HC Deb 04 August 1848 vol 100 cc1144-51

House in Committee.

On Clause 1,


said, that one object of the Bill was to renew the temporary law respecting the irremovability of the poor, and to continue Mr. Bodkin's Bill for one year. In doing that he thought it right to make the whole subject of the Bill extend only for one year also.


hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Buller) would bring in a Bill to make the poor in large towns chargeable upon the unions. At present the poor had to keep the poor, for the rich evaded this duty. In the parish in which he lived the poor-rates were 1s. in the pound, while in the next parish they were 7s. the whole of the poor being kept by the adjoining parish. It frequently happened that persons made their fortunes in towns, and then removed into close townships in the neighbourhood to reside, by which means they were no longer liable to the maintenance of the poor in the parishes where they had amassed their wealth.


could confirm the statement of the hon. Member for Salford as to the effect of the present system. Some of the richest parishes in the city of York were almost entirely relieved from poor-rates. There was another point to which he begged to call the attention of the right bon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Buller), and that was the hardship of which railway proprietors had to complain in the rating of railways to the relief of the poor. In looking over the accounts of one railway with which he was connected, the Eastern Counties, he found that they had paid 12,000l. in rates during the last half-year, for 250 miles of railway, which was about 8l. per acre; while he believed it would be found that agricultural parishes only paid on average of from 3s. to 3s. 6d. per acre throughout the kingdom. He feared that the effect of the present Bill would be to saddle upon the railways, as the large ratepayers, the additional rate which would be levied upon the union generally, and that they would thus have to contribute to the maintenance of the poor in parishes in which they had no property. He hoped, at least, that the subject of railway rateability would be taken out of the hands of magistrates. It was not right that so much injustice should be perpetrated upon the promoters of undertakings which rather deserved the fostering hand of the Government, The railway companies only asked for justice; but it must strike the House as a monstrous injustice that they should pay 8l. per acre to the poor-rates while the average of the rates in agricultural parishes was only from 3s. to 3s. 6d. per acre.


concurred in what had fallen from the hon. Members for Sal-ford and Sunderland with regard to the hardship caused by the inequality of rating of different parishes in the same towns. He had already expressed his opinion in favour of retaining the principle of parochial chargeability; but none of the arguments in favour of this principle applied to the case of towns, in which one parish paid more than another, in consequence of the labourers living in one parish, and working in another. The question underwent much discussion in the Settlement Committee of last year; and it appeared to he the general opinion that a complete and uniform charge would he the right thing with regard to the several parishes forming large towns. He proposed to lay on the table this Session a Bill enacting that where there was a town coextensive with a union (of which he believed there were only six cases), and where the town was not under a local Act, there should be in such cases an entire union charge for all purposes whatsoever. If the Bill gave satisfaction, it would be easy to extend it to smaller towns which were not coextensive with unions. He thus proposed to feel his way, and he hoped the House would allow him to go on in this kind of pottering manner. The present discussion was somewhat premature.


wished the right hon. Gentleman to give his opinion on the three following cases: Firstly, if a person presented himself at the door of a union workhouse in a state of intoxication, ought such a person to he an object of public charity? Secondly, supposing the case that some labourers had been engaged in labouring work, and had been in the receipt of very large wages—that a strike took place, that those parties were thrown out of work, and that they immediately had recourse to the union workhouse, and represented themselves as destitute, ought they to be taken into the house, or otherwise receive relief? His third question was, whether certain men, between the ages of eighteen and thirty, who were known to be circulating through the country, and who were in the habit of con- stantly coming to the workhouse and asking for relief, ought to receive it from the union workhouses? Some information upon points such as those was very necessary to guide relieving officers in the discharge of their duty.


would suggest to the House whether the relief of the poor ought not to he a national act instead of a local act. Why should funded property be free from the poor-rate, or stock in trade? He knew that the difficulty of taxing stock in trade was great, and that the expense of collecting it would he large; but that was no reason why it should not be taxed as well as any other description of property.


said, the question raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham was a very large one. He had his own opinion on the subject, and it did not entirely coincide with that of the hon. Member. With respect to the questions put by the hon. Member (Mr. E. Denison), he might state that his object had been, ill the circular to parochial officers, which he hoped to lay on the table to-day, to point out to the unions the necessity of exercising a discretion in such cases; and if a general explanation of his views did I not prove sufficient, he would labour most sedulously, from time to time, until he had I made himself understood. With respect to those persons who were in the receipt; of good wages, he had attempted to guard against their being improperly relieved; and if it should be known in the neighbourhood that they were in that condition, unless they were bowed down by illness, he should say that the relieving officer would exercise a wise discretion in refusing relief. As to habitual vagrancy, he would put that act down as he would any other offence.


said, that though the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Buller) had been compelled by circumstances to withdraw the greater part of the measures he had introduced, yet he thanked him for Persevering with the clause which spread the charge of vagrancy over the whole union. This evil of vagrancy was so great, so increasing, that it admitted not of delay, and he was glad to see a prospect of the principle being admitted; for, depend upon it, unless the guardians generally were made to feel the burden, no effectual steps could or would be taken to mitigate the evil. The country guardians, as the law now stood, bore none of the burden, and they opposed those who did, in their attempts to put it down. In the union to which he belonged, the board passed a resolution to appoint a vagrant officer; at the very next meeting this was rescinded by an influx of country guardians, whose interest it was to keep the establishment expenses as low as possible. Again, the guardians proposed to erect sleeping apartments for the vagrants; but this was successfully opposed by the country members of the board, and the only alternative was to quarter them at those nests of vice and misery, the lodging-houses, at a great expense to the parish. The relief of the vagrants was thrown almost exclusively upon the central township, or where the poorhouse was situated. Thus, for instance, in the union of Wakefield, in the six months from October to April, no less than 3,670 cases of vagrancy occurred in one township, that of Wakefield; whilst in Alverthorpe, a populous township, only ten occurred, and in some others not one. He asked upon what principle of justice should the whole expenses be thrown upon one township? He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had been compelled to abandon his proposed improved system of rating, namely, on the county rate, instead of the old system of averages. However just the system of averages might have been some fourteen years ago, when these unions were formed, the right no longer existed; and he contended, all those charges—the establishment, the irremovables, and the vagrants—ought to be spread over the whole union, by a fair and equitable system of rating. The proposed measure was but a temporary one, and ceased in September, 1849; but he was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say he intended to prepare, during the recess, a far more extended plan. No one knew better than he the great evils of the law as it stood; and he believed no one was more sincere in his desire to reform those abuses; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would turn his great talents to the consideration of that monster evil, the law of settlement. He considered the late change of five years' residence gaining a settlement a great improvement—a step in the right direction; but it was necessary to proceed; and he would be glad to see the five years reduced to one; at present it was a fruitful source of litigation, particularly in the different townships of a union. It cost the union of Wakefield 10l. to 14l. per week, or about 600l. per annum—a sum more considerable than the whole expense would be of maintaining all these disputed cases; and then, again, look at the hardships it entailed on the poor. If a pauper had gained a settlement by five years' residence, he lost that right of relief and irremovability by removing some fifty or one hundred yards into another township of the same union; and was sent perhaps some one hundred miles off to obtain relief from that parish to which he originally belonged. He contended that, to remove from one township to another in the same union ought not to disqualify him from relief. It gave rise to cases of great hardship and cruelty. He threw out these hints to the right hon. Gentleman; and he hoped he would bring in a measure early next Session to reform these glaring defects and abuses in the system which now existed.


had suggested, at the time the poor-law was passed, that small, well-administered parishes should be exempted from the operation of the law. When the right hon. Gentleman attempted to frame a new system of rating for the country, it was very like a breach of faith to these small parishes, and threw an additional burden on parishes where property had been bought and sold under the old system. If a greater burden were thrown upon property than existed at the time of the contract, it would have the effect of confiscating property.


thought it would be unjust if, by the area of rating being extended to unions instead of the parochial area, there should, as he believed, be a great additional charge upon railroads. The evil of vagrancy in the north of England was great, and one of the difficulties attending the extension of the area of chargeability was, that without some very stringent measures for the suppression of vagrancy, it would be increased by such extension of the area. The difficulties in the way of a union settlement were very great, and it would be better to proceed by a bit by bit reform, than to adopt at once so extensive a change, to which he foresaw much opposition.


said, in the late Chartist disturbances it had been found that the mobs were augmented by the 4,000 or 5,000 vagrants who were always preying upon the community. Unless vagrancy, which was rapidly increasing, was dealt with in a most stringent manner, the large towns would be in constant fear of an outbreak through the recklessness of I these persons. The rates of the town of Stafford, which he represented, had increased from 8,000l. to 12,000l. In Manchester, in 1837, the rates were only 24,000l., whereas in 1847 they had reached the enormous amount of 125,000l. [Mr. BULLER: The increase was for buildings.] In Norwich and other places there had been a large increase, and some change was absolutely necessary in assessing the rate; for if Norwich, Leeds, London, and other large cities, were to suffer under the infliction of an unequal tax, there would be great dissatisfaction amongst the urban population. Norwich had not only to sup port its own manufacturing poor, but that of the agricultural poor.


said, that some part of the pressure of the rates upon large towns had arisen from the general depression of trade in the early part of the year. He trusted that during the next half year much labour would be absorbed, and that the pressure upon the country would be relieved. The five years' residence might be accounted a grievance; but he believed the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had been actuated by the most beneficent motive in bringing forward that clause, and that it was upon the whole founded on the greatest humanity. He trusted that, whatever might be the evils attending vagrancy, the poor-law unions would be ready to grant relief to infirm and aged vagrants.


agreed in what had fallen from the hon. Member who had just sat down, that a great deal of the pressure and temporary suffering in the country had arisen from the unfortunate depression of trade in many parts; and that a great deal of the burden of the rates had arisen from that cause and no other. With respect to the mode of dealing with vagrants, it was a most important subject, and he thought a great discretion should he exercised where persons claimed relief who were in a state of intoxication, or who had means or credit of their own. But he (Mr. Henley) had been disappointed, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman would disappoint the views of the country, by the mode in which he proposed to deal with tramps or professional vagrants. He was sorry to find that they were to be dealt with only by refusing relief. The administration of the poor-law had now become a responsible department of the Government; and the relief of the poor, be they vagrant or casual, would fall into the hands of the relieving officer, who would be an officer of the hoard of guardians, acting under the Poor Law Board. He could understand overseers putting away cases of unfounded claims for this kind of relief; but when a man in the situation of a public officer dealt with such a claim by simply denying relief, when the party ought to he punished, and which would only throw hack the party upon the overseers, he thought that such a mode of dealing with those cases was objectionable. They had better look the evil in the face, in spite of the expense of dealing with it in another way. With respect to railroads, he had never been able to understand the justice of the principle upon which this description of property was rated. He had always felt it to be a difficult subject, and had been reluctant to bring his mind to recognise the justice of the decision; but that description of property, like every other, must abide by the decision of the courts of law.


said, the vagrant had half-a-dozen reasons now for following his trade which he had not before—workhouses, relieving officers, overseers, were all interested in getting rid of him as fast as they could; and there was this additional cause, that the whole country teemed with beer-shops, many of which had lodgings for the poor—these and other causes gave facilities for leading an errant life.


had, as a chief magistrate, found it only necessary to commit vagrants found in the town. By steadily pursuing this system, and employing a few policemen, he had always found that in five or six days the town was completely cleared. A little additional expense was incurred, but it saved a good deal in the end.


felt persuaded that the right hon. Gentleman who brought in the Bill ought to be extremely careful to avoid doing anything that had a tendency rather to increase than to diminish the expense attendant upon the present measure; and he rather apprehended that such a result would ensue from the proceedings in which they were now engaged; he should there-force wish to see the circular which provided for the administration of the law in this matter, As, however, it seemed to be then not convenient to produce it, they might perhaps proceed with the Bill through a Committee, and he should not at present resist its progress.


wished to state why throwing the charge on the union would increase those evils which had justly been made the subject of complaint. Parliament might declare that applying to the workhouse for relief was in itself an act of vagrancy; but what would they do with the class who did not care how soon they committed an act of vagrancy, or what might be the consequences of their actions—who would rather go to gaol than to the workhouse—and who, with the prospect of the latter before them, would take up a stone and break a window in order to their being committed to prison? Of course, if the House chose, they might inflict a more severe punishment than imprisonment; but as his department was not that of penal legislation, he was not prepared to propose any measure on that subject; and if it were his duty to propose such a measure, he should certainly put it off till the next Session. With respect to the charge of vagrancy, he begged to say that if they threw the whole cost on single parishes, they might effect their object much more completely in another way; for if they did not mind justice, their plan would be to place the cost on the clergyman, or on the richest gentleman in the parish. If they resolved to put down vagrancy, they must have a relieving officer appointed for the union at large. In the union at large there was not properly a settlement, but rather in the parish, and the parish officers could scarcely deal efficiently with vagrants; when, however, a union happened to be coextensive with a town, that circumstance gave great facilities in relieving vagrancy; but he thought that the modified plan proposed by the present measure was the best that, under the circumstances, could be proposed to Parliament. He hoped the House would remember that the administration of relief to vagrants did not form any part of the poor-law; and it would be against the whole principle of the poor-law to carry it beyond the parishes in which acts of vagrancy were committed. One of the objects which he had in view was to throw the burden of relieving vagrancy upon those who possessed the power of repressing it.

Clause 1, amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed. Report to be received on Monday.

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