The Lord Chancellor
in presenting a petition from owners and occupiers of land in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and its neighbourhood, in favour of the Poor-laws' Amendment Bill, said, he could not lay that petition on the Table without taking that opportunity of referring to some very great, some very gross (he would not use a stronger expression), some almost astounding misrepresentations which had gone forth with respect to the address delivered by him to their Lordships on the second reading of that Bill. That such misrepresentations should be made the ground of invective, mixed with a great deal of ribaldry (which he did not in the least regard), he did not at all wonder at; because when men entertained different opinions, and when in consequence they engaged in controversy, it was said to be incidental to such a situation, that individuals thus employed were likely to take the matter up with 436 very great warmth, especially if those who adopted the adverse principle succeeded, or were likely to succeed, in carrying the measure which their adversaries opposed. Therefore, he claimed nothing for himself with reference to the manner in which the question had been treated. Be that manner serious, or be it not serious, he was ready to pass it by; he was perfectly ready to allow loose statements, he could not call them arguments, to pass unnoticed. He did not, however, think it right that he should be made the subject of unmeasured abuse for opinions which he had never stated—nay, on the contrary, for opinions the reverse of which he took some pains to state. The feelings of the public were strong upon this subject of charity, and in support of hospitals and other charitable institutions. Now, if it were possible to mix up those who supported the Poor-laws Bill with a hatred of charities and a dislike to charitable institutions, with a hard hearted, and he would say, a very short-sighted denial of charity to those who were suffering under distress, disease, and so forth, undoubtedly that would be a great point gained for popular effect. It would be a very serious charge, and one that would require much investigation, if it could with any show of truth be urged against those who supported the Bill, that such were their views and feelings and that this measure proceeded in accordance with such views and feelings. But the assertion was utterly and entirely unfounded. It was said, that it had been avowed by himself, that it had been avowed by those who joined him in supporting this Bill—that he and they had a dislike, that they entertained an aversion to all charities for the aged, the sick, and the infirm. It had been said, that in order to entitle an individual to receive relief he would be satisfied with nothing short of that individual's breaking his leg. Yes, he must put his leg under a broad-wheeled waggon, and unless he did that, or something equally violent, his (the Lord Chancellor's) heart was shut against giving relief. According to this statement, a fever, or any the most grievous calamity which could in the way of disease afflict a working man—no matter how great it might happen to be—was not to be noticed; no, unless an individual broke his leg—unless a case was made out for a surgeon, no pity, no compassion would be extended by him to the sufferer. The most un- 437 merited abuse had, in consequence of this misrepresentation, been lavished on his supposed hardness of heart. Now, it did so happen that he guarded himself, over and over again, against such misconstruction. What he had stated was this—that where there was a provision for persons—for able-bodied persons—where there was a known provision, whether in the form of alms or a proportion of tithes, or monastic doles that were bestowed at the gates of convents in former times, before the alteration made by Harry 8th, or provision derived from any regular fund for hospitals or infirmaries, it had always tended to create the evils which it was intended to prevent, because those who knew that such sources of provision existed would on every occasion infallibly draw upon them. He then said, that he would step aside to consider the principle on which charity, public or private, ought to be bestowed. He immediately stated, that just in proportion as persons, from the nature of a charity, were enabled to look forward to it—were enabled as it were to depend upon it beforehand, just in that proportion it was bad, because it encouraged idleness; but that, on the other hand, just in proportion as any charity was so framed that individuals, whether they were idle or industrious, could not calculate on it as a positive resource, just in that proportion it could do no harm, and really deserved the name of charity. It was asserted that he approved of no hospitals except hospitals for accidents. This was not the fact. He had made no objection to hospitals for incurable diseases and fevers, nor even to dispensaries, although he observed that he thought the articles delivered from dispensaries, and which formed a great part of their expenditure, might be provided by individuals themselves if they acted prudently; but still he objected not to them, because he did not wish to stretch the principle until it cracked. He also had not reprobated hospitals for the aged; although he felt and he said; that every man ought to lay by something to procure him the comforts necessary for old age. He did not, however, push his observation or his argument to that rigorous point which had been represented. But let them take the next step, and inquire what right the able-bodied had to demand relief, as well as the aged, the sick and the infirm? He had only objected to such 438 institutions as sinned against all the true and real principles of charity—such an establishment, for instance, as the Foundling Hospital. Now, it did so happen that he could not be mistaken as to what he said, because, though it might not be known to their Lordships, or to those who had misstated or misrepresented what he said, and on which misstatement or misrepresentation an argument had been founded, yet it was known to himself, that in moving the second reading of the Bill he had not made a mere offhand statement; but had repeated a statement which he would read for his own justification to their Lordships. That statement he had printed in a letter addressed to the late lamented Sir Samuel Romilly, in the year 1818, and it contained those very principles which he had expressed to their Lordships, couched in the very words that he had used, with only this difference, that he added two qualifications the other night to mitigate the principles for which he contended. He had always considered the two subjects—those of private charity and the Poor-laws—to be intimately connected, and the following extract from the letter to which he had alluded would fully explain his sentiments. In writing to Sir Samuel Romilly he had thus expressed himself:—"The course of proceeding which the Legislature ought to pursue, in dealing with the estates of the poor, is a subject of peculiar delicacy, and closely connected with the great question of the Poor-laws. It is chiefly in this connexion, that I have, from the beginning, been induced to regard both the subject of charities and of national education. You are aware that my intention is to submit certain propositions to Parliament upon the Poor-laws, during the ensuing Session, and I shall not here anticipate the discussion which may then, be expected to take place. But a few observations may properly find a place in this letter, respecting the connexion between the general question, and permanent charitable funds. The remarks, then, with which I am about to conclude, relate to the principles which ought to regulate the conduct of the Legislature in dealing with charities, and which should guide us in forming our opinion upon the relief likely to be felt by the country from the due application of funds destined to assist the poor. I take it to be a principle which will admit of no contradiction, that 439 the existence of any permanent fund for the support of the poor—the appropriation of any revenue, however raised, which must peremptorily be expended in maintaining such as have no other means of subsistence—has upon the whole a direct tendency to increase their numbers. It produces this effect in two ways—by discouraging industry, foresight, economy, and by encouraging improvident marriages: nor is the former operation more certain than the latter. It is equally clear, that this increase will always exceed the proportion which the revenues in question can maintain. To the class of funds directly productive of paupers belong all revenues of alms-houses, hospitals, and schools, where children are supported as well as educated; all yearly sums to be given away to mendicants or poor families; regular donations of religious houses in Catholic countries; the portion of the tithes in this country which went to maintain the poor before the Statutory provision was made; and finally, and above all, that provision itself. But charitable funds will prove harmless (and may be moreover beneficial) exactly in proportion as their application is limited to combinations of circumstances out of the ordinary course of calculation, and not likely to be taken into account by the labouring classes in the estimate which they form of their future means of gaining a livelihood. Thus they may safely be appropriated to the support of persons disabled from working by accident, or incurable malady, as the blind and the maimed; and we may even extend the rule to hospitals generally for the cure of diseases (here, said the Lord Chancellor, there was no exclusion of all sufferers, unless they came with broken legs); nor can orphan hospitals be excepted, upon the whole; for although, certainly, the dread of leaving a family in want is one check to improvident marriages, yet the loss of both parents is not an event likely to be contemplated. In like manner, although the existence of a certain provision for old age, independent of individual saving, comes within the description of the mischief, it is nevertheless far less detrimental than the existence of an equal fund for maintaining young persons, and more especially for supporting children." Such were his sentiments formerly, and such they still remained; and, in addition, he had stated the other night distinctly, that although the hospitals for aged per- 440 sons came within the strict rigour of the rule which he had laid down generally, yet he was one of those who did not object to such hospitals, but would allow them to exist. In fact, the misrepresentation which had gone forth was at variance with the spirit of his argument. He would not have noticed this very foolish and grossly misrepresented statement which had gone abroad, had he not observed, and been informed by others, on whose opinion he could place perfect reliance, that an attempt was making to raise a popular cry, that he and those who acted with him in support of this Bill were opposed to all charities and all hospitals whatsoever. Now, this was altogether unfounded. The only hospital against which he had ever felt a strong dislike was the Foundling Hospital—an establishment which the Legislature and the curators of that hospital had found to be, and had so declared, a great nuisance. In that case great sums of money had unquestionably been lavished for a very unworthy and mischievous purpose. He had given practical proofs by the subscriptions which he had laid down, and he wished he could have gone to a greater extent, that he was not an enemy to hospitals. Indeed, the last establishment to which he had subscribed was the London University Hospital.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.
said, that he objected to the arbitrary power which this Bill would place in the Central Commission. He thought he should be able to prove at the proper time, by the evidence of facts that it was not necessary to give any such powers to the Commissioners. He should therefore, when they came to the clause, move a provision, restraining the powers of the Commissioners to such parishes only in which the poor-rates amounted to a certain sum, which he should hereafter specify. He thought that the affairs of parishes ought to be administered by those who were connected with them, rather than by persons at a distance. He should also move an amendment to the short-sighted provision of the 55th clause, which was intended to make the husband liable for the maintenance of all his wife's children born before marriage.
§ Viscount Melbourne moved that the House resolve itself into a Committee.441
was quite sure that there was scarcely an individual who heard him who would not say that a Bill of such vital importance ought not to be proceeded with at so advanced a period of the Session. He was convinced that if the present Bill passed, a very few months would elapse after the termination of the Session, before it would be found necessary to re-assemble Parliament for the purpose of remedying the mischief which would be consequent upon the operation of the measure. The noble Lord concluded by moving as an amendment, that this Bill be committed this day six months.
§ The Amendment was negatived.
§ Their Lordships went into Committee on the Bill.
§ On the first clause, for the appointment of three Commissioners,
§ Lord Teynham moved an amendment to the clause to the effect, that the names of such Commissioners should be communicated to Parliament (if sitting) fourteen days before their appointment.
The Lord Chancellor
objected to the Amendment, though he should not oppose the names being communicated to Parliament within fourteen days, or less, after the Commissioners were nominated. [Lord Ellenborough: The names would be published in the Gazette.] Yes; and such publication was surely sufficient for all purposes. He must also object to the Amendment, because Parliament after giving the power of appointment to the Crown, could not revoke it in this way. The names and conduct of the parties appointed, would be subject to debate in both Houses hereafter, and as to the individuals to fill the offices, the Government would be happy to receive suggestions of any noble Lord, and would make inquiries into the merits and qualifications of such persons, for all the Government wanted (without the least inclination to favour any individual whatever) was men who, with abilities and experience competent to the discharge of the duties, possessed also the public confidence.
said, that no portion of the Bill was viewed with so much interest and alarm as the appointment of the Commissioners who were to carry it into effect. It had been suggested that the very able and learned persons who had filled the situation of Commissioners of Inquiry, should be the Commissioners to be appointed by his Majesty for trans- 442 acting the business of the Bill when it became law. If such, however, were not the case, there could be no doubt that the learned persons who were previously acquainted with the subject, would be frequently consulted by the Board of Commissioners, and he had thought at one time that such consultations would be much more convenient, if the Commissioners of Inquiry were united with those to be appointed by the Crown. This, however, was met by the suggestion, that to a certain degree it would divide the responsibility, and as he knew practically that nothing was well done where the responsibility was not perfect, he should not press the proposition he had thrown out.
The Lord Chancellor
concurred with the noble Baron in thinking a division of responsibility highly objectionable, and therefore the fewer the number of Commissioners the better.
§ Lord Wynford
said, that it was impossible for three Commissioners to discharge the duties imposed upon them by this Bill. Instead of three Commissioners there ought to be at least 300. He was opposed, however, to the appointment of Commissioners at all.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ On the Question that the original clause stand part of the Bill being put,
§ Lord Alvanley
objected to the clause, as interfering with the system of self-government. He did not mean to say that all the powers now vested in the magistracy and other authorities in the country, would be removed by the appointment of the Central Board, but he must contend that it would lead to constant collisions, and create bad blood; and it would be found that the authorities and overseers, being disgusted by the interference of parties possessing no local knowledge, would become careless, and the effect would be, that the wants of the poor would be neglected. He regarded this question as one which did not in any manner interest party feeling, and under that impression, and with a view to the public good, he had to suggest a plan grounded upon the instances to which he had called the attention of their Lordships on a former evening. He would drop the present Bill, and circulate printed copies of the report made upon the four parishes to which he had alluded the other night by the Commissioners of Inquiry in the 443 parishes and districts of the whole country, accompanied by a circular letter from the Home-office, calling the attention of the authorities and overseers to the plan which had been so successfully adopted in the parishes in question, and stating that it was the intention of the Government early next Session to bring in a Bill founded upon, and to carry into effect, that plan. The circular he would suggest should also request communications to be made to the Government by the parochial authorities themselves, as to the practicability in their several districts of the system proposed to be adopted. This being done, he would next year introduce a Bill, and would take for its preamble the 50th clause of the present measure. He would also provide that the Bill should take effect on a certain day, to be extended on the authority of three Magistrates sitting in petty Sessions. He would also empower Magistrates in petty Sessions to appoint nine persons of their own district to be allowed—not the inquisitorial powers conferred on the proposed central Board of Commissioners,—but to receive reports of the progress of the measure from the different parishes within their district, and to communicate those reports, matters of complaint, and the various details now to be vested in the hands of the Commissioners. He would give the power of the appointment of the nine individuals he had named to the magistrates in each district, and to them alone, inasmuch as they were best qualified to judge of the competence of parties to discharge the duties of the office. He felt satisfied that this system would be much more congenial to the feelings of the country and of the people than the proposed plan of centralization. He admitted that the laws in respect to the poor required amendment, and he most sincerely believed that such a measure as he had suggested would be better calculated to give satisfaction, and to secure the comfort and happiness of the poorer classes, than the measure now under consideration.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that this was not the first time that he had heard of the plan which had been suggested by the noble Lord. The plan was undoubtedly not new, for it had been tried, and, as had been expected, had failed in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. The nine persons whom the noble Lord proposed should 444 be appointed at the Sessions, might be looked upon in fact in the same light as the three Commissioners, and he (the Lord Chancellor) would confess that he infinitely preferred the three graces to the noble Lord's nine muses. The noble Lord's plan was in many respects similar to the Bill, without possessing the merits of the Bill. The noble Lord proposed a fixed date for the introduction of his plan, but he afterwards would allow that date to be extended at the discretion of three Magistrates, so that in one parish, or in one district, it might be adopted on the 1st of June, 1836, and in another on the 1st of June, 1837, and thus inextricable confusion might be created throughout the country, by the existence of a variety of systems at one and the same time. In fact, the noble Lord's plan would sow the seeds of variety in every parish throughout the kingdom. The noble and learned Lord proceeded to defend the discretionary power given to the Commissioners. One of the best features of the present plan was, that it was experimental—that it was to be introduced by feeling our way, and therefore a discretionary power was vested in the Commissioners for that purpose. As to centralization and the Central Board, which the noble Lord joined others in attacking, he (the Lord Chancellor) would say, that he was as much opposed as any man could be to a perpetual interference with men's private business. That was the main objection raised against the Central Board. Now, the local boards at present in existence, were perpetually and constantly interfering with men's private business. In truth, their interference in that way was infinitely greater than any that could be expected from a Central Board. The object of the Central Board was to bring things back to their former state, to put them in the right track, to reform them,—in short, to do all that those acquainted with the subject knew it would do. He could not help alluding to the folly of those who supposed that the object of the authors of this Bill was to abolish altogether the system and the principle of Poor-laws. It was no such thing. They well knew that it would be vain to make such an attempt. They were well aware that the system in the main could not be touched. But their object was to lop off excrescences, to do away with abuses, to bring back things to their original state, and to reform the 445 system according to the original meaning and construction of the Act on which it was founded. To do all that required a vigorous hand, and that that vigour could only be exercised by vesting a discretionary power in a few persons he entertained not the slightest doubt. He was astonished when he heard his noble friend, with the acuteness of understanding which he possessed, and which he displayed on this occasion, opposing so strongly this Bill; but that astonishment was removed when he found towards the end of his noble friend's speech that he had a plan of his own to propose. It was well known that when a man had a plan of his own, he invariably shut his eyes to the merits of every other plan on the same subject. That was obviously the case with his noble friend in this instance.
§ Lord Alvanley
, in explanation, said, that he commenced his speech by saying, that whoever objected to this plan should bring forward one of theirs to substitute in its stead. He did not mean, that the words he had referred to in clause 50 should constitute his measure—he merely meant that it should be based upon that clause.
The Earl of Winchilsea
was of opinion, that without the appointment of the Commissioners, it would be impossible to establish an uniform reform of the present system throughout the country. The thanks of the country were due to his Majesty's Government for having circulated the Report of the Commissioners throughout the country. If twenty years were to be given for its circulation and perusal, it would not be more fully circulated or more generally perused than it had been, especially as it was known that a measure founded upon it was to be brought forward this Session. Since he had been a magistrate, he had seen the greatest abuses committed under the present system. He had seen combinations of the landowners in particular parishes, to get one-third of the wages they paid their labourers defrayed out of the poor-rates. He had known parishes where the labourers received only 3s. a-week as wages, and where the remainder was made up to them, in proportion to their families, out of the poor-rates. The Commissioners, against whom so much was said, it should be remembered, would be appointed only for a limited time; and then, when that time expired, the admi- 446 nistration of the Poor-laws might be returned to those in whose hands it was now vested, with the benefit of the experience of the improved system to guide them in their future management of them.
§ Lord Wynford
said, that it seemed to be supposed by some persons, that the taxing power of the Commissioners was confined to the erection of workhouses (which might be attended with little inconvenience), but he contended, that the Commissioners would possess indirectly a much wider power of taxation. They might double the allowances, and consequently the poor-rates. The Bill gave a discretionary power to the Commissioners to relieve able-bodied labourers, which was necessary, in order that men might not endure starvation. The law of nature, no less than the law of the land, required this. If one uniform rule of administering the Poor-laws could be adopted, he should have approved of a Central Board of Commissioners to enforce it; but the noble and learned Lord admitted, that such a mode of administration could not be enforced, for he distinctly expressed his conviction, that what might be a good method of proceeding in one parish might be bad in another, which happened to be differently circumstanced. What was the advantage of having a Central Board, if a uniform system could not be adopted? On the noble and learned Lord's own showing, it appeared necessary to intrust the administration of the law to persons having local knowledge of the circumstances of each particular parish. Now the Magistrates possessed this local knowledge, which it was impossible that the Commissioners should have. He was sensible of the evils of the Poor-laws, and of the defects of their administration; but, although sensible of the evil, he did not think this Bill the remedy that ought to be adopted. On the contrary, he was satisfied, that to take the administration of the Poor-laws out of the hands of the local authorities, would be adding to the evil. It might be a very beautiful theory to lay down, that the amount of wages should be merely in proportion to the work executed, and not in proportion to the number of labourers' children; but if a man had twelve children, and could only provide for four of them by the wages of his labour, were the eight remaining children to be allowed to starve, or was the family to receive assistance out 447 of the poor-rates? According to the present Bill, a man must be immured in the workhouse if his wages were not sufficient to support his family entirely; and, if he applied to the parish for relief, would that mend the matter? It was impossible, as things now stood, to avoid giving some money allowance to persons with large families whose wages did not suffice for their support. He admitted, that this was an evil, but maintained that there was nothing in the Bill to remedy it. On the contrary, the Bill gave the Commissioners a power of granting allowances, although it denied such an authority to the Magistrates, whose local knowledge would enable them to determine when it might be exercised with advantage. There was no reason for depriving the Magistrates of an authority, which, though there might be occasional indiscretions, they had exercised conscientiously, and to the best of their ability. Where the Magistrates had departed from the spirit of the law, they were compelled to do so by the state of the country, which rendered the law inapplicable.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that we were now in the act of transition from a bad to a good state of things. The object was to adopt a uniform system, and to get into a uniform state; but the way to effect this would necessarily be different under different circumstances; a country parish would require to be reclaimed in one way, and a town parish in another; nay, different country parishes, according to their peculiar circumstances, would require different modes of treatment.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that his noble and learned friend (Lord Wynford) misunderstood the Bill, and the nature of the evil which it was intended to correct. His noble friend talked of the Magistrates' administration of the Poor-laws: now the Magistrates did not administer the law—the overseers were intrusted with the administration. It was true, the Magistrates had interfered with the overseers, and one of the objects of the Bill was to bring the law back from the hands of the Magistrates, and replace it in those of the overseers, according to the old system. He lived in the neighbourhood of places which had been held out as an example of good management—he referred to the parishes of Cookham and Swallowfield, which were said to be depauperized, and he could tell his noble friend, that the exam- 448 ple had not been followed by any of the neighbouring parishes? Why? Because the Magistrates could only interfere for harm, not for good, and the overseers would not follow the example thus set them. There was nothing for it but a measure of this kind, to bring the administration of the law back to the old system; and when that should be effected, no one would be more happy to see the plan abandoned than he should.
§ Lord Wynford
said, the Magistrates certainly had no active power of administration; but they had sufficient power to restrain abuse and mischief. They could, if they pleased, have prevented the application of the rates in payment of wages.
The Earl of Falmouth
said, the Magistrates might have read the Report of the Commissioners; but he doubted whether a majority of them were in favour of this Bill. One reason why he wished to have it postponed was, that time might be afforded to conciliate their good opinion. He admitted the evil of the present system; but was it so great, that an attempt must be made to apply a remedy per saltum? Some other remedy might be proposed by Parliament at a future time, and if upon trial it should be found insufficient, a stronger might be substituted. He saw no reason, for instance, why a measure should not be passed embodying the fiftieth clause.
The Marquess of Salisbury
considered, that the most objectionable clause in the whole Bill, was that which gave such a vast extent of discretionary power to the Commissioners; while the Magistrates had only a restraining power over the overseers, who generally had a scale of allowance in each parish, by which they were guided in their relief to the poor. The same scale, however, would not be equally just for all parishes; for instance, it would not be just to have the same scale for parishes in Kent and Sussex as for other counties. He would not object to giving the Commissioners a superintending power over the Magistrates, but he certainly was not disposed to place all power in their hands. The object of the Bill was stated to be to bring back the old system of the Poor-laws, as they were originally established, and with the view of accomplishing that, certain powers were given to the Commissioners. It was to be done gradually, by stopping the allowance of persons who were in the habit of receiving 449 relief, except in the workhouse, or as the Commissioners might find most fit. He hoped the clause to which he alluded would be withdrawn when it was come to. There was another part of the Bill that he also considered objectionable; he meant that clause which limited the duration of the Bill to five years. This he considered too short a period for the system to work so as to give it a fair trial; and if it should happen not to succeed in that time, the difficulties in the way for a new settlement of the question would be incalculable, and must be greatly multiplied. The whole machinery established by the Bill would be utterly useless. He was very ready to support the general principle of the Bill, but he hoped several amendments would be made in it before it went through the Committee. There was one point, that he was very desirous of urging, and that was the necessity of giving to paupers a right of appeal to the Justices; and he should also wish the Magistrates to have the power of granting allowances to paupers, notwithstanding any order of the Commissioners. He repeated, that to the Bill itself, if satisfactorily amended, he was not at all opposed.
§ The Earl of Harewood
admitted, that there were many parts of the Poor-laws defective, and he wished to see their administration properly adjusted, but was very doubtful as to the expediency of the present measure. Now, he should like to know in what way these Commissioners would use the authority with which they were invested in the state in which the country was at present. There was not only a surplus of labour in the country, but there was also a quantity of land, once in cultivation, now going out of cultivation, in consequence of its not being capable of repaying the expense necessary to cultivate it. It would be rather a hardship on the labourers of a parish in which the rate of wages was diminished, in consequence of the influx of unemployed labourers from another parish, to say to them when they were half-starving, "You shall not receive any assistance or support, because a strange set of persons have come into the country, and by lowering the rate of wages have deprived you of the proper reward of your industry." What course, he should like to ask, would the Commissioners follow in the large manufacturing towns? Suppose 450 a stoppage to take place in a large manufactory. That would throw some hundreds of persons out of employment. Would the Commissioners say to them, when seeking assistance for their starving families, "Oh, we cannot relieve you—there is nothing to prevent you from finding labour elsewhere?" From their very habits, the labouring classes in our manufacturing, towns would be unable to stand the wet and the cold, and the other inconveniences attendant upon country labour. In point of fact, they could not perform it. They would find many stout men, who had been all their lives engaged in manufactories, that would tell them that they could not reap; and the fact was so. If these Commissioners were to regulate their conduct so as to lower the existing amount of poor-rates, and to bring us back to the state of things in Queen Elizabeth's time, he feared that, unless extraordinary discretion was used, there would be very severe pressure indeed, not only on those who usually came upon the poor-rates, but also upon those who did not usually fall upon them. He did not believe that all the labourers of the country were careless about throwing themselves upon the rates. Whatever might be the case elsewhere, he was sure it was not the case with the labourers of the north of England. He did not like the powers that were to be granted to these Commissioners. He admitted, that some powers greater than those possessed at present by the parochial authorities should be granted to them; but his notion, though he had no plan of his own to propose to their Lordships, was this—that a plan might be devised to render it imperative upon all the authorities engaged in administering the Poor-laws to obey certain regulations issuing from the executive Government, instead of delivering up all the powers of those authorities into the hands of the Commissioners, which he did not altogether like.
§ The Clause was agreed to.
§ On the second Clause being proposed,
§ Lord Wynford
, assuming that there must now be some Commissioners, must contend, that there should be some limit to their power, and certainly to their power of examination. He had never seen great dispensing powers given in such loose terms as they were given by this clause to these Commissioners. He proposed to strike out the clause altogether. 451 He could not propose another in its stead, for in consequence of the hurry with which they were proceeding, he had not had time to frame another. The words of the clause were:—"And the said Commissioners, acting as such Board, shall be and are hereby empowered, by summons under their hand and seal, to require the attendance of all such persons as they may think fit to call before them, upon any question or matter connected with or relating to the administration of the laws for the relief of the poor, and also to make any inquiries, and require any answer or returns as to any such question or matter, and also to administer oaths and examine all such persons upon oath, &c." Now a construction might be put upon these words which would prevent any improper exercise of power. But a very different construction might also be put upon them. If the power thus given to them was applicable to all the laws passed for the relief of the poor, it would be found extremely inconvenient to their Lordships. Questions of a more inquisitorial character might be put to any man under the authority of this clause than could have been put to him even under the Act establishing the Income-tax. The Commissioners were indeed restricted from requiring the production of titles, or of papers, or writings, relating to the title of any lands, tenements, or hereditaments, not being the property of the parish; but they had a right to put a question as to the value of all property within the parish, in parole or in writing, on oath or otherwise, as they thought fit. Now, he put it to their Lordships whether such a power had ever been given to Commissioners by any act before? The Commissioners had a right to make an increase in the rates of the parish to relieve the poor of it, if they so thought fit. The parish might say to the Commissioners, "We are not able to bear the increase of rates which you seek to levy upon us." "Oh, then we will inquire into the value of your property," would be the answer of the Commissioners. What would be the result of such a determination? Why, that they would proceed to ask any one of their Lordships who might have property in the parish to answer upon oath—for in this case they would be deprived of their privilege of peerage—what was the amount of rental they had within it? They might inquire into the value of their parks and 452 pleasure-grounds, into the value of their farms, their out-houses, and their buildings of every description. The lease was generally considered as the best prima facie evidence of the value of land, but the Commissioners might be inclined to inquire whether the lease was granted for its proper value, or whether it was fraudulently obtained. As the Commissioners had power to meddle in this manner with the rates, they might proceed to rate personal property of all descriptions, and especially stock in trade. His noble and learned friend knew well, no man better, that personal property was rateable, and stock in trade would long since have been rated, had it been palpable and easily got at. Now the Commissioners had the means of getting at it. They might call any tradesman before them, and say to him—"We want to ascertain the value of property in your parish: pray what is the amount of your stock in trade? We have a right to ask you that question, and recollect you must answer it upon oath." He contended, that in this manner this clause would enable the Commissioners to get at the value of every man's stock in trade in every parish in the Kingdom. This clause might be very beneficial to their Lordships as landlords, as it was calculated to remove from the land a great portion of the burthen which at this moment pressed heavily upon it. His property was all in land, but he did not wish, and he was sure that their Lordships did not wish, to have their property benefitted by a clause like this. All such inquiries, as he had just stated, might take place under the authority of this clause. He would not go the length of affirming, that this construction of the clause was the correct construction, but such a construction might be put upon it, and if it could be put upon it, that was a sufficient reason for altering this clause. If it was the correct construction, as he was inclined to consider it, a more inquisitorial Bill than the present had never been placed upon the Table of either House of Parliament, and if their Lordships had any regard to the peace of the country, they would withhold their sanction from it. He also complained, that this clause armed the Commissioners with power to examine Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists upon oath.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that his noble friend would see that this was not 453 the case now, and referred to the 100th Clause.
The Earl of Shaftesbury
read that part of the 100th Clause, by which it is provided that the word "oath" shall be construed to include the affirmation of a Quaker, Separatist, or Moravian.
§ Lord Wynford
said, that the clause which had just been read did not remove his objection to the present clause—on the contrary, he defied any man, be he lawyer or layman, to assert gravely that his objection was not strengthened by it. He found that in another part of this Bill this power, which he considered so objectionable, when vested in the Commissioners, was also given to the Assistant-Commissioners, and that different words were used in different parts of the Bill to describe this identity of authority. Was not that likely to increase not only the danger, but the obscurity of the Bill? Upon these grounds, he asked their Lordships not to agree to this clause. The Commissioners ought to have some powers of examination, but not of the arbitrary and irresponsible character given them by this clause. He had never before seen such a clause in any Bill, and he, therefore, moved that it be struck out.
The Lord Chancellor
contended, that his noble and learned friend had formed a very mistaken idea about the proper interpretation of this clause. He likewise argued, that it did not compel the Commissioners to examine Quakers, Separatists, and Moravians upon oath, insisting that the 100th Clause, which his noble friend said confirmed his objection to the second clause, absolutely cured it. The principal objection of his noble friend to this clause went, however, much further, for it sought to knock down the Commissioners almost as soon as they were put upon their legs. He maintained, that if his noble and learned friend had five or six months' time to turn over all the dictionaries and all the law books in the language, he could not have found words mere appropriate than those used in this clause—namely, "any question or matter connected with or relating to the administration of the laws for the relief of the poor." Having a definite idea of the thing signified, he knew no words which could express that thing better. It was not likely that any Commissioner would ask any of their Lordships such questions as his noble and learned friend had sup- 454 posed. Supposing that any Commissioner was to ask his noble and learned friend, "What is the value of your property? How much did you make at the Bar? How is your property vested? What have you in the three per cents, and what in the other funds?" Supposing, he said, that any Commissioner should ask his noble and learned friend such absurd questions as these, what would be the result? His noble and learned friend would refuse to answer them. Then the Commissioners would, he supposed, commit his noble and learned friend for contempt? No, they had not power to commit; they could only order him to be prosecuted, and every Jury would say, that such prosecution was not sustainable; for the Commissioners, in putting such absurd questions, were wandering out of the four corners of their power. The clause did not justify any such gossiping inquiries as his noble and learned friend imagined. The noble and learned Lord also referred to the Acts appointing the Commissioners of Naval Inquiry and the Commissioners appointed to inquire into charities, to show that the powers given to the Poor-law Commissioners by this clause were neither novel nor unusual. This clause was not a clause of light importance, and if their Lordships determined to leave it out of the Bill, they might as well stop the Bill altogether.
§ Lord Wynford
had not taken this objection from any captious motives. He confessed that he was not satisfied with the answer which his noble and learned friend had given. He would leave it, however, to their Lordships to dispose of his Motion as they pleased. The 100th Clause in his opinion had no bearing upon the second clause. He was aware of the two Acts to which his noble and learned friend had referred. He had looked at them lately for this reason, that in those two Acts the Commissioners, who were appointed to examine witnesses upon oath, were appointed under the authority of Acts of Parliament. That was a good old fashion, but he was sorry to say that it was now no longer held in reverence.
The Earl of Winchilsea
said, that much of what had fallen from his noble and learned friend (Lord Wynford) would apply if the Commissioners were empowered to make or levy any kind of rate; but they would have no such power under the Bill, and could not inquire into property.
§ Amendment negatived, and second clause agreed to.
§ The third Clause was agreed to.
§ On the fourth Clause, directing a general Report to be made once a-year by the Commissioners to one of the principal Secretaries of State, and by such Secretary to be laid before Parliament, being read,
§ The Duke of Wellington moved, as an Amendment, that after the words "the said Commissioners shall" in the first line of the clause, there be added these words, "keep a record of each letter received, the date of its reception, the person from whom it came, the subject to which it related, and the minute of any answer given, or order made thereon, and also where the Commissioners differed in opinion, the opinion of each Commissioner, and that a copy of such record be transmitted to the Secretary of State once a-year or oftener if required."
§ Amendment agreed to, and the Clause as amended was agreed to.
§ The Clauses, up to the 18th, were agreed to.
§ On the 18th Clause being put,
The Archbishop of Canterbury
urged the necessity of providing for the religious instruction and consolation of the poor by the appointment of regular chaplains to each workhouse. As the Bill at present stood, there was no sufficient provision for that purpose, and if it were necessary, as it unquestionably was, that there should be chaplains in single parishes, how much more necessary would it be in the cases of large unions. He objected also to the wording of the clause as calculated to make children Dissenters.
was of opinion that it would be neither necessary nor proper to make any such provision; surely the clergyman of each parish respectively would feel it his duty to afford all the spiritual aid which any of his parishioners might require.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
only wished to give the Commissioners the power of appointing chaplains where it might be found necessary.
The Bishop of Exeter
supported the same view of the question, chiefly on the ground of the enormous extent which the framers of the Bill proposed to include in most of the districts.
§ Lord Segrave
pressed on the House the necessity of permitting Dissenting Minis- 456 ters to have access to the workhouses, and said, he would divide the House rather than lose the 18th clause.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that the 14th and 43rd clauses provided for the education of persons in workhouses, and that of course included their religious education; besides, the Commissioners might insist upon the paupers attending divine worship, but as there was some difficulty as to Roman Catholics and Dissenters, it might be better to postpone the clause till one general regulation on that subject could be framed.
protested against the abandonment of the present clause, the more especially as so many Irish often became the inmates of workhouses.
§ The further consideration of the Clause was postponed. The House resumed, the Committee to sit again.