HL Deb 17 April 1837 vol 37 cc1296-301
The Earl of Harewood

presented a petition from the parish of Gawthorpe, in the West Riding of the county of York, against the introduction into that parish of the new system of Poor-laws. In laying the petition before the House, he wished to observe that he was not hostile to the principle of the measure, but to the extremes to which some of its provisions were carried, especially as regarded the prevention of out-door relief, and the compelling persons to go into the workhouses before they could be relieved. He concluded by moving, that the petition be read.

The petition read at length, which prayed that their Lordships would take steps to prevent the Act being extended to petitioners' parish, and leave them to collect and distribute their rates as they had hitherto done, under the control of a vestry.

The Earl of Malmesbury

said, instructions had been given to the Commissioners to make unions as extensive as possible, which he objected to, because in rural districts, where a small number of persons was spread over a large extent of surface, great inconvenience was experienced by those claiming relief, as well as by the guardians, in consequence of the distance they had to go to the central point. He believed, however, that generally speaking, the Bill was working with very good effect. With respect to the hardship arising from the great extent of different unions, it would be enough to observe, that in some instances a man requiring relief, and perhaps in a bad state of health, would have to walk ten miles, or probably be obliged to send his wife, equally incapable of enduring so much fatigue, that long distance. Besides, those who had relations living at the extremity of the union could not expect to be visited by them. He had opposed the Act in limine, because he thought too much power was given to the Commissioners, and too little discretion to the guardians; and, perhaps, he was of the same opinion still, although he did not wish to excite any prejudice against the Act. Another point to which he would refer was the medical relief, and he considered that ten miles was too far for a medical man to go, and in consequence he thought sufficient medical relief was not afforded. The poor man was entitled to medical relief, but under the existing system, he believed that it was very insufficient. In his own neighbourhood there was a large union containing four parishes, which had only one medical attendant, who received 40 l. a-year. Now, he must say, that it was morally impossible for that individual to attend to the poor properly.

Earl Fitzwilliam

said, it was obvious, when this Act passed, that it would confer a very great been on some parts of the kingdom, and he did not think that elsewhere it would act so inconveniently as was anticipated. None of the rules of the Commissioners were, in his opinion, unconstitutional, but they would require caution in the application of them, especially in some of the manufacturing towns, where the population was very dense. He thought those rules ought not to be too strictly applied, and were he one of a Board of Guardians, he should be very reluctant to refuse out-door relief in all instances to the able-bodied labourer. It would be not only contrary to humanity, but to the selfish and pecuniary interests of the rate-payers themselves, to do so, and he thought the regulation should be managed, not by rules, but by the judgment of the guardians. He did not here speak of the idle and dissolute pauper, but of the able-bodied labourer of industrious habits. The necessary result of placing him in the workhouse, would be to compel him to break up his household establishment; and to become for life an inmate of that building, where he must be supported at the expense of the rate-payers —a permanent charge that might be avoided by granting temporary relief in the first instance.

Viscount Melbourne

admitted, that strong and very contradictory opinions were entertained on the subject of the petition presented by the noble Earl. It was impossible to deny this, but it was impossible to deny also that overstate- ments had been made. Unions were said to be too large, and the medical relief inadequate; but he thought that the proper consideration had been given to these subjects, and it was in order to adapt the law to different parts of the country that large discretionary powers had been vested in the Commissioners. He fully admitted, that the greatest care and caution ought to be observed in carrying the law into effect—and he believed that great caution and prudence were exercised by those to whom its administration was intrusted. His noble Friend who spoke second on this occasion, had condemned the mode of affording medical relief as inefficient. That subject had been duly considered by the Commissioners; and they had laid down certain rules, not for the purpose of saving money, but to render the new system more efficient than the old, and to grant relief to those who required it with the utmost promptitude.

Lord Ellenborough

said, that having had as much experience with respect to the operation of this measure as any noble Lord, he wished to make an observation on two points which had been adverted to by the noble Earl opposite. In his opinion, the great practical benefit of this measure was, that it called private charity into activity, and in many instances the necessity under which individuals laboured was much better met by private charity than otherwise. With respect to medical relief, there might, he admitted, be unions which did not possess such an extent of medical assistance as they ought; but he was confident that the relief now given was much better than that which was afforded under the old system. Formerly there was no control over the medical man. He might, or he might not, attend the poor man; no one knew, no one inquired, whether he attended or not. But now he must make a report, every week, of those persons whom he had visited; and, if any particular description of food were required for the patient, he stated the fact, and it was ordered. When noble Lords spoke of the situation of paupers, they ought to recollect that there was a very large class of persons who called for their attention as much as paupers. He meant those individuals who were placed just above pauperism, who required medical attendance, but who would be ruined by the expense of employing a doctor. For the benefit of such persons, he wished that they should establish medical clubs. In the union where he lived, such a club had been successfully established. There were 10,000 persons in that union, and in the course of six weeks, there were 850 subscribers to the club. With respect to granting outdoor relief, cases occurred where it might appear proper to extend it to an able-bodied labourer, who could not support his family. He, however, would suggest other means of relief. In the union to which he had referred, where a man, able to work, but not to earn sufficient to support a family of six or seven children, required relief, what did they do? Did they, in that case, relax the rule? No; because if they did, it would break down the whole system. They took a different Course, and met every such case by private charity. The consequence was, that there was not a single able-bodied man in the workhouse. If proper care were taken to administer this law, he was certain that it would not press hard upon the people. It was a matter of great importance, and one from which much benefit must flow, that the magistrates should join in administering the law in the different unions. They would thereby acquire a knowledge of the state of the labouring classes, and the demand for labour in particular localities. Though he approved of the measure, he still was of opinion that the greatest possible forbearance and discretion should be exercised in carrying its provisions into effect. As to the extent of the discretionary powers vested in the Commissioners, be admitted they were large, but they were not larger than those under the old system, or than they should be; and the exercise of them how, in promoting private charity, restored the bond of union which should exist between rich and poor.

The Earl of Malmesbury

did not wish to confine medical assistance to paupers only. There was a great difference between the pauper and the poor man, and he would say, that the poor man who laboured hard for his subsistence deserved medical assistance as much as the pauper.

The Duke of Richmond

denied that the manner in which the medical men were appointed by the guardians was injurious to the pauper. The complaint, it should be observed, did not come from the paupers, but from the medical men; Let it not go forth that the fact was other- wise. The noble Earl had alluded to a case of a large union, with only one medical man. That individual had, he supposed, undertaken the duty voluntarily.

The Earl of Malmesbury

I said that he was called on to attend four parishes for 40 l. a-year.

The Duke of Richmond

Oh! then it was the small amount of money that formed the objection. The medical man, it seemed, could perform the duty, but not for 40 l. a-year. He could perform the duty for 100 l., or 200 l., or 1,000 l. a-year, but not for 40 l. a-year. The guardians, in appointing the medical assistant, were not guided by the lowness of the tenders, but by the abilities of the applicants. In the union with which he wag connected, they advertised for medical men, and the board received a great many tenders. They would not, however, accept "the lowest tender. The person on whom the choice of the guardians fell undertook the duty for70 l. a-year, though he previously had 140 l. And why did he take the situation? Merely because he had the parishes before. In that Union, the guardians now gave ten times more medical relief than was formerly granted. There was scarcely a board-day on which some addition to the diet of the patients was not called for. Wine, porter, &c., were constantly ordered by the medical assistant, and as regularly granted. Before the passing of this Bill, there was no control over the medical mad, but flow there was a most efficient control, for he was obliged to report to the Beard regularly.

The Marquess of Salisbury

could not conceive a more perfect system of medical relief than that which was at present adopted, He conceived that the powers of the Commissioners were prudently exercised, and he should be sorry to see them diminished.

The Marquess of Bute

would say, from what he had witnessed in his own part of the country, that the poor were much better attended to now, with respect to medical relief, than they were under the old system. If proper attendance were not given, the fault lay with the guardians, and with them only. He strongly objected to very large unions, which, in many instances, might be productive of something very nearly amounting to a denial of justice — for it was impossible for the guardians in those Most extensive unions to perform their duties efficiently: In his opinion, seven miles ought to be the extreme distance from the central point of any union. That was the distance fixed by law for the residence of those who claim to vote in boroughs; and he thought it was not right that poor people should be obliged to come from a far greater distance to make their appeal to the Board of Guardians. The rules of the Commissioners were, he conceived, too strict in many cases. He regretted, for instance, that the paupers in workhouses were not allowed to proceed to the parish church.

Petition laid on the table.

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