HC Deb 11 May 1842 vol 63 cc427-54
Sir James Graham,

on rising to move for leave to bring in a bill "To continue the Poor law commission for a time to be limited, and for the further amendment of the laws relating to the poor in England," said, since the commencement of the present Session the attention of the House has been directed to various subjects involving the interests of almost every class in the community; and in the discussion of those subjects it necessarily has occurred, inasmuch as the nature of those subjects partook of a party character, that great party conflicts have taken place, that angry feelings have been excited, that animosities and adverse interests have been brought into collision, and naturally strong feelings of bitterness have been mingled with our debates; but with respect to the important subject which it is now my duty to bring under the consideration of the House, although it is most true that it involves the interest of a very numerous class in society, yet that class is the poor, the needy, and the destitute; no angry passions, therefore, need be excited in the discussion to which I now invite you. On the contrary, the subject appeals to the compassion and to the kindly feelings of every gentleman whom I address, and I hope the House will entertain it in the genuine spirit of charity, benevolence, and good will. Nothing which shall fall from me will, I trust be calculated to disturb that spirit which I am so anxious to see maintained upon this subject. It would be superfluous for me to enter into any lengthened or detailed description of the Poor-law, as it has long existed in this country. It is the distinguishing boast of our policy that from an early period of our history the law has made provision in every parish in England and Wales for the relief of the needy and the destitute, and has taken ample precaution that none should perish from want, and that the sick, the aged, and the infirm, should be visited in their affliction, and should not be suffered to languish or die from destitution and the want of care. From an early period of the reign of Elizabeth, until within a very recent period—within the last fourteen or fifteen years—no very material alteration occurred in the machinery for regulating this relief. Speaking generally, in each parish in England there was an annual appointment by the magistrates of overseers to whom the care of the poor was entrusted: and the sole control over them in the exercise of this power was vested in the magistrates. From the reign of Elizabeth until 1819, speaking generally, this was the machinery by which relief was administered. Under that arrangement the sum required for the relief of the poor progressively and rapidly in greater creased. From time to time the attention of the legislature was directed to the subject in consequence of the magnitude of the demand made upon the resources of the country; but little of a remedial nature was projected, and no change in the controlling power over the administration of this fund was attempted until the year 1819, when Mr. Sturges Bourne— whose name I cannot mention without offering that passing tribute of respect which is due to one who made an honest and successful effort to remedy a great public grievance. Until that year no effectual step was taken to change the hands to whom the administration of relief to the poor was entrusted. Mr. Sturges Bourne introduced a bill which became the law of the land, vesting, instead of in the hands of the overseers, in the hands of a select body called the select vestry, appointed by the magistracy, the power of administering relief. The exercise of that power still, however, continued under the exclusive control of the local magistracy. This measure was only partially adopted, and proved only a partial remedy for the growing and rapidly increasing evil of a constantly accumulating charge for the maintenance of the poor, and when I say the evil of an increased charge for the maintenance of the poor, I describe only a small portion of the evil; for, coincident with that increase, there had arisen a frightful system, quite inconsistent with the independence of the honest labourer. By various contrivances and expedients a system was introduced of eking out the amount of wages from the poor-rates, whereby the actual employer of the labourer evaded the exclusive burden of maintaining his workmen, by shifting it in a great measure from himself, and making others share the burden of maintaining the man who did not partake of the profit of his labour. So matters stood until 1831, when the Government of Lord Grey appointed a commission specially to inquire into the subject of the administration of relief to the poor, and into the extent and nature of the abuses to which I have shortly referred. That committee presented a report which will be in the recollection of all whom I have now the honour to address. I do not think I exaggerate at all the nature of that report when I state that no public document ever developed a system of more alarming evil, or of greater abuses, than is to be found in the evidence and report of that commission. At the time it was presented it commanded universal attention, and a direct remedy for such a serious evil—threatening, as it did, the property and peace of the community was generally demanded. The government of that day, upon considering the report, did not hesitate to endeavour to apply a remedy. They brought forward, on their own responsibility as a Government, a measure founded upon that report. After ample discussion, much debate, and full consideration, the measure, with some modifications which they introduced, was passed into a law. That law is now upon our statute-book; that is the law which, at the present time, regulates the relief of the poor in England and Wales. With the exception of one portion of that statute, its enactments are of a permanent character. Like every other law, those enactments are susceptible of alteration by a subsequent statute; but there is one portion of this enactment which is temporary in its nature, and it is to that portion that it becomes my duty first to direct the attention of the House; I allude, of course, to the provision which regulates and controls the local authorities by whom relief is administered in the various counties of England and Wales. It was thought expedient at the time the statute was passed into a law to limit the duration of the Poor-law commission to the period of five years, and until the end of the next Session of Parliament after the expiration of the five years. Two years ago, when that period of five years first expired, a bill was introduced by the then Government for the prolongation of the term of the commission. At that time it was thought inexpedient on account of circumstances to which it is unnecessary more particularly to advert to proceed to a full discussion of the measure so brought in, and a short continuing bill was introduced, and carried into a law. Last year a similar course was pursued, and the commission was prolonged until the 31st of July in the present year, when its powers will expire. The first subject, therefore, to which it is my duty to direct the attention of the House, is the question— whether it be expedient to prolong the existence of this commission, and, if expedient, for what length of time. It is, upon mature re- flection, the intention of her Majesty's servants to propose to the House that this commission shall be renewed for a period of five years, and also until the end of the next Session of Parliament after the expiration of the five years. This is the term originally enacted for its continuance, and no circumstances which have since intervened have shaken my belief in the slightest degree, that the existence and full authority of this commission is as requisite at the present time as when the original measure first became law. [Mr. Wakley: "Hear."] The hon. Member for Finsbury cheers. Perhaps he will allow me very shortly to state the reason why I entertain that opinion. I know that he is complaining of the law not being uniformly administered. I know it is contended that the professed object of this commission was to secure uniformity, as it is termed, in the mode of administering relief. I must be permitted to say, that I conceive that to be an entire misrepresentation of the motives with which the commission was appointed. I cannot so well express my own view of the reasons which justified the original appointment of that commission, and which in my opinion render its prolonged continuance necessary, as by quoting, if the House will allow me, the words of one who when this measure was introduced was my Colleague, and at that time filled the situation of first law officer of the Crown. The then Lord Chancellor, on behalf of the Government, stated in a speech of remarkable ability the views of Ministers in relation to this great question. I think the House will agree with me, that the passage I am about to read is remarkable for its perspicuity and accuracy. I do not know whether those who were then my Colleagues are prepared to adopt this as an exposition of their views in appointing the commission as fully as I do; but I confess that to my mind it does convey the exact reasons which then influenced the Government in supporting this part of the measure. Lord Brougham said— One part of this country may require one mode of treatment, another may require the application of different remedies; agricultural districts will stand in need of very different treatment from that which must be employed in the manufacturing and commercial places; nay, the circumstances of one agricultural parish may be so entirely different from those of another, even of one in its immediate vici- nity, as to render the same course of management inapplicable to both. I ask the House to listen to the words which follow:— One uniform inflexible rule, prescribed by a statute can never be applied to these various cases, and hence the operation must be performed by a discretionary power, lodged somewhere, that the hand which works may feel its way and vary its course according to the facilities or obstructions it may encounter. That, in my opinion, is a correct explanation of the reasons which led to the establishment of a commission with discretionary powers. I think the passage I have read gives a good historical and graphic account of what the commission has actually done, as well as a brief summary of what remains to be done, the very functions which Government contemplated as necessary to be performed by the commission; being, I believe, as necessary now, as when the bill passed, and that provision must be made for the discharge of those functions, if the efficiency of the plan is to be maintained. I have quoted Lord Brougham on this subject; I will now read to the House the opinion which was expressed on the same point by the Duke of Wellington:— I disapprove of a system of administration which differs in each and every one of 12,000 parishes in this country, and in each of which different and varied abuses have crept in. It is impossible for Parliament to frame any law that can remedy or apply to abuses which are as varied in their character as they are numerous. Hence it has become absolutely necessary that such an appointment as a central board of commissioners should be made, with power to control the whole of the parishes in the land, and to adopt such remedies as would secure a sane administration of the Poor-laws throughout the country. As the central board of commissioners must necessarily have extraordinary and very extensive powers, it would be proper that they should keep such a record of their proceedings as would render them liable at all times to the actual control of Government and of Parliament. I doubt much whether the provisions of this bill give such a control to the Government as will afford a fnll knowledge to the Parliament, at all times, of the course pursued by the commissioners; bat in committee on this bill I shall consider whether some alteration be not necessary to make that control more active. So far, therefore, from uniformity of practice under this law, being the object either of the law, or of the commission, to control its administration, I contend that this commission was at first appointed, and is still required to be continued, for two objects,—that it may secure diversity of operation where circumstances are different, and that it may prevent diversity of operation where the circumstances are identical. Nay, I go further; I say, that some such body is indispensably necessary, unless you can show that in all the varying circumstances of this great community one universal scheme of administering relief to the poor can be devised by the Legislature, applicable in all cases and under all circumstances, or unless you are prepared to show that some such discretionary power must be vested in some branch or other of the executive Governvernment. It is always dangerous to attempt definitions, but if I were to hazard one on this occasion, I should say that the principle of the present measure is this,— local administration, in conformity with the plan defined by law, placed in the hands of a mixed body, composed partly of persons chosen by the ratepayers, and partly of magistrates appointed by the Crown, checked and controlled by a central authority emanating from the Crown itself. This was the original scheme, and there has been nothing in the subsequent working of the plan to lead me to doubt the wisdom, the policy, or the necessity of the system. On the contrary, I say experience has demonstrated that necessity, and, believing it to be necessary, I certainly am most strenuously bent upon proposing to Parliament the continuance of the commission for the term which I have stated. Allow me just to ask, if you destroy this commission, what is your intention with reference to control over the administration of relief. Some gentlemen would say; "Go back to the old system." If you go back to the old system, you find, indeed, a local board, but in the whole history of the Poor-law you will find no period at which the local administration has been uncontrolled by authority. From the reign of Elizabeth, down to the time at which the great change now in operation was introduced, the local magistracy controlled the administration of relief? If you revert to that system, you must of necessity change the boards of guardians. Your boards of guardians are now composed, as I have stated, partly of a body elected by the ratepayers, and partly of magistrates, who uniformly and invariably are, ex officio members of the board. If you restore them to their control, they must cease to be members of the board; you must reconstitute the boards of guardians. If you change the form of the boards, you must change the unions, and, step by step, you will find it necessary to go back to that system which the act of 1834 terminated as intolerable; and, by reverting to that system, I am perfectly satisfied that all the abuses which were put an end to by the act, will be renewed in an aggravated form. I have already, perhaps, stated as fully as is proper on opening the measure, the reasons why I decidedly adhere to the opinion as to the necessity of a central commission. 1 have quoted the explanation given by Lord Brougham of the views which led to the appointment of such a body. I will now state the opinion he expressed with respect to the choice or rather the character of the persons who ought to compose that commission. He said, Show me a person whose opinions on party-matters differ widely from my own, and if he be a man of firm mind, of extensive experience as to the working of the Poor-law, of conciliatory manners, of sound discretion—if he be a man whom I can trust for his temper (one of the prime requisites in such a work), that mart I prefer before any of those with whom I agree in politics. Such was the rule laid down by Lord Brougham; and what was the practice of Lord Grey's Government? They selected a political opponent; they placed at the head of the commission Mr. Frankland Lewis, who at that time was opposed to the Government. And what has been the course taken by my right hon. Friend, now at the head of the Administration? A vacancy occurred in the commission since we acceded to power. Did we look for a political supporter to fill the office? No; adhering strictly to the rule laid down, we exercised an honest judgment as to the gentleman of greatest experience, possessing the requisites I have stated, and. we advised the Crown to exercise its patronage in conformity with the principles laid down; and the appointment made, I think the House will consider unexceptionable. I have thus endeavoured to show, first, the necessity for the law, and next, I have slightly touched upon the composition of the board. And I certainly think, that this body as now composed, appointed as it has been by two Governments differing in opinion, deserves to command the confidence of the House and the approbation of the people. No difficulty, therefore, I hope will arise with respect to the composition of the commission. I now pass on from the commission itself to the question of the number of the assistant-commissioners. On the first introduction of the scheme, from the novelty of its arrangements and the extent of the change proposed, it was found necessary, although nine was the number contemplated, to add considerably to the force of assistant-commissioners. I believe, that the number has amounted to thirteen or fourteen, but that number, during the last two years, has been reduced considerably; and at present only ten assistant-commissioners are employed. It is my intention, in the bill I am about to ask leave to introduce, to adhere to the original limit, and to fix nine as the number of assistant-commissioners for England and Wales. My view of the matter being, that considering the enlarged experience of the boards of guardians, their services are not so necessary for directing the proceedings of the guardians as when the law was just brought into operation—that their interference will be less frequent, and that they will assume rather the character of visitors for the purpose of prosecuting special inquiries than of officers appointed to direct the mode in which the law should be carried into operation. I will not dwell longer upon this part of the subject, but proceed to the next point which is one of considerable importance, — namely, the power of the commission to issue general rules. When the subject was last under discussion, I confess I had a strong opinion that the original enactment, requiring that general rules should be passed by the commissioners, subject to the veto of the Secretary of State, with a power reserved to the Crown in council of annulling those rules—had been evaded in spirit, if not in letter, by issuing special orders, and refraining from passing general rules. I think I expressed an opinion of that kind; but I am bound to say, that since I have had access to official information on the subject, I am quite satisfied that until the unions generally throughout England were formed, it would have been impossible with advantage to issue general orders; because, as each new union was formed, and came under the operation of the act, it would have been necessary to include i in a general order, which would have been attended with a revocation and re-issue of general orders, and must have produced the utmost possible inconvenience. Since I acceded to the office which I have now the honour to hold, the whole of England and Wales, speaking generally, having been brought under the operation of the original law, it did appear to me and to the commissioners that the time had arrived when general orders, touching all the principal points of Poor-law administration, should be issued in strict conformity with the original enactment; and the consequence is, that I shall to-night, with the permission of the House, lay on the Table the report of the Poor-law commissioners for the current year, to which there will be appended five or six general orders, embracing all the points of Poor-law administration, to which general orders have been, or could be directed. The first will apply to the internal government of workhouses; another will touch the prohibition of out-door relief; a third will relate to medical relief; a fourth will apply to the duties of paid officers; and, speaking generally, I am in a condition to say, that every subject has been exhausted in general orders, so that both the letter and the spirit of the original enactment has been carried into execution. If I obtain leave to introduce the bill, it will lay open to the House and to the country, in most minute detail, the whole of the regulations for the relief of the poor and destitute. Having adverted to general orders. I think it right to call the attention of the House and of the public to the illustration of what I have said. Not only is it the theory of the board of commissioners to vary the practice in different parts of the kingdom, but I will show in what way that theory has been practically executed. I do not know any topic on which I have heard more angry declamation than on the prohibition of out-door relief. In the first place, I beg leave to say, that what is called a prohibitory order has been issued only to a very small portion of the manufacturing districts, and even where it has been issued, the most discreet consideration was given from time to time to alter it, according to the varying circumstances of the labourers; but as much error exists, and the opinion is widely spread that outdoor relief has ceased to be allowed, and that the workhouse test is invariably applied with rigour and severity, I beg leave to state this simple fact:—In the quarter of the present year, ending 31st March, there were in England and Wales, I grieve to say, 1,072,000 receiving parish relief. Of this number what proportion, according to the official return, does the House think received relief within the workhouse? Only 159,000 were relieved in the workhouse, while no fewer than 913,860 were relieved out of the workhouse. But it may be said, that this arises from the great caution and foresight (powerful recommendations, by the way, of the mode in which these extensive powers have been administered) of those who have had the control of this matter; but I have had before me a very painful case, which was brought under my notice by the Poor-law commissioners within the last month. In the Stourbridge Union, great distress has recently existed, owing to the lowering of the rate of wages, and in that union a prohibitory order was in force. What was the conduct of the commissioners? The moment they ascertained from the report of the assistant commissioner what were the facts of the case, and that the distress arose from temporary causes, they issued a special order empowering the board of guardians to suspend the operation of the prohibitory order. Out-door relief was immediately afforded to the suffering population; the necessities of the poor were promptly met; their gratitude was great; the emergency was overcome, and the people have happily returned to their work, while all confusion has been avoided. On a former occasion it was said, that nothing could be so inflexible as the enforcement of the rule; but so far from that being the case, there are in the rule seven sections in which the boards of guardians have the power of suspending the prohibitory order without reference even to the commissioners. These exceptions are:— 1. Where such persons shall require relief on account of sudden and urgent necessity. 2. Where such person shall require relief on account of any sickness, accident, or bodily or mental infirmity affecting such persons, or any of his or her family. 3. Where such person shall require relief for the purpose of defraying the expenses, either wholly or in part, of the burial of any of his or her family. 4. Where such person, being a widow, shall be in the first six months of her widowhood. 5 Where such person shall be a widow and have a legitimate child or legitimate children dependent upon her, and incapable of earning his, her, or their livelihood, and no illegitimate child born after the commencement of her widowhood. 6. Where such person shall be confined in any gaol or place of safe custody. 7. Where the relief shall be required by the wife, child, or children of any ablebodied man who shall be in the service of her Majesty as a soldier, sailor, or marine. The hon. Member for Finsbury thinks there would be much greater convenience in local administration and control; but he has this local power already in the seven cases, which I have enumerated, without any reference to central authority, and dependent only on the will of the local administration. In all these seven cases relief may be administered by the board of guardians; and even in cases not so specific as those I have read, there is an article which enables the board of guardians in any particular instance to depart from any of the regulations in the prohibitory order, provided only that within fifteen days after such departure they shall report the same and the grounds thereof to the commissioners:— Art. 4. Provided always that in case the guardians of any of the said unions shall depart in any particular instance from any of the regulations hereinbefore contained, and shall within fifteen days after such departure, report the same and the grounds thereof to the Poor-law commissioners, and if the Poor-law commissioners shall approve of such departure then the relief granted in such particular instance shall, if otherwise lawful, not be deemed to be unlawful, or be subject to be disallowed. But I wish to state to the House that, in addition to the general order which I have just read, the Poor-law commissioners in certain of the manufacturing districts where they do not think it expedient to enforce the prohibitory order at the present time, have issued an out-door-labour order the regulations of which I will state to the House. The right hon. Baronet then read the following passages from the minute above referred to:— Art. 1 provides that half the relief is to be in kind, and that no ablebodied person shall receive relief whilst in employment for any other person, but shall be set to work by the guardians. Art. 2 makes it necessary for the guardians to report the mode of employment (such for instance, as stone-breaking, removing earth, picking oakum, or labour at a hand-mill), together with the place and time of work, and any other regulations, to the Poor-law com- missioners. This report must be made within fourteen days after the order comes into force, and the arrangements, if varied afterwards, must be reported in the same manner. With reference to the mode of payment, the commissioners think that it is always expedient to treat whatever is given as relief, and not as wages. Leaving the question of general orders, I now proceed to state that after the best consideration her Majesty's Government have been able to give the subject, they have come to the decision that it is expedient to abolish expressly and in terms what are called the Gilbert Unions. In a former discussion I stated to the House, that if, upon any point of law, I could presume to entertain a decided opinion, I did believe that the original enactment abolished the Gilbert unions. I am perfectly convinced that that was intended to be done; my belief is, that taking the clauses of the enactment together, that object was accomplished; but to prevent all mistakes on the subject, I shall, with the permission of the House, introduce a clause expressly and plainly abolishing those unions. Why do I propose this? In the first place I beg leave to state to the House that out of the community of nearly 16,000,000, the unions under the, Gilbert Act comprised a population not exceeding 155,000; and the inconvenience arising from the scattered localities of these Gilbert unions has increased to a very great degree. There are only fifteen Gilbert unions and three parishes, under the operation of the Gilbert Act comprising in the whole a population of 182,000, according to the census of 1831, and 200,000 under the census of 1841. There are 242 parishes not included in unions, and not under the operation of the Gilbert Act, containing a population approaching to 300,000 scattered throughout the country and cut off from union management and control by these Gilbert districts, which remain incorporated in disjointed patches, without reference to contiguity or local connivance. For the sake of mere uniformity, or to remedy no practical inconvenience it might be unwise to make the proposed change; but I must state deliberately to the House that the Poor-law Amendment Act and the Gilbert Act stand upon two opposite principles, which cannot co-exist. I know that some enthusiasts will say, "Why not Gilbertise all England." [Mr. T. Dun- combe, "hear."] My hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury cheers me; but it is for the House to decide upon that proposition. I think it can be proved to a demonstration, that the two principles are diametrically opposed to each other, and so decidedly at variance that the Legislature must choose between them. What is the principle of the Gilbert unions? The principle of the Gilbert unions is, that every able-bodied man seeking for relief shall have that relief found for him at his own house, and the guardians are under the penalty of 5l. if they do not provide it. This is stated very succinctly by Mr. Senior in a pamphlet lately published, from which, with the permission of the House, I will read a few sentences:— The guardian is required, on application made to him by or on behalf of any person, and under a penalty of 5l. for every case of neglect, to agree for the labour of such person, at any work or employment suited to his or her strength and capacity, in any place near the place of his or her residence, and to maintain, or cause such person to be properly-maintained, lodged and provided for, until such employment be procured, and during the time of such work, and to receive the money thereby earned and apply it in such maintenance and make up the deficiency, if any, and if there be any surplus, account for it to the pauper. It is to be near their place of residence. They are not to seek distant work, they are not even to change their residence in order to obtain employment five miles off. Instead of their going to the employment, the employment is to be brought to them. If a manufacturer removes to a better fall of water at six miles distance, and offers his workmen good residences, and good wages, they need not follow him. On the other hand, if the employer think fit to discharge his workpeople, he can apply the next day on their behalf to the guardian, require them to be provided with suitable employment, and offer to agree to take them back at half wages, the other half being supplied by the parish. There is nothing, indeed, in the act to prevent the guardian and the employer being the same person, and agreeing, as guardian, with himself as employer, what portion of the wages of his own workpeople he shall pay out of his own pocket in his individual capacity, and what portion out of the parochial funds in his corporate capacity. The rule is to give in-door relief to the impotent, and out-door relief to the able-bodied. On the other hand, the rule of the Poor-law Amendment Act is to give relief to the aged and infirm, to those who are above sixty years old, at their own Homes, for the House to determine which of the pronounced, and to propose, subject only but to apply the workhouse test to the able-bodied. In a word, these are antagonist principles, and the Legislature must decide to which preference is due. It is useless, therefore, to waste the time of the House by urging this point farther, and I frankly avow, that it is the intention of Government in terms, to propose the repeal of the Gilbert Union Act, and it will be two principles shall prevail. As to local acts, I will now state to the House what will be our proposal. We do not intend, in the slightest degree, to alter the existing law; and the law as it now stands according to repeated decisions; and according to a recent decision of the Court of Queen's Bench is this—that where a local act regulates the election of the body which is to distribute relief, neither with the constituent body, nor the body to be elected, have the Poor-law Commissioners a right to interfere; but with that exception the Poor-law Commissioners have the same powers with respect to the mode of administering relief in such cases as if the guardians had been elected under the Poor-law Act. So confident am I of the present state of the law that it is not our intention to propose any alteration in it whatever; it is our intention to leave it exactly as we now find it, not interfering in the least with the choice or the mode of choosing the governing body, but exercising a supreme control over the administration of relief by such bodies. It is, however, our intention to propose a limitation on the existing power. According to a decision of the Court of Queen's Bench the power is said to exist of adding to a governing body, chosen under a local act, a contiguous parish or parishes under the operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act; but it is quite obvious that that power might be exercised so as completely to defeat and over-bear the authority of the body chosen under the local act. We, therefore, think that on the whole it would be right to impose a limitation on that power, and say that where there were a certain number of persons, according to the last census, under the operation of a local act, there should be no power of adding to the governing body any board of guardians from a contiguous parish. Perhaps the House will think that I have already said enough on the points connected with the local acts. The next important provision contained in the bill which I seek to introduce is one which was very fully discussed in the last Session of Parliament, and relates to the important question of education; and I have had the advantage, in bringing in the bill this Session, of having ascertained what in last Parliament was the opinion of the House of Commons on this point. It is our intention to abide by the decision then to a limitation in point of distance, that there shall be a power of appointing large district schools in various unions. We propose that within a maximum distance of fifteen miles parishes may be combined for the formation of district schools. Under the operation of the clause so limited in point of distance, we do not contemplate that district schools of the kind to which I have adverted can be constituted excepting in the metropolitan district, in the neighbourhood of Manchester, and four or five principal manufacturing or commercial towns in England. I have thought it prudent to assign this limit for various reasons; first of all, it will enable the experiment to be tried in the most densely peopled districts. In the next place, the limitation of distance appears a humane provision for the poor. I have great objections to district schools which remove the children of the poor twenty or thirty miles from their parents or natural guardians; but by this narrow limitation of distance it will be quite within the power of relatives and friends on Sundays or holydays to visit the children in those establishments, and to have the advantage, more or less, of superintending their education. At the same time I have added a provision from the recomendation adopted last Session, which I hope the House will consider salutary. Inasmuch as the great example for schools of this description is to be found at Norwood, we have introduced a clause that the schools so established shall be subject to the inspection of the Committee of Council on Education, who shall have power to call for the dismissal of any improper master. This will be a very great, and I think a prudent, advance in the right direction of educating the poorest and most destitute of the whole community. I need hardly say how essential it is that the education of the people should commence there where the destitution is, unavoidably, the greatest; and nothing certainly can be so immediately conducive to the real welfare of the poor as the diffusion of knowledge on the best the safest principles, under a system of education conducted with the superintendence I propose. [Lord J. Russell here inquired across the Table what was to be the system of religious instruction?] The same system of religious instruction is to be established as was proposed last year. A chaplain will be appointed to each school, but there will be power for the parents and guardians of dissenting children, objecting to the children being taught by the chaplain, to name the minister of their own persuasion, who will have easy access to the schools, subject to such regulations as may be considered necessary. Passing from the question of education, I beg to state that the bill contains various provisions for the better protection of parish apprentices. On this subject, there has been a report recently presented to the House which is sure to command attention as it has already excited deep feeling. It would appear, that in many cases, severe hardship has been incurred by children of tender age under parish apprenticeship; and it seems to be necessary that regulations should be adopted for securing kinder and more considerate treatment of the apprentices by their masters. We have, therefore, proposed that every half-year the children be produced before the boards of guardians, when the relieving officers shall examine into their treatment and condition. With respect to casual poor, we propose that relief shall be charged upon the common fund of the union, instead of falling, as it does at present, upon the parish in which relief may be administered. We also propose, that a provision shall be introduced to meet a charge which has been made against the existing law, which is applicable more especially to unions in the north of England, and to unions of larger size. It is felt, and rightly felt, by the boards of guardians, that when an able-bodied man applies for relief, they are bound to see the head of the family himself. Where there is a large union, the attendance of the head of a family is attended with the loss of one day's work, and often of more; what we propose is, that power shall be given, where the board of guardians meets at a place distant (blank) miles (the blank to be filled up by the committee from the residence of the patty applying for relief); for the board to appoint a local meeting to receive the application, and to report the cases to the full board. We propose, likewise, one other alteration. Seeing the magnitude of the whole question, we do not intend to encumber the bill with a change in the law of settlement; we are satisfied, that ere long this question must occupy the serious attention of the Legislature; but although we do not at present raise the general question, there is yet one case of such crying hardship that her Majesty's Ministers will endeavour to apply an immediate remedy. I allude to the cases of those who, having been long resident in parishes in which they have no legal settlements, but which their industry and labour have for many years benefitted, when they are suddenly seized with illness are denied all relief, except under the threat of being expelled, the parish immediately on their recovery, if they receive a single shilling. I have reason to know that a district where distress has been very great, more than one-third of the poorer population out of work have been debarred from applying for relief by the dread of removal following immediately on their recovery, in the event of their receiving anything. I do not propose to go the whole length on this occasion of dealing with destitution under such circumstances; but I do propose, that in the case of sickness (limiting it at present to that case) persons may receive parish relief, and not be liable to removal on that account, unless they receive relief for forty consecutive days. There is one other material alteration I propose, relative to the law of bastardy. As the Poor-law was passing, clauses were introduced in the other House, by which power was given to the quarter sessions only to affiliate; that remedy was soon found inoperative, and a further remedy was given by application to petty sessions. Still, the remedy is only against the goods of the putative father, and constantly it happens that the son of a wealthy man, or at all events a working man, receiving 15s. or a guinea per week, having no "goods," escapes altogether, and the child may be in the workhouse, supported by the industrious fathers of honest families, themselves hardly able to pay their rates. Against the father, under such circumstances, there is no remedy under the present law, and he may set the law at defiance. I think, that both in a moral and equitable point of view, this is unseemly. I therefore purpose to go back to the ancient law to this extent at least, and no further, that when there shall be a return of nulla bona, there shall be the power of imprisoning the father for any period not exceeding three months; this power, however, to be exercised only when the mother and child are relieved in the workhouse. No doubt, this is a decided change, and involves an important principle; but after the best consideration I have been able to give to the subject, I am satisfied that it is necessary. There are many other points upon which alterations are proposed, but which I need not enumerate with the exception of one which refers to the election of guardians. We propose to place the owners and occupiers, as to the number of their votes, upon a perfect equality, and to provide that no one shall have more proxies than four. We propose that both owner and occupier, up to a rating of 50l., shall have one vote, of 100l. two votes, till at last the owner and occupier rated at 300l. shall both have six votes; but beyond that number that neither shall go. This will, in fact, place the owners and the occupiers exactly on a par. I have now stated to the House the principal provisions of the bill, and I declare sincerely that no sense of official duty—no party tie—no wedded adherence to preconceived opinions could induce me to be responsible for a measure of this description if, having had some experience on the subject, and after careful deliberation I were not in my conscience and judgment steadfastly convinced that it will be found conducive to the comfort of the sick, the aged, and the infirm, and to the independence, the welfare, and the more ample remuneration of the honest industry of the hard-working labourer. I assure the House that this is my sincere and deliberate opinion, and nothing could have induced me to be responsible for the measure except the strength of my conviction. Entertaining that conviction I shall, to the best of my ability, continue to advocate the bill in its subsequent stages, and thanking the House for the patience with which it has listened to me, I will conclude by expressing a hope that the future discussions on the bill will be conducted with temper and with a due regard to the interests of the people. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving for leave to bring in the bill.

Mr. T. Duncombe,

understanding that there was to be no opposition to the introduction of this bill, would reserve himself for the future discussion on it; he only now rose to express his sincere and deep regret at some portions of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He regretted that he intended to introduce a bill which was virtually to prolong the commission for six years, for he believed that such a proposition would be extremely offensive and obnoxious to the public at large. He would not propose that they should go back to the old law, or to the former mode of giving relief, but he would have boards of guardians properly elected, and then he would give them full discretionary power. He also regretted that the Government intended to abolish the Gilbert unions; it was clear the other evening, when the Government refused the committee for which he had moved, that it was their intention to abolish these boards: he would only say that it would be his duty to offer to this part of the proposal every opposition in his power, and he would offer every impediment which the House would allow to save the Gilbert unions, as he looked upon the proposal as the breach of faith of an act of Parliament that those unions should be dissolved without the consent of two-thirds of the guardians.

Mr. Wakley

said, that nothing could be more inconvenient than to enter into discussion upon the provisions of a bill which they had not had the opportunity of seeing, for he had often found that there was no agreement between the clauses of a bill, and the kindly and merciful tone in which those clauses were announced. The tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was exceedingly merciful and kind to the poor, and one would really believe that he thought he was introducing a bill which would do them good. He had always objected to the principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act, and there was scarcely any form into which they could throw the details, which would remove those objections. The bill took from the rate-payers the power of managing their own poor, and transferred it to the commissioners sitting in Somerset-house. He did not like the renewal of this power for five years, it was not dealing candidly with the public. He said that there was no intention at any time of giving up the power, and why did not the right hon. Gentleman say at once," We like the Poor-law commission, and so we intend to make it perpetual?" He would like to see hon. Gentlemen on the Benches opposite facing their constituents after this bill was supported; he recollected what had been said by them on the hustings; he knew that it was the Anti-Poor-law cry by which those Gentlemen had obtained so many seats in that House; they were now as mute as so many mice, whilst the Poor-law commission was to be fastened upon the country in perpetuity. He believed that many of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals were good, but they seemed to him to be only the proposals which had been so much obstructed in the bill of last year; the only change he could see was, in the bastardy clause; hon. Gentlemen opposed the bill then, and they supported it now. Whatever good there was in the bill he would be glad to accept, but he would certainly oppose the renewal for so long a term as five years, and take the sense of the House whether it should not be limited to two years. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the Lord Chancellor, when he introduced the first act, had said that the object of the commission was to accommodate the working of the law to the circumstances of different parts of the country, but he believed he could show that although this might have been said in the House of Lords, the professed object of the commission was in that House declared to be to produce uniformity of practice. Whatever might have been said in the other House, he still thought that this had been the design of the commissioners. What did he find? That in 400 unions a prohibition had been issued against out-door relief, and that in 100 unions only no such order had been issued. If such a discretion was to be in any body as to the nature or quantity of relief to be afforded, who were likely to exercise it so wisely as the persons living in the neighbourhood of the parties applying for relief, and acquainted with their circumstances? The rule hitherto adopted in this country was to make the holders of their own funds distribute it as they thought best; and it was a subversion of the principle by which the mass of the country was left with the management of their own affairs, to vest the power in the commisioners. He had always opposed the principle of the bill, and he should continue to do so. He told the people of England through that House, that if they did not wish to give the power to the commissioners in perpetuity they must pour their petitions into the House in such numbers as to let the Government know their opinion, for if there was to be a continuance of the commission for five years, it would be permanent. He now entered his protest against the principle of the bill, and he would take the sense of the House against the term for which it was proposed to continue the commission.

Mr. Shaw

asked, whether the present commission was to remain as it did with respect to Ireland?

Sir James Graham

said, it was not his intention to make any alteration as to the law with respect to Ireland; the management would continue to be vested in the same hands.

Captain P echell

would offer every opposition in his power to that part of the bill which would dissolve the Gilbert Unions; with respect to which the right hon. Gentleman had made a statement which he would pledge himself to contradict. The right hon. Gentleman had exercised a sound discretion in not touching the towns having local acts, for he knew well that if he had touched them he would have been met with violent opposition from his own friends; and he warned those hon. Gentlemen, that though, like a skilful general, the right hon. Gentleman had attacked them in detail, he would apply the same rule to the local acts as he did to the Gilbert unions.

Mr. Fox Maule

rose to deprecate any entry upon criminatory or recriminatory subjects. He said, as far as the right hon. Gentleman's statements and tone went, that nothing could be better. The right hon. Gentleman had introduced the question with fairness, and as one who had been accustomed to look at this measure with a view to legislation, and without making any alteration in the principles of the Poor-law bill, to find amendments, he must say that the statement was very gratifying. He thought it was time for them to approach this question, throwing out of view all hustings' proceedings, but it appeared to him that the present Government were legislating in more difficult times than the last, when there was greater distress among the poor, and when the discussions upon the bill might be more easily turned into mischief. He assured the right hon. Gentleman, however, that the amendments he had notified, so far as he heard them, and could approve of them, should meet with fair consideration from him, and as far as he saw he would be able to support them. With regard to the clauses as to education, he thought the Government had taken the proper course; they gave him great satisfaction, and there were other amendments in the bill of which also he approved: although with respect to bastardy he thought the clause would require careful consideration. Upon the whole he was satisfied with the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward this great question, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not experience much difficulty in bringing it to a favourable conclusion.

Mr. J. S. Wortley

was afraid he must state to the right hon. Gentleman that there were parts of his bill which he should feel it his duty to oppose: still he gave him credit for his plan, and as far as it was consistent with his duty it would afford him the sincerest pleasure to give his assistance in passing the law in his hands. There were, however, some points on which he would gladly have seen his right hon. Friend take a few steps in advance of the alterations proposed in the bill of last year. If he had done so, he would have made his bill more acceptable to the country, In conformity with the general understanding, he would not then enter into a discussion as to the points on which he differed. He had no hesitation in saying that on other points he had heard the statement with great pleasure; but his strongest motive for rising was to express his delight at the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had dealt with the argument as to uniformity. He thought that he might now congratulate the House upon the dissipation of that opinion. The orations of Lord Brougham, in the House of Lords, were as totally at variance with the acts of the Poor-law commissioners as any one could conceive. He believed that his right hon. Friend and the commissioners were now brought to the conviction that they could not apply uniformity under the various circumstances of the country and in various districts. He believed that it was the duty of the authorities to adapt the bill to the varieties of the different districts, and if they did so adapt it, the bill would not be that object of repugnance which it now was; but that they would obtain the useful co-operation of all called upon to act under it. Till this was done, they could never expect contentment and satisfaction. He spoke now in reference more particularly to the district with which he was connected, where the bill was in force without the acquiescence of any one class of the population, either rate-payers or paupers.

Mr. Ferrand

would not have risen, had it not been for the taunt of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who had stated that hon. Members on that side of the House, who were as much opposed to the bill as himself, were mute that evening; but it was the general understanding that there should be no discussion. It was unfair for the hon. Member to fling out such a taunt against Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, and then to take up his hat and walk out of the House. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would give an opportunity for all towns and districts in the country, who might choose immediately to apply for a local act, to be exempted from the bill? If he would do this, many large towns and districts would apply.

Mr. Gill,

after the satisfactory statement of the right hon. Gentleman, would be sorry to prolong the discussion, but would ask whether the limitation upon the commissioners' interference with local acts was confined to towns with less than a population of 20,000?

Sir James Graham

said, that the judgment of Lord Denman was, that the commissioners had a right to issue regulations and orders to the guardians of every parish. They had the same power of administering the law under local acts, as in other places the sole limitation was, that they could not interfere with the constituent body. But the commissioners now had the power to add to any district under a local act a number of adjacent parishes, and so, if they pressed it to an extreme, of adding a majority to the governing body. He proposed by the present bill to limit this power where the population under the local acts amounted to 20,000.

Mr. Borthwick

said, that as he was not one of those who had pledged themselves on the hustings to take one view or other of this question, he should feel himself wanting in his duty to the Government, and to himself, if he did not express then the disappointment which he felt with the measure proposed to the House. When the right hon. Gentleman had applied to the House for time and confidence upon this subject, he had been one of the most liberal in yielding to that application; he considered the' Government entitled to that confidence; and by the same spirit he was guided now; but, in the proposed bill, there was the same centralization — the same prevention as regarded the interference of the local magistrates in the relief of the poor—the same unwillingness to recognise in the poor an absolute right to that property in the kingdom which was as sure, as legal, as just, as the title of any hon. Member to his estate. There was but a very imperfect recognition of that right; and honest industry was still to be made the martyr for deterring the ill-conditioned and undeserving from applying for relief. It would be equally dishonest and disagreeable to him to take hold of any of the numerous subjects of popular excitement with which the question abounded, for the purpose of making a popular attack. He should carefully investigate the measure, and whatever he might think it necessary to oppose, he should oppose with the calmness and temper in which such a subject ought to be treated.

Mr. Sharman

Crawford thought that the measure was one to which the House ought not to give its sanction. It was most objectionable, because it retained as a portion of it the arbitrary power of the commissioners, and he should take the sense of the House upon its second reading, in order to give hon. Gentlemen opposite an opportunity of showing what their real views were upon this subject.

General Johnson

begged to inquire when it was proposed that the bill should be read a second time? He thought, that that would be the proper occasion on which to object to its provisions.

Sir James Graham

said, that it was impossible now to fix the day for the second reading. It would possibly be Monday se'nnight or Friday fortnight.

Mr. Hardy

hoped the right hon. Baronet would give a longer time, so that the people of the north of England might have an opportunity of stating their opinions upon the bill. What was the case there now? Parties holding office under the bill had resigned, from their utter repugnance to carry out its provisions, and from the interference of the commissioners. He would assure the hon. Member for Finsbury, that he had not changed his opinions upon the law—he opposed it when it was first introduced—he divided against it in all its stages. He was one of the thirty-eight who divided against its third reading; and he would do so again, because he thought its principle was to save the money of the rate-payers, and not to support the poor. It was disgraceful, that the poor should have to walk fourteen or fifteen miles, thereby spending a whole day upon what might be a fruitless application for relief. The law would not give satisfaction unless it provided that the poor should obtain relief in the easiest manner that was possible. He was decidedly opposed to the centralization system, but was happy the bastardy clauses were now to be altered.

Mr. Grimsditch

had always entertained a strong objection to this measure. He begged to inquire of the right hon. Baronet whether there was any intention on the part of the Government to place any power in the hands of the guardians to reduce the limits of the unions placed under their charge? He thought, that in Manchester and other places, where large rural districts were combined with towns, such a power would be most advantageous. He was decidedly opposed to the continuance of the powers of the commissioners for so long a period as was proposed, and thought, that they should stand only in the position of tenants from year to year.

Mr. Muntz

had not heard the whole of the speech of the right hon. Baronet, but he had come in too soon for his own satisfaction, when he had heard the right hon. Baronet say, that he proposed to retain in the hands of the commissioners the power of regulating the relief granted under the various local acts. In his opinion, that constituted a most injurious part of the bill; for he was confident, that a great deal of mischief was done by the interposition of the commissioners in these cases. Thousands of persons would continue to receive relief in all the large towns, and the principle upon which the commissioners professed to act, of not giving out-door relief, would be broken through. He entertained the same objections to this bill as to the former measure. He believed the original intention of the Poor-law Act was to prevent the poor from seeking relief, and to save the pockets of the rich. He had watched the operation of the bill since it was passed, and his opinion was confirmed by observation. He thought one very important consideration had been lost sight of—namely, that the present class of paupers differed very materially from the class which formerly came under that denomination. Formerly, the class of paupers was almost confined to the idle, the drunken, and the vicious; but now thousands of men were compelled to throw themselves upon the workhouse, who, if they could obtain employment, would be glad to work for the support of their families. He remembered the time, when it was considered a disgrace to receive parochial relief, and when its reception threw a slur on a man's character. Thousands of persons had, under the old system, refused relief, lest they should incur this disgrace; but such was now the demoralization of character, that men received relief, as they would receive wages. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would take into consideration the inconvenience which would result from the interference of the commissioners in large towns.

Viscount Sandon

was anxious to say a few words, lest his silence might be misconstrued into an assent to the provisions of the Poor-law Bill, to which he had formerly expressed his objection. He had always been of opinion, that in the large towns, there should be a discretion vested in the guardians, and it would be much better, that that discretion should remain in the hands of gentlemen living in these towns, and selected by their neighbours, instead of in the hands of commissioners residing in London, or still less of assistant-commissioners; because it was evident to every one, that occasions might arise, which no general rule could apply to. Experience had shown them, that the discretionary power was much better exercised by those parties who were most deeply interested in the welfare, and who were most anxious to promote the prosperity of their poorer neighbours. He hoped, that the power and control of the commissioners would be, in a great degree, limited to some general power of supervision and reporting, and that it would not be exercised in the manner it at present was, hanging in terror over the heads of the boards of guardians, crippling them in all their exertions. He trusted the right hon. Baronet would take that point into his consideration. He (Lord Sandon) was certainly inclined to give the commissioners as short a term as possible, because he thought their powers were so extraordinary that nothing but their being- compelled to come frequently before Parliament, would be an effectual check upon their proceeding's.

Mr. E. Turner

was understood to say, that in the case of a board of guardians with which he was connected, representations had been made to the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) completely at variance with the real facts. He suggested to the right hon. Baronet, that he should endeavour to obtain, from the overseers of parishes, the best. information with which they could furnish him, that he might have some test for ascertaining how far the statements made to him were worthy of credit.

Sir J. Graham

said, he would endeavour before the bill arrived at another stage, to obtain accurate information. An hon. Gentleman (Mr. Grimsditch) had asked whether it was proposed to vest in the board of guardians the power of changing the limits of unions. Judging from the example of Manchester, and the great advantage which had there accrued from uniting the adjacent rural districts with the town under one board of guardians, he (Sir J. Graham) would be unwilling to vest in the guardians the power of altering the limits of unions; and he would not wish to prevent the union of rural districts with large towns.

Mr. Grimsditch

had hoped, that some provision would have been made for reducing the size of unions, where practically they were found to be too extensive.

Sir J. Graham

said, the present law, in this respect, would remain unaltered. The power of making such changes would continue, as was the case at present, in the hands of the commissioners. He was far from concurring in the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman, for he thought a striking-example was afforded by Manchester of the great advantages resulting from the union of rural districts with large towns.

Leave given.— Bill brought in and read a first time.

House adjourned.