begged leave to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack; if he had any intention of proposing, on behalf of his Majesty's Government, in the course of the present Session to appoint a Commission for the purpose of inquiring into the present state of the agricultural population, with a view to some improvement or amelioration of the Poor-laws, and for the purpose of providing employment for agricultural labourers.
The Lord Chancellor
replied, that he had it in his power to say, that it was the intention of his Majesty's Government, before they brought in any measure of relief or improvement, to issue a Commission for the purpose of inquiring into the practical operation of the Poor-laws, and the different modes in which they were acted on in the several parishes throughout the country. Whether that Commission would embrace all the objects recommended by the noble Baron, he was not prepared to say; but he thought it would afford such information as would, in a great degree, facilitate the task of legislation on the Poor-laws. As he was on his legs, he would state, that, when first he heard of the proposition of his Majesty's Government issuing this Commission, he had doubts and difficulties on his mind as to its practicability and efficiency; but, on consideration, these objections were removed, and he now was of opinion that the best results might be expected from it.
regretted that this important question was put while so few noble Lords were in the House, as he thought the subject ought to receive the fullest and and most general consideration. He 1145 could not forbear expressing his apprehension that the issuing of a Commission would have the effect of retarding instead of hastening, such remedies as were so much required in the operation of the Poor-laws—remedies which the country so anxiously looked for; and he could but feel, if such a delay took place, that the expectations of the people which had been excited by the declarations of his Majesty's Ministers last Session, would be most grievously disappointed. It was said, in the month of June last, that the Session should not close without some measure being submitted to Parliament, but that it was impossible anything effective could be done until the surplus population was removed. He had heard of no steps to effect that object, and now it seemed that no specific measure was prepared, and the country had to look to the uncertain proceedings and dilatory results of a Commission.
The Lord Chancellor
had certainly made the remark relating to the surplus rural population alluded to by the noble Lord, but, whatever anxiety he might have personally felt to have seen the question of the Poor-laws brought by his Majesty's Government before Parliament, or to have been the organ of submitting a measure for their improvement, it was utterly impossible that he could have devoted his mind to the subject, as, since the close of the Session, he had been occupied with his other duties without any intermission. During the long vacation he had not more than nine days respite, and during the Christmas holydays he had not such a portion of time to spare as was sufficient for its due consideration. He believed that the noble Baron would find himself mistaken in supposing that the issuing of the Commission would retard the Bill of Relief beyond the present Session. In his opinion it would not; and though he did not wish to pledge himself on the point, he thought he could assure the House that a bill for the better regulation of the Poor-laws would certainly be laid on their Lordships' Table before their separation.
said, if a Commission was to be appointed, he had no desire to urge it to a hurried decision. He was quite sure that all the discussions would receive very powerful assistance from the noble and learned Lord, who had applied his mind to the subject for many years.
The Marquis of Salisbury
would pro- 1146 mise if the Government would give a distinct pledge to appoint a Commission, and legislate upon its report, to abstain from calling the attention of their Lordships to the subject. But as it was one of paramount importance, and to the settlement of which all classes of the people were anxiously looking, if the pledge was not given he should feel himself called upon to submit a Motion on the subject. He hoped, however, that the Ministers were serious in their intentions, and he should prefer that the measure of relief should originate with them.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that not only was his Majesty's Government disposed to issue the Commission, but it had taken some steps, in the course of the last fortnight, towards preparing it, and the only difficulty in the way at present was to find efficient persons who would act gratuitously.
hoped that no imprudent notions of economy would deprive the country of an efficient Commission. He thought that it would be folly to employ less able men without payment, if more able men could be had for money. The Government ought to have only one object in view, the nomination of an able and effective Commission, and the collection of a body of the best information which could possibly be obtained.
expressed his gratification at the information his question had elicited from the noble and learned Lord. If Parliament and the country acted together, and competent persons were appointed, he had no doubt important and most beneficial improvements would be the consequence.