HC Deb 14 July 1845 vol 82 cc486-93

House in Committee on the Poor Law Amendment (Scotland) Bill.

Clauses to 64 inclusive, agreed to.

On Clause 65, which enacts that all assessments imposed for the relief of the poor shall be applicable to the relief of occasional as well as permanent poor; provided always, that nothing therein contained shall be held to confer a right to demand relief on able-bodied persons out of employment,

Mr. Hastie

inquired, whether there was not a decision of the Scotch courts that the able-bodied poor were entitled to relief?

The Lord Advocate

observed that there was such a decision; but still the prevailing opinion was, that able-bodied persons were not now entitled to relief by law. The present Bill would leave the law as it now was.

Mr. Aglionby

thought it a great evil to leave the law in doubt; and the weak, impotent, and destitute, ought not to be the only objects of the Bill, if the able-bodied could not get work. The word "occasional" would not include them; for that only designated cases of temporary sickness and the like, as opposed to "permanent" poor. Let the workhouse test or any other be applied; but the able-bodied poor, when out of work, must not starve.

Mr. Pringle

said, there was no wish in Scotland to have the present system changed. Able-bodied poor out of work must go elsewhere to find it; by law the parish could not, however willing, relieve them. If it were done, it would change the whole habits of the people, and the Bill would be a perfect nuisance; and in some places the people would live in a state of idleness.

Mr. Borthwick

was sure the workhouse test would not suit Scotland; it was only calculated to destroy the independence of the people. The able-bodied poor were not now entitled to relief in the sense in which other poor were; but it was neither the law nor the practice in Scotland to exclude them from all relief when starving. The best way would be to move the omission of the proviso.

Mr. Ewart

thought the law, being ambiguous, ought to be settled by this Act; but the present clause seemed to exclude able-bodied poor from relief, even when only occasionally destitute.

Mr. S. Crawford

agreed that the proviso had better be excluded. If the able-bodied poor had a right to relief, it ought not to be taken away, particularly when the clearance system had been prevailing, as it had been proved to be, in some parts of Scotland.

Mr. Ewart

moved that the proviso— That nothing herein contained shall be held to confer a right to demand relief on able-bodied persons out of employment"—be omitted.

Mr. Hastie

said, that in Paisley the authorities had had the greatest possible difficulty in keeping the public peace in times of distress, when they were told that by the law in England no man could be allowed to starve, and when they had an impression that under the law of Scotland they had a legal right to demand relief. He called upon the Government in this clause to determine whether the able-bodied should or should not have the right.

Mr. Borthwick

said, that by the law of 1579 in Scotland, as by the law of the same year in England, the able-bodied poor were to be provided with work, and the proviso in this clause would do away with the old law.

The Committee divided on the Question, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause:—Ayes 73; Noes 21: Majority 52.

Mr. Hastie

moved the following proviso:— Provided nevertheless, that it shall be lawful for the Parochial Board of every parish, or combination of parishes, to allow out of the funds raised by assessment or otherwise for the relief of the poor thereof, such relief to able-bodied persons within such parishes or combination of parishes as the Board may deem necessary, during the existence of temporary distress, arising from the inability of such person to obtain employment; Provided always, that such relief to the able-bodied has the approbation of the Board of Supervision.

The Lord Advocate

said, he must oppose this clause upon the same grounds as the previous proposition. If it were dangerous to introduce the principle of able-bodied relief, under particular circumstances, into counties, it was equally so as regarded town.

After a few words from Mr. Ross and Mr. Baine

, in support of the clause,

The Committee again divided on the Question that the clause be added:—Ayes 31; Noes 67: Majority 36.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 71,

Mr. Sharman Crawford

moved to expunge the proviso at the end of the clause, enacting— That it shall not be competent for any Court of Law to entertain or decide any action relative to the amount of relief granted by parochial Boards, unless the Board of Supervision shall previously have declared that there is a just cause of action, as hereinbefore provided. The hon. Member said he could not consent to create any obstacle to the poor man obtaining relief by appealing to the higher court of justice; and he must, therefore, press the Amendment.

Mr. P. M. Stewart

hoped that some explanation from the proper quarter would be given of this anomalous clause. It was unconstitutional in principle, and its operation would be most unfair and unjust to the poor.

The Lord Advocate

said, the clause was one which would confer the greatest possible benefit on the poor of Scotland. It would take them out of the hands of those professional persons who had their interests under their control at present; it would relieve them from the tedium and risk of lawsuits, and would save the parish funds for the relief of pauperism. The case stood thus at present: if the parochial board should not listen to the pauper's application for relief, he could go to the Supreme Court, and he could get relief there, because, being a pauper, he could sue in formâ pauperis; but in order so to sue, he must obtain a certificate from a body of professional persons, who, by the practice of the court, were appointed to investigate the matter, and report whether the party applying had a good case or not. Then, having got their certificate, he could go before the court; but he might be there many long years. What did this clause give him? It enacted that, if the parochial board should not have given the pauper what he thought adequate relief, instead of remaining content with that decision (as must be done in England), he should be enabled, by the simplest application—by a mere letter—to the board of supervision, to call upon them to consider his case and inquire into it; and he (the Lord Advocate) ventured to say that a board constituted as that would be, partly of lawyers and partly of persons not lawyers, would be as capable of saying whether the pauper had a good case, and giving him a certificate to sue in formâ pauperis, as the lawyers who at present reported to the Court of Session. But more than this, the board of supervision was empowered to fix the amount of relief which the pauper should receive, and that amount of relief he would receive unless it were taken from him by the court of law, and he could get that without expense or delay. Was that no benefit? If the matter were carried into a court of law, he (the Lord Advocate) ventured to say, that no long time would elapse before it would be found that the court very seldom overthrew the decision of the board of supervision in his favour, if any parish should have the temerity to enter into litigation on the subject.

Mr. Aglionby

thought the learned Lord Advocate had not answered the objection of the hon. Member (Mr. S. Crawford). The hon. Member objected that where the board of supervision should have refused a certificate, the pauper would be barred from suing in formâ pauperis, unless he obtained the certificate of the learned persons of whom the Lord Advocate had spoken, and who would never grant a certificate after the refusal of the board. The pauper would also be barred of his interim aliment, and it was for these reasons, which the learned Lord Advocate had not refuted, that the proviso appeared to him (Mr. Aglionby) to be worse than useless. To expunge it would not lead to litigation either on the part of attorneys or paupers, and he thought it ought not to stand in the Bill.

Mr. Hastie

observed, that this clause provided one law for the rich, and another for the poor. The rich man could go at once to the Court of Session, whilst that step was denied to the poor man.

Mr. Wakley

could not support the clause, for he believed that it tended to make this Bill one of the most cruel Poor Laws that ever was enacted. The Bill itself inflicted the greatest possible injury upon the poor of Scotland; and, looking at this clause, and those clauses further on with regard to settlement, he feared that he had done wrong hitherto in giving his support to it at all. He trusted that the Bill would not be allowed to pass this Session, at any rate, and he would beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman why such a proviso should be allowed to remain?

The Committee divided, on the Question, that the proviso stand part of the clause:—Ayes 79; Noes 35: Majority 44.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 72, That from and after the passing of this Act, no person shall be held to have acquired a settlement in any parish by residence, unless such person shall have resided for five years in such parish;

Lord Duncan

moved that the term of five years should be substituted for seven years.

The Committee divided on the Question, that the word "five" stand part of the clause:—Ayes 108; Noes 8: Majority 100.

The Committee again divided on the Question, that the word "continuously" be inserted after the words "five years":—Ayes 88; Noes 25: Majority 63.

Amendment agreed to.

The Lord Advocate

proposed an alteration under which the Irish were to be enabled to obtain a settlement in Scotland after certain residence, and under certain circumstances. It had been said that as the Scotch were allowed to obtain a settlement in Ireland without any condition, the Irish, upon a principle of reciprocity, should have the same benefit in Scotland. But the share of nothing which the Irish gave to the Scotch, was no reason for the share of something which the Irish claimed from them. But be that as it might, a fixed residence ought to be demanded from every stranger before he gained a settlement; and under the Bill, as it now stood, the Irish were treated in the same manner as other strangers. He proposed to strike out certain words of the clause in order that, if a person had been; absent five years, without having resided say twelvemonths out of that period in the parish to which he belonged, his right of settlement should not be continued.

Colonel Rawdon

thought the proposition of the hon. and learned Advocate was a fair one. He desired to see the Irishman in Scotland placed upon the same footing as the Scotchman in Ireland.

Mr. George Hamilton

said, he thought the proposition a fair one. It was fairer than the speech, and better than the reasoning, of the Lord Advocate; the learned Lord had neither done justice to the Irish, nor to the administration of the Irish Poor Law. It was quite true that there was no settlement or right to relief founded upon settlement in Ireland; but then it should be recollected that the want of a settlement in Ireland did not preclude relief—and the relief afforded was not an occasional but a permanent relief. That relief was afforded in Ireland to Scotchmen equally as to Irishmen—destitution was there the only qualification for relief; and, practically, every destitute person was considered to have a right to relief, whatever country he belonged to. Instead, therefore, of there being no reciprocity, as the Lord Advocate had stated, the Scotchman in Ireland was actually better off than in Scotland. In Scotland the Scotchman could not claim relief, unless he had a settlement of five years' industrial residence. In Ireland he was relieved, without settlement, if he was destitute. The Irish system, therefore, was the more liberal of the two—and Scotchmen had no reason to complain. At the same time he thought it not unfair that a stranger, after acquiring a settlement, should forfeit it by a long absence; and he was, therefore, satisfied with the proposition of Government.

Viscount Duncan

observed, that in England the law of settlement was very stringent; that in Ireland there was no law of settlement; and he now wanted to know if it were intended that five years' residence in Scotland should constitute a right to relief. He would ask, were they prepared to allow as many as pleased of the disabled Irish to establish themselves in Scotland?

Viscount Clements

said, that a great many Scotchmen were employed in Ireland in confidential and lucrative situations; therefore no undue impediment should be put in the way of the Irish acquiring settlements in Scotland.

Mr. Lockhart

thought the alteration introduced into the clause affecting the Irish paupers, merited the most serious attention of hon. Members opposite.

Sir W. Somerville

hastened to express the satisfaction with which he witnessed the favourable change made in the Bill so far as the natives of Ireland were concerned. He was quite certain that the sentiment of hospitality which inspired that alteration, was felt, to an equal if not a greater degree, amongst his countrymen for strangers. Indeed, he could quote instances in which, amongst the applicants for relief in a district in the south of Ireland, preference had been given to Scotchmen over Irishmen, purely from a generous desire to relieve the stranger first.

Sir J. M'Taggart

objected most strongly to the proposed alteration in the law of settlement in Scotland as regarded the Irish. In the district with which he was connected, and which he consequently best knew, the Scotch very seriously felt their irruption. On looking at the roll of the poor in his own parish, he found that four-fifths of those receiving relief were Irish. The influx was principally from Donaghadee to Portpatrick. One day, when he was crossing over from Ireland to the latter port, he said to an Irish labourer, who was a passenger in the same vessel, "Well, Pat, and what takes you to Scotland?" "Oh, an sure your Honour," replied the fellow, "it is not want, for we've plenty of that at home." He objected to any alteration in the clause.

Colonel Rawdon

said, that after the alteration made by the learned Lord Advocate, he should certainly not persist in bringing forward the Amendment of which he had given notice.

Mr. P. M. Stewart

approved of the alterations proposed by the Lord Advocate. He thought that after five years' industrial labour, a man earned a right to settlement; and he believed, that if the law was properly observed by residents in Scotland, they would have none but useful Irishmen in that country.

Mr. G. Craig

complained, that the provisions of this Bill should be abandoned in this wholesale way. He must say, he thought the Scotch Members were not treated with proper respect, when important alterations were introduced of which they had received no intimation.

The Amendments proposed by the Lord Advocate were then agreed to.

The Committee divided, on the Question, that the clause as amended stand part of the Bill:—Ayes 95; Noes 16: Majority 79.

Clause agreed to. House resumed. Committee to sit again.

House adjourned at two o'clock.