HC Deb 25 July 1844 vol 76 cc1433-44

The further consideration of the Report on the Poor Law Amendment Bill was again resumed.

Captain Pechell

moved the omission of the 12th Clause, relating to the placing out of parish apprentices. He objected to the controlling power which the Clause gave to the Poor Law Commissioners in selecting the trade and term of service of those apprentices. He also considered that the Clause was inapplicable to the merchant sea service, which in fact was properly regulated by the Merchant Seamen's Act. It could not be maintained that it would be proper to give to the Commissioners control over the merchant shipping; as to their power of visitation to see how the apprentices were treated, it would not be very easy to carry that into effect.

Sir J. Graham

said, this subject had already been amply discussed. He certainly should think the Clause a very impolitic one, if it imposed any serious interference as regards binding apprentices to the merchant service, and he agreed with the hon. and gallant Officer that any visitorial power on the part of the Commissioners over the merchant service as to apprentices, would practically not be found a very easy duty to perform; but he could assure the hon. and gallant Officer, that however ambitious of power the Commissioners might be, this was not a power which they sought to exercise. But this Clause was not intended to interfere with merchant service apprentices; nor did he think it did so interfere. With reference, however, to the Merchant Seamen's Act, he might say, that it had been of great national advantage; for now some 25,000 boys were bound to the merchant service, whereas before the passing of that Act, there had not been more than from 3,000 to 4,000. He might state that his hon. Friend the Secretary for the Admiralty had a Bill now in progress in that House to amend and alter that Act: and, appended to it in the schedule, would be found a new form of indenture and the terms of service, regulating the duties of merchant seamen's apprentices. In point of fact, that Bill would supersede this Clause in the Poor Law Bill, so far as the merchant service was concerned; and therefore the hon. and gallant Officer might discharge from his mind all his objections to the Clause on that point. The only other objection of the hon. and gallant Officer was the control of the Commissioners over the discretion of the Local Boards as regarded parish apprentices in binding them to particular trades, and the term of their apprenticeship. In the main, the provisions of this Bill were regulations in favour of the young and unprotected, in those respects in which they were now unguarded; and he could not put his finger on any Clause in the Bill which more partook of that character than this; for, according to the law of Settlement, as it now stood, local Boards had a pecuniary interest on the part of those whom they represented, in transferring the burthen of the maintenance of destitute orphans, by binding them out to various trades, perhaps disagreeable and ill-suited to their strength and health; not only that, but they might pay a premium out of the parish purse, and by that premium many are induced to take these apprentices, without any regard to the interest of the children. If any transactions required supervision to control them, it was such as those he referred to; and he hoped, therefore, that the House would adhere to the decision of the Committee, and not allow the Clause to be expunged.

Mr. Wakley

adhered to every declaration he had made in that House when this subject was before under discussion. In his opinion the Clause was dictated by a feeling of humanity, and was, he believed, one of the most valuable in the Bill. The children to whom it referred were the most unprotected part of the community. They had no parents, no guardians, no persons but the parish officers to look after them, and on a former occasion he had stated the manner in which the latter discharged their duty. He had stated, that in many parishes they were in the habit of seeing their children only once a-year, and, as the law now stood, the latter were furnished with no protection whatever. Did the hon. and gallant Officer consider that they ought to have no protection? But as the law now stood, if this Clause were omitted they would have none. His complaint was, that the Clause did not go far enough, because it grants the unhappy children already bound no protection. He hoped that the House and the Government would adhere to the Clause as it stood in the Bill. He regretted that the opposition to such a Clause should proceed from that (the Opposition) side of the House. Such opposition offered but poor encouragement from that (the Opposition) side, to a Minister to moderate the asperities of the Poor Law Bill. He trusted that the hon. and gallant Member would withdraw his opposition to the Clause. He (Mr. Wakley) trusted that something more would be done on the subject. He would take the point into consideration during the recess; and it was his hope that he should be successful in inducing Her Majesty's Government to adopt other measures with reference to this class of persons. He repealed what he had previously stated to that House, that there did not exist a more ill-used body of individuals than those to which the Clause especially referred.

Motion withdrawn.

Captain Pechell

proposed a Clause empowering Gilbert Unions and Parishes having Local Acts to elect their own Auditors. He would endeavour to put what observations he had to make in support of the Clause which he had prepared in as small a compass as possible. He thought it would only be consistent with what the right hon. Baronet had allowed the metropolitan parishes, who had adopted Hob-house's Act, to do, that he should accede to this Clause. They were allowed to appoint their own auditor. Why should not parishes under Gilbert's Act elect their auditors as they had done hitherto. No abuses nor mal-practices had been proved against the parish of Brighton, and he trusted that the right hon. Baronet would accede to his proposition; because, to vest the power of appointing auditors in the Commissioners was, in fact, to do away with their out-door relief, and to destroy the independence of that and other Gilbert Unions.

Lord Alfred Hervey

I rise to second the Motion of my hon. and gallant Colleague; and I can assure the House that it is with great reluctance that I venture to trespass upon their attention even for a few minutes when I recollect the immense length to which our sitting has been extended, and bow dry and uninteresting the subject upon which I am about to address them must be to most hon. Members. Sir, I give my cordial support to the proviso which my gallant Friend has proposed, not because I entirely concur in every part of it, but because its general effect will be to prevent the provisions of the auditing Clause of this Bill from applying to large towns under Local Acts. I object to all interference on the part of the Poor Law Commissioners with large and populous parishes well governed under the provisions of Local Acts. I am aware that they possess this power to a certain extent by the existing law; and I do not now propose to deprive them of the power which they already have, partly because I am most unwilling to throw any useless or unnecessary impediment in the progress of a Measure which I consider to be of so important and beneficial a nature, and for which I think the country is deeply indebted to Her Majesty's Government, and partly because I hope that the Poor Law Commissioners will exercise that power with great discretion, as I feel bound to say I think they have hitherto done, and that they will recollect the purpose for which that power was given to them. That the authors of the New Poor Law Bill never intended that power to be applied for the purpose of interfering with the mode of administering relief to the poor in large parishes under the provisions of Local Acts where no ground of complaint existed, I have the authority of Lord Althorp himself and of Sir Frederic Pollock for saying. Lord Althorp, in introducing the Bill in 1834, said, "he hoped the Commissioners would not interfere with the parishes that were well regulated. The only mode in which he trusted they would deal with such parishes would be to follow their example." Sir Frederic Pollock some years later said, "when the Poor Law Bill was passed, it was the general understanding that all Local Acts should not be interfered with, but should remain in due force." But, Sir, although for these reasons I do not seek now to deprive the Commissioners of their existing powers, I trust I shall not be considered as pursuing a course in the least unfair, or of a factious nature, when I express my intention to oppose any further extension of those powers. Sir, I know that in expressing my opinion as to the inexpediency of interfering with Local Acts, am liable to the imputation of being influenced by the local prejudices of my constituents; out this Bill itself admits the principle for which I contend by enacting that parishes under Local Acts containing a population of more than 20,000, shall not be included in a Poor Law Union or a school district. I am moreover supported in my opinion by persons whose judgment ought to have the greatest weight with the House and Her Majesty's Government, and whose opinion is not open to the same ground of suspicion; I refer particularly to Sir F. Pollock and the right hon. Baronet at the Head of Her Majesty's Government. There are also two very important judgments of the Court of Queen's Bench, which, as I am extremely anxious not unnecessarily to trespass upon the time of the House, I will not go into at length; but I will merely state the effect of those judgments. In the case of St. Pancras, the Court decided that the Poor Law Commissioners had not the power to alter the constitution of Boards of Guardians under Local Acts; but the practical effect of the decision of the Queen's Bench in the case of the Whitechapel Union was to deprive those Boards of the advantage which they had gained in the case of St. Pancras, by declaring that the Commissioners had the power of placing any parish under a Local Act in a Union. When the Poor Law Bill of the noble Lord, the Member for the City of London, was under the consideration of the House in 1841, Sir F. Pollock alluded to these decisions of the Queen's Bench; but before I direct the attention of the House to the observations which he then made, I wish to anticipate an objection which may be taken with respect to them. The right hon. Baronet may say that they were made under totally different circumstances from the present, and in reference to a different subject, and that they are inapplicable to the audit districts. Sir, my answer to this object- tion is, that the only reason why they do not appear to have immediate reference to the Clause at present under discussion is, that the particular mode of interference then proposed is different from that which is now proposed. The proposal to include towns under Local Acts in audit districts was not then contemplated; and therefore of course the arguments then made use of could not have immediate reference to such a plan. But I contend that they were directed quite as much against the principle of interference as against the particular mode by which it was then sought to effect such interference. Now, Sir F. Pollock said, (speaking, let me remind the House, not as the representative of a town under a Local Act, but simply as a parishioner and a rate-payer). "After the decision in the case of St. Pancras, he left the court followed by a gentleman who said, 'as you don't like the Board of Guardians, we will put you into a Union.' Upon which he said, 'Sir, if you have any intention of doing that, I beg to tell you that your present remark will for ever prevent that, for in the Court of Queen's Bench, or in my place in Parliament, I will always be ready to state what I have said, and prevent you from doing indirectly what you cannot do directly.' He was a parishioner, and considered that if they were large enough to conduct their own affairs under a Board of Guardians, they did not want to be put into a union. He dared the party to do so." Now, Sir, I put it to the House whether these remarks do not apply with as much force to audit districts as to Poor Law Unions? I can only regret that Sir F. Pollock is not here; for I am sure he would have joined in the endeavour to prevent the Commissioners from obtaining a power by this Clause to do indirectly that which they cannot do directly, and that he would have expressed his opinion that if towns are large enough to conduct their own affairs under a Board of Guardians, they ought not to be placed in an audit district. In the same debate the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, alluding to the decision of the Queen's Bench in the case of the Whitechapel Union, observed "In that way all the parishes now governed by Local Acts were placed under the arbitrary control of the New Poor Law Commissioners." After suggesting that the Clause under discussion should be delayed in order to ascertain the number and population of parishes under Local Acts, he proceeded to say "he thought it would be a fair question for the Committee to consider whether there ought or ought not to be any limitation as to the population of parishes; as, for example, where there were at present parishes containing a population of 20,000 or 30,000, governed by a Local Act, whether it would be wise for them to exempt such parishes? He had always thought that where there were immense masses of population well governed under Local Acts, it would not be found expedient to place them under the control of the Commissioners." I beg the House to observe, that the right hon. Gentleman did not confine his objection to placing these large parishes in Poor Law Unions, but generally under the control of the Commissioners. Sir, I adopt the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman; and because I think that where large masses of population are well governed under Local Acts, it is inexpedient to place them under the control of the Commissioners, I object to placing such large towns as that which I have the honor of representing in the audit districts. Sir, if the House is prepared to adopt the opinion of the authorities to which I have referred, the only questions for them to consider are first, whether the particular mode of importanee which were condemned in 1841; and secondly, whether the parishes under Local Acts are well governed. With respect to the first point, what is the effect of this Clause? Why, it entirely deprives the ratepayers and guardians of all control over the expenditure of their rates, and thus violates a most important principle,—a principle which should never be violated except under circumstances of urgent necessity. The Commissioners by this Bill are to have the same powers over the auditor as under the New Poor Law Bill, that is, they are to determine his qualification, specify his duties, decide upon his continuance in, or dismissal from office, and fix his salary. If the Poor Law Commissioners issue any order to the Board of Guardians with respect to the administration of relief to the poor, and a charge is inserted in the accounts of the Guardians, inconsistent with such order, the auditor will be compelled to strike out such a charge as an illegal one; and notwithstanding the immense powers which this auditor will have, I find by this Bill that if the town of Brighton, for instance, with a population of 50,000, should be hereafter joined to a Union where an auditor has already been appointed, as far perhaps as the present generation is concerned, neither the Guardians nor ratepayers will have any voice in his appointment. I think, then, that I am justified in saying that this Clause in conjunction with the powers which the Commissioners already possess will entirely destroy the independence of Local Boards. The only other question to be considered is, whether these parishes have been well governed? I cannot of course prove negatively that no corrupt application of parochial rates has ever been made in any parish. The onus probandi lies upon the right hon. Baronet; but I can say with respect to the town of Brighton, that no dissatisfaction exists on account of the manner in which the parish funds have been administered. The provisions of the Local Act are well adapted to secure the proper application of the parish funds; for by them all ratepayers may at any time have access to the accounts of the Directors and Guardians, those accounts must be brought before the vestry to be audited four times in the year, and at these quarterly meetings, any ratepayer has the right to object to any item before the accounts are audited: and even after they have been allowed and audited, he can appeal to Quarter Sessions. I believe that these provisions of the Local Act have answered the purpose for which they were enacted; for all parties in the town are perfectly satisfied. There is no complaint on the part of the pauper, as in the Poor Law Unions; and that the ratepayer is satisfied, I think, is sufficiently proved by the fact that there has not been a single appeal during a long series of years. In addition to what I have said, I have the statement of an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner himself. I will with the permission of the House read one short extract from the address of Mr. Hawley to the Brighton Board of Guardians a few years ago. After speaking in terms of high commendation of some of the rules of the Board, he concludes his address in these words;— And in other respects the existing amount of pauperism, as compared with the population, is highly satisfactory, and the progressive and striking diminution of the parochial expenditure observable in the accounts of the last three years speaks most favourably for the system of management that has been pursued. Finally, Gentlemen, your systematic mode of conducting parochial affairs, approaches in many respects so nearly to the system laid down by the Poor Law Commissioners, that the change proposed to be made in your present establishment can scarcely be considered as an innovation; in fact, with the exception of altering the number and constitution of your board, the same machinery under new appellations will continue to work as heretofore, in order, under the authority of a central controlling power, to complete the uniformity of system throughout the country, and secure its future duration. Sir, having, I trust, said enough to show that this Clause without the proviso of my hon. Colleague will interfere most seriously with the continuance of Local Acts; and that no ground has been made out to justify such interference, I will not any longer occupy the time of the House; but I will conclude by appealing to the right hon. Baronet to concede this point. I am convinced that this point may be conceded without abandoning any part of the principle of the Poor Law Act. I can assure the right hon. Baronet, that if I thought the concession which I ask for, would involve the abandonment of the general principle of the Bill, I would not ask him to make it: but believing as I do, that it will involve no such consequences, I trust that I shall not appeal to him in vain when I ask him to grant a boon which will be so gratefully accepted.

Sir J. Graham

could hardly regret the renewal of this discussion, since it had afforded him the pleasure of hearing the speech of his noble Friend; and there was no appeal to which, if it were consistent with his duty, he would yield with move pleasure than one which had been made so ably, and in a manner so persuasive, as the appeal of the noble Lord. He could not, however, yield the point. The House had, by a great majority, decided on the Commissioners having the power of interference generally with these unions, and, if that interference was justifiable in any case, it was so as it appeared to him, in the appointment of auditors. It was true that parishes which had adopted Hobhouse's Act, had been exempted from the power of the Commissioners to appoint auditors, but Hobhouse's Act was not a local but a general Act; and if Brighton and other parishes under Gilbert's Act had liked to adopt that Act, they might have been exempted too. There were only four parishes in the metropolis which had adopted Hobhouse's Act; and he must say, they managed their accounts in a way more nearly perfect than any parish under a local Act with which he was acquainted. With respect to the case of Brighton—he held in his hand a report of a public meeting specially called in that town, to consider the propriety of petitioning the House of Commons against the audit Clauses, and in this he found recorded the speech of a Mr. Holford, who declared that he was an auditor of the accounts of the town. Mr. Holford said he should be sorry to see any auditor appointed under the Poor Law Commissioners do any injury to the poor; but he could not think for a moment that any injury would arise from the appointment of an auditor of that kind. He went on to say, it was obvious that they wanted an auditor; for he had seen the accounts for several years, and many items had been allowed for which there was no law. Expences of town meetings, clearly of a political character—expences of petitions, and addresses were among them. The high constable he had known (he said) charge more than 50l. "for clothing, and everything that was right to go to court with." There had been some hundreds of pounds (he said) paid out of the poor-rates, which he knew were illegal charges. Indeed, he could say, there were hundreds and thousands of pounds which went through their accounts which were illegal. This was the statement of an auditor of experience, respecting the mode in which the accounts of the parish of Brighton were administered; and he was of opinion that an auditor ought to be appointed. As he had said, he (Sir J. Graham) was confident that if any interference with these unions was expedient, that interference was the appointment of an independent auditor. The result would most certainly be to the advantage of the local rate payers. The question was not so much who should appoint, as who should dismiss. If the guardians had the power of dismissal, the auditors could not be independent of them. He hoped, therefore, the House would adhere to their former decision. Judging from the case of Brighton, they would evidently do right to extend the power of appointing auditors to places under local Acts.

Mr. Williams

was ready to admit that the right hon. Baronet had gone a good way in concession to places under Local Acts, and that he had conducted the discussions on this measure with great propriety, and given what he no doubt considered most sufficient reasons for all he wished to be done, but in the two instances of the appointment of auditors under Local Acts and in places under Hobhouse's Act, there had been a total failure of reasons for the conduct the right hon. Baronet had pursued. He felt very great regret that the right hon. Baronet had not consented to admit the Clause.

Mr. Muntz

said, the proper mode, if the people of Brighton allowed their accounts to go wrong, was to let them be punished for it, but not to let the Government interfere. He feared a great deal from this interference, and he thought it would be far better that the Government should leave the appointment to the rate payers, who, as a natural principle, must take care of themselves.

The House divided on the question that the Clause be inserted: — Ayes 10; Noes 52: Majority 42.

List of the AYES.
Borthwick, P. O'Brien, A. S.
Darby, G. Spooner, R.
Fleetwood, Sir P. H. Williams, W.
Fuller, A. E.
Henley, J. W. TELLERS.
Masterman, J. Pechell, Capt.
Muntz, G. F. Hervey, Lord A.
List of the NOES.
Ainsworth, P. Lincoln, Earl of
Allix, J. P. Mackinnon, W. A.
Bagot, hon. W. Martin, C. W.
Baring, hon. W. B. Meynell, Capt.
Barnard, E. G. Morris, D.
Beckett, W. Nicholl, rt. hn. J.
Boldero, H. G. Packe, C. W.
Botfield, B. Patten, J. W.
Brotherton, J. Peel, J.
Bruges, W. H. L. Plumridge, Capt.
Clerk, Sir G. Pringle, A.
Clive, hon. R. H. Rice, E. R.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. Smith, rt. hon. T. B. C.
Corry, rt. hn. H. Somerset, Lord G.
Cripps, W. Stanley, Lord
Dick, Q. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Dickinson, F. H. Thesiger, Sir F.
Flower, Sir J. Thornely, T.
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Trench, Sir F. W.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Trevor, hon. G. R.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Trotter, J.
Goulburn, rt. hn. H. Vivian, H. J.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Wakley, T.
Greene, T. Wawn, J. T.
Hamilton, C. J. B.
Hawes, B. TELLERS.
Hodgson, R. Young, J.
Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E. Lennox, Lord A.
Captain Pechell

felt indebted to the right hon. Baronet for the courtesy which he had shown in the course of the discussions on this Bill. As a Minister of the Crown he was bound to perform a certain duty; and it was not to be expected of him that he should go much beyond the line of his duty; it was satisfactory, however, to feel after all their labours that many concessions had been made by the Government. In the course of the discussions he had done all that depended on him to explain and enforce the views of his constituents, and he trusted that he had fairly represented them. He would now take leave of the right hon. Baronet and of his Bill; for, after what had occurred, it was desirable that the House should go through the Bill as speedily as possible.

Report received. Bill be read a third time.