HC Deb 04 May 1840 vol 53 cc1195-9

On the sum of 67,000l. being proposed for defraying the charge of salaries and expences of the commissioners for carrying into execution the amended law relating to the poor of England and Wales, and the destitute poor of Ireland.

Mr. W. Williams

said, that the amount of this vote was enormously large. In 1836, when the new Poor-law had only just been introduced, the estimate was only a trifle more. He could not conceive what duty there was sufficient to occupy three commissioners and seventeen assistant commissioners in England and Wales. He believed that the boards of guardians throughout the country were the best judges of what duties required the aid of commissioners, and they had in several instances declared that they were no longer necessary after the formation of the unions. He believed also that the seventeen assistant commissioners had not interfered for the benefit of the unions. It appeared to him that a great reduction might be made in this commission. Besides the commissioners and secretaries, there were thirty-three clerks. He was quite sure they could not all be necessary for the present working of the system. He thought that 43,000l. of this money was thrown away on this commission, and he should certainly divide the House against the vote.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, by returns which had been produced in compliance with motions which he had made, it appeared that at one time there were sixty-two persons numbered in this commission, the whole expense of which had been 254,680l. It was afterwards reduced to seventeen assistant commissioners, at 700l. a year each, besides travelling expenses. He maintained that this rate of pay was too great. Next to the Record Commission, the Poor-law Commission was the most expensive and unsatisfactory. He thought 500l. a-year would be a sufficient remuneration for an assistant Poor law commissioner. It was appointed to carry out what he believed to be a most degrading and barbarous system of poor laws; it was altogether a most objectionable commission, and he should, therefore, support the hon. Member for Coventry in his opposition to the vote.

Mr. F. French

said, he observed that under the head of Ireland he saw an item of an architect and two clerks at 700l.; and a little farther down, there was another entry, "An architect and two clerks at 700l.," was that a repetition; or were there two architects and four clerks employed under the Irish Poor-law commissioners? As far as he had seen the proceedings of the commissioners, one architect was more than enough. There appeared to be a great abundance of assistant commissioners in England; and he wished to know whether any of them were to be transferred to Ireland, or whether that country was to be left to the sole dictation of Mr. Nichols?

Mr. R. Gordon

said, there was but one architect employed by the Irish Poor-law commission.

Lord G. Somerset

agreed with the hon. Member for Coventry that this was an extraordinary vote to call upon the House to agree to at the present moment, because Parliament had not yet sanctioned the continuancee of the English Poor-law Commission, and they might be voting salaries for officers who would not be in existence after a short time had elapsed. It was true that it had been agreed that the Act should continue in force until the 1st of August, and, if circumstances rendered it necessary, to the end of the next Session of Parliament; but then it was too much to make that contingent arrangement an excuse for voting away the money in salaries to officers, upon whose continuance Parliament had not yet been called on to decide. He should propose to have a vote taken for six months instead of a year, and, therefore, that the grant be diminished one-half for England, and that it be 12,741l, instead of 25,483l., the latter being the item for England.

Mr. Hodges

said, he should support the motion of the noble Lord, not only because it would be agreeable to the feelings of those whom he had the honour to represent, but because it was one congenial to his own view of the subject.

Mr. G. Knight

admitted, that the commission had been an expensive one, but called upon the committee to remember how much it had saved the country. He expressed himself satisfied with the new system.

Mr. Darby

said, he had presented several petitions on this subject, and he knew the general feeling in the country was, that after the several unions were formed, the number of assistant commissioners might be reduced. The people of the different unions did not see the commissioners scarcely more than once a-year; their communication with the assistant commissioners was nothing, it being entirely carried on with the chief commissioners in London.

Lord J. Russell

did not mean to contend, that there should always be the same number of commissioners, he had already advised a diminution from twenty-one to seventeen, but he should be unwilling to diminish the number of assistant commissioners in parts where the commissioners thought them necessary, and they had certainly expressed a strong opinion both to the Home Secretary, and to the Treasury, that any considerable diminution in the number of assistant commissioners would be prejudicial to the working of the act. This unquestionably was a great and difficult reform of an intricate system of law, and after the first zeal for reform had passed away, there would be a natural tendency to restore abuses, and revert to the old defective system, and therefore, after so short an experience, he should be unwilling, contrary to the opinion of the commissioners, considerably to diminish the number of assistant commissioners, but he must at the same time admit, that hereafter, from time to time, such diminutions might probably be made. A sufficient answer to the amendment of the noble Lord was, that the House bad already agreed to con- tinue these commissioners till the end of the next Session, and it Was most improbable, that there should be so short a Session, that it would not be necessary to pay them till March 1841. Considering, therefore, the general conviction in Parliament and in the country, that this was a most beneficial change, and that there was no disposition to part with its advantages on account of any inconvenience which might attend upon the passing of an act for the continuance of the commission, he thought the amendment unadvisable. As to the Irish act, he thought that they had been rather unreasonable in placing upon one of the commissioners the great labour of introducing the measure into Ireland. He was aware, that the exertions of Mr. Nicholls had been prejudicial to his health, but he was so much better aware of the details with respect to that country, that he had been selected. However, it was probable, that in the course of next year, one of the other commissioners would go and relieve him from that arduous duty. The hon. Member for Lincoln had said, that this commission cost the country 250,000l., but he formed a low estimate when he said, that the saving to the country effected by this act had been eight millions.

Lord G. Somerset

thought, that the estimate of the noble Lord exceeded that of the most zealous supporters of the measure. The speech of the noble Lord was calculated to confirm the impression which had gone abroad, that the noble Lord, in bringing in these bills, had no intention of carrying them through Parliament, and if so, this vote would enable the noble Lord very conveniently to get over the difficulty, but supposing, as he believed, the noble Lord intended to go on with these bills, he could not doubt that they would receive the sanction of the Legislature. He was not prepared to say, that at present the commission could be done away with, but it did not follow, that Parliament should grant to the Government and to the commissioners the power which they now had of creating an unlimited number of assistant commissioners, and all he proposed was, that they should not vote the salaries of assistant commissioners who might have no office to fill. He was sorry to trouble the House, but he felt so strongly the propriety of reserving to the House the power of deciding whether there should be this num- ber of assistant commissioners, that he roust take the sense of the House on his amendment.

Mr. Benjamin Wood

concurred in thinking, that the present establishment of assistant commissioners was quite unnecessary. That opinion prevailed amongst a large body of his constituents, who were favourable to the measure, and who stated to him, that in the parish of St. George there had been no assistant commissioner for ten months. He should, however, vote against the amendment of the noble Lord, because he believed, that their appointment extended over the whole period for which this estimate was framed. He hoped that the vote would be passed now, and that the subject would be discussed when the bill was brought forward.

The Committee divided on the amendment:—Ayes 21; Noes 57: Majority 36.

List of the AYES.
Blair, J. Lefroy, right hon. T.
Brotherton, J. Lowther, hon. Colonel
Bruges, W. H. L. Mackenzie, T.
Burr, H. Morris, D.
Dick, Q. Palmer, G.
Egerton, Sir P. Pechell, Captain
Ellis, J. Sibthorp, Colonel
Hector, C. J. Sinclair, Sir G.
Hindley, C. Williams, W.
James, Sir W. C. TELLERS.
Jones, J. Somerset, Lord G.
Kemble, H. Hodges, T.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Knight, H. G.
Adam, Admiral Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Aglionby, H. A. Lushington, C.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Macauley, rt. hn. T. B.
Basset, J. Martin, J.
Berkeley, hon. C. Maule, hon. F.
Bramston, T. W. Melgund, Viscount
Briscoe, J. I. Muskett, G. A.
Campbell, Sir J. Nicholl, J.
Canning, rt. hn. Sir S. O'Brien, W. S.
Clay, W. Palmerston, Viscount
Darby, G. Pendarves, E. W. W.
Dundas, D. Philips, G. R.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Rickford, W.
Ewart, W. Round, C. G.
Ferguson, Sir R. Russell, Lord J.
Gordon, R. Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.
Greene, T. Salwey, Colonel
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Smith, R. V.
Hawes, B. Stanley, hon. E. J.
Hobhouse, right hon. Sir J. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Stock, Dr.
Hollond, R. Tancred, H. W.
Howard, P. H. Thornely, T.
Hume, J. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Hutt, W, Vigors, N. A.
Vivian, J. H. Yates, J. A.
Warburton, H.
Ward, H. G. TELLERS.
Wood, B. Parker, J.
Worsley, Lord Tufnell, H.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed.—Committee to sit again.