§ On the question that the House resolve itself into a committee,
§ Mr. Wakley
said, he perceived that the hon. Member for Preston had put a motion upon the paper since he had given notice of his intention to bring a particular proposition in relation to this bill before the House. Since he had entered the House he had been informed that if he proceeded with his motion and it should be negatived, the hon. Member for Pres- 401 ton would not have an opportunity of taking a division on that which he was about to propose. He was desirous of ascertaining from the Speaker whether, if he did submit his motion, it would have the effect of preventing the hon. Member from bringing forward that of which he had given notice; because he should, in that case, prefer the opinion of the House being taken upon the proposition of the hon. Member for Preston.
§ The Speaker
said, that he understood the object of the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury to be, to divide the bill into two. If that were the case, it would not interfere with the motion of the hon. Member for Preston.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that the motion which he was about to submit to the House was one of a nature purely practical, and could not be blamed for being vexatious and only to produce delay; his object was to test the sincerity of the House, and of those hon. Members who were in favour of the bill, with reference to the continuance of the commission. It was said by many hon. Members that they were anxious that the commission should continue for five years, but no longer; while others said, that they objected to the commission altogether, but that there were many clauses of the bill to which they objected; and the effect of this difference of opinion was, that there was always a majority in favour of the bill. If the bill were divided into two parts, those clauses which related to the commission forming a separate bill, they would have a full opportunity of ascertaining the feelings of the House as to the provisions of the bill—who were favourable to the alteration of the law, and the continuance of the commission. If the House were sincere in desiring that the commission should continue during five years, and should then terminate, if they acted as sensible men, with any desire to conciliate public feeling, and with a spirit becoming the representatives of the people, they could have no objection to throw the clauses into such a form as that they could work them when the commission ceased to exist. This would be a favourable opportunity to show what the House intended should be the future Poor-law of the land, and for determining upon a measure not open to the objections that it was a shifting vacillating law, and that it was liable to be changed in four or five years, leav 402 ing the country in doubt as to what course should be hereafter taken in reference to this subject. The present bill, and the Act of 6 and 7 William 4th, were both of them open to the construction that they were intended to secure the permanent continuance of the commission. There was nothing in this bill which could lead any man to suppose that it was intended at the end of five years that the commission should cease. There was no word on which any of the friends of the bill could say that such was the fact, and he said, that this was not dealing fairly with the public; that it was a most unfair, unhandsome, and unphilosophical mode of: proceeding. He maintained that they ought at once to communicate to the people of England what they intended to do. and if they meant that the commission should cease at the end of five years, and the Poor-law should be worked by the ordinary authorities of the country, they should come forward with a bill suited to: such a state of things; and, unless this were done, the House would be dealing treacherously with the people of England. Was it from a fear that the people would I not endure the perpetual continuance of; the commission, that they would not do so? Was the House afraid to meet the feelings of the people? He could not understand how the great landed aristocracy of this country, sitting in that House, having so much at issue—who might live so much at ease—could lend themselves to support a measure of this description. He felt that they were supporting a law which was subverting the natural feelings of human nature among the lower classes of this realm. He was astonished that any persons who approved of the continuance of this law should also encourage the education and enlightenment of the people. Could any one suppose that, if the mass of the people were enlightened, they would permit such a law as this to exist? He told the House that it was impossible that education and this law could go on together. The people began to see the nature and character of the odious enactments of the law; they saw that it was a means of protecting the wealth of the country at the expense of every feeling which should be respected among human beings; they saw the aristocracy were maintaining their estates and the great landed interests at the sacrifice I of human feelings and human rights, and 403 he said that there was no man possessing property of this character, who was not endangering his wealth, or even putting his life in jeopardy by the continuance of such a law. He had seen much of what passed in London or its vicinity, and therefore under the immediate observation of the commissioners, and when he had witnessed what took place there, he could well imagine what could be the occurrences in distant parts of the country. A short time since he had been called upon to act officially at the workhouse at Isleworth to take an inquest on the body of a child who had died in that establishment. The child was to be buried in the churchyard at Ealing, and its mother was compelled to run almost the whole distance to that place to witness the interment of her infant. When she arrived she was informed that the child could not be taken into the church, as it had died of small-pox. She said that it was no such thing; that she was an inmate of the workhouse when it had died, and that the statement which had been made was a fabrication. The clergyman now said that he would not bury the child, and that he would send it back, in order that an investigation might take place. The clergyman wrote to him (Mr. Wakley), and from the information which he received, he considered it to be his duty to issue a warrant for an inquiry. What took place? It appeared that the mother had been five weeks in the workhouse with her child, which was one year year old. At the end of three weeks the surgeon said, "Your child is now a year old, and should be weaned." She answered that if it must be so, she did not object to it, and on a Tuesday the infant was taken and placed in the nursery. She went on Wednesday and Thursday to inquire for it, and she was informed that it was Well. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday passed, and on Monday she paid it the ordinary house visit; but on entering the nursery, and seeing the children, she found her infant so changed that she could not recognise it. She now said to the governor that she wished to have an order to quit the house, for that it was impossible her child could live. The governor said that there were some matters of importance to be settled, and that he could not give her an order, but that the doctor should see the child when he arrived at half-past two o'clock. He did see it, and he said there was nothing serious the matter, and 404 he ordered the child some medicine. On Sunday night at nine the child was seized with convulsions. At a quarter to eleven it died, and the nurse went to inform the governor of the fact. On the nurse being asked whether she had informed the mother of the illness of the child, she answered that she had nothing at all to do with the matter, and that she did not consider it a part of her duty to inform the mother of the fact; yet the mother was in the same house where her own child was dying, and she was not informed even that she was ill! It was only casually that she heard of it at all. Entering the breakfast-room the next morning she remarked that the women all looked at her, and one of them pointing to some crape, said "Oh, you have not heard what has happened: your child is dead." At first she could not believe it, but rushed from the room to inquire, and found that it was the fact. Now, was this a system of legislation that the House were prepared to sanction, uphold, and support; and were hon. Gentlemen, Members of that House, so foolish and maddened as to believe that, with such a system of legislation, they would always remain in the safe possession of their property? If they sanctioned a system which taught children not to reverence their parents, and parents not to feel aw interest in the health or the welfare of their children, could they believe that the poorer classes would long continue to regard themselves with respect? Talk about radical and destructive measures! of all the radical, revolutionary, and, in their results, sanguinary laws that ever were framed, he believed that the equal of this law was never invented by any human being. It was painful to him to state these things; but he could not relate the thousandth part of what he daily witnessed as to the state of public opinion as to this odious, detestable, and detested law. He wished the House could see the jurymen when such cases came before them, or hear their expressions as to the state of the legislation of this country, when they witnessed such a sacrifice of all those feelings which ought to be most cherished by human nature. In the case to which he had referred, what must be the feelings of the woman to the end of her days? They did not stop at what he had stated, for they sent the child away to be buried without allowing the mother to put on the dress proper for 405 the occasion, and the first thing she heard on entering the burial ground was that the child could not be taken into the church because it had died of small-pox. The fact was, I hat the child had never had the small-pox at all. He next came to the question of out-door relief. For his own part, from what he had seen of the unions, he must say that, if it were put to him to choose between going to gaol or going to the workhouse, he would choose the prison. The inference seemed to be, that all those who applied for relief were idle. But it was well known that there were many meritorious poor—men who had spent thirty or forty years in struggling industry; who had striven and toiled from morning to night in order to maintain themselves in respectability, and had never attempted fo obtain parish relief until forced by old age to do so. There were many also above the labourer in station, little tradesmen who had maintained their stations in life for twenty or thirty years, paying rates all the time, until ultimately misfortunes fell upon them, and they were necessitated to apply in their old age to their neighbours for relief. Was it intended that these men, who had all their lives toiled in order to avoid having to be a burden upon others, should be placed exactly on a level with the idle spendthrift, who had squandered away all his means, neglected his wife and family, and thus brought himself to beggary and want? Yet in the operation of this law, no distinction was made between these two classes of poor. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had told them that, provided there Was destitution, they were to lose sight of all the causes of that destitution, although in the one case it might have been the result of criminal folly, and in the other of inevitable calamity, and that they were to treat both cases as having equal claims upon the public. The noble Lord said this in a reformed House of Commons, but not an amended House of Commons. He solemnly declared, after what he had-himself seen of the legislation in that reformed House, he would prefer having the old boroughmongers back again, for he firmly believed that they eared more for the real interests of the people. What boroughmongers would have dared to submit such a law? He would not have presumed to produce such a law. But now, because the House was elected by considerable masses of the public, it was presumed that 406 it was strong enough to work out an enormity of this kind. The truth was, the people were not represented in that House—if they were, such legislation could not occur. The hon. Member under him said, that to return to the old system would be to make matters worse. All he would say was, that he did not care if he never heard the name of reform again, and he was very sorry he had ever taken part in bringing about such a change. The people of England were a people not difficult to be pleased. They were of a kindly and generous disposition; they required nothing but kindly treatment. He did not think there was on the face of the earth a more honest-hearted or a better people than the working people of this country. Was it fair, then, that Gentlemen should presume upon their wealth, station, and position, to keep their seats in that House and frame laws for persecution and torture? But it was said, that the effect of the law would be to raise wages. But the law had now been six years in operation, and the reverse had been the result. What said the rich to the poor people? First, they said, having secured the possession of their property by law, they also had secured the right of making laws, and that if the poor man broke them they would 'punish him: that they had their mansions, and their parks, and their deer, and their hundred thousand luxuries. They said to the poor man, "We will allow you to live outside our park palings; if you come over the palings you will be a trespasser. Don't tear down any part of the palings; if you do, you will be a thief." But everybody knew, that the great mass of the poor used to have no desire to take away the property of the rich. When he (Mr. Wakley) was a boy, no farmer thought of putting a fastening to any part of his house, because he felt, that he was living in an honest neighbourhood, and that all around him were friends. Now, however, there was a very different state of things, the rich were wanting a police to preserve their property. Having placed the poof man in this situation, the rich man now said to the poor man, "Now you may get work if you can. You must either take the wages I offer you, or go to a gaol." Instances innumerable occurred of men with families of five or six children, who preferred living on 5s. a-week to going into these gaols. He had held 407 inquests on the bodies of persons who had died of starvation rather than enter them; and in one case at Kensington, the man had actually died with an order for his admission into the union in his pocket. It had been proved in evidence, that at the Kensington union, it was no uncommon thing for persons to apply for relief as early as eleven in the morning, and to be kept until ten at night, without succour or sustenance. Parties had dropped down in the passage, in a state of exhaustion. Why, indeed, were the unions made so large, unless it was to prevent the poor man from applying for relief? How could a poor man walk nine or ten miles to the union from his home? And, if he happened to have miscalculated his time, he would be unable to get relief until the next week. What must the poor think of the nobility and gentry, or the boards of guardians, who submitted so tamely to the orders they received from Somerset-house, although they disapproved of them. He remembered a case that occurred recently of an application being made to the guardians to allow the paupers four ounces more of rice per day, the guardians thought it very reasonable, but they were compelled to say to the poor, how sorry they were, that they could not grant the request. The poor naturally asked why the country gentlemen of England submitted to such a state of things? They were neither timid nor ignorant, said they, and if a law was passed, prohibiting the rich man from giving his dogs more than a certain quantity of animal food per week, or from keeping none beyond a certain number of race-horses, it would not be long before the yeomanry cavalry would be out, and all the hills of England bristling with swords and bayonets. What, then, was the inference? That because these tyrannical laws of Somerset-house affected the poor and not the rich, the latter did not care about them, and bowed submissively to the authority. Respecting as he did the institutions of this country, and valuing as he did her peace and happiness, wishing that the noble Lord should preserve his wealth and state, and that the poor man should not be in a situation to envy him the possession of them, and desiring as he did, that the spirit of concord and mutual good will should prevail in the land, around it and throughout it—and because he did, from the bottom 408 of his heart, deplore the existence of the law, and the constant support of those who were the natural protectors of the poor—it was, feeling all these things, that he submitted to the House this motion in the hope that it would be carried. It was his anxious wish to see one-half of this bill appropriated to the commission, and the other so framed as to convince the people, that the system could at some time or other work without the necessity of the commission being required to work it, and that it was the intention of the House that it should so work without it. Such a proceeding would give great satisfaction to the public. The hon. Member concluded by moving, that it be an instruction to the committee, that they have the power to divide the bill into two parts.
§ Lord John Russell
said, when the hon. Member who had just sat down had intimated his wish that the bill should be divided as a matter of convenience, he was ready to have heard the hon. Member's reasons. But, in the speech of the hon. Member, he had looked in vain for any reasons or arguments whatever; on the contrary, the hon. Member had addressed himself again to those inflammatory topics which were intended to produce a prejudice against the Poor-law Amendment Bill, and to exclude every other topic which he thought might have the effect with certain parties. Among other topics the hon. Member had referred to the working of the Reform Bill. Now he could not forget that there had been a great deal of discussion on that subject, in which at least most points had been agreed upon. But one point was very much urged upon the House, and which was still more urged in the House of Lords—that provision which gave representatives to the large metropolitan districts, because, said the opponents of the bill, admitting that the old system was bad, admitting that the making of mere paper voters ought not to be allowed, admitting that such large towns as Manchester and Birmingham ought to have representation, yet if you give representation to those large metropolitan boroughs the result would be, that they would send to Parliament a set of mischievous demagogues, who would have no regard to the general interests of the people. If those demagogues should happen to be lawyers, and should sit in courts of justice, they would turn their courts into arenas of 409 political discussion; and if they should hold any other office connected with the administration of justice, they would pervert the powers confided to them to party and sinister purposes. Whatever might be the effect of other parts of the bill, that part of it would be sure to have an injurious operation; and the result would be, that you would see in the House of Commons, men who ought never to have been intrusted with the power of representing the people. These mere the arguments of the opponents of the Reform Bill at the time; and he was not quite sure that things' had not occurred during the working of the act, which in a great measure tended to verify their predictions. Now, the hon. Member, among other arguments on this and other occasions, had referred to the Poor-law Amendment Act as tending to increase the value of property, and to give additional security to the rich; and he had to-night told them, that it enabled the rich to have their parks, and their preserves, and their racers. He did not deny, that this might be a collateral effect of the Poor-law; that it had increased the value of property by diminishing the excessive charges upon it, and putting an end to the waste that formerly took place. The general property of the country might be improved; but if the law was one which was for the general benefit of the country, which raised the character of the labourer, and drew the distinction that ought to be between waste and real relief, that was no conclusive argument that the object of the measure was to increase the value of property and improve the situation of the holders of it, to the exclusion of the other classes of the community. It was no complete and final argument against the bill, that the landed gentry derived an advantage from the decrease in the expense of maintaining the poor, in common with other classes. The hon. Member had stated a particular instance of the working of the act, which he had narrated with that ability and clearness which always characterized him, but unfortunately the inference he drew was not correct. He had detailed the case of the death of a child in a workhouse of which the mother was an inmate, and had complained that she was not admitted to the child. Now he (Lord John Russell) had been informed though he did not pretend to know all the particulars, that the child was subject to convulsions, a disease very common among 410 children, and that the nurse said that the approach of the mother alter the child had been recently weaned would tend to increase its excitement and aggravate the disease. That was a case that might occur in the house of the richest man in the country. He must at the same time, however, say, with regard to one particular fact which the hon. Gentleman had mentioned, that when the child was dying, and when afterwards it died, immediate notice should have been given to the mother. The conduct that had been pursued in that respect was exceedingly blameable. But with reference to cases of this kind, the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity of hearing evidence—too often taken when no one was present who could contradict it; but he submitted that no law which ever had been made, or ever could be made, would prevent the occurrence of such cases as had been told, with every unfavourable circumstance that could harrow up the feelings of the hearers, and rouse indignation against the officers to whom the administration of the law was intrusted. Such cases were not confined to the present law alone. In the report of the commissioners of inquiry there appeared the case of a pauper at Bristol, who was insane, and who had been kept for several years in a dark room, which was never cleaned, and was a mass of filth, and who was himself in a horrible state from the same cause. He had himself among many others, thought the persons who allowed this, very much to blame, but he had never thought of attributing their conduct to the Act of Elizabeth. Such cases they ought to do their utmost to provide against and prevent, but at least they were Jess likely to occur under the present than under the old system. Under that system, every parish had its own separate government, and if cruelty took place it was hidden, unknown or forgotten, but under the present system there was more publicity. There was the board of guardians meeting from time to time, and if anything like a case of hardship did occur, it was sure to be in all the newspapers of the day, and there were sure to be long letters on the cruelty of the case. Moreover, there was a certain number of persons who were not satisfied with looking at such cases as grounds of complaint against the parish officers, and as reasons for convicting them of neglect of duty, but made it a source of attack upon Somerset-house and on the Government of 411 the day. Thus there was at the present time much greater security against acts of oppression or cruelty than there was under the former law, both as regarded publicity in the event of offences being committed, and in the prevention caused by the fear of such complaints being made. He did not mean to say that there was perfect security. Cases of the kind had occurred, and might occur again; and he maintained that they could not have a law which would afford perfect security in all cases. If any such law could be framed, let the hon. Gentleman bring it forward; but until he did, let him not charge upon the present law faults that would exist in almost any law that could be made. The hon. Gentleman complained that the rules of the Poor-law commissioners prevented the introduction into the unions of certain articles which the boards of guardians were disposed to allow to be used. There was this, however, to be considered, that when the boards of guardians ordered such articles of food, they ordered them not out of their own pockets, but out of the rates, which imposed a tax upon the poorest independent labourer as well as on the man of property, and that when the Poor-law commissioners prohibited such things, they bad to consider whether the object of them was really to provide for destitution and to relieve poverty, or whether they were not taxing the industrious for the relief of the less deserving. The hon. Gentleman had also blamed the statement made by him, that destitution alone should be the test of relief. He still adhered to that principle, thinking it was the great point of contrast between the present and the former law. He maintained that it was, on the whole, beneficial to the labouring classes, and that the principle which the hon. Gentleman sought to establish was the reverse. That to which the labouring classes of this country ought to look, was the power of making a fair contract with their employer. When they gave their labour in exchange for wages they gave a full equivalent, and there was no obligation on either side—in that respect the contract was equal between the two parties. If there were any means by which labour was restricted, or any laws by which the means of exchanging labour for wages wore in any way contracted, or by which the price of the necessary articles of the labourer's consumption were artificially enhanced, then he would say, if such restrictions were absolutely neces- 412 sary for the welfare of the whole State, impose them: but he would say take great care that they really were so, because, if you by any means enhanced the price of food, you thus rendered a rise of wages necessary in order to enable him to live. But, he repeated, let the labourer have the means of making as fair a contract as he could. When they had done this they might let the labourer do as well as he could by his own industry and exertions, and by the benefit of his own character. He had no doubt but that in such a state of things the English labourer would be well provided for, and would receive what was due to him. But if they came to the Poor-laws and said, "we will intercept the wages of the labourer, and we will take care that what he receives shall be partly in the shape of wages and partly in the shape of Poor-law relief," and also said that "for one part of the year the labourer shall be paid in wages, but in the other part he shall go to a public board to receive money for his support." as the hon. Gentleman's proposition stood, the board would have to inquire into the character of each man coming before it, and as to whether he had been prudent or improvident in his conduct; and this, not with a view of engaging him as a labourer, but to consider whether he should be a recipient of public charity. Such a proceeding degraded the character of the man who had to make his labour thus dependant, and if adopted as a system must inevitably lower the character of the labouring classes. Instead of leaving it open to the labourer and the employer to enter into a contract, it made it appear as if the latter contributed, in the shape of charity, to the support of the former; and when the labourer was thus sent to the public board, it left it in the power of any person's caprice sitting at that board to say that relief in charity should not be given to any particular person. The hon. Gentleman might take it for granted that the board would take a most disinterested part, and would act with the most perfect fairness and liberality; but he might depend upon it that this would not be the case: for instance, a farmer, sitting at the board, might say to those acting with him, that he did not like some particular man—that he had offended him—and that he trusted that no relief would be given to him. Again, a country gentleman might say that he knew the man applying for aid, and that he had stolen a hare in the 413 previous week; and so every man would nave to undergo a trial before this irresponsible board, that they might see whether he had a character or not; and the result must be, that they would degrade the labourer to what was formerly called a state of villanage. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the repugnance that was manifested by the labourers in a state of destitution to go into the workhouse; but he could not help saying that in some respects that feeling was founded in an error If the opportunity of making contracts between the labourers and their employers was left open, the farmers and gentry would see that it was letter to give the men fair wages, and thus refuse to take them into the workhouse. In such a state of things, the labourer would be in a far better situation than he possibly could be under any such arrangement as was suggested by the hon. Gentleman; by attempting to instil into the mind of the labourer the feeling that the workhouse should be regarded as a prison, and that it was better for them to take a lower rate of wages than to go into the workhouse, he conceived it to be most objectionable that the labourer should thus he urged to depend upon charity doled out to him in aid of his wages; and although those who did so might call themselves the benefactors of the labourer, instead of being so they were acting the part of his worst enemy. He was sorry that he had been led into a general defence of the Poor-laws on a motion to divide the bill into two bilk; it was a course, perhaps, which he ought not to have followed, but he could not hear the charges that were made day by day by those who wished to oppose the principles of the Poor-laws without saying what he had in their defence. He did not regard the benefit of the present system in the light which had been alleged: he did not look to it as to whether there might be a saving or not to the rich and to those who paid the poor-rate; he did not regard it as to whether it had produced an additional confidence in the security of property. As to whether or not it had merit, in this respect he regarded as a subordinate consideration in comparison with another—namely, his belief that if the system was steadily carried out, it would raise the character and improve the condition of the labouring classes; and if maintained, that it would restore to them that high character and independence which they held in former times. 414 Mr. Fielden supported the amendment.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
wished to make a few observations on the amendment of the hon. Member for Finsbury to divide the bill into two parts, as he agreed with the hon. Gentleman in regarding the present system of poor-laws with great distaste. He entertained great objections to several clauses in the bill before the House, but he thought, that the only chance of getting rid of them, and of amending the law as it stood, was not to separate the bill into two parts, for when the noble Lord had curried that for the continuance of the Poor-law commission, he would care very little about pressing the other measure, and would postpone it until next year. He thought, if the noble Lord wished to escape from a series of very protracted discussions, he would assent to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. As he was very anxious for the amendment of the law as it now stood, and as he believed the success of the hon. Member's amendment would endanger the success of many alterations which were to be proposed, he should oppose it.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that there was more joy over one sinner that repented than over ninety-nine just persons, and the hon. Member for Finsbury stated, that he repented the support that be had given to reform and to the present Government. He sincerely requested the hon. Gentleman to quit the benches opposite and come over to that side of the House and join him. The hon. Member, like other hon. Gentlemen, bad obtained his seat in that House in consequence of the strong opposition which he had shown to this abominable system of poor-laws, and he had certainly that night pointed out the evils of them in a speech of considerable power. The noble Lord alluded to what he was pleased to call amendments in the system; now he had always understood that the meaning of the word amend, was, to change bad to good; if, therefore, it improved the condition of that class of persons for whom the noble Lord said, that he entertained a great regard and consideration, it would be an amendment; but the result was directly the contrary; he therefore, could not tell what was the meaning the noble Lord attached to the word. He not only objected to the Poor-law commission, but to all other commissions that had been 415 recently established. He firmly believed, that the existence of those bodies, and the acts which they had led to, had brought the country into the lamentable state in which it then was. It appeared to him to be an absolute absurdity to expect, that three commissioners in the metropolis could control and superintend proceedings at a distance of hundreds of miles, or be able to distinguish what was good or bad in a place far away from them, or exercise a sound discretion and judgment in this matter. The bill was partial and oppressive in its operation, and that this was the opinion of the country he would appeal to the great number of petitions that had been presented against it. Any attempt to ameliorate the condition of the poor under such enactments as were contained in the present bill, was a matter of perfect absurdity. He did not agree with the noble Lord the Member for Monmouthshire in his objection to this motion, for it often happened, that notwithstanding the length of debates on a motion, the subject was afterwards postponed. He had often listened for six hours at a time, to a debate in that House on a measure of the Government, and to which it was understood they pledged themselves, and which the noble Lord opposite afterwards postponed till the next Session. He cared for no administration that could be formed, but would continue, notwithstanding any change that might take place, to give his most strenuous opposition to all measures like the present. He should take care to oppose this bill at every stage, and should therefore support the amendment of the hon. Member for Finsbury.
§ Sir Harry Verney
thought, that the country was greatly indebted to the Poor-law Commissioners in London, for the ability and steadiness they had manifested in carrying the present Poor-law Act into effect. He was convinced, if the power vested in them had been left to local authorities, that the most important improvements would have been sacrificed to local feelings or to temporary popularity in certain districts. Since the New Poor-law Act had been brought into operation, wages in many parts of the country had sensibly increased, and in some agricultural places within his own knowledge they had advanced from 8d., 9d., and 10d. a day, to 14d., 16d., and 18d. This was more particularly the case 416 as regarded young unmarried labourers, who, under the old system, in consequence of not having families which were burdens on their parishes, received the smallest possible pittance out of the poor-rates in aid of their scanty wages. He should oppose the amendment.
§ Mr. Wakley
would not press his amendment. He had brought it forward for a practical purpose, but as he had not met the support of many of those who agreed with him in opposition to the system, he would not press it.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Townley Parker
said, that if he wanted any apology for addressing the House on the present occasion, he should find it in the multitude of petitions which had been presented to that House. He had himself presented a petition signed by between 4,000 or 5,000 of his constituents. In the sentiments of those petitioners he fully concurred, and he had every reason to believe that they were sanctioned by the general opinion of the country at large. He was resolved to oppose this bill at the present and at every future stage, and he was strengthened in this resolution by remembering that it made every regulation against the poor much more stringent than any previous measure. It was clearly the intention of her Majesty's Government to make this measure permanent, and it would be better and more honest for them to say so at once. The continuance of the Poor-law commission had been defended upon the ground that many of the proposed unions had not yet been completed; but surely that object could be effected in a much shorter time than it was now proposed to give to the duration of the commission. But he objected to the measure on other grounds. It went to give the commissioners a great deal too much power; it invested them with the power of making law; it enabled them to appoint local boards of management, whom they found far more subservient and pliant than boards of guardians; it gave them the power of taxing to the amount of 20 per cent, a large sum annually levied upon the several counties. But the powers of the commissioners were even yet more extensive; in illustration of this he should call the attention of the House to a paragraph which appeared in a newspaper, and respecting the statements which it contained, he had received pri 417 vate information which left no doubt on his mind that those statements were substantially correct. They displayed in a wry striking manner the character of the Poor-law commissioners, and the principles which governed their conduct. The paragraph stated that a meeting had been held at Barnstaple, at which several magistrates and other gentlemen had attended, for the purpose of expressing their sentiments, as in this free country was their undoubted right, on the subject of the wokring of the New Poor-law. The paragraph went on to state, that immediately after the meeting an assistant-commissioner was sent down, who summoned before him the gentlemen and magistrates who bad attended the meeting, and proceeded to examine them on oath as to the remarks which they had made at that meeting. Now this he did know, at least this he had heard from authority on which he placed the fullest reliance, that a commissioner did go down, that the name of that commissioner was Gilbert, and that the name of the magistrate summoned before him was Wight. He would only refer to two clauses of this bill, the 38th, and 39th, which he thought would more particularly deserve the attention of the House, if they should go into committee on this bill. Those clauses went on to enact that in all cases where, since the election of guardians, the population of a parish should have been changed, it should be lawful for the commissioners, with the consent of the guardians, to alter the number of guardians, and also to combine two or more parishes for the election of one or more of such guardians. That would, in point of fact, be leaving some townships without any Poor-law guardians at all. But his objection was not solely to the bill now before the House, but to the principle of the existing law. The commissioners had taken credit to themselves for the great advantage the country had enjoyed under their administration of the law, by the economy it had introduced, by the diminution of paupers, and by the great improvement it had effected in the moral condition of the people. Now, he objected, in the first instance, to the system itself, and next he denied that there had been any economy resulting from it, at least in that part of the country with which he was connected. On the contrary, be thought he could prove that the expense had been very 418 materially increased, amd that if any considered the law beneficial on account of that which was regarded as the fundamental principle of it, namely, the test of labour in workhouses, it was utterly impossible to bring it into operation in large and populous districts. Another objection which he had to the details of the law was the universal interference which was exercised by the commissioners in all parochial matters. In former days the select vestry managed, and satisfactorily to the rate-payers and the poor, the operation of the Poor-laws; and, under that system, the people had to a great extent a share in the conduct of parochial affairs, by their having votes for members of the select vestry. But since that time the system of centralization had been introduced, of which he greatly complained. He found it defended, however, by the commissioners, who said that with respect to the system of centralization, which was so much objected to, not to mention the post-office and other departments of the public service which were under the same system, the objection might also be urged to the present mode of administration of justice, which might be considered to be under some system of the same kind. But he would contend that there was not the slightest analogy between the situation of the select vestries of former times and the several boards of guardians of the present day. To him it was astonishing that such arguments should be made use of in favour of so reprehensible a law. But the commissioners had endeavoured to enforce that argument in a manner so flimsy as scarcely to deserve notice. He would next pass to the grounds on which they recommended the continuance of their own legislative body. There was, said the commissioners, a great advantage on this subject in the interposition of an authority between Parliament and the people, who could issue regulations under the act in a detailed form; for the style of composition of acts of Parliament was so peculiar as to render them hardly intelligible to any other than professional persons, and the people at large would therefore derive advantage from this law being explained and administered by competent authorities. Now, certainly, if ever he saw a bill which would require to be explained by some competent authority, so that any one could understand it, and especially if any of the fifty- 419 nine amendments that were proposed should be adopted, it was the bill now before the House. But he had heard it stated the other night in that House by a high authority, one of her Majesty's Ministers, the Secretary at War, that one of the most sacred rights which the people of this country laid claim to was, that the laws of the land should be so plain and simple as to be easily comprehended. He objected therefore most strongly to a bill of this nature, which required the elucidation of the Poor Law Commissioners. But the Poor-law was one in which the people were more peculiarly interested than in any other; they were daily coming into contact with it; its effects were continually before them. One easy part of the commissioners' duty, however, would be, that they would not have to consider any portion of this law as applicable to the law affecting the birth of illegitimate children. On that subject he had a very strong feeling. He thought the law had been harsh towards that sex whom it was their especial duty to protect. It had been said, that the old law offered a premium to prostitution in the orders which the magistrates were obliged to give. But he never could believe, that for an eighteenpenny order a woman would sacrifice her situation in life and admit her shame. In fact, such an argument ought to be treated with the scorn it deserved. But this he would say, that the New Poor-law had not rendered an unfortunate woman liable to imprisonment on the birth of an illegitimate child, or allowed her to be hurried about from parish to parish when she was, perhaps, in the last stage of pregnancy, as was formerly the case. He held in his hand a pamphlet which was entitled A Simple Remedy for Seduction, edited by Sir Edmund Head, but he could not concur with much of the argument that was adduced by the writer. In that publication he stated one fact from which he must certainly dissent, after the experience which he had had as a magistrate for twenty-three years. The writer stated, that under the former law the fear of imprisonment necessarily influenced a person in the oath she gave; that the whole proceeding before the magistrates was ex parte; and that the reputed father was never present. Now, in his experience, he had never known an instance, nor did he think a single magistrate in that House could say, he ever knew an affiliation order to be made 420 without the reputed father having been summoned to show cause against it: nor did he ever remember an instance in which that reputed father had established the fact of his not being liable to the charge. The pamphlet concluded with sundry quotations of Latin, French, and Greek, which might furnish considerable proof of the writer's ability, but the whole of his argument made him imagine, that he had not had much experience on the subject. [Cries of "Question, question."] This was a question in which the constituency he represented were much interested; and if hon. Gentlemen who had just cried "question" were becoming impatient, he should recommend them to leave the House a short time. The Poor-law Commission rs had, as he had before stated, taken to themselves great credit for the vast economy and saving their administration of the law had proved to the nation. Now, by the printed documents which had been laid on the table of the House on the motion of the noble Lord, the Member for Mon-mouth, he found, that in the year 1839 the number of parishes that were united was 13,671; and in 1840, 13,695; so that in one year the only increase in the number united was twenty-four. Intheyearl839the amount levied for the relief of the poor was 4,865,600l.; in the year following it was 5,213,898l.; so that in the year 1840 there was an excess in the expenditure, over the year 1839, of 348,298l. The commissioners, however, said, they had saved the country between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000l. annually; but it appeared, that that prospect would very shortly close, for he had shown, that there had been in one year an increased expenditure of 348,298l. while there had been only twenty-four parishes added to the general union. What he had hitherto stated was in respect of the general interests of the country as affected by this law; but he would now refer to those interests which were more peculiarly local, and with which he was better acquainted. He would mention first the union of Preston, the town which he had the honour to represent. It was one of great extent, comprehending about 53,000 acres, and at the present time not much less than 90,000 inhabitants. In the year ending March, 1840, the expenditure of the union for the maintenance of the poor was 12,632l. The average expense for the years 1834, 1835, and 1836 for the same purpose,, amounted to 421 11,350l.; so that there was an excess of wore than ten per cent, in the expense, and he was informed it had been found necessary to increase the next call on the town five per cent. For the town of Preston for the same year, 1840, the expenditure was 6,782l., whilst the average for the years 1834, 1835, and 1836, was only 5,644l. so that there had been an excess of 1,138l., or more than twenty per cent. The average for the borough-rate, during the same three years, had been 9,967l.; but for the year ending the 5th of March, 1841, the actual rate levied was 12,349l., showing an excess of 9,489l. He was informed, that that to a great extent was to be attributed to the distress that existed in that district during the last year; but he understood also, that it was to be attributed to their giving little out-door relief. He could not but think, that that statement was exceedingly alarming; for it had taken place during the time one of the Poor-law commissioners was residing in the town, and all was done under his particular direction, and now he had left in all probability the expense would be greater. From the town of Preston he would turn to that of Chorley, a large and populous town in his neighbourhood In that place also there appeared to be a gradually increasing expenditure for the relief of the poor of the parish. It was only united to the other parishes in 1838, or he might say not until March, 1839. Now, the average expense, there, during the years 1834, 1835, 1836, and 1837 bad been 5,930l., but in the year following the union, the expense had been not leas than 6,430l., showing an excess of above 8 per cent, over the former expenditure. In the township of Adlington, in the same union, for the three years preceding its junction with the Chorley union, the rates were 221l., but since that time they had been 291l., showing an excess of 34 per cent. In the township of Anderton, for the three years preceding its being joined to the other parishes, the average expense was 147l., but since that time it had been 248l., showing an excess of 70 per cent. He would now refer to the town of Prescot, with which he was not connected, but with the circumstances of which be was well acquainted. During the time that town was managed by a select vestry the average expense for the relief of the poor was 797l.; but since 422 the union it had been 1,361l. annually, so that there was an excess of 70 per cent, in that township. These were very striking facts, and he should be much to blame if he were not to take that opportunity of informing the noble Lord opposite that if the New Poor Law had been such a great blessing and great saving to the country, its advantages had not yet reached that part of the north with which he was connected. But, besides his objection to that enormous increase of expense, he objected to it further on account of the utter impracticability of carrying it out in populous manufacturing districts; because the Poor Law Commissioners affected to tell them that the merit of their plan should be in-door relief. They stated, in the first place, that the necessity for that plan arose from its being impossible to ascertain the rate of wages. He dissented from that position. He flattered himself he had had as much experience on that point as the Poor Law Commissioners; and, although they might possibly imagine, standing as he did there, that he was careless in attending to the public interests of his neighbourhood, yet he would inform them that he had always been attentive to his duties as a magistrate, and that he had never had the slightest difficulty in ascertaining the amount of a labourer's wages, whether weaver, spinner, or whatever other trade he might be. When, therefore, the commissioners recommended that the test of destitution should be the workhouse, he must say he thought they had proceeded on an erroneous system. But they had said most distinctly that the workhouse should be the test and fundamental principle on which they meant to act. They went, indeed, this length: that all distribution of money or goods to be spent by a pauper in his own house would be inconsistent with the principle on which the measure was founded (as we understood). But did they imagine there was no pain felt in applying for relief? Did they think that the mind of the labourer was so debased that he wag little better than a beggar in the streets? The commissioners went on to say, that in order to carry out the principle, it was necessary that paupers should not be relieved by money, but its many as required relief should resort to a pauper establishment. He now proceeded to prove, that it was utterly impossible for the workhouse lest to be applied to large and populous 423 districts. He took, for instance, the Preston Union. In 1837 the union was formed, and there were thirty-four elected guardians, including ten ex officio. The number of townships was twenty-eight; the average was about 53,000 acres; the radius 6¾ miles. The population of the union was, in 1831, 58,838; it was now said to be 93,732. Preston population was, in 1831, 33,112; it was now 63,633. The greatest number of paupers in the whole of the twenty-eight townships before they were united, he had been informed, amounted to 657 in-door paupers, and 1,919 out-door; total, 2,576. In the December quarter, 1839, there were relieved, in-doors, 716; out of doors, 5,257; total, 5,973. In the corresponding quarter of 1840, there were relieved, in-doors, 1,170, and out of doors, 6,461; total, 7,631, showing an increase of 1,658 over the number of the preceding year, and 5,055 more than before the union. All these circumstances were calculated to make the bill extremely unpopular in the great county with which he was connected. He should be sorry to say anything harsh towards the noble Lord opposite; the county had a high respect for his private character; but he could not refrain from asking him how he could insult the people of England by offering them such a bill? The noble Lord had spoken on former occasions of the necessity of conciliating the Irish people, in order that we might be strong in ourselves and become a united people. He could assure the noble Lord that in the north of England nothing was so well calculated to separate and disunite the people from the Government as this bill, and he trusted he would not think of dong justice to Ireland alone, but that he would also do justice to the people of England. He would address himself to the other side of the House, to those who considered themselves as the friends of the poor, and called upon them to consider that this was the poor man's bill, and not to widen the interval between the rich and the poor, by supporting it. Before he sat down, he would merely say that nothing would more soothe the country, or be more satisfactory to the poorer classes, than the tearing of this accursed bill from the statute book; and although he did not expect he should be supported, still he must not forget that he had a duty to perform to his constituents and to the other large 424 counties in the country, and he would give an opportunity to hon. Members to redeem their pledges to their constituents, by requesting that the Speaker would put from the chair the resolution he held in his hand, "That the bill be committed this day six months."
§ Mr. Grimsditch
rose to second the motion. After what had fallen from the noble Lord a few nights ago, he was satisfied in his own mind that the intention of her Majesty's Government was to make this Poor-law perpetual. He might be told, that they had altered it by reducing the term of the commission from ten years to five. This had been a concession. And why? To satisfy the Conservative side of the House. If ever there was a bill which fully justified opposition in every stage, and in every way, it was the bill before the House; because, if it was looked at it not only went to perpetuate the commission, but to enlarge the powers of the commissioners to a great extent, and it imposed a taxation upon the country, which the country would not bear. Looking at the extent of the power given to the commissioners, and at the mischiefs which the law had engendered, and continued to engender, those gentlemen had no claim, and the Government had no claim, to call upon the House to say, that they should stand in a better situation than to be continued from year to year. The power given to these gentlemen ought not to be put for one year out of the hands of Parliament. The noble Lord had adverted to the mischiefs of the old law, and he fea ed that many such cases might have arisen under that law; but he contended, that as the unions were formed, the poor had no protection; oppressions might go on, and great hardships be inflicted on the poor, without being brought to the cognizance of the authorities of the law. The noble Lord, the Member for Northumberland, had on a former occasion, lamented, that the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, should think, that the Poor-law Commissioners ought not to be continued for ten years; he said they ought to be permanent, and he had regretted exceedingly, that at the passing of the first Poor-law Amendment Act a little more firmness had not been exhibited, which would have made the commissioners permanent. He had always considered, that the great value of every law was uniform- 425 ity; but the Poor-law Amendment Act produced no uniformity; what was law in one union, was not law in another union. He should like the noble Lord, who bad had some experience as a Poor-law guardian, to pay a visit to the county of Lancaster, to the Bolton union, to see how the law worked there. Why, at this moment, there were 6,000 or 7,000 paupers, whereas, at the formation of the union, the number was but 5,000. He might be told, that this was a time of pressure, which he would not deny; but what was the machinery of the law in the Bolton union, where the population was now about 100,000? He should like to know how thirty or forty guardians, meeting once a month, to select different parts of the union, could get through the whole of the cases. He was sorry to take up the time of the House, but he felt the feeling against this bill to be strong in the densely-populated districts; that an anxiety prevailed on the subject there, nor was it popular in any part of the country. He would make only one or two observations with reference to the particular union with which he was connected. Its area was 60,000 acres, and the expense which previous to the establishment bad been 3s. in the pound, was now 6s. The way in which the law was carried out, was not justified by the law of the country. He should like to know whether Gentlemen on the other side expected that the people would endure that the commissioners should have the power of making laws; that they should assume kingly and legislative power; they were subject to no control; they were the lawgivers. An order made by the commissioners rescinded a direction in an act of Parliament. The law was carried out in such a way, as went, sooner or later, to destroy our social system, by creating a division between the rich and the poor. All power was centred in the commissioners. The board of guardians could not discharge a master or mistress of a work-house, nor a medical man, nor a clergyman, nor a schoolmaster. They must report to the commissioners why they wished the individual to be discharged, and wait their Orders. What did the commissioners know about these matters? They actually put the board of guardians on their trial. In one case, where the returning officer had given 1s. 6d. to a poor woman when he had been ordered to give 2s. 6d., 426 being detected, he was dismissed, and the commissioners called the board to account for doing so. The present system was not only not uniform, but it was imperfect; if they meant to adhere to the system, they ought at least to make it perfect. He might be asked, whether he was ready to return to the old system. He replied, however, that it was not necessary to recur to a system like the old, and he was ready to engage to bring in a bill after Easter by which the unions might be worked without the aid of the commissioners. He had been in hopes, that the Government would have proposed some mitigation of the severity of the bill in favour of the labouring population of the country. He hardly expected, that a proposition to give temporary relief to industrious labourers thrown out of employment by accident would be resisted. As he was of opinion, that the Poor-law commissioners either ought not to be continued or be placed under the strict and jealous surveillance of Parliament, he should support the motion of the hon. Member for Preston.
§ General Johnson
was opposed to the bill, because, in his mind, it put the whole labouring class out of the law, and into the hands of the Poor-law commissioners. Petitions to a very great number had been presented to the House against the bill, and it was a remarkable circumstance that there were only two petitions with two signatures in its favour. The present measure had a tendency to keep up dissensions in the country, and if the Legislature wished to excite the deadly hatred of the working classes, all they need to do was to pass the bill under consideration. It was designated by the working classes throughout the country as the rich man's law against the poor. Out of every 100 of agricultural labourers or mechanics 99 would be found, he undertook to say, to entertain the greatest abhorrence of the existing law. Great stress had been laid on the bad administration of the old law; and it had been urged, that nothing could be so injurious as paying wages partly out of the rates. He admitted this, but to what extent had such a system prevailed? It existed in not more than five counties; and in the north, paying wages out of the rates was a thing unheard of. It was no reason, then, because the Poor-law had been previously badly administered in five counties, that the old consti 427 tutional system should be totally subverted, and an innovation introduced throughout England. Much was said about the uniformity established under the new law, but he denied, that any uniformity existed; for in some unions orders for outdoor relief were issued, while in others the power to give such relief was withheld. He felt confident, that if Parliament persisted in imposing this law on the country, the results must be, that society would be disorganised, and one class of the community would be set against the other.
complained of the waste of time occasioned by a discussion on the principle of the bill, after an overwhelming majority of the House had decided in its favour. If hon. Members wished to amend the bill, surely they did not go the right way to work, by moving that it be committed that day six months. This motion seemed to him quite as uncalled for as the recent amendment of the hon. Member for Finsbury for dividing the bill into two parts. When the New Poor-law was first introduced, it was generally admitted to be necessary to carry it into execution by the aid of a central controlling authority. It was thought to be impossible that the system could be conducted in any other way for a number of years. The only question, therefore, for consideration at the present moment was, whether the system could go on for five years, or any given period, deprived of the advantage of this controlling power? Payment of wages out of the rates was a very great evil under the old law, and was known under one name or another, in the very county in which the hon. Member who last spoke resided. No one could reflect on the state of the poor under-the old system, without a feeling of pain. It was evident that their morals, habits, and dispositions, were deteriorated in proportion as the Poor-law was badly administered. Previous to the introduction of the present law, the agricultural population, in some of the counties, was on the very verge of an outbreak. Such a state of things required a caustic and constitutional remedy, and he contended, that the principle on which the New Poor-law was founded, was just the same as that which was previously acted upon in counties where the old law was best executed—namely, the workhouse test. What, indeed, was the principle of the Elizabethan law? By it the poor were divided into three classes: the first was composed of children whose parents were 428 unable to support them, and for their apprenticeship, when arrived at a proper age, money was to be raised. The second class consisted of the able-bodied poor, who, though willing to work, were unable to find employment. It was provided that work should be prepared for these, and those who were acquainted with the nature of the work, which was specified for this purpose, would be aware that it constituted a most severe labour test. The third class was composed of the aged poor, who were to he differently treated, for to them direct money relief was to be given. Now, let the House call to mind how this principle had been departed from. The able-bodied poor had received relief in part payment of wages, and the amount of relief was made to depend on the number of their family. Sometimes they were set in gangs to work, but, being under no inspection, they remained in listless inactivity. In the workhouses no classification was established; the old, the young, the dissolute, and the unfortunate, were all huddled together. When the children were apprenticed, they were frequently assigned to persons who were unable to maintain their own offspring, and who looked to the parish premium solely as a means of eking out an existence. It was essential that something should be done to correct these abuses, and the question for the House of Commons to determine, after six years' experience of the bill was, what amendment of the law was necessary? Was a test of destitution necessary, and if so, how was that test to be regulated? Would they intrust magistrates, the board of guardians, or the Poor-law Commissioners, with the imposition of that test? If, in 1797, when the bread system was introduced into Berkshire, the magistrates were unable to resist the pressure of the labouring population, how could it be expected, in the present day, that that they would be able to oppose the demands of the rural and manufacturing population both combined? With respect to the board of guardians, the House was aware that the elected guardians consisted frequently of individuals engaged in a trade involved in temporary distress; and, therefore, if they possessed the power of ordering relief, the consequence would be, that they could scarcely deny it to any one. They could make no distinction between the good man and the dissolute, and the workhouse would cease to be a test of destitution. It was, therefore, necessary to have recourse to a central controlling power, totally dis- 429 tinct find apart from all local influences. The hon. Member then proceeded to observe, that the authority possessed by the commissioners was discreetly exercised by them, according to the circumstances of each case. In Nottingham, the workhouse became completely full in 1836. Another workhouse was hired, but the pressure continued, and it became apparent to the assistant-commissioner, that a class of persons who had been previously in a very respectable condition resorted, in consequence of the prevalence of manufacturing distress, to the parish funds for support. Did the commissioners fail in their duty then? No, They immediately established a distinction between between the pauper who had been on former occasions dependent on his parish, and those who were unexpectedly driven to the parish, from the stoppage of the manufactories. The regular pauper received his relief solely in the the workhouse; but the man who was distressed, from the causes he had just mentioned, received relief, partly in necessaries, and partly in money, and all that was demanded of him was, that labour which was required of every one who came upon the parish funds. In Leicester, great distress prevailed in 1836, or 1837. Under the old law, in that case, an order of removal would have removed such paupers as did not belong to the parish; but the Poor-law Commissioners had consented to the very best species of relief—they had actually allowed relief to be given to nonresidents, with this sole reservation, that a relieving-officer should be employed, He only pointed out these examples, to show that the Poor-law Commissioners, as far as they knew, had acted with integrity and honesty, and, in his estimation, the report of the committee had been made with tin-greatest discrimination. He could not conceive that the time could arrive, when they could, by possibility, do without a central power; and, though it was necessary, yet he held it to be not constitutional; and, therefore, he wished that too long a continuance should not be given to it, but that it should be limited to five years instead of ten. He would just quote from the law itself, as to the power which boards of guardians had, in cases of emergency. By the 52d section of the Poor-law Amendment Act, the commissioners might fix a day when out-door relief should cease; and that overseers or guardians might depart from the rule in emergency, and that the commissioners should approve 430 of this departure, if it were reported to them within tea days afterwards; and. though money-relief might not be lawful, yet the guardians of the poor might determine, in cases of emergency, to give food, clothing, and lodging for fifteen days, without the commissioners having the power to interfere; and they, likewise, by their rules, determined that, with some exceptions, relief might be given to able-bodied paupers. He would point the attention of the House to page 24, article 1, in which eight exceptions to the general rule of out-door relief were specified; as when persons required relief on account of sudden and urgent necessity, or on account of any sickness, accident, or bodily or mental infirmity affecting themselves or their families, or for defraying the expenses, either wholly or in part, of a funeral in their families. Here were three cases where, notwithstanding the prohibitory law, the guardians had the right to take special circumstances into account, and if they pleased, to give relief, which otherwise would not be lawful. He thought it would have been better if the noble Lord had followed his own course, rather than adopted the clauses of individuals, several of which would be brought up, and probably carried. Where the noble Lord saw that any clauses would carry out the views of the committee, he hoped he would adopt them. At any rate, the noble Lord should have his cordial support against the motion for committing the bill on that day six months.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, his constituents were unanimous in their opposition to this bill; and they believed, that this system had a tendency to increase rather than to diminish the Poor-rates. Another reason for their opposition was, that this enactment was not suited to the manufacturing districts. He objected to putting the poor to the severe tests required by this act, and to throwing them on their own resources, while the landed interest had a law to protect them; they ought first to repeal the Corn-laws, He was not disposed to blame this law altogether for the state of the poor, because he could remember their condition under the old law. There had been many amendments made by this act, but the jealousy of the people at the power given to the Poor-law commissioners made them unwilling to receive it; but, if the power were vested in boards of guardians, much benefit might accrue from the act. 431 If any amelioration of the law were proposed, he should think it his duty to support it, particularly if it enabled the poor to be relieved in a less objectionable way. In the manufacturing districts, where hundreds were thrown out of employment in an instant, the present mode of refusing out-door relief was most objectionable.
§ Sir A. Dalrymple
said, that looking at the various clauses of the bill, and at the way in which they worked, he had felt it necessary to vote against it, because he felt that the general principle of the bill was to make the original Poor-law Amendment Act more strict. Having voted against the second reading of the present bill for these reasons, and having found himself in a minority, and the noble Lord having given way on several points, he should not oppose the bill going into committee, but should feel himself bound to support many of the amendments which had been proposed by every means in his power.
§ Mr. Slaney
said, he had supported the original bill, and would not have done so if he had considered it in any way hostile to the poorer classes. His belief was, that this bill was absolutely necessary to their welfare. He merely spoke as to the principle of it, and not as to every clause of it. In almost every county on the south and east coasts the labourers had formerly had their wages made up out of the Poor-rates, and the services of labouring men were put up to auction. That was a system which had been maintained, not in one parish, but in several. If that were the case, was not the change which had taken place in the condition of the working classes of these counties to be considered as an improvement. He contended, that the labourers were much improved in condition by having their wages paid directly in money. The condition of the poor in the old workhouses was ill-attended to. The able-bodied dissolute woman, with her two or three bastard children, was there mixed up with the old and infirm woman of correct life. Now these classes were separated, and old persons were placed in situations where they could enjoy those decent comforts fitted for their age, and where they were separated from those who formerly, under the old system, used to tease and plague them. The able-bodied had the option whether they would work or not, and if they would there was sufficient employment found for 432 them. But, above all, what was the beneficial change which had taken place in the condition of the infant poor? They were now separated from the contamination of bad example, they had the best instruction, and were enabled to go out as servants and apprentices. He thought these were reasons why they ought to finish the improvements they had begun. He thought the law would want some alteration; but, on the whole, there were such improvements in the bill that it would be rash to return to the old system. For these reasons, he should give his humble support to the committing of the bill; at the same time he should not pledge himself to support every clause in it.
§ Sir Charles Douglas
rose amid cries of "Divide," and said it was not his intention to do more than explain the vote he had given on the second reading, and at the same time the reason why he should not support the amendment of his hon. Friend, the Member for Preston. The bill as it stood when he voted on the second reading, was not the same as the present, in one principle at least, and yet he should have voted for it, but for the end of the speech of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) on that occasion which convinced him (Sir C. Douglas), that the continuance of the commissioners for ten years, was the main principle the Government wished to be enforced. He would quote from that speech to prove such was the case. [Loud cries of "Order."] He would bow to the Chair; but he must state, that his vote against the second reading was given, because he recollected "that a noble Lord had some were declared, that with respect to the suggestion of his right hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Tamworth, to limit the duration of the commission to five years, he should be extremely sorry to see it adopted." The noble Lord had been forced to abandon the declared intentions of the Government, and they incurred great responsibility by having shown to the country, that as a Government they desired the continuance of the commission for ten years; against that as a principle he had voted. The suggestion of his right hon. Friend having been adopted by proposing five years to the consideration of the House, which, according to the hon. Member for Fins-bury (Mr. Wakley), would give great satisfaction to the country. He (Sir C. 433 Douglas) was desirous of going into committee, and he should there endeavour to Brake such amendments in the bill as might be necessary.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that, if his impression were correct, the report of the commissioners contained a number of recommendations having a tendency to soften the severity of the bill. Not one of those recommendations, however, was embodied in the bill now before the House. The committee had condemned the size of the unions. They had pronounced the medical districts too large. They had condemned the system of tenders with reference to medical contracts. How, then, could the hon. Member for Somersetshire consistently say that it was a waste of time to discuss the question, and that they should rush at once to the amendment of the bill? It was not fit for amendment. For, was any part of the bill approved of by the people? True, a clause had been introduced by the noble Lord (he alluded to clause A) with reference to local acts. He was afraid that the noble Lord was not altogether pleased with the Members for the metropolitan districts, they were rather unwelcome visitors to the noble Lord. The demagogues were a source of annoyance to him. He was glad of it. He hoped that the noble Lord might continue to suffer these annoyances till a change took place with reference to the existing law. The noble Lord had said, that it was argued at the time of the Reform Bill that one effect of that measure would be to introduce mischievous demagogues into that House as the representatives of the metropolitan districts. Whether such had been the effect or not he could not say. The noble Lord, perhaps, could. He much feared that the noble Lord's opinion of them had been only too true, for the noble Lord had had their support ever since they had been in that House. He could assure the noble Lord that no term which the noble Lord could apply to him as one of them, should prevent him from discharging what he thought to be his duty in that House. The metropolis, however, had shown no such vulgar taste. The effect of the reform of that House had been that the metropolis had returned one noble Lord. The noble Lord had first rattled through the question with reference to destitution, and had proclaimed from his ministerial seat in that House that no distinction should be made 434 between different classes of paupers. Destitution, according to the noble Lord, was to be the test whether relief was to be granted or not. The character of the party applying for relief was to form no ingredient with reference to the treatment of paupers. [Hear, hear, from the Ministerial benches.] Oh ! yes, he knew he should have "hear, hear," from that side. He thought that those hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House were mistaken in their views on this question. They might entertain the same opinion of him. The events and transactions of a few short years would prove whether it was a judicious policy for the Gentlemen of England to legislate in that House in such a manner as to proclaim to their poorer brethren that when, under the pressure of want, they applied for relief, their character was not to be taken into account with reference to the amount which they should be allowed to receive. Under the statute of Elizabeth a far different system prevailed, until the magistrates established the roundsman system, and the system of head money. That system was due to the legislation of that House, and the conduct of the magistrates. And how those magistrates been repaid? Had they been punished? Had they been treated with contempt? Had they been visited with odium? Quite the reverse. In return for the mischiefs which they had caused, they had been made ex officio guardians of unions. Who had thus rewarded them? Who but the present Administration? This was the work of the noble Lord and his colleagues, and not of mischievous demagogues envenoming the spirit of the people. But the noble Lord had that night appeared in the character of a demagogue himself. What was it that the noble Lord had said to the working man? "Go, and apply for relief, and if you have not competent wages—insist on entering the workhouse—demand admission—throw yourselves into the house." Was the noble Lord aware if that advice had been followed? He (Mr. Wakley) would caution the people against following the noble Lord's advice. They had once followed the advice of the noble Lord, given in the speech which he made at Liverpool, and what was the result? Why that 500 were now cast into cells, in which they had full leisure to reflect on the advantages which they had derived from it. They had been told to meet and to agitate. They did so, They 435 did meet; they did agitate; and the poor unfortunate fellows had now full time to reflect on their past agitation in perfect quiescence. He, however, remembered something else more potent, more pungent to his mind, which thrilled the very blood which flowed in his veins. He remembered the case of some harmless agricultural labourers living in an English village in the year 1834, who, having received notice that their wages were to be lowered from 7s. a-week to 6s., entered into what was called a trades' combination for the purpose of protecting themselves against wrong. Better men never lived. It was known and acknowledged, that their reputation was without speck or blemish. They thought that by so doing they were not acting contrary to law, but unfortunately they took an oath of secrecy, forbidden under the 37th George 3rd, an act of Parliament not known at the time by the Attorney-general or any other of the law-officers of the Crown. In consequence of that oath, and the combination into which they had entered in order to protect themselves, they were tried at Dorchester, and the result of the trial was, that they were sentenced to transportation for seven years. The expedition with which they were hurried from the shores of England, to the scene of their banishment wag quite remarkable. That, then, was the way in which those labourers had been treated. That was the reward which they received for striving to make themselves that independent race of men which the noble Lord was so desirous of seeing. What happened in that case? One woman had her husband transported, another her eldest son, a third her brothers. Was that, he would ask, the treatment which those who had struggled for independence ought to have received? He gave the noble Lord full credit for aiming at nothing else than the good of his country—no doubt the noble Lord believed, that the passing Of that law would be a benefit to the nation; but the noble Lord erred in supposing that a hungry starving man, whose children were crying for bread, would be in a condition to reason calmly on the matter, in imagining that a man going home and seeing his children pining from want before him, destitute of the quantity of food necessary to sustain life, would be able to enter into a calm conversation with his wife, and reflect with tranquillity on the break 436 ing up of his cottage home, on the necessity of forsaking his garden, and all he held dear, to throw himself into the union workhouse. What would be the treatment which he would get there—separated from his wife and children, clad in a gaol dress, employed in the miserable occupation of picking oakum from morning till night, stigmatized as a being living on charity. Did the noble Lord think that this was the man to realise his idea of an independent English labourer? Or did he not rather think, that such a man would not have recourse to this until he was driven to the last extremity, till he saw his family on the very brink of the grave? The hon. Member for Somersetshire had stated, that the guardians were, for the most part, the employers of the poor—that was the truth. These guardians sitting at the board might say, "We will agree to give 7s. a-week for wages." One guardian might say, that sum was not enough, as times go; another might answer, that it was quite enough; but then, the other might urge, applications would be made to come into the poor-house. "Very true," answers the first, "but they will not stay there;" and so they agree to give no higher wages; these wages must needs be accepted, because if they were not, nothing was left but the test—test, did he say? It was not a test—rather let him call it a torture. That was the only word, for a torture must it prove to every poor man who wished to do his duty to his family. Reflecting on these things, he for one, in the spirit of perfect sincerity, now declared, that should it be the disposition of the House that night to vote for the commitment of the bill of the noble Lord, rejecting the amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, he would concur as sincerely, and heartily, as any man in that House in the endeavour to make it a good law; and he appealed to every Member who was so placed as to command a view of the operation of the law to adopt the same course. If the noble Lord would lend a willing ear to the observations offered by the various Members having an opportunity of seeing the law in action—if the noble Lord would listen to their suggestions, and would consent to take some power from the commissioners, he did not despair of obtaining ultimately a measure something like satisfactory to the people.
having voted against the second reading of the bill now under discuss too, thought it incumbent on him to state briefly the reason which induced him now to vote for sending the bill into committee. He had voted against the second reading, because he thought the measure unjust, cruel, and unnatural. His opinion remained unchanged. He still thought it liable to the three objections which he had then stated, but he was of opinion that by allowing it to go into committee he might be instrumental in modifying its more stringent clauses. He hoped to see the central power of the commissioners limited from five years to two. Many amendments were proposed, some of which he looked upon as most valuable, particularly the one proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Sussex, namely, the substitution of the "labour test" for the "in-door test." Feeling, therefore, that by voting for the amendment, "that the bill be committed this day six months," he would be, perhaps, defeating the enactment of a measure which might be the means of modifying the hardships and cruelties of the existing syetem, he should, however inconsistent it might appear, vote that the bill go into committee.
§ The House divided on the original question, that the House will resolve itself into a committee. Ayes 217; Noes 51; Majority 196.
|List of the AYES.|
|Abercromby, hn.G.R.||Briscoe, J.I.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Broadley, H.|
|Acland, T. D.||Brownrigg, S.|
|A'Court, Captain||Bruges, W. H. L.|
|Adam, Admiral||Buck, L. W.|
|Alston, R.||Buller, E.|
|Antrobus, E.||Buller, Sir J. Y.|
|Ashley, Lord||Burr, H.|
|Bailey, J.||Burroughes, H. N.|
|Bailey, J. jun.||Busfeild, W.|
|Baldwin, C. B.||Byng, G.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Callaghan, D.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Campbell, Sir H.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Campbell, Sir J.|
|Berkeley, hon. H.||Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.|
|Berkeley, hon. C.||Cantilupe, Viscount|
|Bernal, R.||Carew, hon. R. S.|
|Bethell, R.||Cavendish, hon. C.|
|Bewes, T.||Cavendish, hon. G. H|
|Blake, W. J.||Chalmers, P.|
|Bodkin, J. J.||Chute, W. L. W.|
|Botfield, B.||Clay, W.|
|Bowes, J.||Clerk, Sir G.|
|Brabazon, Lord||Clive, hon. R. H.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Codrington, C. W.|
|Collier, J.||Hume, J.|
|Compton, H. C.||Hutt, W.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Inglis, Sir R. H.|
|Craig, W. G.||James, W.|
|Crawford, W.||Jermyn, Earl|
|Crewe, Sir G.||Jervis, S.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Johnstons, H.|
|Dalrymple, Sir A.||Jones, J.|
|Darby, G.||Kemble, H.|
|Denison, W.J.||Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.|
|De Horsey, S. H.|
|Divett, E.||Knight, H. G.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Labouchere, rt. hn. H.|
|Duff, J.||Langdale, hon. C.|
|Dugdale, W. S.||Lascelles, hon. W, S.|
|Du Pre, G.||Lemon, Sir C.|
|East, J. B.||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Eastnor, Viscount||Loch, J.|
|Egerton, Lord F.||Lushington, C.|
|Eliot, Lord||Lushington, rt. hn. S.|
|Ellis, W.||Macaulay, rt. hn. T.B.|
|Evans, G.||Marshall, W.|
|Evans, W.||Marsland, H.|
|Farnham, E. B.||Martin, J.|
|Fellowes, E.||Melgund, Viscount|
|Filmer, Sir E.||Miles, W.|
|Fitzalan, Lord||Miles, P. W. S.|
|Filzroy, Lord C.||Milnes, R. M.|
|Filzroy, hon. H.||Molesworth, Sir W.|
|Fleming, J.||Mordaunt, Sir J.|
|Fox, S. L.||Morgan, O.|
|Freemantle, Sir T.||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Gisborne, T.||Morrison, J.|
|Gladstone, W.E.||Muskett, G. A.|
|Gladstone, J. N.||Norreys, Lord|
|Gordon, R.||Norreys, Sir D. J.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||O'Brien, W. S.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Ord, W.|
|Grimston, Viscount||Ossulston, Lord|
|Grosvenor, Lord R.||Packe, C. W.|
|Grote, G.||Paget, F.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Pakington, J. S.|
|Handley, H.||Palmer, R.|
|Harcourt, G. S.||Palmerston, Viscount|
|Hardinge, rt. hn. SirH,||Parker, J.|
|Hawes, B.||Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.|
|Hawkins, J. H.||Patten. J. W.|
|Hayes. Sir E.||Pattison, J|
|Hayter, W. G.||Pease, J.|
|Heathcote, Sir W.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Hector, C. J.||Philips, M.|
|Heneage, E.||Philips, G. R.|
|Henniker, Lord||Pigot, rt. hon. D.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Hill, Lord A. M. C.||Ponsonby, C.F.A. C.|
|Hobhouse, T. B.||Powell, Colonel|
|Hollond, R.||Praed, W. T.|
|Holmes, hon. W. A'Court||Price, Sir R.|
|Hope, G. W.||Pusey, P.|
|Horsman, E.||Rawdon, Col. J, D.|
|Howard, hn. E. G. G.||Rice, E. R.|
|Howard, F. J.||Rich, H.|
|Howard. P. H.||Rickford, W.|
|Howard, hn. C.W.G.||Roche, W.|
|Howick, Viscount||Rolleston, L.|
|Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.||Thornely, T.|
|Round, C. G.||Townley, R. G.|
|Rundle, J.||Trotter, J.|
|Rushbrooke, Colonel||Troubridge, Sir E, T.|
|Russell, Lord J.||Tufnell, H.|
|Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A||Turner, E.|
|Salwey, Colonel||Tyrrell, Sir J. T.|
|Sanderson, R.||Vere, Sir C B.|
|Sandon, Viscount||Verney, Sir H.|
|Scarlett, hon. J. Y.||Villiers, hon. C P.|
|Scrope, G. P.||Villiers Viscount|
|Seymour, Lord||Vivian, J. H.|
|Shaw, rt. hon. F.||Vivian, rt. hn. Sir R.H.|
|Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.||Wall, C. B.|
|Sheppard, T.||Warburton, H|
|Shirley, E. J.||Ward, H. G.|
|Slaney, R. A.||Welby, G. E.|
|Smith, J. A.||White, A.|
|Smith, A.||Wilbraham, G.|
|Smith, R. V.||Winnington, Sir T.E.|
|Smyth, Sir G. H.||Wilmington, H. J.|
|Somers, J. P.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Somerset, Lord G.||Wood, C.|
|Somerville, Sir W. M.||Wood, Colonel|
|Sotheron, T. E.||Wood, G. W.|
|Stansfield, W. R. C.||Wood, Colonel T.|
|Staunton, Sir G. T.||Wood, B.|
|Stewart, J.||Worsley, Lord|
|Stuart, Lord J.||Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.|
|Stuart, W. V.||Wyse, T.|
|Stock, Mr. Serjeant||Yates, J. A.|
|Strickland, Sir G.||TELLERS.|
|Strutt, E.||Stanley, hon. E. J.|
|Teignmouth, Lord||Maule, hon. F.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Archdall, M.||Hodgson, F.|
|Attwood, W.||Hodgson, R.|
|Attwood, M.||Houldsworth, T.|
|Baillie, Colonel||Hurt, F.|
|Bell, M.||Irton, S.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||James, Sir W.|
|Bradshaw, J.||Johnson, General|
|Broad wood, H.||Leader, J. T.|
|Brotherton, J.||Marton, G.|
|Bryan, G.||Miller, W. H.|
|Collins, W.||Palmer, G.|
|Copeland, Mr. Ald.||Pechell, Captain|
|Dick, Q.||Planta, rt. hon. J.|
|Duncombe, T.||Polhill, F.|
|Duncombe, hon. W.||Richards, R.|
|Duncombe, hon. A.||Scholefield, J.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Evans, Sir De Lacy||Stanley. E.|
|Fielden, J.||Thompson, Mr. Ald.|
|Fector, J. M.||Wakley, T.|
|Fleetwood, Sir P. H.||Walker, R.|
|Gore, O. J. R.||Wilbraham, hon. B.|
|Halford, H.||Williams, T. P.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Williams, W.|
|Hinde, J. H.||TELLERS.|
|Hindley, C.||Parker, R.|
|Hodges, T.L.||Grimsditch, T.|
§ House in committee.
§ On the first clause,
§ Sir E. Knatchbull moved that it be post 440 poned. In voting for the second reading of the bill and for going into committee he did not mean to give his approval of what the bill contained, concurring as he did with the hon. Member for Finsbury, that such amendments should be made as would render it more satisfactory to the country. He thought it would be convenient to postpone this clause for the present, and for this plain reason, that he was not prepared to say how long the Poor-law Commissioners ought to be continued until he had ascertained what their powers were to be. He moved the postponement of the clause upon two grounds; first, the mode and manner in which the commissioners had exercised their authority up to the present period; and, secondly, what powers were to be given to them hereafter. If he were disposed to cavil at the bill, it was very probable he might find a sufficiency of justifying grounds for doing so in the course which the commissioners had adopted; but while he should abstain from travelling through that course, he must observe that there were one or two points upon which he conceived some explanation ought to be given before they came to a decision upon the subject of the present clause. One of those had been referred to on a former evening by the hon. Member for Devonshire, and related to what he naturally termed as very extraordinary conduct on the part of the commissioners. In that county a public meeting had taken place in opposition to the bill then before the House, and was attended by a magistrate of the county—a circumstance which it appeared had given dissatisfaction to the resident commissioner, who had taken upon himself, by what authority he (Sir E. Knatchbull) did not know, to summon that gentleman to give an account of the opinions he had expressed at a public meeting of his own county. He did not know if that course had been sanctioned by the Poor-law Commissioners, but he felt, that as the circumstance was a public one, there ought to be a public explanation given of it. He should also observe, that an inquiry was now going on respecting certain proceedings of the commissioners in another part of the country, and involving serious charges against them; and until that inquiry was closed, and until the explanation he had referred to was given, he would not be prepared to say how long the commissioners ought to be continued. 441 He might go through the whole of the clauses of this bill, and find fault with them, but he did not think he should be justified in occupying the time of the committee by so doing. The noble Lord had certainly managed the matter with great skill and adroitness. He at first proposed ten years as the period of continuance for the commissioners, and appeared pertinaciously to adhere to that proposition, although he (Sir E. Knatchbull) believed that the noble Lord had no notion of carrying the point. The noble Lord knew that it was one which would be well discussed, and upon which there would exist differences of opinion, and, therefore, went upon the principle of asking ten in order that he might secure five, in case that number should be suggested by any hon. Member on that (the Opposition) side of the House. His right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth had intimated on the first night the question was debated, that five would be better than ten, but he did not understand him to say that five was the precise term of years he would wish to see under this bill. He thought it would be infinitely better to postpone the first clause until they had gone through the other clauses, when they would be in a much better position to decide that point, which was about the most important in the bill.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
asked why they had not been told what the number of assistant-commissioners was to be. The old number was twenty-one, but he would recommend the noble Lord to try the lucky number of five. He saw so much throughout the bill that required alteration that he would cordially second his right hon. Friend's motion for postponing the clause, and, if he moved the postponement of the next clause, also, he would support him with equal pleasure.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, that his wish was, as he had already stated, that the powers of the commissioners should be continued for ten years; for he still thought, although he undeservedly got credit for thinking otherwise, that ten years would be a better period of time. But, it having Income matter of considerable doubt, that he should have succeeded in carrying that period, and feeling that it would have been rather hard, that those who were in the habit of voting with him should have been subjected to the odium of a defeat, he yielded to what he thought would have 442 been the probable sense of the House upon the subject. He could not agree to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He could not see how they could postpone this clause and consistently proceed with the rest of the bill. If, for instance, they were to provide that the commissioners should have certain powers respecting the dissolution and alteration of unions, and respecting the boards of management, and if, after deciding upon, and discussing those and other matters contained in the subsequent clauses, the House should be of opinion, that the commissioners should not continue after the 31st of December newt, the time of the House would have been uselessly and unnecessarily occupied. Therefore, he did think, that without going into the case of Mr Gilbert, of Devonshire, or awaiting the result of the inquiry going on in the House of Lords, who might not come to any decision upon the subject for a long time, they should proceed to the consideration of the present clause. Everybody knew pretty well what had been the conduct of the commissioners, and could have little difficulty in saying whether they ought to be continued or not. He proposed, that they should be continued for five years longer. If it seemed to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that two or three years would be a fitter period, let him propose an alteration to that effect; but he felt it to be expedient that they should first decide what the period of continuance was to be, because if it were agreed that they ought not to be continued, then would the House be saved both time and trouble in considering the matters to which be had alluded. He should oppose the postponement of the clause.
§ Sir R. Peel
applauded the discretion of the noble Lord in declining to drag his friends through the odium of supporting him unless he was perfectly sure of carrying his original proposition. For himself, he must say be had not suggested five years as the term for the continuance of the commission merely because that was half of what the noble Lord proposed, but because he considered it a reasonable proposition, which the House might, therefore, fairly infer that he would still support. He very much doubted whether five was not better than a shorter period. In the first place, he did not think there would be any very great advantage in 443 annual or frequent discussion of this point. Then, supposing allegations of abuse on the part of the commissioners, he very much doubted whether the House would not be perfectly ready to inquire into such a case, considering the period which might have to elapse before the expiration of their powers. Supposing the object to be to get rid of the commission, he very much doubted whether there was not a greater chance of gaining that object, supposing there was no necessity for continuing them, by adopting the term of five years rather than two. He saw quite as good a chance of dispensing with the powers of the commissioners by protracting the period of their existence for five year?, as if there were an annual proposal for their renewal. If he should be convinced at the expiration of five years that no advantage would be gained by continuing a central board, he should then decidedly vote for their dismissal; but if on the lapse of five years he thought their existence still necessary—if he found, for instance, that boards of guardians, who, as the hon. Member for Finsbury stated, were the chief employers of the poor, were disposed to act in the manner described, applying not the test, but the torture, in order to induce the poor to accept lower wages, he should begin to doubt whether it would be quite politic to permit those guardians to act without some central authority. But, at the same time, he should watch the exercise of the powers vested in the commissioners most narrowly; whether the period were one or five years. He should consider the large powers intrusted to them; and, having devolved those powers, the greater they were, the more jealousy must Parliament exercise with respect to their application, and the greater the readiness with which they must listen to any allegations of abuse. While he consented to the prolonged duration of the commission for five years, he must say that he wished the commissioners would watch the expressions they made use of with a little more circumspection. He thought that with the best intentions, there, was occasionally a harshness displayed in the vindication of certain principles, which might be avoided consistently with the maintenance of the law. and the avoidance of which would tend to fortify the powers of the commissioners. To give an illustration of Ibis he would take, for instance, an 444 official circular, published by the Poor-law commissioners, one of those public documents directed by the board, to be printed chiefly for the use of the guardians. In one of those papers he found the following expressions:—One principal object of a compulsory provision, for the relief of destitution, is the prevention of almsgiving.Why, he heard the noble Lord (J. Russell) himself state, that the Poor-law would completely fail in effect if the affluent withheld their alms. That was perfectly true; and he should abominate the Poor-law if he thought it relieved the rich from the duty of almsgiving. He was perfectly certain the Poor-law would fail if the affluent, relying upon its provisions alone, however improved the system of administration might be, felt that the moral obligation on them to attend to the wants of their poorer neighbours was thereby extinguished. It was no such thing. In point of fact, the relief of the poor must mainly depend on the rich and affluent; and, therefore, it was unwise in the commissioners to issue a public notice, announcing that "a principal object of a compulsory provision for the relief of destitution was the prevention of almsgiving." One object might be the prevention of mendicancy or vagrancy, certainly not of almsgiving. Good God, it was a complete desecration of the precepts of the Divine law—"Give alms to the poor," "Turn not your face from the poor man." He only mentioned this as an illustration of the great advantage and wisdom of weighing the expressions which might be used, so as not to get up an impression of unnecessary hardship. Indeed, he did think with respect to the public documents put forth by the commissioners, independently of the use of particular expressions, their general tone and character might be improved, consistently with the maintenance of the principles of the law. He would not enter further into the matter at present. The House and the noble Lord had a fair right to infer, when he suggested five years, that he would be prepared cordially to support that period. He frankly owned it was equally competent for them, after adopting that term, to consider whether they should afterwards modify the clauses on account of the duration of their powers. He hoped his right hon Friend would not take the sense of the House upon the postponement of the 445 first clause. He thought they ought, in the first instance, to decide the question as to the continuance and duration of the commission before they proceeded to consider the clauses prescribing their powers.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
wished to define the powers of the commissioners before he was called upon to fix the term of their continuance. He did not know what shape the bill might assume when the other clauses should be disposed of. It might be essentially different from what it was at present, and the period for which he should vote must therefore very much depend on the character of the powers vested in the commissioners.
§ Lord G. Somerset
thought it would be very inconvenient to legislate what the commissioners should do until it was decided whether they were to be continued or not. He should certainly vote for the continuance of the commission for five years; but he should reserve to himself the full right at a future slap of the bill, probably on the report, unless the clauses were so modified as to meet his approbation, to limit the duration of the commission as much as he should think proper.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull,
reserving to himself the same power of proposing, on the report, a reduced term of years, or, if the bill were not very much modified, of opposing it in toto upon the third rending, declined to press his motion for the postponement of the clause.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
expressed his deep regret that hit right hon. Friend would not divide upon this question. If the bill was to be continued for five years, the House was at least entitled to have an answer to the question he put, namely, what was to be the number of assistant-commissioners and other officers.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, he had stated on a former occasion that the number of assistant-commissioners in England and Wales should be reduced to twelve.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
suggested that they might at least be reduced to the noble Lord's lucky number "five."
§ The first clause was then put.
§ Mr. B. Wood moved a proviso, with the view of reducing the number of assistant-commissioners to five, and that they should continue only for two yews, to leave out the words "every assistant commissioner." The number of parishes to be unionized were only 799, of which the population 446 amounted to but 2,000,000, and from which, at least, 1,000,000 should be deducted, as representing large parishes in the metropolis and other districts, which were not to be formed into unions at all. A much smaller number than twelve assistant-commissioners would be more than sufficient for every purpose. He complained that the assistant-commissioners were often employed in matters with which they had no concern, and particularly alluded to the recent investigations which had taken place into the circumstances of the death of Elizabeth Wyse, who died of starvation in Kensington, the jury strongly condemning the conduct of the relieving officer and the surgeon of the union, but neither of the two assistant-commissioners (Sir E. Head and Dr. May), who both were employed in the matter, had adopted any step or inflicted any punishment on the offenders. He maintained that the regularly constituted authorities of the country were the proper parties to inquire into such cases. There were many unions which had not been visited by the assistant-commissioners for eighteen months, and he thought the expense might as well be spared. At the same time, he must say, he was not instigated to make this proposition by any opposition to the principle of the bill. He was favourable to the continuance of the commission for five years. The hon. Member concluded by moving his amendment.
§ Lord J. Russell
opposed the amendment. The assistant-commissioners were exceedingly useful in attending boards and explaining the objects of the law and its general operation with regard to relief. If the boards of guardians were permanent, and had other opportunities of learning their duties, a smaller number of assistant-commissioners would be sufficient, but in order to enforce something like uniformity of system, twelve was still necessary.
§ Mr. G. Wood
said, that in the unions with which he was acquainted, the assistant-commissioners were not able to visit more than once in four or five months. But then they were kept away by pressure 447 of business elsewhere. He thought that it was sought to carry the reduction too far.
§ Lord G. Somerset
had presented a petition to-night from the guardians of a union who stated that they got on remarkably well, so long as the assistant-commissioners kept away from them. He was glad to hear that the noble Lord intended to reduce the number of assistant-commissioners. He wished, however, to know whether the noble Lord would have any objection to insert in the present bill the maximum number of assistant-commissioners to be hereafter appointed. By the present act of Parliament nine assistant-commissioners were appointed, and as many more as might be deemed necessary by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Would the noble Lord give the committee legislative assurance that themaximum number of assistant-commissioners should not hereafter exceed twelve?
§ Mr. R. Palmer
said, that in the course of last year he had received petitions from several boards of guardians in the county (Berkshire) which he had the honour to represent, and the object of all those petitions had been to state that there was no necessity for so many assistant-commissioners, as the duties which they had to perform were completely works of supererogation. The assistant-commissioners could hardly have at present as much duty to perform as they had when the new law was in its infancy. The object of Government in appointing them originally was to carry out the bill by dividing the country into unions. Now that the unions, or at least the far greater portion of the unions, were formed, their duties must generally cease and determine. Their duties must be 4 few and far between "in those parts of the country where the unions were formed. He was therefore anxious for a reduction of their numbers, though he did not know any reason for fixing their number at five, unless it were that it was one for each of the years that the Poor-law commission was to last. Whatever opinion he might entertain upon the policy of making the Poor-law commissioners permanent—and he was by no means favourably inclined to such policy—he could see no reason for making the assistant commissioners a permanent body. He thought, that the House ought to have an assurance, that the assistant-commissioners would not exceed 12.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, that what he had proposed was this—that in future the assistant commissioners should be twelve. The noble Lord, the Member for Monmouthshire had asked, whether he had any objection to insert a clause in the bill providing that the number of assistant-commissioners should not exceed twelve. That would be a limitation to which he was not at present prepared to accede. He had no objection to state, that there would not be more than twelve assistant-commissioners appointed; but he would not fix their number at that limit in the bill, for he could not make such a limitation in the English bill without inserting a similar limitation in the Irish bill. Now, as the system of unions and of workhouses was quite new in Ireland, he could not tell how many assistant-commissioners might be wanted to carry the bill into effect in that country.
§ Mr. S. Herbert
felt inclined to limit the duration of the commission to a shorter period than five years, but at the same time was not disposed to diminish the number of assistant-commissioners. He anticipated, that the commission would not terminate at the end of five years, but it would be wholesome for the commissioners to know that it was not intended that their power should be permanent. Without meaning any imputation on their honour and integrity, he must say, that the commissioners were liable to commit errors in judgment, and particularly this error, that, instead of punishing any malad ministration of the law, they endeavoured to stifle all inquiry into it, under the idea, that the publicity given to such mal-administration would injure the system in public opinon. Now, in a country like this, inquiry could not be stifled. It would therefore be more useful for them to show that, wherever abuses were discovered in the administration of the law, they were resolved to check and punish them. He thought, that it would be very useful, if once a year an opportunty were afforded to the House of making observations upon their conduct. They might thus receive advice like that which the right hon. Member for Tam 449 worth had that night administered to them—advice which would render them more careful in the administration of powers which, if they were not counterbalanced by the necessity of the case, would certaily be objectionable. He should not vote for the present amendment, but should reserve himself for the bringing up the report, when he would give his vote respecting the duration of the powers of the commissioners in such a manner as the alterations to be made in the bill might hereafter require.
§ Mr. B. Wood
, amid great confusion, said, that after the observations which he had just heard, he would not put the committee to the trouble of dividing, but would withdraw his amendment.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that if such a course were adopted he should move, that the Chairman report progress and ask leave to sit again. Two amendments had been proposed and then withdrawn, although the movers of both had threatened to divide the Committee upon them. This was converting the business of the House of Commons into a mere farce. He objected not only to appointing twelve assistant commissioners, but also to appointing any assistant commissioners at all.
§ The committee divided on the question, that the words "every assistant-commissioner," proposed to be left out, stand part of the bill:—Ayes 191; Noes 46: Majority 145.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Buller, Sir J. Y.|
|Acland, T. D.||Bulwer, Sir L.|
|A'Court, Captain||Burroughes, H, N.|
|Adam, Admiral||Busfeild, W.|
|Alston, R.||Campbell, Sir J.|
|Antrobus, E.||Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.|
|Bailey, J., jun.||Cantilupe, Viscount|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Cavendish, hon. C.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Cavendish, hn. G. H.|
|Berkeley, hon. C.||Caley, E. S.|
|Bethell, R.||Chalmers, P.|
|Bewes, T.||Chichester, Sir B.|
|Blake, W. J.||Cholmondeley, hn. H.|
|Boldero, H.G.||Chute, W.L. W.|
|Bolling, W.||Clay, W.|
|Botfield, B.||Clerk, Sir G.|
|Bowes, J.||Cochrane, Sir T. J.|
|Brabazon, Lord||Collier, J.|
|Bramaton, T. W.||Compton, H, C.|
|Broadley, H.||Cowper, hon. W. F,|
|Brotherton, J.||Craig, W. G.|
|Brownrigg, S.||Darby, G.|
|Bruce, C. L. C.||Divett, E.|
|Bruges, W. H. L.||Dundas, C. W. D.|
|Buller, E.||Du Pre, G.|
|Egerton, W.T.||Paget, F.|
|Eliot, Lord||Pakington, J. S.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Palmer, R.|
|Evans, W.||Palmer, G.|
|Ewart, W.||Palmerston, Viscount|
|Farnham, E. B.||Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H|
|Filmer, Sir E.||Pease, J.|
|Fitzalan, Lord||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Fitzroy, hon. H.||Philips, G. R.|
|Fleming, J.||Pigot, rt. hon. D.|
|Fremantle, Sir T.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Gisborne, T.||Ponsonby, C. F.A. C|
|Gladstone, W. E.||Powell, Colonel|
|Glynne, Sir S.||Price, Sir R,|
|Gordon, R.||Protheroe, E.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Pusey, P.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Rawdon, Col. J. D.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Rice, hon. E. R.|
|Grote, G||Richards, R.|
|Hindley, C.||Rickford, W.|
|Harcourt, G. S.||Roche. W.|
|Harland, W. C.||Roleston, L.|
|Hastie, A.||Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Hawes, B.||Round, C. G.|
|Hawkins, J. H.||Rundle, J.|
|Hayter, W.G.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Hill, Lord A. M. C||Salwey, Colonel|
|Handley, H.||Sanderson, R.|
|Hobhouse, T. B.||Sandon, Viscount|
|Holmes, hon. W. A. C||Seymour, Lord|
|Hope, hon. C.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Horsman, E.||Sheppard, T.|
|Howard, hon. E. G.G.||Slaney. R, A.|
|Howard, F. J.||Smith, R. V.|
|Howard, P. H.||Smythe, hon. G.|
|Howard, Sir R.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Howard, hn. C.W.G.||Somerville, Sir W. M|
|Howick, Viscount||Stanley, hn. E. J.|
|Hume, J.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Hurt, F.||Steuart, R.|
|Hutt, W.||Stewart, J.|
|Hutton, R.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Stock, Mr. Serjeant|
|Irton, S.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|James, W.||Strutt, E.|
|Kemble, H.||Style, Sir C.|
|Labouchere, rt. hn. H.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Langdale, hon. C.||Thornely, T.|
|Lascelles, hon. W. S.||Townley, R. G.|
|Law, hon. C. E,||Trotter, J.|
|Loch, J.||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Lushington, rt. hn. S.||Tufnell, H.|
|Macaulay, rt. hn.T.B.||Tyrell, Sir J.T.|
|Maclean. D.||Verner, Colonel|
|Marshall, W.||Vivian, J. H.|
|Martin, J.||Vivian, rt. hn. Sir R.H|
|Maunsell, T. P.||Walker, R.|
|Melgund, Viscount||Warburton, H.|
|Miles, W.||Welby. G. E.|
|Miles, P. W. S.||Wilbraham, G.|
|Mordaunt, Sir J.||Wilbraham, hon. B.|
|Morgan, O.||Wilmot, Sir J. E.|
|Morpeth, Viscount||Winnington, Sir T.E.|
|Morris, D.||Winnington, H. J.|
|Neeld, J.||Wodehouse, E.|
|O'Connell, M. J.||Wood, C.|
|Wood, Colonel||Wyse, T.|
|Wood, G. W.||Young, J.|
|Wood, Colonel T.||TELLERS.|
|Wood, B.||Maule, hon. F.|
|Wrightson, W. B.||Parker, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Archdall, M.||Hawkes, T.|
|Attwood, W.||Henniker, Lord|
|Bailey, J.||Hinde, J. H.|
|Baillie, Colonel||Hodges, T. L.|
|Baldwin, C. B.||Hodgson, F.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Hodgson, R.|
|Broadwood, H.||Hollond, R.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Johnson, General|
|Buck, L. W.||Jones, J.|
|Codrington, C. W.||Leader, J. T.|
|Collins, W.||Lowther. J. H.|
|Copeland, Mr. Ald.||Neeld, J.|
|D'Israeli, B,||Packe, C. W.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Parker, R. T.|
|Duncombe, T.||Pechell, Captain|
|Duncombe, hon. W.||Polhill, F.|
|Duncombe, hon. A.||Scarlett, hon. J.Y.|
|Easthope, J.||Scholefield, J.|
|Ellis, W.||Smyth, Sir G.H.|
|Evans, Sir De L.||Wakley, T.|
|Feilden, W.||Williams, W.|
|Gore, O. J. R.|
|Grant, Sir A. C.||TELLERS.|
|Grimsditch, T.||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Helford, H.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
§ House resumed. Committee to sit again. Adjourned.