§ Mr. Fielden
rose to oppose the third reading of-the bill, and to move that it be read that day three months. The right hon. Secretary for the Home Department had distinctly told the House that he is pledged to the principles of the new Poor-law. A dogged perseverance in adhering to the new law had overthrown his predecessors in office, and the present Government might rest assured that if they imitated the example of the last, they would not long hold office. To hear from a Cabinet pledged to govern on constitutional principles, that they will hold to the principle of a despotic law was what he could not understand. The delegation of extraordinary and undefined powers to a board of commissioners was declared by many learned persons on the passing of the bill through Parliament to be unconstitutional; and Mr. Scarlett, now Lord Abinger, stated distinctly, that—The clause by which the affairs of the poor are to be placed in the hands of delegates or commissioners, who are to exist as a sort of central board, appeared to him to establish such an imperium in imperio, that he thought the people of England would never consent to it.He hoped the people never would consent to it. The continuance of these powers were considered so despotic that Lord Althorp consented to limit the term of the commissioners to five years. But with this limitation the bill was thought so bad, that many attempts were made to stop it, and Lord Althorp, after having been repeatedly desired to postpone it to another Session, because it was not understood out of doors, uttered these remarkable words: —He trusted that they would not lose the opportunity they now possessed of passing the bill; for if it were postponed to another Session, he must be a bold man who would then undertake an amendment of the Poor-laws.The country now understood it and detested it. The electors, backed by the non-electors, had at the past election 1067 marked their displeasure of the Whigs,; and given the Tories a large majority in that House, who might, if so disposed, repeal that law. If they lost the opportunity they would show themselves under serving of confidence. In the petitions on; the Poor-law we had the most conclusive evidence of the nation's dislike to the law. j In two successive Sessions, in the latter of which he had moved for a repeal of it, the signatures to the petitions for repeal, numbered nearly half a million. Those petitions came from all parts of the country, and the letters he received on the subject, from persons in all parts, whom he had never known before, or seen at all, were very numerous. The petitions in the last Session, after the noble Lord, the Member for London, had given notice of his bill to amend the Poor law, were worthy the notice of the House. There were 6 petitions in support of the Poor-law, with 130 signatures to the whole; 21 petitions, with 247 signatures attached in favour of the bill then under consideration; 44 petitions, with 66 signatures, against any clause for out-door relief; for repeal of local-acts, 1 petition, with 24 signatures —in all 72 petitions, to which were annexed 467 signatures, somewhat in favour of the Poor-law. But what petitions were presented to that House against the law? There were 185 petitions, with 48,300 signatures for repeal; 86 with 11,621 signatures for alteration; 2 petitions, with 1,026 signatures for repeal of the Poor-law and the County Constabulary Act; 264 petitions, with 135,290 signatures, against the bill then under consideration; 281 petitions, with 61,375 signatures, for alteration of the bill; 73 petitions, with 28,717 signatures, for provision for freedom of religious instruction and attendance at places of worship; 4 petitions, with 317 signatures, against the proposed clause relative to casual poor. In all 895 petitions, with 286,646 signatures attached, against the New Poor-law and the bill to amend it. Here were a host of petitions to that House from those who did not understand the matter when the bill was before the House in 1834, but whose experience had brought them to beseech them to repeal it. The petitioners thought, and he (Mr. Fielden) agreed with them, that they were capable of distributing the sums raised for the relief of the poor amongst whom they lived in a manner more satisfactory to both 1068 parties than could be done by any directions of the central board at Somerset-house, and that involved the whole question. He knew that much was said about the abuses that had prevailed in the administration of relief to the poor, that they were lazy, profligate, and would eat up the rental of the land. If the administration had been bad, that was not the fault of the old law. When abuses did exist, it was the effect of either inadequate wages or want of work, and why punish the poor for that? It was the fault of the; owners of property, and only just that they should suffer. Property was forward enough to claim its privileges; let it perform its duties. But it was a libel on the poor to say they would not work. Look at your roads, canals, railroads, buildings, and the labour they performed in the fields and in factories, in mines, and elsewhere, all of which bore testimony to the unrivalled industry of the people, and gave the lie to their traducers. Much had been said of the principle of the new law. If it had any principle, it was the 15th clause which enacted the hoard of commissioners, and gave them the powers which the bill before the House proposed to continue for six months longer. That principle the Home Secretary told the House he would maintain. If it were really intended that the central hoard should be permanent, which it must if the principle were maintained, why not make it so at once, and cease to trifle with the House? Now, what had the commissioners done to entitle them to the confidence of the country? They formed unions almost everywhere complained of—they directed immense workhouses to be built which were a disgrace to the country—they had issued peremptory orders to refuse relief to the able-bodied \ out of the workhouse, and required the separation of husband and wife, and parents and children, on entering those dreary; abodes—they had obtained force to compel obedience to their orders—they had fixed and persevered in dietaries that had caused death—they had promoted emigration and emigration schemes, and had obtained acts for disposing of parish property, the conveyances of which amounted to upwards of 3,900—they had caused a reduction of wages—deaths of mothers in childbed—suicide of widows and others, whose relief was withdrawn—they had so well succeeded in exciting a terror of their workhouses that death by starvation was 1069 constantly suffered rather than resort thither for relief. Even that morning he had received a letter from Manchester, accompanied by the Manchester Advertiser of the 18th ult., in which was given a letter detailing the particulars of two deaths by starvation, caused by horror of the workhouse, in one of which the verdict of the coroner's jury was, "Died of disease of the lungs, accelerated by starvation;" and the second was, "Died of the want of the common necessaries of life." They had increased the number of vagrants to an alarming extent. In a table published in the sixth annual report of the commissioners there was a column containing the number of vagrants and paupers relieved, not belonging to any parish of the union, and it gave the number in the Christmas quarter of 1838, and the number for the Christmas quarter of 1839, in fourteen counties of England and Wales, arbitrarily selected, as was said. In the county of Nottingham, in 1838, the number who received relief was 197, and in 1839, 328, being an increase of 131. In Sussex, the number relieved in 1838 was 236, and in 1839, 302; increase 66. In Bedford, the number relieved in 1838 was 64, and in 1839, 158; increase 94. In Kent, the number relieved in 1838 was 821, in 1839, 1,254; increase 433. In Leicester, the number relieved in 1838 was 291, in 1839, 789; increase 498. In Salop, the number relieved in 1838 was 96, in 1839, 280; increase 184. The total relieved in these six counties in 1838, was 1,705, and in 1839 it was 3,111 —increase 1,406, or 82 per cent. It was to be observed, that that table by no means showed the number of applicants. If a table of all who applied could be obtained, he had no doubt that the result would be an awful development. The increase of beggars was remarked by almost every one, and he had drawn attention to this fact to show the working of the Poor-law and the poverty of the people. The increase of crime was not less alarming, as shown by returns on the Table of that House. He must again express his regret at the determination of the Home Secretary to continue the commission, and he hoped the country would send up their petitions to that House early next Session in number sufficient to induce a change of that determination, when the House was promised a consideration of the whole sub- 1070 ject; for the people might rest assured, that they had no weapon so effective for good as the constitutional exercise of the right of petition. The hon. Member concluded by moving as an amendment that the bill be read a third time that day three months.
§ Sir C. Douglas
wished to state the reason why he could not support the present motion of the hon. Member for Oldham, in order to protect himself from misconstruction. The occasion appeared to him scarcely a fit one for the speech of the hon. Member, because the question before the House did not involve the general merit of the Poor-law Amendment Act, but only the continuance of the commission for a given period. When on former occasions, votes of a similar nature to the present had been brought forward, he had felt it his duty to oppose them, because they had been introduced under different circumstances, having emanated from a Government that had bad ample opportunity of acting on the official information which they had been able to collect. Last year the noble Lord, then at the head of the Government in that House, proposed to continue the commission until the end of the then next Session of Parliament; but the proposition being vehemently opposed by him and other hon. Members, the noble Lord gave way, and fixed the end of the present year for the duration of the commission, upon which he said, that the noble Lord had better have named some time of the year when Parliament usually separated, such as August or September. The proposition of the right hon. Baronet to continue the commission only until July next, showed a disposition to afford an opportunity for considering the principle of the measure; and he (Sir C. Douglas) only feared that he might lay himself open to a factious opposition, and whether his (Sir C. Douglas's) suggestion of last year might not be adopted by him with advantage. In opposing, as he had done by his vote, the proposition of the hon. Member for Rochdale, the other evening, he had not been actuated by any less strong opinion against the refusal of out-door relief, but he had done so because he did not think it necessary then to vote on such a subject as he would otherwise have done, when the proposition of the right hon. Baronet was only to continue the commission for five months, and because he thought it would have been wiser 1071 not to have brought the subject forward at a time when there was likely to be so slight an attendance. He hoped the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department would inquire into the management of those unions where complaints had arisen. There were many cases in which the boards of guardians had acted in opposition to the rules of the Poor-law commissioners. He knew one union in particular where out-door relief had been given, where there had been no separation of the sexes, and where the food was such that no better could be given. During the four years he had sat in Parliament he had never heard of a single complaint from that union, though a strong feeling existed there when the act first came into operation, and he felt quite sure that some expression of that feeling would have reached him, had not the guardians acted as they had done in violating the rules of the commissioners.
§ Captain Pechell
had never made this question the subject of party feeling, and on the present occasion he had quite sufficient reason for opposing the bill to relieve him from any such necessity. He alluded, among other things, to the manner in which the powers of the commissioners affected the parishes incorporated under Gilbert's Act. He could speak as to one parish, where the commissioners had issued rules and regulations which went to forbid the poor from going to church on Sunday and to prevent their being trusted out of the workhouses. Thus, the power of the guardians only extended to giving out-door relief to persons whom they might not think it necessary to send into the workhouses; and the Poor-law commissioners, though they had not the power to dissolve the union, nevertheless, could make such rules and regulations as produced the utmost dissatisfaction to the guardians, to the rate-payers, and to the receivers of the rates. This fact afforded to his mind a very strong reason for limiting the powers of the Poor-law commissioners. In the town which he represented (Brighton) the commissioners had not the power to make these regulations, and they had not attempted to introduce them, because they knew there was a watchful constituency who would prevent them, but they had succeeded in appointing a paid chaplain to the union, though the public refused to pay him a salary. He 1072 considered this power of the commissioners to interfere in the Gilbert unions, a sufficient reason for opposing the third reading of this bill, and also for opposing every similar proposition, in whatever shape it might come.
§ Mr. Borthwick
felt it his duty to those constituents who had with unexampled generosity elected him in his absence without any pledge, to state why he could not now vote with the hon. Member for Oldham. At the same time he would say, that were the question before them simply one of principle, he should have had no hesitation in supporting the hon. Member. The objection of the hon. Member for Oldham, did not apply to the present measure only, but also to the general principle of the Poor-law Act—a subject that was not now under discussion. Hon. Members did not seem to agree as to what the principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act was. The hon. Member for Finsbury declared the principle to be that of centralization—to gather up the power from the local authorities, and repose it in the commissioners; and he maintained that all the other principles of the bill were subordinate to this. The commissioners, however, declared the great principle of the measure to be to train the poor to a love of independence; and the hon. Member for Droitwich, adopted the same principle. To such a principle every one must cordially assent; but at the same time the operation of the present Poor-law was calculated to offer to it the most formidable opposition. The principle of the old Poor-law of Elizabeth was, that every member of the community, so long as he was industrious, was entitled to eat and to be clothed; but the kind of independence the commissioners seemed to contemplate was of a very different character. They seemed to desire to invest relief with so much of the character of harshness, as that the poor man would rather prefer independence, even if accompanied by actual misery. To such a principle he must offer his most strenuous opposition. He did most solemnly entreat the Government not to adopt the interpretation put upon the principle of the measure by either the one side or the other, and particularly not to adopt that of the hon. Member for Halifax, but that they would apply themselves to the consideration of it without being influenced either on the one side or the other. He (Mr. Borth- 1073 wick) objected to the power of legislation with which the present law invested the Poor-law commissioners, as being contrary to the spirit of the constitution. So extraordinary were their powers that their control over certain subjects, and for certain purposes, was as absolute as that of Queen, Lords, and Commons, over the general interests of the country. The reason why he should vote against the hon. Member for Oldham on the present occasion was simply this:—The Government had come down to the House and solicited a conditional confidence, to enable them, with the advantage of ripe experience, to mature a measure for the amendment of the law which should give satisfaction to the country. He should give them his confidence for the period and to the extent required for this purpose, but he reserved to himself the full liberty of considering the subject when brought before the House in the course of the next Session. In the meantime he hoped that Ministers would not yield unduly to the opinions either of the hon. Member for Oldham, or the hon. Member for Finsbury, but would leave the country to look to themselves for such a measure as they should consider just and effectual for the relief of the poor.
§ Mr. C. Wood
said, as he had called on the Government on a former occasion, for some expression of their opinions, he wished to take this opportunity of mentioning that the declaration of the right hon. Member for Dorchester, made two or three nights ago, was to him perfectly satisfactory. Such a declaration was necessary to enable the commissioners, who were intrusted with the superintendence of the Poor-law, to discharge their duty in a manner fitted to give confidence to the public. Before the intimation to which he had alluded, it was generally thought that Government were shrinking from the general support they had given to the principles of the law. That impression had now been entirely removed by the declaration of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Home Department, with which he, for one, was perfectly satisfied. He thought it would be exceedingly unreasonable to ask the Government to pledge themselves to anything more, or to expect that they should not leave themselves perfectly unfettered for the consideration of any amendments which might be proposed next Session. 1074 It appeared to him, that hitherto, anything that there might be to find fault with, had arisen more from defects in the Administration of the law than from defects in the law itself. He did not stand there to say that no amendments might be introduced into the law with advantage to its operation. It would be perfectly absurd, with the experience they had had of its working, for any one to say that it was not susceptible of improvement. He was not prepared to say that there might not be equally grave errors in the administration of the new as there had been in that of the old law. He would without hesitation say, that he should be glad to have it administered in the most considerate and kindly spirit towards those persons who might have the misfortune of becoming the objects of its provisions. That was the spirit in which he was most anxious that it should be applied. He would even say, that so far as his experience went, that was the spirit in which he had always seen it administered. He observed, from the returns laid before Parliament, that in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the expense to the rate-payers had lately been increased one-fifth in some parts, and one-sixth in others. He considered that there was the best possible security that the law would, generally speaking, be so administered, because, independent of that feeling of humanity which, he believed, pervaded almost universally, with rare exceptions, those who were intrusted with its administration, there was this additional security, that while under the old law, abuses might take place which it was worth nobody's while to bring before the public, every one could see that throughout the whole of England the most vigilant inspection was exercised over the whole conduct of the commissioners and guardians. In that House, also, there were many who were not indisposed to bring forward every particular case that might appear to them to call for public notice. He would not say that they were disposed to exaggerate, but the true facts at least, in their full extent, were sure to be brought under the consideration of the House.
§ Mr. Baldwin
said, he was going neither to support nor oppose the measure. He had objections to several provisions of the New Poor-law; but he would not go into the detail of them, because he was fully persuaded that hereafter there would be 1075 opportunities of expressing: an opinion on the question. But he could not sit down without stating his anxious hope that the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department, would introduce such a measure next Session as would entitle the Government to his cordial support.
§ Mr. Hindley
was aware that it was not regular to allude to what had passed in a former debate; but, as the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had, on Monday night, made an attack upon him in his absence, he trusted he might now be allowed to say a few words in his own vindication. He would not complain that the right hon. Baronet had made that attack upon him in his absence, or that he had read a letter from an anonymous magistrate who had not ventured to give his name; but he would simply state to the House what be believed the circumstances of the case to be. With respect to the Poor-law, although, as the right hon. Gentleman in the chair well knew, he had opposed it in all its stages, yet he had never agitated the subject out of doors, and if the right hon. Baronet wished to have a proof of it, he could tell him that the Tory candidate who had opposed him (Mr. Hindley) at Ashton, was pleased to post on the walls a placard bearing a portrait of himself with an immense plum-pudding under it, and the motto, "If you wish this, vote for Harrop; if you wish for starvation in a bastile, vote for Hindley." Being in the country at the time when the right hon. Baronet made his statement, he had thought it his duty at once to go to the house of the family, and examine them as to the amount they had been receiving from the overseer, which he had stated at 1s. 6d. a-week. He found that they had not been in the regular receipt even of that sum. The woman told him she had been cursed by the overseer repeatedly. Whether that was true or not, he could not tell. Her husband had gone, when out of work, to the overseer, who had relieved him at various times, to the amount, he believed, of 9s. During the last six weeks the man had been about five weeks out of work, and had received about 15d. a-week. The woman had had a month's employment at reeling, but last Saturday the man with whom she had latterly been working failed, and now both of them were entirely out of work. The woman assured him, and her aunt, who was in the house at the time, confirmed her statement, that she had been 1076 at work the whole day at reeling, and from leaving the house in the morning to coming home at night she had never tasted either food or drink, and came on Thursday to potatoes and salt. On Friday she was in the same condition, and when she came home there were neither potatoes nor salt. The grocer who sold them articles had no potatoes, or, perhaps, did not wish to trust them. She, therefore, borrowed a shilling from a person in the neighbourhood, and bought some meal and buttermilk. He went to the grocer's and spoke to his wife, who told him that the whole money that the family had received during the last three weeks would not amount to 14s. 7d. Their chief food was potatoes; very little bread or articles of any other kind had been used by them. He was also told by a person who visited the grocer, that such was the condition of the latter, that while a few years ago he was worth a very considerable sum, he was now in such destitution as to be brought almost as low as his neighbours. He had also sent a person to inquire as to the amount of animal food the family had had, and he found that for two months they had not had more than 2s. worth of butcher's meat in the house, which was bought from the slink-butcher's on Sunday morning. He had, besides, written a letter to his solicitor, who wrote to the chairman of the petty sessions requesting him to examine the woman herself. His solicitor wrote to him in answer, that the case had been brought before the board, in the presence of Mr. Mills, a well-known reverend person, who, he supposed, wrote the letter which the right hon. Baronet had quoted in the House on Monday, The woman appeared, and was at first very reluctant to answer; she was very severely cross-examined by the overseer. It appeared, that on the 7th of April, the overseer gave her 4s., on the 16th 3s., on the 24th 2s. That was the last application, and for these small sums of money this person had to travel ten miles. The board was applied to to grant a copy of the depositions, which was refused. He (Mr. Hindley) thought it would have been but common courtesy on the part of the board to enable him to lay copies of the depositions before that House to-night. He could assure the House, that neither there nor out of doors, did he wish to exaggerate any statements of the distressed condition of the poor. He had in his hands letters from individuals, who were surprised that 1077 such a statement as be had made should excite astonishment in the House. He did not make these statements to increase the anti-corn-law cry. He had his own opinion about the propriety of altering the Corn-laws, but, at the same time, he never should endeavour to increase the feeling abroad, respecting public distress, to procure the alteration of any law whatever. He wished the Corn-law and the Poor, law to stand entirely on their own merits, and while he had a seat in that House, he never should lend himself to any exaggeration whatever.
§ Captain Polhill
trusted, that when the bill came again before the House, it would be of such a nature, that opposition to it would not be called for. If it did contain the objectionable clauses of the present one, the House would then have full time and opportunity to discuss those clauses, and, if the majority thought proper, they might be thrown out. For these reasons, he should oppose the motion of the hon. Member for Oldham. He gave credit to that Gentleman for kind and humane intentions, and he would say in that House, as he had said out of it, that the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had the cards in his own hands, and he had not the slightest doubt, he would play them judiciously. At the same time, he was of opinion, that some alterations, and very material ones, must be made in this bill to satisfy the country at large. Hon. Members, on the other side of the House, had taunted the Conservatives with endeavouring to create agitation at the late elections, by bringing forward the Poor-law; but, with respect to himself the could safely assert, that the only way in which he had mentioned the subject in his canvass was one which he considered perfectly constitutional—viz., asking his constituents whether they approved of the votes he had given on the Poor-law in the previous Session of Parliament, and to his satisfaction, they expressed their full assent to those votes.
§ Mr. Cobden,
being a young Member, and not having, therefore, had an opportunity of delivering his opinion on this subject, wished to state why he should vote for the amendment. In common with a great number of individuals, he was persuaded, that the nature and effects, if not the object (for he did not wish to attribute improper motives) of this law, was to avert the consequences arising out 1078 of legislation, in another direction. He alluded to corn and provision laws. He should give a short extract from the debates of 1815, to show, that it was not for the purpose of mounting his hobby of the corn and provision laws, that he had said the abuses of the present system of poor-laws arose from our legislation on the former subject. The main objection to this bill was, that it refused relief to the able-bodied. That was an important invasion of the statute of Elizabeth. It was justified on the ground, that this part of the community should be thrown on their own resources. He had no objection, and he was sure, that the able-bodied labourers of the country had no objection to be thrown on their own resources; but it did appear to him most unjust to raise the price of food, and restrict the demand for labour, and then tell the able-bodied men throughout the country, "the time is arrived, when you must rely on your own resources." The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the 13th May, 1814, said;—Other countries differed very materially from this, with respect to the consumption of corn. In other countries, when corn was high there was a much less consumption; but here, the price of labour rose generally in proportion to the rise of bread; and the poor-laws also enabled the poor to consume the same quantity, whatever the price was; as, if they were unable to purchase, the parish was obliged to provide for them.Mr. Calcraft again said:—If you render the purchase of the poor man's means of subsistence beyond what his wages will afford, you must revert to the system followed during the war, of paying the wages of the agricultural labourer out of the poor-rate."†Here be might, he hoped, be allowed to notice the manner in which a noble Lord took him to task for mentioning the "Corn-law," as if no change had been effected in that of 1815. Now, taking into account the depreciation of the currency, and the increase in the number of the people, he looked upon the Corn-law of 1828 to be as stringent, mischievous, and injurious to the people, as that of 1815 was to that race. The New Poor-law, however, broke the contract which was entered into with the neighbouring classes under previous laws. He did not mean to say, that the* Hansard, vol. xxvii. p. 875†Hansard, vol. xxix. p. 1018.1079 scheme of Elizabeth was a very enlightened one, or that the prophecies of Mr. Calcraft and other enlightened minds, as to the working of the old system, were not fully realized. In a period of twenty years, in some places, the greater part of the rental, in others, the whole was eaten up by the Poor-law. What, was the conduct of the Legislature? Did they retrace their steps? Did they give access to the boundless field of employment which a foreign trade would open? No; instead of meeting the just demands for relief, they dissolved partnership, and left the whole consequences of their mislegislation on the shoulders of the people. He put it to the right hon. Baronet whether it would not be wiser, and more worthy of his high intellect, if during the recess, he took into his consideration the policy of opening the markets of the world to our industry, and, therefore, secure food to the people as the reward of their honest industry, instead of being doled out to them under the Poor-law.
Mr. C. Hamilton
wished to state the reasons why he should vote for the third reading of this bill. He had not offered any opposition to the progress of the bill, neither did he intend to do so, as the question was merely "for a renewal of the present act for a limited period;" but his objections to many of its provisions were in no degree removed. He had not changed his opinions with his seat in that House, and treated with perfect indifference and contempt the insinuations that had been thrown out from the other side, that the late Opposition had used this as a party question, and were now prepared to support the measure they had so lately reprobated. Though a very humble Member of that House, he had ventured to express his opinion on this subject, and would do so again, knowing that he had every opportunity since the commencement of the New Poor-law Act, of observing its practical effect upon the condition of the labourer in the agricultural districts. He was not insensible to the crying evils of the old system. He could enumerate as many scenes of moral degradation produced by the old law, as had been depicted by the hon. Gentleman opsite, and to that system he never wished to return; but was this to render him blind and insensible to all the evils of the present bill? Because he was willing to admit that the New Poor-law Act had 1080 been of infinite service, and had proved a great boon to the agricultural interest and the master manufacturer, was he not to raise his voice against, or point out the evils which he knew existed? He gave utterance to his opinions with great sub-mission, but if he did not know by this time the effect produced by the present law, who ought? for he had been chairman of one of the largest unions in the kingdom for several years, ever since the commencement of the act, and had closely watched its operation. He admitted, and was glad to state, that many good results had been produced, but there were many points, such as, in many instances, compelling aged or infirm persons and widows to be relieved in the workhouse, and the entire system of medical relief, to which he should never agree, He was not, of course, going now to propose any alterations; but, most assuredly, he should reserve to himself the power of doing so at a future period. He supported the principle of the bill, but he objected to many of its provisions, as inflicting unnecessary hardships on the poor man, and which, if persisted in, would eventually dissolve the connecting link between the landlord and his poorer tenantry. One effect of the bill had been to lower wages [No, no];he repeated that, and could prove it; and those who maintained to the contrary could know very little of the working of the workhouse test, which caused the labourer to accept any terms rather than go there. He had never used this question as a means of agitation; on the contrary, he had on all occasions declared, that he gave the Whigs, who had conceived and carried out this measure, every credit for good intentions. He had never treated this as a party question, though he should follow precisely the same course that he had done now, were it so. He placed the same confidence in the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government as he did when he followed him as his leader in opposition; but he reserved to himself the right to use his humble judgment in this and every other question affecting the interests of the community. He differed from many hon. Gentlemen near him, for he did support the principle of the bill, and wished to see it fully and efficiently carried out, but he required justice to be meted out to the labourer as well as his employer. He was convinced both might 1081 be done, but not by "the bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill." He knew that some relaxations had taken place in the orders from Somerset-house, and did not undervalue their importance; but those relaxations were exceptions, and not enforced. They did not say to the boards of guardians "You must afford such and such relief," but, "that in certain cases you may do so." He could not agree with those hon. Gentlemen who thought the services of the Poor-law commissioners might be dispensed with. As long as they had a Poor-law at all there ought to be a ruling power; but, whether the authority given the commissioners was too great, or their powers too undefined, he could not then undertake to argue, but, at all events, the House of Commons were bound to institute the most searching inquiry into this most important subject; they were the guardians of the rights of the people, as their representatives, and on the House of Commons would rest the odium of perpetuating imperfections in a law which might prove most injurious to those it was intended to serve. He was no advocate for Parliamentary reform or universal suffrage, but he would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they would have voted for this bill in all its bearings and for all the clauses if the paupers' names had stood on their poll-books? Let them not then afford this pretext to the unrepresented to say, that it is owing to their not having the elective franchise that you have passed such a bill so deeply affecting their happiness. There was a strong and growing feeling in the country on this subject, and he trusted that when a new bill was brought forward, without lessening its efficiency, it would be deprived of the appearance and the reality of many of those harsh and stringent features which then disfigured a measure good and praiseworthy in itself but rendered apparently odious and revolting by these acknowledged defects.
§ Mr. Rennie
said, his impression was, that the effect of this bill was gradually undermining the good feeling which ought to exist between the poorer and the upper classes of society. If the administration of the bill as at present constituted were persisted in, ere long the lower classes would feel they were so unjustly treated by the Government of this country, that he very much feared the consequences that might ensue. But, in his opinion, the chief 1082 objection to the measure was one which he had not heard before stated to that House. He objected to the centralization system, not merely with reference to this bill, but he objected to it as bad in itself, as tending to despotism, and because he did not see where it would end. He could not see why the same principle might not be applied to all provincial institutions, and these institutions he had always considered as the bulwark of the constitution.
§ Mr. Wakley
would detain them but a very few moments from more substantial enjoyments. He did expect a long debate, and that he should have had the satisfaction of hearing many hon. Members who had not spoken, express their opinions on the Poor-law bill. But the time was past; the die was cast, and the Government had resolved what course to take. The principles of this bill were to be upheld, but the power of the Government would not be sustained. It might be expected from him, situated as he was, unpleasantly situated in many respects, that he should state the course his party was going to pursue. It was usual in times like these, that persons having some influence over a party, should state the course they intended that party should take. In that respect, he was following the example of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and in one respect his case resembled that of the right hon. Baronet very closely, for his was a perfectly united Cabinet. He was not in the slightest degree troubled by his Colleagues; they entertained the most perfect unanimity of opinion on all the great questions of state; and he, like the right hon. Baronet, had resolved most firmly not to bring forward any measure into the House, unless he conscientiously approved of it. He should not produce any measure there, whatever might be the entreaties or exhortations of any of his Colleagues. But, after all, it was amusing to be situated as he was, for he believed that no man had been more misrepresented; certainly none within so short a space of time had been more cordially abused. And why? Because he had not changed his place on the Benches in that House; not because his principles were unchanged, but because he had not changed his place. In former times, an adherence to a place indicated an adherence to principles; but now it seemed it indicated that some change of mind had been undergone. He hoped that, at least, 1083 the House would do him the justice to recollect, that when he entered the House of Commons, he took his seat on the Opposition side, the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth being then in office. That was in February, 1835. Three months afterwards, the right hon. Baronet resigned, and the Whigs of that day went over to the Ministerial side of the House. Did he go with them? No such thing; he had remained on the Opposition side of the House, where Mr. Hume had remained, along with Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey and Mr. Roebuck; and so late as the month of June, in that year, he had made a motion from the other side of the House for the recall of the Dorchester labourers. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government would recollect that he had asked him for a private view of the letter from one of the Love-lesses. Under these circumstances, it was unfair that a charge should be made against him, of having abandoned his principles, on account of his not having changed his seat. Now, what was the state of the case? The right hon. Baronet had declared it the intention of the Government to adhere to the principles of this, in his opinion, most odious and detestable law, a law which he believed to be hostile to the very principles of the religion they professed, and one which, if carried into effect—if carried out according to what had been declared its "principles,"—would endanger the constitution and the institutions of the country. He firmly entertained these opinions, and believing them, he did consider it his duty to oppose every Administration which should uphold the principles of such a law. The tactics of the Reformers—this was what he wished to refer to for a moment, if the House would permit him— the tactics of the constitutional Reformers were now clear. They had long contended, and the history of the country had proved, that the people of England had been long persecuted by the conflicts and the contests for power of the two great aristocratical factions, the leaders of whom had possessed talent and ingenuity enough to make the people the instruments of their purposes, and the means whereby they had obtained power, place, profit, and distinction. One of these factions, by the misconducts, most serious misconducts of ten years, having come into power with a majority in that House of about 1084 500, had been laid prostrate before public opinion in the country. One of those factions, he repeated, had become—so far as regarded political power, and he thanked God for it—extinct. Consequently, in that respect, the Reformers (and the Conservatives had so far helped them) had gained a great, a signal victory. Should he, therefore, endeavour, as a Reformer, as a sincere Radical Reformer, devoted, earnestly devoted, to the cause of the people—should he contribute by any act of his to restore to power that party which had lost public confidence? No. He declared he would take no such course. On the contrary, he exhorted the people of England—he exhorted the Reformers of England to use every means in their power to keep that faction in its present impotent position. What would become of that faction, he might he asked? Why, their shattered forces—for they were now indeed a broken legion, might conflict in small parties as they pleased. At all events, let not the people of this country have two aristocracies to contend against, and if there was to be a contest for the public good let it be waged fairly and openly between aristocracy and democracy. That was the view he entertained of the matter; and that had been his reason for not going across the House, and making common cause with the Whigs, who, he hoped, trusted, and prayed (and would do so as long as he had life) would never, as a Whiggish party, acting on Whiggish principles, be restored to power. What then, he might be asked, was to become of the present Administration? Why, his answer was a short one—turn it out as soon as possible. [Loud Laughter, and Hear, hear.] To be sure—he repeated it— turn it out as quick as possible. But in the mean time, the public good demanded that they, the House of Commons, should fairly, honestly, and candidly, consider every subject that was brought before the House, and if the right hon. Baronet proposed a good measure—he had told him before he was a Minister, and he repeated it now—that he would view that measure, and consider it, precisely as though it were brought before them by the party to which he was most attached. This was a duty which the House owed to their constituents—a duty which they owed to the great national interests of the country, on subjects of this sort especially. To offer a factious opposition to any Ministry was 1085 paltry, was mean, was contemptible, was disgraceful. And whatever might be his opinions, his position, or his conduct, he trusted that no man, in the position of a Minister, would ever have reason to complain of a factious opposition from him. He thanked the House for having afforded him this opportunity of vindicating his conduct, which had been exceedingly misrepresented.
§ Mr. Callaghan
said, he felt himself in a peculiar position, seeing that in the late Parliament, upon the passing of the Irish act, he had been in perfect ignorance as to the administration of the Poor-law. He had, therefore, given his consent to the institution of a commission, without at all anticipating the evils which had since resulted from it. He would read an extract from a petition which had been presented from his constituents, and which should be his justification of the vote which he meant to give on this occasion. This petition was signed by the mayor and many of the respectable inhabitants of Cork. In the part of it to which he referred, it was said,Your petitioners beg, further, respectfully to remonstrate against the power given to the Poor-law commissioners—a power exercised without any consultation with the guardians, and in a way detrimental to the interests of each union; and your petitioners do think, that when it is considered that these officers are largely paid, and that the guardians are the real practical administrators of the law without payment, it would be found advisable to allow the influence of the said guardians a more extensive scope, while that of those overpaid officers might be judiciously curtailed.When he found these the universal sentiments of those whom he represented, he felt warranted in changing the opinion he once held, that this commission might be found beneficial. He thought he was called on to announce this opinion, because he saw it had been stated in that House that the Poor-law bill worked well in Ireland. He could only aver that in his part of the country the discontent with it was almost universal. Nobody appeared to be satisfied with it. The petition, an extract from which he had just read, distinctly stated in what respects it was inefficacious. The emigration clauses were quite useless; and the Duke of Wellington's amendments introduced he greatest possible confusion into the meetings of the guardians. The whole of 1086 the law of settlement had been altered in England: it was practically created in Ireland by the amendments of the Duke of Wellington. On these grounds he felt called on to vote against the continuance of the commission.
§ Mr. S. Crawford
wished to explain for a moment in reference to what had been said the other night by the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, as to his constituency of Rochdale not having been brought under the Poor-law, that they were under the greatest dread lest the local act, under which they were at present, should be set aside, and lest they should be brought under the New Poor-law. He might be permitted to add, he was pleased to find the Government bent upon inquiring carefully into the condition of the poor, and he hoped sincerely that during the recess the subject would not be lost sight of by the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Hardy
wished to explain what might appear an inconsistency at first sight in his having voted for the motion of the hon. Member for Rochdale, and his now voting, as he felt bound to do, against the hon. Member for Oldham. The reason was, that the former motion did not, and the present did, involve the total abolition of the commission, to which he was not prepared at present to agree. He considered that in now voting for the bill he was merely voting for the continuance of the act till (as he understood the Home Secretary to pledge himself) the provisions of the act could be fully considered.
§ The House divided on the question that the word "now" stand part of the question—Ayes 133; Noes 18: Majority 115.
|List of the AYES.|
|A'Court, Captain||Buller, C.|
|Acton, Colonel||Buller, Sir J. Y.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Burrell, Sir C. M.|
|Antrobus, E.||Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. H.||Chapman, A.|
|Baird, W.||Chetwode, Sir J.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Clements, Viscount|
|Baskerville, T. B. M.||Cochrane, A.|
|Beckett, W.||Colvile, C. R.|
|Beutinck, Lord G.||Corry, rt. hn. H.|
|Bodkin, W. H.||Damer, hon. Colonel|
|Borthwick, P.||Darby, G.|
|Boscawen, Lord||Dawney, hon. W. H.|
|Botfield, B.||Douglas, J. D. S.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Duncan, G.|
|Broadley, H.||Duncombe, hon. O.|
|Brooke, Sir A. B.||Egerton, W.T.|
|Browne, hon. W.||Eliot, Lord|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Escott, B.|
|Estcourt, T. G. B.||March, Earl of|
|Ferrand, W. B.||Marsham, Viscount|
|Fitzroy, Captain||Martin, J.|
|Follett, Sir W. W.||Martin, C. W.|
|Forster, M.||Martyn, C. C.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Masterman, J.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Morgan, O.|
|Gordon, hon. Captain||Morris, D.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Mundy, E. M.|
|Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.||Neville, R.|
|Granger, T. C.||Nicholl, rt. hon. J.|
|Greene, T.||O'Brien, A. S.|
|Grogan, E.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Hamilton, C. J. B.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Hamilton, W. J.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Peel, J.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||Philips, M.|
|Harcourt, G. G.||Polhill, F.|
|Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.||Pollock, Sir F.|
|Hardy, J.||Pringle, A.|
|Hawes, B.||Rae, rt. hon. Sir W.|
|Hayes, Sir E.||Rawdon, Colonel|
|Henley, J. W.||Reid, Sir J. R.|
|Henniker, Lord||Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Hinde, J.H.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Hodgson, R.||Sandon, Viscount|
|Hogg, J. W.||Scott, hon. F.|
|Hope, G. W.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Jermyn, Earl||Smith, A.|
|Johnson, W. G.||Smythe, hon. G.|
|Jehnston, A.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Johnstone, Sir J.||Stanley, Lord|
|Jolliffe, Sir W. G.||Stuart, H.C.|
|Jones, Captain||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Kemble, H.||Tennent, J. E.|
|Knatchbull, right hon. Sir E.||Trench, Sir F. W.|
|Trevor, hon. G. R.|
|Knight, F. W.||Trollope, Sir J.|
|Larpent, Sir G. de H.||Trotter, J.|
|Lawson, A.||Vere, Sir C.|
|Layard, Captain||Wakley, T.|
|Lincoln, Earl of||Ward, H. G.|
|Lindsay, H. H.||Wood, C.|
|Litton, E.||Wortley, hon. J. S.|
|Lockhart, W.||Wyndham, Colonel|
|Lowther, J. H.|
|Mackenzie, W. F.||Clerk, Sir G.|
|Manners, Lord J.||Baring, H.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Brotherton, J.||Hollond, R.|
|Callaghan, D.||Humphery, Mr. Ald.|
|Cobden, R.||Napier, Sir C.|
|Collins, W.||Rennie, G.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Walker, R.|
|Dick, Q.||Williams, W.|
|Fleetwood, Sir P. H.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Grant, Sir A. C.|
|Heath coat, J.||Fielden, J.|
|Hindley, C.||Pechell, Captain|
§ Bill read a third time and passed.