HC Deb 30 July 1846 vol 88 cc205-16

moved the Order of the Day for the Third Reading of the Poor Removal Bill.


, having adverted to the various measures promised by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, in his speech upon the Corn Laws, as a compensation to the landed interest, said, that among these were proposals to take out of the public funds the remaining half of the expenses of prisoners, of prosecutions, the whole of the cost of the rural police of Ireland, of medical attendance on the poor, of the Perth prison, of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, and of the auditors of unions under the Poor Laws. Besides these, three other important Bills were announced: one of these had been introduced by the right hon. Member for Dorchester (Sir J. Graham) regarding highways; another was the remnant this night to be read a third time; and the third a plan for advancing loans to landlords who wished to improve their estates. The first and the last had been dropped, and had disappeared. [Sir J. GRAHAM: The Loans Bill is not dropped. It has been recently discussed.] He should be glad to hear there was a chance of its passing. There had been upon the Table for the last three years a valuable report of Commissioners on local taxation, to which no attention had yet been paid. One of its most important recommendations was the consolidation of rates, twenty-four rates of which were levied for different purposes. Some of those had been consolidated in practice; but such consolidation, though most convenient, was illegal. There were many other points in the report deserving consideration, especially the publicity of all accounts; and it was notorious throughout the country that many charges were thrown upon the highway rate, in order to avoid the investigation of the auditors of the poor rates. The Committee of the House of Lords had produced an important report regarding the burdens upon land, which had yet attracted no notice: it touched upon required changes; and as many of the laws adverted to had been long condemned in public opinion, they only awaited speedy execution. It seemed to him that the present was the time for giving effect to such alterations as were justly expected by the landed interest; and he wished to be informed whether his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would not appoint his Committee on the Law of Settlement this Session, although it might not be possible to do more than call for returns, which would facilitate further inquiry next year. Such had been the course pursued in 1837; and in the interval of the recess the Members appointed on the Committee advantageously directed their attention to various parts of the subject. He was of opinion that the investigation ought not to be confined to the question of settlement, for the question of rating was so intimately connected, that they could hardly be separated. At all events, it was desirable that the Session should not be allowed to expire without some distinct statement of opinion on the subject.


said, that almost the whole of the measures enumerated by his right hon. Friend had been introduced. The Highway Rates Bill had been given up by the right hon. Baronet with the full concurrence of the House. The Poor Removal Bill stood for a third reading this evening. The Drainage of Lands Advances Bill would be recommitted on Friday. The House had voted money for the maintenance of prisoners, for the expense of prosecutions, for medical relief, for the Perth prison, and for the schoolmasters of the Poor Law unions. The only measure not introduced was, that for the payment of the rural police of Ireland, for which a short Act was necessary, which the House would, he hoped, pass before the end of the Session. Of the ten measures promised by the late Government, nine had been or would be passed; and the tenth had been given up by the Government with the consent of the House. With regard to the question before the House, the Government were not able to pay much attention to it at this period of the Session; and the question of settlement might be advantageously considered in the recess by hon. Members. He differed, however, from his right hon. Friend in thinking that it would be advisable to appoint the Committee at this late period of the Session, for he doubted whether hon. Members could be got to attend it. The attention of the Government would be directed to the whole subject during the recess; and his noble Friend would be prepared next Session either to state the views of the Government, or to move for the appointment of a Select Committee.


said, to attack the present Government on the measures alluded to, was, in his opinion, unjust, because the Government had it not in their power, so near to the close of the Session, to bring forward measures of political consequence. As to the measures propounded by the late Government to the House as great measures of compensation and relief, he could say, that the disappointment was great on the part of those whose expectations had been raised by their promises. As to the Highway Rate Bill, it was an exceedingly doubtful matter throughout the country whether it would be a benefit or not. As to the proposed payment of medical men, it was so trifling, that it was not necessary to offer any observations with regard to it: it was a boon—a very small and trifling boon; still one that it was proper should be granted. As to the Poor Law Bill, the greatest attention had been excited, and the greatest disappointment felt. For himself, he had great reason to doubt whether or not it would confer any benefit on the poor. He believed that unless there was a clause of the nature that he meant to propose, the poor man would rather be a sufferer than a gainer by the present measure. This too, he must say, that if disappointment were felt, that feeling could not be entertained with respect to the party with whom he acted; for in the early part of the Session he had proposed that the whole of these matters should be referred to a Select Committee. He believed that even now, if the Government desired to have a more extended and more efficient law, the House would concur in that desire, and devote its time to the completion of an object so valuable. Let them remember that the first laws on their Statute-book were those of Cecil and Walsingham, and that their system of Poor Law could be traced to Sir Matthew Hale; but then a Poor Law Commission was not a part of that system, and bastardy clauses formed no portion of that plan. If they looked back to the recommendations of Sir Mathew Hale, and if they adopted them, he believed they would find but little difficulty in their legislation. As this Bill had passed through Committee, he believed the poor man would be injured by it; the agricultural interest also considered itself likely rather to be injured than benefited by the measure. He could tell the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, that it would be an injury to his constituents. [Sir J. GRAHAM: I have not heard that from them.] Then it was the more proper that he should acquaint the right hon. Baronet with a fact of which he appeared to be ignorant. He then proceeded to show how the Bill would practically affect the inhabitants of Fordington, a suburb of Dorchester. It might be said to inflict an injury, and not to confer a benefit, upon a poor man, to declare that, when his time for labour had passed, he should be irremovable—it might not be a benefit to the poor man in his old age to pass his last years and expend his last breath within the walls of a union workhouse, in a manufacturing, instead of allowing him to return to his native country parish, where, he might find grandchildren kindly to entertain him. He thought it would be but fair to give the poor man an option; but not only was he to be deprived of it, but the magistrate also. The poor man, in his old days, might hope that his native air would restore his health; whilst by this Bill he would be deprived of all chance of returning to the village in which he was born, and must expire in the workhouse of a manufacturing town. The answer which had been given to his proposition was, that, according to the Bill as it stood, this object might be effected if the poor man wished it, for he had only to go to some other parish, and from that other parish he could be removed. But let the House mark the consequences of that step on the part of the poor man. In the first place, it was very unjust to that other parish that it should have the expense of his removal. But, what was of much more importance, was the manner in which it would operate upon the poor man. If, being chargeable, he went into another parish, he was liable to be treated as a vagrant. That was the law. And was this the boon which they offered to the poor man, that in order to effect his object he must submit to become liable to the punishment awarded to vagrants and vagabonds? If it were the intention that the poor man should have an option, let it appear in the Statute-book. If it were not the intention, let the Government say so. He would then vote against the Bill, because he thought that, instead of a benefit to the poor, it would prove a cruelty. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Graham) said the other night that the only difference between the system at present in existence and the system of irremovability which he had now for the first time introduced into an enactment, was simply that the right of irremovability was not to be conveyed to a man's children. That was one difference undoubtedly, but it was not the only one. There was another and a more essential difference, inasmuch as the poor man would be, in fact, a sort of prisoner under this system of irremovability; for if he quitted the place in which he had resided for five years only for a short time during that period, he had no power of returning. That was the main difference as affecting himself, his comforts, and his interests, between the new system they were about to set up, and that which had so long prevailed in this country. That was perfectly clear, if there were any difference at all between irremovabily and settlement. He deeply regretted that in a Session of Parliament when so much had been said, and properly said, in reference to the poor, so little should have been done for them; that, in short, it was doubtful whether anything had been done for their real and substantial benefit. He concurred in what had been said by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith); and he hoped that this question would be seriously considered by the Government, and that they would be prepared with a measure relative to settlement early in the next Session. For much as he might estimate the utility of a Select Committee, he considered that it would be of greater advantage if such a Committee had a Bill before them, which Bill might be the subject of their honest and friendly criticism; and unless it was under these circumstances that a Select Committee were appointed in the next Session, he should hardly hope for any good from the measure. If the Government would direct their careful and zealous attention to the subject, he was satisfied they would find that some portions of the new Poor Law had been tried a sufficient length of time to prove that they had not answered the expectations originally formed of them; and he thought that one of these was the existence of three Commissioners. Let the Government have the boldness to take the matter more immediately into their own hands, and then the law would be administered more satisfactorily to the country. As it appeared that at present the Secretary of State for the Home Department had no responsibility in these matters, and no direct or immediate knowledge of these subjects, he trusted that the right hon. Baronet would connect the administration of the Poor Law immediately with his own office, taking, of course, such aid as might be requisite for that purpose. If he did that, the right hon. Gentleman would elicit a sense of satisfaction that would pervade all ranks and orders in the country. At the proper period, he (Mr. Bankes) would offer the clause to which he had adverted; and he hoped the Government would perceive that, so far from its militating against the principle of their Bill, it was, in fact, no more than a fair explanation of its clauses; that it carried out what were the benevolent intentions comprehended in this small enactment; and that, at all events, it could do no harm.


merely rose for the purpose of assurring the hon. Gentleman that he was fully sensible of the importance of the general subjects to which he had adverted; and, without at present expressing any opinion upon, them, he might state that they would receive the most anxious, patient, and attentive consideration from the Government. He hoped that when this question was referred to a Select Committee, in the next Session of Parliament, the Government would be prepared to state their views, and to furnish all the documentary evidence they might think it necessary to lay before the Committee.


thought the statement of the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) afforded strong reason for not proceeding further with the Bill. That right hon. Gentleman told them that he was not now prepared to give his opinion on the subject. The fact was, and they need only look to the Table of the House for proof, that that House had become the executive department for carrying on the Poor Law. That certainly ought not to be the case. If the administration of the law had been committed to persons who were incapable of administering it properly, and if every Paper moved for exposed their weakness and incapacity, ought not the Government to see the necessity of undertaking the control of such an important branch of public affairs? Instead of dealing with the question by piecemeal, he thought that, in justice to all parties, they might postpone this measure until the whole subject could be taken into consideration.


said, that for the first time in the history of the Poor Law in this country, they were going to separate settlement and removal. He was sure hon. Gentlemen must be nearly all agreed that at the present moment the way in which it was attempted to deal with the law of removal was most imperfect and unwise. What motive the Government could have for pushing on the Bill in its present imperfect shape, he could not understand. It was most desirable for the character of a Government just entering on office, that their first measure, affecting the material well-being and physical condition of the people, should be a carefully weighed and well-digested plan. The present Bill, however, would, he contended, disturb the poor as well as the Poor-law officers and the magistrates, who would have to decide between them, and would throw the whole country into confusion, to the great disgrace of the new Administration. The question of settlement, removal, and rating should, in his opinion, he deferred for another Session, and should then be considered together.


considered it most desirable that the administration of the Poor Law should be placed under the immediate control of the Home Department. Under the present system, that law was administered most oppressively towards the poor, and in a manner which subjected the ratepayers to much unnecessary expense. If the Bill was passed in its present shape, gross injustice would be done to many parishes, and he believed it would be the source of great litigation.


considered it most advisable that this Bill should be postponed till the next Session. It was a measure that required great consideration, and if adopted in its present form, it would operate most perniciously with respect to 2,000 or 3,000 parishes. He did not see any great objection to a measure of this kind, if it was introduced simultaneously with a measure for amending the law of settlement. He considered that great benefit would, on the whole, result from the establishment of union settlements. Such a system would afford advantages for carrying out a plan of emigration on a large scale; and if two or three unions combined, it might be worth their while to fit out ships for the conveyance of emigrants at their own expense—an arrangement which would, no doubt, materially promote the comfort of the emigrants.


considered that the postponement of the Bill would occasion great inconvenience, for measures would be taken in many places to induce poor persons to remove, in order that they might not become chargeable on the parishes in which they now resided. He believed it was a measure that would do some good, though not all the good necessary, unless the proposition of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire met with the sanction of the House.


conceived that the measure was one of humanity towards the poor, and that it would not inflict those heavy burdens on parishes which some supposed, though it did not go to the extent he wished.


said, that the hon. Member for Salford thought that this measure would do some good between this time and next year; but the hon. Member must know that at present, owing to the prosperity of trade, which was likely to increase in succeeding years, there would be no removals of families from the manufacturing to the agricultural districts. He feared, if the measure were now passed, that, in some districts, the poor would be dogged from parish to parish in order to ascertain their settlement. He was in favour of the principle of the Bill, having no wish to see the poor working people returned from the manufacturing to the agricultural districts; but he desired the measure to be postponed for the present, as nothing was more injurious than ill-considered legislation.


supported the Bill, because he thought that it would be of immediate benefit to the poor, and nothing better could be done till the next Session of Parliament. He should be ready then to support a Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee, to inquire into the whole subject, with a view permanently to improve the laws. When the Poor Law Commission was first appointed, he thought that it was only to be a temporary board, instituted for the purpose of establishing the system of the new law throughout the country. The mode in which that system had been established, was, from want of experience, harsh and crude, and it had been found necessary to make alterations in each succeeding Session of Parliament. It was said that that the present was only partial legislation; but as humanity had called for alterations in the law in each succeeding year, he did not object to temporary, rather than partial, legislation; in the hope that next year it would introduce general and permanent improvement.

Order of the Day read. Bill read a Third Time.


brought up the following Clause to be added to the Bill:— Provided always, and be it Enacted, That if any person upon examination by the Justices to whom application may be made for an order for his or her removal to a place of previous settlement, shall signify to the said Justices his or her consent thereto, then it shall be lawful to remove such person to the place of his or her previous settlement, although such person may have resided for the five years last preceding in the parish from which such person is so removed. And it is hereby declared, that nothing in this Act contained shall have the effect of restraining Magistrates from acting and adjudicating in respect of Orders of Removal, where such removal shall be applied for, and adjudicated upon with consent of the person who is the subject of such order. The general opinion was, that if this clause were not introduced, the poor would have no such option; and without it the Bill would be an injury rather than a benefit.

On the Question that the Clause be read a Second Time,


reminded the House that when an Amendment of a similar kind, with respect to widows, was moved by the hon. Member for Brighton (Captain Pechell), the hon. Member for Birmingham urged the expediency of adopting a clause such as that now proposed; and he (Sir G. Grey) then stated that to the principle of such a clause he entertained no objection, and that his objection was founded on its being calculated to open a door to collusion, and on the apprehension (as the result of his best consideration of the subject, and communition with persons of great practical knowledge, whose opinions were entitled to much weight), that improper means would be taken to obtain or extort the consent of parties to the orders of removal, and that the effect would be to deprive the poor of the benefit apparently offered them. If the House thought the clause was so framed as to exclude the possibility of such evils, he had no objection to make; but his own opinion still was, that it would subject the parties to them.


considered that if overseers induced a pauper to deprive himself of a right the Bill gave him, he would be a willing person, and therefore could not complain. There was much more fear of collusion as the Bill now stood, because an overseer giving a man a sovereign to make himself removable by residing for a week in the next parish, would not only get rid of the man, but would saddle the next parish with the expense of his removal, and the risk of an appeal. The proposed clause, too, would bring the question under the control of the magistrates, who might investigate whether there was collusion, or whether it was his real interest to go back to his own parish.


did not see how an overseer, since his accounts would be accurately looked into, would have any funds with which to bribe paupers to consent to orders of removal. The House should not lay too much stress on getting rid of removals; they often took place when there was a superabundance of labour at a particular spot, and in such cases the poor man ought to have the option of being removed to a place where, perhaps, he could obtain employment. The clause seemed to propose a fair and desirable provision.


did not think overseers would be very likely to bribe paupers, or purchase their consent to be removed, if, as he understood, such overseers must not only do it out of their own pockets, but would by the Bill be made liable to penalties.


was convinced that this was not the way to alter the Poor Law. A Committee was promised next Session to take the whole subject into consideration; and after all, seeing that the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) really said nothing in favour of the Bill, he (Mr. Escott) doubted much whether the right hon. Gentleman was at this moment in favour of it. He was afraid that it was nothing more than a point of honour with him to carry out a measure which had been left by the late Government. He highly disapproved of such a mode of legislation. The whole operation and effect of the Bill was a matter of the greatest doubt. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for the Home Department, had stated that much difficulty existed as to what was the right construction of an important clause of the Bill—that which referred to the period of residence; and he believed there was not a Member in the House who would venture to construe that and some other clauses. Now, were they to throw such a measure as that before the magistrates and Poor Law guardians of the country? What could they expect the decisions of magistrates to be when no one in that House was prepared to say how the clauses of the Bill ought to be construed?


was under the apprehension that if this clause passed, it would go far to defeat the whole object of the Bill.

The House divided. On the Question, that the Clause be read a Second Time:—Ayes 15; Noes 62: Majority 47.

List of the AYES.
Borthwick, P. Escott, B.
Crawford, W. S. Etwall, R.
Finch, G. Sheridan, R. B.
Floyer, J. Stuart, J.
Harris, hon. Capt. Williams, W.
Henley, J. W. Wodehouse, E.
Jolliffe, W. G. H. Bankes, G.
Pechell, Capt. Spooner, R.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Macaulay, rt. hn. T. B.
Aldam, W. M'Donnell, J. M.
Baine, W. Maitland, T.
Barnard, E. G. Maryland, H.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Bodkin, W. H. O'Connell, M. J.
Brotherton, J. O'Conor Don
Buller, C. Ogle, S. C. H.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Palmerston, Visct.
Craig, W. G. Parker, J.
Denison, J. E. Pigot, rt. hon. D.
Duncan, G. Plumridge, Capt.
Dundas, Adm. Rich, H.
Ebrington, Visct. Rutherfurd, A.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Scrope, G. P.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Fox, C. R. Shelburne, Earl of
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Somerset, Lord G.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Greene, T. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Stewart, P. M.
Hatton, Capt. V. Vane, Lord H.
Hawes, B. White, S.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Wood, rt. hon. C.
Howard, hon. C. W. G. Wrightson, W. B.
Howard, P. H. Wyse, T.
James, Sir W. C. Yorke, H. R.
Jervis, J. Young, J.
Jones, Capt.
Labouchere, rt. hon. H. TELLERS.
Layard, Capt. Tufnell, H.
Listowel, Earl of Hill, Lord M.

proposed the following Clause:— Provided always, and he it Enacted, That the five years' residence hereinbefore mentioned, shall be construed to mean a residence of not less than one half of every year of the five during which such person shall have exercised some industrious calling within the said parish or Union. He maintained, that if they passed the Bill in its present shape, they would open the door to the denial of the poor man's right to relief or irremovability in almost every case that might arise. There was not a case in which it might not be attempted to be proved that a man had slept out of the parish in which he resided for a few nights; and therefore he proposed that they should consider the term "residence" in the largest possible sense. If this was not done, they would have 99 out of every 100 cases disputed. He proposed, that the residence should be what every one understood to be industrial.

On the Question that the Clause be read a Second Time,


said, one obvious effect of the clause proposed by the hon. Gentleman was, that a person might have a residence of only two years and a half in a parish out of the five; and still that would not remove the doubt which the hon. Gentleman thought at present existed. This showed the impossibility of settling any minute question of this kind which might arise by legislation. In regard to the latter part of the proposed clause, he understood it to be intended to have the effect of giving the benefit of the Act to none who had not an industrial residence in the sense understood by the hon. Gentleman. But why should the man who had lived perhaps upon a dividend arising from some fund in which he had an interest, and which might perhaps fail him, be excluded from the benefits of the Act? He would be required to prove that he had exercised in the parish some industrious calling during the whole period required by the Act for obtaining a settlement. Now, he believed, such a clause as this would give rise to much dispute and litigation, and would be attended practically with no good effects.


moved a clause, showing the expense of the maintenance, relief, or burial, of persons exempted from the liability to be removed upon the common fund of the union. He had the strongest objection to the destruction of the ancient parochial system. They had, in the Poor Law Amendment Act, a machinery for carrying the principle of this clause into execution; for, according to that Act, whilst each parish in the union discharged the expenses of its own poor, there were certain expenses for objects of general advantage to the whole union which were defrayed out of a common fund, to which each parish contributed rateably. By this means, the objections which had been urged to what were called close parishes would be obviated, and any disposition to treat harshly those who became chargeable by a five years' residence would be checked.

Clause also negatived on the Question that it be read a second time.

On the Question, "That the Bill do pass," the House divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 9: Majority 47.

List of the AYES.
Aldam, W. Borthwick, P.
Baine, W. Bowring, Dr.
Barnard, E. G. Brotherton, J.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Browne, hon. W.
Bodkin, W. H. Buller, C.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Maitland, T.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Craig, W. G. Mitcalfe, H.
Crawford, W. S. O'Conor Don
Duncan, G. Palmerston, Visct.
Dundas, Adm. Parker, J.
Ebrington, Visct. Pigot, rt. hon. D.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Rich, H.
Etwall, R. Rutherford, A.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Forster, M. Sheridan, R. B.
Fox, C. R. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Spooner, R.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Stanton, W. H.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Vane, Lord H.
Greene, T. Ward, H. G.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Wawn, J. T.
Hawes, B. Wood, rt. hon. C.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Wyse, T.
Howard, hon. C. W. G. Yorke, H. R.
James, Sir W. C. Young, J.
Jervis, J.
Jones, Capt. TELLERS.
Labouchere, rt. hon. H. Tufnell, H.
Listowel, Earl of Hill, Lord M.
List of the NOES.
Escott, B. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Finch, G. Williams, W.
Forbes, W. Wrightson, W. B.
Pechell, Capt. TELLERS.
Scrope, G. P. Hume, J.
Shelburne, Earl of Wodehouse, E.