The Bishop of Exeter
said, he had several petitions to present to their Lordships on a subject which was extremely interesting to 836 the whole country, but most especially to that part of it from which those petitions emanated. He alluded to the Poor-law Amendment Act. The petitioners were all, without exception, more or less adverse to this Act, and there was another point on which they agreed—namely, that they all came from the northern parts of this kingdom, where a much greater feeling prevailed, with respect to this important subject, than existed in the more southern parts. Their Lordships knew that the great argument in support of the necessity of this Act was the system of maladministration which was said to exist under the old Poor-law. It was that which induced the Legislature to entertain a measure of a very extraordinary kind—he would not say of an improper or unworthy kind—a measure that would hardly have been entertained if the administration of the old law had not become almost intolerable. He believed, however, that the northern districts were free from the maladministration of the old law; and, therefore, it was felt as a very great hardship that any attempt should be made to introduce the new system into those districts. All the petitioners felt and complained that there was much unnecessary cruelty in many of the provisions of this Act, and those who did not allow that there was any cruelty in the measure would, nevertheless, he Believed, agree in thinking that it would not have been necessary to have introduced this new system if the old law had been administered in all parts as it had been administered in the north. It would have been only necessary to introduce remedial measures in those northern regions, where there had been very little abuse of the old law. In his opinion the existing law would not have been entertained, if at the time that the Bill was before Parliament their Lordships could have seen the extent to which its provisions would be driven through the agency of Commissioners. He was perfectly sure that if, with reference to many of these particulars, their Lordships had had the power of foresight, the Bill in question would never have been enacted. Some of these petitioners prayed for the total repeal of the law. With these he did not concur. There were others who wished very large amendments to be made in this Bill; and, with their Lordships' permission, he would state, generally, what the prayer of the petitioners was, and what the parts of the 837 Act were which appeared to those petitioners to deserve the strong terms they applied to it when they stigmatised it as an act of "cruelty and oppression." The first petition was from Bradford, in Yorkshire, and was signed by 2,000 persons. That petition implored their Lordships to repeal those parts of the Act which related to bastardy; those parts that authorised the adoption of a diet and regimen unworthy of being imposed on Christian men by Christians, and those parts of the Act that gave a power to order the unlawful and unchristian separation of man and wife, of parent and child, which were opposed to the law of God, and were cruel and oppressive. Another of the petitions was from Kendal, in Cumberland. It was also signed by 2,000 persons, and was very nearly to the same effect. He had also a petition from North Priory, signed by 600 persons, of a similar character. The two last petitions intrusted to him went to a greater extent than those which he had already mentioned. They were very numerously signed, and the petitioners prayed their Lordships to repeal this obnoxious law. They said, that they looked to their Lordships as bound to take especial care of the interests of the poor—as bound especially to protect the interests of that class of the people to which they belonged. There was no necessity for him to say whether he agreed in the reasons which the petitioners advanced, to show that the interest of the poor ought to be the especial care of their Lordships'—there was no necessity for him to state any reason why their Lordships ought to consult the interests of the poor, because there was not one of their Lordships who had not the strongest desire to attend to those interests. That, he was convinced, was the feeling on both sides of the House; and therefore it was unnecessary for him to expatiate further on that point. One of these petitions was from Bolton-le-Moors, which was signed by 8,400 per. sons, amongst whom were many highly respectable persons. At the head of them was one of the best and most excellent of men, the Rev. Mr. Slade, the clergyman of the parish, a truly pious and exemplary pastor. He was a most sober-minded individual, and would not agree to anything of an irritating or agitating character. But, marking the feelings of those around him, participating in those feelings as just and proper, and knowing that there was 838 no necessity to alter the system of granting relief to the poor in that country, he joined with the petitioners in imploring their Lordships to repeal this law. He did not mean to detain their Lordships at any length in stating his own opinion on this subject; but having taken these, petitions into his charge, and having, when this measure was under the consideration of their Lordships, declared his dissent from different provisions contained in it, he deemed it to be his duty, on this occasion, to state how far he agreed with the rev. personage to whom he had alluded. He did not concur with him in calling for a repeal of the measure, because he thought that its obnoxious provisions were capable of being remedied without the whole Act being repealed. But this he must say, that there were parts of it which ought undoubtedly to be erased from the statute-book. He rejoiced to think, that an enquiry was now going on in the other House of Parliament into this subject; and he trusted that the result would be to prove to their Lordships the real character and effect of the regulations issued by the Commissioners, and that it would lead to a happier, and purer, and more humane administration of the law. If it were shown that this Act had really been productive of good, he trusted that no clamour would induce Parliament to repeal it. But whatever might be found ultimately to be the operation of this Act, looking to that operation generally, there were some parts of it which he held to be objectionable in principle, because they were injurious to morals and abhorrent to the feelings of those who came within the scope of the law. Those parts, whatever might be the result of the examination elsewhere, or whatever might be the result of an investigation authorised by that House, ought, in his opinion, to be repealed. In the first place, there was the clause respecting bastardy. On that point, when the Bill was under their Lordships' consideration, he had stated his opinion, his unequivocal reprobation of it, and he should now only say, that at the present moment, in no one respect, was the opinion which he then delivered altered or changed. The next point to which he would advert was that which might be denominated the main point of objection. He spoke of the workhouse system. The petitioners were not averse to a workhouse system under humane 839 regulations, but as the system was now pursued it amounted to incarceration for life in many instances. The powers of the Commissioners under that head were of such a nature, they were so extensive and so arbitrary, that they ought not to be endured. In his opinion, out-door relief ought not to be refused to those who, with their own very small means of support, and a trifle of relief, might be able to keep out of the workhouse. But, under the present system, infants who were wholly incapable of doing anything were consigned to the workhouse, instead of some allowance being granted, by which their parents would be enabled, with their own assistance, to support them. Those, too, who were verging on old age, though able to do a little for themselves, but not sufficient for their whole support, were likewise doomed to the workhouse. Now, when persons of that time of life were placed in the workhouse, there was no conceivable mode by which they could be rescued from it—there they must remain for life. The alternative of persons thus situated was, either that they must enter the workhouse, or submit to the penalty of being starved if they refused. If individuals of this description entered the workhouse, and continued there for some time, it would be inexpedient to turn them adrift even at their own request. And the matter resolved itself into this—that the poor man, if advanced in years and enfeebled, must, when once he entered the workhouse, remain there for the rest of his life; and, so long as he received relief, he was subjected to a severe and rigorous imprisonment. Now he objected to what was called the classification of the inmates of the workhouse. In order to prevent those enjoyments which the unfortunate poor would otherwise possess, it was deemed necessary to introduce the restraints of an actual prison. To make the plan still more irksome, to make it still more oppressive to its unfortunate inmates, the husband was separated from his wife, the children from their parents. It might be said, and it had been said, that this was no more than persons connected with certain professions were compelled to endure. An officer, it was contended, in his Majesty's army was obliged, when sent on service, to tear himself from his wife and family, in order that he might follow the honourable duties of his profession, But here lay the differ- 840 ence—such a man was a free and voluntary-agent. He might refuse to proceed on service, or he might choose to go abroad. Besides, the officer knew, that while pursuing his honourable career, his wife would be enabled to watch over his family, to attend to their morals, and to provide for their education. Their Lordships would see that such was not the case with the inmates of these workhouses. The husband, while he felt all the misery of a separation from his wife and children, endured the additional misery of knowing also that his wife was separated like himself from her offspring—that she had no opportunity of superintending their education—that she was not allowed to look after their moral welfare at that period of life when her fostering care was most necessary and most valuable. In those workhouses, it should be observed, a mother was not permitted to see her daughter whilst it was above seven and below sixteen years of age. He must state, that he had no doubt of the humanity of intention on the part of those who framed the orders. His charge was against their judgment, not against their humanity. It was true, that in special cases, where individuals were very aged, or very infirm, the guardians were allowed to relax from this rule, and, in such cases, the system of separation was not enforced. But where that was the case, special reasons must be adduced on behalf of the parties applying for a relaxation of the rule. The Commissioners must be satisfied of the existence of a special reason, strong enough to establish the propriety of breaking through the general rule, before they could permit the oldest man and woman in the country, submitted to their authority, however great their affection, to pass the brief remainder of their lives together. There was a class of person s for whose protection he (the Bishop of Exeter) did not feel the same jealous anxiety—he meant the class of able-bodied labourers. He was quite aware that, in many parts of the country, particularly in the rural districts, it was absolutely necessary to impose some very strong restrictions on the temptation to idleness which would naturally be afforded, by facilitating the means of extending relief to the able-bodied. Upon this part of the subject he would, therefore, refrain from saying much, although, with reference to the law by which husbands were separated from their 841 wives, and parents from their children, he would extend even to this description of persons some consideration. Waving the enforcement of their claims to protection, he would now come to another class of persons, who, he could not help thinking, were treated with great and unmerited cruelty. The class to which he referred was one upon which this Act had not as yet, except in a few instances, been brought into operation. He alluded to the class of manufacturing labourers. Of this class there were indeed very few individuals out of employment in consequence of their seeking parish relief. The amount of such relief could not compete with the produce of their own industry; and it was not, indeed, possible that the parish could afford to them such an extent of relief as would amount to a temptation to idleness. This was a class, therefore, which, in considering the details of a statute like this, was deserving of peculiar consideration. The statute, however, seemed to have been framed as if there were no class of poor but that which consisted of agricultural labourers, and to proceed on the supposition that an able-bodied labourer in the rural districts, if disposed to exert himself, must always find a sufficiency of work. In this principle, considered as a general proposition, there was undoubtedly much truth; and under no circumstances, could the increase of agricultural produce be considered otherwise than as a great gain. Since, therefore, no danger could be apprehended from excess in this respect, the encouragement of agricultural industry must necessarily be beneficial to the country at large. But, with regard to manufacturing produce, could the same thing be asserted? Could it be said that it was desirable—if it were possible—to force the manufacturer, in case of his inability to pay the ordinary rate of wages, in consequence of a glut in the market, or of other causes, to continue to employ the labourer at a sufficient amount of wages, to prevent him from being thrown into the workhouse, at an amount which the manufacturer could not afford to pay, without serious injury to himself? Would not the employment of legislative means, in forcing the manufacturer into still further production, rather tend, in every respect, to swell, than to diminish, the misery complained of? But there was a class, even of the agricultural population, which, under the existing law, 842 would be very cruelly dealt with. He alluded to those who, in the prime of life, were, by some unfortunate accident, in a great degree, disabled from working. It sometimes unfortunately happened that the very best and most industrious of the agricultural labourers were, by accident, deprived of the use of a limb, and shorn of more than one-half of their powers of exertion; and it was not an unfrequent occurrence, that this visitation was attributable to the excessive zeal which they displayed in their employers' service. How were these unfortunate persons dealt with under the provisions of this Act? He would suppose the case of a man in the prime of life (thirty-five years of age), with a wife and a numerous family of small children, losing an arm or a leg. Notwithstanding this serious loss, he could still contribute not a little towards the maintenance of his family. He could not, however, do all that was necessary for their support, and much might remain to be effected by others, in the absence of which co-operation, a portion of his family would starve. Under the old system of poor-laws such a man would receive, perhaps, in some cases, an excessive allowance; but more frequently he would receive no more than the feelings of every humane man must prompt him to say should be extended by the public charity of the country. How was such a case as this provided for under the new system? This poor man, with his wife and children, must go to the workhouse. ["No, no,"] He was glad to hear that the poor and maimed individual, so circumstanced, was not compelled to go to the workhouse. He could assure the noble Lord, who seemed to contradict him (Lord Hatherton), that he should most fervently rejoice could he be made certain that the unfortunate individual would not be visited with the penalty of incarceration. It would, in truth, afford him considerable pleasure to find that he was wrong in his construction of this provision of the statute; but the plain and obvious interpretation of the words seemed to him to be that no relief should be extended out of doors to any person who could in part labour for his subsistence. If he were right in this construction, a man in the prime of life, deprived of the use of an arm, would be sent, together with his wife and a numerous family, to the workhouse, and be separated there from his wife and children, and 843 denied the privilege of holding any intercourse with them whatever. If he were correct in his view of the case—and he heartily wished (though he very much doubted) that he would be found to be mistaken—he begged to ask of noble Lords whether there was among them one who, if he had foreseen such results, would have given his concurrence to the passing of this statute? Even the interruptions which he had experienced from the noble Baron, convinced him that if such results had been foreseen, the statute would never have passed that House. Speaking generally, however, he could not refrain from thinking that the law which empowered any man or number of men to separate the husband from the wife, and the parent from the child, was a law, which it was disgraceful to a Christian legislature to pass—a law which it would be still more disgraceful in such a legislature to fail of seizing the first opportunity to amend. Contradicted, as he had been most kindly, but at the same time most positively, there certainly had been generated in his mind some doubt as to the precise meaning of the clause to which he had referred; and if, in his interpretation, he should be discovered to have erred, no man could be found to rejoice more heartily than himself. One of the subjects complained of in the petitions which he had had the honour to present, was the diet Supplied in the workhouses to the pauper residents. Upon this subject he would observe, that he fully concurred with the Commissioners in the opinion that it would be wrong to make the condition of the workhouse pauper better than that of the able-bodied labourer who supported himself. At the same time he must express his conviction that the principle, so far as regarded the arrangement of diet, was carried much further than was necessary. He held in his hand a letter which he had recently received from a gentleman of high respectability, in which he spoke with great regret, and also, as it appeared to him, with great justice, of the system pursued with reference to diet in the union in which he resided. He had referred to the dietary table as arranged by the Commissioners, and found therein a full confirmation of the statements which this letter contained. During two days of the week, it appeared that the diet of the teen consisted per day of fourteen ounces Of bread, and a pint and a half of 844 gruel, manufactured on the principle of three pints of oatmeal being so mixed with water, as to dole out to between thirty and forty persons their daily allowance. To this were added two ounces of cheese and three quarters of a pound of potatoes. This statement was accurately copied from the Commissioners' dietetic table. He would frankly say, that this appeared to him to be a hard allowance, and he certainly thought that the Commissioners might have had sufficient confidence in the severity of the diet so prescribed to induce them to relax a little in their demands of restraint upon the unhappy persons subjected to such a discipline. There did not appear to be much in this regimen that would induce people to stay in the workhouse one moment longer than was absolutely necessary. The two ounces of cheese were the only thing like solid food, with the exception of dry bread, which during those days they were permitted to taste; and he certainly did not think that oatmeal, thinly infused, was the best thing to select as the prime article of diet for human beings. Another injurious consequence of the present workhouse system was the imprisonment of the inmates throughout the entire week, by which they were prevented from attending at divine service in their parish churches. The Commissioners had certainly given directions to have a chaplain appointed to each workhouse, and for this he felt bound to thank them. As a subsidiary measure, this would be both wise and humane in the highest degree. "But if," continued the right reverend Prelate, "it should produce the effect of excluding the poor inmates of the workhouse from participating at the parochial church in the common worship of the common Father of poor as well as rich, I, for one, must deeply deplore that such a measure should have ever been contemplated. I have ever considered the Sunday in this country as being in a pre-eminent degree—God grant it may long continue so—the poor man's holyday. What description of holyday is it to the poor man, shut up within the dreary precincts of the workhouse? When he hears the church bell, does he hear it as he was wont, when he was free to obey its summons, and join with his fellow-men of every class in that best of services which he can render to the Almighty? No; it sounds to him as the dreadful memento of his sad im- 845 prisonment. Obedient to its call, he proceeds to the room which, in the workhouse, is set apart for divine service. Is he there cheered and sustained in directing his aspirations to Heaven by any one of those enabling associations which surround him in his parish church? Does he feel elevated by that glowing sentiment of just and righteous pride, which every Christian, however lowly, ought to feel, that at the church, at least, he is on an equality with the highest and proudest in the kind? Does he not, on the contrary, feel himself excluded from a participation in prayer with every class in the community above his own destitute condition; and the very place in which he worships—does it not convey, by association, a strong and sickening sense of his own most grievous and (permit me to add) most unrighteous oppression? The rich and the poor shall meet together, as we are told in the Word of Truth, and nowhere can they meet with so much advantage to both as in the house of their common God. It appears that in this country this is to be the case no longer, and it is the baneful workhouse system that we have to thank for the alteration. I am quite sure that I am now addressing men, every one of whom has frequently experienced the great, the inestimable, advantage of seeing around him, when engaged in prayer, those who in worldly estimation were greatly his inferiors, but who, in the possession of those virtues which give value to the human soul, he could not fail of believing to be in many instances, largely his superiors. My Lords, I am convinced that it has often occurred to every one of those whom I am now addressing, when looking down from their cushioned and canopied seats on the poor below, and there beholding the wretched but virtuous Lazarus kneeling to his God, mentally to ejaculate, 'There kneels a man who, however worthless he may appear in the eye of the world, however sordid in garb and mean in aspect, is as much an object of God's regard as I, and (it may be) will hereafter stand in a relation very different from mine before the judgment seat.' It is right that the means of periodically making these reflections should be afforded; and it is quite impossible that such an habitual contemplation should not be productive of the best effects. The equalisation which takes place in the parochial house of worship, by bringing the very lowest classes of the 846 community in close proximity to the very highest in the common character of worshippers, must be beneficial to the latter by teaching them humility, and to the former by preventing despondency. To exclude any portion of the community, however humble, from a participation in the public service of the Creator would be as Unjust as it would be injudicious, and I, therefore, do implore you to put an end to that most disgraceful and mischievous provision of the law which excludes the pauper front his parish church." The right rev. Prelate proceeded to observe that, although it became him to speak with hesitation as to what constituted the law Of the land, he considered himself quite justified in observing that, as he read the law, the Poor-law Commissioner had no right whatever to say to the poor man—"You shall not go to your church Oft Sunday." By giving such a command they would, in his belief, violate the Common law. He would not, however, be positive as to this, but he would mention the fact that there was a subsisting Statute which made it penal on every subject of this realm not to go to church upon Sun-days. It was true that the statute in question contained a provision excusing an individual from attendance who was capable of showing a reasonable cause for his absence. This provision might or it might not, protect these persons, if the statute were put in force. The statute was one which he certainly did not desire to see enforced In this country; it was one to which he had not been hitherto partial, He thought it now, however, of value as conferring a benefit on the oppressed poor; and as giving them the right of attending at divine service in their parish churches upon Sundays. The Poor-law Commissioners were invested with enormous powers. Those powers were, however, restricted by the limitation, that they were not to do any thing contrary to the law of the land. It therefore would seem to be incumbent on their Lordships to take such measures as would make the Commissioners forbear for the future from violating the law which regards the observance of the Sabbath. He had trespassed upon the patience of their Lordships' House for a longer period than he had originally in-tended to occupy their attention. He would therefore sit down, merely expressing big conviction that it would be ne- 847 cessary to modify this act by large amendments. Its repeal he did not desire; but he fervently hoped to see both Houses of Parliament unanimous and vigorous in their resistance to those portions of the law to which he had directed the attention of the House, and which he believed to be in principle unjust, as well as cruel and unchristian in their operation.
§ Viscount Melbourne
The right rev. Prelate who has presented these petitions to the House has gone at length into the amended Poor-law Bill—he has gone into the details of the management and the administration of the Poor-law; and, although I feel that such a discussion is inconvenient, and although this may not be the proper occasion for that discussion, and that the discussion itself cannot lead to any certain conclusion, yet, still, considering the expressions which the right rev. Prelate has used—considering also the reflections he has made on the Commissioners—considering the manner in which he has described the operations of the law—and considering the terms that he has applied to it, that it is "oppressive" and "unchristian"—considering, too, the situation which I have the honour to hold, I cannot, my Lords, permit the debate to conclude without making a few observations. I am not here answerable for the opinions of any other noble Lord. I cannot here give expression to the feelings or opinions of any other noble Lord; but for myself I beg to say, that I refuse my assent to the observations with which the right rev. Prelate introduced his speech, and in which he stated, that if your Lordships could have foreseen the situation to which the country would be reduced by the passing of this law, you would not have given it your concurrence—that your Lordships never would have aided such an enactment. My feeling respecting that law is the very contrary to that expressed by the right rev. Prelate. I consider that the measure has been successful far beyond what could be at first anticipated from it. I consider, my Lords, that it has had the effect of raising the morals of the country; and that it has been found most beneficial for the unemployed labourer. It has, my Lords, in my opinion, raised the condition of the labouring classes of the people. It has had another, a higher and nobler, object than that contemplated by the right reverend Prelate. It has, too, had 848 a great effect in affording relief to the general taxation—it has lessened the payments made by the country. I say, then, that the success that has attended the measure is far beyond what was expected when it first passed into a law. Your Lordships will recollect that it has happened with this as upon many other subjects, that there were topics connected with it which afforded room for eloquence; that there were points which afforded room for an appeal to the feelings; that these topics and points afforded an opportunity for powerfully exciting the passions. The power and the opportunity the right rev. Prelate has taken advantage of on the present occasion, and he has used it with no very limited hand. Now, my Lords, it more often happens that such appeals to the feelings and the passions can be used against reason, truth, and right, than in support of them. The benefits derivable from a law are of a general nature—these benefits are of a general character, they do not furnish very apt topics for speaking to the feelings, they do not afford so many opportunities for illustration, they cannot bear a comparison with a specific case of peculiar hardships under which some one or two may be suffering in consequence of a general law. But let me observe, my Lords, that all the hardships we have now heard of were common to the old law; such hardships existed before the statute that is now complained of; they belong in no respect, nor are they to be attributed to the law which your Lordships passed in the late Session of Parliament. It is not for me, my Lords, now to do more than point out generally the objections which the right rev. Prelate has stated to some of the clauses of that Act. As to illegitimate children, he stated that he had made the same objections at the time that the law passed; and the right rev. Prelate now states on the subject, that his opinion respecting those clauses is not only unaltered, but that it is confirmed. The right rev. Prelate did not press that part, nor will I Unfortunately, I differ from the right rev. Prelate, and, with respect to that part of the law, I have to tell him that it has been attended with a success so great and so extraordinary that it would have appeared to have been romantic—to have been mere enthusiasm—if any one had prophesied such a result when it was pro- 849 posed. Then next, as to the separation of the sexes; that is another part which the right rev. Prelate has particularly attacked. All experience has proved its advantages; and, in all well-regulated workhouses, previous to the new Poor-law coming into operation such a regulation was enforced. It was established in the best-regulated workhouses in the metropolis; and it is obviously necessary for the right administration of a workhouse. And let it be observed that there must have existed a power similar to that vested in the Commissioners, under the ancient law; there must have existed a power under which the separation was formerly made; and all experience being for it, it was naturally to be supposed that a regulation of such absolute necessity should be continued for the well working of the new system. The right rev. Prelate has stated also, that there are parts of the country—for instance, the manufacturing parts of the country—in which the provisions of the Act cannot be so successfully applied as in the agricultural portions of the country. I apprehend that there can be no greater mistake than to suppose that the Act is not capable of being adapted to circumstances. I do not see, however, why the Commissioners should have been vested with the powers that they have if they were not to make regulations suited to the peculiar circumstances of particular parts of the country. And then as to out-door relief—I apprehend that all the statements made by the right rev. Prelate are entirely without foundation. The outdoor relief is at the discretion of the guardians. A power is given to the Commissioners to state in what manner outdoor relief is not to be given. I apprehend there are only sixty unions throughout the country thus situated. The right rev. Prelate also stated, that the paupers were prevented from attending divine service on the Sunday. I can only state what is my opinion upon this subject. As to the prohibition to attend divine service in the parish church, that only applied to those workhouses in which arrangements have been made for the performance of divine service within the walls of the workhouses. Where there is not divine service within the walls of the workhouse, a regulation is made for the inmates to attend at the parish church. I can only state what is my feeling as one of the framers of this 850 Act, I only state at the same time what is the feeling of the Commissioners, that they are anxious for every opportunity to facilitate the attendance upon divine service, and to use every inducement and persuasion to the inmates of the workhouses to attend to the practices and holy ordinances of religion. But then the question is this, whether, if you permit the inmates of the workhouse to attend divine service in their parish church, would they attend it? Would it not be a pretext for indulging in other pursuits; and if they leave the workhouse to attend divine service, will they, instead of properly observing the Sabbath, not turn it rather to the purposes of desecration and pollution? This is a topic which undoubtedly admits of a great deal of declamation; but I have no doubt of this, that the true interests of religion will, as far as they relate to persons so situated, be rather promoted by the system recommended by the Commissioners. I believe it will be found so, not only as regards the better arrangement of the workhouse itself, but also to preserve order within the walls of the workhouse—that having divine service performed there will lead to these advantages even at the expense of what has been stated in such strong terms by the right rev. Prelate. The general importance of these considerations I do not deny; but even considerations of sanctity may often be over-weighed by considerations of a greater weight; and seeing how men of practical experience have attached importance to the system of having divine service performed within the walls of the workhouse, as absolutely necessary to preserve order there, I believe that plan must be adhered to. I entirely concur in the sentiment expressed by the right rev. Prelate, that if your Lordships find this Bill to be one which it is right to maintain, if it be advantageous and beneficial in its effects, your Lordships will not be persuaded by clamour, nor influenced by any pressure from without, to alter it. I cannot, my Lords, but express the sorrow and regret I have felt—considering the complete absence of political feeling and party animosity that prevailed when this subject was debated in your Lordships' House—at the political, the party feelings which it has been endeavoured to excite on this subject in certain districts of the country. That it should have been so used at the hustings I exceedingly regret, because I 851 think that the Bill has been attended with the greatest advantage to the country. When, then, I say to your Lordships that you ought not to be induced to alter or amend this Bill by reason of any clamour that may be excited against it, I agree with the right rev. Prelate in saying, that if you find it ought to be altered or amended, you will also do your duty in altering and amending it, with the same frankness, the same fearlessness, and the same impartiality which is required from you in the other point of view. As this Bill is now undergoing (and especially the clauses referred to) an accurate inquiry in another place, I cannot but feel certain that the result will be, that the Bill will be found to have operated advantageously to the country; and where it can be improved, means will be taken to insure that improvement.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that having given his support to the New Poor-law Bill during its progress through that House—a support which he yielded to the measure in consequence of his having witnessed the evils, and being apprehensive of the probable consequences of the former system, he conceived it to be his duty to come forward on this occasion to state, that this measure had surpassed any expectations which he had formed of the benefits likely to result from its operation. The Bill might, in certain parts, require amendment; and it appeared that his Majesty's Government had taken measures to ascertain in what particulars it would be proper to introduce such amendment. For his part, he should be quite ready to take those points into consideration so soon as any new measure on the subject should be brought before their Lordships', under the auspices of his Majesty's Government. He must say, however, that he approved of the measure, so far as its provisions had been hitherto carried into effect; and, as he had had the opportunity of witnessing its operation (he spoke now, not only of what he had seen generally, but of the working of the measure in its details, as they had fallen under his observation in the management of workhouses throughout various parts of the country), he must say that the benefits which it appeared to him to have produced consisted, first, in the fact that it placed the workman, the agricultural labourer, and their employers on a true footing of friendly confidence; and, secondly, that it had served to connect 852 the man of property, the man whose rank was the highest in the country, with the lowest class of labourers, by placing them on the board of guardians. He could mention the names of some noble Lords who were an ornament to that House, and who attended at the weekly meetings of those boards, being themselves elected guardians of parishes in the neighbourhoods in which they resided. The results which were thus produced were exceedingly beneficial. His noble Friend near him, the Marquess of Salisbury, was at present a member of a board of guardians in a parish in which the system had been productive of the greatest possible advantages. Convinced, therefore, as he was, that the Act which had produced those benefits was likely to produce benefits still greater, he should be ashamed not to step forward and avow that he had supported this Bill when it was brought forward, that he did not repent of the course which he had taken on that occasion; but that on the contrary, he rejoiced at having taken that course, and congratulated his Majesty's Ministers upon the success of the measure.
observed, that honourable testimony had just been given to the merits of the Bill that had been attacked by the right rev. Prelate. The testimony that had been given was indeed honourable, when they considered what had fallen from the noble Duke opposite; it was not less honourable to the measure itself than it was creditable to the noble Duke himself. He should not detain their Lordships beyond a single moment—he should not make more than a single remark upon the statements delivered by the right rev. Prelate. He (Lord Brougham) admitted that he was not amongst the least sanguine when this measure had been brought forward as to the consequences to be expected from it, and he therefore, having entertained such an opinion regarding it, must naturally now feel pleasure in concurring in the sentiments expressed regarding it by the noble Duke and his noble Friend near him. Sanguine, however, and large as his expectations had been concerning the Bill, they had been surpassed by its results. They had been surpassed, not merely as to the economy produced by the measure—not merely in the savings of the poors'-rates—not merely in the reduction of the amount of the poors'-rates—a consideration, which however important in 853 itself, yet was one that, in his opinion was the very last to be regarded; but the measure had surpassed his expectations in the desirable change it had produced in the comforts, condition, and character of the working classes of the community. As the right rev. Prelate had made a statement upon this subject, he (Lord Brougham) had a word or two to add to it. The right rev. Prelate had undoubtedly a right to express his opinion. On this or any other Act of Parliament no man could object to the vehemence of the language in which the right rev. Prelate might choose to clothe his opinions; but that which he had no right to do, or if he at all assumed the right, then that against which he (Lord Brougham) warned their Lordships, was the danger of supposing that, however the right rev. Prelate might have qualified his opinions, that however partially he disguised them—he did not say this offensively—but without intending to be offensive to the right rev. Prelate, he must observe, that in the distinction he made, and in qualifying his disagreement from the whole of the Bill, he sought to give them to understand that he did not wish the measure to be repealed, but was only hostile to portions of it. Now, notwithstanding all this, he must say, that the right rev. Prelate had assumed that which he had no right to assume, and he was to be treated as an enemy to the measure—to all parts of the measure—to the principle of the Bill—to all the details of the Bill—and to the working and effects of the Bill. Perhaps the right rev. Prelate was more an enemy of the Bill than he was himself aware of. He had watched carefully the whole of the statement made by the right rev. Prelate, and he must say, that he had not heard any person in Parliament or out of Parliament who had made a more hostile attack upon this measure. The right rev. Prelate was against the power of the Commissioners, and he was against the mode in which the power was exercised. As to the bastardy clauses, the right rev. Prelate retained his opinions respecting them. The right rev. Prelate said he had often disputed in that House upon this subject, and he was sorry to see the exaggeration in the expression of the sentiments of the right rev. Prelate was increased and strengthened. The right rev. Prelate was against the bastardy clauses; and then he was against the workhouse system, and 854 every thing that had been done to carry into execution that part of the plan. And then the right rev. Prelate, by the way of leaving no doubt upon their minds as to his hostility to the new Poor-law Act, declared that it was "unjust," that it was "cruel" that it was "contrary to all principle," that it was "oppressive, uncharitable, and unchristian," He felt—as one of the promoters of this measure whose sanguine expectations had been more than realised—he felt rejoiced on this account; but he also felt great pleasure, under the grievous denunciation pronounced by the right rev. Prelate, from the reflection that persons holding the same rank and station with the right rev. Prelate no longer appeared there to sustain his sentiments. There were amongst them those who, having heard the language applied to the measure by the right rev. Prelate, quitted the House; and, having taken no part in the discussion, it was to be supposed differed from the right rev. Prelate. Those right rev. Prelates had full and sufficient notice of the motion that was to be before the House; and they no doubt, had heard the terms—the vehement, he would not say the exasperating terms—applied to the measure—but he might say, without offence, the very strong terms in which that measure was described. When he considered these things, he thought he might comfort himself with the hope that other right rev. Prelates did not entertain the same opinions which one of their body had addressed to them that night; because he was perfectly confident that if they entertained such opinions, they would not have left their places without joining in that which they would believe to be a just denunciation.
§ Lord Wynford
acknowledged that he had opposed the measure, but he had frequently since seen reason to retract the opinions which he had entertained relative to the appointment of guardians. He confessed that he now considered it a great improvement, as compared with the administration of the law by parish officers, and he likewise admitted, that those to whom the management of the poor was now given could not always stand out against a majority unless supported by the authority of the Commissioners, possessing the weight which that authority did, as well from the position of the Commissioners, as from the circumstance of their being free from any local connexions or 855 influence. On the whole, he did not deny that the measure had produced a great improvement, and by means of it many had been compelled to look out for work, which happily, they had succeeded in obtaining. At the same time he must be allowed to say, that two or three years ago that would not have been so easily effected, for the numbers at present employed on railroads and other public undertakings, gave considerable employment to the people, and therefore materially diminished the rates. He should, then, think himself warranted in saying, that some portion at least of the improvement which had been attributed to the Poor-law Amendment Act was really owing to the railroads. Of course their Lordships would recollect, that he had all along objected to the bastardy clause, and that with respect to that he still entertained the same opinion as his right rev. Friend; but as to the separation of husband and wife, he looked at it as unavoidable; they clearly could not provide an apartment for the use of each married pair; of necessity a great many persons must sleep in one room, and decency required that several men and their wives should not sleep in the same apartment; it was, however, perfectly unjust that female children should be separated from their mothers. He had only to add, that the opinions he formed during the discussion of the measure had since been materially corrected.
§ Lord Colchester
supported the measure generally; but having witnessed its practical operation to a great extent he knew that there were some cases in which great hardship had been inflicted. There was a case with which he had been acquainted, of a man with a wife and six children, who was paid a certain amount of wages, but not sufficient to support himself and his family. Upon application to the guardians, they would only in such cases relieve them by throwing the whole family into the workhouse. There were many cases of that kind, and he would, therefore, express a hope that his Majesty's Ministers would take the matter into their serious consideration and authorise the Commissioners in such cases to admit a part of the children into the workhouse.
The Earl of Radnor
was of opinion that it would be found, practically, that very little cruelty would be inflicted by any of 856 the orders which the Commissioners had issued. In some places he knew that where orders for admission into the workhouse had been given to a large extent only a few of them had been used; and it had consequently been found much more advantageous to raise the wages sufficiently to keep the applicants out of the workhouse. In point of fact he did believe that generally, where representations had been made of great cruelty and injustice, the result of inquiry had been that no cruelty whatever was inflicted; and in that part of the country where he resided he could bear testimony to the well-working of the Bill. He had, indeed, been astonished at the little difficulty with which its operation had been attended; but it was approved of and liked by all honest and industrious labourers, and disliked only by idle vagabonds; and to that fact he attributed, in a great respect, the facility to which he had alluded. In looking over the petitions that had been presented by the right rev. Prelate, he did not observe in any one of them complaints of any specific grievances; they were speculative petitions against grievances which must arise; but they contained no complaints of any grievances which were felt to exist.
§ Lord Hatherton
would not have troubled the House with any observations on the present occasion if he had not desired to explain the cause of his interruption of the right rev. Prelate in the course of his speech. He understood the right rev. Prelate to say that a man who had lost a limb, having applied for relief, it was insisted that he should go into the workhouse with his wife and family. Conceiving that the right rev. Prelate was stating a case which he believed had occurred, he could not help signifying the doubts he felt on the subject; he afterwards, however, discovered that the right rev. Prelate was putting only an imaginary case, and that such a circumstance as he had referred to, speculatively, had really never happened. Indeed, it would be extraordinary to him if a case of the nature supposed by the right rev. Prelate had occurred; because if the man wanted a limb, he would come under the description of those who were not able-bodied, and relief out of the workhouse was denied to the able-bodied only. As chairman of a board of guardians in a mining district in the north, where accidents 857 were happening not unfrequently, he was qualified to speak as to the practice in this respect, and he begged to say that relief out of the workhouse was not refused to persons who were not able-bodied.
The Bishop of Exeter
would not have troubled their Lordships again but from some misapprehension which existed as to an observation that had fallen from him. He had not stated that a man who had lost an arm or a leg, upon application to the board of guardians, would be immediately sent to the workhouse; but what he did say was this—that the best labourer in a parish, if he should happen to meet with either of those serious misfortunes, although he might still be able to earn 5s. a week, would be bound by the statute to go to the workhouse; for the words of the statute did not merely include able-bodied men, but all those who could in any manner maintain themselves. He had undoubtedly spoken in a strong way of some parts of this Bill, which he considered deserving of the severest censure; but he had not spoken in the same manner of all parts, nor had he applied to the Bill as a whole the terms of censure to which, in his opinion, some parts were liable; an opinion in which he was borne out by the practical experience of the noble Lord opposite.
replied, that the right rev. Prelate had omitted to state any portion of the measure to which he did not object; it was fair, therefore, to infer that he was opposed to the whole of it, there being no exception whatever to his censure. On another occasion a cry had been raised of "The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." Of the right rev. Prelate he should now say, that his speech was equivalent to raising a cry of "No Bill, nothing of the Bill, and anything but the Bill."
§ Petitions laid upon the table.