HC Deb 18 July 1844 vol 76 cc1049-60

House again went into Committee on the Poor Law Amendment Bill.

On Clause 62, enabling Courts of Quarter Sessions to order the payment of money due by Board of Guardians,

Mr. R. Scott

said, the Clause gave a most extraordinary power to the justices in Quarter Sessions—namely, to decide actions usually tried at Nisi Prius before the Judges and Jury, and involving it might be the most difficult questions of law, and damages to the amount of several hundreds of pounds, without any of the facilities afforded by the pleading used in Courts of Law. He looked on this as the first attempt to transfer to justices at Quarter Sessions the proper business of the Judges of Assize, and he hoped the House would not consent thus to supersede the best rights and privileges of the subject. It was monstrous to enable these Justices in Quarter Sessions, all of whom were ex officio guardians, to decide questions in which they must, as such, have some concern.

Mr. Darby

observed there was to be not only no jury, but no appeal as the Clause stood. He trusted the right hon. Baronet would reconsider the matter.

Sir J. Graham

admitted the enactment was an unusual one, and because unusual therefore in some degree objectionable; but the fact was, that at the present moment the creditors of boards and guardians were exposed to undue and unjust inconvenience in recovering money due to them. The first question was, whom were they to sue, the guardians not being personally responsible. Then, if they obtained judgment, there was no property except the workhouse on which they could levy. There was no mode of attaching the persons of the guardians. It was to meet these inconveniences that this Clause had been framed. If ever local courts, with summary powers for the recovery of debts should be established, this would be a very proper class of cases to be put under their jurisdiction. On the whole, he was not prepared to press the Clause at present.

Clause postponed.

On Clause 65, that conveyances, &c. for workhouses should be good though not enrolled,

Captain Pechell

said, on a previous Clause he had ventured to submit to the right hon. Baronet the great inconvenience to which persons who were desirous of seeing their relatives in workhouses were subjected, in order to get admittance, and he had mentioned the case of a woman who was anxious to see a female relative in a workhouse who was near her confinement, but, upon application to the governor of the workhouse, had been refused. He wished to know whether the right hon. Baronet would consent to put an end to these complaints. He had also mentioned to the right hon. Baronet the objection that was felt by paupers generally to be employed in grinding bones in workhouses. The right hon. Baronet had stated his disapproval of such practices in union workhouses. He (Captain Pechell) had since understood that several hon. Members were not aware of this statement of the right hon. Baronet's, and he trusted, therefore, that he would now state what were his sentiments on the subject.

Sir J. Graham

, said, that with respect to the admission of the relatives of persons in workhouses, he could only say, that with every desire to superintend, so far as by law he was authorized, the working of the Poor Law, it was impossible for him, consistently with his other duties, to attend to each of these minute regulations. The power of arranging these matters was vested in the guardians, subject to the control of the Commissioners; and he was persuaded that in every well regulated workhouse such admissions would be granted. With respect to bone mills in workhouses, as he did last year, so he did now, and in future should, express his dislike of this method of employing paupers, which he did not think was suitable to a workhouse.

Clause agreed to, as were the remaining Clauses. Several Clauses were added to the Bill.

Mr. R. Scott

said, there was a source of great injustice in many counties, which he was desirous of removing. At present, wherever there were parishes, consisting of many townships, it was in the power of any one township to separate from the rest, and provide within itself for the maintenance of its own poor. Under the present Bill it was proposed that this power should be taken away; but within a few years several townships had thus separated from the rest of the parishes to which they belonged, in order to relieve themselves from the payment of a heavier rate than they would have to pay if they provided for their own poor. By a recent decision of the Court of Queen's Bench the object these townships had in view of relieving themselves from the payment of rates had been carried still further, and it was now the law that whenever a township has separated, no pauper formerly settled in that township can be removed back to that township, unless he had again gained a settlement since the separation. The case of "The Queen v. the Inhabitants of Clifton," decided that point, but upon considerations entirely technical, and not meeting the justice of the case. It was very hard on the rest of the parish, and especially that part of it in which the union workhouse was situate, to say that the paupers in the workhouse belonging to a township which had separated for its own benefit should be irremovable from that part of the parish in which the workhouse stood; but, if it were enacted, as he proposed, that such townships should still be liable to maintain their own poor, justice would be done. The hon. and learned Gentleman moved the following Clause to follow Clause 21: Provided always, and be it further enacted, that wherever overseers shall have for the first time been separately appointed for any township or village, since the 14th day of August, A.D. 1834, all persons who, in case such township or village had been a township or village maintaining its own poor from time immemorial, would have been legally settled in such township for village, shall be considered to have their place of settlement in such township or village notwithstanding, at the occurrence of the circumstances conferring any such right of settlement, such township or village was united with a larger district for the maintenance of the poor; and every such person shall or may be removed to such township or village, as to his or her place of last legal settlement.

Sir J. Graham

said, that the point which the hon. Member stated was strictly technical, and one which presented considerable difficulties. He could not off-hand undertake to judge of the precise effect of the words which the hon. Member proposed to add to the Bill; he, therefore, was not quite clear that they would remedy the evil of which the hon. Member complained. But this, at all events, he must be allowed to say, that the cases for which it was now proposed to make provision were by no means of frequent occurrence, and he feared that the proposed change would give rise to more litigation than its author anticipated; he thought, it would, therefore, be much better to leave the Bill as it now stood. When parties lost their settlement and were in a destitute condition they must be relieved as casual poor; it was clear, then, that the Bill now before the House would not damnify them. The parishes must provide for such poor. The evil complained of was not wide spread, and he hoped that for the sake of providing a remedy the House would not agree to such a piece of complex legislation.

Mr. R. Scott

replied, that in the part of the country with which he was connected there had occurred, within his own knowledge, as many as thirty or forty cases such as he had described. The Clause which he proposed was in conformty with the existing state of the law, and he conceived that there would be no great difficulty in remedying the evil without increasing or complicating legislation.

Sir J. Graham

observed, that it was often very difficult to ascertain an absolute right of settlement, but it would be doubly difficult to do so with regard to a hypothetical right, such as it was now proposed to create. If the hon. and learned Member would confer with him in private, they might come to an arrangement probably satisfactory to both, and if it proved otherwise there would be an opportunity for the hon. and learned Member to propose the addition of his Clause on bringing up the Report.

Clause withdrawn.

Mr. Yorke

said, that in the Act for Abolishing Slavery in the West Indies, it was provided that apprentice labourers should not be separated from their wives, their parents, their children, or from any persons reputed to stand towards them in that relation. That Act declared, that notwithstanding transfers to be made of negro apprentices, they were not to be separated from their wives or even from their concubines. Then he would ask, in this Christian civilized country, were Englishmen to be separated from their lawful wives. He did not bring forward, with any view to popularity, a plan which he believed to be impracticable; on the contrary, it was not only practicable, but, in its tendency, highly moral. The Parliament of this country professed to found their legislation upon Christian principles, and to take the Bible for their rule: with what consistency, then, could they refuse to agree to the Motion which he proposed, and which was,— And be it further Enacted, that the Commissioners shall not be empowered to enforce indiscriminate separation between man and wife, and that in no instance shall they sanction or allow separation when the application for relief shall be substantiated as arising from positive inability to obtain work, or from physical infirmity, and not from idleness, vice, or crime.

Clause brought up and read a first time.

On the question that it be read a second time,

Sir J. Graham

assured the hon. Gentleman that he had no disposition to treat lightly the proposition which the hon. Member had just made, but it did appear to him that the phraseology adopted by the hon. Gentleman was by no means calculated to effect the object which he had in view, nor did he think that a Clause so framed ought to be added to the Bill, The proposed Clause went to prohibit indiscriminate separation. There might be indiscriminate connexion, but he objected to the introduction of such a phrase into the Bill as indiscriminate separation. The Clause, however, was altogether unnecessary. The practice of separating aged men from their wives was not pursued, and infirm or aged females were allowed to occupy the same sleeping apartments as their husbands wherever the workhouse admitted of that accommodation. Orders were given (wherever special reasons were assigned) to depart from the rule laid down in Article 9 in all cases of married paupers. He begged further to add, that what the hon. Member sought to accomplish had already been effected in a much more unexceptionable manner than by the mode that he proposed. How, for example, would it be possible for the Commissioners sitting in Somerset House to determine whether a couple of paupers in Northumberland were idle and vicious, or the contrary? A discretionary power in such cases must be vested in parties on the spot; for they alone could safely determine such a question.

Mr. Yorke

would willingly give up to the matter of phraseology, provided the right hon. Baronet gave up the principle. That which he sought to effect was, to take from the Commissioners the power of separating man and wife. He wished to transfer that power to the guardians, and let them exercise the power of separation in all cases of paupers who had shown themselves to be reckless and dissolute members of society. It was well known that many paupers had been separated from their wives through no fault of their own. He should, therefore, take the sense of the House upon the Clause which he had proposed.

Mr. Darby

hoped that the hon. Member would not take the sense of the House on the question, and, if he should, it was to be hoped that the House would not agree to the proposition for this amongst other reasons—that it was by no means desirable to impose on the guardians the duty of deciding upon the characters of those who applied at the workhouses for relief, and that undoubtedly would be the effect of such an addition to the Bill as the hon. Gentleman now proposed. Why should guardians possess the power of punishing any class of paupers?

Mr. Yorke

could not avoid noticing the altered tone which now prevailed with respect to this Clause, as compared with the reception which it met with on a former occasion. He was sorry to give the House the trouble of dividing; but a sense of duty rendered it impossible for him to do otherwise.

The Committee divided on the question that the Clause be read a second time:—Ayes 6; Noes 96: Majority 90.

List of the AYES.
Berkeley, hon. C. Morris, D.
Colborne, hn. W. N. R.
Colvile, C. R. TELLERS.
Dodd, G. Yorke, H. R.
Duff, J. Pechell, Capt.
List of the NOES.
A'Court, Capt. Herbert, hon. S.
Aldam, W. Hodgson, R.
Allix, J. P. Hussey, A.
Astell, W. Jermyn, Earl
Baring, hon. W. B. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.
Bodkin, W. H. Lemon, Sir C.
Boldero, H. G. Lincoln, Earl of
Bowring, Dr. Lockhart, W.
Bramston, T. W. Lyall, G.
Brisco, M. McGeachy, F. A.
Broadley, H. Manners, Lord C. S.
Brocklehurst, J. Marsham, Visct.
Brotherton, J. Martin, J.
Bruce, Lord E. Masterman, J.
Bruges, W. H. L. Mitcalfe, H.
Burroughes, H. N. Morgan, O.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Mundy, E. M.
Childers, J. W. Newry, Visct.
Clerk, Sir G. Nicholl, rt. hn. J.
Clive, Visct. O'Connell, M. J.
Clive, hon. R. H. Ogle, S. C. H.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Palmer, G.
Cripps, W. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Damer, hon. Col. Peel, J.
Darby, G. Philips, G. R.
Dickinson, F. H. Pringle, A.
Duncan, G. Rolleston, Col.
Egerton, W. T. Round, J.
Esmonde, Sir T. Rushbrooke, Col.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Scott, R.
Farnham, E. B. Sibthorp, Col.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Forbes, W. Somerset, Lord G.
Forman, T. S. Spooner, R.
Forster, M. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Tancred, H. W.
Fuller, A. E. Thesiger, Sir F.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Towneley, J.
Gill, T. Trench, Sir F. W.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Trotter, J.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Wakley, T.
Gore, W. O. Wawn, J. T.
Goulburn, rt. hn. H. Wodehouse, E.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Wood, Col.
Greenaway, C. Worsley, Lord
Hamilton, C. J. B. Wortley, hn. J. S.
Hamilton, J. H.
Harris, hon. Capt. TELLERS.
Hawes, B. Young, J.
Henley, J. W. Lennox, Lord A.
Mr. Burroughes

proposed the following Clause:— And be it Enacted, that, in the case of any person being a widow, who shall have a legitimate child or children dependent upon her for support, and an illegitimate child born after the commencement of her widowhood, it shall be lawful for the Guardians of the union or parish to which such widow or widows may have become chargeable, to grant relief if they shall see fit to such widow or widows, although not residing within the union or parish in which she or they may have a legal settlement. This Clause would lead to the comfort of widows and to the benefit of the orphans left. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would consent to relax the restriction which now prevailed.

Clause brought up, and read a first time.

On the question that it be read a second time,

Sir J. Graham

gave credit to his hon. Friend for humane feelings, and if he could consent to the hon. Member's proposal his own feelings would induce him to do so. But this matter must be decided not on feeling, but on principle. From the earliest period of the Poor Laws permanent relief to non-residents had never been granted. It was not only liable to abuse, but from the very nature of the circumstances, metropolitan parishes, which were centres of the population of all parishes in England, would be called upon to support so many persons so situated, that such a principle would lead to great hardship upon such parishes. He must say that he thought the instructions already issued by the Poor Law Commissioners upon the subject of out-door relief were sufficient. There were no less than seven exceptions from the rule of not granting out-door relief, and he certainly thought that those exceptions were sufficiently comprehensive in their nature to include every case. If the system were carried to such a length as the proposition of the hon. Member would imply, he was afraid that a great principle of the Poor Law Amendment Act would be broken down, and that in such a manner as to entail upon the rate-payers boundless expense, whilst it would in no way tend to relieve the poor. Under these circumstances, he was sorry that he must resist the Motion of his hon. Friend.

Mr. Spooner

had met constantly with cases of the most grievous hardship, occasioned by compelling widows to go back for subsistence to the parishes to which they originally belonged, when they probably had numerous friends, and were able to do something for their own support, in some other district, perhaps many miles away. He was quite sure that the expense to the parishes was much increased by the present system, and as he fully believed that the proposal of his hon. Friend would tend to lessen that expense, he trusted that his hon. Friend would press his Motion upon the Committee.

Mr. Hawes

thought it was not necessary to take the sense of the Committee upon the Motion, as he conceived that the case was already comprehended in some of the seven exceptions to which the right hon. Baronet had referred.

Mr. Brocklehurst

had known very many cases of severe hardships imposed upon widows under the present system, which he thought the proposed Clause was calculated to remedy, and he should, therefore, give it his support.

Mr. G. Bankes

supported the Clause. It was by no means one rendering anything compulsory upon the widow, but it merely legalized a something—giving a power to the guardians to act in a benevolent manner towards a very helpless and dependent class of the community.

Mr. Childers

opposed the Clause. He thought it was based upon a false view of the interests both of the rate-payers and of the class whom it sought to protect.

Sir J. Graham

said, it appeared to him, if the proposed Clause were agreed to, that it would be breaking down that great principle of residence which was the only check against abuse in the case of out-door relief, whilst it would tend to entourage that vicious system of the payment of wages out of the rate.

Sir T. D. Acland

said, the question could not be one of departure from principle, since there were, as the right hon. Baronet had said, already seven cases in which the principle was departed from. The question was, whether they should add another to the number of exceptions; and he, for one, was prepared to say that he did not think such a new departure would open another flood-gate to the return of old abuses. He could not help wishing that the proposed exception should not be added to the others, for he certainly did not think that the case was comprised in those already existing. Stringency in this matter would have a great tendency to make paupers, not only of the widow, but of the children, they had no means of preserving themselves against the calamity which reduced them to poverty. To take them away from that home was like transplanting a tree to some ungenial soil. The industry of the widow and family would be spoiled.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 49; Noes 48; Majority 1.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Mitealf, H.
Aldam, W. Morris, D.
Alix, J. P. Mundy, E. M.
Bramston, T. W. Muntz, G. F.
Brocklehurst, J. Newry, Visct.
Brotherton, J. O'Brien, A. S.
Bruges, W. H. L. O'Brien, J.
Clive, Visct. O'Connell, M. J.
Colvile, C. R. Ogle, S. C. H.
Darby, G. Pechell, Capt.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C. T. Rolleston, Col.
Dickinson, F. H. Round, J.
Douglas, J. D. S. Rushbrooke, Col.
Duncombe, T. Sibthorp, Col.
Egerton, W. T. Spooner, R.
Farnham, E. B. Tancred, H. W.
Fleetwood, Sir P. H. Wakley, T.
Fuller, A. E. Wawn, J. T.
Hamilton, C. J. B. Wodehouse, E.
Henley, J. W. Worsley, Lord
Hervey, Lord A. Wortley, hn. J. S.
Hodgson, R. Yorke, H. R.
Hussey, A.
McGeachy, F. A. TELLERS.
Masterman, J. Burroughes, H. N.
Milnes, R. M. Bankes, G.
List of the NOES.
Baring, hon. W. B. Jermyn, Earl
Bodkin, W. H. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir F.
Boldero, H. G. Law, hon. C. E.
Buller, C. Lemon, Sir C.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Lincoln, Earl of
Childers, J. W. Lyall, G.
Clerk, Sir G. Marsham, Visct.
Clive, hon. R. H. Martin, J.
Cripps, W. Mitchell, T. A.
Damer, hon. Col. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Eliot, Lord Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Peel, J.
Forbes, W. Ponsonby, hn. C. F. A.
Forster, M. Pringle, A.
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Scott, R.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Gill, T. Somerset, Lord G.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Thesiger, Sir F.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Trench, Sir F. W.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Trotter, J.
Granby, Marq. of Walsh, Sir J. B.
Harris, hon. Capt.
Hawes, B. TELLERS.
Herbert, hon. S. Young, J.
Hope, G. W. Lennox, Lord A.

Clause read a second time, and added to the Bill.

Mr. Darby

moved the following Clause: That power be given to the Poor Law Commissioners, or to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, upon sufficient cause being shown, to detach any parish or parishes, township or townships, from one union, and attach them to another, or to create a new union by the severing of parishes or townships, from one or more unions, and uniting and forming them into an entire union.

Sir J. Graham

said, he had stated in the present and former Sessions that unions, at first formed, especially in the north of England, were too large. He, however objected altogether to the giving of a discretionary power to the Secretary of State. He thought it would be much better to vest that power in the Commissioners, and if the Committee agreed with him he would move a Clause which he held in his hand, instead of that just proposed, but carrying the same object into effect in what he considered the safest manner.

The Clause provided that the Commissioners may from time to time, as they may deem fit, declare any union not united for the purpose of settlement or rating to be dissolved, or any parish or parishes to be separate therefrom or added thereto; and further provided, that no such dissolution, alteration, or addition shall take place or be made without the concurrence therein of not less than two-thirds of the guardians.

Mr. Christopher

hoped that the Poor Law Commissioners would be enabled by this Clause to revoke some of their former decisions made against most urgent representations respecting the formation of unions, some of the parishes of which were seventeen miles from the workhouse.

Sir J. Graham

explained, that the effect of this Clause would be to remove the restraint that now existed on the discretion of the Commissioners with reference to the dissolution of unions, which required, as a sine qua non, the consent of two-thirds of the guardians. The relative rights and interests of parishes on the dissolution of a union would remain subject to the existing law, as declared in the 32nd Clause.

Mr. Bankes

wished this Clause had been printed, and in the hands of Members for some time before they were called on to adopt it. Really this was a matter of very great importance. It was not only in the north of England and in the midland counties that the great extent of the unions was complained of. The evil had entirely originated with the Poor Law Commissioners, who, in spite of every warning and every remonstrance, and without any local knowledge, insisted on forming these large unions. The subject should be looked at not only with reference to the wish of the guardians and the rate-payers, it bore most materially on the poor, especially when standing in need of medical relief. He knew of several unions in which they would be compelled in such cases to go a distance of fifteen miles. That was a great hardship. He was not at all content that the remedy should be left to those Poor Law Commissioners who had themselves caused the mischief. He hoped his right hon. Friend would consider whether he could not adopt some more efficient remedy than that he now proposed. Under the present Clause, he feared that the remonstrance of one parish would meet with no attention whatever, and in that case there was no remedy at all. The remedy to be available should meet the case of those parishes which might wish to be detached, though contrary to the wish of the majority of the guardians.

Sir J. Graham

had great objection to give the Secretary of State a summary power apart from the Commissioners in this matter. His great apprehension in proposing this Clause was, lest it should excite throughout the country a desire to alter the boundaries of unions suddenly and to a great extent. There were imperfections, which arose from the practical workings of the measure at its first commencement; and these should gradually, cautiously, and safely be removed on the responsibility of the Commissioners, with reference to local circumstances and past experience.

Lord Worsley

thought this discretion might safely be left to the Poor Law Commissioners. He believed the unions were made at first much too large, chiefly owing to the apprehensions of the rate-payers that great expences would be incurred in building union-houses; but the feeling in the country was now very different, and therefore the same reason could not apply.

Clause added to the Bill.

Preamble agreed to.

House resumed. Bill reported to be further considered.