§ Order for Committee read.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
rose to move the instruction to the Committee of which he had given notice. He considered the question they had to consider one of the utmost importance to a great portion of the public, for it was a fact that at any rate wherever there were parishes governed by local Acts, a deep interest was felt in the Motion which he had to submit; and he thought that whoever was in favour of the principle of local self-government should support that Motion. He believed that the foundation of all the power, wealth, prosperity, and freedom of this great country, and the principle which had made England the wonder and envy of the world, was this principle for which he had to contend. That important principle was seriously interfered with by the members of the Poor Law Board as they interpreted the law; the object of the present Bill was to continue the power of the Board so to interfere; and that what he wished to do was to take away that power, so far as it respected certain classes of parishes, which were never intended to be placed under the control of the Board by the original framers of the Poor Law Act. If the House should agree to his Motion, he intended in Committee to move the insertion of a Clause or Proviso to the effect that the provisions of the Act 4 & c 5 Will. IV., c. 76, should not extend nor be construed to extend to any parish the management of the poor whereof was regulated by a Board of Directors or Guardians under a local Act or local Acts of Parliament. He would in the meantime undertake to prove three propositions: first, that the state of the law at present was uncertain, and therefore led to litigation; second, that the law, as interpreted by the Poor Law Board, was not in harmony with the intentions of the framers of the Act; and, third, that the law was, therefore, not in a state which was salutary or beneficial. With respect to the uncertainty of the law, that was proved, he thought, by the number of 1074 actions at law between the Poor Law Board and the different parish authorities The late Sir Robert Peel was of opinion that the power of the Poor Law Board should not extend to parishes governed by local Acts, and had always thought that where there were immense masses of population well governed under local Acts, it would not be found expedient to place them under the control of the Commissioners. He hoped hon. Members would agree with that opinion of Sir Robert Peel's. Was it not, on the face of it, much more likely that such parishes as Marylebone and St. Pancras would be well and harmoniously governed, if they were under the management of the local authorities'—men who, from their position in every parish, must know the wants, wishes, and requirements of the parishioners—than if governed by any central Metropolitan Board? Why, in these parishes which he had cited, with their enormous and continually increasing populations, the management of the workhouses was admirable; and this was where the officers were popularly elected. He could not conceive that any Poor Law Board or Commission could be more fitted to manage these affairs than the representatives chosen by the parishioners, than whom he believed no more intelligent men could be found. He had mentioned, as a result of the present uncertainty of the law, that it had given rise to litigation in some well-known cases where the local Board of Directors or Guardians of the Poor had been brought into collision with the Commissioners. There was the proof of it to be found in the case which had lately occurred in the parish of St. Pancras, a parish which was governed partly by a local Act and partly by the 1 & c 2 Will. IV., c. 60, commonly known as Hobhouse's Act, which the parish had adopted. The vestrymen were elected by the whole of the ratepayers, and one-third of the vestry retired from office at the end of every three years. The local Act under which they acted gave the vestry the power of appointing and removing their officers, and, among others, the master and mistress of the workhouse. In the course of last winter the vestry thought proper to exercise the power reposed in them by the Act by discharging the master of the workhouse; upon which they were informed by the Poor Law Board that they alone had the power to determine the continuance of that officer in his situation! The vestrymen, relying upon their local Act, 1075 which had not been repealed, and feeling that they had taken an oath which obliged them to conform to it, which they would not do if they obeyed the Poor Law Board, refused to comply with the order of the Board, or at least did not attend to it, whereupon the Board intimated to the vestrymen that, if they did not reinstate the master of the workhouse in his place, they would as soon as possible apply to the Court of Queen's Bench for a mandamus to compel them. Now, he thought that all this proved that the law was uncertain, and led to litigation. To show that the law, as interpreted by the Poor Law Board, was not in harmony with the intentions of the original framers of the Act, he would refer to the opinions of the present Chief Justice of the Common Pleas (Sir John Jervis), and the present Chief Baron of the Exchequer (Sir Frederick Pollock), and to the observations of the late Sir Robert Peel in 1841. He (Lord D. Stuart) believed that all the parishes which were governed by local Acts were anxious to be relieved from the interference of the Poor Law Board. Nor was this desire an unreasonable one, considering the results of this local management. He held in his hand a return relating to two of the largest and most important parishes in the metropolis—he might say, in the World—he meant St. Pancras and Marylebone, and showing that, while the population and number of ratepayers were constantly increasing, the number of paupers, and the amount expended for their maintenance, were constantly diminishing. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board had stated the other evening, in answer to the hon. Member for Finsbury, that the Poor Law Board had no desire to interfere with the St. Pancras vestry and the removal of the master of the workhouse, and that all they did was to inquire into the reason for his dismissal. That was a mistake. He thought the vestry of St. Pancras would have been perfectly justified if they had refused to grant the information required by the Poor Law Board; but, in point of fact, they had not refused, for no request had been directly made to them. What took place was this, that on the 11th of March, since the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Trollope) acceded to office, a letter was received from his office intimating that the Board would not allow the vestry to dismiss the master of the workhouse without carrying the case by mandamus to the Court of Queen's Bench; but if the vestry 1076 had any charge to make against the master, the Board was ready to listen and to report upon it. That was the only manner in which information was requested, and surely that could not be called a direct request. He hoped the Motion which he now brought forward would not be resisted by the Government. He would have made it though his political friends had been in power, though he confessed with far less hope than now, when the Treasury Bench was occupied by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, on every occasion when the Poor Law Bill was brought before the House had voted against it. In 1834, when the Bill was first introduced; in 1839, in 1840, in 1841, in 1842, and again in 1847, which was the last time this Bill was brought before the House, the same opposition was given to it. In 1841, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer opposed the Bill on the ground that it terminated the old parochial constitution of the country, and outraged the manners of the people for a mere sordid consideration. In 1847, the present Judge Advocate General (Mr. Bankes) had told them that the question for their consideration was not whether they were to remodel the Act of 1834, but whether, in reconstructing that part of it relating to central control, they would maintain substantially the same system; the right hon. President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Henley) had implored the House not to deprive the people under this Bill of their inalienable birthright; the right hon. President of the Poor Law Board had said that he could not find a clause in the Bill of which be approved; and the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests (Lord J. Manners) had said that he had not heard one argument which would induce him to support such a measure. He (Lord D. Stuart) asked these right hon. Gentlemen whether they were now prepared to continue this Bill, which they had formerly so strongly condemned, without the alteration of a single clause? The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared a few nights since that his intention was to carry out in office the principles he had advocated in opposition. He (Lord D. Stuart) could not understand, then, how the right hon. Gentleman could support this Bill in its integrity, and so continue to the Poor Law Board those powers which he had so often denounced as unconstitutional and oppressive. He (Lord D. Stuart) considered that, under the administration of the Poor Law Board, 1077 the poor were frequently exposed to very great cruelty and oppression; that the system of medical relief was very objectionable; that in many instances the poor suffered grievously in consequence of the enormous size of the Unions; and that the inmates of workhouses—especially the aged poor—were treated with much unnecessary rigour. He felt so strongly the importance of this subject that he should think it his duty to press his Motion to a division.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to make provision for amending the said Bill, if they should so think fit.
§ SIR JOHN TROLLOPE
said, that the object of the present Bill was to continue the powers of the Poor Law Board for two years. The powers now possessed by the Board would expire on the 23rd of July, or at the end of the next Session of Parliament, and, as the next Session might be one of very uncertain duration, it was necessary to bring in a measure to continue the powers of the Board. He thought the noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart) did not wish to abolish the Board altogether, but that he merely desired to restrict the powers of the Board with reference to certain parishes which were under the government of local Acts. No legislative or administrative powers were sought under this Bill. It was merely a Bill to continue the power of the Board for a limited period, and he thought it was most inconvenient that, upon such a measure, a discussion should be raised upon the whole theory and principle of the Poor Laws. The noble Lord had referred principally to the government of the poor in the parishes of St. Pancras and Marylebone, and had said, that in those parishes the operation of the Poor Law was extremely uncertain; that it led to litigation; and that its effect was inconsistent with the intentions of its framers. He (Sir J. Trollope) was not prepared to admit that the law was uncertain, for a number of decisions had been given clearly establishing the right of the Poor Law Board to issue regulations for the parishes to which the noble Lord had referred. It was true that a case had arisen in the parish of St. Pancras, to which the noble Lord had referred, respecting the right to dismiss the master of the workhouse; and that question was still in dependence. The master of the St. Pancras workhouse was 1078 lately discharged without any reference being made to the Poor Law Board, and he believed one of the material offences given to the vestry by the master was, that he had ventured to submit his case first to a Poor Law Inspector, and then to the Board itself. That was not an offence to be overlooked by the parochial authorities, and therefore they had refused to reinstate the man in his office, or to submit to the Poor Law Board. It was an act of courtesy on the part of the Poor Law Board that they had deferred any legal proceedings till after this Motion and discussion, because, if the noble Lord could induce the House to agree to this Motion and take away the powers of the Board, there would be an end of their interference. But if the House did so, there would be nothing but uncertainty: one system prevailing in one place, and another in another. The relief of the poor in the city of London would be governed upon one system, in St. Pancras upon another; to the north of Oxford-street you would have one law, to the south another. If the noble Lord's Motion were carried, it would exempt about one-eighth of the population and one-ninth of the Poor Law expenditure from any central control and supervision; for there were about 350 parishes under local Acts, comprising 2,000,000 of the population out of 18,000,000. Would such an exemption be advisable? Was it not to be expected that the abuses which existed before 1834 would return—the malversation of funds, the feasting, the eating and drinking, and objectionable methods of granting relief? The noble Lord supposed that all the parishes having local Acts were anxious to shake off the control of the Commissioners; but it happened that the very first deputation that was received at the Poor Law Board after his accepting office was from a metropolitan parish, asking for advice how they might relieve themselves from the operation of their local Act. It was plain, therefore that parishes were not so unanimous on this subject as the noble Lord supposed. It was true there were four petitions in favour of the noble Lord's Motion; but from whom did these petitions come? Not from the ratepayers, but from the vestrymen—the parochial authorities, who did not like to be controlled by the Poor Law Commissioners. It might be said, that they represented the ratepayers; but were the latter altogether satisfied with the management? In Marylebone, the list of 1079 vestrymen proposed by those with whom the noble Lord was in communication had just been successfully opposed; and he (Sir J. Trollope) had some very strong statements before him from gentlemen connected with Marylebone, who did not consider that things were as they ought to be in that parish. As a, resident for several years in that parish, he could himself bear witness to the dissatisfaction that was generally felt on the point; and he held in his hand a letter from a gentleman who had long been resident physician in the workhouse, complaining of several defects, among others that the workhouse, which could only properly accommodate 1,500, was sometimes forced to contain from 1,900 to 2,200; that there was no proper classification of the inmates; that the boys' school was close to the men's ward, and the girls' school to the women's ward, and that communication took place between the children and the adults, to the manifest injury of the former; and that the atmosphere of the establishment was prejudicial to infant life, so that about seventy infants died annually in the establishment; while the number of inmates under medical treatment averaged 600, or about one-third of the whole. He (Sir J. Trollope) might state that in 1843 a lengthened inquiry took place before two medical gentlemen as to the rate of mortality in the Marylebone workhouse, and they made a report which gave very great offence to the Marylebone vestrymen. [The right hon. Baronet then read a communication from Dr. Boyd, now connected with a pauper lunatic asylum at Wells, and who formerly held a medical appointment under the Marylebone vestry, showing the hard lot of the little girls brought up in the Marylebone workhouse, after they left that establishment to go to service among the small tradespeople and shopkeepers in the parish, who expected them to do the work of experienced servants, though it was not at all suited to their years or station; also, a statement from Dr. Allen, still more recently holding a similar appointment.] There was no reproach on the character of either of the two medical gentlemen whose communications he had read. Since dissolving their connexion with the Marylebone vestry, they had both been appointed to the management of pauper lunatic asylums, and he thought their evidence was unimpeachable. He contended that the parishes of Marylebone and St. Pancras—the former with a population of 157,000, and the latter 1080 of 167,000—were much too large to admit of the wants of the poor being properly attended to by local boards. The Marylebone vestry was occasionally termed the Marylebone Parliament, from the circumstance of its being sometimes converted into an arena for the discussion of the wrongs of Poland and of Hungary, and such questions as the window tax; and perhaps they had a right to discuss such matters, provided they did not neglect the relief of their own poor. But he did say that in those great parishes there were many and grievous faults of management, which it was in the power of the local boards to remedy. For instance, the parish of Marylebone had not followed the example of many other metropolitan parishes, and removed their pauper children out of the precincts of the workhouse. He was sure that no man who understood the management of a workhouse would say it was right to keep 400 children within the walls of such an establishment. All that they had done in Marylebone was to remove some sixty or seventy of the children to a sea-bathing establishment at Margate. On the other hand, the parish of St. George, Hanover-square, among others that might be named, and than which there was no better example of good local management, had removed their pauper children to a healthy, dry, airy spot at Chelsea, where they were out of the way of contamination, and where everything was done for their proper accommodation. But not so with that great metropolitan parish, Marylebone. It confined 400 children within the walls of its own workhouse, subject to all the contamination they might receive from the admixture of classes. He might cite another case. On the 22nd of April last a Motion was made in the Queen's Bench for a mandamus against the vestrymen of St. Mary's, Islington, to compel them, under the provisions of their own local Act, to make a rate for the relief of the poor. The learned counsel who made the application said, the object to be attained was—To command the defendants to cause a vestry meeting to be assembled, as by adjournment from the meeting of the vestry on Easter Tuesday last. At that time a meeting was held for the purpose of ascertaining what was the sum necessary to be raised for the relief of the poor in the present year. On that day the vestry had assembled under the local Act which was in force in the parish, and an estimate of the money that would be required for the maintenance of the poor for the year was duly presented; but the rate to raise the money 1081 was not at that moment agreed to, because, by the local Act, other machinery was to be put in motion before the rate was actually made. The local Act was the 5 Geo. IV., c. 125, which repealed several other Acts passed for a similar purpose. The facts of the case were these:—On Easter Tuesday last there was a meeting, after due notice given, and an estimate was duly presented, declaring the sum required to he imposed for the relief of the poor amounted to 22,000l., instead ofl 29,000l, as in 1850, and 27,000l as in 1851. A Motion was made that this estimate should be received and adopted, and entered or. the Minutes. It was objected that if it was adopted all further discussion would be precluded, and therefore it was moved that it should only be entered on the Minutes. This was done. An Amendment was then moved, that the sum necessary for the relief of the poor was one penny. The Motion was seconded, but was ultimately withdrawn; but in the end the meeting negatived the proposed estimate. The poor were, therefore, left without provision, except through the means of what some rich and charitable individuals among the parishioners had advanced. The object of this application was to compel the defendants, under the provisions of their own local Act, to complete what had been begun, and not only to enter the estimate on the Minutes, but to adopt the estimate, and to make a rate.Now, what did the Court do in this case? The Court granted the application, and, on the suggestion of Mr. Pashley, the counsel who applied for it, that the matter was one of pressing necessity, the Court, without granting a rule nisi in the usual way, ordered a mandamus to issue. The Poor Law Board did not wish to interfere unnecessarily; but ought such bodies as these to he left to their own devices without control or supervision? If inquiry was instituted, the system of administration under local Acts would be much discredited, and its defects and want of uniformity exposed. If places under local Acts were exempted, as proposed, under what pretence could a Poor Law Board be retained at all for the supervision of Boards of Guardians? The official dignity of the parochial authorities might be somewhat encroached upon by the Poor Law Board; but it was for the interest of the ratepayers to maintain a system which, by an efficient and all-searching supervision and control, kept down the rates. He had received a copy of a petition from St. James's, Westminster, which seemed to argue for the reservation of powers in the vestry over their own officers. The noble Lord's Motion proceeded very much on the same principle. What was sought was, that the officers should be subject to annual election; he feared that they would be too much the slaves of the vestries. On every occasion where due reason was assigned, such as misconduct, 1082 or unfitness for their duties, the Poor Law Board invariably acted on the recommendation of the local boards. They reserved the exercise of a veto on the removal of an officer without due cause shown. He did not think it necessary to enter on the dispute relative to the master of St. Pancras workhouse; but he must say, that these local boards were exceedingly jealous of central control. He had referred to the consequent disadvantage to the ratepayers. In 1846 provision was made for payments to parishes on account of medical relief, and masters and mistresses in the workhouse schools. Those payments went to relieve them of one-half the charge of the first, and the whole of the second, items. For six years had one of the metropolitan parishes, where the medical relief annually cost 2,000l, declined to apply for the portion paid from the Parliamentary grant, and the ratepayers had consequently lost 1,000l. a year. He mentioned that case to show that those parishes were so exceedingly jealous of central authority, they would not receive even a benefit from it. The noble Lord had made out no case, and if the noble Lord went into the whole subject, he (Sir J. Trollope) was prepared to meet him; he was prepared to show, that if one portion of the parishes were to be relieved from the control of the Poor Law Board, so ought the whole; that it was not right to allow one portion to remain totally without control, and another to be kept under a rigid system of management. The instruction proposed by the noble Lord opened a vast field for inquiry, to which Parliament certainly could not devote its attention this Session. He begged in conclusion to state, that the Government had cautiously abstained from asking any new powers whatever under the Bill now before the House.
§ SIR GEORGE PECHELL
said, that, considering the course which the right hon. Baronet the President of the Poor Law Board had pursued for the last ten or twelve years, those who had preserved consistency in their views must have been entertained with his discourse. The House had seen exemplified the contrast between those who were expecting the honey, and those who were receiving the sweets. The right hon. Gentleman had attempted to throw doubts upon the statements of the noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart), and had read letters from certain discontented persons, whom he called the "parish," and then he said the parishes in question were 1083 demanding to be relieved from the control of the vestry. But the right hon. Gentleman had failed to show anything like general discontent among the inhabitants of those parishes with the existing local government. The conduct pursued by the right hon. Gentleman in reference to this question was monstrous. The right hon. Gentleman had replied to the noble Lord just as if the noble Lord had made the Motion before the House for party purposes. Nothing could be more unfair; for the noble Lord, he (Sir G. Pechell), and those with whom they acted, had been for a length of time pressing upon the several Governments to give Boards of Guardians, under Local Acts and Gilbert Incorporation, that control over their expenditure which they ought to have; and he contended that from 1837 to March, 1852, whether under the presidency of the late Charles Buller, or the right hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Baines), with one exception, no Motion had been made in that House in regard to the management of the poor under local Acts, with a view merely to embarrass the Government for the time being. He warned the right hon. Baronet that if the system of interference with towns under the operation of local Acts was continued, it would cause such an amount of remonstrance that sooner or later redress would be inevitable. The right hon. Baronet had dwelt on the mischief which, he alleged, local Acts had produced; but at the time of the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act, the exemption of certain parishes where relief was administered by Boards of Guardians was clearly recognised by Lord Althorp. The right hon. Gentleman remarked that no petitions had been sent by those parishes; but that circumstance was explained by the fact that they had confidence in their representatives, who would, they trusted, look after their interests. Chester and Chichester had petitioned because an attempt had been made to interfere with them; but if similar attempts were made to interfere with other places in the same category (including such towns as Hull, Birmingham, Brighton, Plymouth, and Southampton), there would soon be petitions enough. If it were alleged by the right hon. Gentleman that the people were dissatisfied when directors and guardians did not avail themselves of recent Acts of the Legislature relating to the payment of medical officers and teachers, he should say the reason was that those directors 1084 and guardians had no confidence in the Poor Law Board, and they knew that if they accepted any such rules or orders with reference to medical officers or teachers as might emanate from that Board, they would be liable to interference in other respects. He (Sir G. Pechell) complained of the late interference of the Poor Law Board in the parish of Alverstoke, Gosport. Though it had been shown by the Poor Law Inspectors that the parish had been well managed, such rules and regulations were inflicted on it as required a lawyer to make out their purport. On the part of the corporations that came under the provisions of the 22 Geo. III. c. 33 (the Gilbert Act), he was desired to represent to the House their anxiety that they should not be interfered with. That there had been an interference with the parish of Gosport could not be denied; and he hoped that if an instruction could not be given to the Committee on that subject, the House would, at least, be able to persuade the right hon. Baronet not to let the Commissioners interfere with those parishes unless good cause were shown.
§ MR. BAINES
From my recent connexion with the Poor Law Board, I am desirous of stating shortly the grounds upon which I think it my duty to resist the proposition of my noble Friend the Member for Marylebone. In doing so, I shall confine myself strictly to the question involved in that proposition. With regard to the case of Pancras, the fact that it is about to become the subject of judicial investigation, would of itself be decisive with me as to the impropriety of discussing it now. I trust, also, that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton will pardon me if I decline, on the present occasion, to follow him into the subject of Alverstoke. Should he, at any time hereafter, think fit to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate that subject fully, and to inquire into all the facts connected with it, I have no doubt that the Poor Law Board will be perfectly prepared to meet him. The question, however, now before the House is a general one, and is substantially this, namely, whether it is expedient for Parliament to enact that the jurisdiction of the Poor Law Board shall be wholly taken away in the case of every parish in which there is a board of guardians or directors of the poor, constituted under the provisions of a local Act. There can be no 1085 doubt whatever that by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the Commissioners (who are now represented by the Poor Law Board) were empowered, with regard to certain matters, to issue orders and rules, which should be binding upon parishes under local Acts, as well as upon all other parishes. Among those matters were the regulation of workhouses, the appointment of paid officers for the better relief and management of the poor, and the determination of the tenure by which each of those officers should hold his office. Since 1834, the Poor Law Commission has been renewed by the Legislature five times, and the powers in question have been renewed as often. The question, therefore, raised by my noble Friend is, whether Parliament was wrong in originally conferring those powers, and has also been wrong in ratifying them five times over? It is obviously a question of the greatest importance to the proper administration of the Poor Laws. The Legislature has left untouched the constitution of the Board of Guardians in every parish under a local Act; but the controlling power which I have mentioned has been given to the central authority with regard to workhouses and paid officers. The policy of the Poor Law Amendment Act in this respect is obvious. As to the regulation of workhouses, Parliament evidently thought it desirable that there should be something of uniformity in their management, and that a power of framing general rules for this purpose might be properly vested in the Commissioners, whose experience would necessarily extend over the widest field, and who would have the amplest opportunities for observation and comparison. A power to direct the appointment of such paid officers as they might deem necessary, was also given to them. The guardians elect to all such offices, but the Commissioners regulate the salaries, and determine the tenure by which the offices are to be held. They reserve to themselves the exclusive power of dismissal; and this is necessary in order to secure the independence of the officer, whose tenure would often be a most precarious one if he were liable to be dismissed at any time by a mere vote of the board of guardians, given, possibly, under the influence of some local or party prejudice, or even because he refused to consent to some unreasonable reduction of salary. What would be the situation occasionally of a chaplain, a medical officer, or even a union clerk, if he held his office 1086 upon no other tenure than this? When I look back upon my own official career, I am happy to think that in not a few instances I have protected good and efficient officers from an unmerited dismissal. I hope it is unnecessary to say that when I speak of encouraging a feeling of independence among poor-law officers, I am very far indeed from meaning to encourage insolence. Any thing like insolence on the part of such officers towards the Guardians, whose servants they are, would be discountenanced and punished by the Poor Law Board. A complaint from the Guardians of any kind of misconduct in an officer is sure to receive immediate attention, and to be followed by a strict inquiry conducted by one of the Poor Law Inspectors. For myself, I can say that whenever I was able to concur with the Guardians in their view of any question, I was most happy to do so. My earnest wish at all times was rather to co-operate with them in the administration of the Poor Law, and aid them, if I could, in the discharge of their important duties, than vexatiously to control or oppose them. I have not the least reason to believe that the right hon. Baronet now at the head of the Poor Law Board will ever act in any other spirit. With regard to the introduction of the rules and orders of the Poor Law Board in parishes under local Acts, I never interfered for that purpose except in one or two cases, namely, either where the Guardians themselves applied for the introduction of those rules and orders, or where I had satisfactory proof that the local system was attended with mismanagement and abuse. There is one part of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton which I cannot pass over in silence, because it appeared to me to convey an imputation which I feel I have not deserved. He read to the House a list of parishes under local Acts, in which he stated that the Poor Law Board had not ventured to interfere; and in reading that list he laid a peculiar and significant emphasis upon the word Hull. Now I beg my hon. and gallant Friend to mark the accuracy of his information upon this point. When I had held my late office about two years, certain facts came to my knowledge which convinced me that the administration of the Poor Law at Hull under the local Act was extremely defective. Two deaths had taken place under circumstances which forced this conviction upon my mind irresistibly. I announced my in- 1087 tention of issuing the workhouse rules and orders of the Poor Law Board for the future guidance of the Hull Guardians. I found that that step would be exceedingly unpopular, as it often is with Boards of Guardians under local Acts, especially with those whose mismanagement has rendered a similar interference necessary. Strong remonstrances took place, and every argument which was likely to have weight with the Member for Hull was brought to bear upon the President of the Poor Law Board. I thought it my duty, however, to persevere: the orders were issued; and I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not be sorry to hear that, according to subsequent acknowledgment of all parties, the course then pursued by the Poor Law Board has been attended with the best results both to the poor and to the ratepayers. I beg to apologise to the House for troubling them with these details. I have done so, however, because I thought that an unjust imputation had been cast upon me, and because I feel that if I have not the honesty of my administration to recommend me, I can have little claim of any kind to the good opinion of this House or of the public. With regard to the specific proposition of my noble Friend, there are other reasons against its adoption, besides those already stated, which appear to me perfectly conclusive. One effect of it would be, that in that numerous class of local Act parishes in which the rules and orders of the Poor Law Board are already in operation, to the perfect satisfaction of all parties, the old local system of management with all its faults must be restored, as the jurisdiction of the Poor Law Board would be wholly at an end in every one of those parishes. When the Poor Law Amendment Act passed in 1834, there were 375 parishes in England and Wales under local Acts, most of them being grouped in incorporations, and the remainder being single parishes each having its own Act. In a great majority of the whole number, the rules and orders of the Poor Law Board have been in operation for years. In some cases they have been introduced on the application of the Guardians themselves; in others the Guardians, though not asking for them, have consented to their introduction; and I believe that, in all, the improvement upon the former local system of administration has been undeniable. Will Parliament, by adopting the proposition of my noble Friend, consent to 1088 undo all that has been done, the revive all the old abuses—the jobbing, the injudicious or negligent treatment of the poor, and the other evils of various kinds, which have flourished more luxuriantly in some Local Act parishes than in any other parishes whatever? Besides, every one of those considerations of public policy, upon which the Poor Law Board have been authorised to issue their regulations to ordinary Boards of Guardians constituted under the Poor Law Amendment Act, is equally applicable to Boards of Guardians under local Acts. The power to prescribe a proper system of workhouse management, the power of directing the appointment of proper officers, and of regulating their duties and the tenure of their offices, are as necessary in the latter class of parishes as in any other. But it is said that there is something humiliating to a Board of Guardians under a local Act, in submitting to be guided by the rules of the Poor Law Board. Is this really so? How are the ordinary Boards of Guardians composed who act constantly upon those rules? Besides a certain number of elected Guardians, they comprise all the resident magistracy within their respective localities. Among their chairmen and vice-chairmen are to be found many of the highest nobility in the land, and many of the most distinguished Members of this House. If the Duke of Richmond at Westhampnett—if the Duke of Newcastle at Worksop—if the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Colonies at Droitwich—if noblemen and gentlemen of this description, acting to their own high honour and to the great benefit of the public, in the administration of the Poor Law in their own neighbourhoods, are content to be guided by the regulations of the Poor Law Board, made under the authority of the Legislature, I really cannot understand why these gentlemen of Pancras and Marylebone should feel themselves humiliated by it. And if, upon every ground of reason and policy, the powers of the Poor Law Board to issue regulations for workhouses, and for the appointment and dismissal of paid officers, are just as applicable to parishes under local Acts as they are to parishes of every other description, how can Parliament be asked to put an end to those powers in the former class of parishes, and to retain them in all the latter? The question then really is, whether the authority of the Central Board should be annulled throughout the whole 1089 kingdom. This is a question of the utmost gravity and importance, going to the root of the whole system of the Poor Law-Amendment Act. It is one far too momentous to be dealt with by a clause introduced into a mere continuance Bill, when the present Parliament is on the very eve of its dissolution, and when the adequate consideration and discussion of such a question is impossible. Let any one who thinks fit, propound it to the next Parliament; let it then be grappled with manfully and settled finally. The present proposition, however, appears to me to he on every ground inadmissible, and I therefore consider myself bound to vote against it.
§ SIR GEORGE PECHELL
could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he did not mean any imputation whatever, and if he laid stress upon the word Hull, it was merely to attract his attention, he being Member for that town. He, on the contrary, had endeavoured to pay him the highest compliment, and his regret was that he had not remained longer in office.
begged to offer his thanks to the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone for having brought the subject under the notice of the House. He had some experience of the working of the Poor Law, and he considered that some amendment in the law was necessary.
MR. J. A. SMITH
considered that this measure was a great improvement in the law relating to the poor; but he regretted the manner in which the Motion of the noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart) had been received by the Government. The arguments which had been used, were, in his opinion, conclusive as to the propriety of having uniformity in the law. He could not understand why a parish, carrying on its affairs satisfactorily under its own local Acts, should be interfered with. The House had a right to have an explanation of the principle on which that interference rested. Local interest must, of course, influence many hon. Members. He (Mr. J. A. Smith) was interested for Chichester, which he had represented for twenty years. It was a collection of parishes under a local Act, and he was certain no complaint could be made with regard to the management of the poor there. He wished for an explanation of the principle, therefore, on which the Poor Law Board had acted in introducing their orders into parishes which had local Acts.
§ MR. HUME
said, that while the Board was under the direction of the right hon. 1090 Gentleman (Mr. Baines), who had directed it during the last Government, they had never heard a complaint against it; and it certainly had been considered a great relief from the Board which had preceded it. With regard to the parish of Marylebone, he admitted their affairs were not in that state he could wish them to be; abuses had crept in, and abuses took a long time to correct. With regard to St. Pancras, he understood the Poor Law Board had interfered with the employment of their own servants. A majority of the Board of Guardians of the parish had come to the conclusion that one of the public servants employed by them was unworthy of holding office, and he was dismissed; the general Board sitting in London had inter fered and applied for a mandamus to compel his reinstitution; that was, he considered, contrary to common sense, and calculated to excite discontent and alarm throughout the country. If the majority of the ratepayers of St. Pancras had petitioned the Board, it had a right to interfere, but not otherwise; and he had been informed the parish declined to petition, because they wished to have it understood they were not under the control of the Board, or of the Poor Law Act. The time was come when they should look into the whole question, if the Board interfered in this way. He would propose that there should be added to the Bill words to the effect that—whereas doubts had arisen how far the hundred and odd parishes with local Acts were under the authority of the Board, it should be enacted that they were exempt, and should continue to he exempt from that authority, till the majority of the ratepayers of each parish should petition to be placed under it.
§ SIR JOHN TROLLOPE
said, neither in the case of Alverstoke, of St. Pancras, of Marylebone, or of Chichester, had the orders been signed by him; they had been signed and issued by his predecessor in office.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
would remind the House that when the Poor Law Bill was last to be renewed, the greatest portion of the hon. Members who now sat upon the Government benches not only spoke but voted in favour of a proposition that the Board should cease and determine. He believed it was the present right hon. Judge Advocate who moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. He, therefore, had hoped that this Amendment would not 1091 have been opposed. The Board of Guardians of the St. Pancras Union desired to dismiss one of their officers. The general Board said they might pay their officers, but they should not dismiss them without first obtaining their consent; and the Board now petitioned the House to be excluded from the operation of the general Poor Law. The Strand Union was an instance of Government control not having prevented the most horrible and disgusting occurrences which could take place in any public establishment. He wished to say one word in answer to the taunt thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Commission on the conduct of the vestry of the parish of Marylebone. The right hon. Gentleman said that that vestry was a political arena; but it must be remembered that Marylebone was the largest parish in the Kingdom: it had a revenue of not less than 1,000,000l. and a population of 167,000 persons; and the persons who sat at the vestry board were elected every year, in order that the various interests of the parish might be represented. It was absolutely necessary that matters of great moment should come under their consideration; but it had been stamped as a political body in this way—they had no returning officers except the churchwardens, one of whom was elected by the vestry, and the other by the Crown. Now Lord Portman, in 1829, succeeded Lord Kenyon as the Churchwarden under the Crown, and continued to hold that office under the successive Governments of Earl Grey, Lord Melbourne, Sir Robert Peel, and Lord John Russell; but the moment the noble Lord the present Commissioner of Works (Lord J. Manners) found there was a vacancy, which occurred annually, that moment Lord Portman was summarily dismissed; no communication was made to him; Lord Portman was in the country, and on his return he found a notice on his table, that he had been superseded by the Government; there was not one word of explanation, and the political partisan of the Government in the parish was instituted in his stead. The parishes complained that they were not allowed to manage their own affairs, and that mandamuses were applied for to coerce them. He thought, under the circumstances, that the Motion of his noble Friend was a very fair one, and he hoped he would press it to a division.
§ MR. JACOB BELL
said, he should support the Motion, because he felt it his 1092 duty to defend the conduct of the vestry of Marylebone. If they applied the workhouse test to that parish, the number of paupers would be greatly increased, for their endeavour had been to prop up families with temporary relief in the hope that they might, with such assistance, be able afterwards to support themselves, instead of their becoming inmates of the workhouse.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he wished to call the attention of the House back to the question immediately before them. That question had nothing whatever to do with the well or ill management of the Marylebone vestry; neither was it whether the Poor Law Board should be continued for two years longer, for no one had disputed that at all; but the question was whether, ay or no, those parishes which had local Acts should be exempted from the authority of the Board? The noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart) had charged him (Mr. Henley), and others on that side of the House, with inconsistency in opposing the present Motion, in the face of the fact that they resisted the Bill of 1847; but he denied that there was any inconsistency in the matter. He did not believe that the question of local boards, to which the present Motion referred, was at all agitated in 1847. The debate on that occasion wholly turned, he believed, upon the constitution of the Poor Law Board; and he must say that the course which was taken by himself and his friends in relation to that matter, had been justified by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hull (Mr. Baines) that night. The House would remember that the right hon. Gentleman, in speaking of the manner in which he had regulated his conduct, said, "I did this," and "I did that," demonstrating that what was done was the action of a single individual, and not the action of a Board. Now, the main ground which he (Mr. Henley) and those who acted with him took in 1847, was that it was indispensable to the well working of the Poor Law system that there should be a single responsibility. It would be remembered, that up to that period there was an almost uniform discontent throughout the country with the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners; but owing to the able management of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Baines), and his lamented predecessor (Mr. C. Buller), since the introduction of the new system, it might almost be said that the public had no knowledge of the Poor Law Board, so smoothly 1093 had every thing worked. It would be quite impossible to deal with the whole question of the Poor Law in the course of the present Session; and he was sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would vigorously discountenance any attempt to accomplish such an object. Very many of the transactions under the Poor Law, which they had of late years had to deplore—such, for instance, as the calamitous mortality at Tooting— could not have taken place if the Board had had larger powers of interference than it at present possessed. With respect to the question then before them as to whether parishes having local Acts should be exempted from the operation of the Poor Law Act, he begged to observe that no one had attempted to answer the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hull on the subject; and, agreeing as he (Mr. Henley) did with that right hon. Gentleman, that there was nothing in reason or principle to justify them in exempting parishes that happened to be under local Acts from the control of the Poor Law Board, any more than parishes that were under the authority of the general Act, he must give his vote against the proposition of the noble Lord.
§ MR. WAKLEY
said, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) had laboured in vain to remove the impression which had been produced by the speech of his (Mr. Wakley's) noble Friend (Lord 1). Stuart) with respect to the charge of inconsistency against the other side of the House. But the fact was, that words were beginning to lose their meaning. "Inconsistency" now meant "change," and "change" meant "consistency." But he would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he opposed the Bill five years ago, why should he support it now? Under the present Poor Law there were as many horrors as under the old, though it happened that at this moment there was no pressure upon the workhouses, owing to the cheapness of food and the abundance of employment. Were the scenes witnessed at Andover and Tooting forgotten? The fact was, that hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House, until they were in office, abhorred the centralising power; but now they were willing to take up the measure and perpetuate it, to the extreme annoyance of the ratepayers of this country. What was wanted by the country was a Poor Law Court, with a Poor Law Judge, before whom applications from the various parishes could be considered and decided in public, and then, in a 1094 very short time, there would be a code of laws for our guidance in such matters. He trusted the Government, if they did not approve of the noble Lord's Amendment, would relinquish the Bill, and wait and see what could be done in the next Session of Parliament, until the end of which period the present law did not terminate.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, that since the law had been under the management of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hull (Mr. Baines) a very great improvement had taken place; but the right hon. Gentleman had never interfered with the parishes. In the parish of Marylebone, he knew of the Board finding fault with the dietary for being much too good. It appeared that the prisoners in the county of Middlesex were much better fed than the poor in many of the poorhouses throughout the country. He would advise the right hon. Baronet the President of the Poor Law Board to allow those parishes that were governed by local Acts to manage their own affairs. They could manage them much better than he could. He hoped that he would consent to withdraw all interference with these parishes. If the right hon. Gentleman would not consent to do so, he hoped that the House would consent to the Motion of his noble Friend.
§ VISCOUNT EBRINGTON
said, that unless there was some central authority to see that the Act of Parliament was duly applied in the control of workhouses, the whole Bill of the Legislature would be constantly set at nought by local Boards of Guardians, He would press most urgently upon the right hon. Baronet the President of the Poor Law Board the necessity of making some inquiry into the state of the metropolitan workhouses, in some of which, as was shown by the returns of the Registrar General, there had been a very large amount of mortality.
The MARQUESS of GRANBY
said, he was really quite tired of hearing without contradiction the statements which had been made as to the present universal employment of the lower orders in this country. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) had stated that there was no pressure upon the workhouses, in consequence of the cheapness of food and the abundance of employment. [Mr. WAKLEY: I said there were less than formerly.] But lot the hon. Member look to the sister country of Ireland, whore, in one of the Unions, the assistance of soldiers had been demanded in order to maintain order among 1095 the idle men within the walls. He would quote from an article which appeared in the Times on this subject, in which it was observed—It is quite clear that a very trifling expense, as compared with the cost of their permanent maintenance at home, would transport these turbulent spirits from the scenes of their riotous exploits to distant regions, where their thews and sinews might be employed with advantage to themselves and to others. When will official men begin to shake off the humdrums of tradition, and look the facts of a totally new situation boldly in the face? Our modern statesmen are called upon to deal with a state of facts for which the experience of their predecessors offers no solution. Action is wanted, and instant action. We are not dealing simply with a redundant population at home, but with a perishing colony abroad.The other night the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had told the House that there were thousands in Scotland who were unemployed, and who must be sent to Australia; and to-morrow night there was a ball for the relief of the unemployed in London. Let hon. Gentlemen ask the Spitalfields weavers whether they were employed; and let them go into the agricultural districts, let them go to Leicestershire, go into the labourers' cottages there, and ask them whether they have been benefited by free-trade measures. He knew that if they were to do so, the labourers would tell them that the reverse had been the fact. He begged pardon of the House for having made these observations; but the reiterations of hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the increased employment in the country since the adoption of free trade, compelled him to rise.
§ LORD ROBERT GROSVENOR
could only say, with regard to the statements of the last speaker, that in the district to which he belonged, there was not a labourer out of employment; and at this moment there was not a single ablebodied pauper in the workhouse. As to the question before the House, he should be very sorry to see all centralising authority withdrawn, for he was convinced the poor would very much suffer from it. But, as there was a doubt about the law, he thought the House ought to see that that doubt was removed, and he should consequently vote in favour of the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
found that he could not, in point of order, propose the Amendment which he had put on the paper, but he would take the opportunity of stating that in 1850, the Poor Law Board issued an order which, in effect, removed 1096 all executive functions from the Guardians. In this order the rule was laid down that vestries should not remove their own officers, except with the permission of the Board—that, in fact, they should be retained for life. Now, this was a state of matters that ought not to exist. The vestries had appointed their officers for a century back, and it was preposterous that the Commissioners, who had nothing to do with their appointment, should interfere to keep them in their places. Such an arrangement could never work well.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
explained that he did not mean anything beyond making those parishes which had local Acts independent of the Poor Law Board.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided;—Ayes 33; Noes 112: Majority 79.
§ House in Committee; Mr. Bernal in the Chair.
§ Clause 1 (Poor Law Board further continued); Proposed to fill the blank with"1854."
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
moved that the blank be filled up with"1853,"instead of"1854," his object being to limit the duration of the Bill to one year.
§ MR. SOTHERON
said, he desired to see the Board continued for five years. In 1842 and 1847 the Board was continued for five years, and there was no reason why it should now be limited to a shorter period, for the Poor Law Commission stood better in public opinion now than formerly. It was most desirable to give the Poor Law Board a permanent character, not affected by political changes.
§ Question put, "That the blank be filled with '1854.'"
§ The Committee divided: —Ayes 72; Noes 26: Majority 46.
§ Clause agreed to; Preamble agreed to.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
wished to ask the hon. Member for North Wiltshire whether he intended to take any other opportunity of moving that the Poor Law Bill be continued for five years?
§ MR. SOTHERON
said, he would take that opportunity of giving notice that on the Report being brought up, he would move that the Bill be continued for five years.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
said, he would give such a proposal all the opposition in his power, and hoped the matter would be brought on at a period of the evening when it could be fully discussed.
§ MR. WALTER
said, he fully concur- 1097 red in the observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone. It appeared to him that the question of the renewal of the Poor Law Commission was becoming very like the question of the renewal of the Income Tax, which was in the first instance passed to meet a temporary emergency, but which now seemed to be a permanent measure. (If the continuance of the Poor Law Board was intended to he considered a settled matter, he thought the best plan would be to settle it once for all; but if the Board was to be continued from time to time, the shorter the time the better.
§ House resumed; Bill reported.
§ The House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.