HC Deb 24 March 1841 vol 57 cc572-7
Lord John Russell

said, that before the House proceeded to the consideration of the other Orders of the Day, it might be convenient that he should state the views which he took with regard to the amendments proposed in reference to the Poor-law Amendment Bill. It was to be observed, that notice had been given of a great number of amendments, at various times, but they were not arranged in the votes according to any definite method, and it was not to be expected, that he should go through them all, or state them precisely in the order in which they appeared. He would first state those clauses which he proposed to introduce himself, or to which he intended to give his sanction. The first clause to which he should refer was one which was propsed by the noble Lord, the Member for Monmouthshire (Lord Granville Somerset), limiting the number of assistant commissioners for England and Wales to twelve. To this clause he should give his assent, adding one commissioner, however, whose appointment was rendered necessary to superintend the education of the people. With respect to the question as to the size of the unions, he had con suited the commissioners, and they had enabled him to propose a clause, which would empower the guardians to form local committees in unions of a certain size. He did not wish to reason on this subject now, but it was obvious to the House, that in many cases where unions were formed, tin arrangement or purchase of workhouses having been effected, and other matters settled in such a manner as to be likely to be permanent, it would be unwise to break up those arrangements, and so require a new formation of the system; but he thought, that the course proposed would afford fit and proper means to carry out those objects which were desired to be attained. He should propose a clause which would alter the law as it at present stood under the Poor-law Amendment Act, as to the emigration fund, giving that power to the guardians which was now possessed by the rate-payers, With regard to the scale of voting, he proposed to place it upon the same footing as that which was established under the Irish Poor-law Act, providing for the continuance of this enactment during two years. In the 38th clause it was said, that unions should be divided into wards, containing a population of 8,000 persons. He proposed to increase this number to 12,000, and to introduce a proviso, that the number of houses should regnlate the extent, and not the number of the population, so that each ward should contain at least a certain extent. As to those amendments to which it seemed to him, that he could at once give his support, there was one proposed by the hon. Member for Dover, with respect to the definition of the term general rule. The definition proposed by the hon. Member was much better than that which was now contained in the bill; it was more simple in its terms, and it would shorten the number of rules which were considered as general rules; and if the definition proposed were adopted by the House, he should hate no objection to the amendment of the noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Somerset) as to the signature of two commissioners, and the counter-signature of the Secretary of State, being sufficient. Some clauses had been proposed by the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Langdale) as to the religious instruction of pauper children, and the attendance of the inmates of a workhouse at churches or chapels, in accordance with their own particular tenets. He was not prepared to say, that he should adopt the words of these clauses, but he would endeavour to alter them in such a manner as fairly to carry them into effect. The hon. Member for West Somersetshire (Mr. A. Sandford) had proposed clauses for abolishing settlements under apprenticeships, and suspended orders of removal. These he should be prepared to support. The hon. Member for East Somersetshire (Mr. Miles) had proposed an amendment, appointing an assistant commissioner as a district auditor. That was a proposition the adoption of which was likely to be attended by the most useful results, but he thought it advisable, that they should be paid by salaries which should receive the sanction of that House by a yearly vote, in the same manner as those of the assistant commissioners, rather than they should be paid by the guardians. The same hon. Member had proposed another clause for legalising relief to persons living in a parish in a union, but having their assessment in another parish within the same union. This was a measure which seemed to him to be necessary and useful, and he should accede to its adoption. The noble Lord, the Member for Monmouthshire had proposed a clause as to sending orphans and deserted children to the district schools; requiting the consent of the parents and guardians of the children, when there were such persons, to this course being first obtained. He should adopt this clause, but with the addition of some words, to which he thought the noble Lord would not disagree. The hon. Member for East Somersetshire had proposed, that where paupers were brought by constables or police to the workhouse, they should be entitled to immediate relief; and without committing himself to the precise words proposed, he thought, that a clause of this kind should be adopted. The hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Henry Berkeley) had proposed a clause enabling the commissioners to continue any officers already holding situations in their offices, and to this there was no objection. The hon. Member for Preston (Sir H. Fleet-wood) had proposed a clause with respect to the appointment of guardians to offices, which he thought might with safety be adopted. Some very important clauses had been proposed by the hon. Members for East Somersetshire and for Leicester (Mr. Easthope), giving the power to justices to order out-door relief to aged and infirm paupers unable to work; and giving also the same power to guardians, as well as the power to give out-door relief to widows with families. These clauses, he thought, must undergo a good deal of discussion, and, as at present worded, they were open to some objections; but he was ready to concur in the general objects which were desired to be attained. There were some clauses proposed by the noble Lord, the Member for Cornwall, with respect to rating. Those clauses, if those provisions were retained in the bill which it now contained with respect to rating, and which he thought it extremely advisable, should be retained, would, he thought, be found extremely useful; and he should be quite ready to give them his support. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for East Kent, (Sir Edward Knatchbull) had proposed some clauses relating to the payment of liabilities incurred out of the Poor-rates; as far as that object was concerned, he thought the clauses a very good addition to the bill; but as to the payment of such claims, he thought that it would require more consideration before they were adopted. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had proposed an amendment in the clause with respect to persons asking for alms, suggesting that the words of the Vagrant Act should be adopted. There might be some doubt whether the bill, as it now stood, gave that full power which it was intended to confer; and to avoid all difficulty, he thought it advisable to adopt the amendment of the right hon. Gentleman. There were several other amendments, some of them of considerable importance, on which he was not ready to declare his opinion, but he had thought that it would be useful to the House to state his views so far as he had gone; and he could only say, that he trusted that the House would pay the greatest attention to the discussion of every clause in the bill, because the subject must be admitted by all to be one of the greatest importance.

Mr. Grimsditch

wished to know whether, in the provisions which were proposed to be made with regard to the size of unions, the noble Lord had contemplated the distinction between densely-populated districts and those agricultural neighbourhoods where the inhabitants were not so numerous?

Lord J. Russell

said, that he did not propose to alter the size of unions, but he proposed that there should be power given to the guardians to appoint committees, who might attend to any immediate and pressing claims, and might recommend other cases to the attention of the board.

Mr. Halford

asked whether the arrangements proposed with regard to the formation of wards, had any reference to the amount of rating of the inhabitants?

Lord John Russell

said, that his object was to prevent wards being formed of too small a size. That size might be determined either by the number of houses or the amount of rating. Below a certain size it would be extremely inconvenient that wards should be formed.

Sir Robert Peel

begged to ask what was proposed to be done with regard to those large metropolitan parishes at present governed by local acts? He understood that the existing Act provided that the commissioners should not interfere with them. As the bill at present stood, it provided that the law already in existence should not be altered. He believed that the law was doubtful, and that some litigation had taken place, the commissioners having attempted to place the parishes of St. Andrew and St. George the Martyr under the provisions of the bill.

Lord John Russell

said, that the bill was intended not to affect the existing law; and although it had been decided that parishes governed by local acts might form part of a union, he understood that it was not competent for the Poor-law Commissioners to place parishes in such a situation under the government of boards of guardians under the Act.

Sir R. Peel

thought that it was better to clear up the point at once. As the bill stood, it took away from the commissioners all power of dissolving unions without the consent of the board of guardians, but it did not deprive them of the power of adding to unions without the consent of the guardians. Now, as one of the great causes of complaint against the law was the size of the unions, he thought it would be very satisfactory to have a provision introduced into the bill, preventing the commissioners from adding to unions without the consent of a majority of the guardians.

Lord John Russell

was afraid it would be hardly practicable to introduce such a provision, inasmuch as some of the unions at present were so excessively small that it would be absolutely necessary they should be enlarged.