§ Mr. T. Duncombe
rose to move for—A select committee to inquire into the administration of relief to the poor in parishes incorporated under Gilbert's Act, or subject to the provisions of any local act, and to report whether it would be expedient or just to repeal those acts for the purposes of substituting in lieu thereof the Poor-law Amendment Act.
The proposition was so reasonable in itself that it would not require much time to impress upon the House the justice of acceding to it. To give effect to the prayer of the petitions which, on that evening and at various other times, he had presented upon this subject, he would take leave to call to the remembrance of the House the state of the question. When the New Poor-law Act was proposed in 1834, by Lord Althorp, great apprehensions I were entertained and expressed by several
Members lest the operation of the measure then about to be introduced should interfere with the unions established under Gilbert's and other local acts. The then Member for Marylebone (Sir S. Whalley) put the question to Lord Althorp, and asked whether it was intended that the bill should interfere with these acts. The answer given by his Lordship on the 17th of April, 1834, was as follows:—
As to the observation of the hon. Member for Marylebone, who hoped that the Commissioners would not interfere with parishes that were well regulated, he (Lord Althorp) had only to say that he hoped they would not. The only mode in which he trusted they would deal with such parishes would be by following their example. When a parish was really well-regulated, it need not entertain the slightest apprehension of interference on the part of the Commissioners.
This promise Lord Althorp fulfilled to the very letter; for, by the 32nd clause, though a power was given to the commissioners from time to time to dissolve, add to or take from any union, whether formed before or after the passing of the act, it was provided in a subsequent part of the clause that no such dissolution, alteration, or addition should take place or be made unless a majority of at least two-thirds of the guardians of such union should also concur therein. Here, then, was a solemn compact entered into by Parliament with respect to these unions which existed under local acts. If that compact had not been entered into, such was the opposition at that time offered to the measure, that Government would have found the greatest possible difficulty in passing it. That clause, however, neutralised the opposition to the bill, and as the law now stood, before any of the unions established under those local acts could be brought under the control of the Poor-law Commissioners, it was necessary to procure the assent of at least two-thirds of the guardians for that purpose. The Poor-law Commissioners had induced several unions to dissolve, and the majority of the guardians had given their consent to have the local acts repealed, but there was still a considerable number of unions established under local acts which were, as yet, by no means satisfied as to the alleged superiority of the working of the new system. What was now proposed to be done by the two measures which had lately been introduced to the House? It was proposed to grant to the Poor-law Commissioners a power to dissolve the Gilbert unions and other unions incorporated
under local acts without the consent of the guardians. That which by solemn compact was vested in the guardians, and which could not be taken away without the consent of a majority, amounting to two-thirds, was about to be wrested from them by force, and the unions dissolved at the will of the commissioners, by the new bill of the right hon. Baronet. It was true, when he questioned the right hon. Baronet as to whether this was the intention of the bill, the right hon. Gentleman made no answer as to what the Government intended to do. The right hon. Gentleman was silent upon the point, and contented himself by saying that it would be then inconvenient to enter into details, and then declined to answer. There were others, however, more communicative than the right hon. Gentleman, who were aware that it was the intention of the Government to grant to the commissioners power to dissolve these unions, and that a bill for the purpose would be brought in soon after Easter. If such was the intention, would it not be a gross breach of faith to violate a compact which had been entered into for the purpose of neutralizing a powerful opposition, and to do now, when the party was supposed to be weak, what the promoters of the law would not have dared to do when the act was in progress? There was another reason why the House should consent to adopt his motion. The fact was, that they were pledged to grant a hearing to the parties who petitioned on this occasion. When a committee sat upon the subject upstairs in 1838 several charges were made against these unions which he was informed were groundless, and he challenged the proof of them by the commissioners. The parties against whom the charges were made stated it as their opinion that they were put forward for the purpose of inducing the House to grant to the Poor-law Commissioners power to dissolve the unions. He, acting upon this information, moved that it should be an instruction to the committee to inquire into the alleged mismanagement in the Gilbert unions and others incorporated under local acts, and to report thereon to the House. The report, at page 418, stated that,—
Obstacles were raised on the part of the guardians to the dissolution of the unions, partly from adverse personal interests, and partly from the difficulty of convincing them of the general advantages of a change of system.
The report also stated that,—
Under Gilbert's Act the guardians receive
some 5l., some 10l., and some as much as 20l. each.
Now, this he was prepared to deny. There were 160 parishes in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and he denied that any of the guardians of the Gilbert unions had received one shilling. The report further stated,—
That many of the guardians were uncultivated and prejudiced persons—that they were unable to write their own names—that arguments of a general nature were totally unintelligible to them, and that they were guided in their proceedings by matters purely local.
Now, he was satisfied the agricultural Members of the House would agree with him in saying that this was a gross libel on those persons. So far from being unintelligent, they had very excellent ideas of their own interests, as well as of what was due to the poor; and they gave the best proof of their intelligence by preferring the system which would preserve the unions under their own government and control. In 1838 the House consented to institute an inquiry, and he stipulated that they should not confine the inquiry to Poor-law Commissioners and their assistants, but that practical men should be called in to furnish the committee with the information of which it stood so much in need. Of that committee Mr. Fazakerley was the chairman, and he told that gentleman that he had a list of persons whom he wished to have examined. That gentleman replied they should be examined, and added, that information should be given as to the time when it would be convenient for them to attend. The committee was overwhelmed with business— two or three Poor-law Commissioners were examined, but not one of the names in his list was called upon, though they were most anxious to give evidence. This, he conceived, was a gross breach of faith with regard to these parties. The reason given for this conduct was, that the unions under local acts interfered with, and were hostile to, the uniform operation of the new act. For his own part he liked them the better for that, as in his mind the new act was not quite so agreeable to the public as by any means to render its uniform operation desirable. He was authorised to state, on the part of these unions, that if a committee were granted, if a full and fair hearing were allowed, and if it could be shown that the operation of the new act possessed advantages over their system, they would consent to dissolve the unions. Could
any thing be more fair than that? Why would the House shrink from inquiry? Was it that it dreaded a comparison? He would read to the House an extract from a letter which he had received from the Rev. Mr. Bathurst, of Leeds, in which that gentleman most strongly urged investigation. His words were these:—
Such an inquiry we desire, and I hope we are not so unreasonable as to wish to maintain our system if the judgment of impartial and competent persons pronounces it, after careful investigation, to be decidedly inferior to that of the New Poor-law. The petition is sent to Mr. E. B. Denison for presentation, and it is hoped that he will be disposed to support your motion for a committee of inquiry.
He hoped he had now said enough to convince the House of the justice and expediency of his motion. He did not want to extend the inquiry over a very wide field, nor to investigate the whole of the Poor-law, but where unions founded upon the two different systems lay contiguously to each other, let both be compared, and it would soon be perceived which was the more humane, the more economical, and the more satisfactory in its operation. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for the committee.
§ Captain Pechell
seconded the motion with the most cordial satisfaction. The inquiry was asked for on two grounds— first, because charges of the grossest peculation and ignorance had been made by the commissioners against the guardians of the Gilbert unions. Those incorporations were spread over a great part of the country, especially in the counties of York and Sussex, and embraced a population of not less than 5,000,000 souls. It was most necessary that charges brought against the officers of those important bodies should be rebutted. Mr. Hall, the assistant-commissioner, in his report, stated that the opposition raised to the dissolution of those unions on the part of their guardians, arose partly from their adverse personal interests, and partly from the difficulty of convincing them of the advantages which would result from a change of system; and that the guardians in the rural districts were so ignorant that many of them were unable to write their own names. Now, in the county of Sussex, where there were two large incorporations, he would pledge himself that the guardians were of a very different description. In the nineteen parishes which 812 composed the East Preston Union the guardians represented property to the amount of 14,000l. a year, many of them being proprietors, and others renting farms of the value of from 500l. to 1,000l. a year. Mr. Hawley stated, that these incorporations still continued unsubjected to the provisions of the New Poor-law, and were of mischievous example to the newly formed unions. Now, every person must know that those unions were subjected to the provisions of the New Poor-law so far as was consistent with the operation of Gilbert's Act, though they were not subject to the uncontrolled influence of the Poor-law Commissioners. Was it, he would ask, of mischievous example to provide increased comforts to the old and decayed poor in the workhouse, who had probably seen better days? Was it of mischievous example that the guardians should exercise the power of considering the conduct and character of persons who applied for relief? Was it mischievous to allow the paupers to go to church on Sunday and hear divine service? Was it mischievous to allow them better and more wholesome diet, with beer, which article was expressly mentioned in the schedule to Gilbert's Act? If the guardians neglected their duty, was it mischievous that a mandamus should issue to compel them to observe the rules and regulations prescribed for the management of the incorporations? In these unions relief was allowed to be given without sending the poor man to the workhouse. Mr. Hawley again charged the guardians with having acted illegally in selling goods to the poor, but it turned out on inquiry that one of them was in the habit of laying in a stock of fuel, and allowing the poor to purchase it during the winter at half-price. Before a committee he could produce evidence which showed that that was the fact Assistant-commissioner Hall being asked,Were the guardians paid for their attendance under Gilbert's Act?" answered, "Within my experience they were almost all paid. I believe all." "Was the payment sufficient to be an object to a person in the situation of guardian?—Certainly. The majority of the guardians within my experience were persons to whom the salary was a considerable object." "What was the amount of the salaries?—They varied from 5l., 3l., to 30l. per annum.Now, the fact was, that the guardians under Gilbert's Act were under a penalty 813 of 5l. for non-attendance at their monthly meetings; so that a guardian might, under some peculiar circumstances, be liable to the payment of 60l. in one year. Mr. assistant-commissioner Power was asked before the committeee of 1838,Can you give the amount of rates in the Gilbert unions?—No, I cannot." "Are they more or less generally than in the Poor-law union?—-They would be much less than in some Poor-law unions that are now existing in other parts of the country, as compared with the population." "Have you heard of any complaints from the ratepayers in the Gilbert unions?—No, I have not." "Have you heard any complaints from the labouring poor?—No." You say that the expense of Gilbert unions is probably less than in some of the unions under the Poor-law Act?—Yes, I have no doubt that it is, in proportion to the population." "What was the nature of the objections which the guardians of the Gilbert unions raised to being put under the New Poor-law?—In the first place they entertained a considerable distrust of the value of the amendments. I think also their unwillingness to dissolve has been very much increased by the better management, and a considerable reduction of rates, which has been effected by them within the last three or four years. I think they have an increased confidence in their own management, and they do not know, and it is very difficult to explain to them, the value and advantages of the change proposed to be introduced.
§ Mr. Richard Hall,
assistant-commissioner, in answer to a question, saysThat in some of the Gilbert unions the rates are lower. In those Gilbert unions which afterwards formed the Lutterworth Union I found the rates lower than in the adjoining union of Market Harborough, where there had been no Gilbert unions.Mr. Pilkington, at a meeting at Worthing, July, 1835, assured the meeting that the commissioners had no other object in view in wishing for a dissolution but their benefit; that they had doubts as to the powers of the guardians in the case of able-bodied paupers, as in Norfolk a doubt was entertained, and the question had been much mooted; and but for this doubt the commissioners had no desire to interfere, their wish being merely to strengthen the hands of the guardians, and that, if all parishes were as well managed as Worthing, there would not be any occasion for commissioners or assistants. The present motion extended also to an inquiry into the administration of parishes under local acts; and he might cite the example of Brighton in proof of 814 the excellent manner in which they were managed. The expenditure by guardians under local acts for ten years from 1830 was as follows:—From 1830 to 1834, 121,288l.; from 1835 to 1839,100,121l.; showing a decrease of 21,167l. The county-rate for the first five years was 8,906l., for the second five years 13,906l., showing an increase of county-rate of 5,000l. The weekly average of inmates maintained in workhouses for the first five years was 343, for the second five years 401, showing an increase of weekly average for the last five years of fifty-eight. No better proof could be had of the prudence with which the affairs of such parishes were managed than the provision inserted in the act of last Session, that the commissioners should not have power to enact rules and regulations for the parishes under those acts.
The question having been put,
§ Sir J. Graham
said, his parliamentary experience had informed him long ago that no motion was so specious or attractive as one for a committee of inquiry, and also that it was one frequently very convenient for the executive Government. If it were consistent with his sense of duty to acquiesce in the present motion, he knew no occasion on which the latter part of the proposition would be more true. The committee, if granted, would not terminate in the present Session, and probably not in the next, and nothing would be more easy or more convenient than for the Government, under the shelter of an interminable committee, to propose a short bill towards the end of the present Session to continue the Poor-law Commission for one year more. But he did not think it his duty to acquiesce in any such proposal. On the part of her Majesty's Government he should, as soon after Easter as the state of the public business permitted, offer to the House, as he had already stated, not a measure for the superseding of the powers of the commissioners, but a bill embodying such emendations of the law as experience would seem to justify and render desirable. He had already refused to state by piecemeal what was the extent or character of the alterations he intended to propose. He thought such a course would be, on many accounts, exceedingly inconvenient, and he must, despite the temptation now offered him, continue to adhere to his original opinion, that it would be most unsatisfactory to 815 discuss the principles of so great and important a measure upon every question or motion that was raised relating to it. He submitted, that this was not the time or opportunity to enter upon such a discussion, and therefore he must decline to follow the hon. Gentlemen who had just sat down in the arguments they had used with regard to the measure. At the same time there were some remarks which had fallen from those hon. Members which he could not but feel it his duty to notice. The hon. Mover had read a report of an isolated passage in a speech delivered by Lord Althorp, which he interpreted to contain a pledge that the Gilbert unions should not be touched. Now, he had been a Member of the Cabinet which introduced the Poor-law Amendment Act —he had been a party to that measure— had been fully cognizant of all the points considered in connexion with it prior to its being submitted to Parliament, and he could distinctly state, that in the first draught of the bill the repeal of the Gilbert unions was introduced. Subsequent modifications had taken place, but still, although a direct repeal had been avoided, yet, looking at the 15th clause of the bill, which placed the administration of relief under the control of the commissioners, and comparing it with the 52nd clause, which gave the commissioners the powerBy such rules, orders, and regulations, as they thought fit, to declare to what extent, and for what period, the relief to be given to able-bodied persons in any particular parish or union may be administered out of the workhouse of such parish or union.(These were the words of the clause)— looking at, and comparing those two clauses, and then applying to them the interpretation clause, which defined what a union was, he must say, that if it had not been for the authority of the late Attorney-general, now Lord Campbell, he should certainly have thought that the bill, as it now stood, did go very far to repeal the unions formed under Gilbert's Act. The opinion of Lord Campbell, however, on the subject, rendered it quite clear, that the repeal was incomplete, and that it was still open to Parliament to discuss the question whether such repeal should take place or not. Now, the hon. Gentlemen opposite had referred to the great number of persons affected by these unions, and had stated that there were no less than 3,000,000 people living under Gilbert's 816 Act, and other local acts of the same character. Conjointly this was quite true, but he would beg the House to look at the question in another point of view. Since the Poor-law Amendment Act had passed no less than fifty-five Gilbert unions had voluntarily agreed to dissolve themselves, and come under the operation of the general Poor-law. Those fifty-five unions contained 715 parishes, and it was a remarkable circumstance, that at the time when they came under the operation of the new system they owed a debt of 39,000l., of which they had since paid off nearly 20,000l., or not less than one-half. When the hon. Gentleman, too, had spoken of these 3,000,000 of people, he should have borne in mind that the number of persons living under the operation of the Gilbert unions was by no means so great. As he had already said, fifty-five Gilbert unions had joined the general system. There now remained only twelve Gilbert unions, distributed in nine counties out of the fifty-two in England and Wales. Those twelve unions contained 349 parishes, and 156,000 persons.
§ Captain Pechell
had referred to the number of persons living in unions under Gilbert's Act and local acts conjointly.
§ Sir J. Graham
was now discriminating between the Gilbert unions and the unions formed under local acts; and under the former, as he before said, there were only 156,000 persons. He had spoken of the large amount by which the fifty-five unions had reduced their debt; now let him look to the other side. The twelve unions which remained owed, when the Poor-law Amendment Act passed, a debt of 4,457l. They had since paid off 1,400l., that was to say, that whilst those unions which had dissolved themselves had paid off one-half the amount they owed, the twelve which remained had only paid off one-fifth. So much for the management under these unions. But the hon. Gentlemen opposite had very contemptuously referred to the geographical difficulties; had spoken of the way in which country gentlemen were gulled; and had held up the commissioners' map to the ridicule of the House. Now, he might, perhaps, be allowed to tell the hon. Member, that in consequence of the geographical difficulties thus lightly adverted to, there were parishes in England containing 250,000 inhabitants, who were entirely cut off from all Poor-law management whatever. He, perhaps, 817 could not illustrate the inconveniences of the existing system better than by referring to the fact that those parishes were unable to take advantage of the provisions of that admirable law which passed the House last year—the Vaccination Act. He believed that that act had given every satisfaction, and he could state on the best authority that its provisions had worked most admirably, especially in the metropolitan districts. He was enabled to state, on the authority of Mr. Farr, whose name was known in connexion with the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, that in the metropolis, during the first quarter of the last year, 608 children died of the small-pox. In the next quarter, ending the 3rd of July, which was subsequent to the passing of the act, 252 only had died. Up to October, the third quarter, 128 died; and in the quarter ending the 1st of January, 1842, the number was further reduced to sixty-eight. That was to say, that whilst within the quarter previous to the passing of the act 605 children had died of small-pox, in the third quarter, after the bill came into operation, the number had been reduced to sixty-eight. Now, he only wished the House to look at the hardship upon those who were excluded from the operation of the act—who were unable to take advantage of the provisions of this most salutary law. The hon. Member for Brighton praised the exemplary management under the system in operation in the town he represented. He, however, had seen in the public papers reports of certain acts done, and statements of the way in which the poor-rates of the town were expended, which, if he was required to state a case of abuse, he should certainly consider very fair matter for illustration and comment. He would take leave to ask the Hon. Member if he had never heard of the appropriation of a part of the poor-rates to the hire of a court dress for some parish functionary who desired to be particularly gay in honour of the birth of the Princess Royal? [Captain Pechell: That money was spent out of the constables' rate.] Had the Hon. Member never heard of a summer-house being built in the workhouse garden out of the public money? Had he never heard of a costly stock of wines laid in, of a large bill for cigars, all paid for out of the poor-rate of the town? There were statements to this effect afloat, and they certainly did not show very good 818 management. But he would not trespass on the time of the House any further. At the proper period, when her Majesty's Government brought forward their proposition, whatever it might be, with regard to the general question, or with regard to the unions under Gilbert's Act or any other local acts,' then would be the time for him to enter into a discussion of these subjects; and he could assure the House that he should not shrink from the task. As far as regarded the question now under consideration, he did not consider that this was a proper time to discuss it, and he would, therefore, at once say, that he should give it his decided opposition.
§ Captain Pechell
rose to explain. When he stated the number of persons living under the operation of Gilbert's Act and local acts, he had spoken of those acts conjointly, and he believed he had correctly represented the numbers. With regard to the abuses said to exist at Brighton, he could tell the right hon. Baronet that the vestry had put down those abuses, all of which, he believed, took place some time ago. Whenever such abuses were discovered in Brighton, the voice of the people was sure to correct them, and they did not require any interference on the part of commissioners to put an end to such practices.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, the incident of the court dress of which he had spoken occurred not more than twelve months since.
§ Mr. Wakley
was quite ready to admit that this was not the proper time to enter into a general discussion as to the Poor-law, nor as to the merits or demerits of the administration of relief, either under Gilbert's or local acts of Parliament. The simple question they had to discuss was, whether or not the Gilbert unions were to maintain their integrity if it was the disposition of the parishioners to retain them. The right hon. Baronet opposite had gone back to the origin of the Poor-law Amendment Act, and had made a statement as to the intentions of the Government at the time of its passing, with regard to which he (Mr. Wakley) would only say that he was exceedingly glad the Government had not had the opportunity of carrying their views into effect, and that he only wished more disagreeable points had been struck out of that hideous measure. But in his opinion it was not by any means necessary to go so far back as to Lord Althorps declaration in 1834. They had something 819 more recent to refer to. In the course of last Session there had been a discussion on this subject. Since that time there had been a change of administration, and he did not now see many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in their places who had taken part in the previous discussions. Probably it was not convenient for them to attend. Certainly he was not sorry to see that they were scared away by their own measures, and he hoped many of the public would be scared by them too. But, as he had said before, this question was discussed last year. It was discussed on the 3rd clause of the bill coming under consideration. He did not now see the learned Attorney-general in his place, but he should take the liberty, even in his absence, to refer to what he had then said. He would also briefly quote what had been said by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government as well as a few observations which fell from the noble Lord the Member for London. First, as to the opinions of the Attorney-general— and here he might observe, that he was sure that hon. Gentleman had not changed his opinions with his change of position in that House. The integrity of his principles were too well known to give rise to any supposition that with an alteration of circumstances there would be any alteration in his opinions. The learned Attorney-general had said,There was no injustice in saying, that a board of guardians should not be imposed where one already existed; but these boards Were superseded by uniting the several parishes into unions. What was done with reference to the Reform Bill and the Municipal Bill? In the former, a clause was inserted, repealing every charter, statute, and act standing in the way of that bill. A clause to the same effect was introduced into the Municipal Bill. Was this course adopted in the Poor-law Bill? No, and he was not surprised at it. When the Poor-law Amendment Bill was passed, it was the general understanding in the House, that all local acts should not be interfered with, but should remain in due force. He had endeavoured to obtain some precise and exact information with reference to that declaration, and had searched in the usual channels of information. He had not been able to find any distinct statement which fell from Lord Althorp, but certain expressions that fell from the noble Lord during the discussion, justified the House in believing that parishes then under the control of local acts of Parliament, and local hoards of guardians, were not to be brought under the operation of the Poor-law Bill, and Were not to be interfered with by the Poor-law 820 Commissioners. It was worthy of remark, that both the Reform Bill and Municipal Bill repealed all those acts which stood in the way of the operation of those measures. It was never intended by Parliament, that between 300 and 400 acts of the Legislature should exist by the sufferance and caprice of the Poor-law Commissioners. It was ridiculous to suppose, that such an idea was ever contemplated. If it were the intention of the noble Lord to make the House believe that the Poor-law Commissioners did not intend to repeal the local acts under which so many parishes were now governed, it was his duty to say so, more explicitly, and in less ambiguous language than that contained in the third clause of the bill.That was the language of the present Attorney-general, and what language, he would ask, could be stronger? The learned Attorney-general was followed by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth. He would not read the wholè of the right hon. Baronet's address, though it was, in every sense, a most excellent one. Here, however, was the concluding sentence of his speech:—He had always thought, that where there were immense masses of population well governed under local acts, it would not be found expedient to place them under the control of the commissioners.The noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool, had used a similar expression. He said, that—He hoped the large parishes, not already under the Poor-law Commissioners, would be allowed to remain as they were.But what was said besides this? He would now call the attention of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) to what had been said by the noble Lord, the Member for London. The noble Lord had said,—The purport of the clause was, that so far as that act was concerned, no further interference should occur than that which had taken place under the general act. That was what the clause professed and did. He could not see any ambiguity in the clause. It stated most explicitly, that the present act should not interfere with any local acts that might exist.At that time, the House would recollect the Whigs meant to leave Gilbert's and the local acts untouched. Since then, there had been a change of Ministry—a change which had been, to a great extent, occasioned by what he could not forbear styling the very objectionable conduct of 821 the party in office, with respect to this very measure. He (Mr. Wakley) had expected and hoped, that in consequence of that change in the Administration, there would have been a change for the better with regard to this measure. He had hoped, that its asperities would have been softened, that its rigours would have been alleviated, that most, if not all, of its objectionable characteristics would have been removed. Well, there had been a change, and he had assisted to produce it. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Oh, but he did, and he candidly owned that he had not been sorry to see the change; but he now began to think that he had not acted very wisely. If the Government went on in this way, he should be obliged to betake himself to the bed of repentance. He must say, that their proceeding to-night was lamentable. He could not but see that those unions were sacrificed. Did the right hon. Baronet believe, that public feeling had so far abated, that he was entitled to act as he was acting? Did he think, that the Poor-law Amendment Act would give greater satisfaction under a Tory than under a Whig Administration? He bad hoped for changes, and he should have rejoiced to see them. But to return to the subject he was debating. He did say, that the understanding last Session, with regard to these Gilbert unions was, that they should not be touched—that the Commissioners' power should not be extended to them—that they should not be broken up, but should remain intact as long as the parishioners desired. Was not the present proceeding, then, most unfortunate in reference to public feeling? He had not seen the bill, and the right hon. Baronet opposite took precious good care that he should not see it. He did not approve of this secret policy. It was not a fair proceeding either towards the House or the country. They had been called on to vole a supply to the Crown. Now, it was the ancient policy of Parliament not to give a Government money, if they did not remedy abuses. The Poor-law Commission would expire in July next. What time, then, would the House have for giving the subject that consideration it deserved, when they were kept in total ignorance of the intentions of the Government? The right hon. Baronet had had the bill for a considerable time in preparation; the Government had had many months for taking a review of pub- 822 lic affairs; and, after all that had taken place with respect to the Poor-law Bill, he (Mr.. Wakley) had expected that this measure would have been the first proposed. Instead of this being the case, they were now in March, and they were ignorant of any one proposition or improvement that the new bill was to contain. He felt sure, that the right hon. Baronet, from what he knew of the public feeling in reference to local acts, would, if he meant to maintain them in their present force, be too gratified to make a declaration to that effect. The parishes of Marylebone; containing a population of 160,000, of Islington and St. Luke, containing a population of 60,000, and St. James and a variety of other parishes throughout the country, were all interested in this question, and he called on hon. Gentlemen opposite, who had assisted so nobly in fighting the battle of the people in reference to the Poor-law, to maintain their principles on the present occasion, to redeem their pledges, and uphold the high and dignified part which they pursued in the last Session of Parliament. He regretted not to see that energetic Gentleman, the hon. Member for Knaresborough, in his place. This was the time he should be there. This was the time they wanted such men to give their aid to the popular cause. It was of no use for them to make splendid speeches, if they were not ready to fight the battle when the contest took place. Before he sat down he entreated the right hon. Baronet, and, considering the state of public feeling with reference to local acts, perhaps the right hon. Baronet would not think he was acting unfairly in doing so—he entreated him, if it were his intention not in any way to infringe upon the powers of those acts, or to give the commissioners any further power over them, that he would give up a little portion of his secret, and state so to the House. This would give him most heartfelt satisfaction, because he knew, that at the existing moment the greatest excitement and discontent prevailed in reference to the present state of this question.
had heard the speech of the right hon. Baronet, the Home Secretary, and disagreed from him on two points. The right hon. Baronet said the present was not the time to discuss the merits of Gilbert unions. They came now before the House to seek inquiry; they 823 did not ask for it through the hands of the Poor-law commissioners, but through a committee of that House. It would seem, from what had been said, that the paupers of Brighton were better fed under the Gilbert unions than under the New Poor-law Act. Feeling that the present was not the time to discuss this important subject, he would not trouble the House with many observations; but he could not avoid expressing his satisfaction at the able and gallant manner in which the hon. Member for Finsbury had defended the rights of a large portion of the people of this country. He was also extremely glad that the hon. Member had brought this subject before the House, for he confessed that the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had not treated those who were interested in the preservation of Gilbert unions and other local acts with that courtesy which they deserved. This was the fourth time the hon. Baronet had been applied to, in order to explain his intentions with respect to Gilbert unions; and though it might be convenient in the Government to hold a dignified silence, that dignified silence was death to them. Those who were interested in the preservation of the Gilbert unions were quiet and unassuming. They did not wish to agitate the question, nor were they disposed to cry out before they were hurt; but should it be the policy of the Government to abolish those corporations, they were placed under the disadvantage of not knowing what the intentions of Government were. He feared the Government intended to keep them in perfect innocence of their intentions, and then fall upon them before they had time to resist. This was not a manly course. Moreover it was not a course which he expected to see pursued by a Conservative Government. He had heard the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) say, that previous inquiry was the best ground for legislation, and he therefore trusted, that if the right hon. Baronet refused this inquiry, he would also refuse to legislate on the subject, and leave the Gilbert unions alone. He trusted the hon. Member would press his motion to a division, and he, for one, would support him. He only wished the hon. Member had comprehended in his motion an inquiry into those Gilbert unions which had voluntarily dissolved, and he had no doubt that some secrets would come out that would aston- 824 ish hon. Members. If it was the intention of the right hon. Baronet to break up the Gilbert unions, he only hoped, in the name of common justice, they would not be condemned before they were tried.
Mr. Redhead Yorke
said, that if the right hon. Baronet had observed, that previous inquiry was necessary for legislation, he had also used the following remarkable and inauspicious words,— namely, that he would decline to give any explanation of his measure, to prevent adverse discussion. He thought, that the debate of that night, and particularly the speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury, could not be without advantage to the country; and the sincerity of speeches, uttered under adverse circumstances, would now be tested, when the parties who delivered them were, so to speak, in a happier condition. The point under discussion was, whether the House would allow a select committee to be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Gilbert unions. He could perfectly understand, that, as the right hon. Baronet had stated, there was a manifest advantage in an uniformity of system for the purpose of sound legislation; and if he could have the satisfaction of hearing that the measure intended to be proposed did comprehend within its principles a due consideration for that large class of society who were poor from the force and cruelty of circumstances, and not from any fault of their own, then he should willingly withdraw from any discussion, and patiently wait for the introduction of the Government measure; but as from the right hon. Baronet's silence he had nothing to hope, and everything to fear, he should content himself with saying, that if the hon. Member pressed his motion to a division, he should support it.
§ Mr. Liddell
expressed his surprise that the hon. Member for South Derbyshire, who desired that the Gilbert unions might not be condemned before they were tried, should condemn without hearing the Government. He entertained better hopes of the Government measure than the hon. Member for South Derbyshire, and, relying on those hopes, and recollecting what the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had said, respecting the inconvenience of a long protracted inquiry into the Gilbert unions, he might, admitting that inconvenience, very easily abstain from the vote he in- 825 tended to give in favour of the motion before the House. He felt strongly that the object of the present motion was one of inquiry, but it was one of principle— viz., whether or not those who had the management of the unions, should have an influential voice in the arrangements connected with them, or whether that authority should be delegated to others. He had seen much of the operation of the existing law; and he had seen instances where the greatest inconvenience, vexation, and grievance were inflicted, and he had himself, on one occasion, been most unsuccessful in endeavouring to obtain relief in a case which he had forwarded to the New Poor-law Commissioners. Though he was not prepared altogether to condemn the existing law, he had pledged himself not to relax in his efforts to obtain such mitigations of the severer clauses, and such modifications of the power of the commissioners as might render its operation more acceptable to the feelings of the community at large, and he was resolved, as long as he had a seat in that House, that he never would refuse a vote similar to that which he was about to give. The country, he was sure, would not misunderstand his vote, for the question was well comprehended. Although the speech he had just heard from the right hon. Baronet had given him considerable pain, yet he was willing to trust in the intentions of her Majesty's Ministers on this subject, and he hoped the country would not be disappointed. He must, however, vote in favour of the motion before the House.
§ Mr. Hardy
said, hon. Gentlemen opposed to the New Poor-law had been appealed to by the hon. Gentleman opposite, and he was proud to say, that he still retained the same aversion to this measure which he had always hitherto avowed. He admitted, that in some of the rural districts in the South of England the old law was not well administered, yet he was always of opinion that those evils might be remedied, without a total subversion of the then existing law. In a conversation which he had had at the period when the new law was introduced, he had told this to Lord Althorp; and he observed to his Lordship, that in the contemplated measure the relief of the ratepayers was too exclusively attended to; but no measure of the House, he said, would satisfy the country which did not make humane provisions for the relief of 826 the indigent poor. In the South of England, as he had acknowledged, evils existed in the administration of the old law, but in the north no complaints were made. In those parts the persons who sought relief had it administered to them in their own townships; the distance between them and the dispensors of charity was small; and what was given was given in a satisfactory way, and no one complained of the regulations observed. The hon. Member for Finsbury had said, that many Members of that House owed their seats to the opposition they had professed to the New Poor-law. He did not deny this —nay, he felt he should be unworthy a seat there did he hesitate to acknowledge such to be the fact. He had not used-opposition to the new Poor-law as a means of gaining popular support, but he had ever consistently held opinions adverse to the measure, and he had received his reward by a return to that House, for which he was grateful, and he felt convinced it was an honour he never should have received, had it not been for his opposition to this measure. It would, he thought, have given great satisfaction to the minds of many in that House if the right hon. Baronet had given some intimation of the course he intended to pursue with respect to this measure. He entertained a strong impression that in 1834, the bill was laid, on the Table of that House before Easter, in order to obtain the opinion of the magistracy and others likely to feel interested in the measure during that interval. In the present instance, he thought it would have been well had this plan been adopted, as by such a course the country would have had an opportunity of expressing either their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the plan which the Government were about to introduce. The question as to how outdoor relief was to be administered was most important, and any poor-law which failed in this respect would never give satisfaction. In order that the mode of administering out-door relief should be generally approved, it was necessary that the poor should be placed under local authority. They must receive relief from those to whom they were known, A poor lame creature, must not be obliged to hobble to a distance to receive relief which he ought to have nigh at hand. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had spoken of many of the Gilbert unions having been dissolved, but he thought that if further 827 inquiries were instituted, he would find that the unions thus dissolved had laboured under peculiar disadvantages; that they were separated at wide distances from one another; and on these accounts had been found inefficient. He had presented two petitions against this bill—one from Keighley, in Yorkshire, and the other from Bradford, signed by twenty-five out of twenty-eight of the guardians, in which the petitioners expressed themselves sensible of the evils of the present measure, and strongly urged on the Legislature the necessity of a change. He wished the right hon. Baronet had thought proper to disclose the alterations he proposed, and he felt sure that very extensive alterations would give satisfaction to many in the country, who had never regretted the way in which the rates were formerly applied.
Mr. S. Worthy
said, he must express his almost entire concurrence in the opinions of the hon. Member for Derbyshire (Mr. Colville), who had recently spoken. Still he could not join in those severe censures which had been cast upon the Government, for having declined to state the details of their intended measure. He very much doubted indeed the policy of having many measures on the Table at the same time. Those, however, who felt strongly against the Poor-law had surely a fair right to ask, that they should state their case before legislation was determined on. The presumption was, from the absence of any declaration to the contrary, that the Government meant to propose the extension of the law. Now, all that was asked, was the opportunity of bringing forward evidence of importance to a due understanding of the case. What was the argument against it? Merely that the local acts or Gilbert unions were defective in their working. He thought the local communities decidedly the best judges of this. He was strongly against a coercive extension of the law, in opposition to the wishes and feelings of parishes; and, as he believed the carrying of this motion could not at all prejudice the Government, he should vote in its favour.
§ Sir R. Peel
declared his conviction that it would soon be necessary for the House distinctly to decide whether they were inclined to maintain the principles of the Poor-law or to abandon them. And the sooner this question was decided the better would it be for the public interests; for there could be nothing so prejudicial as to 828 leave authorities exercising an unpopular power paralyzed by the prevalence of an impression throughout the country that Parliament were about to abandon the measure. And he must say he was very much surprised to find that of those who had composed the late Government, who had brought forward this law, and rested part of their fame on their support of it as a measure essential to the welfare of the country—that they should none of them, with one solitary exception (Mr. Tufnell), be present on the discussion of a most material motion affecting the integrity of the law itself. For himself, it was un-necessary to say that he was taking the course which on this question he had always pursued. He had never sought popularity by opposing the Poor-law. He had given his assent to the measure on general principles; he was perfectly prepared to listen to modifications which might diminish its severities, or remove just causes of complaint against its operation; but he had always felt, looking to the way in which the old law had been administered, that not merely for the promotion of economy, but for the general interests of the poor themselves, it was desirable that a material alteration should be established. Of this he was perfectly satisfied, that the measure could not be well administered with a general impression pervading the country of a disposition in the Legislature to disturb or to destroy the law. If the law were to he abandoned, let it he given up in a direct manner. To talk of a motion for inquiry as inconvenient to the Government, why it was directly the reverse. He should certainly have thought that there was ample information before the House on the subject of the Poor-law, without instituting a fresh parliamentary inquiry about the twelve Gilbert unions, which were scattered all over the country, obstructing the administration of the law. Surely the House could decide upon the subject with the information it at present possessed. His right hon. Friend intended to submit propositions on the subject of local acts (necessarily affecting also Gilbert acts) after Easter. Was not the House in a condition to decide whether it were fitting that twelve Poor-law jurisdictions should exist in the country, at variance with the general system? For what could the inquiry be instituted? To allow the guardians of unions to relieve themselves from charges? That was perfectly inde- 829 finite and unlimited. Admit one single union on any ground of charge, and how could all the rest be excluded? Every union would claim, and justly, this right of being heard, objecting naturally to a decision upon evidence respecting other unions. Where could this end? If the committee were appointed, then would it be said—" You must not go on with your bill pending the inquiry." The month of June arriving, numbers of Members, as was generally the case at the approach of hot weather, would be anxious to leave town, and the House would eventually acquiesce in a proposal for an annual Poor-law. His hon. Friend said that it was necessary to abandon the system of refusing outdoor relief, and he was no doubt prepared to vote on that subject at the present moment without inquiry. He was prepared to move an amendment, to the effect that the north should not be subjected to that system. But when a law was to be drawn up that definition would be found to be of too vague a character. [An hon. Member: "The manufacturing districts."] Not the north, but the manufacturing districts. Then that included the south, for in the south there were woollen manufactories; so that it would be necessary to amend the amendment of his hon. Friend, and not exclude the south, but make it refer to the manufacturing districts. Now, in common parlance, that was intelligible; but when they came to frame the law, it would, of course, be necessary to define what districts in the country should come under its operation; what districts should be subject to one part of the law, and what to the other; and about the 1st of July his hon. Friend might move for a committee, for the purpose of ascertaining what constituted the manufacturing districts of the country. The consequence of that inquiry would be the passing of temporary acts, whereby they would again not only be relieving the Government by committees of that House from their responsibility as a Government upon the subject, but be leaving the country in a state of uncertainty as to what the intentions of the House and the Legislature really were. It was asked why the Government did not bring forward their measure at once. He would ask in return, what encouragement had the Government met with to bring forward other measures than those already before the House, and which he attended night after night to discuss? It had been said the Government 830 should not lose a day in letting the country know what they meant to do respecting the Corn-laws and the finances of the country. He fully admitted the reasonabless of that observation, and it had been his desire to state in one speech what the intentions of the Government were upon those subjects; but he was compelled to wait until a committee of Ways and Means could be had. They had already spent sixteen nights in discussion upon the Corn-laws, and he had not been able to get further than the 9th clause of the bill yet. He did not object to the discussion of the measure, or deny the importance of discussing it; and, granting that the discussion had not been necessary or fruitless, of what advantage, let him ask, would it have been to have brought forward a bill upon the subject of the Poor-laws, seeing that after sixteen nights' discussion they had only got through nine clauses? In his financial measures no progress at all had been made. The whole attention of the country was naturally directed to these subjects, and he could not see what possible advantage was to be gained by laying before the House for several weeks before it could be duly considered or proceeded with a bill upon the subject of the Poor-laws. It was much the fashion in popular assemblies to call peremptorily for several measures, without reference to the position and circumstances of those who were to bring them forward. His principle, and he confessed, his wish was to take one measure, and go through with it. It really seemed as if this multiplicity of bills was to be urged for the purpose of preventing due attention to be directed to one. The consequence of introducing several measures at a time was, that they spent their time discussing them until the Session was so far advanced, that they could do nothing—a course by which, in his opinion, the character of the House of Commons for practical legislation was greatly impaired. Let them take one of these several great and important measures at a time, and while the discussion of it was yet fresh in their recollection, let them go through with it. Let them do that in preference to demanding for discussion eight or ten measures to which they could not possibly pay sufficient attention. From the opinion he had already expressed on the subject of the Poor-laws he had never varied. He gave his support, founded on that opinion, to an unpopular measure which was brought forward by the late Government. Previous to the 831 late elections, he again expressed himself distinctly upon the subject, stating that he still retained the opinion he was known to profess upon the general principle of the law. It was, therefore, impossible for any man to say that he had not always and consistently maintained the same opinion upon this subject. He thought too well of the House to believe, that it was not now competent to declare its opinion also— to declare whether twelve districts in the country might or might not be governed upon a different system from the rest, or whether by adopting the general system they would not very much facilitate the law in other places. The question was, would they adopt the Gilbert system as a general boon, or the Poor-law as a general boon, and that question the House was as competent to decide that night as they would be at the end of the Session. He, therefore, deprecated this committee as the worst course of proceeding that could possibly be pursued. His right hon. Friend would at the earliest period that was consistent with the proper consideration of the subject bring forward the measure of the Government with those modifications which he thought calculated to remedy any just ground of complaint, maintaining, at the same time, the general principle of the bill. If the House of Commons thought, that it should be altered they were in a condition to say so; but what he contended was, that the worst course which it was possible to pursue was, that of paralyzing the efforts of the Government and the Legislature by protracted inquiry—a course by which the unpopular duty to be performed would be rendered almost impossible of execution. Let them, if they thought the measure unjust, condemn it, or let them support it if they thought it deserved support, but let them not leave all in doubt as to their intentions, by inquiries which he thought could not be satisfactorily concluded within such a period as would enable them to legislate in the manner which the Government proposed, and were convinced was the most desirable.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
in reply, said, he had never considered this as a party question. He had taken the same view of it when the Whigs were in office, and it now gave him infinite pleasure to perceive that it would not be treated as a party question by the House, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite who had cried "Down with the bastiles," and proclaimed themselves the friends of the poor at the hustings, were 832 prepared to avail themselves of the opportunity now afforded them of redeeming the pledges they made upon that occasion. The right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department he knew very well would say, "This is premature; wait until you see my bill;" being a beautiful illustration of locking the stable door after the horse had been stolen. They were to wait until the Poor-law Commissioners locked up the chest, after they had stolen the charter. He was only surprised that the right hon. Baronet did not state, for all his arguments went that way, his intention of altering those Gilbert corporations which were to be under a different law. He asserted, that on the faith of an act of Parliament, those Gilbert corporations had a right to insist on being under a different law until they could get the consent of two-thirds of the guardian to an alteration. They had no right to interfere with the privileges which those corporations possessed. They avoided this position at the time the New Poor-law Bill was brought in, and now what they could not do by reason they wished to do by force, and thus make away with the charter of those corporations. He should like an inquiry to be made into the grounds upon which those individuals had been deluded and entrapped who had already yielded, for he was authorized to state by those unions that had been entrapped, that they were now fully conscious of their mistake. He hoped that the House would not allow the clause incorporating Gilbert unions to pass without giving the parties interested a fair hearing.
§ The House divided—Ayes 41; Noes 108:—Majority 67.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Henley, J. W.|
|Aldam, W.||Holdsworth, J.|
|Beckett, W.||Howard, H. H.|
|Berkeley, hon. H. F.||Johnson, General|
|Bernal, R.||Leader, J. T.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Liddell, hon. H. T.|
|Blewitt, R. J.||Morris, D.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Mundy, E. M.|
|Burroughes, H. N.||Napier, Sir C.|
|Colvile, C. R.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Duncan, G.||Ricardo, J. L.|
|Gill, T.||Rolleston, Col.|
|Gordon, Lord F.||Scholefield, J.|
|Grimsditch, T.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Tufnell, H.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||Vyvyan, Sir R. R.|
|Hardy, J.||Wakley, T.|
|Harford, S.||Williams, W.|
|Wortley, hon. J. S.||Duncombe, T.|
|Yorke. H. R.||Pechell, Capt.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Acland, T. D.||Hope, G. W.|
|Acton, Col.||Jermyn, Earl|
|Adderley, C. B.||Johnson, W. G.|
|Allix, J. P.||Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.|
|Astell, W.||Lawson, A.|
|Bailey, J.||Leicester, Earl of|
|Baillie, H. J.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Lockhart, W.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Lowtber, J. H.|
|Baskerville, T. B. M.||MacGeachy, F. A.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Mainwaring, T.|
|Berkeley, hon. C.||Marsham, Visct.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Martin, J.|
|Botfield, B.||Martin, C. W.|
|Broadley, H.||Masterman, J.|
|Brotherton, J.||Miles, P. W. S.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Miles, W.|
|Bruce, C. L. C.||Morgan, O.|
|Busfeild, W.||Mostyn, hn. E. M. L.|
|Cavendish, hon. C. C.||Murray, C. R. S.|
|Cavendish, hn. G. H.||Newry, Visct.|
|Chelsea, Visct.||Nicholl, rt. hon. J.|
|Chute, W. L. W.||O'Brien, A. S.|
|Clayton, R. R.||Packe, C. W.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.||Peel, J.|
|Collett, W. R.||Pringle, A.|
|Courtenay, Visct.||Pusey, P.|
|Cripps, W.||Rae, rt. hn. Sir W.|
|Damer, hon. Col.||Rashleigh, W.|
|Darby, G.||Reade, W. M.|
|Dawnay, hon. W. H.||Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Dowdeswell, W.||Russell, C.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Sandon, Visct.|
|Egerton, Sir P.||Scott, hon. F.|
|Ellice, E.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Emlyn, Visct.||Stuart, H.|
|Escott, B.||Strutt, E.|
|Evans, W.||Sutton, hon. H. M|
|Fitzroy, Capt.||Tancred H. W.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Tennent, J. E.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes||Thompson, Mr. Ald.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Tollemache, J.|
|Gordon, hon. Capt.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.||Winnington, Sir T. E.|
|Greene, T.||Wood, G. W.|
|Hale, R. B.||Wyndham, Col. C.|
|Hamilton, W. J.||Wynn. rt. hn. C. W. W.|
|Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.||Young, J.|
|Hepburn, Sir T. B.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||TELLERS.|
|Hodgson, R.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Holmes, hn. W. A'Ct.||Baring, H.|