The Duke of Buckingham
rose, pursuant to notice, and said that the Petition he had the honour to present to their Lordships was from the inhabitants of Stoke Poges, in the county of Buckingham. It was a petition against the manner in which the Poor-law Commissioners proposed to act in the administration of the Poor-laws with respect to that parish. The facts alleged in the petition were these:—The parish of Stoke Poges had during forty or fifty years a workhouse of its own. The management adopted in it for the relief and accommodation of the poor were as perfect as they could possibly be, and the landowners and land occupiers in the parish were in the habit of giving very high wages to the labourers they employed. The richer landowners were accustomed to pay their 1057 labourers at the rate of, from 12s. to 13s. a week, and the land occupiers and farmers paid them 10s. Those wages were very high indeed. The consequence was, that the poor were well provided for—so well, that he doubted whether, even at this time of the year, more than three paupers were employed in repairing the roads. The complaints contained in the present petition were of so grave a nature that he did not like to present it to their Lordships until he received more ample information respecting it. He sent for the overseers of the parish, requesting them to come and converse with him on the subject of those complaints. They complied with his request, and he begged to mention to their Lordships that those overseers were highly respectable persons. They stated that for forty or fifty years the parish contained a workhouse, and that from its good arrangements and the willingness of the better-off portion of the inhabitants to aid the poor, the poor rates were diminishing every year. The poor in the parish were contented and the landowners and farmers were satisfied with the conduct of the poor. But, unfortunately for the poor of this parish it came under the examination of the Poor-law Commissioners, who after-wards determined to put the parish, and its workhouse in union with thirty other parishes. The parishioners stated to the Poor-law Commissioners, that they had a workhouse of their own sufficiently large for their wants, and sufficiently ample to enable them to adopt any arrangements, or mode of classification recommended by the Commissioners. They begged, therefore, not to have their parish concentrated; but the Commissioners stated their determination to build other workhouses in the parish. To this the parishioners objected, as they did not wish to see any compulsory means adopted towards the paupers. They then presented a memorial to the Commissioners, the result of which was that, instead of having their parish united with thirty others, it was to be united to nineteen, and a workhouse was to be erected four miles distant. The petitioners thought it very hard that the paupers should be removed to such a distance. They complained much of the grievance of removing the poor out of a parish that was well-managed, and transporting them as if to a foreign part. He used the word foreign for though the four miles might seem a short distance to their Lordships they 1058 were considered by the poor as so many leagues. A workhouse was to be built accordingly four miles distant, at Gerard's Cross, to which the paupers were to be removed. When first he heard this statement he could not make up his mind to believe it, but he thought that the Commissioners must be in some way mistaken, for he knew that the regulations of the Commissioners were not as yet passed. However, a Deputy-Commissioner was sent down, who explained to the very excellent Clergymen of the parish the intentions of the Commissioners. He (the Duke of Buckingham) saw the overseers, and he examined them before witnesses. He told them what use he intended to make of their evidence. He warned them not to exaggerate their statements, as he intended to bring them forward before their Lordships, and if they contained an overstatement the fault would rest with the overseers. With this caution he obtained his information from them. The Deputy-Commissioner went down to the parish, and he stated to the clergyman of it the intentions of the Commissioners. The Clergyman told the Deputy Commissioner that there were 12 parishes out of 19 which had their own workhouses, which were well managed in every way, and prepared to meet the objects and intentions of the Commissioners. The answer of the Deputy Commissioner to the Clergyman was, that the Commissioners intended to take advantage of 10 or 12 parish workhouses for the purpose of classification. At first sight, nothing appeared more simple than this scheme of classification. But what sort of classification was this? Why it was to send the poor man to one corner of the union—to send the poor woman to another corner of the union, and to send their children to a third corner of it—thus separating the husband from the wife, and the husband and wife from the children, and sending the children to be educated without any communication with them, and not necessarily in the principles of the Established Church. He would ask whether this was the law of England? No, it could not be the law. Then he would ask their Lordships whether they would leave it in the power of any set of individuals to make such the law of the country? Regulations drawn up by such men, laid before the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and then submitted to the Privy Council might become 1059 the law of England. What he complained of was, that there was no responsible person to answer for those arrangements. He wished to know who was to correct him if his statement should turn out not to be misstated? He believed that the petition had been sent to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who naturally said, that he had nothing to do with it; that it was no business of his. Until the regulations of the Commissioners had been sent in and submitted to his Majesty in Council, the Secretary of State could not interfere in the matter. He begged to know who could? There was no one in Parliament responsible. He had a high opinion of the Poor-law Commissioners, and particularly of his right hon. Friend the Chief Commissioner. But the evil was, that the Commissioners were called upon to make regulations, taking the power of relief out of the Magistrates hands, and placing it in those of overseers and low farmers, who were the least inclined to attend to the wants of the poor. The poor had been threatened with certain arrangements by the Commissioners, and what they had not been threatened with their fears created. The poor of the parish from which the petition proceeded were waiting in anxious expectation in the hope that the Legislature would change this part of the late Act. He feared, that if the poor saw themselves separated from their wives and children they would give themselves up to a feeling of sullenness and discontent that would be very dangerous to the country, particularly at the present time, when so many evil-disposed persons were going about the country and doing and saying all they could to excite the bad passions of the people. He implored their Lordships not to allow this experiment to go on any longer, but, for God's sake, to set the people's minds at rest upon the subject, lest the consequences should be dangerous to the tranquillity of the country.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, my Lords, I certainly agree with my noble Friend that it is most desirable to avoid, by every means in our power, exciting the minds of the people on questions of this nature, and I, therefore, wish that my noble Friend had attended to his own maxim before he presented this petition, and made the statements which he had just made. My noble Friend would have done better if he had ascertained before he presented this petition, and he had the power of ascer- 1060 taining, whether the circumstances mentioned in it were founded on fact? I will take the liberty of calling the attention of my noble Friend, and of your Lordships, to one or two clauses in the Poor-law Amendment Bill, and by doing so I think I shall be able to show your Lordships and my noble Friend how the law precisely stands. By the 4th clause of that Act the Poor-law Commissioners are obliged to record all their proceedings; and, what is more, if they are called upon, they must furnish copies of these proceedings. I know that the petition was mentioned at the office of my right hon. Friend, but my right hon. Friend had no means of making inquiry into the case. He had no knowledge of the circumstances of it, and therefore, he could do nothing on the subject. But I really think that it would have been better both for the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Chandos) who presented a similar petition in another place and for my noble Friend, before they presented their petitions to Parliament to have waited until they saw the proceedings advised by the Commissioners, and until they could make themselves certain that there was a foundation for the charges brought forward against those Gentlemen. Besides, there is a clause in the Act which requires that the Commissioners shall make out a yearly Report, and submit it to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. A year has not yet elapsed since the Bill came into operation, consequently the Commissioners could not make the yearly Report required of them. As I was coming into this House to-day a payer was placed in my hand upon the subject, which as yet I have had no time to read. If the noble Duke will postpone the presentation of the petition until to-morrow, or until some other day, or the discussion of it, I venture to say, that information will be obtained fully to justify the Commissioners for anything they may have done. If the Government had received proper notice I should have taken care to obtain the necessary information on the subject, and should have known how to act.
The Duke of Buckingham
had been wrongly charged with making an attack on these Commissioners without their being sufficiently informed of the matter. They were fully aware of the question. If the noble Duke had read the petition, he would have seen that the petitioners 1061 had addressed a letter to the Commissioners, stating the whole case. He could not postpone presenting the petition, but he was willing to postpone the discussion.
said, that undoubtedly it would be best to postpone the question till further information had been obtained; but it was just one of those unfortunate consequences of the proceeding adopted by the noble Duke, that it was sure to attract attention, so that they were not at liberty to postpone the further consideration of the petition till to-morrow, but it must be answered now, lest the statement should go forth to the country uncontradicted. He was therefore obliged, without the accuracy and fulness of detail which the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) desiderated on so important, and he must be permitted to say, so delicate a question with regard to the feelings of the Commissioners, to go into the matter now. He did not complain of the noble Duke presenting this petition, but he must be permitted to say, that he lamented, lamented without blaming, the occurrence, as having a tendency to alienate the public mind from that confidence which ought to be bestowed on the Commissioners, who he would venture to say, deserved it most fully, not only from their character but from their conduct, and to which they were most especially entitled from their conduct in their present office. These statements had a tendency to alienate the public mind from these Commissioners—to sow suspicions as to their actions—suspicions which had no foundation whatever, and which were absolute chimeras. The noble Duke presented this petition, as he was perhaps bound to do, having had it laid before him; but the noble Duke would be the first to be satisfied with the answer given to it, and so far it was gratifying to reflect that the presenting of the petition afforded an opportunity of at once contradicting the mis-statements it contained, mis-statements which had been pretty widely circulated. Nothing could be more candid than the manner in which the noble Duke had brought forward this petition; and considering the belief he gave to the statement he had been instructed to make, there could be no wonder at the terms in which he had expressed himself. There was one thing in which it was impossible to agree with the noble Duke, namely, that things had been threatened which had not been done, 1062 for he should show that it was not so; but there was one thing in which he fully agreed with the noble Duke, that things were apprehended which were not even threatened, and he should show their Lordships that things were apprehended which had never entered into the minds of the Chief Commissioners, or of any Sub-Commissioner, which they had never even dreamed of, and which had never been imagined but by these petitioners themselves. He should proceed to state what it was absolutely necessary should be stated in order to show the glaring, the almost inexplicable mistakes into which the petitioners had fallen. He entirely agreed with the observation, that when individuals were in a certain state of mind they were more especially apt to apprehend the infliction of evils which had no existence but in their own imaginations. That such was the case in the present instance he should speedily demonstrate to their Lordships. From the statements in the petition their Lordships might suppose that the union of the district of which Stoke Poges formed a principal part, had been volunteered by the Commissioners, and, that, notwithstanding the most urgent objections, and notwithstanding the numerous memorials which were presented against it, they obstinately, inconsiderately, and even without the formality of an inquiry, proceeded to carry it into effect. Now the real fact stood thus:—To the subject of the union the attention of the Commissioners was called by a memorial —presented to them, by whom, and from what quarter? By a number of parishes in the hundred of which this Stoke Poges formed a principal part. By what persons was this petition signed? By the landowners, the assistant Commissioners, the Magistrates, or by the parish officers? No; but by the paupers themselves, who in the document, complained of the bad management of the poor in those parishes, set forth the particulars of that bad management in full detail, and in conclusion, strongly urged the attention of the Commissioners to the propriety of forming a union of the parishes in question. With this memorial the Commissioners did not rest satisfied, but they immediately made inquiries, entered into an extensive correspondence, and adopted every possible means for ascertaining whether the state of those parishes was such as to render a union desirable. This 1063 correspondence confirmed, instead of rebutting the statement of those paupers. Still the Commissioners were not satisfied. They acted as in common discretion they were bound to do. They sent an Assistant-Commissioner to the spot, that he might examine with his own eyes, and hear with his own ears, all that could be seen or heard upon the spot. The Assistant-Commissioner visited the several parishes, and after due inquiry and personal observation found ample information of the statements in the memorial. Yet, he was not satisfied. He went to Salt-hill which he considered as a central position, and by public announcement convened a public meeting of all persons who inhabited the district. There was no exclusion. Overseers, Magistrates, and paupers, if they chose, might have attended. The meeting was a very numerous one, and the Assistant-Commissioner then explained the state of the case, detailed the powers of the Act, dilated on the Representations which had been made to the Commissioners set forth the state and management of the poor in the several parishes, and finally stated the disposition which existed on the part of the Commissioners to accede to the prayer of the memorial. He presented the meeting with no formal plan, but merely stated the disposition of the Commissioners to form a union of the parishes. Without one dissentient voice the whole meeting warmly approved of the proposition. [The Duke of Buckingham: How was the meeting attended?] He was told that the meeting was very numerously attended, and the information which he had received was certainly more accurate than that of the petitioners. Their Lordships recollected, that the first objection was, that the union had been volunteered by the Commissioners, and that it had been precipitately and inconsiderately effected. Now it appeared that the very contrary was the case, and that men in no situation could have proceeded with greater caution, or fenced themselves round with more securities, in order to prevent any impolitic and improvident arrangement. It was next affirmed that the Commissioners gave no consideration to objections, that they hastily overruled all that were made, and altogether acted as if they were obstinately determined to be guided only by their own judgments. He had a paper in his hand—which he would read if he could, [there was a want of light in 1064 the House] but which was at the disposal of the optics of any noble Lord—showing that to every objection the utmost consideration was given, that each was successively gone over, and that the reasons for not entertaining those objections were stated. By the same paper he found that the last objection made to the Commissioners was not overruled. Being anxious to meet so far as was consistent with their duty the wishes of the parties who made the representation, those Gentlemen sent for the Assistant-Commissioner, and after an attentive consideration of the subject they found themselves enabled to comply with the request, not to build a workhouse at Stoke Poges. This they acceded to, because they found the purposes of the union could be effected without resorting to such a measure. Now he begged their Lordships to observe, that one of the principal objections related to the building of a workhouse on Stoke Poges Common, and that the commissioners yielded to the representations made to them. It was unnecessary to go into detail; but if it were necessary he doubted not that he could go over the whole objections, and prove to their Lordships' satisfaction that they were not overruled without good reason. He would now refer to the statement of the petitioners, that their parish was excellently managed, that by the blessing of God (a phrase which he did not disapprove) they had not been visited with those evils which in other parishes had been so grievous, that there was no agricultural distress, that the farmers were contented with their men, and the labourers with their employers; that within the two last years there had been a decrease in the rates, that the workhouse was excellently, admirably managed, that it could not be better conducted, that Stoke Poges was as well off in respect to their poor as most parishes, and that there was no need of the Commissioners' interposition. Now, from the facts which were in his possession he should be able to show two things: first, that the parish was not so well off as the petitioners stated; and secondly, that they had no reasons for supposing that they were in so happy a condition. They did not know how much better the affairs of other parishes were administered, they had not an opportunity of comparing their own expenditure with that in other places. Their contentment would doubtless be some- 1065 what disturbed when they heard the statement he was about to make to their Lordships. As to the total want of agricultural distress in that respectable part of Buckinghamshire, he had no doubt that their Lordships would have had a very different account had the petitioners been addressing them on the Repeal of the Malt-tax. He had no doubt that in that case the inhabitants of Stoke Poges would have raised their voice and piped very loudly, though in a different tune, of the overwhelming distress of the farmers, of the great abundance of labour, and of the non-employment of hands. All those fairy prospects which shone forth in the petition before the House would have been obscured by a cloud of no inconsiderable density, if that unfortunate monosyllable "malt" of which they hade lately heard so much, had had a place in the petition. He would suppose the state of things to be as they said; but still he should not withhold from their Lordships the fact, that the scale system prevailed in Stoke Poges, and that too with the highest degree of exacerbation. Yes, in Stoke Poges was to be found that very worst of all the worst consequences of the mal-administration of the Poor-laws. In no parish could it be found worse than in this. The petitioners expatiated on their admirable workhouse system: they put it forward as if it were a model of such economy. Now, it so happened that this workhouse had been examined before this controversy arose, and the report was, not that it was the best in England, but, that it was exceedingly bad. He would not say that it was the very worst, but it was wholly destitute of the main and essential particulars of workhouse economy. The petitioners boasted of the manner in which the children were taught. There were very few—there were only three—bastard children, and on examination it appeared that they usually idled away their time, and that their personal condition was not that of absolute cleanliness. With regard to their intellectual acquirements it turned out that they were ignorant of the letter which followed A. Now, he did not say that this was no better than not knowing even the letter A, but it was a very sorry foundation for the petitioners to rest their boast of the children being taught reading and writing. No doubt they might be taught; but if they were not made to learn 1066 he really thought the residence of a schoolmaster in that district was not of much advantage. "Then," said the petitioners, "we have greatly lowered our rates." That might be true, and the parish still be in a much worse condition than many others. These matters were to be judged of by comparison. He had in his hand a return of the whole of the seventeen parishes comprehended in the union, and in this return he found that the expense of paupers per head in one parish was 3s., in another 3s. 3d., in a third 3s. 4d., in a fourth 2s. 8d., and in a fifth, as low as 2s. 6d. This last parish, and he named it to its honour, was Dawney, in which the workhouse was well managed, and which did not complain of the union, or join in the petition before the House. He now came to Stoke Poges, and the expense per head there was 4s. 1½d.—4s. 1½d.! They might be well off, but surely that was a large sum to pay per head. There were not three parishes in which the amount was higher. At Eton the amount was 4s. 10d. There, he hoped, the children had got somewhat beyond their first letters. In another parish the amount was 4s. 4d.; and then came Stoke Poges, which alone boasted of its excellent management, which alone objected to the union, and which unquestionably was the worst managed of all the parishes in the union. If the expenditure per head, together with the population of 1831, was compared with the expenditure and population in 1834, it would be found that in 1831 the average was no less than 11s. 9d., and now it was within a fraction of 15s. Why, that enormous increase of the rates was one of the great evils which pressed upon the country, which threatened to swallow up all property, which made their Lordships pass the Bill for amending the Poor Laws. lf, indeed, the rates had been lowered, as alleged by the petitioners, it was not owing to the good management of the poor, but to some accidental circumstance connected with the population of the parish. The calculation on which they went was a very common one—it was the proportion of the rates to the population—the shillings in the rate being divided by the amount of the population. Of the population of a place this calculation was not a good test, neither was it of the good management of the poor, certainly not of the real increase or decrease of the rates, though it might be a loose criterion of the 1067 financial capabilities of a parish. By such a calculation the next best to Stoke Poges in respect to a diminution of rates was Eton, which was remarkable for its bad management, and which paid 4s. 10d. per head, being double the amount of that paid where the expenditure was the lowest. He would next call the attention of their Lordships to the advantages which they might expect to flow from the formation of a union. There were fourteen or fifteen workhouses in the union, each with its own set of officers—in some parishes too few, in others more than sufficient.—The union would require but one set of officers for the different parishes, thereby effecting a considerable saving, and giving to each parish the inestimable benefit of effective and co-operating officers. After all, it might be said that it was impossible to form the union without making Stoke Poges, in consequence of its peculiar position, one of the incorporated parishes.—There was one important part of the noble Duke's statement—to which he would not have adverted before taking the precaution of making some inquiries. The noble Duke had been on this point most egregiously misinformed, and he should be accessary to deceiving their Lordships if he omitted to state the real facts. He was enabled to give the most positive, distinct, and peremptory contradiction that words could express to the whole and to every part of the statement as to the alleged separation of children from parents, and husbands from wives. Never was an intention of the kind entertained. There never was a dream of such a proceeding. No man talked of separating the husband from the wife, or the child from the parent. It certainly was true, that one or two of the workhouses were to be converted into hospitals, and that to these the sick only were to be sent. No one could approve of herding the sick with the healthy, though under the old system such was the case. The three bastard children to whom he had before alluded, actually lived with nineteen diseased individuals in that receptacle which had been put forward as the beau ideal of a workhouse. That an infirmary should be in one place, and a workhouse in another, was a very natural opinion of the Commissioners; but there was not the slightest ground for charging them with an intention to take children from their parents, much less husbands from their wives. To convey 1068 wives to one part of a parish, and husbands to another part, never entered their imagination in their waking moments, and he doubted, whether it entered it in their sleeping hours. It was said, that this intention was announced by the Assistant-Commissioner, and the name of an hon. and rev. Gentleman had been introduced as having given currency to the statement. [The Duke of Buckingham—I was told by the overseer.] He was quite aware of that. The overseer, however, got his information from the Clergyman and not from the Assistant-Commissioner. That was what the noble Duke stated, and that accounted for the way in which such stories became current. One person might say—" I should not be surprised if these hardhearted Commissioners separated wives from their husbands." Another would say—" I have no doubt of it," and thus the story in the course of its transit gathered weight, till at last its bulk and weight were so increased as to be very formidable to the parties it affected. He was assured, that if proper inquiry was made, the Assistant-Commissioner would be found not to have originated this report, or in any way to have led to its propagation. The Commissioners were not persons of the stamp which the entertaining such an intention might lead their Lordships to suppose. It was true they had the power of removing children from the workhouse, and so had the overseers under the late system, when the children arrived at a certain age; but he again declared, that there was not the slightest ground for the misrepresentation which had been made, causing great indignation and apprehension in the people, as well as great evil to the Commissioners, and great inconvenience, impediment, and obstruction of those gentlemen in the performance of their difficult duties. If their Lordships gave encouragement to the clamour which was raised against them by prejudiced and ignorant persons, an end must be put to the further proceedings of the Commissioners; for it would be altogether impossible for them to do their duties. Whenever a parish wished to be excepted, as in the present instance, from a just and necessary disposition, a similar clamour would infallibly be raised till the Commissioners were overruled, and their labours suspended. His noble Friend had complained, that the same justice which was dealt out to Egham was withheld 1069 from Stoke Poges; but did not his noble Friend, who, for acuteness of argument, was second to none, did he not perceive that the decision of the Commissioners rested on this; whether or not Stoke Poges stood in the same situation as Egham. He supposed the noble Duke took Egham as a mere example, for of that place the Commissioners had never heard one word, except, perhaps, when they were going to Windsor. [The Duke of Buckingham—Egham was mentioned to me.] The Commissioners, then, had never heard the name of Egham. But to go on with his observation. Did not the noble Duke perceive that Egham, or any other place, might make out an excellent case, which it would be gross injustice and the absurdest folly to refuse, while, on the other hand, the case of Stoke Poges might be such as to render it equally absurd and unjust to grant the application. He had thought it his duty to refute the charges which had been made against the Commissioners, and to justify them in the opinion of their Lordships and the other branch of the Legislature. While on the subject he might state one or two instances to show that the Commissioners were not abusing their authority, and that they were wisely carrying on the objects of the Poor-laws' Amendment Act. In so doing, he should only do justice to the Commissioners, who had been grossly attacked. In all the general regulations which were promulgated by them, they had endeavoured to urge parishes to improve themselves, to do what they could with the law as it now existed, and to postpone to the last moment any extensive alteration. He thought they acted in that soundly and discreetly. He was one of those who, when the Poor-law Bill was under consideration, expressed an apprehension lest the Commissioners should go on too fast, and, at the same time, stated his opinion, that they ought not to do so. To that suggestion of their Lordships, the Commissioners had not been inattentive, and in adopting it, they acted as wise and honest men. They would, doubtless have taken the same course had there been no such suggestion; for they were able, experienced, and intelligent men. But although they had not altered the law, it did not follow that they had done nothing. They had effected unions to the number of fifty, and the parishes, comprehended in those unions, amounted to 1070 1,000. To the whole of these parishes the consequences bad been most advantageous—the change had led to a more economical as well as a more judicious administration of the law. To the formation of the unions there had been no objection—to the proceedings of the Commissioners there had been no objection—and by paupers, as well as parishes, had they, in almost every case, been well received. Some persons were, however, prejudiced against the Commissioners, and in a certain parish which he would not name, and which was not very far from the county of Bucks, but was even affected by the union of these parishes, a certain person had such an objection to the Board, that when he was told he had made a mistake in the administration of the Poor-law Act, and was advised to read the Act, he gave an unconditional and peremptory refusal. "No," said this worthy individual (and he would not trouble their Lordships with the little expletives he used), "No, I have never read this Act, nor will I ever read the Act." Now, if persons would not read the Act, and if they made vows and internal covenants not to read it, was it unlikely that they should fall into errors, and should commit mistakes in fact as well as in law? He would now show their Lordships that the proceedings of the Commissioners had not been unattended by excellent effects. Without resorting to the formation of unions, they had done all they could by suggestions, by representations, and by holding out the prospect of unions where parishes did not want them. A course to which he had no objection. This they did for the purpose of obtaining a good voluntary administration of the existing regulations. Admirably had they succeeded, and in no place more so than in this great metropolis. In one parish, the saving effected by the change amounted to 11,000l. a year; and in eighteen parishes a saving of 40,000l. had been effected within one year. This they had effected by the new system of management, by their steadiness and determination, and by their known resolution to adopt and adhere to the most expedient plans. In Lancashire and part of Buckinghamshire, the advantages of a Central Administration had been fully demonstrated. It had been shown with what facility a body of men, acting with one common agreement and concert, could transfer the surplus population of one district to the 1071 thinly populated parts of another—could relieve the over-populous districts in the country to the advantage of Manchester and other manufacturing places where labour was eagerly demanded. So effectually did they keep up the communication, that a great number of meritorious individuals, especially women and children, whose condition in Bucks was by no means enviable, had been transplanted to Manchester, where their former miserable pittances had been exchanged for the most comfortable wages. He had seen several letters written by individuals whose change of situation had been attended with such advantages, and in one of them was the following forcible expression:—" We are now so well off, that all the horses in Bucks could not draw us back again." He would give another instance of the advantages of the new system—he did not say it was much—but still it was worthy of attention. In several parishes banns of marriage between individuals in the lowest classes had been read a first time, but as soon as a union of parishes, and the introduction of a more judicious management of the poor was proclaimed, the second and third reading of the banns were suspended. "When we put up those banns," said they, "we anticipated that our marriage would entitle us to parochial relief. But as we know you withhold the Supplies, what use in our bringing forward the Budget—what use in our laying down our Estimates." There was another fact he would mention. In consequence of the better management of the poor the consumption of spirits in some neighbourhoods had been considerably reduced. In one neighbourhood with which he was acquainted, the gin-shop had been closed. This had been almost wholly supported by the paupers, and the proprietor of another had declared, that this Act had been the means of taking out of his pocket 40l. or 50l. a-week. This was a statement made to him by persons on whose accuracy he could rely, and which he the more readily credited from his knowledge of the quarter to which it referred. He had received other statements to a similar effect, but he should not trouble their Lordships with them. These were only beginnings. At present they were only in the green wood. From these instances he did not mean to hold out to them the entire success of the future operation of the new system; 1072 but he merely called their attention to what had hitherto been its effect, in order that they might patiently await the further trial. He had however omitted to state, that the application for certificates to form Friendly Societies, had been doubled within the last six months. From all that he had stated, he thought their Lordships would be of opinion, that the Act was about to be carried into a good and wholesome operation. It would be quite absurd at the present time to search for the effects, and to lay by the instrument before the operation had actually taken place. It would be just as unreasonable as the conduct of a celebrated German Prince somewhat too eager to ascertain the effects of his Reforms, of whom it was said, that he was like a child who planted a tree, but, impatient for its growth, was constantly digging it up to discover the progress which it had made. Were there Lordships to interfere injudiciously with the Commissioners, they would act like the child; prevent the natural influx of the moisture, and either stunt the tree in its growth or altogether destroy it. If groundless complaints were cherished by their Lordships against this measure before that time which was absolutely necessary for its trial had elapsed, the result would be the conversion of that House into a Court of Appeal for all those parishes which might fancy they were aggrieved by the proceedings of the Commissioners. He did not complain of the parish of Stoke Popes making the statement they had to their Lordships; but he called upon that House to act with candour to the petitioners, and common fairness to the Commissioners. Were their Lordships to give ear to the petitioners, and call upon the Commissioners to reply to their statements, he was confident that their explanation would not only be triumphant to themselves, but satisfactory to their Lordships. He knew from his own investigation, and scrutiny of their proceedings, that such would be the case; and on that account, he was the more anxious that their Lordships should at present refrain from any interference. On that account, too, he had at once stated the case, rather than that there should be any delay, for the purpose of communicating with the Board. If their Lordships once set the example of making their House the Court of Appeal for such matters, the consequence would be that every place haying 1073 any sinister motive, or labouring under some inexplicable delusion, would come there, and not only take up their Lordships' time, though at present they were not overburthened with Parliamentary business, but would interfere with that of the Commissioners, needlessly put them on their defence, and in a very short time render their Commission a perfect nullity. Their Lordships had no conception of the bulk of the correspondence through which they had to wade—of the hundreds, the tens of thousands, of letters, which the Commissioners daily received. Their Lordships could have no conception of the numerous letters and documents which they had inspected in order to furnish him with those facts which he had briefly related to their Lordships. Their labour was not to be estimated by the scantiness of the statement, but the necessity they were under of satisfying themselves, that such and such occurrences had or had not taken place, and of proving the absolute negative of many probable suppositions. He again repeated, that if they gave any ill-advised encouragement to petitioners, the Act they passed last Session would be virtually nullified, and he earnestly hoped, that it would only be on some great and extraordinary occasion that they would deviate from a principle which ought to govern the proceedings of that House—a principle dictated alike by justice and prudence.
Petition laid on the Table.