HL Deb 13 August 1834 vol 25 cc1235-7

A conference was held with the Commons on the subject of the Poor-laws' Amendment Bill, and the report of the conference was presented.

The Lord Chancellor

said, it had been determined in their Lordships' House, to amend the Poor Laws' Amendment Bill, by leaving out certain clauses. His proposition with respect to this Bill would not be the same as in the last case, because, although he disagreed from the Commons, he should be most unwilling upon that account so important a Bill as this should be lost. He was clear that the clause the Commons proposed to retain, giving the ministers of dissenting sects a right to enter the workhouses in order to administer religious assistance to the followers of their particular sect, was entirely superfluous; and but for the great respect which he entertained for the House of Commons, he should say it was absurd that this clause should be left in. For why were they to suppose that there was some sufficient cause to bind down the discretion of the overseers, and, above all, of the Commissioners, whom they were about to intrust with very large powers in this one case, when they did not think it necessary to bind them down in others. He should be inclined to reprehend, in the severest manner, any master of a workhouse who wished to preclude a sectarian minister from having access to his follower in the workhouse; and he could not conceive why this was the only case in which they should suspect the overseers of folly or harshness. In fact, overseers were less likely to err upon this delicate point of religious instruction than upon any other. There was another clause that the Commons wished to retain that was also unnecessary. Now, on this subject their Lordships had one of three courses to pursue. The first was, to reject the Amendments of the Commons, a course which, for the reason he had already stated, he should not propose to be pursued. The second was, to have a free conference with the Commons, and have the matter argued and discussed to-morrow morning; and the third was, to receive the Amendments of the Commons, but to enter a protest against them. He should feel inclined to adopt the last course, and to withdraw his objections to the clauses, but to give notice at the same time, that on the first day of next Session he should move for leave to bring in a Bill to correct what he conceived to be errors. There was a deficiency in the clause respecting the admission of Dissenters to workhouses; for, as it was now framed, it would not describe those to whom it was intended to apply. He knew from the legal advisers of those who had framed the clause, that they who introduced it would gain nothing by it; for the Methodists, for whose benefit it was, no doubt, specially intended, were not included in it as it now stood; and, indeed, as others appeared to be named when they were not, they might, perhaps, be actually excluded.

The Bishop of London

said, there had been no intention whatever to place any restrictions on the admission of Dissenting teachers when this clause was omitted; but he felt with the noble and learned Lord, that there was no necessity for the clause, as there never would be any difficulty about their admission.

Lord Wynford

was not so sure that a declaratory clause might not be necessary, because he did not feel the same confidence in the Commissioners that was felt by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He had every confidence in their integrity and knowledge, but not in their ability to carry this Bill into effect in all its very numerous enactments.

The Lord Chancellor

said, there was an objection, in point of form, to a free conference, and that was, that their Lordships must give their reasons for their resolution from which they could not afterwards re- cede, and by such means the Bill might be ultimately lost—a consequence that he would not by any means run the risk of incurring. The clause, however, was unnecessary, for the Commissioners after all would have, without it as with it, the power of giving admission to the workhouses—but there was the less evil in agreeing to the clause, as, however accurately this Bill might be now framed, he thought there would not more than four months elapse before practice would discover some Amendments to be necessary, and when they were introduced, this matter could be amended.

The Duke of Wellington

thought, that in this age of liberalism, they ought, if possible, to exclude religious schisms and disputations from the workhouse.

The Lord Chancellor

meant to protest against the clause, and therefore did not wish to be the person to move its adoption.

Lord Wynford moved the adoption of the Amendments of the Commons which was agreed to.