§ Mr. Easthope
could not content himself with giving a silent vote on the very important measure under the consideration of the House, and felt bound to express his deep regret that a question involving such complicated and extensive public interests had not been brought forward at an early period of the Session, in order that the House might have had an opportunity of discussing its provisions with that deliberation which it required, and with a view to the adoption of such safe and salutary amendments as experience may have pointed out as proper to be engrafted on the provisions of the new system of the administration of the Poor-laws. It was obvious to every one who had attended to passing events, that much misconstruction and misunderstanding existed in the public mind in regard to the working of the Poor-law Amendment Act, calculated to produce great public mischief. Such being the case, and such the strong feeling which existed out of doors on this question, he deeply regretted that it had not been taken up on a day, and at a period of the Session, when due time and attention could have been devoted to its consideration, and steps adopted to do away with those erroneous opinions which existed, and also in some respects to soften and improve its administration. While he fully approved of the leading principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act—namely, its tendency to advance industry and discourage indolence, and thereby improve the character of the working classes, and was ready to admit that it had been attended with many beneficial results to the country at large—he could not conceal from the House that he felt considerable misgivings in regard to the manner in which the powers had in some instances been exercised by the commissioners, and that he entertained strong convictions that some alterations in that respect were essentially requisite. It happened to himself to become acquainted personally with two cases which had given him great pain. One of those cases occurred in the city of 552 Worcester. It appeared that a few individuals connected with some paupers in that workhouse had been in the habit of furnishing them with snuff, tea, and sugar, and other trifling articles of that description. This they had done with the knowledge and concurrence of the local guardians, and also with the knowledge of one of the assistant commissioners visiting the establishment. No objections, as he believed, had been made to the system by any of those authorities. But a new assistant commissioner having come to the place, he insisted that the practice must be at once discontinued as an infringement on the rules of the commissioners, and that the furnishing of the articles must be immediately stopped. The guardians in vain remonstrated against that determination, and, finding their efforts to obtain an alteration of the decision of the assistant commissioner entirely ineffectual, they, as was perhaps in some measure to be regretted, in consequence, unanimously resigned. He happened to be at Worcester at the time, and he gathered his information from gentlemen favourable to the principle of the new Poor-law, all of whom lamented the interference which had been made with the local authorities by the assistant commissioner. He had written on the subject to the secretary to the commissioners at Somerset-house, beseeching him to consider the subject, and throw oil on the troubled waters agitated by the unnecessary interference of the subordinate commissioner. His application to the secretary, however, was attended with no good result, and orders were issued that the rule should be implicitly enforced. Had this measure been brought forward at an early period of the Session, he could not but think that a discussion in that House would have been highly useful, and in times of great distress and excitement, such as the present, certainly not unnecessary. The other case which he wished to notice referred to the Leicester board of guardians. The assistant commissioner decided that the reporters to the public press should be excluded from the meetings of the board. The guardians applied to the commissioners, who confirmed the decision of their subordinate. The guardians remonstrated. They stated that for a considerable time their meetings had been open to the rate-payers, who had deep personal interest in their delibera- 553 tions. No bad effects had resulted from that system; on the contrary, beneficial results had been experienced by the publicity given to their proceedings. In short, the system of open meetings had worked well in every respect. But, nevertheless, positive orders were sent down, that in future the admission of reporters should be discontinued. Whether the point had been definitely settled in that way he was not prepared to say; but he knew that the people of Leicester—the rate-payers—would be much and justly dissatisfied if they were prevented by the commissioners, against the opinion of the guardians, from becoming acquainted with the manner in which the guardians administered the funds committed to their charge. He would further say, that a state of things might soon arise where the Poor-law Amendment Act could not be applicable to the condition of the people of Leicester. Suppose, for instance, that general and deep distress were to visit the working classes of that town chiefly engaged in manufactures, no person who had attended to the administration of the new Poor-law could deny that it was totally inapplicable to meet such a case, where from ten to twenty thousand persons might be thrown upon the poor-rates for relief. It was, then, clearly indiscreet for the commissioners to dictate thus rigidly to the guardians what was best to be done in such a district. He believed that the intentions of the commissioners were laudable; but he could not help thinking that their duties passed upon them in a way that often led them to miscalculate, and he thought that something should be done to give more discretionary power to the boards of guardians, so as to ensure an improved working of the law, and promote a better, a more humane, and a wiser Administration.
§ Mr. Liddell
could not allow the present opportunity to pass without saying that he entertained great objection to the prolongation of the powers of the Poor Law Commissioners. He was one of the committee which last year sat upon this subject, and he could not now refrain from publicly stating in the House, that from many material portions of the report of the committee, he did most conscientiously dissent. His objections to the bill brought forward by the noble Lord, were of such a nature, that he might possibly have been prevailed upon to agree to it, if the powers 554 of the central Poor Law Commissioners were to be extended for a year only; but when he found that an indefinite time was proposed, or that at least those powers were to be continued for two or three years longer, according to the duration of Parliament, he could not agree to it. In all the petitions which had been presented from various parishes relative to this subject but one feeling was expressed with regard to the central board of commissioners, and that was the greatest objection, which was felt in all quarters, to the arbitrary and extensive powers of that board. To the continuance of these arbitrary and extensive powers he objected, because they were founded upon that enormous principle of centralization, which, he was sorry to say, was advancing too rapidly to be productive of any good. He saw nothing in that principle as at present attempted to be carried out to induce him to regard it with any other feelings but those of fear and alarm; for it appeared to him very plainly that by this system of centralization the liberties of this country would be gradually undermined and impaired. He had met with a passage in a modern author, whose opinions had some weight with hon. Gentlemen on the other (the Ministerial) side of the House, which he would take the liberty of reading to the House. "Centralization," says he, "is a principle which secures the momentary strength, but ever ends in the abrupt destruction, of states. It is, in fact, the perilous tonic which seems to brace the system, but drives the blood to the head. Thence come apoplexy and madness. Centralization is an excellent quackery for a despot who desires power to last only for his own life, and who has but a life interest in the state; but to true liberty and permanent order centralization is deadly poison." The author was Sir Lytton Bulwer, a Gentleman who enjoyed the regard of the Gentlemen opposite. The Poor Law Amendment Act had placed the concerns of every parish in the king-darn under the dominion of a central board; and when he heard the opinions which were expressed in certain quarters with regard to the continuance of' the powers of that board and the increase of stipendiary magistrates, and drat immense railway monopoly which threatened to overturn all the present system of the internal communication of the country—for at no very distant period all the rail- 555 roads were likely to be at the command and under the control of Government—all this made him view the growth of centralization with suspicion and alarm. Another objection which he had to the present bill was, that he thought it was now high time that the unions should be left to govern themselves. He could easily imagine that while so great a change as was effected by the Poor Law Amendment Act was going on, it was necessary to institute a central board of management, and to set up a new machinery to carry out the measure. But now that the machinery had been organised and put into motion all over the country, he could not conceive that the central board was necessary for any good purpose. It might be very well for the Government to devolve on the commissioners all the powers they now have in order to shift off the responsibility of settling disputes that might arise between rate-payers and boards of guardians. But still there was little advantage derived by the Government from that arrangement, for in cases of dispute the central board, like chaos of old, had by their decision only "more embroiled the fray." He thought that in all disputes there would be little difficulty in the Secretary for the Home Department appointing an assistant-commissioner to go and make inquiry, and settle the contested point. It was stated in the report of the Poor Law Committee that they recommended the continuance of the powers of the commissioners "in preference to any system which, by leaving the administration of the Poor Laws without the control and superintendence of a central board, might cause the recurrence of those abuses which existed previously to the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act." If that argument was valid, there was no reason why they should not advance to the perpetuation of the central board. But what were the purposes for which poor laws were established? First, to protect the infirm, the aged, and the distressed, from starvation and want, by providing relief for them; and, secondly, to protect the industrious rate-payer from exorbitant taxation, occasioned by a wasteful and improper expenditure of the rates levied upon him. There were many parts of the kingdom into which the New Poor Law bad been extended without any reference having been had to the state of the population, and he was not aware that the poor 556 were better off now than they were before that law was passed, even though it had led to an increased burden on the poor-rates. When it was said that the continuance of the central board in London was necessary in order to preserve the country from abuses, he begged to ask the House whether the rate-payers having now seen their affairs managed under a better system, and that parish relief ought only to be given to those who really deserved and stood in need of it, he begged to ask whether it was likely that the rate-payers, having the remedy in their own hands, would now consent to any such abuses as existed before the time of the present law? He thought, that the responsibility of the management of their own affairs should be left with the board of guardians, and not be vested in a central board in London. Although the Commissioners and sub-Commissioners gave a different account of these things, yet he begged to say, that he was supported in the opinions he had now expressed by every independent witness who had been examined before the Poor-law Committee. He would undertake to say, that many cases of great cruelty had taken place under the bastardy clauses, and he would state one which came within his own immediate knowledge. It would be remembered, that the Poor-Law Amendment Act exempted from the operation of the bastardy clauses all cases of bastardy in which the children had been born before the passing of the Act. Now, in the case to which he was about to allude, the rules laid down by the board of guardians had completely distorted the spirit and letter of that provision, and had led to a denial of all support to the child. A shepherd in the part of the country with which he was connected had a daughter, who had an illegitimate child a short time previous to the passing of the Poor-Law Amendment Act. She supported her child in her father's house, assisted by a weekly allowance from the child's father, paid through the overseers of the town. After the passing of the Act, the relieving-officer from the board of guardians for the Union in which the child was born, gave notice to the woman, that she would receive no further allowance from the board, and offering to take the child into the workhouse. Now, the child had arrived at tile age of five or six years, and had wound itself round the hearts of the mother and its grandparents, 557 and they refused to part with the child. He told them, that in his apprehension the law entitled them to relief from the father of the child; but the guardians refused them their assistance. This was a proceeding of great injustice and severity—it was an abuse of the law; however, the father of the child had been allowed to go scot-free for the rest of his life, and the whole charge of the maintenance would devolve on the grandfather. That was only one out of hundreds of the same kind, and to this abuse he had thought it right to call the attention of the House. He would not trouble the House further; he had done his duty by thus expressing his dissent from the recommendation of the committee, and he was confident that in opposing the further continuance of the powers of the Central Board, he was acting not only in accordance with his own feelings, but with those of a majority of the people of England.
§ Mr. Briscoe
intended most heartily and sincerely to support the bill brought in by the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department. The hon. Member who had just sat down spoke of the great powers of the Commissioners as having been most unwisely placed in their hands; but he (Mr. Briscoe) believed, that those powers had been, with few exceptions, most wisely and judiciously exercised, and he was convinced, that unless they had been so conferred, the provisions of the Poor-Law Amendment Act would never have been carried into effect with anything like uniformity. The hon. Member opposite had objected to this law, as affecting the civil liberties of the subject, but he (Mr. Briscoe) contended, that the law could not be viewed in that light. The civil liberties of the people were not affected, nor had the Commissioners power to exercise any sovereign will and pleasure, but were bound to act in accordance with the law. The points of objection to which the hon. Member for Durham had principally alluded were the bastardy clauses. It was true, he had heard complaints made as to the cruelty of those clauses, and upon the hardship on women, but he was at a loss to understand why these complaints should be made. Under the old law had been very great grounds of complaint; he had frequently heard it stated, at the Courts of Quarter Sessions, that the unhappy mother of an illegitimate child was working on the tread-wheel, while her offspring was laid 558 upon a prison bench. This was not the case now, for the present law was, as compared to the former, one of kindness and humanity to these unhappy females, because they and their children were maintained at the public cost, if they had not the means of supporting themselves if any complaint could with justice be now made, it was that the fathers were not called upon to pay; in short, the rate-payers, on whom the burden was thrown, were the only parties who had any right to complain with reference to these clauses. He was reminded that the noble Lord near him (Lord J. Russell) meant to introduce a clause to meet this objection, and he was sure such a provision would be both wise useful. But he rose principally to express his concurrence in the objections which had been raised by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Easthope). He thought the presents of tea and other comforts to the inmates of workhouses ought not to have been interfered with, and he also agreed in the opinion that the proceedings of the guardians ought not to be held in secret, but that the press should be admitted, inasmuch as the proper administration of the law was a question in which both the poor and the rate-payers were deeply interested. With these exceptions he was inclined to think that the conduct of the Poor-law Commissioners generally was deserving of approbation. The boards of Guardians were very often disposed to throw blame upon the commissioners for that to which they were themselves liable, especially with respect to the treatment of the aged poor. A general opinion prevailed that aged persons were not entitled to any relief except within the walls of the workhouse. Now he contended that that was a matter entirely within the powers of the guardians themselves—he contended they had power to make such an allowance to the aged of both sexes out of the workhouse as they thought necessary. He last year had made particular enquiries both in the borough he represented, and in the Croydon union, as to the number of aged poor relieved out of the house, and the number within the walls. He found in the Croydon union, which consisted of twelve parishes, that there was not a single day passed in which out-relief was not afforded to aged poor, and that the number of aged persons within the house only amounted to two, who were so infirm, so totally un- 559 able to assist or take care of themselves, that it was a great boon to them to be kept in the house, where they bad the benefit of medical advice, and the attendance of a nurse. When the proper time arrived he should be prepared to state the grounds upon which he thought this measure one of the wisest and most beneficial to all ranks and classes, especially the poor, that ever had been passed, even by the reformed House of Commons.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
thought the more convenient course would have been to allow the order of the day to be read, and then to proceed to the discussion of the merits of the Poor-law Act, on the amendment of which the hon. Member for Sussex (Mr. Darby) had given notice. He (Sir E. Knatchbull) perfectly agreed in the opinion expressed by the hon. Member who had just sat down, that much good had resulted from the existing law, and he believed that as far as the management of the workhouses were concerned, the boards of guardians did their duty satisfactorily.
regretted that the bill had not been introduced at an earlier period of the Session. The Poor-law Amendment Act depended for success on a fair and equal mode of administration, and from that view he gave his support to the present bill.
Mr. W. Attzwood
said, it was his determination to divide the House against any further proceeding with this bill. But he wished in the first instance to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department, whether a report which it was stated in the report of the Poor-law Commissioners was intended to be made upon the subject of the continuance of their powers had been received by him, and if it had, why it had not been laid upon the Table of the House? He wished also to know whether the recommendations agreed to by the committee on the Poor-laws had been adopted and brought into action by the commissioners, because in the report of the commissioners before the House he found no mention made of those recommendations, or that any steps had been taken to carry them into effect. It had been said, that the disposition of the committee had been rather favourable to the Poor-law, and anybody who read the report and the evidence would see that there had been a great disposition on the part of the committee to consider that 560 the commissioners would carry the law into effect with great mildness, and in that view the report had been framed. He was not disposed to say that this was not a judicious disposition on the part of the committee, but on the report of the commissioners which was now before the House he did not find any such inclination manifested by them. The committee had agreed upon certain recommendations as to the course which ought to be pursued by the Poor Law Commissioners, in the first place, one of those recommendations was, that the Commissioners should have the power of increasing or diminishing the size of the unions which existed throughout the country, reference being had to the making access to the board of guardians more easy and convenient to the poor seeking relief. The object of this recommendation was to remove the difficulties in the way of an approach to relief, arising from the distances which the paupers had to go in some instances. In the report of the Commissioners, however, he did not find any allusion made to that recommendation, or that any step with reference to it had been taken. Another recommendation of the committee arose from the fact that large districts for relieving officers had been found not to be desirable; for in some instances those districts were so large that the relieving-officer was not able to attend to the wants of the poor, and the committee accordingly recommended that in rural districts only eight parishes, containing a population of not more than 8,000, and in towns not exceeding 10,000, should be united and left to the care of one relieving-officer. Of this recommendation he saw no mention in the report of the commissioners, or that there had been any reduction in the size and extent of the districts spoken of in the evidence taken before the committee. Again, there had been a recommendation with reference to the extent of the districts assigned to medical officers, with respect to whom the evidence was strong, not only that the remuneration they received was wholly inadequate and insufficient to secure competent skill or proper supplies of medicine, but that the districts were much larger than it was possible any medical officer could give his attention to. Now, it was very essential that all these recommendations of the committee should be acted on by the commissioners, in order to render 561 the administration of the Poor-laws more easy; but, notwithstanding, even these scanty recommendations, calculated to increase the comforts of the poor, had not in the slightest degree been attended to by the Commissioners. Whether those Gentlemen would attend to a mere report of a committee of this House he did not know, but he certainly thought, that it was the duty of those by whom the committee had been appointed, and who were prepared to back their report, to call the attention of the commissioners to these essential recommendations. On these grounds, and as he did not see these recommendations attended to, or any disposition evinced by the Commissioners to adopt any alleviation of the severities of the Act, he was prepared to divide the House against the further progress of this bill. It had been said, that but few aged persons were to be found within the workhouses, but in the house he knew there were none else; there was not a single able-bodied person except one idiot, all the rest being aged and unable to work; and when he found that these were confined within the walls, that they were prohibited from seeing or receiving their friends except on Tuesdays and Fridays, that they were prevented from going without the walls even to attend divine worship, without the special leave of the guardians;—when he saw the rules applied in such a degree of strictness as to be a cruel hardship on those unhappy individuals, he felt bound to come forward on behalf of those who could not protect themselves. He would not detain the House further than to repeat his determination to divide the House on this question.
§ Mr. Hindley
wished to ask the right hon. Baronet, Sir E. Knatchbull, whether the statement he had made was not a correct one, and whether the diet of the able-bodied in the workhouse of the Thanet Union was not 6oz. of bread, and 1oz. of cheese, or half an ounce of butter, for breakfast; an ounce more bread for dinner; and the same quantity for supper? He would ask, further, if there was any variation in the diet except suet pudding twice or thrice a-week, and if the only beverage allowed was not water? He admitted the cleanliness and order of the workhouse, and the attention paid to the children; but he had remarked at the time to the board of guardians, whom he 562 did not blame, for they were only instruments in the hands of the Poor-law Commissioners—he had remarked to them, that although he allowed the quality of the food was good, yet the quantities were insufficient for an able-bodied man. He begged, further, to ask the right hon. Baronet, whether he thought it right with the rent of land at 3l. per statute acre, to treat the able-bodied poor, who were unable to abtain work, in this manner?
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
replied, that the hon. Member was in error when he stated that the land in that neighbourhood was let at 3l. per acre. With regard to the other questions put to him by the hon. Member, he could not answer them better than by reading to the House a letter which he had received to-day from the chairman of the board of guardians of the Union to which the observations of the hon. Member had been applied. The letter was as follows:—Ramsgate, July 19, 1839. Sir,—Mr. Hindley is reported in the Standard of the 16th instant, on the debate on the second reading of the Poor-law Commission Continuance Bill, to have said, 'that in the case of a parish between Margate and Ramsgate the paupers were limited to the starving point.' Now, whether he refers to St. Lawrence or St. Peter I know not, but I deny it in the former parish, and in the latter I can assure you the out-relief is the largest and highest in individual amount of any in the Union. In the name of the board at which I have the honour to preside, I have to request the favour of your taking an opportunity, either when the bill is in committee, or on the third reading, to contradict Mr. Hindley's assertion. In the summer of 1837, Mr. Hindley, when staying at Broadstairs, visited the central house of the Thanet Union (introduced to the board-room by my predecessor in the chair), when the guardians were sitting. After He had very specially inspected the establishment, and more particularly the provision and dietary table, he was invited to make his remarks without reservation: his reply was, that he was more satisfied with the establishment than he supposed he could have been, and that the quality of the provision was good, and the quantity more than he could eat. He then endeavoured to persuade the board it only required moral courage to oppose the orders of the Poor-law Commissioners, and they would succeed. Well, I thought I would put the moral courage of this wise man of Ashton to the test, so I requested he would do us the favour to enter in the book kept for the purpose, his name, the object of his visit, and his remarks. This he declined doing; and why? I think I recollect these to be his words;—'I happen to represent a constitu- 563 ency much opposed to the Poor-law Amendment Act, and if any of them should visit the Isle of Thanet and visit this house, and see entered in this book what I have now stated, it might injure me.' Now, I would ask this valorous legislator where he keeps his moral courage, when he is afraid to record his honest conviction from error? I beg to apologise for intruding thus much on your time, but myself and colleagues feel Mr. Hindley's remarks to be so unjust, that we should be culpably guilty if we did not notice and expose his conduct. I have the honour," &c.
§ To this letter he should not add any observations.
§ Mr. Hindley
said, it was not true that he had stated that the allowance was more than he could eat. On the contrary, he had made the same observations as to the dietary to the board of guardians that he had made to the House. It was true that he had approved of the general order and cleanliness of the establishment, but he certainly had refused to give a written testimony in favour of it on the ground that it might lead to misapprehension elsewhere, and the prudence of his conduct in this respect was now evident from the fact that even the partial approval lie had expressed was now attempted to be brought forward as a token of his general approbation of the whole system.
§ Mr. C. Lushington
drew the attention of the noble Lord below him (Lord J. Russell) to a peremtory order issued in March, 1838, by the Poor-law Commissioners, to the assistant commissioners requesting them to insist upon the appointment by the board of guardians of chaplains to the workhouses. He wished to know whether the commissioners bad power to insist on such appointments being made. A case had been laid, he believed, before the law officers of the Crown, who declared the commissioners had such powers, but added, that the question was at present under the consideration of the Court of Queen's Bench. Had the noble Lord issued any instructions to the commissioners with a view to restrain them from harrassing the boards of guardians with directions to appoint chaplains to their workhouses?
§ Mr. Wakley
observed, that the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir E. Knatchbull) had, with very proper finesse, contrived to divert the attention of the House from the question of the dietary of the Thanet Union workhouse, The right hon. Baronet had 564 read a letter which had raised a laugh—a justifiable laugh he thought—against the hon. Member for Ashton. It was a caution, however, to hon. Members, and would teach them not to have their feelings subdued or their moral courage upset by any attentions or civilities which might be shown them on their visits to these workhouses. The hon. Member for Ashton might not have been able to eat the whole allowance he saw, but perhaps that might arise from his having no appetite at the time. But was the dietary there such as a person was capable of eating? The right hon. Baronet had not stated what was the dietary, neither had it been convenient to the writer of the letter which had been read to inform the House what the dietary was. The truth was, that the allowance regulated by the Poor-law Commissioners was exceedingly small; it was an allowance well calculated to keep down fever; it was not an exciting allowance; the paupers had no beer, but drank water, and lived on gruel. The right hon. Baronet had denied that the rent of land in the neighbourhood was 3l. per acre, but he had forgot to say what it amounted to, whether it was 2l. 15s. or not. The Poor-law Amendment Act was a landlord's measure; it was passed, as everybody knew to depress the labourer to the lowest possible degree. [Oh oh!] Whenever the truth was uttered in this House there were always loud cries of "oh," but if falsehoods were uttered by the hour, there would not be an exclamation. He repeated that the bill had been passed to keep down the condition of the labourers and to raise the rents of the landlords. Was there a man of common honesty who would deny that fact? Had the bill succeeded in doing that which it was said it would effect, namely, raise wages? Certainly not. He repeated his former statement, that the wages of agricultural labourers in the west of England were only 7s. per week; that was the sum-total they received for their weekly labour, and they had no collateral advantages whatever. Now, seeing this state of things, was it desirable that the powers of the Poor-law Commissioners should be continued? Had the bill succeeded—had it gratified its supporters by lowering rates? In half of England at least, in that respect, it had not succeeded, while it had taken away from the local authorities the powers exercised by them from the time of Elizabeth up to its pass- 565 ing into a law. It had established a more obnoxious system of plural voting even than Sturges Bourne's Act. In short, this measure was producing, from one end of the country to the other, increased discontent. If the hon. Member opposite divided the House, he should vote with him, although he should not be sorry to see the bill renewed for two years, being certain that they would, at the end of that time, never be able to renew it again. Objectionable as the law was made in its working, and by the conduct of the commissioners, there was no part of their conduct which had produced greater discontent than that of letting out the poor in unions to the lowest medical bidders in point of practice. Would the commissioners let out their horses to the lowest veterinary surgeon who might send in a tender to take care of them? Would they even intrust to them the dogs in their kennel? They would not, but they had done so thoughtless, recklessly, and inhumanly towards the poor. Only let a low tender be made that was calculated to lessen the amount of rates, and it was sure to be received. There had been hundreds of instances where young, thoughtless men desirous of obtaining experience, put in low tenders with a view to improvement by practice; and without reference to the moral character or professional skill and abilities of the candidate, the low rate of tender was held to be a sufficient recognition of the candidate's power to discharge the duties of the office. He could not believe that the House would sanction these proceedings, although the Poor-law Commissioners had done so, notwithstanding the evidence adduced on this point before the select committee last year. Certain new regulations had lately, indeed, been issued by the Poor-law Commissioners, but it remained to be seen if they would be acted upon, and they were by no means perfect. Why should there not be a me dical commissioner appointed? ["Hear."] Yes, there had been already one, a medical gentleman, appointed an assistant commissioner, and the noble Lord would bear testimony to his efficiency and zeal. Amongst the assistant-commissioners the most efficient was Dr. Kay, and he would have given even increased gratification if he had been empowered by the commissioners to inspect the medical department. He had, however, no such power, or he would have seen justice done to the poor 566 on this most important point. There was still another matter well worthy of notice, to which he must also beg to direct the attention of the noble Lord. It appeared, that the Poor-law commissioners sanctioned the appointment of relieving officers and the surgeons of unions to the office of registrar of deaths. Observe how this worked. A poor man applied to the relieving officer for relief, he is refused, and dies through neglect. Who registered that man's death? Why, the relieving officer, who by neglect had caused it. Should that he allowed? He hoped the noble Lord would prevent either relieving-officers or surgeons of unions from holding the office of registrar of deaths, for such a system could not work well; it must be pregnant with evil consequences, which only could be averted by the removal of such functionaries from their offices. He should vote against the further progress of the bill, as he would against any measure for the continuance of a system the most tyrannical ever established.
§ Lord J. Russell,
though he wished to defer the discussion of the merits of the bill until the order of the day had been read, must make a few remarks in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury. With regard to the question of medical attendance, the hon. Member was certainly more efficient than any other Member to express an opinion, but for that very reason the hon. Member ought to be more cautious and guarded in the statements he made. The first intention of the commissioners had been to give the preference to the lowest tender for medical relief. He had, however, several conferences with them, and the result had been, that it was generally circulated, that they did not recommend the adoption of the lowest tender in all cases, nor when there were other offers of superior ability. At the same time it was quite impossible in every case to prevent more regard being paid to economy than skill; but his belief was, that the medical attendance on the poor had been better and more efficiently performed under the Poor-law Amendment Act than it had been before that act became the law of the land. Formerly medical relief had been matter of contract—the poor had been put out to auction at the lowest tender. The hon. Member did right in turning his attention to this subject; but he hoped, that with 567 respect to this important matter the hon. Member would not make statements which might produce in the minds of the poorer classes jealousy and alarm. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. W. Attwood) had asked him a question on the subject of the recommendations of the committee of last year. With respect to those recommendations, he had directed the Poor-law commissioners to furnish him with a report as to the course they suggested for the alteration of the law necessary to carry out those recommendations. The hon. Member seemed to think, that the size of the unions could be altered, and the other changes made, without the consent of Parliament; but it appeared to him, that an alteration of the act was necessary, and he had therefore directed the commissioners to make a report, on which it had been his intention to bring in a bill. This, however, had been prevented by the unexpected interruption in the Session, and, finding it impossible to carry such a measure through, he had requested the commissioners to postpone their report for the present. It was true such a bill might have been introduced, but it would have interfered with the progress of other measures, and the interests of the empire would have suffered by Jamaica and Canada being neglected.
§ Lord G. Somerset
looked upon the whole system with regard to medical re lief by tender as vicious. The word "tender" ought never to have been introduced. It was for the board of guardians to consider the proper mode of providing that relief. He could not concur in the propriety of having a medical Poor-law commissioner. He must, therefore, deprecate the appointment of Dr. Kay. His opinions with regard to the subjects of wages and of the bastardy clauses remained unchanged; and, while he could not vote with his hon. Friend behind him, he was bound at the same time to state his strong objection to many of the provisions of the Poor-law Amendment Act.
§ Lord Worsley
considered it to be of the greatest importance that this bill should pass. It had been stated, that the rates had been increased by the Poor-law Amendment Act, while in point of fact he knew of their having been much diminished in many parts of the south of England.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 86; Noes 27: Majority 59.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||O'Brien, W. S.|
|Acland, T. D.||O'Connell, J.|
|Adam, Admiral||Packe, C. W.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Pakington, J. S.|
|Baines, E.||Palmer, R.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Parker, J.|
|Barrington, Viscount||Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.|
|Barry, G. S.||Pendarves, E. W. W.|
|Bernal, R.||Philips, M|
|Bowes, J.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Ponsonby, C. F. A. C.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Price, Sir R.|
|Broadley, H.||Protheroe, E.|
|Bruges, W. H. L.||Pryme, G.|
|Buck, L. W.||Reddington, T. N.|
|Callagan, D.||Rice, E. R.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Rich, H.|
|Clements, Viscount||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Craig, W. G.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Sandford, E. A.|
|Darby, G.||Scale, Sir J. H.|
|Eliot, Lord||Sheppard, T.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Smith, R. V.|
|Euston, Earl of||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Evans, G.||Stanley, hon. E. J.|
|Evans, W.||Steuart, R.|
|Ferguson, Sir R. A.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Fitzroy, Lord C.||Stock, Dr.|
|Freshfield, J. W.||Strutt, E.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Style, Sir C.|
|Hawes, B.||Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.|
|Hill, Lord A. M. C.||Thornely, T.|
|Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Hodges, T. L.||Verner, Colonel|
|Hope, hon. C.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Howard, P. H.||Wall, C. B.|
|Hutton, R.||Warburton, H.|
|Knatchbull, Sir E.||Wilbraham, G.|
|Langdale, hon. C.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Loch, J.||Wood, C.|
|Macaulay, T. B.||Wood, G. W.|
|Macleod, R.||Worsley, Lord|
|Maule, hon. F.||TELLERS.|
|Morpeth, Viscount||Seymour, Lord|
|Norreys, Sir D. J.||O'Ferrall, R. M.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Attwood, T.||Hinde, J. H.|
|Baling, H. B.||Hindley, C.|
|Brotherton, J.||Hodgson, F.|
|Collins, W.||Hodgson, R.|
|D'Israeli, B.||Lowther, J. H.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Monypenny, T. G.|
|Duncombe, T.||Parker, R. T.|
|Easthope, J.||Perceval, hon. G. J.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Scarlett, hon. J. Y.|
|Ellis, W.||Turner, W.|
|Fielden, J.||Wakley, T.|
|Fenton, J.||Williams, W.|
|Fleetwood, Sir P. H.||TELLERS.|
|Grimsditch, T.||Liddell, hon. H. T.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Attwood, W.|
§ Order of the Day read.
§ Mr. Darby
rose to propose an instruc- 569 tion to the Committee. He stated, that the noble Lord opposite had not dealt fairly with the House in this matter. They had the noble Lord's distinct admission that some portions of this Act required amendment, and now, without any suggestion of amendment, the noble Lord proposed that the Act be continued in force for a period of two years. Where was the consistency or the justice of this course? In dealing with this subject a distinction had been drawn by the noble Lord, of which he was willing to admit the force. They certainly ought not to confound all the hardships which arose since the introduction of the Poor-law Amendment Act with the particular hardships arising from the new system. He did not intend to enter at any great length into the evidence taken by the commissioners. He should rather apply himself to the practical difficulties of the case. He would cite one instance detailed in the evidence, which was particularly illustrative of the system. A pensioner, who described himself as perfectly willing to go to Canada, or to any of our other colonies, stated to the commissioners both the amount of his expenses and his earnings, specifying how he was employed, and that in fact he was never idle. He hail married under the old Poor-law, and had a large family, for which it was impossible with his narrow income to provide. When he married under the old law, he expected a reasonable allowance to assist him in maintaining his family; and said, that if the commissioners would provide for so many of his children as he was unable with his income to support, he would be satisfied to provide himself for the remainder. This was one of those numerous cases of hardship of which he thought that he had a reasonable right to complain. Parties marrying under the old system obtained an adequate amount of relief. But the reduction of wages having occasioned a considerable diminution of their income, and their families becoming much enlarged, with the prospect held out to them at present, their state became wretched and helpless indeed. If they desired to obtain relief under the present system, they must consent to break up their establishments. If they required relief for the maintenance of one child only, they must all go into the workhouse. The cottage and furniture must be sold. In the workhouse alone would any relief be 570 conceded. Now let him refer to the expectations held out upon this subject by Lord Althorp upon the introduction of the new Act. In reply to a question from the hon. Member for Salford. Lord Althorp stated, that "it was contemplated in the process of time to introduce the system of administering out-door relief—a system which he believed might ultimately be found to work advantageously." What had become of this declaration? With respect to the continuance of this bill, which the noble Lord said that he did not regard as permanent, he was certainly of opinion, that as they tested it by experience, they must by degrees make the experience thus acquired the subject of enactment, otherwise the Poor-law Commission must be permanent. There had been bills introduced into that House, giving the Poor-law Commissioners duties to perform which looked very like permanent duties. With respect to the origin of the Poor-law Commission, his idea was this:—Very great evils had arisen from the maladministration of the Poor-laws. In many instances the overseers were found to be totally incompetent to discharge their important duties. In many other cases, however, the overseers were found to be fully competent. But, as they had no certainty as to the general competency of the persons who would be called on to carry out the provisions of the Poor-law Amendment Act in practice, it was found to be advisable to have recourse to a Poor-law Commission. By introducing, however, gradually an improved system of management, they might ultimately be enabled to conform to what appeared to be the intention of the noble Lord, and yet rid of the Poor-law Commission. It was necessary to make some provision for those who had married, calculating upon the relief afforded by the old system of Poor-laws. All the plans which had been hitherto devised for their relief had proved insufficient for the purpose. The scheme of sending the poor into manufacturing districts had entirely failed. Emigration to Australia was limited by the amount of capital employed in that settlement, for the principle acted upon was this—that pauper emigration should not be carried to such an extent as to furnish more labourers than there was capital enough to employ. That was a very proper principle; but the result of it was, that the number of paupers sent 571 out bore no proportion worth considering to those who remained. There was another circumstance to be taken into consideration, and that was, that in agricultural parishes a greater number of labourers was required in summer than in winter, so that if all those were sent away for whom there was no employment in the winter months, there would not remain a sufficient population to do the work of the country. What was, then, to be done with respect to those who could not be employed in the winter? Ought the poor man to be forced to leave his home and go into the workhouse, when he only needed relief for a portion of the year? It was said, that this evil would correct itself, but he was not one of those who looked upon the population of this country as a piece of machinery devoid of passions or feelings. And what proved that he was right, was the fact which had been already adverted to, of wages not having risen since the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act. Take the case of a labouring man who had married, relying upon the provision made under the old system, and who had six children; the smallest sum upon which such a family could be supported for a week, allowing them five gallons of flour and other necessaries in proportion, would be 15s. Now, from the circumstance which he had already mentioned, it would not be fair in estimating the earnings of such a family to go by the wages of any one week; but taking the whole year together, and supposing the average weekly earnings to be 12s., which would be by no means a low estimate, there remained a deficiency of between 7l. and 8l. a-year. This was the amount of the relief of which the industrious poor man found himself suddenly deprived by the operation of the present Act. What had been the effect of the extreme suddenness with which this small assistance had been cut off? Why, for a time families had run in debt, but when at length the shopkeeper, finding the relief stopped, refused to give further credit, whole families were obliged either to go without the common necessaries of life, or to forsake their homes and go into the workhouse, when they merely required assistance for two months, or less, in a year. He certainly knew instances where families had preferred the former of these alternatives, and he did say, that very great credit was due to them for the peaceable and quiet 572 way in which they had struggled through with it. The great mischief of the present system was, that it made no difference between the industrious and idle, although the want of such a distinction was the principal complaint against the old Poor-law. It was said to be right to make people act prudently and look beforehand, but how did that argument apply to those who had depended, as they had a right to depend, upon the provisions of the former law? Were they to be forced to leave the homes in which they had dwelt for years, from father to son, and to which, humble as they were, they were attached? He could not blame their attachment—he respected such a feeling. He was glad they had it. Were they, by the provisions of this ex post facto law, to be forced into the workhouse, which perhaps they might never be able to leave? He only wished to provide a remedy for these practical evils, and it was with this view that he meant to move an instruction to the committee, in order that if his clause were not agreed to, some other might be framed for the same purpose. The hon. Member concluded by moving an instruction to the committee to insert a clause in the bill enabling the guardians to relieve persons who had married before the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act and had families.
§ Mr. F. Maule
opposed the instruction, which would open a discussion of one of the main questions upon the Poor-law Amendment Act, that Act might, no doubt, be improved in many of its provisions, but it would be much better that the improvements should be contained in one Act, and not be introduced piecemeal.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
said, he very much regretted that a question of such great importance should be discussed in the absence of her Majesty's Ministers. He did not mean to deny that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken was a fit representative of the department to which he belonged, but he could not avoid saying—without, however, intending anything in the least degree invidious—that on a great question of this kind the Government of the country ought not to be absent. In the motion which had been submitted to the House by his hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex he fully concurred. The question was simply nothing more nor less than this—were the Board 573 of Guardians to be intrusted with any discretionary power of giving out-door relief, or were they not? He perfectly well understood why the power was withheld when the Poor-law Amendment Act was first introduced, and when the Government was, perhaps, justified in considering it necessary to pass a measure of an arbitrary kind. But that necessity, if so it might be called, no longer existed, and experience had shown then that that principle might be relaxed. He was of opinion that the general principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act had succeeded, and that it only required certain modifications to render it less oppressive and more palatable to the country; but he was likewise of opinion, those were the decided enemies of that Act who resisted those just and reasonable ameliorations. He would ask hon. Gentlemen who were conversant with the subject, whether cases were not constantly occurring on which there could he no second opinion as to the propriety of permitting the Board of Guardians to afford relief upon their own discretion? Nay, were not cases daily submitted to the Poor-law Guardians, in which they took upon themselves the responsibility of giving relief contrary to the law? Nobody knew exactly how it was given, but given it was. He had himself not long since questioned a Poor-law Guardian on the subject of the administration of the Poor-law, who said to him in reply, "Oh, it's the best bill that Parliament has for a long time passed;" and, on asking him why he thought so, if he found no difficulty in the provisions of the law, or in enforcing the order of the Commissioners, his answer was—"Oh, not the least difficulty about the provisions of the law, because we don't follow the directions of the commissioners. If we were to do so, it would not be possible to carry the measure into operation. The fact is, we modify the orders of the commissioners as we think right, for otherwise we could not get on." Now, if this were true, why should the Government refuse to affirm the practice by making it the law? He believed it was known too, that in many instances in which out-door relief was applied for under peculiar circumstances, the answer had been, "We cannot give you relief, it is contray to law, but we will give you a loan"—well knowing at the time that the loan would never be repaid. Now, was that the way in which the provisions 574 of a bill ought to be carried out? The law, he contended, ought either to be enforced, or it ought to be changed and amended. He would just mention a case that came within his own knowledge in the county of Kent. In the depth of last winter, a man, having a wife and eleven children, (only three of whom were employed), and who was at the time earning but 13s. 6d. a-week, received assistance under the sanction of the Board of Guardians to the amount of 1l. 13s. 2d. When the accounts were placed before the auditor, he refused to allow that sum, on the ground, that it was unauthorized by the law; so that, although the Board of Guardians had made the order for that small sum of money, which they felt it their duty to do under the circumstances of the case, the commissioners decided that the relieving officer was not bound to pay it, and so it stood a debt against the poor man. He would not enter into the general question of the law. He was prepared, upon these grounds, to support the motion of his hon. and learned Friend, and he earnestly hoped, if he were obliged to postpone it, that it would be fully discussed early next Session.
§ Mr. E. Rice
would support the instruction moved by the hon. Member for Sussex, and he hoped that it would not be postponed till the next Session. It was extremely advisable, he thought, that the administration of the law should be rendered as uniform as possible. He was decidedly of opinion, that a discretionary power of giving out-door relief should be conferred upon the poor-law guardians.
§ Mr. Wodehouse
said, it appeared that four-fifths of the relief at present afforded under the Poor-law Act was out-door relief; and that instead of that circumstance giving cause for regret, he regarded it as a source of very great gratification, for it at once showed that the workhouses were not so generally resorted to as at first, and that no one had a desire to resort to them, unless under a very pressing necessity. He much regretted, that there was now as much necessity as when the Act was introduced for impressing upon the minds of the commissioners, and everybody connected with the administration of the Act, the principle of carrying it into effect with as little a degree of pressure as possible. He would support the motion for an instruction the Committee.
§ Mr. Briscoe
would not vote for the 575 clause at the present moment, because he firmly believed, that the Poor-law commissioners had full power, under the existing law, to carry into effect the provisions of that clause, and the wishes of the hon. Member. According to his interpretation of the Poor-law Amendment Act, that was his conviction. The clause of the hon. Member involved two propositions—first, that relief should be given out of the workhouse to widows having families; and, secondly, to able-bodied persons who had married previous to the passing of that Act, and who were not able by their industry to maintain their children. With reference to widows having families, he could state, from his own personal experience, that a great deal of hardship did frequently occur from relief not being afforded; but in three or four such cases in which he had himself made application to the board of guardians to obtain relief for widows having children, his applications had been complied with and relief afforded. He believed, that no case of unusual distress had ever been made out, nor any application made to the Poor-law commissioners for a relaxation of the general rule, and to authorise the board of guardians to give relief, under peculiar circumstances, to able-bodied labourers with large families, unable to obtain work in seasons of unusual severity, where the application had been refused. Believing, therefore, that the commissioners had already full power, with every disposition to carry the object of this clause into effect, lie should, though agreeing in many of the statements made by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Darby), feel himself called on to vote against his instruction to the Committee. He could not sit down without saying, that he particularly approved of relief being administered in some cases by by way of loan. In an union with which he was connected there had been no less than seventy cases of loan, in fifty-five of which the sums had been faithfully repaid.
§ Mr. Freshfield
said, the bill immediately under consideration was, merely to continue the powers of the commissioners under the Poor-law Amendment Act for one year, and they were now going into the whole discussion of the administration of relief, and the principles by which it should be regulated. With all anxiety for a proper opportunity to discuss that question in all its bearings, without, at the same time, any prejudice against the bill, rather with 576 a sincere desire of seeing it carried into effect as a great improvement of the old system, but convinced, that in order to its successful administration, they should endeavour to relieve such parts as were more stringent than the necessity of the case required, he felt considerable difficulty as to the vote he should give, and anxiously wished his hon. Friend to consider whether it would not be more convenient to withdraw his proposition altogether for the present. Nothing could be more cruel than to restrict all relief to the workhouse, except in such cases where the parties had been married before the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act. That, he apprehended, would be the inevitable operation of this clause; whereas the recommendation of the Committee left relief open to widows with large families at an early period after the death of their husbands, without reference to the precise date of the marriage. If driven to the necessity of voting, he should reluctantly support the instruction.
was a sincere and constant friend of the Poor-law. He totally repudiated the assertion which had been made today by the hon. Member for Finsbury, that it was a landlord's bill, intended for the benefit of the landowner, and not the receiver of the rate. On the contrary, he believed it had done much to ameliorate and improve the condition, both moral and social, of the poor in this country. No one was more disposed to admit, that everybody was entitled to receive a full remuneration for his labour; but that would be the greatest curse with which this country could be afflicted, which, instead of leaving the labourer dependent on his own resources, would teach him to rely only for assistance on the hard earnings of his more industrious and scarcely more opulent neighbousr. Such, he believed, had been the effect of the old system, and in that respect the New Poor-law had produced a very great improvement. He was anxious that it should have a longer trial, and he should support the instruction which had been moved, because he was convinced it would tend materially to conciliate public feeling in behalf of the measure. He believed there never was any act of the Legislature which had been so unfairly treated. It had encountered the opposition of many in that House and out of doors, some acting on conscientious principles, and others front interested mo- 577 tives. It had been the unceasing object of attack in one of the most powerful organs of the public press, and even on the hustings it had not unfrequeutly been made a topic of party discussion—a circumstance which all parties in that House could not fail to regret, seeing that at the time it was introduced, Whigs, Tories, and Radicals had more unanimously concurred in its approval and support than with respect to any other measure within the range of his recollection. Still, he felt that a relaxation would be beneficial to the operation of the bill. Nor was this the only relaxation which he wished to see adopted; but as the noble Lord had stated that it would be impossible at that late period of the Session to go into a discussion of the other amendments which were proposed, and which he hoped would be brought forward at an early period next Session, he should vote for this clause, as an instalment, and rest satisfied till he could get something more.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, if he believed that this clause would tend to promote the beneficial operation of the Act, he should readily have adopted it; but entertaining very great doubts whether its introduction in the manner proposed would not lead to the breaking down of the improvements already effected by the Poor-law Amendment Act, he felt himself compelled to resist the instruction. He did not wish now to argue the question with respect to widows having families; but such persons deprived suddenly of the means by which their families had been supported, should be considered as having peculiar claims for relief. But with respect to able-bodied labourers, without saying, that it would be impossible to devise some provision which should have the effect of this clause, he had never seen one with which he was entirely satisfied. Let the House consider what was one of the chief evils—he might call it the chief evil—of the former system: it was, that instead of a labourer receiving wages for his labour like an independent man, he received part in wages from his employer, and part in the shape of alms from the parish. To propose at any time, that part of the maintenance of a labourer's family should be paid either by the parish, as formerly, or by the guardians, would in a great degree be making the labourer dependent on charity. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had stated, that the greatest disposition 578 existed in different districts, where there was any chance of being assisted by funds derived from rates, to throw the labourer, who would otherwise have been employed, on the rates to be paid by other parties than those who had their labour,' to be paid, in short, by charity, not by wages it was proposed, to avoid this evil, that the relief should be restricted in kind to those who were married before the passing of the Act. He would not say there was not very considerable hardship in the case of those labourers who were encouraged to marry by the vicious administration of he old law; but, at the same time, when they wished to introduce a more uniform system, he must ask the House where would be the uniformity of one labourer receiving part of the maintenance of his family regularly paid from the parish to which he belonged, whilst his next door neighbour, a labourer equally poor, was refused any part of that relief, because he married a month later? Would that be uniformity, and, in practice, would it not lead to great discontent? The hon. Gentleman who proposed this amendment in the view of rendering the operation of the bill more satisfactory, and others who agreed with him, would find, that they had nearly drawn, if not an arbitrary, at least an inconvenient and unsatisfactory distinction between the labourers married before and since the passing of the Act. The House should also consider whether, if they made such a concession, it would not be probable that many of the evils and abuses of the old system which the new law was passed to remedy, would not again flow in upon them more quickly, and to a much greater extent, than they could all at once foresee. The refusal of all out-door relief to the able-bodied labourer would, no doubt, in some cases, be accompanied with very considerable hardship. It was the intention on the 1st day of June, after the passing of the Act, to declare that all relief to the able-bodied labourer should cease; but it was found that could not be done; and it was thought expedient that the Commissioners should have the power of carrying it into effect from time to time as they best could. But this clause would create a still further distinction and throw additional difficulties in the way of accomplishing that object. He did not preclude himself from considering other amendments which might hereafter be proposed; but, considering this 579 a very dangerous proposition to be introduced in a bill which did not propose the amendment of the New Poor-law Act, and which did not go into the whole subject, he should vote against it.
§ Sir J. Graham
confessed he felt considerable difficulty in making up his mind as to the course he should pursue; and if the noble Lord had stated positively that he should be prepared to resist next Session the amendments which might be proposed, he should have voted against him. He willingly shared with the noble Lord the responsibility of this measure, because he was quite satisfied, that, upon the whole, it had not been more beneficial to the rate-payers than to the independence of the labourer. It had encouraged the industrious, while it secured to the really destitute those advantages of relief which were formerly enjoyed by the idle and vicious. At the same time the working of the measure had established, that in certain particulars, it had borne with hardship on some meritorious classes. He particularly alluded to widows left with large families, suddenly deprived of their husbands, not perhaps advanced in life, but struck to the earth by some unexpected blow. To compel such at once to remove from the cottage to the workhouse, when, by a little support for a short time, they might, by industry, be enabled to maintain their families in independence, would be cruel in the extreme. The practical working of the measure had also proved to him, that in times when provisions were dear, when the demand for labour was slack, and families large, relief must, at times, in special cases, be given to the able-bodied man. He had been chairman of a board of guardians—he had seen the practical working of this measure—having for four years watched it with the greatest possible anxiety. In the Union with which he was connected there was a large body of hand-loom weavers, and he did, not hesitate to say, during the last winter it would have been utterly impossible to, have conducted the affairs of that Union without relief, though sparingly administered, and with great caution to the able-bodied labourer. The noble Lord said what was true, that there was very great danger lest the administration of relief, even in such special circumstances, and in kind, should relapse into all the evils of the former system. The law contemplated, that on a given day the refusal 580 of out-door relief throughout England and Wales should be general; when the commissioners of Somerset-house came practically to consider the prudence of carrying out this regulation, the inquiries they made, and the experience they had acquired, taught them the impossibility of giving general effect to the law. Uniformity was desirable. This rule prohibiting die administration of out-door relief, so far from being general throughout England, was, he must say, somewhat capriciously applied. It was applied to certain Unions in the South, but in the North the rule was not in operation. In Cumberland, in the Union of which lie was Chairman, they were bound by no such regulation. An ample discretion was left them; they were not fettered in the least; and if they had not been left to the exercise of this unfettered discretion, he wag bound to say he should not have held himself responsible during the last winter for the conduct of that Union. He did think, if his hon. Friend pressed his motion, his feelings would lead him to support it; but he foresaw the necessity of bringing, at the very commencement of next Session, the whole of this question, and especially the report of the committee over which his hon. Friend had presided with so much care and impartiality, under the careful consideration of the Legislature. Upon the whole, with much hesitation, and after considerable doubts, he had made up his mind to support the noble Lord. He was quite satisfied, that, in particular districts, and under peculiar circumstances, it would be found impossible to enforce the rule against out-door relief in its full extent; and as the noble Lord was, ac- cording to his (Sir J. Graham's) understanding of the latter part of his speech, prepared to admit, that particular circumstances might arise of such a nature as to make it expedient to bend the rule, and, thinking that the whole subject must early come under the attention of Parliament, with much hesitation and reluctance he had conic to the conclusion, that it was his duty to vote with the noble Lord.
§ Mr. Baines
felt disposed to adopt the course of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), under the influence of the same feelings. Trusting, therefore, that the rule would be relaxed in proper cases, he would support the noble Lord. In the manufacturing districts with which he was acquainted, it was quite impossible that they 581 could, by any means, carry into effect the denial of all out-door relief. Circumstances occasionally occurred there which threw 400 or 500 persons in a single parish out of employment. In such cases could they enforce the rule; or were they prepared to build new workhouses enough to carry it out? But, in fact, the consequence of the impossibility of carrying out the rule in these districts had been, that in many Unions with which he was acquainted, there was not withheld from the poor any relief which it was judged fitting and proper to administer in the circumstances of the case. After a very diligent investigation he could say, that he found it, upon the whole, to be a beneficial law towards the poor; and that if one-half the pains had been taken to aggravate the public mind against any other object on which the public mind was capable of excitement—as, for instance, against power-looms—that had been taken to aggravate it against the New Poor-law, the consequence would have been, that, ere this, not a power-loom would have been to be seen in the country.
should vote against the instruction of the hon. Member for East Sussex, because he considered the speech of the Home Secretary the best security against any improper use of this rule by the Commissioners. With respect to the imputations which had been cast upon hon. Members on his (the Opposition) side of the House, of having dealt unfairly with respect to the Poor-law question, for party purposes, he must say, that such imputations, to the best of his belief, were wholly undeserved; for no law ever had a larger share of the support of men of all parties, for the purpose of securing its working duly. He believed that much of the dislike felt to it, arose from the peremptory orders of the Commissioners having been in some cases too hastily and inconsiderately issued. The Wellington union furnished an example. There the Chairman of the Board of Guardians, a reverend clergyman, had resigned in consequence of the manner in which these peremptory orders were sent down; a second chairman had subsequently resigned for the same reason. Believing that the rule against out-door relief would be mildly administered during the ensuing winter, he should vote against the clause.
§ Mr. Easthope
should support the mo- 582 tion, because he hoped that the whole question would be brought under the consideration of the House at the earliest possible moment. With respect to what had fallen from an hon. Member, to the effect that 15s. a-week was the average rate of wages in the county of Kent, he regretted to say that that was a high average. In Leicester, he feared that where 20s. a-week was formerly the average amount, now the poor artisan was doomed to work for ten, twelve, or even fourteen hours a-day, for 10s., or even less a-week. He hoped that when next the abolition of the Corn-laws came to be discussed, hon. Members would not fail to notice the important bearing of this and similar facts upon that question.
§ Mr. Pakington
objected to a question of this important kind being brought forward on a Saturday morning. With respect to widows with large families, he believed, the Commissioners had never issued any order to send a widow with a large family into a workhouse, and never would issue such an order. A fear had been expressed by the right hon. Baronet, (Sir J. Graham) that if the principle of the clause were extended it would lead to a relapse into the old system. But he could not think that. With some reluctance, however, he had made up his mind to support the clause, but he begged that in doing so, he might be distinctly understood as being favourable to the principle of not extending relief to able-bodied labourers out of the workhouse. In fact, he considered this to be the main principle of the new Poor-law, and to involve the questions of whether the British labourer shall be independent, and whether the wages of an able-bodied man shall be sufficient for his subsistence. Closely connected with this question of withholding relief from the able-bodied labourer out of the House, was a remark of the hon. Member for Finsbury, whom he, (Mr. Pakington) much regretted to hear using such language as he had used this morning. He believed that the hon. Member was actuated by motives of benevolence, but he did very much regret that the hon. Member should say, that the Poor-law was passed with a view to elevate the master rather than the labourer. What was the case of the labourer before the Poor-law passed? His independence was gone; his moral feeling was gone. He thought, however, that the Poor-law 583 Commissioners had been too hasty in introducing these orders into such districts.
§ Mr. Hodges
should vote for the clause. He begged leave to suggest to the noble Lord that the New Poor-law auditors had received such stringent instructions from the Commissioners that it was quite impossible for them to depart from them so as to admit of any material relaxation of the rule as to out-door relief. It would, therefore, he apprehended, be necessary to review the orders sent to the auditors in certain parts of the country. With respect to the question of wages, he believed that 12s. a-week was more near the average throughout the country than 15s., as had been stated.
§ Sir B. Hall
did not understand that any relaxation would be made in the strictness of the rule against out-door relief during the ensuing winter. He thought, at the same time, it was very desirable that there should be no doubt as to the intentions of her Majesty's Government in this respect; because, from the present state of the money market and of trade, it was very likely that the pressure in the winter would be great. But he did not understand from the noble Lord's speech that any relaxation of this kind was promised. It would be very satisfactory to the House and to the country that they should have the noble Lord's assurance on the subject. With respect to the question of wages he might mention, that it was expected that the New Poor-law would raise the rate of wages; but experience, he thought, had not justified this anticipation. In the county of Monmouth, and in another county with which he was connected, agricultural wages were just what they were before the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act.
§ Mr. Darby
said, the tone and substance of the discussion that day convinced him that he was justified in bringing forward his motion; and he must say, he should have been very sorry to have brought forward a motion which was offensive to the House; but he had not stirred the question without great deliberation and after communication with the noble Lord, with a view of getting the object of his motion effected at once by the Government; and when he found that Government were not willing to do anything, for which he did not blame them, he had resolved to bring the matter before the House.
§ The House divided on the instruction:—Ayes 69; Noes 49: Majority 20.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Hodgson, F.|
|Attwood, W.||Hodgson, R.|
|Attwood, T.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Baring, H. B.||Irton, S.|
|Barrington, Viscount||Kemble, H.|
|Broadley, H.||Knatchbull, Sir E.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Langdale, hon. C.|
|Brotherton, J.||Liddell, hon. H. T|
|Bruges, W. H. L.||Lowther, J. H.|
|Buck, L. W.||Lygon, hon. General|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Morris, D.|
|Callaghan, D.||Packe, C. W.|
|Cochrane, Sir T. J.||Parker, R. T.|
|Collins, W.||Perceval, hon. G. J.|
|D'Israeli, B.||Philips, M.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Pryme, G.|
|Duncombe, T.||Rice, E. R.|
|Easthope, J.||Round, J.|
|Eastnor, Viscount||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Eliot, Lord||Scarlett, hon. J. Y.|
|Ellis, W.||Scholefield, J.|
|Euston, Earl of||Sheppard, T.|
|Fielden, J.||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Finch, F.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Fleetwood, Sir P.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Freshfield, J. W.||Turner, W.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes||Vigors, N. A.|
|Gordon, hon. Captain||Walker, R.|
|Grimsditch, T.||Williams, W.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Hawkes, T.||Wood, Colonel|
|Heathcoat, J.||Worsley, Lord|
|Hindley, C.||Darby, G.|
|Hodges, T. L.||Pakington, J. S.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Acland, T. D.||O'Ferrall, R. M.|
|Adam, Admiral||Parker, J.|
|Baines, E.||Pendarves, E. W. W.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Pigot, D. R.|
|Barry, G. S.||Pinney, W.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Price, Sir R.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Redington, T. N.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Rich, H.|
|Craig, W. G.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Elliot, hon. J.||Sanford, E. A.|
|Evans, W.||Seymour, Lord|
|Fitzroy, Lord C.||Sheil, R. L.|
|Gordon, R.||Smith, R. V.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Stock, Dr.|
|Hawes, B.||Strutt, E.|
|Hill, Lord A. M. C.||Teignmouth, Lord|
|Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.||Thornely, T.|
|Hoskins, K.||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Howard, P. H.||Wall, C. B.|
|Loch, J.||Wilbraham, G.|
|Macaulay, T. B.||Wood, G. W.|
|O'Connell, J.||Stanley, E. J.|
|O'Connell, M. J.||Maule, hon. F.|
§ Lord J. Russell
said, that the carrying that instruction to the Committee was a matter of such importance, that he should not be justified in saying what course he should pursue, without further consideration, and he should therefore wish to postpone the Committee till Monday.
§ Committee postponed.