HC Deb 08 August 1844 vol 76 cc1932-40
Sir J. Graham

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Law of Settlement; and, important as was the discussion which took place on the subject of the Poor Law only a short time ago, the branch of that law which he was now to bring under the consideration of the House was not to be considered of secondary importance. The difficulties of the subject were best illustrated by the numerous ineffectual attempts which had been made to effect an alteration in the law. He could not better state to the House the magnitude of the question before them than by pointing out the number of orders issued annually in England for removals and the large number of persons affected thereby. From a Return which he held in his hand, it appeared that during the year ending September 29, 1841, there had been upwards of 11,000 orders of removals executed in England, and that no less than 32,000 persons had been affected by those orders. This was independent of the removals to Scotland and Ireland, which amounted to more than 7,000, and affected at least as many as 14,000 persons. The House would thus see that according to this estimate, which was based in actual returns received from 485 Unions, there had been in this country 18,000 orders of removal in a single year, by which the fortunes and happiness of not less than 46,000 persons had been materially affected. The word "removal" implied a great amount of human suffering and sorrow, and its operation was no doubt very painful to the poor upon whom it was inflicted. At the same time, however, it was a necessary law, and it was the duty of the House to consider under what circumstances it ought to be upheld, and how any modifications might be effected in the evils pro- duced by it. It had been well observed by no less an authority than Adam Smith, That there was no poor man who had reached the age of forty years, among the working classes, who had not some reason to complain of the Law of Settlement in England; and the cause of this was, that the law in this country was of so remarkable a character and that the boundaries of the parishes in England were so indistinct. In other countries, mountains, rivers, and arms of the sea divided parishes, but in England it was not so. He made that quotation to show the importance and difficulty of the subject. The course which he proposed to the House was to repeal all the statutes at present in existence on the question, and to proceed to legislate de novo. It would thus be necessary to repeal between thirty and forty Acts of Parliament. The Bill would, therefore, bring into operation a new Law of Settlement, it would regulate removals and appeals on removals, and it would also stand out in bold contrast to the existing statutes, as it only consisted of thirty-four clauses. The subjects disposed of by it were first the right of settlement, next the power of removal, and then the law of appeal upon orders of removal. First, with respect to existing settlements, he proposed that where the settlement had been ascertained by a past order, fixing the settlement, which had been confirmed by a competent authority, or by an admission in writing, such a settlement should not be disturbed, but be held final. The means of acquiring a settlement at present were eight in number—viz., by parentage, by apprenticeship, by renting a tenement of a certain value, by holding certain offices, by payment of rates, by birth, and by marriage. A year's hiring was a ninth mode, but no past settlement could be gained in that manner. Since 1834, although removals on the ground of settlement so gained previously, might still take place. He proposed to repeal all these, and his proposition was, that henceforth birth, and birth only, should be the ground of settlement, and that the place of birth should be held to be the place of settlement, if proved; but that (failing that proof) derivative settlement should be allowed in two degrees, and two only. First, in the case of legitimate children, he proposed to admit the father's settlement, and, failing that, the mother's settlement should be good. In the case of children, who were not legitimate, the place of birth should first determine the settlement, which failing to be proved, the mo- ther's settlement should determine the question. He did not, however, propose to carry the derivative settlement any further and no person should desire any settlement from his grandfather or grandmother. He would then declare that no other mode of obtaining a settlement could be received, while he provided, that on proof thereof, every unsettled person should be relieved where destitute, and that relief must be continued until the destitution ceased, or a settlement were found for him. He would also declare by the Bill, that the registry of births, and the baptismal registry, so far as they supplied proof of the place of birth, be received as evidence of birth, and that a married woman should not be removed from the place of her husband's settlement. The place of birth was not at one time, by an oversight, included in the registry, but by a subsequent Act that mistake had been remedied, although in consequence of the error it had been omitted for a small period. There might probably still be many imperfections in the plan which he proposed, but he could not help thinking that it had the advantage of great simplicity contrasted with the old system. He had thought it better that the law should take its stand on one common ground of settlement, rather than on four or five different principles of less general application; and on the whole he was of opinion that birth and the derivative settlements which he had mentioned were the most defensible, the most sure, and in all respects the best. He now proposed to draw the attention of the House shortly to the second branch of the question,—the law of removal. In dealing with this matter, it was most difficult to reconcile the interests of the two great classes of the community—the town and the rural population. Any change in the law which impeded the gaining of a settlement, and which facilitated removal, was acceptable to large towns; while, on the other hand, any change which facilitated the gaining of settlements and impeded removals was acceptable to the rural districts. The proposition he had first made, fixing birth and parentage as the groundwork of settlement, would be acceptable in one quarter; and he now sought to balance that advantage by Ids proposition in the respect to removals. His object was to impose restrictions upon removal. He proposed that parties should not be removable in the following cases—first, in that of a man who had ordinarily resided and worked in or near the parish for five years, and who had not been convicted of felony or misdemeanour. This provision would be applicable to natives of Scotland and Ireland as well as to the people of this country. Secondly, he proposed that no woman residing with her husband at the time of his death in the parish of his settlement should be removable to her own parish after his death. Thirdly, he proposed that no widow whether living in her husband's parish or elsewhere, should be removable for twelve months after his death. Fourthly, he proposed that no legitimate child under sixteen years of age should be removable from its father. Fifthly, that no legitimate child after its father's death and no illegitimate child under sixteen years of age should be removable from its mother; and sixthly, that no one becoming chargeable by sickness or accident, should be placed under order of removal till he or she had received relief for forty days consecutively. He also declared, that persons requiring relief should be relieved wherever they were resident, irrespective of their settlement. He now came to the third branch of the subject, which related to appeals against orders of removal, and to the execution of them. He proposed to enable parties, as it were by agreement, to give effect to orders of removal without having recourse to the intervention of Courts of Law. If an order of removal was obtained, he proposed that the overseers of the removing parish should be required to send a copy of the order and a statement of the grounds of removal, to the officers of the parish to which they proposed to remove the pauper, within seven days of the issue of such order. He proposed to allow to the parties to whom such statement was sent within twenty-one days after the receipt of the notice, to determine whether or not they would resist the removal if they objected to the order of removal, they would be required to scud to the removing parish a statement of their reasons for so objecting. If no notice of objection was given, the overseers of the removing parish might remove the pauper at the expiration of forty days after giving notice of their intention. He proposed also that an appeal should be tried at the next Sessions, after the expiration of fourteen days from the time of giving notice of such appeal; and that no grounds of removal or of appeal should be gone into, except those contained in the statements of the respective parishes. He would now call the attention of the House to some special enactments with reference to the Scotch and Irish poor. There was, as many hon. Gentlemen would probably be aware, great hardship with respect to the removal of these paupers. He proposed that rules should be made by Justices of the Peace, in their respective districts, providing for the removal of Scotch and Irish paupers as far as was practicable, to the places nearest to those of their birth and original residence. He believed that removals of Scotch and Irish paupers were frequently made upon very light and insufficient legal grounds; and that such removals would certainly be set aside upon appeal in England. This evil he ascribed to the absence of the power of appeal; and he was, therefore, most anxious to afford the power of appeal with reference to the removal of Scotch and Irish paupers. He proposed to effect that object in this manner: — When any removal should have taken place, upon illegal or insufficient grounds, either to Scotland or Ireland, on the representation of local bodies, or of parties interested in such removal, he would propose that the Poor Law Commissioners, on representations being made to them, should have power to cause an appeal to be prosecuted at the Sessions against such order of removal; and that, if the order was quashed, the parish by which the order had been obtained should pay all the costs of the removal, and of bringing back the party removed to the parish whence he or she had been removed. He was aware that objections might be urged against his proposition; but he believed that, on the whole, it would conduce to the advantage of the whole kingdom. He was satisfied that this measure contained most salutary and humane provisions with respect to Scotch and Irish paupers. The measure would repeal thirty or forty existing Statutes; it would place the whole question on a clear, succinct, and intelligible footing; and, although some alterations in detail might be necessary, he believed that to the principle of this Bill there could be no objection. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to consolidate and amend the laws relating to parochial settlement, and the removal of the poor.

Mr. Hawes

thought the course adopted by the Government was most beneficial, since it afforded the country ample time to consider these important matters before they came under the consideration of Par- liament. He could hardly be expected at once to pronounce a decisive opinion, but this he would say, the spirit which had characterised the observations made by the right hon. Baronet was most praiseworthy. There was, however, one branch of the subject to which he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet, and that was the total absence of all superintendence over the removal of paupers to Scotland and Ireland after their embarkation. He had that morning received a letter on the subject from a man in humble life, and he would read it to the House, believing they would not think it was altogether unnecessarily occupying their attention:—

"Augusts, 6, 1844,

"I happened to be a deck passenger, and sailed from Cork to London last week; the misery of the deck passengers I cannot possibly tell; there were a great number of men, women, and children, cows, calves, pigs, and dogs. Some of the pigs died. They were nearly all huddled together, and almost all sea-sick together, Christians and cattle alike; the Christians, old and young, had no place to sit down upon, or rest on, but the level deck; they were absolutely sick upon each other, without the power of moving, or of giving themselves any relief. They had no water-closet that they could go to from Friday till Monday in the next week. There they were left to lie, and nearly die upon deck, old and young, men, women, and children, crouched in every nook they could find. Now, surely, the shipowner ought to have some place for these poor destitute creatures to go into out of the cold, dirt, and wet. They ought also to have buckets left for them; they ought to have something to sit or lie upon. Well, in the morning, it is the custom for the sailors to wash the decks, which is much wanting; but how are the poor creatures to manage? The hose is opened at all sides, they have no dry spot to creep to, and if they are not quick to shift for themselves and their little luggage, they will be wet through, and their little stock of provisions spoiled. What I have stated here is but a tithe of their sufferings."

He thought the provisions of the proposed Bill would greatly lessen the number of paupers to be removed, and he hoped power would be given to the Poor Law Commissioners to see that a proper person should be appointed to superintend the embarkation of these paupers, so that they might not be left utterly destitute. He hoped every hon. Member would well consider the Bill during the recess, and he, for one, should come to the discussion of it rather with a view to assist the right hon. Baronet in his attempts to amend the existing law than in a spirit of opposition to the Government.

Mr. Brotherton

was well aware that there was a great jealousy existing regarding the law of settlement as between the town and country districts. He was not disposed to regard the principle of the Bill unfavourably, but he would not pledge himself to details. There existed great hardships in consequence of the removal of persons who had been residents in a place for many years. It was seen, with regard to the Irish and Scotch paupers, who, probably, had been in a manufacturing town in England for thirty years, when in need of some temporary assistance, have been removed to Ireland or Scotland, where they had no settlement. He considered this a very great hardship. Then with regard to the removal of paupers in England, the right hon. Baronet had stated that there were 30,000 removals in England in the course of the year. In the borough of Salford, consisting of 50,000 inhabitants, the removals were more than 300 per annum. The expense averaged about 2l. each. In the last three years the expense of the township of Salford was 1,800l. for the removal of these persons. A great portion of this sum consisted of law charges. If this money were laid out in relieving these parties until they could again obtain employment, it would be for the benefit of the township. The right hon. Baronet proposed that relief should be granted for forty days before the parties were removed. For this the country was much indebted to the right hon. Baronet. He should willingly give every possible support to the measure.

Mr. Wakley

thought the Bill would have an opposite effect to that anticipated by the hon. Gentleman, and that it would necessarily throw the burthen on the agricultural districts. He thought, therefore, considering the position of the Government, it was a measure of great boldness, and one for which they were entitled to much credit. Since the Bill had been announced, it had been looked forward to with great anxiety by all who were interested in the law of settlement. He was glad the hon. Member for Lambeth had called attention to the hardships attending the removal of paupers. The frightful sufferings endured by these poor people under the present system could hardly be conceived. Every kind of cruelty was inflicted on them; and if the right hon. Baronet had tried to make out a case to excite the feelings of the House he might have done so with the greatest possible fairness, for he could hardly have exceeded the reality. They were treated almost as if they were criminals, or shipped off as so many slaves. He could not understand how it happened that Irish Gentlemen were so quiet on this subject. If this Bill did not provide against the continuance of this evil it would be exceedingly defective. He was very glad to find the practice commenced of bringing in Bills at the end of the Session, so that the country might become acquainted with their principle and details before they were discussed in Parliament. He thought this was a great improvement in their practice. Whatever were the defects in the Bill of last night, the fact of its being introduced at the end of the Session proved that the right hon. Baronet believed it to be right, and was satisfied both with the soundness of its principle and of the details by which it was to be carried into execution. He hoped that an example so good, and so fully and completely began, would be followed in all future Sessions and by all future Governments.

Mr. Wyse

said, that Irish Gentlemen had long felt deeply interested in the subject of the removal of paupers. He thought the present Bill calculated to remove many of the evils of the present system. He did not understand whether it was proposed to extend the Bill to Ireland; but he believed that without some such measure it would be impossible to repress mendicancy in that country.

Sir J. Graham

thanked the House for the cordial reception they had given to the Bill, and said he would offer one or two observations with respect to what had fallen from hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for Finsbury had said, that by laying measures of this importance before the House at the close of the Session, the Government gave time for deliberation, and evinced a consciousness that they were doing right. But they did more than this—they showed a willingness to correct error, should it be discovered, by bringing public opinion to bear on these questions. They had felt it their duty to take this course in dealing with such an immense subject as that of the medical practice of the United Kingdom, and in presuming to propose an altera- tion in the law of settlement. The hon. Member for Salford had fallen into an error which had been corrected rightly by the hon. Member for Finsbury. He thought the burden of parentage would not be thrown disproportionably on he manufacturing districts, or on the population of towns; but, on the contrary, that the objections would arise from the rural population. The attraction of manufacturing industry was from the country, and the effect of periods of manufacturing distress was to throw pauperism back on the rural districts. Allusion had been made to Irish paupers, and the mode in which they were said to be sent to their settlements; but the hon. Member (Mr. Hawes) who gave the House the particulars had forgotten to state that the amalgamation of men, women, pigs, calves, &c., was a description of Irish labourers coming over from Cork to England as deck passengers to seek employment, and not of Irish paupers sent from London to Ireland. The alleged sufferings were voluntary sufferings, sustained by the labouring Irish at particular seasons when they went in search of work to England at haymaking and harvesting.

Mr. Hawes

had read the letter with a view to show what were the sufferings to which poor people (not paupers, as the right hon. Gentleman had described them), were liable on their passage between England and Ireland, leaving the House to infer what must be the sufferings of paupers.

Leave given.

Bill brought in and read a first time; to be read a second time in three months.