HC Deb 10 February 1854 vol 130 cc443-84

* Mr. Speaker, I beg very respectfully to ask the indulgence of the House, while I endeavour to bring before them a subject of great difficulty and complexity, and of at least equal importance. I believe it, indeed, to be of the utmost importance to all the interests of this great community; to agriculture and to commerce, to employers and to labourers, and above all, to that class, of whom, from the official station which I have the honour to hold, I must always consider myself as peculiarly the advocate in this House—I mean the class of the destitute poor.

Within the last few years a very unusual degree of public attention has been given to this subject, and a greater amount of information has been accumulated respecting it than had ever before been obtained. In the years 1844, 1845, and 1846, earnest discussions upon it took place in this House. In 1847, a Select Committee of the House was appointed to investigate the whole subject of Settlement and Removal of the Poor. That Committee consisted of Gentlemen, most of whom were admirably qualified to conduct such an inquiry with ability and efficiency. As I shall have occasion hereafter to lay some stress upon the recommendations of this Committee, I hope the House will allow me to state the names of the Gentlemen who composed it. Mr. Charles Buller was the Chairman, and the other Members were—Sir James Graham, Sir George Grey, Mr. Henley, Mr. Miles, Mr. Bankes, Lord Harry Vane, Mr. Evelyn Denison, Mr. Poulett Scrope, Mr. Charles Villiers, Mr. Aldam, Mr. Bodkin, Mr. Thomas Duncombe, Mr. Round, and Mr. Borthwick. This Committee investigated the subject very thoroughly, and the examination of the witnesses was conducted in the most able and searching manner. Those witnesses were brought from every part of the country, and comprised a great number of persons who were practically most conversant with the administration of the poor-laws. In 1848, Mr. Charles Buller, who in the mean time had become President of the Poor-Law Board, determined, in order to obtain still further information, to send out into different parts of the country eight Gentlemen, all of whom were highly qualified for the purpose, to investigate upon the spot the operation of the Law of Settlement and Removal. They instituted, in fourteen English counties, chiefly agricultural, very minute and elaborate inquiries; and their reports, which were full of important evidence as to the practical working of the law, were subsequently laid upon the table of this House, and printed. Those reports were peculiarly valuable from the circumstance, that the Gentlemen making them had taken great pains to obtain their information from Chairmen and leading Members of Boards of Guardians, poor-law officers, and others best acquainted with the actual operation of the law. When all these reports, Parliamentary and official, were at length in the hands of hon. Members and of the public, an opinion was very naturally and generally expressed that, inasmuch as all the information had now been obtained which could be reasonably hoped for, the Government were bound to propose some measure of new legislation; for, though there was little of unanimity as to the proper remedy, all seemed to agree that the present law was thoroughly bad and indefensible. It was said plainly that, difficult as the subject confessedly was, the Administration could not shrink from grappling with the difficulty as they best might. Questions were repeatedly put in this and the other House of Parliament, as to the views and intentions of the Government. In the very last Session two distinct notices of Resolutions, affirming the expediency of abolishing removals and enlarging the area of chargeability, were given from opposite sides of this House, one by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Vansittart), the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ashford Wise); moreover, a Bill for the purpose of carrying out those views was actually brought into the other House by a noble Baron, Lord Berners. It was only upon the distinct pledge of the Government that they would do their best to introduce a legislative measure in the present Session, that those notices and that Bill were withdrawn. Sir, it is in redemption of that pledge that I now present myself to the House for the purpose of submitting to them the measure, which the Government, after the fullest consideration, think it their duty to propose.

I am quite aware that I have the honour of speaking in the presence of many Gentlemen to whom I could not hope to impart any new information upon the subject of the present Law of Settlement and Removal. Very much to the advantage of the country they take an active part in the administration of the poor-laws within their own localities, and are perfectly familiar with the whole. There are other hon. Members, however, who have not paid so much attention to the subject; and, out of doors, there is unquestionably much of ignorance and misapprehension respecting it. I hope, therefore, the House will pardon me if I endeavour, with the utmost plainness and brevity, and in language divested of all technicalities, to state the substance of the existing law.

It is well known that in England and Wales, the area of chargeability, as it is called, that is, the district bound to maintain its own chargeable poor, is the parish —not always the parish in the ecclesiastical sense of the term, for in the poor-laws the word "parish" is used to designate every place maintaining its own poor, whether it be really a parish, a township (as is usually the case in the North of England), a hamlet, or any other district. Of parishes, in this sense, there are no fewer than 14,614. They vary infinitely in extent and population. In the county of Durham, for instance, there is one parish of fifty-five thousand acres, while in the adjoining county of Northumberland there is a parish of five acres. There are upwards of seven thousand parishes, the population of which is less than three hundred each; and there are nearly eight hundred parishes, the population of which is less than fifty each. These are facts very material with regard to the inquiry in which the House is now engaged.

The present Law of Settlement and Removal originated in an Act of the fourteenth year of King Charles the Second (1662)—13 & 14 Car. 2, c. 12. The effect of that Act, combined with subsequent Acts, is, that if a person becomes destitute in any parish in this country, and is actually chargeable to it, he is liable to be removed to the place of his last legal settlement. A settlement, as the House is aware, may be acquired in a parish by various means—by apprenticeship, by renting a tenement, by ownership of an estate, and in some other modes, which it is unnecessary to particularise. And the law is, as I have just stated, that if a poor man becomes chargeable in any parish of England or Wales, except that of his settlement, he is liable to be removed to the latter, under a warrant of justices, and by force, if necessary. Many persons suppose that settlement gives a title to relief. This is a mistake. Destitution, not settlement, gives the title to relief. Persons who have no settlement, foreigners for example, and that large class whose settlements (if they have any) cannot be ascertained, must be relieved in any parish where they are actually destitute. In all cases of this kind removal is of course impracticable. If a person becomes destitute in the parish of his settlement, all that settlement can do for him is, not to give him a title to relief, for that he would have had without it, but to prevent his removal to any other parish; but if, while residing in a parish not that of his legal settlement, he becomes destitute, and receives a single shilling or a single loaf of bread at the cost of the poor- rates, he may be compulsorily removed to the parish of his settlement, though it may be at the other end of the kingdom. In such a case settlement, so far from being an advantage to the pauper, may be the greatest misfortune and curse to him. Nor does the hardship end with the removal. If he should venture forth again from the parish of his settlement, and return, though in the honest quest of work, to that from which he had been removed, and become again chargeable there, either from a stagnation of trade or any other cause, he is liable to be sent to gaol and kept to hard labour, under the Vagrant Act, as "an idle and disorderly person," unless he produces a certificate (which he may have no means of obtaining) from the churchwardens and overseers of his settlement parish, acknowledging him as settled there. (5 Geo. 4, c. 83, s. 3.) This, I believe, as I have now stated it, is really the sum and substance of the Law of Settlement and Removal as it now stands.

Such, Sir, being the law, I now beg leave to draw the attention of the House to some of its undoubted effects, as shown clearly and abundantly by the Parliamentary and official reports, and in the numerous petitions from every part of the country. My own belief is, after looking most carefully and anxiously into the subject, that it would be difficult to point out any class in this great community which such a state of the law does not seriously injure. Look at its effects upon the relation between employer and labourer. It is proved, by a redundancy of evidence, that in a great many of the rural parishes all over the country, the dread of an order of removal keeps within the parish of his settlement, where his labour may be little or not at all wanted, the man whose labour would be valuable to an employer and remunerative to himself elsewhere. As it is, labour stagnates in one parish, while it is wanted in another. But there are other mischievous consequences of this law, which, with the permission of the House, I will illustrate by a supposed case:—A farmer wants a servant. Two persons offer themselves; one, an idle, drunken, slovenly fellow, a settled inhabitant of the farmer's parish; the other, an industrious, sober, skilful man, but either settled elsewhere, or having no settlement at all. What do the House think of a state of the law which gives the farmer a motive for taking the worse man and rejecting the better? The farmer knows that the worse must be main- tained either in the workhouse or out of it, and that the cost of maintaining in the workhouse the man and his family (probably a large one, as the law has encouraged him to marry before he had made the slightest provision) must fall in a great part upon the farmer himself as a ratepayer. He thinks it cheaper, therefore, to employ such a man at a low rate of wages than to keep him in the workhouse, and he accordingly engages his services, such as they are. Now, I beg the House to mark how this operates. First, the farmer gets a very inferior species of labour; and, when it is remembered that the same cause is in operation in hundreds and thousands of parishes, the House will see how much the progress of agriculture must thus be retarded, and the productiveness of the country lessened. Secondly, the labourer who has a legal settlement where he lives, is taught to rely for employment upon the accident of his settlement, and not upon the qualities of industry, sobriety, and skill. Thirdly, the non-settled labourer, who has all those qualities, even if he is not rudely repelled from the parish lest he should become settled there, is unable to get employment where he is really wanted, and where, but for this state of the law, his services would be gladly accepted. Surely these are all very serious consequences, both as they regard the productiveness of English agriculture and the character of the English labourer. Neither capital nor labour commands its proper return. Recent legislation has given additional importance to these considerations. Since the repeal of the corn laws, many petitions have been presented to this House, complaining that while the farmer is now exposed to "unrestricted competition" with respect to the commodities in which he deals, he should still be restricted by the Law of Settlement in his command of labour. I think such a complaint most reasonable, and I trust that the Legislature will deem it worthy of their immediate attention. As to the labourer, the only commodity which he possesses is his labour. How can he be said to enjoy the benefits of free trade under a state of the law which effectually prevents him from carrying that labour to any market he chooses?

But, Sir, it is with regard to the residences of the labouring classes that the law is productive of the most cruel hardships of all. The House will see how the Law of Settlement gives a direct interest to the landowner to prevent the erection of cottages within his parish. Nearly every one of the present modes of creating a settlement requires a certain duration of residence in the parish. If, then, the residence of the labourer can be prevented, settlement will be prevented, and he cannot, at any future period, become chargeable to the parish. Such, indeed, is the jealousy, under the present system, with which any new comer is regarded, who may by possibility gain a settlement in the parish, that covenants have actually been introduced into leases, for the purpose of protecting the parish against such a calamity. An instance is recorded of an action having been brought on such a covenant, to enforce a forfeiture, for having "made two parishioners," which in that particular case was done by hiring two servants for a year, who by the law (as it then stood) thus became settled inhabitants. A similar motive is found to operate, in a very great number of parishes, to prevent residence on the part of the labourer; and in that large class of parishes, denominated "close," there is not only the will but the power to prevent it. By a "close parish," I understand one in which the whole of the land is in the hands of a single proprietor, or of some small number of proprietors, who, by combination among themselves, can effectually prevent the building of cottages for the labourers. In such a case, the unfortunate labourer, who works in the parish, is often compelled to reside at a great distance, and generally to seek a dwelling for himself and his family in some open parish, where, owing to the number of proprietors, combination to prevent the building of cottages is impracticable. This may be, and frequently is, three, four, or even five miles from the place of his daily labour. Most respectable witnesses, examined before the Committee of 1847, and before the gentlemen appointed by the Poor Law Board in 1848, give numerous instances, within their own knowledge, of labourers having to walk several miles to work every morning, and as far home every night. I beseech the House to mark the manifold evils of such a system. The labour which the farmer thus procures is, of course, deteriorated in value, as the work of a man who has to walk three or four miles from his home in a morning, and as far back at night, must be comparatively worthless. Here, again, then, is a cause which, operating as it does in hundreds of parishes, tells most injuriously upon the agriculture of the whole country, and consequently upon its productiveness. I do not dwell upon the gross injustice to the open parish, which, if the labourer should become destitute, must undertake the burden of his maintenance, while the close parish has had all the benefit of his work. But see the consequences to the unhappy labourer himself. In the first place, he is subjected to the cruel addition to his ordinary toil implied in walking such a distance to and from the place of his daily work. In the next place, the open parish in which he dwells is often so overcrowded with labourers, driven into it from the neighbouring close parishes, that the greatest evils—social, sanitary, and moral—are found to be the result. With the permission of the House, I will read a short but very striking extract from a report made to the Poor Law Board by a gentleman who was officially engaged in 1848 to investigate the working of the Law of Settlement and Removal in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. The gentleman to whom I refer is Mr. A'Beckett, at present one of the most able and intelligent of the police magistrates of this metropolis. He says— It is, however, as to their command of their places of residence, and in the comfort and condition of themselves and their families, that the labouring classes suffer most severely from the operation of the Law of Settlement and Removal of the poor. It is almost impossible to imagine the misery, dirt, degradation, and consequent immorality in which a large portion of the labouring classes of this country are at the present moment living. If it can be shown, as I believe it can, that much of this moral and physical abasement is caused by the operation of the existing Law of Settlement and Poor Removal, the necessity for an immediate alteration of the law will be admitted on all hands. In almost every union, where the course of my inquiry has taken me, I have found some one or more densely populated parishes in the neighbourhood of others very thinly inhabited by labourers, and in some instances having scarcely any cottages at all. In the former the dwellings are, for the most part, wretched, damp, unwholesome, inconvenient, excessively high rented, and crowded with inmates to such an extent as to render it impossible that health or comfort could be enjoyed, or the commonest rules of decency observed. It is the general result of my inquiries on this head, that the labouring classes are, to a great extent, demoralised, and deprived of domestic comfort by the inducement, offered to owners of property in close parishes, to clear their estates of cottage habitations—an inducement for which the present Law of Settlement and Removal of the Poor must be held chiefly, if not entirely, responsible. The desire to shift the burden of parochial chargeability prevails almost co-extensively with the power, though I have met with some honourable exceptions; and in many cases I have heard the motive openly avowed, and the sanction of the law cited as a justification of conduct involving much unfairness, if not actual dishonesty, towards one's neighbours, and great oppression towards the labouring portion of the commuuity. Had Mr. A'Beckett been writing now, when a formidable epidemic is threatening the country with renewed ravages of the most fearful character, he would probably have added, that scenes like those which he has here delineated are the favourite haunts of the whole tribe of infectious and pestilential diseases, with cholera at their head.

But in considering the hardships which the present law inflicts upon the poor, I must beg the House to reflect what an order of removal is in itself, and what it implies. In a great many cases, I fear, it implies nothing less than this—a removal (by force, if necessary) from a place where a man's attachments and connexions have been formed, to another where his father or grandfather is supposed to have been born, or to have lived as a yearly tenant fifty or sixty years ago—where he may himself be a complete stranger, never having been there in his life before, utterly unknown to every human being, and wholly without hope of finding the only kind of labour he has ever been accustomed to. The probable result of such a removal must be his own pauperism for life, and the communication of the taint of hereditary pauperism to his children. Upon how many persons such calamities are inflicted in any given year, I have no means of accurately ascertaining. I find, however, by a Parliamentary Return moved for by the late Captain Pelham, and which comes down to the year 1849 inclusive, that in that year the number of orders of removal signed by justices of the peace in England and Wales was 13,867. If we take three as the average number of persons comprised in each order (and I believe it is a low average), the total number of poor persons liable to compulsory removal in 1849 was upwards of forty thousand. It may be that a considerable number of these orders were not actually executed; but no doubt a very large number were; and I beg the House to consider what an aggregate of human suffering and distress that must imply.

Sir, the pernicious influence of this Law of Removal is seen not in its direct results, but in the manner in which it has frustrated and perverted the humane attempts which the Legislature has from time made for its mitigation. I will trouble the House with two illustrations of this. In 1795 an Act was passed—35 Geo. III. c. 101—which modified very materially the original Act of Charles the Second. The Act of Charles rendered a poor person liable to removal if he was likely to become chargeable; that of George the Third made him liable only in case of actual chargeability. No doubt this was a great improvement, but it was not altogether an unmixed good. The labourer who has lived long in a parish with which all his connexions have been formed, experiences a much more cruel hardship in being removed when actual destitution at last overtakes him, than he would have felt if he had been removed (under the statute of Charles) within the first forty days as likely to become chargeable. My right hon. Friend the present First Lord of the Admiralty, then Home Secretary, carried through the Legislature, in 1846, an Act (9 & 10 Vict. c. 66), preventing the removal of any person from a parish in which be has lived for five years without interruption. The object of this Act was most benevolent, and there can be no doubt that it has effected much good. But I will show the House how the humane purpose of the Act may be and is defeated. I am sorry to say that in many parishes constant efforts are made to cause an interruption in the five years' residence, or to prevent its completion, in which case the protection from removal does not exist. The cruel effect with which this system has been carried out cannot be better illustrated than by a short passage from a letter which I received some time ago from Mr. Doyle, the able Poor Law Inspector for Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, and North Wales. With the permission of the House I will read it:— But all other injurious effects of the law," says Mr. Doyle, "sink into insignificance when compared with the sufferings to the poor of which it is the source. In putting upon paper the plain matter-of-fact details of one or two out of many cases that have come under my own observation, I can hardly hope to escape the suspicion of writing under the influence of exaggerated feelings. Last year, for instance, I was instructed by your Board to inquire into the circumstances connected with the removal of a man with a family of young children from a union in Lancashire to a union in North Wales. He had been in the receipt of good wages, some 25s. a week in the parish in which he was on the eve of completing his five years' residence.' From some cause his employment suddenly ceased, and he was compelled to apply for relief. The relief was at once granted, and, when accepted, an order of removal was taken out. In the meantime the man again got work, and was busy at his labour, earning the same wages as before, when he was literally forced away, removed to his parish, a place he did not even know, where he was utterly friendless, and where he had as little chance of finding the peculiar employment to which he was accustomed, as if he had been cast on a desert island. One of the witnesses in the course of the inquiry, happening to remark, speaking of this man, 'He was more like a madman than anything else,' he suddenly broke out, in uncontrollable passion, 'Yes, and I am more like a madman than anything else; it is enough to drive me mad to be dragged here with my family, as I have been.' I turned to the overseer of the removing parish, who was present, and asked, 'What induced you to remove this man under such circumstances?'—'To prevent him from completing his five years, sir.' It would be easy to multiply cases of this sort, characterised by more or less hardship to the poor, so as to prove that one grievous general effect of the Poor Removal Act is to stimulate officers, guardians, and ratepayers to have recourse to every means in their power to induce those who are liable to become chargeable 'to break their residence.' From this district, at least, complaints are constantly made to your Board of such proceedings, and, while investigating cases referred to me, I have seen quite enough of the means by which the provisions of the law are evaded, to know how hopeless it is to attempt to check the prevailing practice, so long as the inducement to it exists. Another very serious evil connected with the present law, arises from the wasteful litigation which it engenders. This is owing, in no small measure, to the multifarious, perplexed, and obscure nature of the law itself. There are nearly forty Acts of Parliament, which either wholly, or in part, relate to this subject. They have frequently been passed to obviate doubts, and there is scarcely a single Act among them, which, in professing to remove one doubt, has not created two. As to adjudged cases, they are to be reckoned by the thousand, and I need not say to those who have had occasion to look at them, how confused and unsatisfactory the great majority of them are. It is the law, drawn from such statutes and such decisions, which the overseers of every parish in the country have to construe and to administer, as it were, in dealing with the chargeable poor. I beg the House to observe the ordinary proceedings in a case of removal. A poor labourer has become chargeable to a parish, say in Middlesex. The overseers believe or suspect that the man has a legal settlement in a remote country parish, suppose in Northumberland. They go before two Justices, and prevail upon them, sometimes on very scanty proof, indeed, to make an order of removal. The Northumberland parish, which, so far, has heard nothing of the matter, now receives a notice that the order is made, and that, unless notice of appeal to the Middlesex Sessions shall be given within twenty-one days, the pauper will be removed. Perhaps the country parish, terrified at the prospect of meeting a formidable Middlesex parish at the Middlesex Sessions, acquiesces in the removal as the lesser evil. If, however, it does appeal, the Northumberland overseers come up to the Middlesex Sessions, and there with counsel, attorney, and witnesses, encounter the counsel, attorney, and witnesses of the removing parish. Perhaps there is an outlay on each side of 50l., the whole of which the loser may have to pay If the Northumberland parish loses, it must take the pauper, and pay 100l. for its unsuccessful attempt to avoid him. If the Middlesex parish loses, it must keep the pauper, and pay 100l. for its unsuccessful attempt to get rid of him. A sum, probably far more than would have been necessary to maintain him and his family till he could have obtained employment again, has been completely wasted. A few years ago, the litigation in Courts of Quarter Sessions about the settlement of paupers, was of the most vexatious and scandalous character. In those days, cases were constantly decided upon technicalities in the formal proceedings, utterly irrespective of the real facts and merits. No parish had a case so good that it could be called safe; no parish had a case so bad that it could be called desperate. I had the honour of introducing a Bill which received the approbation of Parliament, and became law (11 & 12 Vict. c. 31), for the purpose of sweeping away those wretched technicalities. I had the honour of introducing another Bill, which also passed into a law (14 & 15 Vict. c. 105, s. 12), empowering the Poor Law Board, with consent of the parties, to arbitrate, in questions of settlement, between contending parishes, and so to save the whole, or nearly the whole, of the expense. These Acts, I hope, have done some good; but I consider them as mere palliatives, which have left the great bulk of the evil untouched. I fear, that in describing the proceedings upon an appeal against an order of removal, I omitted to mention that the parties frequently persuade the Sessions to state a case for the opinion of the Court of Queen's Bench; and then may be seen the Lord Chief Justice of England and three other Judges of that high and dignified court, engaged for hours in settling the question, whether some stable-boy, fifty years ago, was hired under an exceptive or a conditional hiring, or some other-question of an equally important character. This last proceeding, besides grievously wasting the time and lowering the dignity of the Court of Queen's Bench, tends, of course, to the further inflammation of the attorney's bill, the further waste of the money of the ratepayers, and the further annoyance of the unfortunate pauper, who is all the time wholly ignorant to which of the two contending parishes he is to fall at last.

Sir, I have now drawn the attention of the House to some of the effects resulting from our present system of settlements and removals. I can say most truly, that I have made a minute search into the opinions of all who might fairly be considered as authorities upon the subject; but, from the reign of Charles II. downwards, I cannot find a single writer or speaker of reputation who has seriously defended the principle of the existing law. I find, on the other hand, authorities, which I venture to think deserving of the most respectful consideration of the House, and by which that principle is emphatically and unanimously condemned.

In 1735, a Select Committee of this House was appointed to investigate the subject, and I find this account of their proceedings in the ninth volume of Hansard, Parliamentary History, p. 965:— March 27, 1735.—The Commons appointed a Committee, to consider the laws in being relating to the maintenance and settlement of the poor, and to consider what further provision might be necessary for their better relief and employment; and the said Committee having considered and examined this affair with great care and attention, came to several resolutions, among which is the following:—'That the laws relating to the settlement of the poor, and concerning vagrants, are very difficult to be executed, and chargeable in their execution; vexatious to the poor, and of little advantage to the public, and ineffectual to promote the good ends for which they were intended.' This resolution was reported to the House on the 2nd of May, and on the 7th of the same month was agreed to without amendment. Fifty years afterwards, Adam Smith pronounced an opinion, which, I doubt not, is familiar to many Gentlemen, but which, I think, cannot be too frequently cited. In the year 1776, the first edition of his great work appeared; and in it we have the authority of a man, who was not only of unrivalled sagacity, but who, writing in Scotland, and calmly reviewing our English institutions, must be recognised as a most disinterested and impartial judge. He says— To remove a man who has committed no misdemeanour from the parish where he chooses to reside, is an evident violation of natural liberty and justice. There is scarcely a poor man in England of forty years of age, I will venture to say, who has not in some part of his life felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law of settlements. …. Let the same natural liberty of exercising what species of industry they please, be restored to all His Majesty's subjects—that is, break down the exclusive privileges of corporations, and repeal the statute of apprenticeship, both which are really encroachments upon natural liberty; and add to these the repeal of the law of settlements, so that a poor workman, when thrown out of employment either in one trade or in one place, may seek for it in another trade or in another place, without the fear either of a prosecution or of a removal."—[Wealth of Nations, b. i., c. 10; b. iv., c. 2.] Since the days of Adam Smith, wiser legislation has repealed those exclusive privileges of corporations, which operated in restraint of industry, and also the statute of apprenticeship, of Elizabeth, which prohibited every man from exercising a trade who had not served a formal apprenticeship of seven years. Two of the three obstacles to English industry, pointed out by Adam Smith, have been already swept away; it is for the House to-night to say what shall be done with the third.

There is another very high authority regarded by many with implicit deference, and by all with the greatest respect, who has spoken most unequivocally upon this subject, I mean Mr. Pitt. In a speech delivered in the House of Commons, on the 12th of February, 1796, Mr. Pitt said— The laws of settlement prevent the workman from going to that market where he can dispose of his industry to the greatest advantage, and prevent the capitalist from employing the person who is qualified to procure hint the best returns for his advances. These laws have at once increased the burdens of the poor, and have drawn from the collective resources of the State to supply wants which their operation has occasioned, and to alleviate a poverty which they tend to perpetuate.…. I conceive, that to promote the free circulation of labour, and to remove the obstacles by which industry is prohibited from availing itself of its resources, would go far to remedy the evils and diminish the necessity of applying for relief to the poor-rates. In the course of a few years this freedom from the impolitic restraint which these laws impose, will in part supply the purposes for which these laws were instituted. The advantages will be widely diffused, the wealth of the nation will be increased, and the poor man rendered not only more comfortable, but more virtuous."—[Hansard, Parliamentary History, xxxii. p. 708.] Another period of fifty years elapsed from the time when Mr. Pitt spoke, before the appointment of the Select Committee of this House, in 1847. That Committee, as I have already had occasion to state, investigated the whole subject most fully, and listened to and carefully scrutinised the evidence of witnesses from all parts of the country, including those best qualified to give the most valuable information. At the conclusion of their labours the Committee adopted the following Resolutions:—

Resolved—"That the law of Settlement and Removal is generally productive of hardship to the poor, and injurious to the working classes, by impeding the free circulation of labour."

Resolved—"That it is injurious to the employers of labour, and impedes the improvement of agriculture."

Resolved—"That it is injurious to the ratepayers, by occasioning expense in litigation and removal of paupers."

Resolved—"That the power of removing destitute poor persons from one parish to another in England and Wales be abolished."

Sir, Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that the conclusion at which the Committee thus arrived, is the wise and right one; and it is accordingly proposed to enact by the first clause of the Bill which I have now the honour of tendering to the House, that the power to remove a poor person, on the ground of settlement, from one parish in England or Wales to another, shall be abolished.

Sir, there is another subject which the Committee of 1847 found it necessary to consider along with that of settlement and removal, I mean the area of chargeability. That area, as I have already taken the liberty of reminding the House, is at present the parish, whatever its size or population. The investigations of the Committee of 1847 led them to certain very important conclusions upon this subject, which they embodied in the following Resotions:—

Resolved—"That the narrowness of the area of chargeability is one great source of the evils above adverted to, as well as of others arising from the interest of landowners and ratepayers in preventing the residence within that area of persons likely to become chargeable."

Resolved—"That it is therefore desirable to extend the area of rating for the relief of the poor."

Resolved—"That unions would form the fittest areas for that purpose."

Sir, I can entertain as little doubt as the Committee did, that the abolition of the power of removal would be comparatively valueless if unaccompanied by an extension of the area of chargeability. Suppose for a moment that it should continue to be the parish, it is clear that the power and the will of the owners of close parishes, to prevent the residence of the labourer, will be as great, and possibly greater than ever. If the poor man is to be relieved at the cost of the parish in which he becomes destitute, the great struggle will be to prevent him from having any home or place of shelter there in which his destitution may arise. He will still be driven for a residence from the close parish where he labours, to the open parish which cannot exclude him, in order that when the hour of destitution comes he may be chargeable to the latter, and that the former may wholly escape the burden.

I entirely concur with the Committee of 1847 in thinking that on these grounds, as a general rule, souse larger area of chargeability than the parish should be adopted, and also that the union is the fittest area of all. Though the unions are not all of the same size, there are no such monstrous discrepancies among them as I have shown to exist in the parishes. The unions are about 620 in number, and the parishes 14,614. By not taking a wider area than the union, the interest which each ratepayer ought to feel in the vigilant and economical administration of the law will not be diluted, as it would be if the charge spread over a larger area. The Board of Guardians, who manage the affairs of the union, are the representatives of all the ratepayers within it; and my opinion is, that the funds for the relief of the poor of any district ought to be raised and expended within the district itself, and under the superintendence and cheek of the ratepayers within it, or of their chosen representatives. All these conditions will be fulfilled if the union should be adopted as the area of chargeability.

Some well-meaning persons out of the House are of opinion that the cost of relieving the poor ought to be defrayed by means of a national rate, or be cast upon the Consolidated Fund. I am bound to say, in the most distinct and emphatic manner, that to every scheme of that kind I entertain insuperable objections. I believe that it would open the widest door to every description of fraud and jobbery. It would lead to the greatest carelessness and wastefulness in the administration of the poor-law, the direct effect of which would be such a rapid growth of pauperism as to defy everything like check or control. One of my chief objections to every such scheme is, that I verily believe it would be fatal to the principle of local self-government in the administration of the poor-laws. I think that principle most valuable, but under such a system as that of which I now speak, it would either be abandoned at once, as wholly impracticable, or speedily brought into such discredit as to make the nation cry out for its abandonment.

The only safe course, as it seems to me, is to adopt the recommendation of the Committee of 1847, and take the union as the area of chargeability. Assuming, for the present, that the House will be disposed to adopt this view, a question of great importance arises—namely, in what proportion ought the parishes to contribute towards the common fund of the union? Only two modes of solving this question appear to me practicable. The first is, that the parishes shall hereafter contribute to the common fund, according to a fixed scale formed upon the present averages. To this arrangement, however, there is a double objection. If the scale of contribution should remain fixed, while the relative value of the property in the several parishes is changing—for example, by the opening or closing of a manufactory, or, perhaps, by the discovery of a mineral spring, which may give birth to a second Harrogate or Cheltenham—it is obvious that great unfairness and inequality would soon exist. Besides, if the close parishes which have reduced their own burdens hitherto at the expense of the open parishes in the union, by driving all the labourers into the latter for a residence, were to contribute, hereafter, to the common fund, according to the averages which the close parishes have rendered unduly favourable to themselves, the consequence would be that they would derive a perpetual benefit from their own past injustice. As one of the witnesses before the Committee of 1847 expressed it, that injustice would be "stereotyped" for all future time. The only alternative, as it seems to me, is, that all the rateable property within the union should contribute according to its value, so that there would be an equal and uniform rate of contribution throughout each union, as there is now throughout each parish. It may be said, however, that to introduce this equality all at once, would be productive of hardship in some cases of existing engagements. That consideration, I certainly think, entitled to the attention of the House; and what I propose, therefore, is, that ultimately there should be an equal rate of contribution by all the rateable property in the union, such ultimate equality to be arrived at by gradual approximation. The Bill proposes a period of ten years for that purpose. With this, however, as with every other matter of detail, the House will, of course, be at full liberty to deal, when the Bill shall go into Committee.

It is proposed that the substitution of the union for the parish, as the area of chargeability, should extend to all those unions which are formed under the Poor Law Amendment Act, and whose affairs are managed by Boards of Guardians representing the whole body of ratepayers within the respective unions. In other cases, which are chiefly those of large towns, each equal in population to an ordinary union, and many of them under local acts, it is not proposed to interfere either with the area of chargeability or the mode of rating.

Sir, if the plan of which I have now had the honour of laying an outline before the House, should be found to infringe in any manner, or to any extent, upon existing interests, I shall be very sorry for it; but I fear that it would be difficult, and, indeed, impossible, to make any improvement whatever in our poor-laws without some interference of that kind. I do not believe that you can adopt any legislation upon this subject without prejudice to some class of interests; I am convinced that you cannot let the law remain as it is without prejudice to all. My anxious wish has been, in devising a remedy, so to frame it that any interference with private interests may be as little as possible in point of amount, and as justifiable as possible in point of principle.

With regard to the details of this Bill, I have not dwelt upon them long, nor described them with any great long, of particularity, because there will be ample opportunity for discussing them whenever the Bill shall be allowed to go into Committee. My earnest wish is, to make them as free from all reasonable objections as I can. For that purpose, I shall think my- self greatly obliged by suggestions from any quarter; and I can promise to any Gentleman who may honour me with them, either in the House or out of the House, either before going into Committee or when we have arrived there, that I will receive each with very sincere gratitude, and pay to each the most earnest and respectful attention.

Sir, I have now only to thank the House for the great indulgence which they have extended to me in bringing this measure before them; and, for the sake of all the great interests which it affects, I beseech them to give it a candid, dispassionate, and full consideration.

I beg leave to move— That leave be given to bring in a Bill to Abolish in England and Wales the Compulsory Removal of the Poor on the Ground of Settlement; and to make Provision for the more Equitable Distribution of the Charge of Relief in Unions.


asked if any alteration would be made with regard to Irish settlements?


said, that this Bill, as it related solely to the removability of persons, on the ground a settlement, in the parishes of England and Wales, did not enter at all into the subject of Irish removal, because that rested on a totally different principle. It did not proceed on the ground of settlement, and was in some measure incorporated with the Scotch law on the same subject. He thought the present law was in a very unsatisfactory state—and that, whenever that subject was dealt with, it would be found that the English and Scotch law must be dealt with in a very different manner. He had confined himself in this Bill to the subject, sufficiently large, of settlement in England and Wales.


asked how the right hon. Gentleman intended to work out the principle of equal rating in ten years?


replied, that in the first year he proposed to take one-tenth of the rateable value of the property ill each parish, and nine-tenths of the average, and the second year two-tenths of the rateable value, and eight-tenths of the average; in the third year three-tenths, and seven-tenths, and so on until the expiration of the ninth year.


said, he had listened with great satisfaction to the clear and able statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He could assure the right hon.

Gentleman that he would meet with the most cordial support from him in carrying out the principles on which his Bill was based. The measure proposed was in accordance with the Resolution of the Committee of 1847, and he had voted in favour of those Resolutions in that Committee. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Walpole) had said across the table that the Resolutions of the Committee had not been reported to the House, but that arose from a Resolution being carried by a majority of one in the Committee not to report the recommendations to the House, the Member so voting being the hon. Member for Mahon (Mr. J. E. Denison), and that only because he differed with regard to some of the Resolutions; but the two or three most important resolutions relating to the evils of the present law were passed unanimously, and the only difference was as to the remedy. They had agreed that the power of forcible removal of a poor man ought to be abolished. He had risen to ask the right hon. Gentleman who hail proposed the measure, whether he had borne in mind one Resolution to which the Committee of 1847 had agreed, which was to the effect that if the principle of union chargeability should be adopted, it would be desirable, if not absolutely necessary, to make some alteration in the boundaries of the Unions? In the cases of small parishes in the neighbourhood of large towns, great hardships might result. He wished, therefore, to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he had it in contemplation to propose that power should be given to alter the limits of the Unions?


said, he believed that there was at present a power under the existing Poor Law to alter, if it should be found necessary to do so, the boundaries of the Unions; but if that were not considered enough, he would make the power more explicit in the Bill.


said, he was glad to have drawn that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, because if such power had not existed, or had not been asked for, the measure might have been viewed with some degree of alarm.


said, he merely rose to call the attention of his right hon. Friend to the subject to which the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) had just referred. Very late last Session he had been obliged to bring forward a case in which an urban parish was united to a rural one, and where two-thirds of the guardians were in favour of a dissolution of the Union, but had met with considerable obstruction from the remaining third. At that very moment (said the hon. Gentleman confronting directly the Treasury bench) he had two unions—the one in Gloucestershire, the other in Somersetshire—immediately in his eye—[Laughter]—he begged pardon, immediately in his recollection—dividing which was the city of Bristol, whose affairs were administered under a local Act. Now, that city being inhabited generally by a wealthy population, the poorer portion of them had been driven out into the suburbs, which contained all the working classes; and yet they were about to commit the gross injustice of throwing the burden of their support upon Unions in either Gloucestershire or Somersetshire, between whom and themselves their existed not the smallest identity of interests; at least, it was not surely the intention of his right hon. Friend to maintain the Unions in precisely their present dimensions. He could not help wishing that the right hon. Gentleman had taken a more enlarged view of the subject; for the course adopted in reference to poor-law litigation seemed to him to have been most objectionable. He felt that it was a great pity that at the first passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act, the Gilbert Union Act and all other local Acts were not swept away, and the whole country put under one law and one superintendence. If they would grapple with the great question of the poor-law, let it not be, as hitherto, after a piecemeal fashion—ever and anon passing small enactments affecting the law in some minute degree. His right hon. Friend, it could not be denied, had undertaken a very large question; but he might rest assured that he would never be able to carry his Bill through without its undergoing a thorough investigation in those features of it which were deemed prejudicial to the rights of property. He wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman when certain returns, which he had originally moved for in 1852, and which were subsequently asked for by his hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Mr. Knight), would be laid upon the table of the House; for it was quite impossible to enter thoroughly into all the facts of the question until they were fully informed of the different rating and different rates in parts of different parishes connected with Unions, nor would they otherwise be able to realise the promise contained in the Queen's Speech that in legislating on this subject injustice would be inflicted on none.


said, he begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board for his clear and lucid statement, and to say that he concurred in a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman said as to the hardship inflicted on the poor man by the present law of removal. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to certain Returns relative to removals moved for by Captain Pelham in 1849, and it would be satisfactory, before he called upon the House to discuss the proposed Bill, to have those Returns brought down to the present time, because, from his (Mr. Packe's) experience as Chairman of Quarter Sessions in a populous county, he would say that the condition of the poor had been materially improved in that respect, and the results which had been referred to might rather be considered as bygone matters, than as belonging to the present time. Another point most material in his mind, was the alteration of the area of rating; and he felt confident that in many parts of the country that alteration of the area of rating from parishes to Unions would be productive of the grossest injustice. Land had been purchased, and was being purchased, comparatively free from rates on one side of a hedge, while on the other side the land was burdened with poor, and there was consequently a considerable difference in the purchase money. Therefore it would be a gross robbery upon those persons who had been purchasing property on the understanding that it was free from burdens, if the right hon. Gentleman's Bill were to saddle them with the charge of maintaining the poor of perhaps a large and populous neighbourhood. In his county there were a number of manufacturing and agricultural parishes mingled together, and where the manufacturing population resided the rates were very high, and it would be a serious injustice to make the other parishes contribute towards the expenses of those large manufacturing parishes. Under these circumstances, he thought, if the area of rating were increased, the area of rateable property should also be increased. It was not fair that landed property should be exclusively called on to contribute to the sustenance of the poor; and poor, too, that were never employed by the land. The maintenance of the poor was morally compulsory upon all classes, and it was therefore morally right that all property in the country without exception should share in the expense of the maintenance of the poor.


said, he wished to put two questions to the right hon. Gentleman—first, whether the Unions under the Gilbert Act would come under the operation of the Act? and, secondly, whether parishes like the metropolitan ones, which administered relief under local Acts, would be exempted under it? For if there were any bodies of the community administering relief which required to be amended, it was the metropolitan. A great portion of this vast city was inhabited exclusively by the poorer classes, and, as a consequence, the taxation fell exceedingly heavy on them, while the richer parishes were almost entirely exempt from charge. This was an anomaly.


said, he must state that the Gilbert Unions were not comprised within the Bill. With regard to parishes under local Acts he could only say that the operation of the first portion of the Bill, namely, abolition of the power of removal, extended to the whole of England and Wales. The change in the area of taxation would extend to Unions formed under the Poor Law Amendment Act, and to no others.


said, the present was a subject of great importance, and required serious consideration. Without disrespect to the great talent and industry displayed by the right hon. Gentleman, he must say that he could not altogether concur in the general favour with which the right hon. Gentleman's observations appeared to have been received. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had to a certain extent exaggerated the evils of the present Poor Law, and had rather described the state of things existing twenty years ago, when he and his right hon. Friend were engaged on circuit together. He would beg to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the state of the country was now very different from its condition at the period when the Report which had been read to the House was made. That was a period of very great distress, and therefore any defects inherent in the Poor Laws exhibited themselves with great intensity. Within the last two or three years, enormous emigration and other circumstances had, happily, mitigated the evils of a surplus population. He called the right hon. Gen- tleman's attention to a serious defect in his scheme. For if he rightly understood that plan, it made every case of destitution chargeable where it stood. Now, what would be the consequence? Why a poor man dying, and leaving a widow and children, immediate means would be had recourse to to get them out of that Union into another; and he was quite certain that his hon. Friend would recollect that an analogous practice was formerly very much in vogue. At the same time, he was ready to admit that if the rating was by Unions, that the effect would be to get them across the borders. With regard to the area of rateability, he must say in the outset he very much disliked all legislation, which it was confessed, would inflict particular injustice; and his right hon. Friend must admit that such would be the consequence of his Bill, for otherwise why should he delay carrying his project into effect for tell years? carrying should like to know in what terms hon. Gentlemen opposite would characterise a proposition coming from that—the opposition—side of the House, which dealt with the perilled property of the country in such a manner? He did not wish to charge the right hon. Gentleman with deliberately proposing anything he felt to be unjust; but still, what was it but injustice to place upon well-managed parishes, where, by attention and kindness to the poor, and by furnishing them with the means of emigration, the rates had been reduced, the same burdens as those which ill-managed parishes had to bear? The whole of this subject would of course require grave and calm discussion; but feeling that the proposition before the House presented many serious difficulties, he must express his dissent to it until he had better means of forming a judgment in favour of the scheme.


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman's proposition became law, millions' worth of property would change hands at once. The effect of increasing the rates of a parish by 2s. 6d. in the pound, would be to decrease the selling value of that parish by one-eighth. This would be, in such cases, nothing more or less than taking one acre or one house in eight from persons to whom it belonged, and giving it to some other parties. A great many parishes in England were lightly rated because they had taken great pains to reduce their poor-rates by good management, while others were heavily rated because they had neglected their affairs. The people, then, who would be compelled to pay higher rates, were just those who had behaved well, and their contributions were given to those who had behaved ill. But this, it was said, was to be done in ten years, so that the hardship or injustice would be immaterial. He dissented from that view. A man had 800 acres of land in a parish. This Bill would increase his taxes half-a-crown in the pound—just one-eighth. Was not this practically taking 100 acres out of the 800? "No, said the right hon. Gentleman, "we only propose to take a ten-acre field every year for the next ten years; and that is just." He left the House to say what sort of justice it was. For his own part, he believed the House would require some very strong reasons before it thus consented to interfere with the title of every owner of lands and houses in England. Two classes of reasons had been mentioned—one actual, such as clearances and pulling down houses; the other theoretical, having reference to the employment of labour. In the Committee of 1847 a great number of Gentlemen connected with the Poor Law Board were examined, and they said great clearances were going on. They were asked where the clearances had taken place, but they could not say of their own knowledge that there had been any at all. Mr. R. Hall, one of the witnesses, gave in a statement of forty-four Unions under his charge, in which out of some 500 parishes only seventy-six were close. Of these seventy-six close parishes there were six in which houses had decreased since 1841, and in one of them the decrease amounted to eighteen houses. But in all the others it was merely nominal. It would have been well if the other witnesses had given in a list of the same kind, and had shown how many houses had been pulled down; but nothing could have been so unfair as to come forward with these charges of clearances, and then not to substantiate them. In the following year the late Mr. Charles Buller, then President of the Poor Law Board, expressed a desire for more definite evidence and information, and sent gentlemen into several counties to inquire into the facts; and Mr. Weale was sent into Bedfordshire, and Mr. Hanley into Northumberland, but these gentlemen failed to make out any case at all. Other gentlemen who had been sent out, reported only a few cases of pulling down and clearances. When he was Secretary to the Poor Law Board under his right hon. Friend in the preceding Administration, he (Sir J. Trollope) said to him, "Now, this is the question above all others connected with the Poor Laws. Here are the papers, and I wish you to study the question so as to be able to give your opinion at the board." He conceived that was what secretaries of public boards were generally called on to do. He had examined the reports in this way. He had placed all the parishes which were called close on one list, and all the parishes which were called open on another; and though the Government to which he belonged went out, and he was therefore unable to state the results to the board, he had possessed himself of a considerable amount of interesting and, as he thought, valuable information, which he hoped shortly to lay before the House. They had heard a great deal of the "shifting of burdens," but he could show that from 1815 to 1847 there had been, he might say, no clearances in England—that the whole charge was a joke. He did not mean to say that there had not been cases in which houses were pulled down in some parishes, but what he did assert was, that on the whole there had been in the parishes a large increase of houses; in most close parishes a great increase of houses and population, and that almost invariably the houses had increased more than the population, which showed the population had not been driven out. With respect to towns and open parishes of that kind, he found that the houses had increased in a very much larger degree than the population, and he could prove, moreover, that the increase of the value of real property in open parishes had been enormously more than in close parishes. The gain had been almost entirely in favour of the larger and more populous parishes since 1815. In the last named year they would find that, by taking the average percentage paid by counties, the difference between the highest and the lowest counties was from 3s. 6d. to 3s. 9d., but at present the difference was only 1s. 6d., so that the process of equalisation had been rapidly going on. He warned the right hon. Gentleman that there was a large party who would vote for this Bill as a step towards the introduction of a national rate, because if the principle of equalisation was to be admitted, the House could not stop short of it. There could be no sort of doubt that a national rate must be the result of extending the area of taxation at this moment. With respect to the differences in the size of parishes, to which the right hon. Gentlemen had alluded, it was to be observed that Unions also varied considerably in extent. The writers on Poor Laws of the present generation had been in the habit of attributing the evils of those laws to the Statute of Charles II. the Act of Settlement—which was in fact the foundation of our present system. Mr. Coode had proved that during the first sixty years of the passing of the 43rd of Elizabeth it had been impossible to feed the poor—they were starving; and until the localisation of the poor by the Act of Settlement there was no poor-law in England. Before the Act passed, villages were pulled down and the population swept away; and in Scotland and Ireland, where no settlement law existed, the same thing went on to this day. No one could do that now. No one dared to do so, because he would throw so many paupers on his hands, and therefore he found labour for them instead. Marshes had been drained, woods grubbed up, and wastes cleared, and roads constructed under the inducements to employ the people occasioned by this Act, and this pressure on the owners of property had been most advantageous to the country, and of the highest benefit to the poor. During the French war, when everything was very dear, and taxation very high, Mr. Pitt met the evils which arose by granting more relief, and thus kept the people quiet, and carried us through the war. The rates were more than 2s. 6d. in the pound all over England; but the value of real property must have increased nearly 50 per cent during the war, and no one was a loser and the poor gained enormously. With reference to what would be the effect of doing away with the law of settlement, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was urged that the present system gave the advantage to old men, and forced the young men to seek elsewhere for work. But for what class, he would ask, was the poor-law especially intended? Was it meant to benefit the young man, or the aged and infirm? If the effect of the abolition of the law of settlement would be, as was suggested, that the young men would be employed in preference to the old, it would follow as a necessary consequence that the old must go to the workhouse. They would give a present advantage to the young man; but how long would it last? In the course, probably, of ten years, a fit of rheumatism or some other cause made him also infirm, and then the workhouse must be his fate also.

What they proposed to do was to benefit him when he did not want it—when he could go, and, under the present system, did go, into the manufacturing districts, and obtain employment there—and to give him this temporary benefit to the injury of the old man, who was unable to go away if he desired it, and for whom especially the poor-law was established. It was better to find labour for the old men than to throw them wholly on the rates; this had been the great secret of the quiet and comfort of the English people, and it could not be for their good, therefore, to abolish the law of settlement. Mr. Coode, Mr. Chadwick, and all the persons who had written on this subject during the last twenty years, state that the manufacturers get as many men as they require, but it was not the best labour. What did they mean? They assert that by the present system the best hands are thrown out of employ, and yet that the towns did not get them. Where, then, did they go? There could be no doubt but that the young men went to the towns, and that the old ones, with their families, staved at home. He felt certain that he could prove from the evidence of these gentlemen (Mr. Chadwick and others) that the proposed alterations would have the effect of throwing partially infirm labourers with large families entirely on the rates. If they were to take away the law of settlement, they would do the greatest amount of injury to the poor. The Act of Settlement passed in the reign of Charles II. he considered was the foundation of the relief of the English poor. The opinions of many—among others, Adam Smith and Pitt—had been cited as decidedly opposed to the law of settlement, but their opinions were not as to our law of settlement, but the old law, by which a man could be removed the moment he went into a parish. Mr. Pitt, in 1796, laid on the table of the House a Bill in which he proposed that a five years' residence should constitute a settlement. He did not proceed further after this, but desired that they should wait and see the effect of the alterations made; and afterwards, when Premier, he never introduced any further measure on this subject, as he evidently considered everything had been settled satisfactorily. A great deal had been said with reference to the labourers living a long way from their work, and it had been attributed to the small size of the parishes. His (Mr. Knight's) attention had been drawn to a statement of Howell's Report, in which it was stated that in the parish of Worksop, consisting of 18,000 acres, almost all the agricultural labourers resided in the town of Worksop. So on the Continent, where there was no poor-law, they found the agricultural labourers living in large towns, with a much greater distance to go to their work than in England. He was certain that all that had been asserted by Gentlemen on this point was untenable. Mr. Chadwick had brought forward statistics showing that these close parishes drive the people into the towns, owing to the misery existing in the agricultural districts; he (Mr. Knight) had taken the towns mentioned, and found that in 1840 the average of the agricultural population living in them was 1 in 36; while in 1841 it had decreased nearly one-half, as the average was only 1 in 70. The whole of these statistics, therefore, he considered incapable of proof, and ought not to be the ground of any measure by which so great an alteration would be made in the value of real property; and he also felt sure, if the subject were looked into, it could not be shown that the poor would be any gainers by it. In the great case that had been legislated on (the Stockport Union case), he might absolutely assert that the hardships that had there arisen arose in a great measure from the cruelty of the guardians, as the relief administered was ridiculously small. According to Mr. Coppock, 21,391 persons were relieved out of the house, while the amount of relief was 8,871l., or only 8s.d. per head per annum; but this case could not now be brought forward, and all cases of hardship that were must be shown to have taken place since the passing of the Five Years' Act. There were a great many considerations to be gone into, and he hoped an early day would be fixed for a full discussion of the question, when he thought he should be able to show that no real case existed for disturbing the value of nine-tenths of the real property of England. He must strongly condemn the impropriety of placing in the hands of the landlords the power of turning off a number of people from their estates, without their Union rates being much enlarged, He considered the right the poor had to dwell in their homes, over which their landlords had not this absolute control, an inestimable advantage, far greater than they would derive from the proposed measure. What they would do by abolishing settlement would be to put the poor entirely into the hands of their landlords or employers, bound hand and foot, who could do with them just what they pleased. He begged to apologise for having trespassed at such length upon the patience of the House, more especially as he had come down quite unprepared to address them. Upon a future occasion he hoped to be better prepared upon the question.


said, he could not enter into such details as those offered by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, because he had not the advantage enjoyed by his right hon. Friend the late President of the Poor Law Board of possessing so able a secretary to prepare his speeches, although the question, as the hon. Member had stated it, might perhaps have been more appropriately reserved for the second reading of the Bill. The opposition of the hon. Member, as he (Mr. V. Smith) understood it, was directed to any alteration of the law; but the hon. Member did not state on what occasion the speech which he had prepared for his right hon. Friend was to have been delivered—whether it was on bringing in a Bill similar to the present for an alteration of the law, or whether it was in opposition to any alteration of the law—[Mr. KNIGHT: Generally.] He regretted extremely that his right hon. Friend had not had the opportunity afforded him; for though he (Mr. V. Smith) was one of those who assisted in turning his right hon. Friend out of office, he should certainly liked to have heard that general statement. Perhaps the House would, in the course of this discussion, be informed whether or not his right hon. Friend coincided with his hon. secretary. He presumed his right hon. Friend did not; for, he believed, in case his right hon. Friend cast his eye over the information which certain localities with which they were both acquainted supplied, he would be led to a totally different conclusion. His object, however, in rising was to state his infinite satisfaction that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Baines) had resolved on putting his shoulder to the wheel and dealing with the question in the manner he proposed to do. Two assertions had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Hildyard) in contradiction to his right hon. Friend. One of these was, that the state of the law was not so bad as was supposed; and that his right hon. Friend had taken his facts from the period when they were both occupied in trying causes on circuit, and not from the present time. Now so far as his (Mr. V. Smith's) experience went, he was prepared to say that the law of settlement was as great an evil as the poor man had to deal with in this country. If it were not so, certainly the hon. Member (Mr. Knight) would be perfectly correct in opposing and endeavouring to throw out the Bill altogether, for there would be no case for proceeding if the preamble of his right hon. Friend were not proved. If it were not true, as Adam Smith wrote, many years ago, that this law was the greatest of curses to the poor man—if it were not true, as was asserted by the Commissioners who had been directed to report on the question that it was an evil; if it were not true, as was declared by the Committee of 1847, that it ought to be abolished, then let the House throw out the Bill of his right hon. Friend because the preamble could not be proved. In addition to all these authorities there was also the report of Sir George Nicholls, formerly one of the Poor Law Commissioners, which corroborated all his right hon. Friend had stated that night. He (Mr. V. Smith) had had some experience upon the subject, and could take upon himself to say that a greater evil both to employer and employed did not exist than that law; and, moreover, he did not think his right hon. Friend had exaggerated, but had rather underrated the evil. It met the employer at every turn, who was constantly told, almost in terms, that he should never employ any one out of his own parish. The other assertion made by the hon. and learned Member for Whitehaven was, that the abolition of the law would be an injustice to property. But what his right hon. Friend (Mr. Baines) contended was, that there was a manifest injustice in the state of the poor; and he (Mr. V. Smith) would tell the hon. and learned Member to remedy the injustice to poverty, and then he would join him in rendering justice to property. It was because his right hon. Friend had made out an undeniable case that the poor man was unjustly treated in this country by the law of settlement, that he was prepared to do what, he admitted with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Knight), might, to a certain extent, be a species of injustice to a particular species of property. That he was perfectly ready to admit; but what great measures were not attended with some injustice to some species of property or other in a state of civilisation such as that in which we existed? He confessed that he was surprised that there had not been an outcry among the poor throughout the breadth of the land against this law, and he could only attribute their silence to the fact of their total ignorance of the real law. They confounded settlement and relief, and did not know that relief was the right of destitution. He was convinced, if the poor could read the speech of his right hon. Friend, that they would be very strongly opposed to the existing law. The hon. Member also said the present measure was but a step to a national rate. He had no hesitation in declaring that, if it were possible or achievable, a national rate would be preferable to a Union rate, because the wider the extent of surface the better would it be. But a national rate was, in his mind, utterly impossible. The destruction of self-government, and of the entire resources of the kingdom, which would be occasioned by their utter inability to provide any tribunal that would distribute the money, put a national rate altogether out of the question. At the same time the principle of a national rate he was perfectly ready to admit. The difficulty was, then, where to find a district at once so large as to prevent its being entirely in the hands of a single proprietor, and, at the same time, so small as to excite the energies of the guardians to limit the multiplication of paupers. He thought that his right hon. Friend had done perfectly right in fixing his districts, and his hope was that those districts would prevent the evils which had hitherto existed both to employers and employed. With regard to the averages, that was a question of detail when the Bill was in Committee; but, as his right hon. Friend had stated his plan, it appeared to be reasonable enough, taking, as he understood it, a vanishing scale of ten years. The hon. Gentleman opposite had stated that the subject should not be dealt with piecemeal. He thought that his right hon. Friend had taken a good slice to begin with; but he trusted that the Government would not be satisfied with that as the only measure. He hoped to see introduced a Highway Bill, which was so materially connected with the poor-law that no one knew what ought to fall upon the poor-rate and what upon the highway rate. He hoped that this was to be considered as a measure of the Government, to be carried forward with zeal and assiduity, and regarded as one of the measures of the Session, which would be passed into a law, and not dropped after passing through Committee, or on the third reading. In so doing the Government would confer one of the greatest benefits ever bestowed on the poor of this country.


said, that his hon. Friend (Mr. Knight) having personally alluded to him, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. V. Smith) having done the same, he thought himself called upon to make some answer to the allegation of his hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman stated that he (Sir J. Trollope) instructed him to prepare materials on this subject. It was evident they were for the hon. Gentleman's own use, and he had evidently taken very great pains about them, but he had never communicated his information to him (Sir J. Trollope) till that evening. He (Sir J. Trollope), therefore, was quite unprepared for the very voluminous statement which his hon. Friend had given them that evening, and which he threatened to enlarge on a future occasion. Turning to the proposition before them, he must say that he had always been at a loss to know why a town should be managed differently from a rural district, and why portions of the same town should be differently situated with regard to the general law. He thought it a defect in the right hon. Gentleman's measure that he did not propose to deal on the present occasion with those places hitherto exempted from the general management of the Poor Law Board, such as the Gilbert Unions—it being obvious to all how very superior was the management of those places which were under the direction of the Poor Law Board. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. V. Smith) had spoken of this as hoping it would be made a Government measure; he (Sir J. Trollope) hoped it would not be made a party measure, but would be carried after due reflection, and with such amendments as those best acquainted with the subject should maturely recommend. In this way a judicious measure might be passed, and one which would be a blessing to the poor. That was the spirit in which he was prepared to come to the discussion of this question.


said, he fully concurred in the views which had been expressed as to the failure of the law of settlement, but he was anxious to know what were the intentions of the Government with regard to Ireland. He trusted that the same zeal which the right hon. President of the Poor Law Board had manifested for the welfare of the people of England, and the good working of the poor-law, would be manifested in devising a better system for Ireland.


said, the subject was one the importance of which it was impossible to overrate, and scarcely possible sufficiently to appreciate, because it involved the good or evil of the poor, and as far as it could be judged of at present, the actual confiscation of a large portion of the property of the country. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would lay on the table before the second reading such information with respect to the Unions throughout the country as would enable the House to judge what the amount of the shifting the burden would be. This ought in common justice to be done, that they might not take a step which would impose on some parishes more than treble the amount of their income tax, and relieve others to an equal extent. As he had understood the right hon. Gentleman, he meant to exempt all parishes under local and Gilbert Acts. [Mr. BAINES: From the rating part.] He was speaking with reference to the rating part. No attempt was made to remedy the inequality where all the poor lived in one parish of a town, and all the rich in another parish of the same town. He could not understand what the object was of dealing with land merely as opposed to real property in houses. As he had understood the right hon. Gentleman, when alluding to the area of rating, it appeared that he did not wish the area to be so large that the ratepayers should cease to feel an interest in looking after the expenditure of the rates. Was he prepared to say that the Unions were all to be of one size, and that it was possible to give all the ratepayers a common interest in them? In his opinion, so great were the inequalities in the size of the Unions, that that part of the proposal would not be suitable for the end in view. As regarded the removal of the poor, and the evils spoken of in connexion with it, the right hon. Gentleman had to consider the difficulty arising, out of the case of the Irish poor. Did he think that the Irish could be removed to Ireland, if the English could not be removed? It would be impossible to say that we would not permit the English to be removed on the ground of hardship and cruelty, and yet to continue the removal of the Irish with the very same grounds, whatever they might be, for its discontinuance. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the Reports of the Inspectors appointed to collect further information on the subject than was possessed by the Committee of 1847. These gentlemen had certainly stated strong opinions, but they had reported much on hearsay; and he believed, in reference to many of the parishes, the cases were the reverse of what they had stated. All that part of the right hon. Gentleman's case that rested on the Reports of those gentlemen rested, in his opinion, on no foundation at all. One other point—the possible evil to the poor themselves—had been adverted to. If the view which he took was correct, a very large pecuniary burden would fall on many parishes—on property which for 300 years had been exempt from such a burden; and the result would be that in some way or other attempts would be made to get rid of the burden. The question was, whether the poor might not be sufferers. The right hon. Gentleman thought the measure would confer a great benefit on the poor. He believed that if the poor throughout England were consulted on the question, a vast majority of them would be against the change proposed. He believed that they understood this question thoroughly, and that they were as much attached to their parish as any man was to his country. That feeling was strong in the rural districts. The right hon. Gentleman had not stated what provisions he intended to introduce with regard to charities. A great many charities at present were distributable among certain inhabitants of a parish. That was an important question, but it was not touched on by the right hon. Gentleman, though it ought to be considered when it was proposed to do away with the law of settlement and removal—


The law of settlement is not touched, only the law of removal.


The power of settlement would be virtually abolished. He had never seen any evidence to convince him that the evils of the law of settlement were so great as they had been represented. Before dealing with the question they ought to be told what it was proposed to do with the Irish poor. He should consider the measure as dispassionately as he could, but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not yield to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith) to make this a Government measure, for that would give it a party character.


said, he must beg to explain that he by no means wished the question to be made a party question. His object was to induce the Government to press the measure forward in such a manner as to show their desire to carry it.


said, he was of opinion that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the removal of the poor would, so far as the agricultural districts were concerned, tend to foster a free trade in labour. In the case of the metropolitan parishes, however, he was not quite sure that the effect of the measure might not be to increase vagrancy. He should also observe that he had heard no good argument advanced in favour of Union as opposed to parochial rating; and he could not refrain from expressing a hope that if the right hon. Gentleman should succeed in establishing a Union rating, he should take care that the subject of the arrears which existed in those Unions should be thoroughly investigated.


said, he would remind the House that whilst the scheme, if carried out, would put an end to the removal of paupers from one part of England to another, the right hon. Gentleman retained the power of the Poor Law Union to send back to Ireland those paupers who might be of Irish origin. In that respect he considered the right hon. Gentleman had committed a grievous error, and one that would tend, as far as he could see, to inflict great hardship and injustice on that country. The system of poor-law removal in England was based on this broad foundation, that if the pauper was not justly chargeable to one parish, he might be removed to that to which he was chargeable. Now, what was the case with regard to Ireland? Did they remove an Irish pauper and his family from a place to which he was not chargeable, to a place to which he was chargeable? No such thing. They sent them to the nearest port, and in some cases they had died on the decks of the steamers from starvation. But, supposing them to arrive at the nearest port, their place of settlement might be 200 miles distant. The hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. J. O'Connell), who had almost spoken as though he represented the whole of Ireland, had invited the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baines) to extend this sort of legislation to Ire- land. In doing so, that hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten that the only thing which enabled the Irish poor-law to meet and to survive the distress of the years 1846 and 1847, was the multiplication, and the consequent diminution of the size, of the Unions, by which means the liability to taxation was brought home to a smaller area, and every man was induced to look more keenly after the affairs of his own neighbourhood. He (Lord C. Hamilton) must protest against any English Member being led away with the idea that Ireland had thriven under the system now proposed for the benefit of England.


said, he was desirous not to detain the House at that late hour, but he felt himself called upon to offer a few observations upon the subject under discussion. His remarks, however, would be but few, inasmuch as a great part of what he desired to say had been anticipated by his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). The subject under debate had been introduced to-night by his right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Baines) with that ability which all must have expected from his great knowledge of the subject; and he (Sir J. Pakington) must, for one, express very great satisfaction that it was the decision of Her Majesty's Government to have this important question, with all its difficulties, great as they must be acknowledged to be, fairly discussed and debated by the House. He was one of those who had been for some years of opinion that the law of removal was one which had inflicted very great hardship and great suffering upon the working classes of this country. He must also confess he had long been of opinion that, if the law of removal were abandoned, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to retain the present system of parochial rating. But there could be no doubt that feelings of very considerable alarm had sprung up, and he thought those feelings of alarm had very much increased of late in two respects connected with this difficult question. He thought a feeling of alarm had very much obtained lest any change in the law of settlement and removal, while it would do away with some sources of hardship and suffering to the labouring classes, might be the means of inflicting on them others of no less important a nature; and he thought this alarm had been sounded a good deal upon the circumstances to which his right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Baines) had himself alluded, namely, the efforts they had all seen in various parts of the country, to adopt contrivances to defeat the Five Years' Act, and, by forcing parties to change their residence after a certain period, to deprive them of the benefit that the Five Years' Act was intended to confer on them. A feeling of alarm had naturally arisen, that if the poor man were deprived of that right to relief in given localities, which he now enjoyed, another hardship might be inflicted. His right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Baines) said with great truth that the claim to relief in this country was founded, not on settlement, but upon destitution; but still the claim to relief was much assisted by the fact of settlement: the man who became destitute had an advantage in demanding relief, if he could urge the claim of settlement. There was danger lest the man who would not urge that claim might be "bandied about," as the expression was, from one part of the country to another. Thus, while a hardship of one sort might be avoided, a hardship of another kind would be incurred. He, however, understood his right hon. Friend to have explained this evening that, although he proposed to do away with the power of removal, he did not propose to touch the right of settlement. He hoped his right hon. Friend would make that matter perfectly clear, because he thought it was an important feature in the proposed Bill, and one that would tend very much to remove that class of alarm to which he had alluded. The other source of alarm he wished to refer to had been much dwelt upon by his hon. Friend behind him, and it was that which arose from a dread that if the House introduced Union rating, the value of property in the country would be materially affected. This was a most serious matter for consideration. He (Sir J. Pakington) had expressed an opinion that if the law of removal were done away with, it would be difficult to retain parochial rating, and if parochial rating were abandoned they must resort to Union rating. The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Mr. Knight) had devoted great ability and labour to the preparation of statistics upon this important question. He was glad to hear they would be printed, and he hoped they would be printed in time to enable the House to benefit by them in this discussion. He was sure his right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Baines) would give to them the con- sideration which was undoubtedly due to them. For his own part, he should reserve his judgment upon this part of the question till he had more matter before him. He hoped the right hon. President of the Poor Law Board would attend to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) to furnish anything that could throw light upon the subject, and he trusted that if the feeling of the country was found adverse to and entertained well-grounded apprehensions as to the effects of Union rating, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Baines) would direct his attention to whether it was possible to gain the benefit of doing away with the law of removal, and, at the same time, retaining parochial rating. He acknowledged that there would be great difficulty in doing so; but he hoped his right hon. Friend would give his whole mind to the consideration of the question, and that the benefits of doing away with the law of removal might be obtained without any accompanying disadvantages. He trusted, after what had passed, that his right hon. Friend would gravely consider what to do with Ireland. In a subject of this magnitude, affecting the whole internal economy of the country, his right hon. Friend would do well to grapple with the whole of the subject, and not shrink from facing the Irish question, merely because some additional difficulty might be placed upon him. He (Sir J. Pakington) would not detain the House further than to express unqualified approbation of one feature that had distinguished the debate this evening, and which he hoped would continue—namely, the total absence of all party feeling on this subject. The question was one of great difficulty, affecting, as he had said before, the internal economy of the country. He thought Her Majesty's Government had done well in calling attention to it, and he hoped the subject would be discussed with an anxious desire to aid and assist Government.


said, he had been plied to for assistance by 100 or 200 persons who had suffered most grievously from the present state of the poor-law. They had spent most of their lives in England; they had almost lost all recollection of Ireland, and had even so entirely obtained the English accent, that they might have passed for Englishmen; and yet by the atrocious barbarity of the present law, they had, when they became chargeable to the poor-rates, been removed from England to Ireland. He understood that the effect of this Bill would be, that if an Englishman left his own parish, and went to Manchester or any other manufacturing town, and there lived and worked for four, six or ten years, he would have a right to be relieved there, and would not be liable to removal. Would an Irishman who had lived and laboured in an English town for a similar period have a similar right, as he certainly ought to have, under this Bill, and no longer be subjected to the hardships of removal. He thought that no one could doubt that some alteration should be made in the present system, by which Irishmen becoming chargeable in an English town might be taken to the nearest English port, be there shipped on board a vessel, and landed at the nearest Irish port, although it might be at the opposite extremity of the island from their birth-place. He had himself known cases in which persons from the north of Ireland had been landed on the quays of Cork. It had been said that the feeling in Ireland was strongly in favour of a small area for rating; he believed, however, that this was not the case, but that the general opinion was in favour of Union rating, some persons going even further, and desiring national rating. He could not conclude without expressing his admiration of the humane spirit which had dictated the present measure, and of the ability and clearness with which it had been introduced to the House.


said, he wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board would have any objection to furnish the House with returns showing the number of orders of removal during the last year, and the expense incurred by each parish on this account? He believed it would be seen that the restrictions placed upon the removal of paupers by the previous measure had materially lessened the number of cases of this kind, and that, therefore, the advantage to be derived from this Bill would not be so great as some hon. Members seemed to expect.


said, the paupers in the Union with which he was connected were all placed on the same footing. No distinction was made beetween an Irish and an English pauper. They were relieved under the same law, and protected by the same law. He would ask the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire), after the language he used with reference to the treatment of Irish paupers in England, how it happened that shiploads after shiploads of Irish paupers were sent over from Ireland to this country, and left to shift for themselves? These paupers were always received into English Unions, and provided for. He mentioned this in answer to what had fallen from Irish Members with reference to the treatment of Irish paupers in England.


said, he should be extremely ungrateful if he did not tender his most respectful acknowledgments for the indulgent manner in which the House had received the measure which he had had the honour of laying before it. As there would be abundant opportunities for future discussion, he thought he should make the best acknowledgment of that indulgence by not going into details upon any of the points which had been adverted to in the course of the debate. The hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) had, however, made an inquiry to which it would be right to give a reply. The hon. Gentleman had asked what the effect of this Bill would be with regard to the condition of Irish paupers. Now this measure would not affect their condition; it certainly would not prejudice it in any way. He (Mr. Baines) had already expressed the opinion that the existing legislation on this subject was not satisfactory; but, for reasons he had mentioned, he had thought it advisable to confine this Bill to the subject of removals on the grounds of settlement. That was a very large subject in itself, and quite enough for present consideration in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), and the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington), had both expressed a hope that ample time would be given for the consideration of the measure. If those right hon. Gentlemen had not expressed that hope, he (Mr. Baines) should have done so, believing that the fullest time ought to be allowed for its consideration and calm discussion. Before the day appointed for the second reading, which he proposed should stand for this day month, March 10, he hoped there would be in the possession of hon. Members a valuable Return moved for by his hon Friend the Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles) which would afford information upon many points on which it was desirable that light should be thrown. He believed he could say positively that that information would be in the hands of hon. Members before the second reading of the Bill.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Baines, Viscount Palmerston, and Mr. Grenville Berkeley.

Bill read 1°.