§ MR. P. BORTHWICK
said, that when he had given notice of his intention to move that this Bill be referred to a Select Committee, his object was not to take into consideration the provisions of the Bill, but to avail himself of every means which the forms of the House put in his hands of altogether destroying its provisions, because he thought them most injurious to the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had, however, informed the House and the country that the present Government intended to submit to the House that part only of the Bill which affected removability, which would leave it pretty nearly as it had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorchester, when Secretary of State for the Home Department. Under those circumstances, with the object he (Mr. Borthwick) had had in view, he should withdraw the notice he had given, in order to enable the Government to go into Committee on the Bill, at the same time expressing a hope that the right hon. Baronet would not now insist upon practically going into Committee on the Bill even in its present shape, but only pro formâ, and that the right hon. Gentleman would afterwards give them the Bill in the shape in which he intended it to become the law of the land. If the right hon. Baronet would give him an assurance of that kind, he would do everything in his power to support him in carrying the measure.
§ SIR G. GREY
rose for the purpose of moving that the Speaker do leave the chair; and he should take the opportunity afforded by that Motion of stating the course which the Government, upon mature consideration, had thought it right to adopt, with regard to the Bill for amending the law relating to the removal of the poor. With reference to the observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. P. Borthwick), and also to the opinion expressed by several hon. Members, both yesterday and that day, that the House should not be called on now to consider in detail the several clauses of the Bill, but that he should now move 1199 that the House resolve itself into Committee pro formâ, in order that the clauses might be revised, and the Bill put into the state which the Government proposed, he felt that there were strong grounds for adopting that course, especially as alterations would be necessary, even with respect to those clauses the substance of which they proposed to retain. He had, therefore, no objection to consent to that course. He had abstained from making any observations with regard to what had been stated by the hon. Member for Malton, not from any want of respect either for the hon. Member or the House, but because he had felt it desirable that this subject of all others should be considered separately and apart from those miscellaneous and exciting topics which, within the last two hours had engaged the attention of the House. He knew that the opportunity would be afforded him of fully stating the views of the Government on the subject; and, feeling the importance and complexity of the subject, he had wished to keep it distinct from any of those other topics which were brought under discussion on the Motion that the Order of the Day be read. He had stated he felt the difficulty and complexity of the subject; and he must confess that not only was it of an involved and complex nature, but that the very suggestions made for the alteration of the law on the subject, and the various unsuccessful and conflicting attempts which had been made within the last few years to amend the law, rather added to the difficulty of dealing with it, than cleared the ground of former difficulties, and left it open for any simple remedy that could be applied to the law of settlement. Those attempts had all been made in a spirit of kindness and regard for the interests and welfare of that large portion of the community to whom the Bill especially related. The right hon. Gentleman who had preceded him in the office which he had now the honour to hold, in introducing the Bill in the year 1845, had stated that one-tenth of the population received relief, and that the most anxious attention and deliberation ought to be bestowed by the House upon a subject in which the feelings and interests of so large a portion of their fellow subjects were so deeply concerned. He felt the vast importance of the subject, and how much it concerned a class of the community for which the House ought to have an especial regard; and whatever differences of opinion there might be as to 1200 the remedies that ought to be applied to the existing defects in the law, the subject, he had no doubt, would receive patient attention and dispassionate consideration on the part of the House. Though opinions might differ as to the remedy to be applied to the defects in the law, there was agreement, however, upon one point—namely, that modification of the existing law of settlement and removal was indispensable. It was hardly necessary he should now advert to the various proposals which had been made and rejected or withdrawn. It might be right, however, to advert to the existing state of the law. At present, a man who had acquired a settlement in early life in a parish in England, and who, either attracted by the demand for labour, or from any other cause, migrated to a distant parish, might exercise his industry and calling for many years in the parish in which he laboured, without obtaining a settlement in that parish; and here he might call to mind that the facilities which formerly existed for obtaining settlement by hire and service no longer existed. The number in consequence had been very materially increased of persons, who, though they had, in the prime of their life, by the exercise of their honest industry promoted the prosperity of a town, had failed to obtain a settlement in that town, and who if, from any misfortune, such as sickness or infirmity, they became chargeable as, and fit subjects for relief under the Poor Law, had to look, not to the place in which they had been long established, but to that from which they had originally migrated. Relief might be given, certainly, in parishes where a settlement had not been obtained—in the case of the casual poor; but in other cases relief was given accompanied by an order for removal to the parish where the settlement was found to exist. The consequences of that system had been forcibly stated by the late First Lord of the Treasury, in his speech in the early part of the Session, when he announced the commercial policy he proposed to submit to the House, and in which he had adverted to the series of measures with which he proposed to accompany that policy. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, in strong terms, the inconveniences and hardships resulting from the existing state of the law, and described the migration which took place from the agricultural to the manufacturing districts, at times of manufacturing prosperity—that 1201 families became established in their new place of abode, habits underwent a change, old connexions were broken up, and new associations formed, and a large term of their life was spent in the manufacturing districts, much of the prosperity of which was to be ascribed to the industry, the skill, and energy of those people. But then came the reverse of the picture. A period of manufacturing depression arrived; there might be a period of sickness or state of life which rendered a man less fit for his occupation, or he might have the misfortune to be thrown out of employment, and thus become chargeable upon the fund applicable to the relief of the poor; and the consequence was, an order for removal was applied for, for no other course was open to those who had the administration of the fund but to remove the party to the parish where he had a settlement, after many years had elapsed since he had left, and he had become incompetent to perform the labour by which alone he could maintain himself in the parish to which he was removed. That was a state of things which the right hon. Gentleman had justly stated was shocking to the feelings of every just and humane man, and for which the late Government proposed to introduce a remedy. A Bill had been brought in for the purpose; and, as it was originally proposed, it was limited to two principal points. The first part of the Bill was that which altered the existing law, giving to those persons who had lived in a parish for a period of five years a right to relief from the parish where they had resided. It provided that, after residence for five years next preceding the application for relief, the pauper should not be liable to removal, but should be entitled to relief from the parish in which he had so resided. There were other points to which he (Sir G. Grey) should advert subsequently; but this portion of the Bill, which established the irremovability of paupers under these circumstances, was the principal. The other part of the Bill related to the trial of appeals and the form of procedure. A third part was added in Committee, in consequence of the Motion of the hon. Member for Malton, in which a principle previously abandoned in connexion with the Poor Law was again recognised and adopted by the Government, namely, that of union settlement. It had become the duty of Her Majesty's Government, under these 1202 circumstances, to consider well what were the steps they should take in reference to this measure; and accordingly, upon the fullest consideration which they could give the subject, looking at the difficulties with which the law of settlement was beset—looking at the difficulties which surrounded the subject of union settlements—and considering also the late period of the Session at which the House had arrived—taking all these circumstances, therefore, into consideration, they had concluded that it would be hopeless to attempt to deal with the Bill, as a whole, in the present Session of Parliament; and feeling that it could not be adequately discussed in the few remaining weeks which they would have to sit, they felt that it would not be dealing fairly with those whose interests were the most deeply involved in the question, if they pressed it to a final settlement before the conclusion of this Session. They proposed, therefore, to abandon the portion of the Bill relating to union settlement for the present—not to abandon the principle, but to wave it for the present Session. His noble Friend had stated, that he should move for a Select Committee on the subject of settlement in the next Session of Parliament—a course which would greatly facilitate the adoption of some improved measure, and render the temporary relinquishment of the principle of no injurious consequence. It had then become a question whether it would be right to take any further steps with the existing Bill, or whether it would not be better to let it stand over also until the next Session of Parliament. Upon that question, however, the Government had come to a different conclusion from that at which those hon. Gentlemen who now cheered, had arrived. They felt that, looking to the expectations that had been held out on this subject; to the announcements which were made by the right hon. Baronet, late the First Lord of the Treasury, at the commencement of this Session; and to the benefit which would be derived immediately by a very large class of the community, from the partial alteration of the law involved in the first part of the Bill—they felt it was their duty not to abandon the Bill altogether; but that they should invite the House to affirm the principle of irremovability; leaving the question of settlement, which he admitted was intimately connected with it, to be more satisfactorily dealt with next 1203 Session. They determined to proceed with the first part of the Bill, conferring the privilege of irremovability on persons after a residence of five years. The clauses to which they proposed to ask the House to agree, were the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Clauses of the Bill as amended in Committee. The 5th Clause enacted that "no widow residing with her husband at the time of his death shall be removable for twelve calendar months after his death from the parish in which he died." The House would perceive that this clause applied not merely to widows of persons who were themselves irremovable from their period of residence in a parish, but to the widows of all persons, whether removable or irremovable on that account. The 6th Clause provides, that "no child of any person, or of the wife of any person, legitimate or illegitimate, under sixteen, residing with the father or mother, shall be removed in any case where the person himself may not lawfully be removed;" and the 7th Clause, which it was also proposed to retain, though with some alteration, provided that, irrespective of the term of residence, "persons shall not be liable to be removed owing to any accident that may disable them for a time, and render them chargeable, with a prospect of soon being able to regain independence by their honest industry." The Bill as they intended it should stand, would enact, that if paupers fell sick, or met with an accident in any parish, they should be relieved in that parish where the sickness, or the accident occurred. If, however, the sickness turned out to be of a permanent nature, then it was not intended to impose a permanent burden upon the parish where the cause which incapacitated the pauper for work first took place. In such cases the old settlement of the pauper would be revived. He had stated the proposition respecting the right to relief at the end of five years, and he had not forgotten that amongst other Notices which stood upon the Paper, there was one for altering the five years into three. Now, he was not prepared to say that, under all circumstances, three years were not preferable to five — he should not say five years were the best possible period; but, looking at the precedent which the Scotch Poor Law afforded, he did think that it afforded some sanction for the course which they had resolved to adopt. Doubtless the effect of this plan might be to throw a heavy additional burden upon some of the great manufac- 1204 turing towns. It was one, however, which he believed they were not unwilling to bear. But he thought it was right to proceed cautiously, rather than excite needless alarm and opposition by proposing too much. He was quite ready to admit that the effect of the measure then before the House, was not to leave the law of settlement wholly untouched. The law of settlement and the law of removal could not be kept entirely asunder. The Bill before them, however, was a mere temporary suspension of the existing law of settlement in the particular cases to which it referred. It might be as well if he were here to advert to the term "residence" used in the Bill, and which he had been asked to define. He felt that it was scarcely necessary that any attempt should be made to define that term—it ran through all Bills of the same description, and it might be no easy matter to supply in words a definition that would give entire satisfaction; but there was, generally speaking, a very good practical definition in use in Westminster Hall, and that would perhaps supersede the necessity of introducing any definition into the Bill itself. With regard to the second part of the Bill—namely, that which embraced the trial of appeals, the execution of orders of removal, and the alteration in the forms of procedure, the Government were of opinion that it was not intimately connected with the first part of the measure; and, therefore, that it might be postponed without any difficulty. These questions were contained in a series of clauses, which, if proposed to the House, it was felt would lead to a long discussion; and, perhaps, without any satisfactory results. The effect of the adoption of the first part of the Bill would be to relieve a large class of persons from the operation of orders of removal, while it would, as a matter of course, make questions on forms of procedure much less frequent than they were previously and at present. With regard to the second part of the Bill, therefore, the Government were prepared to adopt the same course as it had adopted with respect to the law of settlement, namely—to postpone its further consideration until both questions were in a position to be settled together and at the same time. There were two clauses of the Bill on which he wished to say a few words. The 11th Clause imposed a penalty for fraudulent removal. If the House assented to the first part of the Bill, he thought that they ought not to re- 1205 fuse to sanction a provision for punishing fraudulent removal — for punishing parties who fraudulently and unlawfully induced poor persons to remove from parishes to which, if they did not remove, they might become chargeable. The 13th Clause had reference to the delivery of paupers by one set of parish authorities to another. It had been held that the deposit of the poor within the boundary of a parish constituted a sufficient delivery. [An Hon. MEMBER: That is not the law.] It might not be the law; but doubts had arisen with respect to the matter, and it was thought that the best course would be by an express enactment to put an end to all doubts on the subject by declaring that placing paupers within the limits of the parish should not constitute a delivery; that nothing less than conveying them to the workhouse should constitute a legal delivery. Whatever might be supposed to be the law, this enactment would put an end to all doubt on the subject. He was not aware that it was now necessary for him to say anything more as to the course which the Government intended to pursue. He did not offer the Bill as a complete measure; but it applied a remedy to that which every one admitted to be a great existing hardship. It certainly would throw some burden upon the great towns; but he ventured to believe that the representatives of those populous places would be willing, in the names of their constituents, to assume their fair proportion of the burdens of maintaining the poor, especially that portion of the poor from whose labour the inhabitants of those towns had derived great and lasting benefits. Looking to the circumstances of increased difficulty in obtaining new settlements, he did think that when the inhabitants of those towns had derived vast benefits from the labour of the poor in their towns, they ought not to refuse a provision of the nature to which he was now referring. The Bill, he assured hon. Members, had been now submitted to them with an anxious desire to promote the welfare of the poor; and he trusted it would be received in the spirit in which it was intended, and he confidently hoped that the House would not refuse its assent to that part of the measure to which he now asked them to agree. He was not, he assured them, indifferent to the importance of those matters with which the other parts of the Bill proposed to deal; but he thought that under present circumstances, and considering the period 1206 of the year, it would be better to wave those portions of the measure until next Session. He should now move that the House do resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill pro formâ, in order that it might be recast and presented in a more perfect form. He concluded by moving that the Speaker do leave the chair, and that the House do resolve itself a Committee on the Bill.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
approved of the course taken by the Government upon the occasion; and he thought they acted wisely in postponing, at this period of the Session, that part of the Bill which related to the trial of appeals. At the same time he felt bound to state that the present system of trying appeals at quarter-sessions was most unsatisfactory, very few of the cases which came before those courts being decided on their merits, but only on technical points; and he hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would not lose sight of the great importance of the question in his future proceedings with respect to the Bill. What was most wanted was a simplification of the present mode of trial on appeals. On the remaining question, respecting the irremovability of paupers after residence, he was glad the Government had expressed its determination to persevere in the provisions of the Bill. The poor of this country had been led to expect great advantages from the principle, and he trusted that it would soon become the law of the land. He regretted, however, that the right hon. Baronet had seen fit to disregard the three notices which stood for a reduction of the period of residence to three years; but rather than lose the advantage which would accrue to the poor from the principle, he would consent to forego his own opinion, and adopt five years. He wished, however, that the three years had been adopted, and if he could reduce it to one year himself, he confessed that he would willingly do so. The law of settlement was a great hardship, and no part of the Poor Law system partook more of the character of what was justly condemned as "class legislation." It inflicted great hardships on the poor, for the immediate benefit of those who bore the burden of their support. He admitted that it would be difficult to expunge the law of settlement at once from the Poor Law system; but he believed it inflicted more real hardship on the poor than any other part of that system. All the authorities were in favour of three years; 1207 and the right hon. Gentleman would find that even the Poor Law Commissioners themselves advocated it. He regretted to hear that the right hon. Gentleman intended to propose a clause which had relation to the removal of widows. An Amendment stood on the Paper in his name, the object of which was to make widows irremovable from parishes in which their husbands died. Every one who had studied the working of the new Poor Law was aware that if there was one enactment which bore harder on a particular class than another, it was the settlement clause in relation to its operation on widows. Those who were acquainted with the working of the new Poor Law knew it was not a matter of theory, but a matter of everyday occurrence, for widows to be removed to parishes where they had no friends or connexions, merely because it was their late husbands' legal settlement. Had these poor widows been suffered to remain in the parishes in which their husbands resided when living, they would in almost all cases have had the advantage of getting employment and assistance from persons by whom they were known. All those benefits the widow was deprived of by the operation of a harsh law which sent her to a distant part of the country where she was not known. It was not often he had the good fortune to agree with the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley); but he was of opinion that none had ever done greater service to the poor than the hon. Member did when he moved for a return of the operation of the law of settlement for the years 1841, 1842, and 1843. If the House looked at the head of the returns they would see the first case was that of a widow, who was removed to her place of settlement after a residence of thirty-two years in another parish. The next case was a removal after twenty-six-years' residence. [Sir G. GREY: Under the new law widows would be irremovable after a five years' residence. Such cases could not again occur.] He feared that the proposed new law would not meet all the hardships of the case. For instance, widows would be removable if they had a less residence than five years in a parish; and he very much doubted whether they would not be liable to be removed if the clause stood in its present form. He was not one of those who were in the habit of declaiming against the New Poor Law. He believed it was one of the best that could be devised for the benefit of the country, if fairly carried 1208 out. He did not mean to join the declaimers against the Poor Law, or against the Commissioners by whom that law was administered; but he did ask the right hon. Baronet to make this law as free from hardship and severity as was consistent with those great objects the law sought to accomplish. He hoped when the time came for discussing the Bill, that the right hon. Baronet would see the necessity and propriety of modifying the clause in question, and of excepting widows froms its operation.
§ MR. PACKE
differed greatly from his hon. Friend who had just sat down in his views of the clause which conferred irremovability after a residence of five years. In the county which he had the honour to represent, the villages were peopled with persons who performed the principal part of the work which supported the trade of the neighbouring towns. The people worked in their own cottages, and took their work into the towns, to their employers, on Saturday night. The towns, therefore, derived all the benefit of the labour of these persons; but, as they did not reside in the towns, the burden of their maintenance, when they became sick or unable to work, would not fall, as it ought to do, upon the towns, but on the villages in which they resided. As regarded the counties of Leicester, Derby, and Nottingham, the rural districts would be ruined, if this clause of irremovability were passed. He objected, also, to the language of the clause, which conferred irremovability in respect of five years' residence. He had been a chairman of quarter-sessions for many years, and he saw such loopholes for quibbles on the part of counsel in the enactment of irremovability for five years' residence, that he thought that the discussions which would ensue would be almost endless. Whenever the Bill came before the House, he should think it his duty to oppose its progress.
§ MR. SPOONER
did not agree in the view of the question taken by the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Packe). He did not think it a question of compensation to landlords, nor one which should be dealt with in relation to considerations of hardship on any particular parish. The only true ground to legislate for the poor was with the view of promoting their happiness and comfort. Justice to the poor, the enlargement of their comforts, and the maintenance of their rights, were the only grounds on which to legislate for them. 1209 He considered it was a particular hardship for a man who had been attracted to a town in search of work, and who had got work for years there, to be passed back to his own parish, merely because there was a trifling falling-off in trade, or a temporary stoppage of work. It was true, the measure might to a certain degree increase the burdens of the manufacturing towns; but he was sure the manufacturers had no wish to be relieved from the burden of maintaining their poor. They recognised the principle, that where a man had laboured, he had a right to maintenance and support. His object in rising was more particularly to call attention to two clauses in the Bill, which he considered were susceptible of great improvement. The first clause related to the removal of widows to their husbands' parishes. He proposed that the power of removing widows without their consent should totally cease. Cases of extreme hardship frequently arose. A woman in a manufacturing town might be married to a man whom she met with there, who came from another and a distant part of the country; and, on the death of her husband, instead of being sent back to her native parish, where her friends resided, and where sympathy would be felt for her misfortunes, she was now liable to be removed to her husband's parish, where she would be an entire stranger—without friends or any of the associations of early life to alleviate her sorrows. The hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Captain Pechell) had a notice of amendment, to the effect that it should be at the option of the widow to be removed. He approved of this plan, and he proposed that this option should be extended to all persons who came within the operation of the Bill. Such a provision was made the more necessary by a subsequent clause which imposed a penalty on overseers for giving directly or indirectly any assistance or inducement to a pauper to leave the parish in which he resided, in order to become chargeable to another; this clause he wished to have modified. It frequently occurred that workmen, after having resided in a town for some years, their health failed, and they had to struggle with bad health and consequent diminished employment, till at length their resources became exhausted, and they became desirous of going back to their native parish, with a view of recovering their health. Such persons ought to have the option of going back to their own parishes, and means ought to be furnished 1210 to them to effect this. The magistrates in petty sessions should have the power to investigate such cases; and if they found there was no collusion between the paupers and the overseers, give orders for their removal. If overseers were inclined to send poor persons back to their parishes under the circumstances he had detailed, they ought to have the power of doing so. He wished to give the sick, poor, and aged man the option of being sent back to his place of birth, providing, at the same time, a remedy against collusion or fraud on the part of overseers. He begged to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) to the clauses in question; and he hoped the suggestions he had thrown out would have full consideration, and would be adopted.
§ MR. R. VERNON SMITH
complimented his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, upon the great gallantry which he had displayed in covering with his shield the mangled remains of the Bill which had been bequeathed to him, and in endeavouring to galvanize it into existence in the month of July. He did not wish to embarrass his right hon. Friend in the prosecution of his task; but the least embarrassing course which his right hon. Friend could pursue would be to give up the Bill for the Session. Now, what was the course which had been adopted by his right hon. Friend? When he came into office it was found in a state in which it was impossible to proceed with it, it was such an ill-drawn Bill. He (Mr. V. Smith) told the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, that it was an ill-drawn Bill, at the commencement of the Session; and now his right hon. Friend was forced to recommit the Bill. That course might not be liable to objection; but there was another course still less objectionable, and that was to postpone the Bill till next Session. His right hon. Friend said that he could not call on the House to insert in the Bill the clauses relating to a union settlement; but the House was in a singular position in this respect, having affirmed a Motion that it should be an instruction to the Committee to insert a union settlement in the Bill. The principle of a union settlement was at least as well understood as the principle of irremovability, and he did not see why it should not be discussed. For his own part he should like to know what the principle of irremovability was. His right hon. Friend 1211 proposed to submit the whole question of settlement to a Committee at the commencement of the next Session; but he did not know whether his right hon. Friend would not do better by preparing a Bill on the subject himself, as a reference to a Committee up-stairs was likely to delay legislation for a long time. As an instance of the delays which took place, he might refer to the Committee on the Game Laws, which had already sat two Sessions, and which would probably produce two ponderous volumes, which no one would read, while everybody was just as capable of discussing the subject two years ago as he was now, and would be after the Committee had published their report. His right hon. Friend proposed that irremovability should be given by residence—shrinking, however, a little a definition of "residence," though he told the House that the term was very well known in Westminster Hall. Perhaps, therefore, his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General would tell them what residence was. When his right hon. Friend, however, told the House that the word was well known in Westminster Hall, he forgot to add that the reason was that no question was more litigated in Westminster Hall than the question of residence. His right hon. Friend had not stated whether residence was to be connected with industry or not—whether in order to obtain a right to settlement, residence was to be industrial or mere simple occupancy. The consequences of this Bill would be to induce those parishes in which the close system, as it was called, was practised, to throw their poor upon the open parishes. There were clearances in England as well as in Ireland—cases in which landlords had been enabled to throw the burden of their poor upon adjoining parishes. Now these practices would not be got rid of by the Bill now proposed. As the measure was to be retrospective too, and was to institute the principle of a five years' residence from the moment of its passing, parish officers would be set to work to remove persons who might become chargeable under its provisions. Such things had not been unknown, and he much feared that the effect of the measure would be to hustle poor people from parish to parish. He agreed with the hon. Member for Droitwich, as to the law of settlement. He had on a previous occasion voted for union settlements; and he believed that it was only by extending the limits of the locality 1212 in which a settlement was to be obtained, that the practice could be prevented of throwing paupers from one parish to another. With union settlements, of course, he would wish to see union rates. The great object should be to give labour as large a scope as possible for its development. They had got free trade in corn, and he now wanted to see free trade in labour. He was more and more convinced, indeed, that the results of deliberation upon the subject would be ultimately to do away with the law of settlement altogether, as having a tendency to bind down the poor to small localities, while it failed to benefit either them or the neighbourhood chargeable with their support. He urged his right hon. Friend to postpone the measure until next Session. If, however, he should press it on the House, he (Mr. V. Smith) would confine his opposition to a Motion for the insertion of clauses making residence, to be effectual, industrial.
§ LORD HARRY VANE
had thought that very little objection was likely to be made to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department, particularly considering that it related to merely a temporary measure. He hoped that the law of settlement would be altered so as to make the requisite period of residence three, instead of five years, and that it would be ultimately abolished altogether. He was of opinion that there ought to be something like a county rate established, so as to permit the freest circulation of labour. The whole subject would, however, he trusted, receive the fullest investigation from the Committee to be next year appointed for its consideration.
§ MR. STRUTT
put it to the right hon. Baronet as to whether it would not be better to defer the advantages which he expected from his measure for a few months, than to press it on, admitting as he did that there were portions of it by no means fraught with advantage to the interests affected by them. The fact was, that the right hon. Baronet was proposing a new and anomalous principle in the law of settlement, on the very eve of a comprehensive inquiry into the whole subject. Reference had been made to close and open parishes; but the abuses resulting from that system would be aggravated instead of diminished by the proposed enactments. It was because he felt that by hurrying on the measure they would be injuring rather 1213 than serving the poor, that he was anxious not to see the Bill rashly and hastily passed as it at present stood.
§ MR. HENLEY
did not wish to jump hastily to a measure, the certain effect of which would be to make greater the difficulties now attending the administration of the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman had hesitated in defining what he meant by "residence." Now, in what position was he putting the administration of the law if they could not define the meaning of an Act which they passed? The wiser and the more humane course would have been the introduction of a short Bill suspending all removals for twelve months, until the House had an opportunity of putting the law of settlement on a permanent and satisfactory basis. It was material to consider this change as it related to the Irish. If they were to declare by law every Irishman irremovable, and make no new Poor Law for Ireland, the consequence would be that a large proportion of the Irish poor would walk over to this country. Nor could he blame them for so doing. He agreed with the hon. Member for Birmingham that it was very inhuman to turn out a man from a town where he had laboured for thirty years of his life; but for the life and soul of him he could not see why, if the man was irremovable, there should be a power given to remove his wife and children. It would be impossible to define what residence meant. The investigation would be like the ripping up of a title of fifty years standing. The class of persons who now suffered most were the casual poor, those who travelled from place to place, and whose means ran short. Now, he thought that under the 11th Clause they would be prevented from getting any relief whatever.
§ MR. WAKLEY
From the just feeling with which the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department approached the consideration of this Bill, he augured the best possible results from his mode of administering his present office. At the same time it should not be forgotten that this Bill had been brought in by the late Administration, who deserved the greatest credit for having taken up and grappled with this difficult subject. If the present Government went on in the same path as they had commenced that evening—if their other acts were similar to this proceeding, he should seldom remind them of their pledges or promises, for he liked acts infinitely better than professions. It was said, there 1214 would be a difficulty in defining residence. Why, any man of sense would have little difficulty in saying whether a man continued labouring in a parish for five years. But a Member, by way of simplifying the question, proposed the words, "A man who ordinarily maintained himself." He had little doubt that some lawyer could be found who would say, that such words meant, "A man who dined every day at an ordinary." He strongly approved of this Bill. If passed into a law, it would benefit many thousands of the poor. He was delighted to see, from the tendency of the arguments that night, that every day the subject of the poor was more and more regarded as a national question. The whole question must be carefully sifted. As it was, the heaviest burden often fell on the poorest parish. In Paddington, where the value of property had risen enormously, and where there were houses built every day varying from 150l. to 800l. a year rent, the rates were 8d. in the 1l. In different parts of the country, they varied from 8d. to 12s. in the 1l. Mr. Hutchinson, a gentleman formerly employed in that House, had made an elaborate calculation, showing that if the cost of the maintenance of the poor were distributed over the country generally, it would not amount to 1s. 6d. in the 1l. The present law of settlement was a disgrace to the Legislature, for under it a poor widow who could support her children for 8s. a week in the parish where her husband resided, was sent to her own settlement where her support often cost 30s. He submitted to the House that the question of the Scotch and Irish poor should be brought into the investigation when the question of settlement was reviewed. What was the case at present? A Scotchman here was sent back to his own country on the supposition that there he had a right to relief. But when he arrived, he found he had no such claim. An Irishman, in the same way, had no right to relief unless he laboured under an epidemic disease. The first duty of property was to maintain those born on the soil, who were willing to earn their bread by their honest labour. Yet the Irish absentees spent their incomes on the Continent, though their own poor perished through want. They ought to put the Irish and Scotch in the same scale as the English. He entreated the Government not to be deterred by opposition, but to pass the Bill in its present form.
§ MR. P. SCROPE
said, he was opposed 1215 to the measure, as it did not define the law of settlement; and he considered it very much calculated to bring over immense numbers of Irish labourers, the result of which would be that Ireland would get rid of their poor, and they and their children would become permanent burdens upon this country. He thought it would be much better to postpone the consideration of the question until next Session—as that measure was only calculated to unsettle the law of settlement—and would relieve the rich parishes of their burdens at the expense of the poor ones; and therefore he considered it an unusual mode of legislation. As it was intended to be merely a temporary measure, and the question was to be again opened next year, he thought it would be much more prudent to defer pressing forward this Bill at present. He was glad to observe the unanimity that existed in the opinions of hon. Members, that the present law of settlement and removal was most unsatisfactory—which was a step in the right direction; and he had no doubt that if the measure proposed were postponed till next year, that the Government would introduce a Bill for the final settlement of the question.
hoped the Government would not yield to the request thus made to them; for if they prevented, by this Bill, the poor who had lived for five years from being removed, no alteration of the law of settlement could affect them. If hon. Gentlemen would only reflect on the ills to which the poor were liable by removal, they would not postpone this Bill; and as he thought the right hon. Gentleman was conferring a great boon on the poor, and he wished the Bill to pass, he would not press his own Amendment for reducing the term to three years, but consent to the period of five years. He was, however, very much disposed to support a clause to make widows irremovable; and he could not help thinking the day would come when the law of settlement would be abolished, to which Mr. Sturges Bourne's Committee of 1817 were inclined; and if it did come, the whole of the poor rates of this country would be reduced from 5s. to 6d. in the pound.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that it was intended to strike out the first three clauses of the Bill; the fourth clause would therefore be the first. He should also propose to make certain alterations in the subsequent clauses, so as to admit of the application stated by his right 1216 hon. Friend. He should not endeavour to define the meaning of the word "residence" in the Bill, as it would lead to ten times the confusion which might arise if there was no such explanation. He conceived that the word residence was well understood in the practice of the law, and it had been admitted in the courts, and he thought that the common application of it as living forty days in a place was sufficient. If they took the common sense view of the point, there would be no difficulty experienced in carrying out the Bill. Again, with respect to a widow, it would not require a residence of five years on her part, provided her husband had resided in the place. This would also apply to children of a person having an industrial residence for the like period of five years. This was just, for the place had had the benefit of his labour, and had enjoyed the benefit derivable for the expenditure of his earnings. It was further provided in a clause, that it might happen that a husband had not resided for five years in a place and died, and left a widow who had not acquired a settlement there, in which case for one year she could not be removed; so also with a child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, and also with a stepchild. Children, under sixteen years of age, about which period they were able to provide for themselves, were not to be removed without their father or mother, if they had any. He did not know whether he had made himself understood, but he should endeavour to carry out the provisions of the Bill in the spirit which he had described.
§ MR. BICKHAM ESCOTT
said, that there could be no difference of opinion as to the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman meant to remodel the Bill; but, the question was, whether at that period of the Session, and under the peculiar circumstances, it was expedient to make such an alteration in the law of settlement as was proposed in the Bill, even in its altered form. He had listened to all that had been said, but he had not heard any thing to convince him that the proposed alteration would be beneficial. He would not express a positive opinion as to the effects of this Bill; but in all the speeches in favour it, it had been assumed, rather than proved, that it would be a benefit to the poor of this country. It had been said, that there should be one system of Poor Laws for England, Scotland, and Ireland. If there was to be one uniform 1217 system, he was satisfied that there was not now a system in either of these countries which should be adopted for that purpose. He was delighted to hear the noble Lord at the head of the Government state, that an inquiry should be instituted next Session into the whole system of the Poor Laws, and more especially as regarded the law of settlement. He believed that the Poor Laws could not be satisfactorily administered until steps were taken to ensure their local administration by those who were interested on the spot.
§ MR. P. BORTHWICK
would support this Bill as an amendment of the law, although he did not say that the proposed improvement of the law was anything like perfect. They could not open the newspapers without seeing cases under the administration of the Poor Laws which must be most harassing to the feelings of all who read them. A case was stated in The Times of yesterday, or the day before, of a state of things in a large town connected with the administration of the Poor Law at Peckham, which was most revolting to the feelings of humanity. He should to-morrow put a question to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department on this subject. It was impossible that such a state of things could be tolerated for a twelvemouth longer by any Government.
was content to take the Bill in the shape proposed by the Government, qualified by a suggestion of his own, which he had drawn up in the shape of an Amendment, and which he would presently advert to. He did not anticipate any complicated litigation on the question of residence, nor did he wish the period of residence to be reduced. He attached very great importance to that clause of the Bill which had reference to persons becoming chargeable on account of illness. What was the present oppressive state of the law with respect to them? A man with his family, who might have been living in a parish for twenty years without asking assistance from it, became suddenly ill, and his resources being dried up, he was obliged to ask aid from the parish. When he got well, the parish were obliged, in order to get their expenses reimbursed, to remove him and his family from the parish where they were resident to the parish where they were settled. This was a monstrous evil, and was often productive of grievous hardships to poor families, and therefore he attached great importance to 1218 the clause in the Bill relating to this subject. He should be sorry to make any proposition which would hazard the success of the Bill; but he could not be insensible to the force of those objections which led the late Home Secretary, as it appeared to him, to have recourse to the doctrine of union settlements. Believing that the destruction of the parochial system would be a grievous course, he thought a middle course might be taken, as embodied in the Amendment of which he had given notice. His suggestion was, that instead of altering the parochial subdivision, it should be provided that the relief given, in any parish forming part of a union, to persons who, under the provisions of the Bill, might become irremovable, should be chargeable on the common fund of the union. The expense, therefore, of relieving these persons during irremovability would be spread over the whole union, while the question of settlement would remain untouched. He trusted that the Government would take this suggestion into consideration.
§ CAPTAIN PECHELL
was glad to hear that the Attorney General was going to remodel some of the clauses of the Bill, which appeared to him to be unintelligible; but, considering the number of Amendments likely to be proposed, there did not appear much probability of the Bill being carried at that period of the Session. Before the Bill came into operation they ought to consider who were to be the parties to carry it into execution. The Poor Law Commissioners were at present undergoing a severe trial; and he trusted that the principle of irremovability was not to extend to them. He trusted that some provision would be speedily made for removing them from the places they at present occupied. The country would not be satisfied until a different set of persons were placed in the Commission connected with the administration of the laws for the pelief of the poor.
§ MR. R. PALMER
asked if it would not be advisable, at the period of the Session at which this measure was brought forward, to postpone the consideration of the subject until next Session, when the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government had announced his intention to move for a Committee to take the whole question of settlement into consideration. They could not, he contended, separate this question from the question of settlement. He knew that by enacting that a person 1219 who resided in a parish for a certain period should not be removable, did not, technically speaking, give him a settlement, but in point of practice it was the same thing; for what was settlement in point of practice but the irremovability from that parish? Some of his hon. Friends on that side of the House seemed to think that this question was exceedingly simple in itself, and expressed some surprise that any hon. Member should have suggested the existence of any sort of difficulty; but if he (Mr. Palmer) were not mistaken, the late Secretary for the Home Department was aware of the difficulties that attended this question. He (Mr. Palmer) was not at all sure that the measure would not give rise to a number of appeals in cases where persons in a particular parish thought fit to resist; and it was a question if hon. Members had sufficiently considered all the bearings of the case, and how it would affect certain parishes. It was said by an hon. Member that the great object of the measure was to benefit the poor; but they should take care that in seeking to do so they did not do an act of great injustice to some particular parishes. It was said, also, that this measure was proposed as a sort of recompense to the agricultural interest for the loss they might be supposed to have sustained by the passing of the Corn Law Act; but he did not look upon it as such; and at all events he did not think they should take compensation to themselves at the cost of other parties. He conceived it would be wise and prudent on the part of the right hon. Baronet to postpone further proceeding with this Bill until the report of the Committee for which the noble Lord had proposed to move.
§ MR. WODEHOUSE
also wished the Bill postponed. The circumstances of different parts of the kingdom so much varied, that what was right in one was injurious in another; in the part of the country with which he was connected the injury would be so extensive that he must protest against the measure. The question ought not to be blinked, but it ought to be viewed in all its bearings, and this was a crude measure.
MR. TATTON EGERTON
was a witness of the misery resulting in the year 1842, in the manufacturing districts, from the removal of the poor. He did not think that any objection should be taken to this measure because a Committtee was to be appointed next Session for the purpose of taking the law of settlement into con- 1220 sideration; and he could not but express his delight that the measure was to be proceeded with.
§ House went into Committee on the Bill pro formâ, and resumed.
§ Bill brought up. Amendments to be printed.
§ House adjourned at half-past Eleven o'clock.