HC Deb 26 July 1844 vol 76 cc1492-504
Sir J. Graham

moved the Order of the Day for the third reading of the Poor Law Amendment Bill.

Mr. B. Cochrane

congratulated the House and the country, that notwithstanding the late period of the Session at which the present Bill had been introduced, and, notwithstanding the too plainly evinced disinclination of the Go- vernment to many of the alterations—improvements he must, in justice, style them—that had been made in the original measure, it had at length arrived at a stage when it was likely to pass into a law. He likewise had to express the satisfaction that he felt at witnessing the Amendments which had been proposed during its progress through the House, and which Amendments, though not carried, proved that a very strong objection existed to the operation of the Poor Law, and likewise that there were Members of that House who entertained those objections, and were ready to express their sentiments in that respect. He could not but assume, from what had passed during the discussion on the Bill, that the Government was not anxious to discuss the condition of the poor under the administration of the present law, and likewise that there were in the House no inconsiderable number of Members who were determined to discuss that subject, in spite of the sneers and taunts with which their attempts had been met, but which they had succeeded not only in disregarding, but in putting on one side altogether. He congratulated the country upon the fact that the amended Poor Law Bill, as modified by the present measure, afforded a very strong proof that the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary took a very different view of the question from that which he had formerly avowed and acted upon. He accepted the present measure as a convincing proof that the right hon. Baronet was of opinion that the Poor Law did require, and would admit of, amendment, and that during a series of years there had been systematic bad (or mad) legislation in all that regarded the condition of the poor of this country. He congratulated the House and the country upon the admitted fact that the administration of the Poor Law by the Commissioners had differed most materially from the principle originally laid down as that upon which the Bill was founded. He accepted the definition that had been elicited from the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary with respect to out-door relief and the separation of man and wife by the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Evesham, who had proved to the satisfaction of the House that the practice which had been hitherto pursued under the Poor Law was not justified by the principle of that measure, either with respect to out-door relief or the separation of man and wife. So also with regard to the confinement of lunatics in workhouses, the right hon. Baronet appeared not to be aware that they were shut up along with the paupers in workhouses, and had even appeared to be somewhat astonished when such was proved to be the practice. For all these grounds he hoped that the right hon. Baronet would now issue particular and positive instructions to the Poor Law Commissioners to carry out the Bill upon the principles which he had laid down in that House, and not to construe its provisions according to the views by which they had hitherto been guided. The population of the country was increasing, and with it pauperism must also increase; for the improvements in agricultural machinery as well as in manufactures decreased the demand for labour, and increased the numbers of those thrown out of employment. Some means ought to be devised for giving employment to the poor who were able and willing to work, even were that done at the expense of the nation. He had met in some fanciful writer with a passage suggesting the probability that those stupendous monuments of former ages, the Pyramids, had been built for the purpose of affording relief to the poor. Mr. Pitt and Mr. Canning had expressed opinions that, in legislating, the feelings and the passions of the people ought not only to be taken into consideration, but also their prejudice?, and it would be wise in the Government to attend to the opinions of those statesmen. The condition of the poor at the present time was so serious that at the earliest period of the ensuing Session the Government must of necessity resume the consideration of the subject. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had expressed an opinion that when the lunatic paupers should be removed from the workhouses, and placed in separate receptacles, those establishments would be models of perfection in all that related to the economy of the poor. The right hon. Baronet, however, could not deny that with all this perfection the poor-rates were likely hereafter to be much higher than ever. He was not able even at present to show that a saving had ever been effected of more than 1,000,000l. by the operation of the Poor Law, and when the high degree of perfection to which he looked forward should be brought to bear—the expense of maintaining the different establishments for the poor would, he (Mr. Cochrane) was certain, not be less than it was before the present law came into operation. He hoped that after the next Session should have elapsed the country would have to congratulate itself upon the abolition of the New Poor Law altogether.

Mr. Hume

begged to know who had rendered the poor dissatisfied with the operation of the present law, if it were not such persons as the hon. Member opposite? The hon. Member had asserted that improvements in agriculture injured the poor, and by such speeches the hon. Member fostered the ignorance and prejudices of the people. He had always sympathized with the poor, and with those who lived by their labour. The only fault that he had to find with respect to the New Poor Law was, that its provisions had never fully been carried out. When it was first introduced he had done his best to give the measure its full effect, so convinced was he of its necessity. At the same time he thought perfection was not to be looked for, and if abuses crept into the system it was the duty of Parliament to find them out, and correct them. But he would tell the hon. Member for Bridport that the constant attacks which he, and those who acted with him, had made upon the New Poor Law, and upon those who administered the law, were the principal causes of the dissatisfaction which that measure had excited.

Mr. Hardy

said, that his Anti-Malthusian notions had always led him to believe there was too great an anxiety on the part of those who administered the Poor Law to save the purse of the public at the expense of the humbler and poorer classes, and he was glad to find that the present measure was about to modify the operation of the New Poor Law, both with respect to bastardy and out-door relief. He was convinced that both these modifications in the principle of the former Bill would be received with great satisfaction, and he was likewise certain that if the right hon. Baronet should hereafter find that other parts of the Poor Law worked harshly, he would be disposed to alter it in that respect. He therefore begged, most sincerely, to render his thanks to the right hon. Baronet for the improvements he had made in the Bill, and to express his hope that they would afford universal satisfaction.

Mr. Borthwick

said, that before the hon. Member for Montrose got up in that House to censure the expressions of his hon. Friend (Mr. B. Cochrane) he would do well to be quite certain that he understood the meaning of those expressions. His hon. Friend, in speaking of the effects of the improvements in agriculture, had not referred to the mode of cultivating the soil, but to the increased facilities afforded by improvements in machinery, by which labour was saved. He cordially concurred in what had been said on both sides of the House, that the conduct of the right hon. Home Secretary had been actuated by the purest motives. It only remained to make the Bill work in the most effectual way for the benefit of those for whose good it was intended. It was not, he thought, generally understood that under the present law the Guardians had the power of granting out-door relief in cases of necessity, and many persons, in consequence, had refused to become guardians; but now they would no longer do so. This Bill was an improvement, but it was only a partial cure of the evils of the former one. The effect of it was to make the entire mass of the Poor Law, as it now stood, a compound of chymical antipathies, one part of it destroying another, and which would make it absolutely necessary to return to a better—and the right hon. Gentleman must pardon him for saying, an elder system.

Mr. Wakley

hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not be discouraged by any opposition to this Bill from introducing another in the next Session, if it should be found that the public demanded it. There certainly had been some difficulties thrown in the way of the Government, but they had no right to complain of unfair opposition. The Government had delayed the measure until the latter part of the Session, and it was no fault of the independent Members of that House that they had not pushed it forward. He regretted that the hon. Member for Bridport had thrown out such remarks on machinery. It was the most erroneous opinion that ever entered the mind of man, for machinery had created a demand for labour to a most enormous extent; and if it was not for that, there could be no peace in England. The question of regulating machinery was a gigantic one that required to be dealt with by well experienced hands. If it was thoughtlessly or heedlessly touched, it might throw millions into distress. The hon. Member for Bridport said that the Poor Law could not stand. Did he mean the law of 1834? The principle of that law was virtually gone—that law was no longer in operation. The principle of it was the workhouse test; but the right hon. Gentleman told them that in seven cases out of eight relief was not given in the workhouse, so that in point of fact, the principle of that law was at an end. His hon. Friend the Member for Montrose said he stuck to that law. He was sure that it stuck to his hon. Friend. It had a most extraordinary power of adhesiveness, for had it not been for that law, he should at that moment have been addressing his hon. Friend as the hon. Member for Middlesex. It was through his support of the law that his hon. Friend had lost his election for the county. He believed that the law had been productive of very great disadvantage in one respect. Doctrines had been circulated in that and the other House to the effect that there ought to be no Poor Law at all—they came from high quarters, from persons influential, and endowed with great understanding and knowledge. Such pernicious principles promulgated in those assemblies had worked their way into the feelings of a large portion of the people of this country, and he was afraid they who had to administer this law felt those principles most strongly. It was clear to him that the poor did need protection, and he trusted that they would find it in the Poor Law Commissioners. He had already said it was his conviction that the principles promulgated in that House, and the declarations which had been made of the evils that had arisen out of the Poor Law, had been carried throughout the remotest parts of the kingdom, and had operated to the prejudice of the law in the minds of a vast number of ratepayers. The elective members of the Boards, he was told, were the most stringent Members who sat there. That some unfortunate feeling had arisen in the minds of the ratepayers as to the manner in which relief was administered, and the extent of relief, was quite clear; and he wished to call attention to what the Commissioners had been obliged to do owing to the stringent manner in which the Guardians were disposed to fix the salaries of the officers of the Union, and especially of the medical men. Seeing the difficult circumstances in which they were placed as to the fixing the salaries of the medical men, the Commissioners had done one of the most curious things he had ever heard of. He had in his hand an order that was issued by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1842, and what did he find? He had often heard of "no cure, no pay;" but with reference to medical men, the Guardians had been so niggardly and stingy that the Commissioners, in order to give the medical men some emolument equivalent or approaching to their services, had thought fit, at the recommendation of some one, to order extra pay in particular cases—for what? For curing persons after being most dangerously afflicted with disease? For preserving the limbs of the human body? No. But for amputation. For cutting off a leg, 5l.; for cutting off an arm, 5l.; a hand or foot, 5l. each. Now, amputation was one of the most simple operations in surgery—it took only a few minutes, and required that the surgeon should only see the person two or three times after the operation. But suppose it was a serious bruise threatening the loss of a limb, requiring constant care to keep down inflammation and mortification, to save the limb—suppose that happened in the case of the father of a family dependant on him for support,—that the surgeon attended every day for weeks or months, at the end of his labour what was he to have? Not one farthing! Was there ever anything so preposterous? Would any hon. Gentleman in that House propose such a scheme even for his cattle? Did not that show that something was passing in the public mind with regard to the poor—that there was an undercurrent at work of a most dangerous character?—and he was afraid that the source of it had been in that House, from the doctrines promulgated there. The Guardians were withholding pay from the medical men in the most cruel manner, but he was bound to say that the latter found protection in the Commistioners. He would not detain the House further than to congratulate them on the improvement which this Bill would make in the existing law.

Mr. Escott

believed it was difficult to say whether the law, taken as a whole, had done more harm than good. He knew Unions where it had been productive of the greatest benefit, had reclaimed the idle and dissolute, and made them com- paratively honest and industrious, and where the Poor Rates had been considerably reduced; but he knew other Unions where it had effected no such reduction, had made the ratepayers as well as the poor dissatisfied, and in which no impartial persons could be found to speak in its favour. But it was said that if they looked to the interests of the ratepayers it must have done good, because there had been a considerable reduction in the rates since this law was passed. It was his impression that that did not so much arise from the alteration in the law as from the improved state of knowledge on such subjects, and which, under a better administration of the old law, would have produced a still better result. He must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman for the alterations he had introduced, and especially on the admirable and successful manner in which he had introduced what he hoped would prove a most useful scheme of education. After the defeat of his scheme of last year, it was one of the happiest things that he had been able to introduce a measure to which there had been no opposition in that respect, and which would effect as much as the educational clauses in the Factory Bill of last year without one-tenth of the evils those Clauses would have inflicted. The hon. Member for Finsbury had, he thought, confounded the two operations of the law as to out-door relief, and it was important that they should be kept distinct. The hon. Member said that two justices had the power of granting out-door relief to old persons. He could satisfy the hon. Member for Finsbury that that power did exist with the Guardians previously to the issuing of the prohibitory order of the Poor Law Commissioners; but the Commissioners had published an exception to that prohibitory order, and that exception comprised all cases of sudden or urgent emergency. The Guardians were the sole judges of what were such cases, and therefore, under that exception, they did at the present moment possess the power of granting relief in them. It had been said in the course of these debates, that the operation of this law had been the cause of some of those calamitous events which had lately taken place in some counties more than others, and particularly Norfolk and Suffolk—that the peasantry goaded into madness by the operation of this law had destroyed the property of their em- ployers out of spite, because they carried the law into operation. He could not believe any such thing. He could not believe that there were in this country any part of the peasantry operated upon by any such feelings; and he must appeal to hon. Members in that House who knew something of the labouring classes for the refutation of such a charge. They knew well enough, and so did the poor, that the lot of labour was the lot of the many, and the lot of ease that of the few, and that attempts of such a kind as he had referred to would only increase the sufferings of the poor. He trusted, however, that whatever was done, the law would be found strong enough to vindicate the rights of property. The hon. Member for Bridport said he believed the time would come when the law must be altered. His own conviction was, that they would never have an economical and satisfactory administration of the Poor Laws till they adopted either parochial divisions of the country for the purposes of relief, or greatly circumscribed the extent of the Unions. In a debate on the Poor Law Bill, on the 24th of July, 1834, the Duke of Welling said in answer to a noble Lord who had been arguing against the Bill— His noble and learned Friend misunderstood the Bill, and the nature of the evil which it was intended to correct. His noble Friend talked of the Magistrate's administration of the Poor Laws; now, the Magistrates did not administer the law—the overseers were intrusted with the administration. It was true the Magistrates had interfered with the overseers, and one of the objects of the Bill was to bring the law back from the hands of the Magistrates, and replace it in those of the overseers, according to the old system. There was nothing for it but a measure of this kind to bring the administration of the law back to the old system; and when that should be effected, no one would be more happy to see the plan abandoned than he should. He repudiated, as far as he was concerned, the charge which had been made by the hon. Member for Montrose against some hon. Gentleman on that side of the House, that they agitated against this law, on the contrary, while this law continued in existence, he was anxious to do all in his power to promote its efficient administration.

Captain Pechell

said, that in accordance with the promise he had given last night, he did not intend to offer any opposition to the third reading of this Bill; and in- deed he would not have risen bat for some observations which had been made by the right hon. Baronet opposite, which would give pain to some of his constituents. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that it appeared the inhabitants of Brighton were not quite unanimous in their opposition to the interference of the Poor Law Commissioners; and the right hon. Baronet had mentioned the name of a gentleman who, at a meeting which he said was very thinly attended, had complained that some irregular expenditure had taken place in that parish. The right hon. Gentleman evidently wished to impress upon the House that the circumstance of this meeting being thinly attended afforded proof that the people of Brighton felt little interest in the subject. That meeting, he begged to say, was a meeting of the vestry, not a public meeting. It was a meeting called by a Committee of the Board of Guardians, which had been deputed to watch the proceedings with reference to the present Bill. It was not a matter of surprise that there might be some discontented or dissatisfied person present at that meeting; for, in a population of 50,000, there could scacely fail to be some discontented persons. But he believed that if the right hon. Baronet would submit this question to a public meeting of the inhabitants of Brighton, duly convened by the high constable, he would find that the whole of the clergy of that town, the whole body of the Magistrates, and the bulk of the population, consisting of nearly 50,000 persons, were decidedly hostile to any interference on the part of the Poor Law Commissioners. He would now take leave of this measure; and he hoped that no hon. Gentleman would think it necessary to divide the House upon this, its last stage. He must add, that throughout the proceedings in connection with this Bill the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had acted with the greatest courtesy. On the whole, he considered that this Bill effected great improvements in the existing law.

Mr. G. Bankes

fully agreed in the sentiments that had been expressed by the hon. Member for Finsbury on the subject of medical relief for the poor; and he feared that under the present system the medical relief extended to them was by no means adequate to their wants. In many cases, he believed, this deficiency was attributable to one of the evils of the existing system, to which the attention of the House had been called in the course of these debates, but for which no adequate remedy was provided in this Bill—the unreasonably large extent of many of the unions, which rendered it impossible for the medical practitioners to bestow adequate attention upon the poor. When the districts were so extensive it was impossible for a medical gentleman, even if he devoted his whole time to that object, to bestow due attention upon his patients; and some cases had come within his (Mr. Bankes's) own knowledge in which the poor had been exposed to great suffering from this cause. It was undoubtedly true, as had been stated tonight, that when the New Poor Law was first introduced the distinct understanding was that it should be a measure of voluntary adoption, and that it should not be pressed upon reluctant parishes. Those who expected the result of that measure would be to lead to a saving of money had—so far at least as that part of the country with which he was best acquainted was concerned—been grievously disappointed. But he thought this was a matter unworthy of a moment's consideration, if it could be shown that this system, though not less expensive than the preceding, was more beneficial in operation. There was, undoubtedly a strong feeling of jealousy entertained throughout the country as to the expense connected with working the machinery of this system; and he hoped it would be found practicable to reduce that expense to a very considerable extent. He believed this Bill effected considerable improvement in the existing law, and he would therefore give it his support.

Mr. Barnard

hoped the right hon. Baronet would take into consideration the observations of the hon. Member for Finsbury with reference to the 27th Clause, as to the power of Magistrates to grant relief. The right hon. Baronet had told him (Mr. Barnard), when he before called attention to this subject, that he might, if he pleased, bring up a Clause; but at the railway speed at which they had proceeded with this Bill that was quite impossible.

Sir J. Graham

had frequently found it necessary in the discharge of his duty, to address the House during the progress of this Bill through its various stages; and on this occasion, therefore, as no division was to take place, he should not feel justi- fied in occupying their time. He was, however, most unwilling that it should for a moment be supposed that he appeared to treat the observations of the hon. Gentlemen who had addressed the House with anything like disrespect: and he must, therefore, trespass upon their attention for a few moments. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) had referred with his accustomed force and ability, to the subject of medical relief. The rules to which that hon. Member had alluded were certainly framed by the Commissioners with an anxious desire to secure to the medical practitioners connected with the unions some more adequate remuneration for their services than the allowance which had been made to them under a system which he reprobated, and which was now generally discontinued—that of tender. He did not mean to say that the existing regulations were the best possible regulations that could be adopted; but he begged to inform the hon. Member for Finsbury that the whole question of medical relief was now under the consideration of a Committee of that House, over which the noble Lord the Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley) presided. The Report of that Committee had not yet been presented; but it would be open to the House and to the Government to consider this question when that Report was laid before them. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), who was not now in his place, had alluded to a reference which he (Sir J. Graham) had made on a former occasion to an individual whose name had been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. As that Gentleman's name had been mentioned, he (Sir J. Graham) was bound to say he had been a most laborious public servant,—one who had been indefatigable in the discharge of his duties, and who had on many occasions rendered important services to the country by the valuable researches he had made, and by the able manner in which he had laid before the public the result of his inquiries. He thought it was unnecessary for him to dwell more at length upon the various topics which had been introduced during this discussion. He must, however, express his regret that any observations of his had given pain to the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Captain Pechell). That hon. Gentleman had said, that the feeling of the clergy, gentry, and shopkeepers of Brighton was unanimously opposed to the interference of the Commis- sioners; but, however that might be, he (Sir J. Graham) must say that the hon. and gallant Member had, during the progress of this measure, most ably and perseveringly advocated the views of his constituents. Some allusion had been made to the opposition which this Bill had had to encounter. For himself personally, however, he thought it his duty to thank the House for the indulgent favour with which they had regarded his imperfect efforts to conduct this Bill; and he begged to tender his most grateful thanks to every hon. Member who had opposed this Bill, for the conciliatory spirit in which that opposition had been conducted, and for the great courtesy which had been manifested to himself. He entertained a sanguine belief that this measure would tend to ameliorate, very considerably, the provisions of the existing law. With respect to the Bastardy Clause, he had stated that the Government would be bound by the decision of the House, whatever that might be; and the Clause, of course, now retained that shape which had received the sanction of a majority of the Committee. The test of experience must, however, be applied to the measure; and if this Clause should not be found to operate beneficially, he would be ready to consider any suggestions for its improvement. He did not see the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. B. Cochrane) in his place; but with reference to some observations made by that hon. Gentleman on a late occasion, he might express a hope that the union of young England with old England would not be limited to any particular locality,—that it would not be confined within these walls, but that when they met again in the next Session of Parliament their union would prove to be strongly cemented whenever a party division including the fate of the Government, might be attempted.

Bill read a third time — Amendment made: Bill passed.

House adjourned at a quarter past nine.