HL Deb 07 August 1834 vol 25 cc1011-7

The Marquess of Lansdown moved the bringing up of the Report of the Poor Laws' Amendment Bill.

The Bishop of Exeter

gave notice, that he should to-morrow, on the third reading of this Bill, move for the omission of all the clauses which related to bastardy.

Lord Wharncliffe

was aware, that a strong feeling existed, not only in the House of Commons, but indeed throughout the country generally, respecting the alteration proposed to be made in the law of bastardy. Nevertheless he, for one, must confess, that he approved of the principle of the Bill as it stood, because he believed the best way to get rid of the evil of bastardy would be to throw the whole burthen of the child upon the woman alone, without rendering the putative father liable to contribute towards its support. That was his own opinion; but as both the House of Commons and the country generally had manifested a repugnance to follow in this principle, though recommended by the Poor-law Commissioners, he was afraid if the Legislature were now to pass these clauses as they stood in the Bill, Parliament would, before very long, be called upon to alter the measure in this respect.

The Lord Chancellor

suggested, that if the noble Baron meant to propose an Amendment, the proper time for doing so would be on the third reading.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, that it was not his intention to propose any Amendment. He could not come down to the House to-morrow, and that was the reason he had taken the present opportunity to express his sentiments with reference to this part of the Bill. He had carefully looked into the Report, and he certainly was bound to admit, that he could find nothing, in it which bore out the recommendation made by the Commissioners. The Commissioners had spoken of Bingham and other parishes in which they said the principle of making the mother support the child was acted upon; but he was satisfied a reference to the practice of these parishes would show, not only that the statement was incorrect, but that the Bastardy Laws were enforced against the putative father whenever the child became chargeable; care only being taken, that the mother derived no advantage from the money contributed by him. It would, therefore, appear that when the present laws were properly administered, they were not so productive of evil as was said; and that being the case, their Lordships should pause a little before they agreed to an alteration which certainly would introduce a new principle into the laws of this country. He entirely agreed, that the annuity system, that was, increasing a woman's income according to the number of her children, should be done away with; and if any noble Lord should propose a clause having that object in view, he for one should give it his best support; but although he said this, he was at the same time bound to admit, that he went the whole length of the principles asserted in these clauses of the Bill as they now stood. Being, however, unable to attend the House to-morrow, he must leave the whole matter in the hands of their Lordships.

On the Question being put, that the Clause (with the Amendment) for establishing Provident Institutions, be agreed to,

The Duke of Richmond

objected to the principle of imposing a tax upon the owners and occupiers of land for the maintenance of Provident Institutions. He had no doubt, that such Establishments might be productive of great good, but he could never, for his part, consent to any portion of the poor-rates being applied otherwise than in the maintenance of the poor. The adoption of such a principle would open the door to all the abuses that now existed in respect to the county rate, and he would rather set about reforming the present Provident Institutions than expose the owner and occupier of land to a burthen from which he never could hope to derive any benefit. No principle, he contended, could be more objectionable than that of raising money for the support of the poor, and afterwards converting it to other purposes.

The Lord Chancellor

admitted, that there was great weight in the objection which his noble friend had made. This clause would undoubtedly introduce into the Bill a new principle, and one which he feared the Commons would not concur in. He therefore would not press the adoption of the clause.

The Bishop of London

said, that nothing was more common than for parishes to apply sums out of the poor-rates in support of hospitals and other charitable institutions; but, for the reason which the noble and learned Lord had stated, it might not be desirable to retain the clause.

The Clause was omitted.

On the 65th Clause, relating to settlements,

The Duke of Richmond

proposed, that the words "by apprenticeship," which had been inserted on the Motion of Lord Wynford in the Committee, should be struck out. The noble Duke said, that this was the most objectionable means by which a settlement could be obtained, and led to more litigation than almost any other that he knew of.

Lord Wharncliffe

hoped, their Lordships would not disturb the clause, but admitted that some other arrangement with respect to settlement should be made.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that diminishing settlements by servitude went, pro tanto, to increase derivative settlements. This was, he admitted, objectionable. It was, however, his intention to devise a plan for making settlement depend upon residence rather than servitude; but then such an alteration would take time, in order that it might be based upon sound and safe principles. In Scotland a residence of, he believed, two or three years conferred the right of settlement upon the pauper, and that arrangement had been found to work well; but whether it would answer in this country was another question. He had considered the practicability of introducing such a change into the present measure; but he was convinced that it could not be done; that to effect it, a little care would be necessary, and therefore he hoped their Lordships would be satisfied with the plan contained in this clause, and accept his assurance, that a measure on the subject of settlement by residence should be framed before the next Session. There was another reason why he did not wish to make any alteration in this clause, and that was, the situation in which the introduction of new matter would place the other House of Parliament. They could have but one vote upon it, and, therefore, the only course they could pursue would be to reject it as they had that day done one of the best amendments that had ever been made in any measure—namely, that which their Lordships had made in the Bribery Bill.

Lord Wynford

thought, that making a residence of three years or any other period a ground for settlement would introduce an anomaly into the laws of this country, which, whatever might be its advantage in Scotland, would be highly inexpedient in England.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that when the Bastardy Clauses were under discussion in the Committee many noble Lords expressed themselves anxious to soften the operation of some parts of them. An Amendment had been introduced in the original Bill in the Commons to enable the overseer to make the man pay a part of the expenses of a child if it should become chargeable to the parish. The objection to this Amendment was that in operation it would be liable to many of the objections urged against the present Bastardy-laws. In consequence of this, their Lordships in Committee rejected the clause, but at the same time a general opinion seemed to prevail, that it was objectionable and somewhat harsh to make the woman's parish bear all the expenses of supporting the bastard. Under these circumstances his noble friend (Lord Wharncliffe) gave notice, that he should on a future stage move certain clauses which would provide for this object. His noble friend had that night stated, that he should not persist in his intention of proposing those clauses, as he should not be present to-morrow. Now he (the Duke of Wellington) thought that something should be done to relieve the public mind on the subject, and also because it was the opinion of the House of Commons, as well as of very many of their Lordships, that they ought to do something to soften the extreme harshness of that part of the Bill. Under these circumstances, it was his (the Duke of Wellington's) intention to propose to their Lordships on the third reading to consider whether the three clauses of which his noble friend had given notice, and which had been printed, should not be inserted.

The Earl of Radnor

hoped, their Lordships would not agree to the clauses, as they would be in their operation much worse than the clause that had been struck out. As for their softening down the hardships of the situation of the woman and relieving her, he denied that they would do anything of the kind, for now by these clauses, if she were able to do so, she would have to support the child; if, however, she were thrown on the parish, then a portion of the expense was to be defrayed by the man. The argument of the noble Duke was therefore fallacious. He was satisfied, that the plan the noble Duke intended to pursue would tend greatly to increase all the evils of the present system. It would give the woman the opportunity of fathering the child upon whom she pleased, and thus lead to the commission of perjury. Again, it was proposed to throw upon her the great disgrace of exposing herself to shame in an open Court by declaring who was the father of the child. It was most objectionable to make a woman proclaim her shame before the Magistrates in Petty Sessions; but by one of the clauses of the noble Baron (Wharncliffe) the woman was to do this in open Court—namely, before the Magistrates at Quarter Sessions. Again, these clauses enabled the Magistrates to send the reputed father of a bastard child to prison if he could not find security to indemnify the parish. In short, those clauses appeared to him to open the door to all the evils of the old system.

Lord Wharncliffe

was perfectly satisfied that the noble Earl had not read the clauses, or, if he had, he had completely misunderstood them. The only question was whether they would or would not give any relief to the parish when bastard children were thrown on it. It had been stated that, according to the present law, the father and mother of a bastard child could be punished. This, however, was an error. He admitted, that a woman was liable to be sent to the House of Correction as a lewd woman for having a bastard which became chargeable to the parish; but not the man. He thought, that they should not depart from the principle of throwing at least a portion of the charge of maintaining the bastard on the father. The noble Earl said, that a man might be sent to prison if he could not get securities to indemnify the parish, whereas the fact was, that the man was only to be called upon to enter into his own recognizances. The man also was not to be made liable to the expenses on the evidence of the woman alone, but it must be supported by corroborative evidence. Again, if a woman had a second bastard child, she would not be entitled to relief. They gave relief to the woman as regarded the first bastard child in the presumption that there had been seduction; but when a woman had a second bastard, he thought all argument as to seduction was at an end. He considered that the clauses had been sufficiently guarded to get rid of such objections as those made by the noble Earl.

The Lord Chancellor

suggested, whether it would not be better to take the discussion on these clauses to-morrow, when the question would be brought. forward on the Amendment of a right reve- rend Prelate (the Bishop of Exeter). Indeed, he had told the right reverend Prelate, that there was no chance of going into the discussion of these clauses to-night, and he had in consequence gone away. If the right reverend Prelate's Amendment to strike out all the clauses relative to bastardy were adopted, which he (the Lord Chancellor) hoped was impossible, it would be unnecessary to discuss those clauses; if it were rejected then they could afterwards be debated.

The Report was agreed to.

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