HC Deb 26 March 1846 vol 85 cc77-89

rose to move for a Select Committee, to inquire into the Laws relating to the Settlement and Removal of the Poor. It was from a desire that the two measures—the Corn Bill, and what would really be a Settlement Bill—should accompany each other to the other House of Parliament, that he now rose to make the present Motion. Other measures had been promised in the original statement of the right hon. Baronet—measures which should accompany the Corn Law—but they were, in his opinion, of such little importance, that with regard to them he did not think it necessary to adopt the same course which he now felt it his duty to adopt with regard to the law of settlement. The right hon. Baronet had pointed out also the evils of the present law of settlement in his original statement. The right hon. Baronet had said, that under the present law the labourer having spent the best of his life and energy in the manufacturing districts, was compelled in old age and adversity to return to his home in the agricultural counties. He had said, that the Government, by their new law of settlement, proposed to relieve the land of a burden, and, at the same time, to do an act of kindness and justice to the labouring man, by giving him a "settlement" after an industrial residence of five years, without any subsequent power of removal. He was far from charging the right hon. Baronet with intentionally deceiving the public; but the fact was, that the public had been misled by the language of the right hon. Baronet, and had expected a different measure from that which had recently been produced. The word "settlement" had been used throughout the speech of the right hon. Baronet; and the public had consequently expected that the measure would have been a measure giving an absolute settlement to the labourer after five years' residence. He did not say that the public had drawn a fair inference from the language of the right hon. Baronet; but they had put a meaning upon it different from the enactments of the measure before the House. The statement of the right hon. Baronet had promised a "settlement" to the labourer; but the Bill gave nothing but a right to irremoveability. It was, therefore, most desirable that the House should understand the exact nature of this measure and the real intentions of the Government; and that before the third reading of the Corn Bill a clear understanding should be had, and full inquiries entered into, with regard to it. He would not now enter into the right or wrong of the present proposal. He admitted that he himself approved of settlement derived from an industrial residence of five or even fewer years; but with regard to the present Bill the case was altogether different. A settlement was not given by it, and he could not approve of it as it stood. The Bill was sot down for a second reading on Monday next; but he was of opinion that it could not attain to such a progress, and he, therefore, had a right to draw the attention of the House to the subject, in order that they might understand precisely what were the views of the Government with reference to the principle of the measure. If the House would agree to his Motion, and permit the appointment of a Select Committee, he should in Committee at once propose that the Bill should be divided into two parts—one part confined to the important question of removal, and the other regulating the machinery by which the provisions of the Bill were to be carried into effect. To some of the clauses of the Bill he had no objection to urge; but to others he could not give his assent. For instance, some of the clauses gave additional powers to the Poor Law Commissioners. Those powers were already, to say the least, quite large enough, and he could not consent to their enlargement. With regard to the portions of the Bill which regulated its machinery, there was no cause for hurry. The details relating to that machinery would involve a considerable deal of discussion, and might well be postponed; but the principle of the Bill ought to be discussed: it was of the utmost importance, and could not be discussed too anxiously or too soon. But retaining that part of the Bill which included its important principle, they would, by a full inquiry and subsequent legislation of a more extensive nature, in fact be accomplishing the great advantage which was intended, namely, the benefit to the poor man himself, to the full extent of the original proposition of the right hon. Baronet. That principle, he conceived, was, that in consequence of a residence of a small number of years—five or three years—they should give a right of settlement, as well as a right to relief. Now this comprised the whole subject of the question, and would be rectifying a great omission of the present Poor Law. It was already granted by the Government, that the residence of five years should not only entitle the poor man to relief, but, in the event of any inducements being held out to him, so as to bribe him to go to a country district, that such offence should be visited by a penalty. He perfectly agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that it was a hardship in the extreme to induce any man who was suffering from misfortune and poverty to go to a county with which all connexion was lost, in which all his ties were broken, and with which he could have no relation whatever, or, in fact, any inducement to return there. The Government should make an alteration in the law of settlement, by which the promise of the right hon. Baronet would be fulfilled, and the expectations of the poor of the country not disappointed. He thought it was not wise or right, after, perhaps, a long residence in a manufacturing town, to induce any one to go into an agricultural district. He therefore hoped, that, after having obtained the benefit of the right to relief, they would not deprive the poor man of some sufficient right of settlement; for otherwise it was only, in fact, offering him an invitation, at the best, to reside in the workhouse. By the present measure the Government were holding out hopes to the poor man which they would not realize to his comforts. It was not enough to offer a man relief after five years' residence. He was entitled to a permanent settlement. If nothing but a bare right to the harshness and severity of the union-house were offered to the pauper after that residence, he would not desire to remain in the manufacturing town. He would become, as he now was liable to become, a burden upon the agricultural district which he had left in early life. As far as the Bill now upon the Table went, they were not adding to the poor man's comfort, but they were in reality increasing his troubles, by adding to his disappointments. For the reasons he had stated, he trusted that the Government would not refuse to grant this modification of the law of settlement, while at the same time they maintained all the benefits which they sought to obtain by their new Bill. He trusted that no Member in the House would consider this question to be a party one, or that he had brought it forward for the purpose of a political party. He believed he might say, that he might calculate on the support of the majority of those even on the Opposition side of the House. The Government had stated that they were anxious to consider the question of the settlement of the poor; and, he would ask, why had they not set about carrying out their desires? In many towns in this kingdom there was an anxiety—and he must admit that it was a justifiable anxiety—to have the question fully considered and settled. He believed that it would be much better settled by a Select Committee, than a Committee of the whole House. He was most anxious to learn from the Members of the Government why it was, that, having stated the principles which they had professed to entertain on the question, they had stopped short in carrying them into effect? And, why was it, that, having considered, as the right hon. Baronet said he did, in that most able statement to which he had before alluded, that the labourer had earned his right to a settlement by a five years' residence, he hesitated to confer it upon him? If his right hon. Friends on the Treasury bench thought fit to carry out to its full extent the idea dimly shadowed forth in this Bill, they would be able to do so. If they added their 112 to the 242 of his Friends near him, they would be able to carry out the kind and excellent idea upon which it had been alleged the present Bill was founded. There were, too, many hon. Members on the other side of the House, who would, in such a cause, willingly support and join them. He wished also to know why, under a law, so shadowed forth, as it had been by its proposer, if an operative should go for a time to seek his bread in the agricultural districts, and subsequently returned, why the doors were to be shut against him in the manufacturing districts which he had left? They would tell the pauper then that he had no settlement, and that he had no right to return. They would tell him that he had no right to continue in the manufacturing towns in which he had spent the best part of his existence; but if he chose to go in to the agricultural districts in search of employment, he must take his chance; that he had, in fact, become a gambling speculator in his industry, and that be must now be content without any sort of relief, because he had had the rashness to go forth in the honest pursuit of employment for his labour. He returned, perhaps, after two or three months' absence; and after all his exertions to get employment in other places, the poor man would be compelled to say that he had come back to that place where he had worked all his life, and where only he had a claim for relief. But he would under the present law be rejected: his right to relief would be lost by his laudable desire to employ himself where employment was most likely to be found. Such was one objection he had to the Bill, and there were many others into which he would not enter. But if his suggestion were adopted, of dividing, in Committee, this Bill into two parts—one part relating to the machinery of the Bill, and the other to the substantial merits of the question of settlement—a report might be produced in a few days. It was for these reasons he would move for a Select Committee. A discussion for two or three days, at the most, would enable them to form a measure which would be more acceptable to the agricultural and other interests generally, than the measure which had been proposed by Her Majesty's Government. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for the appointment of a Select Committee.


said, that he was sure that the House would condemn him, and he himself thought that he should be inexcusable, if he were led by the speech of the hon. Gentleman into a protracted debate on the question of the Poor Law, which would materially interfere with the important discussion they were now engaged in—namely, the debate on the Second Reading of the Corn Bill. He was most anxious to come to a clear understanding with respect to the law of removal. The speech of his right hon. Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government on that subject, appeared to him to be most clear and intelligible, notwithstanding the impression it seemed to have produced on the mind of the hon. Gentleman. If he understood the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, they were two, both arising from a strange and forced construction put on two expressions which had fallen from his right hon. Friend. The first of these points was with regard to the law of settlement; and the second was that, this measure was intended as an accompaniment to the Corn Law. With respect to the first, he must state, that if it were his lot to open this Removal Bill to the House according to his apprehension of the subject, the speech made by his right hon. Friend, and which was alluded to by the hon. Member (Mr. Bankes), was the most accurate description which could be given of the objects of the Bill that was on the Table of the House. Under the correction of the highest legal authorities of the House, he should state that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to deal with the law of removal without dealing with the law of settlement; because the law of removal was part and parcel of the law of settlement. It was on that account that his right hon. Friend stated his intention of dealing with the law of settlement. The principle of the measure, which it was intended to pass through the House, was, that after an industrial residence of five years, a man should be entitled, though chargeable, not to be removed. He thought that his right hon. Friend spoke from a memorandum still extant, which was a conclusive proof that there was no inaccuracy in his description. With reference to the next objection, this measure was never intended by Her Majesty's Government as part of a compact to give compensation to those who might be aggrieved by the Corn Laws. It was announced to the House as a measure brought forward in connection with the landed interest, and it was a measure clearly conducive to the public good, and one which might stand by itself, perfectly independent of any other measure; and for his part, so far from regarding it as an accompanying measure, and a necessary adjunct, he, for one, was prepared to support it at all times, without reference to the Corn Bill, and was prepared to vote for the repeal of the Corn Laws, and in support of the Bill now before the House, even though it should be the pleasure of the Legislature to reject this Bill, or any other Bill which might be considered as an accompaniment. So far, with reference to the expressions referred to. The hon. Member had, he thought, declared that on the whole, he was favourable to this Bill, and wished to promote its progress; but he (Sir J. Graham) must say, that in all his experience he never heard of a more extraordinary Motion by one seeking to promote the progress of a Bill, than proposing that it should, before its second reading, be referred to a Select Committee. He understood the hon. Member to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the law of removal and settlement. [Mr. BANKES: For the purpose of framing another Bill.] He now understood the hon. Member. He had the Bill before him standing for a second reading on Monday next, and it contained most important provisions with reference to the law of removal, which, in the opinion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorsetshire were conducive to the well-being of the working classes. [Mr. BANKES: To some of them.] Those provisions would not be injurious to any party, and would be more particularly beneficial to the landed interest, which the hon. Gentleman represented. This Bill stood for a second reading on Monday next; and instead of promoting its progress, and proposing that it should be read a second time without any opposition, and that the Bill should be committed on a certain day, the hon. Gentleman's proposition was to give the go-by to this Bill, and to send the whole subject before a Select Committee, taking his chance as to the result. Was there any one proposition that he contended for, or any one objection that might not be raised after the second reading of the Bill? The House was almost unanimous in reading the Bill a second time, because to the principle of the Bill there was no objection. If there were no objection to the principle of the Bill, it might be read a second time on Monday next, and stand for Committee on a future day: and on the Motion that the Speaker should leave the Chair for going into Committee, the whole question might be advantageously discussed. The first proposition of the hon. Member was to divide the Bill into two parts. He objected to that, because the object of the Bill was to deal with the whole law of removal and to consolidate it. It dealt with whole statutes, and parts of statutes, and would put the law of removal in a perfect state. This proposition, as it now stood, was not a new proposition. In 1844 he (Sir J. Graham) had the honour of proposing a similar proposition, but one which was coupled with another proposed alteration, which was, that parochial settlement should be broken down, and that union settlement should be substituted in its stead. That was objected to in the House; and he thought that, under the circumstances of the case, it would not be a fair proposition to give to industrial residence the right of irremoveability, unless coupled with the condition that union settlement should be substituted for parochial settlement. He did not press the Motion. He still adhered to the opinion, considering all the circumstances of the case, that the proposition now made, of clearly confining the principle of irremoveability to the heads of families, without conferring hereditary settlement, was a fair proposition. He was quite sure that it would afford great relief to the rural districts of this country, and would throw an additional burden on the town districts. At the present moment, considering the large and extensive measure now under discussion, he thought that the second reading of this measure should pass without any opposition; for, if this opportunity were lost, they would find great difficulties hereafter in arriving at such an arrangement. It was the opinion of the hon. Member that the House ought to consider whether irremoveability should be converted into settlement. He (Sir J. Graham) thought that, as the Bill now stood, there could not be a more equitable arrangement than that, which he had proposed; it would be open to the House to determine. The hon. Gentleman said that some difficulties would arise in trying to discover what constituted a residence of five years. [Mr. BANKES: That is, if a man who should have removed after five years should have no right to come back.] That had been answered. This law was intended to extend to Scotland and to Ireland, and the reciprocity would be highly advantageous to both. He (Sir J. Graham) was prepared to stand by the propositions in the Bill upon the Table; but whenever the House went into Committee upon it, it would be perfectly competent to the hon. Member to open the whole question of irremoveability and settlement: he could then also argue that three years' residence was preferable to five, and might consider how far by temporary absence the pauper had forfeited his right. So far from hesitating whether he should support the Poor Removal Bill, he had formed a most decided opinion that it was equitable and humane, and that it would deserve the sanction of Parliament. Several of the alterations of the law were intended to be beneficent and kind to the poor. It had been most carefully prepared, with the assistance of the highest legal authorities, and he was quite satisfied that its machinery could not be much improved. The main question however was, whether the principle was worthy the adoption of the House; and the discussion of the details and the consideration whether they were susceptible of improvement would come afterwards. He was quite convinced that the subject did not require the intervention of a Committee. On those grounds he would oppose the Motion of his hon. Friend.


would not enter, on the present occasion, into the merits of the question, but he pressed upon the House the necessity of an inquiry into this subject, and of such an inquiry as could not be obtained in a Committee of the whole House. As to the statement of his right hon. Friend, that this measure had not been promised as an accompaniment to the Corn Bill, the argument of his right hon. Friend himself had proved that that statement was erroneous; for his right hon. Friend had contended that the recent measures of the Government would prove so beneficial to the towns, that they would consent to the additional burden cast on them by the present measure. The language of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had been clear and specific—that, though this Bill was not intended actually as a compensation to the agricultural interest, that it should accompany and would mitigate the injury of the Corn Bill. His hon. Friend had never meant to say that the right hon. Baronet intended to announce this measure as a measure giving an absolute settlement after five years' residence. All his hon. Friend had said was, that the language of the right hon. Baronet, whether rightly or wrongly construed, had led to such impression, and that the poor of England would now be grievously disappointed if the right of irremoveability conferred by this Bill were not changed to a positive settlement in the town of residence. There was no chance of a Committee on the Bill before Easter; so that the effect of acceding to the Motion would be, in fact, to expedite the Bill, as it would come from the proposed Committee in a shape less objectionable than it was at present. The House was not at all aware of the extent of the injury which the measure would inflict upon the large towns, if carried in its present form. If it was limited in its operation to the industrial poor, so that they alone would be benefited by it, it would be unobjectionable, or at least sound in principle; but it was not so confined in its operation, which would extend to all the inhabitants of large towns—those who flocked thither for shelter, and for the sake of facilities in carrying on their pursuits, often nefarious; for there was no definition of residence requisite to acquire the privileges conferred by the Bill, and the mere occupier of a room might avail himself of them. It might be said, that proper regulations could be framed to remedy these practical evils; but they could not be framed in a Committee of the whole House; and the subject could only be effectively treated in a Select Committee, which should investigate it carefully, and call before it persons practically experienced in the operation of the settlement system. This was not, however, merely a question between town and country—difficult as that was to adjust; it was not loss a question concerning the welfare of the poor man. Take the case of a labourer going from one of the agricultural districts to a town during some temporary season either of agricultural depression or of manufacturing prosperity: and suppose such a man suddenly incapacitated from working through sickness, or from some cause deprived of employment, he would naturally be desirous of revisiting the neighbourhood where he had left friends who could sympathize with and assist him; yet he might not be able to procure the requisite funds for his removal, and according to the proposed measure it really appeared the poor man could not, under such circumstances, even with his own consent, be removed at parochial expense. Such were among the practical difficulties and differences of the measure, which could not be efficiently discussed and decided on in a Committee of the whole House.


I rejoice to hear from my hon. Friend who spoke last, that he did not misunderstand the nature of the proposition I made to the House on the part of Her Majesty's Government. My hon. Friend, from his long and intimate connection with a large town, is a good judge on the subject of the law of settlement, and he distinctly tells us that he had no doubt about it; what was meant was to give a right of irremoveability, but it was never meant to confer a right of settlement. How can any man who reads the expressions I employed have a doubt upon the point? I used the word "irremoveability" as applied to the man, his wife, and children; and no terms, as it seems to me, could more clearly express what was the intention of Government. But for the removal of all possibility of doubt, I remember I was questioned as to whether it was intended by law to give, or not to give, a right of settlement; and my answer expressly was, "irremoveability, but not settlement." I did say that it was not to be looked upon as a measure of compensation; that it was proposed on its own account; that it was a positive good of itself; a benefit to the landed interest and a benefit to the poor: so that it had moral and social as well as other advantages. When I was asked whether we were attached to this measure as to the others, we said that we were, and that we considered ourselves pledged upon it. I said so then, and I now say that I feel under a positive obligation to do every thing I can in order to insure to the agricultural interest that advantage, and independently of that interest to insure to the poor that protection which I am of opinion they ought to have. At the same time, I cannot consent to let the discussion of the Poor Removal Bill interfere with the decision of the House on the Corn Bill; but I say again, that I feel a positive obligation, by every exertion in my power, to ensure the passing of the Poor Removal Bill. My hon. Friend tells the House fairly that he did not misunderstand me; he entertains no doubt, but he seems to think that an inquiry before a Committee is necessary, in order to clear up doubts elsewhere. My hon. Friend who moved for the Committee is decidedly in favour of giving the right of settlement; but the seconder of his proposition is as decidedly opposed to it. The hon. Mover tells us that doubt exists in the country, and he proposes to solve that doubt by the appointment of a Select Committee, to take into consideration the laws relating to the settlement of the poor. I contend, that if you want to create doubts and to unsettle people's minds, you will appoint this Committee. On the other hand, if you take the usual course—if you debate the Bill on its second reading—if you next consider its details in a Committee, you will adopt the best way of removing any doubts that may exist. When my hon. Friend tells us that in large towns doubts exist, and that he wishes to remove them, I should have thought that the last method he would have taken to remove them would have been to appoint a Select Committee. As to the Poor Removal Bill, I can give no stronger pledge than that I consider it part of the general arrangement of this great subject, and that I will do my best to secure to the landed interest their equivalent advantage; I trust, therefore, that the House will allow the measure to proceed in the usual course, and after the second reading we can consider what it is fit to do in the Committee.


hoped, after what had been said by the right hon. Baronet, that his hon. Friend the Member for Dorset would withdraw his Motion.


observed, that the course he would take on the present occasion would very much depend on the course which Her Majesty's Ministers had resolved to pursue with respect to the period at which this question was to be discussed. He should be glad if the Government would fix a day for the discussion. It had been stated by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that the Bill having reference to this question stood for second reading on Monday next; but in the present state of public business, it was altogether out of the question to suppose, that it could indeed come on for discussion then. He begged leave to ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government to fix the day definitely on which the discussion should take place.


observed, that the House must perceive that it was wholly out of his power to comply with this request. How many days had already been consumed by the Corn Law debate? It was impossible to predict with anything like accuracy the exact period during which a measure at present under discussion might occupy the attention of the House; and this being the fact, it was, of course, more difficult still to name a precise day on which to take up another subject. The Bill just now under discussion, and the Bill which had come down from the Lords for the better preservation of life and property in Ireland, were measures of such primary importance that all others must yield to them. But he could assure the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, that nothing could be more remote from his intention than a desire to throw the slightest impediment in the way of the Poor Removal Bill. On the contrary, he would leave nothing undone that was at all practicable to expedite the measure as much as possible, though it was quite true he could not consent to give it precedence over the two other measures to which he had alluded. The Bill was marked down for a second reading on Monday next; and if the House should approve the principle of the measure by giving it the proposed reading, all the details could be amply discussed in Committee. He did not think it likely that the measure would have to encounter much opposition, as the feeling of the House appeared to be in its favour.

Motion withdrawn.