§ Mr. Greene
brought up the report on the Poor-law Amendment Bill, which, with the ' amendments, were agreed to.
§ Mr. Escott
rose to move the insertion of the following clause, of which be had given notice:ߞThat it shall be lawful for all boards of guardians of the poof in England and Wales to grant such relief as in their judgment Shall be necessary to poor persons at their own homes, any order, rule, or regulation of the Poor-law commissioners notwithstanding.The hon. Gentleman said, that the strongest and best founded objections Were entertained against the present system for relieving the poor of this country—a system which was not advantageous to the rate-payers, nor beneficial to the poor, although he believed that the Poor-law Amendment Act had been introduced to produce the very reverse of those effects. The Measure had failed to achieve those objects which its propounder's and supporters professed—and he doubted not that they really thought so—would be the consequences of its operation. After having listened with the utmost attention to almost all the speeches which had been made on both sides of the House upon this question, he felt that he stood in rather a peculiar position, one differing very widely from that occupied by nearly all who had addressed the House in reference to the Poor-law Amendment Act. When that measure was first introduced in 1834, he certainly felt that it never would attain the objects which, no doubt, its authors had in view; but since it had become the law of the land, he had always endeavoured to abstain from anything like violent and irritating language in expressing his opinions upon its provisions, believing most thoroughly that to be the best way of attaining the end they all had in view— namely, the practical amendment and improvement of the condition of the poor. He was convinced that it was only by a calm and dispassionate course of deliberation they could arrive at a satisfactory settlement of this great and important subject. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman, in proposing the continuance of the Poor-law commission, was actuated by as pure a spirit of philanthropy as any man, even the most strenuous opposer of this measure, and that he also wished to carry into effect a law for the benefit both of the poor and of the rate-payer. It was with the same feelings that he (Mr. Escott) ventured to address himself to the clause which he now submitted for the adoption of the House. His right hon. Friend had must wisely said, that there was not time 357 in the present Session of Parliament to give the Mil that attentive consideration which was necessary for its final and satisfactory settlement. He agreed with his right hon. Friend most entirely in the propriety of postponing some of the clauses of the Bill. The commission, however, itself, which in the minds of many hon. Members constituted a very objection able part of the law, was to be continued for five years, and without those remedial clauses which, no doubt, would have been passed by the House, and so limited the powers of the commissioners. Was not, therefore, some such measure as he now proposed rendered absolutely necessary by the very fact that the powers of the commissioners had been prolonged for five years? Under the present circumstances of the case, the law as it was proposed by Lord Brougham in 1834 would still be the law until the next Session; and the commission being extended for five years it would be in the power of the commissioners to issue any rules and regulations which they might think fit for the government of the poor and the administration of relief to the poor for the whole of those five years, unless Parliament should order to the contrary. It might be said, and he apprehended that it would be said, by his right hot). Friend, though he was not certain of the course which his right hon. Friend intended to pursue, that his amendment, although a good deal might be said in favour of it; and although in some districts it might be highly expedient to adopt it, yet it would be in direct contradiction to the principle of the Poor-law as at present administered. He would beg of his right hon. Friend, now they were discussing this question again and before they separated, to tell the House what the principle of the Poor-law was? He had listened to almost every speech that had been delivered during the debates on this bill; he had read the great speech of Lord Brougham upon the introduction of the bill in 1834, as well as other speeches, and also a variety of pamphlets upon the Poor-law; but never yet up to that moment had he met With a definite notion of its principle. If the principle of the Poor-law were an economical and proper distribution of relief to the poor, which would also reduce the charges upon the rate-payers—if its objects were to teach habits if industry to the poor, and to make them depend upon extraneous aidߞif its object were to encourage 358 the honest and industrious labourer, and to discourage the idle vagabond—then the measure would be one worthy of adoption and of all support. But if the principle of the bill were to deny relief to the poor save upon the condition of going into the workhouse, then it ought not to be adopted, and he verily believed that it was a principle which could not long be acted upon. First and foremost in the bill stood the commissioners—that was a great and important part of the Poor-law Amendment Act, Rut that point had been so fully discussed that he would not enter further upon it than to say that the continuance of the commission for five years ought to have been resisted, but he was not prepared to say, that when sanctioned by Parliament resistance should be carried further; but. it became absolutely necessary, for that very reason, that such a clause as he pro. posed should be added to the hill. Up to that moment, he repeated, he had not only not heard any definition of the principle of the bill, but he had never heard any statement in defence of the commission, more especially if it were intended to perpetuate that commission. He did most distinctly dispute the rightfulness, rather than the right, of Parliament, in establishing such a commission; and he should wish to know in what author of eminence who had written upon the constitution of this country— in what authority of eminence upon any question relating to the powers of Parliament, was there any opinion to justify its establishment? The powers of Parliament were and must be limited; and when they came to consider questions of this kind they would find that there was no tittle of authority whatever for such an establishment as the Poor-law commissioners. He wished the noble Lord the Member for London were in his place, because then he would have put the question to that great constitutional leader of the somewhat shattered phalanx of the Whig party, who had long been considered as an able, he had almost said an hereditary, expounder of the principles of the British Constitution; he would have asked the noble Lord whether there was any power or authority in Parliament to delegate to any three men the power of making laws, which power had been confided by the country only to the two Houses of Parliament and the monarch. He should like to hear an answer to that question. He should like to have his mind satisfied upon the point; because he fully agreed that when Parlia- 359 ment and the Crown had sanctioned a measure, they had nothing to do but to submit, and to teach the people in their respective districts to obey the law. But he thought that such an act as this should not be drawn into a precedent; and therefore he wished to know the authority for establishing such a commission, and delegating to it such powers. He should be told, very likely, " It is quite true that Parliament ought not to delegate to a commission the power of making laws, but then the fact is, that such was not the case here, for Parliament had delegated nothing of the kind, the commissioners being empowered to make only a sort of bye-laws, or rules and regulations. That is not within the power of this commission only, but it is a thing of frequent occurrence, and it often happens that bodies constituted by authority of the two Houses of Parliament have power to make bye-laws under the act of Parliament by which they were constituted." Now, that was an argument which he could not designate by any other terms than as being a quibble upon words. The point to be considered was, what was the effect of the rules, or regulations, or by-laws, call them which they pleased, which the Poor law commissioners made? If the effect was of the paramount importance—if they were understood, as he was sure they must be by any man who ever turned his attention to this subject—to be adverse to the clause which he submitted to the House for giving out-door relief to the poor—if they had not, only the same effect as a law, but prevailed universally, and had the greatest possible effect upon the people of this country, as much as any law within the memory of man—if such was their effect, where were the authority, the reasons, the arguments, to show that Parliament should delegate such a power to these commissioners? He had heard it said in that House, over and over again, that the prohibitory order could not be enforced in the manufacturing districts. That was admitted; but in the agricultural districts, it was said, the benefit of the law was experienced in the reduction of the rates, and in making the labourers more industrious. From his experience in the agricultural district where he lived, a large portion of the year, and from constant communication with poor men and persons of all classes, and also from his own knowledge, he could state that the prohibitory order had been productive of the very worst consequences as respected both 360 the rate-payers and the poor. What was the effect of it? A hardworking, striving, industrious man, with a wife and family, would be told, when he wanted relief, that he was able-bodied, and, therefore, under this prohibitory order, he had no right to relief unless he entered the house. That was the general principle. Now, he could state that he knew whole parishes in which every workman had ceased to be able-bodied under the operation of the prohibitory order. He could state from his own knowledge, that many a poor and industrious working man, rather than go into the house, rather than leave his wife and children, rather than see his little cottage goods sold, rather than leave that which was his home, and to which he was attached, and become an inmate of the workhouse, had gone on working upon those wages which were inadequate to afford him sufficient support. By these means industrious men had been brought down to a weak and low state of health, so that, though they might not be suffering acute disease, they were far from being able to do a day's work, and when overtaken by disease, they very soon fell victims to it and their previous hard living. But what was the consequence of this law with regard to the idle and dissolute? The man who cared not for his children, or wife, or home, would go into the workhouse, because there he could get lodged and fed in idleness; the man who had no good qualities, and who was of no value to society, was sheltered and supported, but the honest, industrious, and independent in feeling, were allowed to pine away and perish. Probably he should be told that the farmers ought to give greater wages to enable the labourers to live better. He thought so; but would any political economist tell him upon what principle the farmer ought to pay for labour more than its worth? It was one of the foolish and canting cries of the present day, that the farmers ought to raise the wages of their labourers. They gave as much wages as the labour was worth. The price of labour had been reduced, partly through the redundancy of the population, but much more because of the prohibitory order. No doubt that order was issued with the best intentions, but with an idea of raising wages, instead of which they had been lowered. [Mr. Hawes: "Hear."] If the hon. Member would go with him into Somersetshire, he would soon convince him of that, and would show him 361 parishes where the week's wages did not exceed 6s. The poor man who formerly would have fought with the farmer for 1s; 6d. a-day was now compelled to take 1s;because if he did not take the 6s. for his week's wages, he would be threatened with dismissal and the workhouse, and his honest horror and excellent dread of the workhouse, accompanied as it must be with the breaking up of his home, and his separation from his wife and children made him submit. Thus the best were punished, while the worst were indulged; and that which it was supposed would be instrumental in raising wages had been I the means of lowering them, and of further impoverishing the poor. When the law was first propounded, the people in the rural districts were told that it would improve the condition of the poor, and lower the poor-rates. The honest labourers were told that the effect of the bill would be to raise their wages; and if they could not get higher wages, they were to throw themselves into the workhouses, and dare their employers to give so little. [" Hear, hear."] He heard an assistant-commissioner make use of that language. The farmers and the gentry were told that another effect of the measure would be to reduce their rates. Had these promises been realized? What had been the effect of the law in the part of the country in which he resided? In many parishes of Somersetshire, by the unequal operation of the new law, the rates had been raised. He had taken the trouble to examine into the state of nine parishes in that part of the country. In every one of which the rates had increased, whilst the poor were suffering for want of relief. It might be asked why the rates had been raised? He would inform hon. Members why the rates had been raised. They had been raised because the House had refused to adopt a regulation similar to that which he was about to propose. It was not difficult to define why the rates had increased. Cases similar to the one he was about to relate had no doubt conduced to raise the rates. A man with a wife and family of six children would entail upon the parish a large weekly expenditure if compelled to go into the workhouse. That sum which would be necessary for their maintenance in the house would have been considerably reduced had the guardians consented to allow the man for the support of his family a few shillings per week out of the work 362 house. With this trifling allowance the man would have been able to support himself without there being any necessity for entering the workhouse at all In order to save a few shillings per week, the parish incurred the expense of 1l. or more per week, and on that account the rates had been raised. Was it just to allow a man, with his wife, and large family, to starve at home on a miserable pittance, or would you consent to allow him out of the parish funds 2s.6d. per week, and thus enable him to support himself and family, without being compelled to throw himself into the workhouse? In answer to this it might be urged, that if this principle were acted upon—if a man was allowed a certain weekly sum to assist him in the support of his family out of the house, it would be paying wages out of the rates. With regard to that objection he would say, that there was no man more alive to it than himself, He did not deny that the course he proposed would give rise to contingent evils He would ask, which system would give rise to the greater evil, that which he proposed or that sanctioned by the bill under the consideration of the House? Taking into consideration all the objections to his proposition, all the difficulties which, it might; be said, it would probably give rise to—balancing the evils against the advantages—for he did not consider his proposition perfect in its character—considering all these points, the good which was likely to result from the operation of a clause like that which he had proposed, and the few evils which it might give rise to, he did think, " upon the whole," it was the best course which could be adopted with reference to the principle for which he was contending,—viz., that of administering out-door relief under certain circumstances. He did hope that hon. Members, and the right hon. Baronet particularly, would take this matter into serious consideration. What was the question? Would it not be better to empower the guardians, who were personally acquainted with the feelings, wishes and condition of the poor among whom they were brought up, and among whom they resided—would it not be better to authorize those guardians to allow a poor man 2s. 6d. per week to assist him in the maintenance of his family, instead, for the mere support of what was called a principle, to drive him into the union workhouse? There was another point to which he was desirous of directing the attention of the House. He 363 was afraid, after what had passed during the debate on the Poor-law Bill last night, that he should be told that such a clause as that which he had proposed would have the effect of mischievously interfering with the power vested in the hands of the Poor-law commissioners—that it would tend materially to diminish the authority which the commissioners ought to exercise throughout the country. That was not his object. He had no wish to produce such an effect. If he for one moment conceived that his clause would have the effect of interfering with, or injuring the useful authority of the commissioners, he would not press it on the notice of the House; but it would have no such effect. It was his firm conviction and honest belief that it would not in the slightest degree interfere with the useful discretion of the commissioners. It would only operate in such cases where the Poor-law commissioners could exercise no discretion. The commissioners could only issue a general prohibitory order, and they were prevented by act of Parliament from administering Poor-law relief in particular cases. What did the Poor-law Bill say with reference to the powers vested in the Poor-law commissioners? In the 15th section of that bill, which had a reference to the administration of relief to the poor under the control of the commissioners, after stating,That the commissioners may, at their discretion from time to time, suspend, alter, or rescind such rules, orders, and regulations, or any of them.It concluded with these words:Provided always, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed as enabling the said commissioners or any of them to interfere in any individual case for the purpose of ordering relief.It was clear from the act of Parliament itself, that the commissioners could not interfere in individual cases. In support of the commissioners it had been urged that they constituted a court of appeal to which the poor man could apply. Such could not be the case, for the act of Parliament distinctly said, that they should not order relief to the poor man. Such being the fact, he, by his proposed clause only interfered in cases in which the commissioners could exercise no authority. He did not, therefore, interfere with the useful authority of the commissioners. Such would not be the effect of his clause. He was aware that there were many unions in which none of the evils which he had des- 364 cribed existed, where the administration of the Poor-law had been attended with advantage to the poor; but how had the measure been productive of such good results? He would inform the House, It was effected by neglecting the orders which had been issued with reference to the administration of relief, by acting in direct opposition to that order, by trampling upon the regulations of the Poor-law commissioners. He only asked the House to permit a." the unions throughout the country to do that by law which others were compelled to do in opposition to the law. A chairman of the board of guardians bad boasted to him that he never attended to the orders of the Poor-law commissioners. He knew another chairman who admitted relief in the shape of loans. Upon being asked whether he ever expected the money to be repaid, he replied in the negative. It was in this manner that men influenced by motives of humanity were compelled to evade the law. Was it not then in a shocking state when a man was compelled in the exercise of a public duty, to evade it? There were, no doubt, unions where the Poor-law Bill might operate advantageously. It was said, that if he could witness the effects of the Poor-law in many unions, his objections to the law would be mitigated, and that he should feel disposed to support its provisions. He had no doubt, that the Poor-law had met with the approbation and support of many gentlemen in consequence of its defects being removed or palliated by the course pursued by the gentry residing in the districts where it was in operation; but it was not every country gentleman who could exercise an authority over a large and extensive union. What could be effected in a union, thirty miles in length, in a mountainous part of the country? Under such circumstances, it was impossible for the operation of the Poor-law Bill to be watched, or the interests of the poor properly to be attended to. In an extensive union like that which he had mentioned, it was impossible to induce the guardians to attend at the board once a week—to ride, as they were often compelled to do, twenty-two miles for that purpose. He wished to refer to one point mooted by the hon. and learned Member for Bath the other evening, in his speech on the Poor-law Bill, That hon. and learned Member had put this question on a ground totally distinct from that upon which it had previously been placed. And the right hon. Baronet at the head of the 365 Government rather sanctioned the view which that hop. and learned Member had taken. The hon. and learned Member stated, that the poor had no right to relief. With every respect for the learning and ability of the hon. Member, he must say, that the argument consisted in a mere quibble on the word "right." The hon. and learned Member for Bath referred in his speech to the statute of Elizabeth, which authorised no relief to the poor until certain conditions were complied with. But under the statute of Elizabeth, the aged and infirm were provided for at their own homes. The same description of persons were now provided for upon a certain condition—and what was that condition? The condition was, that they were refused all relief unless they went into the union workhouse. There was a great difference between the present law and the statute of Elizabeth. Under the statute of Elizabeth, relief was distributed in various parishes, and distributed by those who were practically acquainted with the wants and condition of those who applied for and received assistance. By the present law, the power of giving relief in parishes bad been destroyed. The best Poor-law which he could conceive would be, that which repealed all those laws which overlaid the healthful provisions of the statute of Elizabeth; such an enactment would not only confer a great blessing on the rate-payers, but on the poor them selves. He begged to remind the House of what had transpired with reference to the Poor-law during its passage through the House of Lords. It was his belief, that if the Duke of Wellington had not given his support to Lord Brougham, the bill which he had introduced would never have become the law of the land. He thought, that a question of this kind should be considered without any reference to party feelings. But what did the Duke of Wellington say on that occasion? He said,—That the magistrates did not administer the law; the overseers were intrusted with its administration. It was true, that the magistrates had interfered with the overseers, and that one object of the bill before the House was to bring the law back from the hands of the magistrates, and place it in that of the overseers, according to the old system. There was nothing more important than to bring back the administration of the law to the old system. When that was effected, no one would be more happy than himself, to see the bill abandoned.It was his belief, that when the Duke of 366 Wellington uttered these words, it was his wish to return to the old parochial system. The first step to carry out the wishes of the Duke of Wellington, would be to place the power of administering the law in the hands of the Poor-law guardians, who stood as the representatives of the parochial authorities. He considered the question as one of deep importance, and he would perform his duty by dividing the House upon the clause.
§ Clause brought up, and read a first time.
§ On the question, that it be now read a second time,
§ Sir J, Graham
said, the ability and evident sincerity of the hon. Gentleman, entitled all that had fallen from him to the fullest consideration. He felt the magnitude of the subject introduced by the hon. Gentleman, hut he must also say, that the discussions upon it were nearly interminable, and ought now to be left over till the next Session. The hon. Gentleman had frankly admitted, what every hon. Member present must have seen, that his clause was in direct, opposition to the principle not "only of the measure before the House, but of the law of 1834. The hon. Gentleman said, the principle of the workhouse test was not to be found in the act of Elizabeth. Now, most undoubtedly that was so, but by that act relief was not made a positive right, but it was made contingent upon certain works to be performed by the party receiving it. If the clause of the hon. Gentleman were adopted, it would not only defeat the measure then under discussion, but it would in effect repeal the act of 1834; indeed, it was at utter variance with the workhouse principle, which was contained in all the Poor-laws of late times. He must deny the assertion of the hon. Gentleman, that under the proposed measure, as well as that of 1834, the commissioners were not possessed of large and extensive powers They had those powers, and, although they were somewhat indefinite, it was not now uncertain how they had been used. The hon. Gentleman and the House must be aware, that several general orders had been passed by the commissioners, they had been laid on the Table of the House, and by the sanction of Parliament they had now become law. Those general orders having now all the force of law could not be revoked by the commissioners; they must administer the law according to the principles therein laid down. Any one who heard the speech of the hon. Gentle- 367 man would have been led to suppose that the law was stringent in preventing any relief being given to the able-bodied pauper out of the workhouse. He would inform the hon. Gentleman that such was not the case, and that a very large discretion was given to boards of guardians under the orders issued by the commissioners. Under one of those general orders, relief in money, in food, in clothes, and in medicine might be given, not only in the illness of the head of a family, but in case of the sickness of any member of it, or in case of any suffering arising from accident—indeed, in all cases where the necessity for relief was sudden and urgent, the guardians were intrusted with those large powers. The hon. Gentleman had asked him to state what was the principle of the bill. Now, there was always considerable danger in giving definitions; but the definition of the principle of the measure he would say was, " Local relief to the poor, subject to a central superintendence and control." The hon. Gentleman seemed to say that the workhouse-test was so rigidly applied that no relief, or at least but little, had been given, except in the workhouse. To prove that such a view of affairs was entirely erroneous, he was prepared with some returns, from which it appeared that in 1839, out of 1,137,000 persons who were relieved, only 140,000 received that relief in the house, while 997,000 were relieved out of it, and at their own homes. In 1840, 1,199,000 were relieved, and only 169,000 received that relief in the workhouse, while 1,030,000 received it out of the house, and at their own homes; and in 1841,1,300,000 was the number of persons relieved in gross, only 192,000 of whom received relief in the workhouse, while 1,108,000 were relieved out of it. This proved that the workhouse-test was not firmly adhered to. Again, let them try the question by the relative expense. The sum total paid for the maintenance of the poor in 1840 was 3,739,000l. Any one who had heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman must have been led to the belief that all that sum had been expended in in-door relief. Now what were the facts? Generally speaking, all paupers above the age of sixty were relieved out of the workhouse, and in all cases of sickness either of the heads of families or of members of the family, relief was administered to the parties at their own homes. The hon. Gentleman had eloquently complained of the guardians being in the 368 common practice of selling off the furniture of all persons applying for relief, and said that it was done under the authority of the law. He must deny that such was the law— he believed it was not the practice; but if it was, it was most decidedly illegal; no guardians or other authorities had power to do so. Well, out of the 3,739,000l. expended in poor-rates in England and Wales in 1840, 808,000l. only was expended in workhouses, while 2,931,000l. was expended in the relief of the poor at their own homes. Again, in 1841 the gross amount expended upon the relief of the poor in England and Wales was 3,884,000l., and out of that sum only 892,000l. was expended in the workhouse, while nearly 3,000,000l. was expended in the relief of paupers at their own homes. The hon. Member for Bradford asked him what proportion of these cases were able-bodied?—it was a very difficult matter to give an answer to that question, for he was not furnished with returns to that effect; but there was one class of persons who were relieved of which he had an accurate account, and from that it appeared that in 1841 there were relieved of widows, and women who had been deserted by their husbands, 165,000. Of the male paupers he was unable to say what proportion were able-bodied and had been relieved in the workhouse or at their own homes, but he could state, upon the best authority, that out of the 165,000 persons he had alluded to, only 13,601 were relieved in the workhouse. But the hon, and learned Gentleman made one admission which must prove fatal to his clause—he admitted that if he was successful in carrying it, it would necessarily lead to the payment of wages out of the poor-rate; that it must lead to a recurrence to the worst of the evils which existed prior to 1834. Everyone who had the slightest regard for the welfare of the labouring population must decidedly oppose the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. It was clear, even to the hon. Gentleman, that his success must prove a return to the old system, under which the farmer paid low wages to his labourer. Nothing could be more unfair, because it was only an indirect way of taxing other people for the support of his workmen. Nothing could be more intolerable, nothing more indefensible, than such a system. On the one hand it produced a servile pauperized population, while, upon the other, it produced much hardship and injustice. Every one who wished for a return to such a ruinous 369 system might vote for the clause of the hon. and learned Member; but all who were of opinion that such a course would be a step backwards, and most detrimental to the best interests of the labouring population themselves, must vote against him. The hon. and learned Member had quoted some expressions which had fallen from the Duke of Wellington in 1834. He had caught the words that he wished to rescue the poor-rates from the hands of the justices, and to see the administration of all relief of the poor restored to the hands of the overseers. Undoubtedly, one of the most crying evils of the system as it existed previous to 1834 arose from the authority exercised by the justices over and independent of the parish authorities. Although he entertained a most decided objection to the control of the magistrates over the relief of the poor, as exercised prior to 1834, he considered the continuance of that control far preferable to the proposition of the hon. and learned Gentleman. By the proposal of the hon. Gentleman the local authorities—who were influenced by local prejudices and antipathies— would be intrusted with the sole and exclusive power of administering relief in their respective districts. He thought there would be no safety in such an administration. He considered that one great evil of the law as it existed prior to 1834 was the power vested in the magistrates; but he thought it was preferable to permit an appeal to the magistrates than to allow no appeal. The great advantage of the present law was, he conceived, the control exercised over the local administration of relief by parties who were free from local prejudices—who acted upon general principles recognised by the Legislature, and laid down by the Legislature, these parties being themselves under the control of the Executive, and their acts being open to discussion in the representative assembly of the nation. He contended that it was necessary, when the administration of relief was vested in local bodies, that some appeal should be afforded; and such appeal must be made either to some local tribunal, or to a central controlling department. He had perused a pamphlet, entitled Remarks on the Prohibitory Orders and Discretionary Powers of Guardians, addressed to the Thirsk board of guardians by a member of the board, in which the author stated,—The proceedings of local boards easily evade public attention. Their composition is continually varying, and there is no individual 370 to whom the responsibility of any blunder attaches. Every act of the commissioners is watched with the utmost jealousy, and this fact furnishes the best safeguard that they will exercise the powers with which they are intrusted with due caution and discretion. Of this I am confident—no precautions can be too great, no jealousy too watchful, in committing to any party the discretion of bestowing outdoor relief on the able-bodied; for it is a power which may sap and destroy the very springs of industry by the imposition of local taxation. That such a power should be committed to any local board is most impolitic; and there seems no depository to which this power can be so beneficially and securely confided as to a central commission.This was precisely the opinion which he entertained as to the principles on which the bill of 1834 was founded; and this was the principle on which the bill now submitted to the House mainly rested. His opinion was that, if the House adopted the clause proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, not only would the commission be utterly useless, but the whole scheme of the enactments of the bill of 1834 would be nullified. He was, therefore, most decidedly opposed to the clause proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Fielden
thought the argument that labourers' wages were under the former law paid out of the poor-rates was most fallacious. The guardians had a discretionary power as to granting relief, and if employers could be compelled to give the labourers such wages as would gain them subsistence they would not require relief. He thought no answer had been given by the right hon. Baronet to the arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. The right hon. Baronet had stated | that the poor man had the right to appeal, first to the guardians, then, if they did not afford him redress, to the magistrates,— then to the assistant Poor-law commissioners,—and, if they neglected his application, he could appeal to the commissioners at Somerset-house. By a proviso of the Poor-law Act, however, the commissioners were precluded from receiving any appeal in an individual case; but every appeal which could come before them must be an individual case. He thought the Poor-law was founded in injustice; it was an iniquitous measure, and the sooner it was torn from the statute-book, and burnt by the common hangman, the better.
§ Mr. Ward
said, the hon. Member for Oldham had expressed his opinion that the Poor-law was founded in injustice, and 371 had said, that he would gladly see it torn from the statute-book. Now, if he thought this law to be unjust, he would willingly endeavour to procure its repeal; but he believed it was founded in strict justice, and that it had been a source of great advantage to the poor throughout a large portion of the country; and he was prepared to abide by that opinion. He was far from agreeing with the hon, Member for Oldham, for he thought the right hon. Baronet opposite had afforded a most complete and conclusive reply to the arguments of the hon. and learned Member, by whom this clause had been proposed. The statements of the right hon. Baronet were supported by facts which the hon. Member for Oldham had not ventured to question. The hon. Gentleman had said that, if the wages of labourers were eked out from the poor-rates, their wages were not paid from the rates; that if a poor man in the employ of a farmer did not obtain such wages as would procure a subsistence for himself surd his family, and receive relief from the overseers, his wages were not actually paid from the rates. But was this relief given from the pockets of the overseers, or from the pockets of the rate-payers? He thought, it was most improper that money drawn from the pockets of shopkeepers and other inhabitants of a parish for administering relief in, cases of emergency— of absolute want, should be applied to eke out the wages of persons to whom the farmers would not give a sufficient sum to obtain them the means of subsistence. In such a cage, it would palpably be the interest of the farmer to reduce the wages of the labourer, when it was known, that they would be made up from the poor-rate. He thought the present Poor-law afforded the labourer some means of control over the farmer, for if a poor man was compelled to work for 6s. or 7s. a-week, when he ought to receive 10s. or 12s., he might throw himself and his family into the workhouse, and thus by adding to the amount of rates, he might oblige his employer to give him such a rate of wages as would procure him subsistence. He believed he was making a correct statement when he said, that in the Andover Union a sort of conspiracy was entered into among the farmers to compel the labourers to work for extremely low wages. About twenty of the labourers applied to the board of guardians for relief, and, under the advice of one of the assistant-commissioners, the board admitted the men and 372 their families into the workhouse. The consequence was, that the farmers were instantly compelled to raise the rate of wages nearly 25 per cent, and the men, instead of remaining in the workhouse, were enabled to realize wages which procured them the means of subsistence. he believed, that in the rural districts this had been the general effect of the Poor-law Bill. In the parish of Ware, when the system of out-door relief was pursued, 120 men in receipt of parochial relief were frequently employed in the gravel-pits, or were maintained in entire idleness. That union, under the exiting law, comprised seventeen parishes; and he believed, that since the Poor-law was adopted, there never had been at any one period seventeen able-bodied men out of employment in the workhouse. The right hon. Baronet opposite had shown, that the commissioners possessed the utmost power of relaxing the stringency of the law, and that the proportion of out-door relief already afforded, was so great that the clause of the hon. and learned Gentleman was wholly unnecessary. If the House adopted the clause of the hon. Gentleman, they would, in fact, revert to the state of things which existed prior to 1834. He thought the Government had taken a proper course with regard to this question, and he was glad to state his general concurrence in the principles they had adopted. If those principles were unpopular, he and a large number of hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House were as ready to share the unpopularity with (he Government as were some hon. Gentlemen opposite. He believed the principles on which the Poor-law was founded were sound, and that in operation the bill was most beneficial to the working classes; and his opinion had not been shaken by the bitter denunciations of a knot—a very small knot—of hon. Members on both sides of the House, who had united in opposing this measure. He gave his support to this bill because he conceived it was a measure which would generally be most beneficial to the labouring classes of the country, though experience might show the necessity of mitigating some of its provisions in the next Session. It had been the custom to talk of the stringency of this law, and of the extensive powers which it vested in certain parties, but he would remind the House that such powers were given in order that any necessary relaxation of its provisions might be effected. He defied 373 the hon. Member for Oldham to show that, where a case of emergency had been made out, the commissioners had evinced any indisposition to relax the stringency of the law. He contended, that the Poor-law Bill was not in the slightest degree unconstitutional; the commissioners were strictly responsible for their acts, and if any grievance arose, the Secretary for the Home Department was called to account. He would, therefore, certainly vote against the clause proposed by the hon. and learned Member.
said, if the hon. and learned Gentleman pressed his clause to a division he would vote in its favour, because it asserted the principle of out-door relief, and proposed to intrust the discretion of affording that relief to persons who would be likely to administer it properly. The right hon. Baronet in his speech during this debate, had fully admitted the principle of affording out-door relief, and had shown that a great proportion of the relief recently afforded had been out-door relief. In Ireland the Poor-law had been introduced as an experiment, and there no out-door relief was given. In this country an aged person might receive out-door relief, unless he preferred becoming an inmate of the workhouse; but in Ireland no person could receive the slightest amount of relief without going into the workhouse. He thought the operation of the Poor-law in its present stale in Ireland was most dangerous; it created an enormous expenditure without affording any substantial relief. He was of opinion that out-door relief ought to be granted in that country as well as in England, and he would therefore support the clause proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hardy
would support the clause of the hon. Member for Winchester. It was not his wish that the wages of labourers should be eked out in either agricultural or manufacturing districts by parochial relief; but if the rate of wages was so low that they did not enable a man to obtain a subsistence for his family, he thought relief might fairly be granted. He thought the commissioners sitting in Somerset-house could not decide on the relief to be given in individual cases; they must ultimately depend on the report of the Poor-law guardians. Why not therefore at once give the discretion to give out-door relief to the Poor-law guardians? Instead 374 of this discretion being vested in the overseers of the poor of a parish, as formerly, twenty or thirty parishes were now united, all the guardians of which must concur in the relief to be given, and be thought that surely the decision as to the cases in which out-door relief ought to be given might be safely left to them. If they were not allowed to give relief they must report on the case to the commissioners, and how could the commissioners then refuse to give relief against the tenour of the report of the guardians? tie thought it therefore better to give the discretion to the guardians at once. He should support the motion of the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. Aglionby
did not see how the right hon. Baronet opposite, the Member for Kent, could oppose the motion. On a former occasion he, as chairman of a board of guardians, had represented in that House a case of extreme hardship which had come before the board of which he was chairman, and in which a complete case for a grant of out-door relief was made out; the board of guardians reported the case to the Poor-law commissioners, and they peremptorily refused the out-door relief; and the right hon. Baronet grievously complained of their conduct. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, as chairman of the board of guardians of the Longtown union, in the north of England, had applied to the commissioners for a relaxation of this rule, and stated, that be would not act as a guardian unless the discretion were granted; and in this case the Poor-law commissioners did not insist on uniformity. That was the first case in which his belief in the necessity of uniformity was staggered; and he was thenceforth convinced that the discretion might be safely left with the board of guardians. The only necessity for this uniformity appeared to be, that in case of pressure from without the guardians might be able to fall back on the Poor-law commissioners; but if the Poor-law guardians were too timid to carry out their own acts, they had no right to throw the odium on the Poor-law commissioners. The Poor-law guardians must be better judges of the merits of each case than the commissioners, and he should therefore support the motion of the hon. and learned Member.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
certainly had made the statement alluded to by the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down, 375 and still entertained the same opinion as he then did, that it was a case of peculiar hardship; but it did so happen that since he had made that statement to the House a general relaxed rule had been issued by the comissioners, and, according to the new order, the guardians were empowered to give relief in such cases for fourteen days, at the expiration of which time the case was to be referred to the Poor-law commissioners. That new order entirely met the case he had laid before the House, and justified him in the course he was taking.
§ Mr. Kemble
was not one of those so strongly opposed to the New Poor-law as to wish to get rid of it altogether; but at the same time he thought that much of the Poor-law required to be mitigated. He thought that the object of the hon. and learned Member was completely carried out without this motion, when it appeared that in 1840 only 169,000 persons received relief in the workhouses out of 199,000 persons who had been relieved, and that last year only 192,000 persons received relief in the workhouses, while 1,108,000 persons received relief out of them. He would press on the hon. and learned Member not to divide the House on the question. As one of those anxious to mitigate the severity of the law, as all the other motions calculated for its mitigation had been withdrawn, he thought that a division now on this question, instead of advancing the cause they had at heart, would injure it, and weaken the power they might be able to show on some future occasion when the act should be fully discussed. If the hon. Member persisted in dividing the House, he should be under the necessity of adopting that plan which had been stigmatised by an hon. Member opposite as sneaking or skulking from the House, whatever imputations might be cast upon him for it.
§ Mr. S. Crawford
hoped the question would go to a division, and hon. Members might " skulk" it, if they liked. He had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, as a supporter of popular rights, with great pain. The result of the rule of the Poor-law commissioners was to take away discretionary power from the people. He thought it a degredation that the supporters of popular rights should vote for such a law in that House. If the people were not fit to be trusted to elect guardians to administer the Poor-law, 376 they were not to be trusted to elect Members of that House to frame laws. As a friend of the extension of popular rights, and of the extension of the suffrage, he could not permit such observations to pass without comment. The facts which had been brought forward showed that the commissioners desired to maintain the principle of in-door relief in an extreme manner, and they had only relaxed their rules on this subject when their existence was in jeopardy, and the public voice was against them. He should support the motion of the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. Hume
would not yield to the hon. Member who had just sat down in his desire to support popular rights, or to see the people happy; but he was surprised he should advocate a course which past experience had shown produced evils that threatened to destroy society. He could only say that that man was not a friend of the working classes, or of the country at large, who would wish to return to that state of society from which they had been happily relieved by this law. He was anxious to support the power of the central commissioners. It was necessary to lay down general rules. Without the central control there would be as many different modes of administering relief as there were unions. If this motion were carried he should like to know of what use the commissioners would, be; for it went to prevent the boards of guardians from being under any direction. He begged altogether to differ from the hon. and learned Member when he said that wages had not been affected and raised by the operation of the Poor-law. By this law the practice had been put an end to of giving relief to help out wages. If the motion were agreed to the old practice would return, from the various unions being left to their own discretion; he, therefore, thought it better to adhere to the rule laid down by the New Poor-law, and he should vote against the motion.
§ General Johnson
said, the hon. and learned Member who had proposed the motion, wished for no return to the old law, but that the boards of guardians should have the power of administering relief as they thought proper where there was necessity for it. That boards of guardians returned by the voice of the people to administer relief to the poor of the district should not be intrusted to do so, appeared to him to be the strangest 377 doctrine that ever was. He could not coincide with what had fallen from the hon. Member for Sheffield. He thought the proposition before the House a most reasonable one; he should be glad to put an end to this most unconstitutional power; and he should cordially support the motion.
§ The House divided, on the question that the clause be read a second time Ayes 55; Noes 90: Majority 35.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Hornby, J.|
|Adam, W.||Hughes, W. B.|
|Allix, J. P.||Hussey, T.|
|Archdall, Capt.||Johnson, Gen.|
|Arkwright, G.||Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.|
|Baillie, Col.||Lefroy, A.|
|Bankes, G.||Lowther, J. H.|
|Baskerville, T. B. M.||M'Geachy, F, A.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Mainwaring, T,|
|Broadley, H.||Masterman, J.|
|Broadwood, H.||Napier, Sir C.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||O'Connell, D.|
|Brotherton, J.||O'Connell, M J.|
|Cardwell, E.||Palmer, G.|
|Chetwode, Sir. J.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Colvile, C. R||Repton, G. W. J.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Richards, R.|
|D'Israeli, B.'||Sanderson, R.|
|Douglas, J. D. S.||Sandon, Visct.|
|Duncombe. T.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Eaton, R. J.||Smyth, Sir H.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Stewart, J.|
|Farnham, E. B.||Thornhill, G|
|Feilden, W.||Walker, R.|
|Gore, M.||Williams, W.|
|Halford, H.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Hall, Sir B.||TELLERS.|
|Hardy, J.||Escott, B.|
|Henley, J. W.||Fielden, J|
|List of the NOES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Damer, hon. Col.|
|Antrobus, E.||Duncan, G.|
|Baring, hn. W. B.||Eliot, Lord|
|Barnard, E. G.||Follett, Sir W. W.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Forbes, W.|
|Berkeley, hn. Capt.||Fuller, A. E.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Gaskell, J. Milnes|
|Bradshaw, J.||Gill, T.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Gordon, hon. Capt,|
|Busfeild, W.||Goring, C.|
|Cavendish, hon. G. H.||Goulburn, rt. hon. H|
|Chelsea, Visct.||Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Chute, W. L. W.||Greene, T.|
|Clements, Visct.||Gregory, W.H.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Hamilton, W. J.|
|Clive, E. B.||Hardinge, rt. h. Sir H.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Hatton, Capt. V.|
|Cockburn. rt. hn. SirG.||Hawes, B.|
|Collett, W. R.||Herbert, hon. S.|
|Corry, rt. hon. H.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Courtenay, Lord||Howard, P. H|
|Cripps, W.||Hume, J|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Jermyn, Earl||Rundle, J.|
|Knatchbull. rt. hn. SirE.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Knight, H. G.||Scarlett, hon. R. C.|
|Lambton, H.||Smith, A.|
|Lascelles, hon. W. S.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Stanley, Lord|
|Lincoln, Earl of||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Lindsay, H H.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Litton, E.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Lockhart, W||Thornley, T.|
|Lyall, G.||Tollemache, J.|
|Mangles, R. D.||Trollope, Sir J.|
|Morgan, O.||Walsh, Sir. J. B.|
|Newry, Visct,||Ward, H. G.|
|Nicholl, rt. hon. J||Wawn, J.T.|
|O'Brien, J.||Wilde, Sir T|
|Pakington, J. S.||Wood, B.|
|Palmerston, Visct||Wrightson, W. B.|
|Peel, J.||Wynn, Sir W. W.|
|Plumridge, Capt.||Wyse, T.|
|Plumptre, J. P.|
|Pollock, Sir F.||TELLERS.|
|Pringle, A.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Pulsford, R.||Baring, H.|
§ On the question that the bill be read a third time on Friday,
Sir T. Acland
said, he was very anxious to express his wish for the restitution of a clause (the 29th), which had been left out last night—he did not know why—and which empowered guardians to appoint local committees to receive applications for relief, to examine and report to the Board, in cases where the whole of any parish was situate more than miles from the place of meeting of the board. In districts such as he was acquainted with, of great length, where the pauper had to come ten or twelve, or even twenty miles to attend the board, it was very difficult and inconvenient for him to put forward his claim, and consequently he was obliged to trust to the relieving officer to get his claim heard. He had been very glad to see this clause, and he could not help hoping that the right hon. Baronet would grant this boon to the poor, by replacing the clause on the third reading, from which he could not anticipate that any inconvenience would ensue.
§ Captain Pechell
hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not attend to any such suggestion. If he did, they might have the Gilbert Union clause revived. If the hon. Baronet wished to effect the purpose he had in view, let him bring in a clause to diminish the size of unions. Such a clause, it might be expected, would obtain considerable support if brought up as a rider.
§ Dr. Bowring
should be glad if the right hon. Baronet would adopt this suggestion, and reinstate the clause, which was not of a coercive but a mitigatory nature. But he would go further than this clause, and propose that the local committees should not only visit but relieve. If they adopted that proposition, it Would operate as a very great mitigation of the harshness of the Bill, and would be cordially welcomed in those districts where distress was almost universal.
§ Bill to be read a third time on Friday.