§ MR. FERRAND
rose, pursuant to notice, to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. The hon. Member said: I have to thank the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) for the manly and straightforward manner in which he replied to my question; but, however high an opinion I may have of the hon. and learned Gentleman's legal attainments, I believe I shall be able to bring before the House far higher legal authorities than his to bear out the positions I intend to take. I must say I was never more astonished in my life than to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department say, that Mr. Mott was not dismissed from his office of assistant poor-law commissioner. Why, Sir, when the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for the Home Department was defending himself against certain statements which I made, he asserted that Mr. Mott was dismissed from his office, and that the hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring) knew the reason why. I leave the two right hon. Gentlemen to settle the question between them. All I know is, that somebody has stated that which is not true. It is not for me to decide which of them it is. I may only say that I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) fully believes the statement he has made to be true; and, therefore, I find no fault with him for making it. I now proceed to the question of the Poor Law; and here let me remind the House, that at the end of last Session of Parliament the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department gave a distinct pledge to the House and the country, that when Parliament should again meet, a Committee should be appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the whole proceedings and conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners. [Sir G. GREY: NO.] Most distinctly did the right hon. Gentleman make this statement to the House at the time when the Andover Union report was laid on the Table, and in reply to a question from me. [Sir G. GREY: The hon. Gentleman is mistaken.] 966 If the right hon. Gentleman denies that this is the case, of course I must believe him. I can only say that he was reported to have said so in all the public papers, and that remarks and comments were made upon it at the time. But in the present Session the noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury, with that boldness of spirit for which he is conspicuous, has declared that he is prepared to justify the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners, and is, I understand, to defend the New Poor Law itself. If that is the case, he has an opportunity of doing so to-night. I do trust that he will not shrink from the duty which he has undertaken to perform, and that he will do his best both to justify the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners, and to prove that the New Poor Law has yielded all the advantages which its promoters promised should flow from it, and bear a blessing instead of a curse to the country. I suspect the noble Lord will find it a difficult task to establish either of those points, for I think I am myself prepared to prove to-night that this law has failed to perform what its promoters promised—that, in fact, it has been a total failure, and that, so far from their having been able to carry it into effect, it has crumbled to pieces. The people of this country have long boasted that they were never called upon to obey any law except those passed by the three estates of the realm. But for thirteen years the poor and undefended masses of the country have been subject to the rule of three irresponsible men, who have had the power to make laws and enforce them where and as they thought proper, without being subject to any control either by Parliament or by Government. And after they have been acting in this manner for thirteen years, a Committee of this House having sat for four months inquiring into their conduct reported that towards the assistant commissioners they had acted with cruel injustice, and that their proceedings were unjust, arbitrary, and such as to shake public confidence in the law. If that was their conduct towards men who had friends in this House to defend them with talent and ability, how have they acted towards the poor and undefended in the secret corners of the land? To-night it is my intention to inform the House on. this point, and in doing so I hope to be able to induce the House to believe that it is high time to repeal this law, as well as to dismiss the Poor Law Commissioners. I shall first bring under the notice of the 967 House what were the intentions of the original concocters of this law; next, what have been the results of its operation; thirdly, I shall notice the remedy now proposed; I shall then show that Parliament has no power to pass such a law; and, lastly, that the poor have a sacred, legal, and inalienable right to relief. When the New Poor Law was first broached, it was supported by men who were determined to annihilate all Poor Laws in this country, to reduce the wages in the manufacturing districts, and to punish poverty as a crime. The noble Lord who first volunteered his services to bring this measure before Parliament was Lord Brougham; but before he did so he got a distinct pledge from the leaders of both political parties, that whoever should be in power no opposition should induce them to repeal the New Poor Law. And who was the person then consulted, and who guided the parties who drew up the Bill? It was a man whose name was odious throughout the country—I mean Mr. Malthus; and Mr. Malthus, who was Lord Brougham's guide, as well as guide to the Commissioners who drew up the dark document to which I shall presently further allude, thus expresses himself as to the right of the poor to relief:—A man who is born in a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents, on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and in fact has no business to be where he is. At nature's mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders if he do not work upon the compassion of some of her guests.He also says—I have reflected much on the subject of the Poor Laws, and hope, therefore, that I shall be excused in venturing to suggest a mode of their gradual abolition, to which I confess that at present I can see no material objection. As a previous step even to any considerable alteration in the present system, which would contract or stop the increase of the relief to be given, it appears to me that we are bound, in justice and honour, formally to disclaim the right of the poor to support.Now hear what Lord Brougham said of his friend Mr. Malthus when he in another place moved the second reading of the New Poor Law, and which speech he afterwards published—I know not whether at the expense of Government, but at somebody's expense—and circulated it throughout the country:—Before quitting the subject of population, may I step aside for one moment, and do justice to a most learned, a most able, a most virtuous indi- 968 vidual, whose name has been mixed up with more unwitting deception, and also with more wilful misrepresentation, than that of any man of science in this Protestant country, and in these enlightened and liberal times? When I mention talent, learning, humanity, the strongest sense of public duty, the most amiable feelings in private life, the tenderest and most humane disposition which ever man was adorned with—when I speak of one, the ornament of the society in which he moves, the delight of his own family, and not less the admiration of those men of letters and of science amongst whem he shines the first and brightest—when I speak of one of the most enlightened, learned, and pious ministers whom the Church of England ever numbered amongst her sons, I am sure every one will apprehend that I cannot but refer to Mr. Malthus.That was the way in which Lord Brougham had in another place alluded to Mr. Malthus, after having quoted him largely in defence of his opinion on the New Poor Law. Well, a Commission was appointed to inquire into the operation of the 43rd of Elizabeth throughout the country; and assistant commissioners were sent into various parts of England for the purpose of obtaining evidence. Of course, the evidence so obtained was all of the strongest kind against the old Poor Law. The Commissioners knew the wishes and intentions of Government, and acted like good and obedient servants; and upon the information derived from those Commissioners, and from the writings of Mr. Malthus, the Commissioners appointed in London to receive the evidence and report upon it to Government, drew up what has been called "the dark document"—a document which, although the First Lord of the Treasury may smile at what I say—I hesitate not to describe as so disgraceful, so scandalous, nay, so wicked in its suggestions, that the Government of the day in this House, and the Duke of Wellington in another place, thought it of sufficient consequence to deny its existence: and it was not until an hon. Friend of mine (Mr. Walter), who now lies, I regret to say, on a bed of sickness, but whose services will he remembered after the baronetcy of Hogg has ceased to exist—I say it was not until my hon. Friend produced that document in this House that the then Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir J. Graham), who had previously denied its existence, said that he had some faint recollection of it. It is my duty to bring under the notice of the House what was suggested in that dark document. The first recommendation was—The Commissioners shall have power to reduce allowances, but not to enlarge them." After 969 some further suggestions:—"After this has been accomplished, orders may be sent forth, directing that, after such a date, all out-door relief should be given partly in kind; after such another period, it should be wholly in kind; after such another period, it should be gradually diminished in quantity until that mode of relief was exhausted. From the first relief should be altered in quality, coarse brown bread being substituted for white; and, concurrently with these measures as to the out-door poor, a gradual reduction should be made in the diet of the in-door poor, and strict regulations enforced.I am shocked to say that this document had the signatures of two bishops, viz., the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Chester, as well as other persons high in authority. At last Lord Althorp introduced into this House the New Poor Law Bill, and he gave a distinct pledge to the House that some of the most cruel provisions which have since been enforced should never be enforced; that, in fact, they did not exist. Upon that occasion no fewer than 5,519,596 people petitioned against the Bill; but in spite of these petitions the Bill was carried. When the Bill was before the other House, Lord Brougham stated that the ultimate object was to abolish all Poor Laws; and Lord Fitzwilliam said he should vote for it with the conviction that it would lead to no Poor Law at all. I have now given to this House proofs that it was the intention of the original promoters of the Bill to abolish all Poor Laws; and, having done so, it is now my duty to bring before the notice of the House as disgraceful a scheme as was ever entered into by employers to rob the employed of their wages; I allude to a correspondence which took place between certain cotton spinners in Lancashire and Mr. Chadwick, one of the parties who was employed to prepare the Bill, and which correspondence took place in 1834 and 1835. But, lest the Government should attempt to explain away the correspondence, and say that the Poor Law Commissioners regretted after it had taken place the sale and transportation of large masses of the agricultural population who were sent down to the manufacturing districts, I think it my duty, before quoting the letters of Messrs. Ashworth and Greg, to read to the House an extract from a report by the Poor Law Commissioners themselves:—The Commissioners think it necessary to observe, that in case of a strike of workmen for higher wages than their employers are willing to give, a question arises whether the guardians would be justified in refusing or discontinuing relief when the men might obtain employment, if they chose to accept it, at wages sufficient to fur- 970 nish the means of subsistence for themselves and their families. If, therefore, the guardians are in a situation to say that the men now applying for or receiving relief may obtain work within their reach at wages sufficient for their maintenance and that of their families, and it only depends upon themselves to accept it, they are justified in refusing relief to those persons, simply because they can no longer be considered destitute?That was the opinion of the Poor Law Commissioners, and Messrs. Ashworth and Greg wrote to them and suggested what I am about to read to the House:—The suggestion which I wish particularly to make is, that in the New (Poor Law Amendment) Bill, the greatest possible facility should be afforded to families of this description (agricultural labourers), who should be willing or desirous of removing from the agricultural counties, where work is scarce, to the manufacturing districts, where it is abundant. I am most anxious that every facility be given to the removal of labourers from one county to another according to the demand for labour; this would have a tendency to equalize wages, as well as prevent, in a degree, some of the turn-outs which have been of late so prevalent.As soon as the New Poor Law was enacted, the Commissioners employed persons as assistant poor law commissioners, whom they sent into different agricultural districts for the purpose of inducing agricultural labourers to leave their homes under the most solemn pledges that they should have the highest wages which could be given in the manufacturing districts; and for the purpose of more easily inducing the poor ignorant men, women, and children, to believe the tales which they told them, they placarded the whole agricultural districts from which the people were removed with lists of wages which it was never intended they should receive, and which they never did receive. But one of the blackest stains on the New Poor Law is this—that Dr. Kaye was employed as an assistant poor-law commissioner in Suffolk and Norfolk for the purpose of inducing the agricultural labourers to go to Manchester and the manufacturing districts—that very Dr. Kayo having, within three years of that period, published a pamphlet, entitled "The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes employed in the Manufactures of Manchester," in which he states what I will read to the House. Recollect, within three years after this Dr. Kaye had written his description of the working population of Manchester, he was employed in sending to that very town, to be absorbed in that population, the poor agricultural labourers of the south, who had been brought up in the green fields and 971 shady lanes, about which I was taunted with "babbling" by the late First Lord of the Treasury—sending them ticketted and labelled, like beasts for slaughter. I see that an hon. and learned Friend smiles at the idea of the poor people being ticketed like beasts for slaughter, and therefore I feel it to be my duty to tell him that they were so ticketed; the tickets were tied to them, and they were embarked in boats, and sent hundreds of miles from home without a person to guide and direct them whither to go, and they were turned adrift in the streets of Manchester at dead of night. The police reports of that town frequently afterwards gave harrowing accounts of the sufferings of these poor agricultural labourers. The House shall now hear the description which Dr. Kaye had given of the working population of Manchester three years previous to the period to which I am referring.Interested in the fatal secret of subsisting on what is barely necessary to life, the labouring classes (of Manchester) have ceased to entertain a laudable pride in furnishing their houses, and in multiplying the decent comforts which minister to happiness. He neglects the comforts and delicacies of life. He lives in squalid wretchedness, on meagre food, and expends his superfluous gains in debauchery. Domestic economy is neglected, domestic comforts are unknown. A meal of the coarsest food is prepared with heedless haste, and devoured with equal precipitation. His house is ill furnished, uncleanly, often ill ventilated, perhaps damp. His food, from want of forethought and domestic economy, is meagre and unnutritious. He is debilitated and hypochondriacal, and falls the victim of dissipation.That was Dr. Kaye's account of Manchester, published three years, before he was employed as a Poor Law Commissioner, in sending thousands of ignorant labourers to that very district to be "absorbed," as the master manufacturers in their correspondence with the Poor Law Commissioners termed it, in the manufacturing population there, and by that means to cause a reduction in the amount of wages which they were in the habit of paying to their workpeople. Tens of thousands of poor labourers were despatched from the agricultural districts to Manchester, and there I will leave them for the present. It will now be my duty to refer to the cruelty inflicted on the agricultural poor of the south of England, where the Poor Law Commissioners endeavoured to enforce a law which set at defiance the laws of both God and man. In the first instance the law was put in force at the point of the bayonet. Not content 972 with calling on the military for aid, you despatched the metropolitan police to various parts of the country, and armed with cutlasses they assisted in enforcing the law. You attempted uniformity of practice wherever you could. You produced an in-door labour test, and you refused outdoor relief. You sold up thousands and tens of thousands of the poor of England. When the poor went to the boards of guardians and asked for that to which they had a right as sacred as the Monarch has to her Crown, the Peer to his palace, or any Member of this House to the coat which he wears upon his back, what cruelty did you not inflict upon them? You erected immense buildings, which are justly termed "bastilles," the windows of which are placed at such a height from the floors that it is impossible for the inmates to look through them. You immured them in cells, and did not allow them to leave their prisons even to go to a place of public worship on Sunday. Their diet table was worse than that of felons by far; it was drawn up by Mr. Mott, a person who had made a large fortune by farming the poor of several workhouses in London. You compelled them to wear a felon's dress; but not content with that, you branded the dress with the name of the workhouse in which the poor were confined, on the back, on the breast, on the knees, and on the caps. Whenever they left the workhouses they went in those dresses in order that the finger of scorn might be pointed at them; but, instead of that, the spectacle only roused feelings of indignation in the breasts of the English people. You broke up households and you scattered families; you separated husband from wife, and you took children—you stole them—from their parents, and sent them thirty or forty miles in another direction; and when they happened to die, the parents were not informed of the loss which they had sustained. Harrowing details have occasionally been given to the public by the press of the agony which the poor have suffered on unexpectedly learning that some dear relative had expired in a union workhouse, perhaps years before. Ay, and after treating the unhappy poor in this manner, you have cleared the union workhouses of them and sold them to taskmasters. I have brought several cases of the kind before the House; and I now hold in my hand a application made by a manufacturer to an union workhouse for men, women, and children. It is most revolting to the feel- 973 ings of human nature that our poor and unprotected fellow-subjects in this country should he sold like beasts, used up and worked to death in factories. The letter to which I refer is from Messrs. W. J. Walmsley and Brothers, of Marples, near Stockport—for I will give authority for all I state—and is dated the 3rd of March, 1846. The letter which is addressed to the master of the union workhouse at Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire, is couched in the following terms:—It is probable there may be in your union, as we hare found there are in others, parties chargeable and not chargeable, who might better themselves by removal to the manufacturing districts. We can find employment in our cotton mill here for ten or twenty females from thirteen to eighteen, and a few boys turned thirteen years of age. The average weekly wages of females is from 7s. to 13s., and boys from 5s. to 9s. 6d.; but when the boys become spinners they may earn from 32s. to 38s. per week, or even more, the work being paid for by the piece. If you can recommend any such parties, we should be glad if you would favour us with a line, stating their names and ages by return, when one of our firm will come over. We shall take charge of any children coming without parents.The House will observe, that it was arranged that "one of the firm" should go over to the workhouse in order to examine the unfortunate inmates, and ascertain whether they were sound in wind and limb; and if they proved so they were then to be handed over to their taskmasters. These things are done under the sanction of the Poor Law Commissioners; year after year such transactions have taken place, and you, the Government, know it and have suffered it. Who, I ask, are the persons whom you have appointed as masters of union workhouses to tyrannize over and persecute the poor? Whenever you can obtain a man who has been in the Army—a discharged soldier—if you can only get an ex-sergeant of dragoons, artillery, or engineers, he is sure to be preferred by the Poor Law Commissioners. Those are the men who have been appointed to oppress, to persecute, ay, and to murder, the poor. I use that word advisedly; for since the law has been in force, many juries have unanimously declared, that persons confined in the union workhouses have died from ill treatment and want of food. Now, in the next place, I ask you, how have you proceeded to carry your law into force out of the union workhouses? The unions are themselves so large, that the poor find it almost impossible to travel to the boards of guardians. Ten, twenty, and thirty 974 miles have the poor to travel for a pittance of sixpence or a shilling, and in some instances they spend three days in going and returning. I hold in my hand a letter written by a clergyman in Yorkshire, giving a description of the hardship and inconvenience to which the poor are subjected in consequence of the large size of the unions in that county, and mentioning the case of a poor man who was obliged to travel twenty-four miles to seek relief from the board of guardians of the Skipton Union. I once saw a man who had travelled twenty-four miles to plead his cause before a board of guardians; he was between seventy and eighty years of age, and the guardians dismissed him with 6d. What has been your medical treatment of the poor? You remember the evidence given before the Committee appointed to inquire into the medical treatment of the poor, of which Lord Ashley was chairman. Some of the most eminent medical men in London were examined before that Committee, and they proved that the Poor Law Commissioners would sanction no higher scale of payment to medical officers than 3d. or 4d. per case. The consequence has been, that the poor have died for want of proper medical treatment. I have now given a sketch of the way in which it has been attempted to enforce the blood-stained law; for recollect that, at Bradford, the military cut down the people when an attempt was made to put the law in operation. I say, therefore, that blood has been shed in the attempt to enforce a law which you yourselves now declare to be an utter failure. Before I proceed to show what has been the effect of the New Poor Law upon the people, I think it my duty to read to the House the solemn pledges which were given by Lord Brougham at the time when he pleaded for the second reading of the Bill. His Lordship addressed the following language to the House of Peers:—I say, my Lords, you not only may but you must listen to these recommendations, when you have the best judges in matters of opinion, and the best witnesses to the matter of fact, all in one voice representing to you a state of things which has made industry and idleness, honesty and knavery, change places; and which exposes the property of the community—and with its property, every law, every institution, every valuable possession, every precious right—to the ravages of that remorseless pestilence before whose strides you, the guardians of the social happiness of those who live under your protection, have beheld the peasantry of England abased to a depth which I am at once afflicted and ashamed to contemplate, which I shudder to describe, and which I could not bear to think of, did I not know that the 975 same hand which lays it bare to your eyes, and makes its naked deformity horrible in your sight, will be enabled, by your assistance, to apply to the foul disease a safe and effectual remedy—restoring to industry its due reward, and visiting idleness with its appropriate punishment—reinstating property in security, and lifting up once more, God be praised! the character of that noble English peasantry to the proud eminence where, but for the Poor Laws, it would still have shone untarnished—the admiration of mankind and the glory of the country which boasts it as its brightest ornament!I will presently show how the New Poor Law has elevated the character of the working men, how it has restored prosperity to them, and how it has destroyed idleness and vice. If the pledges given by Lord Brougham upon that occasion have not been fulfilled, then I say that for thirteen years you have in vain oppressed, persecuted, and plundered the poor, and that the new law has been a greater failure than it can be pretended the 43rd of Elizabeth ever was. If you, the Government, are prepared to take on yourselves the responsibility which attaches to the Poor Law Commissioners—if you are prepared to do that, you are braver men than I gave you credit for being; and I think that before I have done, I shall be able to satisfy the House that, as the Poor Law Commissioners have failed, so will the four Cabinet Ministers fail to administer the law in a manner to satisfy the country. Before I proceed further, however, let me refer to the sufferings of the poor "emigrants," as they are called, who were taken from the agricultural districts and carried to Manchester and Yorkshire in 1835, 1836, and 1837. They were promised in the most sacred manner that they should have good wages, plenty of food, and comfortable homes; but what was their condition in 1840 and 1841? Why, I heard from the lips of the then and present Member for Manchester, that the poor workpeople of that town were then in such a frightful state of distress that they were living on 1d. a day, and that some even had no food whatever; that they were digging up the carcases of horses which had been buried, and devouring the flesh. The hon. Member for Bolton also told tales of the distress in that town, which so shocked the feelings of the House that the Poor Law Commissioners attempted to deny them on the authority of a report drawn up Mr. Mott. That report, however, turned out to be so false that the Poor Law Commissioners, acting under the authority of the then Secretary 976 of State for the Home Department, were obliged to dismiss Mr. Mott for having drawn it up. I thought it my duty to move for a return of the poor agricultural labourers who had been sent into the north of England under the solemn pledges that they should be sent back to their homes whenever they expressed a wish to return. What was the return made to my Motion? The poor-law authorities were unable to account for a single soul of those whom they had kidnapped and sold into the manufacturing districts. Let us now see what has been the effect on the comforts, morals, and habits of the people of this law, which Lord Brougham pledged himself should raise them in the social condition and restore them to comfort and respectability. On this point I shall quote from a Cabinet Minister, a Member of the present Government and a staunch supporter of the new Poor Law. I allude to Earl Grey, then Lord Howick, who, in March, 1846, spoke in these terms of the condition of the working people of Sunderland:—The borough of Sunderland consisted of three parishes, Sunderland, Bishopwearmouth, and Monkwearmouth. The first of these parishes was chiefly inhabited by the working classes, and the rates on the last six months had been 18s. in the pound…It was frightful to contemplate this state of things. In 1837, the amount expended in relief was only 7,035l.; in 1842 it amounted to 14,232l. In addition, a sum of 2,192l., and also from 800 to 1,000 tons of coals, were subscribed and appropriated to the relief of the poor. In illustration of the actual state of the country he would refer to a return of casual poor relieved at Alnwick in different years, from which it appeared that, not to go further back than the year 1841, itself a year of great pressure, there were relieved 1,826 casual poor; in the year just closed there were relieved 3,653 casual poor. Having then taken one great town and one agricultural district, he thought, from what he had stated of them, that he was justified in concluding, that the distress which the expression used in Her Majesty's Speech would lead one to conclude was confined to the manufacturing districts, was, in reality, a wide-spread distress.… When such a falling-off in the revenue took place, caused, as it could only be, by the forced economy that was the offspring of distress, they might judge what the amount of that distress must be. In every class of life forced economy was painful… What must it be to the working man when he was compelled to surrender his few luxuries one after another—to give up his tobacco, his sugar, and his tea or coffee—when he was no longer able even to afford his family bread, for at length bread became a luxury which he could no longer afford, and a coarser kind must be substituted? But, above all, what must it be to him to watch his wife and children gradually falling into rags, and pining in wretchedness and despair? But worst of all were the corroding anxieties that beset him as he saw week 977 after week and day after day passing on, and things getting worse and worse, whilst starvation appeared to be staring him in the face! It was such a state as this that many among the working classes had to endure, who, a little time ago, were well paid, well fed, and well clad. It was the case of many of those, who, but a little time ago, earned more than enough to support themselves and their families.I must also read to the House a statement made by Lord Brougham in 1843:—He entirely concurred in the respect and admiration expressed by his noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade, as well as his noble Friend opposite (Earl Stanhope), of the peaceful and patient conduct of the working classes under the grievous infliction they had lately endured; but he could see no way, unhappily—if he did, his misery would be less—if he or any one else could see a way out of those difficulties which would restore the working classes to their former state of comfort.Why, we were told that this new Poor Law would work the regeneration of the people of this country; yet, here is the author of that measure, after it had been nine years in operation, admitting that he can see no way of relieving the poor from their distress. Sir, to show the regular operation of the law, I will now read an extract from The Times of the 18th of February, 1843:—The distress at Stourbridge is stated to have become so alarming that numbers are subsisting on turnips alone. From a field belonging to Mr. Thomas Parginter, as many as from five to six tons a week have been taken for several weeks past; nor does he think it expedient to attempt to put a stop to the peculation."—Worcester Journal.Here was a case where the poor were in such a starving state that they stole at the rate of five or six tons of turnips per week, and the owner was so struck with their sufferings that he never thought fit to stop them. That is one instance of the state of the poor under this law in the year 1843. I will also refer to the proceedings at the Brentford petty sessions in the same year, where several magistrates were present, and where two men were brought before them in their prison dress, and branded in the manner I have already described. All the magistrates present spoke in indignation of the manner in which the poor were treated by the Poor Law Commissioners; and one of them, Mr. Armstrong, observed that, "it seemed as if the country were returning to a state of feudal tyranny. He was glad to see that the Bench were unanimous in deprecating such proceedings." I hold also in my hand extracts from the different county newspapers in 1842 and 1843, giving ac- 978 counts of the manner in which numbers of poor men had been sent to gaols in different parts of the country, for only disobeying the orders of the Poor Law Commissioners. I will not weary the House by reading them all; they are from the county papers of Sussex, Hampshire, Essex, Kent, and Surrey. Yet at the very time these things were occurring, the late Government always maintained that the law worked well. They were always ready to screen the Poor Law Commissioners against public inquiry and indignation; and the present Government, when in opposition, were always ready to support them. Whenever the Commissioners appeared to be hard pressed, the noble Lord now at the head of the Government always with great chivalry rose and defended them; and when the right hon. Baronet the late Secretary for the Home Department (Sir J. Graham), was beginning to be rather squeezable on the subject—when he seemed disposed to make some alterations in the working of the law for the purpose of conciliating public opinion, the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) was always ready to get up and protest against any relaxation, and to call for uniformity of practice. And the noble Lord was always sure to be cheered by his Whig friends when he did so. Why, I myself, Sir, have seen the bodies of persons who were starved to death under this law. I have attended inquests where juries have wished to return verdicts of wilful murder against the relieving officer, and the coroner approved of their doing so; but the relieving officer has drawn out of his pocket instructions of the Poor Law Commissioners, and snapped his fingers at the coroner, who, on perusing those instructions, told the jury he had been justified in acting as he had done. Well, Sir, I come to the year 1844, when the Poor Law Commissioners came and asked for further powers, more tyrannical and illegal than those which they had enjoyed before. You passed a law appointing auditors. What was their conduct? Every post brings me letters detailing the arbitrary conduct of these auditors; and I cannot do better than mention to the House one case, where a correspondence has passed between the Commissioners and the guardians of the Dudley Union, the auditors having commenced an action against the guardians for having treated the poor to beef and pudding at Christmas. I have moved for returns relating to the proceedings of these auditors, and I think the House will agree with me 979 that such proceedings as this I have referred to are disgraceful. Yet the law which allows them is upheld. I now come to the year 1845. In that year the hon. Member for Finsbury came down to the House and made the appalling statement, that the poor in the Andover Union were so starved that they were living on carrion, and were fighting for the putrid hones they were employed to grind. And now, in 1847, where are the Poor Law Commissioners? where are the men who have been guilty of these acts? You say that they are to be dismissed from their offices, but you are still prepared to defend them and to justify their conduct. Why are you so prepared to defend them? Do you think them innocent? Can you deny one statement I have made against them? Can you suppose that the public indignation would have been roused against them from one end of the country to the other, unless they were guilty of the offences laid to their charge? But it seems that not only are you going to get rid of your Commissioners, but also of your uniformity of practice. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department has told us the operation of the Bill must vary with the different circumstances of different parts of the country. But do you expect the feelings of the masses in the country to vary with the varying circumstances of the law, the operation of which you thus propose to alter? Do you expect that in one part of the country there shall be no natural affection between parent and offspring, or between husband and wife? Are you to have one law in the south, where you expect the people will submit, and another in the north, where perhaps you are afraid that the people will rise and resist your tyranny—your attempts to separate husband and wife, and to tear parents and their children from each other? Why not define the law at once, and let the people know what you mean? Let us know exactly what is to be the difference between the old law and the new one? Let the poor know at once what cruelties are to be practised on them by authority of this House, in place of those heretofore adopted by an irresponsible body of men. Sir, I have read the "defence" of these Commissioners, filled with extracts from the evidence before the Andover Union Committee. It is not a defence—it is an ex-parte statement; but what, after all, is their boast? Why, that they have saved 1,000,000l. a year. But how many of 980 the poor have been robbed in order to save that 1,000,000l. a year? How many have been robbed of their just legal rights in order to enable the Commissioners to make that boast? They may have saved the rates in the south, where incendiarism still blazes in the rickyards; or in the agricultural districts, where they sold the people to the manufacturers to bring down wages; or where they have driven them into gaols to escape from their persecution. But they have not saved them in the north of England, as this petition will show:—Wakefield Union.—The following is the copy of the Petition sent to the Poor Law Commissioners from the Guardians of this Union:—To the Poor Law Commissioners, Somerset House, London.In pursuance of a resolution passed unanimously (one member excepted) at the Wakefield board of guardians, on Wednesday, the 22nd inst., 'That the working of the New Poor Law, in the Wakefield Union, is fraught with great evil, and that it is desirable the said union should be dissolved.'We, therefore, whose names are hereunder subscribed, being guardians of the Wakefield Union, beg leave most respectfully to call the attention of the Poor Law Commissioners to the alarming increase in the amount of poor rates collected in the several townships within the said union, for the three years ending last March, as compared with the three years previous to the commencement of the union, to wit, a total increase of rate of 10,306l.Fully convinced, from the above circumstances, not only that the New Poor Law in this neighbourhood is a perfect failure, but also that the ratepayers are fast verging to pauperism, without adding one extra comfort to the poor, we cannot do otherwise than listen to the imperative dictates of our own consciences, and pray most earnestly that the Poor Law Commissioners will be pleased to dissolve this union, and allow each township to have the management of its own poor."—Wakefield Journal, Aug. 25, 1843.I have also accounts of the expenditure in different districts of my part of the country, all which show that it is still increasing. Now what is the price you have had to pay for the enforcement of this unconstitutional law for fourteen years? You have had a rebellion in Wales; an outbreak in the north of England; incendiarism still rife in the south; a frightful and increasing system of child murder; coroners' juries charging the Poor Law Commissioners with destroying the poor; increase of rural police; 10,000 armed pensioners called out; gaols enlarged and new ones erected; sessions every six weeks instead of every twelve weeks; winter assizes; the statement of Judge Coleridge, that crime is rapidly increasing all over the country; central barracks erected at 981 Birmingham; a discontented people; peace only maintained by the military; and poverty and distress greater than ever before known in England. These are a few items of the price you have paid for the enforcement of your law. And how long do you suppose the country will submit to this state of things? You may suppose that you are going, to use a common phrase, to let the Poor Law and the Commissioners down easily; but do you suppose that the people of this country are not awake enough to make this a great question at the next general election? It is true that the Whigs have stood firm to their declarations at the last election. But what was the conduct of the late Government and their supporters? How was the election for Cambridge carried? The New Poor Law was the rallying cry. It is disgraceful and degrading that persons should have wrought up to the highest pitch of indignation the feelings of electors and non-electors, only that they might come here and betray them. I could name a borough where the two candidates took it by turns to do the pathetic on the New-Poor Law. One of them was returned to this House, and he certainly has given a little opposition to the Poor Law; but the other has since got a seat for another place, and he has actually voted for the very measure which I myself had heard him denounce as blasphemous. Having now stated these faults of the system, I leave them, with a challenge to you to deny them if you can. If you cannot deny them, then you admit the system to be a complete failure. It has not only been that, but also a bitter curse to the country. And now what is your remedy? Why, you propose to re-establish the same cruel and unconstitutional system under another form. You give all the powers of the Commission to four Cabinet Ministers empowered to maintain the law against all opposition. Is the right hon. Baronet going to sanction the same system of tyranny that was carried on under the Commissioners? Is he going to tear parent from child—husband from wife? Is he going still to transport the natives of the agricultural districts to the manufacturing districts? What right would he have to do so? The poor man's right to relief is as sacred as the right hon. Baronet's to any property he possesses. Is he prepared to have the provisions of this law tried on those who are near and dear to himself? If not, what right has he to inflict on the 982 poor man that which he would not bear himself? I can tell him that the poor man loves his wife as well as he loves his; and degraded must that Cabinet Minister be who would enforce the law against the poor man, for no other reason than that he is poor and is unable to procure protection. By Clause 20, it appears, Her Majesty may, if she pleases, by the advice of Her Privy Council, disavow the acts of the Board; but as those who would have to advise her would constitute the Board, it is not likely they would give her such advice. I have now given a brief sketch of the powers which the Government propose to take under this Bill; and from this tyranny to what tribunal are the poor to appeal? To the Government? Why, they will be their oppressors. To this House? Why, the Government of the day must have a majority behind its back in this House. To whom, then, are the poor to appeal against the tyranny and oppression of four Cabinet Ministers? You will say they may petition the Sovereign. But their petition must pass through the hands of the Home Secretary, whose conduct they are complaining of. I do not say the right hon. Gentleman opposite me would do it, but we know that the last Home Secretary kept back a memorial addressed to Her Majesty. I will tell you what the poor man may appeal to—he may appeal to the common law of England and to the British constitution. And although the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General has given ready answers to the questions I have put, and which elicited frequent cries of "Hear, hear," from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, it will be my duty to prove to the House that this House of Commons, and that the Parliament of this country, have no power to pass this Bill, and that if it does pass, it is null and void. I ask the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) while I give him my authorities, and I think he will admit that they are equal to his own. I will prove from the most eminent authorities that Parliament has no power to delegate the power of making laws. Locke says—The Legislature is empowered only to make laws, and not to make legislators.Justice Blackstone says—Whenever the legislative and executive powers are found together, there is an end of public liberty.You have both legislative and executive powers in the hands of the Poor Law Com- 983 missioners, and, according to Blackstone, there is therefore an end of public liberty. Lord Coke from the judgment seat declared—It appears in our books, that in many cases the common law will control Acts of Parliament, and sometimes adjudge them to be utterly void; for when an Act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant and impossible to be performed, the common law will control it, and adjudge it void.It is clear that the New Poor Law is "against common right and reason." Magna Charta, the charter of our rights, asserts—We will not, by ourselves or others, procure anything whereby any of these concessions or liberties be revoked or lessened, and if any such thing be obtained, let it be null and void.Lord Eldon declared, a short time before he died, to a friend of mine—It is an unconstitutional Bill, but it is sure to pass; for now-a-days they will pass anything. There is no authority to empower the Legislature to pass such a Bill, nor, when passed, any constitutional power to enforce it. If matters have indeed come to this, a national convention should be called.Lord Eldon also said, when addressing a noble Friend—It is the most infamous law that ever was enacted in a Christian country. If the Parliament will not do its duty, the people must do theirs. Nothing can be done till the country is ready for it, which it soon will be.I hold in my hand a statement made by Lord Wynford, late Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, upon the second reading of the New Poor Law Bill in another place. Lord Wynford said—Never was there an instance in either ancient or modern times when such a power as this was given to any set of men. Blackstone himself contemplated with horror the power that was given to the King under the Mutiny Act. He thought it was unconstitutional that His Majesty should have the power of making laws, deciding upon laws, and rescinding laws; and yet the power which Blackstone thought unfit to be placed in the hands even of the King, was to be given to these Commissioners. They were even to have the power of delegating that power; and the only restraint by which they, or those delegated by them, would be subject, would be in making general regulations. Their general regulations would have to be submitted to the Secretary of State; but no control whatever was intended to be exercised over their other proceedings. He did not think that even the noble and learned Lord himself could defend delegating such enormous powers as these; but even if he should, then he must say that he was certainly too jealous about granting arbitrary power ever to permit it, except in a case of absolute necessity; but no such necessity has yet been made out. He had shown that it would not only affect property generally, but that it would enable the Commissioners to determine 984 whether the unfortunate pauper should eat his miserable pittance in a state of liberty or of thraldom. Whilst in the workhouse, they could treat the pauper just as they pleased, and in them was to be vested the power to say, 'You shall have relief or you shall not.' He could not help saying that it was utterly impossible for him to contemplate those powers without alarm. They had abolished negro slavery: but if this Bill passed, he very much feared that a short time only would elapse until they saw the condition of the poor of this country infinitely worse than that of the serfs of the Continent, or the villains of former ages; worse even than that of the West Indies, to whom they had given their freedom.That was the opinion of Lord Chief Justice Wynford. Lord Abinger, another Judge, and a high authority in this country, gave a similar opinion in the other House. Are these authorities not sufficient? The poor have been reduced to an abject state of misery and want; they can only obtain food on condition of being branded with a felon's dress. Why, Sir, the working population of this country to a man believe that no Parliament has the right to pass such a law as this; and they are backed by the high authorities I have read, and which will have great weight with the people of this country. I will venture to say that if a poor man, who had been imprisoned under the unconstitutional powers of this Bill, were to carry his case before the twelve Judges, they would declare, notwithstanding your Act of Parliament, that the man had been illegally imprisoned. Having given these high authorities, let the House listen to the opinions of a working man on this question, and then they will see that the working people of this country are thinking deeply upon the treatment they are receiving from the Government and from the Parliament of this country. I have received this letter within the last few days from a working man:—To leave Her Majesty's poor subjects in the hands of an irresponsible power, is but cruel mockery. It has been the boast of Great Britain that the home of the poor man was his castle—that it is held as sacred as the palace; such were the views of Lord Chatham in his day. He said, By the British constitution every man's house is his castle; it may be a straw-built shed; every wind of heaven may whistle round it—all the elements may enter it—but the King cannot, the King dare not.' And since his time it was the boast of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent (our present Sovereign's father) that 'it is the glory of the British constitution that it protects the poor as well as the rich—the peasant as well as the prince; whoever has the temerity to injure either the person, property, or character of the meanest of His Majesty's subjects, must be prepared to grapple with the strength of the empire.985 I tell Her Majesty's Government, that if they mean to bolster up the present Poor Law under another name, they too "must be prepared to grapple with the strength of the empire." The Poor Law deprived hon. Gentlemen opposite of office at the last election, and it will deprive them of office at the next general election. For, although they may try to blink this question, I tell them every man in the country is denouncing the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners, and declaring that your New Poor Law is an utter and disgraceful failure. I have now shown to this House that you have no power to pass this Bill, and that if you pass it, it will be null and void. I will now show the House that the poor have a right to relief; and if they have a right to relief, I ask the Government, who will have to enforce this law, by what right they will refuse relief except upon the condition of these parties degrading themselves? Why, Sir, until you passed this New Poor Law, the poor were ready to shed their blood to defend their country. They are now compelled to sacrifice their liberty to save their lives. To prove that the poor have a right to relief, I will quote John Locke, who says—A man can no more make use of another's necessity to force him to become his vassal, by withholding that relief which God requires him to afford to the wants of his brother, than he that has more strength can seize upon a weaker, and with a dagger at his throat, offer him death or slavery. As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry and the fair acquisition of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much of another's plenty as will keep him from extreme want, when he has no means to subsist otherwise.You do "force" the poor man to "become "your vassal" when you refuse to admit him into a poor-law union except upon degrading conditions. Archdeacon Paley says —When the partition of property is rigidly maintained against the claims of indigence and distress, it is maintained in opposition to the intention of those who made it, and to His who is the supreme proprietor of every thing, and who has filled the world with plenteousness for the sustenance and comfort of all whom he sends into it.I might quote Puffendorf, Grotius, and Coke, who all agree on this point; but hear what Blackstone asserts:—The law not only regards life and member and protects every man in the enjoyment of them, but also furnishes him with everything necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessaries of life from the 986 more opulent of the community, by means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor—a humane provision, dictated by the principles of society.Judge Hale said, from the bench—The laws of this kingdom made sufficient provision for the supply of persons in necessity, by collections for the poor, and by the powers of the civil magistrates; and the Act of Elizabeth has reduced charity to a system, and interwoven it with our very constitution.These are high authorities, both in the House and out of it, and they prove that the poor have a right to relief. I will finish my authorities by an extract from Lord Brougham, who himself admitted, in the other House, that the poor have a right to relief. On the second reading of the New Poor Law, Lord Brougham said—I grant that this was the original distribution of the tithe (one-third going to the fabric of the church, one-third to the parson, and one-third to the poor); and I also admit, that in much later times, as far down as the 15th of Richard II., this right of the poor was recognised by Parliament; for in that year an Act passed which in terms admitted the right of the poor to sustentation out of this fund. I admit, too, that still later, in the reign of Elizabeth, the judges of the land recognised the same right—and that other cases are to be found decidedly in favour of the principle—one of the judges of that day quaintly observing, that it is the business of the parson pascere gregem verbo, exemplo, cibo. Indeed your Lordships will find both the Courts and Parliaments, as late as the reign of George III., recognising the claims of the poor against the parson, grounded upon the same principle.Now you have it here distinctly maintained, even by Lord Brougham, that the poor have a right to relief; and if so, you have no right to claim any act of vassalage from them, or deprive them of their liberty as the price of giving them relief when they have a right to demand it. I will now assert, that if you refuse the poor relief, they have a right to take it. Will the Government dispute that point? The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is silent. Am I to understand that he does not deny my position? [Sir G. GREY: One at a time.] But there are four of you going to have seats in the new Commission. You may depend upon it that you will be severely questioned, and that the debate tonight is only a slight sketch of what you will have to experience. To show you that the poor are justified in stealing, if not relieved, I will remind you of what Lord Bacon, one of the authors of the 43rd Elizabeth, says:—The law chargeth no man with default where the Act is compulsory. Where man's nature cannot overcome, such necessity carrieth with it a privilege in itself. Necessity is of three sorts: 987 necessity of conservation of life; necessity of obedience; and necessity of the act of God, or a stronger. First of conservation of life; if a man steal viands to satisfy his present hunger, his is not felony, nor larceny.Judge Blackstone give this passage his high authority, and adds—This cannot now happen in England, where the Poor Law of Elizabeth suffers no one to be in a state of destitution.I will now give you an authority which must be a high one with you, the Poor Law Commissioners themselves, who in one of their reports affirm that—To punish even depredation, apparently committed as the only resource against want, is repugnant to the common sentiments of mankind.I have no doubt that also was the feeling of the gentleman in Worcestershire, who had six or seven tons of turnips taken every week by the poor. I have now proved my positions, and I have a right on the part of the suffering starving poor to require some explanation from the Government, whether they intend to carry out the Bill. There is one question on which I have a right to demand a distinct pledge. Are you intending to enforce the New Poor Law upon the same system as it has been administered for the last fourteen years with the intention of proceeding with it until you have abolished the Poor Law altogether? Or are you prepared to revert to the powers of the 43rd of Elizabeth? What has Ireland become from the want of a Poor Law? Why you have been obliged, as a last resort, to pass a Poor Law to save the people from destitution; and the hon. and learned Member for Bath, who has been the able supporter of that measure, has told you, that, to save Ireland, you must pass the 43rd of Elizabeth. Before many years are passed, you will have to rest upon the principles of that Act in England; I mean the principles of local self-government. You must have boards of guardians to assist in carrying out the law; but if they refuse to act under the Commissioners—and they often do so refuse—the poor are left to the tender mercies of the relieving officers to whom the poor are no more than the dirt they tread upon. No doubt during this discussion on the New Poor Law, many hon. Members will take part in the debate who can narrate what has been the working of the New Poor Law in the different parts of the country in which they reside. I can't refrain—as I see the late Secretary of State for the Home Depart- 988 ment (Sir J. Graham) in his place—I can't refrain from referring to a letter I have received within the last few days; for of all the accounts of the disgraceful conduct of poor-law unions, nothing surpasses the accounts of the Longtown Union, of which the right hon. Sir J. Graham, of Netherby Hall, is the president. The letter is written by the Rev. John Maughan, who dates from "Bewcastle Rectory." The writer gives a long account of the proceedings of the Poor Law Commissioners in screening parties who had robbed the ratepayers, and in preventing inquiry. Mr. Maughan concludes his letter by saying—The above facts are sufficient to show that there has been gross mismanagement of the Long-town Union, and gross negligence on the part of the Poor Law Commissioners themselves. Other facts might be mentioned of a similar nature, and too many others of a character too much resembling the atrocities of Andover.That is the description of the Longtown Union by the rector of a parish in that union. No wonder that Mr. Parker was screened—at least not screened, but that an attempt was made at the Home Office to induce him to destroy his report, lest The Times should be in the ribs of the late Home Secretary for the next six months. No wonder such things should be, when the late Home Secretary had in his own union atrocities as bad as at Andover. I have said, that the private defence of the Commissioners contains an audacious untruth, and I will prove it. I recommend this to the attention of the late Home Secretary, and the Government. [The hon. Member read the extract from the pamphlet, which he said was untrue.] In 1842, two reports were used against me (the hon. Member continued) in this House; but I will not, for particular reasons, allude to the subject further than to state, that in a report which was drawn up by Sir J. Walsham, the most harrowing and frightful details were given of the state of the poorhouse in the parish in which I reside. That report stated that forty-nine inmates of that workhouse slept in, I think, some twelve or fourteen beds. It was handed by the late Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir J. Graham) to the right hon. Baronet the late First Lord of the Treasury (Sir R. Peel), who read the harrowing account to the House. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) turned up his eyes to heaven and smote his breast, and was horror-stricken at the poor being thus treated under my authority, as he was pleased to intimate—for he pointed to 989 me at that time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "Yes, and within a mile and a quarter, too, of his (Mr. Ferrand's) own house." They were delighted at the exposure; I was crushed for a season, but I believe I have now recovered. Now what was the state of that poorhouse on the last day on which the old law was in operation? It contained twelve inmates; but in the course of four years, under the management of the Poor Law Commissioners, the number of inmates increased to forty-nine; and from 1838 until 1842, when Sir J. Walsham visited the workhouse, I believe no Poor Law Commissioner had ever entered it. The late Prime Minister, after reading the report I have mentioned, said, "It is high time for the Poor Law Commissioners to interfere." The House shall hear how they did interfere. That report was got up against me in 1842; and when did the Poor Law Commissioners interfere to put a stop to the state of things which it represented as existing? Not until May, 1846, after the lapse of four years. Could anything be more disgraceful than this? The return of the assistant commissioner gives a flat contradiction to the bold assertions, the audacious untruths, which I have read from the defence of the Poor Law Commissioners. But what does the House suppose was the cause of this visit to the poorhouse? In May, 1846, I came down to this House and asked the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), who was then at the head of the Government, to insist upon an assistant poor-law commissioner being sent to Brugley to examine the state of the poorhouse. Let me state to the House the visits which had been paid to that union by the Commissioners during the few years preceding. On the 20th of July, 1842, Mr. Mott attended the meeting of the board of guardians; on the 17th of May, 1843, after an interval of ten months, Mr. Clements attended; twelve months afterwards, on the 8th of May, 1844, Mr. Clements paid the board another visit; and on the 2nd of October, 1844, the same person again visited them. And yet we were paying these men some 1,200l. or 1,400l. a year for performing their duties! The union was not again visited by an assistant Poor Law Commissioner until the 21st of May, 1846, after the lapse of a year and a half from the previous visit; and then that Commissioner was sent down at my request—at the request of the man who had been traduced in this House in the 990 most scandalous manner by persons who ought to have been ashamed of their conduct. Upon my interference and at my request an assistant commissioner was sent down to rescue the poor from their sufferings; and what do hon. Gentlemen suppose was the state of the poorhouse? On the 9th of June, 1842, there were fifty-five inmates; on the 1st of January, 1843, forty-three; on the 1st of January, 1844, fifty-seven; on the 1st of January, 1845, forty-two; on the 1st of January, 1846, fifty-three; and on the 1st of January, 1847, forty-four; so that during two years out of the five, there was a larger number of inmates in the union poorhouse, than on the day when it was visited by Sir J. Walsham, at the suggestion of the late Secretary of State for the Home Department. Thus, then, I give a flat contradiction to the audacious statements of the Poor Law Commissioners in their private defence; and I could point out many other statements in that defence which are as unfounded and as untrue as that which I have just read. This, however, is sufficient to stamp the whole of that defence with falsehood, and to show that it is not worth the paper upon which it was written. Before I conclude I will merely ask the Government this simple question—do you not believe, if you were to attempt to enforce the powers of this new Poor Law against the aristocracy or the middle classes of this country, that you would produce a rebellion within a week? There cannot be a doubt of it. Those classes of the English people would rise as one man to defend themselves against such tyranny and oppression. But it is the poor alone who are thus oppressed and persecuted; it is against them only that you enforce this harsh and cruel law. Let me ask you to choose a happier course—to become the protectors of the poor instead of being their oppressors; for there is not on the face of God's earth a more loyal, a more peaceful, a more obedient, a more grateful, a more industrious body of working people than those within Old England; and what they have done to merit such treatment as this, neither I nor any other man in this country can understand or find out. They have borne this tyranny for thirteen years. How much longer do you intend them to submit to it? Depend upon it the day of reckoning must come. Amidst all their sufferings they are discontented from the knowledge that you have shown no pity for them—that you 991 have deprived them of what God and the laws of their country have given them as a sacred and a legal right; and you cannot now appeal to them with the generous confidence you would have felt before the accursed principles of Malthus inoculated your laws. No; you have no right to appeal to them for allegiance if you refuse to protect them. Protect them with equal laws, equal rights, and equal liberty, and I have no fear for the peace of this country. Refuse them that protection, and the day must come when you will have reason to regret your oppression. I beg leave to move, Sir, that this Bill he read a second time this day six months.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said: Sir, I have no doubt that I should be paying the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand) a compliment if I denounced him as a dangerous person; but as an idiot may set fire to a haystack, the language of the hon. Gentleman may he productive of very mischievous consequences. The hon. Gentleman has talked for the last two hours about the law, about inalienable rights, about the 43rd of Elizabeth, about the tyranny of the new Poor Law, and about a variety of other things, without understanding anything of the subject. He is totally ignorant of what he has been talking about of the 43rd of Elizabeth. He has never read that Act, I am sure, and I am here to prove it. Nothing is more easy than to rant about that which you do not understand, and nothing is so easy as to obtain popularity by pretending liberality with respect to the poor. I will prove to the House that the 43rd of Elizabeth has not in reality been departed from, and that the present law—which is called "the New Poor Law"—has been, if anything, a reaction towards the old law, the 43rd of Elizabeth. Now, before we go further, let us understand under what circumstances the 43rd of Elizabeth was adopted. That Act was the result of the consequences which followed from the putting down of the religious houses in this country. The convents and monasteries had been in the habit of maintaining a certain number of the poor around them, furnishing them the means of support. The Reformation came, and the religious houses were put down. What was the consequence? A number of "sturdy beggars," to use the language of the Acts of Parliament, wandered about the country, and had to be provided for. Now, what was the object of the Act of the 43rd of Elizabeth? I have here the 992 43rd of Elizabeth, chap. 2, and I think it is proper that the world at large should fairly understand the provisions of this Act. We hear constant appeals about inalienable rights founded upon an Act of Parliament, and an hon. Gentleman gets up in his place in this House and says, that that which an Act of Parliament has created, an Act of Parliament cannot undo; and he tells the Attorney General, "I will prove that an Act of Parliament cannot do that which you have attempted to do by your New Poor Law." Now, what was the 43rd of Elizabeth?—That the churchwardens of every parish, with other persons mentioned in the Act to be called overseers of the poor, shall take orders from time to time by and with the consent of two or more such justices of the peace for setting to work the children of all such above parents, as shall not by the said churchwardens and overseers or by the greater part of them, be thought able to keep and maintain their children, and also for setting to work all such persons, married or unmarried, and having no means to maintain them, and use an ordinary and daily trade to get their living by.That is the sum and substance of the 43rd of Elizabeth, and the remainder has reference to the mode of taxation, and matters not concerning the poor. After the 43rd of Elizabeth was adopted, there was a great change in the administration of the law, and a rate was imposed by means of which farmers and others were enabled to employ the poor by deriving certain sums from the parishes to make up their wages. To meet this state of things the New Poor Law was devised. I am now about to maintain the rights of the industrious poor against the lazy poor; and that is a distinction never drawn in this House. Under the old law the lazy poor came and braved the local authorities in the vestry; I have seen them march into the vestry and say, "You shall give us relief, and we will do no work." The poor farmers were frightened out of their wits by these men; and why? Because they knew that if they refused relief to these persons, their stacks would be burnt the next night, and their ploughs would be cut to pieces, and their cattle and horses maimed. Indeed, if they refused to maintain, not the industrious, but the idle poor, they were robbed of that which was the result of their own industry. Now, for God's sake, let the country and the House understand what was done under these circumstances by Parliament, They said, "The local authorities are totally unable to deal with these difficulties; the idle poor come into the parish vestry 993 and brave the farmer, and what can he do? Now, let us unite a number of parishes together; let us put the authorities at a distance from these men, and let there be a central authority in London, to whom an appeal may be made." Let me point out the advantages of this arrangement, and let me ask, about what has all the riot and noise with reference to the New Poor Law been made? Why, about the central authority. I recollect reading, in my youthful days, a poem called The Country Justice, written, I think, by Dyer, which contains a description of a dispute between contending parishes respecting the settlement of a poor woman with child; and the poet describes the unfortunate woman as lying-in in the cart while the parish officials were disputing as to where they should be sent. You allowed these country justices to administer the law most inefficiently without complaint; but the moment three men, sitting in Somerset House, were appointed to control its administration, there was not a trading politician, however feeble his intellect or however low his capacity, but pointed his forefinger at the three tyrants of Somerset House. But this system concentrated the responsibility; it provided for that which had all along been wanted, namely, that there should be an appeal from the local authorities to some other authority amenable to this House. This was the great benefit of the new law. It concentrated responsibility; it marked out the persons who were to be the administrators of that law; it made them amenable to the great public opinion of this country; and I am satisfied we never should have heard of the evils of the New Poor Law if it had not been that three Commissioners were appointed. They have been curbed, thwarted, and controlled; and you find that the popularity hunters by whom they are assailed are egged on by the justices at sessions, who are glad to see those who succeeded to the exercise of many of their functions with regard to the Poor Law thus treated. Let us understand what the Commissioners were appointed to do. I am about to speak of what they have done, and I am about to show that what they have done has been in contravention of the law and in obedience to the cry out of doors—that cry of which the hon. Member for Finsbury has been one of the loudest and most eloquent supporters. The fact of their having deviated from the law certainly shows that they were unfit to administer it; but they 994 deviated from the law in a direction precisely contrary to that which the hon. Member for Knaresborough supposes they took. The law is this—that a man who is unable to maintain himself shall be maintained by the State—that a poor man, being unable to maintain himself and his family, has, under the law, a right to relief. Now that is what I have desired for the Irish people; it is that which I have fought for; and it is some little pride for me that I have been singular in this House in supporting such a scheme, and that I have stood almost alone in debate and in division. ["No, no!"] Aye, aye. I have maintained for the Irish people a right to relief; but the right to relief does not mean that they shall be relieved whether they be idle or industrious—it does not mean that the idle poor man shall come in before the industrious poor man and say, "Give me relief; I'll have it; I care not for the poor labouring man who works twelve hours a day, and who has an honest feeling about his independence; I have a right to relief under the law, and I will have it." That is the notion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough; but it is not the notion of the law, and it is not the notion of common sense. The notion of common sense is that if a man, under the pressure of unfortunate circumstances, is unable to maintain his family, he shall be maintained by the State; but some test is necessary, for the vagabond may say, "I have as much right to relief as the industrious man; and if you don't give me it, look out, for you shall see the consequences." Some test, then, is necessary to enable us to distinguish between the idle vagabond, who demands relief without any industrious habits or any wish to labour, and the honest poor man, who by unfortunate circumstances is reduced to such a position as to require relief. For this purpose a poorhouse is established. Now, nothing is more easy than for Gentlemen to talk about the poor in these matters, without having the slightest wish to enable the poor to decide for themselves; for I undertake to say that, with one or two exceptions, the persons who preach about the Poor Law are always opposed to giving the poor equal political rights. These canting hypocrites, who declaim so loudly about the poor, will refuse to give them the right to vote. But the poor know their real friends from those pretended friends who, out of their necessities, would carve their own way to fortune. The plan established 995 by the law is, that the man who comes to the poorhouse, being in a state of necessity, and willing to take the relief offered by the State, should have that relief provided. And now I come to the question of the right to relief. The hon. Member for Knaresborough talks about the inalienable right to relief. For my life, I cannot understand this inalienable right to relief which he speaks of. The hon. Gentleman talked about Puffendorf, but I will stake my life he has never read Puffendorf. I will be bound that he has never opened Vattel; and as for Grotius, I do not believe that he knows whether Grotius lived in the time of George III., Charles II., Queen Elizabeth, or the Emperor Adrian. Any child might talk of Grotius or of Puffendorf, whose names he might have heard, but whose works he never read. I think very little of the authority of the hon. Gentleman on any matter of learning, and still less on any matter of common sense. The hon. Member for Knaresborough has talked about the inalienable right to relief, and he has quoted from Coke and Blackstone, into whose works it appears he has been dipping. Dipping is a most easy thing; but I am not quite sure that he knows which of the two preceded the other; and I may here mention, that I find a pamphlet, written, I believe, by one of those who pretend to be in favour of the poor, speaking about the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and the consequent massacre of St. Bartholomew. [Some hon. Member here observed, that it was written, perhaps, by a Poor Law Commissioner.] If it were the work of a Poor Law Commissioner, why did not the hon. Member for Knaresborough comment on it then? No, it is not the work of a Poor Law Commissioner, but of one of those gentlemen who talk about the Poor Law, and do not understand it. But what is the meaning of that inalienable right to relief of which the hon. Member for Knaresborough speaks? Let us understand it. He says that the 43rd of Elizabeth confirmed that right. Now, the 43rd of Elizabeth is an Act of Parliament passed in consequence of a necessity by the Queen, Lords, and Commons, of that day. This I will say, that an Act of Parliament which creates a right on the part of certain classes, and imposes an obligation on certain others, is repealable by Parliament; and, if it had been repealed, the repealing Act would have been law, and the hon. Gentleman would not have found the twelve Judges so 996 thoroughly fatuous and so gone beyond common sense as to have determined that an Act of Parliament is not the law of the land. Were I to find a Judge doing that, I should call him to the bar of this House to answer for his conduct; but I never in my lifetime found one of the Judges adopting the language of the hon. Gentleman. We may have heard a Judge complaining of the slovenly mode in which Acts of Parliament are passed, but none of them have ever maintained a doctrine so contrary to the constitution as that which the hon. Gentleman has broached. The Judges are appointed to administer that which we and the other portions of the Legislature determine should be law; and if ever one of them shall be so audacious as to say that that is not the law, I would bring him to the bar of the House to answer for his transgression. What is the meaning of this inalienable right to relief? What the hon. Member for Knaresborough talks about is the right to relief under the 43rd of Elizabeth; according to which the poor were to be set to work. [Mr. WAKLEY: Not in a gaol.] The hon. Member for Finsbury says—"not in a gaol." What does he mean? Has the hon. Gentleman ever gone into a poor man's cottage? Does he ever employ and pay a poor man? If so, he must be aware that the cottage of the poor, honest, and laborious peasant is, I am sorry to say, a far more miserable habitation than that which the beneficence of the law has provided for the indigent poor. In the cottage there is no medical adviser—no cleanliness—in it there is neither that warmth nor shelter which the law has provided for the poor in the poorhouse. I speak on this subject knowingly. It is my habit month after month, week after week, and day after day, to go into the habitations of my poor fellow-countrymen. I employ a great number of them. I know their feelings and their condition. I know this also (and I defy any one to tell me the contrary), that the labouring poor at this moment in their own habitations are far worse off than in those habitations which the hon. Member for Finsbury has designated as bastiles and gaols. [Mr. WAKLEY used the word gaol only.] Well, a gaol is a place where a man is put for an offence. [Mr. FERRAND: The offence of the poor is their poverty.] Let us see whether this is the case. A man by unfortunate necessity is poor, and unable to maintain himself. He goes to the State Exchequer and asks relief. The State says—"We 997 cannot tell whether you are an honest man or not, but if you are an honest poor man, you will make no objections to the conditions on which relief is granted, and you will come into the workhouse." But "oh!" says the hon. Gentleman—and his eloquence here is most affecting—"the poor man has a wife and children, and there would be a separation of the husband from his wife and family." Well, is not the soldier separated from his wife, and the sailor also? They are sent to the farthest points of the world, while the wives are left behind, and we never see any one get up and contend that the soldier and the sailor should be accompanied by their wives and families. How would the hon. Member for Brighton act, supposing he was in command of a ship, and the crew were to tell him they were married, and they wanted their wives and families along with them? Is there any man in society, under all the exigencies of life, that is not constantly separated from his wife and from his family? Even in this House there are a large number of gentlemen so situated. The hon. Gentlemen from Ireland do not bring their wires with them. If any do, they are very happy men. But a large number of them do not, and who ever got up in Parliament, and exclaimed, with patriotic furor, "For God's sake, look at the Irish Members deprived of every domestic happiness, because they do not bring their wives along with them." Every man, then, who comes to the State for relief is bound to submit to the regulations of the State; and when any one talks of an inalienable right to relief, I reply that there is no such thing, and that the poor have a right to relief by an Act of Parliament, which very rationally says that no man shall be fed by the State but those who are really paupers, and that is ascertained by means of the workhouse test. The workhouse test is very unpopular; and although this is the last year of the present Parliament, yet I will now speak, as I began in favour of that test. I believe that, in the present situation of England, the workhouse test is not an unfair or cruel mode of ascertaining and separating the really industrious and unfortunate poor who require relief, from the vagabonds who would absorb the means intended for the support of the industrious poor. If any one can show me a better mode of distinguishing between these two classes, I will adopt it with the utmost alacrity; but until you show me a better, I am compelled to take this. There is, 998 however, a distinction which I wish to draw, which I have always insisted on, and which I hope the Legislature will adopt means to establish. I object to the feeding of the idle and the vagabond, because that constitutes a bad example, and leads to the demoralisation of the industrious population. But this objection does not attach to the maintenance of the old and the infirm. Therefore, the moment you have ascertained that the aged and infirm are unable to obtain the means of subsistence, do not apply to them any test, but give them those means to the uttermost necessary extent; for, by so doing, you are not indulging bad habits, nor creating a pernicious example. This will not in any way militate against the industrious habits of the poor, but will as much as possible tend to conciliate the kind feelings and good wishes of the poor towards those who by circumstances are placed in a happier situation. If this distinction were established throughout the parishes of England, I think that the occupation of the hon. Member for Knaresborough would be at an end. He could then do nothing to excite the poor, for the large mass of them are industrious, and are anxious that the means which should be applied to the support of the industrious poor should not be given to the misbehaving and undeserving. Now I come to the Poor Law Commissioners, and with great pain I am obliged to say that the Poor Law Commissioners have not carried out the law. They have quailed before the outcry raised by one influential journal—I may as well mention it—The Times newspaper. The hon. Member for Knaresborough, who has talked so loudly to-night, is merely but a faint echo—a will-o-the wisp—the almost imperceptible shadow of the great Times newspaper. He is one of the persons pushed on by the means of The Times newspaper, and his every word, every blow on the red box, every emphasis, every parenthesis, and every single sentence is but a bad imitation of The Times newspaper. The Times newspaper is written by a man of classical attainments, and by a man of knowledge, and herein is wonderfully different from the hon. Member for Knaresborough; his knowledge and attainments distinguish him from that hon. Member as the sun may be distinguished from that gas light. The Times newspaper is the great parent of all this opposition to the Poor Law, and it is enabled to carry out its opposition in consequence of what I believe to be the unfortunate wavering on 999 the part of the Poor Law Commissioners. If they had stood steadily to their duties—not listening to outcry from one side or from the. other, but had carried out what I believe to be the spirit of the law, they would then have had with them the support of the people of this country, and they would have prevented The Times newspaper from doing what I know it has done—overturned the Commission. In consequence of The Times newspaper constantly hammering at the Commissioners, and frightening them, they deviated from the line which they ought to have maintained;—the acute authority of The Times newspaper took advantage of their blunder, and we are now unable to defend the Commissioners, because they are unable to carry out the law. This is my objection to the Commissioners. They have yielded to popular outcry; and the mischief is, that after a good law was passed, you got inefficient persons to carry it into execution. If you had sternly administered the law—I use the word advisedly—you would have made friends of the poor, because the law is one passed for the industrious poor against the idle and the vagabond poor; and the idle and vagabond poor, as every one knows, are but a small section of the whole, though a noisy section, and constantly at work. They, however, have advocates in the hon. Member for Knaresborough, in The Times newspaper, and all who are fond of popularity-hunting. What is the inalienable right to relief of which the hon. Member for Knaresborough talks? The 43rd of Elizabeth justly says, that those receiving relief shall be set to work. [An hon. MEMBER: Crushing bones.] There are many occupations of the poor which are painful to go through, and against which, if directed by the Poor Law Commissioners, there would be a great outcry. There is the occupation of the nightman; there is the occupation of the typemaker. He does not live more than a very small number of years; but type-founders are to be had—they are got for money. No man is obliged to be in want of books, and yet every book that he gets, in the present state of the art, goes to seal the doom of some working man. It is true that philosophy may invent a mask for him who files iron, to prevent its affecting his lungs; but does the hon. Member for Knaresborough get up and say, "The poor of this country are filing iron, by which their lungs are destroyed?" He does get up and talk about "devil's dust;" I never knew him 1000 talk about this dust. The type-founder has no such protection, and to this hour he is the subject of disease. Take a painter; he is daily subjected to the destruction of the power of his limbs. Or what say you to the colliery? You will tell me you have relieved the women and children from working there; but you have not relieved the men. The men work many fathoms under ground, groping their way for miles along in an infected atmosphere; and you sit in your homes round your cheerful Christmas fire, and no patriot talks about that. The fact is, this is all misplaced humanity, to give it the mildest name. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Wakley) may shake his head; has he never dissected a body? [The hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded to describe the painful nature of a surgeon's duties, and then continued.] Society is unfortunately so constituted that this is the inevitable lot of humanity, though it may be that some are more fortunate than others, and labour at a happier vocation. But if you cannot show me that there is no necessity for the performance of all these painful duties, you are not justified in getting up and saying that it is improper to employ the poor in this, that, or the other. I will agree at once that there is no necessity for employing in any of these operations the poor unfortunates who are obliged to ask the State for subsistence. But why? Because society has the services of those who are willing to undertake these occupations. But then, mark: I labour all my life; born to nothing, I earn every thing; and shall it be said to me, "You are bound to maintain the vagabond outside your gate, who will do nothing?" Who has a right to come to me and say, "Give me of your substance, for you are rich?" I say, I am not rich; everything I gain is my own, won either by my hands or my head, and you have no right to come to me but from necessity. That is what the labouring man has a right to say, and I am here standing up for the labouring man; I want that understood—it shall be understood before I have done. The labouring man says—"I work ten hours according to Act of Parliament, I have got a. wife and children, I maintain them honestly, I live in a house for which I have to pay poor-rate; and what right has John Thomas to take of my earnings? That John Thomas there—he won't work; I know him well; I have known him from his childhood; he has been in the workhouse twenty times; he 1001 won't work." Does the hon. Member for Finsbury say that that is an uncommon case? No; he knows it is not. Well, but then how am I to know that the applicant is John Thomas, the idle vagabond, and not John Smith, the honest labourer? Set him to work, says an hon. Member, and out comes the 43rd of Elizabeth to prove it? To work at what? Beating hemp. Where? In a shed. Oh, but this is "a bastile?" Why, what is a poorhouse? A well built, well ventilated, well warmed, well cleaned habitation, out of which a man may walk at any hour of the day, and you cannot stop him. And are we to have the hon. Member for Knaresborough, with all his vulgar rhetoric and misquoting Lord Chatham, talking about a place with all the winds of heaven blowing round it? God help the right hon. Member for Dorchester (Sir J. Graham) too; what a stream of turbid and muddy rhetoric was poured upon him! But the hon. Member must not come down and talk to us about poor wretches beating hemp under a miserable shed which he would not put his cattle in; the poor are not in a shed, but in a beautifully built house. The last I passed this morning, about five o'clock, is situated in the midst of the New Forest, looking out upon its beautiful scenery on the one side, and almost to the Solent on the other. "Oh, but," says the hon. Member for Finsbury, "that is a gaol." A gaol! how so? You do not keep the people in. "Oh, but they are in a prison dress." Why, you are obliged to dress them, to give them warm clothing, and it is more economical that it should be after one fashion; and really I should be glad to be assured of having all my life such comfortable clothing—a good coat, good trowsers, a clean shirt, clean stockings, honest good shoes, and a felt hat. At all events, that is much better than many an honest man has out of the workhouse. I give away clothes that I call worn out, and they are accepted with grateful thanks; but when the State offers a man a thoroughly good dress, up jumps the hon. Member for Finsbury, and says, "Holloa, here is a prison dress!" Was there ever such an unhappy statement put forth for any unfortunate people—unfortunate indeed—most miserable in their wretched friends? The hon. Member for Finsbury cries "Hear!" I believe the description is an honest one; let him answer it. Let him prove that the dress, the economical dress, warm and comfortable, which is given to the poor in the work- 1002 houses of this country, because it happens to be a uniform, is a prisoner's dress. But the hon. Member for Finsbury will not (if I may use a commercial phrase) indorse the Bill of the hon. Member for Knaresborough. He talked about the prison dress; a prison dress, because it happens to be brown, or grey, and is uniform. Suppose it was red, and uniform; would that be a prison dress? Oh, but it is the colour! Can anything be so thoroughly wretched and paltry and miserable as to make this turn upon the colour of a coat? If it be red, it is an honourable uniform, belonging to Her Majesty's troops, and linked with glory and renown; but if it happens to be grey, with a brown felt hat, instead of a black one with a feather in it, then it is a prison dress! When these things are but stated fairly and honestly, they are in reality an answer to all the rhodomontade statements of such Gentlemen as the hon. Member for Knaresborough, with whom I do not class the hon. Member for Finsbury. But now, what is to be done with the labouring poor of this country? That is what the question comes to. I am not about to assume any patriotic air, or to lay claim to all the virtues of humanity; but I will say, that with the labouring and honest poor of this country I sympathize as deeply as any man in this House; and I am prepared, by any system of legislation with the hon. Member for Knaresborough will propose, to maintain them in their industrious habits. I have met working men with this argument—men that I could hold up as an example to the hon. Member—men that are very acute and logical, not given to vulgar rhetoric, and, above all, extremely careful in their statements; I have said, "You object to the New Poor Law; bring forward your own plan." Now, I challenge the hon. Member for Knaresborough to bring forward his plan, and the hon. Member for Finsbury his. Let us have no more criticism; do not be pullers down; there is a great deal of talk about destructiveness—do show your ability now in an Act of Parliament. What would I give for an Act of Parliament propounded by the hon. Member for Knaresborough? Conceive such a production! I dare say the hon. Member has some spice of kindly feeling in his nature. I have no doubt, upon an extraordinary occasion, he would even go so far as to do me a good turn. He would give me inexpressible delight—and that is what he does not often do when he speaks—if he would only concoct an Act of Parliament 1003 for the poor. I think I could pretty soon rout him and his Act of Parliament. Or, if he likes, let him go to the hon. Member for Finsbury. But really it goes beyond a joke, for I find everybody ready to criticise, and nobody ready to say what ought to be done. The other night the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. C. Buller) described the Poor Law Committee, and told us that every body on it was finding fault with the law as it exists; but when, by one of those strange freaks of fortune which are employed to damp men's audacity, they were set to work to legislate, there was such a farrago of contradictory plans, such a hurly-burly of confusion, as passed even his capacity to describe. And there sits the hon. Member for Evesham, who says that the law of settlement is no part of the Poor Law: that is a specimen of the way in which some persons will "rush in." It was in the Settlement Committee, where all parties said that the law of last year was bad, and when they were asked for a remedy they all went together by the ears, unable to determine anything. We are now about to legislate for the poor of this country; and I, who am not accustomed to flatter the House, will say, that I do believe it is the sincere wish of all parties here to do by the poor that which is just and for their interest. It is most easy to affirm that the poor have ceased to have any regard for our opinions; but if that were put into a proposition, I should say it was untrue and unfair, both to this House and to the people themselves. My belief is, that we really desire to do that which is for the good of the people; but we differ about the means. The hon. Member for Knaresborough, indeed, throughout his harangue, indulged in one constant tirade against this House, against the Ministers of the Crown, against the right hon. Member for Dorchester, against the right hon. Member for Tamworth, against everybody that had been in power—Lord Brougham among the rest (but I strongly suspect he knows very little of Lord Brougham)—and taunted them all with utter disregard to the people, and assumed, forsooth, that he represented the people. First of all, I suppose he means to say that he represents their intelligence; but that I deny. Then, that he represents their feeling; but that also I am compelled to deny. I am certain, that if you took the sense of the people, you would find they go along with us in our view of the case. And he cannot twit me with ever 1004 shrinking from meeting with the people; I never feared to stand before them, and invariably I have maintained the doctrines I am maintaining in this House; I am convinced that the rational part of the population agree with me, and the rational part of the labouring population. If you depart from the principle of the present law, you will no longer stand as you now do, the lords of the human kind, setting an example worthy to be followed. I can conceive nothing so detrimental to the whole character of the English people as carrying out the wretched philosophy of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, which requires relief to be given without asking whether a necessity for it exists. Instead of an honest, upright, dignified population—for the poor man is dignified in his calling—instead of such a population winning their way by honest industry, and fulfilling all their duties, you will have a craving, subservient, subjected population; a miserable race of crouching slaves, instead of upright and honest freemen. Because I believe it to be our first duty to preserve this character of the people, I ask you to maintain in its integrity this great measure for the relief of the poor, giving with an unsparing hand when dire necessity demands relief, but not giving to the undeserving poor that which was intended for the labouring population. I wish to say only one word respecting the Commission. I say it with great pain. I do not shrink from the principle of the law; but I do say the Gentlemen who have hitherto carried out this law have not had that steadfastness of mind requisite for administering so great and necessary a measure. I do, therefore, beseech the noble Lord to let no personal feeling interfere in a matter which affects the welfare of all the labouring population of this great country, but to give us a Commission that is above all suspicion.
§ MR. BANKES
could not but think it remarkable that while the hon. and learned Member for Bath professed to set so little store upon the speech of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, because deserving of little weight, he had nevertheless occupied so much time in animadverting upon it. Nor had the hon. and learned Gentleman been at all felicitous in his observations; certainly he was not original in the taunt he threw out when he invited the hon. Member for Knaresborough to bring in a Bill. That was but a repetition of the taunt which the hon. and learned Gentle- 1005 man himself received from the Prime Minister a few evenings since—a taunt, by the way, much more feeble in the repetition than when delivered from the Treasury bench. He must remind the hon. and learned Member, that if he meant to support the Bill as introduced by the Government, the observations he had made on the Commissioners and their conduct should have led him to precisely the opposite conclusion, for the Ministers did not disapprove of the conduct of the Commissioners. They especially told the House that they would enter into no undertaking that the present Commissioners should not be appointed to the posts of honour created by this Bill. The subject really before the House was not the provisions of the Poor Law. The question they had to consider Was not whether they were to new-model the Act of 1844, but whether, in reconstructing that part of which related to central control, they should retain substantially the same system and the same men. But the Commissioners were to be installed in higher dignity and honour than ever. They were to be declared competent to hold seats in that House. To such a proposition there were constitutional objections; and there were other acts of the Government with which it might be viewed in connexion. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had spoken of the overwhelming pressure of business upon public men. He did the noble Lord the justice to believe that, overwhelmed as he was with business, he had not had time to read over the Bills which had been introduced under his sanction by different Members of his Government; for it would be matter for surprise, indeed, if it should happen that, with the knowledge of one so distinguished for his adherence to constitutional principles, two, three, or four Bills had been brought in which created so many new pieces of patronage. It was the fashion among hon. Members to get up speeches upon topics which promised to be popular, such as the sanitary condition of towns, or prison discipline. All joined in applause of the introductory speech, which throughout the country was hailed as giving birth to a new era. But the Health of Towns Bill turned out to be a new creation of Commissioners and subordinates, and an invasion of private rights to such an extent that London rebelled, and the noble Lord did not dare to dine with his constituents till he was able to assure them that they would be exempted from its ope- 1006 ration. Marylebone joined in the outcry; and then the Bill was so framed that it expressly excluded London, and, by implication, the metropolitan districts. Under the Prisons Bill commissioners and inspectors were to be appointed, superseding those who had hitherto been thought guardians to be trusted with the management of gaols. In Swift's Advice to Servants, there was a maxim which ran somewhat in these terms:—"Take care each of you in your own department to make provision to expend exactly the whole of your master's income, for that is what will do him the greatest credit, and show your respect for his credit." And so in the present instance. Every one who drew up a Bill, made places for commissioners and inspectors to the full amount of the sum at the disposal of the noble Lord. One placeman, say the Railway Commissioner, might have escaped notice. But here were two other Commissioners provided for; and the very men who had already been so greatly condemned might be appointed. Nay, some checks which previously existed on their conduct were to be taken away. They did not require to keep a record of their proceedings; the Commissioners had never kept any, though bound to do so; but that which the old Commissioners had neglected to do, the new Commissioners were to be exempted from doing. Was this new Whig plan intended as an absolution of the Commissioners? The First Minister of the Crown had said he did not think there was anything in the conduct of those persons to prevent them from holding office in the new Commission, which was subjected in a smaller degree to check, and invested in an extended degree with powers, while the station of the Commissioners was improved, being rendered admissible to that House. He had always thought it desirable to have, in regard to the poor, a representative connected with the Home Office. Before adding two placemen to the House, the propriety of leaving out two Lords of the Treasury or Admiralty, or a clerk of the Ordnance, and some other functionary, might be suggested as a question for consideration. Something almost like a trap seemed to be laid for the House; by swallowing such a proposition they would be sent with a very ill grace to their constituents. The Commissioners had the power to create laws. The Attorney General had stated that this power was not entirely anomalous, because it was possessed by 1007 courts of law. But the other example—the Ecclesiastical Commission—was rather unhappy; it did not follow that because the House had made one unfortunate experiment, they ought to make another. If the Commissioners were to have seats in Parliament, why should they not make their laws there instead of making them in their private chambers? One object of their being admitted to Parliament, he understood, was, that they should from time to time propose those laws which might he recommended; as in the instances of the Railway Commissioner. The best circular letter was an Act of Parliament. After ten or twelve years' experience, it was time to say what rules and regulations ought to be retained or abrogated; but if new experiments were to be made, they ought to be discussed in that House, and not at a private board. Would the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department inform the House why, at that late period of the Session, they were called upon to consider this proposition? The hon. Member for Bath had made merry with the Committee sitting in the other House, and not altogether without reason; but the inconclusive result of such an inquiry he had always anticipated. He could not consent to the second reading of the Bill, unless assured that it would be freed from those objections to which he had alluded. As to the details, there was much room for amendment; but the Bill could not be allowed to pass its present stage unless the Government announced their intention of making alterations in those points which affected the vital principle. As to the Poor Law, he had always thought it very unfortunate that it was taken up as a new measure. Additions were made to the old law; but the originator of the new law was neither Chadwick nor Senior: the real author was no other than Sir Matthew Hale. He had the original treatise in which Sir Matthew Hale recommended it to the public in his own beautiful language. But, though it was chalked out, the Whig party, it was said, had an unhappy mode of managing matters; and hence they spoiled the plan. The Commission was an addition of the Whigs, and not of Sir M. Hale's; and there were other additions equally pernicious. But all its beneficial parts, all the portions which gave rights to the poor, were propositions of Sir M. Hale's. There was, he (Mr. Bankes) believed, very little difference in that House as to the mode in which the Poor Law 1008 ought to be carried out; but the hon. Member for Bath seemed to admit that the central control was not a happy one. He could not think that this country would ever approve of conferring on people the power of making rules such as that which had been exercised by the Poor Law Commissioners. The Commissioners had few opportunities of ascertaining the real sentiments of the country. He had been struck in Committees with their ignorance of the feelings of the people. In reading Mr. Chadwick's evidence, he was led to contemplate, as he did with great alarm, the probability that it was to Mr. Chadwick's system that the Government were looking. That system was to abolish all local authority whatsoever. Mr. Chadwick thought it unnecessary to have meetings of guardians oftener than once a month. Yet, one great advantage of the New Poor Law was said to be, that it would bring different classes together. The further progress of this central control must be viewed with great alarm; even while the necessity was admitted of some central power ready to interfere when there was occasion, but interfering as little as possible. The Poor Law would never work beneficially or attain popularity till that principle was secured. He had that day presented a petition, complaining of the conduct of certain district auditors. Instructions had been issued requiring them to audit the accounts twice in the year; but the fact was they had not audited them at all. He had also presented a petition the other day concerning a relieving officer who was said to have embezzled certain funds, but which allegation had never been attended to. This showed that the Poor Law Commissioners were either not acquainted with the working of the Act, or were unable to carry it into operation. If the Government attempted in the present Bill to supersede those who had local knowledge in the administration of the law, they would render the measure deservedly an unpopular one. The present Act had become unpopular, he concurred with the hon. Member for Bath in thinking, mainly from the unfortunate conduct of the Commissioners. It was a matter well worthy of deep consideration what change should be introduced; but before he voted for the second reading of this Bill, he must see a better prospect of amendment than anything he found there. He was truly anxious for a change, because he found that in the country confidence was shaken in the present Act, and it was very re- 1009 quisite that some change should be made. The reason of the change now proposed, however, had never been given by the Government; for they denied that it was occasioned by the conduct of the Commissioners; and he defied them to show that there was any other reason for the change, except it were to give seats in Parliament to two additional officers of their appointment. If they introduced the amendments he had suggested, however, he believed that the Poor Law would work well, and be no longer unpopular. Under these circumstances, although not agreeing in many of the points which had been brought before the House by the hon. Member for Knaresborough, he still felt it to be his duty to vote with him in opposing the second reading of this Bill.
§ SIR G. GREY
I confess that after hearing the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just addressed the House, differing as it did in all its parts from the speech of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, I was rather surprised to hear him conclude by saying that he should vote with that hon. Member. The speech of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Bankes), as well as the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, has disposed of so many of the objections of the hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Bill, that it will save me the trouble of replying to them. I shall only notice, therefore, a small portion of his speech. The whole speech of the hon. Member for Knaresborough was directed against the amended Poor Law of 1834, which he described as a complete departure from the original Poor Law of the 43rd Elizabeth, and as a new and tyrannical law. He asserted that the object of the original promoters of the measure was to get rid of Poor Laws altogether. The hon. Member told us (though where he got his information I do not know) that it was the result of a compact between the leaders of the two political parties in this House, that whoever should be in power the New Poor Law should never be disturbed; and maintained that it was a law which was unfit to be on the Statute-book. With respect to the principle or details of the present Bill, he never once adverted to them; but, on the principle of opposition to the existing law, he was opposed to the further progress of this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman has said, and said truly, that no alteration of the principle of the Bill of 1834 was proposed in the Bill before the 1010 House; and, if there had, it is probable he would have opposed it, because he told us that the Poor Law Amendment Act contained no new principle, but was merely an adaptation of the old law to altered circumstances; and, that so far from having been concocted by a party of modern political economists, who were determined to abolish Poor Laws altogether, it was the same as the scheme proposed by Sir Matthew Hale. I have therefore the support of the hon. and learned Gentleman to the principle of the Act of 1834. The hon. Member for Knaresborough, I must say, entirely misrepresented the intentions of the authors of this Bill. He has quoted large extracts to show that their object was to abolish all Poor Laws; but if he had read the speeches throughout he would have found that the responsible advisers of the Crown disavowed the intentions which have been imputed to them. For instance, Lord Althorp, in introducing the Poor Law Bill of 1834—Begged that he should not be understood as expressing his disapprobation of a well-regulated system of Poor Laws. So far from that being the case, he was of opinion that a well-regulated system of Poor Laws would be productive of great benefit to the country. He was aware that he was now expressing an opinion contrary to the more strict principles of political economy.After describing the principles of political economy, Lord Althorp went on to say—Such was the doctrine of political economy. But as long as we were accessible, not only to the feelings of religion, but to the dictates of humanity, we must be convinced that the support of those who were really helpless, and really unable to provide for themselves, was not only justifiable, but a sacred duty imposed on those who had the ability to assist the distressed. It was, therefore, to the abuses of the system of Poor Laws, not to the system itself—it was to the bad administration of those laws, not to their principle—that he objected.Such was the language of Lord Althorp, in moving the Bill of 1834. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ferrand), will not again assert that it was the design of the authors of that Bill to deprive the poor of the right to relief under a good system of Poor Laws. Their real design was that which they avowed, and which I believe they have in a great measure accomplished, namely, to cure the abuses which had crept into the administration of the Poor Law prior to 1834; abuses which have been truly described as not more injurious to property itself than to 1011 the real interests of the poor, which the law was intended to promote. The hon. Gentleman had also stated that the Act of 1834 had been productive of innumerable evils. He said, that before the House passed that law the poor of this country were a loyal, obedient, peaceful and well-conditioned body of people; that there was no want, no riots, as in 1835—no rick-burnings, no agricultural labourers with 8s. a week; and, but for that law, there would have been none of the working classes now suffering the punishment of transportation for those riotous proceedings which it was found necessary to put down by the strong arm of the law. The hon. Gentleman has been accused of ignorance in the course of this debate; and I must say that, judging from his speech, he does seem to have taken a very cursory and superficial view of the subject, and that his reading seems to have been principally directed to the ephemeral pamphlets of the day; and that he has not, in fact, fully looked back to the real state of the law on which he professed to speak. The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the multiplication of gaols find gaol deliveries as the effects of the law of 1834. I thought it was admitted that the enlargement of our gaols and the increased number of gaol deliveries were two manifest improvements, and that every one rejoiced that attention had been called to those subjects. Surely the hon. Gentleman will not say that, because, by the enlargement and improvement of our prisons, they have been made more healthy and better adapted to an efficient system of penal discipline, and by the increase of gaol deliveries justice is more speedily administered, any subject of complaint exists, or any injury is done to the poor. But the hon. Gentleman would pull down our prisons, as well as repeal the Poor Law, and believes that by restoring the old Poor Law he would empty the gaols and produce a happy and contented people. Now, I need not refer to the state of things which took place under the old Poor Law, they must still be fresh in the recollection of the House. No one who knows anything of the subject can doubt that the effect was to confound the industrious and the idle, to pauperize and demoralise the people, and to reduce them to a state of dependence. The object of the Bill of 1834 was to correct these evils. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bankes), has truly stated, that we have 1012 not now to consider whether the law of 1834 should be repealed. To the repeal of that Bill the hon. and learned Gentleman would himself object. He began by saying, that he did think that a central authority was essential; but I do not exactly understand what the nature of that control is which he considers essential. In moving for leave to bring in the Bill now before the House, I stated that the Government felt that the reasons which in 1834 led Government to propose to Parliament to establish a body with a central power, remain in full force. But the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bankes) says that he objects to vesting such powers in Commissioners, and that whatever alterations or regulations they may wish to propose in the administration of the Poor Law, should have the sanction of Parliament. Now, I wish to know whether the hon. Gentleman really means that the Commissioners should be obliged in every instance where they may find it necessary, to adapt the general regulations under the Poor Law to the peculiar circumstances of particular localities? we shall be obliged to introduce a Bill to enable them to do so. Or does the hon. Gentleman ask for absolute uniformity? In introducing this Bill, I said that there should be a central control; and on that point the hon. Gentleman concurred with me. Now, I thought that the great advantage to be derived from this central control was, that the persons in whom that control would be vested, would have discretionary powers to enable them, in cases which might arise from time to time, to alter the general rules, in order to suit the exigencies of particular localities. The hon. Gentleman, on the other hand, thinks that whenever any suspension or limitation of the general rules is required, a Minister of the Crown should come down to Parliament and propose a Bill applicable to some particular union or a variety of unions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will, when he has some further opportunity, or that some hon. Gentleman who concurs in his opinion, will inform the House by what means, or by what machinery, he proposes to effect his plan. But the hon. Gentleman told us that his great opposition to this Bill is founded upon the amount of new patronage which it will create; and although he professed a desire to confine himself to the subject, his patriotism led him to speak of the Sanitary Bill and the Prisons Bill, both which measures he denounced as schemes merely for increasing 1013 the power of the Crown by creating new patronage. Now, I wish to know how this Bill will create any new patronage? It does not propose to give employment to any more Commissioners than are at present actually employed under the Government; and, in fact, in a pecuniary point of view, the expense of those Commissioners will he less under this Bill than they are at present. The hon. Gentleman talked a good deal about the Sanitary Bill; but I will, at present, refrain from replying to his arguments on that Bill, because that question is not now under the consideration of the House. I will, however, ask whether the hon. Gentleman wishes the people to continue in filth and fever, rather than see some new officers appointed who will superintend measures essential for promoting the health of towns? The hon. Gentleman has also spoken of the Prisons Bill, and the number of inspectorships to be created under it; but he is not aware that there will be a substitute of one officer for another, and that the proposed Commissioner will take the place of a superintendent of convicts, whose office was prospectively abolished by an Act of last year. The hon. Gentleman said that he thought the Constitution was in danger, in consequence of the proposal of this Bill to have two placemen in the House; but I will remind the hon. Gentleman that, within the last few years, five or six placemen have been excluded from Parliament, so that the contemplated increase of placemen in the House cannot be quite so dangerous to the Constitution as he imagined. Not many years ago there was one Lord of the Admiralty struck off the list, and the Lieutenant General of the Ordnance. The office of Paymaster of the Forces now combined those offices formerly held by three distinct indviduals—namely, the Paymaster General of the Navy, the Treasurer of the Navy, and the Treasurer of the Ordnance. The office of Judge of the Admiralty Court has also been abolished. I want, then, to see how far the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees with me. He agrees with me in supporting the Act of 1834; he agrees with me that we ought to have a central authority; he also agrees with me that that central authority ought to be represented in this House. I am perfectly astonished that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not support the Bill, in place of joining with the hon. Member for Knaresborough in opposing it. But the hon. and learned Gentleman says that the central authority should 1014 not have the power of making laws. The hon. and learned Gentleman has alluded to the Prisons Act, which gives a distinct power to the visiting justices of making rules and regulations for the government of prisons, subject to the approbation of the Secretary of State. Now, this power, which the hon. Member for Knaresborough has denounced as monstrous and unconstitutional, which he has pledged all his legal acumen and knowledge to prove—this power was possessed by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Bankes), as one of the visiting justices of Dorchester gaol, and was exercised by him on every occasion, when the prison regulations were under the consideration of the justices. [Mr. BANKES here intimated his dissent.] The hon. Member shakes his head; but I assure him that such is the case. I maintain that Parliament has the power to delegate its authority for the purpose of making rules and regulations, and that, in the case of the Poor Law, it is utterly impossible to dispense with such a power without a code of such stringent rules as would render it utterly impossible to carry the law into effect. With reference to giving seats in Parliament to the President and one of the Secretaries of the proposed Board, I can only repeat what I stated upon a former occasion, that when the Act of 1834 was passed, His Majesty's Government felt that the persons to be entrusted with discretionary power to carry this Act into effect should be kept aloof from all party conflicts and popular influence. I stated, however, that experience had proved the inconvenience of this arrangement, and that the removal of the Poor Law Commissioners from the influence of popular opinion had a bad effect upon them, as well as interfered with that direct responsible discretion which in the case of the Ministers of the Crown was found so beneficial. I also stated that I felt strongly that the law suffered from not having a member of the Board in Parliament ready and able to answer any charges with respect to its maladministration, and to give, if not a satisfactory, at least a full explanation of all their proceedings. The Poor Law Commissioners have often suffered much from not being able personally to vindicate their conduct in Parliament; and therefore it is that Her Majesty's Government have proposed that there should be an immediate personal responsibility in this House on the part of those who are to administer the law. The 1015 hon. Member for Dorsetshire has made many objections to the measure; but what does he propose to substitute for it? He has omitted to define what kind of superintendence it is which he would consider more satisfactory than the system proposed by the Bill. As he admits the principle, however, his objection is surely one rather for the Committee than the second reading. There remains only one objection—that this Bill is introduced so late in the Session. But it is really no very common thing to hear the 17th of May spoken of as being so late in the Session; and if the hon. Member will consider how the last three months have been occupied—especially with respect to the measures relating to Irelend—I think he will see how impossible it would have been to introduce the measure sooner with any chance of getting forward. But at the close of his speech the hon. Member forgot his objection about the lateness of the Session, for he called on us to withdraw this Bill, and said there would be plenty of time to introduce a new one; so that the hon. Member is not really of opinion that it is too late. I would beg to remind him also, that within two days of the opening of the Session, my noble Friend at the head of the Government stated fully what the new measure was intended to be, so that there has been ample time to consider its principle. With respect to what has been said as to the Andover Committee, it does not appear to me that the present is the proper time to go into that subject; but at the same time I do not find in the report of that Committee one word of objection to the principle of the measure of 1834, nor do I find anything there to justify what the hon. Member for Knaresborough has said of it. In conclusion, I have only to state my acquiescence in the sentiments expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that there is on the part both of the Government and this House a wish to act with fairness and equity towards the poor, and a desire to promote that which is likely to be most conducive to their interests—an object which I think would be best attained by an adherence to the measure of 1834. I must, add, with reference to the Government pledging itself to exclude from office, under the Bills, certain individuals, such a course would be highly improper, and one which no Government worthy of the confidence of the House would ever think of taking.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
joined in the op- 1016 position of his hon. Friends to this Bill, as he considered a change in name of the persons concerned did not also constitute a change in the character of the former Bill; and instead of being a boon to the working classes, he believed it would only be the perpetuation of an injury to them. The new Bill was one for the purpose of creating patronage; and it added to the public expenditure, though both patronage and expense had been denied. There was to be an individual called a President; but there was no hint as to the amount of salary he was to have. Then there were to be inspectors; but neither the number nor the cost was stated: but he supposed that would be as the Government pleased, both as to pay and to number. He protested against a Bill which gave a power of centralization, and placed its working in the hands of persons who had no local knowledge of the situation, wants, or character of the poor in the different districts. The relief of the poor ought to be in the hands of the local authorities, who had the best means of knowing the deserving and the undeserving. The poor would have greater confidence in seeking relief, and those who supplied the funds for that relief would be better satisfied. If the hon. Member for Knaresborough—a Gentleman who, without flattery, he believed had a better knowledge of the feelings and condition of the poor than any other Member of that House—thought it his duty to divide on the question, he should vote with him. This was a Bill got up at the last moment of the Session—one of those ad captandum measures, such as the Health of Towns Bill—for the purpose of enabling the right hon. Gentlemen opposite to say, "See what a humane Government we are; see how anxious we are to help the poor." He did not believe sympathy for the condition of the poor was the object of the Government in introducing this Bill. "Conscience makes cowards of us all," it was true; but there were times when conscience fell asleep, and he thought most often on the Treasury benches. On these grounds he doubted the honesty of the Government, and thought the Bill was pumped up to create patronage, and to satisfy the longing expectancy of some of their friends. He opposed the Bill because it created new Commissioners; and he hated the very name of Commissioners, unless they worked without pay; and because it was brought in so late; for it was late, notwithstanding the remarks of the Home Secretary, in the 1017 Session. The Government were anxious to bring in Bills at the end of a Session, in order that when hon. Members were tired out, they might be smuggled in without opposition. It was a mere farce, and he would not support such a proceeding. It was his intention to vote for the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Knaresborough.
§ Debate adjourned.