HC Deb 03 May 1847 vol 92 cc340-58

I rise to move, pursuant to notice, for leave to bring in a Bill to Amend the Administration of the Laws for the Relief of the Poor in England. I do not propose to effect by this Bill any alteration in the general provisions of the laws now in force relating to the relief of the poor; I intend to confine myself to proposing a change in the mode of administering that law, and to effect that which, I trust, will be a considerable improvement in the constititution of the body by which those laws have hitherto been administered, and to whom was confided the task of carrying them into effect. The House will remember that, in the year 1842, when the Poor Law Commission was about to expire, an Act was passed for the purpose of renewing it—that that Act continued the Commission for five years from 1842, and to the end of the then next Session of Parliament. The Commission, therefore, if Parliament should not interfere, would expire in 1848. At the beginning of the present Session my noble Friend the First Lord of the Treasury informed the House that the administration of the laws relating to the relief of the poor had occupied the very careful attention of Her Majesty's Government during the preceding recess; and he then stated what were the opinions which the Government had formed on this subject, and he shortly described the outline of the measure which he thought it would be the duty of the Government to introduce for the purpose of effecting the change which it appeared expedient to make in the course of the present Session of Parliament. My noble Friend stated that it was the intention of the Government, after a full consideration of the question, not to propose a continuation of the existing Poor Law Commission, but in the course of the present Session to propose a measure which should involve an extensive change; in the constitution of the body by which the Poor Laws were hereafter to be administered; and in accordance with that statement I now rise to move for leave to bring in a Bill, with a view to accomplish the object which my noble Friend stated to the House the Government then had in contemplation. We felt it to be our duty carefully to investigate the whole subject—to look back not only to the evidence obtained antecedently to the year 1834, but to the experience which we had been able since that time to acquire in the working of the law and the mode of its administration. The reasons for the establishment of some central authority which existed in 1834 still remain in full force. We feel now as the Government then did, that the influence of a general superintending authority cannot be safely dispensed with. Without some such authority we feel that the administration of the Poor Law cannot be efficiently carried out. I believe that no one would wish to see the old administration of the Poor Law restored. I do not believe that there exists in the mind of the public a desire that we should recur to the old system of local administration, unchecked and uncontrolled by any central authority. It is quite evident that no Act of Parliament would be sufficient to dispense altogether with such an authority. An Act of Parliament could contain fixed and permanent rules which should be applicable to every district throughout the country; but they must in that case be carried into effect in a uniform and unvarying manner. You may in an Act of Parliament lay down general principles, but you cannot take into account every varying circumstance which may from time to time arise in different districts, or even in the same district of the country. For this purpose, there must be some discretionary power created. We have felt that we ought to maintain the principle of the administration of the Poor Law established in the year 1834, which was that of combining local administration with a general superintending and central authority. But though that principle was recognised, the question for us to consider was in what manner the central authority invested with discretionary power, could most advantageously be composed. In the year 1834, when an extensive change was made in the law, it was thought that the persons who were to be invested with the discretionary powers to be exercised by a central authority ought not to form any part of the Executive Government; that they should remain free from that popular influence which must necessarily operate in a greater or less degree upon all public men—upon all who take part in carrying on the government of the country. It was at that time thought better, also, that no political changes should be allowed to affect those who were to be entrusted with these powers. Upon these grounds, the Poor Law Commission was separated from the Executive Government; and doubtless there was at the time much to be urged in favour of such an arrangement; but we must consider it now in the light of experience. Looking to the results of that arrangement, and appealing to that experience by which alone it can be tried, I think I may assert that it has not been as successful as was anticipated. The responsibility of the Poor Law Commissioners to Parliament was indirect and imperfect. The power they exercised was free from that check which is imposed upon those public functionaries who are obliged to listen in this House to charges made against them, either by Members of Parliament, or suggested by other parties; and, on the other hand, they were not enabled to explain their official conduct in this House—they were not enabled to answer their accusers face to face, and their vindication has been for this reason necessarily incomplete. They have laboured under a manifest disadvantage in this respect. When complaints as to any of the ordinary departments of the Government are made, the representative of that department is familiar with the details of the subject to which the complaint relates: he has followed them, step by step; he knows the correspondence relating to it, and remembers the reasons which led to the course that has been pursued; and, therefore, he is able to state fully the grounds of his vindication, and to offer, if not a satisfactory, at least a full and complete explanation of the conduct of the department which he represents. But, under the existing Poor Law Commission, what really happens? Complaints are made, and questions asked of the Home Secre- tary respecting some matter connected with the administration of the Poor Law. The Home Secretary is expected to give an answer; and his first answer almost necessarily is, that he is entirely ignorant of the matter, but that he will inquire into the facts of the case, and come down on a future day and give a reply: and, consequently, either by personal conversation, or written communication, he obtains an explanation from the Commissioners; but still without a knowledge of all the circumstances which led to the act in question; and in this state he is expected to give full information to the House on the subject. This, unquestionably, leads to great inconvenience; and the administration of the law has been, to a certain degree, prejudiced by it. The principle, therefore, of the Bill which I have to propose is in accordance with what fell from my noble Friend at the head of the Government at the beginning of the Session, namely, that there shall be a general superintending authority immediately responsible to Parliament. My general proposition is, that the existing powers shall be transferred to a new Board, which in its constitution will be similar to the Board of Control. The chief Member of the Board will be called the President, and he will be responsible for the ordinary administration of the law. But associated with the President of the Board there will be certain Members of the Cabinet, ex-officio members of the Board, namely, the President of the Council, the Lord Privy Seal, one of the Secretaries of State, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There will also be two Secretaries to the Board, and it is proposed that the President and one of the Secretaries shall be allowed to have seats in Parliament. I do not say that they both shall have seats in the House; but it is essential that the Board shall be directly represented in this House either by the President or Secretary. As I said before, the powers of the Poor Law Commissioners will be transferred to this new Board, which will become responsible for the administration of the law. Now, with respect to making general rules, the present practice is, that before a general rule of the Poor Law Commissioners takes effect, it is submitted to the Secretary of State for the Home Department for forty days; and if he, within that time, does not disallow it, it has the force of law, subject, however, to disallowance by the Queen in Council, and subject to be taken by certiorari before the Court of Queen's Bench. When the noble Lord at the head of the Government brought this subject forward at the commencement of the Session, he proposed that general rules should not take effect until sanctioned by the Queen in Council; but on further consideration, it was thought that making the general rules by Orders in Council was open to objection. It is proposed by this Bill that no general rule shall be made unless under the signature of three Members of the Board. The power will also exist that a general rule may be disallowed by an Order in Council; and it will also be subject to legal investigation when brought by certiorari before the Court of Queen's Bench. Other rules and orders must be signed by two Members of the Board, or by the President and Secretary. At present, the Poor Law Commissioners are required to prepare an annual report, to be laid before Parliament. The new Board will have to present a similar report each year; but it is not intended that it shall continue to be addressed, as at present, to the Secretary of State, but to the Crown, when directions will be given that it shall be laid before Parliament. It is intended that a certain number of inspectors shall be appointed to perform the duties of the assistant commissioners. I do not wish to enter into any details on this occasion; but I must advert to the possibility of a better arrangement than that by which the assistant commissioners are confined to a particular district, and have a great extent of unions under their care. It has been found by experience, and it was the opinion of the Committee which sat on the Andover inquiry, that the existing arrangement, which confines the number of assistant commissioners to nine, is defective. Originally, the Treasury had a power of sanctioning an increase of the number; but under the Act of 1842 that power was dispensed with, and the number is absolutely limited. This has been found to be a great impediment to the working of the law, and we propose to extend the limitation of inspectors from nine to twelve. With regard to the duration of this Bill, as it must be considered, in a certain degree, to be experimental, we propose that the new Board shall only last for five years, and it will therefore be necessary, at the expiration of that time, to bring the law under the consideration of Parliament. I have now stated the general outline of this Bill, and the reasons why we have proposed it; and I have endeavoured to avoid all topics that may lead to inconvenient discussion. The Bill will be now presented to the House; it will be printed, and I propose that the second reading shall take place this day fortnight, which will be the first open day, when there will be ample time for its discussion.


said, it was not then his intention fully to discuss this Bill, and, indeed, he was too much indebted to the present Government for carrying the Ten Hours Bill, to say much upon this measure at present; but the right hon. Gentleman must excuse him, if he asked two or three questions. In the first place, the House and the country would require a distinct pledge, that any of the present Poor Law Commissioners should not be appointed to the new Board; and if it were the intention of the Government to appoint them to that high office, or to any office whatever, some hon. Member would be found to make a distinctive Motion to the House to decide whether, after the exposure which took place before the Andover Committee, any one of those persons was capable of discharging the arduous duties of such an appointment. He would also like to know, whether the present unions were to remain of the size they now were? If the right hon. Gentleman so intended, he could not be aware of the fact, that many poor men had ten, and twenty, and thirty, and some nearly forty miles to travel, to ask relief from the poor-law guardians; and when the poor men complained of the hardship, what was the reply given by the Commissioners at Somerset House? Why, that they might go to the poor-law guardian of the parish in which they resided; but it might happen, and did happen, that many of the guardians, during the year for which they were appointed, never went near the board. In that case, there was no one to whom the poor men could apply, but to the relieving officer. They had, therefore, to apply to a man who was perfectly indifferent to the wants of the suffering poor, and who might happen to have been elected, not from his character, or from his competence to fill the office, but because he had offered to fill the office for a less sum of money than any one else in the parish. If he had any ill-feeling against the poor men, instead of pleading their cause before the board, he might never mention it; and there was consequently the hardship towards the poor men, in making them travel to the board the distance he had described. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to take this matter into his consideration, for if the right hon. Baronet allowed the law to remain as at present, there would be the same extent of opposition to the law, and nothing but an alteration would allay it. There was another question which he wished to ask. Did the right hon. Gentleman intend that the present district auditors should remain? The auditors were more cruel, more tyrannical, and more insulting to the poor-law guardians in the country, than were the Poor Law Commissioners themselves. He would ask the right hon. Baronet whether he would object before the second reading of this Bill, to lay on the Table of the House the correspondence between the different boards of guardians, and the Poor Law Commissioners, with respect to the auditors? for if he would consent to lay it on the Table, it would expose to the House such disgraceful conduct on the part of the auditors, that it would be impossible that they could remain. He would mention one circumstance which had come under his own observation respecting these persons. In the union in which he resided, the select vestry had given directions to the constable, in case he found at night a poor person starving or destitute, and without a lodging, that he should provide food and lodging. The district auditor, however, had issued an order to prevent the relieving officer or constable giving such relief to poor persons who were found starving in the night. He had obtained an order of that House to the Poor Law Commissioners, directing them to furnish this disallowing order. These Commissioners had made a return to the House, in which the auditor distinctly stated that he had never given such an order. He went down to the place he alluded to, a few days afterwards, and he questioned the constable and relieving officer on the subject, when they produced the book in which the disallowing order was entered by the auditor himself. This auditor then, had had the audacity to make a false return to the Poor Law Commissioners, and which they had furnished to the House. On the second reading of this Bill, he would produce the document in question. Again, he wished to know whether the law was to be enforced with all that hardship and cruelty which characterized it at present. If such were the intention of the Government, at once he would tell them, that if they persisted in such a course, they would have to contend with an agitation throughout the country, greater than that which had brought the Ten Hours Bill to a successful issue. He rejoiced to find that Her Majesty in Council was not to be called upon to sign the Orders in Council for enforcing the Poor Law. He had heard such an announcement from the noble Lord at the head of the Government with very great pain; and he now rejoiced to find that our gracious Sovereign and mother of the British people, was not to take a direct part in making harsh rules for enforcing this law. He wished also to know whether the poor, oppressed by the administration of this law, were to have the power of presenting addresses to the Crown on the subject. The men who administered this law had been placed above the law by Parliament, for their orders had the same power as Acts of Parliament. The poor ought to be governed by the law of the land, and no order of the Commissioners should have force which had not been previously sanctioned by the Legislature. He did not understand, as to whether or not the three Cabinet Ministers who were to draw up the general rules, were to have the same powers as the Poor Law Commissioners now had. [Sir G. GREY: The general rules, when sanctioned, would have the same power and effect as at present.] He proceeded to say, that the new Poor Law gave the Commissioners the power to make rules, having the effect of an Act of Parliament; but it was now proposed that this power should be transferred to three Cabinet Ministers. Could anything be more monstrous than that these Cabinet Ministers should have the power to make laws for the administration of the relief of the poor? If such a proposition was persisted in, the right hon. Baronet must not imagine that he would rest in a bed of roses. The strongest opposition throughout the country from all political parties, would be excited against such a proposal. Of all political parties in that House, or in the country, none were so unpopular as the Whigs. That three Whig Cabinet Ministers should be allowed to make laws for the poor, was one of the most preposterous notions ever proposed. If they endeavoured to do so, they would excite against them the whole of the working population of the country. He should not say more on that occasion beyond assuring the right hon. Gentleman that he would give him his most determined opposition in all the future stages of the Bill.


rose chiefly to thank the right hon. Baronet for having introduced this Bill. He believed after what had taken place within some months past, it had become imperatively necessary to renew the Poor Law Commission. When the new Poor Law was first enacted, it perhaps was advisable that the Commissioners should not have seats in Parliament; but since then great changes had taken place. That measure was now practically in operation throughout the country, and the difficulties of introducing it had therefore been surmounted. He had listened with great attention to his hon. Friend who had just sat down. He could not understand why they should get rid of district auditors, merely because one of that class would not allow the constable of a parish to give relief to any vagrant he chose to bestow it on. According to the law of England no parish constable had any such power. Generally speaking, he believed that the auditors had acted admirably, although they had not been very extensively tried. The hon. Gentleman would find that the select vestry of which he was a member, had no right to make such an order as that which he had mentioned. As regarded the proposed alterations, he was delighted that the onus of carrying out the law was not to be any longer thrown upon the magistracy of the country. The system had hitherto been objectionable in that point, for the differences between various districts were such, that although in some the law might be carried out to its strictest letter, it could not be in others. He was, therefore, glad that the right hon. Baronet had given a promise that the law was to be, as it were, flexible, and that the Poor Law Commissioners were to endeavour to suit the Administration of it to the requirements of the several localities. But with regard to the inspectors or assistant Poor Law Commissioners, he would earnestly recommend the right hon. Baronet not to put any number to which they were to be limited in the Bill. He thought it would be better to let the number be placed under the control of the Council. It would be utterly impossible to carry out the provisions of the Bill properly without a perfect supervision; and he would therefore suggest that the Council should have the appointment of such a number of inspectors as they should find necessary; and the number employed could be mentioned in the annual report which was to be submitted to Parliament. He thought that the provisions of the Act only required that the Government should carry them out fairly, and at the same time humanely, to make them everything that the country could desire.


thought that the principle that one of the new Board should have a seat in the House of Commons would be very agreeable to the country. It had frequently been the case during those discussions that of late years had taken place in the House, when the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester used to be called upon to answer questions relative to the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners, that one of those Commissioners generally sat in the gallery, and a constant communication and interchange of messages used to be kept up between the Ministerial bench and the gallery, to enable the right hon. Baronet to reply upon all the points that chanced to be raised. Now that they were going to make a change in the law, however, he thought it would be very hard to visit with punishment those Poor Law Commissioners. They were honourable men; who, whatever might be their faults, had done their best, and carried out the provisions of the Act according to the best of their judgment. He trusted that the Government would follow the course of a truly paternal one, and adopt a wise system of centralization. He was glad the number of inspectors was about to be increased; and he agreed with the hon. Member for Somersetshire in thinking that the number ought to be kept open. There was another important question regarding the poor, to which he trusted the right hon. Gentleman opposite would give his attention during the recess—it was in fact the great question of the day—the law of settlement.


was glad the right hon. Baronet had at length had the opportunity of introducing this Bill; but he was not satisfied that the Government had taken the best course. Hitherto they had had a Board of Poor Law Commissioners, which was virtually only one man. The business was in fact allowed to be conducted by one individual, and that individual without having any responsibility thrown upon him; and he was not sure that the new Cabinet Minister to be provided by this Bill would relieve them from that difficulty. He was inclined to think that Her Majesty's Ministers would do better to adopt a local inspection. The different boards had adopt- ed different systems, although the original intention of the new Poor Law had been to establish a general system of management. But with regard to the question of responsibility, he was disposed to think that there should be one responsible Member of the Board to answer for its acts—the Secretary at any rate. He would hold him responsible; and they might believe him that the more they brought responsibility to bear upon some quarter or another, the better. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had spoken of wisdom in legislating and of the adoption of "a wise system;" but hitherto they seemed to have been going on without wisdom of any kind. They might be right in changing the law; but he thought that the complaints hitherto made had arisen in consequence of the mismanagement of it; and in substituting another Board for the present, the right hon. Gentleman should not place the business in any of the same hands. He did not know any of the gentlemen who composed the present Board except one. He had at any rate nothing to say against them, except knowing the manner in which they had managed their business, and what the public thought of them; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not place any of them upon the new Board. If he did so, he would do at the very commencement of the new system more harm than could be easily undone again. He began to have great doubts indeed of all boards. He wanted to see more responsibility thrown upon some one; and for the important situation of Secretary he hoped the noble Lord would look out for some talented individual who would make an able Secretary—one who would suit the situation, not merely one whom the situation would suit.


must say that he did not agree with what had been said in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's proposition, because he was in hopes that if any change was to take place in the Poor Law Commission, that change would at least have included, as far as possible, all those general rules which long experience had proved to be good. He was quite certain that if there was any one thing with which the great body of the people of this country were particularly dissatisfied, it was the constitution of a Board possessing the enormous powers of the present Poor Law Commissioners. He felt great doubts as to the propriety of appointing a Board, the whole of the members of which were to be composed of the Members of the exist- ing Government, with the exception of one—whom they intended to call the President of the Board—because the inevitable consequence of such a step must be that every question which came on in that House, in which such Commissioners were concerned, would become a Government question; and therefore any man who had any grievance or complaint to prefer in the House against them, would have to contend against the whole weight of the Government. In fact, the Government would feel that they were vitally interested in the decision, and that a censure upon the Commissioners implied a censure upon the Government. He could not see how things could be otherwise under the proposed scheme. An hon. Member had said that there really were no Government questions. Now that might be a very convenient mode of doing things, and all questions might be considered open; but he apprehended that any question which involved the conduct of the President of the Board and the Cabinet Ministers in the Board, would undoubtedly be taken up by the existing Government, and dealt with as a question in which the whole of the Cabinet was concerned. He was sure that throughout the country the Bill would be looked upon as the old system proposed under a new face. He did not believe that the present Bill would afford one tittle more of security than the present system. The great fault of the present system was, not that the supervision was not sufficient, but that it was not central. The great thing wanted was responsibility. As the law at present stood, there was no responsibility anywhere. It was in consequence of that want of responsibility that the country was disgusted by the shameful proceedings which took place at Bridgewater, Andover, &c. Under the present system, the Commissioners and guardians of the poor were enabled to escape from condemnation by means of the facilities which it afforded for shifting the responsibility from each other's shoulders; and he was afraid that they were about to continue that system by this Bill. That system was a bad one. They could never get men to look fairly and dispassionately at measures which they themselves had framed. Now, with regard to the control of prisoners, they did not leave them to be governed by the Board of Commissioners. There were Acts of Parliament containing the general outline of discipline which it was in the power of the Chief Secretary of State to fill up with such details as he might deem proper. And why was not some such course proposed with reference to the poor? Another fault in his opinion besides that of non-responsibility in the proposed system was, that they did not propose to give a negative power to the Commissioners: though they proposed to give them the power of refusing relief, yet they did not, on the other hand, propose to enable them to order relief in cases which they might deem as demanding it. He therefore looked upon this Bill as a one-sided piece of legislation against the poor. The rules which the Commissioners had drawn up three or four years ago, he considered to be good, humane, and practicable; and he much regretted that it was not the intention of the Government to embody them in this Bill. He would, of course, reserve to himself the right of stating any further objections which he might have to the measure in its future stages. He had thrown out, temperately he hoped, those evils which he had seen in the workings of the present law. He was one of those who only wished for a good supervision of the poor; he cared not who it was that supervised the poor, so long as the rights of the poor and the ratepayer were equally protected.


thought the same rule should not be applied in exactly the same manner to different parts of the country. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last must be aware how necessary it was, from the different circumstances of various parts of the country, that distinct regulations should be established for those different localities; and he did not see how that could be obtained except by vesting, in some superintending authority, a large discretion. He conceived that it would be inexpedient to propose any alteration, at the present moment, with respect to unions, until an alteration with respect to settlement was introduced; but he felt it would be inappropriate to enter further at that time into the subject. It could not be objected that this measure would have the effect of dividing the responsibility between different members of the Board, so that the responsibility would be evaded. The responsibility would rest on the head of the department; and so far from the responsibility being frustrated, as stated by the hon. Member for Montrose, it would be attained by the measure before the House.


said, the question the House had to decide was, whether the par- ticular control which the Government proposed was the best. He did not think it was. He concurred with the hon. Member for Montrose in his objections against boards. The experience of the working of a board with regard to this very law, had been extremely unfortunate. He saw no advantage or expediency in separating the consideration of this branch of home policy from the Home Office; and if another Home Secretary had been added, charged with the care and responsibility of the administration of the poor law, it would be more satisfactory, he thought, than having a separate board. It sometimes happened that different departments of the Government held different opinions on some subjects; and if the Home Secretary were of one opinion, and the President of the Board of another, what advantage would the public have from these two conflicting jurisdictions? It would have been better if there had been one Under Secretary and one superior Secretary, both in Parliament, and who would have acted together. He did not accuse the Government of a wish to create patronage by this measure, although the public might feel some jealousy on the subject. It would be seen that there was a new creation of officers, a new President and a new Vice-President; and if they sowed the germ of this new patronage, although they might not avail themselves of it, some succeeding Government would be sure to take advantage of the patronage placed in their hands. He repeated, there was a disadvantage in separating two branches of social policy which ought to be under one head, and in creating a separate board for the purpose. The House had tried a board separate from the Government already, and it had failed. It had been said there would be great difficulty in securing a seat for the hon. Gentleman who might be Secretary of the new Board. What would be the consequence? The President of the Board would have a seat in the House of Lords; and the Board might have no representative in that House, for the Secretary of State for Home Affairs would not be its representative. He submitted to the Government whether it was not worth their reconsideration whether they would not place this new power under the authorized acknowledged head of that office to which the Poor Law naturally belonged. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Pontefract, that the poor-law unions were now inconveniently large. Whatever might be done with the law of settlement, the first thing would be to reduce the present size of the unions.


The first point to be considered with regard to this Bill was, whether it was necessary to have a central board for the administration of the law relating to the poor of this country. Undoubtedly by far the most convenient course to the Government would be to have the law in all points, with reference to the poor, wholly administered by the local authorities, which would, of necessity, relieve the Government from all blame for any abuse that might occur in its administration. That would so far resemble the old state of the law; for whatever complaint of abuse, or of hardship suffered by any person under the old poor-law system, was made, no person ever thought of bringing any charge against the particular Government of the day for any such abuse or hardship. But, on considering this subject, I think most people will come to the opinion, that if at the time of the introduction of the New Poor Law, in 1834, the administration of that law was so difficult that it was impossible by any one plan to bring the whole country to adopt a uniform system; so at the present time, after thirteen or fourteen years' experience in the administration of that law, there still exists so great a diversity of circumstances to which that law is to be applied, that it would not be prudent, safe, or advisable, to attempt to bring every part of the country under one general set of rules. It is for that reason, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government have thought—and I doubt not the majority of the House will think—that it is necessary to have some central authority which can apply rules to particular places, relax them in particular instances, and, in short, make the rules act with that elastic power which should be found necessary in the administration of this particular law. My hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) says, "There ought, to be responsibility; but responsibility is not to be found in this plan." So the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) says, "Above all, let us have responsibility;" and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has taken the same ground, and finds fault with our plan because it does not give responsibility. Now, upon that subject my opinion is, that the noble Lord the Member for Durham (Lord H. Vane) has taken by far a more correct view of the plan proposed by Her Majesty's Government. What we propose is, not the formation of a board for the purpose of giving an independent and separate opinion as to the law relating to the poor, but what we propose is, that there should be some one person appointed who should Lave the same authority with regard to the general administration of the Poor Law which the President of the Board of Control has with regard to the affairs of India, and which the President of the Board of Trade has with regard to trade. We have thought that some Member of the Government should be informed with respect to the main points concerning the administration of the Poor Law—whether to be called a Secretary of State or an Under Secretary is a point which the House may hereafter consider in Committee; but we are of opinion that some Member of the Government should, as the head of the Board to be appointed under this Bill, be made responsible—as he will be mainly and chiefly answerable, to Parliament for anything that takes place under the administration of the law relating to the poor. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes) says, "Why not give this power to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, or to the Under Secretary?" I entirely differ from that proposition. I have long considered this point, and having had much experience as to the duties appertaining to the Home Office, and having observed what has gone on in that office since I left it, my opinion is, that by far too many matters of detail are placed in the hands of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. What are the Secretaries of State? They are great officers, to whom great functions are confided, and great interests entrusted. The Home Secretary of State is a person who is responsible for the peace of the country, and for the due administration of the criminal law of the country, so far as the prerogative of the Crown is concerned, as advised by the Administration of the day. I think that a great officer of that kind ought to have his mind exclusively occupied with these great functions, and that it is a duty sufficiently onerous to engage his undivided attention. He ought to be ready, whenever any great danger threatens the peace of the country, to give his mind promptly to the consideration of the subject, and to be always ready to act as his responsibility for the internal security and peace of the country would require him to do. But if you impose upon him other duties; if you tell him that he must devote one portion of his time to the superintendence of the working of the Factory Bill, and another portion of his time to the regulation of the dietary of a workhouse; and if you require other portions of his time to be occupied by the details of other Bills which have been passed within the last few years, you must necessarily thereby diminish his power to give attention to those great objects which are, by virtue of his office, solely committed to his care. The duties which have sprung up from the alterations which the law has comparatively of recent date undergone, and which have devolved upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department, do not properly belong to that great officer. I think one advantage that will be gained by this Bill is, that instead of the Home Secretary being more involved by it in the administration of the Poor Law, he will be more separated from it. He will, of course, be officially acquainted with what is going on, but he will not be obliged to attend to the regulations or details of the measure. The great advantage, however, which I think will be derived from the present plan, is that which has been stated by my right hon. Friend, and which I adverted to at the commencement of the Session, namely, that you will have a person directly responsible in his place in Parliament for all that may be done under it. You will have a person charged with all the measures that may be introduced, and with all the rules which may be adopted under this new law; and, moreover, whenever any complaint shall be made or any investigation be instituted, either in this House or in the other House of Parliament, you will have a person ready to explain and defend the administration of the law, or who at least will be able to place it before either House in such a manner as shall admit of an accurate judgment to be formed of it, as to whether the party complained of has acted rightly or not. It has been objected to the appointment of this officer, that it will, in some degree, constitute the office a political one. I admit it. The administration of the law under this plan will necessarily assume a political character, so far as the appointment of the chief officers is concerned. That is undoubtedly a misfortune; but it is one which cannot be avoided, because, as the chief appointment will be held by a person having a scat in this House, there will necessarily he a political bearing upon all questions connected with his office. The hon. Member for Knares- borough has asked the Government whether they intend to exclude altogether those persons who hold office under the present law from holding any office under the new law? I beg leave not to give any pledge upon that subject. I think the Government ought to retain to themselves the power of choosing those persons whom they may consider to be best qualified to administer the law, and most likely to obtain the public confidence. It is a great responsibility that devolves on the Government to make that choice. I recollect when the Poor Law Amendment, Bill was first passed, that this very subject was made matter of serious deliberation in the Cabinet. I think the Government would be wrong to say that they would not appoint this or that person. They ought to reserve to themselves the right of exercising their own discretion in all cases of appointments to office under this law With regard to the other questions that have been referred to, such as the size of the unions, and so on, they can be bettor discussed in Committee, when the details are brought particularly before the House, on the responsibility of the Government, than at the present moment, when the Motion simply is for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, although he could not consider that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was perfect, yet he was willing to admit that it was a great improvement upon the present system. With reference to some observations made of the interference of this Bill with the parochial system, he thought that that interference had proceeded so far in consequence of the ministrations of the Church being set aside; and he was satisfied the poor would be better attended to by the Church than by any other system. He admitted that the present might be an improvement on the former system; but he felt the original vice was retained—that the poor were not dealt with by the three estates of the realm, but by a subordinate department.


wished to ask whether the President and Secretary of the new Board, both of whom were to be eligible for seats in that House, were to be removed from their situations when the Government went out of office? It appeared to him, that, if this were to be the case, it would, in a great degree, impair the independence of those officers, and would, at the same time, invest them with a political character, which, he thought, was most undesirable.


replied, that the only provision in the Bill on this subject was, that the officers to whom the hon. Gentleman referred should hold their offices during pleasure.


observed, that, as the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had distinctly declined to state whether it was the intention of the Government to appoint any of the present Poor Law Commissioners Members of the Board to be constituted under this Bill, he bogged to give notice, that on a future day he would move a distinct resolution that the present Poor Law Commissioners were ineligible to hold office under the new Board, and that he would ground that re solution on the report of the Andover Committee.

Leave given. Bill brought in and read a first time.

House adjourned at a quarter past Twelve o'clock.