HC Deb 15 July 1844 vol 76 cc821-5

House in Committee on the Poor Law Amendment Bill.

On Clause 36; Commissioners from districts to provide asylums for the houseless poor,

Mr. Christopher

complained that the Clause was not sufficiently extensive. He did not mean to oppose it; but he wished to direct the attention of the House to the state of the houseless poor in the rural districts. On the introduction of the Poor Law, vagrant boards were appointed in some unions; but he contended that they ought to be established in all, and that the expense would be much less to send them to those temporary asylums than it would be to send them to the House of Correction.

Sir J. Graham

said, that the point which his hon. Friend was discussing had no relevancy to the Clause before the Committee. The fact was, the guardians had now a discretionary power to establish such vagrant asylums. By Clause 51, to which they would soon come, the expense of relief to casual poor would be defrayed by the whole union, instead of the particular parish to which they belonged, and instead of being sent about from post to pillar as heretofore. By that Clause to which he referred, parishes would not have an interest in passing the poor along without relief, until they got to their own parish; and he had no doubt that the practical effect of that would be the establishment of such asylums as the hon. Member for Lincolnshire referred to.

Colonel Wood

said, that by a regulation made by the Commissioners, every really destitute person applying at the workhouse for relief was taken in and provided with a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning; but it was soon found that the effect of such a provision would be to cover the country with trampers, and that poverty would be aggravated instead of mitigated, and the Poor Law Commissioners found it necessary to issue another order, providing that all persons so relieved should be compelled to work for four hours before they were allowed to go on their way, as some compensation for the relief given them. This, however, operated as a great hardship upon the sailor who was on his way to join his ship, or the person who was going to obtain work in another part of the country. He thought the better course would be to provide such persons with the shelter for the night which they required, in the police station-house, not as a punishment, but as being the readiest way of extending such relief. He should propose that the Clause be rejected altogether.

Mr. Hawes

totally differed with the hon. Member for Brecon as to the propriety of sending poor persons, who had committed no crime, to the police station-house, like criminals. He hoped the police would have nothing to do with the administration of poor relief. He thought, however, they had no sufficient information to justify them in passing these Clauses. He, for one, must object to giving to the Commissioners a power which would occasion a material increase in the amount of poor-rates. Indeed, he gathered from the Reports of the Commissioners themselves, that they entertained great doubts as to the propriety of such a provision as was contained in this Clause. He apprehended that the Poor Law Commissioners and the Secretary of State had now full power to make general regulations for the relief of the casual poor. He warned hon. Members against allowing their sympathies to be enlisted only in favour of the pauper, without reference to that large part of the population who had to pay rates, though scarcely removed from pauperism themselves.

Sir J. Graham

regretted to find that the hon. Member for Lambeth joined with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brecon in resisting this Clause. His hon. and gallant Friend seemed to think that destitution, coupled with the absence of all shelter for the night, was a sufficient proof of criminality to entitle a man to be confined in a cell in a station-house amongst criminals [Colonel Wood: No, no.] Was it not better to provide district asylums for the reception of the casual poor, where they might be sure of receiving food and shelter for the night, or for three or four days if necessary, than that they should be committed to gaol as vagrants? As the law now stood, it was indispensably necessary to provide relief for those who were destitute and could not maintain themselves; for orphan children; destitute children and poor children were also to be educated out of the rates; casual and houseless poor were to be relieved out of the rates, and the police were also paid from the rates; but he had yet to learn, that it was good economy to confound all these normal classes together, instead of making a separation for each. His belief was, that when the power was given, a due consideration of economy would lead the district boards to make the provision contemplated by the Clause. The subject had been forced on his attention by what had occurred last winter, when so many of the houseless poor in this metropolis were found in the severest weather sleeping in the door-ways, and under arches, being unable to obtain shelter from the inclemency of the season, but he altogether rejected the assumption that such persons, because they were houseless and destitute, and having committed no offence, but being destitute in the depth of winter, and begging from necessity, were to be treated as criminals. He believed that the infirm of their asylums, in well-selected localities, would supply the means to the policemen, of taking such poor persons to a known place of refuge at all hours, when he would be certain to find shelter and food if well, and proper attention if sick, performing, in return for it, if able, a task of work, to defray in some degree the expense of the humble assistance so given; and he was quite sure that the duties of Christianity and humanity would be much better provided for by such asylums than by the present practice of sending casual poor about from parish to parish, until they should find one that was humane enough to relieve them. The hon. Member for Lambeth had said, that the Reports of the Poor Law Commissioners did not recommend this Clause, but if he would refer to the 10th Report, made in 1841, the subject was fully entered upon, and some such provision as regarded the casual poor in the metropolis, was recommended; and he (Sir J. Graham) knew, of his own knowledge, that such a provision was not at that time contemplated. But he did not rest the case on the recommendation of the Commissioners, but upon his own experience of what had taken place during severe winters in the metropolis. He fully admitted the necessity of looking to the interests of the poor-rate payers, but he denied that under proper regulations, any extra burthen would be thrown upon them by this Clause.

Mr. B. Cochrane

heartily concurred in the humane views of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), and deprecated the monstrous proposition of the hon. and gallant Member for Brecon with reference to the houseless poor. He thought the Government should take those asylums into their own hands, otherwise the expense of poor laws would amount to 8,000,000l., as it did under the old system. It had already increased from 4,000,000l. to 7,300,000l.

Mr. Wakley

contended that the present state of the law made casual relief a very great burthen in some parishes, while to others it did not involve a penny expense. He fully approved the object of the Clause, which, in combination with the 51st Clause, would have a most beneficial effect. He objected, however, to the mode in which it was sought to be carried out. He thought that the principle ought to be carried out in all parts of the country, for if there were only a few such asylums, the case of the casual poor would be made worse by having long distances to walk before they could get relief.

Mr. Borthwick

would support this Clause because its tendency would be to diminish vagrancy. At one period last year there were as many as 2,000 casual poor in London wholly unprovided for, and that number he believed to be made up largely of labourers who came from the agricultural districts in the hope of having their wants more readily relieved. He thought that there ought to be district asylums in every Poor Law union throughout the country, as the effect of such an arrangement would be to furnish an easy mode of removal from parish to parish, and to suppress sturdy beggars.

Sir J. Graham

with reference to the remarks which had fallen from the hon. Member for Bridport, could only say that he had always regarded the question of expense as a secondary consideration in the administration of the New Poor Law. At the same time, however, he did not anticipate that the expense which had been alluded to would be so great as had been conjectured. Altogether, he maintained that the poor were better cared for, relief was more fully and freely administered to them, and every possibility of curing their miserable position more attended to under the new than under the old Poor Law.

Mr. T. Duncombe

The more he heard the Clause discussed the more he regretted that the Bill was encumbered with it. It was, he conceived, quite unnecessary to introduce such a Clause into a Bill for the relief of the poor generally. The right hon. Baronet had stated it to be his belief that the effect of the Bill would be the addition of vagrant wards to the unions all over the country. What, however, would be the fact? There would be two boards of guardians administering relief in the same workhouse. If the arrangement proposed was good for the metropolitan districts, was it not also good generally? If the measure was to be applied to Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, and Bristol, as well as to London, what were to become of such populous towns as Sheffield, Huddersfield, Newcastle, and such like? He had a petition to present from Leeds, praying to be exempt from the operation of the Bill. Last year there was a subscription got up for that portion of the poor for which the Clause now under discussion proposed to legislate. The right hon. Baronet expressed his confidence that vagrants would apply for relief to the asylums thus proposed to be prepared for them, but he believed not because it would become a part of the workhouse system. If anything was to be done with the casual poor, it ought in his opinion, to be by an Amendment of the Vagrant Act. Upon these grounds he would oppose the Clause.

After some further conversation, the Committee divided on the question, that the Clause stand part of the Bill:—Ayes 83; Noes 6: Majority 77.

List of the AYES.
Ackers, J. Arundel and Surrey, Earl of
Adderley, C. B.
Ashley, Lord Hale, R. B.
Barnard, E. G. Henniker, Lord
Barneby, J. Hervey, Lord A.
Barrington, Visct. Hinde, J. H.
Bentinck, Lord G. Hodgson, R.
Blackstone, W. S. Hope, hon. C.
Bodkin, W. H. Howard, Lord
Boldero, H. G. Howard, P. H.
Borthwick, P. Hussey, T.
Botfield, B. Ingestre, Visct.
Bramston, T. W. Jermyn, Earl
Broadley, H. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Bruce, Lord E. Knight, H. G.
Buck, L. W. Langston, J. H.
Buckley, E. Lennox, Lord A.
Burroughes, H. N. McGeachy, F. A.
Campbell, J. H. Manners, Lord J.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Meynell, Capt.
Chelsea, Visct. Milnes, R. M.
Chetwode, Sir J. O'Brien, A. S.
Christopher, R. A. Peel, J.
Cochrane, A. Powell, Col.
Cowper, hn. W. F. Pringle, A.
Cripps, W. Protheroe, E.
Dawnay, hn. W. H. Rolleston, Col.
Denison, E. B. Round, J.
Dickinson, F. H. Somerset, Lord G.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Douglas, J. D. S. Thesiger, Sir F.
Entwisle, W. Thornhill, G.
Escott, B. Vane, Lord H.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Vesey, hon. T.
Ferrand, W. B. Waddington, H. S.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Wakley, T.
Fleetwood, Sir P. H. Wawn, J. T.
Forbes, W. Williams, W.
Forman, T. S. Wodehouse, E.
Forster, M. Wortley, hn. J. S.
Fox, S. L.
Gaskell, J. Milnes TELLER.
Gore, M. Young, J.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Baring, H.
List of the NOES.
Arkwright, G. Pechell, Capt.
Duncombe, T.
Gardner, J. D. TELLERS.
Henley, J. W. Wood, Col.
Napier, Sir C. Hawes, B.

The House resumed. Committee to sit again.

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