HC Deb 25 July 1867 vol 189 cc142-6

(Mr. Sclater Booth, Mr. Secretary Gathorne Hardy.)

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Statute 10 & 11 Vict. c. 169, s. 28 repealed. The Poor Law Board made permanent.)


said, he had to move an Amendment with the view of renewing the Poor Law Board for five years only. He had on a previous occasion stated his objections to the Board being made permanent, and hoped that, to avoid a long discussion, the Amendment would be agreed to.

Amendment proposed, in line 8, to leave out the words "from and after the passing of this Act."—(Mr. Ayrton.)


said, there was great objection in the metropolis to the Board being made permanent, and it was impossible to discuss the proposal properly at this period of the Session.


said he was sorry he could not agree to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member. The Poor Law Board had existed for a period of twenty years upon its present footing. It had been continued by various Acts of Parliament, and the time had come when the House was in a position to decide whether it should not be placed on a permanent footing. The Bill of 1846 placed the establishment on the footing which it held at present, and the clause which limited the duration of the Board to a period of five years was evidently added with the intention of being repealed if the experiment succeeded. There had been only two or three Petitions presented against the proposal to make the Board permanent. Considering the great powers which the House had intrusted to the Poor Law Board at the beginning of this Session, it would be rather inconsistent if they were now to say that it ought not to have a longer existence than five years. That period would not afford sufficient time for testing the operation of the Act. This department should be placed on the same footing as the rest.


said, he trusted that the Secretary to the Poor Law Board would re-consider his decision. He spoke the views of a great many Members who had the strongest objection to make the Board perpetual; there was no other department in the country which exercised such powers as the Poor Law Board. He hoped the Government would confine their demands this year to a Continuance Bill with a view to some measure of consolidation next year. There were no fewer than sixteen or eighteen Acts of Parliament, one after the other, enlarging, contracting, and altering in various ways, the powers of the Board. It was exceedingly difficulty to say what the powers of the Board really were.


said, that the fact that Parliament had in the beginning of the Session intrusted the Board with new powers was no reason whatever for making it permanent; rather the contrary. As those powers were new, extensive, and invidious, and as there was likely to be great difference of opinion as to their exercise, it was only proper that a limited existence should be given to the Board. No possible inconvenience could arise from a course which Parliament for twenty years had thought right to adopt.


said, that the hon. and learned Member seemed to forget what the Poor Law Board had been constantly doing in the country. If the Board was at one time unpopular, it was because it was not represented in the House, and had not the same opportunity of defending its acts which it afterwards obtained. A Committee over which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers) presided, sat for three years on the subject, and they came to a unanimous resolution that the continuance of the central authority was essential, and that it would increase its efficiency if placed on a permanent footing. As for the statement that no notice had been given of what was to be done, in the beginning of this Session due notice had been given that the Poor Law Board would be made perpetual. The Board had great powers before; but when the House had so much confidence in it as to give it further powers this Session it seemed to him very extraordinary that it should be placed on a different footing from any other department in the State, and should be held in suspense for a period sometimes of three years, sometimes of five. Was the Board to suppose that it was distrusted by the House? If so it would be prevented from acting with the firmness and decision to be desired. He was perfectly convinced that the time had come when the House might fairly trust the Board. The Poor Law Board was placed in a most invidious position by being treated differently from other departments of the State.


said, that whenever he found metropolitan Members rising to oppose a measure, as they did upon that occasion, he could not help entertaining a strong suspicion that it was one which would promote the welfare of the country at large. He believed that the time had come when the central machine which regulated the whole administration of the Poor Law of the country should possess the prestige of permanence. A Board which was continued from year to year at the will of Parliament could not command that respect which it ought to possess. If the House were unwilling to make it absolutely perpetual, at least something approaching to permanence ought to be conferred on the central authority.


said, he could not agree with his hon. Friend who had just spoken. He presented the other day a Petition from the Poor Law Guardians of the borough which he represented, complaining bitterly of the law and of the manner in which they were treated, and especially directing the attention of the House to the propriety of discontinuing the power of the Board rather than giving it permanence. Every Act of Parliament had had for its object to increase the power of the Board and diminish that of the Guardians, so that he apprehended that by-and-by it would be found impossible to get persons of respectability to undertake that office. He trusted there would be no prolongation of the Board beyond the term of five years.


said, he thought five years a species of permanency which many people would be delighted to obtain, and a term quite sufficiently long to fix. Unfortunately, the metropolitan Members did not always act together; if they did, no doubt this country would be very much better governed than it was. The country districts, he believed, were in favour of a permanent Board, but the metropolitan ratepayers felt they could take care of their own interests, and did not want this perpetual direction. He should give his support to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets.


said, he thought the House and the country were greatly indebted to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Poor Law Board for the improvements that had been made in the administration. So far from feeling that it lowered the position of the Guardians to have the advice and assistance of the members of the Poor Law Board, he had always, as a Guardian, felt it a great advantage. He should give his most cordial support to the permanent continuance of the Board. He should be very sorry if, by imposing the limit of five years, the notion should be encouraged that its powers were still to be of a temporary nature.


was astonished that this proposal should have come from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. AYRTON), and should have been supported by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Locke). Both his hon. Friends were Members of the Select Committee, and if this subject had not been discussed at length there, it was because there seemed at once to be something like unanimity in favour of the Board being made permanent. It was certainly the effect of the evidence—that for the due and uniform administration of the law for the relief of the poor a Central Board was necessary, and that with a view to its greater efficiency it should be made permanent. The Committee had been impartially chosen, it had made a patient inquiry, and he did not know that there was any ground for doubting its judgment. The objections that had been urged to the Poor Law Board applied equally to it when subject to periodical renewal, as they would, when rendered permanent. These arose from certain powers with which it was vested, and es- pecially those of issuing General Orders, of which the Committee had approved, though some people thought them unconstitutional. The House really never had any thought of abolishing the Board. The apprehension of being put an end to on the expiration of two, three, and five years, if it did not demoralize, alarmed, and intimidated, and had a very prejudicial effect upon those connected with the department. As the time for renewal approached, they were threatened with attack by local boards—not by those that were best managed, but by those that were irregular in their proceedings, and least careful in their attention to the poor. The best regulated unions, and those, generally, that treated the poor with the most real humanity, were those that acted most in harmony with the Board. It was evident it would be inconvenient to any department to be liable to be threatened with this kind of hostility if it would not make concessions that they believed to be unwise, or, waive its regulations; and so long as a department was responsible to the House of Commons there was no use in subjecting it to this kind of terrorism, which could only be prejudicial in its effect. It must cripple its usefulness if, under such circumstances, the Minister at its head was always to be advised in the department to keep quiet, and to abstain from initiating needed reforms. When he first entered the House there was a strong prejudice against the Board of Trade, and nearly as great with some people then as there is now against the Poor Law Board; and if it had been renewed periodically its usefulness would have been comparatively limited, and its importance under-rated. If the Poor Law Board required to be reformed, there was no reason why its constitution should not be amended when it had been made permanent; on the contrary, it would be an additional reason for its revision; but it was inconsistent to be constantly renewing the Board without the least intention to abolish it ultimately.

Remaining clauses considered:—some amended.

After long time, House resumed.

Bill reported, as amended, to be considered To-morrow.