HC Deb 06 March 1843 vol 67 cc292-8

On the motion that the Order of the Day for a Committee of Supply be read,

Mr. Walter

rose to move for the production of a return of which he had given notice. He observed, that having on a recent occasion come down to the House in order to discharge a duty and engagement, when from the state of indisposition under which he laboured, and was, indeed, still labouring, he almost sank under the task, he felt, nevertheless, bound to take one more opportunity of pressing upon the attention of the House some remarks in corroboration of what was the undoubted fact—that the dark document which he first laid before it was the foundation of the subsequent Poor-law, and of all the miseries with which the population of England had been since afflicted. He said, there were various degrees of certainty in the human mind—one kind being called moral certainty—another, mathematical certainty—and so on. He did not know, however, that he ever read of a variable certainty; yet, it was possible, and an instance might be adduced, in which he, for example, might be told by an hon. Member, that he did not know whether a certain document for which he asked now existed. Then, that hon. Member might have a faint recollection of it. Then, this faint recollection might expand into certainty. At last, he might know all about it — that it had been given in a confidential way to a gentleman with whom he once was connected, but who was now dead; and that therefore, he was guilty of a breach of confidence in bringing it before the House. He would, however, take this statement, only giving; a caution against the introduction of Other people's names, lest he should be forced to follow the example. Once more, he declared, that he he did not know whence he had it, and that it must have lain by him several years; nor was he aware he had it till just before the Session commenced. So far from any blame being imputable to him for exposing it, he should but have participated in the guilt of those who planned and penned it if he had concealed it. "Why, Sir (said Mr. Walter), what do men mean by confidence in an affair of this kind? Confidence is an honourable feeling both in him who entertains it, and in him towards whom it is entertained; but if the object of the confidence be, like this report, in famous, mischievous, Cruel, who but dishonorable men can be bound by it? Detection and exposure are every man's duty. I say this, on the supposition that the detestable production in question was ever confided to me, but to that insinuation I have before replied. I neither know, nor remember, nor believe any such confidence. The report lay by me for years, and was only discovered, taken up, and perused, all accidentally." Then it had been said that the law was not founded upon this secret report of the commission of eight. Their respective contents proved this to be false. They were as like as the instructions for a malignant will, by which the rightful heirs of an estate are to be dispossessed, are to the will itself. To prove this fact a few examples would suffice:— After this has been accomplished (says the secret report,) orders may be sent forth directing that after such a date all out-door relief should be given partly in kind; after another period it should be wholly in kind; after another such period it should be gradually diminished in quantity, until that mode of relief was extinguished. From the first the relief should be altered in quality, coarse brown bread being substituted for fine white; and, concurrently with these measures, as to the out-door-poor, a gradual reduction should be made in the diet of the in-door poor. And again —

The power of the commissioners should be to reduce allowances, and not to enlarge them. And now he would show the cautious manner in which these base suggestions were carried out in the avowed report — The commissioners should be empowered to fix a maximum of the consumption per head within the workhouses, leaving to the local officers the liberty of reducing it below the maximum if they can safely do so. Whence again, he asked, sprang the cruel injunction that no relief should be given to the unemployed, able bodied labourers out of the workhouse? "All new applicants for relief (says the secret report) should be at once taken into the workhouse." And Again — The Board of Control shall have power, by an order, with such exceptions as shall be thought necessary, to disallow the continuance of relief to the indigent, the aged and the impotent, and in any other mode than in a work house. The avowed report was full of passages to the same effect. This was the very essence of the existing law. Could this be the work of two independent powers of evil? No. Here was its origin in that dark code of instruction On which, in defiance of fact and common sense, it was asserted that the present law was not founded. It occurred again and again in the dark report, that no relief was to be given out of the workhouses, and with equal frequency was the same atrocious practice enjoined in the derivative law. But further, could anything equal the harsh and unfeeling manner in which the English poor were spoken of in the avowed report? They were described as inferior to savages, and to be amended only by fines, distress warrants, and imprisonment. The following extract from the first instructions to the assistant-commissioners would serve as a specimen of the spirit by which the octovirate, he supposed he might call them were animated — It has been supposed that it was to the 43rd of Elizabeth, and to the superintendence which it forced the richer to exercise over the poorer, that we owed the industry, the orderly habits, and the adequation of their numbers to the demand for labour, which within the memory of man distinguished the English labourers; and that the idleness, profligacy, and improvidence which now debase the character and increase the numbers of the population of many of the south-eastern districts, are owing to the changes, partly by statute and partly by practice, to which that law has been subjected. On the other hand, it has been maintained that it is the natural tendency of public relief, however purely and wisely administered, to become a substitute, and a very bad substitute, for private charity on the part of the rich, and industry and forethought on the part of the poor. If the conclusions drawn in the House of Commons' report of 1817 be correct,— if it be true, that ' unless an efficacious check he interposed, the amount of assessment will continue, as it has done, to increase, until, at a period move or less remote, according to the progress the evil has already made in different places, it shall have absorbed the profits of the property on which the rate may have been assessed, producing thereby the neglect and ruin of the land, and the waste or removal of other property, to the utter subversion of that happy order of society so long upheld in these kingdoms; '— if the progress of the evil, even during the short period that has elapsed since that report was made, may be traced in the diminished cultivation of the land; the diminution of industry, forethought, and natural affection among the labourers; the conversion of wages from a matter of contract into a matter of right, and of charity itself into a source of discord, and even of hostility; in the accelerated increase of form of profligacy; in fires, riots, and organized and almost treasonable robbery and devastation,—if such be the re presentation which the commissioners have to make to his Majesty, they cannot append to it a suggestion of mere palliative amendments. This extract made a part of the text; but now came the general index to the assistant-commissioners' reports. An index was a direction to the contents of the work; and the temper of this work might be accurately though briefly appreciated by reciting a few heads of the index:— Poor Laws.—A check to industry, a re ward for improvident marriages, a stimulant. to population, and a blind to its effects on wages. Have become a national institution for discountenancing the industrious and honest, and for protecting the idle, the improvident, and the vicious. Have become a system for preventing the accumulation of capital, for destroying that which exists, and for reducing the rate-payer to pauperism. Paupers.— Generally worthless and profligate, mostly made so by improvidence and vice. The chief receivers of donations from charitable institutions and charitable ladies, on whom they impose. Much better off than soldiers. Generally made so by vicious habits, and not by unavoidable causes. Made by lying-in hospitals, soup kitchens, blanket societies, and permanent charities. Disimprove rapidly both in skill and morals. Know accurately the allowance of food in each workhouse and each prison within their district, and try to enter where the largest and best is given. In workhouses fare luxuriously compared with the labourers of Ireland or Scotland. How different this from the language of Lord Ripon which he had before quoted! Was he not justified, then, in stating, that all these commissioners came with their minds as fully bent against the poor as St. Paul was in his unconverted days, when he was described as breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the slandered and humble converts to Christianity? But still they were told that Lord Grey's Government did not adopt this document, though its spirit, as he had shown, was infused into every succeeding one. Why, people who could believe this denial must be Nature's fools, and not the dupes of the Poor-law. He had three proofs exhibiting the character of similar fraud and deception; each succeeding document indicating its parentage and descent from the first, and yet endeavouring to mitigate or cloak its knavery. First, he had a garbled general order with respect to pauper funerals. Next, he had a diet table, which, though it was signed by all the commissioners, was now disavowed, when they found the cruelty it disclosed had awakened public attention; but their preparation of it, and their intent to carry it into execution, were as notorious as any fact could be. Then, he had the evidence taken before the committee on which he himself sat, which evidence was suppressed for no other reason than that, if duly investigated, it would be found to make against the committee itself, to falsify its report, and to disprove the assertions of the Poor-law functionaries. And, after all these proofs, both from fact and analogy, they were told to believe that the secret report was rejected by Lord Grey's Government! Really the amateurs of the New Poor-law arrogated to themselves the privilege of publishing or suppressing — of leaving untouched or changing—whatever they presented to the Parliament of the country. And these were the people who were now taking on them the fabricating a plan of education which was to instil into the rising race the principles of integrity, honesty, fair dealing, and truth! With respect to the charge brought against him of traducing the immortal duke, every one knew how respectfully he had spoken of that illustrious man. But, with all his admiration of him, it would be the excess of sycophancy in him or any one to assert that his Grace came too near to omniscience to be liable to imposition. If, indeed, he had used expressions like the following, as applied not only to the Duke of Wellington, but also to the right hon. Baronet who was now at the head of the Government — that He had no confidence in them; that it was impossible to compose a Ministry of worse materials; that their whole lives had been devoted to oppose good Government and to uphold bad. If, he said, he had used these expressions, and had afterwards taken office under those persons whom he had so severely stigmatized, then he should indeed have rendered himself justly liable to the reproach and derision, not only of that House, but of all the country, and every honest man in it. But that any one who had really used those expressions should venture to reproach another with traducing the duke, did appear to him to transcend the usual bounds of human confidence, or at least to indicate such a want of memory and consistency as must disqualify the man himself from the discharge of any public functions. He concluded with moving for an account of the sums expended in out-door relief to the poor during the years 1841 and 1842, and of the work performed for such expenditure.

Sir James Graham

said, that the hon. Gentleman at the commencement of his speech complained of his being disqualified by indisposition to address the House; he (Sir James Graham) might, at all events, say, that he was disqualified to answer the hon. Gentleman, and that for the best of all reasons, he had not been able to hear the greater part of the observations which the hon. Gentleman had addressed to the House. Perhaps, however, the circumstance of his not hearing the hon. Gentleman might not be without its advantages, as he had no doubt he should have the opportunity of reading a very accurate re port of what the hon. Gentleman had said, and, if he were to be disposed at a future day to follow the example of the hon. Gentleman by bringing forward the question another time, he should, no doubt, be able to reply to what the hon. Gentleman had now stated. The hon. Gentleman, with great simplicity, had asked the House, "'What was confidence?" And he then proceeded to give a definition of it, which, if, in its philological sense, it did not appear to be very intelligible, in its prac- tical application must be clearly understood by the House. The House had witnessed what was the construction which the hon. Gentleman had put upon the observance of confidence. He could only tell the hon. Gentleman that he entirely differed from the practice which the hon. Gentleman had himself given them an example of upon the subject on which he thought fit to observe; and his hope was, not only that he should never follow the hon. Gentleman in his definition, but that he should equally avoid following the hon. Gentleman in his practical example. On the present occasion, however, he would not be induced by the hon. Gentleman to enter upon a repetition of the arguments he addressed to the House on a former evening. It was enough for him to state, that with respect to the first part of the motion he had not the least objection. He was perfectly willing to present a return of the sums expended in outdoor relief to the poor during the years 1841 and 1842; but with respect to the latter part of the motion, it was entirely out of his power to hold out the least expectation that any such return could be furnished. If an account of the work performed for the sums expended could be given, he was not aware of any reason why it should not be presented, but he did not know of any materials out of which the return could be made.

Mr. Walter

did not wish to press for more than could be furnished; he should therefore move for the return, contenting himself with so much as could be given.

The Speaker

suggested, that being an amendment on an original motion, the hon. Member should withdraw his motion.

Motion withdrawn.

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