HC Deb 03 July 1856 vol 143 cc252-64

Order for second reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, he had to express his regret on private grounds, that he should be obliged to appear before the House on the present occasion, living, as he did, in the heart of a society in which peace had prevailed for many years, but which was about to be disturbed by the enactment of the measure for which a second reading was asked. In the first place he had to complain of the manner in which the Bill had been brought forward. Bill No. 1 was introduced on the 3rd of April, without any previous intimation being given to those who took a great interest in the question during the years 1844 and 1845. On the 19th of May an attempt was made to read that Bill a second time, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) saying that as no principle was involved in it, the Bill might be read a second time without discussion. That, however, was objected to, and on the 23rd of May that Bill was discharged, and leave was given to substitute the present Bill for it. After several postponements, the second reading of the present Bill was finally fixed for that day. He knew not whether the present, like the first Bill, was without any principle, but up to the present moment the House had not heard any statement from the Poor-Law authorities as to the provisions of the measure. The great defect of the Bill, in his opinion, was those clauses which repealed the 22nd of Geo. III., and also that portion of the Poor-Law Act which authorised single parishes to become incorporated under the wise and beneficent Statute called the Gilbert Act. There was also a provision restricting the publicity of the rules, orders, and regulations of the Poor-Law Board to the Clerk of the Peace, whereas the present law required copies of such rules to be furnished to the clerks of the petty sessions. So long as there presided at the head of the Poor-Law Board a person in whom the country could place confidence, it did not much signify whether those rules were promulgated or not; but it was matter of great importance as to the description of person who should so preside over that Board. Great inconvenience would, however, arise from dispensing with the copies of the rules which were at present sent to the clerks of the petty sessions. Again, the chairman and vice-chairman of the Board of Guardians at present appointed the auditor of the district; but by the Bill now before the House the power of appointing the auditor would be transferred to the Poor-Law Board; and the auditor, in addition to his present duties, would also have to undertake all the accounts of those places which had adopted the provisions of the Statute of the 4 & 5 Will. IV., including watching and lighting. What watching and lighting had to do with the Poor-Law Amendment Act he was at a loss to conceive. On the other hand, however, the appointment of registrars, which was now exercised by the Poor-Law Commissioners, was to be transferred to the Board of Guardians. If that were considered an equivalent for taking the appointment of auditor from the Board of Guardians, he certainly did not think it to be an adequate one. It was most important that the appointment of the auditor should rest with the Board of Guardians. But, after all, the great objection to this Bill was its compulsory clauses, by which it was proposed to repeal the Act commonly called the Gilbert Union Act—a wise and beneficent law, and one which had operated most advantageously both for the ratepayers and for the poor in all those places where its provisions had been adopted. Now, he wished to inquire why those incorporated parishes should be dissolved? No abuses had been shown to exist in them, nor any inconvenience to have arisen from them. He, therefore, hoped the House would pause before it sanctioned the measure of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor-Law Board. When the Poor-Law Bill was first introduced in 1834, it was proved that the only parishes in England which were quiet were those which had been incorporated under the Gilbert Act. The population of those places then amounted to about 500,000; and Lord Althorp wisely inserted in the Act of 1834 a clause excepting from its operation those Gilbert incorporations, and also those parishes and towns which were governed by local acts. The Gilbert Act was passed in 1782. It empowered parishes to unite for the purpose, among other things, of administering relief to the poor. A great many parishes adopted the provisions of the Act. It was true that on the passing of the Bill of 1834 many of those incorporations were scattered and broken up; but that, he believed, was in consequence of the statements made to the different Gilbert Unions by the emissaries of those who advocated the Poor-Law Bill of 1834. He knew that many of those parishes which were then deluded by those representations were anxious to return and be again placed under the provisions of the 22 Geo. III. They had ever since regretted having yielded to the pressure then put upon them, and having listened to the misrepresentations then made to them in order to induce them to place themselves in the hands of the Poor-Law Commissioners. Great disgust was at the time created throughout the country at the manner in which the Poor-Law Commissioners proceeded to form their Unions, and especially at the course they adopted in 1835 and 1836 in endeavouring to persuade the remaining Gilbert incorporations to surrender. The inspectors who were sent into the different parts of the country resorted to the most unjustifiable means to effect their object, and they from time to time reported that everything was working well in the Poor-Law Unions; but that the Gilbert incorporations were mischievous examples and ought to be dissolved. If the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) believed there was any defect in the Gilbert Act, why did he not propose to amend it, instead of repealing the Act altogether. The objection brought against the Gilbert Unions by the Commissioners had, in almost every instance, been overruled by the evidence taken before a Committee of the House of Commons; and that Committee had decided that it was not expedient that the Gilbert Unions should be abolished, but it was, upon the Report of that Committee, adopted by the casting vote of the Chairman, that the present Bill was founded. If the charges brought against the Gilbert Unions were persisted in, he would fortify himself with his strong box, containing every case that had occurred since the year 1844, in order to show the blame that ought to be attached to the proceedings of the Commissioners. As regarded the feeling out of doors on the subject, there had been ten petitions for the Bill and 381 against it—while the number of petitioners in the first case was 448, and in the second 2,471. After reading several passages from these petitions, the hon. and gallant Member concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.


said, that he did not entirely dissent to the Bill, yet he entertained some serious objections to it, and for more reasons than one he would second the Amendment. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor-Law Board as to whether he did not think it advisable, considering the lateness of the Session, to withdraw the Bill. It must be recollected that the right hon. Gentleman had not even made a statement in favour of the measure; and it should also be borne in mind that it was not the fault of the House that the Bill was not more advanced. The right hon. Gentleman had partly to blame himself for the delay. It was not the first Bill he had introduced on the subject. If it was a matter of urgent necessity, the clauses being of such importance, they ought to have been well considered in the first instance, and have been brought forward in a state fit to pass the House. His great objection, however, to the Bill was, it proposed doing away with the Gilbert Unions. No misconduct whatever had been alleged against them; no proof of any want of out-door relief, or of an insufficiency of in-door relief had been adduced, while it certainly was the fact that nine-tenths of the ratepayers of those Unions were adverse to the proposed Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman had the power of doing away with the Gilbert Unions, he could not see any reason why he should not equally do away with the Unions under local Acts. He must confess he was utterly at a loss to know—and the right hon. Gentleman had not as yet made any statement to inform him on the subject—why it was considered necessary to bring the parishes comprising the Gilbert Unions under the operation of the Poor-Law Board. So far as the ratepayers residing in those Unions were concerned, they had the strongest objection to the step, on the ground of the large expenditure that would have to be incurred for erecting workhouses and organising and establishing a new parochial system. With regard to transferring the appointment of auditor from the chairman and vice-chairman of the Boards of Guardians to the Poor-Law Board, he thought the former were as capable of making a good appointment as the latter. In reference to extra-parochial places, it was no more than fair that they should be made to provide for their own poor, and that the burden of doing so should not be cast upon the adjacent parishes; but he did not think the best course would be to attach those extra-parochial places to the parishes adjoining. That was, however, the least objectionable feature of the Bill; but, taken as a whole, the measure seemed to him to be so unnecessary, whilst at the same time it went to extend the principle of centralisation, that he had no hesitation in seconding the Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he would not follow the example which had been set by his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir G. Pechell), for he must say that never since he had a seat in that House had he heard a speech in which so much was said that was so little to the purpose. The fact was, there was nothing in the speech of his hon. and gallant Friend that required an answer; he would therefore at once address a few remarks to the House in support of the Bill. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Galway) had alluded to the appointment of auditors, and its transfer to the Poor-Law Board. The House must understand that at present the auditor was appointed by the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the Boards of Guardians of the district to be the auditor of that district. That was an arrangement made in substitution of the one by which the Board of Guardians of each Union appointed their own auditor and paid him out of their own funds. Subsequently it was arranged that the auditors should be paid entirely by the public out of the general funds of the country, and a vote was annually taken for that purpose. He could not understand upon what principle it could be contended that the chairman and vice-chairman of the Board of Guardians should have the appointment of the auditors. In 1838 it was a distinct recommendation of a Committee of that House that the auditors should be appointed by the Poor-Law Board. Subsequently to that the Commissioners appointed by the Treasury to examine the state of the public offices investigated the subject and afterwards recommended that the auditors should be appointed in the way proposed by the Bill now under consideration. It was important that the auditors should be absolutely independent of the parties whose accounts they audited, that their whole time should be devoted to the discharge of their duties, and that their districts should be enlarged. In point of fact, they were officers subject to the control of the central authorities, and appointed merely for the purpose of checking and controlling the expenditure of the local rates. If they ought to be appointed locally at all, the appointment ought not to be by the Boards of Guardians, but by the ratepayers. It was preposterous that the Board of Guardians should appoint an auditor to audit their own accounts. The auditor's duty was to act on the part of the ratepayers as a check on the Guardians, and to see that the rates were properly applied. Besides these general objections, he did not think the result of the present system of auditing the accounts was of a satisfactory nature. Many of those officers were efficient, but many were not. As an instance of the necessity which existed for altering the system of appointing auditors, he might mention that not very long since a chairman of a Board of Guardians had actually become a candidate for the office of auditor of the accounts of his own Board, and had voted for himself. The auditors should be much fewer in number, their whole time should be devoted to their duties, and their appointment should be left in the hands of the Poor-Law Board. The animosity of the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton against the Bill was excited by the clauses which would effect the abolition of the Gilbert Unions. The question the House had to consider was this:—As the system of the Poor-Law administration was carried on in ninety-nine instances out of every hundred by Boards of Guardians administering relief under the provisions of the Poor-Law Amendment Act, was it on the whole a sound and beneficial system for the ratepayers, and also for the poor themselves, or was the administration adopted by the Gilbert Unions to be preferred, where the parties acted without any system or any law, and did just as they pleased? It was on the part of the poor who were the proper objects of relief that he urged it was time those Unions should be dissolved. There were only fourteen Gilbert Unions throughout the kingdom, the total population of which was 174,000, while the total population under the ordinary Poor-Law administration was 17,000,000. He should be indifferent about those small local administrations if they were carried on properly, but his complaint against the Gilbert Unions was that as far as the benefit of the poor was concerned they were not properly conducted. As regarded the education of the children of the poor, to care for which was a very important part of the duty of those who managed the poor in these Unions, it was entirely neglected in almost every one of them; and where education was attempted to be given, it was next to nothing in amount, and what there was of it was miserably bad. In fact, in every material respect in which the law for the relief of the poor ought to be efficiently administered, the Gilbert Unions were greatly defective, and he thought it was high time to get rid of them. Next, with regard to the provisions of the Bill respecting extra-parochial places. There were nearly 500 of those places in England and Wales—some small in extent, some with no population, some of considerable extent, and some with a considerable population. The population of those 500 extra-parochial places amounted to more than 30,000. In the whole of them there was absolutely no mode of relieving the poor. The poor had no resource when in a state of destitution, and they were in those places as much without relief—as much without a poor-law as if the statute of Elizabeth had never been passed. It was a disgrace to the country that such a state of things should continue a day longer than was necessary. He had found many hon. Members labouring under the impression that those persons could be relieved from the rates of the adjoining parishes. Now that certainly was not the fact. The rates of the adjoining parishes could not be legally so applied. He had numerous applications from parishes near extra-parochial places, containing accounts of the greatest hardships and suffering endured by the poor of those extra-parochial places, and asking whether there were any means of relieving those people besides by private charity. [The right hon. Gentleman here read a letter which had been addressed by a bench of Magistrates to the Poor-Law Board, in which they stated that they had little doubt the death of a certain pauper, living in an extra-parochial place, had been accelerated, if not caused, by a want of nourishment during her confinement, which she would have received in case the relieving officer of the Union had been at liberty to give it.] With reference to the case of pauper lunatics in such places there was no means of providing for them. The Lunacy Acts applied to parishes only, and the relieving officer had no power to deal with a lunatic belonging to an extra-parochial place, unless the lunatic was first removed into some parish. He confidently appealed to the House as to whether that was a state of things which ought to continue. For his own part, he did not like to take upon himself the responsibility of allowing cases like the one to which he had referred to be continually occurring without endeavouring to provide a remedy. He would therefore ask the House to allow so much of the Bill, at least, to pass as related to these extra-parochial places. He would admit that as regarded some of the other provisions of the Bill, they perhaps were open to objection; and if any opposition should be made to them, he was prepared, considering that the period of the Session was not favourable to him, to postpone those portions of the Bill. But as the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir G. Pechell) as well as every other hon. Member, must be friendly to some provision being made to give relief to the destitute poor, he did hope that they would not oppose that part of the measure which applied to extra-parochial places. Therefore, if the House would assent to the second reading of the Bill, he would undertake, when the Bill went into Committee, to strike out everything except that which related to the relief of poor in extra-parochial places.


said, that the gentleman to whom the right hon. President of the Poor-Law Board (Mr. Bouverie) had referred, as having nominated himself for the office of auditor of a poor-law union, had certainly been the chairman of a board of guardians for several years; but he should have thought that that would have constituted a qualification rather than the reverse. [Mr. BOUVERIE: He was the chairman, and he voted for himself.] So most other gentlemen did under similar circumstances. At all avents, in the instance referred to, the gentleman was well prepared for the discharge of the duties of his office, for, in addition to being chairman of the board of guardians he was a barrister of considerable practice on the Midland Circuit. He might further state that he had resigned his chairmanship, and was now no longer in connection with the Board. With regard to that portion of the Bill which related to extra-parochial places, the peculiar hardships of the present system, both as to the occupiers of property and the poor themselves, were matters which had come under his own personal observation, and in his county advantage had recently been taken of a private Bill for the purpose of parochialising upwards of 14,000 acres of extra-parochial property rather than wait for any general measure on the subject. The district lay between two Unions, but paid no rates to either; it afforded, however, a large amount of industrial occupation to the poor residents within the Unions, who, when they became sick or required relief, were chargeable, not to the places where they were employed, but to the Union, which derived no benefit from their labour. He thought, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman, finding that he could not carry the whole of his Bill, had wisely determined on endeavouring to carry that portion of it which the House would agree to. With respect to the Gilbert Unions, it was his opinion that they had failed in their object, and become effete. The Bill, in its present shape, referred to a great many subjects. He (Sir J. Trollope) should be excused, therefore, if he drew the right hon. Gentleman's attention to another question of a kindred nature—he meant that of medical relief. Than the present mode of granting medical relief throughout the country nothing, he apprehended, could be more unsatisfactory. It was his opinion, however, that medical men had themselves to blame for this to a great extent; for under the pressure of excessive competition they had been induced, at the outset of the administration of the present poor law to enter into contracts upon an inadequate scale. Indeed, from his own personal knowledge, he could take upon himself to say that the cost of bare medicines, where given in sufficient quantities, would more than absorb the whole salary, and leave the medical man no remuneration whatever for his time, the exercise of his skill, the expense of travelling, and other charges incidental to his profession. The amount these gentlemen asked for in their petitions was 5s. for attendance, 1s. a mile for travelling expenses; and in his (Sir J. Trollope's) opinion that would be by no means an exorbitant allowance. There was besides the greatest discrepancy in the payment of their officers. Pauper cases were always cases of extremity, and the pauper did not call in a medical man till he was forced. In consequence, the medicines he required were such as could not, as he had just stated, be given under the poor-law contracts. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give his attention to the subject. They were doing much in other ways to improve the sanitary condition of the great towns. It was of as much importance to the public health to attend thus to the health of the poor as to drain the towns. It might, perhaps, cost £500,000 to put the present system into proper force, and would be at least as useful as would be the expenditure of £3,000,000 in draining our towns. One-half of the expense would be borne by the State, and the ratepayers throughout the country surely would not grudge their part for a purpose so necessary for the health of the community. He approved of the Bill, and only regretted that so much would be struck out of it as had been promised by the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he wished to say one word with respect to extra-parochial places. The Bill would make those extra-parochial places parishes within themselves. That might be done, and yet no great result attained. It would be, he apprehended, no remedy. They would continue to employ, as they did at present, persons living in the adjoining parishes. In the city of Oxford, Christ Church would by the Bill remain a parish by itself, and yet the property it contained, representing a value of £4,000 a year, would not be called upon to contribute one penny towards a poor rate by reason of there being no poor. By the first Bill of the right hon. Gentleman that would not have been the case. The first clause of that Bill enacted that such extra-parochial place should, for the purposes of the assessment of the poor rate, be deemed to be a part of the parish by which it was surrounded, or of one of the adjoining parishes. He understood, however, that that clause would have given rise to considerable opposition. The present Bill altered that clause to a much greater extent than was necessary, in his opinion, to meet the justice of the case, because Clause 4 still left it optional to an extra-parochial place whether it should be joined to any parish or not. What, however, he wished to suggest was, whether it might not be possible so to arrange the fourth clause as not to leave it optional with the residents, but to make it, as a general rule, compulsory, and then afterwards to adapt that rule to the circumstances of each particular case. I It would be almost futile to pass a Bill which was to contain nothing but the clauses relating to extra-parochial places, unless they made the measure in that respect perfect.


said, he understood that all the provisions of the Bill were to go overboard, except the extra-parochial clauses. That being so, he confessed that, even in regard to that part of the Bill, he was not disposed to vote for the second reading; and he would shortly state the reason. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) said that those clauses related to 500 places, and to a population of 30,000. Now, it would be very difficult to say how great was the variety of circumstances existing in those places; and it would be equally difficult to devise any general measure that should do equal justice to all. He had not any evidence before him to enable him to come to any conclusion on the subject; and it was impossible that a matter of such importance, and at that late period of the Session, could fairly be gone into. Another subject closely analogous to this had been postponed—he meant the rating of mines. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be a wiser course for him not to go into the matter now, but in the beginning of another Session to have a Committee to inquire into all these subjects, and obtain the fullest information upon them. The right hon. Gentleman would then be able to legislate in a manner much more satisfactory to the country, and would also be able to do more justice both to the parties to be relieved and to the people whose property would be most materially affected by it. He congratulated the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir G. Pechell) on the successful effect of his very heavy broadside on the right hon. Gentleman. He did not like the change in the mode of electing the auditors, and he did not approve giving the Government patronage over to the civil power in that way. He should, therefore, oppose the second reading of the Bill.


said, he very much objected to the House proceeding with a measure of legislation which must necessarily be altered next Session. He did not think the present Bill would answer the object it was intended to effect. The time had arrived when it was impossible to avoid a revision and an alteration of the original Poor Law Act; what was called the common fund had become an enormous charge upon many parishes. There were large districts of land in his own union which did not contribute a single farthing: and there were whole parishes that had entirely dropped out of the contribution.


said, he merely rose for the purpose of joining his appeal with that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henley) to the President of the Poor-Law Commission, in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman would be induced to complete the act of grace which he had begun, in withdrawing the clauses relating to the Gilbert Unions, by putting a good face on the matter and withdrawing the whole measure. It was from no spirit of opposition to the object which the right hon. Gentleman had at heart—namely, the rating of extra-parochial places—that he made this suggestion. It was, undoubtedly, an anomaly that such places should exist, and he should have great pleasure at any future time in assisting the right hon. Gentleman in his endeavours to attain the object he was anxious to accomplish. But there was great force in the objection which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Oxford (Mr. Cardwell) that there were many places where there were no poor, and, therefore, to give a power of raising rates in those places was a mere mockery and of no substantial advantage.

[The hon. Member was proceeding with his observations, when he was reminded by Mr. SPEAKER that the time for the adjournment of the House had arrived.]

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