said, that in rising to moveThat it be an instruction to the committee that they have power to divide the bill into two parts,he was actuated by no factious motives. He wished the first part of the bill, that which related to the commission, to be proceeded with, and the other part, that which related to the details, to be postponed till next Session, in order that time might be allowed for a more full and extended inquiry. He was strongly opposed to the application of the bill at all to that part of the country with which he was more immediately connected, because he had reason to believe that the government of the poor had been there satisfactory to all parties.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, it was not necessary for him to occupy much of the time of the House in answering the observations of the hon. Gentleman. It seemed, however that the hon. Gentleman had determined to make common cause with the hon. Member for Oldham, who had distinctly avowed that he should avail himself of every means which the forms of the House would allow in order to protract the discussions on this measure until after the 31st of July,—'the effect of which course, if successfully carried out, would be to throw the whole management of the law for the relief of the poor of this country into inextricable confusion. Now, the hon. Gentleman must allow him to remind him that this measure was introduced on the 1lth of May, and had now been before the House and the public for upwards of six weeks. A very large portion also of the measure was introduced last Session, and many of the principal clauses of it then underwent protracted discussion in committee. He must also beg to remind the hon. Member what was the object he really proposed to himself in taking his present course, and what would be the real effect of that course. The hon. Gentleman, it seemed, had no objection to allow the first five clauses, which were very important clauses, to pass into law, but he stopped at the next clause—the clause which proposed to abolish the Gilbert unions. Now, let him look at the proportion of the population which would be affected by the proposed change in the Gilbert unions, compared with the whole number of the inhabitants of England and Wales affected by the general law which 553 the hon. Member wished to postpone on this particular account. The number of the poor calculated to be affected by the general provisions of the bill was 15,000,000, while the persons embraced by the Gilbert unions amounted only to somewhere about 250,000, with the addition of about 150,000 more persons who would be affected by the abolition of those unions, and who were not now under the operation of the Poor-law act. Thus the House, according to the course marked out by the hon. Member, where now called upon to decide whether, for the sake of affecting about 400,000 persons, the whole of the regulations by which 15,000,000 inhabitants of England and Wales were deeply affected should be indefinitely postponed. He apprehended that the rule of that House and the ordinary course of proceeding was never to give an instruction to the committee to do anything which, without that instruction, that committee would be competent to do. Therefore, in point of form, the motion of the hon. Member was irregular, because it was competent to him to move, in committee, the rejection of the clause relating to the Gilbert unions. It was for the House to say whether the majority was in favour of a course which the hon. Member himself admitted to be factious; and he could only hope that the division to which they were about to proceed would distinctly mark the sense of the House on the subject.
§ Captain Pechell
concurred in the course which the hon. Member for Knaresborough was about to take. The right hon. Baronet would find that the hon. Member for Knaresborough was not the only Member of the House who was determined to offer to this measure the most constant and zealous opposition, or who would take advantage of all possible forms of the House in obstructing the measure and endeavouring to protract the discussion of it until the right hon. Baronet was compelled to separate the bill into two parts—a course which, if the right hon. Baronet exercised a sound discretion, he would at once agree to; thus saving the time of the House, and allowing other most important business to be brought on. Last evening there was a public meeting of the inhabitants of Brighton, at which both the Members were requested to attend and report the progress made in the Poor-law bill. He had thought it his duty to tell his con- 554 stituents what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, and they had unanimously agreed to a resolution, requesting the Members for the borough to vote against the Poor-law Amendment bill on every occasion, and to oppose in every possible way which the powers of Parliament would allow every measure that had for its object the continuance of the Poor-law commission. This resolution, he conceived, would afford him quite justification enough in the course which he should adopt with regard to this bill, even though his opposition might be designated as factious.
§ Dr. Bowring
desired to state the reasons which would influence the course he should take with reference to this very important measure. He had certainly been one of those who expected that the passing of the Poor-law Act, the organization of the commission, and the establishment of a central control, would have been found most useful, not only to protect the rate-payers, but also to improve the condition of the working classes. He had been strongly impressed with the abuses existing under the old system, and of the absolute necessity of some remedy, and he had therefore watched. with extreme anxiety the proceedings of the Poor-law commission, and with a great desire to ascertain how far they had been beneficial, and how far they had effected the great object originally contemplated. That object being the relief of the deserving, the exclusion of the undeserving, and the honest administration of the funds raised from the contributors. No doubt there were many complaints against the Poor-law commissioners, but as the Ministry had avowed their intention to present a new law, and to take the whole subject into their matured consideration, he had done his best to invest the Government which undertook the responsibility of preparing another Poor-law with unchecked power to enable them to present to Parliament one that should be efficient and humane. He had, therefore, voted against every motion that would have prevented the Government from fully acquainting themselves with the whole facts bearing upon the question, and coming forward with some plan of legislation for the purpose of effectually carrying out that principle to which all sides of the House desired to give effect. But he had watched with the greatest anxiety the proceedings of the Poor-law commissioners. The plan, in his opinion, was originally 555 concocted with a philosophical and enlarged view of things, with a real desire to administer to the wants of the suffering people, While at the same time it sought to protect the rights of the rate-payers; and he certainly had hoped that when the sufferings of the labouring population were so excessive, the Poor-law commissioners would have given effect to what was in itself a despotic and peremptory legislation in a mild, kind, generous, and benevolent spirit. But he had had occasion to see the working of the law in the borough which he had the honour to represent. He had brought some cases of severe distress before the House, and he had thought it necessary to call the attention of the House to sufferings which he considered disgraceful to the state of society and civilization in a country like this. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was kind enough to lend a witling ear to the statement which he had then made, and in his benevolence had ordered an investigation to take place in the locality as to the accuracy of the information given, and whether the extent of misery was such as he had described; now he was bound to say, that that investigation was conducted in a way to give the greatest possible dissatisfaction to all parties concerned. Neither the Poor-law guardians, nor the disinterested lookers on, nor the rate-payers, nor the great mass of the population, were satisfied with the report that was made. It was not the report of an inquirer after truth—it was not a summary of evidence fairly collected and honestly weighed, but it was a partial one-sided statement of a partial partisan. Hence, the feeling had spread very widely, that the ends of truth and justice would not be secured by any investigation undertaken under the auspices of the Poor-law commission. He certainly had thought, that the assistant-commissioners would not, as they had done, have travelled out of their way to impugn the statements that had been made; he certainly had thought, that the Poor-law commissioners would have put a bridle upon that assistant-commissioner which would have prevented him from attempting to impugn facts that were as notorious as the light of day; he had hoped he might look to the Poor-law commissioners as a tribunal which had no object but to investigate into the truth, without any interest on the one side or on 556 the other, or any other object to serve but the ends of truth and justice. Now, he was bound to say, that he was grievously disappointed. He had been called upon to interfere, and to look to the working of the Poor-law commission in the borough of Bolton, and the manner of the administration of the affairs of the poor there, and the state of feeling on that subject in the borough towards the Poor-law commissioners were of such a character, that he felt bound, as far as he Was able, to resist the continuance of powers which were exercised in that locality without any wisdom, discretion, or humanity. For if in the spot where he had ample means of knowing how the powers of the Board were exercised, he had abundant reason to know they were not exercised in a spirit of fairness, kindness, or equity, he was bound to suppose, the same tone and temper prevailed elsewhere, and he would not, in days like these, confide almost boundless authority to those whose proceedings were so little tempered by humanity. But while he felt thus strongly with regard to the measure, he at the same time could not lend himself to any attempt by means of the mere forms of the House to resist the fair progress of the bill. He was prepared to canvass every clause with reference to its bearing on the well-being of the community, but be would not go further, for he did not think, that it was either fair or reasonable to use the forms of the House for the purpose of obstructing the public business, "In the spirit of frankness he would say to his hon. Friends around him, that as far as bringing forward fair reasoning and argument against the Government measure, in the hope of improving its details would go, so far Would the opponents of the bill have his assistance; but further, as he had already said, he would not go.
had voted against the Government hitherto whenever this bill came on, for reasons obvious enough to those acquainted with the operation of the Poor-law in Ireland, and he therefore wished to state why he voted With the Government on the present occasion. He did so, because he thought it was expedient that the bill as proposed should be one bill—that the Government should go with their entire scheme before the public, in order that the probabilities of a successful opposition to the third reading might be increased.
§ Mr. Fielden
observed, that every motion to divide the bill had come first from hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side, and that they on the opposition side, by supporting those motions, got the credit of offering factious opposition. He now repeated, notwithstanding what the right hon. Baronet had said, that he would avail himself of ail the forms of the House, factious or not factious, as he might be called, in order to oppose this bill. He wanted to see an end put to the commission; the public did not want the commissioners at all. He should vote with the hon. Member for Knaresborough, although that hon. Member avowed, that his only object was to get the law clone away with as regarded his own borough; he wished to have it done away with as regarded the whole country.
§ Sir W. Barron
would vote against the motion, because he was morally certain, that when the Poor-law was properly understood by the people of England, and when the passions and prejudices which now prevailed were in abeyance, it would be found to be the greatest benefit ever conferred by the Legislature on the people. No measure that had ever been brought forward had been so generally beneficial to the rich and to the poor. Its tendency was to raise the condition of the poorer classes, to give them independent opinions, and to induce them to lean more on their own industry and exertions than the old Poor-law, or any other law that had been passed. Hundreds of Gentlemen, opposed to him and the late Government in politics, had acknowledged, that one of the greatest benefits ever conferred upon the country was the Poor-law Amendment Bill brought in by the Whigs; when, therefore, he saw a bill introduced upon the same principles, come from what party it might, he would support it. He regretted to find, that there were some hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who had not opposed the bill, although they owed their seats in that House to the disgraceful agitation which they had produced in the country against it—an agitation which had been the real cause of that mischief which they were now combating. Talk to him of agitation in Ireland! What was it compared to the agitation which took place in England during the last general election? "You and your Friends (addressing Sir R. Peel), were the agitators in England. By their 558 agitation against the Poorlaws and the Cornlaws, they placed you in your present position." That the pledges had not been redeemed was the feeling of the people of England, and of their supporters out of doors, and he himself knew it; he saw it, he heard it, and he read it in their journals. Although he supported this bill, he never could support that dereliction of principle which had brought men into power upon insincere agitation and false pretences.
§ Mr. Grimsditch
thought, that the hon. Baronet ought to have reserved his warmth for some subject connected with Ireland. He was not disposed to join any party for the purpose of giving any obstruction to the progress of this bill by the forms of the House. He had strong objections to the bill, but he was anxious to go on with it clause by clause, and see how far its operations could be mitigated.
§ General Johnson
admitted, that the present bill was a bill to protect the rich, but he did not agree that it had a similar tendency to protect the poor. He was entirely opposed to a division of the bill, into two parts. His conviction was, that it would be much better to get rid of it altogether, and to pass a conciliatory measure of a short duration, thus avoiding the necessity of discussing the merits of the question in the present Session. Considering that there were already forty-seven notices of alterations on the paper besides new clauses, he did not think that it was either advisable or convenient to the House to proceed with the bill in its present form.
§ Mr. Lawson
said, that after the opinions which had been expressed in reference to his motion, he would withdraw it.
§ Motion withdrawn.
§ On the question, that the Speaker leave the Chair.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
said, in rising to submit the motion of which he had given notice, he could assure the House that he did not bring it forward with any factious motives. Not that he did not think faction, when all other resources failed, an extremely good thing, as he had said on a former occasion, and acted upon the saying. But he submitted the present motion in the hope of saving the House much time, and many angry and disagreeable discussions—discussions which he was quite satisfied, in the present state of public business, could not be carried on dur- 559 ing the short period that now remained, with any satisfactory result. These discussions should be concluded previously to the termination of the Poor-law commission, which, as the House knew, would expire on the 31st of July next. What was the state of business in reference to this bill? They had now only about five weeks to deliberate on and discuss this great and important measure—a measure containing some sixty-two clauses, and relative to which, as his hon. Friend behind stated, there were forty or fifty amendments now standing on the notice book. They had not yet touched a single line of this bill in committee. The least possible time that could be allowed for the House of Lords, to consider so important a measure, was a fortnight or three weeks. But giving the House of Lords a fortnight, what would remain for them? Some three weeks to discuss this bill and the other public business besides. Now, what had happened last year? The noble Lord then at the head of the Government introduced a bill similar to this early in the Session. It had gone through committee, with the exception of five clauses, on the 5th of April. That was the state of the bill up to the 5th of April, when from the state of the public business it was not thought expedient to proceed further with it. There was nothing, as it appeared to him, which called so imperatively upon them, especially considering the present state of the country, to induce them to press the bill in the present Session. After the statements that had been made that evening, and after the nature of the opposition with which it was said the present measure would be met, he believed that it would be not only morally, but physically, impossible for her Majesty's Ministers to get through the bill within the time limited by act of Parliament for the continuance of the commission. Her Majesty's Ministers had delayed this measure (and he did not know that they could have done otherwise) Until within five weeks of the termination of the commission. The discussion upon this bill—the fate of the measure, was not now with the Government; for her Majesty's Ministers were, with respect to it, in the hands of the Opposition. It rested now with the Opposition whether the bill was to pass or not. It was, therefore, worthy of the consideration of her Majesty's Ministers, and of the House, and of all parties, whether they were favourable 560 to Poor-law or opposed to it—whether the bill should be proceeded further with or not. If they determined that it should not, then some measure might be adopted for obviating the inconvenience that was felt with respect to the commissioners. He did not himself think that the commissioners were necessary; but as it was the prevailing opinion in the House that the commissioners should remain, he did not think that any opposition would be offered to the commission lasting for another year. In this, he believed, there would be but little difficulty; while there would be the greatest if an opposite course were pursued. In the state of the public business, it must be the only measure that could occupy them for the next five weeks. Now, what was the state of public business at that moment? There were seventeen orders of the day for that day, and the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department had, on the preceding night, introduced three new bills, all of which were, of course, to be proceeded with. One of those bills was, in his estimation, of the utmost importance. It was the Prison Discipline Bill, and he must say that he regretted exceedingly to see such a measure introduced at so late a period of the Session. They had been told by the right hon. Baronet that it was a bill for regulating the discipline in all the prisons of England—a subject to which he had himself called their attention in the early part of the Session, and that was of still more importance than this attempt at altering the law for relieving the poor. But while the Government was proceeding in its present course, he begged to ask what had become of the measures alluded to in the Queen's Speech? They had been there told of a bill to amend the Bankruptcy Court; they had been promised the introduction of measures of reform into the ecclesiastical courts—those sinks of iniquity. They had been told, too, that there was to be a bill for the registration of voters; what was to become of that? Why, it was to be merely introduced, and then thrown on the Table. Two years ago, when the noble Lord opposite introduced his Irish Registration Bill, he told them that there was nothing of so much importance as that measure. They were told of perjury, and personation, and every other iniquity taking place in Ireland, and that there these things ought to be remedied immediately, and now they 561 did not hear one word on the same subject. Even when the hon. Member for Halifax proposed a motion which was to the effect that they had better proceed with an English Registration Bill rather than with that of Ireland, then the noble Lord told them that the two things were perfectly distinct, and the noble Lord declared that he would not allow his bill to be hung up until the English Registration Bill had gone through committee. But what now said the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth? That they had better determine the principle on which English registration should be based before the Irish Registration Bill was gone into. What, then, had become of the crying evils, of which they had been told so much two years ago? Why not attempt to carry some remedial measure through that House? or why waste the time of the House in the attempt to continue the powers of the Poor-law commissioners for six years longer? Why not go on with the measures that were referred to in the Queen's Speech? Why urge this, that was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech? From motives of prudence, he was sure, her Majesty's Ministers had declined referring to it. They had not given even the most distant hint that it would be brought on; while, as to those measures which had been promised, and for which the country had been looking most anxiously, they had been totally abandoned by her Majesty's Ministers. Let his suggestion be adopted, and they would have plenty of opportunity to discuss the Poor-law hereafter. This bill was one not merely for the continuance of the powers of the commissioners, but it went also to repeal the Gilbert incorporations, and to set aside alt local acts, and to continue the nefarious system of proxy votes. It was, too, to give them another set of assistant commissioners—those itinerant nuisances of whom the whole country was complaining. When he looked to all these objections—when he knew that so many others might be stated—he asked whether it were possible for them to go through such a measure in the short period of three weeks? Was the House not to be allowed to discuss the estimates which were yet to be brought forward? Were they not to be permitted to say a word about the 800,000l. or 900,000l. additional for the China war, nor to make an observation upon the estimates for Canada? 562 Was all other business to be put aside in order that so objectionable a bill might be forced upon the country. He said that the public mind was not in a condition to receive this bill upon the terms on which the Government intended to force it on them. He believed with the hon. Member for Oldham that 99 in every 100 persons out of that House were opposed to the principle and provisions of this measure. He had himself had the honour of waiting upon the Secretary for the Home Department with delegates from different parts of the country interested in the maintenance of the Gilbert incorporations, and when the right hon. Baronet made light of the matter by saying they only affected 300,000 persons, it was said by one individual, a highly respectable Conservative, a clergyman, a minister of the Gospel, a minister of peace—that "this bill could not be carried except at the point of the bayonet." The right hon. Gentleman might recollect the expression —at least, it made a deep impression upon him, considering by whose lips it had been uttered. He would call their attention to the petition, signed by 3,000,000 of people, that he had already presented to them. The House might object to many parts of that petition, but what the petitioners said with regard to the New Poor-law was worthy of the attention of that House, because it spoke not only the opinion of 3,000,000, but also because they were those most likely to be affected by the provisions of the bill of which they gave this opinion. The petitioners stated this:—That in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, thousands of people are dying from actual want; and your petitioners, whilst sensible that poverty is the great exciting cause of crime, view with mingled astonishment and alarm the ill provision made for the poor, the aged, and infirm; and likewise perceive, with feelings of indignation, the determination of your honourable House to continue the Poor-law bill in operation, notwithstanding the many proofs which have been afforded by sad experience of the unconstitutional principle of that bill, of its unchristian character, and of the cruel and murderous effects produced upon the wages of working men and the lives of the subjects of this realm. Your petitioners conceive the bill to be contrary to all previous statutes, opposed to the spirit of the Constituion, and an actual violation of the precepts of the Christian religion; and, therefore, your petitioners look with apprehension to the results which may flow from its continuance.563 Every man acquainted with the north of England looked with great apprehension to the determination of that House to force this bill upon the country. He did not mean to go further into the merits of demerits of the bill. He hoped that the House would agree to his motion. He was satisfied that the wisest course for her Majesty's Ministers would be to accede to it, and postpone the bill to next Session. What other measure they might adopt it was for them in their wisdom to lay before the House. He proposed to them a course by which they might act in a conciliatory spirit: it depended now on themselves to say whether they would force this bill on the House: if they did, their efforts would be fruitless; they must only meet with defeat and disappointment, for it was impossible that the bill could become the law of the land in the present state of public feeling and in the present situation of public affairs. The hon. Member concluded by moving,—That, considering the distressed stale of the commercial and industrious classes of this country, together with the advanced period of the Session, and the present state of public business, coupled with the fact that the Poor-law commission expires on the 31st of the ensuing month, it is the opinion of this House that there is not now sufficient time to enable Parliament to give that attention and deliberation to the important changes in the laws for the administration of relief to the poor which the measure introduced by her Majesty's Ministers imperatively demands: and that it would therefore be more expedient that measures of a temporary character should be adopted to meet any inconvenience which the expiring provisions of existing laws for the relief of the poor may be deemed to require.
§ Mr. Wallace
agreed with the hon. Member as to the necessity of postponing the present measure, and he believed further, that if it were persevered in, the time of the House, which ought to be devoted to the consideration of the distress of the working classes throughout the length and breadth of the land, could not be applied to that purpose. In the part of the country to which he belonged the distress was becoming daily deeper and more gloomy: nor was there any appearance of improvement in trade; it seemed as if more and more of the people were becoming destitute. They had now what he called a Poor-law Parliament sitting in King William-street, who were distributing alias to the destitute in England and Scotland. He had endeavoured to dis- 564 cover by what authority these gentlemen received money, and also upon what principle they distributed relief. He had been unable to discover either. He believed they were actuated by sentiments of humanity, but still the public had a right to know under what authority they collected the money, and upon what principle they distributed it. He believed the Parliament ought to interfere between the people and starvation. If the people were to be suffered to starve, let the Parliament say so. And if there were any source from which they could be relieved, let the Parliament say so. In this country, it was said, they had a Poor-law that provided for the distressed poor. Did it do so, he would ask? In his country they had no such law, and the time of Parliament would have been better occupied in providing a Poor-law for Scotland, than in amending that of England. He should support the motion of his hon. Friend, and adopt the course to which he alluded with regard to the business of the House, if he was supported by any hon. Member.
§ Sir James Graham
intended to occupy the House but for a very few minutes. He by no means complained of the motion that they were now discussing. So far from regarding it as factious, he thought that it properly and fairly raised a most important question for the deliberate opinion of that House, and he thought that now the moment had arrived for determining that question which the hon. Gentleman had so fairly raised. He hoped and believed that if the House should agree with her Majesty's Ministers, that on the whole it was expedient to proceed with this bill—if the House should decide this point by a majority—then, until the contrary was proved to him, the course usual in all deliberative assemblies—that the minority should be bound by the acts of the majority—until he saw that rule rejected, and an opposite one adopted, he could not believe that this assembly would act differently from others. He thanked the hon. Gentleman for fairly raising this question. He rejoiced that the moment was come for them to decide, whether, under all the circumstances, they deemed it expedient to proceed with this bill. He begged to call their attention to what was his feeling on this twitter. The hon. Gentleman had said, that it was most desirable to procure unanimity and to avoid angry discussion with regard to this measure. He 565 admitted the importance of this object, but then he was charged with the performance of a public duty, and he must not be betrayed by any consideration of that kind into the dereliction of paramount obligations. No man was more deeply impressed than he was with the widespread distress of the working classes. He made the admission unequivocally. He felt, too, that the administration of relief to the distressed was invested with peculiar difficulties. It was his duty to consider in what Way that relief might be dispensed With the most safety and advantage to the people; and having had some experience in these matters, having, carefully deliberated upon it, admitting the distress, and seeing that there Were in England and Wales 1,200,000 persons receiving assistance from the parochial rates, he was speaking gravely in the "discharge of a painful duty; they were a deliberative assembly—the great council of the nation—and he should be betraying his trust if he did not state the facts fairly, and, as an adviser of the Crown, call on that House to assist in a great public emergency. Admitting, then, he said, the distress to be wide-spread -admitting that there were 1,200,000 receiving assistance from the parochial rates, he asked himself, in this state of affairs, how could the difficulty best be met. He had had experience of former periods of distress, when no control for regulating relief like that which the commissioners exercised, existed in his State, He deliberately said, that the difficulties in such an emergency could only safely be met by the administration of relief under the control of the Poor-law commissioners, with unabated powers, and with powers such as he asked to be extended to them. He deprecated altogether the proposal of continuing their powers but for a single year; as it was, they could only encounter the difficulties with which they had to contend by possessing the marked confidence of the Legislature. After what had passed, Were there now to be but a temporary renewal of the act would they not mark with their distrust the persons to whom the power was confided; would they not cripple the power that they branded, and disable the commissioners from effectually meeting the difficulties to which they would be exposed It was the opinion of her Majesty's advisers, that such powers as they now asked for the commissioners 566 were indispensable. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had Stated that out of doors there was a very strong feeling against the continuance of the commissioners, and he also said that he thought the assistant commissioners were itinerant nuisances. The House was aware that some of the most destitute of the manufacturing population were to be found in the immediate neighbourhood of Burnley. It bad been stated to the House that they had sent an assistant commissioner of tried experience and great knowledge to that district, where relief, from Some mismanagement, had not been properly administered. The assistant commissioner was Sir John Walsham, a gentleman particularly well suited for the duty of superintending relief in that district. He was one of those designated by the hon. Gentleman an itinerant nuisance; his mission was but of a temporary duration, and yet in the course of one month, where there had been confusion, he restored order; and he did this with the comparative satisfaction of that class to whom the relief was administered. Sir John Walsham having then executed his commission, which was but of a temporary nature, left the district having received a public expression of Confidence in his favour, and of a desire that he might be sent there permanently to superintend the affairs of the poor. This was a testimony not less honourable to him, than it was to the board of guardians and the distressed population. It was admitted frankly, that kind and humane feeling had been exhibited in the administration of relief. He heard then with sorrow, under such circumstances, gentlemen who had to execute such painful duties, when they were not present, branded with the name of itinerant nuisances. Not only, in his opinion, was the control indispensable, but it should be aided by local inquiries. There should be the central superintendence, aided by the assistant commissioners. In the difficult circumstances of the country this was indispensable. He entreated the House not suddenly, not hastily, not from any desire to see the Session closed, not from any threat of factious opposition, to be led away from the performance of its duty. He entreated, he implored the House not to run the risk of postponing this measure. If the House agreed that the Poor-law commissioners were entitled to their confidence, and, in the circum-stances of the country, were indispensable 567 to superintend the administration of relief, then he asked then by a decisive majority to negative the present motion. The first clause not merely affected the existence of the commission, but provided that certain powers should be confided to them. If that clause passed, then every subsequent clause was a clause of detail, modifying to a certain extent the nature of the powers to be exercised, whether central or local. The simple question as to whether the Gilbert unions were to be abandoned or not would come on in the sixth clause, but the principal question was on the first clause as to the duration of the commission. As to the other clauses, they might be characterised, with hardly a single exception, as a mitigation of the stronger portions of the original measure. He hoped that the House would apply itself to this measure sedulously and dispassionately. On the part of the Government, he said that when the bill was in committee, he was, on all questions of detail, ready to enter into the consideration of them, in a conciliatory spirit, sincerely desirous that the measure might come out of committee well matured. He was thoroughly ready to make such concessions as might be felt to be necessary on the part of the poorer classes; but with his affectionate feeling towards them, and with the deepest desire to promote their interests, he considered that he should act with treachery towards them, and basely betray the duties of his office, if he consented for one moment to forego pressing upon the Legislature the paramount importance of renewing the commission, not for one year, but for five years at the least.
§ Mr. Hume
had always supported this measure, and had always advocated the maintenance of a central authority. But when he referred to the state of Keighley, he was astonished that the commissioners had permitted the existence of such a state of things as were described there. The Poor-law was a bill for compelling the poor to support themselves by their labour; but then the House had passed the Corn-law, which prevented them from obtaining work. What was it that the people said? That they did not want charity, but that they wanted work, and her Majesty's Ministers would not allow them to have it. By so doing they were acting in the most cruel manner, and to their conduct was to be ascribed the existing distress amongst the working classes.
568 The vote which he would now give was the first vote which he had ever recorded against the Poor-law Bill; but really, when he saw such misery as existed around him—when he saw the Government determined to keep up the causes of that misery he could pursue no other course. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to relieve the distress of the country, let him remove the pressure of the corn and provision laws. Let them all be swept away. Depend upon it, whatever hon. Gentlemen might say, the time was coming when they would be compelled to do that as a matter of necessity, which they might now grant as a boon. But there was a still gloomier prospect in store. The time might come when even the removal of the Corn laws would be too late to put an end to the mischief of which they had been the cause. Commerce arose from the interchange, between nation and nation, of the products of their soils, or the fruits of the industry and ingenuity of their inhabitants. As we refused to admit the produce of foreign nations, these countries in return would adopt measures to prevent the reception, within their ports, of our own manufactures. Every month aggravated the evil—a few months more might place the countries on the demand from which for our manufactures our own commercial prosperity depended, in a situation enabling them to reject these manufactures. Out of doors nineteen people out of twenty asserted that a free-trade in corn was the only remedy for the distresses of the country. He should firmly oppose the continuance of the commission for the proposed period of six years; but he did not by any means doubt the general principle of the bill. His doubt lay as to how that principle could be carried out under the system of monopoly adhered to by the Government. The New Poor-law and Corn-laws could not exist together—they could not carry out one when the restrictions imposed on prosperity by the other were in being. Before long there would be only two classes in this country—the very rich and the very poor—-and, then, what would become of property? He had never seen the prospects of the country so gloomy as they were at present. During all other periods of distress they could look forward to some probable termination of it; but, at present, he saw no likelihood of termination until free-trade should have 569 been established. He wished to see the population of England assume a healthy manly appearance, by earning a comfortable livelihood by their own exertions: and until they allowed them free scope for their labour they were but frustrating the ultimate object of the measure before the House. It was not the poorer classes alone who would suffer by the continuance of monopoly; the time was coming when the higher classes would have most seriously to consider the extent of the evil, and would be compelled "to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them."
§ Mr. Liddell
rose for the purpose of making a distinct proposition to her Majesty's Government. It was that, principally in consideration of the advanced period of the Session at which the bill had been brought forward, and in consideration of the very great changes which it proposed to introduce, Ministers would consent to limit that part of the bill to be passed this Session to the first five clauses. Those clauses might be passed in the form in which they now stood, or the commission might be limited in duration, as the House should see fit. Thus the machinery of the Poor-law would be continued, without detriment to the country. The subject might be taken up by Government early in next Session, and time would then be at the disposal of the House for the full consideration of the subject. The first five clauses of the bill comprehended the continuance of the commission, the number of assistant-commissioners, and provisions with regard to the operation of regulations of the commissioners, and the evidence of the transmission. By limiting the discussion to these points the Gilbert unions would not be summarily suppressed. The subject of the district pauper schools and the relief to casual poor would be open for further consideration. He did not concur in the proposition of the hon. Member for Fins. bury, but he thought that, under the circumstances of the case, that hon. Gentleman might concur with his suggestion. By agreeing to it manifold objections would be got over, and many important points would stand over for consideration until next Session. Having said so much, he would add a word or two with reference to what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose. He believed that if they had free-trade in corn 570 tomorrow, it would not relieve in the smallest possible degree any portion of the existing distress. He had said so before, and he now said so again. He had been lately waited upon by a deputation from the north of England, who had given the most painful accounts of the state of that part of the country and the condition of the people. These gentlemen, like the hon. Member for Montrose, believed that the distress could be remedied by the means to which that hon. Gentleman had alluded. He stated to them in private that opinion which he had now stated in public —an opinion held, he believed, by every man who was aware of the price of corn at present in the northern parts of Europe, who was aware of the small quantity which could be had there for love or money, and who knew that for some time past the price of corn in the ports of the Baltic had been higher than in any of the provincial markets of this country. These facts spoke volumes in favour of the present system of Corn-laws—spoke, indeed, so strongly in their favour, that every person who was aware of them, must join him in putting little faith in the nostrums of the hon. Member for Montrose.
§ Lord John Russell
said, the essential point before the House was the question of the length of time to which the commission should be renewed. He was of opinion that it was not by any means advisable in this case to prolong the commission for only one year, as it had been prolonged in another instance, and he trusted that all who supported the Poor-law would support the clause relating to the renewal of the commission. He would say nothing with reference to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman who had spoken last, which he had not sufficiently considered; but he must be allowed to state his opinion upon the advice given by the hon. Member for Montrose, who seemed to consider that they should not maintain the Poor-law in its present shape, because he differed from Government upon the subject of the Corn-laws. He was sorry that the hon. Member had introduced the subject at all into this discussion, and he regretted still more that the hon. Gentleman opposite had followed the example set by the hon. Member for Montrose, because he differed from the hon. Gentleman, and really his observations offered strong temptations for a reply. But, according to his view, there could be no alteration of the Corn-laws— 571 not even the total abolition of duties— which would make it advisable to continue a bad system of administration of the law for the relief of the poor. It was true that, if the Corn-laws were on a better footing, there would be fewer poor to require relief from the Poor-laws; but there would always be a considerable number of poor to receive parochial relief, and it could not be advisable, because they had a system of Corn-laws, of which the hon. Member for Montrose did not approve, that they should on that account continue a system of Poor-laws, by which the improvident should be supported; by which relief should be administered in the worst possible manner; and by which the persons put in the direction of the law, should be unfit for the management of its operations. No circumstances could ever make it expedient for this House to say, "We have so bad a system of Corn-laws, that we will have a bad system of Poor-laws." The administration of relief to the poor was rendered more difficult by the present distressed condition of the country. The administration of any system would be rendered difficult by that distress; but it was their duty, if they thought that the present system was in its general principles good, to adopt that system, as it appeared to be recommended on its own grounds, and not with reference to the bearing of any other system upon it. He must, therefore, object to the motion of his hon. Friend, and leave it to the future discretion of the House as to what time it could bestow upon the discussion of those points of the measure which did not embody the continuance of the commission.
Colonel T. Wood
had voted for the second reading of the bill, and he had stated then that he would vote for the first five clauses of the bill when it was considered in committee; but he thought that it was too late in the Session to goon with the consideration of the others, and as he thought then, he should vote now. It had been stated that the present condition of the country as regarded its pauper population was bad in the extreme; but he would remind the House that in 1807, when Mr. introduced his Poor-law scheme, the number of persons receiving parish relief was upwards of 1,200,000, the number stated as at present existing; and this at a period when the entire population amounted to only about 8,000,000, whereas the population now amounted to 15,000,000 or 16,000,000. 572 Therefore, so far from the condition of the country being impaired, it was really improved since Mr. Whitbread's time.
§ Mr. Ferrand
was convinced that the Poor-law commissioners and assistant-commissioners would uphold any system which gave them the control of the public money. He felt it due to himself as a member of the Keighley board of guardians, as chairman of the board, and as a magistrate of the county in which the union was established, to prove to the House and to the country, that a statement which had been made respecting him by a public officer, in a report now he believed on the Table of the House, was false and scandalous. [" Oh, oh."] He would prove from the report of Sir J. Walsham, that the statement made by Mr. Mott was false. He would tell the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that the country had been betrayed when it placed confidence in the Government. The Government had been raised to power by the deeprooted hatred which the people bore to the New Poor-law. It was the detestation of that law which placed the Conservative candidates at the head of the poll. It was to raise their voices against that law that they were returned to that House, and he stood there to perform the duty for which he had been sent. The noble Lord opposite last year introduced his bill, and took his stand upon it. What was the consequence? The country, when the general election came, told the noble Lord that they would not have his bill nor him either. He would now call the attention of the House to some statements in Mr. Mott's report. He found that Mr. Mott said,—I regret to have to report to your board that the proceedings of the guardians are very unsatisfactory; in short, they are entirely at variance with the provisions of the law and the directions of your board-He begged leave to assure the House that the board of guardians of the Keighley Union had been carrying on the whole of their proceedings, since he himself attended the board, according to the express directions of the commissioners of Somerset House. This was directly contrary to the allegations of the commissioners themselves. He held in his hand the report of the Poor-law commissioners for 1839. The following passages described the state of the unions in Lancashire and the 573 northern districts, and the manner in which this law was carried out:—We are enabled to state generally, in reference to these unions, that the boards of guardians are proceeding satisfactorily in the administration of relief. The same observations apply to many of the unions in the West Riding of York, which have been longest in operation. The guardians are authorised to put the law into operation under and subject to the provisions of the 43rd Elizabeth, c. 2 (the old law), and are, in fact, a larger vestry, before whom the cases of the respective paupers are investigated either on their own personal application or from the report of the relieving officers, whose duty it is to administer the relief ordered by the board, and to inquire into the situation of the paupers making application, and the board of guardians have reason to believe that the real wants and necessities of the poor are more promptly attended to and relieved than under the old law.He begged the particular attention of the House to these extracts, which would show the system by which the Poor-law commissioners gulled the public, sending assistant-commissioners over the country to deceive the House and the Government. He would take the liberty of reading an extract from the report of Sir J. Walsham relative to the Keighley union, which would confirm what he had stated relative to the inaccuracy of Mr. Mott's report: [The hon. Member read such an extract.] One great cause of the increase of the rates was the bringing such numbers of men from the southern and other agricultural districts into the manufacturing parishes of Lancashire. It was a fact that some of these men were now receiving from the parishes whence they had been transported 13/. a year in aid of wages. If any improvement had been made in the working of the law, he would say that it was owing entirely to the exertions of its uncompromising and determined opponents, and of the boards of guardians, who had been obliged to set the commissioners at defiance, and act contrary to their directions. That was owing solely to the arbitrary, unconstitutional, monstrous, inhuman, un-Christian, un-English orders which the latter occasionally issued. Were such men, he would ask, to be intrusted with the administration of the workhouse test? He now came to the close of Mr. Mott's report; and what would the right hon. Baronet say when he heard what was there stated?Without proper workhouse accommoda- 574 tion I am afraid that other restraints upon the guardians would be of little avail. As the auditors are now elected, their services in many unions are but of little use, and no beneficial check can be expected through them. I have repeatedly ventured to state to your board, and all recent experience has confirmed the opinion I have before expressed, that even as a precautionary measure, in the manufacturing districts, where the poor-rates, until recently, have been comparatively light, the provisions of the New Poor-law are loudly called for; and that unless the Poor-law commissioners are empowered by the Legislature to enforce the provision for proper workhouse accommodation to aid the restraint upon relief to able-bodied paupers, there is nothing to prevent the pressure of the poor-rates in the manufacturing districts from becoming ten times more ruinous in their consequences and more dangerous to the public welfare than those which were unhappily witnessed in the agricultural districts of the south of England.Now, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman what kind of poorhouses they were going to erect? The feeling in the north of England was most determined in opposition to this measure. The people there were unanimous almost to a man against it. The question they had to decide was whether the northern parts of England should be completely ruined, the working classes there be made determined haters of the institutions of their country, and the men of property be made to feel that every principle of the Constitution had been violated. The right hon. Gentleman knew it was impossible to carry out the orders that were issued; the commissioners knew it too, and yet, in spite of the state in which the union of Keighley was, they issued the orders to which he had alluded. He had no hesitation then in saying that the commissioners were more anxious to preserve their places and their pay than to care for the public welfare. Had the people of this country become so degraded from every principle that actuated their ancestors, that three Poor-law commissioners at Somerset House were rendered necessary for providing for the poor? He was now chairman of the guardians of the Keighley union, and, a short time since, when he found these peremptory orders had been sent down, as the chairman of the board, and as a magistrate, he officially communicated to the right hon. Gentleman, that if these orders were carried out, he felt convinced a breach of the peace would take place. What was the answer of the right hon. Ba- 575 ronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department—the guardian of the poor of the country? That he could not interfere. But he would ask the right hon. Baronet whether he had not acted as the chairman of a board of guardians and as a magistrate of Cumberland? Did the right hon. Baronet allow any Poor-law commissioners to interfere with him? No. Then let the same motives which actuated the right hon. Baronet as chairman of a board of guardians in Cumberland be attributed to him in his position as chairman of the Keighley Union. He held in his hand an extract from a speech of the right hon. Gentleman on the 20th of July, 1839, and he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that "Hansard" had been a great comfort to him since he had had the interview with him. The right hon. Gentleman said the other night that he possessed considerable influence in Cumberland. The right hon. Baronet said, that he had considerable property there, and property generally gave influence; but at any rate he wished that he had more. The speech which he was about to quote was made when Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for going into committee on the Poor-law Bill; and the right hon. Gentleman then said,—When the commissioners of Somerset House came practically to consider the prudence of carrying out this regulation (the refusal of out-door relief), the inquiries they made, and the experience they had acquired, taught them the impossibility of giving general effect to the law. Uniformity was desirable. This rule, prohibiting the administration of out-door relief, so far from being general throughout England, was, he must say, somewhat capriciously applied. It was applied to certain unions in the south, but in the north the rule was not in operation. In Cumberland, in the union of which he was chairman, they were bound by no such regulation. An ample discretion was left them; they were not fettered in the least; and if they had not been left to the exercise of this unfettered discretion, he was bound to say, he should not have held himself responsible during the last winter for the conduct of that union.He said it was monstrous, it was most unjust, that three Poor-law commissioners so grossly ignorant as he had proved these men to be should make those orders, which, if carried out, must reduce this country to a state of anarchy and confusion—increase the enormous rates—turn the aged and infirm out of their homes, and carry out the labour test amongst a 576 population of 50,000 persons, who had now scarcely the means of getting a single day's employment. But let him ask the right hon. Baronet this—Were those orders issued by the Poor-law commissioners for the purpase of tearing from their homes persons of seventy, eighty, and ninety years of age, who were, to a considerable extent, relieved by the feelings of charity which imbued the breasts of their poor neighbours—that when a slight assistance from the board of guardians or rate-payers would enable them to be carried from the hearth on which they sat to their final resting-place in the churchyard, they were to be dragged to an union workhouse, in defiance of every human feeling, until the people were taught to regard a workhouse as a prison ! Was it not monstrous that the commissioners should have issued those orders at that very moment in the Keighley Union, that, when carried out, and they must be if it were possible, would tear the aged and infirm from their peaceful homes, no longer to enjoy their evening walk by the mountain's side or in the shaded lanes, but to be immured within prison walls, and to have every feeling disregarded. He would tell the right hon. Gentleman and the country that the people would not submit to it. He would tell the right hon. Gentleman that they would not submit to it in Cumberland; they would not submit to it in Yorkshire. He would, for a moment, allude to what he considered an extraordinary circumstance; and that was, that when the noble Lord the Member for London, on the 21st of July, 1840, moved the third reading of the New Poor-law Commission Continuance Bill, there were absent the following Members of the present Government,— Sir R. Peel, Sir J. Graham, Lord Stanley, Sir F. Pollock, and Sir W. Follett. That was an extraordinary circumstance; but that very circumstance was the cause of hundreds of votes being given for the supporters of the Government at the last election. He himself then said to his constituents, "Trust in the Conservatives; you have tried the Whigs for ten years, and they have given you the New Poor-law and measures that have been to your great injury." Their answer was, "Yes; but Sir R. Peel will not say anything at all." He replied, "Trust to him; he does not promise everything and perform nothing; but he promises nothing and will perform everything." But what said the right hon. 577 Baronet at the head of the Government on the 8th of February, on the bill of the noble Lord the Member for London, to continue the Poor-law commission for ten years? He said,—It was necessary for him to state, however, that in voting for the second reading, he reserved to himself the fullest right of judging of the propriety or of rejecting any of the clauses, and of dissenting from any provisions by which the power of the present law was to be increased or amended. He doubted particularly the propriety of continuing the commission for so long a time. He did not mean to say, that after an experience of a further continuance for a short period he might not come to the conclusion that the powers given by the present law should still exist; and that the continuance of the commissioners might not be advantageous, or that he might not deem such further continuance advisable; but it would, in his opinion, be more consonant to the opinion of the country that the subject should again, at a short period, come necessarily under the consideration of the House." Then," said the people, "Lord J. Russell proposed a continuance of the bill for ten years, Sir R. Peel only proposes it for five, and afterwards we shall come down to no years at all." However, the right hon. Baronet appealed to public opinion, and long before he did so he told the people, that the battle of the Constitution was to be fought in the registration courts. Now, the great argument of the persons who conducted those courts in the north of England was, that this particular law was contrary to the Constitution. Public opinion then carried the right hon. Baronet into power. He would ask him what was public opinion now in the north of England? It was almost unanimous in Opposition to this bill. And he would tell the right hon. Baronet, that if he carried this law into the north of England, his Government would not exist two years. He should be very glad to hear what the hon. and learned Member for Bath would say upon the subject. It was said by some—" Oh! it works well in our neighhoorhood — leave well alone." But how of the ratepayer. Was the right hon Baronet aware, that the Conservative press of the country was almost universally against him upon this subject? Was he aware that the daily press was taking up this question, and must work its way through public opinion? Was he aware that the weekly press was taking it up, and must shake him in his position?
578 Because, if he were not, he could tell him that it was so, and that no Government could stand long under such circumstances. He would give the right hon. Baronet two years to destroy the public feeling which had been raised in his favour. The right hon. Baronet could not resist public opinion, and the opinion of the press of this country; and he must ultimately yield to it. He wished to have a few words with the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department. The right hon. Baronet had the other evening, in rather, he must say, a warm manner, attacked him for using what he termed violent means for exciting an opposition to this measure. He plainly confessed, that since this law had passed, he had taken a determined and firm stand upon this question; he had addressed a public meeting of guardians and told them, that by every constitutional means in his power he would resist the measure; but, at the same time, he preached to them in the best manner he could the necessity of obedience to the laws. Was it right for the right hon. Baronet to attack him for that? The right hon. Baronet forgot that he himself had lived in a glass house. He must remember that he was a Member of the Reform Ministry. How did the Government at that time inflame the minds of the people? Was it not a fact, that they were in correspondence with the men who said, that there were thousands ready to march to London for the purpose of cramming the Reform Bill down the throats of the people? And did not the Government give them their thanks?—We have never refused (said the hon. Gentleman) to pay our rates in support of the poor of this country; we have never excited the people to attack the monarch while passing through the streets of the metropolis; nay, we have never advised the monarch for the purpose of carrying a measure to swamp one branch of the Legislature; we never have attempted to bully the House of Peers; nor have we advised a circular to be written to to forget their duty to themselves and to their country. No; I tell the right hon. Baronet I stand upon firmer ground. I appeal to the Constitution of the country, and taking my stand under the banner of that Constitution, come weal or come woe, I will fight the battle of the people. Then what did the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) say in the debate that took 579 place'on this subject on thel9th of March, 1841? He said,—He should consider the large powers intrusted to them, and, having devolved those powers, the greater they were the more jealousy must Parliament exercise with respect to their application, and the greater the readiness with which they must listen to any allegations of abuse. While he consented to the prolonged duration of the commission for five years, he must say that he wished the commissioners would watch the expressions they made use of with a little more circumspection. He thought that with the best intentions there was occasionally a harshness displayed in the vindication of certain principles which might be avoided consistently with the maintenance of the law, and the avoidance of which would tend to fortify the powers of the commissioners. To give an illustration of this, he would take for instance an official circular published by the Poor-law commissioners, one of those public documents directed by the board to be printed chiefly for the use of the guardians. In one of those papers he found the following expressions;—' One principal object of a compulsory provision for the relief of destitution is the prevention of almsgiving.' Why, he heard the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) himself state that the Poor-law would completely fail in effect if the affluent withheld their alms. That was perfectly true; and he should abominate the Poor-law if he thought it relieved the rich from the duty of almsgiving. He was perfectly certain the Poor-law would fail if the affluent, relying upon its provisions alone, however improved the system of administration might be, felt that the moral obligation on them to attend to the wants of their poorer neighbours were thereby extinguished.What, he would ask, had become of almsgiving? What was the result of the Queen's letter for a collection for the distressed manufacturers? Why, the New Poor-law had dried up the springs of charity, and the poor were to become prisoners, and wear a prison dress—men who had committed no other crime than taking advantage of the neglect of duty of their superiors, and to choose as their means of existence the poor-rates of the parish, which were given to them by their superiors under the old law. If the rich forgot their duty—if they broke the law—if the magistrates, who were the guardians and protectors of the laws of this country, forgot their duty in the south of England, could they wonder that the poor man forgot his duty too? He cared not who the man was who had not rather live in ease than earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Providence had ordained that they, the Members of the House of Com- 580 mons, should not earn their bread by the sweat of their brow; but if through His beneficence He had placed in the hands of certain parts of the population of this country the means of existing without such labour, depend upon it they would have to give a true account of their stewardship. He had that night given his reasons for opposing the continuance of the powers of the commission. In the majority of the Government there would be some who were generally their opponents, but who advocated this measure.; but he would beg from the opponents of the Government their votes upon this occasion. The right hon. Baronet might find on those (the Ministerial) benches some who would find it difficult to explain away their votes to their constituents, and who would stand by him in fighting this battle against the Constitution of their country; but the time would come when old English feelings would return—when they would ask themselves whether they had performed their duty as members of society? And whether they would stand by a Minister of the Crown, whatever his political opinions might be, who was disposed to defer to the opinions of a few against the feelings of a vast majority of the country?
Colonel T. Wood
thought the time was come when the House ought to decide whether they would maintain the present law or repeal it. If the statements made respecting the operation of this law were well founded, it would be the duty of the House to consider whether they ought to renew it. He, however, did not believe that this law had produced the evil effects that were imputed to it. It was not because it was late in the Session that Parliament should shrink from the consideration of this question. He thought it was the duty of Parliament to take the whole measure into full consideration, and to decide whether it ought to be maintained or not. He had endeavoured to become acquainted with the operations of the Poor-law, and he believed it to be productive of good to all classes, and, above all, to the rising generation.
Mr. S. Worthy
concurred in opinion with the last hon. Member, that they were bound to examine the details of the measure in the committee. If he failed in making the clauses of the bill such as he would approve, then he should take his stand against the bill upon the reception of the report or the motion for the third 581 reading. After the observations that had fallen from the right hon. Baronet he thought the question before them was whether they would continue the control of the commissioners under the system already in existence; and he had therefore no alternative, in justice to his own opinions as well as to his consistency, but to vote in favour of the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury.
§ Mr. Wakley
assured the gallant Colonel that no man in that House, or in the country, perhaps, did he owe so great a debt of gratitude as to his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume), who had lost his election for Mid-lesex, and made room for the gallant Colonel, in consequence of his having exposed himself to unpopularity by supporting the present Poor-law Bill; and he would venture now to predict that the gallant Colonel would just meet the same fate, and lose his election whenever he stood again for Middlesex, in consequence of the vote he was about to give now. The right hon. Baronet had acted like a prudent and discreet person under the circumstances, which were certainly rather adverse to his proposition, when he admitted that the opposition of his hon. Colleague was not a factious opposition, and thereby had left as it were the question an open question to hon. Members connected with the Government. He would ask the majority were they prepared to re-establish the power of the commissioners at Somerset-house, which was about to expire immediately, for six years longer? If they were not so disposed, then let them take care of the sort of decision they came to upon the next step they must take according to the course of these proceedings, or else they would find themselves involved in a difficulty from which they could not easily extricate themselves. They ought to be admonished by the state of society. Already they had hungry thousands throughout the country. Before they again met they would probably have hungry millions imploring for food, and they should pause and deeply reflect upon the danger of giving perpetuity to a law which was abhorrent to the great body of the people, and which was in its principle a measure of coercion. The right hon. Baronet had asserted the only safe course was to permit the commission to retain the power it possessed as at present constituted. He would ask the right hon. Baronet, would the passing of such a bill as 582 this contribute to or ensure the public peace? He believed it would not, and he hoped the right hon. Baronet would not try the dangerous experiment. What injury could be done to any living man, even to the commissioners at Somerset-house, by adopting the suggestion of his hon. Friend, and passing a temporary bill to continue those gentlemen in office and in the control they exercised in the union for another year. He had been strongly urged to resist the bill to the last extremity by persons out of doors, so as to let these gentlemen at Somerset-house die off as they must, at the end of this month; but after reflecting upon the awful state of the country at present, and the great probability of thousands on thousands being added to the list of destitute working men now appealing to the legislature and to the nation for relief, he was prepared to abate some of his objections to the continuance of the commission. In consideration therefore, that he believed the right hon. Baronet could not arrange a measure by the end of tins month for the abolition of the commission which would be safe and practicable for the management of our poor, he had determined to give his assent to the proposition of his hon. Colleague, and suffer the commission and the law to remain for another year. In this he thought he and his hon. Friend had acted fairly by the Government. It was right they should act by the people in a spirit of conciliation, instead of standing upon abstract notions and speculative theories. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would consider the question in this light, and should therefore be glad if the right hon. Baronet did not take a vole upon the question to night, but consented to take four and twenty hours to deliberate on the subject. In the report of Mr. Mott relative to the Keighley union he confessed he saw in its spirit something to disapprove. The commissioner therein said of the poor, "They insolently claimed relief as a right." The poor had a right to relief. Did his hon. Friend deny they had a right? [Mr. Roebuck:I do. Then he would say that any man who denied their right to relief might, perhaps, be a fit man to sit and legislate in that House on the subject; but he was altogether unfit to carry out a Poor-law, and to apportion or administer relief to the indigent and helpless. What said Mr. Mott, the assistant-commissioner, in his report, which 583 had been lately laid upon the Table? "The paupers insolently claim relief as a right!" said this Mr. Mott, in the papers which had been presented to that House by the Chief Secretary of the Home Department, whose servant he was. No right? Why, had they no right under the act of Elizabeth, which had existed in this country nearly 200 years? Or had the right to relief, conferred by that act, been taken away by the Poor-law Amendment Act? Would the hon. and learned Member for Bath assert that the latter act took away the right which the former conferred? Let them understand the principle on which they were acting. If the poor had no right to relief, then no man could be culpable for starving them. That was the inevitable corollary. If there was no claim to relief, who was responsible at law for starving them? But had the man who had dared to make this statement, "that the poor insolently claimed relief as a right," and submit it in a report to the House of Commons, been dismissed from his office? No; then if there were no other ground for opposing the proposition for continuing the Poor-law commission for five years longer, he would say that if this man were not dismissed that fact alone would with him form ground sufficient to justify the most determined opposition on his part to the bill. There could be nothing more unjust, nothing more dangerous, there could be nothing more calculated to disturb the peace of the million than that a public officer, employed in the administration of this law, should dare to say that a poor man had insolently demanded relief as a right. At the bottom of this same report it was stated—That two months afterwards, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Greenwood, to whom he (Mr. Mott) had stated the complaints which had been made, admitted that summonses might have been sent to the relieving officer to attend before the magistrates.In the preceding paragraph it had been stated that the relieving officer had complained of those summonses as a grievance to which he ought not to be subjected, and Mr. Mott appeared to have interfered to prevent the magistrates from granting summonses against him. Well, it was admitted that summonses might have been issued; but these magistrates, Messrs. Ellis and Greenwood, said in explanation of the charge so made against them, that they always told the relieving 584 officer that the discretion in respect of giving relief was vested in the board of guardians. This was as much as to say to the relieving officer, "You have nothing to fear from us." Mr. Mott then adds—I said to them (the magistrates), that their interference, as magistrates, would have the effect of inducing the relieving officer to obey their suggestions, and in those districts where the guardians were not fully conversant with the provisions of the law such interference would occasion much mischief.First, Mr. Mott told them that the guardians did not know their duty, and then, that if the magistrates interfered they would make the matter ten times worse. And this was the report which had been placed upon the Table by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), with so much eclat. Why, if there were nothing else, this alone was sufficient to stamp the commissioners with disgrace, and to show that their object was to avoid, if possible, giving any relief at all under the Poor-law Amendment Act. This paragraph stamped more directly, and more odiously, the conduct of the Poor-law commissioners, than it censured the guardians of the Keighley Union. He would call upon the Government to remember that the screw might be turned upon hungry men too tightly. The distress, at the present moment, was also unprecedented. He found people everywhere complaining of want of business, and the poor labouring men were travelling about the country offering to work for any wages they could get. He had a farm ten miles from town, and he found people coming there begging for employment at any wages he might choose to give them, and when he gave them work they were not in the field an hour without asking for money to buy bread, being unable to proceed with their work even for that length of time for want of sustenance. These people at night slept in barns, or wherever they could get shelter, and their clothes were not off them for weeks together. Still, destitute as they were, they all said they would rather die than go into the union workhouse; and no wonder, for by law the workhouse was made a house of torture for the poor. He would not, however, on the present occasion enter into any argument as to the principle of that law; all he desired was, that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) should take into consideration the feelings of the country in reference to this matter, 585 and the state of the public business at this advanced period of the Session, and consent to the proposition of his hon. Friend and Colleague, to renew the commission for one year only. He believed that proposition had been made (as his hon. Friend had stated) not from a factious spirit of opposition or from a desire to throw any impediment in the way of Government, but rather to assist them, and to serve the public interest. If that proposition were accepted by the Government—if they consented to renew this commission for one year—and if, in the meantime, the whole country did not express its voice in respect to this commission—if it should, on the contrary, remain quiescent as to the proposal for renewing it for six years, he would for one—though must reluctantly—submit to their decision, and cease to offer any further opposition.
§ Mr. B. Cochrane
said, that it appeared to him that every law bearing upon the poor should have two objects in view; the first, that the relief should be speedy and effectual, and the other (and by no means the least important) object was, that the relief should be given in such a manner as should be acceptable to the people and call forth their gratitude—that it should be of that kind which blesseth both the giver and the receiver. The first of these conditions he believed had been fulfilled by the existing law. In spite of the workhouse system, and the unlimited power of the commissioners, he believed the relief afforded was speedy and effectual. The question then came, how had it been received by the people? Did those who were recipients under that law look upon it as a boon and as a blessing; and did they feel grateful to the law for the protection it afforded them? He feared that so far from that being the case, the poor and almost every person in the country regarded the measure with much hatred, and almost with disgust. He considered there had been much over legislation in respect to this subject. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had on several occasions, in speaking of the measure, defended it, by a reference to the imperfections of the old law; but the imperfections of the old law formed no argument in favour of the imperfections of the new. He was of opinion, that the nearer a Poor-law approached the principle of voluntary contribution, the more likely was it to be effectual as a means of relief, and to call forth 586 the gratitude of the poor. When the commission of inquiry was first issued, reference was made to Scotland as the country wherein the management of the poor was best conducted, and afterwards Lord Brougham, when the existing law was brought forward, also alluded to that circumstance. Now the system of relief in Scotland was voluntary. The great argument against the old law was its expense, and he was prepared to admit that the existing law had effected a saving of 1,500,000l.a year, as it appeared by the last report of the commissioners, but this fact alone was not sufficient to show that in all respects the law was beneficial. It was not what they paid, but what was sufficient to provide for the destitution of the poor, to which they should look as the principal object of a Poor-law. They should legislate so as to call forth the generous sympathies of the people, and to induce them to habits of carefulness, by which they might be enabled to provide for their own difficulties, and to relieve their relations and friends. He had explained his opinions upon the subject of the Poor-law to his constituents at Bridport, and would not now act contrary to them. He hould, therefore, vote for the proposition.
§ Mr. Roebuck
said, that nothing showed more clearly the danger of party politics in measures of legislation than the discussion which had taken place in reference to this subject. When the bill was brought in, it was looked upon even under the most favourable circumstances as a dangerous experiment—not that its object was mischievous, or the means to be employed in carrying out that object were wrong or improper, but because it was seen that there would be brought to bear on the administration of the law a large portion of ignorance and vulgar prejudice, which would necessarily operate against the administration of any law, however good its object, which might have to encounter them. The Government of that period, which he did not favour or approve of, did its wisest and most humane act when it brought forward that bill. The prejudices of the' people had, however, been excited against them for party purposes in reference to that measure, and the party opposite were now undergoing the fair retribution for the manner in which that prejudice had been so brought to bear against the administration by whom the Poor-law Amendment Act had 587 been introduced. He did not say that there was aught for him to find fault with in the conduct of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but there had been a spirit excited against the late Government at the last and the previous election by the hon. Member for Knaresborough and others, which was now bearing upon those right hon. Gentlemen. He knew that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had stated in language not to be misunderstood, that the Poor-law was a humane, a judicious, and a salutary act, and he was aware that that was still the right hon. Baronet's opinion, and that of every thinking man of his party. He was aware, also, that that was not the opinion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed, much to his honour, even though the announcement had come somewhat late, his determination to make this great measure, connected with the interests of the labouring classes of this country, a Government question. He only regretted that the declaration had come so late. The right hon. Baronet must have known what was going on around, about, and behind him he must have known of the outcry that was raised at the election by the party opposite against the Poor-law, without denial or objection on the part of those who now composed the Government. Those right hon. Gentlemen were now consistently acting upon the opinions they entertained and had always expressed, but what he complained of was that they had permitted the party behind them to take advantage of the vulgar prejudice which had been raised up against this measure, and to employ it as an engine to throw out of power the late Administration. The just retribution was now coming upon the present Administration; and however insignificant the instrument, they had seen the annoyance it inflicted in the two-hours' speech which they had heard that evening. What was there in the bill that could justify such an outcry as was raised against it, and the charge of anti-constitutional principle with which they who supported it were constantly assailed? The hon. Member for Finsbury had asserted that the poor had a right to be maintained. He would not quarrel about words, or stop to ask the hon. Gentleman what he meant by the term "right;" but he would say that the law gave to the poor at this moment that right, It was the offspring of 588 the law—it was regulated by the law, for the purposes of the community generally. In what way, then, was the relief to be regulated? It was therefore now not a question of inherent rights, but merely as to the manner in which the law was to be administered. He did not wish to be answered by declamation, but he desired to learn the way in which he could best secure the benefit of those for whom he was there to legislate. He wished to discover a plan by which the destitute might be relieved, by which industrious habits might be fostered, and idle ones put down. This end he believed was to be attained by the present law. He defied those who declaimed against it to prove to the contrary. He spoke this advisedly, having taken the trouble to make himself acquainted with the provisions of that law— a precaution which he feared had been neglected by hon. Gentlemen whom he saw opposite. He defied them to show that the aged poor were not provided for under the present law. He repeated it, the aged poor were provided for in the act, and he had no doubt that the boards of guardians would receive the support of the commission in carrying that provision into effect, of which commission he was not altogether a supporter, and they would be doing no more than acting in obedience to the law if they afforded all possible comforts and relief to the aged poor out of the poorhouse. That was the letter and spirit of the present law. [Mr. Wakley: But not the practice.] And the practice too, he maintained. The aged were past the days of labour, and the law was both willing and careful to give them relief after they had gone through the days of their toil. So that all the outcry which had been raised only proved the benefit of the law, for every breach committed was but a continuance of the bad system which had prevailed before. As a lawyer he demanded proofs, and would not rest satisfied with vague, vulgar, and violent declamation, of which be had lately heard so much that he was heartily sick of it. He passed now from the case of the aged poor to the case of the industrious, able-bodied poor thrown out of work from no impropriety of conduct on their part. This was the problem this was the difficulty with which every statesman called to the direction of public affairs had, in the present condition of the country, to deal—namely, how to pro- 589 vide for this class of persons, to prevent the mischief of allowing men to be reduced to absolute destitution, and at the same time not to foster habits of idleness and all the evils attendant on such a state of things. An hon. Member the other night proposed a grant of a million out of the public purse in order to relieve the prevailing distress, and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, in a way highly creditable to him, met the motion in the face by a direct opposition. He said that to accede to the wishes of the hon. Member was impossible. And why Not because he was insensible to that distress—not because he did not desire to afford every possible relief to the destitution of the moment—but because, as a statesman, he knew that if such a course should be followed on the present occasion, it would be appealed to as a precedent, and would be followed by other grants. Those to whom the task of making laws was entrusted, were bound to consider, not what will be the effect of those laws at the present moment, but what would be their effect in general, They all knew the circumstances which gave rise to the act of Elizabeth. A great number of charitable institutions had been suddenly suppressed by the reformation, and a large number of able-bodied paupers were as suddenly thrown Upon the public for support. What was done? The state made provision for them. But the act of Elizabeth had been diverted from its purpose. The means provided for the relief of the poor had been administered to those who ought to have contributed to their suppport, and so vast and various bad been the evils which had followed, that it at last became evident that something must be done to put a stop to the abuses which prevailed. What was the consequence? One of the first acts of the reformed Parliament was the introduction of a measure to meet the difficulty. He was prepared to say, at whatever expense of popularity he might make the declaration, that the men who proposed that measure were deserving, in spite of the obloquy which had been cast on them, of the highest renown, both for the humanity of their conception, and for the wisdom of their performance. He hoped, therefore, that those who lead public opinion on both sides of the House, would not yield to this vulgar cry. He hoped, they would not lend themselves to those who, 590 taking advantage of the passions of the moment, the mere outcry of ignorance and prejudice, used them for the benefit of their own individual interests. He would even ask them to go further. He called on them to prevent any man holding this language from enrolling himself beneath their standard. If there were any point with which, more than another, be felt more disposed to quarrel with the conduct of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it was, not their active assistance in the mischief, but their passive permission of the evil. They now felt the effects of this error in what took place around them, one Member after another getting up, and saying he was bound to the Government by the outcry about the Poor-law, and the hon. Member for Knaresborough, in the happy simplicity of his ignorance of the politics of that House, denouncing the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who felt as strongly as any man the benefit which had been derived from this law. He did not charge the Government with having echoed this, cry; but he thought, that having on their shoulders the responsibilities of Government, and not engaged in a struggle for power, they ought to have got up and stated manfully that this was an outcry suggested by vulgar prejudice, to which they would give no support. What he asked was, how, in this country, with all her difficulties, her peculiar interests and relations, the really destitute poor were to be provided for—avoiding, at the same time, the possibility of fostering the mischievous and criminal idler. How was the problem to be solved? Was it to be solved by painting pictures of misery and distress in the poor man's cottage'? Nothing could be easier. It would not be difficult to surpass even the extravagant eloquence of the hon. Member for Knaresborough on this topic. Here was the difficulty. The honest and industrious father of a large family might suddenly fall ill, and be thrown out of work. The benevolent feelings of our nature would say, relieve him, give him every support in your power; but next door to him might be found a mischievous vagabond, who, knowing of the existence of this feeling might take advantage of it for the purpose of enabling him to live in idleness and mischief. This was the problem to be solved, and he could tell them that declamation about the constitutional privileges 591 of Englishmen would not answer the purpose. But it was asked, if relief was to be granted as a boon? He answered, that he would give relief, because it was for the interest of the community that it should be given. And he would give it in that way in which the interests of the community demanded that it should be administered. He was not to be turned from his course by any outcry about constitutional liberty, or declamation about rights and liberties. But then he was met by the cry of the three kings of Somerset House. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) said, that he would oppose the new Poor-law if it were only from having read the report of Mr. Mott. In other words, because a person employed to pursue an inquiry makes a report which does not please the hon. Member, he will oppose the continuance of the commission. Now, that to him appeared a very inadequate reason. What was the object of that commission? Having determined the mode in which relief should be administered, the question was, how the machinery could be contrived so as to answer the objects in view. It was found, that the boards of guardians were liable to local influence, which might operate mischievously. That was shown to be the case during the agrarian disturbances in 1839. Therefore, those who took a more accurate view of the matter than the hon. Member for Knaresborough, thought it necessary, however painful it might sound to the ears of some hon. Gentlemen, that a central power should be instituted, a word which some were fond of cavilling at under the word "centralisation," fancying that they had hit upon an abstract term. That was the whole reason for the creation of the Poor-law commission. He confessed, that it might be better to place the power in other hands. He would not deny, that he should prefer placing it in the hands of the Secretary of State; but was he, on that account, to quarrel with the system? He wanted an answer to his question: how the state is to grant relief to the industrious poor, having regard not only to the poor themselves, but also to the interests of the community. He wished somebody to explain to him how they were to provide for the industrious poor, and at the same time not to make their position more agreeable than that of the honest independent labourer, so as to create a desire 592 in the poor to support themselves by independent labour; and, whilst they discouraged idleness, paying, in the administration of relief, the greatest attention to the feelings of the aged poor. Such a measure, he maintained, would not in any degree militate against the principle of the new poor laws. That being his view of the measure, he was now prepared to vote for that commission by which its permanence was to be secured. The only quarrel which he had with the late Administration, with respect to this law, was that they had put off from year to year its permanent establishment. Had he been at the head of that party he would have perilled his ministerial existence on that measure, and fearlessly incurred all the odium which he might have incurred in making that act the fixed law of the land. Knowing, as he did, the feeling of those at the head of the party on the other side of the House, he should have confidently reckoned on their support. The outcry had not been raised by the industrious poor. It had been got up for petty purposes; each parish had its little junta who had cheated both the parish and the poor. These were destroyed by the new Poor-law, and were of course interested in its abolition. Under these circumstances, believing that it had been productive of the greatest advantage to the industrious poor, whatever might be the outcry out of doors, whatever might be the feeling of those who pretended to guide popularity, he was fully prepared to take his share of the responsibility, and to vote for the permanent continuance of this measure, which he believed to be both generous and humane.
§ Sir R. Peel
said he must first address himself to the appeal of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who had expressed a hope that her Majesty's Government would signify their acquiescence in a proposal made from the other side of the House, with respect to the postponement of the bill for a renewal of the Poor-law Commission. It was not in his power to hold out the least expectation of any such acquiescence. Her Majesty's Government had laid before the House such measures as they believed best calculated for the public service, and they asked the House, after due deliberation, to pronounce an opinion on those measures. He admitted the support that her Majesty's Government had received in the course of the session. He admitted that the opposition had been throughout 593 a fair one. On that point he had no complaint to make, and he confessed that on that very circumstance he had founded his expectation that the Poor-law Bill would not be met by any merely factious opposition. He now hoped that if the sense of the House should be clearly manifested, that it was inconvenient thus to postpone the bill from year to year, hon. Gentlemen would then abstain from offering to the bill that species of opposition which lessened the time to be devoted to the public business, and which, after the sense of the majority had been duly and after full deliberation obtained, appeared to him to be at variance with their functions as legislators. He spoke sincerely when he said that he had full confidence in the good sense of the minority, that they would not, after the sense of the majority should have been manifested, obstruct the course of legislation by any factious opposition. Ample time had been given for the due consideration of the measure. Last year the proposal had been made that the commission should continue for five years. Obstruction was offered to that proposition, and a temporary annual act was passed. Now they had arrived at precisely the same point again. He would now draw the attention of the House to the subject of the petitions that had been presented on this question. He found, after a distinct notice had been given on the part of the leading men of both parties in that House, that they were disposed to acquiesce in a measure for the continuance of the Poor-law for five years, it being perfectly notorious to the whole country that the act would expire in July 1842—it being perfectly notorious that a proposition would be made in the course of the Session to continue the law—there had been only 108 petitions presented against the law, signed by not not more than 25,000 persons out of the whole population. He referred not to that petition with 3,000,000 signatures; but to those having express and direct reference to the subject of the Poor-law. Now, it was his conviction that if the deliberate opinion, nay, even the prejudices of the country, had been against this law, that more than that number of petitions, and more than that number of signatures would have been brought into that House. The hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke had contrasted his former conduct with his present, and had said that he was 594 suffering the infliction of the eloquence of hon. Members on account of his forbearing to declare positively his opinions on the subject. He must declare that infliction to be entirely unmerited on his part, as he should presently be able to show to the satisfaction of the hon. and learned Gentleman. No man had a right to misrepresent him, and to deceive the public on that point. The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked him why he did not compel all his party to agree. Why, it certainly was difficult to bring everybody into implicit acquiescence in every thing. During those years that he had had the honour of leading the Conservative party, he had received very strong proofs of their disposition to acquiesce in the advice which he had felt it his duty to submit to them. But he had never expected to exercise, nor indeed, was it reasonable he should so exercise a sort of censorship over their opinions upon the Poor-law: nor did he feel bound, if he discovered that any Gentleman entertained different opinions to his on that point, to remonstrate with him either in public or in private. He did not think the noble Lord opposite had been more successful with his party in that respect. He could not undertake to be responsible for the opinions which individual Gentlemen entertained with regard to the Poor-law—he could not undertake to remonstrate with them on the subject. He believed they would revolt against any such attempt on his part. And although he might occasionally be inconvenienced, he did not think that the interests of the country would be promoted by any such servile acquiescence. What indeed, could he do? The party was large. He had not time for private remonstrances with more than 300 Members. On all proper occasions, he signified his own opinion—he had done so in the present instance. In 1834, the Government brought forward the Poor-law. It afforded a tempting occasion to a dishonest politician to oppose them. But the Duke of Wellington and himself had given them a cordial support. He supported the Poor-law at the time when a great clamour was raised in the country against the measure. He thought that the Government acted a manly and honest part in bringing it forward, and he gave them what assistance he could. With regard to elections, he had never availed himself then of the prejudices on the sub- 595 ject of the Poor-law—he should have been ashamed of an advantage so gained. There was a general election in 1837. His own election took place at an early period, and the purport of his declaration must have been known before the county elections took place. His support of the Poor-law Bill was unpopular in the place be represented. On the hustings he was asked the question whether he would support the Poor-law, and to that question he would read his answer, and then ask the hon, and learned Gentleman and then House, whether it were possible for a public man and the leader of a party to make a more explicit declaration upon any subject whatever than he made on that occasion. He was interrupted on the hustings by a cry of, "Did you not support the New Poor-law?" His answer was this:—There is no question of public concern that I wish to shrink from replying to, and I therefore tell you plainly and above-board, that I did support the Poor-law. But I did not support it merely because it would have the effect of making a reduction in the amount of the rates paid by you; for that is the least benefit I think it confers on the country, but because the moral and social condition of the poor of this land has been for a long period becoming deteriorated and degraded, and because I wanted by the agency of that law to raise them again unto what they were in former times, a peasantry respectable in station, independent in feelings, and comfortable in Circumstances. These are the grounds on which J supported that measure. I supported it put of friendship for the poor, and for the purpose of improving their condition—for no Other reason whatever. If any of its enactments are found to be harsh, I did not make them, and I am ready to assent to their modification. But I believe, on the whole, that it is a bill calculated to elevate the social and moral condition of the poor of this country. It is therefore I have supported it—it is therefore it shall have my support.Could a declaration be clearer? There was another general election in 1841, and then it was tolerably extensively known, that by every vote on every division, he bad supported the Poor-law Bill in the course of the antecedent year. How could there be a doubt as to what his opinions were? He had spoken and voted in favour of the second reading of the bill. Certainly he had thought the term of five years preferable to that of ten, as originally proposed by the Government, and he had made some suggestions relative to the burial of paupers, and other points which her Ma- 596 jesty's Government had thought proper to adopt. He bad given his cordial support to the bill of last year; and one hon Member had told him that one of the reasons why he could not support his (Sir Robert Peel's) Government was, because he foresaw there would be no alteration in the Poor-law. On the hustings, then, in 1837, had he declared his adherence to the Poor-law, and again in 1841 had he supported it. He trusted he had now shown that there had been nothing in his recent conduct to give rise to a different impression, and that it was not his fault if persons chose to excite hopes in regard to the course which he was likely to pursue when in power. All he could do was to make explicit declarations, and with respect to the Poor-law his conduct had been in conformity with those declarations. He had supported, and he did support that law. He was surprised at the degree of forgetfulness which prevailed respecting the ancient enactments for the relief of the poor. The New Poor-law had been spoken of as depriving the poor of privileges they had enjoyed under the statute of Elizabeth. That declaration was founded in total ignorance and misconception of that law, and yet to this hour they heard constant assertions that there had been a violent invasion of the rights of the poor, as settled by the law of Elizabeth. He constantly heard the most warm panegyrics upon the 43rd of Elizabeth-that great charter of the poor, as it was called, and the most unfavourable contrasts drawn between that and the present law, It was worth while, for five minutes, to see in what respect the two laws differed and in what they corresponded. The hon. Gentle man must surely be unaware of the great similarity between the two. By the 43rd Elizabeth, the churchwardens and over-seers of each parish were empowered to raise weekly or otherwise, by taxation, a stock of flax, iron, and other materials upon which to set the poor at work, That was the absolute right of the able-bodied poor to relief. Take three classes—the able-bodied poor, the children, and the impotent—and compare the provisions of the two acts as regarded them. With respect to the able-bodied poor, there was no statutable right recognised that they should receive parish relief without performing work in return. Take the case of the impotent. By the 43rd Elizabeth, the churchwardens were to raise the necessary 597 sums for the relief of the impotent, the aged, the lame, and the blind. It was the same by the present law. Then with regard to children, the act of Elizabeth empowered the churchwardens to take children and apprentice them; males until the age of twenty-four, and females till the age of twenty-one. So little disposition was there in the act of Elizabeth to recognise this indefeasible right to relief, that even in the case of children it demanded an apprenticeship from them on the terms he had stated, and with no power on their parts to dissolve the engagement entered into by the overseers on their behalf. With respect to the aged, impotent, &c, the churchwardens were to build habitations for them on the waste. Thus poor-houses were provided, and out-door relief was not necessarily given by the act of Elizabeth. Observe the signal and conclusive proof of the intent of the law in the following provision:—Be it enacted, that the father and grandfather, and mother and grandmother of a pauper, and the children of the old and blind, and impotent persons, being of sufficient ability, shall, at their own charge, relieve and maintain every such poor person according to to the rate that shall be directed by the justices of the peace.These were most prudent enactments in the law of Elizabeth to prevent that indefeasible right to relief for which the hon. Member for Finsbury contended. He had thus contrasted the two statutes with respect to the three classes of able-bodied paupers, the lame and impotent, and the children, and he had shown, that there was no distinction between the old law and the present. What were the grounds on which he had given his vote for the present law? He believed, that the existence of the commission operated as a check upon local abuses. He repeated the opinion, that if they were unwise enough suddenly to abolish that commission, they would have no guarantee against a recurrence of the abuses which had prevailed under the old system. In proof that his apprehensions on that point were not groundless, he would refer to the report of that very union of Keighley, which had been already referred to. He had listened to the hon. Member's speech with. much attention, particularly the eloquent parts of it, where he had described the poor of Keighley as wandering among the green lanes in that neighbourhood, and 598 reposing on the side of the hill; but when he turned to the reality of the report, he found that the same hill was ornamented by a certain building used as a receptacle for the poor. The following was the description, as contained in the report relating to the Keighley Union:This building is a mere third-rate farmhouse of the seventeenth century, rented by the board of guardians as tenants-at-will of a Keighley charity. Being placed on a hill, and distant at least a mile from the town, it is not very easy of access, or (I suspect) very often visited by the guardians as a board. The situation, however, is (if otherwise inconvenient) unexceptionable for airiness and salubrity. I entered the house by a small kitchen, the master's, out of which opened a still smaller room, used as his bed-room, and also another kitchen, somewhat larger than the first, and appropriated for cooking purposes. It is also the dining-room for the women. Opening immediately out of this cooking-kitchen was a low room of (I should say) 94 by 17 feet, which serves both as a dining-room for the men and boys, and as a sleeping-room, and contains six very dirty-looking beds, at present occupied by fourteen individuals; viz., by an elderly man and his wife, in one double bed; by another elderly man in a single bed; and by eleven men and boys in the other four beds. Besides the beds, there were dining-tables, benches, half-a-dozen clothes-boxes, &c, lumbering about the room; and, (when I was there), six or seven men, women, and children sitting in it; each of these three rooms (whose collective length represents the whole length of the house), had a separate door into the yard. Passing up an indifferent staircase, I was introduced into a small bedroom, without ceiling, in which I found two elderly women sitting with the window shut, although the day was intensely hot. In this bed-room were four double beds, placed close together, and without any kind of partition or curtain intervening; two young and able-bodied married couples sleep in two of these beds; an elderly man and his wife in another; and the fourth is occupied by one of the women who was sitting there by her grown-up daughter, and by that daughter's two bastard children, four in all. Through this bed-room, there being no other way, I went into another unceiled bed-room, of similar size with the men's dining-room down stairs, viz., 24 by 17 feet; in it are nine beds, now tenanted by twenty-four women and children, and in one of the beds lay a young woman with her baby, who not only had been recently confined in that room (crowded as it is, and opening as it does out of another room, in which slept three men), but, being still ill, had to share her bed with another woman.That was the system which some Gentlemen sought to return to. He had been 599 asked to show why the people of England could not be trusted. The arguments put forth against him had been that the principle of the law was defective—that the rate-payers ought to be trusted—that the smaller the locality the greater the security against abuses—that the people of England ought to be trusted—that they would not tax themselves, and a great deal of similar trash. To these arguments he had directed himself, and he had said he thought a board of intelligent men, acting upon humane principles, did operate as a guarantee against abuse, a guarantee which could not be obtained if the separate localities were entrusted with the power in their own hands. Taking the document before him, let him contrast that advantage with the state of things in this very Keighley Union:—The chief abomination, however, was a wretched hovel immediately adjoining the dung-heap. This hovel, of about six feet square and six and a half feet high, yet with a small stove in it, though the window (if window it could be termed) was only a glazed slit in the wall, is used as a school-room; and, when I was there, contained the schoolmaster, (an old pauper), an unlucky boy, crying, in the corner, and a girl attempting to read, the door being, at the same time, shut, in order to keep the boy in; he and the other children being sadly addicted, as the matron said, to run out whenever they could—a circumstance not much to be wondered at. The two young married couples were out, the master and matron did not know where; but, as of discipline, classification, or industrial employment, the enforcement is absolutely impossible in Keighley poor-house, and as, in point of fact, it is an old parish poor-house, of the lowest grade, and nothing else, the egress or ingress of the inmates, upon any or no pretext, is, relatively, an affair of very little consequence. The arrangements at the Bingley poor-house differ but little, in their general aspect, from those at Keighley; but the Bingley house has two disadvantages from which the Keighley house is free—first, it is in the midst of the town, and of circumscribed area; secondly, it is part and parcel of a small gaol, there being no entrance to the gaol (which is merely a building added to the poor-house), but through the poor-house yard, the doors to both being within a few feet of each other. The bed rooms for males and females, at Bingley, are all intermixed;—one room, (though it can scarcely be called a room) is on the landing of the stairs, and just contains two beds, occupied by four women. There are also five other rooms, up stairs, opening into the same passage, and containing thirty-eight individuals, in eighteen beds; and when I visited the house, men and women were loitering about the several rooms, some sitting on 600 the beds, doing nothing, others (women) making the beds at five o'clock in the afternoon— one or two smoking, &c. The only access to one of the women's bed rooms (a kind of large closet, in which slept eight women and children) was through one of the men's bed rooms. Down stairs there were two small bed rooms, with worn-out lime floors; each of these small rooms contain two beds, appropriated to four people; and in one of them was an old woman, evidently dying. And that circumstance reminds me that, in both poor-houses, but especially at Keighley, the masters intimated to me that, when an inmate died, they were often compelled to let the corpse companion the living until it was buried.Let any one compare this state of things with that existing in workhouses regulated by the Poor-law commissioners. The hon. Gentleman says that the workhouse test was then in force, which accounted for the number of inmates in the house. That was an error; for the workhouse test had not then been applied. He would ask hon. Gentlemen, if these things existed—if it were true that the corpse shared the bed of the living until an opportunity for burial presented itself—whether they could point out an instance of any workhouse under the direction of the Poor-law commissioners in which such abominations were to be found? What was there to show him that he could safely trust to mere local superintendence, when such things existed? Observe, too, how long such a state of things might have existed if there had not been an inquiry! He believed, that, through the exertions of the commissioners, thousands of abuses had been detected and brought to light which before had been covered and concealed. Such abuses could not exist under the new law. In the former case the evil was silently endured; it was never brought out—it was as it were acquiesced in. But under the present law malpractices were brought to light, exposed, placed before the public, discussed and dealt with in every newspaper hostile to the New Poor-law; and in that fact there was security against abuse. The commission had prosecuted a most vigilant inquiry into the condition of the poor, and had thus given a new security for the honest operation of the law, and had operated as a material and important check against abuse. He thought that the hon. Member, instead of his eloquent description of the hills and lanes about Keighley, instead of this "babbling about green fields," would have spent his time to 601 better purpose in investigating this poor-house, and in making the earliest representations to the Poor-law commissioners of its condition, and in inviting the attendance of an assistant-commissioner to aid the board of guardians in rectifying the evil. That would have effected more for promotion of the interest of the poor than entering upon a vigorous opposition to the law. He could not but believe from the declaration of the hon. Gentleman, from the earnestness and sincerity of his manner, that he was of most humane and considerate disposition; and surely these evils must have escaped his notice, although he was chairman of the board of guardians. He could not think, after the earnest and eloquent appeals of the hon. Gentleman to Christian charity, and his vivid exhortations to the House to respect the rights of the poor, but that the hon. Member must have been all his life under the impression that the poor of Keighley had been in the habit of passing their happy hours walking in the green lanes, and reposing upon the sides of the hill, and that he could not have been aware of these abominations in the workhouse. The same evils might exist in other unions, and it required for the present the vigilant superintendence of the Poor-law commissioners to bring such things under the notice of the local authorities and of the public. On these grounds he gave his support to the bill; not as he had said in 1837, in consideration of the expense that was saved, although he must say, that to take from the means of the industrious for the support of the idle, was an act of the grossest oppression, and necessarily tending to encourage in him to whom you give this unprofitable relief a habit of idleness, and tending to destroy in him that sense of self-dependence which must ever be the best security to the working classes for the reward of their honest industry. For these reasons he could not acquiesce in the present proposal. He believed the sense of the House to be in favour of the measure of her Majesty's Government, and to that measure he must steadily adhere. If the sense of the House should be fully declared by a division to be in favour of the present measure, he trusted the minority would take the usual course under such circumstances, protesting if they pleased against the decision, but still acquiescing it.
§ Mr. Ferrand
explained. Since the Poor-law had come into operation he had 602 refused to take the slightest step to carry it out. He had proved the reports unfounded—that Mr. Mott's report was unfounded; and he believed that the guardians and the rate-payers of Keighley would be able to clear themselves from the unjust aspersions that had been cast upon them.
thought, that nothing could be more unsatisfactory than the explanation given by the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand) also his conduct as chairman of the board of guardians of Keighley. The hon. Gentleman stated, that having an insuperable objection to the law, he had not thought it right to exercise any power in the administration of it. But it was certain, that the hon. Gentleman was entrusted with the management of the relief of the poor in the district in which such frightful abuses were proved to exist. That being the case, he wished to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he had in any way been checked or impeded by the commissioners in an attempt to remedy those abuses, or to prevent the continuance of them? Was it in consequence of any interference on the part of the commissioners that the Keighley workhouse had been allowed to remain in so atrocious and disgraceful a state? If there had been no interference of that sort, then he must say that he thought the hon. Gentleman would have better manifested his regard for the poor, if, instead of directing all his energy to a resistance of the law, he had applied himself to the remedy of abuses so flagrant and disgusting. The state of things at Keighley afforded, in his mind, a strong and convincing proof of the necessity of the continuance of some controlling, supervising power over the acts of the local authorities. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department (Sir James Graham), that the necessity for the maintenance of some such controlling power was greater than at any other time, now that the distress in the country was so extensive and general. If, as the right hon. Baronet stated, there were at this moment 1,200,000 in the receipt of parochial relief, nothing in his mind could more strongly show the absolute necessity of retaining some controlling power to direct the mode by which the relief should be afforded; because, when distress prevailed to this frightful degree, there could be no more miserable delusion, no more 603 fatal error, than to suppose that" it could be mitigated, or in any degree diminished, by a more lax administration of the law. He agreed with those who thought that the distress of the country demanded the most serious attention of Parliament; but at the same time he was persuaded that relief from that distress was not to be found in a lax administration of the law; On the Contrary, he believed that the existence of such extraordinary distress rendered it imperatively necessary that the utmost caution and discretion should be exercised in the mode of administering relief. He perfectly concurred, therefore, in all that had fallen from the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), as to the propriety and necessity of continuing the Poor-law commission. It was not his intention Upon that occasion to go into the general question of the administration of the Poor-law; but he could not help saying, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that, whilst he was ready to give all credit to the Government for the manner in which they had now come forward upon the subject-the manner in which they had pledged the credit of the Government to the maintenance of the sound and wise principles established in 1834—he still could not think that the answer given by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) to the hon. and learned Member's (Mr. Roebuck's) charge, was hot so complete as the right hon. Baronet seemed to flatter himself it Was. Undoubtedly the right hon. Baronet had never personally expressed any opinion hostile to the new law for the relief of the poor. There was no inconsistency in the language now held by the right hon. Baronet as compared with any that he had formerly used upon the same subject But looking back to a period of four or five years before the present Government came into office, and referring to what took place at that time, he could not help thinking that the right hon. Baronet, as the leader of a powerful party, did not take all the means that were in his power to discourage and to put down the agitation set on foot by his followers upon this subject of the poor-laws. He was aware that the right hon. Baronet could not be held answerable for the speeches and conduct of the whole of his followers; but, if he mistook not, at a recent election for Devonport, a gentleman very nearly connected with the right hon. Baronet 604 went so far as to say that he thought the continuance of the Poor-law would lead to an universal rebellion. He was aware that this was only an isolated instance, but he would still ask whether the countenance of the right hon. Baronet and of the Gentlemen associated with him in the Government had not been given, as a party, to candidates who came forward, at the late election, as avowed enemies of the Poor law, and rested their main hope of success upon the declaration of their hostility to it? With the views which the right hon. Baronet had always declared himself to entertain upon this subject, he certainly could not help thinking that he should have been at more pains to discourage the agitation, in the prosecution of which many of his followers were known to be active agents. He might apply the same remark to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whose inactivity in the repression of agitation against the measure was the more remarkable, as he had originally been a party to the introduction of it. Whilst office was yet only in prospect, neither the present Premier, nor the present Home Secretary had exhibited any disposition to repress an agitation which was directed against the then existing Government. Again, could any one, who remembered the former speeches of the right hon. Baronet, the Paymaster of the Forces, allow that right hon. Baronet, now, to take credit for having, always, been a discourager of the agitation against the Poor-laws. He would not say more upon the subject. Whatever had been the past conduct of the Gentlemen now in possession of office, he sincerely rejoiced in the course they how proposed to take, and promised them that they should have all the support in his power, in carrying this measure into effect.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
had not intended to address the House at all, nor would he have done so had he not been compelled by the imputations attempted to be cast upon him in the speech of the noble Lord who had just sat down. The hon. Member for Bath had also fallen into error, for he had always supported the general principle of the measure by his vote. He had, however, acted as an independent Member of the House, and had freely canvassed and oppossed some of its details, and on some of them he had had the misfortune to differ from his Friends around him, especially upon the question of out-door relief.
§ Mr. Darby
would, as be had always done, vote in favour of the principle of the bill, notwithstanding any insinuations Which might be thrown out against him. Those on his side of the House had been accused of agitating on the question of the Poor-laws, but he would say that there was quite as much agitation on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. and gallant Officer opposite (Captain Pechell) had accused him of being silent upon the question now, but he had only waited in order that the present Government might have an opportunity of communicating with the Poor-law commissioners, and to see what might be the nature of their proposition consequent upon it.
§ Captain Polhill
merely wished to state the reasons for the vote he was about to give, so that he might not hereafter be accused of inconsistency. He had hitherto generally voted against the measure, but on the present occasion he could not give his support to the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, and on this ground:—The principle of the bill had already been affirmed on two occasions, and he considered that it was unfair to the Government that they should now interpose any further delay. There would be plenty of opportunities of discussing details in committee; notices of many amendments had been given to be moved in committee, and, although, he now supported the bill, to several of those amendments he would give his support.
said, when his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. S. Crawford) moved that the bill be deferred for six months, he was taunted as having done something exceedingly incorrect, he being an Irishman; he was liable to the same taunt, even in a stronger degree, being not only an Irishman but an Irish representative: and the argument he intended to use in favour of the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury was, that the delay would be for the benefit of Ireland. He was in favour of that motion, because the Poor-law in Ireland was but an experiment. It was not rendered necessary in consequence of any abuses, it was wholly and entirely a new experiment. He opposed it, although he stood almost alone, but when it became law, he ceased all opposition, and tried to make it work as well as possible. He then said that a system of poor-laws was not suitable to Ireland, and he was sorry to say that his prophecy had nearly been verified already; 606 but when the rate came to fall generally upon the tenant, when the tax fell upon the farmers, it would be met with a spirit of resistance that would be fearful, he apprehended an insurrectionary movement more violent than any that had ever before occurred. As the interests of England were bound up with those of Ireland on the question, he wished to see the experiment in Ireland fully tried before they proceeded to legislate for any lengthened period for England. The conduct of the commissioners in Ireland had not given satisfaction—they were charged with not acting in the spirit of neutrality and fairness, which was a character they ought, if possible, Studiously to avoid gaining. He thought, as the Irish law must come under discussion next year, that there would be a great advantage in taking the discussion on both together; therefore he would give his vote for the motion of his hon. Friend.
§ Captain Pechell
would only trespass on the patience of the House for a few moments with reference to the statements of the right hon. Baronet the Paymaster of the Forces, and the hon. Member for East Sussex. Those hon. Members bad stated that they had supported the principle of this bill. He found that on the 22nd of March, 1841, when the question was discussed as to whether the commission should be extended to 1846, or should terminate in 1843, the right hon Baronet the Paymaster of the Forces, the Attorney-general, the hon. Member for East Sussex, and one of the present Lords of the Treasury, all voted for the limitation of commission to the shorter term of three years. He would still continue to pursue that course which he had hitherto taken with regard to this bill—a course which, he believed, was in consonance with the views of his constituents.
§ Lord Eliot
thought himself bound to protest against what he considered the very unfair attack which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the Irish Poor-law commissioners. He could bear his testimony to the zeal and integrity with which those commissioners had acted. Although the establishment of a Poor-law commission in that country was but an experiment, so far as it had been tried it had been eminently successful. It had been predicted that, when the workhouses in Ireland were opened, they would be crowded with able-bodied la- 607 bourers. It was now found, however, that there were very few able-bodied labourers in the workhouses, the great proportion of inmates being persons for whom such institutions were designed—the aged and infirm, women, and children. 100 workhouses had already been completed, and he believed the full number contemplated, 130, would be completed during the year. He could assure the House that the experiment had, so far, been successful beyond the expectations of the promoters of the measure. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had not exercised his influence to excite opposition to the Poor-law in Ireland; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would still exert that influence in restraining opposition and affording a fair trial to the measure.
§ Viscount Sandon
was desirous of explaining the grounds on which he intended to give his vote, lest his conduct might be open to some misconception. It was his opinion that it was desirable to confine the powers of the Poor-law commissioners within the narrowest possible limits. He thought that during the last two months the commissioners had evinced a disposition to reconsider and relax some of their most severe and extreme regulations — regulations which were wholly inapplicable to many districts of the country. He would like to see the commissioners continued in office for a short period longer, in order that an opportunity might be afforded of ascertaining whether they still continued to effect modifications in their former plans; and when he had seen the line of conduct they pursued, he would be ready to give an opinion as to whether they should be intrusted with the power for the term of five years. On this ground he thought that the commission might be continued for a year longer, in order that the House might be able to judge of the policy of adopting it as a permanent measure. He would, therefore, support the amendment of the hon. Member for Fins-bury.
§ Mr. Cobden
said, the hon. Member for Finsbury alluded to the distress which prevailed in the country, and observed that it demanded the consideration of the House. He wished to call the attention of her Majesty's Government, and of hon. Gentlemen who composed the majority in that House, to this fact—that, though the Session had continued for a period of nearly six months, they had not thought 608 proper to devote one evening to the consideration of the distress under which the country was suffering, with a view to adopt remedial measures. [Cries of "Divide" and "Question."] He would ask those hon. Members who appeared to be in such a reckless mood, whether this course was safe or honest? It appeared from the notices on the paper, that this Poor-law Bill would be met by a pertinacious opposition, which threatened to keep the measure in committee for some weeks; and what chance was there, he would ask, that during the short remaining portion of the Session they would be able to devote to the consideration of the distresses of the country that space of time which so important a subject demanded? He appealed more particularly to the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman took office with an understanding—nay, on a distinct promise—that he would propose a remedy for the distresses of the country. He would say, too, that as the right hon. Baronet was aware of the sufferings under which the country laboured when he accepted the responsible office of Prime Minister, and as he had turned out other Ministers who did propose measures for alleviating the prevalent distress, it was the duty of the right hon. Baronet to attempt to prescribe some remedy for those sufferings. The right hon. Baronet had most distinctly said, that he would prescribe for the distress of the country when he had got his fee. Had the right hon. Baronet fulfilled this promise? [" Yes"] He wished hon. Gentlemen who said "Yes" would point out any particular measure proposed by Government which would relieve the distresses of the country. [An hon. Member:"The tariff."] He wished the hon. Member would point out a single article of the 750 comprised in the tariff, the proposed reduction of duty on which would afford any considerable advantage to the labouring classes. He need scarcely remind them that when the right hon. Baronet took office he met the House with a Speech from the Throne, in which special allusion was made to the unfortunate distress which prevailed in the country; and what had the right hon. Baronet since done to relieve the distress? What had been his subsequent proceedings? The right hon. Baronet had brought forward his measures, but had he told them that the tariff would relieve the dis- 609 tress of the country? Again he asked, what had the right hon. Baronet done? We had had, to be sure, the announcement of a begging letter from the Queen. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that it was not by party victories in that House that he could settle the affairs of this country. He received accounts daily of the distress that existed—a distress that was increasing every month. They might be told that the right hon. Baronet had not had time to consider his measures, or that the measures he had introduced had not yet had time to take effect; but the Government were well aware that since they took office there had been plenty of time to increase the distress of the country to an immense extent. In such a state of things he maintained that they were not in a position to enter upon the discussion of a question that might occupy three or four weeks; but that they ought at once to apply themselves to the state of the country and provide a remedy. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were, he believed, incredulous as to the real state of the country. But he would communicate to them the contents of some letters which he had that morning received from Stockport. He had written to the person there whom he considered to be the most competent to give him information, and he held in his hand that party's answer, dated yesterday. He had written to him to furnish him with the amount of poor-rates paid by some of the principal concerns in Stockport. He was in a situation to state to the House the amount paid by three rate-payers of Stockport, and when he stated those amounts he should have afforded the best answer to those who insinuated that the manufacturers did not pay their fair share towards the relief of the poor in their own localities. The first person on the list had paid 343l. 18s. 4d. in nine months towards the relief of the poor; the next concern on the list had paid 476l. 2s. 6d. in the same period; and the third had paid during the same time 288l. [An hon. Member: What is their rental?] That I admit is an important question; but probably hon. Gentlemen opposite would be unable to show that any landowner in the country paid at the same rate in proportion to his rental as this millowner did. Not even the Duke of Northumberland. The second concern he had referred to, which had paid 476l. in rates during nine 610 months from the 16th of June to the 25th of February last, was rated at 1,904l. He would proceed to read some further extracts from his correspondent's letter. He went on to say:—But the accounts I have given you up to the 25th of February are not so bad as what has occurred since. The returns of the last quarter are double, and, if things do not turn, we shall be eaten up by paupers. If this distress continues, the whole country must be in a state of insurrection, and all your standing army will not be enough to maintain peace. You may for a while shoot the people; but we are going on worse and worse. Another mill is likely to stop in a few days, and then 200 more hands will be thrown out of employment. We are quite alarmed at these signs of the times.["Name."] He had another letter, and as hon. Gentlemen were calling for the name, he would tell them upon whose authority he was about to make the next statement. The gentleman in question, Mr. Hamer Stansfield, was, no doubt, well known to many hon. Members. Out of the population of Leeds, it appeared that no less than 4,300 families were receiving relief, which, on an average of four and a-half to each family, would give 19,300 persons receiving relief; added to which there might be calculated to be at least 10,000 more who were in want of relief, but did not apply, because, having no settlement, they would be removed. There were, at present, 431 heads of families, or about 2,000 persons, under orders of removal, and in every branch of the factories men were being discharged weekly. From all parts he daily received similar accounts—from Manchester, from Leicester, from Bolton, and other places. And this distress was by no means confined to the manufacturing districts—it prevailed also as acutely in the agricultural districts. He would read the House the contents of a letter he had received from Beaminster, in Dorsetshire, which he had received about ten days ago. From that letter it appeared that there had been no less than twenty-five fires in that district, the majority of which were believed to have been incendiary fires, within the last three months. Being incredulous on the point, he wrote again to the party, and he received for answer that he might, without the fear of contradiction, state that as the number of fires that had occurred, that also there had been a number since, and that at least two-thirds of those fires were 611 the work of incendiaries. His correspondent went on to say that he enclosed a handbill that had just been issued—that two mills had just been fired, and that many of these fires had taken place in villages where the violent language of the Chartists had never been heard. His correspondent went on to say, that he only stated the effects, not the cause—the people were miserably poor, and every month they were growing more so. He had the handbill by which 100l. reward was offered, and as the particulars had been sent to the Home Office the Government were, no doubt, better acquainted with the facts than their supporters were. Now, he would venture to appeal to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, for he believed, with all the indifference of those who sat around him, that he was keenly alive to the importance of the subject, and he would ask the right hon. Baronet whether he was prepared to dismiss Parliament as he did last autumn, and allow the country to continue with such a prospect before it. He must say that he thought it would involve a peril which no Minister would risk. Whatever might be the feelings of the country now, when Parliament was prorogued, the feeling would become tenfold. Whatever lingering hope there might now be, would sink them into despair the moment that House ceased to sit. He therefore called upon the right hon. Baronet to say whether he intended to prorogue Parliament without entering upon the question of the distresses of the country, and without a specific assurance that they should be inquired into and some remedy applied. He sincerely hoped the right hon. Baronet would favour them with his views upon this subject.
§ Mr. S. Crawford
rose principally to notice the remarks made by the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, who said the working of the Poor-law in Ireland had been eminently successful. How could it be when the country was in such a state as it was in at this moment? The circumstances of the poor now were such that they could not be relieved in the poorhouses. They were in a state of starvation and no relief was administered to them. Application had been made to the commissioners, and their answer was that there were no means of relief, because the poorhouses were not yet in operation. The noble Lord said that the aged only were in the workhouses 612 —that was because there was no room for the able-bodied men. They had such a horror of the workhouse that they would rather starve than receive such relief. Upwards of 1,000,000l. sterling had been spent upon the poorhouses, and upwards of 50,000l. on the commission, and yet the people of Ireland got no effectual relief. The right hon. Baronet opposite, on a former evening, had impugned his right to take part in this question, because he was an Irish gentleman; but he apprehended that his experience of the insufficiency of the law in Ireland sufficiently entitled him to enter upon the question. The right hon. Baronet had also stated another reason why he should not be considered as an authority on this subject—that he represented a district where the New Poor-law had not been carried into effect. He admitted the fact, but the New Poor-law was on the point of being brought into operation there; it was hanging over the district like a sword suspended by a thread. He could not avoid expressing his regret at the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck). It was with the deepest concern that he had listened to a Member who on other occasions advocated the rights of the people speaking on this in advocacy of a law which violated the rights of the people, and placed the power over the community in the hands of individuals.
§ General Johnson
supported the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, and objected to the bill on the ground that it contained no provision against an undue increase of unions or for reducing the size of them.
§ Mr. Fielden moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Mr. Ferrand
hoped the motion would not be pressed, and he implored the hon. Member not to press the motion.
said, that he intended to vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. Being desirous of bettering the bill he would offer a fair opposition to it in its present shape, but when the opposition assumed so factious a character as the motion of the hon. Member for Oldham gave to it, a proceeding to which he would be no party, he should feel himself obliged, in the event of its being persevered in, to stay away from the debates 613 through fear of its being supposed that he would lead himself to a proceeding so derogatory to the character of the House.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that hon. Gentlemen were at perfect liberty to vote what way they pleased, and to stay away if they liked; but it was rather too much to accuse his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham of being actuated by factious motives because be merely moved the adjournment of the debate. His hon. Friend was anxious to address the House on Monday night, when it perhaps would be less important than at present; and he confessed he saw nothing factious or even unreasonable in his conduct, more particularly when he called to mind the protracted debates which took place upon the Irish registration question, and various other party questions in the course of last year. He cared not what might be said about faction | he had a duty to discharge to his constituents which he would endeavour to discharge. He defied any man to point out a single occasion where his vole could be said to have been influenced by factious motives. To the Poor-law he was opposed; to its principles he entertained the most unconquerable objection; and after the-speeches of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bath, he saw no reason or justice whatever in reproaching those who were anxious to see those speeches replied to with a factious intention. Let them have a full and fair discussion of the question by adjourning the debate. If the people were still to groan under the hardships and seventy of the Poor-law, the opponents of the present measure must submit; but he prayed the House not to show itself impatient- until they bad at least stated the reasons which induced them to vote against the measure.
§ Mr. Fielden
said, that he was anxious to address the House in answer to the Speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bath, but such was the noise in the House, when he moved the adjournment, that his voice Could not have been heard by the Speaker. Under these circumstances was it unreasonable or factious on his part to ask for an adjournment, after a debate of six hours? If the speech of the hon. and earned Member for Bath went unanswered, it might, On some future occasion, 614 be quoted and referred to by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department as "a speech of considerable ability." In his opinion it was a speech that might be easily torn to pieces, and he would prove himself capable of doing so if an opportunity were offered him; but he would not proceed to the task at twelve o'clock at night. The hon. and learned Member had shown that he knew nothing about the operation of the New Poor-law; for he had asked questions relating to the alterations in the mode of affording relief, that no man would have asked who was not as ignorant as an ass. In fact, the most manifest ignorance prevailed upon the subject, and, feeling that time ought to be taken to discuss and investigate it thoroughly, he would persevere in moving the adjournment of the debate.
§ The House divided on the question that the debate be adjourned:—For the adjournment 29; Against it 297. Majority 268.
|List of the AYES.|
|Bernal, Capt.||Murphy, F. S.|
|Brotherton, J.||Napier, Sir C|
|Callaghan, D.||O'Connell, D.|
|Cobden, R.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Collins, W,||O'Connell, J.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Dashwood, G. H.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Duke, Sir J.||Scholefield, J.|
|Duncan, G.||Turner, E.|
|Duncombe, T.||Wakley, T.|
|Dundas, A.||Wallace, R.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Williams, W.|
|Hill, Lord M.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Jervis, J.||Fielden, J.|
|Lawson, A.||Johnson, Gen.|
§ On the question being again put
§ Sir C. Napier moved that the Housed now adjourn, not from any factious opposition, but because of the manner in which the hon. Gentleman was interrupted who rose to address the House at half-pas eleven. The question was one which required a fair discussion.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, it should be remembered that the hon. Member for Oldham had given public notice of his intention to avail himself of all the forms of the House to delay the progress of this measure until the expiration of the annual law, which would take place on July 31. This would, perhaps, explain the impatience which had been exhibited by the House when the hon. Gentleman rose. He had given 615 notice of his intention to bring the tariff under the consideration of the House on Monday next, when it would pass through its final stage; but if such opposition were thrown in the way of public business, upon those who offered it must fall the responsibility of delaying the tariff. He should therefore propose, as there was no other alternative, to proceed to the adjourned debate on the Poor-law Bill on Monday, and postpone the consideration of the tariff to a future occasion, though he was satisfied that the author of the present motion would regret the delay occasioned to that important measure. He did not doubt the motive by which the hon. Gentleman professed himself to be influenced, but he hoped the House would remember the declaration made by the hon. Member for Oldham, and would do all in its power to prevent a practice from becoming a precedent which would prove so fatal to the character of the House and so destructive to the interests of the country, if one or two obstinate Members should, by means of the forms of the House, be able to obstruct the public business.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
hoped the House would have come to a decision on the question at an early part of the evening, but it should be remembered that the hon. Member for Oldham when he rose to speak to the question was met by a tremendous yell from the other side. The right hon. Baronet on a former occasion put a more favourable construction on the declaration of the hon. Member for Oldham by attributing it to momentary excitement, but he now appeared to think that it justified the impatience which was exhibited when the hon. Member for Oldham rose. Now, because opposition was offered to the Poor-law the tariff was to be postponed sine die. The right hon. Gentleman said, that those on his side of the House must bear the responsibility of delay, but he believed the country would say that the responsibility must lie upon the right hon. Baronet who had a large majority with which he could act as he pleased.
§ Motion for the House to adjourn, withdrawn.
§ Debate adjourned to Monday.