HC Deb 07 August 1839 vol 50 cc10-7

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair, for the House to go into Committee on the Poor-rates Collection Bill,

Mr. G. Palmer moved, as an amendment, that the bill be committed that day three months. The first clause in the bill was rather introduced as a stalking-horse for the second. It gave the guardians of the poor the power to seize by distress, the goods and chattels of the overseers when the rate-payers refused to pay the rates. Now, was it not most ridiculous to talk of seizing the goods of an overseer in order to make good the payment of—18,000l. for instance? He should like to know how the Chancellor of the Exchequer would like to have his property seized because the taxes were not paid. He conceived the object of the Bill was more to indemnify the Poor-law Commissioners for any illegal act which they might have committed than for any thing else. Under these circumstances, he should feel it to be his duty to move the amendment he had stated.

Mr. Hume

said, that there appeared to be in this bill great injustice and inconsistency. It was proposed to give the guardians a power of taking the property of the overseers but how were the overseers to be relieved? If there was no relief, could it be expected that any man in England would become an overseer? The second clause gave the guardians the power of appointing the collector of the rates, yet the overseers were to be punished if the collector did not do his duty. Unless the noble Lord gave some satisfactory explanation on these points, he should feel bound to vote against the further progress of the bill.

Lord J. Russell

said, that it was his intention to propose a modification of the clause as it originally stood, and to give the guardians the power of making a complaint before a magistrate in the first instance, and then, after cause was shown, a distress might issue, if the magistrates should be of opinion that sufficient reason had not been assigned to the contrary. If the guardians were to be compelled to provide for the relief of the poor, they ought to have money for that purpose; that was all that he wanted to effect by this bill.

The Attorney-general

observed, that as the law now stood there was extreme difficulty in obtaining the requisite funds. The guardians had to make an order on the overseers of a parish to contribute a certain quota towards the relief of the poor of an union, but as the law now stood there were no means of enforcing that precept except by mandamus. Of course, when a peremptory mandamus went, the overseers must obey, or go to gaol. But the next time the guardians made an order upon them, payment was refused, and it became necessary to apply for a mandamus again; and so they went on. The parish of St. Andrew, Holborn, had acted in this manner three or four times, and a peremptory mandamus had issued toties quoties. Days, and even weeks and months, elapsed, and meantime the poor were starving. Now, he would ask whether this state of things ought to continue? Undoubtedly, there ought to be some summary and effectual means of compelling obedience to these precepts. If the overseers paid the money required by the guardians, it would not come out of their own pockets, as they had always the means of making a rate. He could assure the House, that if they meant the Poor-law Amendment Act to remain in force, this bill, or some such bill, must pass into a law.

Mr. Grimsditch

was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Attorney-general say that there was no remedy for enforcing the orders of the guardians except by mandamus. Now in section 95 of the Poor-law Amendment Act, it was provided that the guardians should have the power of summoning the overseer before a magistrate for disobeying their order, and if it appeared that the overseer had wilfully neglected his duty, he was liable to a penalty of 51. He trusted the House did not intend to enlarge the very extensive powers already possessed by the commissioners.

Mr. Wakley

said, that the object of the bill was to make orders lawful which at present were unlawful, and he thought it would be most unwise to render edicts legal which were not yet seen. The bill was another specimen of Liberalism: it was an extraordinary specimen of Whiggish subtlety and sagacity. It was now said, that guardians were not to have the power of directing the magistrates to issue warrants of distress; but that the magistrates should have the power of summoning the parties and deciding according to the merits of the case, But who were the magistrates The guardians, the ex-officio guardians. So that the guardians would appeal from themselves as guardians to themselves as magistrates. He hoped the noble Lord would not persist in pressing the second clause, whatever might be determined with respect to the first.

Mr. Ewart

thought the remedy proposed by the noble Lord as respected the first clause met the difficulty which before existed; but with respect to the second clause, he thought the proposition so objectionable, that though he should not oppose the motion for going into committee, he should move its rejection in committee.

The House divided on the original motion:—Ayes 51; Noes 16—Majority 35.

List of the Ayes.
Aglionby, H. A. Hume, J.
Baring, F. T. Kemble, H.
Barnard, E. G. Lushington, rt. hn. S.
Barry, G. S. Mackinnon, W. A.
Bernal, R. Morpeth, Viscount
Blair, J. Muskett, G. A.
Blake, W. J. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Bramston, T. W. O'Connell, D.
Bridgeman, H. Philips, M.
Briscoe, J. I. Phillpotts, J.
Broadley, H. Pigot, D. R.
Brotherton, J. Price, Sir R.
Bruges, W. H. L. Protheroe, E.
Burroughes, H. N. Pryme, G.
Campbell, Sir J. Rich, H.
Clay, W. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Dalmeny, Lord Russell, Lord J.
Divett, E. Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.
Ewart, W. Stock, D.
Finch, F. Thornely, T.
Grey, rt. hn. Sir G. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Hinde, J. H. Warburton, H.
Hobhouse, T. B. Wood, G. W.
Hodges, T. L. Yates, J. A.
Hodgson, R. TELLERS.
Hoskins, K. Wood, C.
Howick, Viscount Parker, J.
List of the NOES.
Attwood, T. Scholefield, J.
Douglas, Sir C. E, Vere, Sir C. B.
Duncombe, T. Vigors, N. A.
Hawkes, T. Wakley, T.
Hector, C. J. Williams, W.
Hindley, C. Wood, Colonel T.
Parker, R. T.
Pechell, Captain TELLERS.
Polhill, F. Palmer, G.
Rushbrooke, Colonel Grimsditch, T.

House in Committee.

On Clause 2, relating to the appointment of collectors,

The Attorney-General

wished to offer a few observations in explanation of this clause. By clause 46 of the Poor-law Amendment Act, it was provided, that the commissioners should have the power of authorizing guardians to elect some officers for carrying the Act into operation. By the interpretation clause (109) of the Poor-law Amendment Act, collectors were specified as amongst the officers whom the commissioners had the power of authorizing the guardians lo appoint, and he had thought till the Court of Queen's Bench had decided otherwise, that such was the fair construction of the Act. But the Court of Queen's Bench had decided otherwise,, and he was obliged to bow to the decision of that Court. He could assure the House, that the greatest jobbing had been practised in the collection of the rates, and that a great deal of the money had been wasted. Each small parish had the power of appointing a collector, but the salaries of a great many of those officers were so small, that they could not be expected lo give up the whole of their time to the performance of their duties, and the commissioners had thought it better to have a single collector for a whole union. Such a plan, in his opinion, could not fail of being productive of the best results, and he was sure, the House would agree with him, that to have one collector for a whole union, devoting the whole of his time to the performance of his duty, would be highly beneficial to the ratepayers, and to the public generally. Such was the plan upon which the commissioners had acted, and he could assure the House, that it had proved extremely beneficial. It had at the same time been productive of considerable discontent, because it had interfered in some degree with the disposal of local patronage, but upon the whole its tendency had been good. In consequence, however, of the discontent which had been produced, an application had been made to the Court of Queen's Bench to set aside an order of the commissioners for the appointment of a collector, and that Court had decided, that under the Poor-law Amendment Act, the commissioners had not the power to make such orders. He therefore allowed, after that decision, that such orders were illegal, and the object of this clause was to legalize them. It simply was to empower the Poor-law commissioners to authorize the guardians to elect a collector for each union, and he would ask; the House whether, that could be called an improper interference with the ratepayers? The collectors would still be the servants of the overseers, to whom alone they would be responsible. The guardians would have nothing to do with the money collected, and he trusted, therefore, that after this explanation the House would not object to the clause.

Mr. Ewart

rose to move, that this clause be omitted. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that even were this bill passed, the collectors would still be in the hands of the rate payers, and responsible to them, but he could not altogether agree in that opinion. There was a great difference between an election by the body of electors, and an election by another body, interposed between the persons who ought to elect, and the person elected. It this clause were agreed to, the guardians would be interposed between the collector and the rate-payers, and in such a case there was the greatest danger that the wishes and interests of the rate payers would not be fairly represented and attended to. Was this bill in conformity with the spirit of the Poor-law Amendment Act? No, for it went to alter materially that Act, and those who were opposed to this measure, contended, that it ought not to interfere with the spirit of the existing law—that it ought only to be declaratory, and not contrary to the principle and spirit of the Poor-law Amendment Act. Now, the House would recollect that Lord Althorp had expressly stated what he considered to be the principle of that Act, on moving its introduction. He had distinctly said, that the administrative power alone was to be placed in the hands of the commissioners, and that taxation and collection were to rest with the guardians and overseers. He would ask the House, then, whether this clause were not completely at variance with the principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act as laid down by Lord Althorp? He would ask, also, whether it were not at variance with the existing law? The commissioners had issued orders for the appointment of collectors, and their authority to do so had been questioned, and the Court of Queen's Bench had decided, that those orders were at variance with the law as it stood. But by these clauses those orders were to be declared legal, so that the bill was at nuance with the principle of the Poor- law Amendment Act as it had been laid down by Lord Althorp, and it was also at variance with the law of the land as declared by the Court of Queen's Bench. He should move, that the clause be omitted.

Mr. H. Hinde

did not object to the powers given by the clause, and his objection was to ex post facto legislation.

Mr. Grimsditch

objected to this clause, because the commissioners had no power by the Poor-law Amendment Act to do what this law sanctioned and rendered legal. They had no power to issue the orders which the clause made law, and he could not think it was wise to legalize orders of which the House knew nothing. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that a collector ought to be appointed for a whole union; but how was that possible? The union to which he belonged contained a population of between 70,000 and 80,000 inhabitants, and how was it possible that one collector could collect the whole of the rates in a union so extensive? The fact was, that this measure was applicable entirely to some little unions in London, but it was not at all adapted to the country unions. He should certainly vote for the omission of the clause.

Mr. Wakley

After the explanation which had been given by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Attorney-general, and seeing that the commissioners would gain nothing by the provisions of the bill, should not object to the clause.

Mr. G. Palmer

said, this measure had not been demanded by the parishes for whose benefit it was professedly intended. It would deprive the ratepayers of all control over the parochial funds; they would likewise have no control over the appointment of their own officers. He should vote against the clause.

Mr. Hume

at first was undoubtedly opposed to the clause, but as be now understood that the noble Lord did not design to alter the present law, and that the Court of Queen's Bench had put an erroneous interpretation upon the law in respect to the collection of rates, and further, that the object of this clause was to carry on the Act until next year, and to prevent litigation, he should support it.

Lord J. Russell

begged to say a few words in reference to the orders of the Poor-law commissioners, the advantage of which had been much called in question. The hon. Member had chiefly dwelt upon what had taken place in that part of the country with which he was acquainted. In reply to his observations, he would read an extract from an assistant Poor-law commissioner in relation to Wigan: As far as my experience has gone, no officers could have succeeded better than those who have been appointed at Wigan, and in proof of the advantages of the change, it may be stated, that there are at present four assistant-commissioners and three assistants at 100l. a-year each. Formerly the rates were collected by thirty-four persons, receiving altogether 812l., as their remuneration. Here is a saving of 112l., exclusive of the other benefits of the alteration, namely, that the rates are collected with greater diligence and success, and less risk and loss incurred. The money is paid over by the assistant-overseer to the treasurer of the union every week, instead of being left, as it formerly was, in the hands of almost irresponsible and unpaid overseers; and the treasurer is always ready to make advances. He had read this in order to correct the mistakes which seemed to prevail on this subject. It was clear, that the orders of the Poor-law commissioners had tended to the better collection of the rates.

The Committee divided on the Clause:—Ayes 47; Noes 5: Majority 42.

List of the Ayes.
Anglionby, A. H. Morpeth, Viscount
Baring, F. T. Muskett, G. A.
Barry, G. S. Palmerston, Viscount
Blair, J. Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.
Blake, W. J. Pechell, Captain
Bramston, T. W. Philips, M.
Briscoe, J. I. Pigot, D. R.
Broadley, H. Price, Sir R.
Bruges, W. H. L. Protheroe, E.
Burroughes, H. N. Rich, H.
Clay, W. Rose, rt. hn. Sir G.
Campbell, Sir J. Round, J.
Chute, W. L. W. Rushbrooke, Colonel
Cochrane. Sir T. J. Russell, Lord J.
Dalmeny, Lord Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.
Finch, F. Scholefield, J.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Stock, Dr.
Hobhouse, T. B. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Hodges, T L. Vere, Sir C. B.
Holmes, W. Vigors, N. A.
Hoskins, K. Warburton, H.
Howick, Viscount Yates, J. A.
Hutton, R. Mr. Solicitor-General
Kemble, H. Parker, J.
List of the NOES.
Grimsditch, T. Wood, Colonel T.
Hodgson, R. TELLERS.
Palmer, G. Ewart, W.
Polhill, F. Hinde, J. H.

Clause agreed to.

Home resumed. Bill to be reported,