The Marquess of Salisbury
suggested, that cases of peculiar urgency might arise in which it would be advisable to continue the power until the first meeting of the vestry. As the law at present stood, the Overseer was placed in too responsible a situation; for if he refused a pauper relief who had a Magistrate's order, he was liable to an indictment; while, if the vestry refused to pass his accounts, he was obliged to pay the money so paid upon order out of his own pocket. He would propose that if any such orders were disallowed, the money ought to be paid by the Magistrate who signed it.
The Bishop of London
did not think the Magistrates would accept such a power clogged with such responsibility. He thought the Board of Guardians would support their Overseer if he paid no attention to an order under such circumstances.
The Bishop of Exeter
said, he thought the power of indictment was scarcely to be taken into account, for there was no source provided from which funds to prosecute were to be taken. He proposed a proviso by which Justices were empowered 581 to order relief in sudden cases of emergency, and if refused, the Overseer to forfeit, upon conviction, the sum of five pounds.
§ The Earl of Harewood
objected to the power being given to the Magistracy, because their orders were to be overridden by the Commissioners.
The Bishop of London
thought, if the proviso were added to the Bill, it would altogether nullify the clause, and reduce things pretty much to the same state in which they were at present.
§ A long conversation took place between several noble Lords, which ended by—
§ The Duke of Wellington
remarking, that their Lordships had been nearly two hours conversing on this Bill, and had not got through a single clause,
§ Their Lordships then agreed to the clause with several verbal amendments.
§ Clause 53 was also agreed to.
§ Upon clause 54 being read, which considered the relief given to any poor person for a child under the age of twelve as given to the husband and wife,
The Bishop of London
hoped this amendment would be adopted, because when children were separated from their parents at such an early age, it was productive of great immorality.
§ Agreed to.
§ Clause 55 was postponed.
§ The clauses to the 60th, inclusive, were agreed to, with verbal amendments. Clause 61 was struck out.
§ On the 62nd clause being proposed.
The Marquess of Salisbury
said, that this clause gave power to the owners of land and rate-payers it, parishes and unions to raise money for the purposes of the emigration of their poor. The power now given them was unlimited. He proposed to limit the amount to one half-year's rates, and he thought that the scheme of emigration, however beneficial it might appear, should be conducted only in such a way as would be equally beneficial to the colony and the country.
The Earl of Liverpool
objected to the word "unions" in the clause, by the effect of which, if several parishes were united together, and only one of them wished to send emigrants abroad, all the rest must join in the expense.
objected to the clause 582 altogether, for he did not approve of this forced system of emigration, by which a man might be compelled to leave his native land. Unless emigration was felt by the proposed emigrant to be desirable it ought not to take place.
The Lord Chancellor
admitted the force of this observation, and said, that no man would be forced to go abroad. He agreed with the noble Earl (The Earl of Liverpool) that all the parishes of one union ought not to be saddled with the expenses of emigration, because one of them desired it. The parishes were to be separate, so far as regarded the maintenance of their own poor; so that, perhaps, the objection might not arise; but, to obviate all difficulty, the words, "or unions," might be struck out of the clause.
The Lord Chancellor
replied, that when the plan was carried into full effect, it would be found calculated to render emigration unnecessary. It was very difficult to move men to emigration, and he himself was aware of two neighbouring districts, where, though the wages were higher in one than the other, no emigration took place.
The Earl of Falmouth
said, that it would appear as if the framers of the Bill intended to force emigration; he thought the clause should be struck out.
§ The Earl of Chichester
thought, that the able-bodied men, willing to work, would by this Bill be rendered permanent inmates of the workhouse, without some provision in the way of emigration; and it was, therefore, necessary that the Commissioners should be empowered to raise funds for this purpose.
§ The Duke of Wellington
was inclined to concur with the noble Lord in thinking, that when the Bill came into full operation, there would be no necessity for emigration.
The Marquess of Lansdown
denied that there was any thing in the Bill calculated to have the effect of forcing emigration. On the contrary, it did not even go the length of encouraging it. It would ultimately do away with emigration. By this Bill, the able-bodied would have the option, either of, for a period, enduring 583 great hardship at home, or take the chance of beneficial improvement by emigration.
§ The clause, with verbal amendments, was ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 63 was also agreed to.
§ On the 64th clause, repealing settlement by hiring service or apprenticeship, being proposed,
§ Lord Wharncliffe
objected to this change of the law. If a man gained a settlement by hiring, it was a proof that he had resided in the parish, and that he had so behaved himself as to be considered entitled to it. It was extremely hard on a man who had resided and been employed for a considerable number of years, had married and had children, to be sent off when past his labour to the place of his birth, from which he had been absent for years, and to which he was an entire stranger; and this was still more hard on the children of that man. He contended also that it was a cruelty to deprive a man of the settlement which he had acquired by apprenticeship. These parts of the Bill would, he thought, make it very unpopular in the country, and justly so. He did not deny, that the present law required amendment, but he thought that it could be amended without such a total change as that now proposed. So strongly did he object to this and the next clause, that if he found other Lords of the same opinion, he would take the sense of the House on them.
The Bishop of London
said, that the clause was considered by the Commissioners, as one of the greatest boons which could be conferred on the labouring classes. He hoped, that the people would soon be induced to exercise a foresight which would render relief unnecessary; and that the time would come when it would be thought, as once it was, disgraceful to receive relief, except in cases of extreme emergency, and that the relief, when rendered necessary, should be received as it could be granted. The present practice opened the door to extensive and demoralizing litigation; as, in some parts of the country, labourers were hired for fifty-one weeks to prevent their claiming settlement. The consequence was, the disruption of the social union which should subsist between the labourer and the farmer. The false swearing on this head was very extensive, and tended greatly to demoralize the people. With regard to apprentices, it had been found, that under 584 the existing law, there was a great difficulty in getting boys apprenticed to respectable masters, on account of a fear entertained by the masters, that the boys would, thereby, obtain a settlement in the parish. The Commissioners believed, that, in proposing the plan as laid down in the Bill, they were consulting the real interests of the poor. For the first few years, while they were getting the principle into operation, some injury might be sustained in particular cases, but he was convinced, that, ultimately, very great good would be conferred by this part of the measure on the country at large, and on no class more than on the agricultural labouring class.
§ Lord Wynford
complained of the hardship of obliging an individual who had spent years of hard labour and honest industry in one neighbourhood, to seek relief, should misfortune befal him, in a neighbourhood to which he had become a perfect stranger. The effect of the Bill would be to banish the poor from the homes where, in their distress, they might receive assistance and solace from their friends. He was least pleased with this part of the Report. He spoke not of the Commissioners, but of the Assistant-Commissioners, and he would say that, whatever evidence they might have collected, they appeared to have started with a plan in their heads, and to have stated the evidence in a manner most effectual for the establishment of that plan. It was urged that the present law was highly injurious, inasmuch as its tendency was to prevent agricultural labourers, by the fear of losing their places of settlement, from leaving their parish in search of work; but he considered the evidence on which this supposition was founded, was erroneous in its reasoning. The reason why agricultural labourers were indisposed to leave the country for town was because 12s. a-week, with a house and garden, in the country, enabled them to live better than they could live in towns on 20s. per week, out of which they must pay 10l. a-year for a miserable hovel of a dwelling.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that people did not acquire a settlement by hiring, except by the consent of the person hiring them, therefore there was no great hardship by the change of the law in that respect; but that was not his objection. His objection was, first, that the law was inoperative and insufficient for its object; and next, that it begot a very bad feeling 585 between the master and his labourer. It lowered the footing on which master and man stood in relation to each other, and also lowered the character of the labourer himself. Those who were most experienced in agricultural matters, would bear him out in the assertion that, in many parts of the country, particularly the southern, the labourers themselves were opposed to this law, because it was inoperative, and was evaded, and because it operated injuriously to them, by keeping them often, for a time, out of employment. He was not so much opposed to the settlement by apprenticeship as to this; but if their Lordships kept the law of settlement by apprenticeship, it would be necessary to alter many parts of the law as it now stood.
§ The Clause, amended, was ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ The 65th Clause was agreed to.
§ Lord Wynford
proposed to insert between the 65th and 66th Clauses a new Clause, of which the purport was, that the place of birth should in future be the place of settlement.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that this clause had been considered elsewhere, and had been rejected for the present. There were so many difficulties attendant upon such a clause, that he thought the other House had done well in so deciding.
§ The Duke of Wellington
thought, that the settlement, by birth was better than that contained in the Bill. He did not mean to say, that it might not give rise to inconvenience, and perhaps residence, with payment of Poor-rates, as giving a settlement, might be an improvement.
The Lord Chancellor
, after pointing out the difficulties which would attend making such a sudden alteration in the Law of Settlement, stated that he still held the opinion which he had expressed in moving the second reading of the Bill, respecting the propriety of making this alteration at an early period. If he could devise anything safe and expedient on the subject, he would propose it on bringing up the Report; but if he should be dissatisfied with his own handy-work, he hoped that it would not be considered any departure from his agreement, if he did not mention the subject again.
§ Lord Wynford
said, that as a guard against some of the difficulties which his noble and learned friend had pointed out, he would propose that the place of a man's birth, should not be his place of 586 settlement, unless it was accompanied by another condition, that he had been three years resident within it. He would propose a clause to that effect on bringing up the Report.
§ Clause withdrawn,—Clause 66 agreed to.
§ On the proposal of the 67th clause, which repeals the Acts relating to the liability and punishment of the putative father, and the punishment of the mother of illegitimate children,
The Bishop of Exeter
said, that he did not know whether this was the convenient time for discussing this clause. It might be inconvenient to discuss it before they had fixed upon the principle for deciding the law of bastardy. The main point to be considered was this—where the burthen of bastardy was to fall?
The Lord Chancellor
thought that this was the proper time for taking the discussion. Let them have one discussion of it now, but do not let them revive it twenty times over, as they had already done upon the other clauses.
The Bishop of Exeter
would on that account address himself to the clause before their Lordships, which he considered the most important part of the Bill, because it involved a principle more serious and more weighty than any of the other clauses. Considering it of such great importance, he felt reluctant to discuss it, and heartily wished it were in abler hands. He was sure that the excellent persons who framed the Report, and who might be regarded as the framers of the Bill, intended nothing either by their Reliant or by the provisions of the Bill, but what was merciful and kind to the unhappy creatures who were now to be the object of their legislation. With regard to the poor women, on whom the Bill would fall very heavily, he was sure that the Commissioners proposed this alteration of the law out of real kindness to them. He hoped that he should not be considered as saying anything inconsistent with that admission, when he went further and said, that though such was their kindness of intention, there was a harshness of judgment applied to these unhappy women for which it was not very easy to account, and which must give sorrow to every reflecting mind. In the Report, the fathers of bastard children were uniformly spoken of as "unfortunate" persons. He was "an unfortunate young man" who was brought before the justices for this offence; 587 but whenever the mother was spoken of, allusion was certain to be made to her "vice," which was the subject of bitter complaint. Their Lordships would not meet with this form of expression in a solitary instance only; on the contrary, it pervaded the whole Report. The language of the Report was, "The female is the most to blame"—"Continued illicit intercourse originates with the female." For his own part, he confessed that he must require much better authority than any which he had seen in that Report to believe such an assertion. But the animus of the Report was still more apparent to any one who looked at the evidence collected by the Sub-Commissioners, and their observations. He would read part of one Report—he would not state by whom it was drawn up; he would merely say, that a learned Gentleman who had drawn up one of the most considerable Reports had spoken thus of female chastity—"It may almost be affirmed that the virtue of female chastity does not exist among the lower orders of England, except to a certain extent among domestic female servants, who know that they hold their situations by that tenure, and are more prudent in consequence. Among the residue all evidence goes to prove that it is a nonentity." This was a grave and serious statement of the condition of morals among the females of this country. He should grieve exceedingly, did he think it true. He hoped rather that it was only a calumny. Their Lordships would all recollect that some years ago a French officer travelled through England. He afterwards published an account of his travels, and put forth an assertion to the same effect, and almost in the same words, as that of this learned Sub-Commissioner. He did not mean to say, that the learned Sub-Commissioner had copied this dictum from the French general (General Pillet), but certainly his opinion, and almost his words, were the same. When that opinion was first promulgated, their Lordships would recollect that every man in England felt it to be an audacious calumny, and one sentiment of indignation against the author of it prevailed throughout the country. Such, indeed, was the indignation that he was sure if that individual had visited England, he would have never made another statement. He mentioned this, to show that the impres- 588 sions which had, he regretted to say, been made upon the minds of the Commissioners, and which had led them to lay before their Lordships certain recommendations as the foundation of a legislative enactment, had before been promulgated, and universally condemned. As the Commissioners considered the state of female morals to be thus depraved, it could not surprise their Lordships to perceive how severely they had pressed on that part of the population which they regarded as so depraved. The code of law which they from this view proposed for the females of England was not to be paralleled by the code of any other country. They spoke of the Bastardy-laws, very deservedly, he admitted, in terms of strong reprobation. No one could think them wise and good, and therefore they proposed the abolition of them. "What we propose in their room," said the Commissioners, "is intended to restore things, as far as it is possible, to the state in which they would have been if no such laws had ever existed; to trust to those checks, and to those checks only, which Providence has imposed on licentiousness, under the conviction that all attempts of the Legislature to increase their force, or to substitute for them artificial sanctions, have tended only to weaken or pervert them." He was as much inclined as the Commissioners to trust to those "checks which Providence has placed upon licentiousness;" but in saying that, he must add that his notion of the checks which Providence had placed on licentiousness did not agree with the notions of the Commissioners. Those checks appeared to him to be three. The first, and he hoped the most powerful check, was, the sense of the sinfulness of the act. The second was also very powerful; it was the apprehension of the responsibility of becoming a parent in consequence. That was admitted on all hands to be a strong preventive check even on the male; some persons regarded it as the strongest of all the checks; and it was that check on which Mr. Malthus based the whole of "his moral restraint in the case of marriages." If he understood that philosopher rightly, the great restraint was conceived to lie in the apprehension of having children without having the means of maintaining them. If that was to be depended upon as a powerful restraint against improvident marriages, he thought 589 it might also be regarded as a powerful restraint upon incurring the responsibility of being a parent from an illicit connexion. The third check was the fear of becoming exposed to those restraints, sanctioned by the law, which were described, as he thought, in the sentence which he had just read to them as neutralizing or weakening the restraints of Providence. That sentence he understood to mean this—that the Commissioners were of opinion that any attempts of the Legislature to check the growth of bastardy interfered with the restraints of Providence. Contrary to the Commissioners, he held, that the restraints imposed by the law, provided the law itself were good, were, in truth, among the restraints of Providence. He regarded such restraints, as he regarded the restraints imposed by other laws, and should as soon think of denying that the restraints imposed by laws on theft and on murder were parts of the scheme of Providence for checking those crimes, as of denying that the restraints imposed by human laws on licentiousness, particularly by making the man bear the burthens of paternity, were parts of the restraints of Providence. He held, that all human laws ought to be such as carried with them the sanction of Providence, and should, therefore, at least in part, be considered as the Ordinances of God. He did not by this mean to say, that all laws were, in fact, wise, he only meant to assert that the Commissioners in considering generally the restraints of law as opposed to the restraints of Providence had proceeded on an erroneous principle. The Commissioners next proceeded to say—"In the natural state of things a child, until emancipated, depends on its parents." Let the House mark the phrase, "on its parents;" not on one parent, but on both. Let their lordships recollect then, that according to the Commissioners themselves illegitimate children must be dealt with as having two parents.
The Bishop of London
From what part of the Report is my reverend friend quoting? Where is this language to be found?
The Bishop of Exeter
At page 195 of the Report of the Commissioners, under the remedial measures. Here, then, he had an important admission from the Commissioners, that in the natural state of things a child until emancipated depended on its parents. To that sound principle he had no doubt their Lordships would assent. Why, then, was not that 590 rude to be observed with illegitimate as well as with legitimate children? "Because," according to the Commissioners, "only one of the parents of an illegitimate child can be ascertained." Indeed! then this Bill performed an impossibility; for it ascertained who were both the parents, whenever the protection of the parish was the object in view, though it would do nothing so long as the unhappy mother only was the party. He said, that the allegation of the Commissioners was disproved by the provisions of the Bill, which went on the principle that both the parents could be discovered. He would proceed to inquire what were the just claims which a child possessed as soon as it drew breath. The Commissioners, as a further step towards the natural state of thing's, recommended, that the mother of an illegitimate child should be required to support it, and that any relief occasioned by the wants of the child be considered, relief afforded to the parent. Now, he would adopt the language of the Commissioners, and would carry it one step further. He would say, that the father and mother of an illegitimate child, when ascertained, should both be required to support it, while both, or either of them, should be able. Having thus established that justice required the parents to maintain the child, he did not think it right to weaken his argument by adverting to the minor arguments of expediency, on which alone the opposite doctrines he was sure would be based. After what had been so well said by the Commissioners in their Report, no one would say, that in justice all the charge of maintaining the child ought to fall upon the mother. If, then, the principle of this clause were to be supported, it must be on the grounds of expediency. Their Lordships might be told that it was expedient for all, and for the good of the mother herself, that the law should press hard on the woman who became a mother before she became a wife. He could not consent to such an argument, for he was not one of those who could consent to do evil that good might follow. He could not concur in the principle that by the laws of the land, which ought to be a transcript of the laws of God, the duty of maintaining the illegitimate child should belong wholly to the mother. But, even in respect of the good that was to be expected, were they so sure that this alteration would work in the manner in 591 which the Commissioners supposed. On the contrary, it appeared to him, from their own admissions—from the very facts recited here—that the present Bastardy-laws, if wisely administered, would, in many instances, meet all real difficulties, and remove the evils so much complained of. With their Lordships' permission, he would quote one or two cases which the Commissioners had laid before the House. 'In Swallowfield, Berks, (reported one of 'these gentlemen), we adopted the prac- 'tice, a few years ago, of paying the 'mother so much of the allowance from 'the father as was immediately necessary 'for the support of the child. The effect 'was precisely what we expected and 'desired it should be.' This was only saying that, in Swallowfield, there was a wise and prudent administration of the existing law. Then, why was it not made compulsory on all parishes to administer the existing law in this manner? Why was not that made the duty of the Commissioners? But there was also the authority of the Commissioners themselves, that all would be done that need be done, or nearly so. The Report went on:—'If we had persevered in the prac- 'tice, I have no doubt it would have been 'productive of salutary consequences; 'but a question having arisen as to its 'legality, we were compelled, reluctantly, 'to abandon it.' But why was it not legal? Because those parishes thought fit to take from the father a larger sum than was necessary for the maintenance of the child, and to give the mother only so much as was necessary. To be sure this was grossly illegal; but if the parishes had been content to make an order, through the intervention of the Magistrates, for only so much as was necessary for the support of the child, the case would have been very different. In the parish of Cookham a similar plan was adopted, and Mr. Whateley said, that with a population of 3,337 persons, but one bastard had been affiliated within the last five years. When Mr. Whateley began his administration, fifteen bastards annually were born in that parish. This was the parish of which the sub-Commissioner was pleased to use such strong language, with respect to the state of female chastity in England. By way of illustration, and to prove that female chastity in England is a nonentity, he refers to the parish of Cookham, in which, with a population of 3,337 592 persons, fifteen bastards were born in a year. Now, my Lords, in such a population there could not be fewer than 1,700 females. Thus the number of bastard children was not quite one per cent of the number of females, and yet, upon this instance, specially, being the strongest that could be named, did this sub-Commissioner found the monstrous statement contained in his Report. In another parish (Bingham) in Nottinghamshire, with a population of upwards of 1,700, the adoption of this plan had the effect of preventing the birth of any bastard child. Mr. Dean the overseer's account was this:—'Twelve years ago we 'introduced this caution: when a woman 'came, saying she was with child, she was 'taken before the Magistrate in the usual 'way; the sessions made the order on the 'father in the usual way. Then we told 'her she must get the money from the 'father herself, as we should never trouble 'him; and that if she became chargeable 'to us, we should send her to the house 'of correction, and all women are invari- 'ably so sent. Before this we used to 'have five or six bastards born every 'year; now we have under two. These 'are still sworn and affiliated in the usual 'way; there is no change in that respect; 'but if the mother applies for relief, we 'enforce the law, and send her to prison. 'So the mothers now never think of ap- 'plying to the parish, but arrange with 'the fathers as well as they can, and 'maintain the children as well as they 'can. There are no bastards on the 'parish books now but one; and this is a 'particular case, where the mother was 'ill-treated by the father.' This was the effect of an improved administration of the existing laws in a parish where, formerly, the number of bastards born was five or six every year. Their Lordships would, therefore, at once perceive, from the statement he had quoted, that by wholesomely administering the existing Bastardy-laws, the number of bastards born every year might be so reduced as to render fresh legislation unnecessary. In arguing this case, he begged it might not be imagined that he regarded lightly the offence of a woman having a child before she was married according to the rites of the Church; she was bound most certainly, by all laws divine and human, not to bear a child until after marriage; still he must contend, that there was no slight 593 extenuation of the woman's faults in many instances in the very peculiar nature of the Marriage-law in England. An Act was passed—commonly called the Marriage Act—in the time of George 2nd, which, whatever might be its character, was mainly intended to protect the property of the country, and to prevent young persons in the more opulent classes from contracting improvident marriages, and sacrificing their future prospects in life. That was the avowed object of the Marriage-law which now subsists in England. Before the time when it was passed, marriage was a very easy thing to accomplish; a marriage solemnized by a priest either of the Church of Rome or of the Church of England, was a valid marriage to all intents and purposes; however quietly, however secretly, that marriage was solemnized, it was a complete and legal marriage for all intents and purposes whatsoever. Not only did there exist a facility of obtaining marriage, which was open to all classes of the community, but the Legislature, with particular and just regard to promises of marriage given before the solemnization of the ceremony, declared that there was one species of contract, called by the lawyers verba in presenti, and another species of promise called verba de futuro, which, if followed by a bodily connexion, was deemed a contract of so stringent and binding a nature, that the parties were bound to complete it in facie ecelesiœ. That old law went very far, indeed, to recognise what might fairly be considered as the natural state of things. The highly artificial state of this country had rendered a much more artificial and complicated law necessary for the regulation of marriages; but in all countries where a natural state of things prevailed, there was not to be found a more rigid rule of marriage than the slight one he had mentioned. He said that, to show that, naturally—and he said it most sincerely, for it was his sincere belief—if a man had promised a woman marriage, and that woman had yielded to him in consequence of that promise, he was conscientiously bound to consider himself her husband, and to complete the contract between them by going with her to church, and doing all that the law of the land required him to do. That being the case, he begged their Lordships to consider the probability of a large proportion of the 594 cases of bastardy, which were made so much of in these Reports, originating in promises of this kind. He should say a great many; for in a population of 3,000 or 4,000 persons of both sexes, it could hardly be supposed, if female chastity were a nonentity, that so many unions between the sexes would produce only so small a proportion of bastard children as that which appeared to have been produced even in the parish of Cookham. He was afraid that, in a great many instances, connexion took place before marriage; he was ready to admit, that in many instances the marriage was caused by the apprehension of the Magistrates and the House of Correction; but he hoped, that in many more this apprehension was mixed with another motive, that the woman was enabled to say, "You promised me marriage, and I yielded because I trusted to you," and that the man's good feelings being awakened, he made the only reparation in his power before the injury was discovered. He would not trespass longer on their attention. He had already gone into the details of the case at much greater length than he could have wished. A great deal more occurred to his mind on the subject; but having rested his argument on the ground of justice, he would not weaken its effect by taking the other I ground of expediency; although, even on that ground he might be enabled, he thought, to answer any arguments that might be urged against him. He would conclude by moving—as they had arrived at the consideration of the point on whom the maintenance of the child should rest—that this clause be omitted, for the purpose of inserting the following;—"That the father and mother of such child, or the survivor of them, shall be bound to maintain such child; and that no parish or union shall be bound to maintain, or assist in maintaining, such child, so long as the father and mother of such child, or either of them, is able to maintain the same; and that all relief granted on account of such child shall be considered as granted to such father and such mother, or of the survivor of them."
The Bishop of London
was quite aware, that his right reverend friend, in taking the course which he had thought proper to adopt on this occasion, had chosen the popular side of the question. He could assure their Lordships that he was by no means unaware of the obloquy which any 595 person incurred who maintained the contrary opinion. He could most sincerely say, having been one of the Commissioners to whom the consideration of this subject had been intrusted, that if their object had not really been to promote the interests of those unhappy females whom his right reverend friend had described as the objects of their systematic outrage, he would not venture to stand forward in this House to defend the recommendations of the Commissioners. He was not in the House when his right reverend friend commenced his address. He understood, however, that his right reverend friend censured the Commissioners for having throughout the Report, spoken of the seducer as the unfortunate person, and of the woman as the vicious party and the real offender. He had looked through the Report, and it certainly appeared to him, that the Commissioners had not spoken of either in the terms his right reverend friend had used, or perhaps in terms of as great severity as the nature of the case might appear to deserve. The Commissioners did not consider themselves called upon, in assisting Parliament on this question, to enter into all the moral, and much less into all the religious considerations which were indirectly mixed up with it. He could not find the word "unfortunate" applied, as his right reverend friend stated it to be, in the Report of the Commissioners. It was perfectly true, that the epithet "unfortunate" was applied to the man in the Report of one of the Assistant Commissioners. He must beg, however, to protest against their Lordships' imputing to the Commissioners every sentiment, much less every expression, used by the Assistant Commissioners, of whose aid they had availed themselves, in obtaining the materials on which to found their Report. A number of expressions were used by more than one Assistant Commissioner, to which he, as a Chief Commissioner, did not assent, but the Commissioners felt that it was right and fitting to lay before the Legislature, and the public, the conclusions at which those intelligent persons had arrived; the Commissioners drawing their own conclusions from, and founding their recommendations upon them. There was one censure passed by a very able and intelligent Assistant Commissioner on female virtue in this country, which certainly was strongly worded. He was 596 perhaps, disposed to admit, that that Commissioner, though able and intelligent, had a style of writing which, perhaps, indicated a certain degree of warmth—not to say precipitancy—which now and then led him to conclusions somewhat beyond what the premises would warrant. After all, however, he was not aware that his right reverend friend had adduced anything in opposition to that statement, beyond his own assertion; and he feared if they looked to the evidence laid before the chief Commissioners, they should find statements very nearly corroborating that of the Assistant Commissioner, who had been referred to. The only fact which his right reverend friend had adduced, in contradiction of the assertions to which he alluded, and which, for obvious motives, he forbore stating in so many words, was, that in a remarkably well-managed parish—the parish of Cookham—which was under the superintendence of one of the most able and intelligent magistrates in this country, the number of illegitimate children had been only five in the last five years. He was afraid, that they must not estimate the chastity of the lower orders by the number of children born illegitimate. If they had the means of ascertaining what number of children were born within that period after marriage, which would morally constitute them illegitimate, he was afraid that, instead of fifteen, they would amount to 150. That was not mere conjecture, as he trusted he could convince their Lordships by referring to a very short passage in the evidence relative to the parish of Crawley. Its population was about 1350, but the average number of bastards did not exceed one in each year—"for the man marries the woman as soon as she is with child, in the expectation of being better off. The order is generally 2s. on the father, and nothing on the mother." My Lords, another gentleman stated to Mr. Walcot, that, "in forty-nine out of every fifty marriages that he had been called on to perform in his parish, amongst the lower orders, the female was either with child, or had had one, and many affirmed this of nineteen out of twenty cases." It was with great pain that he entered into those disgusting details; but he felt it a duty which he owed to himself and his brother Commissioners, to show their Lordships, that it had been proved, that the condition of the lower classes of 597 this country, in respect to their sense of their moral obligations, had sadly deteriorated. In this opinion he was fully borne out by Mr. Villiers, a most active and intelligent Assistant Commissioner. "Bastardy," he said, "leads to marriage." At Bulkington in Warwickshire, Mr. Warner stated, that he had lately questioned the clergyman of the parish as to the proportion of pregnant women among the poor whom he married, and his reply was, "not less than nineteen out of every twenty." At Nuneaton the solicitor to the parish, Mr. Greenaway, stated, 'That 'his house looked into the church-yard: that he was in the habit purposely of 'watching the persons going to be married, and that he could confidently say, 'that seventeen out of every twenty of the female poor who went there for that 'purpose, were far advanced in pregnancy.' He was willing to admit, that these might be selected cases, and most happy should he be not to find himself compelled to take them as a specimen of the moral feeling of the lower orders of the people in this country; at all events they were sufficient to prove what he wished to demonstrate—namely, that the instance adduced by his right reverend friend of the parish of Cookham did not prove the negative of what Mr. Tyrell had advanced. He must confess, that he was greatly astonished by one proposition of his right reverend friend—at least, if he had comprehended the latter part of his right reverend friend's argument. His rig-ht reverend friend seemed to argue, that if the man who seduced an unhappy female, and induced her to yield to his wishes, was afterwards, for fear of a prison, or other consequences, resulting from the birth of a child, induced to marry her, that at once did away with the evil of the action; that in point of fact, it was to be considered as a regular marriage, and that there was no serious inconvenience requiring legislative interference. He could not imagine any doctrine more calculated to desecrate the holy estate of matrimony, and the inestimable benefits which God in his goodness, when he sanctioned that holy estate, intended to flow from it, than that an encouragement should be actually afforded by the existing laws to such a course of proceeding. It was not enough to say, that if such a doctrine were allowed, no check was imposed upon the commission 598 of crime, for, in point of fact, the strongest imaginable encouragement was given to it. It was with a view to obviate the unholy mischiefs to which such a system must inevitably give rise, that the Commissioners had been induced to recommend to their Lordships the imposition of this preventive check on incontinency. His right reverend friend had said, with his usual power of language, and in that forcible manner which always distinguished his speeches, that the law of a Christian country ought to be a transscript of the law of God. He wished it were so, as far as possible; the former ought never to be contrary to the latter; but it was quite clear, so long as human nature remained as it did, and considering the different objects with which divine and human laws were founded, that, in all cases, they could not be the same. With regard to compelling the father to maintain a child not born in wedlock, he called upon his right reverend friend to point out any law of God of which the law of this country, proceeding on such a principle, could be a transcript. His right reverend friend had urged as an argument against meddling with the law, that the existing law, when properly and judiciously administered, had produced the good effects which the Commissioners anticipated from the recommendations they had submitted to their Lordships. To a certain extent that was true; but the very extract his right reverend friend had read, proved that, to a certain extent also, it was not. For whatsoever be the source of the evil of the present system, it was quite clear, that the improvement had been effected only by the zeal, the energy, and the persevering determination of individuals, the cessation of whose exertions, arising from sickness or other causes, would at once derange the whole machinery, and undo the improvement. This, indeed, had been proved in the case of Cookham, on which his right reverend friend had laid so much stress. Mr. Whateley fell sick; he was confined for a few weeks; and the immediate consequence was, that during even his short absence from his arduous duties, the whole system he had brought into operation fell into disorder. It was perfectly clear, then, that any improved system must not only be wisely devised, but wisely and regularly administered, since, under the present laws, if the system were left to itself even for a month, it took a wrong direc- 599 tion; and it was a sufficient reason for making a radical alteration in the laws, that the most trifling improvement could be produced only by a concentration of talent, energy, zeal, and perseverance, such as was rarely to be met with in one individual. His right reverend friend asked on what principle of equity or justice the mother of an illegitimate child could be punished, while the father was suffered to escape? That was a question upon which he was unwilling to enter, because to solve it would involve an abstract discussion on speculative points. It was perhaps a sufficient answer to say, that, under the ordinances of a merciful Providence, it was quite clear that the mother, where human laws could not interfere, must suffer more than the father. He begged further to say, that the principle his right reverend friend advocated was not that upon which the laws of this country had always proceeded, the principle of the Bastardy-laws having always been, to punish—not the father, but the mother. That was the effect of the statute of the 18th of James 1st. The practice of our law since the reign of James 1st had been to punish the woman—not the seducer—as a lewd woman, by imprisonment. The man had been only punished by compelling him to pay a certain sum of money to the parish for the maintenance of his child, and that, not for the punishment of the offence he had committed, but for the security of the parish. But he must take upon himself to deny, that the question of punishment formed any element in the consideration of the present subject. His right reverend friend's argument was, that when two parties were equally guilty, the punishment, if inflicted upon one only, became an unjust and rigorous penalty. Prevention, and not punishment, ought to be the object of legislation. In this case it appeared to him that the great recommendation of the alterations proposed by the Commissioners was, that they were likely to be effectual, to a certain extent, in preventing the offence alluded to. He knew no better way of forming a judgment with any prospect of arriving at the truth, in such a case as the present, than by resorting to experience; and he put it to his right reverend friend, whether they had not abundant testimony to show, that wherever something like this system had been acted upon with perseverance and determination, the sin of incontinency had 600 been very much prevented, and the number of bastard children greatly diminished. On looking to the report, he found, that the same principle had been acted upon for a much longer period, and with success, in the United States of America. The Commissioners said, 'In Boston, 'Baltimore, and Salem, the principle has 'long been acted upon—namely, that the 'public will not undertake to bring up 'illegitimate children without expense to 'the mother. The consequence is, that 'in 1826 but ten cases came under the 'notice of the public officers at Boston, 'and but two at Salem; while in Balti- 'more the public was put to no expense 'whatever in respect to them? In the 'same year, in Philadelphia, where 'no such system prevails, the number 'of bastards under the care of the 'guardians of the poor, was 272.' He could not help troubling their Lordships by referring to the evidence of one witness which he considered extremely important, as showing the opinion entertained by that class of persons for whom they were now especially legislating, as to the manner in which some such suggestions as those of the Poor-law Commissioners would probably affect their interests. The testimony which had been given by the labouring poor in more than one parish, in favour of this Bill, was, perhaps, the most important that had been collected. Mr. Tidd Pratt, a gentleman whose evidence had been frequently and deservedly quoted in reference to this and other parts of the subject, was asked—"What is the course adopted by the labouring classes, in their friendly societies, with regard to illegitimate children?" It was quite obvious, that taking a philosophical view of this subject, they must consider every parish as one great friendly society; in proportion as they did that, they would bring the administration of the Poor-laws to something like perfection. The answer was:—"In female societies, which are numerous and increasing, they utterly deprive the parties of all relief, and they expel them. In male societies, they allow no benefit on the birth of a child, unless such child is born in wedlock. In those societies which allow an annuity or other payment to a widow on the death of a member, the benefit is forfeited by her having lived apart from her husband during his life- 601 time, or having an illegitimate child after his death." Mr. Pratt was also asked:—"Then in all cases they utterly disallow relief to a woman who has a bastard child?" He replied:—"Yes; both in male and female societies." That was the principle which the Commissioners recommended—that was the principle, the adoption of which he hoped would confer a lasting benefit on the community. When he rose to address their Lordships, he did not think of trespassing on their attention so long. He could assure them, that he should not have troubled them at such a length, if he had not felt himself called upon by the comments of his right reverend friend, to do that which he should not otherwise have felt it necessary to do—he meant to say a few words in defence of his brother Commissioners and himself. This was a subject in which they were all interested to a certain extent, not merely as legislators, or as persons intrusted by the Legislature with the inquiries into the subject, but as men—as gentlemen—as Christians. He was quite sure, that he spoke the sentiments of his brother Commissioners, as well as his own, when he said, that if they were not well convinced, that they were consulting the real happiness and comfort of the most interesting and defenceless portion of the human race, by making the suggestions they urged their Lordships to adopt, they would be the last to propose them. There was one argument of some importance which he had not yet touched upon. Notwithstanding the tone adopted by his right reverend friend, and that which he had felt it due to himself to adopt in reply, the whole discussion was almost upon a mere grammatical question, "whether it were just to fix a penalty not upon the man, but upon a man." It was very true, that if it were possible in all cases to fix upon the actual father, it would be proper to legislate with a view to impose upon him a certain pecuniary penalty; but there was no security for fixing the offence upon the real offender. He would not disgust their Lordships by entering into any detailed argument; but he apprehended it was quite clear, that when an unfortunate woman ceased to blush, she had no scruple in making her shame her trade, and fixing without remorse upon a man who might be, perhaps, perfectly innocent, with respect either to herself or to others; she did not hesitate to fix upon him the brand 602 of ignominy, when she expected to reap from it a rich harvest for the maintenance of herself and her child. The present laws, in this respect, were calculated to deteriorate the morality, and to blunt the feelings of the lower orders of this country—the most numerous part of our population—the foundation of our prosperity—the sinews of our strength. It was on this ground—admitting that individual cases of hardship might occur—as they would under all great measures—yet, being convinced, upon the whole, that the community at large would be greatly benefited, if their Lordships thought fit to adopt the rules which the Commissioners proposed for their acceptance, that he had taken upon himself the task of defending those recommendations.
The Earl of Falmouth
said, that his feelings most entirely rebelled against acquiescing in such a proposition as was contained in the clause now under the consideration of their Lordships. He deprecated the charge being cast wholly upon the female, for he was satisfied that, in nine cases out of ten, the seducer was the real offender, and not the woman, for she generally, by his arts, became his victim. Notwithstanding the great mass of evidence which had been adduced to show that the women were really the parties to be blamed for the errors into which both sexes, and every class of the community had so frequently fallen, his own experience, coupled with that of his neighbours, who were well versed and experienced in parish affairs, taught him, that these clauses would be wholly inoperative. The Bill, it was true, provided, that where the mother could not support the child, that then recourse must be had to the putative father; but, in the rural districts, the provisions of the Bill would defeat its own object; for the father being an agricultural labourer, long before the birth would contrive to reach another district, far out of the reach of the parish authorities. The security of the parish was entirely lost by the repeal of the powers of summoning the putative father during the pregnancy of the woman. On the whole, he never had supported more cordially any proposition than he should that which had been proposed by the right reverend Prelate opposite (the Bishop of Exeter) on the present occasion.
The Earl of Radnor
was surprised at the sentiments which had been expressed 603 by the noble Earl who had last addressed their Lordships. The noble Earl had deprecated the abolition of the power in the parish authorities to summon the putative father before the Magistrates, with a view to fix upon him the maintenance of his child; but the noble Earl had forgotten the evil consequences which arose from obliging an unhappy female of eighteen or nineteen years of age the victim of seduction, to come before a bench of Magistrates to swear to the father of her child. It had been forgotten by the noble Earl, that this practice must necessarily lead to the loss of that sense of shame which ought to be inherent in the female, while the exposure precluded the chance of her ever retrieving her character and self-esteem, which would be afforded to her if she could, through the instrumentality of her friends, hide her shame, and give birth to her child without being summoned before the Magistrates. From his experience as a Magistrate sitting at Petty Session, he was induced to come to a very different conclusion from that to which the noble Earl had arrived. Experience had taught him that the laws of bastardy, as now administered, produced a mass of perjury which it was truly frightful to contemplate. In support of the proposed plan, he would mention that, in the parish of St. George, Hanover-square, there were, about two months ago, 126 or 127 bastard children provided for by the parish. The parochial officers determined to prepare a house for the reception of these children, and take them under their own care and control, and to refuse relief to the mothers. After this determination was promulgated, out of 127 cases, only eight applied for relief. This showed most clearly that, if it were compulsory upon them, the mothers would contrive to provide for their illegitimate children. He repeated, that by the adoption of the proposed scheme, by saving unfortunate females from the exposure which was attendant upon the present laws, an opportunity would be afforded to them of retrieving their injured fame, and of returning to the paths of virtue. Under such circumstances he should support the clause.
§ Lord Wynford
said, that though he entertained the highest respect and esteem for many of the commissioners from whom the present Bill had emanated, and with whom he had the satisfaction of being acquainted, yet he must differ from them 604 upon the point now under the consideration of their Lordships. The law and even the Statute of Elizabeth had been misrepresented, because it had been misunderstood. It had been presumed that the law provided the payments to be made to the mother of the bastard child, and that her profligacy was only increased by such payments made to her use. Such, however, was not the law, and it was desirable that Magistrates who had the laws to administer should be informed of the fact that these payments to the mother herself were contrary and not according to the law as it at present stood. The payments were solely designed by the statute of Elizabeth to go to the indemnification of the parish from the charge of the maintenance of the child. By the alteration which was now contemplated, so far from decreasing the number of illegitimate children, the effect would be that the father, knowing that he was free from responsibility or punishment, would redouble his exertions in effecting the seduction of the object of his arts, and hence an increase in the list of illegitimates would ensue. He would remind their Lordships that great as was the crime of incontinency, still that of infanticide was a much more serious offence, and he would ask if any noble Lord was not satisfied on consideration that the enactments of such a clause as that now under discussion would tend greatly to the increase of that worst offence of the two? He condemned the proposition as most inefficient for the object it contemplated—namely, the security of the parishes, and was most cruel upon the female portion of the community. He deprecated, as much as the noble Earl, the abominable practice of bringing up a pregnant female before a Bench of Magistrates to swear to the author of her shame, and he was as anxious as the noble Earl could be to see that practice abolished. It was not required by law that any such indecent exhibition should be made. He felt convinced, that these clauses would wholly fail in the objects they were designed to achieve, and he should, under such circumstances, give them opposition.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that after the observations which he had addressed to their Lordships on this day week, when he had opened the measure, he had thought he had precluded the possibility of his being called upon to take a part in any discussion which might arise upon this 605 portion of the Bill, to which he had so specially and at some length called the attention of their Lordships. He, however, felt it due to the able and learned Commissioners whose labours had led to the measure now under discussion, to offer a very few observations in reference to what had been urged by noble Lords opposite, and by the right reverend Prelate near him (the Bishop of Exeter.) In the first place, he could not help thinking that the idea of imputing harshness or cruelty, or want of kindly feeling to the Commissioners towards the female portion of the community for the recommendation which they had submitted to the Legislature was, to say the least of it, if not uncharitable, because he could not conceive it to be uncharitably meant, supporting one of the grossest delusions that ever was attempted to be practised by men upon themselves. The question for their Lordships was one of expediency,—namely, in what manner it was possible to legislate to prevent bastardy, and to prevent bastard children from becoming burthensome to the parish in which they might be born. It was not the object of this measure to do honour to female virtue and chastity, though God forbid that in any alteration of the Poor-laws of this country anything should be done to the prejudice of the female character of the natives of this country. It was not the object, as had been assumed, of this Bill to make women chaste and men continent, for if that were the object, he doubted if their Lordships could be asked to agree to it. He was prepared, however, to demonstrate, that if the Bill had been constructed with a view to protect female virtue, and not to amend the Poor-laws, to make man more continent, and not to diminish parochial burthens, it could not have been better framed for the attainment of those objects than it now was. It had been objected to the Bill that it introduced a principle which went to punish the female who gave birth to an illegitimate child, and not the father. Now, he would undertake to say, that such was the uniform course of legislation, such was the law of the land already, and such was the principle on which all moralists had proceeded, and on which also Parliament proceeded every day in the year; and last of all, it was the principle upon which the laws of society at present stood. It was no novelty, neither was it proposed now for 606 the first time to the Legislature. Two or three years ago their Lordships had placed upon their own journals the evidence of a most excellent and experienced gentleman, Mr. Simeon, the son of his late esteemed friend, the Master in Chancery—Sir John Simeon. That gentleman had been examined before a Committee of their Lordships appointed to inquire into the state of the Poor-laws (a Committee, he must remind their Lordships, for he drew a great distinction between a Committee and a Commission), and in page 361 of the valuable Report of that Committee the following appears:—Mr. Simeon replies, in answer to a question put to him in reference to the bastardy laws, that "the bastardy laws proceed upon the principle of indemnifying the parish, by throwing the onus of the bastard upon the father. Now (said Mr. Simeon) I rather believe that we shall never be able to check the birth of bastard children by throwing the onus upon the man, and I feel strongly convinced that until the law of the country is assimilated to the law of nature, and to the law of every other country, by throwing the onus more upon the female, the getting of bastard children will never be checked." This extract demonstrated that the Commissioners were not the inventors of this scheme as those excellent and learned individuals had been charged. A great outcry had been raised against the Commissioners, as if they were the originators of the plan. Nothing could be further from the truth. They were not to be charged as the originators of a measure which had been described as one which could be devised only by men of ungenerous sentiments and unmanly feelings. The plan had been recommended by Mr. Senior, who was a Magistrate, and no theorist; whose name, be was sure, was sufficient to convince their Lordships that he was not a person who would recommend anything inconsistent with justice and humanity. But what said the law of the land? Ever since the time of James 1st, bastardy had been regarded and punished as a crime in the woman, who was liable to be sent to prison or the House of Correction, while the man was suffered to escape. Yet this very principle was no more than that which the Commissioners had laid down, and which had been designated by those who had assailed and attacked them as unmanly, detestable, and abhorrent to every principle 607 of humanity. But though he might expose himself to such attacks, and even to unpopularity, he was ready to participate with the right reverend Prelate in all the blame and censure which might be cast upon him for the course he now felt it to be his duty to pursue even at the expense of being denounced by his countrywomen, for the protection of whose honour and virtue he was as chivalrously devoted as any man in or out of that House. At the risk of even suffering in that quarter he had arrived at the conclusion at which also the right reverend Prelate had arrived—namely, to support the recommendation made by Mr. Senior in the year 1830—a recommendation which had been repeated by the Poor-law Commissioners in their report. He was ready to run the risk of every denunciation and of every degree of unpopularity when called on to support what he considered his duty, and what he considered beneficial to the country at large. But he need not refer either to Mr. Simeon's evidence, or to the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners, for common sense dictated that though want of chastity was a crime, a sin in man, it was still greater in a woman, whose error corrupted society at its very root. A noble Lord shook his head; but that noble Lord had only considered the subject superficially if he did not admit, that want of chastity in woman was a much more grievous offence than want of chastity in man. How could any person deny this? Did not the practice of all ages—did not the law of the land—and, indeed, did not common sense declare this to be the fact? Was it nothing for a woman to bring a spurious offspring to the bed of her husband; and would any noble Lord deny, that the sin of incontinence was not greater in an unmarried female than in an unmarried man? If this were doubted by any noble Lord, or any individual who heard him, the party doubting was guilty of the grossest hypocrisy; because, would any man hesitate to say, that if he saw his daughter in a house of ill-fame he would not hold her in a very different light from that in which he would regard his son if he discovered him in the same situation? In short, could noble Lords shut their eyes to what was of daily occurrence? Everybody knew, that unmarried men did not lead a life of continency, and that one-twentieth part of crimes of this description committed by a man would be the utter ruin 608 of a female. The laws of society took precisely the same view of the subject; a virtuous woman was regarded as the bond of society, and when she once lost her virtue, "a pearl of great price," adieu to all decorum and decency in society; and if female chastity was once at a discount, not merely would the bonds of society be loosened, but actually burst asunder. Could there be any doubt of this? With the woman the decision of the question rested. Without her consent the consent of the man was useless, and the law of the land decided that the great part of the blame rested with her. This was peculiarly the case in adultery. That crime was visited by the law more severely in the woman than in the man; and could any man blame that law which placed the peeresses of the land—the women of the first rank—on the same footing with women of the middling and lower classes of society? But there was another question. Was the putative father always the real father? Was the man who was compelled to maintain the child always the person, who either by the laws of nature or common justice, ought to provide for its support? Every one knew the contrary. The right reverend Prelate knew this as well as any man, and could not deny the gross injustice, the perjury and immorality, which the present system gave rise to. What was the result of the law as it at present stood? Did not the wily seducer of a woman know that if he went a step further in guilt, and could tempt his paramour to have an intrigue with one richer than himself, he might afterwards induce her to palm his bastard child upon the latter; and that thus corrupting first her chastity, and then her honesty, he might render her the wife of one who had not been actually guilty of her seduction, and might afterwards, perhaps, commit with her the still more heinous offence of adultery? The general practice was for the woman to choose a wealthier man, and swear the child to him, whether he was the father or not. Every man knew, that such was the practice, and none better than those who had to preside at Petty Sessions; and he would ask could anything be more disgusting, anything more degrading to females, or any thing more destructive of the bonds of civilized society, than the practices which, day after day, and year after year were brought to light before the Magistrates? There was perjury on the 609 part of the woman, dishonesty on the part of the man, and these combined led to the greatest injustice and oppression. The present law encouraged and fostered a crime only second to murder—the detestable crime of wilful and corrupt perjury. One word with regard to the hardship inflicted on the woman, and the effect which the proposed Amendment of the law would have, and in order to give weight to any observations of his own, he would refer their Lordships to a letter of the reverend Mr. Whateley. In this letter the reverend Gentleman stated, that in consequence of the regulations which he had adopted in his parish, (and these regulations, by the way, were exactly of the same kind with those contained in that Bill), he had reduced the poor-rates from 3,000l. to 1,200l. a-year, and the expenses for bastardy from 300l. to 12l. The reverend Gentleman further stated, that he had undergone much obloquy for some time—that at first he had met with great opposition from his parishioners, but that latterly the feeling had not only subsided, but had been changed into another of a very different description. The parishioners, too, had lately, without the reverend Gentleman's concurrence, presented a memorial to the proprietor of his vicarage to induce him to sell the advowson to him, as a compliment for the part he had taken in their behalf. The noble Lord, and the right reverend Prelate could not deny, that the plan of Mr. Whateley was good, not only as regarded the Poor-laws, but the Bastardy-laws; and why, therefore, did they not move for the rejection of the whole Bill? He admitted, that much had been done already by a change of system, but that had been visible only in a few parishes. There were four parishes, for instance, who had reformed themselves; but they formed only a dim light amidst the darkness that surrounded them. There were only a few gallant and spirited individuals who ventured to oppose prejudice, and submit to obloquy: these had fanned the flame of parish reform, and it was the duty of Parliament to come to their aid: the gloom that surrounded them might last for a season, but it would in time be dissipated. He called upon their Lordships to come to the aid of these parishes; to give them the authority which a lawgiver could only impart, and, by passing this measure, to extend all over the country the same system which 610 had been successful at Cookham, and the three other parishes which had been enumerated.
The Bishop of Exeter
, in reply, said, that he would not detain their Lordships longer than was necessary for referring to one or two points, which seemed to him to require explanation or illustration. He must repeat, that he considered the part of the measure now under their Lordships' consideration to be pregnant with the rankest and foulest injustice. It obliged the mother solely to maintain her bastard child if she could, while the father was excused from all liability, and that he charged as an act of the grossest injustice possible. It was, he asserted, contrary to the law of God; and he did not hesitate to say, that the maintenance of his illegitimate child was a duty imposed upon the father as much by the divine law as it was by human legislation. He must say, that he was astonished when he heard his right reverend brother call upon him to point out any distinct text of Scripture enjoining this doctrine. He had said, and he repeated it, that it was the law of mercy which religion impressed on the hearts of all men, and therefore no one could doubt that such a duty was incumbent on man according to the law of God. This must, he was convinced, be the feeling of every upright man. If, for instance, any one of their Lordships had the misfortune of having an illegitimate child, could it be doubted that he would feel it as much his duty to maintain that child as if it had come into the world under the sanction of the law? And if that was the case, would not every man who heard him—every man in the country possessing the feelings of a man—shudder at the proposition now before them? This was not only a duty imposed upon them by the general principles of religion, but it was an obligation to which express reference was made in the Holy Gospel. It was there said, that "he who does not provide for his own is worse than an infidel;" and therefore, where there could be no doubt as to whom the child belonged, the father was, even according to Scripture, bound to maintain it. But could a mere doubt excuse him from this duty? He thought that it could not. Nothing could excuse him from maintaining a child unless he had a moral certainty, some irrefragable proof, that it was not his. A man was as much answerable for the maintenance of his bastard before 611 God as he now was, and he hoped would continue to be, before man. It was one thing to provide for restraining the licentiousness of men; but would that be effected by such a law as this? Now what did this Bill contemplate doing? A poor woman was got with child, and after the child was produced, she would be compelled to labour for its support as long as she was able; but if she ultimately came upon the parish, what was to become of her according to this Bill? Why, she was to be consigned to the poor-house. What was then to become of her? She could have no hope of ever marrying, for this humane law put that out of the question altogether. No man would marry a woman so circumstanced, because his doing so would entail upon him the maintenance of her bastard, and therefore to such a woman the workhouse would be like the "Inferno of Dante," and might very properly have over the gate the inscription, "Who enters here, leaves hope behind." The woman who became the inmate of a poor-house, would be lost to hope for at least sixteen years, that being the age at which the child would be bound to maintain itself. But could it be supposed, that during all that time she would be disposed to lead a chaste and immaculate life? He thought not. The probabilities were, that she would not, and the result would be, that the workhouse would have a succession of illegitimate children every year. Under this system, poor-houses would be no better than dens of licentiousness, unless, indeed, women committing such offences were to be shut up in them day and night, without being allowed to see their friends for the whole period of sixteen years; but that would be a punishment so atrocious that he hardly thought their Lordships or the country would allow it to be inflicted. If this Bill were passed, a Session would not go over their heads without a cry being raised, not only by their Lordships, but by the country, for its repeal; for he must say, that a scheme founded on such gross injustice, human ingenuity had never before devised. It was assumed by the framers of the Bill that it belonged of right to the woman to maintain her child; but such assumption was not only most unjust, but contrary to all former legislation. Hitherto she had been protected from bearing more than her fair share of the common sin; but now it seemed she was to be con- 612 signed to a hopeless imprisonment, which was as abhorrent to common sense as it was repugnant to the feelings of manhood. But this part of the measure had only to be known to be generally reprobated by the country. While they pursued this strange sort of moral rigour against the female, were any pains taken to enforce morality on the part of the man? None whatever. The men were to be pardoned in their career of vice and profligacy—were to be excused from the consequences of seduction—no check was to be put upon their immoral proceedings, while the poor victim of their arts was to be compelled to labour until her frame was worn out, arid exhausted nature drove her into an almost interminable imprisonment for the maintenance of the offspring, of their common offence. On her the maintenance of the child was to depend until hardship and necessity drove her into the poor-house, and then only was the punishment of the father to commence, if he could be got at. It was his belief that he could not be got at; but even if he could, what would he be called upon to do? Why simply to provide for the future support of his child, and nothing more; for the charge in the first instance would amount to little or nothing. He would not dwell longer on a subject so painful, but he at the same time begged it to be understood that he did not charge the injustice of the measure upon either those by whom it was proposed, or those who had brought it forward. He believed they were actuated by the best motives; but, being convinced that it was an Act of the foulest and grossest injustice ever thought of, he felt that he should not have done his duty if he had not moved for the omission of the clause.
The Bishop of London
had said nothing of the religious duty of a man to support his offspring. On that he had given no opinion. He said, that there was no express law of God on the subject; and he thought, that his right reverend friend could not believe, that the passage he had quoted from Scripture had any application to the question under consideration. What he had said was, that the law of God being silent on the subject, that enactment would be the most consistent with the law of God which placed the most effectual check on immorality.
§ The Committee divided on the original Clause—Contents 38; Not Contents 14; Majority 24.
|List of the NOT CONTENTS.|
|Bexley, Lord||Kenyon, Lord|
|Boston, Lord||Mountcashel, Earl of|
|Cumberland, Duke of||Shaftesbury, Earl of|
|Exeter, Bishop of||Strangford, Lord|
|Falmouth, Earl of||Westmoreland, Earl of|
|Forrester, Lord||Wynford, Lord|
|Harewood, Earl of|
§ The House adjourned.