if the labourers could not obtain wages sufficient for their comfortable support, it was the duty of the country by means of forced rates to come to their aid. And, as example is better than precept, the hon. Gentleman has further told us what was his practice when he was overseer at Todmorden; he informed us that as the hand-loom weavers could not earn enough to maintain themselves in a proper manner he supplied the deficiency out of the poor rates, and assisted them with money for the purchase of materials and implements for carrying on their trade. Such was the hon. Gentleman's practice, and such would again be the practice if the new law were repealed. In my opinion (I must observe in passing) that statement affords the strongest ground for saying that the introduction of this measure into Lancashire, as well as into other parts of the country, will not be altogether useless. But as the question is whether we shall return to the system existing previous to 1834, I must call on the House to see how the system which then prevailed affected the labourers themselves, and how they have been affected by the operation of the new Act. I will not go into any length of detail, but I beg to call the attention of the House to some of the facts which appear as the result of that inquiry which formed the ground of the present law. It was almost the universal practice in the south of England, prior to 1834, for the labourers to receive low wages and at the same time some allowance from the parishes; in fact, the able-bodied labourers were, in one shape or other, in part maintained out of the rates. What were the consequences of this system? In the first place the effect was this —that no labourer received remuneration proportioned to the nature of his labour. The only consideration of the employers was, not who of the labourers was the most able and could be most useful to them, but who was the man, who, if not maintained by earning wages, would be the greatest burden on the parish. The fact was, that every man who it was thought could maintain himself without being employed was refused altogether the opportunity of earning wages. The evidence, as collected by the assistant commissioners in 1832 and 1833, distinctly proves that in many cases the moment a labourer had by any circumstances come into the possession of a small sum of money, he was refused employment till that money was expended. One instance of this kind occurred in the parish of Royston, in which a person who had sprung from humble life had accumulated a considerable amount of personal property, which he bequeathed to a number of labourers, his relations. When they received their money the parochial authorities said, "That will be a great advantage to us—it will relieve our poor-rates." The consequence was, that those individuals who were perhaps anxious to go on earning money, that they might make a provision for their old age, or in case of any infirmity that might attack them, were thrown into compulsory and involuntary idleness. They were left to spend their money as soon as they could at the beer-shops or in any way they pleased; but they were virtually prohibited from laying it by, from depositing it in savings' banks, or from employing it in any other profitable manner, and from maintaining themselves by their honest labour. A case occurred in a neighbouring parish to Royston of a person being compelled by the parochial authorities to take two paupers into his employment which forced him to discharge from his service two excellent labourers, and I will read to the House from the published evidence the account of what followed, given by Mr. Nash, of Royston. "Of the men dismissed one was John Walford, a parishioner of Barley, a steady, industrious, trustworthy, single man, who, by a long and rigid economy, had saved about 100l. On being dismissed, Walford applied in vain to the farmers of Barley for employment. 'It was well known that he had saved money, and could not come on the parish, although any one of them would willingly have taken him had it been otherwise.' After living a few months without being able to get any work, he bought a cart and two horses, and has ever since obtained a precarious subsistence by carrying corn to London for one of the Cambridge merchants; but just now the current of corn is northward, and he has nothing to do; and at any time he would gladly have exchanged his employment for that of day labour if he could have obtained work. No reflection is intended on the overseers of Barley; they only do what all others are expected to do; though the young men point at Walford and call him a fool for not spending his money at the public-house, as they do adding, that then he would get work." I could multiply instances of this kind, and show, that labourers were refused employment because they had been frugal and industrious enough to possess themselves of a cottage decently furnished, or of one or two cows. Such was the former system; and the hon. Gentleman complains of the existing law, charging against it, that it makes no distinction between "the honest man and the greatest vagabond in England." I totally deny the truth of the assertion; I say it does make a distinction, for it secures to the honest man the legitimate reward of honesty and industry, and it leaves to the dishonest or "the vagabond" to suffer those penalties which the laws of society have provided for his misconduct. The system which the hon. Gentleman would restore in one sense certainly made a distinction also. The industrious man it punished for his honesty and industry, and the "greatest vagabond," to use the hon. Gentleman's expression, was the one who received the greatest indulgence and the greatest favour. It condemned the industrious to idleness, and gave employment and wages to the worthless; care and providence were as much discouraged as industry, and extravagance and laziness were the necessary consequences. The poor were actually driven into immorality, and reduced to the lowest state of degradation. In some parishes in the southern districts, more than half the men of the labouring population were employed in useless labour, such as digging holes and filling them up again, carrying stones away and bringing them back to the place whence they had been taken. That was the mode of employment under the system which the hon. Gentleman would restore. But that was not all. In the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners there are to be found extracts from the books of various parishes, and amongst others, of Hampton, from which it appears, that labourers were in some cases paid, not for labour, but for standing in the common pound doing nothing. I find one charge, and there are others of the same sort, for men and boys standing in the pound for six days, 6l. 7s.Again, I ask, is such the system which the "friends of the poor" wish to re-establish? There was another and a still more revolting practice resulting from that system. It was by no means unusual in those days to put the labouring poor up to auction among the farmers. The labour of honest Englishmen, guilty of no crime but that of being poor, was put up for sale, without their consent, by public auction! The system was this: the parish said, "such and such a family require 8s., 9s., or 10s. per week for their support." Having arbitrarily fixed the sum which they deemed necessary, the next step was to hold a regular auction, at which the farmers attended and became bidders for the labour of the pauper—one said "I will give 2s. 6d. another 3s. another 4s." and ultimately the labour of the man was knocked down to the highest bidder. Suppose that one of them said he would give 5s.,the services of the pauper were immediately assigned to him without any assent on the part of the individual, without any option on the part of the labourer; the services of the unfortunate man were at once assigned to the purchaser, who paid his 5s. a-week, and the parish made up the remaining 4s. or 5s. to complete the sum deemed necessary for the support of the labourer and his family. What were the inducements to this man to work? The only inducement was this, and it was certainly of a very negative kind, he knew that if he were idle beyond a certain point, he would be taken before a magistrate and committed to the tread-mill. He might be the most industrious man, the best workman that ever went into a field, but under this system he derived no benefit either, from his skill or his industry. Hope was absolutely denied to him; he laboured under compulsion, and compulsion alone. The system was precisely and identically the same as that which, by the law for the abolition of slavery, which was passed in 1833, was applied to the black population in the slave colonies. The whole of the labouring population in those districts of England to which he had referred, were virtually degraded to the state of white slaves—to the same state of mitigated slavery as that which now existed under the law of 1833 in the West Indies, and which would continue in operation for about two years more. The system was precisely the same. The man had no inducement to labour but the compulsion of terror: he dreaded the punishment imposed upon idleness; but the hope of reward from the active and industrious application of his labour was wholly withheld from him. All power of raising himself in life was denied to him; his only prospect in the world was to drag on from infancy to old age this degrading and wretched existence. In this respect the situation of the English labourer, under the old law, was worse than that of the negro apprentice in the West Indies at the present moment, because the negro apprentice could at least look forward, at the expiration of a short space of time, to the complete termination of his bondage. Not so the English labourer prior to 1834. Up to that time the system in England was getting worse and worse. Partial efforts, it is true, were made in particular places to break through that harsh, that abominable, that atrocious system; but those efforts were extremely rare, and too often were wholly ineffectual. So that the poison—the gangrene (if I may use such an expression) was gradually but surely making progress; year after year its baneful and destructive influence was extending, and those districts in which it had once taken root seldom or never again escaped the evils of the infection. I ask the House, then, is it again prepared to revert to these evils? I admit, that the measure proposed in 1834 was a very strong measure. I admit, that the cure applied to the disease was of a character correspondent to the intensity and malignity of the distemper. But is the House prepared, upon the motion of the hon. Member for Oldham, to repeal the measure adopted in 1834, and to return to the system under which these mischiefs existed? True it was, perfectly true, as the hon. Member for Oldham had stated, and as the hon. Member for Finsbury had repeated, that, under the former law the means of an improved administration did exist. But there was no security that those means would be employed. Will the House, then, perpetrate such a cruelty to the poor man—will it commit the injustice to the whole labouring population of the country of again bringing into force a system which, whatever its advantage might theoretically be, every one knew was fraught, in its practical working, with the most distressing and most dreadful consequences to the poor, and to society at large? As to the able-bodied poor, then, I contend that the change in the law, notwithstanding its apparent harshness, has been in reality an inestimable advantage; the refusal of the Iavish relief formerly given has raised the condition of the whole class throughout the southern part of the kingdom. With respect to the really distressed, to the sick, to the aged, to the impotent, to those who had not the power of earning their own subsistence, the case is still clearer. To them the system established under the Poor-law Amendment Act has not had even the appearance of harshness, but on the contrary, has been the greatest of all possible blessings. They are not now left to the mercy of irresponsible and despotic overseers, with no redress but an uncertain appeal to the justices. There is now in every district a body of men representing the interests of that district, to which is committed the duty of deciding upon all applications for relief. There are paid officers appointed by this body, and above these officers there are the Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners, prompt to punish all cases of neglect of the really suffering and destitute poor. It is known that these powers have been usefully exerted; it is known that whenever a case of neglect or ill-usage of the sick or destitute has been brought before the Commissioners, it has been promptly inquired into and redress afforded, if not otherwise, at all events by the punishment of the guilty overseer. Did such a state of things exist under the old law? Does not every Member of the House remember how often under the old law they used to hear of the sick and dying pauper being buffeted from parish to parish, from district to district, each endeavouring to avoid the burden of maintaining him in the hour of sickness and utter destitution. The disputes about settlement led continually to scenes of this description. Paupers almost in the agonies of death were removed under the orders of magistrates from one district to another, carried in carts by overseers, and bandied about from workhouse to workhouse, until (as not unfrequently happened) death relieved them from their sufferings before a shelter was found for their reduced and emaciated frames. Does not the House remember how women in the very agonies of childbirth were still more frequently exposed to this disgraceful and inhuman system? Every one knows that, under the old laws, women in that condition, and paupers in the last stage of sickness were exposed to the greatest cruelty and the most dreadful oppression. To all that oppression, all that cruelty, an end has been put by the operation of the new law. In every case where relief is necessary, relief is now promptly and effectually afforded. The sick, the dying, the impotent, destitute women, and helpless children, all these classes obtain relief, more certainly and more effectually than they did under the old system. With respect to the able-bodied, relief undoubtedly is not now lavished upon them as it was formerly, they do not now receive indiscriminately large allowances from the parish; but, in return for that deprivation, the really honest and industrious are now enabled, without being indebted to any man, by their own honest industry, to maintain themselves in comfort, and frequently, by their active exertions, to raise themselves to a station in life far superior to that in which they were brought up. These are the consequences of the law which the hon. Member for Oldham proposes to repeal. I trust, therefore, that the House, by the decided majority by which it will negative the hon. Member's proposition, will show its approbation of the measure, and its real regard for the poor and industrious classes.

Mr. Liddell

confessed, that he had not seen the introduction of the Poor-law Amendment Act into the northern part of England regarded with any particular marks of satisfaction, because it so happened that the evils of which the noble Lord had complained as having existed under the old system had not existed there; for while the people in that part of the country considered themselves able to support their poor, they were not prepared without sufficient grounds, to admit so great a change as that which had been effected by the new law. But although it was true that he did not regard the new law with any particular affection, he felt bound to declare that he could not support the motion of the hon. Member for Oldham. He had the honour to be a member of the committee which had been appointed to inquire into the operation of the new law, which Committee had indicated every wish to go fairly and impartially into the consideration of the whole state of the law as it now existed, and had manifested no disposition to exclude any evidence which could be adduced by any member belonging to it, or in any degree tend to satisfy the country, or open the ears of the Members of that House to any just complaint that might be urged against the new law. He must, therefore, decline to support the motion of the hon. Gentleman. But after the speech of the noble Lord, though he was not prepared to follow him through all its details, yet there were some points on which he wished to offer a few observations. He had heard, with some surprise, the noble Lord arguing, as it appeared to him, that after all no very great change had been introduced into this empire by reason of the new law. The noble Lord had argued, that several districts of this kingdom were practically under similar arrangements and regulations now to those by which they were governed under the old system. It might be true with regard to some particular cases. But he would ask whether the general and universal practice of the kingdom was not that each parish should manage its own affairs under its own officers, and take care of its own poor? It was undeniable that a great change had been effected under the regulations of the new law; but he must admit that portions of it had excited in the feelings of the country, in many parts, sentiments of considerable satisfaction. But to come to the plain and simple fact, one great hardship on which the opponents of the new law dwelt was simply this: a man, without any fault of his own, might be reduced, for a time, to want relief, but however well-conducted he might have been, however respectable in character, or illustrious in talent, in his past life, he would be neglected, and no relief would be afforded to him unless he was sick, or infirm, or aged. Such a person would be met by a stern refusal of relief out of the workhouse. This regulation in many cases, had been severely felt, and, speaking as one not anxious to throw any unjust imputation on the new law, and desirous to see that law, as it was intended, a benefit to the country, he earnestly hoped that the strings of restriction might not be drawn too tight, but that inquiry might be made, and upon the information derived from that investigation, instead of going back to the old law, these restrictions of the new law might not be pulled too tight, and that, in cases where a man was proved to be in need and deserving of support, he might receive it under his own roof, and not be subjected to separation from his wife and family in a new Poor-law workhouse. That was a tangible complaint against the law, and one of the main grievances which was loudly spoken of by the opponents of the bill; indeed, it had been admitted by Mr. Gulson, in the report of the Poor-law Commissioners. The moment a man sought for parochial relief, though he might be out of employment, and have become distressed from causes over which he could have no control, it seemed to be assumed that he came to the board of guardians of his parish only to impose upon them: for the workhouse was proposed as the test of his destitution and sincerity. He must say, that, in his limited experience, he had not thus understood the people of England. In that part of the country to which he belonged, every man who was able to work was also anxious to obtain work. They were influenced by that good old English feeling which led them to strive to the utmost, and to make any sacrifice, even of life almost, rather than ask parochial relief. He did believe that in many other parts of England the feelings of the people were not so debased as to lead them to seize every opportunity of imposing on the guardians for the sake of getting a miserable pittance. Those who would take the trouble to inquire would find that in almost every case want, and want only, led such persons as those whom he had mentioned to apply for relief, and he trusted that their feelings would not be outraged, and charity poisoned at its source, by their being pointed to the workhouse as the only medium through which assistance was to be obtained. The noble Lord had referred to the abuses under the old law, with respect to imposition and the manner in which the labour of the pauper was disposed of by auction. Admitting this to have been the case in the southern and midland counties, he must say that he would rather have his labour sold by auction, than have the workhouse allowance pointed to him as the only means by which he could receive relief, being an able-bodied labourer; for bad as the first evil was, he considered the latter to be one of much greater magnitude. It was also said, that this workhouse principle of relief would induce a desire to work and get good wages, and also a habit of saying something against the day of distress among those who were fortunate enough to obtain work and good wages, and thus a spirit of economy would be infused into the labouring population, and tend to their great improvement. He trusted that this idea would be realised. A very ingenious pamphlet had been put into the hands of the Members of that House, showing that from the rate of wages in many parts of the country it was possible for labourers to lay up savings, while it was impossible in others. But while he admitted the possibility of the labouring classes being able to save something, and would most earnestly impress on them the advantage of cultivating habits of frugality and economy, in order that they might be in some measure prepared for the day of distress, he would remind the House that mankind were not in a slate of perfection, and that there were feelings and habits among the lower orders which it was difficult to restrain; and that if they did not lay up all they might save, to guard against unforeseen distress, the House should consider how many persons there were in the higher ranks of life whose education, intelligence, and means, might warrant the expectation of better things, but who did not know how to keep their expenditure within their income. If such, then, was the case, they ought to look with some degree of tenderness on the conduct of the humbler classes in this respect, though they did spend a little more than was prudent in present gratification instead of laying up their savings for a time of need. He trusted that when the Committee had concluded their labours the House would be in a condition to entertain the question of the alteration of this law; for he believed that some alterations and modifications were necessary to make it agreeable and acceptable to the public, and useful and advantageous to the labouring portion of the community. He thought the time had not yet arrived for that. It was the duty of the Committee to take all the evidence that could tend to elucidate the practice of the law, and when the Committee had concluded its labours, the House would be better able to determine on what alterations were necessary; and when they came to that he should be prepared to propose and assist the completion of certain alterations which he had in his mind, but which it was not necessary for him at present to state.

Mr. Clay

should not have troubled the House on the present occasion, although he was opposed to the motion, if it had not been that in connexion with this subject there had been publicly attributed to him certain sentiments which he had never uttered, and opinions that he had never entertained. He alluded to what had taken place recently at a meeting held in his own district with reference to the distressed Spitalfields weavers. He begged now to disclaim the sentiments then publicly attributed to him, and to declare most solemnly and emphatically (and he trusted that declaration might reach the ears of those in whose presence the statement was made) that if there was any feeling in reference to legislation—if there was any object to which he was willing to devote every energy both of body and mind, that feeling and that object was to raise the moral and physical condition of the humbler classes of his fellow-countrymen. He believed those sentiments animated the majority of the House, and that though hon. Members might differ as to the best mode of effecting that object, yet all desired to attain it, and he must take this occasion to say, that he left the responsibility of such a contrary course upon the heads of those who, within and without the walls of the House, endeavoured to convince the people that the state and condition of the humbler classes was not at all times of deep and vital interest to Members on both sides of this House. In common with the noble Lord below him (Lord Howick), he was bound to express his admiration of the honesty of purpose which had induced the hon. Member for Oldham to bring this question distinctly forward for the decision of the House. The hon. Member had evidently no second purpose, and he (Mr. Clay) was delighted, that after all the violent language which had been used out of doors by individuals and by some portions of the public press, actuated no doubt by conscientious views, but who had laboured to influence the opinions of the people of England on the subject of the new Poor-laws—he was delighted that the question had been so calmly brought to the test of a decision of the newly assembled Parliament, and that it might thus be ascertained what proportion of the representatives were to be prepared to say, that the New Poor law should be repealed. But to the motion which bad been brought forward by the hon. Member for Oldham, he was most decidedly opposed. No motion less worthy to be entertained by the House could possibly be propounded. He had been an earnest and consistent supporter of the Poor-law Bill in its passage through the House, and there was no one circumstance, in his whole Parliamentary career, upon which he looked with more unmingled satisfaction. He conceived there never had been a legislative measure grounded on clearer or more overwhelming evidence of the necessity of such a measure—on evidence more carefully sifted, than had the Poor-law Amendment Act. It was with a view to the benefit of the humbler classes that he and the majority of the House had supported that measure. The supporters of the bill had believed, that there was no other remedy for that process of demoralization which had begun to an extent which threatened to bring the labouring classes into that abyss of moral and physical degradation from which it would, in a few years longer, have been impossible to redeem them. The anticipations under which that bill had been passed, he maintained, had not been disappointed—nay, he would assert that those anticipations had been more than fulfilled, and it was to him matter of surprise that hon. Gentlemen could, after the overwhelming evidence of the beneficial effects of the New Poor-law, hold such language as had been adopted in the House to-night, and out of it, on other occasions. Had those hon. Gentlemen read the evidence given before the Agricultural Committee two Sessions back?—was there any one point on which the evidence was more convincing than that which went to show the beneficial effects of the New Poor-law? Agriculturists, merchants, farmers, indeed all who had been examined, had concurred in hat opinion. That Committee had heard from all the witnesses that the result of the New Poor-law had been the reduction of rates, the prevention of peculation, and jobbing, and the substitution for an irresponsible administration of a responsible direction, conducted by a body elected by the ratepayers themselves. It had been said, both by the hon. Member for Finsbury and the hon. Member for Oldham, that the old Poor-laws were well administered. Now, what had been the object of the New Poor-law Bill but to apply to all the parishes of England, those very salutary regulations which had been found to be necessary, even in those well-administered districts to which those hon. Gentlemen had alluded? But the results of the New Poor-law Bill were not confined merely to those which he had stated, but there had been also an improved condition in the labouring classes. The strongest evidence had been afforded, that good conduct, industry, and merit, had met their appropriate rewards—the clearest proof had been afforded that sound and wholesome relations between the employer and labourer, which previously had been so rare as almost to become matter of history, were now under the New Poor-laws rising up again. There was also reason to believe, that the condition of the labouring classes had not only morally but physically improved, and that they had now a larger amount of money in the shape of wages than formerly came into their possession in the degrading shape of parish allowance. There was proof that friendly societies, which had been on the decline previous to the passing of the bill, had, since the bill had been brought into effect, increased both in the number of their contributors and the amount of the contributions, and this fact had been particularly shown to exist in the counties of Kent and of Sussex. Another test of the beneficial effects of the New Poor-law was afforded by the saving-banks deposits, which in 1837 had increased 900,000l. upon previous years, and that increase consisted of the contributions of small contributors. Again, it had been shown, that while the purchase of the necessaries of life had increased, the expenditure in beer-shops and other places of a similar character had decreased. With regard to the diet he could only say, that in one union in the country with which he was acquainted, the increase of the allowance of wine to the old and infirm in the workhouses had been greater than it was under the old system. The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Liddell) had said, he desired greater powers to be given to the boards of guardians, and that relief should not be confined to the workhouses. Now, he was not aware of any case of emergency having been refused, but whilst he believed that the test of the workhouse should be strictly attended to, yet he thought there were cases in which that test might properly be departed from, and he believed that in no case had that departure been negatived by the Commissioners in London. However, a full and ample inquiry was now going on, and he thought the proposition of the hon. Member for Oldham would rather operate against those very classes whose interests he was most anxious to protect and preserve.

Mr. Darby

could not give a silent vote on this occasion, in consequence of what the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department had said at the commencement of the Session, when he (Mr. Darby) had said, that unless there was some relaxation in the system of relief under the new law, he (Mr. Darby) should be compelled to introduce some amendment. Now, the noble Lord opposite (Lord Howick) had said, that in the agricultural districts, there had been no relaxation of the system; if that had not been the case, he confessed himself to be guilty of neglecting to do that which he had promised to do. He (Mr. Darby) was prepared to show, that there had been a relaxation in the country districts. He did not complain of it, on the contrary, he thought that the Commissioners had used, in that respect, a wise discretion; but he did not think it right, that the noble Lord, the Secretary at War, should keep the fact from the public that such a relaxation had taken place. He had received a letter from the chairman of the board of guardians for the union of Hailsham, in the county of Sussex, stating that without some relaxation of the system it would be impossible to go on. To that letter, the Poor-law Commissioners had answered, that they had under their consideration the letter of the board of guardians, and that they regretted to learn, that owing to the severity of the weather men had been thrown out of work, and that their families were thereby reduced to a state of destitution. The letter went on to say, that the Commissioners considered with reference to those circumstances and the state of the workhouse, that out-door relief might be temporarily afforded. This relaxation had been the reason why he had not brought the subject forward, coupled with the circumstance that the Poor-law Committee had not brought their labours to a close. The Commissioners had, he admitted, allowed that letter to be communicated to other districts in East Sussex, and that course with that permission had been followed. He believed the difficulty of the new law had not arisen from the statute the 43rd of Elizabeth, but from the neglect of that statute. He admitted, that it would be difficult to return to that system, but it was strange that the order of the Commissioners of the 28th of July wholly repealed that law, and instead of task-work gave the labourer only the shelter of the workhouse. Now, this part of the new law pressed hard upon the man who, though willing, was unable, to maintain himself and his wife and children, and was obliged to enter his family and himself into the workhouse, or otherwise no relief would be afforded him. It was too much for the noble Lord opposite (Lord Howick) to say, that a workman so situated need not part with his cottage or his furniture; but he begged to know how, when he was deprived of the means of earning something, in consequence of his confinement in a workhouse, such a man was to pay his rent? He would not return to the allowance system, but he thought it was worthy, at least, of consideration, whether some means could not be devised to aid a man who, by being three months out of the twelve in want of employment, might fall into distress, without sending him and his family into a workhouse. He thought that the Commissioners had, by their order of the 28th of July last, drawn the string too tight, and he only hoped it would not break. He had one curious passage of three lines from Blackstone, which had anticipated these difficulties. That passage, after speaking of the 43rd of Elizabeth, said, "that the excellent scheme of employing the able-bodied labourers having been departed from, we cannot but observe what a miserable shift and low expedient it was for them to attempt to patch the flaws thereby occasioned." One of these flaws was the putting up of labourers to auction, and that was illegal even under the old law. But the question for the House to decide was, whether they would get rid of the present law or not, and if they did, what was the substitute which they would propose in its place. He would ask hon. Members, if the House repealed this law to-morrow, in what situation the country would be placed? The noble Lord, the Secretary at War, had been pleased to express himself in terms not the most complimentary as to the capacity of some parties who were opposed to the bill to understand its provisions. It was possible that he might not be able to take so correct a theoretical view of the measure as the noble Lord, but he had been overseer, he had been a member of the Quarter Sessions, and he had had some opportunity of seeing how it practically worked. He must say, that he considered a board of guardians much better calculated for carrying out the act of 43rd Elizabeth than an overseer. Give him an overseer of great foresight and firmness, and he would carry the provisions of that act into effect; but if a small farmer were made overseer, and were neither a man of abilities nor firmness, he would soon tell those who asked him that he could not carry it into effect. If the hon. Member for Oldham would bring forward some modification of the present law, he promised to give him his support, provided that modification was such as he could approve. It had been said, that wages had advanced since the New Poor law Act had passed, and that in the south of England they had been as low as 6s. a-week before that measure came into operation. Now, he could only say, that as far as his recollection went, wages had never been lower than from 10s. to 12s. a-week, and he knew that there had been no increase of wages since the Poor-law Act came into operation. Again, it had been said, that the New Poor-law would raise the wages of the labourers by giving increased employment for their children. But the real question was, if there were so many poor children of the labourers employed as would compensate for the allowance which was formerly given to each labourer under the old system, and which was now taken away. So far as his experience went, this was not the case. He would, however, not detain the House by any lengthened observations on the details of the measure, but anxious as he was, and determined as he was, to give any practicable amendment to the measure his support, he, at the same time, trusted that the hon. Member for Oldham would withdraw his motion. Some hon. Members might think that the hon. Member for Oldham ought not to withdraw his motion, but he should like to see some Member who understood the practical working of the system stand up and say, whether he could find a substitute for the present Poor-law, and tell the House in what a situation the country would be placed if this act were repealed.

Mr. Hodges

said, that he was one of those who opposed the passing of the new law, and nothing had since passed which had induced him to be of opinion that he had then formed any erroneous views of the measure. But opposing a bill was one thing; the measure was now law, and although he admitted, and not only admitted but declared, that there was a great amount of distress and difficulty arising out of the new law, yet he could not support the motion of the hon. Member for Oldham, because he did entertain a hope that there would be some relaxation in the provisions of that law. He also looked with more hope to the present Poor-law Committee than to the last, and he saw in that Committee disposition to inquire most thoroughly into the operation of the measure. There was an observation or two, however, of the noble Lord, the Secretary at War, which had excited in his mind some surprise. The noble Lord had, as it seemed to him, uttered an imprudent challenge to the hon. Member for Oldham, to produce evidence of the dissatisfaction of the labourers with the present Poor-law. The noble Lord said that we had no such scenes now as took place in 1830; but surely that was not the only evidence of their discontent. The way to prevent the repetition of such scenes was to grant to the Committee which was now sitting on this Bill every facility for inquiring into the condition of the persons affected by that measure. The noble Lord had also stated that under the old law a system had prevailed of employing men by sitting them up to auction. He could assure his noble Friend, that something very like that took place at present. He would observe too that under the present system a great -deal more was paid for the poor than was levied by rates. In many parishes subscriptions were raised for soup, clothes, and money for the poor; in short, making an addition to the rates, which caused the benevolent portion of the inhabitants to come down with very much larger sums than they paid under the old system. In the meanwhile the niggardly and the hardhearted refused to bear their share of the burden, which fell with double weight upon the others. Feeling, however, the same repugnance to the Bill which he had entertained against it when it was first brought forward, he yet doubted whether it would be the wisest course now to repeal the Act, as next year the result of the in- quiries of the Committee would be before the House, and they could then come to the consideration of the question with much greater advantage than at present.

Mr. Harvey

remarked, that if, on the one hand, there were many hon. Members who, like himself, felt it impossible, at the present stage of the inquiry, to give the motion of the hon. Member for Oldham their instant assent, so, on the other hand, he thought that it would be obvious that it was still more difficult to give the motion a positive negative, more especially after the speech of the noble Lord. The noble Lord had given small or rather no encouragement to the House or to the country to hope that the Government would, in the slightest degree, relax in their attachment to this Bill.—Over and over again the Government asserted that they would pin their fame in future times upon this measure, and that, however fruitful in errors and strong in weakness all their other policy might have been, they would yet be prepared to cast to the winds every other pretension, so that they might be recognised by posterity as the authors of the Poor-law Amendment Act. If that was the sentiment with which this measure was regarded by the Cabinet, he admired the courage with which the noble Lord avowed and adhered to it; but when the House heard from the noble Lord who was now taking so active a part in the Poor-law Committee, a speech, in many parts able, and ingenious throughout, he did not know what the House in its hopes, or the country in its fears, ought to expect. While, however, he thought that this motion should not be met by a direct negative, he participated in the difficulty felt by other hon. Members as to giving it unqualified support. He could not, for one, exclude from his recollection the fact, that he had voted for the Poor-law Amendment Act, and he did so from a feeling which would still induce him to countenance many of its provisions—namely, that it gave protection to the fruits of industry, and acted as a discouragement to those who preferred idleness to honest labour. It was the same principle which had led him to oppose the claims of the state paupers, and of all those who, being able to find work, were too lazy to do it. With these impressions strong in his mind, he was not prepared to vote for the instant and unqualified repeal of the law, still less would he be entrapped into an unqualified recognition of its principle. He should therefore move the previous question. He should, however, venture one or two observations on the debate. It struck him as a singular sentiment coming from a Cabinet Minister, that the best evidence of the content of the country with the measure was to be found in the absence of extraordinary violence and intimidating rebellion. The noble Lord called the attention of the House to the state of the country in 1830; to the exasperated peasantry, at that period congregating in frightful thousands, and menacing the Government with violence; and because they found that the people were now taking a sober view of their rights, and, relying on the kindness and consideration of a reformed Parliament, were loading their table with petitions, signed by multitudes, they were asked to infer that no real difficulty, no discontent was to be found in the working of this measure. Strange presumption, bespeaking total ignorance of the feelings of the people. The noble Lord had also endeavoured to establish a principle which was entirely at variance with the experience of every individual, and also with the testimony given on the subject before the Poor-law Committee—namely, that the working classes were in an improved condition. Now, he would appeal to every Gentleman in the House who was connected with the industrious classes, either in manufactures or in agriculture, to stand up in his place and say, whether he believed that they were receiving wages equal to those which they obtained anterior to the period when this Bill passed. Nothing could be more at variance with the evidence given before the Committee. It was established by hosts of witnesses, farmers, and workmen, that before the bill came into operation, persons who were receiving eight or nine shillings a-week at wages, at the same time received from the parish money or meal, according to the number of their families, to the amount of from five to ten shillings a-week, and that since the passing of that law an able bodied man was not receiving more than eight or ten shillings a-week wages, while he was entirely excluded from all parochial aid. Could the noble Lord conceive it possible, after 2,000,000l. or 3,000,000l. had been abstracted from the funds formerly applied to the support of the poor, that this diminution could have no mate- rial influence on their comforts and condition? But then they were told that at the end of the next Session this Act would expire, when it would be the province of the Government to introduce a new measure. But when that time arrived, in what way was the House to proceed? Were they to legislate on the opinions of private individuals, or were they to be governed by evidence collected from all parts of the country, disinterestedly and diligently collected? As far as regarded the evidence given before the last Poor-law Committee, it was not entitled to the least consideration; and although he was not able to deny, not having acted upon it, that au improved spirit prevailed in the present Committee, yet when he called to mind that there had been already laid on the table of the House six successive reports from that Committee, and that those reports embraced the evidence of one man—and that man a Poor-law Commissioner. He would venture to ask, of what avail could be such testimony? We had had enough, and to spare, of this class of evidence. What the country wanted was, that an inquiry should be made among those persons who could alone tell the real effect of the measure. A Committee had sat to inquire into the condition of the hand-loom weavers, and volumes of its reports had been presented, which it would require the strength of a more than ordinary pauper to wield—and now a commission was going forth to make another inquiry. Why not adopt the same course, and empower the Commissioners of inquiry into the stale of the hand-loom weavers to inquire into the working of the Poor-law Amendment Act? Or, if it was thought that this would be too largely extending their labours, why not appoint a commission on purpose? If the commissioners visited the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, they would be witnesses of harrowing scenes of misery, which would afford a complete answer to the delineations of content and happiness produced by the measure, in which the noble Lord had so largely indulged. The evidence of the Poor-law Commissioner, Gulson, referred to the working of the system in the town of Nottingham. Now, the real evils of the Bill were not to be traced in large towns. The circumstance of 60,000 or 80,000 persons being brought together within a circumference of four or five miles, presented many advantages for the working of this measure, which were not to be found in the rural districts, and it was a great fallacy to confound these different scenes of operation. In large towns, embracing many parishes, such as Colchester, for instance, an union might be effected advantageous to the payers of rates, and to those relieved. In that town, there were sixteen parishes, and it was absurd to say there ought to be sixteen distinct parish workhouses, with separate officers. But the case was far different in country districts, where the population was scattered over a wide surface; the workhouse in the centre of a district extending in opposite directions, perhaps ten miles, to reach which a miserable supplicant for relief might be compelled to walk, to and fro, twenty miles. It was this circumstance that preyed so heavily on their feelings, and led them to view the measure with deep and just abhorrence. This was an evil which called aloud for redress. Then, again, it was maintained, that the wages of the working classes had improved. Now, nothing could be more opposed to the truth than this statement, and well the landlords knew it. Was it not their boast and secret congratulation that the Poor-law Bill had saved them nearly four millions sterling per annum; and in what way did this substantial saving to them relieve or improve the condition of the industrious classes. But no one who has read the evidence given before the Committee last year, or appeals to his own experience, will assert that the able-bodied labourer is receiving the same amount of Wages. The principle upon which the new Act proceeded was, that nothing but indigence of the extremest caste constituted a claim to relief. That principle it was found impossible rigidly to adhere to in practice. Let the House remember that it was entirely owing to the meritorious labours of his hon. Friend, the Member for Oldham, and to the discussions which had taken place in that House, that the labouring classes had been partially relieved from the cruel regulations which had been proclaimed from Somerset House. And even now, it is only where the masses become formidable, that the law is relaxed, while in the rural districts the same stern severity is observed. The relaxation of the rule prohibiting out-door relief, is the exception, and then only when fear intimates the prudence of so doing. If, indeed, it be otherwise, let the noble Lord so say. Let it be once clearly understood that the Poor-law guardians have the power, and that in cases of temporary distress amongst honest and industrious able-bodied labourers, out-door relief may be given; in short, that generosity and kindness were to be the ruling principle of assistance, and much, very much, of the hostility which now prevails against this Act would quickly subside. Again, the powers of the Commissioners must be restricted. Was it proper that an institution of this description should exist, so unconstitutional in its combinations, so oppressive in its authority, so irresponsible in all its decrees as the dictatorial central board by which the entire Poor-law system was managed? The opponents of this law would be greatly disarmed of their hostility if the Poor-law guardians throughout England were vested with the due discretionary power as to the administration of relief. The great, the decided error in the machinery of this Bill, was the peculiar constitution of the board of Commissioners sitting in Somerset House, vested, as they were, with an original and absolute authority, and not sitting as a board of appeal. Their authority was so extensive, that they had the power, not only of confirming, but originating, laws of the most stringent nature; a circumstance, perhaps, of all others the most repulsive to the feelings of all those who objected to the unconstitutional nature of this tribunal. It appeared to be the delight of those men to speculate upon the minimum of human subsistence, and they maintained that a labouring man, with a wife and four children, could subsist decently upon 9s. a-week, or 1s. 8d. per head. An illustration of the fallacy of this heartless calculation had lately been given in the will of a noble Lord, whose enormous wealth repudiated the notion that he was too indulgent to luxurious habits. The noble Lord (Eldon) had actually bequeathed 8l. a-year for the support of a favourite dog, being upwards of 3s. a-week, or double the allowance asserted to be sufficient for the support of an able bodied hard-working man. Now, were the admirers of the Poor-law Act prepared to say, that a brute dog was worthy of better fare, than two human beings. It was his (Mr. Harvey's) conviction, that some efficient measures must be adopted for raising the rate of wages. He had often before observed, that the Poor-law Act and the Corn-law Act could not coexist in this country. According to the existing system, they depreciated the value of agricultural labour when converted into corn—the sole food of the poor. The necessary consequence of that system was to raise the price of bread; and how, he would ask, could a labourer, situated as he had before described, with a wife and four children, support them, even with bread, upon such scanty wages as they now received? It had been his fortune to attend before a Committee of the House, before which a labourer was produced as a witness, whose tottering condition, the consequence of deficient food, had rendered it necessary to provide him with a chair while giving his evidence. The wages of this poor man were no more than 8s., and out of this miserable sum he was obliged to support a wife and several children. It was only at rare intervals that the wife had it in her power to indulge in her favourite beverage of tea; and the sustenance of the whole family was of the most meager description. This was but one instance out of many. By existing laws, and the pressure of cruelly unequal taxation, the poor man was stripped of 4s. out of every 10s. If the appeals of the friends of the working classes in that House were unheeded, the attention of the working community out of the House would be strenuously and strongly directed towards the subject. And then they would speak with a voice of power and moral energy for which some hon. Members might perhaps wish to see substituted turbulent opposition and insurrectionary movements. This was a course into which they were too wise to be entrapped. While they perfectly knew their strength, they had the sagacity to exert it, at the fittest time and in the best way. As regarded the motion before the House, for the reasons already stated, he conceived it to be his duty to move the previous question; because, while, upon the one hand, a Committee was sitting, and a motion pending upon the part of his hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, for a commission to inquire into the actual working of this measure, he felt it was injurious to the real interests of the industrious classes, to vote for the instant and unconditional repeal of the Act; and still more did he deprecate the attempt of drawing the House into an unqualified approval of its principles. He would persevere in his motion.

Lord John Russell

hoped, the House would not adopt the manner recommended by the hon. Member who had just sat down of disposing of the original motion. No consideration that the Committee was now sitting—no consideration that future inquiry might be made—ought to prevent the House from coming to a decision upon a point upon which he thought the House was fully and sufficiently informed—namely, whether the New Poor-law should be totally and absolutely repealed. He must say, he thought it a matter of great satisfaction to the defenders of that Act, after the unmeasured terms which had been used against it, more especially at those meetings at which the hon. and learned Gentleman said, there had been no threatening on the part of the multitude, but where, at the same time, every kind of exciting language had been used—he did think, after all these attempts, and after all such evidence as could be collected had been presented to that House, the time was now come when they might say whether they were prepared to decide that the Poor-law Amendment Act should or should not be repealed. He would be no party to holding out to the country, if this question were now put off, that any decision to which the Poor law Committee could come, or of which they had any prospect, would be at all liable to lead to the repeal of that law, or to any alteration of its main provisions. And he must also say, that although many of the charges which were made against that law seemed to have been abandoned, yet those who had lately attacked it, had attacked it on grounds different from those they had formerly advanced—namely, that it took away from the able-bodied labourer, while not in the receipt of wages, the power of getting an allowance for his family. Last year they had been told, that the chief pressure was upon the aged; and the hon. Gentleman to-night attacked it on a different account. The question mooted last year, and partly this, was, that although the bill might be applicable to, and work beneficially for, the agricultural districts, yet it was totally inapplicable to towns and manufacturing populations. The hon. Member, nevertheless, now said, it worked well in towns, and that it ought to be repealed as regarded the agricultural districts. While accusations of so shifting a character were afloat—accusations which were hardly ever brought forward without a great deal of exaggeration and mixed with a great deal of matter which did not properly belong' to the question—it was proper for the House to declare whether it would sanction or rebut the charges made against the present law. He would read to the House an extract from a newspaper with regard to the expectations entertained in reference to this motion. His own opinion was, that the excitement which had been got up in the north was altogether artificial; and that the persons concerned in endeavouring to excite a feeling of hostility to the new poor-law, did not, altogether, amount to a dozen, neither respectable in point of circumstances or intelligence. They had invited delegates from the north and other parts of the country to attend meetings, at which the people no doubt assembled, through curiosity, to hear the harangues of Mr. Oastler, Mr. Stephens, and Mr. Feargus O'Connor. The result was, that a meeting of delegates took place at Manchester, which he believed was not very numerously attended. At this meeting the most exciting language was used. The noble Lord read an extract from some newspaper stating that the motion of the hon. Member for Oldham for the repeal of the poor-law act was to be introduced on the 20th; that it would be strenuously supported by the South Lancashire Poor-law Association, which had been engaged for some months in spreading tracts to show the injustice of the Poor-law Act and that their efforts had been generally attended with conviction to the minds of the people, that the law was repugnant to the first rights which they derived under the British constitution. He would not read to the House the violent language which had been used in support of the resolutions proposed at this meeting. The resolutions, themselves, three in number, were to the effect, that the act recently passed, called the poor-law amendment act, had repealed all the wise, and humane provisions of the 43rd of Elizabeth, and had taken away the rate payer's control over the funds and the management of his own affairs; that under this new system the poor were subjected to a most tyrannical system, by confinement in large prisons, by separation of husband from wife, by difficulties thrown in the way of relief, and that its effects were to increase child murder, female suicide, and death by starvation. This was the statement made at the meeting of the delegates, collected after months of agitation on the part of the opponents of the new poor-law, and such were the consequences which they stated to have resulted from that act. They sent up a petition to that House, signed by many, no doubt, who sincerely believed that such really was the result of the law; and yet, when the question came under consideration, the hon. and learned Member, one of its chief opponents, proposed, that the representatives of the people should give no decision on it. Justice to the individuals who took this view of the subject required that the House should declare whether it sanctioned their description of a law now in operation, and by which the country was now governed. If the House agreed in that description of the law, let it not lose a moment in repealing it. If, on the contrary, the House were of opinion that it should still remain the law of the land, let it not deprive those by whom it was to be carried into operation, of the moral force which was necessary for that purpose by withholding the expression of its approbation. After the able speech of his noble Friend, as to the general effect of the law, he would not enter into details. It appeared to him, however, that notwithstanding all the descriptions which had been given of the law, and although it contained many provisions, yet that it was far more simple in its principle than was generally understood or considered. The poor-law of Elizabeth decided that certain persons infirm and impotent, should be relieved, and that able-bodied persons should be set to work. A subsequent law, the 9th of George 1st, decided that certain persons who it had declared should receive relief, should be put upon the list, but that the parishes united together should have the power of erecting poor houses, and employing them there, and that if they refused the relief given, under such circumstances, they should be struck off the list. These two acts of Elizabeth and George 1st taken together, constituted the main body of the law under the present act. The latter law was changed in 1796 by another law, departing from the principle of the former, but which he thought they had done very well to repeal in 1834. The main body of the present law to be carried into effect was, however, contained in these two acts, and what they had done by the poor-law amendment act was merely to say that there should be a better means of carrying those acts into operation. And whereas the power of giving or refusing relief, the administration under vestries, the separating of parishes according to the decision of a single magistrate, had led to great and mischievous abuses, they thought it better that there should be unions of parishes, and representative guardians for a number of parishes together, who would consult with reference to the state of the neighbour hood, and be able to decide as to the cases of individuals with reference to their general condition. They had moreover thought it better that there should be three Commissioners sitting in London, with the power to lay down rules for the guidance of the guardians. Those guardians, when cases arose where it might be necessary to afford relief, had the benefit of the views of the board in London, which acted, not in opposition to, but in accordance and co-operation with, the country boards. It appeared to him that the whole of this Poor-law Amendment Act contained little else than what he had stated, and that a great deal of what was said about the tyranny and cruelty of the rules to be carried into effect by the Commissioners, was not only exceedingly exaggerated, but completely erroneous. One of these rules had been made use of on the hustings and elsewhere as a very popular and exciting topic—he meant the separation of the husband and wife in the workhouse. Now,' in reference to that point, let him ask, was it a scheme first thought of in 1834? In those very extracts, collected by the Commissioners of inquiry before the Act passed, it was stated, that in the Liverpool workhouse the separation of husband and wife had already been effected. There was another case which he was only told of in conversation, but which he nevertheless believed to be true, namely, that there was a parish in London the guardians of which had resisted the introduction of the Poor-law Amendment Act. They went to the King's Bench, stated their case to the judges, who decided that they were free from the operation of that act. They were asked whether the husband was separated from his wife in the workhouse, and they replied "certainly, that such had always been the case, and that they could not think of any thing so improper as to admit them to remain together: and yet although that had been the case in every large and well regulated workhouse throughout the country, an outcry was raised against the New Poor-law as if it were contrary to the law of nature and the laws of God. He did not wish to go into the merits of the question. He was ready to admit that some modification of the system might be required in certain cases, and in particular parishes, but, at the same time, he was of opinion that the experience of the Commissioners, to which he was disposed to trust, would enable them to remedy the evil. His belief was, and every conversation he had with them he was the more thoroughly convinced, that they understood fully the nature of the duty imposed upon them—that they wished to perform that duty with the most humane feeling; and that no assistance which others might give them could more effectually enable them to discharge that duty well, than their own intelligence and humanity.

Sir R. Peel

was not about to enter into the consideration of the question, but he felt bound to state how and upon what grounds he intended to vote. He intended to give a direct negative to the proposition of the hon. Member for Oldham, and he could not consent to vote for the proposition just made to the House by the hon. and learned Gentleman on his left, namely, that this question should not be put, and that Parliament should express no opinion on it. When he recollected that four years since there was an universal impression on the part of Parliament and on the part of the country that the mode of administering relief then in existence was pregnant with the most injurious consequences, that it was, in point of fact, destroying property, and that, in the destruction of property, they were doing most irreparable injury to the poor, inasmuch as it was not merely property itself that was injured, but that, by the mode of its appropriation they were relaxing all the springs of industry, and holding out a temptation to idleness; when he recollected that Parliament, with the universal consent of the country, had determined to make a great experiment for the purpose of recovering the country from that state of things, he thought it would not now be either fair or candid on the part of Parliament to refuse to pronounce an opinion as to whether that experiment should be adhered to or not. He did believe that the hon. Gentleman who had made the first proposition, in com- pelting a decision on this question, would do more to establish the Poor-law Act, and to ensure its satisfactory operation, by eliciting the expressed determination of, he hoped, a large majority of that House, to uphold its principle; that the hon. Gentleman would thereby be doing more towards benefiting the principle, and towards the satisfactory operation of the measure itself, than any combination between the Ministry and Opposition could effect; because, in point of fact, while the country was in doubt as to the intention of Parliament, no system could be satisfactory. In his own part of the country, doubts had been entertained as to the propriety of enlarging the workhouses, arising from the expectation that a motion would be made in Parliament for the repeal of the law; and while those doubts were entertained—whether it were intended to adhere to the present, or revert to the old system—they would prevent the satisfactory operation of the law. He therefore, rejoiced that the hon. Member had taken the means of provoking a decision. A Committee was now sitting for the purpose of ascertaining whether, consistently with the maintenance of the principle, it would be proper to make any relaxation in the present measure. Therefore, while they maintained the principle of the existing Poor-law it would be perfectly competent for them to apply individual remedies to particular evils; if they should be satisfied upon the evidence taken before that Committee that there were grounds for an alteration. But an alteration in the details of a law was a very different question from the maintenance of an existing system. When they were told that abuses existed in the administration of the Poor-law at present, how, he would ask, could they hope to see that great experiment, which necessity had compelled them to make, carried into operation without cases of abuse and individual hardship? It would be a perfect miracle, and contrary to the ordinary course of human affairs, to recover from evils, such as those in which the previous system was involved, without having individual cases of grievance, which they might deeply lament, but to which it was difficult to apply a remedy. He understood, that the Committee was appointed with a view to ascertain whether they could, consistently with the maintenance of the principle, relax any of the provisions of the present Poor-law Act. But on the whole he was bound to say, considering the magnitude of the experiment, which was only four years under trial, it was as satisfactory as any man could expect; and under these circumstances, believing it to be absolutely necessary, not to save the property of the rich (for that was a subordinate part of the question), but to elevate the moral condition of the labouring poor, and to invigorate the springs of industry, so far as the Bill went—and it was not to be expected that a wonderful change should be made in four years—the experiment was satisfactory. He thought, that there was a gradually increasing demand for honest labour, and that he had a right to anticipate, that the ultimate consequence of this law would be an increased reward for industry. He was therefore of opinion, that it would be discreditable to Parliament to hold out a hope or apprehension, as it would be to many, that the ancient system would be reverted to. He thought, too, if they did so, that those gentlemen throughout the country who had adhered to the principle of the Bill, and who had thereby subjected themselves to obloquy, would have a fair right to cast blame upon, and on any future occasion refuse to trust to the faith of, Parliament, or to co-operate with them in the furtherance of any law which they might deem necessary to enact.

Mr. Fielden

, in reply, was understood to say, that the noble Lord had stated, that he had no objections to the Bill, or at least that he did not understand his objections. Now he (Mr. Fielden) had repeatedly stated, that he objected to the principle of the Bill, to nearly the whole of its details, and to the machinery with which it had been carried out. He had endeavoured to show the pernicious working of the new law, and also that the old Poor-law, when fairly carried out, was better administered than the new Act. None of his objections to the new law had been removed by the speeches of the noble Lords and other Members who supported it; on the contrary, his dislike to the measure had, if possible, been increased by the tone of the debate. [Cries of "Divide!"] Hon. Members might attempt to shout him down, but he would tell them, that, although they refused to listen to him, there were other means of making them learn what were the feelings of the people on this subject, not only in the manufac- turing districts, but also in the other parts of the country. The working classes in England were, he firmly believed, the best people in the world; they worked harder than any other people, and were the most neglected and the worst requited class; and it was chiefly in consequence of the pernicious operation of the measure on wages that he wished for the repeal of this law. He had done all in his power to get rid of this measure, and the responsibility of continuing it would rest with the noble Lord and his colleagues.

The House divided on the previous question:—Ayes 321; Noes 13: Majority 308.

The House again divided on the question that leave be given to bring in the Bill:—Ayes 17; Noes 309: Majority 292.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Bruges, W. H. L.
Acland, T. D. Buller, C.
Adam, Sir C. Buller, E.
Aglionby, H. A. Buller, Sir J. Y.
Aglionby, Major Burr, H.
Ainsworth, P. Burroughes, H. N.
Alsager, Captain Busfield, W.
Alston, R. Byng, rt. hon. G. S.
Attwood, W. Callaghan, D.
Attwood, T. Campbell, Sir H.
Bagge, W. Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.
Baines, E. Cavendish, hon. C.
Baker, E. Cavendish, hon. G. H.
Baring, F. T. Cayley, E. S.
Baring, hon. W. B. Chalmers, P.
Barnard, E. G. Chaplin, Colonel
Barneby, J. Chapman, A.
Barnes, Sir E. Chetwynd, Major
Barrington, Viscount Chichester, J. P. B.
Bateman, J. Christopher, R. A.
Beamish, F. B. Chute, W. L. W.
Belfast, Earl of Clay, W.
Bell, M. Clive, E. B
Bentinck, Lord G. Clive, Viscount
Berkeley, hon. H. Clive, hon. R. H.
Berkeley, hon. C. Cole, Viscount
Bernal, R. Collier, J.
Bethell, R. Compton, H. C.
Bewes, T. Copeland, Alderman
Blackburne, I. Courtenay, P.
Blake, M. J. Craig, W. G.
Blake, W. J. Creswell, C.
Blennerhassett, A. Cripps, J.
Blunt, Sir C. Curry, W.
Borthwick, P. Dalmeny, Lord
Bowes, J. Darby, G.
Bramston, T. W. Dashwood, G. H.
Briscoe, J. I. Dennistoun, J.
Broadley, H. Divett, E.
Broadwood, H. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Brocklehurst, J. Dowdeswell, W.
Brodie, W. B. Duckworth, S.
Browne, R. D. Dugdale, W. S.
Duncan, Viscount Hutton, R.
Duncombe, T. Ingestrie, Viscount
Dundas, C. W. D. Ingham, R.
Dundas, F. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Dunlop, J. Irton, S.
East, J. B. James, W.
Easthope, J. Jenkins, R.
Eastnor, Viscount Jervis, J.
Eaton, R. J. Johnson, General
Ebrington, Viscount Jones, W.
Egerton, W. T. Kinnaird, hon. A. F.
Egerton, Sir P. Knatchbull, hn. Sir E.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Knight, H. G.
Ellice, E. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Erle, W. Lambton, H.
Estcourt, T. Langdale hon. C.
Evans, G. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Evans, W. Lefevre, C. S.
Farnham, E. B. Lemon, Sir C.
Fazakerley, J. N. Lennox, Lord G.
Fielden, W. Lennox, Lord, A.
Fielden, J. Leveson, Lord
Fellowes, E. Litton, E.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Loch, J.
Finch, F. Lockhart, A. M.
Fitzalan, Lord Logan, H.
Fitzimon, N. Long, W.
Fleming, J. Lowther, J. H.
Fort, J. Mackenzie, T.
Fremantle, Sir T. Macleod, R.
Gillon, W. D. Macnamara, Major
Gladstone, W. E. Maher, J.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Manners, Lord C. S.
Greene, T. Marshall, W.
Grey, Sir G. Marsland, H.
Grimsditch, T. Marsland, T.
Grimston, Viscount Martin, J.
Grimston, hon. E. H. Marton, G.
Grote, G. Maunsell, T. P.
Hale, R. B. Melgund, Viscount
Halford, H. Mildmay, P. St. J.
Hall, B. Miles, W.
Handley, H. Miles, P. W. S.
Harcourt, G. G. Milton, Viscount
Hastie, A. Molesworth, Sir W.
Hawes, B. Moneypenny, T. G.
Hawkes, T. Mordaunt, Sir J.
Hawkins, J. H. Morpeth, Visct.
Heathcote, G. J. Murray, rt. hn. J. A.
Henniker, Lord Neeld, J.
Heron, Sir R. Neeld, J.
Hinde, J. H. Nicholl, J.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Norreys, Lord
Hobhouse, T. B. O'Connell, M. J.
Hodgson, R. O'Conor, Don
Hogg, J. W. Ossulston, Lord
Hollond, R. Packe, C. W.
Holmes, W. Paget, Lord A.
Horsman, E. Paget, F.
Houstoun, G. Pakington, J. S.
Howard, F. J. Palmer, C. F.
Howard, P. H. Palmer, R.
Howick, Viscount Palmerston, Viscount
Hughes, W. B. Parker, J.
Hume, J. Parker, R. T.
Hurst, R. H. Parrott, J.
Hurt, F. Patten, J. W.
Pease, J. Sharpe, General
Pechell, Captain Shaw, right hon. F.
Peel, right, hon. Sir R. Sibthorp, Colonel
Pendarves, E. W. W. Sinclair, Sir G.
Perceval, Colonel Slaney, R. A.
Perceval hon. G. J. Smith, J. A.
Philips, M. Smith, R. V.
Philips, G. R. Somers, J. P.
Phillpotts, J. Speirs, A.
Pinney, W. Stanley, M.
Plumptre, J. P. Stanley, W. O.
Ponsonby, C. F. A. C. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Ponsonby, hon. J. Steuart, R.
Power, J. Stuart, H.
Price, Sir R. Stuart, Lord J.
Pringle, A. Stuart, V.
Protheroe, E. Strickland, Sir G.
Pryme, G. Strutt, E.
Pusey, P. Style, Sir C.
Redington, T. N. Surrey, Earl of
Rice, E. R. Talbot, J. H.
Rice, right hon. T. S. Talfourd, Sergeant
Rich, H. Tancred, H. W.
Richards, R. Thompson, Alderman
Rickford, W. Thornley, T.
Roche, W. Thornhill, G.
Rolfe, Sir R. M. Tollemache, F. J.
Rose, rt. hn. Sir G. Townley, R. G.
Round, C. G. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Rundle, J. Tufnell, H.
Rushbrooke, Colonel Turner, W.
Russell, Lord J. Vere, Sir C. B.
Russell, Lord C. Verner, Colonel
Sandon, Viscount Verney, Sir H.
Sanford, E. A. Villiers, C. P.
Scrope, G. P. Villiers, Viscount
Seymour, Lord Vivian, J. H.
Wakley, T. Williams, W.
Walker, R. Williams, W. A.
Wallace, R. Winnington, T. E.
Warburton, H. Winnington, H. J.
Ward, H. G. Wodehouse, E.
Welby, G. E. Wood, G. W.
Wemyss, J. E. Wood, T.
Westenra, hon. H. R. Worsley, Lord
Westenra, hon. J. C. Wrightson, W. B.
White, A. Wyse, T.
White, S. Yates, J. A.
Wilberforce, W. York, hon. E. T.
Wilbraham, G. TELLERS.
Wilde, Mr. Sergeant Stanley, E. J.
Wilkins, W. Wood, C.
List of the NOES.
Bailey, J., jun. James, Sir W. C.
Blewitt, R. J. Lewis, W.
Brotherton, J. Peel, J.
Brownrigg, S. Vivian, J. E.
D'Israeli, B. Wilbraham, hon. B.
Duncombe, hon. A. TELLERS.
Dungannon, Viscount Harvey, D. W.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Young, G. F.
List of the AYES on the Second Division.
Attwood, W. Lewis, W.
Attwood, T. Marton, G.
Burr, H. Parker, R. T.
D'Israeli, B. Sibthorp, Colonel
Dungannon, Viscount Turner, W.
Fielden, W. Wilberforce, W.
Grimsditch, T. Williams, W.
Hawkes, T. TELLERS.
Johnson, General Fielden, J.
Jones, W. Wakley, T.