HC Deb 02 December 1847 vol 95 cc519-25

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Poor Law Administration Act, by reducing the amount of charge to which the public are liable un- der the existing provisions of that Act. He considered that the subject to which his Bill referred was one of no little importance, and he had felt it right to take the earliest opportunity of bringing the matter under the notice of the House. As many hon. Members had not occupied seats in that House during the last Parliament, and might not be acquainted with the transactions which led to the passing of the Act for amending the laws relating to the relief of the poor last Session, he might state that a Committee of Inquiry had sat for several months, and after a protracted inquiry they reported that, with regard to the existing Commissioners, on a review of the proceedings of those Commissioners, they were of opinion that such proceedings had been irregular and arbitrary—that they were not in accordance with the statutes under which the Commissioners exercised their functions—and that they were such as to shake public confidence in the administration of the law. He (Mr. Bankes) was not entitled to say that that was the ground upon which the Government brought in a Bill for altering the administration of the poor-law; but certainly it was the opinion entertained by a very large proportion of the hon. Members who supported that new enactment. A notice was given with a view to a further inquiry with respect to the conduct of the Commissioners; but it was from time to time postponed and ultimately abandoned because of the passing of the new Bill, which was to provide for a new administration of that branch of the law. That Bill passed last June. It occasioned considerable discussion; and he, in common with other hon. Members, considered that perhaps the course finally adopted was not the best, holding, with other objections, that an unnecessary expense was incurred, and that a greater number of paid officers was to be appointed than was necessary. The House however, adopted the Bill; out from that time to this, it had never been carried into effect. The Government was bound to explain these circumstances, which assumed rather an extraordinary complexion. The existing Commission had received the censure of a Parliamentary Committee—a censure carried by eight to four; and the Government had themselves admitted the expediency of an alteration in the administration of the law by introducing the new Bill themselves, although possibly it might be on other grounds than those which actuated the Andover Committee. And then, what, too, had become of the old Commissioners? As he was informed, one of them being now a Member of the House, a second was otherwise provided for by being placed (it was said) in a high foreign appointment, and there remained but one; and, in the opinions of many lawyers, if not all, the old Commission could not now be carried into execution, because a board could not be formed. If the Government were prepared to say that they were satisfied with the services of the one Commissioner who remained, they ought to abandon the expensive system proposed by the measure of last Session. If one Commissioner were sufficient, why have a paid President in the House of Lords, a paid Secretary in this House, another paid Secretary out of it, and an unlimited number of clerks and inspectors, whose salaries were not yet fixed, for the Government had all along refused to state what was to be the amount, and required to have it left to their decision? If, considering subsequently the distressed state of the country, the Government felt that a cheaper system might be adopted with safety, and that they could place confidence in the one Commissioner who remained, let it be so—but then let that system be embodied in a Bill; let us, not have a law which said we were to have all this expensive machinery, while in reality we were content with a much cheaper establishment. It seemed very unnecessary to have a paid President in the House of Lords, because the new board was to include some high officers of State who had really very little to do—the President of the Council, and Lord Privy Seal, for instance; and hon. Members who thought the addition of such a President unnecessary when we were a prosperous nation, might reasonably feel it improper now, when we were so much the reverse. He had no desire to detain the House needlessly from the adjourned debate: he only wished that the business to come on after the Motions was the Bill relating to Ireland. He trusted that the Government did not mean to follow the unhappy precedent set by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), of mixing up a Coercion Bill with other business; it might lead to the like result as in the former instance. If it were so, and if the Bill should be postponed for weeks and weeks, he (Mr. Bankes) should follow the course he took before—doubt their sincerity, and vote against their Coercion Bill. The hon. and learned Gentle- man concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


thought that when the House should be informed of the general facts relating to the subject, they would see that there was no reason for taking the hasty step which the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed. There had been three Commissioners intrusted, since the Act passed, with the administration of the poor-law, and each of them received 2,000l. a year, making a total of 6,000l.. What the Government proposed last Session, and which the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think such a great aggravation of the public burdens, was, that instead of those three Commissioners there should be one President, with a salary of 2,000l., and two Secretaries with 1,500l., making a total expense of 1,000l. a year less than the former establishment. With regard to the arrangements which had been under consideration for carrying into effect the new Act, of course it was not possible for him (Lord J. Russell) to detail the communications he had had with individuals, or to refer to the unwillingness any persons might have shown to undertake so very responsible and laborious offices as those under the new Commission. But the hon. and learned Gentleman was entirely mistaken in his statement that one Commissioner had been doing all the business of the department. The hon. Member for Herefordshire (Mr. G. C. Lewis), when he became a candidate for a seat in Parliament, resigned his seat at the board, as he had agreed to do; but there remained Mr. Nicholls and Sir B. Head, who continued to carry on the business of the Commission to the present time; but, though they might be willing to do so for a certain time, and to make an unusual exertion for that purpose, that was a state of things which it was not desirable to continue. He was happy to be able to say, that he had now nearly completed the necessary arrangements; and he trusted within a week or ten days they would be finally completed, and a President and two Secretaries appointed. With regard to the censure passed by a majority of the Andover Committee, he had stated formerly the reasons why he did not concur in that censure; and he supposed, as no hon. Member had ever ventured to ask the House to confirm the report of that Committee, or agree in the resolution, that it was generally considered that it was not acquiesced in by the House. With respect to another statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he was entirely mistaken as to what he supposed would be the course of Government; the Bill for the better prevention of crime and outrage in certain parts of Ireland had not been delivered to Members until Wednesday morning, and it would have been unfair to push on the second reading on this day. Monday next had been fixed, in order that they might have time to consider the provisions of the Bill; but the Government had no intention of postponing any stage of that Bill. On the contrary, thinking it necessary for the preservation of peace and order in Ireland, the Government would proceed with it on Monday, and every day on which they should be allowed by the House. He presumed the hon. and learned Member would not persist in his Motion.


did not think the present was exactly the Government that should take the earliest opportunity of depreciating the labours of a Parliamentary Committee. The House could now form an idea what would be the course taken by the Government with respect to the Committee on the commercial distress, and the influence of the Bank Charter Act in bringing it about, if the report should be adverse to the opinion of the Government. It ought to be stated to the House that the hon. Gentleman who was the proper party to take such a step, seeing that he represented Andover, gave notice of a Motion to bring the subject of the decision of that Andover Committee before the House; and the noble Lord, however lightly he might now treat that decision, could not deny that upon that decision he virtually acted. After the report of that Committee was made, he came forward and immediately proposed a great revolution in the means of administering the Poor Law; and the hon. Member for Andover, and those who thought with him, might well be satisfied with the result which had been achieved, and think it unnecessary to pursue it further. But it so happened that, in consequence of the delay of the Government in fulfilling their intention, the same hon. Member last Session gave another notice, that if that delay should not be terminated he must appeal to the House; and his notice was for some time upon the Paper. Hon. Members who were new to the House would not sit there long without knowing how difficult it was for any one not in an official position to bring forward a question of this sort; and it was interfered with by the illness of the hon. Member for Andover, and afterwards by the impending dissolution of Parliament; but, on the one hand, the noble Lord did act upon the decision of the Committee, and on the other, the Members who voted in favour of it did not shrink from vindicating it. As an individual Member of the Committee, he might also express his own opinion, that after the inquiry before that Committee, and after the Government had acted upon their report, it really would have had rather an air of a vindictive character, than have led to any result to the advantage of the public, to pursue the subject any further.


thought, that whatever cause of complaint the hon. and learned Member might have against the Government for not filling up the vacant places in England, Irish Members had greater cause of complaint that the offices in the poor-law department for Ireland were not filled by Irishmen acquainted with that country.


reminded the hon. Member that Mr. Twisleton's was not a new appointment; he had been for some years in office in Ireland executing the poor-law, and had acquired great knowledge and experience, and discharged his duties with great ability. Two other Members of the board in Dublin were the Chief Secretary and the Under-Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, and both of them were residents in Ireland.


said, that the noble Lord, by not filling up the Commission, had shown that the censure of the Committee on the Andover union on the poor-law was justified and appreciated by the country. What did these Commissioners say when asked, "Did you ever visit the board of guardians?" They said it was not possible to leave their boards to visit the boards of guardians, to examine into these unions, and see if the assistant commissioners did did their duty. If the business had been conducted during the last three months by only one Poor Law Commissioner, it showed that the Andover union report was founded upon good evidence. He was astonished that the noble Lord should casst a censure on the late hon. Member for Andover, who had devoted himself to the cause, and whose state of health was brought on entirely by his labour in the Committee. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire had placed the case in a fair position, and so had the hon. Member for Buckingham- shire; and the House was very much indebted to the former hon. Member for having started this question. It was now known that three Poor Law Commissioners declared it was not possible to attend the boards of guardians without leaving the work undone at. Somerset House, which they considered far more important than going to look after these boards of guardians. He should support the Motion of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, believing that they should obtain certain good by this discussion.


presumed that the Government did not object to his second Motion. He would wait to see what they did, whether they took any further proceedings after the recess.

Motion withdrawn.