§ MR. BANKES
said, he had two notices upon the Paper: the first, to call the attention of the House to the report of the Select Committee on Settlement and Poor Removal, printed that day; and the second, to ask for a copy of the case submitted by the Poor Law Commissioners to the law officers of the Crown for their opinion, with reference to the construction of a clause in the Poor Removal Act. The substance of the report of the Select Committee was contained in one passage, which stated that the Committee had to report that it appeared to them the most prominent of the difficulties attending the subjects before them had arisen out of the provisions of the Act of last Session, commonly called the "Poor Removal Act." There were grave doubts entertained with regard to the construction of an important proviso in that Act; but whatever might be the extent of the evils attributable to the existence of those doubts, the Committee did not think them of sufficient magnitude to recommend the removal of them by legislative enactment of a temporary nature. He (Mr. Bankes) thought it fair to state that the report was by no means an unanimous one; and he thought it right to direct the immediate attention of the House to it, because they were all aware that a great deal of interest existed throughout the country with regard to the Poor Removal Bill of the last Session. He thought it his duty to point out how that Bill was working throughout 708 a great part of the kingdom injuriously, as he was prepared to prove, to the poor, and injuriously, as he could also prove, to a great portion of the ratepayers. But that portion of the question which he considered to be of by far the greatest importance, was the injurious working of the measure towards the poor; and therefore it was that he had urged upon the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government, when the noble Lord was about to move the appointment of the Select Committee, that they should inquire into the operation of the Act as it affected the comfort and condition of the poor, and that they should consider the law of settlement, with a view to its improvement; and, finally, he had induced the noble Lord to move an instruction to the Committee, which should have the effect of directing their attention to the construction of the Act. In the Committee, he (Mr. Bankes) had subsequently striven to direct the attention of its members to the construction of the Act, so far as regarded the state and condition of the poor; but the Committee, after refusing to hear more than a limited portion of evidence upon the point, came to the conclusion by the votes of the majority, that it was more expedient to include the consideration of that Bill in the general scope of their inquiry, rather than to keep it distinct and separate; by which latter means alone, he (Mr. Bankes) thought it possible for them to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion. The Committee having then determined to involve the consideration of that Bill in the whole consideration of the larger question before them, he thought it wholly impossible for the Government to avail themselves so far of the report of the Committee as to be enabled to remedy the evils in the present Session. And seeing the mischievous effects of the Bill—effects which he would prove presently, by evidence with which he was prepared, to be most mischievous—evidence which would include even that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorchester, who agreed with him as to the pressure inflicted by the Bill upon the ratepayers, although the right hon. Gentleman differed from him upon the question of the pressure upon the poor—he thought it right to say that if the Committee did not make greater progress between the present time and the Easter recess than he could anticipate, he should, on the earliest possible opportunity after the recess, bring forward a measure which 709 should have for its object either the total repeal or the large amendment of the Act of last Session. He did not think it necessary at the present time to state the course he meant to take, because he believed that something would be said that night in another place upon the subject; and he thought it better that the two Houses should be united in the course to be adopted. But he would state it as his present opinion that the Act should be repealed altogether, and that there should be a general revision of all the laws relating to the poor. He was under the impression that it had been stated at the close of last Session, either by the right hon. Gentleman at the Home Office, or by some other Member of the Government, that there would be submitted to Parliament this Session a measure for the improvement of the poor laws, which measure he understood was to have been submitted to the Select Committee. Such, he understood, was the intention of the Government; and there would then indeed have been some hope of a legislative measure being passed during the present Session. But one small portion only of the poor laws having been submitted to the consideration of the Committee, without any intimation of the wishes or intentions of the Government having been made to them—looking at the progress of the Committee hitherto—and considering the great diversity of opinion already expressed amongst the Members of it—he did not see the smallest chance of their coming to a satisfactory conclusion, or of anything great or comprehensive coming from the Committee this Session. He had spoken of the great diversity of opinion upon the subject. He might observe that there was one proposition which had the approbation of many. It was for a union settlement. Others approved the larger proposition, which he was sorry to say was gaining weight throughout the kingdom, for doing away with settlement altogether, and having a national rating. And it was one of the mischiefs of the Bill of last Session, that it had brought that most dangerous proposition into public favour. He would cite one of the many proofs of the advance in public favour of this dangerous proposition. He had had the honour of presenting, that day, three petitions from three several boards of poor-law guardians, to the House, praying for an alteration in the law; and two out of the three prayed for the abrogation of the law of settlement, 710 and the adoption of a general law of rating. The ultimate consequences of such a measure had not been fully considered by many who prayed for its adoption; and he did indulge the belief that no such plan would be hastily assented to by either House of Parliament. He would take leave to draw the attention of the House to the evidence of Mr. Gulson, the assistant poor-law commissioner, a gentleman of the highest character and of great experience, given before the Committee on this Bill. He begged to say that the reason he had not referred to that evidence before was, that it had not been given until after the report was made. He divided the Committee on the question whether they should hear Mr. Gulson before they made their report; but the majority of the Committee decided against him, and resolved that they would make the report first, and hear the evidence afterwards. Mr. Gulson stated that he was appointed an assistant poor-law commissioner in 1834; and, after enumerating fifteen or sixteen counties in England and Wales with which his duties had made him acquainted, he was asked to give his opinion on the Poor Removal Act. He said—I have no hesitation in giving my opinion that it operates most harshly on the class of poor who are most entitled to our commiseration, the old and infirm.And again he said—I have no hesitation in saying that the universal opinion is that this Act must be altered. That opinion prevails everywhere, and in consequence the people are more acquiescent than they would otherwise be.He was then asked in what respect he supposed the Act worked differently from the manner in which it was it was intended to operate; and he said—I cannot believe that the Act was intended to act harshly or cruelly on the poor themselves; but I am satisfied it has so acted.That evidence was certainly, in some degree, counterbalanced by the weight of the evidence of one of the Poor Law Commissioners, Mr. Lewis; but he had no hesitation in preferring the evidence of Mr. Gulson to Mr. Lewis, who did not see the working of the Act, and did not desire those who saw it to communicate the result to him. One witness had practical means of knowledge; the other had no means of knowledge whatever on the subject; and his opinion could not, therefore, be compared with that of a man like Mr. Gulson, who had superintended the operation of the Act in fifteen or sixteen counties. 711 With regard to the effect of this measure on the ratepayers, it was not necessary that he should trouble the House with any remarks, or make any case at all, because hon. Members no doubt had opportunities of knowing what were the changes in the rates effected in their respective unions by this Act. In general, the agricultural labourers lived in the towns, and went out to work daily in the rural parishes; and yet the towns were now to be charged with their support. His right hon. Friend behind him (Sir James Graham), he believed, admitted that it would be absolutely unjust that the ratepayers should be subjected to the continued operation of the Act, unless it were accompanied by some alteration in the law, that would put it on a different footing. He would say, therefore, that they ought to put back the law to the state in which it was before the passing of that Act, until they were prepared with a real remedial measure. He regretted very much that the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government had suffered so much of the Session to pass over without giving them some information with reference to the New Commission under which the working of the Poor Law was hereafter to be carried on, and stating, if not the details, at least the general principles of his plan. It was clear that if they had a person in that House responsible for the law, such a thing would not have happened as an important law intended for the good of the poor being found to bear a construction directly contrary to the intention of the Legislature. It remained to be seen whether the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, given in direct opposition to what was known to be intention of Parliament when the law was passed, ought or ought not to be regarded as the law of the land. If the opinion of the law officers was to be the law, the House had a right to have that opinion before them. As it was intimated to him that his Motion, as it originally stood, would be refused, he would confine his Motion to an application for the statement of the case for the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, as taken by the Poor Law Commissioners on this Bill. It was stated before the Committee that there were six questions proposed to the law officers of the Crown. It thus appeared that the Commissioners had six doubts on this Bill; and even if he were not entitled to the case, he was at all events entitled to the doubts. This was the act of a constituted 712 body over which the Parliament were the guardians, and he had therefore a right to require its production. When he applied for the production of the case in the Committee, he was told that he should make his application to the House. He could see no ground why the Government should refuse his Motion. The law was construed one way by the law officers, and another way by an eminent recorder of sessions; and what he recommended in the Committee was, that they ought either to repeal or to pass a declaratory Act explaining what the meaning of the law was. Since the commencement of the Session, they had had an uninterrupted flow of petitions pouring in, praying at first for an alteration of the law of last Session, but latterly calling for a total abolition of the law of settlement. If they did not wish to adopt the latter course, they ought in time to make such an alteration as would create quiet and contentment throughout the country, instead of permitting the irritated feeling now prevalent to increase. He believed the best course they could take would be to repeal the Act of last Session at once, and then to leave the question to be settled in the first Session of a new Parliament, in conjunction with the alteration which the noble Lord proposed to make in the supervision of the law. He begged to add that he should feel himself at liberty to move on a future day, should he consider it necessary to do so, for the opinion of the law officers of the Crown on this question. The hon. Member concluded by moving—That there be laid before this House, a Copy of the Case submitted by the Poor Law Commissioners to the Law Officers of the Crown, for their opinion with reference to the construction of a Clause in the Poor Removal Act.
§ MR. C. BULLER
said, the general rule of the Government and of the House was not to call for cases laid before the law officers of the Crown, or the opinions given thereon. That was the rule of the profession, and it was a rule respected by the Government and by that House; and he should say that he thought the present was the very last case where they ought to interfere with it, because both in the letter of the Poor Law Commissioners, and in the evidence of Mr. Lewis before the Committee, both the case and the opinions were stated as fully as should satisfy any reasonable man's curiosity. He would wish to offer a few remarks on the other matters alluded to by the hon. Gentleman. 713 In the instructions given to the Select Committee, they were recommended, in the first place, to enter into the question of the Poor Removal Act, and to report specially upon it to the House. That appeared to him to be recommending rather a strange course of proceeding, because the Poor Removal Act of last Session was clearly a part of the whole question of the law of settlement. He did not see in what other light they were to regard it. If they had a law by which poor persons, after a residence of five years in a parish, were not to be liable to removal, it appeared to him to be so clearly a part of the law of settlement, that it would be impossible to consider it apart from the law of settlement. He would only refer to the proposals made with reference to the law of settlement, alluded to by the hon. Gentleman, to remark that they were of three kinds. It was proposed by some that the law should remain as it was, with merely such alterations as would still maintain the principle of parochial settlement. Others proposed a union settlement; and others, again, proposed that there should be no law of settlement at all, but that all the poor of the country should be supported by a national contribution. All these questions were referred to the Committee. They referred to the Committee the duty of reporting what in their opinion should be the law of settlement; and yet they asked them to report as a separate question, and in the first instance, whether poor persons resident in a parish for five years should be removable or not. He believed it was utterly impossible to decide positively on that question, without deciding what should be the law of settlement altogether. It was impossible for the Committee to give an opinion on a particular question which was a part of the general question, without entering into that general and fundamental question. Such being the reference to the Committee, suppose the House to have a meaning in its reference, the question was, whether there were such evils in the Act as required interference. The Committee found that great difficulties had arisen with regard to the interpretation of it; and though all the Members probably agreed that the Act had been interpreted in a sense contrary to the intention of those who introduced it, the opinion among them was by no means general that the construction put upon it by the law officers of the Crown was at all prejudicial to the people. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bankes) 714 took the opinion of the Committee on that subject; and, whether it were right or wrong, a majority were of opinion that if they were to interpret the Act, they would much rather interpret it against the views of those who framed it, than the contrary. The poor had got fixed in their parishes—they were irremoveable; and he asked the House whether, for the sake of correcting a mistake, they would restore the interpretation originally intended? He apprehended they would do no such thing. They would rather look to the real bearing of the legal interpretation upon the comforts of the poor. The Committee, having the whole law of settlement referred to them, and this Act incidentally, did wisely in saying they would not look at the two separately. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. G. Bankes) complained that the Committee had reported without hearing Mr. Gulson's evidence. No doubt that gentleman was a witness of great respectability, and one to whose testimony great weight attached; but it was given too late. Fortunately, however, the country would not be deprived of it, because the hon. Gentleman had himself made the most of it. He (Mr. C. Buller) had asked Mr. Gulson whether, if it rested with him to say what alteration should be made in the Removal Bill of last Session, be would remove the evils complained of by altering the law of settlement. "I would," was the reply. After this, it was rather extraordinary to allege that the evidence of Mr. Gulson would have shaken the Committee upon the point on which they reported. He would not pretend to say when the Committee would present their general report; but he trusted before the end of the Session they would be able to form their opinion upon the very difficult and complicated subject referred to them by the House. He was, however, perfectly sure that the worst plan the House could pursue, would be to take the law of settlement bit by bit, obtain reports first upon one part and then another, and decide upon one branch and afterwards on another. This was a great question, materially affecting the happiness and the social condition of the poor. It must therefore be considered as a whole; the House must make up their minds to patience and forbearance in waiting until the whole question was before them, and then they would have to decide upon it altogether.
§ MR. P. MILES
, as a Member of the Committee, was of opinion that the Poor 715 Removal Act should either be abrogated and entirely repealed, or considerably altered. Was the country to be taken in by a fraud? The opinion of the law officers of the Crown might be a very proper one; but if the House could have foreseen the interpretation they had put upon the Act of last Session, would it ever have been passed? Certainly not. The opinion of Mr. Gulson, and of witnesses from the east, west, midland, and part of the southern districts, proved that there was only one thing upon which people were agreed, and that was in reprobating the Act of last Session. He was astonished to hear the hon. Member (Mr. Buller) express an opinion in favour of the beneficial operation of the Act upon the poor. Mr. Gulson's evidence proved, that upon the aged, infirm, and deserving class of paupers, the Act had operated very detrimentally. If the House would carry out the real intention of the Poor Removal Act, they would have much greater facilities for entering upon the law of settlement. His own opinion was in favour of an industrial irremoveability, as far as the Act of last Session went, after five years' residence. He was sure, as soon as it was known that his hon. Friend intended to bring on after Easter a Motion for the repeal or alteration of the Act of last Session, the Table of the House would be covered with petitions against the law. He was afraid the whole of the Session would be wasted before the Committee came to a conclusion, and that it would be impossible to bring in a Bill this Session to alter the existing law—a law alike unjust to the ratepayers and to the poor, and which inflicted a great loss upon the people of England.
§ SIR G. GREY
said, he did not know the object of the hon. Member (Mr. Bankes) in bringing forward these two Motions, only one of which, however, it appeared he wished to be put from the chair. With a view to removing the doubts that had been felt, the hon. Member moved for a copy of the case submitted to the law officers of the Crown for their opinion. It was distinctly stated by Mr. Lewis, that this case merely contained a statement of the doubts entertained; and how the hon. Member could think the doubts which prevailed upon the interpretation of the Act could be removed by a statement of the doubts themselves, he was at loss to conceive. The course which the hon. Member for Dorsetshire had taken, could lead to no practical result. He had avoided submitting 716 any proposition upon which the opinion of the House could be expressed. The open and manly course to have taken would have been to do what it appeared he intended to do after Easter, namely, to submit a definite Motion on the subject. Perhaps the reason why he had pursued so devious a course upon this occasion was, that he had not yet made up his mind—as might be inferred from what the hon. Member who spoke last had let fall—as to whether he should introduce a Bill to repeal the Act of last Session, or one merely to give a retrospective effect to some of its clauses. He (Sir G. Grey) felt that he should consult the public convenience by abstaining from discussing the Poor Removal Act of last Session until the hon. Member should bring the question under the notice of the House in a definite shape, as he said he would.
§ MR. FINCH
said, that the Poor Removal Act of last Session was passed hastily, and in some respect under false pretences. It was proposed as a compensation in some degree for the injury which the landed interested sustained by the repeal of the corn laws, it being represented that under the operation of the measure, towns would be obliged to support some of the poor who had theretofore been maintained exclusively by the agricultural districts. He expressed an opinion at the time that the measure would be no boon to the agricultural interest; and the result had shown that he was correct. If it should appear that there would be time to introduce a general measure, founded on the report of the Committee, in the course of the present Session, he would advise the hon. Member for Dorsetshire not to bring forward his Bill; but if that should not be the case, it would, in his opinion, be most desirable to pass some such Bill as that which the hon. Member had announced his intention to bring in. At the same time he could not advise the hon. Member to persevere in the Motion before the House.
thought that it was desirable to repeal the Act of last Session under any circumstances; and the notice which the hon. Member for Dorsetshire had given that evening, induced him to hope that it would be repealed before the end of the Session. The measure had operated with oppressive harshness upon the poor. In his own neighbourhood, a number of notices had been given to remove cottagers who had not lived five years in their parishes 717 at Michaelmas next. If the Act should not be repealed this Session, the country would be left a prey to the confusion and heartburning which now prevailed for another year. One example would suffice to show the harsh treatment to which the poor had been subjected since the passing of the Act of last Session. A man who lived in his (Mr. Rice's) parish, had worked for twenty-five years in the neighbouring parish; he walked three miles to his work in the morning, and three back again at night. As soon as the Poor Removal Act was passed, his master told him that he wanted his services no longer; and he was now working on the roads in his parish. The announcement of the hon. Member's intention to move for the repeal of the Act, would, he believed, prevent many poor persons from being served with notices to quit their abodes.
§ MR. E. WODEHOUSE
would not have ventured to to unite his influence with that of the hon. Gentleman who had last sat down, in urging his hon. Friend to persevere in his Motion, were it not for the efforts which the Poor Law Commissioners were making to extenuate the dissatisfaction which prevailed all through the country with respect to the Bill of last Session. The injuries inflicted on the poor in his own neighbourhood, had been of the most annoying and distressing character. There were such enormous difficulties attending the final adjustment of the question, that no act of immediate relief could satisfactorily meet the emergency. Under these circumstances, the sooner Parliament undertook the consideration of other and more permanent measures, the better would it be for the country.
MR. VERNON SMITH
was obliged to the hon. Member for Dorsetshire for having brought the subject under the notice of the House as he had done, for otherwise an impression might have been made on the country that the question was concluded by the report which had been made by the Committee up stairs. He complained of the conduct of the Committee in having refused to examine witnesses who were practically acquainted with the working of the law. They had contented themselves with examining three official gentlemen, and then made their report to the House. In his opinion, the Bill inflicted hardship on the poor as well as upon the ratepayers. The parish officers and the proprietors were enabled by indirect means to effect the removal of the poor from their houses. 718 For instance, if an old woman resided with her daughter, the proprietor would say, "It is true, I cannot remove your mother, but if you do not remove with her into another parish I will give you notice to quit." The Poor Law Commissioners could not reach cases of this kind. The repeal of the Act of last Session was necessary as a preliminary to the amendment of the law of settlement. It was evident from the answers which the witnesses gave who were examined before the Committee, that a great many of them confounded the Poor Law Act with the law of settlement. The right hon. Member for Dorchester, with his usual acuteness, perceived this confusion, and directed the attention of the witnesses to it. As to the Committee which was now sitting, he had prophesied that it would be productive of no good, and his prophecy was likely to be fulfilled. More irritation had been shown in the Committee than in any other he had ever heard of. In order to show the divided state of feeling in the Committee, it was only necessary to state that there had been eight divisions in it during the first four days of its sitting.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
said, that the desire which he felt not to occupy the public time unnecessarily, would prevent him from adverting to the evidence of Mr. Gulson, which, though technically in the possession of the House, had been presented only that evening, and could not have been read by the majority of Members then present. Neither would he enter into any discussion with respect to the law of settlement, a question which was not before the House. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire had given notice of his intention to bring forward, after Easter, a substantive measure for the repeal or material alteration of the Poor Removal Act of last Session; and upon that subject he wished to be permitted to address a few observations to the House. It was by no means his intention to deny that the interpretation which the law officers of the Crown had given to that Act—and no doubt it was a correct and sound interpretation—had imparted a more extensive operation to the measure than was originally contemplated either by him (Sir J, Graham), who introduced it, or by the House, which passed it. He made that admission distinctly; and he would not have concurred in the report which the Committee now sitting had presented to the House, unless he had satisfied himself by the evidence up to that time received—corroborated by that which had been subsequently 719 given, and which had been presented to the House that day—that the more extensive operation given to the Act by the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, was decidedly and greatly beneficial to the poor. It was not necessary to argue the question at length upon that occasion, but he would simply lay before the House and the country an outline of the great benefits which, on the balance, the more extensive operation of the Act had conferred upon the poor. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire had incidentally raised a discussion on the Act of last Session, for the purpose of directing public opinion to this question; and under those circumstances he felt that he should fail in his duty if he omitted to avail himself of the opportunity of explaining that the present operation of the Act—though not originally intended—had been of signal advantage to the poor. It was impossible to deny that with respect to one class of poor persons, the Act had operated with some degree of harshness—he meant those resident in one union, and having their settlement in another, and who had heretofore received relief at the place of their residence from the place of their settlement. The Act of last Session had created some doubt as to the way in which relief should be given to this class, and in some cases hardship had been endured in consequence. But he would call the attention of the House to some large classes of poor, on whom the Act, as it now stood on the Statute-book, had conferred inestimable benefit. First, there was the great division of the sick poor, who, unless they were permanently afflicted, could not be removed. Another most numerous class consisted of those residing at a distance from their place of settlement, who had conferred on their place of residence the advantage of many years of their labour, and who, even though in the extremity of destitution, from fear of being removed, had not hitherto applied for relief. But, as the law now stood, this class of persons did not hesitate to apply for relief, because they were irremovable. Another class were those resident in a place without any settlement; they also, if they had resided for five years, were now entitled to relief. He saw hon. Members connected with Ireland opposite; he knew not if any Scotch Members were present; but the effect of the law had been to give to the natives of both those countries residing in England, the relief they were justly entitled to, but from 720 which they were before debarred. He had called the attention of the House to these numerous classes; and he was much mistaken if the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, when he came to deal with the Act, either to alter or wholly to repeal it, would find its operation so plain and easy as he and some others seemed to think. If the Act was rightly understood, with regard to the recipients of relief, the balance would be found decidedly in favour of the poor, and he considered it a just and humane enactment. It was not worth while to discuss whether the construction put on one of the provisions of the Act by the law officers of the Crown was or was not an extension of that benefit; on the proper occasion he should be prepared to argue that it was so. As to the effect of the Act on the ratepayers, he had never dissembled the opinion which he had expressed under circumstances of great difficulty, and had given great offence by expressing it, that in exceptional cases in close parishes, as contradistinguished from open ones, it must operate harshly, and impose an unjust burden upon them. As a member of the Committee, therefore, he had been most anxious to join with the consideration of the Act of last Session, a consideration of the whole law of settlement. He could not avail himself of the advantage of being in possession of the evidence of Mr. Gulson, which the House was not; but he could point to testimony given by that witness, showing, that if they only altered and modified the law of settlement, the Act of last Session, with its present extension, would be not only a great benefit to the poor, but could be put in full operation without the least injustice whatever. As that evidence would soon be in the hands of every Member, he did entreat them to judge of it, not by garbled extracts, but by the tenor of the whole of it—in its entire state. It was the evidence of a gentleman of the highest probity, conversant with the working of the poor law, both in rural and manufacturing districts; who had been actively employed both in this country and in Ireland; and who perhaps possessed a more intimate knowledge of the subject than almost any man. He entreated the House, before it discussed this important question, dispassionately to read the whole of that evidence. It was supported by the testimony of two able persons—the auditor of the Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridge unions—a barrister, and gentleman of great experience, and the chairman of a 721 board of guardians in the north of England. The evidence of those three witnesses was presented to the House; and, if fully considered, he was sure the effect produced would by no means aid the proposition of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, but would sustain the views he had himself ventured to advocate, namely, that the law of last Session could be upheld in its integrity, if they altered and amended the law of settlement itself: by distributing the burdens anew, they would remove all the injustice created by the law as it at present stood, without that revision of the law of settlement.
§ MR. W. O. STANLEY
remarked, that the right hon. Baronet had confessed that there was great injustice in the Act of last Session, unless it were coupled with an alteration of the law of settlement. It seemed to be the opinion of all the Committee, that the operation of the Act caused great injustice to the ratepayers, and particularly to the ratepayers of town parishes. He could have wished that the Motion before the House, had been brought forward for a different purpose; but at the same time there might be a good deal of good in this preliminary warfare. He trusted that the hon. Member for Dorsetshire would not be deterred from bringing the question of the repeal of the late Act fairly before the House, to be discussed and determined by them. The right hon. Baronet had admitted the injustice of the Act; and it was never too soon nor too late to remedy injustice. Before the House did anything else, they ought, by repealing the Act, to relieve the ratepayers of the town parishes from what was a most intolerable burden.
§ MR. EVELYN DENISON
felt so much the inconvenience of the present discussion, that he should not have taken any part in it, but for one or two observations which had fallen from Members in the course of the evening. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. C. Buller) the chairman of the Committee, was, he thought, guilty of one inaccuracy in the course of his address. His hon. and learned Friend's statement was, that the Committee had determined that they would not decide this point until they had come to a resolution on the whole question of the law of settlement. He had never understood that such was the resolution of the Committee; but, on the contrary, that if the inquiry should be protracted till near the end of the Session, then the majority of the Committee, who 722 voted against the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, would feel at liberty to submit to the House the propriety of dealing with the measure of last year. He thought that it ought not to go forth, that the opinion of the Committee was definite and final on that point. He should feel very much indisposed to express any opinion upon the evidence which had already been given; but the right Baronet the Member for Dorchester had made some statements which he could not allow to pass without observation. It was but reasonable that the right hon. Baronet, who was the author of this law, should regard it with so much partiality; but he must say, that as far as the evidence had gone at the present moment, it had not produced the effect on his mind, which it had produced on the mind of the right hon. Baronet. The right hon. Baronet said that this law was generally advantageous to the poor. He thought when the right hon. Baronet said that the law was unjust to the ratepayers, he answered his own former statement; for any gentleman, who knew how these things worked in the country, must be aware that it was not possible for a law that worked injuriously to the ratepayer, to work well for the poor; because, when parish officers felt these paupers pressed on them by an unjust enactment, they regarded them with harsher feelings than they otherwise would have done. As the Committee had determined to take further evidence, he should think it very wrong to express any positive opinion, and he should keep his mind open to conviction. He could only repeat that at present the evidence which had been already taken, had not produced on his mind the effect which it had produced on the mind of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester.
SIR W. JAMES
wished to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Government were aware that two different constructions had been put upon the proviso at the end of the first clause in the Poor Removal Act. Now, in the evidence of Mr. Lewis, the Poor Law Commissioner, it was stated that it was very possible, in consequence of the different interpretations put upon this Act, that one auditor might act upon one principle in allowing expenses, and another auditor upon another principle. He rose to express his opinion, that either the Poor Law Commissioners or the Government, while the question was still undecided, 723 might direct that whatever course the boards of guardians might take, the auditor should allow the expenses. That direction on the part of the Government or the Poor Law Commissioners, would have no legal effect, but it would still have great weight. With regard to the question before the House, he thought that the Committee had come to a most judicious and reasonable conclusion, in determining not to come to an opinion on the Act of last Session till they had determined the question of settlement generally. If the hon. Member for Dorsetshire brought in his Bill, he thought it would be more judicious to confine its operation to an interpretation of the proviso in the Poor Removal Act, than to attempt to repeal the law altogether.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
felt much indebted to the hon. Member for Dorsetshire for the notice which he had given. Some remedy, it appeared, was to be applied to the law of settlement; and last Session the right hon. Gentlemen had applied a blister in the form of the present system of removal. The Committee, a great number of whom were in favour of extensive change in the law of settlement, were extremely anxious to retain that blister on the patient. [Mr. WAKLEY: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Finsbury cheered that observation. He thought the hon. Member for Dorsetshire should do justice to the country by endeavouring to remove that blister before he asked the House to consider the law of settlement, the abrogation of which might entail the destruction of the parochial system.
§ SIR G. GREY
said, the course suggested by the hon. Baronet (Sir W. James) had been already taken by the Poor Law Commissioners.
§ MR. WAKLEY
said, the hon. Member (Mr. Newdegate) had compared the Act of last Session to a blister; he was sure it was a capital medicine, it was so extremely disagreeable to the patient. Those who sought to repeal it were tyrannical boards of guardians, and the gentry who had no partiality for paying poor rates. He believed the Bill in the main was a good one; if they compared the good it had done with the evil that had flowed from it, the former would preponderate to an immense extent. He could confirm what the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had stated on this subject. The ratepayers of the metropolis did not complain of the law, though it pressed upon them; they felt the justice of that pressure; they admitted the harshness 724 and cruelty of sending persons from this country to Scotland or Ireland, where they could get no relief. Since this Bill had been in operation, not one of the Irish had been sent back; and the ratepayers asked how they could in justice do it, when they knew that if they sent them back to Ireland, they sent them to starve. The great proprietors of Ireland and Scotland had staved off an effective poor law too long; but he hoped they would not succeed in staving off from them much longer a law similar to the one which had been in operation in England for 300 years. The small end of the wedge had been already got in, and he hoped the people of England would see it driven home until the poor of the three kingdoms were relieved on the same principle. So far from lamenting the immigration of so many Irish paupers into this country, he wished they would come over in still greater abundance. For his own part, he should be delighted if 2,000,000 of them came over to England next month. It would be the first thing that would bring Parliament to its senses with respect to the operation of the Irish poor law. He had been told yesterday that in the parish of St. Andrew, Holborn, out of every shilling paid to the poor, 11d. was paid to the Irish who had no settlement there whatever. In the parish in which he (Mr. Wakley) himself resided, 27,000l. was collected last year for the support of the poor, 20,000l. of which was paid to the Irish. Did any one grudge them this? He hoped not; for he admitted their right to relief—charity was out of the question. He wondered how the landed proprietors of Ireland and Scotland, who denied the right of the poor to relief, could expect to be secure in their possessions, when there were hundreds and thousands of persons willing to work in a state of destitution bordering on starvation. He was surprised that the foundations of society were not shaken with such a state of things. He denied that the poor law was founded on a principle of charity; he considered it to rest on a higher and safer foundation—he considered it to be founded on a principle of strict justice; and he warned the House, if they considered the Poor Removal Act to be injurious in its operation, to take care in repealing it they did not inflict a still greater injustice upon the destitute people of this country.
§ CAPTAIN HARRIS
wished to impress upon the House the importance of not leaving this law in doubt. If, however, 725 it were made plain and clear, he believed it would be found to work fairly enough, for he considered it to be founded upon a good principle.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
remarked, that he had supported the Poor Removal Bill when first introduced; he considered that it would be a humane measure if properly carried out, and he was still of the same opinion; but he thought there had been some harshness in its operation in consequence of the construction given to the Act by the law officers of the Crown. He thought, that if the rich were made to contribute to the support of the poor over a more extended area, it would tend to meet the justice of the case.
§ MR. BICKHAM ESCOTT
confessed himself puzzled to know the object of the present debate. If the object of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire was merely to obtain information by the production of the document asked for in his Motion, there was surely no need of all this discussion upon it; and if, as he had announced, he intended to bring the Bill which had been passed last Session under the consideration of the House after Easter, what was the use of debating it now? He differed with that hon. Member in thinking that the opposition of the people had been directed merely against the Act of last Session. That opposition was directed against the whole system. There was a strong feeling among the inhabitants of the towns, as well as the inhabitants of counties, that there ought to be some substantial change introduced with reference to the whole administration of the Poor Law; and the people knew that Parliament could not enter into the question of the removal of the poor, without at the same time taking up the great question of settlement; and that they could not enter into the question of settlement, without taking up the question of the general rating of the country; and this, it was hoped, would lead to the adoption of a measure by which funded property, which at present contributed nothing, should be brought to contribute along with landed property its fair share towards the maintenance of the poor. He hoped that the Member for Dorsetshire, therefore, when he brought forward his Motion, would not imagine that the indignation of the people in towns was confined to this measure alone; but that they considered it merely as a part of a great question which needed thorough inquiry and thorough revision at the hands of that House.
§ MR. S. WORTLEY
considered that no conclusion of the inquiry now going on would be satisfactory that did not lead to an abolition of the law of settlement, as well as to a repeal of the Poor Removal Bill.
§ MR. BANKES
, in reply, hoped that those Irish paupers who accepted the invitation of the hon. Member for Finsbury, would quarter themselves upon his constitutents. The Poor Law Commissioners had submitted six questions to the law officers of the Crown for their opinion. Only one of those questions was known to the House; and he (Mr. Bankes) thought it important before he attempted to amend the law, to be put in possession of the other five. On the present occasion, however, he should not press the Motion to a division.
§ The Motion was then negatived without a division.