HC Deb 29 January 1841 vol 56 cc154-74
Lord John Russell

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a "Bill to continue the Poor-law Commission for a time to be limited, and for the further amendment of the Laws relating to the Poor in England." He did not feel it to be necessary to go into any general statement upon the present occasion, the House having formerly not merely sanctioned the principle of the measure, but passed, last Session, two other bills, in order to continue and extend its operation, the one to continue the Poor-law Commission till the close of the present Session of Parliament; the other embracing certain amendments, chiefly for the purpose of facilitating the measures of the commissioners, and extending the operation of the bill, by enabling them without the consent of the guardians to unionize the parishes which were under what was called Gilbert's Act. Clauses very nearly to the same effect he proposed to introduce into the present bill. He proposed in the same bill to introduce clauses to continue the Poor-law Commission, and as they had exercised their powers most beneficially to the public, as the Government considered their services not only of essential benefit, but necessary to the continuance of the system, he proposed that their powers should be continued for ten years. With these observations only, he begged leave to move for leave to bring in "A Bill to continue the Poor-law Commission for ten years, and for the further amendment of the Laws relating to the Poor in England."

Mr. Grimsditch

could not suffer that opportunity to pass without entering his protest against the unconstitutional character and tendencies of this bill. Its great principle was to govern by unions, and to place enormous powers in the hands of an irresposible and most objectionable body. When the measure was first introduced, it was distinctly stated by Lord Althorp, that the powers of the commissioners (which he admitted were of an unconstitutional character) were vested in them merely for a temporary purpose, and not only should not be continued beyond five years, but he understood the noble Lord to go the length of giving a pledge, that no attempt would ever be made to renew the commission. [Lord John Russell: No, no.] The noble Lord dissented; perhaps he knew better what Lord Althorp meant to say, and he was not disinclined to defer to anything which fell from the noble Lord upon that point. His opinion, however, was diametrically the reverse of the noble Lord's with reference to the administration of the law by the commissioners at Somerset House. So far from having acted satisfactorily, and for the interests of the public, he believed their acts had introduced confusion into almost every union in the kingdom. Their unions were all too large. In fact, it would be impossible to work out such unions at all in the north of England. He could point out many instances in which the system, most unnecessary he maintained in all cases, had created great discontent, the burdens on the public being augmented, while the condition of the poor was worse than before. It was impossible to conceal the dissatisfaction that existed with reference to the dietary lists of the workhouses. The newspapers were filled with the accounts of oppression inflicted on the unfortunate inmates, and, as the result of inquiries called for by public opinion, a master of a workhouse bad been convicted of an assault in the enforcement of punishments never before heard of. But, with respect to the impractibility of the system, he would adduce a single instance—the Macclesfield union. It consisted of forty-two townships, extending over an area of 60,000 acres, with a population of 70,000. It was governed by fifty guardians, of whom eleven only were returned for Macclesfield and the adjoining townships constituting part of the parliamentary borough, their population being upwards of two-thirds of the entire union, some rated at 1,000l. a-year-, some at 500l., and a very large number at from 100l. to 200l. In the memorial lately addressed by the town of Macclesfield to Somerset House these things had been represented to the commissioners, in order that the union might be dissolved and reconstructed within a more reasonable and practicable compass. But the commissioners would not interfere. The answer they returned was evasive. It was impossible that those unions could work in the north of England. In the union to which he had adverted, there were no less than 3,000 paupers on the books. Some parts of the union were situate more than ten miles from the central point where the guardians met. In some parts no guardians could be had to work without being paid for their attendance, and by some contrivance there was actually a number of farmers who were paid guardians. They positively outnumbered those to whom the proper management of the law should be intrusted. While the well-meaning, but really ignorant, were allowed to swamp the intelligent and high-rated, it would be impossible satisfactorily to work those unions. With respect to the bill, he could not help thinking that the Government would have to regret the step they were now taking. There was much discontent in the country, and he regretted to see it had been fanned almost into flame by the working of the New Poor-law. He was satisfied they would increase rather than diminish that feeling by this measure. Why should powers of so extensive and dangerous a character be given to persons like the commissioners? Why was the country to be overrun by their assistant commissioners? He understood the Act of Parliament had limited the number, bnt they had doubled it. Under these circumstances he must protest against the motion of the noble Lord. If the bill to be introduced should contain clauses for relaxing the severities and ameliorating the operation of the New Poor-law Act, he should hail the amendment with much satisfaction; but if they proposed to abide by their principle and attempt to carry out the law by a system of unions, they might depend upon it a fair trial would never be had for it so long as they intrusted such obnoxious and irresponible powers to the commissioners—too vast and dangerous even for a Secretary of State to possess; and which, judging from their acts, they had used so badly for the interests of the public.

Mr. Wakley

wished to know if it was the intention of the noble Lord to introduce two bills? He should have thought, that the noble Secretary would have submitted two motions. There could be no objection to an amendment of the existing Poor-laws. He was sure the House and the country desired such an amendment. But then there was another proposal annexed to this—that the Poor-law Commission should be continued ten years, He believed that proposal of the noble Lord would not receive the sanction of that House. Assuredly it would not receive the sanction of the public. He would, therefore, really submit to the noble Lord, if he wished to take the sense of the House fairly on this question, that he should divide his bill into two parts, obviously prescribed by the nature of the question—the one to amend the law, the other to continue the commission. He had expected that the noble Lord would not content himself with making so brief a statement as he had submitted to the House on a subject of such vast national importance. He did expect they would have heard on that occasion a full developement, as far as the noble Lord could make it, of the effects which the existing law had produced on the interests of the people, together with such statistical data as should have satisfied the House of the necessity of the changes proposed; but, so far as the leader of the House was concerned, they were left in utter ignorance both as to its operation and the necessity of some changes in the bill. He for one had to repeat his hope that the noble Lord would not object to put his proposition in two parts—founding a separate motion on each—the one to continue the Poor-law Commission, the other to amend the present law; but if the noble Lord declined to adopt that suggestion, he for one, in assenting to the introduction of a bill for the amendment of the present law, begged most distinctly and unhesitatingly to declare that he should oppose the other object in all its stages. The commissioners had failed in giving satisfaction to the public. It was considered to be an useless institution, and a most expensive one. He believed the people would not grudge the expense if they believed the institution was necessary to the poor; but the law was regarded as a harsh and inhuman law. It was considered to be a law un-suited to the charitable and kindly disposition of the people of this country; and he was amazed that a Ministry calling itself reformed, relying for support on the good wishes of the people, should propose the continuance of such a law after the experience they had had of its pernicious, and in his opinion, most cruel working. It had the effect of taking from the people the administration of their own affairs in matters most deeply affecting their own interests, depriving them of the means of applying their own money to the relief of the necessitous in their own neighbourhoods. Was the noble Lord prepared to show the necessity for the continuance of the commission? He really was anxious to learn what it was that the commissioners were to effect. Was the law to be in the will of the commissioners? Or was the law to be on the statute-books of the realm? If the Poor-law of the country was to be a recognized well-understood law—a law upon well-defined and intelligible principles, it might easily and safely be well administered; but if it were only to be an appeal from the cruel disposition and tyrannical decrees of a board of guardians to the commissioners at Somerset-house themselves, creating whatever laws they thought fit—if such was the unconstitutional mode of governing the poor, the sooner the system was got rid of the better. It was a most despotic creation of authority, constituting Somerset-house more powerful than any authority which even that House could exercise. He held in his hand a small book, which he had obtained a short time since from Somerset-house, entitled Amended Workhouse Rules. Heaven only knew what the rules were before, which these were intended to amend; but what did he find under the head "Discipline and Diet of Paupers?" He believed it was generally admitted, that in our gaols no severer punishment could be inflicted than the silent system. Our criminals complained that they were cruelly and unjustly treated by being subjected to the operation of the silent system. Was the new law to enable the commissioners safely to carry out the silent system in the workhouses? He did not know whether the noble Lord was aware of the nature of the document he held in his hand. He ought at least to have been put in possession of it. The information should have been communicated to the noble Lord before it was brought into operation with reference to the public. There was a provision in the Poor-law Amendment Act, which required that every general rule, when made, should be submitted to the Secretary of State before it obtained the force of law. But, in order to evade the responsibility and inconvenience of such criticism in every instance, a particular rule, as it was called, was made for each particular union, and thus no general rules were submitted to the Secretary of State with reference to the government of the workhouses. What, then, said the "amended" regulation he held in his hand? It stated, that All paupers in workhouses, except the sick and those of the first, fourth, and seventh classes, shall rise, be set to work, leave off work, and go to bed at the times mentioned in a subsequent table marked A, and be allowed such intervals for their meals as therein stated; these several times shall be noted by the ringing of a bell, and during the time of meals silence shall be maintained. They were to be kept to work all other hours, but at meal times, even in the workhouse, silence was to be observed. Here, then, was the introduction of that system which was regarded as most penal when experienced by our criminals in the professed administration of relief to those unfortunate beings who stretched out their hands for alms in the hour of sad necessity. Was it, then, to enforce regulations of this kind, that the Poor-law Commission was continued? And if it were not to enforce such regulations, why, he asked, was the country to be saddled with such an expensive machinery? He, for one, saw no necessity for the continuance of the commission; if he did, in the remotest degree, he would be one of the first to support it, for nothing could be more desirable in a country boasting of its civilization than to make adequate provision for the due administration of the law with reference to the poor. But when it was proposed to inflict on those individuals in the workhouse the same species of punishment inflicted upon, and most dreaded by, criminals in our gaols, he must say the law wanted humanity for its principle, and discretion for its guidance. In the office he had the honour to fill, he had ample opportunities of witnessing the operation of the law. He had most ample opportunities of knowing what were the feelings of the middle classes of society in relation to it. He met the middle classes of society in large numbers almost every day of his life. He scarcely found one out of ten approve of the operation of this law. The feeling against it was universal; it was increasing in force; it was deep-rooted; it was not to be shaken. One and all contended that there was no necessity for such a law; one and all asked why such a law was enacted, unless to drive the poor from making any application at all to the workhouse, rendering it a scene of apprehension and torture, rather than a place for the administration of relief. He knew of two instances occurring in one week, of persons who preferred death rather than go into the workhouse. They declared they would rather die than be separated from their children in the manner proposed by the New Poor-law, and they did die rather than go into the workhouse. What was the humane system of classification of paupers adopted in the Kensington union? The parish consisted of 40,000 persons; but that was not considered large enough to form one local government, and it was formed into an union consisting of 120,000, so that the poor had to travel miles and miles, from Kensal-green to Kensington, for instance, before they could apply to the workhouse. There was no workhouse in the parish of Paddington. In one instance a remarkably fine child, twelve months old, having been exposed at the door of a house in the Edgeware-road, was found by a policman, who took it to the station-house. It was still alive, and stretched out its hands to play with a dog. It was then capable of laughing. It was in the first week in December. The policeman took two hours to find his way to the workhouse, and the child died. The verdict was, "Died from exposure to cold;" and, as the jury considered that the mother had exposed the child for the purpose of killing it by the cold, they returned a verdict of wilful murder against her. Her unnatural conduct was no doubt influenced by the cruelties she would have been exposed to in the workhouse. Such a law was not to be endured. Those who thought the country would become reconciled to such acts of inhumanity and cruelty were utterly deceived in their estimates of the English character. He entreated the House to pause before it sanctioned the renewal of the commission which had done so much violence to the feelings of humanity. How were the paupers classed in the Kensington union? There was separation with a vengeance. The fathers of families were at Kensington, the mothers at Chelsea, the daughters at Fulham, and the sons in the parish of Hampstead. Fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters, located in four houses in different parishes! Before the House consented to the introduction of a bill to continue the commissioners, he thought the noble Lord ought in justice to state, for the satisfaction of the public, whether their authority would, in future, be exercised as it had been up to the present time. He wanted to know whether the softening hand of kindness was to be applied to the new bill, or whether it would exhibit all the odious, harsh, un-English features of the old law? Most anxious as he was to see the existing law amended, no one could be more strongly opposed to the continuance of the commission; and, if the latter provision were insisted on as a part of the bill, he sincerely hoped it would not be enacted into a law. He trusted that the amendments would tend to soften the asperities and cruelties of the existing system; then he should hail its progress with delight and satisfaction. But if, on the other hand, the commissioners were to be continued in the full exercise of their authority, and made the scapegoats of all the guardians in the country who desired to act with cruelty to the poor, he would, with all his might, oppose its introduction and its progress in every stage through that House.

Mr. Hind

said, he could not agree with the hon. Member for Finsbury, that the proceedings of the Poor-law Commissioners had been altogether characterized by harshness and cruelty, but he did agree with him that before the noble Lord called upon the House to continue the powers of the commissioners he ought to show some ground for the continuance, and give some reason why the further administration of the Poor-laws could not be intrusted to persons locally interested. When first the Poor-law Amendment Act came into operation, it was necessary that very large discretionary powers should be given to the commissioners, but that necessity, he thought, did not now exist. The course that should be taken now was this:—The rules and regulations which had been laid down by the Poor-law Commissioners, should be reported to the House and examined into. Such as were deemed necessary and proper might then receive the sanction of Parliament by an express vote in both Houses, and be placed on the statute-book; while those which were objectionable (and he believed there were many of that description) could be expunged and annulled by the same authority. He hoped that those hon. Gentlemen in the Opposition who had supported the Government on this question would not continue that support unless adequate reasons were given by the noble Lord, for prolonging the extraordinary powers of the Poor-law Commissioners. He would conclude by asking the noble Lord, whether it was his intention to continue, not merely the powers of the Commissioners at Somerset-house, but also that vast and expensive machinery, the sub-commissioners, who were dispersed all over the country? He asked that question because it was the intention of the House at the time, and, he believed, of the Government also, that the object of appointing sub-commissioners was to facilitate the division of the country into unions, and effect that preliminary organization throughout the land which was thought necessary for the due administration of the law. If that great object, however, had not been entirely carried into effect, he should not oppose the further continuance of the powers of the sub-commissioners for a limited time, say for a year or two. But when the noble Lord talked of ten years, he must confess that he regarded such a proposition as an attempt to perpetuate the system; and he warned the House, that if they passed the bill for extending the powers of the Poor-law Commissioners for ten years, they would, in fact, be rendering permanent a vast expense to the country.

Captain Pechell

expressed his approbation of the observations which had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, and those which the hon. Member on his right (Mr. Wakley) had addressed to the House. But, at the same time, he must say, that he did not find fault with the noble Lord for omitting what those hon. Gentlemen desired to know. The noble Lord had stated quite enough to alarm him. He referred to the provisions in the new bill for putting down the corporations under Mr. Gilbert's Act, and annihilating Local Acts under which many towns were governed. Armed as he had been with petitions and remonstrances against any such inroad upon the Gilbert unions, he must protest against the proposition of the noble Lord, for he believed that it was impossible to find any fault in them, and therefore it was impossible to amend or improve them. The only objection to them was found in the jealousy of the Commissioners, who regarded them as so many blanks, or rather blots, in their map, interfering with their new unions. Now, he did not wish to oppose the introduction of the bill, or of any amendment the noble Lord might think proper to bring forward, but he hoped that those parts of the bill affecting the Gilbert unions, and the local acts governing parishes, would be omitted.

Mr. Darby

said, he was not quite sure that he could agree in the recommendation of the hon. Member for Finsbury, that the noble Lord should divide his bill into two bills, because he was afraid in that case that the noble Lord would carry the bill for the further continuance of the power of the Commissioners for ten years, and that the other bill, for amending the present law, would then be lost sight of altogether. He hoped, therefore, that when the noble Lord obtained leave to bring in his bill, he would have it printed and circulated without delay, and give an early notice of the second reading, in order that hon. Members might have an opportunity to consider its various provisions.

Sir C. Grey

observed, that the old Poor-law had been proved to be a bad law, if not in principle, at least in practice, by" a majority of reports from all quarters of the country, while the system now in existence, whatever faults might be imputed to it, was, at all events, one that ought to be prolonged, inasmuch as it had set up a barrier against that invasion of property which was threatened by the rapid increase of pauperism in the country. But, if the present system ought not to be continued entirely in its present shape, at least some substitute should be provided. He thought the present system well calculated for those paupers who might be considered to have, either by their own fault or neglect, become burthensome to the country, and indeed for any class of paupers except those who had been industrious persons, and formed what he would call the meritorious class of destitute poor. But he did not think the system sufficient for all the demands of poverty in this country; and he most entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury as far as his remarks were applicable to the condition of the meritorious poor. Would any Member of that House get up and deny that there was such a class of paupers, or that they were a numerous class? Was it possible for hon. Gentlemen to shut their eyes to the fact, that in the manufacturing districts there were hundreds, nay, thousands of persons, who might be reduced to destitution without any fault of their own, but simply by the mere fluctuations of trade? He might appeal to the gentlemen acquainted with the state of the agricultural districts, especially in the southern counties, and ask, had they not themselves expressed their surprise that the very labourers who had tilled their estates and raised from them the rents which they enjoyed, were unable to provide for their families, and were standing on the verge of destitution? Over-exertion might, in a moment, reduce a man, who had been tempted to that over-exertion in his desire to provide for his wife and family, to a state of utter poverty and helplessness, so that they would all be compelled to seek relief at the workhouse door. But was it honourable to this country, claiming for itself the character of an enlightened and Christian country, that the sole provision for its meritorious poor should be, that they must be thrust into central workhouses, the several members of each family being separated and draughted to four different houses situated in different and distant places? He would pass by the dietary, and the sense of degradation, as having even less of pain and affliction connected with them than that circumstance of separation alone. But he had no wish to enter further into these details. Should the noble Lord bring in his bill without further amendments he would support it, because he believed that the present system worked some good, and ought not, therefore, to be discontinued. Still, he contended that a great, powerful, and rich country like this, which was spreading its arms over the whole world, and spending its millions in carrying its sway into the remotest corners of the globe, ought to have some proper and permanent provision for its meritorious poor. He would suggest that a supplementary power should be given to vestries or parochial meetings to give relief to deserving cases. He rejoiced to see that the first bill brought in by the noble Lord was one to amend the Poor-law Amendment Act, and also that the first bill introduced into the other House of Parliament by another noble Lord was one for the regulation of vestry meetings; and his only regret was, that there was no indication of any power being conveyed to those meetings for raising money wherewith to relieve the meritorious poor as they deserved to be relieved.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that in the present state of the House and of the question before the House, he would certainly not trespass on its patience at any great length; for he did not wish to see a discussion carried on which might be considered, in many respects, premature; at all events, under the present circumstances, and at the present moment, it was scarcely ripe for the attention of the House. At the same time, having always objected to this measure, he could not refrain from observing how much experience had confirmed the views he had held and expressed respect- ing it. He had always said, and he now said again, that it was in every point of view a most unconstitutional measure, at once repugnant to the feelings, and habits, and opinions, of the people at large, and calculated to undermine the best feelings, the morals, and the happiness, of the whole population of this country. He had opposed the Poor-law Amendment Act because he felt that it was not merely an experiment, but a most dangerous and very rash experiment. However, standing very nearly alone at that time, and there being a pretty general impression, that the mismanagement and misapplication of funds under the old poor laws cried out for reform, as they certainly did, the new bill was passed; but his humble opinion was then, as now, that reforms might have been constitutionally effected, and therefore in a manner free from the grave objections to which the present system was open. In fact, the present law was so erroneous—fundamentally erroneous—that he did not believe it was in the power of the noble Lord to frame it so as to make it what it ought to be—a permanent measure, and fit to be adopted in this country. He would not attempt to repeat what the hon. Member for Finsbury had so powerfully stated; but he desired to declare his entire concurrence in the views of that hon. Member, and he would go further, and say, that if the hon. Member had the power to move, that this bill be thrown out at once, and altogether disposed of, and that a new system be established, he should be quite proud to vote with him to that extent. He was quite satisfied that it was impossible ever to make this bill palatable to the people of this country, or to bring the thinking men in this country to approve of the erection of such a tribunal as that which had been set up at Somerset House—a tribunal possessing powers more exorbitant and irresponsible than had ever been exercised by any tribunal under any circumstances, or in any times. The unions of parishes, and the centralization of districts which had taken place, must be pregnant with mischiefs, because the proper administration of poor laws demanded that attention to details which rendered it impossible for any board whatever, even if composed of the ablest men in the world, to frame those rules and regulations which, without consideration of local circumstances, or any regard to the character of the poor, could work justly and satisfactorily. It was impossible, he repeated, to frame one unbending system of poor-laws that would not be found in practice utterly impracticable, unless hardships were imposed upon those who ought to be believed, and all the paupers were brought to one undistinguishing level. Such a system must uproot the best feelings, and eventually destroy the morals of the population. He believed the present system of poor-laws the most dangerous that had ever been introduced into this country; as an experiment it had totally failed, but it had been a cruel experiment. He would give his strenuous opposition to the further continuance of what he conceived to be a harsh and tyrannical law. The whole system required revision and reformation, but he confessed he had no hope that any good laws could be framed upon such notions as those upon which this measure had been introduced, or upon such principles as it was sought to be established.

Mr. Hume

said, that having been one of those who supported the Poor-law Amendment Act, he could not allow the observation of the hon. Baronet, that it was founded on erroneous principles, to pass in silence. He was aware as well as ins hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, though he had not had so many opportunities of observing the operation of the poor-laws, that many cases of hardship had occurred; but it was impossible to prevent that. At the same time he was not to be unjust to those who had introduced the measure to check the greater evils which existed under the old law. Even the hon. Baronet himself admitted, that there had been cases of misappropriation of funds under the former system. As to the deserving poor, he believed that the very object of the Poor-law Amendment Act was to make a distinction between poverty undeserved and those who had become poor through their own vice or misconduct. He regretted that some abuses did exist under the new law, but he hoped that the effect of the bill now moved for by the noble Lord would be to remedy those abuses; and if any amelioration with regard to the classification of paupers could be made, he should be as glad as his hon. Friend to see it effected.

Mr. A. White

said, that having acted as chairman of the Sunderland board of guardians, his attention had been drawn to the working of the Poor-law Amendment Act, and as far as his experience and observation went, he must say, that it had operated very beneficially to the poor, and that nine-tenths of the middle and lower classes in the north of England were in favour of the present system.

Mr. Liddell

observed, that though the hon. Member who had just sat down had stated, that nine-tenths of the lower and middle classes in the north of England were in favour of the new Poor-law, he could only declare, that his experience was entirely different, for he had found very little disposition indeed to acquiesce in the regulations of the present system. He must also state, that having originally objected to the introduction of the law into the northern counties, he had not seen anything in its working that at all reconciled his opinions to it, or would induce him to consent to its continuance. As far as regarded the adjudication of relief to the poor, he had always said, that he thought that might be much more safely left to the discretion of the guardians than placed under the rigid rules and regulations of a commission sitting at Somerset House. He was sick of hearing that relief was to be administered on just principles, because what were called just principles frequently led to unjust practice Many instances in which injustice had been suffered had been recorded in the public prints; many instances had also come under his own observation, that justified him in giving that character to the administration of the law. If in any bill that the noble Lord brought before the House for the amendment of the law it should be proposed to extend the duration of the commission, he gave the noble Lord fair notice, that he would not support him in the proposition, whether it should go to continue the commission for ten years, or for one only. That portion of the bill should receive his decided opposition; and as to the other portions, he should wait till the bill was laid on the Table to know how far he could or could not support it.

Lord J. Russell

said, that the motion he had made was for leave to bring in a bill to continue the powers of the commissioners for a limited time, and for the further amendment of the law relating to the poor. He had thought it right to state to the House the period for which he proposed that the powers of the commissioners should be prolonged. It was for the House to decide whether the period should be one, or ten, or any number of years, but the length was not essential to the measure he had asked leave to introduce. He did not think it necessary on such an occasion as the present to state either the general principles of the Poor-law, or its effects. He refrained from doing so, not only because a similar bill was introduced last year, and was before the House some time, but because he thought there was no subject on which a greater mass of information had been given to the House and the country than on this of the Poor-laws. Before the original bill was introduced, inquiries were made by commissioners appointed for that purpose, and the results of those inquiries were circulated throughout the country. Ever since the commission charged with the administration of the law had existed, annual reports had been presented to the Secretary of State, and laid before Parliament. Both branches of the Legislature had also instituted inquiries of their own, and numerous witnesses had been examined in the course of more than one Session. With respect to the hill now to be brought in, a volume containing a special report, with information from various quarters, and the remarks of the commissioners, were presented by him (Lord J. Russell) in the course of last Session, bearing the date of 1839. Therefore it appeared to him, that the House, being now in possession of all the information it could require, besides the experience which many Members of this and the other House of Parliament had obtained as chairmen of boards of guardians, was enabled to take a tolerably correct view of at least the general hearing and results of the law. For his own part, he must say, that though it would no doubt he much easier to allow the powers of the commissioners to expire, to leave to the boards of guardians the whole management of their local concerns, and let them bear the odium of all the refusals of relief they might make, yet he thought it would be an abandonment of his duty to pursue any such course. Believing that the powers of the commissioners were most useful, and that their continuance was necessary to the vigilant superintendance of this law, after abuses had continued for so long a period, and had taken such deep root in the system, he felt he should not be doing his duty if he did not make the present proposition. Many years ago, in 1819, he had thought it a matter of reproach to the Government of that day that they had not proposed any large and effective amendment of the Poor-law, and he had stated this opinion in the House. Mr. Canning, in his answer to what he (Lord J. Russell) had then advanced, said it was a question so complicated, so wide, and so intricate, that it could not be a matter of blame to any Government if a revision of it were not undertaken. Even before 1819 the sums expended for the relief of the poor had risen to the amount of near 8,000,000l. in a single year. The evil continued, and the poor-rates increased, till at length the Government of 1833 undertook the task of reformation. At that time, as the hon. Member for Kilkenny had remarked, the abuses were so very great, that there was a general disposition to make some attempt at the amendment of the law. He considered that the attempt then made was founded on just principles, and as far as it proceeded had been hitherto successful. Perhaps the House would allow him to state, in as few words as he could, what he considered to have been the vicious principles of the former administration of the law. The evils that were so much complained of depended on the three sources of wages, public relief in cases of destitution, and private charity; and the fault of the old administration was, that it attempted to confound all those things. In the first place it gave relief from the poor-rates in aid of wages. It thereby lowered wages, it degraded the labourer, it put the honest and industrious man who was ready to live on his wages on a disadvantageous footing as compared with the idle and vicious labourer, who could always get from the rates as much as placed him on an equality, at least, if not above, the hardworking and honest labourer. It likewise pretended to do that which could only be done by private charity—to give that support which the various misfortunes that affect life rendered necessary, which charitable and wealthy neighbours were disposed to afford to those overtaken by sudden distress. Such was the case of a man, who, having laid out his little stock of money in the purchase of furniture for his cottage, had it destroyed by fire, and who, by the compassion of his neighbours, might be restored to a situation in which he would have the means of obtaining a livelihood. The administration of the Poor-law attempted in those days to supply all such casualties. It was easy charity in the vestry and overseers to give money, which, in fact, did not belong to them, taking credit for extreme charity and generosity in tracing out and relieving cases of individual distress; but, in fact, charity was not properly administered in that way. A board was not the proper source from which charity ought to flow, inasmuch as it could not exercise that discrimination, or show that kindness of intercourse which ought to belong to charity. Therefore, by attempting to distribute charity, those boards did, in effect, pervert the true charity of the country, while they squandered immense sums of money on very undeserving objects. So much had this mode of giving charity injured the judgment or feelings of those concerned with it, that sums were continually granted, and carried to the parish accounts, to a daughter for attending a mother while she was ill, to a father for taking care of his child; and thus the nearest relations thought it necessary to be paid for the discharge of the common offices of humanity. The amendment of the law proceeded on the principle that wages should be the result of a fair contract between the employer and the labourer, the employer giving money, and receiving a fair return in a good day's work, or piece of task work. The labourer was raised by this change in the law; he felt that what he gave was worth what he received, and no longer thought himself humbled and dependent by receiving it as a public alms. It was observable, from the first report of the commissioners, that many a man, previously improvident and idle, suddenly became industrious, and farmers were astonished to find those labourers whom they formerly considered worthless, becoming really active and useful when earning their wages in a fair and proper way. He found, likewise, that under the new system, relief was given in cases where alone he thought it should be given—he meant those of destitution. He differed very much from his hon. and learned Friend who spoke on the second bench (Sir C. Grey), in thinking that a distinction should be made in favour of merit; he thought it most unreasonable, that any board should pretend to say who was meritorious. All the public could do, in the shape of relief was to adhere to that wise and good principle of the Act of Elizabeth, that no poor person in the country should be allowed to starve, and that when a man was really destitute, sufficient food and shelter should be provided for him. But this should be done in such a way, that it should be clear, relief was given because the party was destitute, and not because he was idle, so as not to bring discredit on the distribution of the relief With respect to the details of the new system, that all the rules and regulations adopted were right, was not what he could pretend to say, but the workhouse system was that which had been advised by men of great experience in those matters, as the best mode of giving relief, and conformable to the law as it stood in the time of George 1st, which, as he thought, had been most unfortunately altered by the Act of 1797. There would always remain, supposing even that there was considerable employment, and likewise that you gave relief to the destitute, sufficient and ample scope for the exertions of private charity. He certainly was not one of those who thought, that relief to the destitute ought to be refused, nor was he one who thought, that there would not always be a necessity for private charity, but he thought, that private charity ought to be spontaneous, not defined and rendered obligatory by law, but left, as it might fairly be in a country like this, to those persons who had ample means of relieving their neighbours, and whose feeling, while it led them to do so, was likely itself to reward them for its exercise. These, he thought, were the principles on which the amendment of the Poor-law proceeded. In order to carry them into effect, and amend what was vicious in the working of the law, he thought it necessary to have assistant commissioners in each district, and commissioners to give their general superintendence and revision to the whole system. With respect to the assistant-commissioners, it had been agreed upon last year, that when the unions were formed, it would not be necessary to keep so great a number as heretofore. He believed, that the number might be reduced to twelve, but he did not think that any reduction below that number could be made consistently with the necessity of the case. It had been asserted, that Lord Althorp was reported to have said, that the Act was only a temporary experiment, to cease at the end of five years; but he thought his noble Friend must have been completely misunderstood. The original intention of Government was, that there should be no limitation of time; but representations being made, that the experiment was great and perilous, Lord Althorp consented that the duration of the commission should be limited to five years, in order that after that period of trial, Parliament might again have an opportunity of taking the question into consideration. Parliament, however, now possessed all the informa- tion that was necessary on the subject. More than once it had been deferred from one Session to the following; but he trusted the result would be to maintain the principle of the law uninjured. Any considerable modification or relaxation of the law, or anything like a return to the old system, would be incompatible with what he thought the useful and salutary principles on which the amended law proceeded. The part he took in carrying that law would always, in reviewing the events of his public life, be a satisfaction to him.

Leave given.

The Bill brought in, and read a first time.

The House adjourned.