The Lord Chancellor,
rose and spoke as follows:* My Lords, I approach a subject of paramount importance and of vast magnitude —and one, of which the difficulty in principle, and the complexity in detail, are, at the least, on a level with its importance. And I have not now, as oftentimes has been my lot in this House, the satisfaction of knowing that the subject of this Bill has gained the same favour among the people of this country at large as in the case of other Reforms, whether political or legal, which I have propounded to your Lordships. They are, generally speaking, more indifferent to the subject than their own near interest in it, and intimate connexion with its evils might make it both probable and desirable that they should be. I am sensible, that they do not buoy up with their loud approbation those who patronize the great measure to which I am about to solicit your attention; and though they have manfully and rationally resisted all the attempts that have been made to pervert their judgments, and lead them to join in a clamour adverse to the plan, yet are they in a great degree, indifferent to its extent, and to its interests. I am quite aware, that they are not against it—nay, that the obloquy which is in store for those who support it, will proceed from but a very small portion of the community. But, my Lords, if this proportion were reversed—if there were as much clamour against this measure as some individuals would fain excite—individuals of great ability, of much knowledge, of considerable, and I will add, well-earned influence over public opinion on political matters, but more especially on ephemeral topics, or questions which arise from day to day,* Reprined from the Corrected Edition, published by Ridgway and sons.212 and as speedily sink into oblivion—individuals acting, from good motives I doubt not, from feelings wrongly excited, and taking a false direction, though in their origin not discreditable to those who cherish them—if those efforts had been as successful as they have manifestly, notoriously, and most honourably to the good sense of the people of England, failed utterly in raising almost any obloquy at all—I should have stood up in my place this day, propounded this measure, and urged in its behalf the self-same arguments which I now am about to address to the calm and deliberate judgment of this House, perverted by no false feeling, biased by no sinister views of self-interest, and interrupted by no kind of clamour from without; and I now address those arguments as I then should have done to the people out of this House, with this only difference, that the same arguments would have been urged, the same legislative provisions propounded, and the same topics addressed to a less calm, less rational, and less deliberative people, than I shall now have the satisfaction of appealing to. My Lords, I should have been unworthy of the task that has been committed to my hands, if by any deference to clamour I could have been made to swerve from the faithful discharge of this duty. The subject is infinitely too important, the interests which it involves are far too mighty, and the duty, correlative to the importance of those interests, which the Government I belong to has to discharge, is of too lofty, too sacred a nature, to make it possible for any one who aspires to the name of a statesman, or who has taken upon himself to counsel his Sovereign upon the arduous concerns of his realms, to let the dictates of clamour find any access to his breast, and make him sacrifice his principles to a covetousness of popular applause. I fully believe that they will best recommend themselves, as even from the first outset, to the rational part of their reflecting fellow countrymen, so in the end to the whole community, including such as at first may be less able to exercise their judgment calmly upon the merits of the question—they will best recommend themselves to the unanimous approval, and to the late, though sure gratitude of the country at large, who shall manfully carry through, with the aid of your Lordships, a system of provisions which, in my con- 213 science, I believe to be the roost efficacious, the least objectionable in point of principle, to sin the least against any known rule of polity or of the Constitution, and at the same time to afford the dearest and surest prospect of any that ever yet has been devised for terminating evils, the extent of which, at the present moment, no tongue can adequately describe, the possible extent of whose consequences not very remote, no fancy can adequately picture—evils which bad laws, worse executed—which the lawgiver, outstripped in his pernicious course by the administrators—have entailed upon this country—which, while they bid fair to leave nothing of the property of the country that can be held safe, so leave nothing in the industry of the country that can be deemed secure of its due reward—nothing in the character of the country that can claim for it a continuance of the respect which the character of the English peasant always in older times commanded, and which with the loss of that character, the multiplication of miseries, and the increase of every species of crime, has brought about a state of things in which we behold industry stripped of its rights, and the sons of idleness, vice, and profligacy usurping its lawful place—property no longer safer than industry—and —I will not say an agrarian law, for that implies only a division of property, but —the destruction of all property as the issue of the system that stares us, and at no great distance, in the face; a state of things, in fine, such, that peace itself has returned without its companion plenty, and in the midst of profound external tranquillity, and the most plenteous blessings of the seasons ever showered down by Providence, the labourer rebels, disturbances prevail in districts never before visited by discontent, and every thing betokens the approach of what has been termed an agrarian war. Such is the state to which matters are now come, and such are the results of that pernicious system which you are now called upon to remedy by the great measure, to a certain degree matured—at all events, much prepared—for your deliberations, by the other House of Parliament, and now tended for your approbation. My Lords, there is one thing of unspeakable importance, and which gives me the greatest consolation. I feel an intimate persuasion, that we are now no longer involved in a political, 214 factious, or even in the milder sense of the word, party discussion; but that we are met together as if we were members of one association, having no conflicting feelings to divide its measures, no interests, no knots of men banded one against the other, and where no private feeling will be suffered to interfere. This is an encouragement to me personally, and it argues most auspiciously for the cause. I may assume, that almost all of you have a sufficient knowledge of the existing Poor-laws; many from experience of their operation, others front the exposition of them in the Statute Book, and others from having refreshed their recollection by the very able Report of the Commissioners; I may, therefore, take for granted that it would be wholly superfluous to enter into any description of the mechanism of the present system. But I should wish, before I state the kind of mischief that the mal-administration of the Poor-law has produced, shortly to glance at what is material,—not as a matter of curiosity merely, but as enabling us more clearly to trace the origin of the mischief, I mean the origin of the Poor-law itself, and the steps by which its administration has become so pernicious. It is certainly not quite correct to say, as has frequently been asserted, that these laws grew out of the destruction of the monastic orders, and the seizure of their property by Henry 8th; but it is still more incorrect to deny that there was any connexion whatever between the two events; for, undoubtedly, though the passing of the 43rd of Elizabeth followed the seizure of monastery lands, by an interval of above sixty years, yet it is equally true, that it was not twenty years after the abolition of those monasteries that the first Poor-law, the earliest compulsory provision for the poor, was enacted; being the 5th of Elizabeth. When I make this observation I must add another connected with it, and remind your Lordships of an argument used against the Church Establishment, and the tithes system, as connected with the Poor-laws. It is said that, according to the original division of tithes, one-fourth belonged to the Bishop, one-fourth to the parson, one-fourth to the repair of the Church, and the remaining one-fourth to the poor. That is a mistake which Selden and others have fallen into, from not having examined with care the provisions of the Saxon law, according to which it 215 was a tripartite, and not a quadripartite division;—one-third going to the fabric of the Church, one-third to the parson, and one-third to the poor. I grant that this was the original distribution of the tithe, and I also admit that in much later times, as far down as the 15th of Richard 2nd, this right of the poor was recognized by Parliament; for in that year an Act passed which in terms admitted the right of the poor to sustentation out of this fund. I admit, too, that still later, in the reign of Elizabeth, the Judges of the land recognized the same right, and that other cases are to be found decidedly in favour of this principle, one of the Judges of that day quaintly observing, that it is the business of the parson, Pascere gregem, verbo, exemplo, cibo. Indeed, your Lordships will find both the Courts and Parliament, as late as the reign of George 3rd., recognising the claims of the poor against the parson, grounded upon the same principle. It is, however, past all doubt that a provision for the poor out of the tithe never was distinctly and practically established as their right, beyond their claims to receive charity at the hands of the parson, or other owner of the property; and it is equally past all doubt that they are most superficial reasoners on the subject, who maintain that the restoration to the poor of their share in the tithe, would, if it were possible, at once settle the question, and extinguish the miseries entailed by the Poor-laws. For most certain it is, that anything more mischievous, anything more fatal to the country, anything more calculated to multiply, indefinitely, the numbers of the poor, cannot be conceived, than the applying to them any regular and fixed provision, be it tithe or be it tax, which they can claim at the hands of the rich, except by the force of that duty of imperfect obligation—private charity which is imposed upon all men. Every permanent fund set apart for their support, from whomsoever proceeding, and by whomsoever administered, must needs multiply the evils it is destined to remedy. This right to share in a fixed fund is the grand mischief of the Poor-laws, with the seeds of which they were originally pregnant, though certainly many years elapsed after the principal Statute,—that of the 43rd of Elizabeth,—was made, before any great amount of positive evil can be said to have rendered itself per- 216 ceptible in the community at large. As long as it was supposed that the law attached only to the impotent, to those who came within the description of old age, worn-out faculties, in body and mind, or persons disabled by any accidental cause, and not to able-bodied persons,—so long, it must be admitted that if the law was not an advantage, at all events it proved to be no detriment whatever. But by the construction not unnaturally put upon those unfortunate words in the Act, requiring the overseer "to take order for setting the poor to work"—a construction which, at the same time, conveyed to the pauper the right of calling into action this power, in other words, of compelling the parish "to find work for the pauper, and if work could not be found, to feed him," all self-reliance, all provident habits, all independent feelings, were at an end; and consequences the most pernicious speedily followed to the community, as well as to the poor themselves—consequences more pernicious, I will venture to say, than ever flowed from the enactment or from the construction of any human law. I blame not those who imposed this construction. It is, for anything I know, a sound one; the clause must have some meaning, and this seems very likely to be the true one; for if the pauper is clothed with a right to have work found him, as the overseer cannot create work, it seems to follow that he must feed those whom he cannot employ. But, pernicious as these inevitable consequences were, worse were sure to follow in the shape of new laws, grounded on the same principle, and developing more noxiously its evil effects. Accordingly, in the year 1796, that Act was passed which gave the poor —those that were called the industrious poor—a right, by law to be supported out of the parish rates, at their own dwellings, and to receive that support, although the parish should have actually contracted and paid for their maintenance in a workhouse hired and established according to the provisions of the Act, for their reception in the day of their distress. My Lords, it has been usual to blame the Magistrates of the country for the maladministration of these laws. I am not one of those who ever have been able to perceive the justice of this charge. I have never felt that we had any right to hold them peculiarly responsible, or, indeed, in the midst of universal error, to 217 tell who were answerable for the mischief we all acknowledged to exist. The worst that can be said of those respectable persons to whom the country is so greatly indebted, and of whose services I should speak more at large if I had not the honour of addressing an assembly almost wholly composed of Magistrates; is, that in bringing forth by the Administration of the Poor-laws, the grievous mischiefs inherent originally in the system, they were not before the age they lived in; that they were not wiser than all who had gone before them, and all who lived around them, and, indeed, all who, for one or two generations, have come after them. This is the only charge that can be justly made against them. It would be condemning them for a want of more than human sagacity were we to charge them with the consequences of their conduct, pursuing, as they did, the opinions of the most learned Jurists and most experienced statesmen, while occupied with the details of the system which they were engaged in working. The truth is, that in all they did, Magistrates have had the countenance of the first authorities in the country; they have had the entire approval, and even concurrence of the Legislature to support them: they have had the decisions of the Judges to back, and even to guide them. As often as questions have been raised relative to the Administration of these laws, the Courts have never, in any one instance, applied themselves to lessen the mischief, by narrowing the liberal construction which the Magistrates had put upon the Statutes, but have uniformly decided, so as to give them yet larger scope. That they have erred then in such company as the legislative and judicial powers of the country, is to be regarded with neither wonder nor blame. But the Magistrates have had equal countenance from the names of eminent individuals, some of them the most distinguished that this land can boast of, and who, upon the question of relief to the poor, have entertained projects more liberal; nay, I will say more extravagant—more absolutely wild, than any that the most liberal Magistrates of this country ever contemplated. What think you, my Lords, I will not say of Mr. Gilbert's Act, but of the measure proposed in 1795 by Mr. Pitt—a man thoroughly versed in all the details of the subject, and well acquainted, as might have been supposed, with the best practical policy to be 218 pursued regarding it? What marvel is it to find country justices holding that the poor man has a right to be made comfortable in his own dwelling, when Mr. Pitt introduced a Bill, (happily it did not pass into a law), for legalizing the allowance system, that greatest bane of the administration of the Poor-laws, and for sanctioning the principle that every poor man has a right to be made comfortable in his own dwelling—himself and his family—and to be furnished "with a cow, or a pig, or some other animal yielding profit," (I cite the words of the Act) to be provided in proportion to the number of his children? Assuredly the author of this famous project was not much more in advance of his age than the Justices of the Peace. Such principles as Mr. Pitt thus plainly held on the subject, have been the cause of the ruin we now all deplore. Surely if ever there was a doctrine more frantic in principle than another, or less likely to prove safe in its appliances, it must be this, that in defiance of the ordinary law of nature, the human lawgiver should decree, that all poor men have a right to live comfortably, assuming to himself the power of making every one happy, at all times—in seasons of general weal or woe—and proclaiming with the solemnity of a Statute, "Henceforth let human misery cease, and every man, woman, and child, be at ease in the kingdom of England, and dominion of Wales, and town of Berwick-upon-Tweed." But it is fair to Mr. Pitt to recollect, that these absurd doctrines were not entertained by him alone—he shared them with many of his contemporaries. Secure, however, from these errors, let us now see what the true principle was all the while, and whether or not the Poor-laws, as at present administered, sin against that principle or obey it. First of all, I am aware that I may be charged with stating an identical proposition when I state to your Lordships the fundamental rule which ought to regulate both the Legislature and those whom it intrusts with the Administration of the Poor-laws—namely, that men should be paid according to the work they do—that men should be employed and paid according to the demand for their labour, and its value to the employer—that they who toil should not live worse than those who are idle—and that the mere idler should not run away with that portion which the industrious workman has earned. All this 219 appears about as self-evident as if a man were to say two and two make four, and not fourteen. Nevertheless, this is the very principle—identical as it is—truism, idle truism, as it may well be called—useless and superfluous as the uttering of it may seem to be—this obvious principle—this self-evident proposition—is that very principle against which the whole administration of the Poor-laws at present sins, —constantly, wilfully, deliberately sins. At every instant, by day and by night, during bad weather, and during good, in famine and in plenty, in peace, and in war, is this principle outraged, advisedly, systematically, unremittingly outraged, without change, or the shadow of turning. But it is said, that although no man has a right to food which he does not earn, and though the idler has no right to make his neighbour work for him, still there are times when the rule must bend to necessity, and that persons in sickness or in old age, or in impotence of body or mind, must be supported, lest they perish before our face. And this leads me to the subject of charity, intimately connected with the system of the Poor-laws; for that the support of the sick, the aged, and the impotent, should be left to private charity, is, in the view of many, the sounder opinion. I incline to think, that it is the safer course—that it is better for him who receives—blessing him more, and also him who gives. But into this question, I need not now enter, for it is not necessarily involved in the present argument; and I do not object to compulsory provision in such cases as I have mentioned, so it be subject to proper regulation, in order to prevent the abuses it is much exposed to. But I must observe, even upon the subject of individual charity—charity not administered by the State, or through the hands of parish-officers—that I hold this doctrine undeniably true. That species of charity is the least safe which affords a constant fund, known by the community to exist for charitable purposes. As long as the existence of such a fund is notorious, whether raised by the compulsory provisions of the law, or owing its origin and support to the warmth of men's charitable feelings, its existence leads, of necessity, to two consequences, pernicious to all parties, to the giver as well as the receiver, to the State as well as to individuals. First, it can hardly avoid being abused from the kindly feelings of those 220 who administer it (and this applies to a parish fund still more strictly, for it is more liable to abuse). The private manager cannot trust his own feelings—the overseer cannot trust his own feelings. Out of this infirmity of our nature, abuses are quite certain to arise. The second consequence is this, and I regard it as the worst evil—if the fund is known to exist, however it be constituted, whether by voluntary or by compulsory subscription, the poor immediately calculate upon it, and become less provident, forsaking every habit of frugality, taking no care to provide against the ordinary calamities of life, or the inevitable infirmities of old age. They no longer strive for the means of maintaining their children, but heedlessly, recklessly, count upon that fund, out of which, whether in sickness or in health, in youth or in age, in impotence or in vigour, they know that they may claim the means of support; and, setting the pains of labour against those of a scanty sustenance, they prefer idleness and a bare subsistence to plenty earned by toil. Hence men's minds become habituated to the fatal disconnexion of livelihood and labour, and ceasing to rely upon their own honest industry for support, their minds become debased as their habits are degraded. Were I not afraid of troubling your Lordships with a discourse wearing too much of a didactic air, I could easily prove that this is the practical result of the too extensive and unreflecting distribution of charity. I will, however, trouble your Lordships with one remark upon this matter. I am well aware that I am speaking on the unpopular side of the subject; but it is, nevertheless, necessary that the truth should be told. The safest, and perhaps the only perfect charity is an hospital for accidents or violent diseases, because no man is secure against such calamities—no man can calculate upon, or provide against them; and we may always be sure, that the existence of such an hospital will in no way tend to increase the number of patients. Next to this, perhaps, a dispensary is the safest; but I pause upon that if I regard the rigour of the principle, because a dispensary may be liable to abuse, and because, strictly speaking, sickness is a thing which a provident man should look forward to, and provide against, as part of the ordinary ills of life; still I do not go to the rigorous extent of objecting to dispensaries. But when I come to hospitals 221 for old age—as old age is before all men —as every man is every day approaching nearer to that goal—all prudent men of independent spirit will, in the vigour of their days, lay by sufficient to maintain them when age shall end their labour. Hospitals, therefore, for the support of old men and old women, may, strictly speaking, be regarded as injurious in their effects upon the community. Nevertheless, their evil tendency may be counterbalanced by the good they do. But the next species of charity to which I shall refer, is one which sins grievously against all sound principle—I mean hospitals for children, whether endowed by the public, or by the charity of individuals. These, with the exception of orphan hospitals, are mere evils; and the worst of all is a foundling hospital. To show how much we have improved in these matters—how much better informed we have become—how much more enlightened—how much less apt to be carried away by feelings, amiable in themselves, but in their effects mischievous, unless regulated by knowledge and wisdom, I need only mention that what once was reckoned the great ornament of this city—the Foundling Hospital in Guildford-street—is no longer a Foundling Hospital at all; having, by the rules in force for the last sixty or seventy years, never received one single foundling, properly so called, within its walls. The same improvement was effected by my right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Control (Mr. Charles Grant) with respect to the Foundling Hospital in Dublin, when he filled the office of Secretary for Ireland. Any hospital for the reception of foundlings is the worst of charities: it is no charity—it is a public nuisance, and ought to be stripped of the title of charity, and put down as an outrage on public morals. So all now allow; but fifty years ago, no man would have dared to say so. Can we doubt that in much less than half a century more, all those other principles now made the butt of low ignorant abuse will be the admitted guide and belief of every member of the community? If such as I have stated be the rules which public safety prescribes for regulating even voluntary charities, only see how the Poor-laws of this country violate rules a thousand times more applicable to the raising and dispensing of a compulsory provision! They have succeeded in wholly disconnecting the ideas 222 of labour and its reward in the minds of the people—they have encouraged the idle and the profligate, at the expense of the honest and industrious—they have destroyed the independence of the peasant, and made him the creature of a pernicious and forced charity,—they have given him the degradation of a beggar, without the consolation with which benevolence soothes the lot of mendicity. Parish allowance is far worse than any dole of private charity; because it is more likely to be abused; because it is more certain in its nature,—because it is better known—more established—because it approaches, in the mind of the poor, to the idea of a right. This terrible system has led, amongst other evil consequences, to the Act of 1796, which provided for the relief of the poor in their own houses; and was, in fact, the introduction of the allowance scheme—a scheme which provided for the partial payment of wages out of the poor-rates, and which, in its operation, has been productive of all the worst mischiefs that might have been expected from such a source. The allowance system had its rise in the scarcity of 1795, and was more widely spread by the subsequent scarcity of 1800 and 1801, since which, in many parts of the kingdom, it has been permanently adopted. For a compulsory provision to support the poor who are able-bodied, but cannot find, or are not very anxious to find employment, I have known only two excuses ever attempted, and to these it may be fit that I should now very shortly advert. The first is one which I remember hearing strenuously urged by one or two very worthy friends of mine, Members of the House of Commons. They maintained, that the system kept up the character of the labourers, prevented their becoming the mere beggars of alms, and enabled them to receive their allowance with the erect port and manly aspect of those who felt they were claiming their due under the law. Never, surely, was there a greater delusion. The system has ended in the destruction of all independent character in the English peasant. It is true, that he comes to demand his allowance with an erect port, but it is not the bearing of independence; his habits, his feelings, the whole bent of his mind, the whole current of his thoughts, are changed. It was deemed aforetime a shame such as no man could bear, to be dependent upon parochial aid—the name of "pauper" 223 coming next, in the estimation of the peasant, to that of "felon." It is so no longer— no longer is it thought a scandal upon the labourer to claim relief from the parish—no longer does it inflict a pang upon his mind to darken the overseer's door. No doubt he comes with a firm gait—with a manly air; but rather let us say, he conies with a sturdy gait and a masterful air. He presumes to domineer over the honest and hard-working ratepayer, and the servant of the rate-payer, the overseer—whom he insults and tramples upon. Secure in the protection of the law, he demands his allowance not as a man, but as a master; his tone is imperative, for he knows he must be obeyed. Such a system deadens all sense of shame —all sense of real dignity; erases from the mind every feeling of honourable independence, and fits its victims only for acts of outrage or of fraud. Let us pass, then, to the second topic of defence, and I speak of this argument with great respect, because it proceeds from persons who are the advocates of pure and strict principles in political science, and who are accustomed to carry them to an extravagant excess, sometimes straining them till they crack. These learned persons argue, (if I so may speak) that the Poor-laws afford the only means we have of effectually checking or preventing an increase of population. They say, that whilst there is no possibility of preventing by law improvident marriages amongst the poor (and I admit there is none), the Poor-laws furnish a preventive check. But are those respectable persons really so short-sighted as not to perceive that whatever little check the Poor-laws in one view may interpose, is immeasurably counterbalanced by their affording the greatest stimulus to population which the wit of man could devise—the most wilful and direct encouragement that possibly could have been discovered to improvident marriages? I verily think, that the history of human errors can produce no parallel to the mistake into which these learned and ingenious persons have fallen. If you had to seek out the most efficacious means of removing every prudential check to population—nay, if you wished to accelerate its march by a wilful, I might almost say, a wicked, encouragement to heedless and imprudent marriages, and by a premium for numbers of children—you could not devise any more perfect than are afforded 224 by the Poor-laws, as administered in this country. What is the language they speak to the peasant?—"Here is a fund at your command—you have only to marry—only to get children—and here is a fund for the support of yourselves and your children, to be doled out in proportion to their numbers." The answer of the peasant is in the same language—"I am a prior mortgagee on the land, and will marry to-morrow, instead of waiting till I have the means of supporting a family." These excuses for the system and the mal-administration of the existing Poor-laws, being disposed of, let us now proceed to see what have been the actual results. And upon this part of the subject I shall have to call your Lordships' attention to a most meritorious body of men —the Commissioners—and to the result of their invaluable labours—the collection of a mass of evidence, the largest, the most comprehensive, the most important, and the most interesting, that perhaps was ever collected upon any subject. But before I go to that part of the subject—before quitting the subject of population —may I step aside for one moment, and do justice to a most learned, a most able, a most virtuous individual, whose name has been mixed up with more unwitting deception, and also with more wilful misrepresentation, than that of any man of science in this Protestant country, and in these liberal and enlightened times. When I mention talent, learning, humanity—the strongest sense of public duty, the most amiable feelings in private life, the tenderest and most humane disposition which ever man was adorned with—when I speak of one the ornament of the society in which he moves, the delight of his own family, and not less the admiration of those men of letters and of science amongst whom he shines the first and brightest—when I speak of one of the most enlightened, learned, and pious ministers whom the Church of England ever numbered amongst her sons—I am sure every one will apprehend that I cannot but refer to Mr Malthus. The character of this estimable man has been foully slandered by some who had the excuse of ignorance, and by others, I fear, without any such palliative, and simply for having made one of the greatest additions to political philosophy which has been effected since that branch of learning has been worthy of the name of a science. But I was about to 225 call your Lordships' attention to the practical working of the system, for the purpose of ascertaining how it is hurtful, and what direction its mischief takes. There has been, in my opinion, no more important event in the recent history of this country than the issuing of the Poor-law Commission. I certainly was one of those who at first thought that the documents already possessed, and especially the evidence which had been collected by both Houses of Parliament, afforded a sufficient body of facts on which to proceed. Upon a closer examination, however, of the various Reports that had been made, and knowing, from experience, how much it is the practice of those who are examined before Committees to propound some favourite theory of their own, and give only such results of their observation and experience as supports their views—knowing, too, how impossible it must be for a Committee to compare the working of different plans by actual observation upon the spot —I acquiesced in the propriety of issuing a Commission, and the result amply justifies the measure; for I will venture to say, that there is no man who has read these Reports who can refuse to admit, that all he before knew of the subject in its details, was as nothing in the comparison. It does not become me to occupy your Lordships in bestowing praises upon the ability and zeal with which the Commissioners have performed their important office. Their report is before you. I believe that no better individuals could be selected for the discharge of those important duties than the persons first named in the Commission—the two right reverend Prelates whose absence on this occasion—occasioned by their necessary attendance to their episcopal duties—I have so much reason to lament. Another Commissioner was Mr. Sturges Bourne, than whom no person can be pointed out. more conversant with the subject. His knowledge, too, is practical—not theoretical; he has applied his well-informed mind to the consideration of the whole question—was the author of the only legislative measures which have ever professed to find a remedy for the evil—while, besides his talents and learning, for calmness of temper, and for sagacity, and soundness of judgment, he was, perhaps, better adapted than almost any other person to join this Commission. When I add to these the names of Mr. Senior—a man of profound learn- 226 ing and great capacity—and Mr. Coulson, Mr. Bishop, and Mr. Chadwick, the other able individuals who formed the Board, your Lordships will feel with me, that from the labours of a body of men so composed, the most satisfactory results might surely be expected. Most of them I before knew, but Mr. Chadwick I never had seen, nor have I now more than once or twice; but I confess I have risen from the perusal of his papers—admirable in all respects—for excellence of composition, strength of reasoning, soundness of judgment, and all that indicates the possession of every species of talent,—I say I have risen from the perusal with a degree of admiration that I find it difficult either to suppress or to describe. Such are the men who have well and truly performed the duties imposed upon them. Their Reports, large in bulk, but larger still in comprehensive reach of understanding and information —interesting in the narrative, but painful — almost excruciating in the tale they tell—no man can read, without entertaining the sanguine hope, that for ills so enormous the remedy may at length be within our power. I think, however, I shall render a more acceptable service to your Lordships, if, instead of entering into a minute statement of these sad details, I confine myself to a general outline of the facts; presenting to you if I can a graphic sketch of the malady that exists, and pointing to the quarter from which you may expect a cure. First, then, we have a constant, and I may say almost a regular proof, in every part of the country, in districts agricultural, manufacturing, and even commercial, and whether the people are superabundant or scarce, increasing, stationary, or diminishing in numbers, that able-bodied men prefer a small sum in idleness to a larger sum in wages, attended with the condition of earning those wages by labour. We have in one place a young man saying, "I have 3s. 6d. a-week from the parish—I do no work—I have no need to labour; I would rather have my 3s. 6d. without working, than toil to get 10s. or 12s. a week." This is not a singular instance. But are these persons only idle? Are they really doing nothing? Do they receive 3s. 6d. and remain inactive? Do they work no mischief? My Lords, it is idle in me to put such questions. These persons are making the parish pay 3s. 6d. a-week, out of the honest labourer's hard 227 earnings, to maintain the constant promoters of crime, the greatest workers of mischief in the country; men, who, when they happen not to be the ringleaders, are the ready accomplices and followers in every depredation, every outrage that is perpetrated in their neighbourhood. But those facts are not confined to agricultural districts, or to inland places, and to lazy rustics. Look to the hardy sailor, who never used to know what danger was—look to the very boatmen of the Kentish coast—they who formerly would rush to a wreck, without looking to the waves any more than to the reward—who would encounter the most appalling perils to save a life, with as much alacrity as they would dance round a Maypole, or run a cargo of smuggled goods, in the midst of tempest or in the teeth of the preventive service, those men, who, if you had ever said, in former times, "Surely you do not mean to launch your boat at this tempestuous time of year?" would answer by instinct, "Time of year!—we take no count of seasons—by our boats we live: from the sea, in winter as in summer, we must seek our sustenance; fair weather, or foul, our vessels must be afloat, else how could we keep our families from the parish?" No such answer will you get now. The same spirit of honest and daring independence inflames them no more. "We have 12s. a-week from the parish," say the Kentish sailors; "we will go out no longer in winter—we will wait for summer and fair weather—we will live at home the while, for the parish fund provides us." Comment, upon such facts, is superfluous. But the same classes now assume, that they who live upon the parish have a right not only to work as little as the independent labourer, but not to work so hard. They have in many places distinctly set up this claim; and in one or two instances appeals have actually been made by the paupers against the overseers, upon the ground, that the latter had attempted, as they say, "a thing till then unknown in these parishes, to make the paupers work the same number of hours in the day as the independent labourers, who receive no parochial assistance:" Thee are things which almost force incredulity; but when we see them proved by evidence which admits of no doubt, belief is extorted from us. The next general fact which presents itself to our view is, that as those persons claim a right to work less than they who 228 receive no parish relief, so they are generally better off, and in many instances, much better off, than the independent labourer. The disproportion, in some parts of the country, and especially in the county of Sussex and the Isle of Wight, has gone so far, that a pauper working only for a limited number of hours in the day, earns 16s. a-week of the parish money, whilst the honest labourer, who has struggled to keep himself independent of the parish, has not been enabled, by his utmost exertion, to earn, by any possible means, more than 12s. a-week. And in one parish it appears, that 240 paupers, who were paid exactly the same wages as independent labourers, were dissatisfied, because they were required to work the same number of hours, and grumbled because they were not paid more. Nay, they did not confine themselves to grumbling—they struck work, sought the overseer, and almost by force obtained an increase of wages; that is to say, they compelled the parish to give them more than the ordinary amount of wages paid to independent workmen. Then it is needless to say, that the parish pauper regards himself independent of fair weather or foul, of bad health or good, of the full harvest or scanty crop, of all the calamities to which the rest of mankind are subject. Again: all shame of begging is utterly banished—the pauper glories in his dependence—if, indeed, he does not consider the land as his own, and its nominal proprietor as his steward. Nay, instances are to be found of the shame being, by a marvellous perversion of feeling, turned the other way; and the solitary exception to the rule of parish relief under which a whole hamlet lived, "being shamed," as a female said, "out of her singularity, and forced by her neighbours to take the dole like themselves!" But, for all this, I do not blame the pauper; I blame the bad law and its worse administration, which have made him a worthless member of society. The law of nature says, that a man shall support his child—that the child shall support his aged and infirm parent—and that near relations shall succour one another in distress. But our law speaks another language, saying to the parent, "Take no trouble of providing for your child,"—to the child, "Undertake not the load of supporting your parent —throw away none of your money on your unfortunate brother or sister—all these 229 duties the public will take on itself." It is, in truth, one of the most painful and disgusting features of this law, that it has so far altered the nature of men. It is now a common thing to hear the father say, "If you allow me only so many shillings a-week for children, I will drive them from my doors, and deny them the shelter of my roof;" and it is not unusual to hear the child say, "If you do not allow my aged mother more, I shall take her out of my house, and lay her in the street, or at the overseer's door." I state this from the text of the evidence, and, horrible as it appears, I cannot refuse it my belief. My Lords, those who framed the Statute of Elizabeth were not adepts in political science—they were not acquainted with the true principle of population—they could not foresee that a Malthus would arise to enlighten mankind upon that important, but as yet ill-understood, branch of science—they knew not the true principle upon which to frame a preventive check, or favour the prudential check to the unlimited increase of the people. To all that, they were blind;— but this I give them credit for—this they had the sagacity to foresee—that they were laying the foundation of a system of wretchedness and vice for the poor—of a system which would entail upon them the habitual breach of the first and most sacred law of nature, while it hardened the heart against the tenderest sympathies, and eradicated every humane feeling from the human bosom;— and therefore the same Statute of Elizabeth which first said, that labour, and the reward of labour, should be separated—the same Statute which enacted a law contrary to the dispensation of Providence, and to the order of nature—foreseeing that the consequence would be to estrange the natural feelings of the parent for his child, and of the child for his parent, for the first time in the history of human legislation, deemed it necessary to declare, by a positive enactment, that a child should be compelled, by the Statute in such case made and provided, to obey the dictates of the most powerful feelings of nature—to follow the commands of the law implanted in every breast by the hand of God, and to support his aged and infirm parent! If we survey the consequences of all this, not only upon the poor, but upon the landed proprietors of the country, and upon the property of the country itself, we find that they are to 230 the full as melancholy as any other of the countless mischief's flowing from the maladministration of the Poor-laws. I will not say, that many farms have been actually abandoned—I will not say, that many parishes have been wholly given up to waste for want of occupants (I know that there are instances of farms here and there, and of one parish, I think in the county of Bucks, which has been reduced to this state), but I will not say, that as yet the system has so worked as to lay waste any considerable portion of territory. That it has a direct and a necessary tendency to do so—that unless its progress be arrested, it must go on till it gain that point—that ere long we must reach the brink of the precipice towards which we are hurrying with accelerated rapidity—that the circumstance of one parish being thrown out of cultivation, inevitably and immediately tends to lay three or four others waste, and that this devastation, gathering strength as it proceeds, must needs cover the land—of these facts, no man, who consults the body of evidence before your Lordships, can entertain the shadow of a doubt. Stand where we are, we cannot. I might say, with others whose minds are filled with despair, and the dread of coming events, that I could be content never to have things better, so I were assured, that they would never be worse; but this—even this wretched compromise is impossible, with the frightful scourge that is ravaging our country. The question is—shall we retrace our steps, or shall we be pushed forward, and down the steep we stand on, by the momentum of this weight which we have laid upon ourselves? That such is our position—that such is the course we are pursuing—that such is the gulf towards which we are hastening—no man living, gifted with an ordinary measure of sagacity, can deny. This, then, is the picture of our situation, harsh in its outline, dismal in its colouring, in every feature sad and awful to behold. This is the aspect of affairs, menacing the peace of society, undermining the safety of dominion, and assailing the security of property, which the system, as now administered, exhibits to the eye. In this it is, that the schemes of man, as short-sighted as presumptuous, have ended, when he sought to reverse the primal curse, under which he eats his bread in sorrow and the sweat of his brow. Our Poor-law said—"The sweat shall 231 trickle down that brow no more;" but the residue of the curse it has not reversed—for in sorrow he shall eat it still. The dispensation of wrath, which appointed toil for the penalty of transgression, was tempered with the mercy which shed countless blessings upon industry—industry, that sweetens the coarsest morsel, and softens the hardest pillow;—but not under the Poor-law! Look to that volume, and you will find the pauper tormented with the worst ills of wealth—listless and unsettled — wearing away the hours, restless and half-awake, and sleepless all the night that closes his slumbering day, — needy, yet pampered — ill-fed, yet irritable and nervous. Oh! monstrous progeny of this unnatural system, which has matured, in the squalid recesses of the workhouse, the worst ills that haunt the palace, and made the pauper the victim of those imaginary maladies which render wealthy idleness less happy than laborious poverty! Industry, the safeguard against impure desires—the true preventive of crimes;—but not under the Poor-law! Look at that volume, the record of idleness, and her sister guilt, which now stalk over the land. Look at the calendar, which they have filled to overflowing, notwithstanding the improvement of our jurisprudence, and the progress of education. Industry, the corner stone of property, which gives it all its value, and makes it the cement of society —but not under the Poor-law! for it is deprived of its rights and its reward, finds its place usurped by indolence, and sees wrong and violence wear the garb, and urging the claims of right; so that all property is shaken to pieces, and the times are fast approaching when it shall be no more! In this devastation, but one exception remains, in those seats of industry, where the miracles of labour and of skill have established the great triumph of the arts, and shed unnumbered blessings on all around; those arts, whose lineage is high—for they are the offspring of science, whose progress is flourishing —for they are the parents of wealth. They have, indeed, stayed for a season in the districts which they nourish and adorn, the progress of the overwhelming mischief: but long even they cannot arrest its devastation, and this last pillar cannot long remain, after all the rest of the edifice has been swept away! They cannot stay the wide wasting ruin; but 232 we can, and we must. It behoves us to make a stand before one common ruin involves all, and tread back our steps, that we may escape the destruction which is on the wing, and hovering around our door. Let me then ask your Lordships' attention for a moment while I trace more particularly the cause of the mischiefs of which we have now been contemplating the gloomy picture. I shall say nothing at present of repealing the Poor-law itself. I shall, for the present, assume that the Statute of Elizabeth cannot now be dealt with. I shall take it to be fixed irrevocably as the law of the land, and I will proceed upon the supposition that it is impossible now to reduce things again to the state in which they were previous,—I will not say to the 43rd, but to the 5th of Elizabeth. Desirable as it may be to place the system on a better footing, and difficult as it is, not to wish for some radical change which may prevent a recurrence of the calamities we are suffering under, I yet feel that this is most difficult to effect, because it is the evil of all bad laws worse administered, that we must continue to bear them, on account of the danger which may spring from their sudden repeal. Much, however, may be done with the administration of the system, and to this it is, that practical wisdom directs us to apply the remedy. The separate and opposite jurisdictions of different magistrates, overseers, and benches of justices, the want of system and unity in practice, lie at the root of the evil; and the report teems with instances of the mischiefs which have flowed from this source. When you look at a district in which a better system of administration has been adopted, and contrast it with one, —perhaps the very next parish,—where the bad course has been pursued, you would hardly think that you were looking at two parts of the same county, or even of the same island, so different are the effects. In the one a total change of system has been effected—the rates have speedily come down, at first to one-half, and afterwards to one-third—paupers disappear, and industry regains its just place; while, upon crossing a brook, you find in the other parish a swarm of sturdy beggars depriving the honest labourer of his hire, and the rental crumbling down daily and hourly into the poor's box—always filled, and always empty. Then, how comes it to pass that, with the ex- 233 ample before their eyes, the authorities in the latter parish persevere in their course? The good effects of a rigid abstinence in administering relief have been strongly exemplified in Scotland, and yet that experience has been quite thrown away upon England. In Scotland, down to a recent period, doubts were entertained by lawyers, as to whether or not there existed any right of compulsory assessment for the poor. It is now agreed that the right exists; and the English and Scotch laws are admitted to rest generally upon the same foundation. The administration of them, however, has been widely different in the two countries. The Scotch—a careful and provident people—always watchful and fearful of consequences, kept an exceedingly close hand upon the managers of the poor's fund, and did everything in their power to ward off the necessity of assessments — reserving so perilous a resort for times of emergency, such as in the extraordinary scarcity of the years 1795 and 1800. This was the most rational plan that could be pursued, for it prevented the introduction of regular and habitual relief, and the setting apart of a constant fund for maintaining the poor. In some instances it has been acted upon in England, but, in very few, comparatively; for there has been no unity of action—no general control; and the neighbourhood of Scotland, and the success of the right practice there, has produced no considerable amendment of our vicious system. Hence I infer the necessity of a central, rigorous, and uniform plan of administration. And here I would step aside for one instant to illustrate this observation by a fact. It is generally said, "How can you do better, or act more safely, than by leaving to the parties interested the administration of their own affairs?" Generally speaking, I am willing to adopt that principle, and to proceed upon it: I believe the principle to be most sound; and, moreover, I am disposed to think that its application tends exceedingly to promote good government, and to prevent the evils of a meddling, petty, overdoing legislation. Nevertheless, experience certainly does show that it is not universally applicable; or rather, that it is not applicable to cases where the concerns of a number of persons are managed by a majority of their body, and not each man's by himself; for when a certain leaven of men gets into an 234 assembly, all of whom have a voice in the management of the common concerns, it very often happens that a combination takes place, arising from sinister and interested views; and that this junto, by its activity and intrigues, baffles the general disposition to consult the common interest, and sets it at nought. I happen to know an instance of this, and I will mention it to your Lordships, by way of illustration; —it was given in evidence before the famous Education Committee of the other House, sixteen years ago. In two of the parishes of this city, there were several great charities supported without endowment, by voluntary subscription. Mr. Baron Bailey, —himself a large contributor to these, as he is to all benevolent institutions—proposed to establish a rule, that no tradesman on the Committee of Management, should be employed in supplying the institutions in question, because it was justly apprehended by the learned Judge, that where such persons were interested, there would be no very rigorous inquiry into the necessity of making the purchases, and no very strict audit of the accounts. Nevertheless, the proposition though tending to save the funds, and therefore required by the pecuniary interests of the body who raised those funds, was rejected by a great majority of the Committee, who were themselves contributors. They said, that they had always been in the habit of employing one another to supply the institution, and that they were determined to continue the practice. The custom of another charity in the same neighbourhood was apparently better— but really just the same. There, a byelaw was in force, that no man should be employed as a tradesman to the charity while he was upon the managing committee. But this check was defeated by having a double set of tradesmen, who belonged to the committee in alternate years, and were employed each in his turn as he went out of office. I believe a proposal was made to correct this gross abuse; but, like the suggestion of Mr. Baron Bailey, it was rejected by the subscribers, to save whose money it was brought forward. Here, then, we find men ill the disbursement of their own funds, and in pursuit of their own objects, determined to suffer, with their eyes open, abuses which daily defraud them, and persisting in a course which makes it un- 235 avoidable that their pockets should be picked before their eyes. But do not facts like these demonstrate how long a vicious system may continue in any vestry or managing committee against the interests of the general body, if it contributes to the advantage of a few? Does it not also show how much longer a bad system may prevail in any vestry or parish, where the individuals most interested have not the same control as in a voluntary association, and how easily the most flagrant abuses may continue to receive protection from those they injure, before men's eves are opened—ay, and after they have been opened? Because I am not now speaking of a few ignorant farmers, who, by-the-by, have not by any means so strong an interest in the matter as the landlords; but of more enlightened persons, and of bodies less open to abuse than the authorities of country parishes. Surely the inhabitants of a remote hamlet are much more likely to keep their eyes shut upon such subjects than the inhabit ants of St. George's, Bloomsbury, and St. George's, Hanover Square. Therefore, the evils of a scattered and varying and uncertain administration of these laws, it behoves Parliament above all things, and before all things, to correct, with a view to establishing authorities able well and wisely to overlook the relief of the poor and the expenditure it occasions. For this object, the present Bill proposes to provide —precisely upon the views to which I have shown that experience guides us. The main principle of the measure is this—to leave the law, generally speaking, as it stands at present, but to tread back our steps as far as we can towards a due administration of it; and having once brought things nearer to their position in some particular parishes where the experiment has been tried, and salutary improvements effected, and to their state generally in Scotland, then to take such steps in reference to the law itself as shall prevent a recurrence of the same abuses. I have now to entreat your Lordships' attention to the course taken in constructing the measure before you; but I wish, in the outset of my remarks, to take notice of an objection to our measure—an objection, however, which has been more heard out-of-doors than within the walls of Parliament. I allude to the outcry set up against the Report, as a thing framed by theorists and visionaries, and to sum up all 236 in one word of vituperation, by political economists. That is the grand term of reproach. As if only theorists and visionaries could be students and professors of the despised science of political economy! Why, my Lords, some of the most eminent practical men in this country—individuals the most celebrated, not as rash and dreaming speculators, but as sober statesmen—leaders of opposition—ministers and heads of Cabinets—men whose names, as they were, when living, the designations of the parties into which the whole country was marshalled, have passed after death into epithets synonymous with practical wisdom, among their followers—it is among these men that I should look, if I were called upon to point out the greatest cultivators of political economy that have flourished in my own day. Is it necessary for rue to remind you that Adam Smith—another name which excites a sneer, but only among the grovelling and the ignorant—that the name of that eminent economist was first made generally known through his intimacy with Mr. Pitt, and by Mr. Pitt referring in Parliament to the high authority of his immortal work? Mr. Pitt was distinguished by his study of political economy, though his policy did not always proceed upon its soundest principles, and when he would have applied them, his attempts were not always attended with success. Such at least is my opinion now, speaking after the event, and with the cheap and easy wisdom which experience affords, yet always speaking with respect for that eminent man's science and talents, which no one, how rude or ignorant soever, will be found bold enough to question. I think he committed mistakes—perhaps in his situation I might have fallen into the same errors; but was Mr. Pitt a dreamer —was Mr. Pitt a visionary? Was Mr. Canning, who also professed and practised the science of political economy, a philosophist, a mere speculator, or a fantastical builder of ideal systems? My Lords, I have heard many persons object to Mr. Canning's policy; I did so myself at one period, though I afterwards co-operated with him when his views were liberal and sound; but neither at the one period of his political life, nor at the other, do I recollect ever hearing anybody bold or foolish enough to designate that eminent roan as a visionary or a theorist. Then we had Mr. Huskisson—he, too, a political 237 economist, and indeed profoundly conversant with the science; but I suppose he was no practical man,—I suppose he knew nothing of the financial, nothing of the commercial relations of this country —nothing of the distribution of its wealth —nothing of the bearings of its mercantile laws and fiscal regulations upon her trade and manufactures. I verily think, that if I were to search all England over, and to ransack the whole volumes of our annals at any period for the name of a practical statesman,—one who habitually discarded theory for practice—one who looked to every theory with suspicion, and adopted only those doctrines which were grounded upon the most incontestible results of experience—a pilot, who, in guiding the vessel of the State, proceeded with the lead-line ever in his hand, and ever sounding as he sailed—who never suffered her to stir until he knew the depth, the bottom, a-head and all around, and left no current, tide, or breeze out of his account;—if I were to name one man whom I have known or heard of, or whom history has recorded, and to whom this description is most eminently applicable, Mr. Huskisson is the name I should at once pronounce. To swell the catalogue with other bright and noble instances, would be much more easy than useful. Thus I might add Mr. Henry Thornton, an author of high fame, whose works were among the first that enlightened us on the subject of currency, and fixed the principles that govern this branch of science. But Mr. Henry Thornton was a banker; and an intelligent, skilful, prosperous banker. And it is these great men—great as philosophers, but better known as men of business—the Pitts, the Cannings, the Huskissons, the Thorntons, who, with Dr. Smith and after his example, entered themselves in the school of the Economists,—they it is, whom I am fated to hear derided as visionaries and schemers. But I have unawares named the science which was cultivated by Quesnai, Turgot, and other illustrious French philosophers, and have thus exposed it to a different attack, from ignorance yet more gross than that which denied authority to the names of the English statesmen I have mentioned. I have referred to the French economists, and I know full well that they have been derided as republicans—very little to my astonishment, prepared as I am by experience to 238 see the effects of ignorance—for ignorance has no bounds. Unhappily science has its limits, and they are not hard to reach; but ignorance is endless, unconfined, inexhaustible, — ever new in invention, though all its productions are wretched and worthless,—always surprising you, though mingling pity and contempt with wonderment: and never is it more daring in its inroads upon our credulity—never is it more strange in the antic feats it performs—never more curious in the fantastic tricks it plays, than when its gambols are performed in the persons of men dressed in a little brief authority, or who would fain be so attired, and who really are decked habitually in presumption that almost passes belief. Why, my Lords, every body who knows any thing of the French Economists, knows full well that they flourished under an absolute despotism,—that they were the great friends and the firm supporters of absolute monarchy, —that they abhorred liberty, and abhorred republicanism,—and that one of their errors, in my opinion the most fatal they could commit, was holding the doctrine, that what they called despotisme legal, in other words, an absolute monarchy, was the best form of government: accompanying their doctrine, however, with this reservation, "If you have a good king at the head of it;" as if the sole use of all restraints upon power was not founded on the risk of having bad rulers; as if the absence of control did not, while man is man, ensure a succession of bad monarchs. But I only mention this to show, that whatever charges the French economists may be justly exposed to, assuredly love of a republic, or even of rational liberty, is not of the number. Such is the presumption of that abject ignorance which would give certain men, and the sciences they explore, a bad name, not even knowing the true sense of the words it takes upon itself to use. Far, then, from being with me an objection, that these invaluable dissertations and statements of fact have been prepared by political philosophers—that all this mass of useful evidence has been collected by them, and that many propositions have been made by them, some of which, and only some, are adopted as the ground-work of the present measure,—I derive confidence from the reflection that it is so—that we have been helped by political economists, men who have devoted themselves to the 239 study of that useful and practical science, and with them I cheerfully expose myself, and not only with them, but with all the illustrious names of men now no more, and all the other illustrious men that happily still remain, and whom, for that very reason, I have forborne to mention, to the charge of being a speculator, and a visionary, and a theorist. I will not deny, however, that if I had perceived in these highly-gifted persons, the tendency, sometimes abused in men of science, to ground their opinions on mere reasoning, uncorrected by experience, and to frame systems with a view to fair symmetry, rather than to the facts now before us, I should then have exercised my judgment and said, "Those proposals, how daintily and ingeniously soever they be prepared, I reject." My Lords, we have picked our way slowly and carefully through facts and documents; we have rejected somewhere about one-half of the suggestions that have been made, a portion of that half being precisely the part most important in the eyes of the men from whom they proceeded: we thought that, in a practical point of view, it was better to postpone them at all events for the present: but I beg leave distinctly to state, that hereafter, when time shall have been allowed for inquiry and consideration, and when this measure shall have paved the way for the reception of ulterior projects, they will, should experience warrant their adoption, receive my assent. Let us next consider for one moment what is likely to he the best way of reforming the administration of the Poor-laws, by retracing the steps that have led us to the present state of things. I think I may lay it down as clearly following from what I have stated, that there is one main point, the necessity of arriving at which cannot be denied—I mean securing such a degree of unity of action in the authorities invested with the parochial superintendence, as can be obtained only by the establishment of one central power. In the second place, I think it follows, that the persons in whom this control shall be vested, must be armed with very ample discretionary power. Next, it seems clear that these ought not to be political persons, if I may so speak,—that they should be members of neither House of Parliament,—men belonging to no party,—men unconnected (politically speaking) with the administration of public affairs, and unmixed with 240 the contests of the State. If I should be consulted in the choice of the individuals, I will only say,—"Show me a person (and I think I know that person) whose opinions on party matters differ most widely from my own, and if he be a man of firm mind, of extensive experience as to the working of the Poor-laws, of conciliatory manners, of sound discretion,—if he be a man whom I can trust for his temper (one of the prime requisites in such a work), and that man I prefer before any of those with whom I most agree in politics; nay more, if I saw two persons sufficiently gifted, but of opposite political opinions, I would name one of each party, in order the better to gain the confidence of the public,—to show the country that, in the appointments, there is no favour, —that, in the selection, the only consideration has been qualifications and deserts. I have said that extensive and effective reform in the administration of these laws can only be accomplished by intrusting large discretionary powers to the Commissioners. Of this no doubt can exist; and a very slight attention to the subject will convince you of it. The bad practices have taken such root, and spread so widely, that a strong hand alone can extirpate them. But it must be not only strong—it must be ever ready; in other words, all must be left to the discretion of the men intrusted; for if each time a step should be taken, either going too far, or going in the wrong direction, or stopping short of the proper point and not going far enough, you have to wait until Parliament is assembled, and a Bill brought in to change the plan, and a new Act passed, it is needless to remind you, that for months the whole of the machinery must stand still. As any individual, on such a subject, will be exposed to err, so may Parliament, in any measure of detail it can frame—ay, and fall into serious errors too. Good God! who shall say, that the wisdom of all the lawgivers in the world may not lead them into error, upon matters, which for nearly three centuries have baffled the wisest of men in every nation? You have delegated to the Judges powers of altering from day to day the rules of pleading and of practice, merely because you distrusted your own foresight, and did not arrogate to yourselves the power of being beforehand as wise as experience could make you. Again, one part of the country may require 241 one mode of freatment; another may require the application of different remedies; agricultural districts will stand in need of a very different treatment from that which must be employed with commercial and manufacturing places—nay, the circumstances of one agricultural parish may be so entirely different from those of another, even of one in its immediate vicinity, as to render the same course of management inapplicable to both. The point we are desirous of reaching, it is true, is one and the same for all; the state of things we would bring all back to is the same; but the road to be taken towards this point is necessarily different in different places; for each may have deviated from the right path by a different route, and by a different route must be brought back. One uniform, inflexible rule, prescribed by a statute, can therefore never be applied to these various cases; and hence the operation must be performed by a discretionary power lodged somewhere, that the hand which works may feel its way, and vary its course according to the facilities or obstruction it may encounter; nay, an arbitrary discretion—to use a word which has been employed, invidiously, towards the measure—and arbitrary, to a certain extent, it must be: because it must be both ample and unconfined, in order that the rules for its exercise may riot paralyze its movements. My Lords, I am perfectly aware that such powers as these may be designated as unconstitutional. I am aware that at any rate they are in one sense novel, to a certain extent; but their being wholly novel, and altogether without precedent, I utterly deny. They are novel, as vested in one Board, but they are far from being novel in themselves. I could take the first fifty local Poor-acts to be found in the index to the Statutes, and engage to show you, that every one of those Acts contains stronger, more drastic, more rigorous, more arbitrary, and therefore less constitutional powers, than any that will be given by this Bill to the Central Board. And by whom are the powers which these local Acts confer to be exercised, and in what circumstances, and under what superintendence and control? Those powers are given to the very men of all others the most likely to abuse them,—men self-elected, unknown, of no weight, and of narrow mind; those powers are to be exercised in a corner—in the dark—not in the face of the country— 242 with no one to watch, to revise, to control —they are to be wielded beyond the reach of the Legislature, by persons not removable by the Crown, accountable to no Secretary of State, overlooked and checked by no King in Council, as this Central Board will be—and exercised by men far too small to be perceptible by the public eye, therefore far removed from any influence of public opinion. My Lords, can you hesitate one moment, when you have conferred so much larger and more dangerous powers upon irresponsible bodies, to vest the powers of this Bill in such a Board, acting upon the responsibility of known and eminent men, and fenced round about with the triple guard of the Crown, the Parliament, and the country at large? My Lords I have now stated the principles upon which we are led to frame this great measure. I have shown from the direction the evil has taken, and the manner of its operation, how we are led to these four conclusions—the necessity of a Central Board—the necessity of its separation from the strife of political affairs— the necessity of vesting in it powers both large and discretionary—and the necessity of its exercising those powers under the inspection of the Legislature, and the control of the executive Government. These principles, deduced from the facts, and dictated by our sad experience of the necessity, form the ground-work of the system. That the control of the Crown may be more constant and effectual, the Commissioners are to be removable at pleasure; they are to report all orders to the Secretary of State; and those orders are to have no effect for forty days after this communication, during which period an Order in Council may annul them. I entreat such of your Lordships as question the safety of such ample power as the Board must have, to consider how strict a control is thus established over its proceedings; add to this the watchful superintendence of both Houses of Parliament, and then reflect upon the constant control of public opinion, and I confidently say that the requisite powers may be safely and prudently intrusted to the new Board. But still it is said, that they are unconstitutional—still it is said, that they are as novel as unwelcome to the country. My Lords, if this be a great step,—if this be an extraordinary enactment,—if this be an unheard-of measure which we are now discussing,—supposing I admit it all—I 243 ask, are not the times in which we live, in this respect, of an extraordinary aspect? Is the state of things in which we are called upon to legislate one that has often or that has ever existed before? Is not the evil we are pressed down by unheard-of? Is the existing condition of our peasantry and our landowners not a novelty and a portentous novelty,—the growth of very late times, yet daily increasing, and swelling out its hideous form? Many Bills, with more unconstitutional clauses, have I seen during the last thirty years, where Boards have been constituted of irresponsible men,—men endowed with great powers, to be exercised in the dark. But I have never yet seen times like these in which I now bring forward this Bill. We live in times, indeed, very different from those that are past, when a Report is presented to us, founded upon the concurrent testimony of Magistrates, country gentlemen, clergymen, farmers, labourers, and parish officers,—of manufacturers and tradesmen,—of men of science and men of no science at all,—of men of practical knowledge, and men of theoretical principles,—of the dwellers in towns, and the inhabitants of the country,—of those who have been constantly in vestries,—of those who have been all their lives occupied in the administration of the Poor-laws, as Magistrates, as barristers, or as Judges. Talk of unheard-of measures, and of unprecedented discretionary powers, in a case like this, when you have all this hitherto unheard-of — this altogether unprecedented, consentaneous, and uncontradicted testimony, borne by every different kind of witnesses in every class and walk of life, and sanctioned by every variety of talent and argument that can be found in all kinds of minds corroborated by all those whose weight of judgment makes them the best authorities upon the principles, and whose experience makes them the most competent witnesses of the facts! I say, my Lords, you not only may, but you must listen to these recommendations, when you have the best judges in the matters of opinion —and the best witnesses to the matter of fact—all in one voice representing to you a state of things, which has made industry and idleness, honesty and knavery, change places; and which exposes the property of the community, and with its property every law—every institution— 244 every valuable possession—every precious right—to the ravages of that remorseless pestilence, before whose strides you, the guardians of the social happiness of those who live under your protection, have beheld the peasantry of England abased to a pitch which I am at once afflicted and ashamed to contemplate—which I shudder to describe—and which I could not bear to think of, did I not know that the same hand which lays it bare to your eyes, and makes its naked deformity horrible in your sight, will be enabled, by your assistance, to apply to the foul disease a safe, an effectual remedy; restoring to industry its due reward, and visiting idleness with its appropriate punishment; reinstating property in security, and lifting up once more—God be praised!—the character of that noble English peasantry to the proud eminence, where, but for the Poor-laws, it would still have shone untarnished,—the admiration of mankind, and the glory of the country which boasts it as its brightest ornament! My Lords, there are other alterations of the system, —many and important alterations—introduced by this Bill; but exhausted as your patience must be, and fatigued as I am myself, I shall not think of entering into them, except generally and briefly. Out of the Poor-law of Queen Elizabeth,—which gave every man a title to claim relief from some parish or other,—arose the Law of Settlement. My earliest hope is, that by the alteration which this Bill will produce in the state of the country, we shall find that, in another half century,—or it may be at a much earlier period,—the country will be in such a state as to enable us to make still further improvements than those which are now contemplated in the case of settlement. This applies particularly to one branch of the subject, — namely, birth-settlement, — a point which the Bill avoids and makes no change in. My Lords, I own that I could have wished to make some alteration in this respect; but I have great hopes that the improved administration of those laws will enable us to introduce some Amendments with regard to it. I know that, if they were propounded at present, it would he said to be taking a step of too extensive a nature without due reflection and preparation. The proposition of making the place of birth the place of settlement, has been considered and rejected by the House of Com- 245 mons after full examination. I own that I am disposed to think that birth-settlement would be a great improvement, or rather a settlement by residence, which is in all respects better. Still I am aware that objections may be urged against both, and more especially a settlement by birth alone; but I shall be perfectly willing to discuss it in Committee, although for the reasons I have already stated, I do not think it would be desirable to make the alteration at the present time. One great defect of the existing law upon this subject—that of derivative settlement by parentage—is, that a man may become chargeable himself, and may make others chargeable, upon a parish which has no control whatever over his proceedings. Thus stands the case:—suppose I am a Westmoreland pauper—as I certainly very soon may be if the present system continues—then suppose I go and live in Northamptonshire, but that I do not gain a settlement there,—suppose I make an improvident marriage, and have as many children, as, in the course of nature, would fall to the lot of a man at any time of life; I have, it may be, ten or twelve children, that is supposing I were eighteen. Well, suppose—as is very often the case in such instances—that the wife had peculiar claims upon me before marriage, I might be compelled by the overseers to contract a marriage with her. This, be it recollected, is in Northamptonshire. Now those churchwardens in Northamptonshire who can procure and almost compel the marriage, and those landlords in Northamptonshire who refuse to let me a 10l. tenement, and those farmers in Northamptonshire who refuse me a hiring by the year, but allow me to have a family in one of their smallest cottages, have the power to suffer or to forbid me gaining a settlement, but have no interest in my not gaining one among them; indeed, they have rather a direct interest the other way,—they have a direct inducement to increase the number of paupers, who are to burthen the rates of the Westmoreland parish, while the Westmoreland parish, which has the interest in preventing my having a family in a Northamptonshire cottage, has no power whatever to impede that event, If, on the contrary, the place of settlement were the place of birth, all this contradiction and anomaly would cease; for if my children gained a settlement in Northamptonshire as soon as they 246 were born, the overseers would not be so very anxious for my contracting a marriage, nor would the landlords have such an interest in letting me have a cottage. By the present law, however, these inducements to commit what is a great injustice certainly exist. But let us next consider the settlement by hiring and service, which is struck out by the Bill. I think this settlement is almost universally exploded, whether by theorists or by practical men, and it is denounced in this measure as utterly bad, and tending directly against every principle which it would be most desirable to establish for our guide. One of the first consequences of the law which gives every person a settlement in the parish in which he is hired and serves by the year, is a perpetual attempt to evade the law, which, from its tendency to weaken the general respect that ought to be felt for any legislative enactment, is in itself an evil of no small magnitude; for no lawgiver should wish to put his subjects in a constant attempt to evade any of his commands. The Statute of Elizabeth gives a settlement to every one who is hired and serves by the year; but it gives no settlement to one who is hired for 360 days instead of 365. This is a gross evasion of the Act, and yet it is one which takes place from one end of the year to the other, from one end of the island to the other. What is the consequence of the evasion? That great chicanery and much trickery exist. The next consequence is, that hostility and distrust arise between master and man, the man attempting to gain a settlement, the master endeavouring to fend him off; and thus it happens that they are no longer on the friendly footing, in the confidential and kindly habits on which master and man ought to be placed, and on which they stood previous to the years 1794 and 1795. This evasion of the Law of Settlement began to be generally practised, I think, at the commencement of the French war, and it gradually led to the discontinuance of that laudable custom of boarding farm servants in the House—a custom which was attended with the very best results, both to the moral character of the labourers, and to the comforts of the whole farm. They were on the kindest terms wit h the master; they formed part of the same family; the master was more like the head of a patriarchal family, and the labourers were like his children; they were 247 treated as such; they dined at the same table, and slept under the same roof; and they worked together in the same field. I have frequently seen them in these habits; I have partaken of their fare, and better no one could desire to have set before him, whose appetites were unpampered and unvitiated. The whole household lived more comfortably, because better cheer could be afforded where so many were entertained together. There was a certain degree of domestic control; there was the parental superintendence exercised by the master over the men, and there was the moral sanction of the matron of the family over her maids. The master was the friend and counsellor of the men; the dame of the women. If one of either sex was about to contract an improvident marriage, their advice would be interposed. Although they never heard of the prudential check, nor knew anything of political economists even by name, yet, as the doctrines of those philosophers are only the dictates of prudence and common honesty, the farmer and his good wife would set before the young folks, the imprudence and the dishonesty of a man contracting a marriage before he could maintain a wife and children; she would tell him that which Mr. Malthus is so much abused for saying at all, "Who would ever buy more horses than he can afford to pay for, or afford to keep? Then why should you marry when you have scarcely the means of supporting yourself, for the mere purpose of bringing into the world a number of miserable wretches for whom you have no bread?" I will ventute to say, that in those happier times, bastardy was not one-twentieth part so common as it is now. Of late years, all this has been sadly changed; farm servants are hired for eleven months and a-half; they are then turned out of the house lest they should obtain a settlement, and the consequence is, that they spend half the time before they are hired again at the ale-house, to which they never thought of going before, except on a merry-making day, once in several months. The consequence of this has been, that the habits of the servants have become more dissolute from constant change of place, and that an unfortunate stimulus has been given to the progress of population by the labourers living in cottages. The effect of this interval of a fortnight or three weeks, during which the servants 248 are necessarily out of all places, and running about to fairs and markets, has been fatal to their habits and their morals. I can state this, my Lords, from my own experience and observation; I have also heard from others numerous instances in which men have become idle and dissolute by being turned out in this way. But if the system is bad for the men, it is a great deal worse for the female servants; for what is to become of a poor girl with a father and mother fifty miles off, who has nothing to do, and no where to go to, but to run about from one market to another? My Lords, it is quite in vain to doubt, that, during that fortnight, she has every chance of losing that character, and of becoming a very different person from what she was before. For these reasons it is, that I exceedingly rejoice in the provision of the Bill which abolishes this settlement by hiring altogether. The abolition of the settlement by apprenticeship is also a salutary provision, but it is not so important as getting rid of the settlement by hiring. It is an improvement certainly, because the present law gives rise to much litigation; but I do not set any great store by it. All the other modes of acquiring a settlement remain as they are, with the exception of that arising from the hiring of a 10l. tenement, upon which an additional check is imposed, by requiring the payment of taxes during a year. Such, my Lords, are the changes which have been made in the Law of Settlement, and which, for the reasons I have shortly stated, appear to be well recommended. The only remaining part of the subject, to which I have to call your Lordships' attention, is the change which has been made in the Bastardy-laws. I confess that I think this a hold measure; but, at the same time, I consider it a great and unquestionable improvement. The law, as it now stands, throws it upon the man to avoid the offence, and not upon the woman; it leaves the woman with little or no inducement (so far as law is concerned) to preserve her chastity, and it relies wholly on the effect of burthens cast on the men, as if it looked to them alone for avoiding the offence. I must, however, go a step further. I am afraid that the present law raises up a motive in the breast of the woman rather to yield than to resist. I much fear, it co-operates with the frailty of the sex; I fear that the seducer of the woman—the man who is laying 249 siege to her virtue—who has always one ally in the garrison ready to beat a parley —her own passions—finds another ally provided for him by the law, and ready to counsel a surrender—that ally is—not her passions, but her reason—her calculation of interest. From the provisions of the law comes the suggestion—"The law is in my favour; if the worst comes to the worst, I can make him marry me —I will hold that over his head—I am doing that which I know to be wrong in itself, but I am doing that which I do not think will be wrong if marriage follows." Thus thoughts are engendered in the breast, still more dangerous to female virtue than all that the passions can excite, and all that speculations of interest can add to the force of the passions. At the critical moment, when those passions are strong, and themselves ready to overpower the judgment, the law first brings over the reason itself to their side, making it her interest to yield, and then furnishes a soporific to lull the conscience, by engendering a mistaken feeling of perverted morality, and enabling her to look forward to the period when marriage shall cover her fault. She pursues her calculations—she gratifies her passions—she is induced by false notions of virtue and honour to hear the voice of her seducer. No wonder that the citadel is surrendered. This, my Lords, is the operation of the present Bastardy-laws. I will describe this conflict of passion and calculation, and interest and honour, against female virtue, no further. It is, indeed, unnecessary to dwell longer upon the subject, when I remind your Lordships, that the change now propounded is formed on precisely the same principles on which you legislate every day for the upper classes of society, in the cases of conjugal infidelity that come before you. How often have we heard it argued, that the husband and the wife should he put upon a par—that the wife should have the same right to divorce the husband, as the husband now has to divorce the wife—and that the Scottish and the Civil-law should be introduced into this country for the better protection of female happiness and female honour! "No," your Lordships have always answered; and I have always answered with you, "No; we will trust the keeping of a woman's virtue to herself; to her we will apply the threats which may deter from crime; to her apply the 250 dissuasives which may prevent her guilt. If she is afraid to yield, if you make it her interest not to yield, the seducer may beat at the door in vain: his object will be frustrated; yours, and what should be hers, will be gained." Let this principle be applied to the Law of Bastardy—let the woman be deprived of the advantage which she possesses at present—let the disadvantage be placed on her side—let the man have less chance of seducing her from the paths of virtue—let her be deprived of an interest in her own undoing, and a palliative to her feelings if undone —and you will effect a great, and a most desirable improvement in the morals and the happiness of the poor. But, my Lords, I have now gone through all the points of this great and important measure, which appeared to me to call for explanation. I have detained you, I am afraid, at much too great length, certainly at much greater length than I intended when I rose to speak. I can safely say, in conclusion, that if I have intruded unreasonably on your time, it has not been occasioned by the attractions which any part of this painful and thorny subject presents: it has not been from any delight I have felt in the contemplation of scenes creditable to no party, neither to our ancestors who made the laws, nor to their sons who executed them, nor to succeeding generations of lawgivers, who have, instead of attempting to improve them, done all they could to make bad worse. It has been owing to no gratification which I have experienced in dwelling upon events, and in looking on scenes revolting to me as an Englishman and a man. It has been from a conscientious sense of public duty that I have unfolded to you a picture as dark and repulsive, as it is but too faithfully pourtrayed. This sense of duty alone has subdued those feelings which originally alienated me from the task, and made me feel more relieved than I ever felt before in my life, when my noble friend, lately at the head of his Majesty's Government, declared his intention of bringing this important and difficult subject before you. My Lords, I have borne a part in this great question since I first entered the other House of Parliament —having, in the years 1817 and 1818 especially, originated what measures I could towards the reformation of the Poorlaws—having, in 1831, the instant I became a member of the present Adminis- 251 tration, turned my mind to this great question, from which I was diverted only by a measure of overwhelming interest, and absorbing all other considerations—I mean the Reform Bill. In 1832, the Commission issued under the Great Seal, which, of course, prevented my continuing my efforts until its Reports had been received, and which necessarily rendered it impossible to bring the question under the view of Parliament at any earlier period. My Lords, these are the circumstances which have connected me with this mighty question; and prescribed to me the duty of rendering my feeble assistance towards bringing it before your Lordships. My mind acquits me, I can assure you, of any sinister motive in taking the part I am now taking: it acquits me, above all, of any desire to court, either for me, or for mine, or for those with whom I am nearly and dearly connected in office, any portion of popular feeling. My Lords, it is consolatory to reflect that we have no obloquy to apprehend from any considerable portion of the community. We have only to incur the hazard of misconception in some quarters, of misrepresentation in others, of false direction of right feelings, and of exaggerated views of things little understood, or it may be of malignity worse than ignorance. My Lords, we have set before ourselves no possibility of any advantage as a Government, or as a party, except the inestimable satisfaction of coming before our country, and challenging from all parties in the State that respect which is due to Ministers who manfully take their own course, who look neither to the right hand, neither to the left; who discharge what they feel to be their duty, regardless alike of whom they may irritate or whom they may alarm; and who hold up in their hands the result of their best efforts to serve the community, that has hitherto cordially and affectionately, and I may almost say unanimously, placed implicit confidence in them: resolved at all hazards to show this great and honest people, that at all times, and on all subjects, they will consult only its best interests and its real welfare, hoping for no other reward than an approving conscience, and the judicious verdict of the enlightened, the rational, and the honest part of mankind. I move your Lordships, that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Lord Wynford
said, that if the Bill were 252 calculated to produce to the country all the good which the noble and learned Lord who introduced it that night to the consideration of their Lordships had described as likely to result from it, that good would in no way be diminished by postponing the consideration of the Bill until the next Session. The House of Commons had taken two months to consider this Bill, and it was asking rather too much that at this late period of the Session it should be hurried through their Lordships' House without that due consideration which so important a measure demanded. If evils had arisen from the present state of the Poor-laws, or the mal-administration of them, as the noble and learned Lord had stated, those evils were not likely to be remedied by the hasty adoption of the present Bill. Indeed, he considered it impossible that this Bill could now be passed, and their Lordships pay to it that attention which its importance required. No possible disadvantage could arise from postponing it to the next Session, because it would even then take effect, if early passed into a law, as soon as it was intended it should, if passed this Session. There could, therefore, be no object in thus hurrying it through their Lordships' House. What would the country think and say of the attention and consideration that their Lordships gave to momentous subjects of legislation, when it was seen that the House of Commons took two months to consider this Bill, and the House of Lords disposed of it without the possibility of considering it at all with the necessary attention? Were their Lordships to take this Bill solely on the credit of the House of Commons? They must do so, if they adopted it in this hasty manner, for it was impossible they could have time to give it proper attention. The noble and learned Lord bad assumed, that all the evils he had described, which the agricultural and other interests of the country laboured under, proceeded from the Poor-laws, and the mode of administering them. "Bad laws worse administered" was, he believed, the expression of his noble friend; and thus was disposed of what for ages had been considered as the honour of the country. His noble friend's assertion, however, was founded on a very narrow view of the question. A large number of the witnesses who had been examined on the subject had assigned other causes for the evils that had been described. Many 253 said, that the Poor-laws bad very little to do with those evils. There were many circumstances besides the Poor-laws which led to that state of the country which the noble and learned Lord had so eloquently described. The alteration in the currency, the operation of the Corn-laws, and, what was still more, the threats that were so continually held out of alteration in those laws, which prevented farmers from embarking capital to an extent that they otherwise would, had contributed to impoverish the landowners, and deprive the labourers of employment. With respect to the effect of the Poor-laws on the comforts of the labourer, if the evidence taken before the Commissioners were properly attended to, it would be seen that the poor were better off now than they had been for some years; and as to there being large numbers out of employment, he would ask was there anything in this Bill that was in the least degree calculated to give them employment, or that had in view any such object? If there existed that state of vicious idleness throughout the labouring classes which the noble and learned Lord had described, this did not proceed from the operation of the Poor laws, but from the distress of the farmers, who were not able to pay and employ labourers as they did in former and better times. He had great respect for many of the persons of whom the noble and learned Lord had spoken as political economists, and he would not go the length of saying that this science, as it was called, of political economy had produced the evils complained of; but he was of opinion, that it had something to do with those evils. On reading the Report of the Poor-law Commission, there would be found sufficient to account satisfactorily for the ills by which the agricultural interests of the country were beset, without referring them to the operation of the Poor-laws. It was there clearly shown, that the land itself did not now produce by one-fourth as much as it did some years ago, and this fact must necessarily reduce in proportion the demand for labour. His wonder was, under all circumstances, that the poor were so well off as they appeared to be, and to make them so the Magistrates throughout the country must have performed their dudes well. In his mind, it was quite idle to say, that the Poor-laws had produced the state of things so much complained of, He be- 254 lieved the Poor-laws had little to do with the matter. The noble and learned Lord had charged the increase of the population and the consequent reduction of the price of labour on the Poor-laws; but how could he sustain this position? Look at Ireland. There were no Poor-laws in that country; and would any man say, that there was not a vast increase of the population there? The population of that country were in such a wretched and abject state of misery that it would be utterly hopeless to attempt to amend the state of the labouring population in this country until something was done to keep the Irish labourers at home, and prevent them coming over here to overstock the labour market, and while they were in their present condition, nothing but a wall of brass would keep them out. It was well known, that the Irish labourers had already driven our own labourers from the towns, for here almost all the work was done by Irish labourers. Was the present Bill, he would ask, calculated to remedy this evil? Was it calculated to give employment to the unemployed? And if it was not, it was only practising a delusion to send it forth as a measure calculated to afford relief to the labouring classes. Then, as to the "allowance" system, would that be checked by this measure? He was sure it would not, and be did not think that the framers of the Bill themselves believed that it would, or if they did, what did they mean by the 49th clause, which gave to the Commissioners a discretionary power of granting allowances in certain cases? He did not approve giving to the Central Board the powers that were now vested in the Magistrates, and which it was well known these Magistrates exercised with a most beneficial effect for the comforts of the poor. The fact was, that wages were too low in this country, and that evil the Bill would not remedy. Suppose wages were to continue at the present low rate,—namely, 8s. a-week, how could a man with a wife and a parcel of children support himself on such a sum, without some aid from the parish funds, which the Magistrates always judiciously afforded? Why, the rent of his cottage alone would require almost his weekly wages, and the law of nature would always supersede the law of the land. Some support must always be given to the distressed labourer front the parish funds, when his own labour would not enable him to sustain 255 himself. The noble and learned Lord had spoken of Mr. Pitt, and his views of the Poor-law system. The Bill which Mr. Pitt had introduced on the subject was a much better Bill than this. He knew that Bill, and he knew, though in some measure defective, that it was infinitely superior to the present Bill. Mr. Pitt's Bill went to provide, that certain allowances should be made to those of the labouring classes, even while in employment, whose wages were not sufficient for the support of their families, and these allowances were to be in proportion to the number of children that the person requiring relief might have. This was the proper principle on which to afford relief to have it directly sanctioned and apportioned by the law. The benefits arising from large families, Mr. Pitt looked upon as advantageous to the interests of the country; but it had happened since Mr. Pitt's time, that this benefit had been showered upon us, and the difficulty now was, how to dispose of them. It was clear, that if the farmers could not pay their labourers sufficient wages to support them, as a matter of necessity the labourers must derive support from the rates. The noble and learned Lord had admitted that the Magistrates throughout the country had done their duty generally. He (Lord Wynford) did not want the authority of the noble and learned Lord to satisfy him, that the Magistrates had done their duty. He had had good opportunity of knowing, that they had always done their duty. He would not say, that there might not be some particular instances of misconduct on the part of Magistrates when they had perhaps gone beyond the law; but he was sure those instances were very rare. The complaint made against Magistrates was, that they were too lavish in giving the money out of their own pockets to relieve the poor; that in fact, they were too liberal of what they themselves had to pay their share of. Now, if indeed they had been too niggardly towards the poor, there might be just grounds for complaint; but this was not the case. In the poorer districts of the country where employment could not be had, there must always be a large portion of the labourers out of employ, and the wages much reduced. In this case what was to become of those poor people if the Magistrates did not act upon that liberal feeling by which they were always influenced? Much 256 had been said in condemnation of the existing Poor-laws. Now, he had never heard any fault found with any part of those laws, except the Statute of Charles 2nd. This had been complained of by Adam Smith; but he had never heard any complaint made against the 43rd of Elizabeth, for this Statute went to establish the best principle upon which Poor-laws could be founded—namely, that they should go to relieve the aged and infirm, and those who, having contributed by their labour to the wealth of the country, were no longer able to earn a support for themselves. This was the genuine principle of charity and mercy, on which all such laws should rest. He hoped this country would never exist without a system of Poor-laws like this, but care should always be taken that those laws should not be abused. In this land of liberty, a man had a right to the means of support by his own labour, and it would no longer deserve the name of a land of freedom, if any part of its labouring population were denied the means of proper support. But, even supposing, that individual Magistrates had sometimes done wrong, did that fact render all this complicated machinery necessary? He thought not, and, what was more, he fully believed, that the Commissioners had been imposed upon in the information that was furnished them. He was persuaded that few, if any, cases of misconduct on the part of the Magistrates, could be adduced; but, even admitting that such cases could be found, might not such abuses be easily remedied without resorting to a measure of this description? Suppose, for instance, they were to say, that the poor man should only be entitled to parochial relief when he became impotent from age or other circumstances, and that the able-bodied man should labour, if work could be provided for him, would they not by such means remedy the defects in the present system? He was quite sure, that if no item were allowed in an overseer's account, without the sanction of the Petty Sessions, much that was objectionable in the present mode of disbursing the parish funds would be removed; and, if so, they would have acted more wisely in rendering the laws applicable to the purposes for which they were intended by such means than by adopting an experiment that was as novel as it was fraught with danger in the working. The next principle of the Bill to which he would al- 257 lude was, that which went to alter the law relating to settlement. He had always objected to the Act of Charles 2nd, and wished that the Law of Settlement could be got rid of, for it was his opinion, that the parish in which a man broke down was that which ought to bear the burthen of his support. This would set labour free, and enable the labourer to travel about in quest of employment, which would be a manifest advantage to all parties. The facilities of gaining a settlement were now, however, to be diminished; but, although that was the case, the evils of which the political economists complained were left wholly untouched by this Bill. In his opinion, taking away the right of settlement by apprenticeship would be not only unjust and impolitic, but cruel and unwise. This question was fully discussed about two years ago, when the Mariners' Apprentice Bill came under their lordships' consideration. He opposed that Bill by the same argument that be employed on the present occasion. After a boy had served his apprenticeship in a particular town, and lived there until old age had come upon him, would it not be a great hardship to leave him, and, perhaps, his wife and children, liable to be sent to a parish 100 or 200 miles distant, which had never derived the least benefit from his industry, and where, in all human probability, he would not only be unknown, but without a single friend to look after his interests? To him, therefore, it appeared, that this alteration in the law was most unjust as regarded parishes, and cruel in the extreme as respected individuals. But it was said, that it would prevent litigation. Now, instead of having any such effect, he believed, that the contrary would be the result, and that litigation, instead of being diminished, would be considerably increased by it. There was a point connected with this measure which the noble and learned Lord had passed over without observation, and that was, the provision that was made in it for lending small sums of money to the industrious poor. He must say, that he approved of this part of the Bill, as he knew from observation and experience, that such loans had been productive of very great advantage to the poor. He also approved of attaching the repayment of such loans on the goods of paupers, because it would prevent that improvidence which but too frequently marked their 258 conduct, at the same time that it would enable deserving families to get forward in the world by means of honest industry. For these reasons it was, that he approved of this portion of the measure. With respect to the bastardy clauses, he was glad, that the framers of the Bill had not attended to the recommendation of the Commissioners. One of the grounds of that recommendation was, that the throwing the burthen on the woman exclusively would diminish the number of bastard children; but supposing that it would diminish them nine-tenths, he would prefer the law to remain as it now stood rather than that a different system, such as that in the Bill, should tempt the guilty parent to raise her hand against her own offspring. He had seen statements of cases in the Reports of the Commissioners where women considered it a little fortune to have three or four illegitimate children, from the allowances for whose support they obtained a maintenance. He must believe that in such accounts the Commissioners were imposed upon; but supposing, that the accounts were as it was stated, the 43rd of Elizabeth was sufficient to correct the evil, if that Act were duly enforced; for by that Act the allowance was not directed to be given to the mother, but was to go to the parish, to be applied to the support of the child as might be thought proper; so that, in fact, no encouragement was held out by that Act to the mother to increase the number of her illegitimate children, if the law were duly administered. He was inclined to think, that the greatest inducement held out to the woman on such occasions was, not the hope of the allowance which she might receive, but the promise or prospect of marriage: but these were left untouched by the Bill, and would have their full force under its operation, as much as they had at the present moment. He would contend that the enactments against bastardy as they now stood would be found as fully sufficient as, and more sufficient than, those of the Bill before their Lordships. Wherever the Poor-laws had been strictly administered in accordance with the directions in the Statute, they had been found to work well, and therefore he had a right to contend that, instead of adopting an entirely new measure like that now proposed, the better course would have been to restore the old system to what it 259 originally was, by expunging from it the abuses which had crept into it from time to time. He had now touched upon the leading features of the Bill, and he would only trouble their Lordships with a very few observations on what was likely to be its practical effects. He must confess, that it filled him with a species of horror that the people of this country should ever think of reposing such novel, he might say such extraordinary, powers in the hands of three, or rather of twelve, Commissioners. But what was the excuse that was made for this departure from every thing like precedent or principle? It was said, indeed, that the Constitution of a Central Board would enable them to adopt one uniform system throughout the country. But he denied that any thing like an uniform system could either be established or would be durable even if it could. What knowledge could the Central Board possess respecting the circumstances of each parish or district in the kingdom, and the distinct mode of Government necessary to be adopted in each? And unless they possessed such information, how could they possibly frame any uniform system? But it was his opinion that not only could no uniform system be adopted, but that this Central Board would do no good, and for the reason that they would not be acquainted with that species of knowledge which was absolutely essential to the due and impartial administration of the Poor-laws. It should be recollected, that there were 12,000 parishes in England, and that an accurate acquaintance with the local and peculiar circumstances of each of them was necessary to their good government. It was, therefore, perfectly ridiculous to talk about their Central Board, for it must be impotent, if not actually mischievous. What control could it possess over parishes placed at a remote distance from it, or how could it remedy the abuses which might exist in such places? The thing was absurd. Even after they had called their Central Board into existence, how were the poor to be managed? Was it not plain, that they must be governed by the same persons by whom they were managed at present, and, if so, was it likely that either select vestries or guardians of the poor would suffer themselves to be controlled in the relief which they thought fit to give to the pauper by this Central Board? But he looked at this 260 power in another point of view. Every man's property would, in point of fact, become subject to it, and so wholly without control would it be, that not only could the Commissioners rate parishes just as they pleased, but unite them, or dissolve Unions which had been made, at their mere will and pleasure. Much injustice might be worked by means of those Unions. If a rural parish, were joined to a town parish the workhouse being in the latter, the pauper would necessarily have to go there. Thus injustice would be done to the pauper by sending him from the country into the town, and immorality would be disseminated to an incalculable extent. But if Unions had been attended with any commensurate advantage was it to be supposed that they would not have been effected under the existing law. The fact, however, was, that they had been tried and found inexpedient, and therefore they had been abandoned. But this was not all. The Commissioners were to employ such officers as they deemed proper, and of course to pay them. They were also to be at liberty to subpœna such witnesses as they pleased, and at their mere whim or fancy starve or feed the paupers; that was, they would have the power of taking as much money as they thought proper out of the pockets of the rate-payers, or letting it alone. Never was there an instance in either ancient or modern times when such a power as this was given to any set of men. Blackstone himself contemplated with horror the power that was given to the King under the Mutiny Act. He thought it was unconstitutional that his Majesty should have the power of making laws, deciding upon laws, and rescinding laws; and yet the power which Blackstone thought unfit to he placed in the hands even of the King was to be given to these Commissioners. They were even to have the power of delegating that power, and the only restraint to which they or those delegated by them, would be subject would be in making general regulations. Their general regulations would have to be submitted to the Secretary of State; but no control whatever was intended to be exercised over their other proceedings. He did not think that even the noble and learned Lord himself could defend delegating such enormous powers as these; but, even if he should, then he must say that he was certainly too jealous about 261 granting arbitrary power ever to permit it except in a case of absolute necessity; but no such necessity had as yet been made out. He had shown, that it would not only affect property generally, but that it would enable the Commissioners to determine whether the unfortunate pauper should eat his miserable pittance in a state of liberty or of thraldom. Whilst in the workhouse they could treat the pauper just as they pleased, and in these was to be vested the power to say: "You shall have relief or you shall not." He could not help saying, that it was utterly impossible for him to contemplate those powers without alarm. They had abolished negro slavery; but if this Bill passed, he very much feared that a short time only would elapse until they saw the condition of the poor of this country infinitely worse than that of the serfs of the continent, or the villains of former ages; worse even than that of the slaves in the West Indies to whom they had given their freedom. He had now to call the attention of their Lordships to the unconstitutional manner in which these Commissioners were to be paid. According to established precedent, the salaries of permanent Commissioners were fixed by law; but in the present instance that was not to be the case, the right of deciding upon the amount of those salaries being left dependent upon the pleasure of the King and the judgment of Parliament from year to year. But in other respects besides those he had adverted to was this Bill defective. Nothing could ever induce him to confer on any body of men a power at the same time so novel and unnecessary; and therefore, as no proof had been given that it was called for, he hoped that the noble Lords who supported it would consent to postpone it until the next Session, in order that they might obtain the advice of practical men respecting its provisions. The other important duties which the Commissioners had to discharge rendered it impossible that they could have weighed the evidence before them maturely at the time they furnished their recommendations, and therefore it was, that he wished to have the opinion of practical men before this Government scheme was carried into execution. It was highly calculated to create alarm in the breasts of t he poor when they found that the evils they had endured were attributable to the Government; and 262 on this account it would be dangerous, as, instead of attaching blame to the local authorities, they must know that the whole fault rested with the Ministers of the Crown. This would lead naturally to discontent and bad feeling towards the Government, and hence it was, that he entreated their Lordships to proceed with caution, in order that they might become thoroughly acquainted with all the bearings of the measure before they passed it into a law. With these observations he should conclude by moving, that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
The Earl of Winchilsea
said, that he should support the second reading of this Bill because lie thought that, after some Amendments had been made in it in Committee, it would effect an alteration in time Poor-laws which would be highly beneficial to the labouring classes. He viewed this measure as being second in importance to none that had ever been brought under their Lordships' consideration, and, thinking that it would be an advantage to the labouring population of the country, he willingly came forward to give it his support. The opponents of the measure, who were anxious to maintain those laws which were on all hands admitted to be defective, were bound to show how the abuses which had crept into them could be got rid of, before they called for the rejection of this Bill; and having failed to do this, he, in the absence of any such proposition, certainly found himself bound to enter upon the consideration of this measure. It was not to the law, as founded by the 43rd of Elizabeth, that he objected. That law proceeded upon the true principles of justice and charity, and it was not the provision for the relief of the aged, the infirm, the sick, the impotent, or the indigent, which was even made the subject of question. He must, however, admit, that the Magistracy of the country had been much to blame. Their conduct, to say the least of it, was most injudicious, for they had made no distinction between honest industry and indolent vice, and this it was, that had broken down the spirit of independence for which the peasantry had been distinguished. He would now refer to that part of the Bill which related to bastardy, and, so far from agreeing with the noble and learned Baron behind him (Lord Wynford) that the change would be productive of injury, he firmly believed that very great benefit 263 must result from it, and that it would go a great way to check vice and profligacy. He also thought, that destroying settlement arising from hiring, servitude, or apprenticeship would be a great improvement in the law, but he at the same time feared that it would fail unless it were followed in the next Session by the introduction of some modified system of Poor-laws into Ireland. The influx of Irish labourers into this country occasioned the distress which the English labourer endured, particularly in some of the agricultural districts; and, therefore, Unless that evil were remedied, no change that could be made would work satisfactorily. By the Bill, as it was introduced into the House, no labourer could take a settlement who did not occupy a house rated at 10l. a-year, nor could a child gain a settlement until after it was sixteen years of age. This, however, had undergone some alteration; but, for his part, he would not object to see the amount of rating raised to 16l., or even to 20l. The inclosure of commons had been a very great injury to the poor, and had deprived them of the assistance they used to derive from their cow, their sheep, and their geese. Now he entirely approved of that part of the Bill which provided for making allowances to able-bodied men, and this he thought was a complete answer to those who stated that the poor could have no relief except in the workhouses. With respect to the power to be confided in the Commissioners, he must say, that he looked upon that with some degree of jealousy. He allowed that it was both new and unconstitutional, but he felt that the situation of the country was such as to demand that some extraordinary means should be taken to bring the Poor-laws back to that wholesome state in which they were when they were looked upon by the poor man as a blessing. He fully agreed with his noble and learned friend (Lord Wynford) that it would be wholly impossible to establish one uniform system for the whole country. The attempt had been made and failed, and, in proof of this, he had only to state, that in the three counties in which he had discharged the functions of a Magistrate the Poor-laws were administered so differently in each that they could scarcely be recognised as proceeding from the same source. It was quite clear, that the same description of relief would not be neces- 264 sary in all parishes, but although it might not be possible to establish uniformity, he thought it would be very easy to go the length of giving encouragement to industry in all quarters. All the changes which had hitherto been made had failed in producing any beneficial result, and, therefore, it was, that he was prepared to support the second reading of this Bill, in the honest and conscientious hope that it would prove an advantage to the labouring poor.
§ The Earl of Eldon
was understood to say, that nothing could induce him to vote for the second reading of a Bill of such vast importance as this was that night. After the Magistracy, the Clergy, and the Gentlemen of the country had done their best to carry this Statute into effect, was it possible that they, legislating at such a season of the year, were likely to deal with a subject so complicated and difficult with that deliberation which it required? They had no right to blame parties whose conduct rather deserved to be praised; but he begged their Lordships to understand that his objection was, not that the Bill should be read a second time, but that the second reading should take place then. His sincere opinion was, that nothing but mischief could result from undue haste, and that was the ground on which he besought them to take more time and act with greater deliberation.
§ Lord Alvanley
said, that it was not his practice to obtrude himself on their Lordships' attention; but he was induced to depart from his usual habit by the important nature of the measure under discussion. He was perfectly convinced that the Poor-laws, as they stood at present, would, if properly administered, remove all the evils respecting which their Lordships had heard so much complaint, and which were, in fact, only the effect of the maladministration of those laws. He, therefore, thought that the Bill now on their Lordships' Table was unnecessary; but he particularly objected to it on the ground that it would prove destructive of that system of self-government under which this country had risen to its present state of prosperity. It was not his intention to go into the details of the measure, but should content himself with declaring, that he was decidedly opposed to its principles, and to the establishment of the Board of Commissioners. The powers which it was proposed to confer on them 265 were of the most despotic character, and far greater than any ever granted to a Board in latter times. He was confident that this Board of Commissioners would render itself odious throughout the country by its constant interference in local, nay domestic concerns, and by destroying that connexion which existed at present, to the great advantage of both, between the poor man and his rich neighbour. In support of the assertion he had made, that nothing more than an improved administration of the present Poor-law was wanted, he felt it necessary to trouble their Lordships with the statement of a few facts in reference to the condition of three parishes. The first parish to which he would direct their Lordships' attention was Bingham. This parish was in 1817 in a state of great demoralization. The poor-rates amounted to 1,206l. on a rental of 7,498l., and the number of paupers to 22l. However, by the measures adopted by the reverend Mr. Lowe, the clergyman attached to the parish, a great improvement was effected in its condition. The first thing he did was to refuse relief to persons out of the workhouse, and the consequence of obliging all labourers who sought relief to go into the workhouse was to diminish the number of the applicants. The next step which be took was one which, on the first blush, had the appearance of harshness; he compelled the occupiers of small cottages to contribute to the poor-rates, however trifling their payment might be. The effect produced by this measure he would state to their Lordships in Mr. Lowe's own words;—" Where this has been done," said the reverend gentleman, "the tenants of cottages are more clamorous against those who receive relief than the rich." The result was, that in 1832 the poor-rates were reduced from 1,206l., their amount in 1817, to 419l. In two other parishes, where similar means had been adopted, the same effect had been produced. In one, the parish of Southwell, the poor-rates in 1813 amounted to 1,381l., on a rental of 10,642l., and in 1832 they were reduced to 417l.; and in the other, Uley, the poor-rates in 1830 amounted to 3,185l., and in 1833 to only 800l. These facts afforded a sufficient proof that the present Bill was unnecessary; but he had another reason, which was paramount with him, for opposing its further progress. He could not help viewing with alarm the 266 introduction into this country of a system which, he firmly believed, would sap the foundation of the prosperity of the British empire. The system to which he alluded had no English name—it was the French system of centralization. He would ask their Lordships how it happened that this country, in spite of every disadvantage, carried on a commerce a thousandfold greater than any other nation in the world, and enjoyed unexampled wealth and prosperity? How was it that this country had been able to retain the possession of colonies larger in extent than the Roman empire, in defiance of the whole civilized world, which during the last war was opposed to her? The reason was, because the Government of this country had hitherto judiciously permitted every man in it to develope his talents in the manner he liked best. The country was intersected by canals and roads, covered with public works, and adorned by magnificent edifices. Could their Lordships believe, that this would have been the case if every man who wished to make a road, or construct a bridge, had been obliged to submit his plan to a Central Board des Pouts et Chaussées? The opinion which he entertained on this subject was confirmed by the observations of an enlightened foreigner. The Baron Dupin said, "What has the English Government done in so short a time to produce the public works which alone have occasioned the great results of which we have just given a picture? Nothing; it has allowed commerce and industry to act from themselves. It has thought that it did enough in assuring them protection in foreign countries, justice everywhere, and in the interior unbounded liberty." Thinking that these were the principles on which the Government of this country ought to be conducted, he felt bound to oppose the present Bill, because he regarded it as the first step to the introduction here of the French system of centralization.
The Earl of Radnor
concurred in the observations which had fallen from the noble Baron (Lord Alvanley) with regard to a general system of centralization; but though the noble Lord had urged the continuance of a system of self-government, he must remind him that in many parishes this power became misgovernment; and hence it was, that he supported the proposition for the establishment of a 267 Central Board for, at least, a short period. He was surprised that the noble Baron (Baron Alvanley) had not discovered that one part of his speech had answered the other. How came it that the measures which had been adopted under the system of self-government in particular places had not been adopted in the neighbouring parishes, and that they had not emulated the example (so much eulogized) which had been set them by the parish of Bingham, and other places which had been enumerated? In order to obtain an effectual union, it was absolutely necessary that there should be a head able and qualified to carry the advantages of any system generally into effect, possessing the power to do so, and uniting such industry, perseverance, and courage, as would secure the success of the scheme. He admitted, that if it could be shown that every parish in England contained a Mr. Lowe or a Mr. Litchfield, then the establishment of a Board of Commissioners was unnecessary and uncalled for, but in the absence of such proof he must contend, that the proposed plan was essential for the formation and preparation of rules and regulations that could not by any individual parish be deviated from. This proposition would not have the effect, as had been contended, of superseding the law, but would rather be calculated to give it full and complete effect; for though every noble Lord who had spoken had implied, that though the law was good, yet the Administration was bad, the noble and learned Earl opposite had complained, that the Commissioners would be mere theorists. All rule and government was based upon theory, and these Commissioners would be enabled to unite their theory with practice. He deprecated the anxiety expressed by some noble Lords, that this measure should be put off for another year, in order to afford them time to make inquiries in the country, because sufficient opportunities had already been granted, for it had been admitted, that the grievances arising out of the present system had continued increasing for the last twenty years, and yet in the face of that increase nothing had been done. He denied that the provisions of the present Bill would reduce the people of this country to a state of slavery. Much was said, it was true, of the powers given to the Commissioners; but it was forgotten that at present the most offensive powers were 268 vested, not in the hands of men of education, experience, and learning, qualified in every respect to make rules and regulations, and to lay down just and equitable principles for the government of all parishes, but in the hands of overseers and guardians of the poor whose mode of life (he spoke it not disrepectfully), whose occupations, made them incapable of framing such regulations—in the hands of men open to all sorts and descriptions of bias and partiality. All these evils the Central Board would be calculated to remove. The objection as to the powers of these Commissioners to compel the raising money, which had been raised by the noble and learned Baron opposite (Lord Wynford) in his opinion failed, for the Bill itself limited those powers to the raising only of 50l., and that was still further limited to the purposes of repairing the workhouses. On the whole, he conceived it essential that the Bill should be passed without unnecessary delay, not, however, without due deliberation, for he had witnessed the growing evils arising from the administration of the Poor-laws. He was mainly anxious for the passing of this Bill, because he was convinced, that those from whom the rates were raised required this measure of relief, which he trusted their Lordships would not refuse to afford them.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that he felt called upon shortly to state the reasons why he should give his vote in favour of the second reading of this Bill. In the first place, he must say, that if it was proper to pass the Bill, he was satisfied that there was ample time during the present Session to go through the Committee with it, and regularly through all its stages, and that it was the duty of their Lordships, without any further loss of time, to proceed with a measure which, if necessary at all, was necessary now. He should, on this ground alone, vote against the amendment for a postponement. He concurred with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, arid with the noble Lord opposite, as to the necessity of this measure. He agreed first of all in the existence of grievances consequent upon the administration of the existing Poor-laws, but he did not concur in the opinion expressed by the noble and learned Lord (the Lord Chancellor) disapproving the provisions of the Statute of Elizabeth; but he did disapprove of a 269 system of administration which differed in each and every one of the 12,000 parishes in this country, and in each of which different and varied abuses had crept in. He maintained, that it was impossible for Parliament to frame any law that could by possibility remedy or apply to the abuses which prevailed at the present moment—abuses which were as varied in their character as they were numerous. Hence it became absolutely necessary that such an appointment as a Central Board of Commissioners should be made, with powers to control the whole of the parishes in the land, and to adopt such remedies as would secure a sane administration of the Poor-laws throughout the country. The subject had been submitted to the House by several noble Lords, and had also been under the consideration of every Administration that he had known; but no plan had ever been suggested, or scheme proposed, to remove and remedy the evils of the existing laws, which in his judgment at all equalled the present, and for it he must return the noble Lords opposite, with whom it had originated, his sincere thanks. The present remedy for the evils of the existing laws was most unquestionably the best which had ever been devised; at the same time he must observe, that as the Central Board of Commissioners must necessarily have very extraordinary and full powers, it would be proper that they should keep such a record of their proceedings as would render them liable to the actual control at all times of the Government and Parliament of the country. He doubted much whether the provisions of this Bill gave such a control to the Government as would afford a full knowledge to the Parliament at all times of the course pursued by the Commissioners; but in Committee on the Bill he should consider whether some alteration was not necessary, in order to make that control more active. There were several clauses in the Bill which required much alteration and modification. He entirely approved of the removal of the allowance system, which was one of the greatest evils arising from the existing Poor-laws; but he was of opinion, that it ought to have been gradually and slowly destroyed, and without a fixed day for its termination being specified in the Bill. He would recommend that this clause should be left out, and that power should be given to the Com- 270 missioners to carry gradually such alterations in this respect into effect as to them might seem meet. With respect to the clauses of the Bill relating to the laws of settlement and bastardy, he should reserve himself until the Bill went into Committee; and he should not have troubled their Lordships with these few words, but that he was anxious to declare his sentiments upon a Bill which should have his support.
§ Lord Segrave,
in reference to what had fallen from the noble Lord on the cross-bench (Alvanley) with regard to the parish of Uley, said, that he was acquainted with the respectable Magistrate who had been referred to, and he could state, that whatever had been accomplished in that parish could not have been so from any personal or local influence of that individual, for he neither lived in the parish, nor did he act as a Magistrate in the district in which it was situated.
came down to the House much disposed to resist the Bill before their Lordships. He considered it as breaking up some of the old relations of the community, and depriving the labouring man in his distress of his old and accustomed and hereditary guardians and protectors. But, after the observations and arguments of other noble Lords of greater experience, and particularly after the luminous and powerful statement of the learned Lord on the Woolsack, detailing all the evils and abuses of the present system, he felt impelled to seek for a remedy in a change. He was also led to this conclusion, and to embrace a new arrangement, by the speech of a noble Earl (Winchilsea) which had been justly cheered by many of their Lordships, exhibiting the necessity of including Ireland under some system of relief. For noble Lords might be convinced, that unless sonic more attention were paid to the destitute condition of the Irish labourer, that the Legislature would struggle in vain to uphold the independence, or even to maintain the present comforts, of the English labourer. The new, extraordinary, and incalculable power of steam was daily triumphing more and more over time and distance, and bringing England and Ireland into closer contact. Such was the language of a very able little work written expressly and avowedly to convey correct information to the labourers of this country. He meant "the Results of Machinery." 271 Such again was the language of Parliament itself. He would, with the permission of their Lordships, quote shortly from each—the "Results, of Machinery" said, that "the whole Territory of Great Britain and Ireland, is more compact, more closely united, more accessible, than was a single county two centuries ago;" and Mr. Williams' evidence was quoted in that work, asserting that ten tons of Poultry, and that fifty tons, or 880,000 Eggs in one day were shipped from Dublin to Liverpool; and could their Lordships believe, that the wages and condition of labourers would not tend to an equilibrium, under such circumstances as these. A Parliamentary Report was still more impressive, "Your Committee," it said, "cannot too strongly impress upon the House, that between two countries so intimately connected as Great Britain and Ireland, two different rates of wages, and two different conditions of the people cannot permanently co-exist." He, therefore, would conjure their Lordships and the Government to grapple with the forlorn state, and extreme exigencies of the surplus and ejected labour of Ireland; or no Board, no contrivance, no machinery they could invent, would ever enable them to rescue the English labourers from increasing degradation and distress, exposed, as they were, to the strong and deep and irresistible current of cheap labour from Ireland.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, that after the full and able statement which had been made by his noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, in support of the Bill now before their Lordships, it was scarcely necessary he should trouble their Lordships with any observation; but such was the paramount importance of this measure, that he felt he should not discharge his duty if he allowed the Bill to pass this stage without offering a very few words upon it. The Bill was one of the greatest importance to every part of the British Empire, to England especially; to Scotland, as it was calculated to make her persevere in that system which had been established by herself; and it was also of the deepest importance to Ireland, in order to teach those who advocated the introduction of Poor-laws into that country what form should there be applied. This last subject was well known to be now under serious consideration, and he trusted it would be deliberated upon with that care, calmness, and patience which its 272 importance deserved. He could not agree with those noble Lords who wished for a postponement of the present Bill. Such a course might be well for those who were opposed to, and wished to get rid of, the measure altogether, but those who felt that it would afford a remedy for existing evils, and considering that there was now ample time for a full consideration of the subject, would concur with him in thinking that it would be the grossest absurdity, nay, almost madness and insanity, to lose the present opportunity of settling this great question. He had heard with much pleasure the speech of his noble friend on the cross benches (Lord Alvanley), and he regretted that he could not entirely concur in the sentiments which had fallen from that noble Lord. He knew the acuteness and power of mind possessed by his noble friend, and was the more surprised to find how much he had misled and deceived himself on the present occasion. So long as he had thought on the subject of the Poor-laws, nothing had struck him so forcibly as the great absurdity which arose from them, of placing so heavy an amount of taxation under uncertain temporary and local control and government. The poor-rate was the heaviest direct tax levied in the country, and was equal in amount to the Assessed-taxes and the Land-tax put together—nay exceeding both those imposts by 1,500,000l.; indeed, in some parishes the amount of poor-rates quadrupled that of the Assessed and Land taxes united. Was it then not necessary that, in a financial point of view, some regulation should be made? It was worse than the Income-tax, which had been objected to, because it was a growing tax, and thereby afforded a temptation to the Government, in time of need, to put on, year after year, a little more, until they could confiscate the whole property of the country; for the poor-rate was a growing tax—increasing every year, secretly and silently; while an Income-tax could only be increased by the consent of the Legislature openly and publicly obtained. Again, the question of the Poor-laws was still more important, because it involved the state of morals in the country. The subject was all-important, and he concurred with the noble Duke in the opinion, that the evils were only to be remedied by a Central Board, armed with powers ample and sufficient for the duties it was destined to perform. With respect 273 to the alterations which had been suggested in particular provisions of the Bill, it would be time enough for hint to enter upon them when the Bill was in Committee, for, as far as he could collect the sense of the House, it appeared to him, that their Lordships concurred in the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, and he could not but congratulate the country upon the determination to which the House was likely to come in reference to this measure.
The Marquess of Bute
was understood to support the Bill, on the ground, that he believed it to be calculated to benefit the honest and industrious classes, and to bring the gentry in nearer connexion and acquaintance with the wants of their fellow countrymen.
The Marquess of Londonderry
said, he would vote for the Amendment of his noble and learned friend (Lord Wynford.) The noble Marquess read an extract from a letter of Mr. Cartwright, one of the Magistrates of Durham, which said, that, if the Lords passed the Bill, they would ruin themselves in the estimation of the country.
§ The Duke of Cleveland
denied, that such were the opinions of the Magistracy generally in the county of Durham; at all events, he had received no intimation front them against this measure.
§ The Duke of Richmond
said, he would vote for this Bill because he was aware of the evils in his own county that had arisen from the mismanagement of the Poor-laws, and because he did not see proposed, and he could not himself propose, a better measure to meet such evils. He could not avoid, however, looking at the Bill with considerable alarm, and he thought, that some of the powers given by it were to be viewed with much jealousy and suspicion. He trusted, that regulations would be introduced to control the powers given to the Commissioners, or that, at all events, the Secretary of State for the Home Department would watch the exercise of those powers with a jealous eye. He should have the utmost confidence in his noble friend, now at the head of the Government, if he filled the office—that office, the duties of which he had so long discharged—as he knew his opinions on the subject; but without any disparagement of the noble Lord, now ap- 274 pointed to that office, he (the Duke of Richmond) felt considerable anxiety on this point. If an effort should be made to introduce the system all at once, and per force on the country, the worst effects might be produced. He trusted, that those in power, and whose duty it would be to watch over and superintend the conduct of the Commissioners, instead of consulting and acting upon the advice of any inexperienced young man, who, however well informed on other subjects, might be deficient in information as to the practical state, especially of the more remote parishes in country districts—he trusted, he said, instead of acting on such advice, the Government would take care that the system was introduced gradually, and according to the results of practical experience. He knew many parishes in the country where, if they attempted to carry the regulations of the Board into effect, a rebellion might be the consequence, or something a great deal worse than they bad in 1830. He admitted, therefore, that he looked to the Bill with considerable anxiety, and he again trusted, that the Secretary of State for the Home Department would watch with peculiar care over the conduct of the Commissioners. He voted for the measure because he found no better proposed. He should wish, however, to see a clause introduced into it, authorizing the Commissioners to give power to the rate-payers, where a majority of them decided on it, to establish a Labour-rate. In the Committee he should probably propose a clause to that effect.
The Marquess of Lansdown
merely rose to state, that nothing was further from the intention of Government, and nothing further from the object of the Bill, than to force this change upon any district of the country without full inquiry, and, in short, taking into consideration all the local circumstances connected with the place in question. With regard to the date referred to, when it was said, that this measure was to introduce a totally different system all at once, it was a great mistake to suppose, that the thing was to be done thus suddenly. What was intended by the fixing of that date was, that no change—not even in that worst abuse of the system, the allowance system —should take place until after that date. Until that allowance system was put an end to, it would be vain to attempt to raise the character of the people of Eng- 275 land, or to restore amongst them those habits of industry and virtue for which they had been formerly so remarkable. The object of the measure was, to liberate industry in every part of the country. His Majesty's Ministers would, in Committee, be ready to listen to any Amendments that were not opposed to the great principle of the measure.
The Lord Chancellor
replied.—In consequence of what had fallen from his noble friend (the Duke of Richmond) and some other noble Lords, he had been thinking, whether means might not be devised for increasing the responsibility of the Commissioners (a very desirable thing he was ready to admit), and he should probably suggest, in Committee, a clause founded on the principle of the clause inserted in the East-India Bill of last Session, requiring the Commissioners to keep a minute of all their proceedings, of all their discussions, of all their differences, &c., to be open at all times for the inspection of the Government, so that the Government would, in such case, have full means of seeing how matters were managed, and what were all the circumstances connected with it. With regard to this measure, he would say, that the experience of two centuries and a-half showed that they could not do without such a Bill. As to centralization, and the effect which was attributed to such a system, interfering with every man's business, the Poor-law system, especially as it had existed for the last thirty-five years, had, in a thousand times worse degree than any system of centralization, interfered with the business and pursuits of every man. The Poor-laws centralized the mischief and localized it also, so as to make it ten-thousand times worse than it ever would be under any system of centralization. He looked forward with the greatest confidence to the happiest results from this measure.
§ The House divided upon the original Motion: Contents 76; Not-Contents 13 —Majority 63.
§ Bill read a second time.
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS.|
|Abingdon, Lord||Kenyon, Lord|
|Alvanley, Lord||Londonderry, Marg. of|
|Beaufort, Duke of||Newcastle, Duke of|
|Boston, Lord||Redesdale, Lord|
|Colchester, Lord||Rolle, Lord|
|Combermere, Lord||Wynford, Lord|
|Cumberland, Duke of|