HC Deb 20 June 1882 vol 270 cc1883-8

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 4 (Discharge of paupers).


said, he had two Amendments to move, both framed with the same intention—namely, to strengthen the provisions which this Bill contained. In regard to both Amendments he might say that he regretted very much that, owing to the treatment which this Bill had received at the hands of the President of the Local Government Board, its original strength had been very much diminished. The Bill originally established something like a general principle upon which vagrancy could be treated, and, as he thought, established a great improvement on the present unsatisfactory system. To comment now upon that circumstance was like crying over spilt milk; but he thought he might yet try to make this clause more operative than it was in its present form. He therefore proposed, in his first Amendment, to declare that a casual should not be entitled to his discharge until the third day, his intention being to provide that a casual might be obliged to spend two whole days in the workhouse. He supposed one of the objects of the Bill was to deter vagrants from preying on the community, and if that was to be done thoroughly, it would be better to indicate that such men should remain for a substantial time in the workhouse; and he thought the way to administer a wholesome check to them was to say that they could not enter a workhouse, and simply stay at their own pleasure, on the way from one place to another, but should be detained for a substantial time. That was the object of his first Amendment, and he hoped the Government would accept it.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 16, leave out "second," and insert "third."—(Mr. J. G. Talbot.)

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


said, he must object to the Amendment, because he did not think it desirable to give so wide a discretion to compulsorily detain a vagrant, and practically sentence him to hard labour, for the effect of that would be to deter vagrants from going into workhouses, and would give them an excuse for appealing to humanitarians for relief on the ground of the stringency with which they were treated in the Poor Law Unions. By the Bill, as it stood, a longer period of detention was secured by providing that vagrants might not discharge themselves until the second day, and that Sunday should not for this purpose be reckoned as a day. He could not accept the first Amendment of the hon. Member; but he should have no objection to accepting the second Amendment. He should be glad if the hon. Member could agree to that arrangement.


said, the Guardians in his own neighbourhood had no objection to the Bill, if it was clear that they had the power to discharge casuals within the limit of the Bill at their discretion.


said, the provision was that a casual should not be able to discharge himself.


said, that after what had been stated he should not divide the Committee, but should be content with what he could get.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 19, to leave out "two occasions," and insert "one occasion."—{Mr. J. G. Talbot.)

Amendment agreed to.


said, he begged to propose an Amendment, to leave out "fourth" and insert "fifth" in line 21 of the clause. He thought it desirable to provide that a persistent vagrant might be removed from the casual ward to the workhouse, and that there might be sufficient time given for such a vagrant to pass under the review of the Visiting Guardians; and that the master of a workhouse might be able to detain a persistent or professional vagrant, and oblige him to go to the workhouse and perform, such work as other paupers did. Twenty-four hours, he thought, would be sufficient time to enable Guardians to make arrangements for a casual to be transferred. The object, after all, was to try to distinguish between persons who were going about the country as vagrants and merely poor people.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 21, leave out "fourth," and insert"fifth."—(Mr. Brinton.)

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


said, he would not object to the Amendment proposed.

Question put, and negatived.


said, he had an Amendment for the purpose of enabling the Governor of a workhouse to discharge paupers before 9 o'clock in the morning, but not before 6. The clause provided that a casual would not be entitled to discharge himself before 9 in the morning; and there were many eases in which, owing to the nature of the work in the neighbourhood, it was desirable that casuals should be discharged before 9 o'clock.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Clause add the following Proviso:—"Nothing in this section shall prevent the Guardians of any parish or Union authorizing the discharge of any casual before 9 a.m., but not before 6 a.m., if in their discretion they think it advisable to do so."—(Mr. J. Holland.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he thought the hon. Member had failed to appreciate the character of the clause. The effect of the clause was that a pauper should not be entitled to discharge himself, but the Guardians could discharge him at any time they pleased; and the effect of the Amendment would be to restrict their authority instead of enlarging it.


said, he admitted that that was the effect of the clause; but he imagined that, under an Order made by the Local Government Board in 1871, Guardians would not be able to discharge a pauper except within the time prescribed by the Act; but he would not press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."


said, this clause materially altered the principle of the Bill; and although he was given to understand that, both in London and in several parts of the country, the Bill, as amended, in Committee, was considered likely to effect some reform in the present system, there were many who regretted, that the attempt made in the original clause to put these unhappy casuals more on the footing of ordinary paupers had failed. Still, as this clause promised to do some good, he had nothing more to say against its being inserted in the Bill.


said, he cordially agreed with the observations of the hon. Member, and deeply regretted that in the amended Bill the pith of the original Bill was left out—namely, that if casuals should be found travelling about from place to place, they should not discharge themselves until they had appeared before the Visiting Guardians.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.


said, he begged to move the insertion of a new clause, with the object of facilitating the passage of casual paupers from the casual ward to the workhouse. He had been informed by the clerk to one of the Boards of Guardians that in one case he had remonstrated with a woman for travelling from ward to ward; and her answer was that she could not get into a workhouse, but was passed on from one casual ward to another. One reason for such cases as that was, he believed, that relieving officers were unwilling to admit casuals into workhouses because they had no power to detain them, for a casual admitted one night might leave the next morning of his own accord. According to his clause any casual, desiring to be admitted from the casual ward to the workhouse, would be enabled to be so admitted; but, in return, he would have to consent not to discharge himself till he had seen the Board of Guardians. He hoped the Committee would accept the clause.

Amendment proposed, after Clause 4, insert the following New Clause:—

(Admission from casual ward into workhouse.) Upon the application of any casual pauper to be admitted into the workhouse from the casual ward, the guardians may, except in cases of illness, require as a condition of such admission that the pauper shall not discharge himself without reasonable notice, and reasonable notice shall not be deemed to have been given until the pauper has appeared before the board of guardians or the visiting committee of the Board: Provided, That during the intervals between the meetings of the board or visiting committee, any officer of the workhouse duly authorized by the board of guardians for the purpose may exempt any pauper either wholly or partially from the operation of this section."—(Mr. J. Holland.)

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

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


said, he was sorry that he could not agree to this clause. The argument of the hon. Member in favour of this clause had been in part met by the Amendments agreed to in Clause 4, which provided that when a casual came on a second occasion to the same ward he might be detained until a more distant day. If such arbitrary power as the Amendment proposed was placed in the hands of workhouse officials, it would lead to an objectionable diversity of treatment, and might practically mean 14 days' hard labour. He was sorry to find himself differing from his hon. Friend, who had studied this question so carefully; but he could not assent to the Amendment.


said, if the hon. Member divided he should support him, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman had fallen into an error in thinking that this was an obligatory power; it was a permissive power; but he should say that, where the evils of vagrancy were felt, and an effort could be made to check it, the Guardians would bring this clause into operation. He thought the words "hard labour," used by the right hon. Gentleman, were rather exaggerated, for the work imposed on paupers would not be so hard as the work done every day by ordinary agricultural labourers, while they would receive the ordinary workhouse fare. Therefore, he did not think there would be a penal kind of treatment, and that the clause would he a very useful provision where vagrancy was on the increase.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 13; Noes 37: Majority 24.—(Div. List, No. 164.)

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

House adjourned at half after Two o'clock.