HC Deb 02 March 1869 vol 194 cc513-33

, in rising to move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Poor Law in Scotland; and whether and what amemdments should be made therein, said, so far as regarded England, the question of the Poor Law was one of very ancient date; but so far as Scotland was concerned the question was one of exceedingly modern and recent times. They had, no doubt, a law in Scotland passed in the latter part of the 16th century, and regulated by ordinances of the Privy Council, which dealt with the question of the maintenance of the poor; and he would say that in his opinion—and he hoped he might not be supposed to boast too much of the advantages of the laws of the country from which he came—the principles upon which that ancient Poor Law was founded were principles which he thought were eminently calculated to meet the question of the maintenance of the poor, and were principles which were rational and beneficial, socially and generally, to the country. The principle upon which the Poor Law in Scotland was regulated was this, that it was the duty of every man according to his means to provide for the permanently disabled poor, who from infirmity were unable to work for themselves, who had no means of subsistence, and who had no relations whom the law held bound to provide for them. It was, in fact, a rate in aid of poverty, and not a Poor Law rate. Down to the year 1843 that was the general principle upon which the poor of Scotland were maintained; and he asserted now, without fear of contradiction, that the principle upon which that law was based and administered was one well adapted to provide for the maintenance of the indigent and the incapable, and was also one eminently calculated to preserve and foster those relations of charity and affection without which the social fabric cannot properly be maintained. It was held to be the duty of the relatives of a poor person to maintain him, and it was only where the means of those relatives were insufficient to enable them to fulfil the duty imposed upon them by law, that the law stepped in and called upon those who were wealthy, and consequently able, to supplement the disabilities under which the relations found themselves. Hence came the basis of their rating—a rating upon the means and substance of a person, and not a rating upon the income; for he was called upon to contribute, not necessarily in exact proportion to his income, but according to his position, and to the wealth he held in the country. Unfortunately, as population and trade increased, pauperism increased also, and the means were not managed in a manner adequate to supply the necessities of the poor. There came a time of great distress, when a question with regard to the support of the able-bodied poor appeared to be looming before the public. There were also the large evictions in Suther-landshire, driving numbers of people from their accustomed means of occupation A Royal Commission was appointed to take evidence as to the state of the poor, and as to the means best adapted to remedy the great distress then existing. The Commission reported in 1844, and in 1845 a Bill was brought in under the Government of Sir Robert Peel, which was based on the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners. That body, however, wore not quite unanimous—one of the Commissioners having sent in his reasons for dissenting from the Report of his brother Commissioners, and if he recollected rightly, the Gentleman who thus dissented was the only English Member of the Commission. When the second reading of the Bill came to be taken, a strong resistance and opposition to it was made by the Scotch Members. They objected to the principle upon which it was based, but they principally objected to the proposed establishment of a Board of Supervision at Edinburgh. Mr. Rutherford, afterwards Lord Rutherford, also most strenuously opposed the proposal to appoint that Board. It was resisted on all sides, he believed almost unanimously, by Scotch Members of the House. [Sir EDWARD COLEBROOKE: No!] Hishon. Friend the Member for North Lanarkshire appeared to dissent. He would find he (Mr. Craufurd) was right if he referred to the debates of that day in Hansard.


was understood to say that he himself supported the Bill.


recollected his hon. Friend did support it, but actually the main body of the Scotch Members objected to the Bill. But, as often happened, when a Government had at its back an arrogant majority, they protested and protested in vain. They foretold all the evils that would arise from that legislation, and he believed that every one of the evils had come to pass. First of all, he would take the expenditure at the time when the Bill was passed, or shortly afterwards. He would take the first reliable Return. In the year 1845 the total expenditure for the poor in Scotland amounted to £295,000. It might be said that at that time the poor in Scotland were very badly treated; but the expenditure had gone on increasing in a rapidly extending ratio. Within a very few years it reached nearly double the amount he had named, and according to the last Report of the Board of Supervision the expenditure of the Poor Law in the year ending 14th May, 1868, was no less than £863,000. He would not grudge that money if he thought that the poor in 1868 were proportionately better off in a ratio corresponding to the immense increase that had taken place in the expenditure; but he asserted, and he fully believed that he should be able to prove it if he obtained the Committee, that while the expenditure had been increasing in that enormous ratio, the poor were no better off practically than they were in 1845. He would take, as an instance, the case of his own small country parish. At the time of the passing of the Act the population was 2,000. It was now something like 200 short of that. In 1845, the registered poor upon the roll numbered forty; their maintenance, the voluntary care of the proprietors of the parish, cost between £200 and £300 per annum; and the poor in those days were exceedingly well off. They often had allowances amounting to 3s. or 4s. per week. The cost of the poor in that parish was now altogether nearly £700 a year. The number of them was doubled, if not more, and they only received wretched doles of 1s. or 1s. 6d. per week, or 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. in cases where there were three or four dependent on them. Nor did that mark the whole difference as compared with 1845. Before the passing of the Act, it was well known that the poor received numerous assistances from the hand of charity, aided by the contributions of meal from farmers in the district; and it was also notorious that at that time in Scotland the relations maintained their own poor, and made it a matter of pride to do so, so that they would almost starve themselves rather than allow their relations to come upon the Poor Roll. All that was now changed. The legal rate, which the poor considered they had the right to come upon, had buttoned up the pocket of charity, and had destroyed the feelings of affection and of mutual relationship, and had dried up all those feelings and habits which knit together in kindly union the different members of a community. The poor were now left to fight their way as they best could, instead of being able to rely upon mutual friendship and on assistance from those above them. This had given rise to relations of determined warfare between rich and poor—the poor claiming as a right, relief, no matter how improvident they might have been, how drunken, how dissipated. No matter how entirely their distress might be owing to their own wilful folly and idleness, they claimed, in spite of that, the right to assistance; while the rich, on the other hand, resisted claims founded upon no proper moral consideration whatever. The law had been in operation for upwards of a quarter of a century; and he thought that it was enough for him to state these broad facts to justify him in asking the Government to grant the Committee of Inquiry into the whole system of the Poor Law of Scotland. Only eight years after the Act was passed, Sir John M'Neill went to Caithness and examined the state of things there, and if any Member would turn to the Report of the Board of Supervision in 1853, he would find an interesting account of the result of that investigation. Sir John stated distinctly that the consequence of that law had been to destroy all principle of independence, and to pauperize the country, and to create all those evils which it ought to have avoided. A recent Report had also been issued by a very intelligent Committee of Investigation of the Wick Board, and he understood that Report had been generally endorsed by the counties and parishes in Scotland as to the points in which remedy was sought. Now were three questions which appeared to him must be carefully investigated. One was the principle of extending the area of chargeability; and lie hoped that, having felt the advantage of adopting such a system in England, they should not be refused it in Scotland. Another was to abolish, or to largely modify the law of settlement—a result which would follow the enlargement of the area of assessment. Whether the area of chargeability should be extended to the union or to the county was a matter upon which he would not pass an opinion until he heard the evidence which might be adduced before the Committee. There might be difficulties in extending the area to the counties, because some of them were divided into districts. For instance, his own county of Ayr was divided into three districts. However that was a matter of detail; and what he wanted to arrive at was an enlarged area of charge ability. Yesterday, he received a paper containing information respecting several parishes in one county, and the writer enumerated nineteen parishes, the percentage of taxation upon which varied no less than from £1 6s. to £8, And that was all in one county. Such a state of things was highly to be deprecated, and it called loudly for relief. There was a Return lying upon the table of the House, moved for by him self a year or two ago, showing distinctly the rates which were levied in the various parishes throughout Scotland, and although those rates varied as much as from 5d. or 6d. in the pound to 2s. 6d. and 3s., it would be seen that the whole average of the country amounted to some thing like 1s. 2d. in the pound. There was also another point which he desired the Committee to direct their attention to, and that was the restoration to Scot land of its old and recognized principle that every man should contribute to the sustenance of the poor according to his means. Why was the landed proprietor, or, more than that, the poor householder in the towns and country villages, to be taxed until he himself was brought into pauperism, while the rich money-lender who had the mortgages upon that land was to escape scot-free. He might be told there were difficulties in the matter, and that they must go to a national rate. Well, if they were to go to a national rate, he saw no difficulties in the matter. He thought the support of the poor was a national, and not a local matter. It was by making it local that they had created all those inequalities and questions with regard to the law of settlement. It was all very well so long as the great staple of income was the land, and the land was the only thing which could bear the support of the poor; but since those days they had the large manufacturing interests, who, instead of gathering together their twenty or thirty labourers, bring together thousands of men who, when a mishap occurred in trade, might be turned upon the streets, not upon the men who brought them together, but upon the land. No one felt more strongly upon the subject than his own constituents, and he trusted that the Lord Advocate, who he understood was to grant the Committee, would not limit the scope of their inquiry. He wanted a thorough, entire, and radical inquiry into the whole working of the system. Do not let the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell him that he would give him a partial inquiry into some of the points, and refuse inquiry as regarded the others. He would rather not have an inquiry at all if it was to be but a partial one. He wanted such an inquiry into the causes of pauperism and the principles of the Poor Law as would settle whether they could not have something like the old law of Scotland, which would restore to them that independence of character which was once their pride and glory in that matter. He was told, but he hoped that it was not true, that he was to be denied inquiry into the Board of Supervision. Now let him ask—Of what does that Board consist? There was upon it the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, three Sheriffs depute or county Judges, the Solicitor General for Scotland, and three members appointed by the Crown—one of whom was a paid Chairman. They had Reports annually from that Board, but what were they? They gave them statistical Returns of the number of poor, of the expenditure upon them, and other details of that kind, and, to a certain extent, the operation of the Act; but they had no minutes of their meetings, and knew nothing of what they did or how they did it, and they believed, as always was the case where there was only one paid member of a committee, that that paid member was the supreme ruler of the entire Board. Now amongst other things which he ought to mention was the enormous increase which had taken place in the amount necessary for the maintenance of the poor in Scotland, and one of those items was the item of management. That had risen in the last Report to no less than £94,000 per year. It had, in fact, crept up regularly year by year from £17,000, which was the sum at which it stood, in 1845. He knew not whether that sum included the Board of Supervision, but he did think that it ought to be reduced, because at that rate it would soon reach no less than £200;000 a year. Therefore he said they ought to have a change in the constitution of that Board, unless it could come before the Committee and prove that what it did was more for good than evil. He entertained what was a very strong feeling throughout Scotland in respect to what were called Edinburgh Boards. There was no representation upon that Board. The Lord Advocate was not a member of it, although it did happen that the Solicitor General, who was a member of it, was also a Member of that House; but there was no fixed representation upon it, and no certainty of representation. The whole principle of it was that of a central irresponsible body, whose decisions after they were given, he believed, often produced dissatisfaction throughout Scotland. It might be, when they came before the Committee, they might satisfy them that, although in certain cases they might create hardships, yet upon the whole their action had been just or justifiable; but if they refused to come before the Committee, upon them would be the accusation that they dared not come to explain their conduct. The hon. Member concluded by moving— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Poor Law in Scotland; and whether any and what amendments should be made therein."—(Mr. Crawfurd.)


said, he must congratulate his hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) on the able manner in which he had brought the subject under the notice of the House. He most cordially endorsed all that he had said as to the necessity of some action being taken in the matter. The question was one that had taken a great hold on the mind of the people of Scotland, and he could fully bear out his hon. Friend in his statement that the people of that country would not be satisfied with any partial or incomplete inquiry. He himself was distinctly of opinion that they ought not to be satisfied with anything else than the fullest and most searching inquiry. His hon Friend might possibly be labouring under a misconception when he said that he believed the learned Lord Advocate would limit the inquiry so far as details were concerned. Should the learned Lord Advocate do so, he (Sir Robert Anstruther) had no doubt it would be upon the ground that it would be tantamount to passing a Vote of Censure upon the Board of Supervision to compel them to appear before a Committee; but he, for his part, could not see the force of any objection to an open inquiry. If the Board of Supervision conducted its affairs satisfactorily—if the sum of money it expended upon the management of the poor was not extravagant—if there be nothing to hide from the Committee—why, then, he asked should there be any objection to appear before that Committee? Their refusal to appear would certainly look suspicious; and should the learned Lord Advocate refuse to command them to appear, it would look very like as if there was something to conceal. He made no charge against the Board of Supervision; he only stated a fact when he said that there was a strong feeling in Scotland that the affairs of the poor were not satisfactorily managed by that Board. The increase in the expense of management during the last twenty-five years was something enormous. In the year 1853 it was only £67,000; but in 1868 it had risen to between £94,000 and £95,000. That such was the case, was, he thought, quite sufficient ground for demanding that the inquiry should be full and radical. The various points raised by the hon. Member for Ayr were most interesting, and he thought the thanks not only of the Scotch Members but of the House were due to him for the manner in which he had brought the subject before them. He earnestly hoped that the Government would not only grant inquiry, but would allow that inquiry to be as full and complete as possible.


said, he could not allow the remarks of his hon. Friend (Mr. Craufurd) to pass without notice. He was sure that if the House did agree to the large and expensive inquiry the hon. Gentleman had proposed it would do so in a very different spirit to that which he had displayed in his speech. He desired to bear his tribute to the immense benefit which the present law had conferred both upon the poor and upon the property of Scotland. He had not taken the trouble to refer to the proceedings of Parliament when it passed that measure, but he could at least bear testimony to the fact that it had not been passed with undue haste. Looking at the history of the measure, he thought it had been one of a most beneficial kind, whilst much of the distrust with which it was received had been dispelled by the moderation with which the law had been carried out, and the sound working of the administration in large parts of the country. He could not help feeling surprise that after the disclosures in the Report upon which that Act was founded—disclosures of the starvation of the peasantry of the country in many cases, and of their entire dependence upon the most precarious sources of relief—his hon. Friend should still speak boldly of his wish to recall the system under which those things had taken place. He must surely have forgotten, to give one instance only out of many—the very different footing upon which the lunatics of Scotland were now placed to that which they occupied before the passing of the present Act. He should, above all things, deprecate the institution of an inquiry by that House, under the apprehension, conveyed by any Member of it, that there was any disposition on the part of the Legislature to undo the work which was then accomplished. He would not attempt to deny that evils existed, but they were not so great as were attempted to be made out. He, for his part, did not deprecate inquiry into that subject; but he thought the subjects of inquiry should, first of all, be distinctly named and understood. He had no desire to exclude the Board of Supervision from that inquiry. He thought, moreover, that some of the things mentioned by the hon. Member for Ayr were well worthy of consideration. It was a difficult subject, however, to decide whether rating should be confined to house pro- perty or to land, but that was also a proper question for inquiry. He thought, however, that the- House should not enter upon an inquiry without having clear and practical views as to what it wished to accomplish. Should the Motion be agreed to, however, he hoped the hon. Member would re-model the constitution of the Committee. He observed that the hon. Member proposed that that Committee should be largely composed of the junior Members of Scotland, many of whom were quite new to that House. That, he thought, was a mistake, and he hoped some of the senior Members, such as the representatives of Kilmarnock and Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho and Mr. Bouverie) would be added to the Committee.


, having been Chairman of the Poor Law Board of Scotland before he entered that House, hoped he might be permitted to say that for some time he had seen with pain and regret the abuses that were daily growing up under the administration of the Poor Law, and which required the serious investigation of the House; and he thought that the operations of the Board of Supervision ought to be inquired into.


said, he quite agreed with what had fallen from several hon. Members who had just spoken, that the very greatest possible interest was felt in Scotland on that question. No topic seemed to have taken firmer hold of the public mind in that country than that had. At the same time, he was bound to say that, so far as his experience had gone, it was rather in regard to the area of chargeability than to any other point that inquiry was needful. The present system threw a great burden upon the city which he represented, being the centre of a great agricultural county, which needed at times all the surplus labour the town could afford; but when out of work the chargeability of the labourers had to be borne, not by the rates of the place in which they had earned their living, but they were brought into the town, and thus became chargeable on the town rates, which was felt to be an intolerable grievance. He could only say that, although his experience had not been as great in the matter as that of his hon. Friend, he considered him quite justified in asking the learned Lord to grant a Committee. At the same time he must add, that, in his opinion, there would be plenty of time and opportunity afforded after the Committee was appointed to extend the subjects of inquiry. It would therefore, he thought, be wise on the part of his hon. Friend not to lose the opportunity of obtaining a Committee on the subject that Session, even although the Lord Advocate might be of opinion that it ought to be more limited in its scope than his hon. Friend had wished. And he would also remind his hon. Friend that there would not be too much time that Session to expend on such an inquiry, and therefore that it would be very unwise to object to it, unless it was to go to the fullest extent which he desired.


said, he could not but express an earnest hope that the learned Lord Advocate would grant that Committee. His hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) expressed himself in the strongest and most forcible manner with respect to the evils attending the present system. For his own part he could not speak except with respect to the feeling in his own county, and there had been undoubtedly an unmistakable feeling expressed with regard to the existing evils under the present Poor Law system in Scotland. His hon. Friend had pointed out very clearly that it was not so much a question affecting the bulk of the population as that very large number of persons who were only just able to keep their heads above water, and who were in imminent danger of being submerged in consequence of the burden of the rates. His hon. Friend had stated to the House that the expenses of management had reached the large sum of £94,000. Surely that was one good ground why there should be a searching inquiry. Another good ground was that the present system operated very injuriously to the poor themselves. That fact had been very forcibly put before him by a gentleman of Edinburgh, Mr. Currer, and he fully confirmed what had so well been put forward by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Craufurd), that the existing system had a most demoralizing effect upon the recipients of the rates. He (Lord Elcho) quite admitted that some legal provision for the relief of the poor in Scotland as well as in other parts of the kingdom was necessary, but, at the same time, it ought to be administered in such a manner as to maintain, as far as possible, that spirit of independence which formerly existed in that country, but which, he grieved to say, had been, to say the least, compromised by the existing system. Formerly, the poor of that country spared no pains or labour to support their poor relations; but now he was told by those who were conversant with the subject that that spirit was in a great measure dead. There was, indeed, he was informed, a complete change in that respect, and that now, instead of making efforts to support their poor relations, their sole object was to get them off their hands and on to the rates. At the same time, he did not attribute all those evils to the administration of the Board of Supervision. He had the pleasure of being well acquainted with Sir John M'Neill, the President of the Board, who had always shown himself a most able administrator, and a first-rate man of business in every sense of the word. At the same time, he hoped that his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate would not limit the inquiry on the ground that there had been any exaggeration on the part of the hon. Member for Ayr; because if his hon. Friend had exaggerated any part of his statement, which he (Lord Elcho) did not say, the inquiry would prove that he was wrong; whereas, on the other hand, if it was limited, people would be sure to say that there must have been something which the Board of Supervision were afraid to have inquired into, and the statements were founded on correct information.


said, he most cordially approved of the Motion which had been made for the fullest possible inquiry into that subject. So far as he knew, his hon. Friend had made no exaggerated statement whatever. On the contrary, he (Mr. M'Laren) believed that he had understated the facts and the evils which had arisen under the operation of the Act of 1847. If he went back for ten years previously to that date, he could tell them a most remarkable fact. In 1837, the whole amount which was expended in Scotland on poor rates was £180,000 odd. He forgot the exact figures. He did not know that the Motion was likely to be opposed, and he had not intended, to speak on the subject. It was now nearly £900,000. In point of fact within that short period of thirty-one years it had increased about 500 per cent. If that was not a startling thing he did not know what was. From the Report of the Poor Law Board, issued three weeks ago, he saw that there were about 350,000 people in Scotland last year receiving parochial assistance—that was to say, either as actual regular recipients of poor relief, as casual paupers, or as the children of those classes, out of a population of 3,100,000, so that, in that year, every ninth person in Scotland received assistance out of the poor rates. If that was not a startling fact, and one which deserved the most serious consideration of that House, he did not know what was. He would not put it merely as a question of money—he would put it on far higher; he would put it on moral grounds. The present system was destroying the independence and the spirit of the Scotch people. The national character was being deteriorated by the present system of Poor Law relief. He held, and many people who had seen it and who were far better acquainted with its effects than he was held, that the present system of administration of the Poor Law was one great means of that deterioration. It was, therefore, the duty of that House to inquire into the facts of the case. A remark was made in order to disparage the effect of the statements which had been made by his hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) to the effect that he had selected the junior Scotch Members instead of the senior to be Members of that Committee. It was almost too trifling a matter to notice, but he (Mr. M'Laren) might say that his hon. Friend did him the honour to ask him to be a Member of the Committee, but having been pretty hard worked for the last three years, he suggested whether it would not be right that his junior Colleague should work for the next year. His hon. Friend assented, and accordingly he asked his Colleague, who had far more experience in that particular branch of social economy than he (Mr. M'Laren) had, having been the Chairman of a Poor Law Board, and his Colleague had kindly assented. He thought that that statement was quite sufficient to remove any impression which had been created by the remark, that by selecting only the junior Members his hon. Friend had the intention of making what was generally termed a "packed Committee," in order to arrive at any special results which he might desire. If his hon. Friend had any intention of reverting to the old method of means and substance assessment, he was dead against him as to that question; but he had not stated in his resolution that such was his intention; and certainty they were entitled to inquire—having the administration of the Poor Law on the system that now existed—whether that system was not capable of being improved. If it was, no doubt the Committee would find out what was the best remedy under all the circumstances of the case. But, at all events, he believed it would be found quite impossible to go on without extending the area of rating. A system had come into operation in Scotland, partly from the state of the Poor Laws, and partly from the Grame Laws, that wherever a cottage in the country districts could be knocked down it was done; and go where they would, the inhabitants could find no other house open to them in the district. The effect of that was no doubt to clear the country, and in almost every district in Scotland the labourers thus removed were forced into towns. The result was that, in thousands of cases, the labouring men in Scotland were obliged to go from the towns into the country districts to work in the morning, walking four or five miles, and returning a similar distance in the evening. And, moreover, when they did return, they were, in many cases, obliged to live in tenements which wore hardly fit for pigs to live in. And all this arose from the fear that, if cottages were erected in the agricultural districts, the sons and the husbands would shoot game, or kill the fish, and partly from the fear of their becoming chargeable upon the poor rates of the parish; so that it was thought far better to get rid of them at once, and to drive them to the towns, where they were placed upon the towns' poor rate. He (Mr. M'Laren) thought that that was one strong ground for inquiring into the present state of things. His hon. Friend the Member for Ayr made some reference to the Board of Supervision, and also to the discussion which took place in Scotland when the Act authorizing the establishment of that Board was passed. He would not go into that question at the present moment; but he did happen to know something of the Board of Supervision. His hon. Friend had named the members of that Board, and among them he mentioned the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, and three Sheriffs depute. Now, he (Mr. M'Laren) held the first-mentioned office for three years, and had an opportunity of attending the Board of Supervision, and therefore he thought he might say that he knew just as much as it was needful to know of it; and he could state that the whole business of that Board was practically done by the Chairman and the Secretary, and that it could be done just as well if no other members of the Board were present. In the Act which had been alluded to there was a clause which enabled the Government to pay £100 a year to each of three legal gentlemen in Edinburgh, and the three Sheriffs are named in the Act—the Sheriff of Perth, the Sheriff of Renfrew, and the Sheriff of Ross. It was expected that they would attend for £100 a year. In the last year that allowance was increased to £150 a year. If those gentlemen were to attend fifteen meetings a year, they would thus receive at the rate of ten pounds for each meeting, and he really doubted whether their attendance was worth ten pence, for the business was practically arranged and settled before the meeting of the Board was held, and there was really nothing to do but to adopt the suggestions of the Secretary and Chairman of the Board. Then there was a swarm of clerks, inspectors, and people connected with the Board, whom the Government paid, and it also gave £10,000 a year for medical aid, which did not appear in those local accounts. They had thus the whole of the expenses of the Central Board paid by the Government, and over and above all those circumstances it seemed to him that if an inquiry was to take place at all the inquiry must embrace the Board of Supervision, and in his opinion that was one of the most important points upon which an inquiry was necessary. He could dwell upon that subject for a considerable length of time; but he would not further occupy the time of the House, because he took it for granted that Her Majesty's Government would not seek to limit that inquiry, being convinced that nothing but a full inquiry would give satisfaction to the people of Scotland.


said, that having just heard the experience of the Member for Edinburgh, as Chairman of a parochial Board in that town, he ventured to state his opinion, as serving in a similar capacity in a rural district, which was entirely confirmatory of that expressed by the hon. Member for North Lanarkshire: he considered that, on the whole, the operation of the Poor Law in Scotland was satisfactory; at the same time there was no subject more deserving of a full and searching inquiry. The principal grievance now felt arose from the enormous expense of litigation as to settlement; the consideration of which had been urged on the authorities for several years, but they had been unable to propose any measure likely to prove an effectual remedy. The unequal pressure of the rates is now prominently brought forward, and with reference to that alluded to by the hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs, as existing in the county he had the honour to represent, and to the letter which he had received on the subject from Mr. Scott, of Brotherton, he had to explain that that gentleman's residence tad on each side of it a fishing village, and from such a population the claims for relief were likely to be large. On his own property, in the northern portion of the county, he had also two fishing villages, which of course increased the poor's rate; but much depended on the prudent and watchful management of the Board and Inspector, and in that respect there was a wide difference in many parishes. The subject of the increase of the area of chargeability should be approached with caution, for although several of the most experienced heads of the English Poor Law Board had expressed strong opinions on it, they had only been able to carry, three years ago, after much opposition, the Union Chargeability Bill. The selection of members for the proposed Committee composed of Gentlemen of well-known ability for any inquiry of importance, he, however, feared would leave an impression on the public that there was too much of the town element in it—the county Members proposed, chiefly representing counties with large villages, and the great mineral districts of Scotland, where the rate was heavy, and it would no doubt be agreeable to their constituents to be relieved from a large proportion of such at the cost of the population of the rural districts.


said, that knowing as he did the feeling of Scotland on this subject, he was glad that his hon. Friend (Mr. Craufurd) had brought forward the Motion. He had had experience of the operation of the law, both in the mineral and in the manufacturing districts, and he knew a little of its operation in the county to which his hon. Friend, who had just sat down, had referred. He might say that he had found the greatest possible dissatisfaction, even among people of different habits, with regard to the operation of the law. In the county of Kincardine, he believed it had been the means of increasing the immorality of the county to an extent which he should not like to describe. There was no doubt that the law had broken down the independence of the poorer classes in Scotland; and he was not aware of any single good which had been done by it for the poor of that country, nor was he acquainted with any place which would bear out what had teen stated by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke). The law was giving the greatest possible dissatisfaction not only as to money, but in regard to the effect which it had upon the population. It had increased immorality to a great extent; it had increased drunkenness, and it was possible to trace paupers going from the room where they got their money straight to the gin-shop, where they spent it, without taking 6d. home, and the consequence was that their family had to depend upon the charity of their neighbours for subsistence. That charity had now, to a great extent, frozen up. People now did not take the same care of the poor as they used to do. Charity was also frozen up in another direction, and people did not take the same care of the poor members of their families that they did formerly. On the contrary, sons and daughters were not un-frequently found coming forward and stating that they had nothing to do with maintaining their parents; that that was a matter which belonged to the Board, and that they expected the Board to maintain them in time coming. The result was that disputes frequently arose, which went to the Courts of Law, and entailed serious expense in litigation. He sincerely hoped that that Committee would be granted, and that the inquiry would be as full as it could possibly be made, because he felt satisfied that a partial inquiry would not give satisfaction.


said, the speakers who had preceded him in that debate had not exaggerated the import- ance of the subject which his hon. Friend (Mr. Craufurd) had brought before the ! House. He felt it himself very strongly, and in a great many of the observations which the hon. Member and other hon. Members had made, he (the Lord Advocate) had a very considerable amount of concurrence. Unquestionably, he had not been, nor was he now, an admirer of the Act of 1845. He believed it was absolutely necessary to do something at that time to make a better provision for the support of the poor. He had the impression then—and that impression was not altogether removed from his mind—that the Act ought not probably to have been so sweeping and so stringent as it had absolutely turned out. Legal provision for the poor carried with it sometimes more and sometimes less of those consequences which have been described by hon. Members; and the moment, therefore, they had a legal provision for the poor, it went to a certain extent to dry up the sources of charity, and they did what was far worse—they struck a blow at the independence of the people, and the obligation which in Scotland in former days was supposed to be paramount, of providing for the poorer members of a family. But that had been done. They could not retrace their steps. It would be utterly vain to attempt to go back to the state of things which existed previous to 1845. There was no doubt that that year was a year of calamity. There was a state of things in Scotland that was disgraceful to civilization; and the people, especially in the northern parts of the country, were in a state not of comparative, but of actual starvation. Therefore, while he had that impression he could not put his opinion against that of other hon. Members. The Act had been passed, they had a Poor Law for Scotland—he was thankful to say it was not an able-bodied Poor Law, and he trusted it never would be. The question now was, whether there were any means of improving the system that was then introduced. They could not restore the state of matters that existed before the passing of the Act. He was anxious, he admitted, to limit the inquiry which his hon. Friend had proposed, and he was so because he thought he saw some practical result would follow from the inquiry which the hon. Member wished them to embark in. He did feel, and he repeated, that if they were to embrace in a Committee of that House the whole question of the Scotch Poor Law, though they might collect a valuable mass of information, it was not likely to come to any practical result. The whole of that matter was inquired into in 1844 and 1845. The Act of 1845 was the result, and if they went back and opened up that ground, he did not imagine that their labours would be likely to produce much advantage to the country. But he could see that there were some questions in which legislation was necessary. First of all, there was the question of the area of chargeability, which was a very important topic. It had been applied in England. He gave no opinion as to whether it could be applied in Scotland; but he did see that on the one hand very considerable advantages might accrue, and that on the other hand the difficulties in the way were not insuperable. Then there was the law of settlement. Certainly his professional experience had led him to this conclusion, that in the way in which the funds were administered by parochial Boards no money was more recklessly squandered than in trying legal questions in matters of settlement, resulting in no benefit of any kind, because the rule, established by the expenditure of hundreds of pounds in one case, not unfrequently turned against the parish in another. He had a strong idea that a great deal might be done in that matter. He did not think that the law of settlement was worth the money it had cost. He thought it might fairly be considered whether it might not be abolished altogether, or, at all events, greatly modified. But then his hon. Friend proposed to go back upon the question of means and substance. There was a great deal of equity in that law in its period; but there was also in it a great deal of difficulty and inconvenience, and he believed that the Scotch Members were all of one opinion on the matter. At all events it could not be raised unless the area of chargeability was so extended that the Poor Law was taken up on something like a national footing. The last matter was the Board of Supervision. The hon. Member for the county of Fife (Sir Robert Anstruther) seemed to say that if he (the Lord Advocate) did not assent to a Committee of Inquiry on that subject, either he or the Board must have something to conceal. Now, if he thought the Board had anything to conceal, he would say that an inquiry ought immediately to be granted. And, since the hon. Member had expressed a desire that that matter should be embraced in the inquiry of the Committee, there could not be the slightest reason why it should not be so. His objection was, that it looked as if there was some reason to impugn the conduct of the Board. It was clear, and he did not in the least disguise the fact, that the burden of the poor rate had become a very serious evil in Scotland, though his own belief was that, under the management of Sir John M'Neill and his successor, the Board of Supervision had executed its duty, which its name implied, of supervising the local boards of the country, with singular fidelity. He knew very well that any inquiry would only redound to their honour. He had sat on the Board himself, and he knew its working well. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had contrived to bring in a charge against the Sheriffs who sat on that Board. He must confess, unless his informants were mistaken, that the state of matters was the reverse—at least, he had heard the Sheriffs strongly express themselves with regard to the amount of time and labour which they had been called upon to devote to the discharge of their duties. When he was at that Board he had known them give a very constant and unremitting attention to their duties, and there occasionally arose very large and difficult questions of law which it was their duty to decide. He had to remind the hon. Member for Edinburgh that when, two or three years since, a Bill was passed in relation to the sanitary arrangements of Scotland, the Board of Supervision was created in that Bill the tribunal to decide upon and to put in operation the sanitary provisions of the Act, thus throwing upon the Board a great deal more labour. And he did not recollect that upon that occasion, or in the course of the discussion upon the Bill, any objection was taken to the constitution of the Board. He had thought it right to say those few words in defence, or rather in vindication of and in justice to the Board, which, as had been observed, had no representative in Parliament. He had only in conclusion, to say, that if his hon. Friend thought fit to extend the inquiry to the Board of Supervision, he had no objection to that course being adopted. He would, however, suggest that the Committee should not be nominated to-night. It was not usual to place the names of hon. Members on the Paper before the appointing of a Committee was agreed to, and he should be obliged if the hon. Member allowed him an opportunity of consulting with him before the Committee was nominated.


said, that as the learned Lord (the Lord Advocate) had kindly consented to grant the Committee in the form in which he asked for it, it was unnecessary for him to detain the House with any reply. But he could assure the hon. Baronet (Sir Edward Colebrooke) that there were the names of no fewer than eight county Members on the list he had drawn up for the Committee, and that he had no intention to do anything disrespectful to the hon. Baronet, or any other desire than to form such a Committee as might be deemed competent to undertake that inquiry. His sole object in putting the names down on that day's Paper was to elicit the expression of opinion they had had that evening, and he would at once yield to the wish of the House on that matter. As to his having selected junior Members, the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had already explained what had happened in regard to himself, and as to the hon. Members for Glasgow, their case was much the same as his. With respect to the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) he had taken the first opportunity he had of inviting that right hon. Gentleman's co-operation, and he expected an early answer from him on the subject. He would at present withdraw the names he had suggested for the Committee, his only desire being to constitute such a Committee as would give thorough confidence to the people of Scotland.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the operation of the Poor Law in Scotland; and, whether any and what amendments should be made therein."—(Mr. Craufurd.)

And, on March 17, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. CRACFURD, the LORD ADVOCATE, Sir ROBERT ANSTRUTHER, Mr. ANDERSON, Mr. ARMITSTEAD, Mr. CAMERON, Sir EDWARD COLEBROOKE, Mr. ELLICE, Mr. CRUM-EWING, Mr. ORR-EWING, Mr. FORDYCE, Mr. HAMILTON, Mr. LOCH, Mr. MACKINTOSH, Mr. M'LAGAN, Mr. MILLER, Sir GRAHAM MONTGOMERY, Mr. PARKER, Sir DAVID WEDDERBURN, and Mr. ARTHUR PEEL:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.