§ Captain Pechell
said, the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had intimated to the noble Lord, on Wednesday last, that certain amendments would be necessary, in order to guard parishes which were under local acts from the interference of the commissioners. By the present bill, the boards of guardians had the power to dissolve the union by a majority of votes. But the right hon. Baronet also suggested, that there ought to be an equal power vested in the board of guardians to unite with parishes which had been united with others. The town of Brighton was governed by a local act. A neighbouring parish was under the power of the Poor-law Commissioners—it was joined to a union. Now, that parish might be dissolved by a majority of the guardians; and, if the guardians of the parish of Brighton had not the power to refuse to be joined with another parish, the Poor-law Commissioners might, under the terms of the bill, bring the town of Brighton under their government. He hoped that the noble Lord would provide not only that the Gilbert unions, and unions so situated, should not be dissolved without the consent of the majority of the guardians, but also that no parish should be added to another parish for the sake of forming a union under the Poor-law Commissioners.
§ House in Committee.
§ Lord G. Somerset
begged to ask the noble Lord, whether it was his intention to introduce a separate clause with regard to the reduction of the number of assistant Poor-law Commissioners.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ On Clause 2,
§ Mr. Fielden
rose, pursuant to notice, to move the insertion of words, the object of which was to repeal the Poor-law Amendment Act, and he should take the sense of the House upon it.
§ Lord J. Russell
understood that the hon. Member was going to propose an amendment, the effect of which would be to repeal the Poor-law Amendment Act. He wished to know, if that was the object of his amendment.
§ Mr. Fielden
hoped the noble Lord would listen to his statement. He was moving the introduction of words which, he admitted, if adopted by the committee, would go to repeal the Poor-law Act.
understood the object of the hon. Member's amendment was In repeal the Poor-law Amendment Act; it was to repeal the existing Poor-law, whereas the bill, to a clause of which he moved that amendment, was to continue that law. Such a course of proceeding was quite irregular.
§ Mr. Fielden
said, as to the irregularity of the course of proceeding, he had nothing to do with it. He had given notice of the amendment, and he, therefore, considered that he had a right to be heard on it.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, that the hon. Member could not, under the title of the bill, move the amendment he proposed. The hon. Member was entitled, on proper notice being given, to ask leave to bring in a bill to repeal the Poor-law, but as the object of the present bill was to continue the Poor-law in existence, and as that bill had been read a second time, and the House was now in committee, considering how that object could be best carried into effect, the hon. Gentleman could not, according to the usages of the House, propose an amendment to the bill purporting to repeal that law. The hon. Gentleman could no more move in Committee the repeal of the Act, than he could move the repeal of the Habeas Corpus Act.
§ Mr. Wakley
was as strongly opposed to the Act as his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham. He thought the measure an odious and detestable one. Nevertheless, in the performance of their labours, it was absolutely necessary that they should adhere to certain rules and regulations. He would, therefore, recommend to his hon. Friend to withdraw the motion for the present, if he found it inconsistent with the usual practice. Besides, his hon. Friend should remember that that was not a fitting occasion, as it appeared to him, for bringing the entire subject under consideration, as many Members who were 614 opposed to the Act might not have been prepared for such a discussion.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that undoubtedly the question then was, whether or not the motion was in conformity with the rules of the House. It did not appear to him that it was. Leave had been given to bring in a bill for the continuance of the commission which the proposed amendment would do away with altogether. He was clearly of opinion, therefore, that the motion could not be entertained.
§ Mr. Wakley
thought, that, if the proposition of his hon. Friend was contrary to the printed rules of the House, then he would be wrong to persevere in it; but if it were merely contrary to the practice of the House, he would be right to persevere in it, because the more frequently the practice of the House was violated, the better it would be for the public.
was very sorry to hear what had just fallen from the hon. Member. He ought to be well aware, that unless attention was paid to certain rules and regulations, their proceedings must inevitably become a scene of great and gross irregularity. When the hon. Member contrasted the printed rules with the practice of the House, and inferred that the practice was not binding unless embodied in the printed rules, he begged to say that he knew of no rules on this subject, except such as might be extracted from the Journals of the House. The practice, in such matters, was usually gathered from the experience of old and attentive Members of the House, and he had never yet heard the practice questioned which he had already stated.
§ Mr. Fielden
said, that the feeling in Oldham was unanimous against the bill which the Poor-law Commissioners were about to introduce there. He regretted that he should have to inform his constituents that the House had refused to hear him on the subject.
§ Lord J. Russell
said the hon. Member was clearly out of order in persisting after what had fallen from the Chairman, It was of no importance whether the regulation laid down by him was a written rule or a part of the constant practice of the House. But he must make one remark upon the endeavour of the hon. Member to raise a prejudice out of doors by stating 615 that the House refused to hear him. The House would not refuse to hear him whenever, at a proper time and on proper notice, he chose to move for leave to bring in a bill to repeal the Poor-law Act. It was not right for the hon. Member, because he was not allowed the power of setting at defiance all the rules of the House, to make a statement which was neither fair, just, nor true.
§ Mr. Fielden
hoped the House would allow him to state his reasons why he thought he ought to make the motion.
§ Mr. Williams Wynn
apprehended that the hon. Member was not at liberty to assign any reasons in committee for altering the rules of the House, because it was not in the power of a committee to alter the rules of the House.
§ Mr. Fielden
gave notice for Monday of a motion for an instruction to the committee to the same effect as his proposed amendment.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ On Clause 3 being proposed,
§ Mr. Wakley
rose to move its postponement. When the noble Lord, some fortnight or three weeks since, stated that it was not the intention of Government to interfere with those parishes that were now governed under Gilbert's Act, the declaration gave great satisfaction. But since that time a doubt had risen whether, even under the existing law,' the Poor-law commissioners would not have the power to get rid of the operation of the local acts by incorporating the particular parish with others in a union. Many of the parishes now regulated by local acts were under great apprehensions of being put to heavy legal expenses in defending their privileges against the Poor law commissioners on this account. There were legal proceedings now pending on the subject, and he hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would consent to postpone this clause, until it was decided whether or not the Poor-law commissioners had the power in question. He hoped, also, that the noble Lord would introduce a declaratory clause, intimating that those parishes would be secure under their local governments. The words of the clause were very ambiguous, and partook of that ingenuity and subtlety that characterised every thing that emanated from Somerset-house, and he hoped the noble Lord would give effect to what he (Mr. Wakley) really be- 616 lieved were his honest intentions with regard to this measure.
§ Sir F. Pollock
observed, that the parish of St. Pancras had a local act, and that the Poor-law commissioners attempted to introduce their particular government by-virtue of one of the clauses in the old act. In that attempt, however, they failed. The Court of Queen's Bench held, that when there was a local act, and a board of guardians, it was not competent to the Poor-law commissioners to introduce a board of guardians under the Amendment Act, as distinguished from the guardians under the local act. The parish of St. Pancras, therefore, escaped from the Poor-law commissioners with the dissentient opinion of one of the learned judges. He well remembered what had taken place when he left the court, though he would not mention names. He left the court followed by a gentleman, who said, "As you don't like to have a board of guardians we will put you into a union." Upon which he said, "Sir, if you have any intention of doing that, I beg to tell you, that your present remark will for ever prevent that; for in the Court of Queen's Bench, or in my place in Parliament, I will always be ready to state what I have said, and prevent you from doing indirectly what you cannot do directly." He was a parishioner, and considered, that if they were large enough to conduct their own affairs, under a board of guardians, they did not want to be put into a union. He dared the party to do so. Some time after the Poor-law commissioners put the whole of the city of London—he thought no fewer than fifty-one parishes—into one union. He had moved, in the Court of Queen's Bench to set aside that order. Many parishes under the government of local acts and boards of guardians, complained of the interference of the Poor-law commissioners, and had said, that if they received the law as laid down at Somerset-house, many respectable persons who could live out of the workhouse with a little assistance, which the parishes were ready to afford, would be driven into the workhouse, and would, in consequence, die of shame. The Court of Queen's Bench had decided, after great deliberation, that under the 28th section, the Poor-law commissioners had the power of forming an union of any number of parishes they thought proper. There was no injustice in saying, that a board of guardians should not be imposed where one already existed but these 617 boards were superseded by uniting the several parishes into unions. What was done with reference to the Reform Kill and the Municipal Bill? In the former, a clause was inserted, repealing every charter, statute, and act standing in the way of that bill. A clause to the same effect was introduced into the Municipal Bill. Was this course adopted in the Poor-law Bill? No, and he was not surprised at it. When the Poor-law Amendment Bill was passed, it was the general understanding in the House, that all local acts should not he interfered with, but should remain in duo force. He had endeavoured to obtain some precise and exact information with reference to that declaration, and had searched in the usual channels of information. He had not been able to find any distinct statement which fell from Lord Althorp, but certain expressions that fell from the noble Lord during the discussion justified the House in believing that parishes then under the control of local acts of Parliament, and local boards of guardians, were; not to be brought under the operation of the Poor-law bill, and were not to be interfered with by the Poor-law commissioners. It was worthy of remark, that both the Reform Bill and Municipal Bill, re- pealed all those acts which stood in the way of the operation of those measures. It was never intended by Parliament, that between 300 and 400 acts of the Legislature should exist by the sufferance and caprice of the Poor-law commissioners. It was ridiculous to suppose, that such an idea was ever contemplated. If it were the intention of the noble Lord to make the House believe, that the Poor-law com. missioners did not intend to repeal the local acts under which so many parishes were now governed, it was his duty to say so more explicitly and in less ambiguous language than that contained in the third clause of the bill. It was highly important, that the noble Lord, should, by a declaratory enactment, set the matter at rest without any delay. Great complaints had been made of the working of the Poor-law Bill generally. By it, it was endeavoured to produce a change in the habits, feeling, and manners of a number of persons, just as if their individual sufferings and position were a matter unworthy of consideration. He thought it inexpedient and impracticable to make any system of philanthropy, however good it might be in itself, universal, without considering the peculiar habits of the people residing in 618 the different sections of the kingdom. A bill which might be good for the north, might be injurious in the south. The evil which he and others complained of, was the attempt made by the commissioners to introduce the same law into every parish in the kingdom, without any reference to local circumstances, which might act in modifying the operation of that law. The I principle which was recognized in medicine was applicable to the Poor-law Bill—that which was most nutritious was not always the best. It was necessary to consider the habits and constitutional peculiarities, and not make any sudden and violent changes without proper reflection.
§ Sir S. Canning
said, that he hoped that the statement of Ins hon. Friend would have due effect with the noble Lord, It was said by the Poor-law commissioners, that they had the power to interfere with local nets.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, that he understood the hon. Gentleman to complain that under that bill the local acts would be more interfered with than under the Poor-law Bill itself. The purport of the clause was, that so far as that act was concerned, no further interference should occur than that which had taken place under the general act. That was what the clause professed and did. Me could not see any ambiguity in the clause; it stated most explicitly that the present act should not interfere with any local acts that might exist. As to whether there was any ambiguity in existing acts of Parliament, that was a different question, and one to which the hon. Gentleman appeared to have directed his attention. The proposition which the hon. Member had endeavoured to establish was in many respects a startling one; because he stated that the Court of Queen's Bench having pronounced a judgment, one judge only dissenting, we should pass a law directly at variance with the principles which the Court of Queen's Bench had laid down. The hon. Member had referred to the parish of St. Pancras. In that parish as there existed a board of Guardians under the local act, the Court of Queen's Bench had decided that there should not be another board constituted under the Poor-law Bill, and that the management of the poor in that parish should be left to the existing board. With reference to the other points, the formation of unions, the judges had decided that there was nothing in the 619 Poor-law Act to prevent the commissioners from uniting those parishes into unions, whenever they considered it expedient to do so. The hon. Member had referred to an opinion of Lord Althorp. He certainly did not recollect anything that fell from that noble Lord inconsistent with the opinion of the judges. There was no attempt made to exempt parishes which had been governed by local acts from the operation of the law. Had this been done, great inconvenience would have arisen. Perhaps certain parishes having local acts might be allowed to select their own board of guardians. A clause to that effect might be introduced excepting those particular parishes. That was, however, a clause which he did not intend to propose. He did not see clearly the necessity of it, and should not introduce it. If, however, brought forward, he would give it his best consideration. He objected to a general clause excepting all parishes having a local act. If such a question were started, it would be necessary to consider what those local acts were. The hon. Member had alluded to the commissioners at Somerset-house having the power to control at their caprice 300 local acts; but he should bear in mind that the Poor-law Bill was a general law for the government of the poor, and that it would be manifestly unjust to set aside that general law to benefit certain parties who might have a personal interest in preventing a repeal of those local acts. He must confess that he had no very great respect for those particular local acts, or the administration of them.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, that it could not be denied that the existing law, particularly that portion relating to the influence which the commissioners exercised over those parishes which had local acts, had given rise to great dissatisfaction. The Court of Queen's Bench had decided, that in parishes governed by local acts the Poor-Jaw commissioners should not interfere. But by uniting the parishes, by including them with others in the form of an union, the Poor-law commissioners had it in their power to set aside the judgment of the Court of Queen's Bench, and the authority of all local acts and local boards of guardians. In that way all the parishes now governed by local acts were placed under the arbitrary control of the new Poor-law commissioners. He would not go so far as the noble Lord, and say that 620 every parish which had a local act should not be exempt. He did not know the number of parishes now governed by local acts of Parliament. It might be possible that a few might have local acts for the purpose of concealing certain abuses which might exist in the parish, and on that account might feel indisposed to surrender their authority to the Poor-law commissioners. He would suggest to the noble Lord that he could not legislate satisfactorily on the subject that night, and therefore he (Sir R. Peel) recommended him to postpone the consideration of the third clause. Before that clause came again under the notice of the House, he should like to be informed of the number of parishes governed by local acts, the amount of population in each, and the number of parishes governed by local acts of Parliament in which the commissioners had attempted to introduce the Poor-law Bill. He thought it would be a fair question for the committee to consider whether there ought or ought not to be any limitation as to the population of parishes; as, for example, where there were at present parishes containing a population of 20,000 or 30,000 governed by a local act, it would be for the committee to consider whether it would be wise for them to exempt such parishes. But the more he examined this clause, the more he felt convinced that the House was not in possession of sufficient information on the subject. He therefore did hope that the noble Lord would agree to postpone the further consideration of the clause. He had always thought that where there were immense masses of population well governed under local acts, it would not be found expedient to place them under the control of the commissioners.
said, that from the knowledge which he possessed of the borough that he had the honour to represent, he was enable to corroborate the statement made by the right hon. Baronet Opposite. The affairs of the poor of Coventry were administered by local boards. Now, it was well known that that city presented some of the most difficult cases that could be found in any part of the country. There was no place more liable to fluctuations in trade than Coventry, and there, as was well known to some hon. Members at least, the Poor-law commissioners could not interfere with the local boards. As 621 now constituted, they could not interfere with them otherwise than by adding to them a parish from Warwickshire. He was quite sure that the commissioners would never dream of doing that indirectly which the law did not directly authorise them to do. But as nothing could be more unlikely than that they should wish thus to interfere, he thought it inexpedient that they should be invested with the power. For the reasons assigned by the right hon. Baronet, he did hope that time would be taken, and that the further consideration of the clause would be postponed. A more deliberate and careful consideration of it would, he was sure, be satisfactory to the large communities whose interests this part of the measure was intended particularly to affect.
§ Mr. Leader
said, that after the speech of the right hon. Baronet, he was sure that the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, must give way—the noble Lord would be compelled to give way, after such a speech from the other side. Surely he would give way—the Government only existed through the forbearance of the right hon. Baronet. As a proof of this he would call the attention of the House to the fact, that on the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet, the duration of the commission was changed from ten years to five. For his (Mr. Leader's) part, he was delighted that the hon. Baronet had made the speech which the House had just heard, and he was convinced that the further consideration of the clause would be postponed. He could not say that the present clause had originated the dishonesty or the ambiguily—it merely went to continue the dishonesty and the ambiguity of the former measure. In West minster there were several large parishes well administered under local acts, it was evident that the noble Lord wished to bring them all under the control of the Poor-law commissioners: for that reason did he say that the clause was dishonest and ambiguous.
§ Mr. F. Maule
conceived that there had been some misunderstanding with respect to the power possessed by the commissioners. The Court of Queen's Bench said, that the commissioners were not to interfere with the electoral regulations of those parishes which possessed local acts, but they might interfere in the superintendence of the affairs of the poor and the 622 granting of relief, and also they were declared to possess the power of interference in cases where any sanatory regulations were put forth.
§ Viscount Sandon
hoped that the large parishes not already under the Poor-law commissioners would be allowed to remain as they were. The House ought seriously to consider before they took from those parishes the management of their own affairs. He quite concurred with his right hon. Friend in thinking that the House should have additional information before they proceeded; and, in addition to the returns already called for, he begged to say, that they ought to have a return showing the number of parishes possessing local acts where the population exceeded 1,000 souls. He, as other hon. Members who went before him, strongly recommended postponement,
§ Viscount Howick
was also favourable to postponement, at the same lime that he was opposed to any inducement being held out to the Poor-law commissioners to do that indirectly which the law did not permit them directly to effect. He was not one of those who were disposed to deprive the commissioners of the power of superintending and controlling the manner of administering relief to the poor. He conceived it to be most important that the commissioners should possess this power whatever might be the extent and nature of the local authority. As a proof of the necessity of this superintendence, he should allude to some matters which took place in the city which his right hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench represented. It was alleged that considerable abuses prevailed in the workhouses there; he had no reason to believe that there existed any foundation for those statements, but the newspapers got hold of them, represented them as abuses of the most crying nature, and imputed the whole blame and responsibility to the Poor-law commissioners, assuming that the matter had originated with them, when in fact the parishes in question were under the government, of local acts. Now these facts proved, as he conceived, in a manner the most conclusive, the absolute necessity which there existed for having some central authority to investigate and determine in cases of this description. As a further proof of the utility of this central authority, he begged to remind the House of the cases in Marylebone, to which the 623 hon. Member for Arundel had adverted—he meant, the fact that ten women of the worst character were sent out in a vessel to South Australia. That proceeding, an instance of the most crying abuse, had been carried merely by the casting vote of the chairman. Surely the House would agree with him that the commissioners ought to have the power of interfering in such cases.
implored the House not to destroy or fritter away the measure, by preventing the commissioners from exercising a proper degree of superintendence over large parishes possessing local acts.
§ Sir B. Hall
said, that the clause left the law just as it was before, but to that the metropolitan parishes decidedly objected. He hoped, therefore, that the further consideration of this clause would be postponed.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, in regard to what the right hon. Gentleman opposite had stated—that it was desirable the House should be in possession of a statement of the number of parishes to which local acts applied, he would answer that such a statement had been already made out, and was contained in the fourth report of the Poor-law commissioners, and it certainly would be convenient for the House to have extracts from that report laid before them. [Sir R. Peel.—There might also be a statement of the population, according to the last census.] The report did not contain such an account, but it did state, that there were 364 parishes incorporated under local acts, and eleven parishes under separate local acts. There could, however, be no objection to such an account being made out. It did not seem to him that there was any objection to some provision being introduced in regard to large parishes under local acts; because, although he did not in the least expect that the Poor-law commissioners would endeavour to do indirectly that which they could not do directly, he did not object to an act of Parliament expressly forbidding them. He had therefore no objection to the postponement of this clause. With regard to his general opinion, he had nothing to add to what had been stated by his noble Friend, the Member for Northumberland. He agreed with him in all he had stated, in reference to the powers given to the governing bodies of large parishes under local acts, and in the opinion that 624 they should not be freed from all control of the commissioners, which might be useful in other respects.
§ Mr. Wakley
wished to know whether the noble Lord would object to a return being made by the Poor-law commissioners, showing the grounds of litigation in the different parishes.
§ Captain Pechell
said, he hoped the noble Lord would not object to extend the return which was to be made of the number of parishes under local acts, and their population, to the parishes that were incorporated under Gilbert's Act.
§ Mr. Muntz
was surprised to find, that hon. Gentlemen, who always on other subjects preferred local government should, on the subject of the Poor-law, be opposed to it. He had been requested by his constituents to vote against this Clause, and he was certain, if it remained as it was, a great number of guardians would resign.
§ Clause postponed.
On the 4th Clause being read as follows,—
That every rule, order, or regulation of the Poor-law Commissioners which shall be issued, and shall apply to a class of cases, or to a series or succession of occasions, shall be deemed to be a general rule; and that every such rule, order, or regulation, which shall apply only to a single case, or a single occasion, shall be deemed a particular order,
Mr. H. Hinde
rose to propose certain verbal amendments, so that the clause stand thus,—after the wordsAnd be it enacted," "that no rule, order, or regulation by the Poor-law Commissioners should be issued after the passing of this act, except such orders as should be necessary for the formation and superintendance of Unions, under the provisions of this act,he would first propose that the word "every" be left out, and the word "no" substituted. The hon. Member said, it might be necessary to give arbitrary powers to the commissioners in the first instance, but now that the law had been some time in operation, he thought those powers should be no longer continued, and that the House was not justified in delegating to others those duties which devolved on themselves. He would not question the power of Parliamant to delegate those powers; but considering that the present Parliament was in the last flickering stage of existence, he would ask whether they had the right to give the 625 body of Poor-law commissioners a legislative power for a period of five years? He thought they were bound to go much more than they had done, into the regulations that were made by those commissioners, and to embody, in statute law, those with which they agreed, and to repudiate others. That the commissioners were men of humane feelings, he was bound to believe; but the unalterable tendency of irresponsible power was, to produce hardness of heart. One thing which he in particular objected to was, the spirit that pervaded the whole of this law, in making pauperism a source of degradation to the poor. That might be the most efficacious means of diminishing pauperism, but it was a most unworthy mode of attaining that end. In the first place, paupers were no sooner admitted, than they were clothed in the workhouse dress. Now, as a magistrate, he had had opportunities of knowing, that persona confined in gaols felt no degradation more strongly than the badge of the prison dress. Was it right, then, that they should class those who had violated the laws of their country, with those who had had the misfortune of being reduced to want and penury? Rut there was another regulation more degrading than that. It was, that the relieving officer and overseer of every parish were bound to make out and post on the church doors, a list of all the persons who, during the last three months, had received the most trifling kind of relief from the parish. While upon this subject, he was desirous of referring to two of the most important rules of the commissioners. The first of these related to the treatment of the aged poor, and the separation of man and wife. In his opinion, the execution of this rule with perfect strictness was not wise. There was, however, a mitigation of the rule in favour of aged couples; and a proviso was framed to the effect, that the board of guardians might be at liberty, if they deemed it advisable, to make an exception to the rule. He had no fault to find with this proviso, and it was indeed most extensively acted upon by the boards of guardians. But how did the Poor-law commissioners act then? They were dissatisfied with the conduct of the boards of guardians, and accordingly issued another order, declaring that the boards were at liberty under special circumstances to depart from the regulations respecting married couples, but di- 626 recting them to enter such reasons in the minutes of their proceedings, and making the sanction of the commissioners necessary to give validity to the decision of the boards of guardians on this head. To this amended rule he felt the strongest objection. With respect to the separation of children from their parents, too great strictness was observed. He thought that when the parents were well conducted and moral people, there ought to be some communication every morning and evening between them and their children; and the boards of guardians ought not to be made such nonentities of as that they should not be able to allow an unrestricted interview, according to discretion, to take place between the parents and the children. He also found among the orders of the commissioners, an order respecting the diet of the paupers, which it appeared was to be so regulated as not to be superior to that of the able-bodied labourers in the district. He looked upon this as an exceedingly objectionable order, and it must be attended with results of a most opposite kind in different districts. When applied to districts where the hand-loom weavers constituted the population, the consequence was, that the diet would be scarcely better than a starvation diet; while, on the other hand, in the district with which he was connected, the guardians might go much below the ordinary fare of the able-bodied labourers, and yet the fare of the paupers would be far from miserable. However, the Poor-law commissioners were not content with this order, but they still further regulated the diet, and the manner in which it should be given; but on referring to the page in the papers, where he expected to see their regulations on this subject he found it blank. He certainly was not inclined to extend his confidence to the Poor-law commissioners, for he perceived in every act of theirs a determination to extend their powers, not only to the limits of the law, but even beyond the limits of the law. They had not only repealed many Acts of Parliament, but they had got rid of a clause in the very act by which they held their being. The 52nd section of the Poor-law Amendment Act enabled the Poor-law commissioners to give directions on the subject of outdoor relief, but there was a provision showing, that the guardians had uncontrolled power of granting relief in cases of 627 emergency. The obvious meaning of the clause was, that in cases of emergency, of which the guardians were the sole judges, they might give relief in money subject to the sanction of the Poor-law commissioners, to whom they were bound to report the circumstance. But if, in a case of emergency, they gave outdoor relief in diet or medicines, though they were bound to report the same to the Poor-law commissioners, they were totally irresponsible and independent of control in this respect. The Poor-law commissioners, however, had issued a regulation altering the law; for it required that the giving of any relief, of whatever kind, should be subject to their approval. This was contrary to the Act of Parliament; yet in an agricultural district, where the guardians for the most part consisted of farmers, they were more likely to look to the order of the commissioners than to the Act of Parliament. Whether the commissioners violated the words or the spirit of Acts of Parliament, he always found them acting in favour of arbitrary power, and against the local administration of the Poor-law. The hon. Member concluded by moving his amendment.
§ Lord John Russell
would not now enter into a discussion respecting the rules, orders, and regulations, of the Poor-law commissioners. It was plain that the proposition of the hon. Member went to the extent of taking from the commissioners all power save that of forming unions, and calling upon the board of guardians for returns and accounts of expenditure. He would briefly describe the state of this question when the Poor-law Amendment Bill was brought under the consideration of Parliament. Everybody was at that time convinced that the greatest abuses had taken place under the old administration of the Poor-law. The hon. Member talked of the arbitrary power possessed by the commissioners, but under the old system there existed about 13,000 different bodies, exercising this arbitrary power according to their own will or caprice. One of the commonest forms in which this power was exercised was that of taxing all the inhabitants of a parish for the purpose of making up the wages of the labourers. This was one of the many abuses which convinced the whole country of the impossibility of continuing the old law. 628 There were two ways in which the system might have been amended; one of these, which was generally thought of before the commission of inquiry was appointed, was to lay down some positive rule on the subject by Act of Parliament. But this was found to be impossible, in consequence of the varying circumstances and practice of different parishes. No uniform rule could be laid down which would not, on the one hand, create or continue many abuses; or, on the other, put too violent and abrupt a termination to the old system. It was then suggested with respect to out-door relief of able-bodied men, that it should cease on a certain day; but the more this proposition was considered, the more it was thought unadvisable to lay down any inflexible rule on the subject. Therefore, the only course left was to appoint commissioners, who should have the power of issuing rules and regulations from time to time, and thereby adapting to the different parts of the country an improved system. This was the plan which Parliament adopted; and after the experience they had now had, it seemed to him to be a wise plan. Of course he was not prepared to assert that every particular rule and regulation issued by the commissioners was wise; but he was ready to maintain that their general administration of the Poor-law was well considered, and was not cruel, tyrannical and despotic. If the hon. Member proposed to lay down any positive rule with respect to granting relief, he had omitted to explain the nature of his proposition. But another course might be pursued, and to this the adoption of his amendment would lead. The boards of guardians might be left to act, each separately in its own way, but this plan would revive again every one of the abuses of the old system. He had no doubt that many of the boards would proceed on intelligent views in administering the Poor-law; but many others consisting of one particular class—and he was sorry to say, it too often appeared to be the interest of a certain class to favour the worst abuses of the Poor-law—would be prepared to revive all the enormities of the old system. Before sitting down, he would give a statement of the relief granted to the poor, according to the course pursued by the commissioners who were described as such cruel administrators of the law. In the quarter ending 629 Lady-day, 1840, the number of persons relieved by in-door relief was 134,000, whilst the number of those relieved by outdoor relief amounted to 747,000. The number of able-bodied persons, including their families, relieved in England alone, during that quarter, was 93,134, and in England and Wales 104,356. He opposed the amendment, because it would put an entire stop to the present system.
Mr. H. Hinde
said, he thought it to be the duty of the House to lay down rules arid regulations, and not to delegate that power to third parties. Many gentlemen who were ready to hand over the poor to the management of the commissioners, would themselves hesitate to enact what those commissioners had enacted. A committee of that House would be able to consider the whole subject in the course of a few days, and to decide what discretion should be vested in the commissioners.
§ Mr. Ward
said, if the House went into the consideration of rules and regulations, the hon. Member would probably find that a majority would not coincide in his views. The hon. Gentleman wished that they should not make pauperism a degradation. Surely they should not make it an honour. They ought not to teach the poor to trust to any but their own resources. That man was a most mistaken friend to the poor who taught them to place reliance on a public fund on which they could always fall back. All that had passed showed that the House was not in a position to lay down principles which would make superintendence unnecessary. With the hon. Member's amendment, the superintendence would be merely nominal. In fact, if the hon. Member's amendment were carried, the result would be, that an expensive commission would continue to exist, but it would have very little business to transact. The hon. Member talked of irresponsibility; but who were responsible if the commissioners were not? What had they met with from any Members of that House, but odium and obloquy in return for their labours, in which he believed they had made as few mistakes as it was possible for men to make under the circumstances. The improved system was fraught with many indirect advantages. He believed a better school of self-government than the local boards of guardians did not exist. He thought there never was a law which gave rise to so much talent, industry, and good feeling as had been 630 shown by these bodies in their endeavours to fulfil the intentions of the Legislature. He did not think they were discontented with a controlling friendly superintendence, but were ready to seek its advice, of which they had often beneficially availed themselves. Some of the existing regulations might certainly be relaxed. There were certain classes of persons, such as persons in advanced life with children of tender age, and very old persons, respecting whom, when they came to consider the rules, relaxation might be advisable. The expense of maintaining a labourer with his wife and four children in the workhouse was 11s. 7½d. a week; which, compared with the ordinary wages of our agricultural labourers, did not show that the diet was so meagre as some hon. Gentlemen supposed. He did not think that any one was entitled to say that there was an intention to hand over the poor to the tyranny of any one. That was not the object of the bill. He (Mr. Ward) had supported the bill from an honest conviction that it would benefit the poorer classes, and raise the labourer by exempting him from the necessity of having his wages doled out to him in part from the parish table on a Saturday night. As to the separation of husband and wife, it was confessedly necessary in an establishment containing numerous inmates, where, without separation of the sexes, there could be no regularity. It was a privation which numbers of persons in the middle classes were obliged to undergo for considerable periods, in order to gain the means of independent support. He should certainly oppose the amendment of the hon. Member, as being inconsistent with the well working of the present system.
Sir H. Fleetwood
said, the boards of guardians in the country, comprising large rate-payers, as well as magistrates, felt the hardship of being compelled to receive the dictation of commissioners sitting in London. Constituted as boards of guardians, if they were not competent to carry out the objects of the Poor-law, they Were not fit to manage the county-rates or any other matter.
§ General Johnson
would be glad to know what good feeling the commissioners had exhibited towards the poor? No law had ever produced so much discontent in the country as the new Poor-law. The orders of the commissioners were continually at variance, so that it was impossible to 631 know what was law and what was not. He hoped the hon. Member would divide the Committee on his amendment.
§ Lord G. Somerset
felt much difficulty in giving his vote, arising from the opinions which had been given respecting the propriety of many parts of the new Poor-law; but, having supported this law, he could not see how it could be carried out but by the commissioners having a large power of superintendence and control, which he was not prepared to abolish. The amendment of his hon. Friend went to do away with the power of the Poor-law commissioners as to making rules and regulations, except a limited control in future, not doing away with the former rules now in existence. All the regulations to which he objected would be still continued, if the amendment of his hon. Friend were carried. Although he (Lord G. Somerset) was not able to support the doing away with many of those stringent regulations, yet he did think the House should force the commissioners to modify many of their regulations. He thought that a great part of the unpopularity of the present Poor-law was owing to the manner in which it was carried into effect. He believed that the feeling against the new Poor-law was mainly attributable to the orders of the commissioners, and still more to the manner in which those orders were delivered—to their harsh expressions and most disagreeable opinions with regard to the lower classes of the community. The higher classes were better treated; but even the higher classes, in the board of guardians, were sometimes treated with little consideration by the commissioners, who seemed to think that they were in the position of being right in all their dicta; that any person who presumed to think that their dicta were not infallible, was unfit to be a member of a board of guardians, or to manage his own concerns. But, independently of this, in their reports laid on the Table of the House the same spirit prevailed; the same arrogance—he was aware that this was, perhaps, an offensive word, but it was the only word he could find—the same arrogance prevailed in every one of their reports to the Secretary of State. A right hon. Friend of his (Sir R. Peel) the other night had referred to an extraordinary paragraph in one of these documents—a paragraph of a most offensive and improper kind; but, strange to say, in the copy of 632 the report sent to the Members of the House that offensive paragraph did not appear. He believed that, in consequence of what had been said by his right hon. Friend, they had been prudent enough to withdraw it; but the paragraph, he believed, appeared in the copies sold to the public in the usual place. With regard to the examinations taken by the commissioners on the subject of education, why was it necessary to publish evidence tending to injure the manufacturers of this country in comparison with the manufacturers abroad? When the Poor-law Commissioners took evidence of this kind, it should be private, or they should give fair play to the parties. Although, however, the feelings of people of all classes of society were very strong on the subject of the powers exercised by the commissioners, and free opinions were given as to their limitation, he (Lord G. Somerset) was not aware of any means of dispensing with them. But he hoped that the commissioners themselves would be induced to modify that strong love of their own propriety, and that they would rather strive to allay the strong feelings which had been excited in the people of this country, than attempt by harsh and arrogant dictation to carry out their own severe measures. He was sorry he could not vote for the amendment of his hon. Friend; it was not because he liked the proceedings of those who had the administration of this law, but he did not see his way clearly as to how they could be dispensed with.
§ Lord John Russell
could not allow the observations that the noble Lord had made to pass without remark. He felt that in the original appointment of the Poor-law commissioners the Government was deeply responsible. This he could answer for, that never were appointments made in which the Government was more anxious or more careful to select Gentlemen who would be able to carry into effect the views of the legislature. No other object than that had influenced the Government. With regard to one of them who was originally appointed, it was well known that in his political opinions he was adverse to the present Government. As to the other, he had served as Under-Secretary of State to a noble Lord who was not then present, but who had been Secretary of State for the Colonies. And as to the third, he did not believe that any Member of the Government was aware, when he 633 was appointed, what his general opinions might have been. Thus, then, was the selection of those Gentlemen made—it was made in order that, by their united opinions, and by their knowledge, they might be able to perform their duty in such a manner as to give satisfaction to the country. And he must say for himself that he had seen nothing in their conduct or in their proceedings that induced him to repent of the circumstance of his having given them their appointments. On the contrary, he thought that they had laid down sound principles as regarded the law, and they had too carried the law into effect, on the whole, very judiciously. The utmost that could be imputed to them was with regard to some of their circulars or their letters, as sometimes adopting a style, with regard to a theory, that did not so properly belong to them as administrators of the law. But then, with respect to arrogance, he really must say that the noble Lord who made the charge entertained very strong opinions upon many subjects which he stated to that House very clearly and in a very strong manner, and he should just as soon think of imputing to the noble Lord that which he had charged against the commissioners for the statement of their opinions. Let it be considered by the House that the duty imposed upon these gentlemen was not one of a very agreeable nature. A commencement was made by the Legislature in the correction of abuses. Much was to be done in the retrenchment of the evils of a wasteful, unnecessary, and improper expenditure. The commissioners had not great funds at their disposal; but there were funds—large funds—at the disposal of others, whom they had to direct, to check, and to control; and to take care that the administration of these funds was more honest and more careful than hitherto it had been. Nothing could be so disagreeable to those who administered the funds as to find that a strict chock was really imposed upon them. He was not, then, in the least surprised to find that those who had the distribution of the funds should have considered that others having such a power over them should find it very disagreeable. This was naturally to be expected. But then, with regard to their opinions, he would quote I two passages from their report. With respect to what their objects had been, it would really be thought from the manner 634 in which they had been spoken of, that they felt a kind of pleasure in manifesting harshness and severity in their bearing to the poor. Now, they themselves stated those objects explicitly. He would read the passage.—We need hardly assure your Lordship that although we derive satisfaction from perceiving the gradual diminution of the burthens of the rate-payers, and from the conviction that the Poor-law Amendment Act has already relieved the country from a direct annual taxation of nearly 2,300,000l. sterling, we look with greater interest upon those higher results of that important measure which are daily developing themselves. We believe these results to be—1. The more prompt and adequate relief to the aged, the infirm, und the sick. 2. The encouragement of the industry and moral habits, and the consequent increase of the welfare of the able-bodied of the labouring classes. 3. The improvement in the education of pauper children.Now, he asked, could men propose to themselves greater or higher objects than these? Fie believed that they had kept those objects constantly in view in all the measures that they had taken. And when the noble Lord spoke of their arrogant report, he might quote this passage:—We trust that your Lordship will not consider that we have laid before you too-highly coloured a picture of the favourable moral effects which have already resulted from the Poor-law Amendment Act, or that we have taken too sanguine a view of the ulterior consequences of this important measure. We can assure your Lordship that it has been the contemplation of these results, and the hope of these consequences, which have mainly enabled us to sustain the continuous labour and anxiety of the last four years, and to bear patiently the charges made against the law and its administration, and those attacks on the principles and details of our proceedings which have been so pertinaciously forced upon the public attention, and which have occasionally, but we rejoice to say, rarely, been countenanced by some persons from whom (considering their character and position in the country), we might reasonably have expected aid and not obstruction in the performance of our duties.It really seemed to him that they had proposed to themselves the highest objects, and in what they had done were actuated by benevolent views. If he then were justified in what he was stating to the House, he thought that the House would agree with him that, having imposed upon these Gentlemen duties that were extremely arduous, and that exposed 635 them to incessant attacks and continual imputations—if, too, they had really carried into effect the intentions of the Legislature, and if they honestly and firmly did their duty, the House, he was sure, would aid and support them, and that they would not, when they had passed a law that was likely to be unpopular with many classes—when they had passed a law by which they had endeavoured to correct abuses that extended over not a small portion of the country, nor a small number of people, but over a large country, and amongst millions of people—when they had passed such a law, and that it was followed by odium and by unfounded attacks, they would not endeavour to shift the blame that accrued from their own legislation upon the heads of other persons, who, he really believed, whatever had been said of the law and the system they sought to enforce, were as deserving of the public regard and public admiration as any men who were ever yet charged with high and important functions.
§ Viscount Sandon
did not believe that any one could be guided by more upright and correct motives than her Majesty's Ministers had been in the choice of the Poor-law Commissioners. With regard to the Gentleman at the present moment at the head of the commission, it was impossible for any man to have the slightest intercourse with him without feeling esteem for him. But these private considerations were not to tie the hands of the Members of that House, and prevent them expressing their opinions against this law, and the manner in which it had been carried into effect. The noble Lord at the other side of the House quoted to them a passage which he thought indicated a great degree of modesty, and vindicated the commissioners from the charge of arrogance which was made against them by his noble Friend (Lord G. Somerset). He did not think that a passage could be quoted which more supported the charge. It was impossible for any man in their (the commissioners') opinion, to pall in question the Poor-law Amendment Act; it was impossible for any man to make a charge against an officer of the Poor-law commission without being at once run down. This, was not fair; it was surely open to men who saw and lamented in many instances the effects of the pressure with which the Poor-jaw did operate on certain classes to state their 636 opinions and feelings without being held up as men actuated by factious motives. This was exactly an instance of the feeling which ran through the whole of their proceedings; they could not conceive that they were wrong. Any person who questioned their administration of the law was looked upon as questioning the law. An important part of their functions was to check needless expenditure; but it was not their only purpose. They (the commissioners) said, "Our principal duty is to prevent any relaxation to the poor." But if these Gentlemen had understood better the principle of the enactment they had to carry into effect, they would not have appeared in one character only, as checking expenditure, but also as checking niggardliness on the other hand. But where did they find the commissioners complaining that the dietary was too poor? It was always, "It is too good." On every side they always appeared in the single capacity of restricting expenditure; but he saw no case where they had checked a body of guardians far carrying any part of the New Poor-law too strictly into effect. They should have relaxed where needed, as well as have restricted where needed. They should have appeared as mediators and protectors. If in this, capacity they had appeared as the adapters of a new system to the various circumstances of the country, instead of laying down general principles to be every where acted upon, he believed they would have been hailed as blessings all over the country, instead of being looked upon, as they too generally were, as the enemies of the poor. He believed them to be too much the slaves, of a certain theory, which made them think that they were bound to throw overboard their individual feelings, in order to attain a certain object. They seemed to think, that by the restrictions they imposed, they would be able to make a future generation so prudent and temperate as not to need any relief, but who would depend entirely on their own exertions. But this was a mere visionary notion, which it was impossible to carry out. He objected to the language used by the commissioners in their various communications, which, in his opinion, had contributed as much to their unpopularity as their acts. He should, however, oppose the amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ Sir H. Verney
could not allow the statement just made by the noble Lord, 637 that the commissioners always acted against the poor, to go uncontradicted, There were instances on record of the Poor-law commissioners having interfered as the friends of the poor, and against the guardians, and endeavoured to make the carrying out of the law less stringent. It was impassible to feel more strongly than he did, that the agricultural districts owed a deep debt of gratitude to the Poor-law commissioners. However unpopular that statement might be, he would be honest enough to state what he felt. In the district where he lived, the administration of the old Poor-law was in a most shocking state. But this, partly by the new law, and partly by the regulations of the Poor-law commissioners, had been remedied. He should oppose the amendment.
§ Mr. Halford
had given no opposition to the passing of the New Poor-law, but had done his best in his own district to promote its successful working. He had not, however, been able to do otherwise conscientiously than oppose the present bill, and he must, therefore, support the amendment of the hon. Member below him. In doing so, he did not think he was acting inconsistently. He opposed the principle of the perpetuation of the powers of the commissioners, which appeared to him to breathe in every line of this bill. His impression had been, when the New Poor-law was first introduced, not that the power of the commissioners was to be permanent, but quite the reverse. Their use was to put the bill into efficient working. If he had anticipated that their appointment would have given rise to their continuance, and a demand for increased powers, he should have opposed the original measure. It was said, that the board of commissioners was necessary in order to shelter the board of guardians from obloquy in the exercise of their duty. To impute this degree of cowardice and want of good sense to the people of England, was a libel on their characters which they did not deserve. He did not think that the rich and poorer classes stood in such relation to each other, that they wanted a central and intermediate authority to interpose between them. He felt that he could not do otherwise than oppose this bill, in all those parts of it which gave increased power to the commissioners.
§ Mr. G. Knight
wished to say a few words in reference to the case of the Bas- 638 ford Union, alluded to by the hon. Member for Finsbury, as he was unwilling to allow an imputation to rest upon persons who were not to blame. That blame must attach to some one, and that some one had been guilty of misconduct he was fully aware; but it was not the board of guardians. The mistake originated, not in an order, but in a misrepresentation. He held in his hand a letter from one of the guardians of the union, who was no friend to the Poor-law, and whose testimony could therefore be the better relied on, stating that no written order hid been made upon the subject, and that the verbal order which had misled the medical attendant arose from an instruction which was meant solely to apply to some abuses of the workhouse, but which was never meant to apply, and never was applied, to the medical attendants. The gentlemen who wrote this letter, in common with the other members of the board, felt themselves greatly hurt by the imputations which had been cast upon them in that House, and he felt that he was but doing them justice in thus stating how the unfortunate circumstance had arisen. He was of opinion that some central superintendence, such as the commissioners, was necessary; but he was exceedingly desirous that it should be conducted with as little harsh or harassing interference as was compatible with the due administration of the law. It appeared to him, from some instances with which he had become acquainted, that the commissioners bad interfered in a manner more harassing to the boards of guardians than there was any necessity for. Because he was anxious for the success of the law, he hoped the commissioners would see that a proper allowance was made to the poor, and particularly to the sick poor, that out-door relief should he afforded to as great an extent as possible, and that no such cruelties or inhumanities as had unfortunately more than once taken place in the workhouses should be again permitted. He confessed he should be better satisfied if the relative powers of the commissioners were more abridged. He felt that they could not be altogether dispensed with, hut that they should only be resorted to in cases of necessity.
§ Mr. Slaney
defended the commissioners from what he considered rather an unmeasured attack on the part of the noble Lord- His belief was, that in the exer- 639 cise of the powers with which they had been intrusted, however they might have erred upon some points, they had, in the main, succeeded in upholding the independence, and improving the condition of the poor, while they had greatly benefited the public at large. He contended that the position of the aged and infirm particularly had been greatly bettered by the new Poor-law, in comparison to what it was under the old law. Although he did not think that any of the publications of the commissioners deserved to be termed arrogant, he admitted that in some of them the commissioners had evinced a want of caution and discretion.
§ Mr. Wakley
begged to submit, that it appeared to him, that the house had been occupied more than an hour in discussing a matter that was not before them. Their business was to discuss the clauses of the bill, and not the private and personal character of the commissioners. He had never heard any individual, whatever might be his feeling with regard to the Poor-law, throw out any imputation against the character of the commissioners or any person in the commission. He knew no circumstance prejudicial to the private or personal character of the commissioners, or to any person employed in their service. He was opposed to the new Poor-law, and to the rules and regulations of the commissioners, and not to the individuals themselves. He begged to remind the hon. Member for North Nottingham (Mr. G. Knight), that his statement was an explanation, and not a refutation, of the statement made on a former evening. The hon. Member said, that there was a misapprehension of an order, and that, in fact, there was no written order at all. But there was an order, whether verbal or written, and he should like to know who made that order. The medical attendant stated that the order was in force, and he added, that for six successive weeks he applied to the chairman of the board of guardians entreating that the order should be rescinded, and the chairman acknowledged that such was the fact. It was admitted that blame existed somewhere, but who was to blame? He put it to the House whether a medical practitioner was empowered, under the existing rule of the Poor-law commissioners, to administer such food and wine as he thought necessary for sick patients? What was the answer given to Mr. Henry Len- 640 nard, a medical practitioner by the commissioners? It was to the effect that he had no such authority as he had supposed, and that however ill a patient might be, he could not order wine or such like nourishment without the sanction of the board of guardians. He had that day seen Mr. Phillpott, the medical attendant upon the Paddington union workhouse, and that gentleman had informed him, that when he had ordered extra diet his order had been disobeyed. They had heard much of the benefit conferred by the new Poor-law upon the aged poor. He would state what had occurred within h.s own experience. That very day, having a few moments to spare, he had visited an alms-house, and had inquired into the operation of the law. A poor old trembling creature, about seventy years of age, told him that before the new law she used to receive 5s. or 6s. a week, but that her allowance now was 1s. 6d., with a pound of beef and a loaf of bread weekly. He had asked Mr. Phillpott, if he ordered wine or additional food for such a poor creature as this, how his order would be treated? and the answer was, that the things ordered would be given at once, but that in a short time they would be discontinued, and then the pauper would be told that she must go to the workhouse. He had then inquired of this old pauper whether, for the sake of the additional stimulants and food, she would leave the alms-house? and the answer was, that she would remain and perish rather than go into the union workhouse. He would be prepared on Monday evening to discuss the subject more fully, and if any person chose to be illiberal and vulgar-minded enough to dispute the truth of his statements, he hoped that such person would take the trouble beforehand to inquire into the truth of the statements he had already made.
§ Viscount Howick
begged to be allowed to make a few remarks, in consequence of a communication he had received from the guardians of the Basford union. It had been stated on a former evening by the hon. Member for Finsbury, that an order had been made in that union, that, even in cases of emergency, the medical officer should not be at liberty to administer wine or other stimulants without the sanction of the board of guardians, and that, in consequence of this order causing delay, there had been a case in 641 which death had occurred. Now, in addition to what had been that night stated by the hon. Member for North Nottingham, he had received a communication from one of the guardians, transmitting to him a printed paper, comprising a resolution that was passed at a meeting of the board of guardians on the 23d of February last. In this resolution the guardians denied, in the strongest manner, that there existed any such rule or regulation prohibiting the medical officer from immediately granting, upon his own authority, wine, or meat, or any other article he might deem necessary. They denied, that any such order, written or verbal, had ever been in operation; and not only did they deny it, but they produced proof that it had never been in operation. They referred to the records of the workhouse to show, that between the 28th of December and the 10th of February, when this unfortunate death occurred, the very medical officer, Mr. Morley, who had made the statement referred to by the hon. Member for Finsbury, had, of his own authority, and by his own free will, placed upon extra diet twenty-eight patients, meat daily! twelve, meat and ale daily! five, meat and wine daily! supplied from the stock without ever once consulting the board upon the subject, or receiving from them let or hindrance, advice or admonition, restraint or caution, in a single instance, as to its application. As a further remarkable instance of the total disregard of truth manifested in the statement put forth by Mr. Morley, the astounding fact might be mentioned, that only ten days before, he made, on oath, the averment, "that if a man be taken ill on Tuesday evening, I have no authority to order wine, or beer, or stimulants, till the board order it on the following Tuesday," he actually ordered in conjunction with the honorary physician, to one patient, four ounces of wine daily, with meat; to another three ounces of wine, and meat, and never made any communication to the board on the subject, further than entering it in his weekly medical report, where the cases would have remained, in all probability unnoticed by any one, but for the extraordinary circumstances of the last week. In addition to the evidence furnished by the above facts, that this board never could have entertained, even in idea, a rule so absurd as that imputed to them, may be mentioned, that during the same 642 period the district surgeons prescribed wine, ale, and meat to numerous cases of our poor, which in no one instance was refused to be allowed by the board, when afterwards brought before them. He confessed, that when he heard the statement that was made on a former evening he was astonished. He could hardly believe that any board of guardians could have acted so wrongly and improperly, and he thought the resolution he had referred to, and which had been adopted at a meeting of the whole board of guardians, proved how necessary it was, that all statements should be closely scrutinised before they were implicitly relied on by the House.
Mr. C. Hamilton
did not think the question which the House was now called upon to decide, had reference to the con duet of the commissioners, but whether powers should be intrusted to them which should reside in the Legislature alone. He did not stand up for the old law; the abuses of that system had nothing to do with the question whether arbitrary and hitherto unheard of powers should be given to the Poor-law commissioners. He entirely concurred in what had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury with reference to the individual character of those gentlemen; but still he must say there was a general opinion throughout the country, and especially amongst the boards of guardians, that it would be extremely dangerous to permit any single case on being brought before the commissioners to be made the ground of a general rule.
§ Colonel Rolleston
regretted that his hon. Friend (Mr. G. Knight) had been induced again to bring forward the ease of the Basford Union. He was perfectly certain, from what he knew, if his hon. Friend had been permitted to exercise his own judgment he would have been silent. His hon. Friend had alluded to certain documents he had received from a certain individual, but without favouring the House either with an explanation of those documents or the name of his correspondent. He knew what was the nature of the document, and certainly it suggested a most ingenious and adroit mode of getting out of the difficulty. He was prepared, however, to assert what he had asserted before with reference to this case, premising, however, that his statement did not depend on any bonâ fide. distinct knowledge of his own, but on the oath three times 643 given in courts of justice by the officers of the union. The facts were briefly these:—An unfortunate individual was brought a distance of eight or ten miles to this union in the severest weather, and to use the words of the medical gentleman who happened to be in attendance within a few minutes after he arrived, in articulo mortis, He continued to decline for six or eight hours, and then expired. It would he in the recollection of those who were present on the former occasion that he stated that the only remedy applied by the medical man had been warm tea and water-gruel, and on being asked why he had not applied more powerful stimulants, he replied, that an order of the board, a distinct and positive order, had been given to him that no wine or stimulant should be administered under any circumstances. He added, that although the life of the individual could not have been saved, he thought his suffering would have been ameliorated. Upon the instant he told the medical officer he must have been mistaken, such an order could not possibly have been given; it was against the act; against the rules and orders of the commissioners; against every dictate of humanity. What was the reply? Was this in secret? It was in open day, in the face of the board of guardians then and there assembled, partly at his instigation, solely to investigate this case; but not one member of that board rose and controverted the assertion of the medical officer. He repeated that there must be some mistake, upon which one of the board said, "He is not wrong, for a pauper of my own parish wanted wine, and was refused under the same circumstances." Such was the evidence given before the board of guardians, which he heard twice repeated on oath at a subsequent period. The matter did not rest there. The medical officer being all but disbelieved, apapplied to the chairman of the board who was the high sheriff of the county, who not only confirmed him, but his words were, "You have applied two or three times, and the board has refused to rescind this order." The noble Lord (Howick) had read a statement to the effect that no order had been given to the surgeon. This was explained by what the chairman afterwards said—"You made use of a wrong expression; what we term an order is that which is written in the book; "but the surgeon certainly received a strict, positive injunction and 644 prohibition not to administer wine or stimulants. The only mistake was in using the word "order". Such was the plain statement of this case, which he repeated he was sorry should have been again brought before the House. One good result might at least be expected. The sensitiveness of these gentlemen, upon the case being submitted to the public, satisfied him that such practices would not be followed in future. But he warned his hon. Friend (Mr. G. Knight) and those who instructed him, not to persist in references to the medical practice pursued by the officers of this union, or there were other cases of a still more serious character, which he should feel it to be his painful duty to bring before the House.
§ Mr. C. Wood
hoped the matter would, not be allowed to drop. As it stood now, there was a most extraordinary contradiction, for it was impossible to state where the truth lay, between the hon. and gallant Officer who had just sat down, and the statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. G. Knight) and his noble Friend (Viscount Howick) near him. There was one thing ascertained, that within two months before the death took place, this surgeon did, of his own authority, give to persons within the workhouse, meat, wine, and ale, without the authority of the board, and without its being disallowed. How these facts were recancileable with the existence of any such order as that referred to, appeared to him utterly inconceivable. The guardians, in the resolution referred to by his noble Friend, stated, that by the order of this identical surgeon, and by his authority, from the 28th of December to the 10th of February, twenty-eight persons had received extra diet of meat, twelve had received meat and ale, and five had received meat and wine; and, that ten days before the matter referred to in discussion, this same medical officer had ordered four ounces of wine to one, and three ounces to another patient; and that during the same period, in numerous cases of out-door poor, wine, ale, and meat were given upon the undisputed order of the surgeon. These were facts or they were not, and surely it ought to be ascertained whether they were facts or not. If they should prove to be facts, they would afford a better proof of what was the practice of this union, than an order the existence of which was disputed.
§ Sir R. Peel
had only one remark to make. Supposing that the guardians of the Basford union were chargeable with harshness in the case which had been mentioned this evening, or that the surgeon had been guilty of neglect, he would ask, under either supposition, with such a case before them, whether it were safe to place the administration of the Poor laws exclusively in the hands of the guardians, free from all interference from a higher authority. He had always approved of the existence of the board of commissioners, looking at them not only as a superintending authority over the boards of unions, but also as a tribunal to which the poor man could have recourse in case of hardship, and in neither light did he consider it safe to discontinue their wholesome influence.
Mr. W. Buncombe
said, that the argument made use of by the right hon. Baronet would go to the establishment of the Poor-law commission, not for five years, nor for ten years, but in perpetuity. With respect to the right hon. Baronet's referrence to the supposed incompetence of boards of guardians to act on their own authority, he could only say, that there were unions under local acts, and under Gilbert's Act, over whom the commissioners had no control, and in none of which had such horrible cases of inhumanity and neglect as that laid to the charge, of the Basford union ever occurred. He hoped, therefore, that no one in this House would be induced, by such arguments as those which they had just heard from the right hon. Member for Tamworth, to give their support to the continuance of the system which worked such cruelties. He, believed, that the feelings of the country generally, from one end to the other, were hostile to this measure. There had been few petitions presented in favour of it; but a great number from all parts of the country against it. This evening the House had received one at the hands of the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool, coming from 50,000 petitioners, who besought the House not again to put them under the yoke of the commissioners at Somerset house. The hon. Member for Sheffield had presented a petition in favour of the bill; but if the hon. Member supposed that that petition represented the feelings of his constituents, he would be likely to find himself mistaken when he next presented himself before them at a general 646 election. He (Mr. W. Buncombe) had opposed this measure six years ago; and he would continue to do so now. It was a measure which made poverty a crime; which incarcerated men who were guilty of no other crime but misery and distress, in gaols and dungeons; which cut asunder the dearest ties of human nature, fathers from their children, husbands from their wives; and it was a measure in his belief calculated more than any other to alienate the feelings of the people from the laws and institutions of their country, and upon these grounds he was determined to give it his strenuous and uncompromising opposition.
§ Mr. Blackstone
said, that in consequence of what had fallen from the right hon. Member for Tamworth as to the boards of guardians not being to be depended upon, if freed from the control of the commissioners, he begged to state one fact which happened within his own knowledge. Some little time back a low fever broke out in the union to which he belonged; and it raged so badly, that some persons were wanted to act as nurses for the sick. The hoard of guardians wished to take a few old women out of the workhouse for this purpose, but it was suggested that this could not be done without first applying to the commissioners for their sanction. Accordingly the commissioners were applied to, and they refused their permission to do as proposed. He merely stated this fact in order that the House might see whether the board of guardians might not be able to administer the Poor-law better than the commissioners.
§ Mr. Fielden
said that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had enlogised the board of commissioners as a tribunal of appeal for the poor man. Now if he (Mr. Fielden) could be brought to believe that the commissioners exercised their power in favour of the poor man, and in the cause of humanity, he should almost forgive the extravagant power with which they were invested. But all experience shewed the contrary to be the case; and that the commissioners directed all their powers to increase the oppression of the poor man. He did not blame the commissioners however, but he blamed the act which authorised them, and the Parliament which passed that act. The; unreformed Parliament, whatever were its faults, would never have passed such a cruel law.
Mr. H. Hinde,
before the committee divided, begged to explain to hon. Members who might not have been in the House in the early part of this debate, that the difference between the clause in the bill and his amendment went to this: the bill went to give the commissioners a legislative power as well as a power of superintendence. His amendment would give them the power of superintendence without the power of legislation.
§ Lord J. Russell
said that in his view of the amendment of the hon. Member, it would deprive the commissioners of all power of superintendence.
§ The Committee divided on the question that the word "every" stand part of the clause:—Ayes 225: Noes 75; Majority—150.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Dalmeny, Lord|
|Acland, T. D.||Darby, G.|
|Adam, Admiral||Davies, Col.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Denison, W. J.|
|Alston, R.||Divett, E.|
|Antrobus, E.||Douro, Marquess of|
|Bagot, hon. W.||Dugdale, W. S.|
|Bailey, J.||Duncan, Viscount|
|Baines, E.||Dundas, C. W. D.|
|Baldwin, C. B.||Dundas, F.|
|Barnard, E. G.||East, J. B.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Eastnor, Viscount|
|Berkeley, hon. H.||Egerton, Lord F.|
|Berkeley, hon. C.||Eliot, Lord|
|Bewes, T.||Ellice, rt. hon. E.|
|Blake, W. J.||Evans, G.|
|Botfield, B.||Evans, W.|
|Bowes, J.||Ewart, W.|
|Brabazon, Lord||Filmer, Sir E.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Fitzalan, Lord|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Fitzpatrick, J. W.|
|Broadley, H.||Fox, S. L.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Freemantle, Sir T.|
|Brownrigg, S.||Gisborne, T.|
|Bruges, W. H. L.||Gladstone, W. E.|
|Byng, G.||Gladstone, J. N.|
|Callaghan, D.||Glynne, Sir S. R.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Gordon, R.|
|Cantilupe, Viscount||Goulburn, rt. hon. H.|
|Cavendish, hon. C.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Cavendish, hon. G. H||Grosvenor, Lord R.|
|Cayley, E. S.||Grote, G.|
|Chichester, Sir B.||Handley, H.|
|Cholmondeley, hn. H.||Harcourt, G. G.|
|Chute, W. L. W.||Hawes, B.|
|Clay, W.||Hawkins, J. H.|
|Clayton, Sir W. R.||Hector, C. J.|
|Clive, E. B.||Herbert, hon. S.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Hill, Lord A. M. C.|
|Compton, H. C.||Hobhouse, right hon. Sir J.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.|
|Craig, W. G.||Hobhouse, T. B.|
|Crawford, W,||Hogg, J. W.|
|Holmes, hon. W. A'Court||Price, Sir R.|
|Hope, hon. C.||Pryme, G.|
|Horsman, E.||Pusey, P.|
|Hotham, Lord||Rawdon, Col. J. D.|
|Houston, G.||Rice, E. R.|
|Howard, hn. E. G. G.||Rich, H.|
|Howard, F. J.||Rickford, W.|
|Howard, P. H.||Roche, W.|
|Howard, hn. C. W. G.||Rolleston, L.|
|Howick, Viscount||Round, C. G.|
|Hume, J.||Rundle, J.|
|Hurt, F.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Hutt, W.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Hutton, R.||Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Salwey, Colonel|
|James, W.||Sandon, Viscount|
|Jermyn, Earl||Sandford, E. A.|
|Johnstone, H.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Jones, J.||Seymour, Lord|
|Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Knight, H. G.||Shirley, E. J.|
|Labouchere, rt. hn. H.||Slaney, R. A.|
|Langdale, hon. C||Smith, J. A.|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Smith, R. V.|
|Lennox, Lord A.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Loch, J.||Somerville, Sir W. M.|
|Long, W.||Sotheron, T. E.|
|Lushington, C.||Staunton, Sir G. T.|
|Lushington, rt. hn. S.||Steuart, R.|
|Lynch, A. H.||Stewart, J.|
|Macaulay, rt. hn. T. B.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Manners, Lord C. S.||Stuart, W. V.|
|Marshall, W.||Stock, Mr. Serjeant|
|Marsland, H.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Marsland, T.||Strutt, E.|
|Martin, J.||Style, Sir C.|
|Master, T. W.||Surrey, Earl of|
|Mildmay, P. St. J.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Miles, W.||Teignmouth, Lord|
|Miles, P. W. S.||Thornely, T.|
|Milton, Viscount||Tomline, G.|
|Mordaunt, Sir J.||Trevor, hon. G. R.|
|Morgan, O.||Trotter, J.|
|Morpeth, Viscount||Troubridge, Sir E|
|Morris, D.||Tufnell, H.|
|Neeld, Joseph||Turner, E.|
|Neeld, John||Tyrrell, Sir J. T.|
|Norreys, Lord||Verney, Sir H.|
|Norreys, Sir D. J.||Villiers, hon. C. P.|
|O'Ferrall, R. M.||Villiers, Viscount|
|Ord, W.||Vivian, rt. hn. Sir R. H.|
|Packe, C. W.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Paget, Lord A.||Wall, C. B.|
|Parker, J.||Warburton, H.|
|Parker, T. A. W.||Ward, H. G.|
|Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.||Welby, G. E.|
|Patten, J. W.||Wilbraham, G.|
|Pattison, J.||Williams, T. P.|
|Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.||Wilmot, Sir J. E.|
|Philips, G. R.||Wilshere, W.|
|Phillpots, J.||Winnington, Sir T. E.|
|Pigot, rt. hon. D.||Winnington, H. J.|
|Pinney, W.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Plumptre, J. P.||Wood, C.|
|Powell, Colonel||Wood, Colonel|
|Wood, G. W.||Yates, J. A.|
|Wood, B.||Young, J.|
|Wrightson, W. B.||TELLER.|
|Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.||Stanley, hon. E. J.|
|Wyse, T.||Maule, hon. F.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Ainsworth, P.||Hodges, T. L.|
|Attwood, W.||Hodgson, F.|
|Bailey, J., jun.||Hollond, R.|
|Baillie, Colonel||Houldsworth, T.|
|Bainbridge, E. T.||Humphrey, J.|
|Bell, M.||Irton, S.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Johnson, General|
|Boldero, H. G.||Leader, J. T.|
|Bolling, W.||Lowther, J. H.|
|Broadwood, H.||Lygon, hon. General|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Brotherton, J.||Marton, G.|
|Buck, L. W.||Miller, W. H.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Muntz, G. F.|
|Burr, H.||O'Brien, W. S.|
|Burroughes, H. N.||Owen, Sir J.|
|Collins, W.||Palmer, R.|
|Copeland, Mr. Ald.||Palmer, G.|
|Courtenay, P.||Parker, R. T.|
|Crewe, Sir G.||Pechell, Captain|
|Darlington, Earl of||Polhill, F.|
|Dick, Q.||Richards, R.|
|D'Israeli, B.||Round, J.|
|Easthope, J.||Rushout, G.|
|Eaton, R. J.||Sanderson, R.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Scarlett, hon. J. Y.|
|Ellis, W.||Scholefield, J.|
|Evans, Sir De Lacy||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Farnham, E. B.||Smyth, Sir G. H.|
|Fielden, J.||Spry, Sir S. T.|
|Fitzroy, hon. H.||Stanley, E.|
|Fleetwood, Sir P. H.||Turner, W.|
|Gore, O. J. R.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Goring, H. D.||Wakley, T.|
|Grant, Sir A. C.||Wilbraham, hon. B.|
|Grimsditch, T.||Williams, R.|
|Hamilton, C. J. B.||Hodgson, H.|
|Hawkes, T.||Duncombe, W.|
on the question being again put upon the clause, moved the following amendment: "And be it enacted, that every rule, order, or regulation of the Poor-law Commissioners which shall be issued after the passing of this act, and which shall apply to the amount or description of relief to be given to the poor, or to their management in any workhouse, shall be deemed to be a general rule, subject to all the provisions relating to general rules contained in the act first herein recited: and such rule, order, or regulation shall be accompanied by the minutes or instructions of the said commissioners issued in explanation of such order, and every other rule, order, or regulation of the said 650 commissioners, shall be deemed a particular order, not withstanding that such rule, order, or regulation shall, at the time of issuing the same, be addressed by the said commissioners to more unions than one, or to more parishes or places than one." This amendment was intended to apply to all out-door relief, to all rules for the government of the poor in workhouses, and the admission of paupers, and to all alterations of such rules; in fact, to all orders relating to the relief of the poor, both in and out of union workhouses.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
observed, that under the poor-law Amendment Act, the general rules issued by the commissioners must be laid before Parliament. Now, it was rather singular, that during the six or seven years those gentlemen had been in office, the number of general rules which had been laid on the Table of the House did not exceed four or five. As the operation of this measure very much depended upon the notoriety which the proceedings of the commissioners acquired, it was desirable that means should be taken to effect that object, more especially as some hundreds of special orders were directed to various unions of which, properly speaking, ought to be regarded as general rules.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, it was true, that few general rules were laid upon the Table by the House, because few were made by the Poor-law Commissioners. The clause proposed was one to bring before Parliament all general rules applicable to nay class of cases. He thought his hon. Friend's clause would not effect that object with certainty. He thought the amendment proposed would give rise to confusion.
§ Mr. J. Jones
said, he wished the first part of his hon. Friend's clause had been more general. It was his opinion that all rules made by the Poor-law Commissioners should be under the supervision of the Secretary of State, and subject to the control of the House. It appeared to him also that the second part of the clause was contradictory to the first.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Lord G. Somerset moved, at the end of clanse 4, that the following words be added, "Provided always no such general rule, order, or regulation shall be of any effect, except duly signed by two at 651 least of the said commissioners, and sealed by the common seal, and countersigned by one of her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State."
§ Amendment agreed to. Clause agreed to.
§ House resumed, and adjourned.