§ Dr. Bowring
expressed his regret that the question of the Corn-laws was not to be considered before next Session; but as regarded the Poor-law question, he had no objection that the right hon. Baronet should take time to consider it, so that he might be able to bring forward such modifications as would be the most likely to conciliate all parties. Sure he was, that all parties would concur in a measure having for its object the rejection of the claims of the worthless and the improvident, and the relief of distress where that distress ought in reason to be relieved. He thought that the measure of the right hon. Baronet ought to be made the instrument of removing as much misery as it was possible, and creating as much happiness as could be created consistently with that control which it was necessary to observe. He had no objection to offer to the present bill. He should allow the question toremain in the hands of the right hon. Baronet unmolested by any opposition on his part, persuaded that such a course afforded the greatest prospect of a fair and satisfactory adjustment of the whole question.
§ Mr. Wortley
said, that although it was 704 not his intention to offer any obstacle to the passing of this bill, as it was indispensably necessary, yet he thought it desirable that the right hon. Baronet should suggest to the House the arrangement which he might consider the most convenient for affording to such hon. Members as were desirous of expressing their opinions on the subject an opportunity of so doing. He himself was one of that number. He had been absent from the House of Commons during the entire period within which the discussions upon the subject were comprised; and he felt extremely unwilling to allow this bill to pass, unobjectionable as it was, under the circumstances, without putting the House in possession of the views he entertained in reference to the Poor-law question. He therefore hoped that some arrangement would be made for the purpose of affording him, in common with other hon. Members, the opportunity which he sought.
§ Sir R. Peel
thought it was understood, that any discussion which might be desired should take place on the question, that the House resolve itself into a committee. Having been led to believe that the object of the bill, namely, the renewal of the commission, met with, under the circumstances, the general approval of the House, but, at the same time, that there was a wish on the part of several Members to express their opinions upon different parts of the bill, he stated that the most effectual way of doing so would be to give notice of an instruction to the committee to make enactments corresponding with the views which they entertained upon the subject. He thought that the discussion should not take place now, but at a more distant day—Friday next he conceived would be the most proper and convenient time, when it was intended to move that the House go into committee on the bill. He might take this opportunity of correcting an erroneous impression which he was surprised to hear existed in some parts of Ireland, to this effect—that in consequence of the change in the Government, alterations to a material extent would be made in the Irish Poor-law. He had been told also, that that impression not only existed, but that it counteracted the beneficial operation of the Irish Poor-law in some parts of Ireland. As he supported that bill, he was rather at a loss to conceive how such an impression could have arisen; but for the purpose of preventing any 705 prejudice which might stand in the way of the practical operation of the bill, he begged leave to state that there was no intention whatever, on the part of her Majesty's Government, of proposing any change in the Irish Poor-law.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that if the House was desirous that the discussion should take place on Friday, he had no wish to disturb the arrangement. But, assuredly, if there was to be an alteration of the law, it was extremely desirable that those hon. Members who had watched its operation, and who were anxious to effect in it very material changes, should have an opportunity of addressing the House, and admonishing the right hon. Baronet upon the subject of those changes, in order that he and his Colleagues might not be in the position of saying, at the opening of the next Session of Parliament, that they were unacquainted with the feelings and desires of the House on this important question. Hence the very great expediency of affording opportunity to hon. Members who entertained strong opinions upon the question of declaring their sentiments, and putting the Government in possession of the changes they were desirous of effecting. He never had expected that he should be called upon to vote for the continuance of the Poor-law Commission. He thought it the most unconstitutional authority the law had ever created in this country. His opinion on that subject remained entirely unchanged. The experience of every day, the conviction of every hour, assured him that a more unconstitutional authority, or one more dangerous to the well-being of the community, could not exist. The right hon. Baronet proposed to prolong that commission for six months beyond the period prescribed by law, and that proposition he (Mr. Wakley) cordially supported, because a more rational proposition, a proposition more imperatively called for by the circumstances of the case, could not, he conceived, be submitted for the consideration of that House; and if the right hon. Baronet did not defend his own character as connected with that proposition, he should feel himself compelled to endeavour to defend it for him, in order that, by so doing, he might establish a defence for his own conduct, in reference to the course pursued by the right hon. Baronet, which had been made the subject of attack. Under what circumstances had the right hon. Baronet made that proposition? 706 They were too fresh in his memory to forget them. In 1834 the Poor-law Amendmendment Bill was enacted, and established the Poor-law Commission for five years. In 1839 the noble Lord, then the Member for Stroud, moved the prolongation of the commission for one year, and it was prolonged accordingly. Well, what was done in the last Session of Parliament? That party which professed so much deference and respect for the people, placing themselves in direct opposition to the public will, persisted in bringing forward a measure to continue the commission for ten years, thus doubling the period for which it was first established. Scouted and detested by the people for the manner in which they treated this question, they still, and in defiance of the loudly-expressed opinion of the people against it, persisted in their preposterous scheme. What did the right hon. Baronet, as leader of the Opposition? Deeming ten years too long a period for the continuance of the commission, he proposed that it should be reduced to five. "I think, "said the right hon. Baronet," that it is both wise and discreet, that you should bring such a body before Parliament oftener than you propose, and that Parliament should have an opportunity of discussing their acts." Another proposition was made for continuing the commission for two years, but that was lost on a division by a large majority. The right hon. Baronet was, therefore, pledged to the continuance of the commission for five years. A change of Administration takes place, and the right hon. Baronet becomes first Minister of the Crown. Might he not, so circumstanced, have come down to the House and said, that having, as leader of the Opposition, proposed the continuance of the Poor-law Commission for five years, he felt himself pledged in honour and consistency to maintain that proposition? The right hon. Baronet, however, did not so; but in deference to public opinion, and in deference to the loudly expressed voice of the people, he came to the House, not to propose the continuance of the commission for five years longer, but merely for six months, for the purpose of affording him an opportunity of investigating all the circumstances of the case, and making that inquiry which the importance of the subject demanded, with the view of bringing the question forward in such a shape as 707 to render it acceptable to the House, and agreeable to the public at large. He asserted, that no Minister of the Crown, whatever his political opinions might be, had ever shown greater deference or respect for public opinion than the right hon. Baronet had upon this subject. He therefore cordially supported the right hon. Baronet's proposition, and if the right hon. Baronet did not defend his own conduct in reference to it, he should feel himself obliged to defend it for him.
thought that the right hon. Baronet was too straight-forward to accept the version of his conduct which had been just supplied by the hon. Member for Finsbury. He was one of those hon. Members who could not disconnect the Poor-law from the Corn-laws, and whenever they were to be considered, he hoped that the latter would have precedence; because he believed that the opinions of many hon. Members in that House would be considerably influenced upon the question of the Poor-law, by the situation in which the Legislature might think proper finally to settle that of the Corn-laws. He sincerely regretted that the consideration of the question of the Corn-laws was to be postponed until next year. He should certainly refuse to join in any factious opposition to the course which the right hon. Baronet, in the exercise of the discretion and responsibility which were vested in him, deemed it necessary to pursue in that respect; but knowing that the right hon. Baronet possessed the most extensive information upon the subject, and that he had taken a prominent part in the discussions which had arisen on it from time to time, he could not conceive it possible or probable that the right hon. Baronet had not yet made up his mind 'upon the subject. Considering, however, the position which the right hon. Baronet now occupied, with a large majority, had, by a recent appeal to the country, to support him, and responsible for the postponement of this question, he would not, while he could not but regret the postponement, offer any further objection to it. As regarded the Poor-law question, he thought the right hon. Baronet, since he was not prepared to state what course he considered to be best, ought not to invite any partial discussion, or any discussion, until he was prepared to allow the House to go into the whole question for the purpose of its final settlement. It was morally 708 certain, that these notices could have no practical result.
§ Sir Robert Peel
Sir, I have already suggested that it would be more convenient to take any discussion in reference to the Poor-laws, when the bill gets into committee, and I can only now say, that if I had anticipated that there would be a discussion on the second reading, I would have taken care that my right hon. Friend should not have chosen so early a day after its introduction for the second reading. I thought there was a general understanding, that the bill should pass this stage, as a matter of course, and that whatever discussion was deemed necessary should take place when the bill got into committee. Sir, it would be ungrateful in me if I did not acknowlege the obligation I am under to the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Finsbury, who has come forward so voluntarily in my defence— but at the same time I must confess, that I am more obliged to the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Dover, than to the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Finsbury, for the defence which he has made for me. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Dover says, the thinks the Poor-laws and the Corn-laws, should be settled together, and that immediately on accepting office, I should have brought forward a bill on the subject of the Corn-laws, and submitted to the consideration of the House all the modifications intended to be made by the Government in the Poor-laws. Ha wishes that both measures should be conjointly considered, but I appeal to the House whether it would be possible for the Government to do justice to the Poor-laws, without having an opportunity of considering the local operation and general bearings of those laws. Would it, I ask be possible for any Gentleman placed in the situations which we now fill, and who intend to consider the general operation of the Poor-laws, with a view to suggest modifications in them consistently with the principles of the Poor-law Act, especially tinder our peculiar circumstances, to introduce any measure on the subject at present? Would it, I ask, be possible for us, without availing ourselves of the information to be procured from the commissioners, who are employed to obtain information, to bring forward an important measure of this kind, and I will only ask hon. Gentlemen whether it would have been doing justice, or would 709 be likely to conciliate the public mind, if within a week of our coming into office we had produced, not only a billon the Corn-laws, but also one on the Poor-laws? I acknowledge the obligation I am under to the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Finsbury, for the observations which he has made, although I disavow their intent. But, however this may be, I think that a more powerful justification of the course pursued by the Government could not have emanated from either side of the House. But, at the same time, I am afraid that I cannot, in common fairness, accept the hon. Gentleman's vindication of my conduct, even though that vindication has been voluntarily offered, and because, in proposing the continuance of the Poor-laws in reference to the commissioners for six months, I do so on the principle which I have avowed, namely, that it is not the intention of the Government, during the present sitting of the House, to transact any business which the public service does not require, or which would call for a definite opinion as to the period for which this commission ought to endure beyond the period which is absolutely necessary for the consideration of the whole subject. Sir, I have not proposed the period of six months, meaning to imply any reflection on the determination to which the House came at my suggestion in the last Session; but I have proposed it in conformity to the principle on which I have already anted, namely, that it is not desirable to call the House to the discussion of important matters, of a permanent and extensive bearing during the present Session. It is in conformity with this principle that I have proposed the period of six months; but in making that proposition, I do so reserving to myself and the Government the power of making hereafter in the perpetual measure, alterations of an extended character, and such as we may deem essential for the public interest. Sir, I thought it right to make this statement, for while I do not undervalue the intentions of the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Finsbury, or the ability of the defence which he has made for me, I am anxious, if possible, to prevent all misunderstanding or misconstruction on the subject.
§ Mr. C. Wood
did not rise to prolong the debate, but to express the great satisfaction with which he had heard what had just fallen from the right hon. Gentle- 710 man opposite. Yesterday the inconvenience of the interpretation which the hon. Member for Finsbury had chosen to put upon the conduct of the right hon. Baronet was felt on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and he had also felt sure that the defence of that conduct which the hon. Member for Finsbury had given on the present occasion, was one which the right hon. Baronet would feel it his bounden duty to repudiate. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that the statement of the change of feeling which had been understood to have been produced in Ireland, on the subject of the Poor-law, in consequence of the change of Administration, was totally and altogether unfounded, and he had no doubt it was so. But expressions had been used in that House that were calculated to throw some doubt as to whether it was not necessary now to introduce a new bill to continue the Poor-law Bill itself. That was an error, all that was necessary being, that a bill should be introduced to continue the commission. The Poor-law itself was one permanently in action, and it was not now necessary to introduce a bill to continue it. The mistake had arisen out of the course that had been pursued with reference to proposed alterations in the Poor-law Act itself, and a mistaken notion that amendments having for their object the alteration of that act could be engrafted upon a bill which was only for the continuance of the Poor-law Commission for a given period. Such a notion was contrary to all Parliamentary practice, and to all Parliamentary forms, but, at the same time it evidently existed, and unless at once contradicted, was calculated to produce the impression, that the Poor-law was not a permanent act. The measure now proposed by the right hon. Baronet and that measure were essentially different; and he hoped that it would be distinctly understood, that the right hon. Gentleman was proposing to the House only a temporary continuance of the Poor-law Commission, and that the interpretation put upon his course by the hon. Member for Finsbury was erroneous. But that interpretation had been received with loud cheers by some of those sitting on the same side of the House as the hon. Member who advocated a very extensive alteration, if not a total repeal, of the Poor-law, which inclined him to think that the intepretation was likely to have 711 been adopted by those hon. Members who so cheered. He hoped, therefore, that the measure which the right hon. Gentleman now proposed would be distinctly understood as leaving the principle of the Poor-law untouched.
§ Mr. Shaw
had heard, with great satisfaction, the statement of the right hon. Baronet, as to this bill in connexion with Ireland, as he had not been before aware of the course which Government proposed to take with respect to it. With regard to the working of the Poor-law in Ireland, he would not say that the introduction of the measure there had been attended with circumstances of much difficulty, but he believed, at the same time, that it had been, on the whole, successful, and that if it were continued to be judiciously administered, and met with a fair and reasonable general support, it would be found to conduce in a great degree to the advantage of the public without the least injury to the interests of the poor.
Sir H. Fleetwood
had no intention of prolonging the discussion, but, being one who had always opposed the new Poor-law, and being still opposed to it, he also hoped it would be distinctly understood, that no hon. Member who gave his vote for the second reading of this bill for the continuance of the commission, would be understood as having agreed in the principle of the measure, which was to come on for discussion on Friday next, and to which many hon. Members were opposed.
§ Sir R. Peel
thought, it must be well understood that the present measure afforded no opportunity for opposing the principle of the Poor-law itself. The Poor-law itself was an act in permanent operation. The present was a separate bill, to continue for a given period the Poor-law commission. If it would be any consolation to the hon. Gentleman opposite he would at once state that he meant to oppose any amendments that might be brought forward in the discussion upon the present measure which would affect the principle or the operation of the Poor-law itself. He had already said he would give hon. Gentlemen every opportunity o opposing the present measure, and he certainly could not prevent them from discussing amendments having for their object alterations in the Poor-law; but he certainly could not permit any amendments of the Poor-law to be introduced 712 into the present bill, which was one merely for the continuance of the commission.
Lord J. Russell
said, as this discussion had arisen, he would take the opportunity of observing, that the course pursued by the right hon. Gentleman was, in his opinion, a perfectly fair one, and, in accordance with that which he had himself thought it his duty to propose. It was one thing to consider the whole provisions of the Poor-law with a view to introduce into them any alteration or modification which the House might think fit, but quite a a different one to continue the Poor-law commission for a limited period, if Parliament was not inclined at the time to enter into the discussion of the general question, When, in like manner, last Session, there was not time to consider the details of the Poor-law, he had suggested a continuance of the commission, though for a longer period than was now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. The particular time to which the commission should be continued was not of so much essential importance, the principle of temporary continuance being admitted, and he should certainly be very sorry to hear of any intention on the part of any hon. Member to propose an instruction to the committee for any alteration in the Poor-law itself. He was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for the University of Dublin, that he was of opinion, that on the whole, the working of the Poor-law in Ireland had been attended with success. He had never supposed the law could be introduced there without its being at first attended with a great deal of political excitement, and it appeared by report, that such had been the case; but he trusted, when the really beneficial effects of the Poor-law in that country were understood and felt, the political excitement would gradually subside, that the law would be used for the purpose for which it was intended, and that ultimately so far from its being considered to have inflicted a wrong on the people of Ireland, it would be found to have been a great benefit to the physical condition of the poor, and to have advanced the general, moral, and political condition of Ireland.
§ Mr. Fielden
asked, why, when the effects of the Poor-law had been so baneful throughout the country the commission should be continued for another day? Did the House mean to decide that persons who resided on the spot where the poor 713 required relief where not better judges of what ought to be done among the people than the commissioners? Did the House mean to say that those who lived in the midst of the people did not know better what they wanted than those who were at a distance? He maintained that it was utterly impossible for this law to be carried out. The longer it was persevered in the greater would be the danger to life and property. He did not rise for the purpose of obstructing the second reading of the bill, but to tell the House that in a subsequent stage it was his intention to take a division on the question, and he should then afford an opportunity of ascertaining whether hon. Gentlemen opposite in changing their side had also changed their opinions. Hon. Gentlemen were sent to that House for the performance of their duty. He had always done what he believed was his duty, and sometimes that duty had been to him a painful one. But he could assure the House that he had never been actuated by a desire to obstruct any measure that was likely to lead to the good of the people. But to this Poor-law he was entirely opposed. It was a measure, the spirit of which was lowering the wages of the labourer, and he fearlessly declared his conviction that it was one of the most mischievous acts that had ever passed any House of Commons that had ever sat in England. He repeated, that his only reason for not now opposing the present bill was, that he expected the opportunity of taking the sense of the House on a future occasion.
§ Mr. Escott
felt bound to state, in a few words, why he should not oppose the second reading of this bill. He could assure the noble Lord, who seemed to take this bill so much as a matter of course, that he felt that he did owe some apology and excuse to the country for the vote which he should give, for nine-tenths of the educated people of this country held a totally different view of the Poor-law from the noble Lord, the only excuse which he could offer for now giving his vote for the continuance of the commission was, that up to the present moment there was no sufficient information before the House, or the country on which Parliament could honestly and fairly legislate with regard to this important question. He had read within the last few days the annual report of the Poor-law commissioners, and he believed he did not exceed the bounds of 714 the strictest truth when he said, that in that report there was no material evidence whatever to induce the House to make up their minds what the alterations in the measure should be. He had also been in the country, and from the inquiries he had made he knew that it was a matter of the greatest difficulty, in the conflicting statements that were made and the prejudiced views that were taken on the one side and the other on the subject, to obtain that information on which alone an unprejudiced and independent Member could make up his mind how he ought to vote. But whose fault was it that there was this want of information? It was certainly not the fault of the right hon. Baronet at the head of affairs. Nor certainly was it the fault of the present House of Commons. But it was the fault of the late House of Commons, or rather of those who dissolved that House, at the very time when they ought to have been deliberating and passing a law for the better provision for the poor of this country. He did not mean to say anything that would amount to an imputation on the motives of hon. Members; but when he had heard speeches from the noble Lord opposite, and the hon. Member for Halifax, in which they seemed to treat this subject as a trifle, he certainly did think that he ought to rise and say one word for the poor. He repeated, that he considered that he owed to himself some justification for the course which he was about to pursue. He wanted also to know this. How did it happen that precisely at the moment when the subject of the Poor-law Commission was last year thrown up and abandoned until the next year by the noble Lord opposite, he chose to commence the Government agitation on the subject of the Corn-laws? How was that? How was it that hon. Members opposite were now to be found night after night complaining of the scarcity of corn and the clearness of bread, and the starvation of the people, all of which evils they attributed to the laws for the protection of agriculture,—why was it? He would tell the House why. The agitation on the subject of the Corn-laws had been got up in order to draw the public attention from the more important question of the Poor-law. He denied that there was a scarcity of bread. At the present moment, under the very laws complained of, there was flowing into this country a supply of corn 715 amply sufficient for the people. Yet there existed internal distress no doubt. It was natural there should exist distress after ten years of misrule; but one element of dint distress, indeed a great cause of it, was this very Poor-law. The sooner it was altered the better; but, in the mean time, it was necessary to agree to the continuance of the commission. Were they to patch up in haste a measure on such a great question as this? or should they, on the other hand, wait until they had the necessary information to enable them to pass another and a better law for the maintenance of the poor? He entirely coincided in the feeling which led the hon. Member for Oldham to regret being called upon to vote for the continuance of the commission, but at the same time he must remind the House and those who agreed with him, that the necessity for so doing had not been caused by the right hon. Baronet, but by those who, when they had the power, had neglected to pass such a law, but had left to their successors the odium of doing so. One consolation, however, he felt—that whatever might be the character of the ensuing winter, to which allusion had been made, and however much he might entertain apprehensions as to the Poor-law, yet he was quite sure the character of the administration of relief to the poor would not be one of cruelty and oppression. Why did he say this? Because the very first act of the right hon. Gentleman's Administration had been one of care and attention to an alleged case of poverty and distress. He honoured the right hon. Gentleman for it; however long the right hon. Gentleman might live, he would never have cause to regret it; and that at this moment there was not a single victim of poverty, nor the possessor of a feeling heart, who did not honour the right hon. Baronet for the feeling with which he had acted on the occasion in question. He repeated his opinion, that for the sake of the poor themselves, as well as for the credit of that House, they ought not to pass a crude measure, or to harass the public mind on a question on which perhaps it was more excited than on any other, but that they ought to wait until they were in possession of that information which would enable them to pass an effective bill.
§ Mr. Ward
said, the hon. Member for Winchester really seemed to have entered 716 the House in a complete state of ignorance on this particular subject. The hon. Member maintained that the H use were without the facts which would enable them to legislate upon the subject, that there was no information before the House on which they could proceed to act; whereas, there never was a measure in the history of the country as to which such ample details had been received by the House. Every possible fact connected with the question had been laid before them, and he only wished the hon. Member for Winchester had read the evidence already in their possession before he stated that the great majority of the educated part of the population was hostile to the law. He could tell the hon. Member, on the contrary, that the great mass of the intelligence of the country was favourable to the principle of the law, without reference to political opinions; and he could also tell the hon. Member, that with very few exceptions the great majority of his own party had taken part in the onerous duty of working out die law— they had acted in cordial co-operation, without reference to those party distinctions which, he must say, the hon. Member for Winchester had most injudiciously introduced on the present occasion. The leading Members, too, on both sides of the House, including the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and the noble Lord the Member for Stroud, made themselves responsible for the introduction of the measure. And the leading Members of both parties co-operated out of doors in the discharge of those duties which the bill prescribed. As he had risen, he could not help adding that he now supported the present bill of the right hon. Baronet, not on the principle on which the hon. Member for Winchester supported it, but because he did believe that ultimately the Poor-law itself would be modified in certain parts which had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Dover, and because he considered that The question would be looked at with reference to the ultimate settlement of the Corn-law question. The Poor-law as it stood, and the Corn-laws as they were, could never work together. But in the main, the Poor-law had been most useful in the correction of abuses in the local administration of the old law, and he believed that if they did not retain the central check they would relapse into those 717 abuses. He should vole for the present measure whenever the hon. Member for Oldham divided the House, and he must say he hoped that when the whole measure came to be discussed next Session they would have got rid of some of those private and personal considerations which the hon. Member for Winchester, had introduced into the present discussion, and that they would be prepared to discuss the subject without mixing up in it any of their political or personal squabbles.
§ Mr. Ferrand
wished to know, if nine-tenths of the educated classes were in favour of the Poor-law, what hon. Gentlemen opposite, meant by saying; that that law had been made a party cry throughout the country? He differed from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and agreed with the hon. Member for Winchester, that nine-tenths of the educated classes in the country were diametrically opposed to the harsh and cruel clauses of the Poor-law Act. He was himself sent to Parliament by a constituency strongly opposed to them; and he came there to oppose those clauses to the utmost of his power. Indeed, his constituents must have felt very strongly on the subject when, to enable them to send him to that House, they had burst asunder the bonds of the Duke of Devonshire in Knaresborough — bonds which had enchained them during 150 years. He was very much surprised at the commencment of this Parliament to hear the noble Lord the Member for the city of London charge, not the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, but those who sat immediately behind him, with having gained their seats by agitating the country upon this question. If the noble Lord meant to imply that they had held insincere language, or told falsehoods throughout the country in order to gain the favour of their constituents, he would only reply to such insinuations by stating that he had read in the debates of that House, before he had the honour of being a Member of it, that the late Government, of which the noble Lord was himself the leading representative, had existed for years by "enormous lying." [Order, order.]
§ The Speaker
said, he was quite sure the hon. Member, when he had had a little more experience in the House would see, that the language he had last used was unbecoming the dignity of debate, which 718 should always be conducted in such a manner as to command public respect.
§ Mr. Ferrand
was ready to apologize to the House. He had thought, that he was not out of order in referring to an expression which had certainly been used in, debate upon a former occasion, but if it were considered at all offensive he should at once retract it. Before the New Poor-law was enacted, he had—feeling it to be unconstitutional and unjust — adopted every lawful means of opposing it. In the county of York he had presided over meetings of 100,000 people, who were then, and still were, determinedly hostile to its main provisions. When it became the law of the land he continued to give it every opposition to which he could legally and peacefully resort, but when he found that the Government of the country were indirectly using the Chartist influence to put down those gentlemen in the country who were constitutionally opposing the New Poor-law, he felt it his duty to retire from the conflict, and leave public opinion to work its own way, feeling strongly convinced, that no Government in this country could long subsist which identified itself with that odious and most unjust law. The late Government did identify itself with this law, and it had fallen. The right hon. Baronet below him had now been placed at the head of affairs by an immense majority of those who as candidates had pledged themselves to repeal the harsh clauses of that law; and, anxious as he was to see the right hon. Gentleman continue long at the head of the Administration, believing he was the only man in England who could save the country, he would still fearlessly assert, that if he did not repeal the more obnoxious clauses of this bill, his Government would become unpopular throughout the country, and, like his predecessors, be obliged soon to give way to public opinion.
was not inclined to adopt or encourage the mischievous and unfounded suggestions of those who imputed to the founders of the measure heartless indifference to the sufferings of the people, or a desire to promote their own private objects. He believed that any person, however, who looked at that law with an unbiassed mind, must feel the deepest regret at the absence of discrimination and distinction between applicants for relief, as to the causes which might 719 have led to their distress. That want of discrimination which was capable of great mischief as regarded private charity, was productive also of great evil in the administration of public relief, for by such means the idle and the industrious were confounded. Perhaps the profligate, and those who produced their own distress, had not much right to complain of inconveniences in the union workhouses, but there was no distinction made between them and the industrious persons whose distress was attributable to no fault of their own, and who were equally subject, when seeking relief, to be obliged to dispose of their little property, which, though small, they might be unable to get together again; and submit to occupy separate apartments from their wives and children in these workhouses, although their distress might only be of a temporary nature. To remove those objections did not, however, require a separate legislation, for they arose from the regulations of the Poor-law commissioners themselves. The additional period proposed by the right hon. Baronet would, however, give a full opportunity for any experiment in the way of relaxation of those regulations.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Mr. Wakley
felt it absolutely necessary, after what had been said, that some discussion should take place before going into committee on this odious and detestable law, and therefore he hoped that stage of the bill would be postponed till some day next week.
§ Sir R. Peel
did not think it at all an unreasonable proposition, that the House should go into committee on this bill on Friday next. Indeed, he felt, that any postponement beyond that day would imply an assent to opinions on his part which he certainly did not entertain. He could not prevent discussion undoubtedly, but really in committee on a mere continuing bill he thought all discussion on the principle and provisions of the New Poor-law irrevalent. Next week there would probably arise some discussion relative to financial measures, and if at that period of the Session, when it appeared to be the general opinion, that no business of great importance should be discussed; he proposed, that this bill should be postponed beyond Friday, it might very well be said, that he did so in the hope of pro- 720 ceeding with it when there were very few Members present.
§ Bill to be committed on Friday.