§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
rose to move—That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the operation of the Law of Settlement, and of the Poor Removal Act of the last Session of Parliament, and to report their observations thereon to the House.The noble Lord said: The hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes) has given notice of an Amendment on the Motion which I intend to make for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the operation of the Law of Settlement: but when he hears the proposition which I am about to make, 321 I think he will feel that that Amendment is unnecessary. I shall propose that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Law of Settlement, and of the Poor Removal Act of last Session, and to report their observations to the House; and if the hon. and learned Gentleman shall think it necessary, I have no objection to move an instruction to the Committee that they be directed to inquire in the first place into the operation of the Poor Removal Act. I perfectly agree in the observations that numerous complaints have been made as to the Poor Removal Act of last Session; and I think it is desirable that the immediate attention of the Committee should be turned to that subject, with a view to consider what remedy can be proposed. With regard to the Law of Settlement itself, I wish merely to make a single observation, for I consider that the subject is surrounded with difficulties on every side, and I do not think that the House can well come to any opinion on the subject until persons who have much experience with business of this kind, and who are resident in different parts of the country, shall be brought together, and, being brought together, shall have the means of probing all the circumstances of this most important subject. A subject there certainly cannot be of greater importance to the well-being of the labouring classes of the country—in the first place, because the well-being of the labouring classes depends upon the law by which they are to be provided for; and, secondly, upon the condition of residence which the benefit arising from that law is to attach to them. But, Sir, I wish to take this opportunity, as several questions have been asked with regard to the course of the Government with respect to the inquiry that was instituted last year, with respect to the Poor Law Commission itself—I wish, I say, to take this early opportunity of so far satisfying those inquiries as to state what will be in the course of the Session the proposal that will be made by Government on that subject. I can state, perhaps, in the first place, that with regard to those resolutions that were passed by the Committee which sat on the Andover union, it is not the intention of the Government to make any proposition, or take any course on those resolutions, unless some hon. Member should think it fit to make a special Motion on that subject. If any hon. Gentleman shall think it necessary to bring that subject before the House, I shall have 322 no difficulty—having looked generally to the evidence and to the resolutions—of stating my opinion with regard to the results which are to be drawn from that inquiry. But, Sir, we have looked rather to the more general question—I mean the question as to what ought to be the course adopted with respect to the renewal of the Poor Law Commission. The House is aware, that according to the last Act passed on the subject, the powers of the Commissioners are continued to the end of this Session, and then to the end of the next Session of Parliament; but, as a measure of prudence, it ought to be our course to propose either the renewal of the Commission, or to make some other proposition in the course of the present Session, to prevent any accident that might arise from there being an end of the Commission before any law could be passed on the subject. Now, Sir, on considering the nature of that Commission, I must say that I think, in the first place, it is absolutely necessary to have some body which shall have a central control, and which shall likewise have the means of local inspection. My opinion is this: that whether under that system which formerly existed (and which will probably never revive), or whether under the system that has been established by the Poor Law Amendment Act, it is most advisable that the abuses, that the oppression, that the neglect and maladministration of the law which take place in particular districts should be examined, should be corrected, should be exposed; and that cannot be so well done as by means of some central control, and by means of those who have that central power. But, Sir, with regard to the manner in which that control is to be exercised, I certainly have observed that of late years there has been the greatest difficulty in exercising that control effectually, and in a manner to the satisfaction of this House and of the country. It has so happened—I confess it is a result which I did not expect at the time the Poor Law Amendment Act passed, but it has so happened—that the management and administration of that law have been continually the subject of animadversion and inquiry in this House, and that many complaints have been made with regard to the conduct of boards of guardians and of assistant commissioners, and with regard to the conduct of the Commissioners themselves, in superintending and correcting those defects. And now, for my part, it may be partiality, 323 but my belief is, that those Commissioners have exercised their powers to the best of their judgment, and with an earnest desire to serve the poor of this country. My belief too is, that their general administration of the law has been correct and sound; but I cannot say that in every instance that has been brought before Parliament, there has been a satisfactory conviction on the minds of Parliament that their discretion has been always wisely exercised. I think that the consequences have arisen very much because, though the control is placed in the hands of the Commissioners, the explanations respecting the exercise of that control, and the defence of that control, is placed in different hands. One set of officers had to examine into the particular cases that were complained of; they had to receive reports, to examine the various circumstances, and to come—according to the best of their knowledge—to a decision upon them. And the Minister of the Crown had, when explanation was required, to state to the House what were the difficulties of the Commissioners—what were the reasons that induced them to come to the decision that had been adopted; and, finally, either to defend the conduct of the Commissioners, or to decline to defend it; and thus put an end at once to all trust and confidence on the part of the public in their administration of the law. I own I think that this has been proved to be a very unsatisfactory mode of administration. I think the Secretary of State must very often have felt it to be so; and must have wished to be in a position in which he would have had an opportunity of knowing all the case, and be enabled to inform his mind on the decision that had been given, before he was called upon to defend that decision in the House. I think that the Commissioners, on their part, whatever the statement of the Secretary of State may have been, must often have been anxious to explain particular circumstances which, when stated by a Member of the House, may not have been within the knowledge of the Secretary of State who was explaining their conduct. I think when so much inquiry takes place, with so much necessity for full explanation, it is desirable that the persons in whom this great control is placed should be persons more immediately connected with the House of Parliament. We have therefore, Sir, formed the opinion, that for the better administration of the Poor Law Amendment Act, it is advisable that the superior Board should be constituted in a different manner; 324 and the manner in which we propose to constitute it is this—that there shall be one person at the head of the board, who shall be styled the President of that Board, and who shall be able to sit in the House of Commons—that he shall have placed with him certain persons holding Ministerial offices, but not interfering in the ordinary administration of that law, any more than the Secretary of State interferes in the ordinary concerns of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Control. My right hon. Friend is President of the Board of Control, with certain other great officers associated with him; and with respect to certain very important questions, they are made aware of the course which he proposes to take; but in all ordinary cases the administration of the office devolves upon him alone. I would propose, that there should be two Secretaries appointed, one of whom should be enabled to sit in the House of Commons, while the other—according to the ordinary course—would not have a seat in that House. If it should be the case that the President of the Board had not a seat in this House, then one of the Secretaries could have a seat in it; and, therefore, be able in this House to explain and defend the conduct of the department to which he belongs. I wish now only to state the general outline of the scheme. With respect to the general rules, as they are called, I would propose that those general rules which have been adopted by the authority of the present Commissioners—having been finally revised—should remain in force, until, by some competent authority, they should be abrogated, and new general orders should be put in their place. That authority, to do so, should be vested, in the first place, in the new Board, who should have power to frame any new rules; but that those rules should not have any power or effect until sanctioned by the Queen in Council. This, Sir, is the general outline of the measures we propose to adopt for the future administration of the Poor Law. I should state also, that we propose to separate entirely the administration of the law in Ireland, from the administration of the law in England. We propose that there should be there likewise a President of the Board; that the Chief Secretary and the Under Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant, and another officer of the Government, should be associated with him; and that the Lord Lieutenant in Council should make general rules in the same manner as the Queen in Council. Therefore, the administration 325 of the law in England would be entirely separate from the administration of the law in Ireland. I know not whether it will be necessary for me to make any further statement as to the plan we propose. It has been already embodied in a Bill, not yet fully matured, but which when prepared will be laid before Parliament; and if it should receive the sanction of Parliament, I think—at least I hope so—that the administration of the poor law may be rendered more satisfactory; and when any inquiry is made in the House respecting the administration of the poor law, that inquiry, and the defence or explanation which it may call forth, may be drawn into immediate contact; and so important a concern as the general administration of the Poor Law shall be brought under the immediate control of Parliament. I think there is nothing further for me to state on this subject. As I have said already, if any hon. Gentleman shall think it necessary to make any Motion respecting the previous inquiry—as to the Andover union—I shall be ready to state my opinion; and I shall not shrink from any odium which may fall upon me for defending the Poor Law Commissioners, when I think their conduct was proper, and that they have been unjustly attacked.
§ MR. BANKES
said: If I had followed my own inclination I should have undoubtedly proposed the total and immediate repeal of the Poor Law Removal Act, which has occasioned so much abuse; and, as I believe in many parts of England all proceedings have been suspended because the Act is impracticable, I think its total repeal would be the best settlement of the questions it has raised. But when I recollect, at the same time, that the Act was sanctioned by two Attorneys General and two Solicitors General, and that it was the production of two separate Ministries, I could hardly hope at once to have carried its repeal; I shall, therefore, best consult the interests of the poor by consenting to the proposition of the noble Lord, with the understanding that permission shall be given to the Committee to take the Removal Bill first into consideration, and to report separately upon it. I am ready, therefore, to concede to the Motion of the noble Lord. I have, however, been furnished to-day, as I naturally expected to find that I should be, with complaints from all parts of the country; and as the most important come from the constituents of the noble Lord, the citizens of the London 326 union, and as I think the resolutions the board have come to redound so much to their honour and credit, I must read them to the House. These are their words: they say—In our opinion the board of guardians is not generally called upon to interfere in matters of settlement for particular parishes; but in a case like the present, which is to regulate the treatment of a large class of paupers belonging to one of the parishes of this union, your committee think it right that the board of guardians should state the general principle upon which they are disposed to act with reference to the recent statute. Your committee find that on the construction of the Act there exist the most opposite and conflicting opinions, whereby the practice of the several unions throughout the country has assumed an inconvenient diversity highly detrimental to the interests of the poor. Your committee find that while many of the unions and parishes are acting with large and liberal views, there are too many which have taken advantage of the uncertainty of the Act to relieve themselves from their just burdens, and cast them upon the parishes or unions where their poor, out of humanity, have been allowed to reside; and in this view of the Act they are supported by the legal opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor Generals, and other learned persons. Your committee, however, are under a strong impression that the said Act was intended as a boon to the poor, and that the Legislature, in passing it, never contemplated that existing, ascertained and acknowledged settlements should be practically defeated, or that the relations between the aged, infirm, and helpless poor and their respective parishes should be annihilated. We are of opinion, moreover, that the sudden withdrawal of relief from the non-resident poor, many of whom are totally helpless and verging towards the grave, would be attended with inconceivable hardship and cruelty, by driving them to make out a new case before new and unknown masters, and perhaps subjecting them in their last years to a workhouse or an entirely different system of relief. Your committee think such a practice so manifestly unjust towards the poor, that we strongly urge upon the board of guardians the propriety of continuing their relief as hitherto to those nonresident poor whose claims have been already made out and acknowledged, until a proper legal construction shall have been given to the said Act of Parliament. Your committee, however, confine this recommendation to old and existing settled claims, leaving the several parishes of the union to take such course as they may deem advisable with regard to new claimants. Your committee believe that this union has a larger number of non-resident poor than any union in the kingdom; and your committee are aware that, by acting in accordance with the opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor Generals, this union might throw off the burden not only of their poor resident in the country, but also of the great majority of their out-door poor resident in London. They, nevertheless, think that, as such a determination would be inconsistent with those humane principles upon which the board of guardians of the city of London union have always endeavoured to act, they ought not, unless upon a clear and express direction of an Act of Parliament, to adopt it. Your committee think that, should you agree with us in 327 your recommendations, notice of your intention should be immediately given to those unions wherein your out-door poor are resident. With respect to the poor of other parishes or unions resident in this union, and whose relief has been withdrawn, your committee recommend that the places to which they belong should be apprised of the principles upon which you are resolved to act, in the hope that their relief may be restored; but, in case of an unsuccessful appeal to such places, and as long as the necessity lasts, your committee advise a continuance to such persons of their accustomed relief at the expense of this union, being disposed to recommend an increase of your burdens rather than that any poor and helpless creature should be deprived of the means of support.I have read this document for the purpose of showing how pressingly the question calls for a speedy determination. It appears that unions have been under the necessity of agreeing to consider the law as suspended, and that those unions which have not acted benevolently are at the present moment reaping the advantage of the benevolence of other unions. Under these circumstances I hope that an early opportunity of considering the provisions of the Act will be given, and that the Committee will make its report thereupon with as little delay as possible. With regard to the proposal of the noble Lord for a reconstruction of the central poor-law jurisdiction, it is my belief that this proposal will meet with very general satisfaction; because I am convinced that it has long been felt that the poor ought to have their representative in this House. I trust that persons competent in all respects to discharge with diligence and discretion the duties which would be imposed upon them, will be selected under the new arrangement; and the country at large will then, I feel satisfied, witness with gratification the proposed measures.
§ MR. HUME
had heard with very great satisfaction that Her Majesty's Government had determined to change the present constitution of poor-law jurisdiction. No man in that House, from the commencement of the present system, had been more anxious for its success; and when he became a member of the Committee of the last Session, which inquired into certain allegations against the Poor Law Commissioners, he was quite in favour of them, because they had obtained his confidence. But when their conduct was brought before the Committee, even upon the evidence of the Commissioners themselves, it appeared that the Act under which they were appointed, and their own 328 rules and regulations, had been violated by themselves. They had themselves disregarded the law, and it was no wonder there should be that diversity of practice in different unions to which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bankes) referred, when it was found that individual members of the Commission acted upon their own responsibility in individual cases, when the Act required that no business should be done except by the united board. It had been his intention to give notice of a Motion for an Address to the Crown to dismiss those Commissioners; but after what had fallen from the noble Lord, he should not persist in that Motion. He was anxious to see a sound, and proper, and humane system of poor law in this country, for there was nothing of so much importance; and he would guard those hon. Gentlemen who wished to put an end at once to the present system, against the results with which we might be visited, if we were without a proper establishment for the poor, should such a calamity as that which now prevailed in Ireland ever fall on England. But at the same time men must be appointed in its administration, who had the confidence of the public. The present Commissioners had lost the confidence of the public. He did not attribute improper intentions to them; but it was a great misfortune that a law which was looked upon as the means of regenerating the population of the whole country, should have been so administered that a general dislike to it had been created: it would require the greatest possible care and good management to prevent matters from returning to their previous state. He had a perfect recollection of the grievous evils of the old system: nothing, in his opinion, could be worse than a return to those evils; and for this reason he was anxious that a better system should prevail. But as a matter of general observation, he could only say that, if he found any board, no matter what it was, or any governor or magistrate, at variance with the men with whom it had to deal, and at variance with the bulk of the community, he should set it down that the fault must be with the individual, and not with everybody else. This had been the case in this instance, and he rejoiced in the hope of an early change; but he begged to suggest to the noble Lord that, to carry out the important duties of this Act, there were required no ordinary talents, no ordinary attention, and that the selection must be made more for 329 talent than for rank; that the selection must be one which would invite confidence on the part of the public, in order to secure a willing and cordial co-operation on the part of the unions throughout the country. He had known some of the Commissioners for many years, and he regretted what had occurred; but he should have betrayed his own feelings if he had not taken the course which he had. He was satisfied, from the statement of the noble Lord, that the object of the Committee of last Session, upon which he had been put accidentally, had been obtained. The responsibility of selection would now rest upon the noble Lord, and it was probably one of the most important duties that ever devolved upon a Minister. As to the proposition that the heads of the new board should have a seat in that House, he confessed that, in the first instance, this had not been his opinion; but time had since pointed out to him the necessity there was for having some individual in the House capable at once of answering upon the spot. The Secretary of State, and every other man in office, had so much of their own business to attend to in that House, that they must have been placed in an awkward situation when called upon to explain matters with which they had no concern; and if the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir James Graham) would speak candidly, he had not the least doubt the right hon. Baronet would say he had often been obliged to offer excuses which he regretted. A public officer, situated like the Home Secretary, was bound to believe officers in inferior situations until he was convinced of the contrary; and he had heard excuses made, which, to his own knowledge, were incorrect. So public officer ought to be placed in this situation. The hon. Member, in conclusion, repeated that he should not follow up the notice which he had given, but he hoped Her Majesty's Government would speedily bring before the House the changes they contemplated.
MR. VERNON SMITH
said, he believed the question before the House was, that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Law of Settlement and the Poor Removal Act of last Session; but upon the subject of those Acts he had heard scarcely a single observation even from the noble Lord who brought forward the Motion. With regard to that part of the Motion which referred to submitting the question of the Poor Removal Act to a Committee, he heartily rejoiced that it 330 should be submitted to such a tribunal, as he knew they would find out what had been discovered during the recess—that a more objectionable measure had never been passed. But the noble Lord had proposed a Committee to inquire into the operation of the law of settlement, without giving a single reason for that Committee, or indicating the course he meant to pursue in that Committee. He thought that this subject ought to be taken up by Government, instead of being submitted to a Committee, the only result of which would be delay. So much had been already said and written on the question, it was so accurately known by most hon. Members, that there was nothing more to inquire into. In fact, he believed that every hon. Member was better acquainted with it than with any other subject. In his opinion, therefore, it would have been better if the noble Lord had proposed a Bill of his own, which he might afterwards, if he had considered it requisite, have submitted to a Committee up-stairs. He had an impression that last year the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department said, he would not throw the question loose before the Committee; but if he did submit it to a Committee, he would indicate the course he meant to pursue. There had been repeatedly Bills on this question before the House. The right hon. Gentleman whom he saw opposite (Sir J. Graham) had taken the greatest pains with it; he had submitted several Bills upon it to the House, and all that was material for a Committee to go over was then discussed. The right hon. Gentleman proposed, he believed, an union settlement and an union rate; and from the opinion then expressed by his right hon. Friends below him, he supposed that they were of opinion, as he was, that an union settlement would perhaps be the best. He thought that the poor labourer had a right, in this country, to seek employment where he pleased; but the present state of the law controlled him in a manner most prejudicial to his interest; it cramped his energies, and destroyed his independence; whatever talent he possessed, there was nothing to call it forth. The first question put to a man when he asked for employment was, to what parish he belonged, and to that parish he was confined. That subject had attracted the attention of the Committee of the House of Lords. He himself believed there was no greater misfortune to the poor of this country than was put upon 331 them by the law of settlement, and he should be glad to see it done away with. Such a course would not render necessary a national rate. Local rates might be maintained, and an union rate adopted, if they pleased; although his own opinion was, that the poor man should have no settlement, but should be entitled to relief in the parish in which he required it. But he wished to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department, whether he meant to allow the Committee to go into that question—he meant the question of rating; because without it they could not properly consider the question of settlement. He thought the right hon. Gentleman ought to tell them what course he meant to pursue, because if he intended to throw this question loose before the Committee, to take up any time they pleased, and to call such persons as they thought proper, all he could expect from such a Committee would be an indefinite protraction of this question. The Poor Law Commissioners, although they were said to be in extremis, would be called up by the hon. Member for Knaresborough to make their dying confession. Every species of examination connected with the poor law would be entered into, as, no doubt, the hon. Member for Knaresborough would be anxious to do; but what would be the consequence as to that law which was considered by so many persons to be prejudicial to the poor of this country? It would be impossible for the Committee to make their Report before the close of the Session—probably the last Session of the present Parliament; and when a new Parliament came, they would throw aside the labours of the former Committee, a new Committee would be required, and thus the subject would be protracted through another year; the law would have to be acted upon by the magistrates, and the greatest confusion caused among the poor of this country. An instance of that occurred in the Report of the Committee moved for by the hon. Member for Durham in 1845, on the Game Laws. That Committee sat two years, and then produced twenty-four resolutions contrary to the opinion of the hon. Gentleman himself, and such that they might have been written off-hand by any gentleman who sat down and considered the subject. Those laws were still in operation, and for two years the magistrates had had to administer them against popular feeling. He believed that the consequences of this Committee 332 would lead to a protraction of that measure which they all wished to see carried into execution, and that too relating to the subject upon which they had had more discussion and possessed more information than upon almost any other.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
wished to express the gratification he felt at the proposal of the noble Lord, and also for his moderation and fairness towards the Commissioners. He entirely concurred with the noble Lord, that in order to avoid a recurrence of the evils of the old poor law, the administration of that law should be intrusted to some central authority. On the other hand, he agreed that it was most desirable that that central authority should be directly responsible to Parliament, and that some member of the Commission should be a Member of that House. He was extremely glad to hear the proposal of the noble Lord; and he believed, that with every one who had given attention to this most important subject, it would receive universal approbation. The noble Lord had alluded to the Committee that sat last year on the Andover union. He believed that the Report of that Committee had exercised considerable influence with regard to the poor law both within and without that House. He was a member of that Committee; he paid great attention to its proceedings; and he was bound to say, that some of the resolutions at which that Committee arrived, were, in his judgment, harsh and uncalled-for towards the Poor Law Commissioners. On the other hand, resolutions were passed to which he was obliged to give his concurrence, finding fault with the manner in which the Commissioners had exercised the discretion placed in them. At the same time he was bound to say, that he most entirely agreed with what the noble Lord had said, that the Poor Law Commissioners had, he believed, acted with the best possible intentions, and, for the most part, with sound discretion. As to the appointment of a Committee on the subject of settlement, he did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith). He was extremely glad that the noble Lord proposed such a Committee. It was a question surrounded with great difficulty; and he confessed that, having given a good deal of time to its consideration, he was of opinion that they ought to approach as nearly as they could to a repeal of that law altogether. He was confident that the result of that Committee must be a very 333 great modification of a law, which, in his judgment, had tended, beyond almost any other, to inflict hardship on the labouring classes of this country. As to the Poor Removal Act of last Session, he could not agree with the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, or the hon. Member for Northampton, in the condemnation they had passed upon that Act. He had given it great attention in his own neighbourhood, and there no difficulty had occurred—no hardship had been inflicted on the poor. On the contrary, he believed it had conferred very great benefit upon them by exempting them from the suffering of removal; and though he was very glad that the working of that Act should be referred to a Select Committee, yet he hoped that neither the Committee nor that House would be disposed to sanction a departure from the principle of it; for he was satisfied that the hardship of removal had been mitigated since its operation, and that no industrial residence, for some time exempting the poor from removal, had been beneficial.
§ SIR G. GREY
begged to offer a very few words upon the subject, in consequence of the appeal made to him by his right hon. Friend (Mr. V. Smith). He should have thought that the Parliamentary experience of his right hon. Friend would have prevented his asking him what course the Committee would adopt. He should only be an individual member of the Committee, and could not prescribe to it any particular course of proceeding; but he should certainly not recommend that each member should call what witnesses he pleased, and thus protract the inquiry to an indefinite period. The only pledge he could give would be, that he should move that it should be an instruction to the Committee to inquire first into the operation of the Poor Removal Act, as it affected the condition of the poor, and that they should report specially thereon to the House. Complaints having been made as to the operation of that law, it would be desirable that some opinion should be expressed by the Committee as to its operation. He had heard it very generally condemned by Members of that House; but he must say, that he was inclined to agree with the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Droitwich, that its general operation was favourable to the interests of the poor. He quite admitted, however, that a sufficient case had been made out to call for an inquiry. His right hon. Friend had objected to the question 334 as to the law of settlement being referred to a Committee, and had said, that it would be easy to deal with the question, if a Bill was at once brought in, and had referred as a proof of this to the three Bills upon the subject which had in previous Sessions been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite; but the fate of these Bills, notwithstanding the care taken in their preparation, showed how much difference of opinion existed with regard to it, and how difficult a subject it was to deal with. All parties, indeed, concurred in the opinion that evils arose out of the present condition of the law; but they were not agreed as to the remedy. He thought it clearly the best plan to refer it to the consideration of a Committee, for the purpose of receiving evidence on various points connected with it; and he hoped that the difficulties that stood in the way of a solution of the question, would be diminished by this course, which appeared to him to hold out a more reasonable hope of success than any other. In reply to the anxiety expressed by his right hon. Friend, that he (Sir G. Grey) should state his own opinion to the House, he should only say, that when the proper time should arrive, he should be prepared to state it. He should be prepared to state in the Committee his general view upon the question, though he could not say that he could see his way clearly as yet through all the difficulties which belonged to it. There was one question asked by his right hon. Friend, to which he should briefly reply. It was whether the question of rating would be considered, as well as the law of settlement; or whether it would be excluded from the consideration of the Committee? In his opinion it was impossible to consider the law of settlement without taking into consideration the law of rating. The law of settlement, in fact, was closely connected with the law of rating; and the real difficulties involved in the question of settlement arose from the questions as to rating. He hoped he had so far answered satisfactorily the questions put to him. There seemed to be a general concurrence of opinion in all parts of the House as to the appointment of the Committee; and he should not therefore trespass further upon their attention.
§ MR. FERRAND
When I heard the answer given by the hon. Member for Montrose to the speeches made this evening, I confess I almost believed that it was the late Secretary of State for the Home 335 Department who was then addressing the House. But no matter for that; what I want to know is this—does the right hon. Baronet suppose—does the noble Lord at the head of the Government suppose—that the people of this country will be satisfied with the arrangement which they have now proposed to make? I ask this also,—does the hon. Member for Montrose imagine that he has done his duty in withdrawing the Resolutions which he had placed upon the Notice-book of this House? Does any man suppose that the people of England will be satisfied with seeing the present Government coalescing with the Members of the late Government in rescuing the Poor Law Commissioners from that punishment which they had inflicted upon their own subordinates in the year 1846? Do you suppose that the people of this country have forgotten the case of Mr. Day and the case of Mr. Parker? I tell the noble Lord that when it becomes known, as it will in a few days, that you have determined to shelter the Poor Law Commissioners, not because they are men of talent, but because they are connected with persons high in party, I warn the Government that the people of this country will speak more plainly than they ever yet have done, if this House do not perform their duty. If that Committee which you proposed and appointed neglected to perform their duty, are you to come down to the House of Commons in the hope that a majority supporting you will enable you to rescue your favoured Commissioners from the punishment which they merit, and with which the people of England desire they should be visited? I tell the hon. Member for Montrose, that though he may withdraw his Motion, I shall take the earliest opportunity of giving notice that on Thursday next I intend to move that a Committee of this House be appointed to inquire into the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners, and to report upon the manner in which the poor law has been administered. I challenge you to an investigation of what has been their conduct for the last twelve years. I have endeavoured to expose that conduct, and for having done so, I have been persecuted with a malignity which was disgraceful to the men that made themselves parties to that persecution. I hope those who rendered themselves my adversaries will not shrink from a fair discussion of these questions, and that they will meet me in a court of law, where I may expect to have an opportunity 336 of vindicating my character. I ask the House, is it not just to the poor that we should have this inquiry? I ask, how many of the poor have been sacrificed? I ask how many have met death by starvation, and how many have been otherwise destroyed by the operation of this Act? I ask how many thousand homes have you laid waste, and how often has the poor man's furniture been dragged from his house, and sold? How many villages have become desolate wildernesses? And will you, who have been accessary to this, aggravate your offences by screening the principal agents of these enormities? I ask you, do you suppose the people of England will be satisfied by such a measure as you now propose? I ask you, after this, will you dare to face your constituents at a general election? Yet you need not have feared to face your constituents, if you had not provoked their hostility by endeavouring to screen the Poor Law Commissioners. Go anywhere—go into any company—and you will find but one feeling, of disgust, against the Poor Law Commissioners. In the month of August last, the House of Commons published the evidence that was taken before the Committee appointed to inquire into the case of the Andover union. I published two letters in The Times newspaper in reference to the proceedings of that Committee. Mr. Lewis thought proper to commence legal proceedings against me on account of the language used in those letters. On the 24th of November, the rule for a criminal information against me was made absolute. That occurrence took place two months ago. Three or four days after the rule was made absolute, a public meeting was hold at Leeds, which I attended, and at which I challenged Mr. Lewis and the late Secretary of State for the Home Department to lose not a moment in bringing those legal proceedings to a speedy and a final issue. I challenged them, and, up to this time, they have shrunk from meeting me. Under these circumstances, I considered it my duty to give notice that I should move for returns of the number of times the Bingley poor-house in the Keighley union was visited, and for other documents connected with that case; and I am happy to say that the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the handsomest manner agreed to the production of those papers. I moved for those returns only last night; and when they are made, they will prove that 337 the Poor Law Commissioners have been guilty of a gross dereliction of duty, and have committed a fraud, upon this House. Sir, I have now to inform this House that to-day, at two o'clock, my solicitor placed in my hands a letter which he had received from Mr. Lewis's solicitors, stating that they had this very day filed a criminal information against me. I cannot but look upon this, Sir, as an attempt to intimidate me in the discharge of my duty as a Member of this House. There was time a month ago to have brought this trial to an issue; but they have held back these proceedings until I appeared within the walls of this House, determined fairly and fearlessly to perform my duty. I demanded at Leeds that these parties should not lose one hour in going before a jury. Would it not have been fair, manly, and honourable, if, instead of dealing with the question piecemeal in this way, they had met me at once, face to face, in a court of justice? I challenge them to such a proceeding; and, if I do not come from the trial unstained, I will resign my seat within these walls. And if they do not come forth from a searching investigation with the same honour, I dare them to act on my precept.
§ MR. ETWALL
expressed his surprise that Lord John Russell had not taken some steps in consequence of the Report of the Committee on the Andover union. As an individual member of that Committee, he felt he should not be doing his duty to the labourers of the Andover union, and, indeed, to the poor of England generally, if he did not remind the House of the nature of the evidence taken before that Committee; because he felt assured that in other unions the poor were being treated with equal harshness, and with a severity that he was sure must be most repugnant to the feelings of that House. He should best consult the present hour of the night by simply stating, that he should take an early opportunity of bringing the Report of the Committee on the Andover union before the House.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, he was glad there was a chance at last of getting rid of the Poor Law Commissioners, whom he had always declared to be an useless, expensive, and oppressive body of men.
§ CAPTAIN PECHELL
said, that although the announcement of the noble Lord was very agreeable in many respects, yet he felt disappointed that the noble Lord had not adopted some more summary proceeding 338 against the Poor Law Commissioners. It was impossible that the public could be satisfied with the lenient treatment of these persons, when they remembered their sentences of dismissal against Mr. Parker and Mr. Day, and the report which a Committee of that House had passed upon their conduct. As a member of that Committee it would be satisfactory to him to know that some steps would be taken upon it forthwith. The report of the proposed Committee and the proposed measures, could not be made soon enough to rescue the poor from their present position as speedily as was desirable.
§ SIR W. JOLLIFFE
said, that the greatest suspense and confusion had existed in almost every union in the country, since the opinion of the law officers had been taken upon the Poor Removal Act. He had in his hand the copy of a letter addressed by the clerk of the Hackney union to the officer of another union; in which it was stated that the Hackney union were obliged to relieve some hundreds of persons who did not belong to them, in consequence of the confusion and uncertainty arising from the late Poor Removal Act. He had heard similar statements from several boards of guardians during the recess. For his own part, he did not believe that submitting that Act to the consideration of a Committee would produce the effect which the country expected and desired; but he thought the best course would be to bring in a Bill to repeal the present law, or to make such alterations in it as would render its working satisfactory.
said, that people throughout the country were generally greatly dissatisfied with the operation of the Poor Removal Act; they were waiting for legislation on the subject, and their opinion of the present law was that it was so bad it could not last, and that it ought to be altered immediately. The hon. Member for Droitwich had said that, in his neighbourhood, that Act had operated beneficially for the poor; but that hon. Gentleman was the only person he knew who had any practical acquaintance with the working of the law, who did not say that it had been attended with the greatest harshness and inconvenience—with the greatest oppression to the poor, and the greatest injustice to the ratepayers. In his neighbourhood the parishes had, under the Poor Removal Act, been saddled with the relief of persons whom they never expected to be called upon to support. He did not think that it 339 would be advisable, however, to repeal that Act; he believed that its objects were most humane; but what was wanted was, such a modification of the law of settlement as would combine kindness to the poor with justice to the ratepayers. He considered that the best plan would be, the adoption of union settlements; for he believed that the old parochial system had greatly retarded improvement in the character of the poor. He hoped the right hon. Baronet, who, he believed, had every disposition to prevent delay, would do all in his power to induce the Committee to make an early report. He hoped that, if possible, the report would be delivered before Easter, in order that some measure might be submitted to the House for its consideration during the recess.
§ MR. FIELDEN
said, if he had understood the noble Lord aright, he (Lord J. Russell) admitted that the scheme of centralization had proved a failure, and yet he proposed to continue the same system. He considered that the new poor law was most oppressive in its provisions, and had been carried out in the most harsh and oppressive manner; and he was ready to prove this whenever a proper occasion was afforded of doing so. He had not heard of a single place in which the operation of the new poor law had given satisfaction.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
was sorry to hear from the Government that there was an intention to allow this Committee to waste any of its time in inquiring, in the first place, into the Removal Act of last Session, because it appeared to him that an inquiry into the law of settlement naturally involved the question of removals. They were told that the Act of last Session, which was passed with the most humane and benevolent objects on the part of that House, and of which he had been a most strenuous advocate, worked ill for the poor. He had no doubt that might be the case in some instances, but only in cases where those whose duty it was to administer the law, did not think proper to administer it honestly. He had found in some places—for instance, in Yorkshire—that the magistrates were in fault with regard to the administration of this law. The Act was passed with a view to relieve the manufacturing rather than the agricultural population; it was intended for the benefit of those individuals who, after wasting their health and strength in manufacturing towns for ten, fifteen, twenty, aye, or thirty-five years, were subject to removal, and were 340 removed, from those towns to their places of settlement. When the Poor Removal Act was first proposed, no one seemed apparently so much in its favour as the country gentlemen, and those gentlemen who represented the rural districts. He thought it due to say, that there was not a complaint from one of the manufacturing towns with reference to that Act; all the complaints of its operation, with the exception of that from Brighton, proceeded from small rural villages. ["No, no!"] They would find that this was the fact. In the district with which the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand) was connected, the magistrates said they could not understand the Act. They often found that the intellects of gentlemen, as well as of parishes, were very obtuse, when their breeches pockets were concerned. He thought the statements of the hon. Member for Brighton showed the necessity of an alteration in the law of settlement, and he wished the Government would allow the Committee to go at once in medias res with reference to this question of settlement. An hon. Member had asked how the poor were to be maintained if they abolished the system of settlement? He would reply, that they ought to be supported by a national charge upon the general taxation of the country. It appeared from the statement of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) that they were now to have a Poor Law Minister, and a Poor Law Secretary, both of whom were to have seats in that House. He would suggest whether it were not advisable that those persons should hold their seats ex officio; for he believed that before a Poor Law Minister was able to obtain a seat in that House, except for some of their rotten boroughs, the new poor law must be made much more popular than it was at that moment. He wished the Committee for which the noble Lord had moved were authorized to carry their investigations somewhat further than the noble Lord proposed, for he would like to see them inquiring what amendments could be made in the new poor law which might render it more acceptable to the people of this country. It appeared to him that one improvement needed in the present law was, that some appeal should be afforded to the poor man when relief was refused him. The hon. Member for Knaresborough complained the other evening of the auditors; but it would often be found that when the ex officio guardians did not look after their affairs, the others, and particularly the small farmers, 341 were the most grinding for the poor. Occasionally the boards of guardians were composed of most humane men; but that was generally when the ex officio guardians took pains, and looked after the small farmers; but where the latter were left to themselves, the poor would be found constantly complaining against the law. When a party asked for relief, the guardians, in refusing it, turned the blame on the auditor, who, on his part, frequently said, that the guardians did not give him a chance of refusing it; but the poor man had no redress, and no power to get relief. Though the guardians were elected, the qualification for voters was not sufficiently low, and the poor themselves ought to have some voice in their election. He would give to the poor man an appeal against the decision of the guardians to the magistrates in petty sessions; and when an auditor disallowed any item granted by the guardians, he would, in order to take all excuse from them, give them an appeal against the decision of the auditor to the quarter-sessions. Then there could be no fair ground of complaint. He believed that one chief ground of complaint against the poor law was, that the poor man had no appeal, and could get no redress. On a future occasion he should see the Bill that would be brought in to increase the patronage of the Crown by the introduction of two new official Members in that House. Already one new officer connected with railways had been introduced into the House, though he thought that the railway interest had been well represented before. Now it was proposed to introduce a Poor Law President and Secretary, for no other purpose he could imagine, but to be badgered. What these officers were to receive out of the public taxes for this badgering, he did not know; but if it was thought necessary to give them seats in the House, why not go a little further, and introduce also the heads of the Excise department, and all other departments, including the Chairman of the Board of Customs, who did not always give satisfaction? He, for one, could not at all commit himself to the approval of the introduction of these two gentlemen, connected with the poor law, into that House, holding places under the Crown, until by seeing the Bill he knew more about the matter; but, as far as he could understand at present, he thought the public would consider it rather an expensive and unsatisfactory job.
SIR T. D. ACLAND
said, that although he must express his satisfaction at his noble Friend's statement, yet the point which pressed more particularly upon his mind in respect to this subject, was the necessity of an immediate remedy for the litigation that was going on, not only in the courts of law, but also in every parish and in every board of guardians. The whole effect of the law should be to secure industrial labour to the poor. With regard to the old law, there was a retrospective action given to it, which entailed the greatest mischief, and was the real cause of all the difficulty that had arisen. He should like to see the Committee preparing a Bill of this character, under proper guidance and proper instruction, the great object of which would be to recall the retrospective action of the old law as soon as they could. When they did that, they would enjoy peace. He hoped that the union settlement principle would be adopted, and that a provision would be enacted against the removal of the poor from the places where they had long lived by their industry; but which, by the present operation of the law, was left entirely uncertain.
§ MR. GRIMSDITCH
could speak, from his own observation, of the evil operation of the law. He had seen hundreds of poor persons cast without resource upon the wide world. In Manchester, particularly, the mode in which the law had been administered, had created much confusion. In many instances, it had led to absolute cruelties. He congratulated the House and the country on the prospect of their also getting rid, very soon, of the mischievous machinery of the existing poor law. He rejoiced to see that the days of the existence of the irresponsible Commissioners were numbered; and, for his part, if they must have a central supervision, he would rather that it should be under the control of the Crown. He had urged this on successive Secretaries of State; but until now the notion had been scouted. He hoped that they would soon come back to the practical working of the wise and humane Act of Elizabeth. But if the existing poor law was to be re-enacted — and that could not be without creating anew the dissatisfaction felt towards it by all classes—he hoped that the general orders issued by the Commissioners since 1836 might, in a simplified form, be incorporated in the Act.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
reminded the House that at the time the Poor Removal 343 Bill was passed, hon. Members taunted the representatives of the manufacturing districts by alleging, that so soon as the corn laws were repealed, the manufacturers would insist upon the Removal Bill sharing the same fate. Nothing of the kind, however, had been attempted. He considered the removal law of last year a humane measure, to a certain extent, particularly as regarded large towns, such as Manchester, where great numbers of Irish and Scotch were located. The law had prevented such persons from being removed, when circumstances compelled them to apply for relief. He admitted that, in many cases, the law had been carried out with greater harshness than was justifiable. Guardians had often refused relief to persons who had lived for a year or two in another parish, and much hardship and cruelty had been the consequence. He was glad, therefore, to understand, that the law of settlement was to undergo consideration. He thought that a union settlement and rating would be the most advantageous. He did not understand the reasoning of those persons who wished to abolish the law of settlement entirely, and to defray the expense of supporting the poor from the national resources; and who, nevertheless, in the next breath, opposed the appointment of any central authority. Why, these Gentlemen must have seen that the farmers, who exercised authority in townships, had exhibited a grasping and an illiberal disposition to the poor, in order to save their own pockets; and was it not to be supposed, that were the funds of the nation appropriated to the support of the poor, and these persons entrusted with the management, they might be induced to convert their powers into the means of eking out wages under the name of affording poor-law relief? In the township with which he himself was connected, the poor rates were exceedingly light, and there had lately been erected in it an establishment which gave employment to 1,000 persons. The assessment payable by that establishment might be nearly 1,000l.; but as all the hands resided in another township, the township in which he lived would have the advantage of the money, without being called upon to contribute to the relief of those workpeople He deemed it exceedingly unjust to uphold a system which allowed the rich to escape, and compelled the poor to feed each other.
§ CAPTAIN HARRIS
could not agree with 344 those who altogether condemned the Act of last Session. In the union with which he was connected, they saw many evils in it certainly; but as it was the law of the land, they did the best they could to carry it out. On the other hand, the plan proposed by the noble Lord to-night seemed to him to be little else than the old law over again. He had understood that the Board of Commission was in the first instance intended to be temporary, for the purpose of carrying out the law, and that then it would be abolished. He could understand that there should be a clear law on the Statute-book, and a responsible officer in the House; but he objected to the existence of a district board making their own by-laws, from which there was no appeal.
§ MR. ESCOTT
considered the present proposal to be an utter failure, when regarded as the fulfilment of the promise of last Session, that there should be a total revision of the poor law of this country. It certainly would not answer public expectation. With regard to the appointment of a new Commission, with two of its members having seats in that House, he was not prepared to give a positive opinion; but at present he saw no advantage likely to be gained by the presence of those two gentlemen in Parliament, that would at all compensate for the infringement of a great public principle involved in such a provision. He would add, that he had long thought that all the complaints against the maladministration of the Poor Law Commissioners were in themselves futile, because the fault was in the original constitution of the board. It was a board which Parliament had no power to appoint; they had no power to appoint a board to make laws and regulations for the people of this country; it was a great error to appoint such a board, and it was no less an error to expect that a board so tyrannically appointed could act legally and satisfactorily. No body of men with such powers would ever act justly; the use of our laws and constitution was to prevent men having such powers: if they had them, they would of course abuse them; they would do so to the end of time, and they would do it no less when two of them had seats in that House.
believed, that if the question of the law of settlement could be disposed of, almost all questions of poor law would cease; there was hardly any complaint connected with the public system 345 of relief of the poor, which did not spring out of that. A Committee, therefore, of more importance to the poor was never appointed. It would be only fair that the Government, in nominating it, should place upon it some one or two Gentlemen representing the opinion which the House had just heard stated—that settlement would be better done away altogether. That might be a notion impossible to be carried out; but it certainly prevailed very generally among intelligent and reflecting people, who saw the poor bandied about from one part of the country to another, and it ought to be represented in the Committee.
§ MR. BORTHWICK
agreed with the hon. Member for Winchester, that the original vice of the poor law, without getting rid of which there would never be a healthy system of poor relief, was, that it excluded from all the rights guaranteed to this nation by the constitution which we boasted, that class of people whom we called the poor. The noble Lord would now bring the parties concerned more into contact with public responsibility; but it was, at least, very doubtful whether that inherent vice of the law would be compensated. Without discussing the subject then, he would only ask whether the Government intended to follow precedent examples, and postpone the introduction of the Bill upon the main substance of the law until after the Committee had reported upon the law of settlement, or at what time the Bill would be introduced?
§ SIR G. GREY
could not state at what precise period the Bill would be ready, but it had no connexion with the inquiry to be made by the Committee.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at half-past Twelve o'clock.