§ Lord Wynford
presented a petition agreed to at a public meeting held at Lewes, complaining of the destitute state of the poor, and the increase of crime in the county of Sussex, which the petitioners ascribed to the operation of the New Poor-law, which they prayed their Lordships to repeal.
§ The Duke of Richmond
said, this petition, it appeared, came from the neighbourhood of the town of Lewes. He had received no communication whether the meeting at which it was agreed to was a large one or not, but he should not be surprised if it had been a large meeting; for their Lordships must be aware, that at the time when the meeting was called, there was a contested election at Lewes, which was won by a very small majority—not more, he believed, than two or three on the part of the successful candidate. On that occasion the New Poor-law was made the cheval de bataille; and, but for that, the meeting he was sure would not have been so well attended. Now, as to the increase of crime, he admitted, that in the eastern division of Sussex a considerable number of offences had lately been committed more than formerly; but they were not occasioned by the New Poor-law. He had felt it to be his duty, as Lord-lieutenant of the county, to communicate with the magistrates of that part of Sussex; and many of them, opposed as they were to the New Poor-law, and agreeing as they did in the opinion of the noble Earl who was to bring the subject forward that evening, nevertheless stated to him that the reason of the increase of offences was the suppression of smuggling. Those who had previously subsisted by the introduction of contraband goods, men who never worked, and who never would work, now that smuggling was nearly extinguished, had taken to theft and plunder. But in the western part of the county where the New Poor-law had been tried, there had been a decrease, not an increase 1004 of crime. He begged leave to state, that on the 17th of February, 1836, there were 105 persons imprisoned at Petworth, whereas on the 17th of February, this year, there were only forty persons in custody. It was clear, therefore, that there was no increase of crime in that part of the county. He trusted, therefore, that noble Lords would not be led away by the representations of those petitioners They might know something of the working of the Poor-law in their own borough, but they were ignorant of its operation in the other parts of the country, and if crime had increased, it was confined to the eastern division of Sussex.
§ Lord Wynford
believed, that crime had increased not only in Sussex, but also in Kent and Gloucestershire, since the New Poor-law had been brought into operation. It was shown by papers which had been laid on the table, that in two years criminal cases within certain districts had increased 900 above what they had formerly been.
§ Petition laid on the table.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, the petitions which he should have the honour to offer to their Lordships came from different parts of the country. They varied in substance and matter, but in one point—namely, their decided opposition to the New Poor-law, they all agreed; and as that was a point of very considerable importance, he hoped that he should be allowed to call their Lordships' particular attention to it. The first petition was from the parish of Almondbury, in the West Riding of the county of York. The petitioners declared that, in their opinion, the New Poor-law was illegal; that its operation was likely to prove destructive of property; that it was calculated to widen the breach between the rich and the poor, and to reduce the latter to a state of destitution; and therefore they prayed, that the existing law should be repealed, and that a new poor-law should be substituted, founded on humane and Christian principles. The noble Earl also presented petitions to the same effect from Halifax, from Cateaton, from Baldock, and from South Hants, from Aldmondbury (a second petition), from Throckmorton, from Rochdale, from a parish in Huddersfield, from Hulme (in which the petitioners complained that, under the new law, poverty was punished as a crime, and that it was calculated to render the security of property precarious), from Huddersfield, and several other 1005 places. Although he could not imagine that any opposition would be made in any quarter to a motion so unexceptionable as that which he intended to submit to their Lordships, for the production of papers which could be prepared with very little trouble, and at a very trifling expense, still he conceived it to be his duty to make some observations on the subject to which those papers related. It had been confidently stated by some noble Lords that the New Poor-law was beneficial in its principle and operation, and they even went so far as to say, that it was acceptable to all classes of the community. He was thoroughly convinced, and would endeavour to prove to their Lordships, that the New Poor-law was not, and could not be, acceptable to the labouring classes of this country; nay, that it must be viewed with indignation and abhorrence by that very numerous class of individuals who might be obliged to apply for parochial relief. If the petitions of the people were to be regarded, as was formerly the case, as the test of the popularity or unpopularity of a measure, he should be able to prove, not only that the statements which had been made by certain noble Lords were utterly unfounded, but that they were in direct contradiction to facts. It appeared by a return which had been made in another place, that in the last Session of Parliament there were presented for the repeal of this measure petitions signed by above 201,000 persons; that for exemption from its operation petitions were presented, signed by about 5,000 persons, and for the amendment of the law petitions with 63,000 signatures, forming, therefore, a total of 269,000 persons who had petitioned either wholly or partially against the measure, while on the other hand, in support of the measure, and in favour of its continuance as law, only thirty-five petitions had been presented, containing 952 signatures. Now, in order to make a just estimate of the weight and value of these petitions, their Lordships should always bear in mind, that petitions coming from public meetings were signed by the chairman in the name and on the behalf of the meeting, and that his name counted therefore only as an unit in this calculation. Their Lordships would also bear in mind that the petition with which he had had the distinguished honour of being intrusted, which proceeded from the great public meeting in the West Riding of Yorkshire, bore the 1006 name only of the individual who presided, William Stocks, but that it spoke the language and expressed the opinions of about 300,000 honest and independent citizens, assembled to remonstrate against the greatest public grievance with which this country had ever been afflicted. These petitions were the more entitled to be regarded as the true, genuine, and spontaneous, expression of the feelings of the people, as no religious enthusiasm had been excited—as it called into exercise no sectarian feelings, as was the case when the abolition of church-rates was agitated—as it involved no party politics, as on the question of the ballot. On the contrary, persons of all political opinions, and especially the Conservative and the Radical, had, together with persons of every religious denomination, cordially cooperated in the common cause. Now, with respect to this measure, if what was stated by the petitions which had been presented in its favour were true, surely after more than three years and a half had elapsed since it was carried into operation, there would have been some applications made to share in the benefits, which, according to the opinions of this class of petitioners, had been so liberally dispensed in other parts of the country. But he would ask, had the labouring classes sent any petitions to that House entreating their Lordships to continue and cherish the measure, which, as their Lordships had been told, exalted the character, established the independence, and elevated the condition of the labourer? No such petitions had been presented, and they could not expect that such petitions would ever be received by them, though their Lordships should wait for them till the day of judgment. The petitions had principally proceeded from some of those persons who by some strange misnomer were called guardians? For of whom or of what were they the guardians? Obviously not of the poor, nor even of the poor-rates, for the former were not protected by them, and the latter were expended according to the rules, orders, and regulations of the three dictators of Somerset-house. Although, however, on this question the guardians could not be supposed to be wholly impartial, and although some of them had apparently adopted as their motto, "rem, quocumque modo, rem," yet there were others who had even petitioned Parliament for an altera- 1007 tion in this measure. There were some guardians, and not a few, with some of whom he had himself co-operated, who had declared that they were strongly opposed to its continuance as law. He would remind their Lordships, also, that the agricultural labourers, who had not addressed themselves to that House, would have petitioned as frequently and as forcibly as other parts of the kingdom, if they were not kept in several parts of the country in a degraded and disgraceful state of intimidation. He knew, or at least he had been informed, that in Cambridgeshire and other counties where public meetings were held for the repeal of the new Poor-law, the labourers were threatened if they attended those meetings with the loss of employment, and therefore, if they attended, they had the alternative before them of starvation out of the workhouse, or imprisonment within its walls. If any man doubted what the real sentiments of the labourers were, he would challenge that man to convene a public meeting, selecting for the place of assembly any part of the country in which, according to his opinion, the evils of the mal-administration of the former law had been most felt, or the benefits of the present system had been most signally displayed. Let that meeting be convened, and let the vote by ballot be adopted, and he would answer for the result. Let it not, therefore, be supposed that in those districts from which no petitions had proceeded, and in which no public meeting had been assembled, their silence implied consent, but, on the contrary, it would be found, that their sentiments would be declared either by petitions or by other modes, which he should deeply lament and which he most strongly deprecated. The noble Lord, the Secretary at War, had asked what were the symptoms of discontent in the agricultural counties? Had there, said he, been any burnings or riotings, such as took place in November, 1830? He had never before heard of an instance, and he hoped he never should hear again of any proposition so unreasonable and absurd, or so pregnant with the most dangerous and mischievous consequences, proceeding, he would not say from a minister of the Crown, but from any person who had had the shortest experience of public affairs. Was there no other proof of the existence of this distress and discontent? Would no evi- 1008 dence be satisfactory to the noble Lord and his colleagues unless acts of violence and outrage took place, and the peace of the kingdom were seriously endangered? If the noble Lord and his colleagues had not the sagacity to discover such symptoms before such events took place, he feared they would remain ignorant of the existence of the disease until it became aggravated, and assumed a form which they and others would find to be incurable. With respect to the manufacturing districts, they had been told by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that all the agitation which there existed, and all the petitions which had proceeded from them, had been the work of some dozen individuals, whom he had been pleased to represent as not respectable in circumstances, nor remarkable for intelligence. He wished to know whether those were respectable who raised, encouraged, and promoted, that senseless cry, so acceptable to the Ministers of that day—"The bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill"—as if the new Reform Bill were the very perfection of human reason, and the great masterpiece of human legislation, instead of being so unreasonable as well as unjust, that it could not possibly long be allowed to continue. Instead of securing, as it ought to have done, a full, fair, and free representation of all classes of the community, it gave a preponderating power to one class only, to the newly-created class of ten-pounders, and excluded the labouring classes, who were the most numerous, the most meritorious, as well as the most useful and valuable members of society; but it was said they were not respectable. He detested every species of pride, and among others, that pride of purse, which disparaged a man because he was poor, and considered wealth to be the best criterion for respectability. With respect to those individuals with whom he had been in constant correspondence and communication, he would say, that they were as eminently distinguished by their talents and the extent and variety of their information as by their patriotism and public spirit. But if he were to admit as any argument the allegation of the noble Lord, instead of confirming, it would over-set the whole of his argument. For could it be said, that persons who did not possess the influence which belonged to wealth, or that more important and pow- 1009 erful influence which accompanied talent—could it be believed, that some dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of such persons, could have produced such an effect by agitating in the manufacturing districts, except the New Poor-law was felt and acknowledged in those districts to be an incurable grievance? He felt great compassion for the minister who continued so blind and ignorant of the real feelings of the people, although from the official station which he held he possessed every advantage for acquiring information, and although he was bound to ascertain what were the opinions of the public. But most did he feel compassion for the country which was governed by men who could be thus deceived, and which, if it continued under their administration, could not hope to escape the most dreadful calamities. If, from a long and melancholy experience, he was not accustomed practically to apply the ancient maxim of not being astonished at anything, he should have felt some degree of surprise that any reasonable man could seriously entertain the doctrine, that the New Poor-law was acceptable to the labouring classes of the community. Their Lordships knew that there was an ancient sect of philosophers who maintained, that pain, whether bodily or mental, that poverty, and that privation, were not to be considered as evils. But he never yet heard of any man who, contending that they were not evils, considered that poverty and privation were a real, positive, and substantial good, and ought to be eagerly pursued; and yet such must be the opinion of the people of this country before they could approve of the New Poor-law. Before they could be brought to acquiesce or quietly submit to this measure, they must be taught that cruelty and oppression were preferable to kindness and humanity. They, as plain unlearned men, would judge of the measure, not by the provisions of the Act of Parliament, but by its effect, or, according to the language of holy writ, they would judge of the tree by the fruit which it bore. He intended, on this occasion, to confine himself solely to this part of the question. He should, therefore, say nothing at present respecting the unconstitutional, uncontrolled, and, as he contended, the illegal power, of the triumvirate of Somerset-house. He would say nothing as to the supposed saving under the Act, which on 1010 another occasion he would prove to be, in a great measure, illusory. He would say nothing upon the subject of medical relief, although he could show, that it was, in a great measure, insufficient. He would bring all these subjects under the consideration of their Lordships on separate and distinct occasions. In his opinion it was at present highly desirable and important to consider the effect and operation on the labouring classes of the New Poor-law, as contrasted with that which existed for more than two centuries previous. The labourer who was, or thought himself to be, in distress, formerly made application to the overseer, a person residing in his immediate neighbourhood, and well acquainted with his wants, situation, and circumstances, as well as his character. At present he must make his application to a person called the relieving officer, he supposed so called from the relief which he did not administer, as lucus derived its name a non lucendo. These officers lived in districts of such immense extent, and were frequently so much occupied, that the labourer frequently lost a considerable time in making this application. His case was formerly brought under the consideration of the vestry, who were composed of his neighbours, and independent, and now he was obliged to appeal to a board of guardians, who were in most cases only the instruments and servile agents of the Poor-law Commissioners. He was aware that some forty or fifty of their Lordships had condescended to accept the office of chairmen of the boards of guardians. He did not doubt but that such a chairman, from his rank and station, from his personal character, and from his activity and interference, would have considerable weight with the Poor-law Commissioners, and that they must greatly rejoice in, and be benefitted by, his assistance; but as for any real power, the board of guardians, even with such a chairman at its head, did not possess even the shadow or the semblance. It was known to their Lordships, from a recent discussion of the subject, that they did not even venture to feed their poor according to their own pleasures; no, the poor must be dieted according to rules furnished by somebody else, who seemed to think, with the physician in one of Moliere's plays, that "it was better to die according to rule than to live against it." And if the guardians should be so 1011 presumptuous as to disobey the orders of the three dictators of Somerset-house, they might, under the law, for the first and second offence be fined, and after that, if they should still prove contumacious or should be thought to be incorrigible—if they should persevere in their rebellion, then for the third offence the chairman and the whole board of guardians might be sent to the tread-mill. Under the former law the labourer received speedy if not immediate assistance; but under the present system, in consequence of prescribed forms, from difficulties which seemed studiously to have interposed in the way of an applicant for relief, considerable time was lost, and he knew that in Suffolk a delay of ten days had occurred between the application for relief and the administration of it. Under the old law, if contrary to his reasonable expectation, the labourer did not receive that relief from the vestry to which he was justly entitled, he had an appeal to the magistrates; this under the new regime was prevented; for, indeed, by the new law, both magistrates and vestries had, as far as the poor were concerned, become mere nullities. Now, after a labourer had gone a considerable distance, walking to and fro many miles, he at last obtained the favour of being admitted into the presence of the board of guardians, and then how was he received? To answer that query he must again refer to the county of Suffolk, not because he had any connexion either by property or residence there, but because it was one of those counties in some parts of which the new Poor-law was harshly and severely enforced, and because he could quote the authority of a person whose name he knew would have great weight with the noble Earl on the cross-benches (the Earl of Stradbroke, we believe), and who, besides being a considerable landed proprietor in that county, was conspicuous and revered for his benevolence—a Gentleman who, though not opposed to the principles of this measure, had been so much disgusted with the brutality with which applications were received, that he had refused any longer to attend the board of guardians. An applicant had a sick wife, he had lately buried a child, he proceeded to describe his distresses, he was desired to be silent, and to answer only the questions which were asked of him; this was the sort of justice which was dispensed by 1012 the board of guardians. [A noble Lord on the cross benches inquired the name of the person referred to?] He did not feel justified in mentioning the name, but the circumstance to which he had referred had taken place in the Hoxley union. Perhaps the labourer found the guardians of his own parish to be humane and charitable, but they formed only an inconsiderable portion of the whole body, which was composed of representatives from every parish in the union; and those guardians, however inclined they might be to do justice and to act humanely, and however charitably disposed they might be, were outvoted by others, and their good dispositions were of no avail. If application were now made for relief on behalf of a poor man who had a large family, and who, on account of the insufficiency of his wages, could not support them (and in some parts the wages of the working man did not amount to more than 7s. a week, and even in Suffolk, he believed, that they did not generally exceed 8s. a week), in that case the application was altogether refused by the board of guardians, because, as it was falsely and foolishly termed, such assistance was considered as the payment of wages out of the poor-rates, when, in fact, it was only an allowance justly and reasonably claimed towards the maintenance and support of a large family, given in a manner apportioned to the size of the family, and never given to a single labourer. But if application was made for out-door relief, and the guardians, or rather, he should say, the triumvirate of Somerset-house, sanctioned the application, to what extent did their Lordships suppose was such relief granted in the county of Suffolk? He stated again, on the authority of the landowner to whom he had already referred, that they were allowed only seven pounds of flour per week, he presumed to make into dump lings or hasty puddings, because they had no ovens in which to bake it; and in addition to this they were allowed sixpence a week in ready money; so that out of 1l. 2s. 6d. per annum, the labourer was expected to pay his house rent and to provide firing, clothes, and other necessaries for his family. But if out of door relief were altogether refused, and he had heard of a considerable list of unions in which relief was, according to the orders of the Commissioners sitting in Somerset-house, and which had the force and au- 1013 thority of law, altogether refused to able-bodied labourers—if the relief were refused, the labourer was reduced to a state of destitution; and it seemed that an experiment was to be tried to discover how much deprivation the unfortunate individual was willing to undergo, to what point of starvation he could be reduced, and what extent of suffering he was willing to endure, before he would consent to resign his liberty, and to become an inmate of the prison. Under the former system, also, occasional relief was given in cases of temporary destitution, and the labourer was not removed from the cottage which was endeared to him by so many ties; he continued his former occupation; he was not removed, but he remained as before, a useful and meritorious member of society; but, under the present system, he was obliged to part with his furniture, which he had either inherited from his forefathers, or had acquired by the savings of many years of industry and frugality, he was obliged to part with those goods which he could never replace, and he was then sentenced to perpetual imprisonment; or if his love of liberty should prevail over all other considerations, if the sufferings of the new prison should become intolerable to him, then it was true, that on an application to the guardians, the gates of his prison-house would be flung open to him, he would have liberty to leave it; but he would become a vagrant and an outcast, a being dangerous to society; and he would be obliged, for mere subsistence sake, to prey upon the property of others. What were the opinions upon this part of the subject of the greatest Minister which this country had ever seen, of one who had steered the vessel of the state in safety through a troublous tempest, unexampled in difficulty, in danger, and in duration; and who had justly been denominated "the pilot who weathered the storm?"—unlike the pilots of the present day on both sides of the House, who, by their course of policy, had raised a storm which neither they nor others were able to calm—he need scarcely say, that he alluded to Mr. Pitt. What did Mr. Pitt say in the debate on Mr. Whitbread's motion on the regulation of labourers' wages in 1790. He was reported to have remarked, "No temporary occasion should force a British subject to part with the last shilling of his little capital, and compel him to de- 1014 scend to a state of wretchedness from which he could never recover, merely that he might be entitled to a casual supply." If the labourer under the former system sought relief in the workhouse, he still retained his connexion with his former friends and neighbours—he enjoyed what Blackstone called "all those endearing and family connexions" which were so dear to him; but now he was removed to such a distance, that all intercourse with them was almost physically impossible; once in the union workhouse, in defiance of all law, both human and divine—in violation of the most solemn and sacred vows—the wife was torn from her husband, in most cases both were parted from their children, the bonds of nature were violently torn asunder; nay, the unfortunate inmates were even denied the consolations of religion, and were deprived of the liberty of attending public worship. He repeated, that these houses were prisons—they were prisons by their confinement, they were prisons by their discipline, they were prisons by their management, and they were worse than prisons by the quantity and quality of their food; and yet they had been told by a noble Earl on a former night (Earl Radnor) that the term prison had been most improperly applied to the workhouses, and that they ought rather to be termed asylums for the poor: as well might they, and with as much truth and reason call Newgate and the hulks asylums for criminals. He had an authority on this point which he presumed noble Lords would not be disposed to dispute—the authority of the viceroy of Suffolk. He did not mean the noble Duke who was Lord-lieutenant of that county, but the viceroy of the poor, the Assistant Commissioner, Dr. Kaye, who had at a public meeting said, "Our intention is to make the workhouses as like prisons as possible, and to make them as uncomfortable as possible;" and right well had the Commissioners carried their intentions in this respect into effect. He had before stated, that Dr. Kaye had made use of this language, and the fact had never, so far as he knew, been disputed; but if there was any doubt about it, he was prepared to prove it by the evidence of an hon. Gentleman, a Member of the other House of Parliament, who was present when the declaration was made; but he should think it a waste of time and trouble to send that or any other 1015 evidence before a packed Committee of inquiry. In the old workhouses great regard was had for the comfort of the poor, and yet every one who had any experience of the working of the old system knew full well, that the greatest aversion existed to them; that they were considered as the last and melancholy refuge to which the labourer might be ultimately reduced in the extremity of his distress and destitution; and this, he contended, was a sufficient answer to the misrepresentation that these workhouses encouraged idleness, and were places of luxurious indolence. It was said, that out of-door relief was prohibited by the Act 9 George 3rd, and this fact the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, had quoted with an air of great triumph, as proving the similarity between the present and the former law; but the preamble of that Act said, that it had been found to be, and was, inconvenient and oppressive, and often prevented poor persons from obtaining the relief which was best suited to their circumstances, and that in-door relief was in certain cases found to be injurious to the condition and happiness of such poor persons. They heard too much of what was theoretically recommended by the Poor-law commissioners being constantly and indiscriminately applied in practice without regard to the age, the infirmities, or without any attention being paid to the character or the condition of the person applying for relief. In what barbarous ages and in what remote and uncivilised countries, he would like to know—in what history, ancient or modern, sacred or profane—in what religion of the earth was found a sanction for the diabolical doctrine which had been adopted and reduced to practice—that poverty was to be punished as a crime? Had they any right to punish in this manner those whose unremitting toil, whose honest industry, and labour, and skill, raised so much wealth in this country, of which they themselves received so very a scanty a portion? Were those to be thus treated who were disabled from work through any dispensation of Providence, by age, or by adverse circumstances—was such a fate reserved for the widows and the orphans who, through the misfortunes of their husbands or their fathers, were left entirely destitute? He was ashamed for the honour of his country, that he was obliged to ask such a question, 1016 but he did so because he felt it impossible to argue a point so repugnant to common sense and to the feelings of mankind. And here their Lordships would perhaps allow him to quote the opinion of the late Earl of Eldon—a name which he could never pronounce without the utmost veneration—veneration for his profound learning, his spotless integrity, and his inestimable worth, and without expressing regret for his irreparable loss—that noble Lord had frequently expressed to him his opinion upon this subject, and in the presence of other noble Lords he had said—"This is the most infamous law which was ever enacted in a Christian country." These were sentiments which ought to be written, not only on the hearts of their Lordships, but also of the people of this country. He knew that his noble and venerable Friend, if it had pleased Providence to restore him to only a small portion of his former vigour of body, desired nothing more anxiously and earnestly than that he might be able once more to appear in that House, and with the authority which might attach to his name, to plead the cause of the poor, of the widow, and of the orphan. With respect also to the increase of crime, the noble Duke on the cross benches (the Duke of Richmond) had seemed to think it was limited to one division of the county of Sussex; but as far as his information extended, it was general throughout the country: and how could they wonder at the lamentable and alarming increase of crime, when they compared the new prisons with the former gaols of the country, which were used as terrors for restraining crime? They knew that, when crime was committed, the vengeance of the law fell with unsparing severity on the heads of the offenders; but on whom rested the real guilt, and the moral responsibility? Was it not on those who robbed the poor of their rights, and consigned them to utter destitution and despair? Such horror did the labourers feel of the workhouse, that one, a neighbour of his, had told him, that he considered a removal to one of them as "worse than death itself." He stated, that he had lost the house which he formerly occupied, and if another occupation had not been provided for him, he would have been removed to the Union workhouse; and he declared, that he had much rather they had knocked him on the head, Such was the terror which the 1017 prospect of the workhouse inspired the labourers with. The natural and necessary effect was, to induce the labourers to accept even the very minimum of wages that the stinginess or selfishness of the employer would allow him to offer. He had heard, and he believed, that cases had occurred in Cambridgeshire, where the labourers had agreed to accept, and endeavoured to subsist upon a half-a-crown a week. In other parts of the country they were selling, piecemeal, their furniture, in order to escape the terrors of the workhouse. In other cases, they subsisted upon charity, and in others by pilfering and depredation, and yet they were gravely told last night by a noble earl (the Earl of Devon) who was not now present, that the New Poor-law had exalted the character, and improved the condition of the labourer. He confessed he was grieved to hear such a sentiment from the lips of that noble Lord, representing, as he did, one of the most ancient and illustrious families in Europe. He would, with their Lordships' permission, give them a single specimen of the manner in which this New Poor-law had exalted the character, and improved the condition of the poor. He would state every particular of time, place, and circumstance; and, if required, the name of the witness who deposed to the fact. Manchester was the scene, the time was the 6th of February last, when a strange and monstrous spectacle was exhibited, of twenty-one men harnessed to a waggon full of potatoes. [Lord Brougham—was that under any special provision of the Poor-law Bill?] He did not pretend to say that it was under any special provision of the Act; but it occurred, and he hoped that the fact would receive the animadversion of the noble Duke on the cross benches (the Duke of Richmond), who, some years ago, during the existence of an administration to which he was politically hostile [the Duke of Richmond—"no"] well, which he was in the habit of opposing—or who, during the existence of no, or any, administration—for that was a matter quite indifferent to the argument—made certain strong observations, in the propriety of which he (Earl Stanhope) concurred, on the impropriety of scenes which took place in the county of Sussex, when labourers were seen drawing waggons laden with stones—[the Duke of Richmond: "That was under the Old Poor-law system!] He agreed with the 1018 noble Duke, that it was under the Old Poor-law system. Still the observation of the noble Duke was most just, and he remembered to have given the noble Duke his humble support on that occasion. The noble and learned Lord had asked, whether it was under any of the provisions of the law that this was done? It was not; for he had studied that law with considerable attention. No; it was by a law as much known to him as if it were a code enacted in the moon—it was by a peculiar order prescribed by the three despots of Somerset-house! [Lord Brougham "hear."] He was very glad that the noble and learned Lord did hear, for a worse despotism never existed; none of whose edicts were sanctioned by Parliament, or even by Government. It might have been supposed that this was a test of industry—a sort of mode by which to ascertain whether these labourers were willing to work. If it were so, still it would be a very improper, a very reprehensible course, inasmuch as it was calling upon human beings to perform the work of horses. But that was not the case. He had seen persons who had inquired into the reason of this most extraordinary occurrence of the men themselves, whose answer was in these words, "We are twenty-one labourers who came from beyond Delamere Forest, in Cheshire; we could get no work, and no relief, and we were hungry. The farmer, who is a very kind man, wanted to send some potatoes to Manchester, and he offered us two shillings a load if we would bring them here; we were thirty miles off, and we had no bread; and he let us have thirty-two loads, and we were very thankful." So that those twenty-one persons engaged for the sum of three shillings each to convey thirty-two waggon loads of potatoes for thirty miles, and for this, to the disgrace of the present state of the country, they added:—"we were very thankful." This, he hoped was a satisfactory proof of how much the character of the labourers had been exalted, and how much the condition of the labourers had been improved, and what great reason they had to be thankful for the change which this law had effected for them. Their Lordships all knew, that allegiance and protection are inseparable, and he would ask their Lordships whether, under such circumstances as he had described, they could expect that the labourers of this country would feel an attachment to 1019 its laws or institutions, or even feel a respect for property itself? On the contrary, whether their Lordships must not believe, that that discontent which was now known to be so general and so just, might assume a character that must threaten disorganisation to the state? The people might, in some parts of the country, appear submissive to this iniquitous law, but the feelings of resentment and revenge would still rankle in their minds, and, at no distant period, might fatally disturb the public peace. The time might come, when the people might cease to petition for relief from the oppression of this cruel enactment. He had lately learned with extreme sorrow, but not with surprise, that such a resolution had already been adopted in Lancashire. The people would next remonstrate and demand—nay, they might cease even to do the latter, and might possibly attempt to obtain by force, that which they were not able to gain by argument. It behoved their Lordships seriously to ask themselves (he would not venture to propound to them the question) how long they thought it possible that the people of this country would quietly submit to this pressure, and if the people did not submit, what were the calamities and convulsions which must inevitably ensue? He called upon their Lordships to respect, as they were bound to do, the rights of the labouring classes,—rights which were founded in the laws of God and Nature—rights which ought always to be held sacred—rights which were as dear and as valuable to them as the patents, by which their Lordships enjoyed their peerages, or the title deeds by which they obtained possession of their estates. Let them do this, and the rich would enjoy unmolested their wealth, and, what was of still more importance, they would repose in tranquillity and content. But if this were not done, the inevitable result, he stated it with great pain and sorrow, but with a firm and thorough conviction of its truth, the inevitable result would be a partition of property, which, when originally propounded by Spence, in the period of the first French revolution, was considered as a wild and frantic delusion, a chimera, but which was, at the present moment, defended by some political writers, and some political journals, and sanctioned by an expression in their Lordships' House—as he had been told, for he was not present when the opinion was delivered—by a 1020 noble and gallant Marquess, whom they had not lately seen, who declared, that if their Lordships passed the new poor-law, they would not only lose their estates, but would deserve to lose them. If their Lordships did not respect, as he most earnestly conjured them to do, the rights of the labouring classes—rights which were allowed to be theirs, by the statutes of Queen Elizabeth—they might lay what flattering unction to their souls they pleased, but they might be assured, that a revolution was at the very threshold of their doors; a revolution of the most formidable and tremendous nature; a revolution in which there would be no protection for property or life. It had thus been his painful duty, however feebly he might have done it, however ineffectual his humble admonitions might have been, it yet had been his painful duty thus to warn their Lordships—solemnly to warn them—of the consequences of their conduct—to warn them of the dangers with which they were threatened, in order that they might, before it was too late, avert them—consequences and dangers which would level to the ground all the existing institutions of the country, and introduce, in their stead, anarchy and ruin. He had received information from various parts of the country, respecting the disposition of the people and the feelings of the labourers, such as he did not think it prudent to promulgate or discuss in their Lordships' House; but this he would venture to say, in despite of all admonitions, that if their Lordships did not remove the grievances which the new Poor-law inflicted on the people, very serious consequences would inevitably ensue. He would now conclude his address to their Lordships, in the very impressive language and in the spirit in which a judge addressed himself to a culprit at the bar,—"May God send you a good deliverance!" The noble Earl then moved for "a statement of the petitions presented to this House, during the last Session of Parliament, on the subject of the act entitled, 'An Act for the amendment and better administration of the Laws relating to the Poor in England and Wales;' specifying the number of signatures to each; the description of the persons from whom each petition proceeded, whether owners and occupiers of land, rate-payers, inhabitants, guardians, or others, and whether they were or were not assembled at public meetings, held for the purpose of petition- 1021 ing; the place or places from which each petition proceeded; and the prayer of each petition, whether for the repeal of the said act, or for its amendment, or for its continuance, or for what other purpose."
I really should not have risen thus early to have addressed your Lordships upon the present important occasion, but should rather have preferred leaving the task of following the noble Earl, either to her Majesty's Government, on whom, as falling within their general superintendence of the affairs of the country, and interested, also, as they are, in the execution of the new Poor-law, it would properly have devolved, or to my noble and much-valued Friend on the bench opposite, (the Duke of Richmond) who has from the very first, so honourably to himself, and so usefully to his country, devoted a large share of his valuable time, of his deep attention, and his active interference, to the superintendence of the Poor-law and to the details of its working. Or I should have been contented to leave—I hope I may be suffered to say it without offering the slightest disrespect to my noble Friend (Earl Stanhope)—I should have been contented to leave, perhaps, my noble Friend's speech, unanswered, to itself, as it were; sensible as I am that he has made no kind of case against the measure, nor brought any specific charge against those intrusted with its execution, or produced anything in the shape of facts, or even of accusation, or of specific assertion to be put to rest, or which might have called for an answer, or required an explanation; but that I had, a few nights back, pledged myself to answer a right rev. Prelate's more specific charges, and even my noble Friend's (Earl Stanhope's) more specific statements on former occasions. For, if he will forgive me for saying it, the method which he, from time to time has observed has evinced a more prudent and skilful selection of details, suiting them to the occasion, that is to say, when men were not prepared to meet them—not prepared to enter into specific matters of change, on the presentation of petitions, or on some other interlocutory occasion—than when men came forward on a specific notice of motion, and were prepared to meet, to repel, or to explain. Then, my noble Friend, wrapping himself up in generalities, shrouding himself in mere vagueness, giving nothing tangible for an adversary 1022 to lay hold of, states no single fact (except one to which I shall by and by advert) which it is possible to meet and repel. I did, on a former occasion, think it right to observe, that that was not the time for repelling the charges made against the bill, or against those to whom its working was intrusted, but I pledged myself, when the time came for discussing it, that I should be able to satisfy your Lordships that all those charges were groundless; that all those stories admitted, if not of instant refutation, at least of satisfactory explanation; and that, as the measure stood at first defensible upon the soundest principle, framed in the purest spirit of the constitution—framed from a deep regard for popular rights, conceived in the kindliest spirit, not towards the landowners, whose estates were holden by those titles to which my noble Friend referred, and of which in passing, let me just say, he used, unconsciously perhaps, but most accurately, the expression, the title deeds by which your Lordships claim to hold your estates, for under the old system (of the Poor-laws) it would have been a claim, but a claim very soon severed from the possession—but it was not in a spirit of kindness towards the holders of those estates, either in this House or in the other House of Parliament, or towards the Aristocracy or any other rank in society possessing property, that that measure was conceived. But it was—and I can speak it with confidence, for I know it from my own intimate and accurate recollection of the fact—conceived in a spirit, and in that spirit alone, of the kindliest sympathy and fellow-feeling for the distresses of the poor themselves. My Lords, what was the history of that measure? Ever since I entered into public life, I had been one of those (far wiser and better men in every way—men of far more influence in Parliament and in the country) who had lamented the state of gross ignorance in which the poor and working classes of this land had so long been held. We had endeavoured to improve them in many important respects. We had attempted, by planting schools, by improving the mode of instruction, and by various other means, to bring education correctly, morally, and religiously within their reach, and so improve in that particular the lot of the labouring classes; but we found all our efforts were vain—we found every attempt to better their condition worse than useless—we 1023 found it even doubted by many, who were nevertheless as warm friends of the poorer classes as ourselves, whether more harm than good was not done to the morals and comforts of the people by all the efforts we thus were making to better their condition. We were met at every turn by the Poor-law; we were met by the deplorably demoralising effects of the abominable system which had grown up—I will not say, for I wish to avoid all debateable or controvertible matter—I will not say, therefore, which had grown up under the 43rd of Elizabeth, passed in consequence of the destruction of the monasteries—I will say nothing of the original faults of that Act, or its liability to abuse from the provisions which existed in it—I will not say one word as to the possibility of that law continuing to work in the progress of society, in its provisions being adapted to the rapid acceleration and extension of wealth, and the increase of population—I will not speak of the possibility, in the changes incident to the natural progress of society, of the possessors of that wealth becoming the victims, and the poor themselves the martyrs, of the abuses of that original Act of Elizabeth. All that I pass by; it is controvertible matter; it is debateable ground. All I say is, that a system of abuse had arisen and taken the place of the original system; that were it once as pure as if angels had devised it, it had become tainted, and was from beginning to end a system debasing to one class of society, and hardening the hearts as well as injuring the comforts of the rest. Such (continued the noble and learned Lord) was the system under the old law; and to the consequences of that system attention was necessarily directed. He joined with those who, in the years 1817 and 1818, soon after the Education Committee first sat in the other House of Parliament, anxiously turned their attention to the defects and to the administration of the Poor-laws. Attempts were made to inquire into and illustrate the working of the system, with a view to do whatever might be done towards the establishing of some plan for the removing the abuses of that system; retaining what was good in it, and eradicating what was evil. The Education Committee made some valuable reports, containing very important information; but it was not until the beginning of the year 1832, that a proposition for inquiry founded on that information was 1024 acceded to; "a proposition," exclaimed the noble and learned Lord, "framed solely, and assented to, solely with this view,—so help me God! I cannot be mistaken; the impression is deep, it is everlasting in my mind!—with the view, and with the view only, of benefiting the poor." With that view, we agreed to that inquiry; with that view to guide us, that inquiry we prosecuted; with that view still for our guide, we framed the provisions of the new act; relying upon the result of that act, and still influenced, and only influenced by that view, we carried the measure through Parliament. If, then, we have failed—if, instead of benefiting the poor, it has become their oppression—if it has been a measure to grind their faces, as we now hear described—a measure to inflict misery upon them—to almost and all but excite them to rebellion against us—if they are so incomparably worse off now than under the old system, the predecessor of our measure, I admit, fully and frankly, that great and mighty indeed has been our failure; for we have failed, utterly failed, in attaining the only object which our legislative and administrative labours had intended. But, my Lords, I am not conscious of our having failed, when I know that the effects of the act have been to make the labourers more independent. I am not to be driven from the hopes I originally entertained; first, from the confidence I feel in knowing that we have not failed; and next, from the most sanguine hope I entertain that our success will be gradually great, and the more consolatory from the difficulties we have had to encounter, merely by big words, whether used in petition, or in county popular meetings, or in speeches in your Lordships' House; or by large expressions of extensive application, and epithets not always very respectfully, or very felicitously, or very curiously selected, any more than they were very sparingly or economically applied; but I am not, by all the excitement of vituperation, or by all the terror of declamatory sentences, to be told, and, therefore, because told, and told without any proof whatever to support the proposition, to believe, that this measure has been a complete failure; and that although we meant it for the benefit of the poor, and for raising their characters, and increasing their comforts, yet they were, in all these respects, worse off now than they were 1025 before the measure was passed. If (continued the noble and learned Lord) he were to follow his noble Friend through the speech he had delivered, he should have to deal with somewhere about half of it, which might just as well have been the preamble of a speech upon any other subject, as of a speech upon the new Poor-law Amendment Bill. It reminded him of the introduction to Sallust's two histories, the one being an account of a very limited nature—about a six weeks' conspiracy—and the other an account of two months' war, and yet the three introductory chapters to those histories were actually such as might have been the preface to any one work of any one history that any man might have taken it into his head to write. The introductory part of his noble Friend's speech was much like the generality of Sallust's preface. Then came his noble Friend to matters of more immediate notice. His noble Friend began by telling their Lordships that, instead of to-night, when he (Lord Brougham) really had flattered himself that he was to meet with some grave charge against the Bill itself, or with some specific facts alleged against the Commissioners, which would be required to, be answered or explained away; allegations against those Commissioners whose duties were not, he conceived, likely to be much facilitated by such discussions as the noble Earl was fond to indulge in, any more than these discussions were likely to have a tendency to facilitate the working of this measure, by making persons in the country lend their hands to the discharge of so delicate, important, very difficult, and arduous a task; but instead of to-night bringing charges against the bill, or against those who had to work it, his noble Friend had referred him to some indefinite period of time yet to come; and he now found, that the speech of his noble Friend was not that definite charge against the measure, nor was it that description of charge and specification of facts against the Commissioners which he stood prepared to meet, but that it was only the first of a series of discourses—a kind of lecture which his noble Friend had founded, and that he was to be the lecturer as well as founder; and that this discourse only consisted of mere introductory matter. Now was not this rather hard, and had he (Lord Brougham) not a right to complain of the course taken by his noble Friend; because he 1026 was now in this dilemma—if he kept his seat, and if his example were followed by those noble Lords who entertained the same opinions with himself upon the subject of the Poor-law Amendment Bill, what would happen? It would instantly be triumphantly proclaimed all over the country by the various channels through which those who were discontented with the operations of this act, disseminated their denunciations; and for the next two months it would be said, that "a most important and convincing, and (as the phrase would be) we have a right to say, a wholly unanswerable statement was brought forward by the noble Earl, who was always known to be the true friend of the poor man, and who demonstrated to the utmost satisfaction of all who heard him, and to the utter silence of all the servile friends of oppression, that all the charges alleged against this infamous new Poor-law Bill were none less than true, nor more than proved." He was, therefore, bound to stand up and meet the most difficult of all tasks—meet a set of vague generalities by specific answers. Now, first of all, his noble Friend repeated the thousand times refuted assertion of the unconstitutional powers given by this bill—of the dictatorial office of the Commissioners, who were sometimes called the three kings, sometimes the three dictators, as if kings were not tyrannical enough—sometimes three despots, in plain terms tyrants—men who cared nothing for the sufferings of the poor, or, at least, whose feelings were in the wrong direction, being on behalf of the rich, and who ground the poor man's face. Again, they were designated as "secret tyrants," whose code of laws no man could discover, for they had not promulgated it. The noble Earl went so far, indeed, as to say, that the Poor-law was an illegal act. He had no doubt his noble Friend was correct, though he did not understand him. He understood what a bad Act was, what a cruel Act was, he understood what an oppressive Act was, he knew of many, he opposed many; some he had resisted successfully, others he had failed in resisting; he always understood what was meant by them; he also understood what an unconstitutional Act means—it means an Act contrary to the general spirit of other Acts; but an illegal Act passed his comprehension altogether, because at all events it was law; legal it must be; it might be bad law, but 1027 still it was law—nay, the very complaint of his noble Friend was, that it was law; if it were not law his noble Friend would have nothing to complain of. How then it could be illegal he could not understand. He had heard nothing from his noble Friend to help him over that difficulty. The right rev. Prelate whom he did not see present (the Bishop of Exeter), complained of its being a law that was unconstitutional, and that gave arbitrary powers to certain functionaries whom it called into existence and armed with those powers. Now it was true that he had on a former occasion accepted the challenge of that right rev. Prelate, and made a sort of assignation with him; at least, he certainly intimated to the right rev. Prelate that he should be here, and he had hoped that the right rev. Prelate, who had always taken a prominent part in these discussions, and who had levelled the charge against the Bill of conferring unconstitutional and tyrannical powers, would have been present also. He had pledged himself to show, that the Bill had not gone further than many former Acts, that it had not gone nearly so far as some Acts had gone, and that all those powers which it gave were constitutional, were consistent with the spirit of our laws, and were as little liable to be abused as any human laws could be, the execution of which must needs be intrusted to human hands; laws, the legislation of fallible beings, by fallible beings to be carried into effect. He was in his place to redeem that pledge, and he had found one, and only one, of his antagonists, his noble Friend before him. Of his noble Friend's candour he was well satisfied; of his good intentions he was equally well aware. He charged the noble Earl with no impropriety of conduct—he knew the noble Earl's good intentions—he knew that the noble Earl had brought the subject forward out of the honesty of his heart, and with the most perfect good will towards the working classes. If, as in his (Lord Brougham's) opinion they undoubtedly were, the noble Earl's views upon the question were the most incorrect, the most strangely erroneous, the most perversely wrong, the error was in no way attributable to the noble Earl's heart—it was simply an error of the head. That was the only kind of being in the wrong that he attributed to the noble Earl—the noble Earl's intentions were beyond all 1028 suspicions. Strong as the noble Earl's views were upon the subject, he thought he should be able to satisfy him, that under the operation of the New Poor-law Bill there had been no exercise of dictatorial power, no tyranny, no oppression; and further, that there was nothing extraordinary or unconstitutional in the powers conferred by the Act any more than there was anything extraordinary or unconstitutional in the exercise of those powers. Take, in the first instance, the amount of patronage given by the new law. Was there anything novel, anything extraordinary, anything unconstitutional, or, to use the noble Earl's own phrase, anything illegal, either in the amount of the patronage or the manner in which it was to be bestowed? Act after Act might already be found upon the Statute-book wherein the amount of patronage was infinitely greater, and the control over the exercise of it infinitely less. Act after Act might be found in which fifty different offices, fifty different powers were given to bodies of Commissioners whose authority was absolute, and whose rule extended to things general as well as local—to counties as well as parishes—to elections as well as vestry meetings. Then, as to the appointment of the commissioners. Was it to be objected to the commissioners under this Act, that they were appointed for too long or too indefinite a term? Act after act might be found in which commissioners vested with infinitely greater and with wholly irresponsible powers were appointed for life. There were the parochial Acts of St. Andrew, Holborn, of St. Pancras, of St. Leonard, Shoreditch; all these Acts, applied to extensive and very populous districts of the metropolis, gave to the commissioners appointed under them very large powers, much patronage, great authority, important duties, extensive and valuable influence:—for how long were they appointed? Every one of the commissioners appointed under those Acts were appointed for and during the term of their natural lives. Was that the case with the commissioners appointed under the New Poor-law Act? No; instead of being appointed for life they were appointed only for five years, and now at the end of a short time the present commissioners' period of service would expire; and their re-appointment or the appointment of their successors must depend entirely upon the will and the judgment 1029 of the responsible Advisers of the Crown. So that anything less independent of the control of the ministry—less independent of Parliament—less independent of the country than these commissioners were by the tenure of their office he was utterly incapable of imagining. But then many complaints had been heard, much strength of language had been employed, a world of declamation had been poured forth, in condemnation of the extraordinary, unconstitutional, and most unheard-of, powers vested in the central board of commissioners. The leading object of the Act—the fundamental principles upon which it was based—was this: its framers said to themselves, "It is necessary to simplify the management of the poor—it is necessary to reduce the management generally throughout the country to something more of a system—it is necessary, therefore, that some useful, wholesome, and incontestably sound, principles should be adopted, which shall possess as general and as pervading an influence as we can possibly give; but it is also necessary, that in different situations these principles in application should be adapted to local peculiarities." What did the Act do towards the attainment of that end? In the first place, it directed the appointment of one general Board of Commissioners, composed of men for whose appointment the Ministry were responsible, and for whose conduct they would be answerable to the Crown and to Parliament; and in the second place, it authorized the appointment of local boards of guardians, composed of men not appointed by the Crown, not selected by the Ministry, but chosen by the persons most immediately interested in the due and proper management of the local funds, namely, the rate-payers of the district over which the guardians were to preside. By this means a direct and powerful control was at once given to the parties most deeply interested over the local authorities, by whom the provisions of the Act were to be carried into effect, as related to the management and relief of the poor, whilst a superintending and supervising power as to the due observance of the general principles of the Act was left to the Central Board of Commissioners. The rules that were found to succeed in one place were, by the influence of the Central Board, extended to others; but it did not follow that they were in every instance 1030 arbitrarily adopted. They might be modified—indeed it was the duty of the local authorities, of the Board of Guardians, so to modify them as to render them easily applicable to the local diversities and different circumstances of the district in which they were to be applied. He thought that no system ever devised by the wit of man was less deserving of the charge of being dictatorial, unconstitutional, despotic, tyrannical, or oppressive. Independent of the Ministerial responsibility to the Crown and to Parliament for the appointment of the Central Board of Commissioners—independent of the check which the rate-payers had it always in their power to put upon the local Boards of Guardians—it was to be remembered that the proceedings of both, of the Board of Commissioners, as well as of the Board of Guardians, were also liable to the further control of public discussions, that great safeguard of our liberties, that great preventive against all abuses. And in no part of the country had this right of public discussion, as applied to the administration of the new Poor-law, been sparingly applied. Meetings had been held in every direction, and no act spared, no misrepresentation withheld, no clamour suppressed, that could tend to mislead and inflame the public mind upon this important subject. Did he complain of this? No. These public meetings, these public discussions had been most ample, most frequent; therefore, if there had been, on the part of the Commissioners sitting at Somerset-house, or on the part of the Boards of Guardians administering the law in any part of the country, or on the part of the assistant-commissioners, or of the relieving officers from the Land's-end to John-O'Groat's house, any tendency to abuse the powers with which any one of them were vested, it would have been trumpeted forth in the newspapers, proclaimed at public meetings, and in that and in the other House of Parliament have been made the ground, not of a motion for papers specifying the number of petitions which had been presented upon the subject—which now appeared to be all that the noble Earl (in this respect resembling the mountain in labour) intended to move for—but the ground of a straightforward, intelligible, constitutional, and legal mode of proceeding—the ground of a motion for the appointment of a Committee to consider of the operation of 1031 the Poor-law Act; and to examine upon oath the witnessess who came to speak to specific charges. That no specific cases of abuse could be proved, or even produced, he was, perhaps, not entitled absolutely to assert; but this, at least, he might be allowed to remark, that it would have been much more creditable to those in that House who opposed the measure if they had brought forward some specific cases, instead of dealing only in vague generalities; and that it would have been infinitely more creditable to those who had ventured out of doors, where they could not be met by the defenders of the measure, not to have produced cases which had been adventured upon, and which, as often as ventured upon, were found, when they came to be sifted, to be utterly destitute of foundation—were found without one single exception to crumble into dust the moment an investigation was set on foot. Before he came to any of the cases which had been so mentioned and so proved to be groundless—for, though the noble Earl had not much adverted to them, they had been made the subject of common talk and constant comment for some time past in places where it was impossible for the friends of the measure to meet them and put them down—before he came to these cases, for he should feel it his duty to advert to some of them, he wished to offer a very few observations in reference to the charges which had been made against the act itself. He felt justified in taking that course, because they, the friends of the measure, had been placed, not upon a fair trial, but been made subject to all manner of attack and misrepresentation for months and months past. He availed himself, therefore, of the present as the fittest and most convenient opportunity that had been afforded of showing the utter groundlessness of the thousand-and-one charges that had been brought not only against the Act itself, but against all those by whom it was supported and defended. First, as to the unprecedented nature of the powers conferred by the Act, he undertook to show, that infinitely greater powers had been conferred by other Acts. He would mention to their Lordships an Act giving infinitely greater powers, not to a known, respectable, and highly responsible body of three commissioners, the limited number increasing the responsibility of each; not to men every one of whose acts must be 1032 canvassed; not to men whose word was concealed, being done in the dark and in a corner; not to men whose conduct was known to all the country, not limited to a particular parish in a particular district, but known to all the world, and canvassed by all mankind; not to men subject to Parliament, and under the superintendence of the responsible advisers of the Crown—but to twenty-five men in the one class, and twenty-five other men in another class; all of whom were subject to no other control nor responsible to any higher authority than their own will and pleasure. Such were the powers given by the parochial Act of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch. Under that Act the Commissioners, responsible to no one but themselves, had the power of framing diet tables for the workhouse, and of refusing relief out of the workhouse; powers which, in the New Poor-law Act, were described as novel, unheard of, tyrannical, despotic, oppressive, and wholly unprecedented in the laws or usages of England. Then there was the Oxford Act, under which the guardians and other officers were obliged to serve or to suffer certain penalties. Suppose such a provision to have been made in the New Poor-law Act, what would have been said? Would not men have exclaimed, "Was ever anything like this tyranny! here are we, who abhor and detest your measure, obliged, under heavy penalties, to join with you in the exercise of powers which we hold to be despotic and tyrannical, as well as unconstitutional and (as the noble Earl said) illegal." But there was no such arbitrary enactment in the Poor-law Bill. Under the Oxford Act the Commissioners or the guardians were empowered to take up all disorderly persons and beggars. Now beggary was said to be poverty; and, says the noble Earl, poverty by the law of England has never yet been treated as a crime. Then, adverting to the Poor-law Bill as discovering, as the noble Earl thinks, a new and previously unknown principle in the laws of this country, he exclaims, "What! was there ever anything like this? was there ever anything so monstrous, so tyrannical as this? Why, under the provisions of this Act, poverty, for the first time in England, is treated like crime." But the noble Earl is mistaken; for, "Oh," says the Oxford Act, "if beggars should be found they are to be kept at work till they have reimbursed 1033 the union; which, if they cannot do, they may be kept to hard work in the House of Correction for thirty days." Now, as to the punishment of thirty days' imprisonment much perhaps need not be said; that may be thought moderate enough, but during the period of imprisonment, the Oxford Act directs that "they be three times whipped." Now, however, it is an unheard of thing that the Poor-law Commissioners should say to a man, "You are able-bodied, go and work, or if you cannot get work, come and take the pot luck (as it were) of the workhouse," being as much as to say, "Come and be comfortably lodged, and comfortably clothed, and take for your diet that which our table affords." This is unparalleled and unheard of; but says the Oxford Act—which, as your Lordships will perceive, is infinitely more tender, infinitely more merciful and benevolent in its provisions—"if any man shall beg, being poor, he shall be taken up and compelled to work to reimburse the union; and if he cannot work, then he shall be imprisoned thirty days, and during that time be three times whipped, once every ten days." Is this all, my Lords? Is there no other power given under he Oxford Act by which the workhouse may be supplied? Yes, there is a power unknown to our Act, unheard of in our days—a power of search. A power to search for the unhappy, the wretched, and the unfortunate, and to tear them off to the workhouse without ceremony and without inquiry, as if they were criminals—a power given in no instance except for the arrest of persons guilty of deep crime or of contempt of court, which is quasi a crime—a power to break open the outer door of the dwellings of the poor, and to compel such as were found within them to go to the workhouse, whether they liked it or not. That is not all. I remember very well the late Sir James Graham, for many years the Member for Carlisle, and who, on account of his great knowledge of the business of Parliament, introduced perhaps more private Bills than any other man—I remember very well his bringing in the Lincolnshire Poor-law Bill. I remember, too, that Sir Samuel Romilly, having at the moment, I suppose, nothing else to do, but unwilling, like all great men, to leave a moment unemployed—I remember that Sir Samuel Romilly, having, perhaps by accident taken up the Act, came forward to oppose it, having discovered, as he 1034 said, that it gave a power of whipping? How was that objection met? Was any wonder expressed? any indignation manifested? Not at all. "Oh," said the supporters of the Bill, "this power of whipping is the commonest thing in the world; there is nothing to be alarmed at in that; we can show you precedents;" and in a trice they produced half a dozen Acts in all of which the overseers were empowered to whip the poor. In short, it was considered the greatest possible prudery on the part of Sir Samuel Romilly to raise any objection to so very reasonable and so very common an exercise of authority. I only mention this to show your Lordships that when people talk of the tyrannical, despotic, oppressive, and unprecedented powers conferred by the new Act for the amendment of the Poor-law, there is nothing in that Act contained from the first line to the last word of it, that can compare with the severities of preceding measures. As a further illustration of this point I may refer to what has taken place in some places under Gilbert's Act, which, as your Lordships will remember, was passed in 1782. Mr. Hawley, one of the Poor-law Commissioners, upon visiting the workhouse of one of the unions formed under that Act, was struck by hearing the clank of chains in one of the inner courts, and upon arriving at that part of the establishment, he actually found persons pacing about the court, manacled, and having fetters about their ancles. Expressing his astonishment, and inquiring the cause of this, the master of the workhouse coolly replied, "We find it necessary; it is impossible in any other way to prevent them breaking bounds and running away." All this is in evidence—in evidence that has been printed, and to which I would direct your Lordships' attention, but which I will not now trouble you by reading at length. But your Lordships will observe that these things cannot be done under the present law; that these things are not done under the present law; or, if done, that they are illegal, though the law itself is not illegal. You will observe that these things are now prohibited, and if committed are most severely punishable. I think I have now redeemed my pledge when I told your Lordships I would show that the powers conferred by this Act were not unprecedented, and that they were not more tyrannical, more despotic, 1035 or more oppressive than the powers which, under other Acts, had existed long before. If it were necessary, I could enter into a multitude of details in further illustration of this point, but I think I have stated enough to convince your Lordships that the measure is not so terribly despotic as it has been represented to be, and that it does not deal with the poor with half the severity that other Acts have done. I say that this Act, from the beginning to the end, confers not one harsh, not one cruel, not one oppressive or despotic power, either upon the Commissioners or the Assistant-commissioners, upon the board of guardians or the relieving officers. Then, my noble Friend dwells at length upon the great hardship of there being no out-door relief. My Lords, there is not a more ordinary, but there is not at the same time a more inexcusable, misrepresentation than that of the total refusal of out-door relief. I assert, that the Act does not prohibit out-door relief. Further, I affirm, that the Commissioners have never prohibited out-door relief. I venture to assert, and I challenge contradiction to the assertion, that all the boards of guardians, all the Assistant-commissioners, all the relieving officers have allowed, do continue to allow, and must if they act up to the provisions of the statute, continue freely to allow out-door relief. One sort of out-door relief, I admit they do not allow as a general rule; but even to that there are exceptions. Able-bodied workmen, men who could work if there were work for them to do, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the fact always turns out that there is work to be had if the men choose to ask for it,—but "those who seek not, neither shall they find;" these men, I admit, are refused out-door relief; but they are offered the relief of the workhouse if they choose to enter it. But the aged,—and here I complain, as I have just reason to do, of the gross and fraudulent misrepresentations, misrepresentations amounting to falsehood and utter fabrications, which I have seen, and seen with amazement, of the conduct of the Commissioners, the boards of guardians, and the relieving officers, with respect to the treatment of the aged and infirm poor. I have seen it stated that they will not give to the aged out-door relief, but compel them in every instance to come into the workhouse. That statement is utterly unfounded, utterly untrue. 1036 If persons be infirm, be it from disease or natural malformation, or incapacity, bodily or mental, or from the advance of years and the decrepitude of old age, they receive under this Act out-door relief; aye, and receive it more certainly than if the Act had not been passed. In some cases the relief administered under the Act has gone even further; for so great has been the desire of the Commissioners and of the board of guardians not to hold too tight the power of refusing out-door relief, that when an able-bodied man has been in some such situation as this—say a healthy man of five-and-thirty years, but burdened with two or three children who are labouring under some natural infirmity, such as deafness, dumbness, or blindness—in such cases the Commissioners have acted upon what may be regarded as the equitable construction of the word "infirm" as employed in the act, and have given to such persons, though able-bodied and not aged, outdoor relief in consideration of the infirmity of their family. Then have I not a right to complain of the statements that have been made?—have I not a right to ask whether a misrepresentation more gross or more foul could possibly be fancied—could possibly be conjured up in the imagination of any man than that out-door relief was never given, and that the aged and infirm were compelled to betake themselves to the workhouse. I have hitherto passed over the subject of medical relief, because my noble Friend says, he shall reserve it for the next head of his series of lectures. I therefore, will pass it over also, only observing by the way—and the observation applies to the whole subject of the medical relief administered under the Act—that I have not observed the complaints upon this head to come from the poor themselves, but from the medical men who are required to attend them. The medical men certainly appear to be very sensitive upon the subject, infinitely more sensitive than their patients; for it will be found from those who have inquired, or from those who have been engaged in administering the Act, that the medical assistance now afforded, is infinitely better, infinitely more certain, and infinitely more regular, than it was previous to the passing of the new law. It is that, indeed, that the medical men complain of. They can no longer draw their money for doing nothing. 1037 Under the operation of the existing law, they must work for their pay; therefore, they say, "the pay is too little, and the work too much." However that may be, certain it is, that since the new law has come into force, more has been accomplished in the way of affording medical relief to the poor than was ever done under the old system. Allowances, large and liberal, have always, I am happy to say, been made by the boards of guardians, with the entire approval of the Commissioners, both assistant and central, in cases where weakness or infirmity have required the substitution of better food. In all such cases, a generous diet (to use the medical phrase) has been allowed, meat far beyond the ordinary rules of diet, has been given, and in many unions, wine to a very large extent has been administered. Here only, let us pause for a moment to ask whether it be fair that those who have so exerted themselves, who, under the guidance of such kindly feelings towards their poorer fellow creatures, have shown themselves so little regardful of expense or cost—whether it be fair to them to reiterate day after day the cry of their starving, grinding, oppressing, and imprisoning the poor, and of withholding from them all those medical comforts which (above all things) under the old system they had enjoyed is this fair when it is found that under the new law the poor have incontestably more of medical comfort, that larger sums by a great deal are expended upon them, that better and more regular attendance is secured to them, and that in no one single instance has a case been specified in which there has been any defect in the medical attendance in any one workhouse, in any one union throughout the country. I will not pursue this point further, but allow me to ask whether the tone which has been adopted by some men upon this and other subjects connected with the new law is a wholesome or a proper tone—is it a tone that can in any way tend to improve the condition of the people, or to place them in a better situation? Does it tend to reconcile men's minds to a law to say that that law is a bad law, an unconstitutional law, a law which (to use the phrase employed by the noble Earl) did not deserve to be called a law? Why, then, did you not bring in a bill to have it repealed? Instead of night after night coming down here with charges which you 1038 will not specify, or attacks upon individuals whom you will not name—instead of coming forward with statements of abuses in places which you will not venture to point out, not even so far as to mention the county in which they might be found—instead of doing this, why did you not come forward boldly and manfully, and demand the total repeal of the whole measure? But you have shrunk from that plain, intelligible, and manly course; night after night you have put forward your unsupported statements—night after night you have endeavoured to excite a prejudice against the act and against those by whom it has been administered; but now when the hour of trial is come—when those whom you have attacked, in doors and out of doors, in your daily journals, in your occasional publications, in your public meetings and your declamatory speeches for the last six months—when these men come forward to meet the charges you have brought against them in places and at times when it was impossible for them to reply—when these men enter the arena and defy you to the proof, then you wrap yourselves up in vague generalities, talking at random of Mr. Pitt—of the "pilot that weathered the storm," ballasting the ship, by the by, with 500,000,000l. of debt, without which valuable ballast the poor would have found better employment; when the hour of trial comes you wrap yourselves up in these fruitless, vain, inapplicable generalities, and leave us to guess, to beat the wind, and to conjecture in the best way we can, what the charge is upon which, without being tried, we have been condemned in the face of the whole country. The noble Earl is not the only person who has done these things; but he, I am bound to say, pure as his motives may be, holds a very high place amongst those who in Parliament have assisted, encouraged, backed, and comforted, the evil-doers out of doors. I have said, that wherever a charge has been made, if it were specific it has generally been refuted; certainly in every instance an immediate investigation has been undertaken and great readiness manifested to ascertain the correctness of every particular of the charge. I will give your Lordships a sample of the candour and fairness with which the Commissioners have demeaned themselves; and of the readiness and promptitude with which they have chal- 1039 lenged investigation wherever an instance of abuse has been referred to. A reverend gentleman, whom I will name if any body wishes me to do so, though the circumstances I am about to mention redound so little to his credit that I think your Lordships would rather his name should be kept back—a reverend gentleman, a minister, as I understand, of the established church, was addressed by the Commissioners on the 11th of February, 1837, in consequence of his having stated in a letter to which his name was attached, a melancholy story of the excessive cruel treatment of a poor cripple and his mother in an union workhouse. Mr. Chadwick, the very able and intelligent secretary to the Commissioners, addressed a letter to the reverend gentleman in consequence of that statement, requesting to be informed of the workhouse in which the alleged mal-treatment had occurred, and giving an assurance that the fullest investigation should be made. All that Mr. Chadwick entreated was, that the reverend gentleman would state where he got his information, what the name of the parties were, and in what part of the kingdom the circumstance had occurred. No reply was condescended to be given to that most reasonable request. This information I had direct from the board of Commissioners.
§ Earl Stanhope
thought, perhaps, he might save the noble and learned Lord some trouble by stating that an answer had been given to that letter. He could show the noble and learned Lord the reply in print.
No direct reply was sent to the Commissioners. These are the Commissioners own words, "the Commissioners received no reply to the said letter." [Earl Stanhope: But a reply has been printed.] If so, it must be a reply which was never sent directly to the Commissioners, for the Commissioners complain that no answer was sent to them. But I go to another case. A gallant Officer had stated some very gross cases of misconduct and abuse as having happened in the Bourn union, of which the gallant Officer, being chairman of the bench of magistrates and also of the quarter sessions, was ex-officio one of the guardians. When serious statements were made from such a quarter, it was very natural for the guardians to feel alarmed at them. They 1040 accordingly wrote a letter to the gallant Officer, begging of him in very civil terms to enter a little into particulars. The letter ran in these terms:—I have the honour to address you, by direction of the board of guardians of this union, requesting you will furnish me, for their information, with the names and parishes of the parties whose cases you are reported to have brought before the public, at a meeting lately held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, London, as the board are led to infer, from the whole tenour of the published report, that the cases referred to are supposed to have occurred in this union. I am further directed to inform you, that it is the anxious wish of the board to furnish, on their part, every explanation on this or any similar occasion.The answer was this:—I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 22nd instant, but I must decline giving any answer to the inquiry of the board of guardians at Bourn. I feel there would be no end to this subject if I was to enter into explanation with every board of guardians to whom I may allude when expressing my dislike of the New Poor-law. At the same time, I thank those at Bourn for the offer of explanation on their part, which I will avail myself of, when I see occasion.So that the logic of the gallant Officer was this:——"I charge a board of guardians, to which I belong myself, of which ex officio I am a permanent member; they write to me for particulars, and express a desire to enter into an investigation of the matter; I receive their letter, and I say, 'Oh, it would be an endless job if I were to enter into an explanation with every board of guardians to whom I may allude when expressing my dislike to the New Poor-law Bill.'" Such was the logic of the gallant Officer, totally forgetting that the circumstances under which he had been called upon to explain by the Bourn board of guardians were entirely different from any others that could possibly occur in which he was himself concerned, because the circumstances were these:—The gallant Officer had impugned the conduct of a board of guardians near to whom he lived. Now, he could not live near to every board of guardians. Again; he had impugned the conduct of a board of guardians of which he was himself ex officio a member, being the chairman of the bench of magistrates and of the quarter sessions. Now, he could not be chairman of the bench of magistrates and of the quarter sessions of every district in 1041 the country and community—could not be ex officio a member of the board of guardians in every union in the country. Therefore, what mischief or inconvenience he could sustain from answering the letter of the Bourn board of guardians, where the whole matter would have begun and ended, I confess I am utterly at a loss to understand. I might mention many other cases in which there has been a similar reluctance to enter into particulars; but I confine myself to a few. There is one case, however, to which I must allude, which has been especially mentioned—mentioned in very strong terms, and it was, no doubt, of a very touching nature. It was published in a newspaper, and the editor of the newspaper said he had it from a very old and valuable correspondent, who had never deceived him before. As soon as the publication appeared, a letter was addressed to the editor requesting that this old and valuable correspondent might be made known, as there was no truth whatever in the statement he had made. The editor declined to do this, but said he would make inquiry of his correspondent, and a few days afterwards a very civil answer appeared, couched in something like these terms:—"Our old and valuable correspondent, who never deceived us before, being unable or unwilling to substantiate his charge, we have no objection to make the amende honorable, and to publish a contradiction of the charge." Very well; but how did they do it? The original charge was headed, "Horrible Atrocity," and was printed throughout in a large type, and placed in a prominent part of the newspaper. Not so the contradiction. That, modestly, retiringly, like a sensitive plant shrinking from the touch, fled into a remote, obscure, humble, sequestered corner, and there by the fair river of print that traversed all the margin-valley, there it lingered unheeded, unseen, and wasting on desert air that sweetness of truth which for the first time it introduced upon the subject. In the month of July last, a gentleman very well known in Yorkshire, paraded a letter in the newspapers, in which some strong assertions were made with respect to the working of the New Poor-law Bill. The editor of the newspaper had no blame in this, except that he might have inquired a little more accurately as to the means of information possessed by his correspondent. The statement published in the newspa- 1042 pers on the 11th of July last, was in these terms:—A clergyman, a neighbour of mine, told me the other day, that two friends of his from Cambridge had told him the following anecdote: At a union workhouse in that neighbourhood, a labourer, his wife, and children, had been confined; they were, as a matter of course, separated. The poor fellow was at last tired out; he was 'tested,' as the Duke of Richmond would term it.I dare say my noble Friend never made use of such an expression. But the statement continues:—At length he thought he had better be half-starved at liberty than half-starved in prison. He gave notice to the governor that he, his wife, and children would leave, and that he would try to obtain work. The governor said, 'You cannot take your wife out, you and your children may go.'—'Not take my wife!' exclaimed the poor man, why not?'—'We buried her three weeks ago,' replied the gaoler.Now he must say, (the noble and learned Lord continued,) that a more shocking story than that, if it were true, could not possibly be brought under the consideration of the public. But, in the first place, it was not very likely that a man confined in the same workhouse with his wife, and separated from her only during the night, should be ignorant of her death three weeks after it had occurred; but the fact was that the statement was not true. However, it had the effect of causing an immediate inquiry to be made, and the result of the inquiry was, in every respect, similar to that which had been obtained in every other instance, where similar statements and similar charges had been made. In reply to an interruption from the Earl of Radnor, the noble and learned Lord stated, that he was alluding to a statement which had been put forward by Mr. Oastler, the gentleman who had contested the representation of Huddersfield, and who, though mistaken upon the subject of the Poor-law bill, he believed, at heart, to be an exceedingly humane, and benevolent man. The inquiry in this instance, as in all the previous instances, ended in the Commissioners being referred from one person to another, and from one place to another, until at last it turned out that the circumstance complained of had not taken place either in the county of Cambridge or its neighbourhood. The Commissioners reported to Lord John Russell that all the answer which they had been able to 1043 receive was, "the report was originally communicated to some friends of a gentleman at Huddersfield, named Kettlewell, by a person in Lepton, near Hudderfield, who, being further questioned, says, he heard it from his brother, to whom it had been related by a pauper, who said he had been in the same house, but whose name and abode he confessed he did not know." So that there was a statement made to one person by another person, not named, who had it from his brother, not named, to whom it had been told by a pauper, whose name and abode were not known. Certainly, very satisfactory authority. And on such authority had the new Poor-law been condemned! The fact was, that there was not a word of truth in all the statements which had been made against the measure; there was not a shadow of evidence in support of those statements. Undoubtedly, there was no lack of assertion; there was no deficiency of vituperation. There was no lack of censure, of reprehension of the system, and of those by whom it was conducted; ay, of vehement, furious, blood-thirsty censure and reprehension; and that, not by laymen, but by ministers of the gospel of peace. He was persuaded that he should petrify their Lordships by that which he was about to state. It was difficult to believe, that any being in a human form, could utter such sentiments in such language as had been uttered by a clergyman, not of the Church of England, certainly, but by a clergyman, the rev. Mr. Stephens, at a meeting held at Hartsteadmoor, to petition for the repeal of the Poor-law Amendment Act, and had been thus described in a Leeds paper:—"Stephens then read extracts from Magna Charta, and said, that if it had been passed without blood, it should be reinstated without blood; but if blood had been shed, blood should not be wanting to bring it back again. Sooner than sit down with this bill they would light up the tocsin of anarchy." Light up the tocsin of anarchy! The reverend gentleman seemed to consider a tocsin to be a torch. He had probably heard of "bell, book, and candle," and had confounded the first and the last. He then proceeded—"they would light up the tocsin of anarchy, and the glory of England should depart. Sooner than suffer his wife or child to be torn from him, he would plunge a dagger into the heart of the man who attempted it. They were not there to reason or to argue, or to 1044 amplify on the question, but they were determined not to have the bill either in whole or in part, either in principle or in practice, either in its head or in its tail. They would neither have the sting in its tail, nor the teeth in its jaws, but they would plunge a sword into the entrails, and dig a pit as deep as hell, and out of the Whig filth and rottenness, and detestable and damnable doctrines and practices, they would tumble it all into the pit. He would never pay any taxes towards that bill. If it was to be the law, he would be outlawed, and if it was to be a law for the poor, then he would say, by the God who made the poor, there should be no law for the rich." At another meeting, the same reverend gentleman was thus reported:—"He said what he did not from the impulse or whim of the moment, for he knew there was a Government spy in the room, and if he did not take the words down, he knew they would appear in the public press and that Lord John Russell would have the opportunity of seeing them. He would say, let them have no factories' regulation bill alone, they must fight for both bills at once. If they would not grant them, he would say, down with the mills.'" On another occasion, the same individual talked of those "institutions which were once the pride of the country, the envy of surrounding nations, and the admiration of the world," as having "been destroyed by the infernal Poor-law bill and its fiendish supporters." "I ask," said the reverend gentleman, "the rich to pause; I ask, what will be the effect of the law in Manchester? If you receive it, you must give up the Book of God from your pulpit, and the prayer-book from your reading-desk; they cannot stand together; for the devil is not more opposed to the Almighty than is the new Poor-law to his holy word." Surely such language as that, uttered by a Christian clergyman, if not actually blasphemous, was in the highest degree unholy and irreverent. The reverend gentleman proceeded to say—"And there is another old law, which declares that no man is a felon for taking that which he needs to satisfy his hunger." There never was any such law. There might be extenuating circumstances in a robbery, but a robbery was always a punishable act. After exclaiming, "I tell Lord John that the Poor-law is the law of devils, and that it ought to be, and will be resisted to death; "and after uttering a great deal more of very 1045 inflammatory matter, Mr. Stephens went on—"In my town of Ashton—" He knew Ashton. It was an extensive place. The inhabitants were very ingenious and industrious, but they were very excitable. And, as he had already observed, most excitement existed against the new Poor-law where it was least known. "In my town of Ashton, said Mr. Stephens," when March comes we are determined on our course. Let the man who dare do it accept the office of guardian, we are determined 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' man for man. It shall be blood for blood, so help us God and our country." Now he would ask their Lordships if he had been guilty of any exaggeration when he said, that the language which he was about to quote would make their blood run cold? Such gross misrepresentations both of the principle and of the details of the law were most reprehensible, proceeding from any man, still more were they reprehensible when the speaker clothed his sentiments in language such as no human lips ought to utter; above all were they reprehensible when such gross misrepresentations, expressed in such terms, proceeded from a minister of the gospel of peace, who borrowed his illustrations from the bible, the reading desk, and the pulpit; who with abominable profanity perverted the doctrine of "peace on earth and good-will towards men" to the vile purpose of exciting his hearers to riot, insurrection, and bloodshed; and who, as in religious matters his influence might, perhaps, be great, no doubt hoped that in secular affairs that influence would not be small. One writer in a provincial journal described the poor-law commission as "a cruel Cerberus; a three-headed monster; a devil king over the inmates of the national prison:" and a gentleman, whose name it was unnecessary to mention, in language at least not inferior in violence to any which he had hitherto quoted, uttered the following sentiments:—"He would consider himself disgraced if he had travelled 200 miles for so paltry and ridiculous a purpose as petitioning what was called the Parliament, and recommended the meeting so to act as to bring the Parliament on its knees before them, by standing with the petition in one hand and a pistol in the other, the finger holding the trigger to assist the petition." If any of these misguided individuals, after hearing these abominable doctrines, couched in such 1046 abominable language—after hearing from his spiritual instructor that it should be" blood for bloods"—after hearing from another, but a temporal adviser, that he ought to apply to Parliament "with a petition in one hand and a pistol in the other," were to commit some atrocious outrage, the crime could hardly be called his. My Lords (continued the noble and learned Lord), I have great confidence in the good sense of the people of this country, for I have long known and admired their character. I know their instinctive love of the law, and the horror with which they shrink from any breach of it. I know that they may be treated with great cruelty, that they be subjected to great oppression, that they may be most deeply wounded and tortured in their most tender feelings, without even a murmur, or, at least, without lifting a hand in violation of the law. That is what I know of the people from my own observation of them. I respect their loyalty, I respect their kind and peaceful disposition, I respect their almost invincible repugnance to any infringement or breach of the law. It is, therefore, my Lords, that feel the utmost confidence in the good conduct of the people, that I feel the utmost confidence in their disposition not to violate the law. But, my Lords, if I am so sanguine in my expectations of the good conduct of the people that I do not apprehend that any evil consequences will result from incitements such as those which I have been reading to your Lordships, I am sure it is not because I believe that no pains have been taken to produce those evil consequences! it is not because I believe that the persons to whom I have been referring have not done their best to induce the people to violate the law, to induce the people to depart from their usual peaceful habits; it is not because I do not think that such was the intention of the wretches who attempted to practise upon the people; but because I depend on the honesty and good feeling, founded on the intelligence of the people themselves. But what will the people of England say generally, when they become acquainted with the fact that it is just in proportion as the inhabitants of any district know nothing of this law that they express their dissatisfaction with it; that wherever the provisions of the law are not applied, there the greatest efforts are made to excite a ferment against it; and that, on 1047 the contrary, just in proportion as the law is tried it makes friends, and day after day converts those who were in the first instance suspicious and jealous, into its admirers and supporters? My Lords, when the people of England come to reflect upon this fact, I am convinced that their good sense, that their rational habits, that their peaceful dispositions, will act as perfect safeguards to them against the false, misguided, and slanderous accusers of the law. I trust, therefore, that these men have had their day. I trust, that henceforward their misrepresentations will be refuted as soon as they are uttered. There is one thing also which I will venture in addition to say, that as there is no one of the charges made against the new system to which the old system was not subject in a tenfold degree, so there are, in many cases, no abuses even alleged against the new system which kind of abuses were not everywhere found abundantly to exist in the old. Of all those scenes which it wrung our hearts to contemplate five years ago, none are any longer to be found. I can no longer tell your Lordships of any young, strong, and able-bodied labourer preferring idleness, with the parish allowance of 3s. 6d. a week, to the 10s. a week which he might have made by working. But I have misstated the case. It was not from the parish that such a fellow obtained his weekly 3s. 6d.: it was from the virtuous and industrious poor, who earned their bread by the sweat of their brow, and whose recompense it was, to be exposed to robbery, to be compelled to support the lazy and vicious, in riot, pillage, and fraud. At the period to which I allude, our hopes of a reformed system of poor relief were almost crushed by the stories which we were constantly told of the conduct of multitudes of the labouring classes. Even boatmen—men who, until the abuses which had crept into the old poor law, thought no weather too hard for the exercise of their calling, and never shrunk from the peril of wind and wave when engaged in saving the lives of the wrecked, any more than when engaged in running a cargo of smuggled goods—even such men, seven or eight years ago, were accustomed, in the tempestuous seasons of the year, to say,—"We will go now and see what the parish will give us; they must keep us; we will take their five or six shillings a-week, and wait for good weather 1048 before we go to sea again." No such things are now seen: the New Poor-law cannot be charged with effecting any such corruption of character, with destroying that love of industry and of honest independence, which was the glory of our forefathers. Nor do we now see able-bodied men allowed by the parish sixteen shillings a week for a limited portion of labour, while twelve shillings was all that could be obtained by similar men not paid by the parish, and who devoted the whole of their time to their employers. In 1831, hundreds of individuals besieged the relieving officers, complaining that they could not earn ten or twelve shillings from the parish, unless they worked as hard as the common labourer, who made no application to the parish. Nor, my Lords, do we ever hear now of the statement of a fact exhibiting so degrading a deficiency in common sense and common feeling as that one honest and well-disposed woman, who for weeks and months resisted receiving parish relief, preferring to support herself by her own independent exertions, was at length compelled to give in by the clamours of the rest of the women of the parish, who shamed her out of her good resolution. Recollecting all these things, my Lords, I ask your Lordships whether we were too vehement in our denunciation of the abuses of the Old Poor-law system? Did we lament too deeply the wide-spread evils—evils tending to destroy the good sense, the honesty, and the independent spirit of the people of England—the existence of which was proved by the gross abuses which I have just cited? Before the introduction of the new system of Poor-laws, every thing was monstrous, every thing was unnatural, every thing was intolerable, in the manner in which relief was given to the indigent. Practices which set all reason and all principle at defiance, had grown up to a fearful height. Separating the workmen from the work, those practices while they introduced the most intolerable corruption, were fraught with the most fatal consequences to social order; they threatened anarchy and violence; they opened the door to every description of profligacy and dissoluteness, and crime. At that period, no man, however undeserving, need want, who chose to go to the parish for aid. Men who prided themselves, and justly prided themselves, on their independence, men who nobly supported themselves by honest industry, were 1049 taxed to support every idle, debauched, and good-for-nothing fellow in their neighbourhood. The noble Earl told us, in the language of Scripture, "to look at the fruits of the tree." I am sure, my Lords, if we look at the fruits of the Old Poor-law, we must admit that they were bitter to the taste, though, certainly, they were not fair to the sight, for nothing could be more hideous. My Lords, I hope we may be said to have passed safely through the first stage of the new measure. Under the operation of the old system, it was impossible that society could have long existed. All the better portion of the population was ground down by the Poor-rates. It was anxiety for the stability, nay, for the very existence of society, in which the present law originated. The money saved by it was only an inferior consideration. If the noble Earl can show—which, however, I am persuaded he cannot—that the statement of a saving, by the new measure, of two or three millions a year is a fallacy, still I should cling as closely as ever to the measure. For what, my Lords, was its principal object? Not to lower the rates of the rich, but to raise the character of the pauper; not to spare the income of the opulent, but to improve the moral feeling of the poor. I hope that this object will be gradually but surely attained. I hope that the labouring classes of the people of England will learn, not to look with longing at the means or earnings of others for their support, but that every one will depend upon his own industry, and will, upon that alone, found his expectations, and those of his family. If this should be so, the comfort and happiness of the labouring classes will speedily increase; if this should not be so, I care not if the saving be twice that which it is now alleged, and, I believe, truly alleged to be. What I look to, as I have already said, is the restoration of the character as well as of the comforts of the poor. If that should not be the result of the new system, as I am now the foremost to challenge inquiry into its merits, I should then be the foremost to call on your Lordships for its repeal. Again, if there should appear to be any defect in the mechanism of the law, if there should appear to be any abuse in the exercise of the powers which the law confers, if there should appear to be any impropriety in the administration of the law, whether general or particular let that defect, let that abuse, let that 1050 impropriety be brought forward and established, and your Lordships will find, that there is not a more vehement, that there is not a more implacable corrector of wrong, or prosesecutor of the wrong-doer, than myself. But, my Lords, if I so challenge inquiry into the merits of the new system, if I so call for the appointment of a Committee to hear evidence, upon oath, with respect to those merits, if I so show my readiness to amend, or even to repeal the law, should it be found expedient to do so; if I so evince my disposition to deal with the measure exactly as it may seem meet to your Lordships to deal with it, I claim this as an act of justice; I claim it, not as a boon, but as a right; I claim for the measure, and for its supporters, and for its administrators (who, although I know they have administered it in a spirit of the greatest kindness and humanity, have, nevertheless, been exposed to great censure and obloquy), I claim it as a right, that if the challenge I give be not accepted—if the call I make be not responded to—if the opponents of the system bring forward no specific charge, if they do not allege any distinct abuse—why then, my Lords, I claim, as a matter of common right and justice, a cessation of those attacks, a cessation of those groundless aspersions, a cessation of those base suspicions, a cessation of those ungenerous, false, and foul, calumnies which have lately been poured out in such scandalous profusion. What I ask, my Lords, is simply this: that if you refuse to tell us, or rather if you refuse to tell the Government and the Poor-law Commissioners, what the charge is against them—if you refuse to try them on such charge, that, being so untried and uncharged, you will not pronounce a sentence of condemnation; nay more, that you will not proceed to inflict punishment. This is all I ask. I ask for strict justice; I ask not for any favour. Less than justice your Lordships will not give; more than justice I disdain to solicit.
The Earl of Stradbroke
referred to several documents, to prove, that in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Sussex, the condition of the lower classes had been lately much improved; and there was a great decrease of crime, a great increase of comfort, and instead of the workhouses being filled with able-bodied labourers, there was a less number of paupers in the unions than was ever before known. It was folly to say that people were forced into those unions 1051 or prisons, as they were termed, as there was not half the number then in the workhouses that there was before the passing of the New Poor-law. The noble Lord also referred to some documents, to show, that although the farmers in the counties to which he had alluded enjoyed a great reduction in the poor-rates, more out-door relief had been granted of late than at any period prior to the passing of the Act. In one parish from which he had seen an account, it appeared that not a single able-bodied man was out of employment or in the workhouse. In fact, it was notorious in many parts of the country, that in consequence of the improved condition of labourers, the rents of cottages had increased of late. The noble Earl referred to other documents to show, that so far from thinking the treatment in the workhouses bad, many labourers had admitted, that the diet was much better than many at work could procure out of doors. The noble Earl (Stanhope) had said, that in Suffolk a case had occurred in which a pauper in great distress had been left ten days without relief. This was a charge of so general and undefined a character, that not being informed as to the particular parish or union in which it occurred, he could not give any answer to it. It had been said by a noble Lord on a former occasion, that an assistant Poor-law Commissioner had stated at a public meeting in. Suffolk, that the workhouses should be made as much like prisons as possible, in order to prevent persons having recourse to them. Now, inquiry had been made as to that statement, and the Assistant-Commissioner in question said, that he had no recollection of having made any such declaration. The noble Earl expressed a hope that an opportunity would be given to those against whom charges had been brought with respect to the administration of this law to rebut them. No doubt the noble Earl (Stanhope) fully believed all the statements which he made on this subject, but he was a good deal in the hands of others, whose information was calculated to mislead him. However, as the characters of those who had been charged were naturally dear to them, he hoped they would have an opportunity of answering those charges.
§ Lord Wynford
said, that it was no answer to the charge that had been made against an Assistant Poor-law Commissioner of having said that the workhouses 1052 should be made as like prisons as possible, in order to deter men from having recourse to them, that he did not recollect having made any such statement. If a man in his station had made a statement so disgraceful to him, he must recollect it; and if the Poor-law Commissioners did their duty, they should at once dismiss him, if he could give no better answer to the charge. The statement which he (Lord Wynford) had made on a former occasion, as to the increase of crime since the passing of the Poor-law Act, had been founded on returns made to the Home Department, and within the access of any one of their Lordships. From those documents, it appeared that during the last year crime had increased to the amount of 800 or 900 cases. In what the noble and learned Lord opposite had said of public meetings and the proceedings at them he fully and entirely concurred, and wished her Majesty's Ministers would take some means to prevent their being held. He appealed to the Lord Chancellor, whether these meetings were not grossly illegal, and whether all who attended them were not liable to be indicted? The noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham) had read to their Lordships some passages from speeches made at these meetings, and he, as a lawyer, hesitated not to say, that that language was not only illegal, but approached as near as possible, if it did not actually touch upon, treason. He was one of those who objected to many of the details of the measure, but God forbid he should speak of it in such terms as those read to their Lordships that evening. When the measure was first introduced to Parliament, he had expressed an opinion that the powers vested in the Commissioners were unconstitutional. That opinion he still entertained. He also thought that the expense the measure sanctioned was unnecessary, and that the increase of patronage was objectionable; but, notwithstanding, he felt bound to state that he would be one of the last to propose its repeal; and if any such proposition were made, he should strongly object to it. He had, as far as his infirm state of health would permit, visited some of the union workhouses, and from what he saw of the appearance of the men and women, and of the education of the children, he thought that future generations would be much benefitted by their operation, with, however, such amendments as he thought they 1053 required. The dietary in those which he had visited was, he believed, better than that of many of the labouring poor outside. He wished that the condition of the labouring poor outside were much better, and that would be the way to make the workhouse dreaded, not by punishments within it, but by bettering the condition of the poor without. As far as he had seen in those workhouses which he had visited, the paupers were better fed, and clothed, and lodged, than the labouring poor outside. Against the Commissioners, there was unquestionably a very great prejudice throughout the country, and as he thought a great deal of that prejudice might be removed by the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry, he should unquestionably support such a proposition, if made. Indeed, his conviction was, that the more light there was thrown on the bill and its working the more satisfied with it the country would become. His main objection to the measure was the extent of power given by it to the Commissioners. The noble and learned Lord opposite alleged that no more power was given to the Commissioners by this bill than was given to Commissioners under several others to which he referred. But the statutes which he named were but Local Acts, and he defied the noble and learned Lord to point out any general act, one referring to the whole kingdom, in which powers so extensive and so liable to abuse were given to Commissioners. Could the noble and learned Lord point out any other Act giving power to Commissioners to repeal an Act of Parliament? Another objection of his to the Poor-law system was the shutting up in a workhouse the man who was willing to work, and only required assistance from being unable to obtain employment. One improvement which he should wish to see in the present Act, was the introduction of that clause in the Gilbert Act, which compelled the overseers or guardians to find work for the able-bodied labourer if he claimed relief, and if he refused that work to send him to prison. If that clause were in force, few candidates would be found for admission to the workhouse, particularly if the dietary of the workhouse were not so good as that of the gaol. One part of the New Poor-law Act to which he most strongly objected was, that where relief was sought for a child or children it was not to be given unless the parents and the whole 1054 family consented to go into the workhouse. This was an unnecessary burthen to the union or parish, and a severe hardship to the poor man, for it was well known that a father might be well able to support his family if the burthen of one or two sick children was taken from him. Was it not unjust to the parish, and cruel to the parents, to compel them to go with their whole family into the workhouse because they asked relief for one or two of their sick children? Another objection which he had to the law as it now stood was, that if a man who with his family were in the workhouse wished to go out, he must give three hours' notice of such his wish, and that he must, at the same time, take his family with him. Surely, if a man were to seek work, it could not be in the workhouse. If he were to get it at all, it must be by going out and searching for it, and while in that search, it was cruel to send him forth with the burthen of his whole family upon him. The detention of the man not for three hours, but for three minutes beyond the time he wished to go forth, was illegal. It had been decided over and over again in the Court of King's Bench, that if the overseers or guardians did not provide the pauper with work, they were obliged to give him relief; and if they refused him the opportunity of looking for work, they acted equally illegally. There was another part of the Act to which he objected—namely, the bastardy clauses, though he was not, at that moment, prepared with any particular remedy. The Act required a strong remedy with respect to those clauses. He had seen a statement on respectable authority in which it was said, that of the births in the eastern division of the county of Sussex in sixty days one in ten of the children were murdered. [A Noble Lord: What, one-tenth of all?] He did not say one-tenth of all. He thought he had said, but at all events he meant to say, that one-tenth of the illegitimate children born in sixty days within the eastern division of the county had been murdered. The fact had been stated in a petition signed by several respectable individuals. He was not answerable for the fact, he had only communicated it to their Lordships. The person who had sent him the petition was a very respectable man, and if his noble Friend was anxious for an inquiry into the facts, it could easily be instituted. He was quite convinced, that the bastardy 1055 clauses of this bill ought not to be continued. If their Lordships would look to the calendars of the last Assizes, they would find that the crime of infanticide had increased; and he was certain it was owing to the operation of the bastardy clauses of the New Poor-law. He objected to discussing a question of this kind on the presentation of a petition, as he was not quite prepared for it, but he would take some other opportunity of bringing the subject under their Lordships' consideration. He would bring forward a specific motion on the subject, and when he did that, he would state the grounds on which he would ask their Lordships to concur in that motion. There were two cases relative to another part of the Act to which he wished to call their attention. He had seen a statement some time ago in The Times newspaper of a pauper being taken up by the police in the night and carried to the workhouse, but he was refused relief, although he was in a state of destitution. The Poor-law Commissioners, as he understood, were very properly making inquiries into the operation of the Act, and he should like to know whether any inquiry had been instituted into that case, because if the facts were not true they ought not to be published, and if true, the recurrence of them ought to be prevented. If the relieving officer did not relieve a person who was in a state of destitution, and any evil consequences ensued, he would be liable to an indictment. Then, with respect to the case of the Bridgewater Union, it had been stated that the guardians had sent a great number of persons into a workhouse in which an infectious disease had prevailed. He was told that an inquiry was made into the facts of this case, but that it was made by the guardians, and that ought not to be The guardians were acquitted indeed, but by whom? By themselves. He was far from being desirous of having the Poor-law Bill repealed, for he thought that it had done a great deal of good, but there were some points in which he thought it required alteration.
§ The Duke of Richmond
was anxious to say a few words on this subject, the more particularly as he felt somewhat personally concerned in some of the statements. From the first commencement of the working of the New Poor-law Act he had considered it to be his duty, as occupying the station of a landed proprietor in Sussex, 1056 to join the board of guardians of the union in which he resided. He knew that in doing so he exposed himself to much abuse and clamour, and that he was thereby rendering himself for the time unpopular; but he had deemed it an essential duty towards those who accepted the office of guardians in the union not to withhold from them his best support and co-operation. Being well aware that from his position, he might be of great service to the board by acting as their chairman, he accepted that office; for though he knew that nearly all the popular abuse would be taken from their shoulders to be placed on his own, he also felt that, as a Member of their Lordships' House he should always have the opportunity of appearing before his Peers to explain his conduct. He was not much in the habit of reading newspapers, but his attention had been directed to a letter in The Times newspaper of Thursday last, written by a Mr. Rodgers, of Devonshire-place. Who this Mr. Rodgers was he did not know, neither did he care, but he would tell them the facts of the case, and he would then ask their Lordships whether they did not think that the editor of that paper had been grossly imposed on when he admitted this letter into the paper, and made the comments which he had made upon his conduct. Last Session Mr. Walter, who was well known to many of their Lordships, obtained from the House of Commons the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the operation of the New Poor-law. Before that Committee, it was thought proper to make inquiries respecting the union of West Hampnet, with which he (the Duke of Richmond) was connected. One of the witnesses brought up from that place was a woman of the name of Legge, who was asked what had been the conduct of the chairman of the board of guardians of that union? It had happened, that this woman lost three children in the workhouse. Here he felt it but justice to himself to state that during the prevalence of a disease which was raging in the workhouse, and which existed in several other parishes round, he had felt it to be his duty, as chairman of the board of guardians, to show an example to the other guardians by daily visiting the workhouse, where he passed much of his time in the different wards. He had been, as might be seen in the evidence of a most respectable gentleman, one of the guar- 1057 dians, recommended not to go into the workhouse during the prevalence of the disease, which was thought to be typhus fever, lest he should catch it; but he had replied that, having been educated in the army, he was not afraid of infection, and should continue to visit the workhouse. Not being afraid of infection, he of course took no credit to himself for persevering in his visits, but he merely mentioned the circumstance as showing that he had so visited the workhouse. The woman Legge, to whom he had referred as a witness before the Committee, stated that she had applied to him, as chairman of the board, for leave to go out of the workhouse—that he had replied she could go out on giving three hours' notice—that on her renewing the application he had said, "No—we will not allow the living to go without the dead." Now, he would solemnly protest on his honour that he had never said anything of the sort. He did not expect the editor of The Times nor Mr. Rodgers to give him any credit for the disavowal, nor to trouble themselves to look back to all his past character and conduct for the refutation of so foul a calumny. What he did demand of the editor of The Times, and the editor of The Times could not refuse to comply with the demand, if he wished to be considered as a respectable individual, was, that he would not insert in his paper attacks of this nature against him (the Duke of Richmond), without, at the same time, giving the answers made to the Committee in reference to his conduct by other individuals. This woman was asked whether she had made any such statement as this before? and she replied "Yes, to the clergyman of the parish the day after she left the workhouse." This clergyman was also examined, who it was to be remarked, was hostile to the bill, and not in the slightest degree connected with him. But what was the answer of the Rev. gentleman when questioned on the point? The distinct answer, as it appeared in evidence, was that he had never had such words addressed to him, nor had ever heard anything of the kind till that day. He would, therefore, ask their Lordships whether, in common fairness, these two statements should not have been placed together by the editor of The Times? He would say more: when he read last year that such a statement had been made before the Committee, he had felt it his duty to commu- 1058 nicate with the chairman of that Committee and several of its Members, and he had asked them whether they considered it necessary for him to be examined, or to adduce other evidence, in refutation of the assertion which had been made by the woman Legge, but the answer was, that the Committee was already satisfied that the charge against him was totally unfounded. Though he seldom thought it worth his while to condescend—as he might call it—to answer newspaper attacks, for he was sensible how liable the editors of newspapers were, amidst the multiplicity of their business, to be deceived and imposed upon by their correspondents—yet he had considered it but justice to himself to make the present statement, for he felt that if he was capable of uttering the words imputed to him by the woman, he should be unworthy of holding a seat on the board of guardians, or of occupying any station among gentlemen. He would now take the liberty of saying a few words on the proposition before them. It was stated by the noble Earl opposite that the great majority of the petitions which had come before the House on the subject were hostile to the measure. But the noble Earl must be aware that when such great excitement and clamour prevailed on the subject, and when, above all, clergymen were found to denounce all those who ventured to differ from them—in the manner which had been stated by the noble and learned Lord—there were many persons who would not come forward to support the law, for fear of incurring popular opprobrium, and of being dragged before the public in the newspapers. Nor was this all. He had last year charged the noble Earl opposite, and he now repeated the charge, with having used his influence to prevent persons from acting as guardians of the poor. The case would be recollected of Mr. Barrett, a tenant of the noble Earl, in the county of Kent, a man esteemed by the whole neighbourhood, a man of known humanity, who, when elected a guardian of the poor in his union, was sent for by the noble Earl, and told: "Abandon your duty—abandon the duty which the rate-payers of your parish, acting under the law of your country, have confided in you: cease to be a member of the board of guardians, or you cease to be a tenant of mine." The fact was not denied by the noble Earl, who, on the contrary, gloried in it. Yet this nobleman, 1059 holding a high station in the country, and who was prepared to turn a man out of his farm, to deprive him and his children of their livelihood, for venturing to differ from him in opinion, and knowing how others acted in the same circumstances, turned round and triumphantly said, "all the petitions are against the measure." The noble Lord had mentioned the case of the Delamere labourers, who had been employed in dragging potatoes; but this was a case of voluntary labour, and entirely differing from the one which he had brought under their Lordships notice some years ago, where thirty or forty labourers were compelled to drag heavy loads of gravel for a mere pretence of wages. This latter case happened under the blessed system which the noble Earl longed to return to, when the roads throughout the country were covered with idle, vagabond paupers, who in these gravel-pits concocted more mischief in one day than now was thought of in a week: the system which demoralised the labourers throughout the country, and destroyed all kindly feeling between them and the farmers. Did the noble Earl forget the riots, the tumultuous meetings of the labourers, under the old system, in 1830, which placed in jeopardy the finest counties in the kingdom; the stacks and farm-houses which were burnt; the threshing machines which were destroyed by men trained to vice, under the old system, and taught to believe that they were entitled to live in idleness on the industry of others. He was quite surprised to hear the noble and learned Lord talk of making allowances to labourers in full work: the noble and learned Lord would not find any authority for such allowances being made in the 43d Elizabeth, and the opinion of the judges had been given that it was grossly illegal. The noble and learned Lord (Wynford) however, was entirely mistaken if he supposed that no out-door relief was given under the new Poor-law Bill. He knew many instances of such relief having been given, in cases, for instance, where the labourer himself was ill or disabled, or where there was an idiot son or daughter, or where the wife was ill. As to medical assistance, he was prepared to state, that it was given more freely, and of a better character, than under the old system. The noble Earl had much better go and see the workhouses, and examine for himself: he would undertake to provide the noble 1060 Earl with a pass, so that he might go safely through the house and leave it when he pleased, without three hours' notice. The noble Earl's notion appeared to be, that the main happiness of the guardians consisted in having as many persons as possible in the workhouse, or, in other words, in having the largest possible amount of money to expend; but the noble Earl was greatly mistaken on this point, as on others. He held in his hand the quarterly statement of the expenditure of the union with which he was connected, whence it appeared that, during the last quarter, 230 paupers had been relieved in the workhouse, and 610 received out-door relief. This instance in itself showed that the noble Lord had no authority for saying that there was no out-door relief. He could not help thinking that the noble Earl had not studied the law with sufficient attention; that, in fact, the noble Earl knew nothing about the Act. The noble Earl stated, that under the new system the magistrates were become a mere nullity as regarded the relief of the poor; but the noble Earl would find that in certain cases the magistrates had still the power of giving relief. Every magistrate was an ex officio guardian, and had, consequently, an opportunity of inquiring into every case which came before the board; and, in certain cases, should the board of guardians refuse relief to persons above a certain age, the magistrates had the power to compel the guardians to afford relief. The overseers and churchwardens in Sussex were well acquainted with the power given them to relieve cases of destitution, and such relief was constantly afforded and as constantly assented to by the board of guardians. The noble and learned Lord had doubted the legality of retaining paupers in the workhouse after they had thrown aside the workhouse dress, but the notice of three hours was distinctly required by the Act. It might be a question whether the period of even this notice might not be conveniently abridged; but it was generally found that the paupers could contrive to make up their minds so as to give the three hours' notice before the time at which they wished to quit the workhouse; and it had been observed, the usual point of time at which this notice was given was such as to make the expiration of the notice occur just after they had had their respective dinners. It was unani- 1061 mously agreed by all persons who were acquainted with the subject, and by those who attended quarter sessions, that great savings had been made by the new law, and among others, in the law charges. If it could be proved that this measure had not done that which its framers contemplated—that it had not benefited the labouring classes, he (the Duke of Richmond) would be the first to move its repeal; but he was prepared to declare his conscientious belief that a Bill never received the royal assent which had done more good to the morals of the country. It had rendered the labourer independent, and it had raised, and was raising still higher, the rate of wages. He knew not, he might remark, where the 6s. or 7s. a-week wages, which had been spoken of, were given, but this he would say, that though he should scorn to turn off a tenant for a difference of opinion, yet he would readily turn off a tenant whom he should find robbing a labourer so grossly as to give him but 6s. or 7s. a-week for services worth 13s. or 14s. He was well assured, that the measure, if it had a fair trial, would fully effect its objects, and become popular; all his wonder, indeed, was, considering the virulence of the attacks which had been made on the measure, that the clamours and opposition to it which misrepresentation had given birth to, had not been far greater than they had been. One great blessing conferred by the measure, was the great attention paid to the education of children in the workhouses, and the pains taken with them to render them, when they left the workhouse, capable of supporting themselves. To the great improvement in this respect many clergymen hostile to the Act in general bore ready testimony. In the workhouse at West Hampnett, for instance the instruction given to the children was superior to that afforded in many parochial schools. Besides the school lessons in the morning, there were classes for teaching the children various trades and employments, so that they might on leaving the workhouse be able to maintain themselves by honest industry. The noble Earl, if he would but visit that workhouse, would be infinitely gratified at witnessing the conduct of those children, but he feared that the noble Earl's prejudices would debar him from so great a gratification.
§ Lord Colchester
said, that at the late hour which had now arrived, he would not trespass long upon their Lordships' 1062 attention, but having been two years the chairman of a board of guardians in the county of Sussex, he hoped to be permitted to say a few words. It was utterly impossible to suppose that the noble Duke who had just sat down would have used the words offensively to the woman whose name had been mentioned; but every person who looked at the evidence itself, upon which the charge was founded, must see that the charge was untrue and undeserving of credit. With regard to the statements of infanticide in the petition which had been alluded to, he could say, though he was not prepared to contradict it, but, residing within sixteen miles of the place where the meeting had been held, he could state, that at the union with which he was connected, not a single case of infanticide had been heard of. The board of guardians had been stated to be servile, and obedient to the despots of Somerset House, as the noble Earl had been pleased to designate the Poor-law Commissioners; this had not been the case, for many boards had, in long correspondences, urged opinions contrary to the views of the Commissioners, who after much consideration had the candour and good sense to admit that the guardians were in the right, so that the one body could not be called despots, nor the other servile. From what he had seen of the working of the bill, he was persuaded of the justice of its principle, and of its benefit to the labouring population of the country, but at the same time he did not think the effects were so universally advantageous, as its supporters seemed to imagine. He was sorry to admit, that during the last winter great deprivations had been suffered in Sussex, arising a good deal from the terror in which the workhouses were held, and without just cause; for he was convinced, that in them the poor were better clothed, more substantially fed, and better taken care of, than they could possibly be by their own families. And this especially was the case with reference to children, who were not only taught reading and writing, but also trades, in a manner which never could be the case in their parents' cottages. He had no wish to throw the least opposition in the way of the system, but he was anxious that its details should be carried out in such a manner, as to make it less obnoxious than it appeared to be to some persons. One of the things to which he objected, was 1063 the size of the unions. The union with which he was connected contained a population of between 11,000 and 12,000 persons, and its extent was eight to nine miles, and to compel a pauper to come that distance to a workhouse for relief was unjust, and exposed the pauper to great difficulty. In saying that, he cast no blame on the returning officers, for he believed that they discharged their duties much more efficiently than could be done by overseers, who had some trade or profession to attend to. There was another point upon which he differed from the noble Duke on the cross benches, (the Duke of Richmond) and that was with respect to the relief to be given to labourers in what was called full employment. It was impossible for such men with their rate of wages in many cases to support their families, and he therefore desired to give them not out-door relief, but to provide that the surplus children should be taken and brought up in the workhouse by which a great relief would be afforded to the labouring man without any bad effect. That, however, on communication with the Commissioners, had been found not to be within the principle of the Poor-law Act, and they refused to adopt the suggestion. Upon one other point, which, however, did not affect any great number of persons, he thought some alteration ought to be made—he alluded to the seamen and soldiers, who, after having long served their country, had obtained small pensions. He believed that by custom, and not under the provisions of the act, those who administered the Poor-law obliged the pensioners to make over the whole of their pensions before they received any relief from the workhouses. An instance in this respect, had occurred lately to his knowledge, of a seaman, with a pension of sixpence a day, and a wife, and four or five children, being called upon to assign his first quarter's pension. The man said he was very willing to assign it for as many days as he and his family remained in the workhouse; but he said, that there he was charged half-a-crown or three shillings a-head for the support of his family, when he could provide for them at eighteenpence a-head per week. These suggestions he threw out in the hope they would be considered by the Poor-law Commissioners, and with the belief that by their adoption the existing law would work more beneficially and advantageously.
The Bishop of Chichester
said, that what had fallen from the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) must not only make a deep impression in the House, but also out of doors. He should not, however, have risen, but for the allusion which had been made by the noble and learned Lord as to the conduct and speech of some clergyman, from which every man, with common humanity must turn with abhorrence. In speaking of the clergy he did not wish to confine himself to those of the Church Establishment, but he extended his remarks to those of other persuasions, and he was sure they all equally would revolt at such a speech as that which had been alluded to. That speech had no doubt been made by somebody, but he regretted to hear the noble and learned Lord say, that other clergymen had made use of the same or similar language. When it was remembered that there were more than 20,000 clergymen of the Established Church in the kingdom, besides many more of other persuasions, he was surprised that so few had come forward in the discussions which had taken place on this question, especially when the clergy were so closely and so intimately connected with the feelings of the people, and with all that could distress them. Under these circumstances, it had been matter of congratulation to him as well as of surprise, that the clergy of this country during the operation of this law, had entered so little into the discussions of the bill, but, receiving it as the law of the land, had endeavoured loyally and faithfully to co-operate with it. He had lately been making a visitation of his diocese, and had paid much attention to the working of the measure, anxious as he had been to obtain the opinions of his clergy upon it, and upon the facts and circumstances connected with it, and he must say that from them generally, he had received such testimony as showed not only that they were generally favourable to the Bill, but that they had in their own persons refrained from any interference with it that was not consistent with, and becoming to their stations. Having said thus much on behalf of the clergy of all denominations, he must be permitted to say, that the poor-house to which the noble Duke had referred, was within his own eye and observation, and that it had been his good fortune to be one of the clergy desired to visit it and to examine the children, and he could tes- 1065 tify that he was utterly surprised at the admirable manner in which they went through that examination, for that though there were between eighty and ninety children of both sexes—a fleeting body, and changing every day—yet their answers would have done honour to any permanent school in the country. With regard to the diet, he had seen, that during a change in the weather the surgeon directed a richer diet for the poor, and had witnessed a manifest care taken by the guardians for the comforts of the inmates of the workhouse under their charge. He should not have done justice to his own mind, to the poor, or to the guardians, if he had not thus testified the excellence of the arrangements in the workhouse to which the noble Duke had alluded.
, in explanation said, that he had not attributed to the clergy the language to which he had adverted. What he had said was, that the language had been used by a Gentleman not connected with the Church, but belonging to a most respectable sect, and whose father had been at the head of the Conference. He had not said that any other clergyman had used language of the same sort as that into which by his violence the minister in question had been betrayed.
The Marquess of Bute
expressed his concurrence in the opinions stated by his noble Friend behind him (Lord Colchester) with respect to the size and extent of the unions in many parts of the kingdom. That system of unions, it was obvious, must press hardly on those districts where the poor people had to come great distances to prove their cases. For the formation of those unions he, however, did not blame the Commissioners, who, he conceived, had had most arduous and delicate duties to perform, and than whom no three individuals could have been selected more fit for the faithful and conscientious discharge of those duties. It had been said that a poor man had a right of appeal from the refusal of assistance by the relieving officer, but he thought it was a mockery of appeal to compel a man to come such a distance to the board of guardians in a large union to enforce the appeal. That provision of the Bill required remedy. There was another point upon which he wished to make a remark or two. He referred to a case in which application was made by a distressed family to have one or two children admitted into the 1066 workhouse as a temporary relief during a season f distress occasioned by a want of employment. The guardians applied to the Commissioners, and the result was, that the application was refused. He did not know upon what advice the Commissioners had acted in refusing that application, but he believed that they were wrong in so doing. He was liable to correction, but he was of opinion that the children ought to have been admitted, and that, under the circumstances, the parents had a right to claim admittance for them. Had he been one of the board of Guardians to which the application was first made, he should have advised the board to admit the children, and he thought that would have been giving lawful advice. That was certainly the law before the 36th of George 3rd in cases which were very well known. There was certainly nothing in the Poor-law Amendment Act to deprive the poor people of that right, which they had previously possessed. The severity of the climate during the winter months was the cause of a great stoppage of work; and in several districts, owing to various changes which had taken place in the course of the last forty or fifty years, women and children could not get work now, and the blank thus created in the income of their families must be made up in some way or other. In some districts, taking one year with another, there must be at least six weeks in the year in which the poor people would be entirely thrown out of work. He was, therefore, anxious that the legal rights which the poor previously enjoyed should be restored to them.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, the very ample discussions which had taken place in Parliament on the general working of the Poor-law Amendment Act, rendered it unnecessary for him to prolong the present debate further than to express his accordance with the opinions of the noble and learned Lord on his right (Lord Brougham), and of other noble Lords who took a similar view of the subject. The noble Lord had claimed for the petitions which had been presented on this subject a peculiar virtue. He had said, that they were characterised by great impartiality, not being the offspring of political bias or sectarian prejudice. Without going into a dispute on that point, he would press on the consideration of their Lordships, whether it would be worth while to adopt 1067 the course proposed by the noble Lord with regard to those petitions, or whether any object was to be gained by so doing, especially as a Committee of Inquiry was sitting in the other House. The getting up of the return which had been moved for, would occasion great trouble and expense, and their Lordships would consider whether it would be worth while to impose that trouble and incur that expense. It was known that petitions had their due weight and force on all subjects; he did not deny they were not strong marks of the state of public feeling in the country, but it was well known that the number of any particular class of petitions depended much on the zeal and activity of those by whom they were got up. A great number of the petitions on this subject, however, appeared to have been got up in a false view of the question. Was it worth while to go into an analysis of those petitions, and to inquire on which side of the question those persons were, who had signed the petitions, or what those persons professed to be? If such an inquiry were to have any weight or force, and their Lordships were to draw any inference from it, they must carry it further, and inquire whether the signatures were those of the persons they purported to be, and whether those persons had properly described themselves. He would, therefore, suggest to the noble Lord whether or not he would press his motion, and whether, if he did, it would be worth while for their Lordships to concur in it.
§ Earl Stanhope
hoped he might be allowed to address a few words by way of reply to their Lordships. With regard to what had fallen from the noble Duke (Richmond), he had already fully and satisfactorily defended his conduct in respect to a charge which had been made against him of having dismissed from his estate a farmer who persisted in being a guardian; but he would again repeat the facts to the noble Duke. He had never interfered with any man's wishes, still less had he attempted to coerce any man whatever, and prevent him from the free exercise of his own opinion on any public question. But a landlord had a right to the buildings on the farm; the stock only was the property of the tenant, and if the conduct of any tenant was such as to create danger to the property of the estate, it was both the right and the duty of the landlord to look after its security. He denied that he had told his tenant that he 1068 must either cease to be a guardian or to be his tenant. It was true that he admonished him not to undertake the office, as he was not compelled to serve by law. He persisted, however, and wrote a letter to him, saying that he would serve, and therefore he did not feel inclined to remain his tenant any longer. That resignation he accordingly accepted. He was charged with not, attending boards of guardians. How could he do so? He had not been elected a guardian, and therefore he had no right to attend at the board. But he would not shelter himself under that defence; he was opposed both to the principle and almost every enactment of the new bill, and therefore he could give no sanction to its operation. His noble Friend had asked if he had forgotten the riots and disturbances that took place at the end of the year 1830? No; nor the circumstances in which this country was placed at the commencement of the year, nor the general cry of distress which arose, as he contended, from the contraction of the currency. The noble Duke, who was then at the head of the Government, was warned of the consequences that must ensue. Distress overtook the farmers, and out of that distress arose those tumults which had for their object higher wages and more employment, and not, as was falsely stated by those who succeeded the noble Duke in office, a wish for Parliamentary reform. He would now proceed to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, who could never address that House, or any other assembly, without exciting admiration for his eloquence and extraordinary talent. But his noble and learned Friend not only sometimes leaped rather suddenly to a conclusion; on this occasion he had leaped into a debate which was intended to occupy a subsequent day. He had stated, that as this was a most important question, it would be more convenient and satisfactory to have it discussed in a series of motions on different nights. His noble and learned Friend had that amount of physical and mental power which he required, and was able to speak for forty hours or forty days. He could not make a speech of that duration, but it would require almost as much time to bring under discussion all the points relating to this subject. His noble and learned Friend had chosen to talk of this being one of the lectures with which he was about to favour the House, but he could assure their 1069 Lordships, that he had only attempted to represent the sentiments of an innumerable multitude out of doors, however weakly they might be supported in that House. It was, however, his intention to bring the various topics of the question under the consideration of the House on separate nights. The noble Lord had asked why he did not move for a Committee of Inquiry? There were good reasons for not doing so. What were the sentiments expressed by a person who had ceased to be a guardian, he meant Mr. John Bowen—a man who had sprung from the labouring classes, and who in the earlier part of his life was a labourer, but who had in his work shown an acuteness of intellect and a power of investigation equal to those of any man in or out of Parliament? "Although," said he, "the administrators of the reformed Poor-laws have, as will be shown, the tremendous power of life and death in their hands, their proceedings, like those of the secret tribunals of the Inquisition, are concealed from the public. On the one side are the helpless poor; on the other the aggregated property of the kingdom, acting by pledged delegates, or aided by a band of stipendiaries, whose faculties are sharpened by the apprehension of being driven from the spoils of the poor, which they have so lately touched. These forces are marshalled at the expense of the working people of England, to organise evidence, and to move en masse against persons and their rights, and to enact those cruelties which are inflicted under the Poor-law Amendment Act." With this view of the subject, it could not be his intention to move for a Committee of Inquiry, which he thought would be futile and useless, nor would he, nor was he compelled to take any part in any such Committee. He had been met with a singular and inconsistent objection; he had been charged with not bringing forward specific facts. He had stated facts of public notoriety, which had not been disputed hitherto: and if he were disposed, he could bring such a long and melancholy list of cases of cruelty and oppression which had occurred under the new system, that they would not have time to attend to anything else. In fact, he was blamed at one time for occupying the time of the House with cases which the noble Lords were not prepared to answer; and at another time he was asked, why he did not bring forward some 1070 specific charges. He did not mean to question the principles or motives which had induced his noble and learned Friend to recommend the Poor-law Amendment Act to the support of their Lordships; but he thought that if such was the way of showing the kindliest feelings towards the poor and working classes, they might well say—"Heaven defend us from our friends!" His noble and learned Friend seemed to charge him with misstating the fact with regard to Manchester. He knew very well that Manchester was exempt from the operation of the new law, because when any regulations were received from the three commissioners, whom he would still call dictators and despots, or from any viceroy representing them, those documents were returned unnoticed and unopened. He should like to know whether the case of the men who had dragged the wagon-load of potatoes thirty-two miles for 3s. was not a proof of the dreadful operation of the New Poor-laws. The noble Duke had talked of the favoured county of Suffolk, and spoken of labourers having even asked for the new law. He would not presume to contradict the noble Duke, but he would ask, had those labourers petitioned for the continuance of the new law? If so, he could only say, with the old proverb—De gustibus non est disputandum.Perhaps it might have been the wiser course for him to have allowed the discussion which the measure was undergoing throughout the country to have taken its own course, and to have allowed the new system to work its own cure. He was convinced that the feeling throughout the country could not long be resisted, and he was persuaded that, sooner or later, the Poor-law Amendment Act would certainly be repealed. But in all the communications he had had with those who opposed the measure, and those communications were innumerable, he had exhorted those who had asked his opinion, to confine their resistance to legal and constitutional opposition. How long, however, the present state of things might continue—how long the people might endure to see the poor trampled on and oppressed, he would not venture to say; but, whatever might be the result, he should have the satisfaction to feel that he had discharged his duty. With respect to what the noble 1071 Lord at the head of her Majesty's Government had said of the expense which the return he had moved for would cause, he begged leave to say that he had no wish to press his motion to a division. He was satisfied with the return which had been made to the other House in regard to the number of persons who had petitioned against the New Poor-laws, as that return showed, that while only 952 persons had petitioned in favour of the new system, those who had petitioned against it were not less than 600,000—if it was considered, that a number of the petitions were signed by the chairmen of public meetings only, although they represented the feelings and opinions of thousands. Convinced of the rectitude of the course he had adopted, and feeling that the Poor-law Amendment Act was most oppressive to the poor, while it had not effected such a saving as had been represented, although he admitted that a saving had been effected, he should, after Easter, bring forward a motion with a view to elucidate the amount of the supposed saving, and to show how that saving had been effected.
said, it seemed to be the fate of those who attacked this measure, that whenever they came to particulars they always failed of attaining the object they had in view. But only one name had, been mentioned during the debate, only one authority had been quoted, and that was Mr. Bowen, and in that instance the case had broken down. He had the greatest respect for Mr. Bowen, but he would say, that his conduct in the matter which had been alluded to, did detract from the confidence which he had previously placed on that respectable individual—he said respectable, for Mr. Bowen had raised himself to his present position by his own merits. Mr. Bowen had brought a grave charge against the assistant Poor-law Commissioner, Mr. Weale, and in reference to that charge, he (Lord Brougham) had received a letter from the board of guardians, in which it was stated, that they had seen with surprise certain letters in a newspaper, complaining of the conduct of their assistant Commissioner. They expressed themselves convinced that the statements contained in those letters would produce a bad effect, and might prove injurious to Mr. Weale, and they, therefore, transmitted two resolutions of the board, passed unani- 1072 mously, in order to shew how little Mr. Bowen's opinions of the conduct of Mr. Weale were shared by his former colleagues. They stated, also, that Mr. Bowen had absented himself from the meetings of the board, and had not brought the charges he had made against Mr. Weale before it. That, surely, was not the course he ought to have adopted, and he was sure the noble Lord would not approve of his conduct, for the noble Lord had himself adopted a very different course, and had come forward in a manly way, and openly made his complaints against the system he opposed. But Mr. Bowen had absented himself from the meetings of the board of guardians, and instead of attending the board of guardians had attended the board of a newspaper, and in that paper he had attacked the assistant Commissioner, Mr. Weale. Now, he thought there was but too much cause to complain of such a course, for such attacks, besides wounding the feelings of private individuals, often scared them from doing their duty. But that was not all, for Mr. Bowen had also brought a charge against the board of guardians, and for no other reason, as far as could be seen, but because the members of the board had sided with their assistant Commissioner. The board defended themselves, they appointed a meeting of their whole number, and they served Mr. Bowen with a notice of that meeting, and informed him that they were ready to investigate all the charges which had been brought forward. What did they do? They met, Mr. Bowen absented himself, and the charge against them was, that they had sat as their own judges, and passed resolutions in their own favour. But what was the fact? Mr. Bowen, although served with a notice, did not appear, and such conduct, in his opinion, tended to injure the confidence which he was willing to repose in any statement made by Mr. Bowen.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
disapproved of the course which had been pursued by the noble Earl (Stanhope), as the noble Earl had refused to move for a Committee of inquiry into the charges he had brought forward. The noble Earl had made certain charges, and he called upon the noble Earl to make those charges good, as they tended to injure the feelings and character of individuals. All those charges affected the principle of the Bill, and they ought all, therefore, to be inquired into, The 1073 course pursued was unfair, and unless those who made those charges against individuals who had a delicate and important duty to perform came forward and proved their truth, the fair and manly course was to make no complaint at all.
§ Motion for returns negatived.