HC Deb 09 July 1840 vol 55 cc579-88

On the question that the House should go into Committee on the Poor-law Commission Bill,

Mr. Burroughes

rose to move the instruction of which he had given notice. He thought it an extraordinary circumstance, that the number of assistant commissioners should be so many as seventeen, while by the Poor-law Amendment Act the power to appoint assistant-commissioners given to the chief commissioners was limited to nine, which number they were not to exceed without the consent of the Lords of the Treasury. He found, as he had stated, that the number had been nearly doubled, while the necessity for the assistant-commissioners was now almost done away with. The whole number of parishes that had been united was 13,691, and of these to be hereafter united there was only 799. The hon. Member moved, that it be an instruction to the Committee that they have power to introduce a clause authorizing the boards of guardians, if they shall see fit, to administer relief to widows with families without compelling them to come into the workhouse, although such widows shall not reside within the union in which they have a legal settlement.

Lord John Russell

said, that the proposed resolution did not properly belong to the present measure, but was one which might fairly be discussed as an amendment upon the Poor-law Amendment Act. In regard to the particular proposition of the hon. Member, he did not see any reason why they should interfere on the subject. Orders had been given to relieve widows resident within the union; but with regard to those who were non-resident, he thought the general rule was, that they had no claim to relief. Any departure from that rule, he was afraid, would lead to very great abuses. It had frequently happened that those who were non-resident had come to the union and represented themselves as paupers, while, in fact, they were earning good wages in a neighbouring district. There was no mode in which imposition was more likely to take place than by relieving such persons. For these reasons the commissioners did not think it necessary to extend relief to such cases, and for himself he did not think it expedient to introduce any special provision on the subject.

Mr. Darby

could not agree with the noble Lord as to the nature of the proposed instruction. He thought that widows who had obtained situations out of the unions in which their children resided, would often be greatly benefitted by receiving assistance from that union, and as to the frauds practised upon the guardians, it was generally their own fault, as it was their duty to make every inquiry before granting relief.

Mr. Hume

had been informed, by different guardians of the poor, that they had not seen the assistant-commissioners, nor heard of them, for many months. He could not, then, see the use of the large number of commissioners proposed by the bill. He deeply regretted that the other bill on this question had not passed, as various complaints had been made of the want of powers in the commissioners to carry out what he believed to be a correct system of Poor-laws.

Lord Worsley

said, that the guardians had, in many instances, received great assistance from the assistant-commissioners, but he was informed, that for some time past they had not been seen or heard of. He hoped, therefore, that as the necessity for their services was diminished, the assistant-commissioners would be discontinued.

Mr. W, Attwood

was surprised that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) should object to the motion of the hon. Member for Norfolk on the ground of informality. If the House should support the noble Lord in that objection, there would be at once, for this Session, an end to every possibility of that control being exercised by the House over the proceedings of the Poor-law Commissioners which was originally contemplated, and which circumstances had shown to be absolutely necessary. As regarded the instruction moved, the reports of the Commissioners laid on the table of the House during the present Session, proved that it was imperatively called for. The committee of 1838 recommended strongly that widows, with families, should be, in deserving cases, relieved out of the workhouse. The Commissioners had not attended to that recommendation. On the contrary, in their reports presented this year, they referred expressly to the case of widows with families; they stated, that there were no less than 28,880 able-bodied widows (such was the expression of the Commissioners) with large families receiving out-door relief; that the workhouse test ought to be strictly applied, and all out-door relief withdrawn, and that thus the country would be relieved from a great expense with which it was fraudulently burthened. To such a ridiculous extent, ridiculous, at least, if not attended with so much misery, did the Commissioners proceed in carrying out their favourite principles, that they complained that some of those widows worked for almost incredibly small sums, in order to eke out the small pittance received from the guardians. Instead of giving these poor persons credit for their industry, the Commissioners pointed it out as a serious evil, and stated gravely the low rate at which stays and shirts were made as an especial grievance. There were other instances of the manner in which the Commissioners had neglected the opinion of the House, as expressed in the report of the committee of 1338. That committee came to the resolution that, under the New Poor-law, relief to the aged and infirm had been administered more freely than under the old law, that relief in those cases was generally given out of the house, and the committee approved and recommended the continuance of this system. Had the Commissioners attended to this recommendation? On the contrary, they appeared to have con- sidered this approval of their liberality a tacit censure, and at once commenced an investigation on the subject. They now report that they find that about 290,000 aged and infirm persons are relieved out of the workhouse, and that of these about 80,000 are partially able to work, and they recommend, that in these cases the workhouse test should be applied, that out-door relief should be withdrawn, or, if continued, that the parties receiving it should be forbidden to work. Instead of approving the industry which urged persons broken down by age and infirmity still to use their remaining strength hi contributing to their own support, they propose to refuse all relief except on the condition of entire idleness. Again, in the case of medical relief, the committee of 1838 reported that the medical officers were too poorly paid, and that the districts were too large. After two years' deliberation, the Commissioners state that they find this to be the case, that the medical officers do not receive one-half what they ought to receive, and that the districts require to be reduced; but up to this time, no steps have been taken to reduce the districts or increase the pay. According to evidence given, one-fifth of the deaths in this country take place under parochial medical officers; it was, therefore, of material importance that the medical attendance provided should be ample and skilful; and it was now admitted by the Commissioners themselves, that under their system the medical officers had more duties to perform than they could properly discharge, and had not received one-half the remuneration to which they were entitled. For two years this state of things had been allowed to continue, after a distinct report from a committee of that House on the subject. And notwithstanding the present admission made by the Commissioners of the inadequacy of the system of medical relief, he must remind the House, that in 1836 or 1837, these very Commissioners had reported that they had inquired into the complaints made on this subject, and were satisfied that the best arrangements were adopted, and that the system was perfectly efficient. He had gone into these general observations in order to show that it was essentially requisite that this House should exercise its powers of superintendence and control over the proceedings of the Commissioners, and not trust to general assurances. Unless, therefore, the noble Lord would give the assurance that the recommendations of the committee of 1838 should be carried into effect, he and many others would be compelled to oppose the present measure on the third reading, as the only mode by which they could hope to establish that authority over the proceedings of the Commissioners which was contemplated by the Poor-law Amendment Act, but which in the manner he had explained, had been practically set aside.

Mr. Slaney

considered that the principle of aiding able-bodied labourers out of the workhouse was most injurious, and had pauperized those whom it was intended to relieve. The same principle applied to able-bodied women. An independent female would, by that principle, be undersold by those who were aided by poor-rates.

Mr. Wakley

hoped the House would adopt the instruction. It was said, that this was not a time proper to introduce such a clause; but when would be the proper time to introduce it? Would the noble Lord promise to introduce it next year? He would do no such thing. He hoped that by next year the Legislature would abandon the entire system; for he said it had entirely failed—it had not fulfilled the prediction made respecting it —namely, that the wages of the poor would be increased. It had been proved that the wages of the poor had 'not increased. As this provision had humanity for its basis, he trusted that it would not be opposed by the noble Lord.

Mr. B. Wood

was dissatisfied with the expense entailed upon the country by the Poor-law commissioners. They cost the country 25,717l. He was sure that the number of the commissioners could be easily reduced.

The House divided:—Ayes 34; Noes 60: Majority 26.

List of the AYES.
Bailey, J. Houstoun, G.
Broadley, H. Hughes, W. B.
Brotherton, J. Kemble, H.
Bruges, W. H. L. Mackenzie, T.
Cochrane, Sir T. J. Mordaunt, Sir J.
Darby, G. Morris, D.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Muntz, G. F.
Elliot, Lord Palmer, R.
Fielden, J. Parker, rt. T.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Pringle, A.
Hodges, T. L. Rae, rt. hon. Sir W.
Hodgson, R. Rolleston, L.
Holmes, W. Round, J.
Rushbrooke, Col. Waddington, H. S.
Sheppard, T. Wakley, T.
Sibthorp, Col.
Thompson, Mr. Ald. TELLERS.
Vere, Sir C. B. Burroughes, H. N.
Vigors, N. A. Attwood, T.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Pigot, D. R.
Archbold, R. Price, Sir R.
Baines, E. Pryme, G.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Rawdon, Col. J. D.
Berkely, hon. C. Rundle, J.
Bernal, R. Russell, Lord J.
Blair, J. Rutherford, rt. hn. A.
Bramston, T. W. Sanford, E. A.
Buller, E. Seale, Sir J. H.
Busfeild, W. Seymour, Lord
Campbell, Sir J. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Clay, W. Slaney, R. A.
Dundas, Sir R. Smith, J. A.
Dundas, D. Smith, R. V.
Evans, W. Stanley, hon. W.O.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Steuart, R.
Fitzsimon, N. Talbot, C. R. M.
Greene, T. Thornely, T.
Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J. Tufnell, H.
Hobhouse, T. B. Vivian, rt. hon. Sir rt. H.
Hope, hon. C. Wallace, R.
Horsman, E. Warburton, H.
Howard, hn. Ed. G. G. White, A.
Hume, J. Williams, W. A.
Hurst, R. H. Wood, B.
James, W. Worsley, Lord
Macaulay, rt. hon. T. Yates, J. A.
Morpeth, Visc. Young, J.
Muskett, G. A.
Pakington, J. S. TELLERS.
Palmerston, Visc. Gordon, R.
Pechell, Capt. Parker, J.

House in Committee.

On the first clause,

Lord J. Russell

said, it had been made a matter of complaint that the number of assistant-commissioners was too great, and it was supposed that these assistant-commissioners had nothing to do after the formation of the Poor-law unions. The Poor-law commissioners, however, asserted the contrary. The subject would undergo a strict inquiry, and if a reduction in their number could be made, it would be carried into effect.

Mr. Hume

said, the present number of assistant-commissioners was seventeen, the original number having been nine. He thought that was a proper number for the House to adopt; he should therefore propose to add these words to the first clause:—" Provided also that the number of such assistant-commissioners shall not, after the 31st of March, 1841, exceed nine."

Mr. Law Hodges

hoped his hon. Friend would not, after what had fallen from the noble Lord, press his amendment.

Mr. Benjamin Wood

was inclined to support the amendment, for he believed that the boards of guardians could carry the Poor-law into effect, as well without the aid of assistant-commissioners as with it. There was very little left for the assistant-commissioners to do, there being only 799 parishes throughout England that had not been incorporated with the unions.

Sir R. Price

thought the hon. Member for Kilkenny ought to be satisfied with the declaration made by the noble Lord, that the Government would not allow more assistant-commissioners than were absolutely necessary to carry this great measure into effect.

Mr. Hume

was as great a friend to the principle of the Poor-law as any man, and his wish was to make it popular, by rendering it as cheap in its administration as possible. What had been said by the noble Lord, appeared to him very fair, and was a good ground for him to withdraw his amendment.

Hon. Members

would not allow the amendment to be withdrawn, and the Committee divided on the question, that the proviso be added: Ayes 11; Noes 61: Majority 50.

List of the AYES.
Attwood, W. Rushbrooke, Col.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Vigors, N. A.
Finch, F. Wakley, T.
Muntz, G. F. Wood, B.
Parker, R. T. TELLERS.
Pechell, Capt. Sibtborp, Col.
Round, J. Hodgson, E.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Hobhouse, T. B.
Archbold, R. Hodges, T. L.
Bailey, J. Holmes, W.
Baines, E. Hope, hon. C.
Baring, rt. bon. F.T. Horsman, E.
Berkeley, hon. C. Houstoun, G.
Bramston, T. W. Howard, hn. E. G. G.
Brotherton, J. Hughes, W. B.
Buller, C. Hume, J.
Buller, E. Hurst, R. H.
Busfeild, W. Macaulay, rt. hon. T. B.
Clay, W. Mordaunt, Sir J.
Cochrane, Sir T, J. Morpeth, Visc.
Darby, G. Muskett, G. A.
Eliot, L. Pakington, J. S.
Evans, W. Palmerston, Visc.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Perceval, Col.
Gordon, R. Pigot, D. R.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Price, Sir R.
Pringle, A. Steuart, R.
Pryme, G. Talbot, C. R. M.
Rae, rt. hon. Sir W. Tufnell, H.
Rolleston, L. Waddington, H. S.
Rundle, J. Wallace, R.
Russell, Lord J. Warburton, H.
Rutherfurd, rt. hon. A. Williams, W. A.
Salwey, Col, Wood, G. W.
Sanford, E. A. Worsley, Lord
Seale, Sir J. H. Young, J.
Seymour, Lord TELLERS.
Shaw, rt. hon. F. Stanley, hon E. J.
Slaney, R. A. Parker J.

Original Clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill to be reported.