§ Mr. A. B. Cochrane
then rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice:—That the new Poor Law, though improved by the proposed amendments, is still opposed to the ancient Constitution of this realm, and inadequate to the necessities of the people.He was opposed to the principle of this Bill, and felt that even with its Amendments, it was prejudicial to the country, and, therefore, he now called upon the House to express a hostile opinion regarding it. He might be prejudiced, but it 320 seemed to him, that of all measures this was one of the most important;—indeed the very fact that a Bill for the amelioration of the existing law was introduced, was proof that the measure in existence was pernicious. What, too, was the state of the country. We had an enormous capital, and an unemployed population. Every year the extremes of want and wealth were becoming wider and wider. Every year unhappily, there was a greater and greater development of poverty in contrast with the manufacturing capital of the country; and, therefore, any law which related to the poor was of the utmost consequence. It was to the lower classes, they must remember, that they were forced to look in the hour of external danger, and of civil commotion. Let them consider, then, whether, at such a time, and among such a people, it was prudent to uphold a law opposed to that ancient Constitution of the realm? His argument was, that this Bill did stand peculiarly opposed to the ancient Constitution. The right hon. Baronet opposite had last year said, that the present Poor Law was strictly in conformity with the ancient Constitutions of the country and with the principles upon which the Poor Law was passed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. When Lord Althorp originally introduced the Bill which was now the law of the land, he said that the evils which arose from the old law, did not follow from the principle of that law, but dated from the commencement of the present century, and that, under the new law, so far from outdoor relief being prevented, it was his belief that it would be carried to a greater extent than before. Now, he looked to the principle on which the Poor Law was based according to the Reports of the Commissioners. What did they say in 1834:—Except as to medical attendance, and subject to the exception respecting apprenticeships hereinafter stated, no relief whatever to able-bodied paupers, or to their families, otherwise than in well-regulated workhouses, shall be declared unlawful and shall cease." (Again)—'No one to receive relief while earning any thing for himself.' (Again)—'To permit outdoor relief as an exception, would be to permit it as a rule.'Those were the principles, then, on which the Poor Law was introduced—principles opposed to those which Lord Althorp had laid down—opposed to those which the right hon. Gentleman had 321 stated in that House—opposed to the Act of Elizabeth—opposed to every principle which any Government had ever previously dared to uphold? How were they carried out? In 1837, the Commissioners wrote thus:—Where the workhouse has been actually offered to, and refused by an applicant, if you are of opinion that the case of the applicant was one of real necessity, you should endeavour to ascertain the result of the refusal of relief by such applicant. The Commissioners believe that in such cases you will generally find that the refusal of relief in the workhouse by the applicant, has arisen from the possession of some means and resources which are withheld from the knowledge of the guardians. Occasional illustrations of this operation of the workhouse will increase the confidence of the guardians in this mode of relief. With regard to those classes of cases in which out-door relief is given, you should watch vigilantly the appearance and growth of any abuse in this mode of administration.The right hon. Baronet had declared that this Bill was founded on the principles of the Act of Elizabeth, and it was said that out-door relief under its operation would be carried to a greater extent than ever. Why make such bold assertions, if they were never intended to be acted on? If it was meant that the feelings and prejudices of the people were so much against the Government that their principles could not be carried out, why he trusted that the same feelings and prejudices would force that Government now to repeal a law which he believed was totally repugnant to the good sense and humane feelings of the country. It was his belief that the law was totally opposed to the principle of the 43rd of Elizabeth, and he would tell them why. It was opposed to it not merely because it introduced a pernicious system of centralization, and destroyed all local administration, but because that law introduced a labour test of poverty, and this law created a test out of nothing less than suffering. There was a noble Lord in the other House, an active promoter of this Bill, who, on its introduction, had told the House of Lords that, if the old law were continued he should be reduced to the level of a Westmoreland pauper—that those who passed the 43rd of Elizabeth were no adepts in political science—that they did not understand the principles of population, and wanted a Malthus to enlighten them with his doctrine. No other 322 than that noble Lord could, he believed, have employed such language respecting the poor as that which he had made use of. Let him cite a passage from that noble Lord's speech:—Sickness was a thing which prudent men should look forward to and provide against in prosperity; and old age was before all men, and they should lay up stores for that time.The Law, then, according to Lord Brougham, was based upon the principle that young men must foresee events that were to occur in old age; that they were, in fact, to lay by from their wages to purchase their coffins. Was anything more fearful ever uttered? Let him contrast such expressions with what had been said by statesmen of past times. Even in these enlightened days, perhaps, Ministers of State would not entirely discard the opinions of Pitt and Canning. What did Mr. Pitt say, in 1796, in the course of the discussion on the Wages of Labourers' Bill?—I am convinced that the evils which the Poor Law occasioned did not arise from their original constitution; and I coincide with the opinion of Blackstone, that in proportion as the wise regulations which were adopted in the long and glorious reign of Elizabeth have been departed from and superseded by subsequent enactments, the utility of the institution has been impaired, and the benevolence of the plan rendered fruitless.These were the opinions of Mr. Pitt in the year 1796, a period when the country was placed under very different circumstances. Mr. Canning was once asked by Mr. Tierney why he did not touch the Poor Law? To which question Mr. Canning replied:—Why do not Governments decide offhand a question growing out of the usages of centuries—interwoven with the habits, and deeply rooted in the prejudices of the people? Of all subjects of legislation on which Governments ought not harshly or prematurely to interfere, without ascertaining, and, if possible, carrying with them the prevailing sentiments of the country, this of the Poor Law appears to me the one on which it would be most undesirable to take a pricipitate course.He considered that he had proved his case as far as he had gone; and the right hon. Baronet would perhaps admit that he had done so, and that he was in so far entitled to maintain the difference in opinion which he had expressed, that the present Poor Law was not based on that of 323 the 43rd of Elizabeth. He had endeavoured last year to prove that the Poor Law now in operation was not framed in conformity with the opinions of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Canning. He had endeavoured, and he believed successfully endeavoured, to prove the difference which existed between the Poor Law of the present day and the opinions which had been expressed in 1796 by the first statesman of the day as to the basis upon which such a measure ought to rest. He was now prepared to go further, and to declare it to be his opinion that every Poor Law ought to have in view two main objects—the first of which was, that relief ought not to be doled out to the suffering poor so as to make them feel all the bitterness of poverty and destitution—that the labouring classes, who were reduced to seek temporary relief under such an enactment ought not to be made to feel that poverty was a crime. The second object which a Poor Law ought to endeavour to accomplish was to administer succour and assistance to the suffering poor in such a manner as to call forth all the grateful sympathies and kindly feelings of the people; and there was not, he believed, a nation upon earth amongst whom such feelings and sympathies were more prevalent or stronger than amongst the English people when not unnaturally repressed and crushed. What was the principle upon which relief was administered to the poor prior to the Reformation? It was that same principle which was prevalent in all Catholic countries, and which might be advantageously observed at work at the present day throughout the whole extent of France. It was the voluntary principle of each arrondissement contributing in proportion to the means of each individual and the necessities of the poor to furnish sufficient funds; and when those funds were not enough, then recourse was had to some measures to stimulate the public benevolence. After the Reformation was effected the statutes of Henry VIII. and Edward VI. were passed, which were subsequently merged in the Act of the 43rd of Elizabeth, and this continued to be the sole law under which relief to the poor was administered until the 9th of George I., when the system of workhouses was first introduced; and from that time until the year 1834 the poor-rates gradually increased until they reached the annual sum of 8,000,000l. 324 To relieve the country from this enormous charge the present Poor Law was enacted and brought into operation. Workhouses were built upon a scale and a system of internal management almost similar to that which was enforced in places where criminals were confined; and the nourishment and treatment of paupers were not equal in point of quantity or quality of food, and as regarded humanity, to that experienced by convicts in gaol. It was in evidence that a jury had found a verdict last year, after an inquiry into the death of a pauper, that the wretched individual had actually died of want. The feeling of the whole country had been roused against such a system. There could be no doubt whatever that there were good reasons for the detestation in which the people held the Poor Laws. The regulations now in force did not even permit a poor worn-out labourer to enter the workhouse unless he was accompanied by the whole of his family; neither was this species of relief given to him until he had sold the last remnant of his furniture, and had become wholly destitute. Forgetful of Pitt's maxim of 1794, to which he had already referred, the Legislature now told the pauper that he must enter the workhouse and submit to its regulations if he desired to derive any benefit from the law which assigned relief to the poor. Thus the wretched aged man found himself, after a life of privation and labour, forcibly separated from all that he loved on earth, and even deprived of Heaven's last boon—hope. And this was the sentence passed upon him in a Christian country! He was told by the Legislature that he could not be permitted to starve. No; that would have been too disgraceful. Therefore the Scripture injunction to feed the hungry and clothe the naked was fulfilled; but in what manner? The garment that was given to him was the garment of shame; the bread that he ate was the bread of bitterness. And with what advantages had the introduction and enforcement of this New Poor Law been attended? He was prepared to show that as the operation of that law had advanced, so had crime increased in a perceptible ratio. If he were allowed he could prove the facts to be as he had stated, and if the House would permit he would refer to one series of returns in order to show the result to be as he had stated. In the year 1836 the 325 number of convictions for crime were 14,771, In 1837 they had increased to 17,690; in 1838 they amounted to 16,875; in 1839 to 17,832; in 1840 they numbered 19,927; in 1841, 20,280 was the amount of convictions; 22,733 in 1842; and in 1843 they were 21,092—a number not very far short of double what they were in 1834. These figures would show what a fearful increase of crime there had been since the New Poor Law had come into operation; and what was still more remarkable, this gradual increase in the number of offences was more observable in the counties that were almost entirely, if not exclusively, agricultural districts. He found that in Berkshire the convictions were nearly double in 1843 what they were in 1836, being as 230 to 137; in Buckinghamshire they were 124 in 1837, and 216 in 1840; in Derbyshire 141 was the amount in 1836, and 254 in 1840; in Devonshire they were 358 in 1836, and 517 in 1840; and in Durham they were 105 at the first period, and 216 at the second. This series of facts, though not conclusive, was at all events a very strong, and an equally available argument against the Poor Law. The effect likewise of the present system of affording relief to the destitute classes under the New Poor Law was one which ought to weigh very strongly against its perpetuation, The industrious poor man, reduced by hard necessity to have recourse to it in consequence of his being unable to procure work, was hardened and rendered indifferent to shame and exposure by the wretchedness to which it reduced him at the very first, whereas the profligate idler and the thief passed callously under its operation, in consequence of their being already dead to the better feelings of human nature. The former shrunk from the degradation of being compelled by the chance of sickness or momentary privation of employment to associate with the incorrigibly lazy habitual inmates of the workhouse, whereas the latter class of persons, as well as those of a more criminal description, utterly disregarded all such considerations. Another of the arguments which might be fairly urged against the Poor Law was that which had formerly been advanced in its behalf, namely, the amount levied under its operation for Poor Rates. The sum raised for the relief of the poor in the year 1835, when first it came into force, 326 was, in round numbers, 8,000,000l. In the year 1837, this sum was reduced to 6,300,000l. In 1838 it was 5,000,000l.; in 1839 it again rose to 5,600,000l.; in 1840 it reached 6,000,000l.; in 1841 it was 6,350,000l.; in 1842, 6,552,000l.; and in the last year the rates levied for the relief of the poor reached the sum of 7,000,000l. odd, being, with a very small difference, nearly the same amount that the New Poor Law Bill commenced under. The Act of the 43rd of Elizabeth took for its basis the inference that when the labourer was, from whatever cause, unable to support himself, the burthen of his maintenance was thrown upon society at large. The principle of the New Poor Law, on the contrary, threw the poor man entirely upon his own resources, and denied his right to assistance unless upon such conditions as made even privation preferable to their acceptance; and this principle was adopted as the inflexible rule at a period when mechanical science had made such vast progress as to limit in the most perceptible manner, the field of labour of the working classes. Let him ask, with reference to this very point, did it ever appear that a capitalist sought in vain for labourers in this country? Was not the converse of this proposition the true—unfortunately too true—state of things? Did not the labourer frequently—nay, daily—seek in vain for employment by which to support his family? He asserted, and he did so without fear of contradiction, that it was not the labouring classes who were unwilling to work, but it was the employers who were either unable or unwilling to find them occupation wherewith to support themselves. The labouring classes were those on whom the prosperity and stability of the empire depended, and this country was never more secure and prosperous than when wages were high, whereas the rate of wages never was so low as at present. He would now, having gone thus far, proceed to state an opinion, in which he was already aware a great many hon. Members who heard him would not coincide, namely, his firm belief that the great evils under which the country laboured had been increased by the predominance of manufactures and machinery, which had so vastly multiplied of late years. The stimulus given to the increase in the population by the predominance of manufactures was very observable. In the year 327 1670, the population of England was about 6,500,000; in 1800, it was about 8,000,000, being an increase of about 1,500,000; whilst from 1800 to 1840, the numbers of the people had nearly doubled, being within a fraction of 16,000,000. He maintained that so sudden and so vast an increase in the number of the inhabitants of any country could not but produce a very great social change, and when he asserted that the manufacturing portion of the community had proved injurious to the other classes, he would assign as one reason for that assertion the fact that the manufacturers contributed nothing, so to speak, towards the relief of the poor. He was prepared to show that the chief burthen fell upon the land, which was assessed at 35,000,000l.; house property at 23,000,000l.; and all other property at only the sum of 6,000,000l.; this latter included the mills, factories, and other manufacturing properties. The hon. and learned Member for Liskeard had stated last year that during the preceding ninety-four years the land had contributed towards the poor-rates 255,000,000l.; houses, 123,000,000l.; and mills and factories, 16,000,000l. Machinery was not rated to the poor according to its value. ["No."] The hon. Member denied his assertion; but he would appeal to the House if what he said was not the case. How much, let him ask the hon. Member, did the manufacturing interests contribute to the poor-rate? A good deal had been said about rating the stock in trade to the poor-rates, but was not the machinery of a mill or a factory to be regarded in this respect as so much stock in trade, and therefore liable as such to be rated? The manufacturers' advocates might argue that they ought not in fairness to be made to contribute to the poor-rate in the same ratio as the landed proprietors; but he would answer, that if they claimed the same protection from the laws and obtained the poor man's labour, they were bound to pay their quota toward his support when in need of relief. Besides, the population of manufacturing labourers was supported by the land and not by the mill-owners. In 1800 the landed proprietors took care that when they let a cottage to their labourers a piece of land should be annexed to each dwelling for his cultivation. Such was not the case in the manufacturing towns, and whenever a 328 period of depression arrived, and the operatives were thrown out of work, then they were driven to seek relief and shelter in the agricultural districts. In that enormous field of speculation which constituted England, the manufacturers always profited by the prevalence of distress and want of employment, because they then got labour cheaper than during more prosperous times. With respect to this very topic Lord Liverpool said in 1822:When the noble Lord says, that low prices incident to the distress which agriculture suffers benefit no man, I answer that I sincerely wish that such distress did not exist: but I cannot be blind to the fact, that they certainly do benefit a great majority of the people; do they not benefit the annuitant and mortgagee.The argument urged in favour of machinery by its advocates was, that in proportion as manufacturers increased and spread, so likewise did the power of giving employment multiply. Now, machinery had increased thirty-fold within the last thirty-years, and if the first part of the proposition which he had stated were true, the power of affording employment ought likewise to have multiplied in the same degree, whereas the very contrary was unfortunately observable. For his part, he did not think that the power of England depended on the development of her manufacturing capabilities, but even if that were the fact, he contended, that the more fully this capability of manufacturing became developed, so in like manner increased the misery and privations endured by the people, and he was prepared rather to sacrifice all the benefits resulting from manufacturing prosperity than to entail such consequences as it brought with it upon the people. He did not think he should have much difficulty in proving that every measure affecting the commercial and financial interests of the country that had been passed since the year 1819 had tended directly to the benefit of the capitalist and to the injury and deprivation of the labouring classes; and amongst these measures not the least influential had been the Currency Bill, the oor Law Amendment Act, and the new Tariff. He heard it asserted on every side that England depended for her greatness on her manufactures. The House would be able to perceive from what he had already said how much the question of that branch of 329 her industry was mixed up with the topic of the Poor Laws. In the Agricultural Committee which sat during the year 1836 the Chairman asked Mr. Langholm,—To what do you attribute the impoverished state of the farmer? Mr. Langholm.—I attribute the distress of the farmer chiefly to the diminished quantity of currency. Mr. Wodehouse.—Do you disapprove of the New Poor Law? Mr. Thirnall.—Most assuredly, I think it it will compel the labourer to work for low wages. They will not be able to consume our produce. Consequently, I think it will be very prejudicial to the farmers. Is the labourer better or worse off than he was ten years since?—He was better off till the New Poor Law came in. Then he was thrown upon his own resources.The question was put to Lord Radnor,Notwithstanding all philosophical arguments, is it actually true that the result of the Act of 1819 was to pay double what you had borrowed?—Yes. If the House of Commons had known the effect of the Act, would they have passed it?—I believe not. Do you believe the Bill was passed in utter ignorance of its consequences?—I believe it was so. It affected the whole nation?—Yes, it affected every fixed payment that was made.[The hon. Member next referred to the opinion of Sir James Graham, that the reduction of landlords' rents, consequent on the Act of 1819, had averaged at least 30 per cent.] The right hon. Gentleman allowed that the change would give many and great advantages to the manufacturers, and he presumed the right hon. Baronet would concur in the opinion he expressed, that the alteration was in favour of capitalists, and against the landed interests. He begged to remind the House that the country was now saddled with the whole expenses of the late war, during which the national debt was enormously increased; indeed, a great portion of the national resources was swallowed up by that debt. What was the opinion of Mr. Pitt on this point? In 1796 or 1797 that right hon. Gentleman said,I say, fortunately we have at last adopted the redemption fund. The benefits of it are already felt. They will every year be more and more acknowledged; and in addition it is only necessary to say, that instead of consulting a present advantage, and throwing the burthen as heretofore upon posterity, we shall fairly meet it ourselves, and lay the foundation of a system which shall make us independent of all the events in the world.It was stated in the Report of the Poor Law Commissioners in 1834 that the poor 330 of this country were idle, improvident, and vicious. He would put it to the House whether the poor population of this kingdom were open to such an imputation? He would ask whether any hon. Member of that House would deny that, under the distress and misery the poor of this country had suffered during the last few years, they had manifested the most exemplary patience? If he (Mr. Cochrane) were desirous to prove that this had been the case, he would refer to the evidence given as to the working of the allotment system; and he must say, that when it was remembered that 2,000,000 of the inhabitants of this country depended for subsistence upon the Poor Law, their patience was highly commendable. The Committee, in reporting upon the allotment system, said,We find in this excellent Report, that of all the heads of families holding allotments in Kent, not one of them was committed for any crime during 1841 and 1842. In the parish of Harlow there were thirty-five commitments in 1825. The allotment system was introduced in 1836, and in 1837 the commitments were reduced to one.In answer to the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Martin said that one-half of the holders of the allotments of two acres would have been on the parish but for that system. But in 1834 the Poor Law Commissioners, referring to the subject of allotments, said,The immediate advantage of allotments is so great that if there were no other means of supplying them we think it might be worth while, as a temporary measure, as a means of smoothing the road to improvements, to propose some general plan for providing them.He believed that the first and best remedy for the existing evils would be to return to the old system of relief, altering and amending it in such respects as might be deemed necessary, but preserving its Catholic spirit. Mr. Professor Grindley, of Lausanne, truly said,Workhouses for old men weaken the ties of families, and destroy those feelings of affection which children owe to their parents; they give birth to the monstrous idea that the old are a burthen upon society, of which it must endeavour to rid itself.In no other country in Europe was such a system carried out as had been introduced into England. If they looked to France, no Poor Law existed there; the workhouses in Germany were only for the impotent poor; in Scotland, though a 331 Poor Law did exist, it was rarely or ever acted upon, and that country was free from the incumbrance and expensive machinery which was in operation here. The Commission which had been sent into Scotland to institute inquiries as to the relief of the poor reported in these terms:—A strong feeling in opposition to a legal assessment has, however, existed in Scotland, and the clergy in general have strenuously exerted their influence to prevent recourse being had to any compulsory means for the relief of the poor. It is maintained that the existence of an assessment in a parish has a tendency to encourage pauperism, and to increase the number of the poor and the expense of supporting them, without materially benefiting their condition. The establishment of a fund so raised is said to lead the poorer classes to place an undue reliance on a legal provision, and thus to break down their spirit of independence. The exertions they might thus make in their own behalf are thus supposed to be relaxed, while at the same time the efforts of private charity, the care and kindness of relations, and the sympathy of the poor for the poor, are held to be so much diminished as to render any advantage which the pauper may obtain from the introduction of assessments but a small compensation for what he loses in other respects.His conviction was, that the Poor Law as now existing in this country tended to diminish and to repress those kindly feelings which ought to exist in every relation of life. The great object of the Legislature, as he conceived, ought to be this—to endeavour to diffuse, through all classes of the state, a warm spirit of charity—not that charity which was to be found among society-mongers, prize-beast, or prize-labour dealers; not the charity of political economists, or of workhouse disciplinarians; what it was requisite to impress upon all minds was, that those feelings and sympathies were not the results of peculiar refinement, but that the humblest classes were susceptible of the same impulses and affections. What was the course pursued under the present system of Poor Laws? They took the poor man from his cottage, they forgot that his footsteps still lingered on the threshold, and that the roof, however humble, had sheltered him from the cold; they placed him in a large, commodious, roomy building—a workhouse—which was divided and subdivided according to the most approved economical scale, and regulated by a system of machinery and by rules which 332 would delight a Malthus; they separated him from those who had hitherto been his support and his glory; and if, in the fulness of sorrow, he turned towards the home he had left—if he accepted In bitterness the pittance which the state doled forth—they then accused him of ingratitude. This was no hypothetical case;—it was a case occurring daily, almost hourly, in every parish in this country. He believed that no good man could enter the workhouses in this country without feelings of shame. In his opinion, the present system of Poor Laws in this country engendered error; and they were leading men into temptation even while giving them, day by day, their daily bread. There were moments in the lives of nations, as of men, when their situation demanded great sacrifices, — when the sense of self must be lost in one great universal interest. It appeared to him that the present was a most critical period in the history of this country; for the condition of the poor was such as might well occasion serious apprehension and alarm,—and certainly this was not a time when an unreasonable economy should find any place in their consideration. He believed that the seeds of vast movements were scattered throughout the land. It was true that, at this moment, there was no outward manifestation of discontent; but it was too hard to test the amount of suffering by that of popular excitement. Happily a moral feeling still prevailed throughout this land, which taught men to bear up against misfortune, and to submit to privation and suffering with patience and resignation. But the people did not on that account feel their sufferings the less; and if the House took no heed of their complaints, the low voice of anguish might become louder and louder, until, with one cry of despair, all classes and all orders were buried in overwhelming ruin. Unhappily, the apparent prosperity and external splendour of a state were too frequently found combined with much internal misery. They knewHow wide the limits standBetween a splendid and a happy land.The population of Spain was starving at the time her galleys were daily arriving, laden with the spoils of Mexico and Peru. The seeds of the French Revolution were sown while the arms of Louis XIV. were victorious beyond the Rhine and the Py- 333 renees. It was true that, at the present moment, this country held a proud position among the nations of the world. We possessed extensive dominions; our flag was everywhere respected; our commerce extended to every part of the globe where civilization had set her footsteps. But it might be said, "Much of this is owing to our manufacturing system." That he admitted; but at the same time he reminded them that to that system they owed all the internal evils which were now preying upon society, and which, he much feared, would ultimately lead to the ruin of this country. But if—which God forbid—such ruin did come, it would date from the time when the financial resources of the country were first overstrained—when it was first imagined that our manufacturing industry could never be sufficiently developed; and it would be consummated by that which ought to be the chief source of our strength and our power—the numbers of our people. He begged the House to remember that they were legislating for those who could not legislate for themselves—who had not any voice in the deliberations of that assembly—who were not even represented in that House. He trusted they would not hesitate to meet a vast evil which our own greatness—our own prosperity — had brought upon us. He trusted they would not shrink from the discharge of the duty they owed to society—that of carrying consolation into the bosom of families, there to distribute the relief which benevolence afforded in the perfection of human charity. This was an object worthy of their most serious consideration; and he would ask them, in the name of humanity, in the name of the friendless, in the name of public morality, so to discharge their duty towards the poor that the right hon. Gentleman, and those associated with him in the government of this great country, might win to themselves, not the praise of mere political economists, as the disciples of a heartless philosophy, but that they might carry out the sentiments avowed by the right hon. Baronet the other evening, when he opposed that cold philosophy with manly and generous feeling — that they might win for themselves the blessings of the aged, the poor, and the fatherless, and might long live in the memory of a grateful and contented people. He begged to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be committed this day six months.
§ The Speaker
said, the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman was not in accordance with the forms of the House. The question was that the Order of the Day for going into Committee be now read, and it was competent to the hon. Member to move as an Amendment either that a particular Order of the Day be read, or that the Orders of the Day be read. The Amendment of the hon. Member must be put in one or the other of these two forms.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
had listened with great attention to the observations of the hon. Member for Bridport, and he fully concurred in what had fallen from that hon. Gentleman with regard to the existing Poor Law. His opinion always had been, that the present Poor Law was a measure most uncongenial to the feelings and habits of that class of the people to whom it referred. He took this opportunity to express his detestation of that measure, which he would venture to term a brutal law. He conceived, that the best course they could adopt would be, to abolish the body of Poor Law Commissioners, which he considered the mainstay and great cause of all the evils in the administration of the existing law. He did not mean to impute blame to any individual member of that body; but he must say that the manner in which the Commissioners had acted throughout the country was such as to deprive them of all confidence on the part of the people He wished to impress upon the House, as a first step towards remedying the evils complained of, the necessity of getting rid of the whole body of Poor Law Commissioners. With regard to the law itself, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Bridport, that so far from tending to promote the comfort of the poor, or to improve their condition morally or religiously, it was calculated to lead to the extension of misery and crime. Independently of this, all the rational enjoyment which the people had a right to experience in this country had been interfered with by the operation of this law. But it was not his intention, after the able exposition of the hon. Member who had just addressed the House, to detain them by entering into any details with reference to the Bill under discussion, however he might be opposed to it. It would not be right for him to do so at this stage of the proceedings. Should the House resolve itself into Committee, he should then have an opportunity of entering more at length 335 into a consideration of the subject. He should reserve himself for that occasion, when it was his intention to take the sense of the House on the principle of the Bill. Thus much he had to say, expressing his concurrence in all that had fallen from his hon. Friend, who had spoken with such feeling and ability.
§ Sir J. Guest
understood the hon. Member (Mr. B. Cochrane) to say, that the interest with which he (Sir J. Guest) was connected did not pay its fair proportion of poor-rates. He begged to assure the hon. Member, that there was no foundation whatever for such a statement. He paid in poor-rates more than 1,000l. per quarter. Every mill, every piece of machinery, every steam-engine, was assessed to the poor.
§ Mr. Cochrane's Amendment was not put.
§ The Order of the Day read.
§ Upon the question that the Speaker do now leave the Chair,
§ Mr. Borthwick
said, the subject which they were then discussing was one of the most important which had yet come under their consideration. He was anxious to direct the attention of the House to the words which fell from Earl Grey; following Lord Malmesbury, in July 2, 1834, upon introducing the Poor Law Bill into the House of Lords, the noble Earl said—I entirely agree with the noble Earl in thinking that the Bill just brought up, less than any other measure, ought to be considered as a party measure; and I trust that it will not be so considered. The Government have, as in duty bound, bestowed the most careful and deliberate attention upon this most complicated and difficult subject, affecting, as the noble Earl has truly stated, most extensively the interests of the people, and involving more important consequences than almost any other measure ever submitted to Parliament.Such was the opinion of Lord Grey, and he referred to that, in order that he might not be under the necessity of quoting the opinions of other noble Lords who spoke upon this subject. Every individual must admit that the interests involved in this great question were the basis of the prosperity of the country, he meant those of the labouring part of the population. He wished to address himself more to the principle than to the details of the measure. His resolutions were not so much directed against the Bill as against the Act upon which the Bill is founded. It was his opinion that it would be impossible to satisfy the people generally by merely patching up the details of a Bill 336 based upon an Act unsound in principle and oppressive in operation. That measure would not give satisfaction unless it was founded upon more humane and Catholic principles. It was impossible for any man to close his eyes to the spirit of Catholicity spreading at that moment over the troubled waters which, out of mere chaos, promised to develope principles more pure, more just, and more generous in reference to the operation of the laws under which they lived. It was the hon. Gentlemen opposite who introduced a principle directly opposite to that for which he was contending, when, in 1834, standing upon a pinnacle of political economy, looking back for thousands of years upon the history of this country, they enacted the New Poor Law. Let him remind the right hon. Baronet and the House, that an hon. Gentleman, no longer a Member of that House, moved certain resolutions on this law. He referred to Mr. Walter, the late Member for Nottingham. That Gentleman based his resolution upon a certain document, which he brought under the notice of the House. The right hon. Baronet, however, upon that occasion denied the assertion that the Poor Law Bill was constructed upon that document. He would not say that such was the fact; but he had in his hand what he thought might be considered an authoritative document in connexion with this subject. That document was the speech of Lord Brougham when Lord Chancellor, delivered in the House of Lords, on July 21, 1834, carefully corrected by his Lordship and dedicated to Earl Grey. In this speech Mr. Pitt was denounced as a shallow man for proposing such a Bill as he brought forward in 1795, for the settlement of this question. Lord Brougham said, he was not prepared to join in the cry against the magistracy, who had been blamed for the mal-administration of this law. [The hon. Gentleman quoted from Lord Brougham's speech the noble Lord's opinions on the conduct of the magistracy in administering the law, and on Mr. Pitt's measure of 1795, for which see Hansard, vol. 25, third series, p. 216, He regretted that Mr. Pitt, frantic as he was said to have been, had not bitten the noble Lord, and those other noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen who took a part in enacting the present law. The hon. Member also quoted the opinions of Mr. Justice Blackstone, and 337 Sir M. Hale, that every man might demand subsistence, and that the right for it formed a fundamental part of the Constitution of England.] Mr. Pitt was not the only person whom Lord Brougham considered to be "frantic" on this subject. In the noble Lord's speech he says, speaking of the statute of Elizabeth,My Lords, those who framed the statute of Elizabeth were not adepts in political science—they were not acquainted with the true principles of population—they could not foresee that a Malthus would arise to enlighten mankind upon that important, but, as yet, ill understood, branch of science—they knew not the true principle upon which to frame a preventive check, or favour the prudential check to the unlimited increase of the people. To all that they were blind; but this I give them credit for—this they had the sagacity to foresee—that they were laying the foundation of a system of wretchedness and vice for the poor—of a system which would entail upon them the habitual breach of the first and most sacred law of nature, while it hardened the heart against the tenderest sympathies, and eradicated every humane feeling from the human bosom; and, therefore, the same statute of Elizabeth which first said that labour and the reward of labour should be separated; the same atatute which enacted a law contrary to the dispensation of Providence, and to the order of nature—foreseeing that the consequences would be to estrange the natural feelings of the parent for his child, and of the child for his parent—for the first time in the history of human legislation, deemed it necessary to declare, by a positive enactment, that a child should be compelled by the statute in such case made and provided, to obey the dictates of the most powerful feelings of nature—to follow the commands of the law implanted in every breast by the hand of God, and to support his aged and infirm parent.When Lord Brougham and Earl Grey asserted that Mr. Pitt was ignorant of the principles of Nature and of God, they forgot the command which our Creator gave, viz., "to increase and multiply." There would be no redundancy of population if the poor man was not crushed by unjust laws. England was not over-peopled except as they, by mischievous legislation, clogged the springs of industry, and prevented the development of the powers which would enable the labouring people to maintain a respectable position among other classes of the community. In the speech of Lord Brougham, to which he had previously referred, he brought forward as one argument for the contemplated change, the state in which the country then was. The noble and learned Lord 338 asserted that agrarian outrages unexampled and unequalled in the history of the country, existed to an awful extent throughout various parts of the Empire that unless something was done to put a stop to that state of things, all the property in the country would change hands, that the United Kingdom would be resolved into a condition worse than that which existed during the most frightful period of the French Revolution. It was to prevent such results and to reduce the amount of Poor Rate that a Bill was introduced, founded upon principles directly opposed to those upon which the Act of Queen Elizabeth was based. Had the measure produced the consequences anticipated? Had there been no agrarian outrages since 1834? Were Manchester, Stockport, and Bolton in a better condition now than they were in 1834? What had the hon. Member for Stockport said to the House with reference to the state of that manufacturing town? He told the House, that unless something was done to ameliorate the condition of the people, so frightful was the distress, that he should be afraid to return to his constituents; and that, in fact, if things were allowed to go on unaltered, he should have no constituents to return to. The hon. Member for Bolton also depicted in the place which he represented, a state of society which it was awful to contemplate. Such a state of things existed with the Poor Law Bill in operation, and, therefore, he was right in asserting that the Bill had not answered the object for which it was introduced. With regard to the poor-rate, he would not say, that it was not in some parts of the country lessened in amount. In his little parish, the poor cost, the year before the new Poor Law was enforced, 321l. The rate had now gradually mounted to 520l. without appreciable increase of numbers. His parish was under Gilbert's Act; he was the guardian, and Mr. Villiers, on his visit of inspection, lauded their system of management. In that town, he extracted from the rate books the number of persons discharged from the payment of rates from inability to pay, and found an aggregate of 262 discharged. Thus it appeared in one case the rate had nearly doubled, and the poor were no better oft. But this was a trifling matter when compared with the point to which he was anxious to direct the attention of the House. He referred to the in-door test. But in the first place, 339 as to the unconstitutional powers vested in the Poor Law Commissioners. He did not assert that they acted without the sanction of the Constitution. He meant to assert that the powers they possessed were opposed to the genius of the Constitution. The poor were excluded from the pale of the Constitution because the Poor Law Commissioners dealt with the liberty and even with the lives of the poor, in a manner which they could not be warranted in doing, unless under the authority of an Act passed by the authority of both Houses of Parliament, receiving the sanction of Her Majesty. This rejection of the people from the pale of the Constitution was most dangerous in principle. Every man who earned his bread by the sweat of his brow had before him now, only the last resource of the workhouse. Suppose a man to be born in a parish in which, perhaps, he had lived for sixty years—all his associations were in that parish—his affections were entwined around his neighbourhood—his children had grown up in the cottage bequeathed to him by his father, and in it he had passed sixty years of his life in honourable toil—not less honourable than that of any hon. Member in that House in his more exalted sphere. For some two months he might, perhaps be out of employ; and what did the new Poor Law say was to be done with this poor man in such a case? In the Bill constructed under Lord Brougham's principle of humanity, it was enacted, that in such a case, if the poor man were willing to sell his cottage, be separated from his family, and enter the workhouse, depriving himself of all the consolation which belonged to an association with those whom he loved, then he should have such relief as was necessary to keep his body and soul together; and the principle upon which that was done forsooth, was to restore among the labouring classes of this country a feeling of independence; but the honest and industrious poor man was placed on an equality with the indolent and sturdy beggar. The principle upon which the law proceeded, put into the hands of a certain set of men invested with Her Majesty's Commission, the power of dealing with the proderty and lives of the poor of the nation. He knew there were many exceptions in the practical operation of the law to the case he had supposed; but in every case where they were made, the law was violated. 340 They might show him regulations of the Commissioners; but those regulations might be withdrawn, and that was what he complained of. If, indeed, as in certain Acts, the regulations of the Commissioners were appended in a schedule to the Act, and so became the law of the land, there might be some reason for it; but they were regulations, having the entire force, but none of the sanction of law—introduced by the Commissioners against one class of Her Majesty's subjects only. The Commissioners, too, had the power of appointing persons to certain offices, and affixing salaries to those offices, and thereby of indirectly taxing the people, and interfering with the prerogative of the Crown. In fact, they exercised a higher prerogative; for the Crown could not fix a tax without coming to that House. He would not enter into cases illustrative of this principle; but he would mention a fact which had been communicated to him, in a letter from one of his constituents. The writer said—This morning, 22nd February, 1844, a poor man came to me to beg I would give him an order for work to be found him. 'I want nothing but work; I have had none this fortnight. My poor wife was brought to bed on Tuesday morning. I have two other young children crying for want of victuals, and for cold. I went to the relieving officer; he gave me two brown loaves, which helped me and the two children; but oh, Sir, what be I to do for the poor woman? I'm afraid she will be cast away for want of what is necessary.' The big tears coursed each other down his honest face in this recital—and I was obliged to hear—without power, legal power, to redress. This is one of the numerous cases in which I want the appellant jurisdiction of a magistrate.He had a large number of such cases, but he would not detain the House by referring to them. The operation of the law in general, had been, as naturally it would be, that the poor, with that feeling of independence which belonged to every man, refused as long as possible to go into the workhouse. They sold piece by piece their furniture, during the first two or three years of this Act, until at last they became the recipients of the bounty held out to them through these hard means, and the consequence was, that the poor-rates must increase, the contentment of the people must decrease in proportion, and the foundations of the prosperity of this great country, inasmuch as they rested on the feelings of the lower orders, must to that extent be sapped and weakened. He would not 341 enter into any of the causes of the present distress amongst the lower orders. If, however (he said) it was altogether caused by the Act under discussion, he should be much nearer the truth than was Lord Brougham, when he attributed the distress of 1834 to the operation of the Act of Elizabeth, and the subsequent Poor Law Acts. That that noble Lord was wrong was really proved by this fact—that the Law of Elizabeth was passed 300 years before, and that distress had scarcely existed as many units of years. The noble Lord, therefore, was singularly at fault in that respect. That law acknowledged the right of the poor to be fed by the State, but the poor that came within its meaning were the honest and industrious. It was a libel to unite them in the same class with the idle. But the present law, made under the pretence of being a law for amending the Poor Laws, and regulating a better administration of relief to the poor, was, in fact, a law for punishing the idle and non-industrious, which, at the same time, unfortunately took within the scope of its punishment, and more severely than the idle, those for whom it was the bounden duty of the State, under all circumstances, to provide. He would call the attention of the House to this fact—that inasmuch as upon the poorer classes of this country mainly depended its prosperity, the law by which they regulated the relief of the poor ought to be based upon the principles not of political economy, cold, abstract, calculating, and theoretical, but upon the general principles of humanity and religion applied, in their broadest and most Catholic form, to the wants and requirements of the people. That was a short-sighted policy, which induced them to apply a bookish system to this code of laws; and let the House remember, that the decision which they would come to eventually upon this great question, involved interests which would last long after they who now debated the question had become dust; interests upon which the welfare of this kingdom depended. He knew that those who framed that law were sensible of the obligations of humanity and religion; and it was because his feelings were unaccompanied by anything like disrespect to them, that he called upon the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, upon his right hon. Colleagues, and upon the noble Lord, the Member for the City 342 of London, to vote with him upon his Motion, for a reconstruction of this law, upon the principles which were adopted into the legislation of this country as early as the reign of Edward II., and which had never failed to characterize our legislation, until the unhappy Bill of 1834, which had been the source of so many evils. It sought to obtain good by bad means; and consequently, failed in achieving that which it contemplated. He would ask hon. Gentlemen on both sides to consider it upon the broad principle upon which that Bill was constructed, and to say whether or not that principle was unsound and oppressive in its operation on the poor, and whether by such a measure they were not alienating from the rich, from the property, and from the institutions of the country, the affections of the poor, upon whose good feelings the prosperity of those institutions mainly depended. He would admit, that there had been one defaulter in the matter of the Poor Laws, and that was the Church. In the Saxon Law the tithe, which was not literally a tithe, but all payments made to the Church were divided into three parts—one for the Church, another for the clergy, and the other for the poor. All the laws, which were then considerable in number, passed previously to the time of Henry VIII., recognised that principle, and insisted that the Church should provide for the wants of the poor. When Henry VIII. confiscated the Church property, it was necessary that some law should be made to prevent the increase of pauperism. The first law was that passed in the time of Henry VIII., and from that the whole nation was considered as the Church; and, upon Christian principles, the whole nation was taxed for the support of the poor. He did not know whether the House was aware of the fact, but there were 158 Acts upon the Statute Book at that moment, affecting the distribution of relief amongst the poor; and he had intended in the Bill which he had purposed to ask leave to bring in, to have consolidated the whole of those laws. That was a task not for his puny powers; but he believed that the right hon. Gentleman would, ere long, see the expediency of adopting that course; and that they would have a code relating to the poor, which would relieve the operation of the laws now in force from the perplexity in which they were now involved. The two resolutions 343 which he had to submit to the House were—1. That the Act 4 and 5 William IV. c. 76, commonly called the New Poor Law, is unconstitutional in principle, and oppressive in operation. 2. That it is therefore expedient that the said Act should be taken into consideration, with a view, not to its partial amendment, but to its entire re-construction.If he were right in supposing that the law was contrary to sound principle, and that the operation of it was oppressive on the poor, and tended to alienate the affections of the people from the institutions of the country, he thought no hon. Member would doubt, that those two Resolutions ought to be adopted by the House. He gave the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) that credit which he knew he deserved, of being actuated by the very best principles of humanity; but he would say that even if the administration of the present law was in the hands of angels, it could not affect that good which it was intended to do.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, I think, Sir, that after the speeches which have been addressed to the House, it is expedient that I should now offer some observations before we proceed further in this debate, and it will be necessary for me, I am afraid, to occupy the attention of the House, though very unwillingly, for some short space of time. I am bound in the outset of the observations I am about to make, to state, that if I could agree in the first resolution just moved by the hon. Gentleman—if I could think that the Poor Law as it now stands is unconstitutional in principle and oppressive to the poor—no consideration of the advanced period of the Session would induce me to hesitate for one moment to vote in favour of the hon. Gentleman's Motion, and to agree to take into immediate consideration the law as it now stands, with a view to the formation of some new code for the relief of the poor; but, having deliberated much upon this subject, and having had some experience both in the details of the administration of the law, and in the supervision and general control over that Administration in the discharge of the duties of my present office, I am bound to say that experience has confirmed my opinion, that upon the whole, the amended Poor Law is conducive to the interests of the working classes, is constitutional in principle, and that this House and the Legislature have 344 acted wisely in adopting it. The hon. Gentleman has referred to a very eloquent passage in the speech of Earl Grey when he first moved in the House of Lords the Bill which is now the law of the land. I entirely agree in what the noble Earl stated in that passage, that this is a measure involving in the highest degree the feelings, interests, and happiness of the most numerous class of society in this country, and that, therefore, it is entitled to the gravest consideration of Parliament, and I am also of opinion that it is the duty of the Legislature not only to give their most serious consideration to this subject, but that it is their duty to be actuated in legislating upon it by a kindly spirit towards the poor. With these principles I entirely agree. I do not therefore undervalue the importance of this subject, and I estimate, as they deserve, the difficulties by which it is surrounded. But I altogether repudiate the opinions which were urged by the hon. Gentleman who moved the first resolution; as well as his arguments urged by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and who has put into your hands, Sir, a Motion upon which he has announced his intention of taking the opinion of the House. The hon. Member for Bridport stated, in very general terms, that it is his opinion that the law as it now stands is alien to the ancient constitution of this country. Nothing could be more vague than that declaration. I was, therefore, compelled to look back to the earlier statutes and to ask what is the ancient constitution in reference to the laws for relief of the poor, and I naturally first turned to the reign of Elizabeth, when the interests of this country were guided by statesmen of the greatest genius; but, it was not until the close of that reign that the Act to which the hon. Gentleman referred was passed. I think it was passed at the very close of that reign, shortly before the death of the Queen; and a considerable time elapsed before its effects were disclosed. The reign of Charles I. was a period of great disturbance, and I suppose it was not to that period or to the period of the Commonwealth that the hon. Member would refer as to the happy days of the ancient constitution of this country under which the welfare of the working classes was secured. Then we come to the reign of Charles II., and in that reign we find that the real effects of the Act of Elizabeth were fully developed. In confirmation of what I am now stating, perhaps the House will permit me to read the preamble of the 345 Statute of the 13th and 14th of Charles II., which was an Act for the better relief of the poor of this kingdom. The effects of the Act of Elizabeth had time to develope themselves fully, and had arisen to such a height of intolerable mischief as to call for the interference of the Legislature; and it is manifest, from the preamble of that Act, that the effects of the Act of Elizabeth were within the purview of the Legislature in framing the 13th and 14th of Charles II. What are the terms of that preamble?Whereas the necessity, number, and continual increase of the poor, not only within the cities of London and Westminster, with the liberties of each of them, but also, through the whole kingdom of England and dominion of Wales, is very great and exceeding burthensome, being occasioned by reason of some defects in the law concerning the settling of the poor, and for want of a due provision of the regulations of relief and employment in such parishes or places where they are legally settled, which doth enforce many to turn incorrigible rogues, and others to perish for want, together with the neglect of the faithful execution of such laws and Statutes as have formerly been made for the apprehending of rogues and vagabonds, and for the good of the poor. For remedy whereof, and for the preventing the perishing of any of the poor, whether young or old, for want of such supplies as are necessary, may it please, &c.As early, therefore, as the reign of Charles II., the imperfections in the Act of Elizabeth were clearly demonstrated. The increase of the poor by reason of defects in the law, had become exceeding burthensome—many had turned incorrigible rogues—many perished for want of necessary supplies — Now, the hon. Member who spoke last has referred to Lord Hale (and higher authority cannot be), to show the state of the poor at that time. What is it, then, which Sir Matthew Hale states with reference to the condition of the poor under the operation of the Statute? Sir Matthew Hale published a pamphlet in the reign of Charles II., containing a plan for the better relief of the poor; and he, writing in that reign, gives this description of the condition of the poor under the Statute of the 43rd of Elizabeth:—Let any man," says he, ""look over the most populous parishes of England; he will find poor-rates made on which the poor live miserably; at best, from hand to mouth; and if they cannot get work, they and their children set up the trade of begging.346 This was the statement of Hale with regard to the imperfect operation of the law at the time he wrote; in fact, he himself proposed an amendment of the 43rd of Elizabeth. Now, it must be observed, that the Legislature very early after the accession of the House of Brunswick to the Throne, felt so strongly the necessity of revising and altering the provisions of the 43rd of Elizabeth that the Statute of the 9th George I. was passed, not only greatly altering and modifying that enactment, but changing it precisely in those particulars wherein the amended Poor Law now differs from the Statute of Elizabeth. Sir, I am not about to weary the House by going minutely into details, but I will say generally that the 9th George I. is an enactment, not only tracing the outline of the Poor Law Amendment Act, but is really identical in principle with that Act. Another alteration was made in 1796, which rendered inoperative the provisions of the 9th of George I., or at all events prevented its general use to the extent, which its excellence deserved. The principal provisions of the 9th George I. were, that parish officers might purchase houses to lodge or employ the poor in; that one parish being too small for such purchase might unite with other parishes; that districts may be formed, and (what is most material) that any poor person refusing to be lodged, maintained, and employed in such house, he or she shall not be entitled to relief. Almost immediately, therefore, on the accession of the House of Brunswick, we find the principle, and almost all the leading details of the present law, affirmed by the Legislature of that day in the most positive terms. But this is not all. In the year 1765 a Committee was appointed by this House to inquire into the state of the laws relating to the relief of the poor. The 9th of George I. not being carried into full operation, and the principle of the 43rd of Elizabeth still being maintained, the imperfections in the administration of the relief of the poor again attracted the notice of the Legislature. On the 22nd of January, 1765, Mr. Gilbert moved for the Committee I have mentioned, and subsequently Mr. Blackstone, the celebrated Judge Blackstone, reported from that Committee to the House. The Committee was appointed to revise and consider the laws relating to the relief of the poor throughout England, and to report to the House which of such laws required amendment or repeal, and what regulations ought 347 to be adopted for the better relief and settlement of the poor. The Committee reported certain resolutions, which with the permission of the House I will read to them—That it is the opinion of this Committee that the laws relating to the relief of the poor are in many respects defective; that the present mode of regulating the poor by means of separate parochial officers annually elected is inadequate for the purpose for which it was intended.Now this is condemnation, it will be observed, of the 43rd of Elizabeth, so far as relates to the appointment under it of separate officers for each parish, in contradistinction to the 9th of George I., which unites several parishes. That is to say, it is the condemnation of the parochial system of relief as compared with relief administered in Unions. The Committee suggest in their next resolution that the appointment of a competent number of districts throughout England and Wales, and the establishment of hospitals, workhouses, and houses of correction throughout each district, would be the most easy and beneficial method of relieving and employing the poor. Such were the resolutions of this Committee of 1765; and, Sir, I cannot but think, that if a Committee of this House in the year 1833 had had to draw up resolutions on the subject, they would not have been able to frame resolutions more pointedly referring to the principles of the enactment of the Poor Law Amendment Act exactly as it now stands. In the year 1787, Mr. Gilbert published Considerations on a Bill for the Better Relief of the Poor, which he intended to offer to Parliament, in which he said, that "the evidence for the necessity of a change is always before us. We see beggars in every highway." This was the operation of the law under the Statute of Elizabeth, and before the full introduction of the change made by the 9th of George I. Sir, before I proceed further I must be permitted to comment on the vagueness of the propositions now put forward, both in the Motion of the hon. Member for Bridport, and also in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, though the propositions contained in his resolutions are somewhat more substantive. The hon. Gentleman states, that the Act of 1834 is unconstitutional and oppressive; but he does not state what is the substitute which he wishes to propose. Is it to go back to the 9th of George I., an alteration in the law 348 of Elizabeth which is substantially identical with the Act of 1834? Or, is it to return to the provisions of the Act of Elizabeth? If you go back to the 9th of George I., there is some variation in detail, but in principle there is no difference between that Act and the Act now in force. If you go back to the Act of the 43rd of Elizabeth, you must go back to all the evils which are demonstrated to have existed prior to the Act of George I. But the hon. Member for Bridport declares, that the refusal of out-door relief is the principle of the present Act, as contradistinguished from the Act of Elizabeth. Now, Sir, I absolutely deny that there is a denial of out-door relief in the present Act. It is true a power is given to the Commissioners in certain cases to prohibit out-door relief; but in the law there is no such principle as the absolute denial of out-door relief. I say that the power of the Commissioners is this—in each Union, with reference to the peculiar circumstances of each union, which circumstances they have the means of ascertaining through their Assistant Commissioners, they have the power of withholding out-door relief by their order; but they have also the power of relaxing or modifying that order, as the circumstances of each union may seem to them from time to time to require. May I call the attention of the House to the immense proportion of relief given to the poor at their own houses? I assert again, that in the Act of 1834, there is no prohibition of out-door relief. The Commissioners have a certain discretion vested in them, and in the exercise of that discretion the power of refusing outdoor relief is made the test of destitution; but in practice that discretionary power is mercifully applied, and relief is given in a greater proportion to the poor at their own cottages than in any other way. From the Report of the Commissioners, made in 1843, and laid on the Table of the House, it appears that 1,366,000 was the whole number of poor relieved in England and Wales within the year. Of these only 203,000 were relieved in workhouses, 1,163,000 being relieved at their own homes; that is to say, of the whole number relieved 85 per cent. received out-door relief, and 15 per cent. were relieved in workhouses. Now, I Sir, I can lament with any Gentleman that so large a proportion of the population of this country should be in a condition to require relief; but, while I deplore this fact, I must also say, that I am 349 proud of the humane institutions of this country where relief is freely given to so large a number of the poor inhabitants. Think of 1,366,000 persons having received relief from the public funds in the course of one year—think also, however you may carp at the law, or the administration of it, that, though the test of out-door relief has been established, a salutary test (as I think it) to prevent fraud, seven-eighths of that large body of persons have received this relief at their own homes, and without the compulsion of entering the workhouse. Thus I dispose of one of the misrepresentations which have been made of the working and principles of the law as at present in force. Another misrepresentation—an unintentional one, I am sure—which has gained currency, was stated by the hon. Member for Bridport, who told us that before the poor man can obtain relief in the workhouse, it is necessary that he should sell his property—in fact, strip himself of every thing he has. I have before stated, and I now repeat, that such refusal to admit a pauper to relief in the workhouse unless he sells his property, is not only not the law, but is a violation of the law. I say, it would be no answer to a man who has a wife and children starving for the guardians to tell him, that unless he sells his bed and his furniture, he cannot be admitted to be relieved in the workhouse. I say there is nothing in the law which sanctions such a refusal; I say that in practice it is not the course adopted by guardians of unions. In reference to the observations of the hon. Member on the discontent that he said prevails respecting the operation of the present law, I may remark, that it will not be denied that the Commission of 1833, pointed out the urgent necessity of a change in the law as then existing; that they enforced this by the statements they made; and that whatever those statements were, they rested on evidence which had been carefully collected. Now, with reference to the statements which immediately led to the change of the law, as existing in 1833, I may be allowed to cite from the Appendix to the Commissioners' Report two statements in reference to the condition of two counties at that time, as showing the misery of the poor and the discontent of the country under the operation of the law to which I suppose it is desired that we should return. The first statement relates to the county of Buckingham, and was given in answer to certain queries addressed by the Commis- 350 sioners of Poor Law Inquiry in 1883, to M. Bourdillon, a rector and justice of the peace, respecting the condition of the poor of that county. He says,I consider the burnings and riots of 1830 and 1831, to have been occasioned by the Poor Law. The operation of the law has created a malignant spirit among the workpeople who were unemployed, together with idleness, discontent, and dissatisfaction with the superior classes. They know of no limit to their illegal exactions from the farmer; if they do not receive what they demand, they burn stacks and terrify the farmers; a decrease of wages and a high amount of poor-rates are the results. The paupers are more threatening in their language, and more insolent in their demands than I have ever known them.This was the state of the county of Buckingham in 1831, under the operation of the old Poor Law. He goes on to say,My opinion is, that the burnings and riots arose out of the Poor Law, for I find that they were almost exclusively confined to places where the poor-rates were high.I will next read a statement respecting Cambridgeshire, made by Mr. Wells, an overseer of the poor, and I ask the attention of the House to this. He says,I conceive that the disorders which have taken place here, are chiefly attributable to the long continued exercise of the defective Poor Law. The labourers are so discontented that they are ready to commit any act of insubordination. In almost every parish riots and fires have taken place. I am inclined to attribute a great deal of this to the cruel policy of paying single men lower wages. The object of the fires is not the destruction of property, but to obtain higher wages.Now, that is a picture of the unchecked operation of the Act of Elizabeth towards the close of its duration, and the existence of such a state of things led most justly, in my opinion, to the enactment of the present law. The effect then, of the Statute of Elizabeth was to throw the whole working population upon the poor-rates. In the opinion of the hon. Member who had just sat down, the industrious, honest, labouring poor, have an undoubted right to relief. But whether we assent to that proposition, or meet it with a decided negative, must depend on the construction given to the language in which that proposition has been couched. If, by honest and industrious were meant the independent labourers of England, then I do say, that they would disdain to accept any such assistance. But if any man 351 denied that those deserving of relief, and entitled to receive it, have not been duly and efficiently relieved, then I meet him by the statement which I have already laid before the House, and I say that there has been an efficient administration of the Poor Law when so many as one-eighth of the whole population have been made the recipients of relief within the last twelve months. After relief has been carried to this extent, is the House prepared to say that such men as may fairly be included within the terms of the proposition stated by the hon. Member for Evesham do not receive the relief to which they are fairly entitled? Passing, however, from any general arguments that may be founded upon the position taken up by the hon. Member who last addressed the House, I should wish for a moment to call the attention of the House to the working of the system which prevails in Scotland for the relief of the poor, and to the views entertained of it by those who are best acquainted with that part of the United Kingdom. We have now before us the Report of the Commissioners to whose consideration was referred the state of the poor in Scotland. This Commission consisted of noblemen, of gentlemen connected with Scotland, of clergymen belonging to the Church of Scotland, and here I must observe, that the ministers of the Scottish Church are pre-eminent for their attachment to the poor, and for the tender care with which they relieve their wants. Now, if hon. Members take the trouble to read that Report, they will find that the Commissioners adhere in their recommendations most rigidly to that part of the law of Scotland which denies relief to able-bodied men. I fully remember that there was one person who protested against that Report; but I beg to inform the House that that person was an English Assistant Poor Law Commissioner. The state of the law in Scotland, or the opinions of any authorities connected with that part of the United Kingdom, however eminent they may be are no reason why the law either there or in England should be uniformly administered with unmitigated strictness. The strict principle is that which the Commissioners laid down, and which has been the law of Scotland ever since the time of Charles II. it is the refusal of relief out of the workhouse to able-bodied men. Now, I do not hesitate to say that that law — as a general rule — ought to be observed. I say it ought 352 not to be evaded, and so do the Commissioners in their Report; and further, I contend that the principle of relief to able-bodied labourers has not been recognized in Scotland, and we are not now prepared to support it in England. The hon. Member for Bridport, however, tells us that an adherence to the principle of giving relief to able-bodied labourers is rendered imperative upon us by the distress which our manufacturing system has created. He tells us that we have created those manufactures and that we must take the consequences of having called them into existence. I deny that general pauperism is the necessary consequence of the spread of manufactures, though I do not deny that our manufacturing system has brought upon us considerable difficulties. It has been followed by a very great increase of our population, especially in Lancashire; but it is in vain now to consider what we ought to do if we were dealing with a population less dense. There is no practical advantage to be derived from now asking ourselves what we should do if we were placed in a totally different state of society from that which we now occupy; and it appears to me that it would at present be utterly fruitless to institute any inquiry into the degree of happiness which we might enjoy if a former state of society had been continued to the present time; but it may not be altogether unprofitable to remember this—that an increase of population scarcely ever fails to be followed by diminished means of subsistence, or, in other words, by increased poverty; the House, however, will not, upon such a ground, reject a measure like the present which is intended to provide for the better relief of the poor. The remedies which it offers are the best that under the circumstances we are able to apply; and having applied those remedies I am quite ready to acknowledge that everything should be done to increase the means of production, which are also the means of useful industry and profitable employment. [Cheers.] Yes, notwithstanding that cheer, I am quite ready to repeat, that we are most anxious to increase the means of production, though not perhaps in the precise manner which the hon. Members who cheered would desire that we should proceed. We may differ as to the means, but I am sure there can be no difference of opinion as to the end. Of the fact that there has been for a long time a progressive increase in numbers and in production there cannot be a shadow of doubt; 353 and, however much we may deplore the evils of the manufacturing system, we must not forget that we have established great powers of machinery, and great skill in the useful arts of life; and it now forms no part of our duty to waste time in vain lamentations. Onwards we must proceed, and anything fatal to our manufactures would be the greatest blow that our dense population could sustain. I do not overlook the fact that I have been taunted with an inconsistency between these sentiments and those which I formerly held upon the subject of the currency. To that I shall only reply, that in the year 1819 we recurred to our ancient system by adopting gold as the standard after the use of an inconvertible paper currency for more than twenty years. Whether, at that time, such a return to that ancient system was a public injury or otherwise, forms a question not now before the House. It was an act deliberately done by the Legislature and Government of the country with general concurrence and in full force it has remained for a quarter of a century—it must now stand; for to alter it would be to nullify all the transactions which have taken place from that time to this. Any departure from it would shake the foundations of our prosperity and would endanger our pre-eminence as a commercial and manufacturing community. That commerce which we enjoy, and those manufactures in which we so much excel every other nation, we must do all in our power to preserve — nay, to cherish — an opposite course of legislation would be madness leading to destruction. There are many Clauses in the present Bill calculated to mitigate the severity of the present Poor Law; in that spirit of progressive amelioration, I call upon the House to proceed; and I hope the House will agree to these important alterations of a mitigating character which I propose we should now enact. As to the Resolution that has been moved, I do think that nothing could be more unwise than to affirm anything of the sort at this period of the Session. I say not merely at this period of the Session, but at any period of the Session, it would be most unwise to agree to a resolution declaring a Statute to be unconstitutional and oppressive when that Statute constitutes the only claim of the poor to relief, which the law now recognizes I hope, then, you will agree with me that it is prudent not to condemn but to revise that Statute with a view to introduce such 354 amendments as circumstances render safe, expedient, and humane.
Mr. Stewart Wortley
said, that if the Resolution now before the House had been differently worded he perhaps should have had not much difficulty in voting for it; but, whatever modification ought to be effected in the law he objected to the wording of the Resolution. He would not consent to pronounce any act unconstitutional which had been maintained and sanctioned by repeated votes of Parliament. Besides that, in other respects the wording of the Resolution was vague and unintelligible. The Bill invested the Commissioners with strong and extraordinary powers: but it did not necessarily follow that such powers were unconstitutional. The Resolution was either a truism or it went beyond the truth. There was no occasion for a vote of the House to that effect. He should have no objection to support the hon. Member for Evesham, if that hon. Gentleman moved a resolution to the effect that the Poor Law Amendment Act was unsound in principle and oppressive in its operation; for in many respects it was oppressive in its operation, as well as unsound in its principle. He repeated that it was oppressive in its operation, for this among other reasons,—that it was not properly or fairly carried out. At the time the Bill of 1834 was introduced, Lord Althorp said,It certainly will not be a part of the duty of the Commissioners to include all the parishes of this country in unions.The same noble Lord further said,The very object of an alteration made by myself, and not previously suggested by any hon. Member in this House, of giving a discretion to the Commissioners to dispense with the change in places where it may be desirable that it should not be carried into effect, is to enable the Bill to be carried into operation without the possibility of any such result as collision.That was the description which was given of the Act by Lord Althorp, who assured the Parliament and the country that the system which it founded should not be forced upon the country, unless it was the desire of the people that it should be acted on. At the time of the passing of the Act it was objected to it, that if the discretion were vested in the Commissioners of mixing up parishes into unions, they might be apt to place too many together, and to make the unions too large. That objection against the Bill was urged in the House of Lords in 1834, and Lord 355 Brougham, then the Chancellor of England, who defended the Bill, said,—There never was such a bugbear conjured up to fright men's minds, as to suppose that the parishes of a whole county are to be united, and that all the paupers of large districts, whether agricultural or manufacturing, are to be brought together and to be placed in one immense prison. If the Commissioners be not absolutely deranged, they will never attempt anything of the kind. The sole object of this clause is to put a convenient number of parishes together, probably some six or seven, for the purpose of having a common workhouse, and of managing it economically.That was the language of the noble Lord who had the conduct of the Bill in the House of Lords, and whose language, in his (Mr. Wortley's) opinion, should surely be taken as an authority upon the nature of the provisions in the Bill. Let the House look, however, for a moment to the positive result and to the actual workings and execution of the plan after those assurances, and after the power had been invested in the hands of the Commissioners. Instead of six or seven parishes being united into an union, he found that some unions contained fifty-four parishes, others seventy, some fifty-two, some sixty, some eighty-six, and so on! Did the country ever expect, after the assurances of Lord Brougham, that the Commissioners would exercise their discretion in such a mode as that? He might occupy the House for a long period in detailing such cases, but he was not willing to weary them with such details. He would observe, however, that there were no less than forty-five Poor Law unions the area of each one of which exceeded the whole of the county of Rutland. There were thirty-six unions larger than the county of Westmoreland or Huntingdon, two larger than the county of Monmouth, and one larger than the whole county of Northampton. He should really be very glad to know on what principle either of equity, of sense, or of justice, this system had been adopted by the Commissioners. He could, if it were necessary, multiply cases. He would refer, however, to the union of Huddersfield, a place with which he was well acquainted, and which was a very important manufacturing district. That union contained thirty-four parishes, comprised 68,000 acres, and no less than 107,000 inhabitants. He asked if it was fair to have such immense unions as these? How was it possible that the guardians, however willing or anxious they might be to do their duty, could, under 356 such circumstances, administer the affairs of such a union to the satisfaction of the inhabitants? It was quite impossible; and he could inform the House that the affairs were not administered to the satisfaction of the inhabitants—there was a great and growing discontent springing up in those districts, which was to be attributed, as he maintained, to the means adopted for forcing this measure upon the inhabitants. Then take the case of the Manchester union. One would have thought that the parish of Manchester was large enough of itself to admit of any convenient management of Poor Law affairs; but it would seem that it was not considered so, for eleven other parishes had been associated with it, and the twelve formed one union, comprising upwards of 12,000 acres, and containing nearly 200,000 inhabitants. These were circumstances which, in his opinion, gave rise, and justly gave rise, to discontent in those parts of the country. He spoke now of the north, and of the north only, because he did not presume to be acquainted with the operation of the Act in other parts of the country; but he must say that he did conceive the Act to be exceedingly ill-adapted to those districts of which he spoke. Upon this point of altering the size of unions he would beg to read to the House an extract from the Report of a Committee which was presented to Lord Normanby in 1840. That extract stated,In all cases where it may be thought proper to alter the size of the union, the Committee recommend that especial consideration be had to the easy access of the poor, and to the good attendance of the guardians at the board; those conditions being in their opinion of essential and paramount importance.And no doubt they were of essential and paramount importance. It was a gross injustice inflicted on the poor man to compel him, in addition to all the anxiety and trouble which he had to undergo, to make long journeys before he could make his application to the board; and it was at the same time no slight hardship upon the guardians. He must say that he was surprised to find people in their station of life setting themselves to work so sedulously to perform their very laborious duties, with which they certainly had no right to be saddled. In another place he found Sir J. Walsham, one of the Assistant Poor Law Commissioners, complaining of the enormous size of some of the unions in the North of England, and very justly complaining. Let them look, for example, at the union of Hexham, consisting of seventy 357 parishes, containing 202,000 acres, and 28,000 inhabitants. The same gentleman also referred to the number of guardians for such large and populous unions, and complained that they were not sufficient. With regard to the Motion of his hon. Friend, he (Mr. Wortley) would recommend him, for the reasons which he had already stated, to withdraw the word "unconstitutional."
Lord J. Russell
I think the House is indebted to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham (Mr. Borthwick), who brought forward this Motion, and I therefore entirely differ from the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The complaint of the public which has been raised is, that the law is unconstitutional in principle and oppressive in operation, That is a common feeling, and if the law really be so, let us at once proceed to reconstruct that law; but if we be not persuaded of the truth of that sentiment let us put a negative upon the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that there cannot be a fairer question brought before the House than that which the hon. Gentleman has moved. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding surprised me not a little by his going chiefly into one particular matter of detail, and by his stating that he had never proposed a repeal of this law. I thought I had read a printed placard of the hon. Gentleman's prepared when he was addressing the persons whom he sought to represent, stating that he was for a modification—an alteration, or if necessary, the repeal of the New Poor Law. [Mr. S. Wortley: "Never."] My memory may deceive me, but I certainly have read an address of that hon. Gentleman, in which I thought that very word "repeal" came in. I am sure I have read what were reported to be speeches of the hon. Gentleman protesting against the whole of the law. Now, it appears that the hon. Gentleman's chief complaint is that some of the unions are too large. Why, that is a matter not prescribed by the law. There is no particular clause which says that a union shall contain 100,000 or 200,000 persons, or that any one shall be as large as the whole county of Rutland, or anything of that sort. But if the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Commissioners have too unlimited a power in this respect it is quite competent for him to move a clause in Committee, by which he may limit the 358 powers of the Commissioners, and restrict the size of the unions now existing. That, however, is entirely a matter of detail; it is very different from the complaints which have been made in the country, and which I think have been echoed by the hon. Gentleman when indeed he was not a Member of this House, but when he was addressing from the hustings those whom he desired to represent. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department has, I think, answered much that fell from the hon. Member for Evesham. I must say, that in my opinion, there has been a great deal too much of vague assertion and of professions that, persons were ready to oppose this law as oppressive and unconstitutional, without stating in what manner it was so. There is nothing more common than for people to declaim against what they call that "most oppressive, most inhuman, and unchristian part, of the law which directs the separation of man and wife." Now, it happens in the first place, that there is no such clause in the law, and it happens, in the next place, that in the case of a large workhouse such a separation is necessary for mere decency, and that the practice was observed long antecedent to the passing of the New Poor Law. I remember that some persons came to me from the parish of St. Pancras, when I filled the situation which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department now occupies, and that they complained of a part of the New Poor Law. I said—"You have a large workhouse, have you not?" They said—"Yes, we have, a very large one, and a great many people in it." "Do you separate man and wife?" "To be sure we do," was their reply, "we could never have any decent arrangements in the House if we did not." Yet Gentlemen talk of altering the New Poor Law—" especially that un-Christian and inhuman part which separates man and wife." That is just a specimen of the way in which people speak of the enactments of the New Poor Law. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham really talks as if we had been living under a perfectly happy state of things from the time of Elizabeth down to the passing of the new law, and he spoke as if he were surprised that Lord Grey's Government, and that Lord Brougham in particular, should endeavour to disturb that which for a period of 300 years had 359 caused so much happiness and comfort. I think it has been shown by the right hon. Baronet that there were continual complaints made of the law of Elizabeth until it was repealed. For my own part, I think, with regard to that law, that it was a very wise law, suited to the time for which it was enacted, and to the state of society as it then existed, although it did not contemplate—as it could not contemplate—what might be the state of society a century or two afterwards. The law of Elizabeth enacted, first, that the children of poor persons who objected to maintain them, and, secondly, that adult persons, married or unmarried, should be set to work at flax, iron, hemp work, and so on. I don't think that law would have been framed exactly in the same way if the mechanical inventions of the present day had existed then. The object of the law was to have even compulsory industry rather than to allow the vagrancy and idleness then existing to continue. But when the hon. Gentleman speaks of the exceeding humanity and liberality of Elizabeth's time, I think he has not looked so completely as he should have looked into the laws of those days, because I find, in looking at a part of those laws that, society having emerged from a disorderly and irregular state, there being many persons about the country with whom war or robbery had been almost a trade, whilst civilization and industry were making increased progress from day to day—it was the object of the then legislature to reduce the idle and unruly to a state of order and propriety, and to effect that as it appears to me they certainly took no very mild or merciful means. An Act passed in the 39th of Elizabeth, entitled "An Act for the Relief of the Poor," which, though only a temporary Act, was passed for the same purpose and was based on the same principles, as the 43rd Eliz., to which the hon. Gentleman referred, enacts—That from the 1st day of November next ensuing the end of this Session of Parliament no person or persons whatever shall go wandering abroad and beg in any place whatsoever, by license or without, upon pain, to be esteemed, taken, and punished as a rogue.The 4th chapter of the same year of Elizabeth is an Act for the punishment of rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, and there he found "Testimonial for the punishment of a rogue."—"A rogue conveyed to the House of Correction or to 360 the gaol"—"A rogue banished the realm or adjudged to the gallies," and so on—so that the fact was, that persons who were found begging, either with licence or without, were liable to be accounted as rogues, and sent to the house of correction or to the gallies. There is a former Act with respect to vagabonds, passed in the 14th of Elizabeth, and entitled, "An Act for the Punishment of Vagabonds and for the Relief of the Poor and Impotent." which enacts thatA vagabond above the age of fourteen years shall be adjudged to be grievously whipped and burned through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch, unless some credible person will take him into service for a year; and if, being of the age of eighteen years, he after do fall again into a roguish life, he shall suffer death as a felon, unless some credible person will take him into service for two years; and if he fall a third time into a roguish life, he shall be adjudged as a felon.One hon. Gentleman, in speaking upon this subject, talked very much of "a Catholic spirit." I do not know what he meant by that, but I should think that the Acts of Elizabeth were passed in a very Protestant spirit. However, the hon. Member said, that these laws were framed in a Catholic spirit, and in a spirit of generosity towards the individuals to whom they applied. I have given a specimen of their generous spirit, and, I must say, that I never heard that any cold calculating political economists of the present day proposed that a hot iron should be passed through the gristle of a vagabond's ear, or that an individual should be adjudged to death as a felon for having fallen three times into a vagabond life. These severities may, perhaps, have been necessary at the time, or suited to the spirit of the age, but I do not think that the laws of those days had so much advantage over the present laws as the hon. Gentleman supposes, in point of humanity and liberality. Those laws, framed, as I believe they were, quite as much for the purpose of preventing and punishing vagabondism, and putting an end to mendicancy, as of relieving the poor, gradually brought the vagabond population into a state of civilization, and promoted the wealth of the country. In this respect they were most useful; but from time to time abuses crept up; and the laws of Elizabeth, however well framed for their time, were inapplicable to following times. 361 It has been shewn that in the time of Charles II. it was found necessary to revise and alter those laws, and Judge Blackstone complained of the alterations as the source of subsequent evils. Long before the eighteenth century a necessity was felt for revising these laws, as is evident from the reports of the times, and from Bishop Burnet's History. In the reigns of William and Anne complaints were made of the inefficiency of the laws relating to the poor, and in the middle of the last century there were applications to Parliament for their reform. In 1796 Mr. Pitt passed that law which the hon. Gentleman has commended, but which I think was the cause of many of the evils we afterwards suffered. Did that law meet with general approbation? So far from it, that we were no sooner relieved from the perils of war than Committees of this House were appointed on the subject, and one of these, presided over by Mr. Sturges Bourne, made an elaborate Report, showing the evils which had flowed from the practice then prevailing. So far, then, from the law being in that happy state which the hon. Gentleman supposed, various plans for its amendment were proposed; but the evil grew greater and greater, until in 1830, that law, which the hon. Gentleman seems to think was to provide comfortable subsistence for everybody, had reduced numbers of the people to such a situation that they broke out in almost open insurrection; tumults were common in the country, houses and barns were, set fire to, machines were broken and the yeomanry in many places were obliged to be called out in order to put down the insurrectionary movements of people complaining that they had not a sufficiency of wages or of the necessaries of life. I remember passing through Andover at a time when the magistrates were assembled in the Court-house. The people had also collected in large numbers, armed with every sort of instrument, complaining that they were not able to subsist on their wages, and they had congregated together in order to force the magistrates to comply with their demands. Such was the state of the law and such the inevitable result of the way in which it was carried out; for, instead of the labourers receiving wages which were the due reward of their industry, it was previously settled by the orders of magistrates and others, that a certain allowance 362 should be given according to what they supposed to be the need of the labourers, and the need of the families belonging to them. Thus, if a labourer had an increase of family, he obtained an increase of allowance; and a lad of eighteen or nineteen years of age, who was able to work, and who did work hard for his wages, obtained a miserable pittance, some 6d. a day, while another man, living in idleness, received, because he had a family, 15s. or 16s. a week. This was according to the allowance system; and what was the consequence? Why, that the labourers, being thus limited as to their wages, became discontented, and broke out against those who, they thought had the power of regulating their wages, and had not given them sufficient. It consequently became necessary to consider some great amendment, of the law, and Lord Grey's Government undertook that task—a more difficult or more invidious task could not well have been undertaken. Nothing is more easy than to say, that all which had been thus given to the people was charity—that it was all benevolence; and that, in forcing them to rely on wages due to their labour, you are defrauding them of that which they have hitherto enjoyed: but the case, I think, is quite otherwise. It was a degradation to the people to force them to live on charity, by giving them a parish allowance instead of wages. This was reducing the people to a state of pauperism—to a state, I should say, of almost slavery, and any law which raised them again to a state of independent labour was likely to prove in the end a blessing to the country. No doubt, the new law had to contend with difficulties in its operation, and had great trials to go through, in order to effect that state of things in which the labourer should receive a proper reward for his labour. I lament that the law has not operated as speedily as I expected in increasing the wages of labour. Indeed, the reason which made me eager for the law was, because I thought its tendency would be to lead to an increase of wages and an augmentation of the comforts of the labourers, and that it would at all events prevent the downward tendency observable in agricultural counties I have seen accounts of some unions which show, that whereas in 1832 and 1833 there were thirty or forty labourers in them out of employ, and, therefore, on the parish rates, 363 in the last year and the year before almost every labourer in those unions has been employed. So far, I think, the law has produced a great benefit. The principle of the law is to get rid of that mixture of allowance and wages, which formerly existed—to give relief in cases of destitution, but to leave those who are employed to wages. I think this is a sound principle, and I should be sorry if this House departs from it. My conviction is, that if in attempting, as you suppose, to alleviate those parts of the law which yon consider harsh, you should break in upon the principle I have just adverted to, you would come back to the practice existing in 1830, and reproduce the same discontent, and the same degradations of the labouring poor as then prevailed; and among the other evils of this state of things is, that it has a tendency to destroy the whole property of the country. I have said nothing about economy in respect to the new law, because that is a minor consideration. The real evil of the former law was, that it reduced the labouring population, who have just as much right to remuneration for their labour as the landlord has to his rent, or the manufacturer to his profits, to paupers living on alms, and gave an undue advantage to the idle vagabond, who did not choose to work, but who, on account of his family, received an ample allowance from the parish board. Such is the difference between the old law and the new law. This is a most important question, and I am sorry that its consideration has been put off to so late a period of the Session. I own I have wondered at the levity with which some Gentlemen have pledged themselves against the new law and professed their readiness to amend it, while they are themselves ignorant of its provisions, and of the former state of the law. If this new law is a bad law there can be no worse law on the Statute Book, and if it effects what its opponents say it effects, there ought to be no time lost in repealing it, and the time of the House could not be better occupied than in reconstructing the whole law. The welfare, the happiness, and the independence of a great majority of the people of this country, who belong to the labouring classes, ought to be more dear to us than any other question. On the other hand, if the hon. Gentleman opposite is wrong, as I believe he is, in his views of this law—if this law is calculated to raise the labourer and 364 benefit him—we should then be equally resolute in sustaining it, and equally resolute in refusing every alteration or limitation of the law which counteracts or destroys its principle. I am glad to find that the right hon. the Home Secretary means to continue, in giving, as he hitherto has done, his steady support to this law. There are some clauses in his Bill which the right hon. Baronet thinks an alleviation of the present. This is not the time to speak as to particular clauses; they may be advantageous; but at any rate I find in them no departure from the great and sound principles of the law itself. I rejoice therefore, at the course which the Government has taken, and, in the progress of the Committee, I trust they will not find the obstacles I had to meet. I know, indeed, that, to a certain extent, they will not, because some of those who were most obstinate and pertinacious in forcing amendments on me now hold office under Government. Those parties, therefore, are not likely to start the objections now, which they formerly urged. As to the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, I must say that they have constantly and consistently, whether in office or out of office, supported the new Poor Law. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary was in office at the time of its enactment, and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, though out of office at the time, had always consistently supported the New Poor Law. Therefore no one could expect that those two right hon. Baronets would depart from the course they have hitherto pursued in support of the present law. I am glad to find that they mean to persevere in the same course, and maintain the law, and I shall give a cordial vote in favour of the original Motion.
Sir W. James
said, that the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had offered to prove cases in which out-door relief had been given. This was an extraordinary argument to use in favour of the law, which went on the principle of the workhouse test. It was a virtual abandonment of the workhouse test. He considered the workhouse test to be a harsh principle, one not to be defended upon any ground of truth, justice, wisdom or humanity. It said to the labourer—you have a right to relief, but we will accompany the granting of that relief with so many obstacles that you 365 will be glad to relinquish it. The workhouse system had been sifted and condemned by all the most eminent among those who had written and spoken on the subject of the Poor Laws. Mr. Whitbread condemned it. The Bishop of Llandaff also condemned it. He said of it that it would never answer, however wise might be the regulation made to enforce it. Sir Frederick Eden, a great authority, showed that although it had been brought forward at the end of the seventeenth century, and tried for a short time, it soon failed. They were told that the present law corrected the mal-administration which prevailed under the law of Elizabeth. He doubted this. He doubted very much whether mal-administration did not exist to the same extent under the present law. The great evil of the present law was the check it imposed on private charity. He felt bound to oppose the present law, because it was repressive of private charity.
§ Captain Pechell
was bound to say that the right hon. Baronet had very courteously received those persons who were deputed in the first instance from the several places which felt aggrieved by the measure. As far as the alterations which had been made went he had very little to offer upon them; but there were still certain Clauses in the Bill which, unless the right hon. Baronet would give an assurance that in some future stage of the Bill they would be modified, would render it his duty still to oppose the measure. He referred particularly to the interference of the Commissioners in places which had local acts. He felt bound to adopt every possible course to repress the power of the Poor-Law Commissioners. Their conduct had been such, and their reports contained so much insinuation and so much exaggeration, that it was impossible to tolerate their interference any longer. When the hon. Member for Evesham called on those who agreed with him to support his Motion, although the hon. Member might very naturally expect a great many defaulters from his standard, he advised the hon. Member to look to those hon. Gentlemen on his own side who were so very earnest in their denunciation of the Poor Law, when on their canvass at the last general election. He would advise him to begin with the hon. Baronet who was candidate for Greenwich, whose electioneering flags were so strong against the Poor Law, and said so much about the 366 bastiles; and proceed on to the noble Lord the Member for Monmouth, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Kent, and the hon. Member for Lincoln. They were told by the noble Lord the Member for London of the danger of granting concessions from the principle of the measure, and of giving discretionary powers to the guardians to mitigate its horrors. He called on the noble Lord to look at the way the poor were provided for in those places which were governed by local acts. Let him look at the manner in which the poor were relieved in those places, relieved, too, out of the workhouse; and even the noble Lord must then admit that there was no necessity for such hardships and tests as were insisted upon by the supporters of the Poor Law. In those districts it had been shown that it was possible to maintain the poor without shutting them up in the workhouse. He felt that the best way in which he could discharge his duty to those who had sent him to that House would be to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Evesham.
§ Mr. S. Crawford
had no wish to trespass unnecessarily on the time of the House, but he felt it his duty, as one of the representatives of England, to express his sentiments on this Bill. He protested against the call which had been made upon the hon. Member for Evesham to alter the terms of his Resolution, and he was prepared to stand by him in retaining those terms. The resolution stated that this law was unconstitutional, "that the Act 4th and 5th William IV., c. 76, commonly called the New Poor Law, is unconstitutional in principle and oppressive in operation" He was ready to support those words. He maintained that the powers which were given to the Commissioners by that Act were in every way unconstitutional. A body of guardians having been constituted for the various unions, powers were given to the Commissioners to control and upset their decisions in the most unconstitutional manner. Powers were given to them to make laws which that House only ought to make. The defenders of the Poor Law had proved the unconstitutional character of it; for, when the law was assailed, they confessed that it was not the law of the land, but the law of the Commissioners, thereby showing that an unconstitutional power had been vested in the hands of the Com- 367 missioners. It was a great question now before the House and the Government,—what was to be done with the working classes? What was it led to the foundation of the Poor Law of Elizabeth but this,—that the poor were driven from the land, expelled from the occupancy of the land, and thrown upon the wages of their labour, and, consequently, the Poor Law passed, which was to provide the means of sustenance for them when in want? Then, was it just to deprive them of that which in a manner had become their vested right, without putting them in a condition in other respects to sustain themselves? The poor man was put under every disadvantage, and yet by the principle of the New Poor Law its supporters said that poverty was a crime, and that it was the poor man's own fault if he was in distress, and therefore they instituted the terrors of the workhouse to prevent him from seeking relief. The great principle of the New Poor Law was the workhouse test, to terrify the poor man from seeking relief until he came to the lowest stage of destitution. The right hon. Gentleman said it was not the law that a man should be obliged to sell his property before he asked relief. It was not; but the workhouse test compelled the poor man to do so. He would not resort to the workhouse until everything he had was sold or gone, and he was reduced to a state of starvation. That this was the view which the Poor Law Commissioners took was very strongly proved by the language they used in their tenth annual report with regard to the Irish Poor Law. The Commissioners first stated, in page 40, that they had reason to believe that the Irish Poor Law was operating most beneficially. But what were the proofs of that? They went on to state, then, that in order to have certain evidence of the character of the persons relieved, they had ordered returns, from which they gave extracts, showing that a number of persons in the last stages of disease and want, most of whom were so wretched that they died soon after admission into the workhouse, had been relieved; but those persons would not have been relieved unless they had entered the workhouse, nor would they have been received until they were reduced to that state of want and misery which rendered it impossible for them to avoid it. Then the Commissioners attempted to show the superiority of the Irish Poor Law because 368 it produced this sort of distress, because it relieved a greater number of persons in the last state of destitution than the English Poor Law, in proportion to the population of the two countries. That showed the view of the Commissioners—that showed that relief was not to be given until the last stage of destitution. Then there was a paragraph in the original Report of the Commissioners, from which it was clear that they intended the new workhouses to inspire the poor with terror, so as to prevent them from seeking relief. That was the principle of the New Poor Law. While, then, the supporters of the new law repealed the principle of the old one they did nothing for the poor. In former times the rich paid the taxes; now they were paid by the poor. The Corn Laws had been maintained and the price of food kept up; and then they said to the poor man, "Why are you in distress? why don't you take care of yourself?" while all the while the price of provisions was kept up. By enclosure Bills the common lands had been taken away from the poor man, and continually he was driven off from spots where he had rights and immunities. Then the vagrant laws were most cruel. Having put the cruel workhouse test upon the poor man, they then told him by the vagrant laws that he should not ask alms. If he did so, then he must submit to the horrors of a gaol. Was that fair to the working classes? Was it not most cruel and inhuman? Very lately there had been brought before the House the use which was made of the present Poor Law system in the granting of tickets. That had not been denied. What was the object? The reduction of wages. He must say that the House was deeply indebted to that publication which had brought forward facts in relation to this subject before the public in a manner which rendered them most valuable and important. The largeness of the unions was another evil of the present system. It was not a part of the Act; but it proved that the Commissioners should not have had power to do what the Legislature never intended should be done. The Legislature should give the working man the means of obtaining wages for his industry, that he might spend them in his own land and live upon his native soil. If something were not done the House might expect nothing but outrage and lawless violence, as was the case in the reign of 369 Henry VIII., previous to the Poor Law of Elizabeth being passed. The right hon. the Secretary for the Home Department deprecated the confinement of relief to the workhouse, and denied that that was the object of the Legislature. Then, why did he maintain that principle in Ireland absolutely and solely? If relief should not be confined to the inside of the walls in England, why should it be in Ireland? There the law was so stringent that the Commissioners themselves had no power to grant relief in any single case out of the walls of the workhouse. That was acknowledged to be an unjust law in England—why should it be considered a just one in Ireland? Was not that a proof of what was the original intention of the promoters of the English Poor Law, the very persons who promoted the Irish Poor Law, which was absolutely opposed to all relief without the walls of the workhouse? He anxiously implored the House to consider this matter seriously; to consider what was to be done to improve the condition of the working classes. No matter whether by a Poor Law or by any other mode, but some mode must be adopted to bring the working classes out of the miserable and pitiable condition in which they were at present placed, great bodies of them being in want of employment, and incapable of getting it; and yet they were in that condition that they could not obtain relief without descending to degradation and miserable resources unbecoming a free man and a subject of the Crown of England. He thought it his duty to state his feelings on this subject, and to say that he cordially supported the Resolution of the hon. Member for Evesham, which declared the Poor Law to be "unconstitutional in principle, and oppressive in operation."
§ Viscount Sandon
was exceedingly glad to hear the disclaimer, that the principle of the New Poor Law was the workhouse test. Although it came late, he repeated that he was glad to hear it; but it certainly was not the language held in the earlier discussions in that House upon the subject. We had to thank the strong expression of public feeling upon its operation for this result. And here he felt that he could not avoid paying a tribute of gratitude to one great public journal, which (though he disagreed with it on some important points) had rendered vast service on this question. Its language might occasionally have been inflammatory; but he felt confident that 370 had there been no such influential organ of public opinion, boldly representing, and constantly, vigorously, energetically, urging the evils of the new system of Poor Laws, there would not have been that change which had tardily been conceded; and the present measure would not have been proposed which embodied some of the Amendments that had been perseveringly advocated by that journal. The different opinions he entertained in relation to that paper on many subjects, would, he was sure, exempt him from the suspicion of partiality in paying this tribute, though he perhaps might expect it would expose him to some odium among those who were indisposed to acknowledge any merit in a public journal. There was the most convincing evidence, that the workhouse test was unfit to be applied to the condition of a country like ours. The right hon. Baronet had alluded to the Report of the Commissioners of Poor Law Inquiry in Scotland in terms of just praise. And from that Report he would extract a decisive denunciation of that test.The distinguishing principle of this system is, that its efficacy as a test of destitution or stimulus to industry depends upon the restraint it imposes upon personal liberty. In proportion as the regulations of the workhouse cease to be irksome, the operation of the test is obstructed. The discipline of the gaol must be approached by the discipline of the workhouse, which is of a purely mechanical character, appealing only to the lowest principles of our nature. It did not promote the development of any intellectual energy, neither did it foster feelings of manliness and independence. Its influence dries up the last impulses of social life. It destroys all feelings of self-respect and alienates the inmates from almost every sympathy which either in equals or superiors is inherent in rightly constituted natures. Repulsion and discomfort being the sole means by which this workhouse test works—that repulsion and discomfort must be carefully kept up for its operation.Here was a description of the "workhouse test," written, not by popular writers, but by calm, learned, able investigators, among whom were men like Lord Melville and Mr. Home Drummond. And he believed every word of it. The system was worked only by mechanical means and it had begotten those feelings of irritation, and that sense of harshness in the people, of which such unhappy symptoms were not wanting. The evils of the old system were of course industriously detailed, and none would defend them; but they had all been reproduced under the 371 new law. Had wages been raised by that new law? He defied any man to say they had; let the instance be pointed out. True, cotemporaneously with its first enactment, there had been the extraordinary stimulus of railway speculations, which produced some temporary effect on labour, but permanently, wages had been left where they were; while discontent, resulting from the operation of the Poor Law and from distress, had produced its terrible consequences—fires. It was one of the favourite doctrines of the new law, that destitution, alone was to be regarded in administering relief; that there should be no discrimination as to character. What said the Commissioners, whose Report he had just quoted, and far more truly?—We hold that no just system of Poor Laws can exist, excluding, in the distribution of relief, the consideration of character—which should be a fundamental consideration. The man who has conducted himself with activity and industry for the bettering of his condition, and has only fallen through misfortune, not by fault, has a just title to the sympathy of his fellow-men. And not only that the necessary relief be cheerfully accorded, but full scope given for all the ministrations of charity to his comfort.How, with such testimony on record,—the testimony of men so considerate—of all men the least open to the suspicion of being influenced by popular prejudices—the chosen and the lauded Commissioners of his noble Friend, the Secretary for the Colonies—with such testimony, how could those who opposed parts of the new law be properly, with decency, subjected to the reproach of pandering to popular passions and prejudices—the accusation which was so unfairly applied to them? The size of the unions, it could not be denied, was another great practical grievance to the poor. He felt, however, the difficulty of a summary and sweeping condemnation of the present law without any substitute for it; and therefore he could not assent to the proposition of the hon. Member for Evesham. He preferred trusting to the processes of improvement—through public opinion—in which so much progress had been made; and he relied on public opinion also to control the practical administration of the law.
§ Mr. Wakley
was grateful for the speech of the noble Lord, who had unfortunately, however, withheld his vote, but whose speech was, nevertheless, highly valuable, particularly as coming from the noble Lord. The noble Lord stood out certainly 372 in bold relief as a consistent man upon this subject, a strong contrast to many of those who were associated with the noble Lord's party, and who had owed their elections to their opposition to the law. This consistency was a valuable commodity, and had not been without its use to the Home Secretary, who had been persevering in preserving the law, but had presented it perpetually under new phases. And as to the "principle" of the law, why it appeared like so-called "Ministerial responsibility"—anything or everything, or nothing, or whatever was convenient. The workhouse was once declared to be the intended test, and nothing but it. Yet the Home Secretary now boasted of the number relieved out of doors, and spoke of six-sevenths, or five-sixths, or seven-eighths, as the proportion. Well, then, the "principle" of the test was gone. And if so, why were the expenses of the Commissioners to be kept up? Why were the union-houses, the prisons, the places of torture, to be kept up? The law was established for the purpose of creating that torturing test, and maintaining the principle that guardians had no right in granting relief to take character into account as an ingredient. The noble Lord had pertinaciously insisted on that principle. He said that a board of guardians, or any parties administering relief, ought not to inquire into the character of the party applying, nor into what caused the destitution; the only thing to be looked to was the destitution itself, and then relief was to be afforded, provided that was satisfactorily shown. The excellent remarks of the Scotch Commissioners on that part had been read, and the Home Secretary had commended that Report throughout; but he thought the right hon. Gentleman had not read the whole Report. It was a curious thing, that the right hon. Gentleman, in his able, clever, and methodical speech, addressed to the House in such measured accents—it was a curious thing, he said, that in only one part of the speech did the right hon. Gentleman deviate from his usual tone and speak with unusual emphasis, and that was in reference to that portion of the Report in which the Commissioners stated, that in their opinion, there ought to be no relief provided for able-bodied labourers. Now, that was carrying out the old principle, for it was admitted that it was established with the view of preventing any Poor Law being long in existence. 373 It was considered at that time necessary, first of all, to get rid of out-door relief, to apply the workhouse test—the workhouse torture, he always called it—and in the course of time, it was hoped, they would get rid of the Poor Law altogether. Did the right hon. Gentleman still maintain that opinion? Did he still maintain that no relief ought to be given to able-bodied labourers? Now, it was curious that the right hon. Baronet laid such emphasis on that part of his speech, because he lauded the Report which was made to that House by Mr. Gilbert's Committee in 1765. He lauded that Report, and said it was in conformity with the principle of the New Poor Law. He begged to say that two principles more opposite did not exist; there were not two practices more opposite than the practice which ought to be adopted under the Gilbert Act, and the practice which was adopted under the New Poor Law. The principle of the New Poor Law was, that no ablebodied man should receive relief, and that the workhouse test should be applied. What was the provision of the Gilbert Act? There was a distinct provision in that Act—that to any poor man applying for relief the guardian should give work, and near his own home. That was the principle of the Gilbert Act—one that was totally unlike the principle of the New Poor Law. He confessed he had no hope of seeing this law repealed; it was impossible; he looked on it with despair. He was quite sure it would not be repealed by a spontaneous Act on the part of that House. The two great leading parties were with it; the noble Lord on his side of the House lauded the consistency of the First Lord of the Treasury and the Home Secretary; and they, in return, lauded the noble Lord for his consistency in maintaining it, when out of office. There was thus no chance of seeing its repeal whilst this system of laudation continued, for it was only now and then, when they got a peep behind the scenes, that they witnessed any squabble between them. He must say he deplored the determination of the two leading parties with reference to the maintenance of this law. He was convinced by his experience every day that they did not know what they were doing, they did not know the dangerous state of things which existed in this country. The noble Lord stated—and he was surprised to hear such a statement—that if he were convinced the 374 Poor Law was a bad law he should vote for its repeal. He should like to know how the noble Lord would be convinced, what premises must be set before him, and what conclusions by experienced men would convince him. Would the noble Lord apply to paupers? He would not, he said, then, let him take the testimony of labouring men—men who had not applied to the parish for relief, but who knew that one day or other they would be under the necessity of applying to the workhouse. What was their decision? He told the noble Lord that not one in a hundred were in favour of this law, he was sure millions of the working classes were against it. Three or four hon. Gentlemen on the other side had made motions on the subject, they had stated what their opinions were, and had expressed sentiments of regard towards the working people; but if the working people asked for an increase of power in that House—if the people asked for their friends to be allowed to represent them in that House, would those hon. Gentlemen support them? No, no! And consequently he did not place much reliance on them. He was bound to say it; he did not place much value on the protestations they made with regard to the working classes, when he knew they would not grant them any increased power in the representation. They had talked about charity and humanity; the working people repudiated their humanity—they did not want it, they wanted justice. They did not come to the House in a supplicating, pettifogging manner, and say, "treat us kindly;" but they said, "give us our rights, and treat us justly;" and one of their demands was, that they should not be fettered in the exercise of their industry. The poor said, "If you will give us a chance of getting work by leaving us unfettered in the exercise of our labour, we will maintain ourselves, and you may throw your humanity to the winds." What they wanted was just laws, and if they granted them they would be content, and would not address them with dissatisfaction. As the Poor Law was to be maintained, he regretted the Motion had been submitted to the House. He should vote for the Motion; but it would only create additional discontent out of doors, as well as more difficulties in the administration of the law. The poor thought this law was an act of aggression against them; that it was hostile to their interests, and 375 passed for the benefit of the rich. That was their opinion. He had heard the poor themselves make such statements, and he was sorry to say, that the poison which this Bill had created was diffusing itself throughout the country. He was bound to state—and he would not conceal what he believed to be true—that the rate-payers were now becoming more strict in the administration of the law. The guardians elect were more rigid in enforcing its provisions than the ex officio guardians. He was also bound to say that the Poor Law Commissioners, as they had administered the law of late, had given satisfaction in many quarters; and it was now notorious that appeals had been made in many instances from boards of guardians to the Poor Law Commissioners, in order to obtain justice for the poor. He was continually hearing the poor say, that if it were not for the ex officio guardians they should get no relief at all. That was the state of things which, he could assure the House, did exist, and he deeply deplored it. The hon. Gentleman said in his Motion that the Poor Law was unconstitutional; it was unconstitutional before it became the law of the land, but now they had passed it, it was part of the Constitution. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that it was expedient the Act should be taken into consideration, not with a view to its partial amendment, but to its entire reconstruction. What did they want to make it again for, if they did not like it now? Could they make a better Act? If he wanted the right hon. Baronet opposite to be remade, he should expect to see a better man.
§ Sir J. Graham
, in explanation, said he had cited the Report of the Poor Law Commissioners for Scotland in answer to the hon. Member for Evesham, who had declared that the honest, industrious labourer, was entitled to be fed by the State. He had said that doctrine in England was unsound, but as applied to Great Britain it had at no time been recognised; so far from it, that in the reign of Charles the 2nd, the Poor Law of Scotland had enacted that able-bodied men should in no circumstances of destitution, however extreme, be entitled to relief; and that the seven Scottish gentlemen who had been so much and so deservedly eulogised, had argued strenuously in favour of the maintenance of the law of Scotland, which provided that the able-bodied in the last 376 extremity of destitution should, so far from being fed by the State, have no title to relief,—a recommendation to which the English Poor Law Commissioner had refused to give his assent.
Colonel Wood (Brecon)
sincerely hoped something would be done to diminish the size of the unions; that it was one of the greatest evils of the present system. It had been asked whether wages had been raised, and whether the state of the poor had improved since the passing of the New Poor Law. Looking to the condition of the poor in every part of the country he contended there had been an improvement. And comparing any well-regulated union workhouse with a parish workhouse under the old system, where the profligate and unfortunate, men, women and children, promiscuously herded together, there could be no doubt great improvements had been effected under the new Bill. What a well regulated union workhouse should provide, was, first, a good school, where the children of the destitute should be properly educated; secondly, comfortable retreats for the aged and infirm; and lastly, wards where the able-bodied could be set to work; that was the system they had endeavoured to carry out in his part of the country. By this means the condition of the poor would be really improved.
§ Mr. Brotherton
had invariably opposed the New Poor Law, because, in the first place, he considered it beginning at the wrong end, considering it unjust to throw the poor man on his own resources, and then, by other laws to prevent him from gaining employment, which would enable him to maintain himself and family, In the next place, he thought too much power was given to the Poor Law Commissioners, and he further objected to the extension of unions and the workhouse test, while he always thought the Act would be inoperative in manufacturing districts. These were his chief objections to the law; but now, when the question was, whether they should go into Committee for the amelioration of the law, he could not vote against such a proposition. He agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury that it would be impossible to repeal the present law: and, if it were possible, he did not see how they could go back to the old system. The right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) had shown, that 85 per cent of the relief 377 was administered out of doors, and only 15 percent, within the walls of the workhouse. That made a most material difference with regard to the operation of the Act; and as his object was to ameliorate the condion of the working classes, however, inconsistent might appear the vote he should give to-night, he hoped he should always have the moral courage to do what he believed to be for the general benefit of society. They ought not to consider it a charity to give the poor man 2s. a-week from the parish when they made a law to tax his food to the extent of 4s. a-week. He wanted laws passed for the general benefit of the community. The present laws were calculated to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The hon. Member for Bridport attributed the distress of the poor to the increase of machinery and the manufacturing system. Nothing could be more absurd or more contrary to the fact. The burthens pressing on the labouring classes from general and local taxation, and the whole system of legislation for protecting the landed interest, afforded a much better solution of the difficulty. He should vote for going into Committee with the view of ameliorating the present law as much as possible.
§ Sir R. Peel
expressed an anxious hope, that the hon. Member would address to the House that night any observations he might have to make upon the Bill. The Government had proposed to assign that night and the night following to the discussion of this measure, in the hope that it might pass through Committee at once. "Observe," said the right hon. Baronet, "We brought forward the Bill, this Session from a sense of duty, for the Act is not about to expire. We were under no obligation to bring in this Bill, this is no temporary measure; we brought it in to mitigate what you thought a grievance, and in conformity with the opinions of those who are opposed to the Poor Law rather than with the views of its supporters. If a determination is evinced that we shall not proceed with the measure, the only alternative we can have is to drop it, and it is clear that those who are opposed to the law will gain nothing by driving us to pursue that course." Under these circumstances, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would forego his Amendment 378 and allow the principle of the Bill to be discussed that night.
§ Lord John Manners
Sir, if I had not heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I could not have believed it possible that in this House a Prime Minister would get up and say that there was no obligation on him to bring in a Bill to mitigate the rigours of this law — that he only did it to please the opponents of the measure—
§ Sir R. Peel
What I said was, that we were under no obligation, but we brought forward the Bill from a sense of duty. I meant to contrast the obligation we were under in this case with the sort of obligation which arises when an Act of a temporary character requires to be renewed, and when it is absolutely necessary to introduce a measure to continue it in operation; and I observed simply, that in complying with what we considered a sense of duty, we were complying with the wishes of those who are opposed to the law.
§ Lord John Manners
If the Government feel it to be an obligation arising from a "sense of duty," to bring forward such a measure as this, surely they must feel it "an obligation arising from a sense of duty," to persist in carrying it whether its discussion extend over two nights or two weeks. I cannot conceive how the right hon. Baronet can, "consistently with his sense of duty," talk of giving up a measure of this consequence, merely because we ask for a single adjournment of a debate. I beg the House to remember that it is now three years since the principle of the Poor Law was discussed—that this measure was brought in at the earliest period of the Session—that six months have elapsed since it was placed on the Order Book—that during that time we have discussed every conceivable question under the sun but this—and, recollecting this, I ask the House to say whether the Government ought to begrudge a second night's debate upon a measure which affects the happiness and involves the liberties of millions. I implore Her Majesty's Government to reconsider their determination. I beg them, if they wish to stand well with the people of this country, not to throw up this important Bill in dudgeon, or pretended dudgeon, at our persisting in demanding two nights to consider it. We have discussed this Session, with no limitation as to time, measures in which the working people of the country felt no earthly interest and had no possible concern. It was entirely in consequence of 379 the intended introduction of this measure that an important public institution sought to be established in this great metropolis for the benefit of the poor was abandoned, after having been nearly arranged, and I do trust that because of some unpleasant feeling about an adjournment we shall not, by the act of the Ministry lose the opportunity of considering this, their own, most important Bill—a Bill, be it remembered, deferred by the Government themselves to this late period of the year; to a period when every other measure of the Session has been debated and passed or abandoned—a bill of such consequence that you took months to bring it forward, and yet now tell us, at half-past twelve o'clock at night, that you will not allow us another day to consider how far we ought or ought not to adopt it; and that you will throw it overboard unless we consent on the instant to come to a division on the subject.
§ Mr. B. Escott
did not agree with the speeches of either the noble Lord who had just sat down or the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. He could not agree that the discussion on this measure was deferred to too late a period of the Session. It was a Bill calculated greatly to advantage the people and greatly to improve the law, and therefore it never could come too late. At the same time, he thought they ought not to goon with it at half-past twelve at night. He knew there were many Members who were quite prepared to divide, whether the measure were debated or not; but, for his own part, he believed the question to be one which required serious discussion, and which they ought to strive to make, not only as perfect a remedy as possible for existing evils, but as satisfactory as possible both to rate payers and rate receivers. He hoped, therefore, that more time would be allowed.
observed that the hon. Gentleman had said that the Bill had not been satisfactorily discussed. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman, for the present Bill had not been discussed at all. They were anxious that the present Bill should be discussed, and discussed, too, in Committee, so that all its details might be considered, and where it could be done and mended. What, then, the Government complained of was this, that hon. Gentlemen complained of and abused the existing law, they complained of the hardships of that law, and then, when there was a 380 great pressure of public business, and Her Majesty's Government sacrificed other measures in order that they might be enabled to have a practical consideration of the present Bill, the Government complained that Gentlemen who professed their desire to apply a practical remedy to existing grievances, and that the same should be corrected, yet that those very Gentlemen introduced a protracted discussion, not upon this Bill, but upon the general principle. Practically, they took up the time of the House in such a manner as to prevent the carrying into effect those very modifications for which they had expressed so ardent a desire. He knew not what measure it was to which the noble Lord had adverted. The noble Lord had said that a proposition had been brought forward by some friends of his, for the practical remedy of the existing evils. He did not know what that measure was, but if the noble Lord had any practical measure which be believed to be conducive to the real welfare of the people, why did he not bring it forward? He said that the noble Lord had stated that some measure was introduced, or to be introduced, and that was postponed from day to day, and week to week, waiting for the opportunity of having this discussion. What then was the complaint of the noble Lord?
§ Lord J. Manners
observed if the noble Lord really wished him to explain what he had stated, it was this. There was about to be formed in London, by private subscription, an institution for the reception of the destitute. ["Oh, oh!"] It was very well to say "oh, oh," but he declared, that such an institution was about to be formed, and was given up on the announcement in Parliament of a Bill by which would be effected that which a private society endeavoured to accomplish.
continued: The noble Lord spoke of some charitable institution—he knew not what it was. He did not find that any measure was to be introduced into that House; but that it was some private scheme. That scheme, it seemed, was to be carried into effect by private exertion, if it had not appeared that its object would be effected by the Bill that was introduced. If, then, that object could be effected by the present Bill, then let them, in God's name, proceed to the consideration of the measure, but let them not detain the House and waste the time of all, by a profitless dis- 381 cussion that led to nothing. If the object proposed to be effected was not contemplated in the present Bill, then surely it did not require, as the vindication of private charity, to prevent their proceeding with a new plan of relief for the poor. He did not see in either case how the abundant spirit of charity should interfere, and not allow them to close the discussion that night. Here was a practical measure of relief for the poor of the country. His right hon. Friend had stated that the Government had no other obligation, except that which a sense of duty imposed, to introduce this Bill. There was no act about to expire. This was undoubtedly a valuable measure. It was so admitted. If it were, then let them not lose it by a superfluity of talking without end. If it were, the affairs of the country would go on. The Government of the country would not be an impossibility, with the amended law; but if Gentlemen would be satisfied with legislating without talking, and this where they were all agreed that amendments were desirable, then they would have a better chance of doing something practical, than by proceeding upon a discussion which had nothing to do with the present object for legislation. No objection was taken to the second reading of the Bill. ["No, no."] He understood the hon. Gentleman who interrupted him to say that he desired a repeal of the existing law? Then what was it the hon. Gentleman proposed to substitute for it? Having repealed the existing law, was he prepared to substitute a new code of laws on his own responsibility, and this with the hope that he might find others to agree with him. At the present period of the Session, when all parties were agreed that some alteration in the law was necessary, he certainly put it to hon. Gentlemen whether they would obstruct the passing of a law which would benefit the country, merely for the gratification of enunciating abstract opinions of their own.
§ Mr. B. Cochrane
thought that, for himself and for his hon. Friends who concurred with him upon this subject, he might fairly complain of the tone which the noble Lord had adopted, taking advantage of the official situation which he held. The noble Lord had alluded to the period of the Session in which this question was discussed, but he, (Mr. B. Cochrane) would ask, whose fault was it that the subject was brought forward at 382 so late a period. The noble Lord spoke as if a great favour had been conferred by the Government bringing forward this Bill. But surely, was it not in the power of any Member of this House to have brought forward a Bill on the subject if he had thought proper? He believed, indeed, that his hon. Friend the Member for Evesham had had such an intention. At least, on no ground, he thought, could it be laid to the charge of particular hon. Members for carrying on this discussion, when it was notorious that they had had three and four nights' debates on subjects of much less importance.
§ Mr. Borthwick
I must say, Sir—I must say that I consider the speech of the noble Lord to be anything but worthy of himself or the high position which he holds. The noble Lord thinks it not unworthy of him to tell us that we come down here animated with a wish to hear ourselves talk. The noble Lord, perhaps, will not be guilty of the discourtesy of not listening so what I have to say. I can only say, that I have never heard the noble Lord talk without feelings of pleasure and admiration. This, I believe, Sir, is the universal sentiment of the House. It is impossible not to admire the talents of that noble Lord, and to derive pleasure from his observations whenever he addresses the House. Yes, even now I feel that. Some hon. Members may not understand how a man can admire talent even when directed against oneself. I admire the satire, the powers of argument, and the cunning logic of the noble Lord—I admire them even though directed, as I think, in a most unworthy fashion, for the purpose of putting me down. I believe, however, that the House, in the course of the present Session, has listened patiently to many debates, and many speeches, quite as dull in themselves, and much less important in their bearings than those which they have heard to-night. What I have to complain of is, that a solemn pledge has been broken by Her Majesty's Government in regard to this question. As early as the 11th of April last they told us that this subject whenever it was brought forward would be brought forward as early as five o'clock, in order to give full time for discussion. [Lord Stanley: It came on at half-past six.] Yes, but that is not five. No! that is not five o'clock; and if they deferred it at all, they might have deferred it till 383 half-past eleven. What I complain of is, that this subject was not brought forward under the circumstances in which the Government promised it should be, namely as the first business of the evening. Are we come to such a pass as to quibble about so many minutes in a matter of this kind? Is the relative position of Her Majesty's Government and the House of Commons such, that they will quibble as to the difference between half-past six and five o'clock? I say Sir, and I say with regret, that I am ashamed of myself considering the very great importance of the Resolution which I had to submit to the House, I should have yielded to the wishes of Her Majesty's Government, and stooped to curtail all that I had to say upon the subject, for the purpose of enabling the House to come to a decision this evening. Sir, I cheerfully did this to the disadvantage of the Resolution which I had to move; and after having so acted, the noble Lord attached to Her Majesty's Government does not think it ungenerous to tell me that I came down here for the purpose of hearing myself talk. [Laughter.] This may be a subject of great merriment to the House. But I would recommend Her Majesty's Government, and more particularly the noble Lord, who commands the attention of the House, not only by his talents, but by his position—I would remind him that it is not an easy matter for an individual in so humble a position as myself, called to it on the instant, to take so much more limited a view of a subject on which he has prepared himself as I have done this evening. This task I undertook, and I accomplished it; and here I am still taunted by the noble Lord with a desire to hear myself talk. The noble Lord has given me a lesson which I shall not easily forget; and whenever I feel myself called upon by public duty to take a particular course, I shall obey the dictates of my conscience, and not the wishes of a Government. I have only to add that I should have been prepared to have consented to bring this question to a vote to-night, if it had not been for the speech of the noble Lord.
begged to assure the hon. Gentleman that in the observations which he had made he had intended no immediate reference to him. He was quite sensible of the obliging manner in which the hon. Gentleman had consulted the wishes 384 of Her Majesty's Government on the present occasion. In the observations which he had made, he had spoken quite generally, and had alluded to an unfortunate system of superfluity of eloquence to which Parliament had become subject of late years, and which he thought was detrimental to the progress of public business. He fancied that the business of the country made less progress now than it did years ago, when he was a younger man, and when there was less eloquence in the House.
§ The House divided on the question that the debate be adjourned:—Ayes 18; Noes 219: Majority 201.
|List of the AYES.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Manners, Lord J.|
|Borthwick, P.||Milnes, R. M.|
|Brotherton, J.||Muntz, G. F.|
|Collins, W.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Disraeli, B.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Escott, B.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Fielden, J.||Smyth, hon. G.|
|Fleetwood, Sir P. H.|
|Hodgson, F.||Ferrand, W. B.|
|McGeachy, F. A.||Cochrane, A.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Acland, T. D.||Buck, L. W.|
|A'Court Capt.||Buller, Sir J. Y.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Burrell, Sir C. M.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Burroughes, H. N.|
|Aldam, W.||Busfeild, W.|
|Alford, Visct.||Campbell, J. H.|
|Allix, J. P.||Cavendish, hn. G. H.|
|Antrobus, E.||Charteris, hon. F.|
|Arundel and Surrey, Earl of||Chelsea, Visct.|
|Chetwode, Sir J.|
|Astell, W.||Childers, J. W.|
|Bailey, J.||Christie, W. D.|
|Bailey, J. jun.||Christopher, R. A.|
|Bailie, Col.||Clerk, Sir G.|
|Baird, W.||Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Codrington, Sir W.|
|Baring, T.||Colborne, hn. W. N. R.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Cole, hn. H. A.|
|Bateson, T.||Compton, H. C.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Corry, rt. hon. H.|
|Blackburne, J. I.||Courtenay, Lord|
|Blandford, Marq. of||Craig, W. G.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Crawford, W. S.|
|Botfield, B.||Cripps, W.|
|Bouverie, hon. E. P.||Curteis, H. B.|
|Bowes, J.||Darby, G.|
|Bowles, Adm.||Denison, W. J.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Denison, E. B.|
|Boyd, J.||Dickinson, F. H.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Douglas, Sir H.|
|Brisco, M.||Douglas, Sir C. E.|
|Browne, R. D.||Douglas, J. D. S.|
|Browne, hn. W.||Drummond, H. H.|
|Dugdale, W. S.||Mackenzie, T.|
|Duncan, G.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Duncombe, T.||M'Neill, D.|
|Duncombe, hon. O.||Mainwaring, T.|
|East, J. B.||Marsham, Visct.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Maxwell, hon. J. P.|
|Egerton, Sir P.||Meynell, Capt.|
|Eliot, Lord||Miles, P. W. S.|
|Emlyn, Visct.||Mitcalf, H.|
|Entwistle, W.||Mordaunt, Sir J.|
|Estcourt, T. G. B.||Morgan, O.|
|Farnham, E. B.||Morris, D.|
|Filmer, Sir E.||Neville, R.|
|Fitzmaurice, hon. W.||Newry, Visct.|
|Flower, Sir J.||Nicholl, rt. hon. J.|
|Forman, T. S.||Norreys, Sir D. J.|
|Forster, M.||Northland, Visct.|
|Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T.||O'Brien, A. S.|
|Fuller, A. E.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes||O'Conor, Don.|
|Gill, T.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Packe, C. W.|
|Gladstone, Capt.||Palmer, R.|
|Gordon, hon. Capt.||Palmer, G.|
|Goring, C.||Palmerston, Visct.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Parker, J.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Patten, J. W.|
|Granby, Marq. of||Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.|
|Greenaway, C.||Peel, J.|
|Grimston, Visct.||Pennant, hn. Col.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Philips, G. R.|
|Hamilton, C. J. B.||Philips, M.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Pollington, Visct.|
|Harcourt, G. G.||Ponsonby, hn. C. F. A.|
|Hardy, J.||Praed, W. T.|
|Harris, hon. Capt.||Pringle, A.|
|Hawes, B.||Protheroe, E.|
|Hayes, Sir E.||Pryse, P.|
|Henley, J. W.||Pusey, P.|
|Henniker, Lord||Rashleigh, W.|
|Herbert, hn. S.||Rawdon, Col.|
|Hervey, Lord A.||Rice, E. R.|
|Hodgson, R.||Richards, R.|
|Hogg, J. W.||Rolleston, Col.|
|Holmes, hn. W. A. C.||Ross, D. R.|
|Hope, hon. C.||Round, J.|
|Hope, G. W.||Rous, hon. Capt.|
|Howard, hn. C. W. G.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Howard, hon. J. K.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Howard, Lord||Sanderson, R.|
|Howard, hon. H.||Sandon, Visct.|
|Howick, Visct.||Snymour, Sir H. B.|
|Hussey, A.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Hutt, W.||Sheil, rt. hn. R. L.|
|Ingestre, Visct.||Shelburne, Earl of|
|Jermyn, Earl||Sheppard, T.|
|Jocelyn, Visct.||Smith, A.|
|Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Jones, Capt.||Stanley, Lord|
|Ker, D. S.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Knight, H. G.||Stuart, W. V.|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Strutt, E.|
|Lennox, Lord A.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Lincoln, Earl of||Tennent, J. F.|
|Lockhart, W.||Thompson, Ald.|
|Lowther, hon. Col.||Thornely, T.|
|Trench, Sir F. W.||Welby, G. E.|
|Trollope, Sir J.||Williams, W.|
|Vane, Lord H.||Wood, C.|
|Vernon, G. H.||Wood Col.|
|Vesey, hon. T.||Worsley, Lord|
|Vivian, J. H.||Wortley, H. Jas. S.|
|Waddington, H. S.||Wortley, H. Jno. S.|
|Wakley, T.||Wrightson, W. B.|
|Walsh, Sir J. B.|
|Ward, H. G.||Young, J.|
|Wawn, J. T.||Baring, H.|
§ Question again put on Mr. Borthwick's Amendment, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ Mr. Ferrand
then put it to the Home Secretary whether he had not repeatedly during the Session pledged his honour in the most solemn manner, that if the House would only allow the Poor Law Bill to be postponed, he would give an opportunity for the fullest discussion. The House and the country could not forget the circumstances under which the Bill had been brought in, and the second reading moved. It was introduced on a Saturday, contrary to the express desire of the House. It might have been agreeably to the wishes of a few Members, but not to those who were opposed to the Bill. He, himself, was absent, and when the second reading was proposed, he believed at twelve o'clock at night, the right hon. Baronet promised an opportunity for the fullest discussion. He now called upon the Government to redeem that pledge. If not, he should feel himself warranted in offering every opposition to the Bill.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, that he should appeal to the hon. Member for Finsbury as to the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman had just referred. On a Saturday, the notice of a Motion for leave to bring in the Bill was a dropped Order from a former day, and he was about to postpone it till the next week, when the hon. Member for Finsbury asked him to make a statement of the outline of the Bill without further delay, with which request, as it appeared to meet with the concurrence of the House, he felt it his duty to comply, and he made a statement of the objects of the Bill, although under the disadvantage of having no abstract of the Bill, nor any note by him. On the second reading of the Bill, it was true he had assured the House that a full opportunity should be given in a future stage, to discuss not only the details of the Bill, but its prin- 387 ciple, in connection with the existing Poor Law. Now whether the Bill had been brought on at five or six o'clock, he would not say; but, at all events, they had been now occupied some seven hours and a-half in discussing, not the details of this Bill, but the principle of a measure not directly under the notice of the House, yet incidentally brought under review, by the Motion of the hon. Member. If, under these circumstances, the House should think he had not redeemed the pledge he gave on the second reading of the Bill—that a full opportunity should be given to discuss the principle of the Poor Law Amendment Act, in connection with this Bill, he should not for one moment feel disposed to oppose the adjournment of the debate; but he must say that the sense of the House upon that point had been already collected in a manner not to be misunderstood. In the division which had been just taken, he found that eighteen only out of a House of near 240 Members had voted in favour of the Motion for an adjournment, and certainly it would be a somewhat unusual proceeding that the opinion of eighteen should prevail against the sense of 219 Members who had voted on the other side. Under these circumstances, he did not think he was open to the charge of violating any pledge when he said that he should feel it his duty to force on the discussion on the question of going into Committee.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
rose for the purpose of confirming the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to what had taken place on the introduction of the Bill, and the promise which had been made at the second reading. If any undue advantage had been taken, the blame rested with him (Mr. T. Duncombe), and those who with him had solicited the right hon. Baronet to take the course he had adopted, and not with the right hon. Baronet.
§ Mr. P. Borthwick
, though he did not intend to move the adjournment, would support any hon. Member who would propose such a Motion; and he thought he should be fully justified in doing so, after what had been said by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley). He did not charge the right hon. Baronet with having acted unfairly towards the opponents of the measure. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had redeemed every pledge which he had given.
|List of the NOES.|
|Cochrane, A.||Manners, Lord J.|
|Collins, W.||Morris, D.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Muntz, G. F.|
|Duncombe, T.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Fielden, J.||Pollington, Visct.|
|Fleetwood, Sir P. H.||Smythe, hon. G.|
|Forman, T. S.||Wakley, T.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Williams, W.|
|Hodgson, F.||Ferrand, W. B.|
|McGeachy, F. A.||Borthwick, P.|
§ House went into Committee pro formâ, and immediately resumed.
§ Bill to be recommitted.