felt conscious that, of many of those great measures which had excited the most elaborate discussion, and the most strenuous opposition in that House, the result had seldom answered either the hopes of their promoters, or realised the fears of their opponents. Ge 376 nerally speaking the common sense and good feeling of the community developed certain remedial qualities, when such laws were in practice, which produced a middle effect to what had been intended and are much more beneficial. It was desirable to ascertain what influence in the case of the new Poor-law had prevented the developement of these remedial qualities. On several occasions taunts had been thrown out against hon. Members in that House, who had been loud on the hustings against the Poor-law, but discreetly silent upon the question when in that House. He should discuss the subject in a firm yet temperate tone. He was well aware, that under the new system, as indeed under all systems whatever, some instances of oppression and neglect might occur; but he wished to address himself to what he conceived were the leading principles of the new law—principles upon which the details must all more or less necessarily depend. He wished to see whether the noble Lord had profited, as society had, by the experience of the last six or seven years, and whether it was the intention of those hon. Gentlemen who had supported the new law, to join with the noble Lord and lend their aid to carry the present amendment of it. Unquestionably one of the most important features of the law was the union of parishes. It was a proposition that was met with considerable discussion when first brought before the House and the country. For his own part, however, he did not think it had met with the attention that the importance of the subject deserved. The union of parishes was, in fact, a total revolution of the ancient parochial jurisdiction of England. That jurisdiction was the most ancient in the country, much more ancient than the political jurisdiction, one which bore a much nearer affinity to, the lower classes of society than any political forms which they could possibly invent. He thought that the alteration in this respect was, in point of fact, as great a social revolution as had ever occurred. There were many reasons given at the time for a measure which was generally considered as one of a very strong character. Necessity was the plea by which it was supported; they were told that they could never obtain an efficient and economical management of the poor without the union of parishes. It was then said, and it might be said now, that the abuses of the old system, which were never denied, grew out of circumstances which did not depend upon the size of the parishes. It was on 377 that occasion particularly pointed out to the House, that the reform of the old system had commenced in England already, and had proceeded to a considerable extent for many years before the Government thought of interfering. Many parishes were quoted in the original reports; and in the first papers that were placed before Parliament, several instances were adduced of parishes, which had commenced and perfected the self-reformation with the most complete success. It was alleged by the Government, that if they left this reformation to the parishes themselves, it would most probably fail; or that if it succeeded, its progress must be slow. It was replied, that it was better and more in unison with the constitution that self-reformation should accompany self-government. There were some who thought the Government should not interfere; and so far as domestic policy was concerned, there was nothing of great benefit, or that was vast and comprehensive in character, in the social system, for which the country was indebted to the Government. Government did not institute the system of national education—did not institute the universities—it did not create our colonial empire—it did not conquer India—it did not make our roads or build our bridges. It did not, even now that it was interfering with everything, make our rail-roads. In the case of the Poor-law the Government, however, did interfere, and they terminated the old parochial constitution of the country. It was certainly impossible, although it might not possess the individual interest of what was called a political revolution, to conceive a revolution which exercised a greater influence upon the people at large. What had been the consequence? If they had not, in passing the Poor-law, outraged the constitution or violated the law, they had done that which he conceived was of greater importance; they had outraged the manners of the people, and he doubted whether any pecuniary or financial consideration could weigh against that. But had they gained that pecuniary advantage? They had destroyed the parochial constitution of England for a mere sordid consideration, and they were placed in the miserable condition of not having attained their object. It was a matter of notoriety that the sum levied upon the people of England, by way of poor-rate, had, in the year just terminated, increased by one million two hundred thousand pounds. Let them add that sum to what had been expended last year; 378 let them consider the increase of the county rates, in the first place, and the universal promise there was in every parish of an increased poor-rate for the forthcoming year, and he would ask whether any man would be bold enough to say that two years hence the expenditure for the poor would be less than it was two years before the present law came into effect? He had taken that term because the commissioners, in the average they formed, had omitted the year immediately preceding the commencement of the law. The practical consequence would be, that they would have to pay as much as under a system of abuse, while they had lost those advantages which in some cases compensated for abuse. The next great feature of the present law was what the union of parishes necessarily led to—the formation of union workhouses. That portentous creation of reform legislation, which certainly had not been equalled in any country, was of course the necessary consequence of the union of districts. He knew well that it was easy to declaim about the statute of Elizabeth; but he was not disposed at that moment to avail himself of any ad captandum argument. He wished to discuss the subject in a tone of calm deliberation, and to mark his dissent from the opinions of the noble Lord dispassionately, and he hoped distinctly. On the present occasion, therefore, he should not lay much stress on the statute of Elizabeth—a statute which, as it involved principles which all must venerate, could only be spoken of with respect, but which did not very clearly prescribe the mode in which the principles involved in it were to be carried into effect, nor were its provisions, perhaps, quite consistent with the modern habits of the people, or with those principles of trade with which we were perhaps better acquainted than our predecessors. But to suppose for a moment that in a highly civilized country the poor population could be controlled and managed by shutting them up in prisons, was to suppose that which was contrary to every principle of humane society. No other term than that of imprisonment could be given to the confinement which the poor underwent in the union workhouses. It was impossible to immure a class of people in a single building, without adopting a system of discipline which, as far as those people were concerned, was attended with every circumstance of disgrace. What, then, had the Legislature obtained by taking the poor population of England, 379 and immuring them in buildings which had all the character of prisons, and, submitting them to a course of treatment which, after all, could only be extended to criminals. What practical effect had the Legislature obtained by this harsh proceeding? Had they reduced the vast expenditure for the maintenance of the poor, of which they had previously so much complained? On the contrary, they were fast approaching to the maximum of their old expenditure; the project, as far as economy and thrift were, concerned had proved a failure; the rates for the maintenance of the poor had not diminished, and the poor themselves were rendered unhappy and discontented. Then the next great feature of the new law, as compared with the old, was the establishment of a superior central and supervising authority. It had always been maintained that it would be utterly impossible that the new law could be carried into effect unless there were established such a central control as should be independent of all local circumstances and interests; without which it was said there could be no security for a strict and perfect fulfilment of the law. He (Mr. D'Israeli) confessed that he thought that argument unanswerable. He thought it absolutely necessary, upon the introduction of so great a change as that contemplated by the new Poor-law Act, that there should be somewhere or other a great controlling influence; but he did not think it by any means followed as a necessary consequence that that controlling influence should be seated in the metropolis. There did not appear to him to be the slightest reason why the controlling power should not be local as well as central—there did not appear to him to be the slightest reason why it should not be seated in the chief city of a district or in the county town —there did not appear to him the slightest reason why the noble Lord, in the establishment of this controlling power, should have departed so widely from those principles of self-government, to which on certain occasions, he professed some partiality. In short, every argument appeared to him to be in favour of the controlling power being local. There was not one argument against it. It was to the distance of this supreme authority to which he ascribed the absence of that softening and remedial practice of the law, the absence of which was very generally regretted. These were the great features of the present law, to which he and many others objected, thinking that they involved arrangements 380 which had produced great general unhappiness, and that they had not produced the beneficial effects anticipated from them; the only practical benefit in fact expected being the reduction of expenditure, which, as he had already stated, the measure had totally failed to effect. He, and those who thought with him, were further of opinion, that the controlling influence which had been decided as necessary to the working of the measure, might also be made local as well as the board of guardians — that it was more natural that the population of a county should be under the control of the chief persons of the county, rather than under the control of a body of persons appointed by the Government, and holding their board in a distant metropolis. In the bill now brought forward by the noble Lord, he naturally looked to see whether these three principal regulations, of which he so strongly disapproved, were removed or modified. What did he find? He found, that with regard to the union of parishes, instead of any modification of that unseemly feature of the existing law, it was proposed that there should be not only unions of parishes, but unions of unions—that the few remaining fragments of our parochial constitution were now to be completely destroyed, and that the remnant of those ancient local institutions which still exercised some influence over society, were to be rudely and violently swept away. He found, too, that instead of the union workhouses, to which, as he had already stated, so many objections existed, a series of clauses were introduced into the bill now brought forward, under which the pauper population, instead of being confined in a house within a comparatively narrow district, might absolutely be transferred from one distant county to another. Yes, for ought he knew, the paupers of Buckinghamshire and Kent might be seized and marched away to the remotest parts of Lancashire or Yorkshire. By the bill now proposed a power was given to farm out the pauper population. Not content with immuring them within the walls of a union workhouse, there was now to be a power of transporting them from one part of the kingdom to another. In short, all the bad features of the existing law, as regarded the union of workhouses, were in the bill now introduced, retained and aggravated. Then with regard to the great principle, which he had always opposed, namely, the central and controlling power, no man could deny that 381 under the bill now before the House, the commissioners at Somerset-house might, and possibly would, obtain a power which never had been exercised by any Parliament of England in any period of our history. If this really were the state of the case—if the noble Lord had not in either of these three great divisions of the subject condescended to modify the regulations which were considered so objectionable—if, instead of modifying them, the noble Lord proposed to extend and aggravate them—the noble Lord certainly must not be astonished if he should meet with some considerable opposition. There was yet another objection which had been urged against the measure, and in which he (Mr. D'Israeli) confessed he participated. The tendency of modern legislation had undoubtedly been to centralise authority. He should be very sorry on that occasion to indulge in any vague declamation against centralisation. He admitted that it was in some degree the necessary consequence of advanced and progressive civilization. Fie thought, also, that in some instances it tended to the convenience of society. But at the same time he was strongly of opinion that the Legislature, when it established a centralisation of authority, should be always cautious to confine it to subjects of a merely material character. As regarded such subjects as the education of the people in a country like England, where sectarian views existed to so wide an extent, or the support of a pauper population in a country where the labouring classes depended so intimately, and by so many ties, upon those who were superior to them—as regarded such subjects, he thought the Legislature ought to be most jealous of any centralisation of authority. He knew well that the noble Lord had acted on a different system. He knew that the noble Lord had defended with considerable ability the centralising spirit of the present age; but he believed that the liberties of this country were mainly dependent upon the wide distribution of privilege and duty; and he thought that the immediate tendency of the new principle of legislation recently adopted in this country had been to destroy general privilege, and to decrease general duty. Undoubtedly it might be much more convenient—undoubtedly it might even turn out to be more cheap, that we should have a government in the metropolis which should discharge the duties of society. But he begged the House to 382 consider whether the consequence might not be, that in making the government strong, society might be made weak; whereas, the great boast in this country had been that society was strong and government weak. It was for these reasons that he opposed the pauper legislation of the present Government. He thought that it was founded on principles perfectly hostile and adverse to the character, the manners, and the spirit of the people of this nation, He thought that it was originally prompted by a mere financial consideration, which, in practice, had utterly failed. He thought that it had produced an immense mass of disaffection. He believed it to be the source of more discontent even than the turbulent, spirit of party politics—he believed it to be the prime and secret cause of many of the outbreaks that had taken place in the country since it had been in operation. He was sure, if the House persisted in this system, they would obtain neither of the ends for which they worked: they would neither keep the people quiet, nor make their maintenance cheap. Entertaining these views upon the subject, he felt bound to move, as an amendment, that the bill he read a second time that day six months.
§ Mr. Wakley
, in seconding the amendment, begged leave again to express his surprise that the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, should have proposed to the House a bill of such vast importance without explaining fully and completely the grounds upon which the proposition was made. The bill which the noble Lord bad presented to the House consisted of two portions; the first portion was framed for the purpose of continuing the Poor-law commissioners for ten years; and the second portion was framed for the purpose of giving to that commission whatever powers it might think proper to exercise. He believed that the House was itself ignorant of the principles which the bill originally designed to carry into effect. He referred, of course, to the Poor-law Amendment Act, not to the bill now before the House, although the principles of the second were in fact identical with the first. He was emboldened to express this opinion from a remark which fell from his hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny, (Mr. Hume). When the Poor-law Amendment Bill was first introduced into that House by Lord Althorp, the motion, he believed, was seconded by his 383 hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny. The other night, in the discussion which took place on the motion of the noble Lord for continuing the commission, his hon. Friend, in the remarks which he then addressed to the House, said "he believed that the very object and principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act was to make a distinction between vice and profligacy with reference to the destitute poor, and those who were reduced to a state of destitution by misfortune." That, he believed, was a true statement of the observation made by his hon. Friend. If that were the object of the bill — if that were the principle—the enlightened, generous wholesome principle of the bill, calculated at once to do justice to the poor and to relieve the burdens of the rate-payer—if that were the real and true principle of the bill, who, in the whole empire, would be found to condemn it. But what was the answer given to his hon. Friend? What was his hon. Friend told by the noble Lord who brought forward the motion for leave to introduce the present bill? His hon. Friend was speedily undeceived, was speedily informed that he had completely mistaken the object of the bill. The noble Lord, with that manliness of character which distinguished him (however mistaken his views might be, and upon this subject no man's views could be more mistaken), boldly and undauntedly declared to the House what really was the object of the Poor-law Amendment Act. And what was that object? What was the object recognised by the senate of this nation? What was the object recognised by (his great empire of England, which boasted of its institutions, its wealth, its science, its liberality, its military and maritime power, and of its vast commercial resources? What was the object contemplated and boasted of by the first minister of the Crown in that House as the leading object of the measure introduced for the amendment of the Poor-law? He invited the attention of the House to the declaration of the noble Lord upon that point, because it was calculated to remove from the public mind every thing in the shape of confusion or misconception with respect to the object of those who were concerned in the enactment of the existing law. In order to prevent misconception or error, he would with the permission of the House, read the words that fell from, the noble Lord on the occa 384 sion to which he was referring. The noble Lord said—He differed very much from his hon. and learned Friend who spoke on the second bench (the hon. Member for Tynemouth), in thinking that a distinction should be made in favour of merit. He thought it most unreasonable that any board should pretend to say what was meritorious. All that the public could do in the shape of relief was to adhere to the wise and good principle of the act of Elizabeth, that no poor person in the country should be allowed to starve." [Cheers.]Yes, continued the hon. Member, those cheers of approbation are from the Liberal side of the House. This morning I really thought I did not understand the meaning of the word "liberal," and in order to find the true meaning of it, I examined "Todd's Johnson;" but I could find nothing akin to the feeling that seems to prevail on this side of the House. The meaning of the word, as given by the lexicographer, is "generous," "magnanimous," "noble yielding." The dictionary further informs me that it is "the opposite of parsimonious," yet parsimony in its very essence is cheered on this side of the House. "The poor," says the noble Lord, "are not to starve." That is to be the object of your law, and that is all that your law is to effect. Whip them once a fortnight, confine them in a gaol, and never allow them to go out by permission; clothe them in a dress which marks them as the receivers of alms, but do not "allow them to starve!" and then you are good and just, and that is the "liberality" which the people are to receive from a Reform Ministry and from the Reform side of the House. I have never since I have been in this House acted as a party man. No; I have never fastened myself to the chariot wheels of party. Faction has been the curse of this great country. England and Englishmen have been persecuted for many years through the influence of faction. I have seen too much of the evils of faction ever to bind myself to any Ministry, be its professions what they may. But this I do say, if the present ministry hope to obtain the confidence of the people, and to be entitled to the support of the people, they must not ask the House to enact such bills as are now before it with reference to the new Poor-law. And in the name of the poor people of England—in the name of the working people, the labouring people of England—I am compelled, 385 in this instance, to make my appeal to the great and influential Conservative party ranged on the opposite side of the House; and I pray to God that that party, with its might and influence, and, I trust, its good intentions, will come forward in this instance to the rescue of the working men of the kingdom. I say that the great landed aristocracy of this nation are the natural leaders of the poor [cheers and laughter from the Ministerial side]. There is again a cheer and whisper on this side of the House. The manufacturers, who ask for a repeal of the Corn-laws, do not like the remarks I am making, well knowing that the reduction of wages must be relative to the reduction in the price of bread. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin (Mr. O'Connell) exclaims "oh;" and I am surprised that the truth should make him groan; but it seems to have that effect upon him. I say that the manufacturers well know that wages must be relative to the quantity of food in the market and the amount of demand for labour. I say, then, that I make my appeal to the great Conservative party. The "Liberal" party in this House are attached to the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell)—they confide in the noble Lord—they have some reason for confiding in him, for he never deceives them; and now he tells them boldly and candidly that his sole object is to prevent the poor from starving. The Poor-law commissioners made a report upon this subject in December last. Now how was that report obtained? Of course I am not in the secret, but I should fancy that it was procured something in this way: the noble Lord with that thoughtful consideration which sometimes actuates a Minister, writes a kind note to these gentlemen at Somerset-house, and says, "Gentlemen, you are in danger; the time of your commission is nearly out (I do not know that such a note was actually written, but I should guess it was)—can't you write a report showing that you ought to receive your salaries for ten years to come? Now be ingenious, exert yourselves to the utmost, see what you can effect by way of illustration of your argument." Acting upon this hint, the commissioners, of course, set to work without loss of time, and they have a great number of handy, competent men about them, selected and employed by them—not because they are humane, but because they are clever and 386 tractable. Aided in this manner, a report was soon concocted and presented to the noble Lord, who at once says; "I think you have made out a case; now frame a bill and send it to me." Well, a bill is accordingly framed in Somerset-house, and sent to the noble Lord, which with all due gravity he presents to the House. The commissioners in their report show him, of course, that nothing on earth can be so effectual as their labours—that they ought to continue for ten years to come, or, in fact for ever; that the bill which they desire to pass will relieve them from all difficulty, and enable them to carry out every object which they believe the Legislature at first contemplated. All this is managed in a country which boasts itself of its good sense, its freedom, its sagacity, its wisdom, and its foresight. Is there the parallel of it on record? Did anyone ever before hear of a set of public men being called upon to make a report in reference to their own conduct, in order to enable the Government to judge of the expediency or propriety of continuing them in an important office? Yet that has been done in this case. And what is the nature of the report which the commissioners have made to the noble Lord? One of the passages most characteristic of the whole contains this startling announcement: "The paupers who receive the relief at the hands of the guardians, do not display a spirit of gratitude." I dare say the Members of this House know very well how the paupers confined in the union workhouses are fed—how treated. Is it not marvellous that human creatures under such circumstances should display no "spirit of gratitude." Incredible as it may appear, we have it upon the authority of the commissioners, that the poor are actually so dead to all the feelings that ought to swell their bosoms, as to evince no "gratitude" for their treatment. Why, Sir, I deny that gratitude ought to be expected, much less demanded of them. Nay, I say more—I say that those who do expect gratitude from them are not qualified to carry out the Poor-law. Are the paupers of this country slaves? Have they lost every right of Englishmen because they are poor? Is this doctrine to be held and maintained in a Christian land—that, because men are poor, therefore they are to sacrifice every independent thought and feeling. But "the paupers show no gratitude." I say that the expression of grati- 387 tude is not called for. I say that they ought not to be required to show gratitude. By what right do they receive the relief afforded to them? By a right conferred by Parliament. Then I say that the right of the poor to demand relief is not less strong than the right of any Gentleman in that House to hold the land which belongs to him, the right in both cases being derived from the same source—the law of the land. The law has given to the poor and destitute the means of subsistence; I deny therefore that the poor man, under such circumstances, should be called upon to show gratitude to those who administer parochial relief to him. The hon. Member proceeded to observe that the Poor-law commissioners had referred to a commission of inquiry instituted before the new Poor-law was established, and which made out a case for the amendment of the law. Far be it from him to contend that the administration of the 43d of Elizabeth had been just, discreet, and sound; he was contending for no such thing. He believed that the administration of that law under a variety of circumstances was in the highest degree objectionable. He thought that in many cases it was most unjust, not only to the deserving poor, but to the rate-payers. He thought that nothing could be more unwise than the manner in which it was administered in many places; but at the same time lime he did not feel himself called upon to support the proposition which was made to amend it. Now, when reference was made by the commission of inquiry to the manner in which the poor-rates had increased, how was it, he asked, that no reference was made by them to the increase which at the same time had taken place in the population and property of the country? Was the amount of the poor-rate to remain at a stand-still, whilst the population was doubling its number and the property and wealth of the nation was accumulating in every possible direction. Was there to be no increase in the poor-rate when the Legislature was lavishing 200,000l. or 300,000l. a year upon a court, and 100,000l. a year upon one single lady. But everything was to be directed against the poor; and when at last, by harsh and unwise laws, that portion of the population, goaded and stung beyond endurance, begun to assume an attitude of defiance and to threaten a violent vindication of their rights, then the Legislature, trembling to its centre, 388 was called upon to declare that the poor of this nation were a restless and ungovernable race. He asked the House to see what was the state of the Poor-law with reference to finance, and what the increase of the population for the twenty years previous to 1835. He thought that this would afford the House a somewhat new view of the question. It would show what the increase in the amount of the relief had been, as compared with the amount of the population, and also as compared with the increased value and amount of property. In the five years, from March 1814 to March 1819, the expenditure for the relief of the poor was 6,288,000l. In the five years from 1819 to 1824, it was 6,431,000l. In the five years, from 1824 to 1829, it was 6,157,000l. In the five years, from 1829 to 1834, it was 6,754,000l. So that, taking the average of the first ten years, from 1814 to 1824, the annual expenditure for the relief of the poor was 6,360,000l.; and taking the average of the last ten years, from 1824 to 1834, the annual expenditure was 6,455,000l. showing that in the ten years immediately preceding the introduction of the Poor-law Amendment Act, there had been an average increase in the ten years of 95,000l. He begged that that fact might be borne in mind—an increase on the average of 95,000l. for the ten years preceding the introduction of the new law. That increase the House would see was at the rate of one and a-half per cent, in ten years. In what ratio did the population increase during those ten years? In the ratio of sixteen per cent. But see also the manner in which the wealth of the country had increased in the same period. From the year 1815 to the year 1825 the property of the country, as shown by the legacy duty, was 319,363,000l. From 1825 to 1835 it was 382,577,000l., being an increase of 63,214,000l. in ten years, or upwards of 6,000,000l. for each year. It appeared, then, that at the time' the Poor-law Amendment Act was introduced there was an annual average increase in the property of the nation, as shown by the payments to the legacy duty, of upwards of 6,000,000l, whilst the annual average increase in the poor-rate was only 95,000l. a-year. And yet there was at that time an outcry that the poor-rates would absorb the whole of the property of the country; and it was in that fear—the 389 fear of the operation of the poor-rates upon property—that the Poor-law Amendment Act was passed. Now, what was the operation of that law—what was its effect upon the feelings of the people? The law came to us under the sanction of a Liberal Administration—it came to us proposed and propounded by a Liberal Ministry, and it showed how cautious people ought to be in the use of terms, for he felt no hesitation in declaring that no Tory Administration could have proposed such a measure; or, if it had ventured to propose, could never have succeeded in carrying it into a law. In 1818 a proposition was made, for the first time in that House, to give the right of plural voting to rate-payers; and by an Act, called Sturges Bourne's Act, all rate payers rated at 150l.a-year were entitled to give six votes in parish elections. What was the provision in that respect under the Poor-law Amendment Act? And did the noble Lord, by the bill now before the House, propose to modify the plural right of voting? By the Poor-law Amendment Act, the power of plural voting was transferred to non-resident owners, and, under the existing law, the non-resident owner could give, by proxy, six votes for the very property which gave to the occupier only three votes. Was this just? Was this a specimen of liberality"? Was this the kind of franchise that should be accorded to us by a Reform Government? If it were, the sooner the Government were changed, the better it would be, for the sake of the people. He said that I the people were labouring under a delusion with respect to the character of the Administration, if they supposed it to be a Liberal Administration. No Administration that had a pretension to liberality, could sanction such a proceeding, such a tampering with the franchise as he had just referred to. The bill now introduced did, indeed, propose to modify, in some degree, the right of voting by proxy. He knew of an individual who had the power of giving 1,500 votes by proxy. The noble Lord proposed, for the future, that a man should only give proxy votes for four people, so that the right would be limited to twenty-four votes. This, no doubt would be some mitigation of the evil; but the obnoxious principle was to remain. What effect had this upon the mass of the rate-payers? Why, that they were virtually disfranchised. They felt 390 this; they knew it, and were indignant, and justly indignant, at the effect of the law upon their interests. They said, "Of what use is it for us to enter into an election—we are overborne by the non-residents with their right of plural voting— it is, therefore, utterly indifferent to us in what manner the guardians are elected." Hence, they were led to take no interest in the administration of the law, but to retire within themselves, and to form conclusions in their own minds as to the inability of a Government by which such measures could be proposed and passed. Hence, also, a general feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction was spreading itself over the whole country. The public were beginning to detach themselves from their faith in the Parliament; they felt that it was of no use to present petitions, that they were merely received, and laid upon the table, without one word being permitted to be said in reference to them; in short, the public were now strongly disposed to feel that the House of Commons was adverse to popular rights, to popular interests, and popular feelings. If the principle which he condemned had not been obnoxious to himself—if he had not felt that the people were opposed to it, he might not have taken the part he now did; but when he found that it was really obnoxious to his own feelings—when he had no doubts of the hostility of the people towards it, and when he was convinced, that it was detrimental to the public interest, he should be wanting in that duty which he owed to his constituents, if he had not pursued the course he was at present adopting in reference to the Poor-law Amendment Act. He regarded it as a sanguinary and a mercenary act, based on ferocious and savage principles—an act calculated only to produce misery and torture among the deserving poor. More than that, it was calculated to arouse their hostility to it, and to resist the authority of Parliament. He did not hesitate to predict, that if they proceeded with the law, and endeavoured to carry out its principles, they would produce in this country such a feeling of indignation that nothing but force would be able to subdue. Were they prepared for this? Was this their desire? He did not believe it was. It was his firm conviction, that the House legislated honestly, but without due reflection. They had been instigated to legislate by the statements 391 put forth by the Poor-law commissioners, which in a great measure had deceived the House, and led them into false calculations as to the result. The poor labouring man now, after having toiled day by day for thirty or forty years, was scarcely able to get bread enough to sustain himself and children. Prostrated he came before them, and he appealed to their humanity, religion, and justice—he asked only that they would retrace their steps— that they would no longer act on a law so savage in its nature; he states, that after forty years of hard labour he endeavoured to keep his family out of the workhouse— that he has done his duty as a neighbour, and that he has violated no law; he appeals to his employer, in the name of Heaven, to look on him with compassionate feelings, and not to let him become the victim of a law which makes poverty a ground of punishment. He had witnessed many cases of hardship among the class of the people with whom his duties as coroner brought him in contact with. He had often heard them ask, "What was Parliament about? What did they desire? Did they wish the people murdered?" He answered no. Parliament was in error—they were deceived. He told them Parliament was anxious to do them justice, but still, notwithstanding this, he was not believed, because they turned from his assertion to the operation of the law. They heard the one, but they reflected on the other. Did Ministers know what the poor of England suffered? Was the noble Lord aware of the nature of physical toil? Take, for instance, a boy, the son of a labouring man. At the age of fifteen he was following the plough. When twenty-one, aye, and earlier, he fancied himself a man—he could mow, reap, and plough—but the dawn of every day roused him to his struggle for bread. His life was a constant fight between his physical body and food, and when at length he had reached the age of sixty, with a broken-down, paralysed, rheumatised constitution, when his body had become wearied, and toil more oppressive, when all his energies had declined, he passed the gate of the workhouse and exclaimed, "This is my doom." To make even this situation more conciliatory to him, and in the exercise, no doubt, of a Christian humanity, a cemetery was attached to the building, within sight of its inmates, so that after he had been locked up 392 in the dwelling, his eyes might be regaled with the sods which covered the unfortunate beings who had gone before him. Day after day these things pressed on his mind. At last, when he was unable to earn the value of his wages, his employer, acting on the true principles of political economy, said to him, "Well, my good man, I have been losing by you for the last three weeks. I have been giving you 8s. a week—very high wages. I cannot employ you any longer." The man might say, "I am sorry for it, sir, but I hope you will try me a little longer." "No, I cannot," is the answer. What did he then? He applied to the guardians for relief, the guardians, in return, say, "Come into the House." "Why, sirs," said the man, "I have an active wife and a family, and if you let me remain out, and allow me 3s. or 4s. a week, I think I can do." "No," said the guardians, "we would be glad to do it, but the commissioners acting under the law will not allow it. The commissioners exist in Somerset House, we can neither touch them, nor influence them. We would be delighted to compassionate your situation, but we cannot. The commissioners control us, and we have no means of upsetting their authority." A cloud of despair from that moment settles on him. He was a lost man from the moment that he entered the gates of that workhouse, which he felt closed on him like a tomb. Now, was that a Christian legislature? Was that an assembly of men really desirous to see their fellow-countrymen happy? Noble Lords, and men of wealth, whose pursuits were entirely at variance with those to which he had alluded, could have no knowledge of the condition of the poor. If they had, they would never have supported such a law as the Poor-law Amendment Act. Many years ago, when he was practising as a medical man, he had frequent opportunities of witnessing the condition of the poor in their own dwellings; he saw in their miserable huts and horrid hovels women in all the suffering of childbirth, with accommodation worse than gentlemen give to their horses or to their dogs. He had witnessed hundreds of times when their situation required some nourishing comforts, but not a single thing was at hand except cold water or small beer, or some dry bread, and these were the only articles their circumstances could afford. Was the House aware of these things? 393 They had been told by the political economists, that the Poor-law would produce a rise in wages. Very well. They had had the law now for six years. Had it raised wages? [Cheers.] Aye, had it raised wages? There were cheers from both sides of the House at this question, and there appeared to be a difference of opinion in regard to it. Some thought it had, and others considered that, it had not, but would they by the operation of this law attempt to force wages up? They stood on ticklish ground. They told the working people, that the object, or one of the objects of the law, was to raise their wages. Were they raised? He was informed that they were not, and that was likewise his belief. He had heard from various parts of England that they were not. He could mention one district in Devonshire where they were only 7s. and 8s. a week. Was that, to be considered as increased wages? Would they force the agricultural labourers to combine? Was it their desire, that when the mowing season came, the labourer should enter into this species of conversation:—The farmer said to John—"John, this is fine weather, you must begin in the morning to mow the meadow, let us make hay while the sun shines." What would be John's answer? "Ay, sir, it is fine weather, the grass is ripe, think, but we cannot cut it for 2s. as we used to do. We have formed a combination, a little society, like one of these union things they have in London, and there aint a man of us will stick his scythe into the grass under 7s. True, the grass if not cut will be spoiled in three weeks, but we won't cut it for less than 7s., because we were told, by Act of Parliament, that if we did not save money we were criminals, and how can we save money if we never get any to save?" But suppose the difficulty of cutting the grass was got over, the peas, the wheat, the barley, and the oats, would become ripe, and require cutting. What conversation would take place then? "Come, John, begin and reap," said the farmer. "No," said John, "I can't on the old terms, a law has passed to raise our wages, and if they are not raised I can't work." Was it desirable that English gentlemen should force men into such a combination —to destroy all the kind feelings between the employer and the employed? If it was not, the course they were now called upon to take was a most extraordinary one, for 394 the law would infallibly produce the effects which he had stated. There was no use in disguising the fact. The opinion entertained by the people was, that heir object in supporting the Poor-law was to deprive them of any relief either in or out of the workhouse. They might be wrong, but that was their opinion. If it had not that object, what were all their arrangements designed for? Take, for example, Kensington parish. How many relieving officers were there to that district? It was a parish containing 25,000 inhabitants, and it was sixteen miles in circumference, it bordered on the Court, on the palace, and was under the very noses of the commissioners. How many relieving officers were there for a parish sixteen miles in circumference, and containing 25,000 inhabitants? One—no more. In St. Luke's parish, containing 40,000 inhabitants, the relieving officer had lately received an assistant. Good God! would any man tell him, that it was possible to give the poor the relief they required under such a system as that? The people knew it was not possible. Then what sort of language was held to those poor people who applied for relief? What said the relieving officer of Stratford-on-Avon to a poor woman who had applied to him for relief?—" You there, I shall hang you." He admitted, that he made use of the words, but said that he had done so in joke. There was also the case of Elizabeth Fryer, in the Kensington union. This poor woman, afflicted with a dropsical complaint, was found sitting exhausted in the street by a poor Irish girl, who gave her some succour, she sent for the doctor of the union, and when he came, she expressed a hope that he would speak to the relieving officer. When he entered the room, he told the girl, she perhaps might get three months imprisonment for harbouring the suffering woman, and on mentioning her fears to the relieving officer, he said, "It would serve you right." He knew that these officers were reprimanded by the commissioners, but were they deprived of their situations? But the commissioners had exercised new and unheard of functions under the powers given to them. After the constituted authorities of the country had made an investigation into that case, and after the rate-payers sworn on the inquiry had pronounced an opinion on the facts, what had the commissioners done? They sent down 395 a gentleman of their own to try, by every species of ingenuity, to get rid of the moral effect which the verdict of the jury produced; that was a new function, and went too far to be tolerated. What had they done in the Hendon union? They had authorised the guardians to make an application which reflected on the finding of the jury. He was not theorising or speculating on the effects of the law, but was speaking of the tendency of the law, and the effects which it had already produced. What was the case of James Lisney? That poor man was admitted to the Hendon union in April last year, and in the July following he asked permission to go out, in order to see some of his family, he was allowed to do so. In August he made the same request, but no answer appears to have been given to his application. In September and October he again requested to go out of the house, not for a permanence, but in order to see his friends. This, however, was refused him. The notice on the book kept by the governor was to the effect, that Lisney was affected by a disease which rendered his going out impracticable, except on the long days. On the 4th of November, the guardians visited the workhouse when the governor was present. The inmates had a holiday, when Lisney said he ought to have a holiday likewise. On hearing that, one of the guardians said, "It was very hard that he had not a holiday like the other men." Afterwards Lisney was called into the board-room, and that man, afflicted with diabetes—a disease which in almost every instance was fatal, especially where the sufferer was exposed to cold, was sentenced by that board of guardians, whom the commissioners laud for their humanity—truly, a humane board—to twenty-four hours' confinement in a separate room, with only bread and water. The place of his confinement had no ceiling, and everybody knew that it was an exceedingly cold night. When he came out he told his companions, that he was so cold that he could sit on the fire The testimony of the medical gentleman in that case was, that he could not separate the punishment of Lisney from his death, and that gentleman was a person of great experience in his profession, of high influence, and totally unconnected with any party politics in reference to the Poor-law. In that case, he had felt it is duty as coroner, to take the evidence of the 396 paupers in the workhouse, as they had an opportunity of witnessing the condition and treatment of Lisney. He had been condemned for that, but he would like to know how he was to have got at the facts of the case if he had not resorted to this step? Were they to take the evidence of the master, or of the guardians who had inflicted the punishment, and to shut out the only testimony which could be satisfactory to a jury? And yet these commissioners, under the sanction of the noble Lord, pocketing as they were the public money, permitted the guardians to send forth a publication, which was a libel on the judge of the court, and on the jury who returned the verdict. Was this to be endured in a civilized country which boasted of its freedom? He called upon the noble Lord, in justice to the jury, to cause the notes taken by the person sent down by the Poor-law commissioners to be published—he called on the noble Lord to do so for the information both of that House and of the country. There was a poor woman examined on the first and second occasions, and when she attended on the subsequent occasion—but they would find her condition described in the evidence that was given—.she said her condition had been rendered most uncomfortable in consequence of her having given evidence, and that she earnestly desired to get out of the workhouse. Where, then, was her redress? Except by examination of the inmates, how was it possible to arrive at the truth? The gates were kept locked. Were the rate-payers admitted? No. Were reporters admitted? No. The board might imprison, or do what it pleased, and scarcely a person out of doors knew of it. Where, then, was the redress for the poor? If they were not permitted to go out, how was it possible that they could obtain work? If they solicited aid they were shut up in the workhouse, and subjected to the rules of these atrocious commissioners. He did not make his remarks in any personal spirit, but he was there to discharge a solemn duty. No one had more opportunities of witnessing the effects of the law than he had, and he had merely stated to the House what he himself had witnessed. Lisney asked permission to go out, and was refused. He used some expression which was considered by the guardians to be disorderly, and he was punished by the very party who said that he had offended. 397 Wa it fair that one party should be accuser, judge, and jury? Would the noble Lord better the condition of the people in any one way by the present bill? Had he added to the power of the guardians and lessened those of the commissioners? No such thing. The noble Lord had done exactly the converse. Great was the outcry against the powers exercised by the commissioners over the boards of guardians, and to such an extent had they been carried, that respectable men were driven from the boards. Yet the noble Lord had increased the power of the commissioners, and had taken from that of the guardians. The hon. Membar for Maidstone had moved, that the bill be read a second time that day six months, and in seconding that motion, he entreated the noble Lord not to press the question to a division, but to ask leave to withdraw his bill for the purpose of introducing another—limiting the commission for two years, in order that the law might be placed on a rational basis, and administered by the recognized authorities of the land, for it was quite clear, that if the law was to be administered as it had been, the spirit of it would exist in the feeling of the commissioners, and not in the statute book. They might talk of the uniformity of its operation, but there was never a more chequered thing in existence than the present system. The commissioners were bound by the act, in certain cases, when they framed new rules, to lay them before the Secretary of State, but this has not been attended to. The rules were harsh, and appear to have been framed in order to torture the unhappy beings who might be compelled to go to the workhouse, but there was no uniformity in regard to them. He found that, from a book which had been put into his hands at the office of the Poor-law commission, that, by the 11th rule, great favour and consideration was intended to be manifested towards married couples infirm from age or any other cause, in providing for a departure from the 10th rule, which required the separation of married people. Yet now the resolution agreeing to such an act of humanity had to be transmitted to the Poor-law commissioners in London for their consent, without which it would be of no effect. He was astonished, that any gentleman consented to act as a guardian under such a system. He was satisfied that when they had done so, it 398 was in order that they might be able to serve the poor, otherwise they would never have submitted to the office. Here was an old and infirm couple, whom the guardians had not the power of permitting to sleep in the same apartment without the consent of the commissioners, and this was the law which the House of Commons was called on to sanction. "Oh! but," said they, "we should continue to receive our salaries, because John Bull has, by our law and our labours, been able to save 10,000,000l. But it was all a delusion, and a perfect farce. Would any Gentleman feel a gratification in adding to his own coin by taking from that of the poor man? Was ever this a subject of boasting by a House of Commons which affected to represent the feelings of the people? He had shown, however, that the increase in the amount of the poor-rates under the old system bore no proportion to the increase of wealth, that in the ten years preceding the present system, while the poor-rates increased 95,000l. a year, the wealth of the country increased 6,000,000l. a year. The commissioners, in order to produce the appearance of a saving, struck off every charge which they possibly could. All the charges which affected the commissioners' court had been got rid of, and thrown on the county-rate, and John Bull had only to pay out of his left instead of out of his right pocket. Was the House so blinded —so stultified, so stupid, as not to see through so fallacious a reason? There might have been a reduction of the poor-rate in some cases, but what was the effect on the rate-payers? Had they bettered the condition of the rate-payers? What was it they desired. Let the ratepayers themselves be applied to, and they would not seek to effect any saving at the sacrifice of the comforts of the poor, they would rather go without their meals than that the deserving and industrious man should be deprived of the comforts which he ought to possess in his old age. The noble Lord said, in the true Malthusian spirit, that the law was merely to prevent the people from starving, but his (Mr. Wakley's) hon. Friend, the Member for Kilkenny, had stated, that it went to make a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving—between the idle and the industrious. He agreed with him to the fullest extent in that sentiment. He would support any law founded and ad- 399 ministered on that principle, but he would ask that hon. Member, how he could support the present law, when he saw that its operation was directly the reverse of the principles he had laid down as his reason for supporting it at the outset, and especially when he saw the conduct of the commissioners under it? Apologizing to the House for the length of time which he had occupied in addressing them, he begged to sit down by seconding the motion of the hon. Member for Maidstone, that the bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Mr. Gaily Knight
differed so entirely in opinion from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that he rose to congratulate the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on having at last girded up his loins to apply to Parliament for a more than annual prolongation of the powers of the Poor-law Commissioners. The application should have been made before, but he trusted, that in spite of all the idle clamour about centralization, and unconstitutional authority, the good sense of Parliament would sanction now what he considered to be absolutely necessary for the establishment of the improved system. He was convinced, that without some central control of this kind, the new system could never have been introduced, and that without the continuance of this control, there could be no security against a very general relapse into the old abuses. Let it be recollected, that it was from the allowance of discretion by the 36th of George the 3rd, that the greater part of the old abuses had crept in—a sufficient proof that the superintendence of the commissioners was requisite till the new system should become the habit and usage of the land. But the hon. Member for Finsbury had taken advantage of the introduction of this bill to inveigh against the new Poor-law itself. He (Mr. Knight) was not surprised at this, for it was an easy road to popularity. It is always more agreeable to give than to refuse, especially when you are dealing with other people's money, and God knows, it was anything but agreeable to be denounced as cold-blooded and mercenary, however little a man's conscience might plead guilty to the charge. But he would intreat those who were so lavish of their censures to remember what was the state of things before the new law was introduced—to remember, not the impoverishment of proprietors, but the degradation 400 and demoralization of the working classes —the unjust and miserable system of paying wages out of rates—the discouragement of industry, and the premium which was offered to improvidence and sloth— the cancer which had got such powerful hold of the southern provinces, and was gradually eating its way to the heart of England; and then he would ask which were the friends of the working classes? Those who would send them back to all the debasement of the old system, or those who would train them to habits of providence, sobriety, and independence; who would teach them to rely upon their own exertions instead of being, as they had been in the pauperised counties, little better than slaves; who would procure for them better wages, and more permanent employment; who would raise them in the social and the moral scale. No: those who had such views, were not the enemies of the working classes; but those were their enemies who deluded them with misrepresentations, and enlisted their 'passions on the side of error. And when the hon. Member for Finsbury inveighed against the new Poor-law, he would do well to recollect, that this was the only country in the world in which there was any Poor-law at all. Did he (Mr. Knight) complain of this? By no means. He thought it right, that such a law should exist, and rejoiced that his own country had set so good an example. But, when this country had set such an example, it was a circumstance that might be recollected by those who declared that the Legislature of this country had no regard for the poor. And what did the new Poor-law enact? Nothing more than could be done under the old. In proof of this, he would mention that he was conversant with one of the largest parishes in the metropolis, in which, as it had a local act, the new Poor-law had never been introduced. But the vestry of that parish had carried the principle of that law into effect—nay more, it had done so two years before the act was passed, and the consequence was, that they had saved 25,000l. a-year, and had, at the same time, amended the condition of the poor. But though such things were possible under the old law, it was a matter of option; so much so, that very few parishes in all England had mended their ways of their own accord; a plain proof, that the new law was not introduced before it was wanted. But the hon. Member for Finsbury, besides having made a general attack upon the law, had 401 proceeded to bring forward particular instances of cruelty and oppression. No doubt the hon. Member had good grounds for what he alleged, but he (Mr. Knight) could testify, from his own experience, both in town and in the country, that such stories when sifted and examined often turned out to be either absolute fabrications or gross exaggerations. No doubt lamentable occurrences of this kind would sometimes take place. If there was oppression any where, he did not stand up to defend it. If wrong was done, let the wrong-doer be punished. But this he would say, that such things were not the offspring of the new Poor-law. Such things would occasionally happen under any system; they had happened before, and to a greater extent. No pauper could be bandied about from parish to parish till he died in the cart; wherever he was found in a state of destitution, he must now be relieved on the spot. As to the case of the old man of sixty years of age which the hon. Member had so forcibly portrayed, fortunately no such case could occur under the new Poor-law, for the law enacted, that all paupers of, or above, sixty years of age should receive out-door relief. Under the new law out-door relief was granted to all who were old or infirm—to the able-bodied, when any accident or illness prevented them from working. The law only refused out-door relief to the able-bodied when in the full enjoyment of their strength—and it then offered them an asylum (if they were thrown out of work),only so far less eligible than their own homes as to prevent overwhelming multitudes from rushing in. It was easy to call the workhouse a prison, a bastile; and the labourer deserved to be respected, who, by his own exertions, kept himself and his family out of its walls. But that man had no right to call it no place for him who chose to live upon his neighbours. It was necessary to make the workhouse to a certain degree a less eligible residence than the cottage. It was in every respect better than the cottage, except one, which was restraint. The rooms were warmer; the diet was more nutritious; and what distinction could be devized less cruel than a restraint, which was by no means unmitigated, or inflexibly enforced. But it was said, the new Poor-law might be tolerated in rural districts, but was not adapted to large manufacturing towns. Now he confessed he could not see why it was not as applicable to the one as to the other—because fluctuation is the condition of trade 402 —because an operative knows beforehand that he will be occasionally out of work, just as a mason knows that he will have nothing to do in the winter; because, when trade is brisk, the wages of the operative are high; far higher than those of the agricultural labourer; and because that system is his friend which teaches him to lay by a part of those high wages against a day of depression, instead of getting drunk with them two days in the week. He new, that at times, the depression of trade would continue so long as to exhaust a little store. But on such occasions the law might easily be relaxed, and such emergencies never came on so suddenly as not to allow time to obtain the commissioner's sanction. The hon. Member had recommended that an exception should be made in favour of the meritorious poor, and doubtless, the feelings inclined to make such an exception; but if such a clause were introduced, he feared it would open the door so widely as to bring hack something very like the abuses of the old system. If once it were enacted, that all able-bodied men of not a decidedly bad character, should receive out-door relief, how few would not get it? What guardian would feel disposed to pass the sentence? The better way would be to meet hard cases with private charity. Charity should be the handmaid of the new Poor-law, and should provide for such cases as no law could define or comprehend. He believed, in his conscience, that the welfare of England, especially the welfare of the working classes, depended upon the maintenance of the new Poor-law. Let it be administered with judgment, and with mercy, but let it not be repealed. The hon. Member for Finsbury had appealed to the opponents of her Majesty's Ministers. After his example, he (Mr. Knight) would appeal to that great Conservative body, with whom he esteemed it an honour to act, and intreat them not to assail the new Poor-law, because it happened to be a Whig measure. This was a subject with which party spirit should not interfere. He had sufficiently shown that he was little disposed to overlook the errors of her Majesty's Ministers. But when they deviated into right, when they adopted such measures as the Tithe Commutation Bill, the new Poor-law, and he would add, the treaty of last July, he should consider himself a bad citizen, if he did not give them his frank and hearty support. If he thought, that the new Poor-law was calculated only to save the money 403 of the rate-payers, he should be the first man to oppose it, but as he was satisfied, that its result would be the amelioration of the condition of the poor, in spite of any unpopularity which might be the consequence, he was prepared to give it his fullest support. In making these observations he wished to guard himself against being supposed to approve of every clause of the present bill. Some of the clauses had his concurrence, others, he thought, would require amendment. But of these details it would be best to treat when the bill was in committee.
regretted, that the noble Lord had not brought in a bill on this subject early in the last Session, for the purpose of remedying the discontent which existed in various parts of the country. It did not appear to him that the present measure was calculated to remove these discontents, and, unless greatly modified in several of its clauses, the noble Lord would meet with no little difficulty in finding persons who would consent to be instrumental in carrying it out. It was evident that the feelings of the House were very much divided with respect to the measure. It was possible, however, that an efficient measure might be passed, which would afford much benefit to the community, but that could only be done by an assurance on the part of the noble Lord, that he would allow some considerable alterations to be made in the clauses of the present bill. There was one thing to which he would particularly direct the attention of the House. He viewed with alarm, and many other persons were of the same opinion, the unrestricted powers professed to be given to the assistant-commissioners, and which were at present exercised to so great an extent. There was one case which he would state to the House as having occurred in his own neighbourhood. A highly respectable gentleman, a county magistrate, attended a meeting which was held at Barnstaple, for the purpose of expressing public opinion with respect to the operation of the New Poor-law. The gentleman to whom he alluded was called to the chair, and his presidency was the best assurance that the proceedings would be conducted with order and decorum. The House, he was assured, would hear with astonishment that this gentleman received a letter from an assistant Poor-law commissioner to appear before him 404 on the following Monday, and he was further given to understand that he should be held guilty of a misdemeanour if he did not attend. He applied to have the assistance of a professional adviser, which application was refused, and he was held from the Monday to the Wednesday under an ordeal of question and cross-question, and ultimately an affidavit as to the truth of the statement which he had made at the meeting was required of him. He would have stated these facts at an earlier period, had he not been afraid that he might make some unintentional misrepresentation with respect to them. He, however, had written to the gentleman in question, and had his corroborative answer in his pocket. He was sure, that neither the noble Lord nor the Members of that House would grant such an arbitrary power to any Poor-law commissioner. He called on the noble Lord to inquire into these facts; and if such power was found to exist in the persons of the commissioners, he hoped, if it were the will of the House that the commissioners should be continued, means would be adopted for curtailing a power, the exercise of which he was satisfied was highly unconstitutional.
§ Mr. Muntz
had been long aware that the great misfortune of the people of the country was, that those who were the lawmakers were not the law-workers. If the noble Lord and his colleagues were to act as Poor-law guardians for only six months, they would never attempt to enforce such an obnoxious law, for it made no distinction between the honest, industrious man and the idle, dissolute, and drunken vagabond. If those stupid farmers who made up wages out of the Poor-rates, had discovered that they paid those rates themselves, and therefore gained nothing by the practice, they would have remedied the thing themselves, as he had seen it remedied in other places. He remembered a period when the same practice existed in the town of Birmingham, but in a very short time it was cured, and there was no danger that it would ever under any circumstances be revived. It was said, that there had been a great saving under this law. He doubted the truth of that statement. From all that he could learn, the amount of wages at present was fully equal to what it had been before the passing of the present law. [Cheers.]The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) cheered 405 that statement, but he believed, that no saving had been effected in the aggregate by the operation of the Poor-law. Now, whatever might be the experience of other Gentlemen, his experience was uniformly to this effect. He had never known a man of kindly feeling who was overseer for the space of six months, who did not, in that time, become callous to the representations of those who were placed under his control. That being the case, what must be the feelings of those who were permanently masters of workhouses, who had held that office for two, three, five, or six years? Many instances of the cruelty of these persons had been related to the House by the hon. Member for Finsbury, and let them not imagine, that these were the only cases, although there were few men of the same energy and ability as the hon. Member for Finsbury to bring them before the country. These were not the only points in which the law was objectionable, and in which its severity and injustice were manifested. There ought, undoubtedly, to be a distinction made between large towns, where great numbers were frequently thrown out of employment, and small places, where the distress was upon a much smaller scale. He had seen 10,000 men thrown out of employment at once. When they applied for relief, they were told that they might come into the House, but they would not accept the offer. In fact it was not intended that they should; there was not sufficient room for them; and the offer was made merely for the purpose of getting rid of them. The intention of the law, perhaps, was good, but its effect was most unjust and severe. He was quite confident, that if the noble Lord and his colleagues knew the working of the law, they would be the last men not only to bring it in, but even to vote for it. Feeling as he did the greatest objection to the renewal of the commission for ten years; believing, as he had long believed, that the Poor-laws Bill, like the Factory Bill, and several others which he could name, were the effects of an erroneous view of finance, and calculated to inflict a deep injury upon the country, he would do all in his power to prevent the passing of the law, on that occasion.
§ Mr. Liddell
said, that it was his intention to vote with the hon. Member for Finsbury, against the second reading of the bill; in doing so he would observe, that he could not concur in everything 406 that had fallen from that Gentleman in the course of his able speech; he could not join in the strong language that had been used; but, notwithstanding this, he would be found in company with the hon. Gentleman when the division took place. He objected most emphatically to the principle of extending the Poor-law commission for the period of ten years for the purpose of carrying into effect the enactments of the Poor-law Amendment Bill The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had thought it expedient in the course of his speech to take an historical survey of this measure, and had in doing so brought under the notice of the House a long list of grievances which existed prior to the introduction of the Poor-law Amendment Bill by a Government which consisted of many Gentlemen who now administered the affairs of the country. He thought that the noble Lord might have spared himself that trouble, for he had no doubt that the old law required much revision; that, if some alteration had not taken place, much dissension would have arisen. Independently of has repudiation of the principle of the bill before the House, he had great objections to specific clauses, which he considered extremely detrimental to the interests of that class for whose benefit it was said to be framed. The hon. Member for Finsbury, had brought under the notice of the House several cases in which the law had operated most harshly in populous manufacturing districts; but in rural districts it had also given rise to much misery and distress, although he was willing to confess, that in the rural district in which he resided it had operated tolerably well. For what purpose was the Poor-law Amendment Bill introduced? What objects had its originators in view in concocting the measure? It was certainly to benefit some one class of the community; but he maintained that it was impossible for the hon. Member who supported the Government measure to specify any one class who had been benefited by the alteration in the law. The condition of the poor had not been alleviated, and very little or no saving had been made in the parish rates. It was true, as had been stated, that in the union of Alnwick 2,000l. a-year had been saved, but in the union in which he resided no such good result had followed; in fact, no saving had been made at all. It had been found that men could not be got to 407 act as guardians unless they were well remunerated for their services, and this payment must be made from the rates. According to the noble Lord's bill, all paid overseers would be ineligible to act as guardians. He (Mr. Liddell) considered this clause very objectionable, and if not struck out, or materially altered, it would throw many unions into great disorder. But his great and serious objection to the bill was, that it perpetuated the central board for so long a period as ten years. Against this portion of the bill he entertained well-founded and constitutional objections. Was such a board, with almost unlimited powers, with a jurisdiction extending over the whole of this country, endowed with legal power to govern almost every parish and district in the kingdom, possessing authority beyond the law, for one moment to be tolerated? He entreated the House to pause before they allowed a bill to receive the sanction of the Legislature containing a clause of such a character. He could not believe that the House would give its consent to the bill. It was not only the object of the Government measure to empower the central board to exercise this authority for a period of ten years, but the commissioners were to be endowed with new and extraordinary powers. To the seventh clause of this bill he had a serious objection. It proposed to relieve the commissioners at Somerset-house from the necessity of specifying and publishing the rules which they intend to issue for the Government of the unions. In his union much evil had arisen from the circumstance of the central board not issuing specific regulations for its Government. He considered this clause pregnant with evil, and one which he could not support. He agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury, in lamenting the want of a court of appeal from the judgments of the Poor-law guardians and from the central board. If such a court were established, it was his belief that many cases of hardship, cruelty, and oppression, would be exposed to the public eye, and thus benefit would result. The opponents of this measure had been asked what they would substitute instead of the central board, were its functions to cease? It was his belief, that the board of guardians, if properly constituted, could act for all useful purposes without the central board. He did not believe, for one moment, if they were dele- 408 gated with proper authority, that any of those evils which spring out of the operation of the old law would again arise. It was his opinion, that the guardians of the poor were alive to the mal-administration of the old system of poor-laws, and that they never would dare to introduce into the districts over which they presided the objectionable portions of that system. On these grounds he was induced to believe that the existence of a board of guardians rendered a board of commissioners at Somerset-house unnecessary. He thought that the relief afforded to the poor by rule and square, as measured out by the commissioners at Somerset-house, was abhorrent to the feelings of the humane, and repugnant to the genius of Christianity. Its effect had been to alienate the affections of the people from those who were placed in authority over them. Cases of great hardships had occurred; the feelings of the community had been blunted; and a great portion of the public had been induced to array itself in opposition to a law which oppressed so severely the poorer classes of the community. For these reasons he would not consent to the existence of the central board for a longer period than was necessary for them to wind up their accounts with the public.
§ Sir Robert Peel
wished to stale, as shortly as he could, the reasons for the vote which he was about to give in favour of the second reading of this bill. He might commence by stating, that two main questions had been started in the course of the present discussion: first, whether or no it was advisable to adhere to or abandon the great experiment, which had been begun in 1834 for the improvement in the administration of the Poor-laws.—that was the greatest and most important question; and secondly, whether, supposing it was desirable to adhere to that experiment, it were or were not advisable to continue the administration of the new system under the superintendance of a central board of commissioners. Now, he for one did not consent to the experiment for the amendment of the administration of the Poor-laws from any desire merely to effect a pecuniary saving; he had never contemplated as the chief advantage of that experiment, that it was to cause the diminution of the rates: he had come to the conclusion that this great experiment should be made from an actual experience of evils, which appeared to admit of no delay which were, as a 409 cancer, eating into the vitals of the country, paralysing the powers of the industrious classes, and which called for a remedy that should absolutely excise the disease. He was disposed to agree with the hon. Gentleman (the Member for Finsbury) that the time selected for the introduction of the original bill was well chosen; he was inclined to doubt whether, if a Conservative Government had made the proposal, the results would have been precisely the same; he could very well believe, that if a Conservative Government had made the experiment, and that if the hon. Gentleman and others who thought with him had made those appeals and used those arguments which they now adopted, he was ready to conceive that under such circumstances there would have been great difficulty in carrying into effect any experiment for the amendment of the Poor-laws. He readily admitted, that it did require the cooperation of both the great political parties in the State to effect the alteration, and he was bound to say, that this co-operation could be more readily obtained—that the experiment was more easily made—under the auspices of those in whom the hon. Gentleman was disposed to place almost unbounded confidence than under the auspices of their political opponents. They were, however, too apt to forget the state of things, to meet which alone the new Poor-law was made. It was not unnatural that hon. Gentlemen should dwell almost exclusively on the evils which they were actually experiencing, and that they should somewhat forget those, however great they might be, of which their memory was not quite so full. He thought, therefore, that it was of great importance, that he should remind the House of the real state of things at the time when the alteration of the Poor-law came under discussion, and when that alteration was made, which, in his opinion, was politic and just. He did not think it necessary, for this purpose, that he should refer to the evidence of partisans in favour either of the old system or of the new law. Whilst the hon. Gentleman was speaking, he recollected the report of the committee of that House, which was not appointed for the immediate purpose of considering the Poor-law, but to examine into the condition of the agricultural labourer, and which report was made long before the Poor-law commission was appointed. In the year 1824 a committee was appointed to inquire into the amount of the labourers' wages, and before which evidence of the condition 410 of the agricultural labourers in several parts of the country was taken. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Finsbury, thought that the agricultural labourers had a right to complain of the diminished amount of poor-rate that was paid to them. The hon. Gentleman contrasted the increase in the value of property, the increase in the amount of taxation, and the general increase of wealth, with the diminished amount of relief that was given to the poor, and he thought, that this diminution gave to the poor a good ground of complaint. Now, he would take from the report to which he had referred, the instance of a hundred in which, at least, that ground of complaint did not arise, and in which the hon. Gentleman would, in fact, find a continued and progressive increase in the amount of money applied to the relief of the poor. He took the hundred of Blything, in the county of Suffolk. A witness produced an account of the expenditure in this hundred from Lady-day, 1810, to Lady-day, 1823. Under the head of unemployed poor, there was a progressive increase in the amount of the rate, and likewise an increase in the amount professedly applied towards the relief of the able-bodied poor. The sum applied in this hundred for the payment of unemployed poor from Lady-day, 1810, to Lady-day, 1811, was 1l. 3s.; from Lady-day, 1811, to Lady-day, 1812, it was 1l. 12s.; from Lady-day, 1812, to Lady-day, 1813, it was 3l.; in the year ending Lady-day, 1824, it was 6l.; in the next year, 5l.; and it went on increasing to 1,384l. in 1816; to 2,297l. in 1822; and it had advanced from 1l. 3s., in 1811, to 3,536l., in 1824. This hundred embraced forty-six parishes; it was an incorporated hundred, and it had within it a house of industry, With this progressive increase of the rates, with this progressive increase in the amount of relief paid to the poor, what was the result? Were the poor much happier! Did the moral condition of the poor increase, with this increased application for relief? Did their actual comfort increase? The witness was asked what was the condition of the unemployed poor? And his reply was, that with respect to the unemployed poor, they were generally relieved from the poor-rates, they were without employment, and were receiving relief as the wages of indolence. He was then asked, what effect he had found produced by the present system of giving relief instead of employ? He replied, that the ef 411 fect was dreadful. It totally demoralized the lower orders and made them poachers, thieves, and robbers. Yet there had been a progressive increase in the amount of the sums paid for rates. This was the state of the perfectly unemployed poor in the year 1824. The witness was then asked, "Have you observed, in your memory, that the quantity of crime has increased?" The answer was, "undoubtedly, during the last five years especially." The relief in money, instead of labour, had had a lamentable consequence; it had broken the bond of union between the labourer and the employer. Formerly the labourer was employed for many years upon the same farm, or under the same master, and there was a mutual good feeling; that mutual feeling no longer existed; the labourers were the mere servants for the day, or for the particular work; they were cast off as soon as the work was done to find existence, if they could by labour, and if not, from the poor-rates. There were generally in each parish, from five to forty unemployed, who were engaged during the day in idle games to pass their lime away, in insulting persons who passed by, or in taking sleep, to make them more ready for their labours at night; no one would apply for work, because they were sure of support from the poor-rates. This was the state of things with the increased relief. Now, suppose the hon. Gentleman had gone down and spoken to these unemployed men in the same manner as he had addressed the House that night: the poor would say, "Here are new regulations introduced. Heretofore we have been in the habit of receiving four or five shillings a-week out of the poor-rates for doing nothing; and here it is all changed." The hon. Gentleman might have addressed to them the inflammatory speech which he had now addressed to the House, "What a scandalous shame it is to withhold from you your four or five shillings a-week! You have a very large family, and it is too true that you cannot get employment. What a scandallous thing it is to overturn a practice that has existed for the last fifteen years! You have a clear right in the Act of Parliament to a continuance of this allowance." The hon. Gentleman might, in such a case as this, obtain the distinction of exciting the feelings of the poor—totally disregarding the considerations that ought to weigh with rational men, and which made them look upon the allowance as a great ground of evil. Suppose that the Legisla 412 ture should consider that the grant of indiscriminate relief to the able-bodied poor, without requiring any labour, tended to degrade the individual; that it was unjust to the man hovering on the confines of utter disability to pay the rate, and yet displaying the utmost reluctance himself to receive relief; suppose the Legislature should be of opinion that it was desirable to apply some such test as the workhouse test, saying, "we will supply you with food, with lodging, and with clothes, in case of necessity, but we will require you to reside in the workhouse." Suppose the Legislature should be of opinion that some such test would have the effect of doing justice to the humble, but industrious rate-payer, whilst it would also improve the moral character, and ultimately, as a consequence, the physical condition of the labourer himself;—did the hon. Gentleman deny that the Legislature might be fairly called upon to adopt the improved system? It was not possible to adopt that improved system, without giving rise to cases of individual hardship, and of individual distress. Deeply did he lament that there should be these cases of individual distress; but they must come to their determination upon the general principle, they could not come to a decision in consequence of any individual cases of distress, lamentable as he admitted those cases to be. Still he thought that they heard more at present of individual cases of abuse than formerly. Under the old system there were small workhouses in independent, and perhaps distant parishes. They were under the direct influence of an overseer, who might have a large pecuniary interest in increasing or diminishing the rates, and he was inclined to believe that many abuses which then existed were never heard of. They were of a more aggravated kind, because they were entirely excluded from the public eye. He did not deny the existence of abuses now, and he hoped that one of the consequences of the central system would be, to draw public attention to these abuses. He trusted that they did hear more now of the abuses that existed, but it did not follow from this that the actual amount of abuses was greater than under the former system. It was from such a consideration, and not from any hope of any pecuniary benefit—it was in the hope and in the belief that a new test would improve the condition of the labourer himself, and that it would teach him the happiness and the pride of an independent position, that he 413 had consented to the alteration in the law; and he should greatly regret, after the expense that had been already incurred— although that was a minor consideration, which if he were convinced it was necessary he would entirely overlook—he should greatly regret the necessity, were it proved, of abandoning, after a trial of only five years, the extensive experiment which they had begun in 1834. If they did abandon it, what system were they to adopt in its stead? He had not heard from any hon. Gentleman who had addressed the House, any suggestion of a new plan. Then if the present system was to be adhered o, as he thought it ought—if they were to sanction the principle of the new Poor-law, to attempt the application of some test by which they should be enabled to distinguish the virtuous and industrious from the dishonest and idle labourer; if they were to do their duty to that large class of rate-payers upon which the rates fell most heavily, who were endeavouring to maintain an existence as independent labourers, and towards whom the admission of a fraudulent claimant on the rate would be a great injustice, he had come to the conclusion that it was not fit to abandon the experiment upon which they had entered. If, then, it was fit to maintain the system, should the whole of the more effectual working be left in the hands of the boards of guardians, free from all interference, or should they have any central body or board to control the individual boards of guardians? Should they take this step as a matter of precaution against abuse? Now, upon this point, he did not think that the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham had led to any conclusion which proved he was very logical in his argument The hon. Gentleman said that in former times the law was not bad, but that there was, in different parts of the country, a great difference in the mode of its administration; above all, the hon. Gentleman said, that the system of paying wages out of the poor's rates ought to be discountenanced; and he added, that there were under the old system some parishes in which what the hon. Member called the "stupid farmers" acted erroneously, and introduced a lax and improper practice, and did pay rates in aid of wages. That was just the evil which he expected to remedy by means of the central authority. There was a difference in the practice of administering the principle of the Act of Elizabeth; in some parishes it was rigidly, he hoped not inhumanly adhered to, whilst in 414 the majority of parishes, either from ignorance of the law, or from misapplied humanity, the principle of the law was departed from, and those individuals, whom the hon. Gentleman called the "stupid farmers" (though they did not, as he thought, merit the title), subjected themselves to immense rates, whilst they caused a most injurious effect upon the labourers. What he hoped and expected from the Central Board of Commissioners was, that they should observe the instances in which the Poor-laws were best administered for all, inflicting the least hardship on the poor, and yet effecting the subordinate advantage of diminishing the rate, and by observing the best, they might gradually bring about an uniform, a humane and perfect system, which would be more speedily introduced by the commissioners persuading and directing the board of guardians, than if they left the board of guardians to act upon their own independent opinions. Again, the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Birmingham, said that there had been no saving from the amendment; for he argued, although there had been a nominal saving in the amount of the rate contributed, yet, that there had been an increased charge upon the employers, because there had been increased wages paid to the labourer; that if they added to the amount of the existing rate the increased amount that the employer pays, there would on striking the balance be found no real saving to the rate-payer. He knew that the hon. Gentleman was actuated by the most humane feelings, and that he kept in his employ many persons. But what was the object of the amendment? That the virtuous and industrious labourer might receive an increase in the amount of his wages. He rejoiced, therefore, to hear that the amendment had had this very effect; that there had been no real saving, because of an addition to wages; and, indeed, that upon the whole the balance was against the employer and in favour of the employed. That was one great object for which he had hoped; he had supported the amendment with the desire that the labourer should receive an increase in the amount of his wages. The hon. Member for Finsbury, in his illustrations of the very low amount paid for wages during the existence of the present law, had selected the county of Devon. Now, it so happened, that in the county of Devon there was a greater amount of relief given to able-bodied labourers than in any other part of Eng 415 land. The hon. Gentleman said, that seven shillings a week only were paid to the labourers in Devonshire. He admitted, that this sum was quite insufficient to maintain the labourer and his family; but the proper course to inquire was, whether the lowness of wages arose from the application of the workhouse test; for if it did not, it was no argument against the new Poor-law. He found, on referring to the tables appended to the report of the Poor-law commissioners, that the county of Devon was the only case of a county in which two unions alone had received positive orders to discontinue out-door relief, and at the present moment, of all the counties in England, this was the county in which there was the largest amount of out-door relief. He did not say that out-door relief was the cause of the lowness of wages; they might he effected by other causes, but it was singular that in the very county selected by the hon. Gentleman to show the lowness of wages whilst the new Poor-law was in existence, there should be a larger amount of out-door relief to able-bodied paupers, than in any other county in England. On these general grounds, then, remembering the evils of the old system, and under the impression, that if the present system were continued, there was a great chance of effecting good, especially if the administration of this new system were continued under the superintendence of a central board of commissioners, he should give his vote in favour of the second reading of the bill then before the House. It was necessary for him to state, however, that in voting for the second reading, he reserved to himself the fullest right of judging of the propriety or of rejecting any of the clauses, and of dissenting from any provisions by which the power of the present law was to be increased or amended. He doubted particularly the propriety of continuing the commission for so long a time. He did not mean to say, that after an experience of a further continuance for a short period, he might not come to the conclusion, that the powers given by the present law should still exist; and that the continuance of the commissioners might not be advantageous, or that he might not deem such further continuance advisable; but it would, in his opinion, be more consonant to the opinion of the country that the subject should again, at a short period, come necessarily under the consideration of the House. He confessed that he could not see the advantage of prolonging the period 416 beyond five years; and he thought, that it might be of advantage to ensure the reconsideration at the end of that period. It did not necessarily follow that there should then be a termination of the powers of the commissioners if it should be found that the system was working well. It was perfectly different from an hon. Member at the end of five years bringing in a bill to close the commissioners labours, to say that there should be a positive assurance that at the end of five years the matter should be again reviewed. He knew the advantage, on the other hand, of giving more permanence to the commission, and increased authority to the commissioners; still, upon the whole, he thought that if they told the commissioners that at the end of five years their acts should be positively reviewed, they would be taking a greater security for their good conduct than if they gave them their seats for ten years. If at the end of the five years they should find from experience that the commission was working well, he was sure that the good sense of Parliament would consent to a renewal of the term. There was another reason which weighed with him in concluding that the powers should be re-granted for the shorter term. A great deal depended upon the personal character of the gentlemen acting as commissioners. Great powers devolved upon them; they had a power of legislation, and he thought that it was more becoming that Parliament should reserve to itself the certainty of a re-consideration of their legislation at an early day. This constituted an additional reason in his mind for a narrower limitation to the duration of the commission than that which the noble Lord proposed; and he was therefore inclined to the opinion that a shorter period than ten years was more likely to ensure from the gentlemen, who might be the commissioners, a proper discharge of their duties. There was another clause in the bill to which, as at present advised, he entertained a great objection; he alluded to the clause which attached burial grounds to the workhouses. He hoped that the noble Lord would not encourage persons in carrying the system too rigidly into effect. For himself, he had never given a vote with any other view than to promote the interests of the labouring classes themselves. The abuses that existed he hoped to see exposed, and the authors punished, and regretted very much every exposure of a violation of the laws, because of the disrespect 417 which it must bring upon the law itself; he hoped, therefore, that the law would be carried into execution with as much deference and respect as possible to the feelings of the labourers. If he were told that the poor of this country entertained a decided preference to be buried in consecrated ground, and where their ancestors were also buried, he must say, that these were feelings on the part of the poor which ought to be cherished; it was a feeling that he could not help admiring, nor could he see any objection to the performance of the last sad ceremony within the ancient and time-honoured limits of the church-yard, or in allowing the poor to join in death those whom in life they loved best. He could not see, that the proposed change was necessary for the due execution of the Poor-law. They could not expect the poor to take any wide view of the principles of legislation; and they would feel, that they were excluded from the church-yard if they saw attached to the workhouse, as a matter of course, cemeteries for the purpose of supplying its place. It was infinitely better to encourage as much as possible, the good feelings of the poor and their attachment to their ancient place of worship, and to withdraw this clause, not only out of respect for the feelings of those who dreaded the approach of death, but also of those who would wish a complete separation between the church-yard and the workhouse. He was sorry also to find a great power given by the bill to increase the size of the existing unions. He could understand some of the advantages of an extensive union, but he thought, that in some instances the desire of large unions had been carried a little too far, and in some it might possibly do good, to diminish the size. In large unions there was great difficulty in procuring the attendance of guardians, and if the relieving officer were visiting a remote part of the large district in which the guardians might be lax in their attendance, or indifferent to the duties of their office, he could not help thinking, that parts of the union might be too far to be under the cognizance of the boards of guardians, and there would be no opportunity, which always should exist, of correcting errors or misconduct. Therefore be would view with considerable jealousy any attempt to extend the existing unions, and generally, in giving his assent to the second reading of the bill, he would reserve to himself the entire power of considering the operation of specific clauses of it. Where 418 it increased the powers of the commissioners he should require it to be shown that such, increase was absolutely necessary; and, indeed, there could be little doubt that each clause would undergo that full and entire consideration on the part of the House which the importance of the subject required. For his own part, he should apply himself to the consideration of the measure on the principle which he had before laid down—that of a desire to provide an effectual remedy for an abuse which had been gradually undermining the prosperity of the country, and at the same time to consult as far as possible the feelings and interests of that class who were likely to be more particularly affected by the operation of the act.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
said, that had not the right hon. Baronet informed the House of the fact, he would scarcely have thought that he could have read the amendment which had been moved by the hon. Member for Maidstone, and seconded by his hon. colleague. The question was not, whether they should abandon the present system, but whether they should agree to the second reading of a bill, entitled, "A Bill to amend the present Act," but in which he found an aggravation of the grounds of every complaint that had been made by the people of this country against the present system. The present system was admitted, on all hands, to require amendment, and if he could see a prospect of that amendment being effected by this bill, then he would vote for the bill, and against the amendment of the hon. Member for Maidstone, which had been seconded by his hon. Colleague. It was very well to talk of speeches delivered on this subject in that House being inflammatory or irritating—no doubt it was little short of treason to say anything against the commissioners or the present system— but he, for one, would say, that if the system was to be continued at all, it could not be better than in the hands of those commissioners, and it was therefore against the system itself that he would make his stand, and on that ground he would make his observations to the House. He thought it would have been much fairer on the part of the Government to have introduced a short bill, of some six lines or so, merely stating that the commissioners should be perpetual, and that the commissioners should have the full powers of Commons, Lords, and Crown; 419 for, in point of fact, this bill did confer on them such powers, seeing that it empowered them to make any rules and regulations they might think proper. While on this part of the subject, he would remind them that he had, about two years ago, brought under the notice of the House some general rules and orders which had been issued from Somerset House, with regard to the appointment of clerks of unions by the returning officers, and had then asked whether those particular rules had ever been submitted to the Secretary of State, prior to being carried into effect in more than one union. The answer which he then received was, that they had not been so submitted to the Secretary of State, inasmuch as it was not necessary, because, in the original order, all the names of the unions in which it was to operate had not been inserted. Now he thought still, as he had urged then, that the last persons who ought to have the appointment of the clerks to the unions were the returning officers, because, as it was well known, that there was always a Liberal and a Tory list of candidates for the board of guardians, those individuals would make their power of nomination subservient to electioneering purposes. In fact, this very thing had occurred in the parishes of St. Andrew, Holborn, and St. George the Martyr in the Borough, which he had the honour to represent, where, in consequence of individuals having been appointed who were obnoxious to the returning officer, all sorts of tricks were resorted to, in order to vitiate the election. On a reference to the commissioners, they said that the matter should be rectified. If they had the power to do so, what necessity was there for a power to that effect in the present bill? If the power existed in the old bill, what necessity was there for it in the present? The right hon. Baronet suggested that the commission should be renewed, but only for five years. It was not very difficult to predict, that whatever the right hon. Baronet chose to suggest, Ministers would be sure to adopt; and he only wished, therefore, that the right hon. Baronet had recommended the continuance of the commissioners for one year only instead of five. He also felt pretty well secure that that clause would be expunged which provided for the burial of paupers, not in a churchyard, but in a private burial-place, where they would be thrown like so many 420 dogs—a clause in which there was not even mention made that a clergyman should perform the funeral rites. He thanked the right hon. Baronet for his observations on these points. The right hon. Baronet, and the hon. Gentlemen who thought with him were, however, very anxious about the fate of the paupers after death, but he only wished they would be a little more careful of them during life. It did appear hard, that after they had spent their lives cultivating the estates of those gentlemen, they should, as soon as they were no longer able to labour, be forced into the unions—than which a greater punishment could not be inflicted upon them. Again, why repeal the local acts? Why dissolve the Gilbert incorporations? When the present act was passed, it was agreed that those unions should not be interfered with, unless with the consent of a majority of the existing guardians: but, under the noble Lord's bill, every one of those might be dissolved, whether their consent were obtained or not. In fact, this bill would do by force what its framers knew it was in vain to attempt to do by reasoning and conviction, for in the metropolis, in particular, they never would be able to obtain the consent of the rate-payers to the abolition of the Gilbert unions. They knew too well it was a jobbing act, and a bill of cruelty. It should also never be forgotten, that when the fault, was found with the old system of Poor-laws, they were under the administration of overseers and justices of the peace, but that now they would be under the administration of persons elected by the rate-payers, who never would suffer the same abuses to creep in again, that existed before the passing of the act in 1834. If the present system were perfect, and worked so well, why call upon the House to agree to the second reading of this bill? Why not leave the administration to the discretion of the rate-payers? The effect of this act would be, to disfranchise the rate-payers, and he could assure the noble Lord, that the people of England would not submit to be deprived of their rights without a great struggle. This second reading was forced on with most indecent haste. Time ought to have been given to the country at large to consider the measure, and when this debate went forth to the public, the strongest effect would be produced in their minds as to the impolicy of the measure. In the mean time, he hoped that 421 the result of the debate would give the noble Lord a little foretaste of the opposition which he would receive in committee. This he could assure the noble Lord, that if he wished to widen the schism that had grown up between the higher and the humbler classes, then he would press forward and pass this bill. At all events, he called upon the House to pause before they passed the measure and to pass one more consistent with humanity, and the principles of justice.
§ Mr. Fox Maule
said that as cordially as the hon. Member hoped that the noble Lord would not pass his bill, so cordially did he hope that his noble Friend would not withdraw it; and in giving his testimony in favour of the principle of the measure, he would at least he supposed to give an impartial testimony, being unconnected with the country, and uninfluenced by any considerations directly or indirectly, which could in any way lead him to give a partial opinion on the subject. He must say, that he had heard with regret some of the observations of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down; because, from the way in which this question had been treated on all sides, he had been led to believe, that they would not have had any foretaste of a renewal of such opposition as had formerly met this measure; and he hoped that he would abstain from giving any other than a fair opposition, and not act towards the measure as he did towards the close of the last Session. The hon. Gentleman had talked of the bill having been pressed to a second reading with indecent haste. He really must differ with the hon. Gentleman on that point; for if he would compare the bill with that which was before the House last year, he would find, that they differed very little in their various clauses. The only difference in fact was, that what last Session occupied two bills, was now contained in one. And let him also remind the hon. Member, when he talked of indecent haste, that although the bills of last year were not discussed until a late period of the Session, they were laid upon the Table early in the month of March. But he would first address himself to the speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who had seconded the amendment. He had heard that hon. Gentleman with regret impute mercenary motives to the country gentlemen of England in the support which they had given 422 to the existing system of Poor-laws, and he did not think that any argument which the hon. Gentleman had brought forward had shown that the position which he assumed was founded in fact. The hon. Member then went on to state, that the measure of 1834 was one oppressive to the poor, calculated to excite the utmost discontent in their minds, and that out of the Poor-law it was, that those scenes had arisen which we had of late years witnessed in the country. Now the hon. Gentleman had really, in making this assertion, belied those poor of whom he professed to be the protector; for whatever might be the causes of the discontents which had existed in the country, they certainly were not to be traced to the poor, and those who sought relief from the Poor-rates. They had suffered much misery, and they had borne it in a way calculated to excite our deepest sympathies, and to make every person the more regret the conduct of those from whom the disturbances had really arisen. Those persons belonged to a class far removed from those who were chargeable to the Poor-rate — persons earning quite sufficient wages to support them, but who, from some discontent, how engendered, or how fomented he would not now stop to inquire, raised themselves up against their fellow men, and desired to alter their position in society. The hon. Gentleman had threatened them with a renewed combination of agricultural labourers if this measure passed—he argued that when the hay harvest came, the labourers would combine to set the farmer at defiance, and would refuse to cut his crop and gather it. But what was the fact with regard to combinations of agricultural labourers? Why, that there had been no such combination since the passing of the Poor-law. The last combination of that land took place before the present law was passed. The hon. Gentleman had also alluded to the sums saved to the rate-payers. The framers of the bill took no credit to themselves on that score. On the contrary, he most cordially concurred in what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, that the object of legislation on such a subject was not the paltry pecuniary saving that might be effected to the rate-payers, but that the condition of the industrious poor might be improved and themselves regenerated. It was to this that he looked as the result of this measure, and he had no hesitation in stating his opinion that the country gentlemen of England would not have regretted 423 an increase of the rates that brought with it such a consequence. The question in fact was, as the right hon. Baronet said, mainly divided into two points, whether the system should be continued, and whether it should be continued under the present commissioners. Now as regarded the first point, he held it to be next to impossible to abandon the system which they now acted upon. The evils of the old system were so great, that no one would run the risk of returning to them. This being assumed, the only other question was, whether the system could be continued without the aid of the central management. He thought not, and though others might differ from him, yet he should endeavour to show that without the central management they would necessarily fall into the only mode which could lead to a return to the old system. The commissioners of inquiry on which the Poor-law Bill was founded, recommended the present system of management, not as a new idea of their own, but as an adoption of the principle then prevailing in different parishes which had fallen under their notice, and which they thought might advantageously be extended over the whole of England and Wales. In speaking of the principle of central management, he might not inappropriately refer to its admirable operation in the prison system of Scotland, and the House would not forget that he had been, last Session, attacked as to the varied regulations of the English prisons, because of the absence of any such system of central management. He must observe also, that although much had been done, still much remained to be done, as there still was a very large field over which the Poor-law commission had not extended itself. If the country were to be deprived of the services of the Poor-law commissioners, the work would be left only three parts done, and the result would be, an amended state of things in one part of the country, and the old system prevailing in the rest. Thus, there would be two systems pulling against each other: and his own opinion was, that the old system had much more chance of supplanting the new, than the new of supplanting the old. He would quote from the report of the commissioners some facts with regard to the reduction of the expense. He found that in 1834, prior to the passing of the act, there was paid for the relief of the poor, exclusive of all other expenses 6,317,000l.; and that in 1840, that amount was reduced to 4,576,000l.; showing that a sum of nearly 2,000,000l. per annum had been saved in 424 the simple administration of relief to the poor. And he was ready also to assert, without fear of contradiction, that out of that reduced sum now paid for the relief of the poor, the sums given in bonâ fide relief to the honest and deserving poor had increased rather than diminished. This was unquestionably an argument in favour of the working of the system, but it was also true that it had certainly tended to raise the character of the working classes of this country to an extent, that even by the most sanguine of its authors could scarcely have been expected. He now came to the powers of the Poor-law commissioners. Suppose their powers at an end, and that the guardians were the only persons having any authority over the unions. What would be the bearing that this would have upon the union officers whose appointment and dismissal stood now in this way? The appointment of all the officers of the unions was now left with the local bodies—they were left to exercise their discretion in appointing whom they pleased. But the law, at the same time, most wisely retained in the hands of the Poor-law commissioners, the power of dealing summarily with those union officers who misbehaved themselves. It had been charged against the commissioners that they had not used those powers us they ought to have done, but he could only say, that whenever they had been made acquainted with the misconduct of the union officers, they had not failed to investigate it with the utmost strictness, and either dismiss the officers, or show the public that they were not in fault. Last year they dismissed not less than seventy-live officers, besides accepting the resignations of others who were unwilling to incur the disgrace of being dismissed. It was well known, that the boards of guardians elected the officers in their several unions. He believed, that very few persons would hesitate to admit, that they almost always elected those persons in whom they had some personal interest, to the offices within their patronage. For instance, a man offers himself as the master of a workhouse, or relieving officer, or any other office, and he solicits the assistance of any guardian with whom he might be acquainted. The latter might be possessed of influence in the union, and might request those acting with him, to support the election of this person. If he took this part, and induced others to vote, it was natural to expect that under the same impulse, he would protect the candidate when elected. If, there 425 fore, the House allowed this power to the board of guardians, and alone allowed them to remove the officers of a union, instances would soon occur of their retaining masters of workhouses, relieving officers, or others in their situations who had abused the trust reposed in them. Fur his own part, he thought it was one of the most important duties of the commissioners to superintend the proper appointment, or rather continuance, of the officers of a union, and to sec that the boards of guardians did their duty in this respect. His hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, said, that he had no doubt, that if the several boards of guardians were left to themselves, they would not return to the erroneous and vicious system which formerly obtained. He had heard the same observations from other quarters, and had therefore taken the trouble to make inquiries on the subject of the commissioners, and he believed it would be admitted, that they had no reason to misrepresent what had occurred. They distinctly told him, that instead of the boards of guardians not falling back to the evils of the old system if the control which at present existed was removed, they had found that there had not been one of the abuses of the old system which they had not been urged to sanction by one board or another. For instance, several of the boards of guardians were very urgent that they should be allowed to give relief in aid of wages; others wished to give continuous out-door relief to non-resident paupers; while other boards of guardians were anxious to take the mothers of illegitimate children under their protection, and required that they should be allowed to go at large, while their offspring was to remain in the workhouse at the charge of the parish. There were several other evils which they had been requested to sanction; he therefore doubted very much whether the boards of guardians were able to work alone without the control of the commissioners. But supposing that they were, was the House prepared to say, after all the obloquy thrown on the commissioners, who were made responsible not only for all the faults of the boards of guardians, but also for the breaches of trust of the officers appointed by their boards —that these bodies would act independently if constant abuse and obloquy were to be cast on them? The House might rely upon it, if they set aside the central revision, all the evils that formerly existed would again arise, and that they would be compelled within a short time to resort to some new commis 426 sion with increased powers. He therefore contended, that until they had established the working of the Poor-laws on some sure and certain basis, they must continue this central supervision. He did not say for what period this should be done, as that would more properly come under consideration when they proceeded to consider the details in the committee. All that he required of the House was to agree to the principle of the measure of 1834, and of which the continuance of the central authority was an essential part. He would not say anything as to the attacks made on the commissioners, and he should most cautiously abstain from any personal allusions as to those attacks, or to the quarters from whence they emanated, as he was most anxious to secure to the bill that calm and deliberate consideration which he trusted all parties would regard it worthy of; so that, in conclusion, they might secure the passing of a measure which, while it preserved a sufficient control to prevent the return to the old system, would, at the same time, in its administration tend to exalt the character of the labouring classes of this country, and also provide that relief for the infirm and the poor, which it must be in the breast of every Gentleman should be given to those whom he sees in a state of misery and destitution.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
could not agree with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat, down, that he had no reason for exhibiting any partiality for this bill. The hon. Gentleman held an important station in the Home-office, from whence this bill emanated; he, therefore, might have spoken with more warmth than he probably intended in support of it. He agreed, however, with the hon. Gentleman, that it would be better to let the details of this bill be discussed in the committee; he should, therefore, confine the few observations which he intended to make to one or two important points. With respect to the new clauses in the present bill, there were very few of them to which he could give his full and cordial assent. He had hoped, when her Majesty's Government introduced this bill, apparently for the amendment of the Poor-laws, that they would not have confined themselves almost entirely to giving increased powers to the commissioners. He thought that, instead of strengthening the hands of the commissioners, they should have enabled them to proceed with less stringent enactments 427 than existed in the present law. He quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman, as a principle, that no payments in aid of wages should be paid out of the poor-rates; at the same time, under certain cases of immediate pressure, when parties were left destitute, and could not obtain an adequate rate of wages, he was of opinion that the commissioners or boards of guardians should be empowered to order temporary relief in cases where it was clear that the destitution did not arise from any fault of their own. At present, in many cases, he thought that there was unnecessary rigour in refusing out-door relief. He felt this to be particularly the case in the union in which he resided. The House was fully aware of the long continuance of the inclement weather; about a month ago several parties were thrown out of employ in a poor part of the country, near his residence, and, as they were without the means of support, they applied to the board of guardians for temporary relief. The board of guardians, which had generally set their faces against out-door relief, considered, in a case of such urgency, that they should be justified in departing from their usual rule, and they ordered an allowance to be made. The act, however, required that they should report their proceedings to the commissioners, and in reply they received a communication from these authorities of a very different character from what he thought they were justified in expecting. In this case there was no question that those who made the application were compelled to do so merely by the inclemency of the weather, which had driven them from their work; and they did not make any application until some time after the severity of the weather had forced them to abandon their usual employment. He should have stated, that all the persons to whom relief was given had wives and large families. The right hon. Baronet proceeded to read the letter from the Poor-law commissioners to the board of guardians of the Ashford union, of which the following is the substance:—That in consequence of numerous applications for relief from able-bodied paupers in the union of Ashford, and from the crowded state of the union workhouse, they had thought it expedient in several cases to order out-door relief. The commissioners therefore direct that, in cases of the continued application of these parties for relief, that the guardians should in the first instance admit the heads of 428 families into the workhouse, and give the families out-door relief. The commissioners also, to prevent the evasion of the test of the workhouses, deemed it right to notice that those heads of families should be subjected to task-work in the workhouses, or to task-work out of doors under proper superintendence.Now, he (Sir E. Knatchbull) thought that it was a very harsh proceeding to order the fathers to be taken into the workhouse, and to leave the mothers and children in a state of destitution out of it. Again, what was to be considered the test of the workhouse but the poverty of the parties? This was an unquestionable case of destitution; and in such cases he thought that a discretionary power might safely be given to the guardians to meet cases of this kind, and if this was not granted the greatest difficulties must be experienced in such cases in the working of the bill. With respect to task-work in the workhouse, it might do very well as a test for aged persons, but it would be absurd to apply this in-door work to able-bodied labourers. The commissioners, however, said, that out-of-door task-work might be allowed under proper superintendence. If a board of guardians were allowed to set able-bodied labourers to break stones in inclement weather, a discretionary power must be left them. For instance, the guardians must provide the stone for the purpose of task-labour; but in the present state of things, if there was no severe weather, the auditors would not allow the charge in the accounts for procuring the stone. He trusted, that these suggestions would be taken into consideration by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, and he had no doubt that in the progress of the bill many alterations would be recommended in other parts of it, which he also hoped would be attended to. He admitted that he entertained no doubt as to the prolonging the term of the commission for a few years. His right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel) thought that five years would be a sufficient period, while some hon. Gentlemen recommended three or four years; he did not think, that there was any material difference between these terms; but he thought that ten years was too long a time. He, however, admitted, that while there was such a diversity of opinion as to the mode of carrying out this measure, and when they recollected the different principles which had been acted upon in administering the new Poor- 429 law in various parts of the country, it was essential that they should have a central management. He felt, however, that the power of legislation given to the commissioners by this bill, ought to be restrained, and above all, when they recollected that that body, from its very nature, was unconstitutional. He should vote for the second reading of the bill, but he trusted that the noble Lord would consent to make alterations in several of its provisions.
§ Viscount Howick
observed, that as he was one of those Members who thought the act of 1834 one of the most beneficial measures which had ever been carried, and that the commissioners who had framed the measure, and the Government who had carried it, deserved the gratitude of the country, it was gratifying to him to find that night, after the denunciations of the new Poor-law for so many months and years, both by the press and by hon. Gentlemen at elections, and at public meetings, and in after-dinner speeches, that those who had come to the House prepared to discuss the subject, and to defend the measure and the authors of it, did not find one single Member on cither side of it—not even the mover or the seconder ef the amendment—had given a single reason in favour of the old mode of administration, or had expressed a wish to return to the system which existed previous to the passing of the act of 1834. He had long since been convinced that this would be the case when hon. Members came seriously to loot the matter in the face, and that there would not be found a single hon. Gentleman who would stand up in his place and state, that he would return to that system of poor-laws which was at the same time wasting the resources of the country and destroying the character of the labouring classes. He was sure, that no one who was acquainted with the old system would wish again to resort to the parish gravel pit and to the putting up to sale the labour of the parish without having any regard to the feelings of the labourer, but placing the steady, industrious man on the same footing with the idle and the profligate. Thus, a man who by his exertions had raised himself immediately above want, was placed, as regarded his labour, on the same footing as the most idle and improvident, until the pittance which he possessed was spent, and he was virtually told that he should resort to the beer-shop until all he possessed was squandered away, and then he would become a proper subject for 430 the consideration of the parish. He was alluding to facts which were clearly proved to have existed before the commission in 1834. In the reports then published, it was proved, that in numerous instances steady and provident labourers had been refused employment, merely because they had made some provision for themselves and families, and that they were often laughed at by persons in the same rank of life as themselves, who said, "what fools you are not to expend all you have at the beer-shop, and then go on the parish." This system was in point of fact reducing the British labourer to a situation worse than that of the Polish or Russian serf. Under these circumstances he had long felt confident that no one would long continue to defend the old system. His hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, who strongly objected to many parts of the present system, said, that it would be absurd to go back to the old system. If, therefore, there was not a single Member who directly re-commended the return to the old system, he hoped that the House would not be led by any indirect or concealed mode to return to the state of things which existed before 1834, and thus break down the system which succeeded to it. This inevitably would be the result of adopting some of the suggestions of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Kent; for thus they would step by step restore the old system. The right hon. Baronet recommended that the new act should make provision for the relaxation of the laws relating to out-door relief, and he passed some severe censures on the commissioners for refusing to sanction an application on this subject from some union in Kent. Now he thought that the commissioners had acted upon a wise discretion; for it would be the first step to going back to the system under which a great portion of the labourers of the south of England were dependent, not on their own industry or exertions, but on parochial relief. The right hon. Baronet said, that there was no doubt of the poverty of these persons; but this was a very near-sighted view of the matter, for it completely lost sight of the effect that was produced by this being an example to others. He was desirous that the working classes in England should not consider it to be a light or trifling thing to become dependent on the bounty of others. Until a few years ago it was generally remarked that the English labourers were most unwilling to receive parochial relief, and he trusted that that feel- 431 ing would still be found to exist. For two centuries after the passing of the act of Elizabeth, it was well known that to become a pauper was held to be a reproach and a stigma, which the English peasant made every effort to avoid, there was hardly any sacrifice which he thought too great to enable him to escape from what he considered the degradation of being maintained, not by his own honest industry, but as a dependent on the bounty of others. This feeling was, unfortunately, broken down by an injudicious administration of the law, and by injudicious legislation; and the time when that feeling began to be broken down was the time when men came to have no objection to receive relief, but to look on it rather as a simple and ready resource when any pressure was felt, and from this time it was, too, that the abuses and evils of the Poor-law began. By the very constitution and nature of society, poverty in every rank—for there was poverty in the higher as well as in the lower classes—poverty was necessarily attended with privation and distress; but in both the higher and the lower classes, every man of true spirit and feeling, though poor, would endure great privation before he became dependent on the bounty of others, instead of on himself. What the right hon. Gentleman had recommended with respect to out-door relief showed, that he did not enter into the object of the present mode of administering relief to the able-bodied; but there was another point which he had not adverted to. He considered that one of the most useful effects of the system of administering relief to the able-bodied in time of pressure, in workhouses only, was this—that it not only induced the labourers themselves to make great efforts to avoid applying for relief, but it induced their employers and their wealthier neighbours to make every exertion to obtain work for them, before they suffered them to be driven to that alternative. If a parish saw, that it was likely to be burdened with the expense of maintaining a labourer and his family in the workhouse, it would make every possible effort to find him employment out of doors. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth had adverted to the fact, that Devonshire, to which the hon. Member for Finsbury had referred as a part of the country where wages were exceedingly low, was a county in which out-of-door relief was more common than in any other county. He could state the converse of the proposition: in the county which he had 432 the honor to represent, even before the introduction of the new Poor-law, relief to the able-bodied and in aid of wages was not known; and instead of the miserable wages which the hon. Gentleman described as being paid in Devonshire, he was prepared to say, and he would appeal to the hon. Member for Durham for confirmation, that the labouring population in the county which he represented was in a situation of remarkable comfort and independence. While the price of many necessaries was much lower there, while, among other things, the price of that most essential article, fuel, was one-fourth or one-fifth lower than in Devonshire, the wages were four or five shillings higher than they were represented to be in the latter county, and there, he would repeat, out-door relief to the able-bodied, and in aid of wages, was never, and never had been, resorted to. Even at this moment of the greatest pressure he would venture to say, that in the union which he attended when in the county, there was not one able-bodied man in the reception of relief, or, if so, only as the inhabitant of a workhouse. Did not these facts tend to prove, that it was a mistaken principle—a most ill-judged benevolence— to think of giving relief out of the workhouse in individual cases, when by doing so, according to the best conclusions which could be drawn from experience, there was every reason to believe, that it materially contributed to lower and degrade the general character and condition of the labouring population? As there appeared to be a general consent to the present stage of the measure, he did not wish to go at any greater length into the argument; but this he must say, that he had heard with very great regret, what had fallen from the right hon. Member for Tamworth, with respect to the time for which it was proposed the commission should continue. If the system were a good one, if to enforce that system, and to prevent the evils of the former administration of the Poor-law again breaking out, was really an object worthy the attention of the House, he could not help thinking, that the soundest policy would be so to frame their measures, that they might satisfy men's minds that there was no hesitation, no shrinking on their part from acting steadily and consistently on the principles they had avowed. If they could not foresee, and that would be difficult for any man who had considered the reasons for continuing the commission —if they could not foresee the period when, the commission would cease to be 433 necessary, he thought it would be a great misfortune for the House to encourage that most mischievous agitation which had been raised on this subject out of doors, by adopting the alteration suggested by the right hon. Baronet. It appeared to him, that the bill brought in by Government, proposing the continuance of the commission for ten years, that the mere fact of altering that period to five years, would, in the eyes of the country, show a certain degree of yielding, a certain degree of uncertainty, in the House on the subject, which would tend to encourage that agitation and cause much evil. For his part, he did not foresee any time at which it was likely the commission could cease. [Cheers] No, he could not foresee the time. The Mouse would remember, that the act of 1834, as first brought in, contained no limitation as to the duration of the commission, and he was bound to say, that he considered it an ill-judged concession to a clamour which, if faced with a little more boldness, must soon have been put down, to limit the period to five years. He thought that they would have had less of that clamour which had been of so injurious a tendency, had they not limited the period; and he, for one, should have had no objection to continue the commission indefinitely; for it appeared to him, that there were many objects which this commission was intended to answer, that it was impossible could ever be at an end. In the first place, they had to take care that the law was enforced according to the intentions of the Legislature. He certainly thought it was very necessary that there should be some responsibility on the part of the boards of guardians, to some authority or other. It was of great advantage to the poor to have some authority for them to appeal to, in cases of complaints against masters of workhouses, relieving officers, or other administrators of the Poor-law, and it was further of the highest importance that there should be some authority, like the commission to assist and advise the boards of guardians in any cases of doubt which might arise. From his own experience as a member of one of these boards, limited as that experience was, he was convinced that very great benefits indeed accrued from such assistance; and, on the other hand, he had never known one single case of interference on the part of the commission from which the least evil had resulted. But not only this: it was known that the Poor-law commissioners had been the means of effecting a great saving under 434 the single head of litigation, by amicably arranging disputes between different unions, which, under the old law, would have come before a court of law. For these reasons, he regretted that the right hon. Baronet had suggested the limitation of the period to five years. With respect to the other clauses of the bill, he should avoid entering upon their discussion until a further stage of the proceedings. But he could not help observing that the hon. Member near him (Mr. T. Buncombe) had fallen into an error with respect to that clause relating to the control to which the rules issued by the commissioners were subject. The committee which sat on this subject, of which he (Lord Howick) was a member, did certainly point out that rules were not called general rules unless they were applied at the same time to more than one parish, and that rules applied individually to great numbers of parishes were not general rules, and that this was a great defect in the law. The object of the clause in the new bill was to put an end to that evil—to prevent those rules, which are not technically general rules, being adopted without being subjected to the consideration of her Majesty's Government. There was only one more observation which he was desirous to make, and that was in reference to the observations of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, upon the subject of burial grounds, which this bill proposed to make behind the workhouses. He was aware that when the House should come to discuss the different clauses of the bill, would be the better period for considering this point more maturely; but, as he thought it might excite misapprehension in the public mind, that upon the advice of the Poor-law commissioners a clause had been introduced into the proposed measure to prevent the poor from being buried where their ancestors were interred before them, he thought it necessary to say a few words. He could not help thinking, that as he understood the interpretation of the clause, he viewed it in a different light from that which had been taken by the right hon. Gentleman. He considered, that the object of this clause was to meet an evil which existed in many parts of the country, and which he knew had been seriously complained of. That evil was, that in union workhouses it often happened that casual poor, and persons who were mere vagrants, were taken in there in a state of disease to die; and in burying them a great difficulty often arose, because these 435 union workhouses were generally in or adjoining market towns. Now the burial grounds of the parishes were generally insufficient for their own purposes. He knew that, in many instances, clergymen and guardians had made great complaints on this matter, which operated most seriously and inconveniently in consequence of the great number of casual poor and vagrants who were buried in the burial grounds, such poor having nothing whatever to do with the parish. He trusted, therefore, that it would not go forth to the country that there was the slightest intention on the part of the Poor-law commissioners, to adopt any regulation whatever, the effect of which should be to prevent the parochial poor who might die in the workhouse from being buried in the churchyard. No one who had looked at the speech of the noble Lord, on moving for the continuance of this act, could imagine that it was ever contemplated by the Poor-law commissioners that the settled poor of rural districts should be debarred from that to which they attached so much importance, namely, that of feeling secure that their bodies would repose by the side of their ancestors. For his own part, he, perhaps, ought to apologise to the House for having addressed them at so much length, more particularly as the opposition to the original motion before the House had dwindled down to so small an amount; but as he had always taken a warm interest in the Poor-law, he could not allow this debate to close without expressing his opinions on certain points.
§ Mr. Darby
said, that though he was not disposed to oppose the motion for the second reading of this bill, yet he must express his hope that some measures of relaxation would be adopted by her Majesty's Government. He must, indeed, repeat the question which had been put, whether the pauper should be buried in his own parish churchyard or not. He could only say, that there was nothing on which the poor were so sensitive as this point. Nay, even those who were dissenters were buried within the churchyard, and whole families attended the Church on those occasions. He trusted the noble Lord would look to this clause. Again he begged to call the attention of the House to the case of unions of parishes. The operation of the New Poor-law Act had been to induce the guardians in many parishes to remove most of the inmates of their workhouses. He objected to this, 436 because, though he was aware that they must have a classification of persons in the workhouse, he nevertheless thought, that it was a very harsh proceeding to take children out of the house in which their parents were located. With respect to the proposed extension of the powers of this Act, he thought they should be confined to a limited period. It had been said, that certain orders which had been given were not general orders; but whether such were the fact or not, he contended that all orders should be laid before Parliament. And when the noble Lord spoke of a uniformity of system, he begged to say, that according to the present practical working of the machinery of the Poor-law Act, there was no uniformity whatever. The noble Lord had on a former occasion stated, that this law was founded upon the principle of the Act 43d of Elizabeth, and he had maintained, that in framing the present law they had followed out the principle of that statute. He would admit for the sake of argument (and for the sake of argument only), that every subsequent Act which had been passed in respect to the poor, was only an additional mischief; but he must say that the present law, and that of the 43d of Elizabeth, were in direct opposition. The principle of the Act of Elizabeth was, that in cases where a man could not maintain the whole of his family, you might give work to a part of his family. This was the opinion of the celebrated Mr. Justice Blackstone, who, in speaking of the office and duties of overseers of the poor, said:—Their office and duty, according to the same statute, are principally these:—1st, to raise competent sums for the necessary relief of the poor, impotent, old, blind, and such other being poor, and not able to work; and 2dly, to provide work for such as are able, and cannot otherwise get employment: but this latter part of their duty, which, according to the wise regulations of that salutary statute, should go hand in hand with the other, is now most shamefully neglected." * * "The two objects of this statute seem to have been—1st, to relieve the impotent poor, and them only; 2nly, to find employment for such as are able to work: and this principally by providing stocks of raw materials to be worked up at their separate homes, instead of accumulating all the poor in one common workhouse—a practice which puts the sober and diligent upon a level (in point of their earnings) with those who are dissolute and idle, depresses the laudable emulation of domestic industry 437 and neatness, and destroys all endearing family connections, the only felicity of the indigent.Now he must confess, that the noble Lord's saying that this bill was framed precisely on the principle of the 43d of Elizabeth did astonish him. He admitted the extreme difficulty that there was in providing labour for the poor; but if they could find labour, and harder labour than agricultural labour, unquestionably he would prefer the labour test to the workhouse test. But the work must be harder than agricultural labour in order to be a lest. The real difficulty he saw in the workhouse test was this—that persons who were indifferent to leaving their families and their homes, who knew that there was not very hard work in the workhouses, would in many instances go in and remain there; whilst those who did care about their homes, and who sought day after day for work, and were unfortunate, were compelled to live on the uncertain assistance they might receive. This was a great hardship; and when the noble Lord said that no difference ought to be made between the industrious and the idle, he thought the noble Lord was introducing the worst kind of confusion, moral confusion, into the minds of the community. His objection to the workhouse test was, that it did not try the industry of the party. If they merely offered the workhouse, the idle man would very often whilst the industrious man He found in the Hitchin Union, that a man with his wife and five children cost 23s. a week, and this, where there was no house rent to pay, and where everything was bought at wholesale price, and for ready money; whereas a man living out of the house earned only 12s. a week, which added to what he could gain by his children's labour might amount to 15s. a week, so that out of the workhouse a man with five children was supported at a weekly cost of 15s., and in it at23s. He found it difficult to understand how this fact could be reconciled to the statute of Elizabeth, which said, that where a man was unable to support his wife and family work should be given him. He admitted that great evils existed under the old system, evils which he was inclined to attribute principally to the incompetency of those engaged in the administration of the law; he did not allude to the magistrates, but to the overseers. He did not deny that the management had been sometimes 438 good, but no sooner was the good manager gone, than the overseers relapsed into the old system. He believed, that if this bill were renewed, it would be found that the labour test might be applied with success. He held in his hand a pamphlet, written before the New Poor-law came into operation, in which were some of the results of the labour test. Some labourers received 13s. 6d. a week, and some only 3s. Those who only received 3s. went away directly, whilst those who were willing to work were forthwith taken by the farmers. But the fault of the present system was this—that there might be a number of men out of work who were determined not to go into the workhouse, and who were allowed to remain out of work longer than necessary. In the workhouse with which he was acquainted the cost was only 4s. for each person per week. He had gone over that workhouse himself, and had found the regulations as good as possible—the children were well taught, and perfectly healthy and cleanly. He feared that there was but little chance of prevailing on the Government to adopt the labour test, however strong his conviction of its tendeney to relieve the most industrious and best deserving class of the poor. He feared that the consequence of the present system would be to make pilferers of the children of the indigent. He certainly would not vote against the second reading of this bill, because he had always looked with satisfaction on the introduction of an act for the amendment of the Poor-law, and he wished distinctly to state, that he was opposed to any relaxation whatever which could by possibility lead to the relief of persons unwilling to work out of the poor-rates. There were one or two other things not subjects of the bill now before the House, but which he thought the noble Lord ought to provide for—one of these was the rating of small tenements. He felt satisfied that, whether before guardians or magistrates, it was utterly impossible to enforce the rate among paupers, persons whose only effects were their beds and their chairs. He would conclude by observing that, if he thought the bill was to remain in its present shape, he should not feel himself justified in voting for it.
hoped that this bill would be materially altered and amended, without affecting the principle of the measure, which would give protection to the public 439 and to the poor; and he hoped also that all rules and regulations would be laid under the supervision of the Legislature. He was of opinion that the Poor-law could not be efficiently carried out without the establishment of some central board. The hon. Member for Finsbury, in seconding the amendment of the hon. Member for Maidstone, had stated many circumstances of a striking nature to show the difference between the operation of the present and the former Poor-law. If he could believe those statements, he would not support the present motion; but he must be permitted to doubt their accuracy. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had made statements which ought to make an impression on the House the other way. In stating that where the wages were lowest the expenditure in out-door relief was highest, the right hon. Baronet alluded to the county of Devon, where the wages were so low as 7s. a week, and where there had been more money expended in outdoor relief than in any other county. On the other hand, in the most eastern part of the county of Kent, where the out-door relief was less than in any other part of the county, the wages of the labourer were the highest, the average during the last three years being 12s. and 15s., and the standard now 14s. He was sure that in that district the able-bodied labourer was better off than he had been for many years, and he believed there was not a single able-bodied man in the workhouse. In his own parish the workhouse test had produced great advantages. In the parish of Eastwicke, the year before the new Poor-law was passed, there had been between twenty and thirty labourers employed by the parish on the highway. These men had little more to do than sit on the heaps of stones, yet each got 3d. a week more than the hard-working labourer who was employed by the farmer. But within two years after the new bill was passed a respectable gentleman stated that he had great difficulty in getting additional labourers to work in his garden. He would support the present bill because he believed its general object was to encourage the industrious labourers, and prevent large sums from being laid out for the maintenance of the indolent. He would ask the hon. Member for Finsbury whether, with all his objections, he could show that 2,000,000l. would not be better laid out by the New Poor-law than 4,000,000l. under the old? 440 Let them examine the report of the Poor-law commissioners. The House would find that that work was compiled with feelings of honest duty, and a conviction that the system which they administered, had been, and would be, successful. He certainly hoped to see some amendments introduced into the present bill, first in fixing a term for the commissioners, and next in making the leading rules general ones. He also objected to the clauses which would empower the commissioners to have separate establishments for infants, and insane and infirm paupers. Infants should not be separated from their parents in the workhouse; though a separation might not be objected to in the case of orphans and deserted children, who sometimes constituted four fifths of the infant inhabitants of a workhouse. To the general principles of the bill he gave his consent, but in the hope that those and other important amendments would be introduced into it after the second reading.
§ Captain Pechell
did not feel his objections to the measure diminished by all the amendments that had been spoken of. One of his strongest grounds of objection was, thas this bill would annihilate 200 parish unions that were incorporated under Gilbert's Act, and take the management of their own parishes from those who had for fifty or sixty years successfully administered the affairs of their localities, to the satisfaction of the poor and the rate-payers. The Poor-law commissioners in endeavouring to persuade the noble Lord to demolish the independence of those parishes spoke highly of their desire for uniformity, but this was the only argument they could bring forth; they could not prove, that the administration of the poor-rate had been ineffective or improper under Gilbert's Incorporation Act. He had many documents which he should not trouble the House by quoting now, but which he should bring forward at a future stage, and show how excellently those parishes had managed the affairs of their own poor. He would also prove, when he should go more at length into the subject, how groundless was the charge of the Poor-law commissioners, that the guardians of those parishes were men without education, actuated by illiberal and selfish motives. The report of Messrs. Hawley and Hall had done great injustice to a respectable and exemplary body of yeomanry. The charges of the Poor-law commissioners 441 were as groundless against the management of parishes in towns under local acts as against parishes incorporated under Gilbert's Act. The force of their complaints might be judged of from one specimen. They complained of the parishes under Gilbert's Act as exerting a mischievous influence upon the neighbouring unions under the Poor-law commissioners. They described the labourer as being so happy in those parishes that he went to his work whistling like a bird. This was the language of Mr. Stephens. Now, where the noble Lord found a happy and contented yeomanry, a happy and contented peasantry, and landlords not petitioning for a dissolution of the incorporated system, ought he not to pause before he introduced his uniform system, seeing that it was wholly unnecessary? Ought he not also to hesitate before he invaded those towns that had been hitherto managed under local acts, to the satisfaction of both poor and rate-payers? Hoping that the noble Lord would let those districts alone, he would agree to the second reading.
Mr. W. Attwood
amidst cries for a division said, having all along taken great interest in this question, and being one of those who, intending to vote against the second reading of this bill, must be content to come under the special reprobation of the noble Lord, the Member for Northumberland, he hoped he should be permitted to address a few observations to the House. If arguments were wanting against the second reading, he should find them in the speech of that noble Lord. Scarcely had any hon. Member addressed the House in support of the bill who did not qualify their advocacy by expressing a full expectation that very material ameliorations would be made in the committee; but what hope could now be entertained of those amendments, after the tone adopted by the noble Lord? Upon every occasion when this matter was debated a number of hon. Members came forward and expressed their opposition not merely to the principle of the bill, but also to the mode in which it had been carried into operation; and, in the hope that the expression of opinion in that House would have its due effect in mitigating the severity of the law, they were induced to offer no decided opposition to the measure. But had the commissioners adopted any one of these ameliorations? On the con 442 trary, instead of executing the provisions of the bill with greater mildness, they were constantly giving the most unequivocal proofs of a determination to add to its severity, and carry it into operation with all the harshness of which its provisions were susceptible. The noble Lord, the Member for Northumberland, taunted those who opposed this bill with a disposition to support the abuses of the old system. He threw back the taunt upon the noble Lord, and asked him where would be the supporters of the present bill, if he regarded as such only those who approved entirely either the mode in which the Poor-law had been administered by the commissioners, or the form in which it was now sought to extend and perpetuate their powers? If the noble Lord excluded those who voted for the second reading in the hope of seeing some material amendments introduced in the committee, the bill would not, he was confident, have that majority in its favour which he feared they were condemned to witness to-night. Referring to the report of the commissioners, and the assistant commissioners, he found certain palpable indications of their determination to carry strictly into effect all those regulations on which the reprobation of the House had been most unequivocally expressed. The Undersecretary for the Home Department had stated that the bill was founded on the suggestions of the committee which sat on the subject in 1838; but the committee had also recommended many alterations and amendments, not one of which had been adopted. If, therefore, the sanction of the committee were to be quoted on the one hand in favour of the measure, it afforded on the other unequivocal condemnation of the proceedings of the commissioners in not attending to those suggestions which had been unanimously recommended in the report. But the noble Lord, the Member for Northumberland, the unmitigated supporter of this bill, would have an indefinite prolongation of their powers. He wanted a sort of hereditary pachalic to be conferred upon the commissioners. He seemed to have the same objection to define the powers as to limit the duration of the commission. Perhaps, after all the noble Lord would be better pleased if the commissioners were allowed to provide for the administration of relief to the poor, only in such manner as they should themselves think 443 most expedient. Really, every discussion which took place upon this subject showed distinctly that there was no hope of obtaining any amelioration of this bill, and therefore he had no alternative but to oppose it entirely. If it were withdrawn, or if a pledge were given that the powers of the commissioners should be exercised with a degree of mildness which had been uniformly urged in that House, no advocate would be found for the abuses of the old system, and every disposition would be shown to support a system which would adequately provide relief to the sober and industrious but unfortunate poor.
§ Sir E. Filmer
rose to oppose the second reading of the bill. He had no objection to an amendment of the Poor-laws; but when he found that the provisions of the bill before the House would not ameliorate the condition of the poor, he could not give his support to it. He could not, however, vote for the amendment for this reason, namely, that it would be putting a veto upon any amendment of the Poor-law during the present year. He merely rose to set himself right with his constituents. He thought that in very many cases, such as those of a man with a family, out-door relief might be very properly given. If such relief were given, men, instead of being driven to the workhouse in cases of momentary distress might be placed in a situation to act honestly by their country and by themselves, doing their duty to their families, and causing much less trouble than was caused by the present system. As he said before, he could neither vote for the amendment nor for the second reading of the bill.
§ Mr. Langdale
begged to be allowed to make one or two observations upon a particular part of the question. In the first Session of the Parliament, he belonged to a committee which desired to enable the inmates of workhouses to go to their respective places of worship on the Sabbath day. The committee drew up a very strong resolution on this subject, and he had hoped that the bill of the noble Lord would have some clause embodying this desirable provision, for it was most unjust that inhabitants of workhouses should be kept months and years without ever being permitted to attend Divine worship at places of the persuasion to which they belonged. He regretted, that the noble Lord had overlooked that important point. 444 Therefore he should feel it his duty to move an amendment to meet this defect, either in the shape of a clause, or as an instruction to the committee. He should prefer introducing his amendment by way of a clause, or perhaps it would be better for him to wait for a more proper time, when he could move it by way of instruction to the committee, that some provision be made to the resolutions which had been unanimously agreed to by the committee, to the effect that it does seem highly desirable, on the Sabbath day, that the poor people inhabiting the workhouse should attend their respective houses of worship—that those who could not conscientiously join in the service of the Established Church should be allowed to go to their own places of worship. He thought such a clause would be only fair and reasonable, and he believed, that he might reckon upon the noble Lord's support in favour of it, who had introduced this amended bill into this House. In the detail of the report which had been drawn up by the noble chairman, great stress was laid upon this point. It was urged, and very properly so, that it was highly important that the poor should have the means of practising their religions duties. He did not object of course to those belonging to the Established Church, having every facility of performing their religious duties, but if they enjoyed so excellent a privilege, he thought it but fair and incumbent upon the framers of such a law, that they should allow all others the same privilege of attending on the Sabbath day their respective houses of worship. He wished to express his determination of pressing this clause upon the first fair opportunity, while he admitted that he would certainly vote for the second reading of this bill.
Mr. James said,
[amidst calls to "divide."] that it was not on his own account that he was anxious to address the House, but on account of those he represented. He could state with confidence, that in the county with which he had the honour to be connected, the New Poor-law was working most beneficially, and he would say that the unpopularity with which it was met when it was first introduced, had almost entirely disappeared. Before the introduction of that law it was the practice in the county to give out-door relief to the able-bodied and their families in 445 the shape of money, house rent, clothing, and medical attendance; which, under the old law, proved to be so very expensive and full of abuse. With regard to the workhouses, in the old system, they were found most inefficient—not one in the whole county was found efficient from want of classification, employment and discipline. With regard to those parishes which had no workhouse, it was the practice to farm out the poor—to let, as it were, the sick, the aged, and the infirm by auction to any person who would bid for them. It was a sort of Dutch auction, whoever would bid the least, and take them into his house, was declared to be the contractor. He knew an instance of a person agreeing to take these unfortunate persons in as low as 1s. 3d. per head per week. The hon. Member who seconded the amendment seemed greatly opposed to the present system, but he would ask him what could be more torturing than the old system, under which people were literally starved to death by inches. The funds were frequently abused and corruptly applied, and there was a total want of uniformity throughout the entire country. It was almost universally admitted, that under the present system of unions, those evils had been entirely remedied, that the aged and the sick poor were infinitely more comfortable and better cared for; that children were better instructed, and that medical attendance was adequately administered, and in every respect, the comforts of the poor were better attended to than under the old system. By the by, he should say, that the large number of disorderly habitual paupers were now converted into independent, industrious, active labourers; and more than that, those benefits were admitted and acknowledged by the poor themselves. This new system had also effected a reduction in the expenditure of the different unions, varying from twenty-five to forty per cent. He admitted, that the separating aged married people was rather a severe and harsh measure, and he saw no great necessity for the enforcement of this part of the system. There were, however, evils attending every system, but upon the whole he was in favour of this bill. He had, through good report and evil report supported the principles of this bill, for the principles were undoubtedly good. He took it, to be this, that the honest, hard-working, industrious man should not 446 be taxed for the support of the idle and the profligate. If it were proposed to give out-door relief as was the case under the old system, he considered that the security of property would be much endangered.
§ Mr. Fielden
complained, that the committee, before whom inquiry had been made as to the operation of the Poor-laws, was a most unfair one. It was a committee in whose labours the people placed no confidence. Let there be a fair inquiry, and if the result should show that the price of labour had been raised under the new law, he would no longer offer any objection to it; but he knew the fact was the very reverse, and that was the reason why he was determined to oppose this bill by every means in his power.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, that after the severe terms which had been used with respect to this bill, it was necessary for him to occupy the House for a short time, before proceeding to a division. One hon. Member, the Member for Finsbury, who had almost commenced this discussion, said, that this was an act based upon a ferocious and a savage principle; and another hon. Member stated, that while he was very anxious for inquiry, he was ready to oppose this bill in every shape and on every occasion. He considered, that this measure had met with a great deal of abuse, but with very little argument. In replying to some of the observations which had been made against it, he must claim the indulgence of the House. The hon. Member for Sussex had disputed the validity of an opinion which he had given upon this subject. He had stated the other night that this Poor-law Amendment Act was founded upon the principle of the law of Elizabeth; and to prove, that he was mistaken in such an assertion, the hon. Member had quoted a passage from Mr. Blackstone; but whatever might be Blackstone's opinions to the contrary, upon a great question like this, he begged leave to differ from Mr. Justice Blackstone. It appeared to him, that this amended bill was founded clearly upon the principle of Elizabeth. He held the principle of Elizabeth to be this—that, with regard to the old, the infirm, and the helpless, that relief should be given by the State. To the able-bodied relief should also be given when in distress, but in this case due precaution should be observed as to whether destitution had really existed or not. With respect to the aged and infirm, no further inquiry was necessary to be made, but with 447 respect to the able-bodied, it should be ascertained whether those were persons who were really suffering from destitution and want, or preferred living in idleness and receiving alms, to seeking for employment, and earning their bread by their industry. The act of Elizabeth pointed out the mode even in which relief should be administered, but this was for a period when there were few manufactories, and a large population wandering about the country—when it was not easy to find out employment for the poor, and at a time, even, when the wool of England used to be sent into Tuscany to be manufactured. They must, however, now act according to the circumstances of the country, and their own time. The aspect of the country was now very different from what it was then. All kinds of manufactures have been since established, and every species of labour and employment was practissed with great skill and industry in this country, which opened a large field for the employment of the able-bodied poor. They must, at the same time, take care that they did not preserve regulations which would set up rivals on parish pay to interfere with competent workmen. The same principle had been acted on in 1795, by the Duke of Wellington, then holding a command in the East Indies, who laid down, as clearly as possible, rules which were in effect the basis both of the Act of Elizabeth, and the Poor-law Amendment Act. A great famine had occurred, and it became necessary that relief should be given to the destitute population. The noble Lord read a minute by the noble Duke, in which it was stated, that those who suffered from the famine might be divided into two classes—those who could, and those who could not, work. For the former class, employment should be found; those who could not work ought to be taken to the hospital and fed, and receive medical assistance at the expense of the public. Above all, the principle must be adhered to, that no able-bodied person should be relieved who was not willing to work. In this passage, continued the noble Lord, we see clearly pointed out the necessity of some test by which those who sought relief from the mere wish to avoid work and live in idleness, should be distinguished from those who were willing to submit to labour. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Sussex, said, that labour procured outside of the workhouse was a better test than what was afforded the poor within. Now, this was a point which 448 he did not think necessary on the second reading of this bill to discuss. He would merely, in proceeding further with his observations, remark that there might be some argument in that assertion, for he should suppose, that hand labour, given with discretion, might be a test fully equal to the workhouse test; but he must say, from his individual experience, and from that of others who possessed the greatest knowledge of the poor, that the most efficient and successful method of relieving parishes extensively pauperised, was by the workhouse system; and the House would find, that the most of those gentlemen who had made it their study to inquire into this subject, had come to the opinion, that the workhouse test was decidedly the best. The House would find their experience and their evidence upon the subject in the report which had been agreed to by the committee of inquiry. While that committee had recommended that there should be established a general board to administer the laws, it likewise recommended that the relief given should be on the workhouse test. What was the principle of that system? The principle was, that relief should be given to the destitute. The next question, then, for them to consider was, whether in the mode of giving relief to the destitute, they could make any great improvement. He was not now speaking as to the advantages of workhouse relief before any other, but to know whether any relaxations could be made in the present provisions of the bill. Now, although he had heard many hard names and severe terms applied to the commissioners, he had never heard one suggestion made for an alteration in this particular part of the system, that would not bring them back to the former state of things connected with the abuses of the original law. No man was better able to judge of this matter, or more acquainted with the practice followed in different localities, than the right hon. Member for Kent (Sir E. Knatchbull), who had stated pointedly in what respect he differed from the commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman differed from the advice they had given that in certain cases of labourers being thrown out of employment, the parties should either be sent to the workhouse, or the heads of families should be sent there and employed on some labour, or they should be employed on some labour in the neighbourhood of the workhouse, but outside its doors. The right hon. Member for Kent thought that in a peculiarly severe winter like the 449 present, when the poor could not obtain work, the commissioners might have relaxed their rules, and allowed the poor to be relieved in their own houses without any further inquiry than the mere ascertainment of the fact of their being without work. He thought, however, if they were to act on that opinion, they would never be able to prevent the old abuses, or maintain the principle of the amended law. In the very next winter after you should have done so the same application would be made, the same complaints would be renewed: it would be said that though the winter might not be as severe as the last, still the men were destitute, without work or wages, and the consequence at length would be, that you would revive all the other evils of the former system. He was of opinion with his noble Friend the Member for Northumberland (Viscount Howick) that there was very great danger of giving way in this respect. Many changes were proposed to which separately it might seem harsh not to agree, and yet, if you did, you would, step by step, return to all the evils from which the new law had delivered the country. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) and others who had spoken had described this law as very severe to the poor. The word "poor" was one which might conveniently be used both of labourers receiving wages and of paupers. What he said was, that the law was for the benefit of the industrious labourers of this country, and that the old state of things, passing over now the great waste, passing over the destruction of property which it would in the end have occasioned, passing over the general idleness and demoralization which it induced, had for one of its worst effects the destruction of the welfare of the industrious labourers. He took this fact on the authority of magistrates, farmers, overseers, and others; and, in the original report, which received the sanction of the Bishops of London and Chester, of Mr. Senior, and many other members of the commission of inquiry, who were not members of the present commission, numerous cases were detailed, in which labourers gave their views of the injurious effects which the ancient state of things produced to themselves. Some of them stated, thatThe farmers had refused to pay able-bodied labourers the full prices, in consequence of their being able to go to the overseers of the poor and obtain from them labourers at nearly half the full rate of wages, the residue to be paid out of the poor-rates by the shopkeepers and landowners—that the idle were 450 encouraged to the prejudice and ruin of the industrious labourer.In a vast number of parishes, especially in the southern, western, and some of the midland districts, the labourers were kept under the old system in a state of great distress, many of them receiving money from the parish rates on account of the numbers of their family, in virtue of some such law as that made in a meeting of magistrates at Speenhamland in 1795, which depressed industry. In consequence they often became heartbroken, living on the public alms, because they found it impossible with all their labour to earn a decent subsistence. For the sake of the labourers he now asked them not to recall into existence the system by which they had suffered. If they suffered the law to be broken down, the superintendence of the commissioners to be slackened, such were the facilities and temptations to abuse of the old system, that the pernicious effects of it would speedily again be experienced. He could not think, after all the testimony which had been adduced as to the comparative operation of the two systems, that they were injuring, instead of benefiting the poor, by keeping up the law. He believed the best thing that could be done for the labourer was to give him every possible facility to obtain employment, and to take care that his wages should be the result of a fair contract between his employer and himself, for labour performed. But if under the guise of improvement you again permitted the labourers to live on charity, and reduced them to their former state of dependence, although the proceeding might have an air of popularity at first, and be lauded by many persons as showing great benevolence, you would, in fact, destroy the moral character of the labourer; you would weaken his strength, and undermine his integrity; you would lay the foundation of a great overgrown population, whom your laws could not restrain, whom even the sanctions of religion would be hardly able to curb into obedience, and you would be taking the surest means to ruin the foundation of society. With respect to the proposition of the right hon. Member for Tamworth to limit the duration of the commission to five years, he should be extremely sorry to see it adopted. The present was now a fitting time for Parliament to say whether or not it would pronounce its approval of this system. He believed the commissioners were fully as much as was necessary under the control of Parliament. It was in the power of the Crown to remove any one of 451 them, and it was quite impossible that their conduct should be opened to much well-founded censure without taking it out of the power of Government to defend them. By making this limitation their authority would be weakened; it would be said that it was not intended by Parliament again to renew the law, and that there was such a general dissatisfaction with it as to render its repeal inevitable. After the bill went into committee, he should be ready to hear and consider any proposals for its amendment, but he should look with great jealousy at any one that went to impair the principle of what he looked upon as a most humane and most benevolent law.
§ The House divided on the original question. Ayes 201; Noes 54; Majority 147.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acland, T. D.||Cowper, hon. W. F.|
|A'Court, Captain||Crawford, W.|
|Adam, Admiral||Currie, R.|
|Ainsworth, P.||Dalmeny, Lord|
|Alston, R.||Damer, hon. D.|
|Anson, hon. C.||Darby G.|
|Baker, E.||Divett, E.|
|Baring, rt. hn. F. T.||Dundas, F.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Dundas, D.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Eaton, R. J.|
|Barrington, Viscount||Ellice, right hon. E.|
|Basset, J.||Ellice, E|
|Bentinck Lord G.||Erle, W.|
|Berkeley, hon. H.||Ewart, W.|
|Berkeley, hon. C.||Ferguson, R.|
|Bernal, R.||Fitzroy, Lord C.|
|Bewes, T.||Fort, J.|
|Blake, W. J.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Blennerhasset, A.||Gladstone, W. E.|
|Bodkin, J. J.||Gladstone, J, N.|
|Botfield, B.||Glynne, Sir S. R.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Goulburn, rt. hn. H.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Graham, rt. hn Sir J.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Grant, Sir A. C.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Greene, T.|
|Bruges, W. H. L.||Greg, R. H.|
|Buller, C.||Grey, rt. hn. Sir C.|
|Buller, E.||Grey, rt. hn. Sir G.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Grote, G.|
|Bulwer, Sir L.||Harcourt, G. S.|
|Busfield, W.||Hardinge, right hon. Sir H.|
|Campbell, Sir J.|
|Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.||Harland, W. C.|
|Cantilupe, Viscount||Hastie, A.|
|Carew, hon. R. S.||Hawes, B.|
|Chalmers, P.||Hawkins, J. H.|
|Chichester, Sir B.||Hayter, W. G.|
|Chute, W. L. W.||Heron, Sir R.|
|Clay, W.||Herries, rt. hn. J. C.|
|Clements, Viscount||Hill, Lord A M. C.|
|Clive, E. B.||Hobhouse, right hon. Sir J.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.|
|Collier, J.||Hobhouse, T. B.|
|Coote, Sir C. H.||Hogg, J. W.|
|Corbally, M. E.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Horsman, E.||Rawdon, Col. J. D.|
|Howard, hn. E. G. G.||Redington, T. N.|
|Howard, F. J.||Rice, E. R.|
|Howard, hn. C.W.G.||Rich, H.|
|Howick, Viscount||Rickford, W.|
|Hume, J.||Rose, rt. hn. Sir G.|
|Hutt, W.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Hutton, R.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Ingham, R.||Russell, Lord C.|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.|
|James, W.||Salwey, Colonel|
|Knatchbull, right hn. Sir E.||Sandon, Viscount|
|Sanford, E. A.|
|Knight, H. G.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Labouchere, rt.hn. H.||Seale, Sir J. H.|
|Langdale, hon. C.||Seymour, Lord|
|Lascelles, hon. W. S.||Shaw, right hon. F.|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Sheil, rt. hn. R. L.|
|Lennox, Lord G.||Slaney, R. A.|
|Litton, E.||Smith, J. A.|
|Loch, J.||Smith, R. V.|
|Lowther, J. H.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Lushington, C.||Stanley, Lord|
|Lushington, rt. hn. S.||Stanley, hon. W.O.|
|Macaulay, rt. hn. T.B.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Macnamara, Major||Staunton, Sir G. T.|
|Marshall, W.||Steuart, R.|
|Marlin, J.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Melgund, Viscount||Stuart, W. V.|
|Morpeth, Viscount||Stock, Mr. Serjeant|
|Morris, D.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Morrison, J.||Strutt, E.|
|Muskett, G. A.||Style, Sir C.|
|Nagte, Sir R.||Surrey, Earl of|
|Nicholl, J.||Talfourd, Mr. Serjeant|
|Norreys, Lord||Tancred, H. W.|
|O'Brien, C.||Teignmouth, Lord|
|O'Brien, W. S.||Thornely, T.|
|O'Connell, M. J.||Trotter, J.|
|O'Ferrall, R. M.||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Ord, W.||Tufnell, H.|
|Ossulston, Lord||Villiers, hon. C. P.|
|Paget, Lord A.||Vivian, Major C.|
|Paget, F.||Vivian. rt. hn. Sir R.H.|
|Pakington, J. S.||Warburton, H.|
|Palmerston, Viscount||Ward, H. G.|
|Parker, J.||Welby, G. E.|
|Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.||Westenra, hn. H. R.|
|Pattison, J.||White, A.|
|Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.||Wood, Colonel T.|
|Pendarves, E. W. W.||Wood, B.|
|Philips, M.||Worsley, Lord|
|Pigot, right hon. D.||Wrightson, W. B.|
|Plumptre, J. P.||Wyse, T.|
|Ponsonby, C. F. A. C.||Young, J.|
|Praed, W. T.||TELLERS.|
|Protheroe, E.||Maule, hon. F.|
|Pryme, G.||Stanley, hon. E, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Archdall, M.||Brotherton, J.|
|Attwood, W.||Brownrigg, S.|
|Baldwin, C. B.||Burr, H.|
|Bell, M.||Copeland, Alderman|
|Btackstone, W. S.||Dalrymple, Sir A.|
|Broad wood, H.||Dick, Q.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Irton, S.|
|Duke, Sir J.||Jervis, J.|
|Duncombe, T.||Johnson, General|
|Duncombe, hon. W.||Leader, J. T.|
|Duncombe, hon. A.||Liddell, hon. H. T.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Monypenny, T. G.|
|Etwall, R.||Muntz, G.'F.|
|Evans, Sir De L.||O'Connell, D.|
|Fielden, W.||O'Connell, J.|
|Fielden, J.||Pechell, Captain|
|Fitzroy, hon. H.||Pigot, R.|
|Godson, It.||Polhill, F.|
|Goro, O. J. R,||Richards, R.|
|Goring, H. D.||Rushout, G.|
|Grimsditch, T.||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Halford, H.||Spry, Sir S. T.|
|Hawkes, T.||Stanley, E.|
|Heathcoat, J.||Thompson, Mr. Ald.|
|Hinde, J. H.||Williams, W.|
|Hodges, T. L.||TELLERS.|
|Hodgson, F.||D'Israeli, D.|
|Hodgson, R.||Wakley, T.|
§ Bill read a second time.