HC Deb 12 June 1857 vol 145 cc1671-3

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the circumstances under which an order to build a workhouse was addressed by the Poor Law Board to the Guardians of the Preston Union (Lancashire). The hon. Gentleman said that by the Poor Law Amendment Act, the Poor Law Board had the power, when they had obtained the assent of a majority of the Board of Guardians of a union, to order the local authorities to purchase land for the purpose of building a workhouse. The 38th section of the statute declared that there should be at least one elective Guardian for every parish, and that the county justices of the peace should be ex officio Guardians. It was also enacted that nothing should be done by any Guardian as a member of the Board except at a meeting; but this rule was subject to one very remarkable exception; namely, that the Poor Law Board should have power to dispense with this last provision. The Poor Law Board had for many years endeavoured to induce the Guardians of the Preston Union to build a new workhouse, which the Guardians always resisted on the ground that they had good and sufficient workhouses. It appeared, however, that the Poor Law Board put themselves in communication about the latter part of 1855 with the Chairman of the Union, who was an ex officio Guardian, and obtained, principally through his instrumentality, the signatures of twenty-two out of twenty-four of the other ex officio Guardians, and also of eleven of the elective Guardians, to a requisition to the Poor Law Board, praying that Board to issue an order calling on them to build a union workhouse. In that union there were forty elective and twenty-four ex officio Guardians, so that the majority in the present instance was composed principally of ex officio Guardians. The order was applied for in March, 1856, and it was made by the Poor Law Board accordingly. He was anxious to elicit an ex- planation as to the reasons for this proceeding from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie); also, whether it was the practice of the poor Law Board to obtain the sanction of Poor Law Guardians in this manner, and whether it was their intention to enforce the order they had issued respecting the Preston Union. This was a question of considerable importance, because many other unions were similarly situated to that at Preston, and it was felt that the rights of the ratepayers were involved in this matter.


said, that the workhouse at Preston was not a good one or in a satisfactory state, and it was the desire of a great number of the Poor Law Guardians, including the Chairman, that a new workhouse should be built; and they accordingly applied to the Poor Law Board for an order for the purpose. The workhouse could not be ordered without the consent of a majority of the whole number of the Guardians, nor without the consent of the Poor Law Board. It had been the practice of the Poor Law Board to issue such an order upon a requisition being presented to them signed by a majority of the Guardians. That was precisely the course taken in respect to the Preston workhouse. The hon. and learned Gentleman complained that this order had been issued in spite of the elective Guardians, He (Mr. Bouverie) had, however, yet to learn that, in point of law and in every other respect, those ex officio Guardians had not precisely the same power as the elective Guardians to decide upon all such questions. Being gentlemen residing in the district, they were thoroughly competent to judge as to whether there was or was not a necessity for the erection of a new workhouse. He had no reason to suppose that the majority of the ratepayers was opposed to this proceeding. What further course the Poor Law Board might be induced to take in reference to this matter he was not then prepared to say.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman had naturally supported a very unauthorized order, and if he had kept within the law he had certainly sailed very near the wind, and if the practice in question was within the law, the sooner it was altered the better. If they had the whole of the correspondence the took place upon the subject between the Guardians and the Poor Law Board, was it would show how many of the ex officio Guardians had signed the requisition to the Poor Law Board requesting it to issue the order referred to. He had been in formed that some of those Guardians had never attended the Board at all, and some of them might not be ratepayers in the district.


trusted the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) would not be intimidated by the cry raised against him throughout the country by these Boards of Guardians. If the law required amendment at all, it was in order to put more power into the hands of the Poor Law Board. As to the ex officio Guardians, it was perfectly right that they should not attend at the transaction of the ordinary business, which was far better left in the hands of the elective Guardians. But on special occasions it was the duty of the ex officio Guardians to see that something else besides the interest of the ratepayers was thought of. That interest alone was too generally considered, just as in the case of the Scotch lunatics; it was what would save most money to the ratepayers, and what was most economical that guided the Guardians, not what was most beneficial to the poor. The same principle regulated the allowances made to the doctors, which were reduced to so low a sum that it was utterly impossible for those gentlemen to attend properly to the duties of their position upon such terms; and everybody accustomed to attend these Boards must have noticed that when physic was prescribed to a sick man in the workhouse the Guardians had no objection to it, but when wine or other nourishment was ordered they usually rose against it. The conduct of the Poor Law Guardians was in many instances abominable. What would have been the condition of the poor in Marylebone and other parishes if it had not been for the exertions of the Pool Law Board? He trusted that if the right hon. Gentleman thought he had not sufficient power he would appeal to this House form more. Hon. Members behind me (Mr. Drummond concluded) are fond of reform; they are fond of universal suffrage. Well, then, let them take it now. Let the poor in future elect the Guardians, and not the ratepayers.